The attack happened so suddenly that my body did not yet realize it was supposed to be in pain.
Besides, I had more important things to do than to worry about the hole in my chest. Protecting my monsters was my top priority, and I ordered them all to get back inside of the cave where they would be safe as quickly as they could move.
But I was not the only one to be hit by the ranged attacks.
“My lord!” Corra shouted, grabbing onto me while looking into my wound. “How – how dare they—”
I looked down at her and grabbed her left shoulder. I would have grabbed each of her shoulders, but her right shoulder had a sizable chunk missing from it. Had she been shot just a little bit lower, she likely would have lost her entire right arm. “Rest,” I ordered. “Nakra will heal you.”
“But, my lord! Your wound is more—”
“I gave you an order.”
Corra was not happy about it, but she nodded her head and looked over to Nakra at the same time as I did.
Fortunately, Nakra survived without injury, but she was clearly panicking and struggling to breathe as she rested one hand on her stomach.
“Nakra, I need you to try and calm down,” I ordered her. “We need your healing.”
Nakra’s panicked breathing only grew more intense once she spotted the hole in my chest, but she did managed to calm down enough to nod and approach me.
“No. Heal the others first,” I ordered.
“But you need heal-tending!” Nakra cried.
“They could never kill me with such a weak attack.” I might have said that, but the pain was finally starting to kick in and it was, by far, worse than anything I had ever felt before. It took every last ounce of my strength to maintain a steady composure as blood flowed out from my chest. “Crim, stall the bleeding until Nakra has healed the others.”
“Yes, my lord,” Crim said and came over to me. While he might have looked fine, he took the most attacks out of us all. No less than five shots tore right through his body as we rushed back into safety. None of them hit his core, however, so he looked completely untouched.
Crim filled the hole in my chest with his slime in a similar manner to how he helped me with my leg injury. This allowed Nakra to work on healing Corra without having to worry about me, but something was wrong.
With her back to me, I could see that Nakra was not only holding onto her stomach because of panic and difficulty to breathe. No, she was holding her hand over her entry wound. The exit wound leaked blood and revealed what happened to her.
I quickly looked around to see who else was injured.
Lucia was shot in the leg, but she was quick in using spare cloth to tightly tie it around her thigh.
Ahti had a couple of her fingers shot off, but that was a minor injury as far as she was concerned and her fingers would return.
Several of the new constructs I had summoned had chunks of stone missing from their bodies, but they were otherwise fine. My pyre emperor made it back into safety without any injuries as well, and both my aurbold and Novla joined her.
Sidi had a large crack in her forehead, showing where one of the shots impacted her, but she did not seem to be in any serious danger. An unharmed Dian was taking care of her to make sure that nothing was wrong.
“Human technology has advanced, I see. Giant ballistae and cannons were the greatest of their achievements during my time. This… this is something far more deadly,” Deiti said to me as she tried to hold back the pain in her own voice.
Then I sensed them.
They intruded upon my territory. Both at the southern and northern entrances, groups of humans rushed in.
But they did not come too far into the dungeon. Instead, they made it into the entrances and then stopped.
Between the humans shooting at us from outside and the humans now at each of my entrances, it became clear what they were trying to do.
They blocked us inside.
And there was only one reason for them to do that rather than come and attack us directly.
I looked up at the ceiling.
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Just moments later, a series of explosions punched a hole through the ceiling directly above the pool of magma I accidentally created. I threw my body over Nakra and Corra to shield them from any debris. A few rocks hit my back, but none with the force necessary to penetrate my skin.
Now, if the humans were to do what Lucia believed they would, then they would drop cannisters of toxic gas into the dungeon which would end up falling right into the magma.
But nothing ever came.
“Lucia, why aren’t they using the gas?” I asked, watching as Nakra healed Corra’s shoulder.
“They must – tch, they must have looked down and saw that they would be wasting their weapons to throw anything down,” Lucia answered as she winced from the pain.
It seemed like we were safe. Surrounded, but safe for the time being as no humans advanced on us.
“That will have to be enough,” I told Nakra since Corra’s shoulder was mostly healed. “Now, heal yourself. We cannot lose you. I refuse to lose you – a single one of you.”
Nakra looked at my chest once more. Had it not been for Crim’s slime stalling my bleeding, she likely would have forced her healing onto me rather than nod to take care of herself.
But it would not be that easy.
Just as Nakra focused her healing magic on her own wound, a cylindrical device was lowered through the hole in the ceiling via a rope. It was not lowered enough to hit the magma, but it was lowered just enough to distribute the toxic gas within into the air.
There was no time to think. I simply ordered the first thing that came to my mind. “Fire!”
I did not have to specify who I was talking to, nor did I have to give a detailed order, for the receivers of my order to understand. Both Corra and my pyre emperor aimed at the device spewing gas and shot their flames at it, engulfing the toxic smoke and neutralizing it. The rope itself was burnt and dropped the cannister into the magma which quickly melted it.
But that was not the end of our problems, for those lowering the toxic cannisters from above were not the only ones equipped with them.
“My lord!” Dian shouted, pointing to the north hallway.
Corra and my pyre emperor immediately shot their flames into the hallway upon seeing the toxic gas coming from it, but their flames could not reach the source of the gas. All they could do was burn any that threatened to reach us, and this required a constant stream of fire that they were not able to sustain.
“My lord, I… may have an idea,” Crim said. “I will not be able to stall your bleeding to carry it out, but I will stop the gas from reaching this room.”
If he had an idea to defend my monsters, of course I was going to let him do it. “Go,” I ordered.
He did not bother asking me if I was sure even if he wanted to. Instead, he took his slime away from me and moved to where our room connected to the north tunnel. His clothes and humanoid form returned to that of shapeless slime as he spread his body out to cover the entrance to the tunnel. One small section of slime kept his core hidden behind the wall on our side in case any where to try and damage it from a distance on the other side, but the rest of his slime formed a tight seal across the entrance that prevented any of the gas from leaking into our room. To do so, though, he had to spread his slime out to the point where there was nothing left to spare.
Then I felt the healing hands of Nakra against my chest.
Yet her own wound remained opened.
“What are you doing?! Heal yourself first!” I ordered her, but she shook her head and refused to listen to me. Her hands did not budge from my chest.
I had no choice but to grab onto her hands and force them away from me and onto herself. This only caused her to shake her head even more as the beginning of tears formed in the corners of her eyes.
“You need it more-now!” Nakra cried, staring into my eyes. The meek girl who came to my dungeon in such a weak state, hardly able to look anybody in the eyes, now defiantly opposed me with a fierce determination in her eyes.
I was impressed, but she did not change my mind. “I will last. You need to heal yourself before you—”
“Can’t! You will bleed-die if I don’t heal-tend you now!”
“She is right, CORE. You cannot sustain this level of bleeding. Without Crim to slow the bleeding down, you will not stay conscious for more than a couple more minutes. I know you can already feel yourself growing tired,” Deiti joined in to try and convince me.
But I had no intention of listening to either of them. If Nakra did not heal herself first, then she was going to die. Furthermore, she was the only one of my monsters capable of healing. It was likely we would need her once our battle against the humans was over, and there would be more battles after that.
Even when pushing aside my own feelings, she was too valuable to lose.
But, to my monsters, I was the one who was too valuable to lose.
It took Ahti, Dian, and Sidi working together to hold my arms back.
“What are you doing?!” I shouted at them.
None of them could give me an answer. None of them could focus on anything other than holding me back.
But Nakra – Nakra smiled and said, “Thank you,” to them before applying her hands to my chest.
I realized what they were doing.
Corra, Lucia – everybody was silent. My dungeon was never as quiet as it was as Nakra began to heal my chest.
I did not feel anger over my gnomes holding me still, but I was furious over something else. “Do not look away from her!” I shouted at them. “If you are going to allow her to do this, she deserves the respect of being watched.”
It was hard for them, but everybody turned to watch as Nakra slowly closed the hole in my chest.
And the more that she healed me, the harder it became for her to keep her eyes open.
“This is still not enough,” Deiti warned me.
I desperately wished to give Nakra the order to cease healing me… but neither of us would make it at that point. If she stopped healing me to try and heal herself, both of us would bleed out.
“Lucia, how long can I survive in that gas for?” I asked.
“You will feel like you are choking the moment that it reaches your throat and lungs. Then it will spread through your body and start to shut down all of your systems while you get to experience excruciating pain,” Lucia explained.
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
“I – assuming that you hold your breath for as long as possible… it will still affect you whether it reaches your eyes, your eyes, your nose – nothing short of a specialized mask that completely blocks all entrances will stop the gas.”
“How long will I last?”
“That is enough.”
Then I felt another disturbance as humans landed in the southern room by climbing down the inside of the caldera.,
A single thought was all that it took to send my constructs to the southern room to create a defensive wall. “You three,” I said, looking at my gnomes, “join the constructs.”
Dian spoke up to say, “My lord, we cannot let go of you until—"
“Do you think that I will waste Nakra’s resolve?! To disrespect her after what she has done for my sake – I will not do such a thing. Let go of me and head to the southern room where you are needed. Now.”
My gnomes were still hesitant, but only because they now wished to stay for Nakra. Even so, they let go of me and joined the constructs in the southern room.
Having my arms freed allowed me to wrap them around Nakra. My wound was almost fully closed, but she was hardly able to keep her eyes open and I could feel the flow of her magic flickering.
“Novla, bring me my sword,” I ordered. “You two,” I looked at Corra and my pyre emperor, “be prepared to flood the hall with your flames as soon as I give you the order to. Crim, you will keep Nakra alive.” While Nakra remained healing me, I lifted her up and carried her over to Crim who was still not able to spare the slime to stop either of our bleeding wounds. “Use your slime to pick up as much of her blood on the ground as you can to put it back inside of her. I do not know if it will work, but you need to try.”
Crim nodded the tiny limb hiding his core.
Just before Novla brought my sword to me, I looked into Nakra’s eyes once more to say, “You will not die. We are going to do everything that we can to save you.”
Nakra opened her eyes and showed me a wide smile. “I… saved-healed you,” she said, her voice quiet and weak. She successfully closed the hole in my chest.
There was no time to waste.
“Now!” I shouted, causing several things to happen all at once.
Crim returned to his humanoid form and immediately took Nakra into his arms, entering her wound with his slime as several tendrils of slime spread out across the room to wherever Nakra stood to try and find her blood. At the same time, my pyre emperor and Corra unleashed their flames into the northern tunnel to neutralize any gas attempting to come through.
Then, even as I could hardly keep my own eyes open due to the loss of blood, I took my sword from Novla and walked into my monsters’ flames.
There was only one thought on my mind, and it was killing all of the humans for daring to hurt my monsters.
First, I would deal with their cowardly weapons.
Then, I would show them what happens when anybody dares to hurt my monsters.
With only the flames of my monsters to shield me, I charged forward.
Three cannisters were on the ground in front of me. The first two looked to have already been spent, but the third was still leaking gas. My monsters’ flames could not reach far enough to neutralize the gas in front of it, so I had no choice but to leave the safety of their flames to kick the third cannister back down the hallway from where it came.
That was when I got my first good look at the humans attacking us. They wore masks similar to the ones that Lucia described, and there were ten of them standing at the very edge of my territory.
As the third cannister flew over their heads, one of the humans shouted, “Throw another one!”
There was still gas in the hallway, but I could not allow them to make use of even more of those cannisters.
“Block it!” another of the humans shouted as I charged, my eyes feeling as if they had blades stabbing into them due to the gas.
A man covered in heavy armor with a large shield stepped in front of the other soldier with the cannister at the same time as I felt a surge of power come from within.
“Get them!” Deiti’s voice rung out within my mind.
With a single step, I found myself in front of the shielded soldier slamming my sword into his side to knock him away. I immediately turned the blade around and brought it back in the other direction to cleave the man with the cannister in half now that there was nobody to protect him.
A quick look confirmed that none of the others had any cannisters on them, but I also found myself ready to collapse. I was already exhausted before that surge of power, and now my entire body felt sore as I struggled to remain standing.
If the foolish humans had only been standing a few more feet back, they would have been safe. Instead, they were just within my territory whether they realized it or not.
This also meant that I was within their reach to attack.
While some of the soldiers took a step back, the one who seemed to be in charge shouted, “Stand your ground! It’s just one monster!”
I was too tired to dodge out of the way of his sword coming for my neck, but I did manage to lift my head enough to block the sword with one of my horns. The force behind his sword was enough to crack my horn, but it did not break.
Admittedly, I had no idea what to do. I charged in to deal with the soldier with the cannisters, and now I was out of energy, I could hardly see through my eyes, my throat was closing and making it difficult to breathe as fire filled my lungs, and that surge of energy thoroughly drained my body of the ability to fight. The will was there, but I could no longer raise my sword.
And this is still after losing no insignificant amount of blood as well.
“Damn monster!” the human shouted before going in for another swing.
I could no longer lift my sword, so the obvious answer was to drop it.
I grabbed onto his approaching arm and twisted it with what little strength I had left, breaking the bone for all to hear and causing him to drop his sword as he cried out in pain.
A human on my other side swung his mace toward my head, so I blocked it with my free arm. It did hurt, but it was nowhere near as painful as having a hole shot through my chest.
“What is this monster?!” one of the men in the back asked as a magical flow of green light connected his hands to the man whose arm I twisted. It looked similar to the healing magic of Nakra.
So, I lifted my head and looked directly at the man with the healing magic.
“Leave that one alive,” I ordered.
“This – this monster can talk?!” another of the soldiers shouted.
When they realized that not only could I talk, but that I was talking to somebody other than them, they took their attention away from me to look behind me.
They looked just in time for the flames from my pyre emperor and Corra to engulf them.
Where they stood was clear of the gas now, and they had just enough range to reach our enemy with their fire.
I can only imagine what the soldier who could heal must have seen. Standing before him was none other than I with flames that I was immune to surrounding me, and I was glaring directly into his eyes. I have no idea how I appeared to him, but I do remember the look of pure terror in his eyes as his entire body shook and failed to move when he tried to run.
I told my monsters that I would not allow a single one of them to die, and I had every intention of keeping my word.
Even if it meant forcing my enemy to keep my monsters alive.
I took one step closer to him. That was all I needed to reach out while falling to grab him and keep him underneath me so that he would be safe from the flames.
Meanwhile, the other cowards he dared to intrude upon my territory with were burned alive underneath my monsters’ overwhelming fires.
I would not allow a single one of my monsters to die, but I had every intention of killing every last intruder.
And our counterattack was only just beginning.