Corra and my aurbold took the captured human back into the room where I had my monsters holed up, and Novla came to help me back. My body was exhausted and both my eyes and lungs felt as if they were on fire. I could hardly walk, so I was thankful for his assistance.
I needed the healing just as much as Nakra did now. That toxic gas – the weapon represented pure cowardice, but it was deadly. It was even worse than I expected it to be after hearing Lucia describe its effects.
“My – my lord,” Corra said, holding onto me now as I struggled to breathe properly.
My chest felt tight as if my lungs had expanded to take up as much space as they could. And that was while they felt like they filled with flames.
But my own condition was not important.
I left Novla’s and Corra’s help to grab onto the human healer by the top of his armor right in front of his neck. “Heal her,” I ordered, looking at Nakra.
The healer was a coward whose legs failed to move when he wished to flee, but now he showed defiance. “N-no,” was all that he could say at first, his voice trembling as much as his body. “I’m – I’m not healing a monster!”
His defiance – his new bravery when surrounded by monsters who would be glad to kill him might have been respectable had Nakra not been in desperate need of healing.
Fortunately, feeling like my body was burning from the inside out weakened me enough to make not killing him easier.
I threw the human to the ground and ordered him again. “Heal her.” My raspy voice didn’t even sound like it was my own anymore. I struggled to talk as much as I did to breathe.
“I’d rather di-die than heal any of you! You killed – you killed my friends!” the human shouted.
“You attacked us fir—”
My voice was cut off by painful coughing. It was my first time ever coughing, and it caused no short amount of pain in both my chest and throat.
Novla grabbed onto me to help me stay standing.
“Lu-Lucia, convince him,” I ordered.
Lucia didn’t even want to look at me. She knew how much pain I had to be in. She did, however, immediately follow my order. “What he’s trying to say is that you attacked us first. We are only fighting in self-defense. If you wouldn’t have attacked us, we wouldn’t have—”
“You bitch!” the human shouted. “You – you’re a human! Why are you talking like you’re a part of this place? Why are you taking their side?!”
Lucia sighed and turned her head in my direction but looked at the floor. “CORE, I don’t think he has any intention of hearing us out.”
“Try,” was all that I could say.
Lucia took a deep breath and returned her eyes to the human. “Listen. All of this fighting can be avoided if you stop your attack. As long as these monsters are attacked, they will fight to the death. If you let them live without interfering with their lives, nobody has to die.”
“You think that anybody would believe that?” the human replied. “I’d rather kill myself than help a monster! Are you even a human anymore? How could you take their side after hearing those screams? They – they burned my friends alive! I heard their screams and smelled them burn!”
“Would you think about it logically for more than a few seconds? You attacked us. These monsters have never gone on the offensive. As long as you ignore them, they won’t—”
“No dungeon starts off on the offensive! We’re supposed to wipe them out before they grow big enough for that!”
“They are still feeling creatures!” Lucia snapped. “If I have learned anything, it’s that these monsters are just like us. They have feelings, they play with each other, they love each other, they are intelligent, they ask questions and learn, they—”
Lucia stopped when she saw the expression of the man she was lecturing.
Rather than take anything that she was saying to heart, the human simply looked at her with a cringing expression as if he were listening to the mad ramblings of a crazy person. “You’re insane,” he said.
“This won’t work,” Lucia told me.
“My lord… may I?” Corra asked.
We were running out of options and I was now too weak to even try speaking, so I nodded my head.
Corra may have had a smaller and weaker body than the human, but she didn’t need to be larger nor stronger to accomplish what she had in mind. All she needed were her flames.
With fire at her fingertips, Corra released her flames at the man’s armored abdomen.
“St-stop!” he shouted as soon as he felt the inside of his armor heating up.
Corra looked at Lucia. Lucia figured out what Corra wanted right away.
They were going to work together.
“She… she’ll stop if you heal us. That’s all you have to do. Heal us and then we’ll let you leave,” Lucia said.
The human continued his resistance, refusing to help us even with the offer of freedom afterward.
Corra’s flames intensified as she spread the fire out across his armor to evenly heat his body up. Any exposed skin was ignored so that she wouldn’t cause immediate burns, but that didn’t stop him from feeling like he was going to get cooked alive just like his friends if this continued.
But it was not meant to continue.
We made an incredibly foolish mistake.
To save the girl we freed from a tortured life, we relied on torture ourselves.
“Stop!” Nakra shouted, summoning the last of her strength to do so. “Pl-please… do not torture-hurt him. Not… not for me.”
Corra paused her flames to look at her friend. “He is with the humans who want to kill us! They are responsible for all of this! And… we are doing this to save you and our lord!”
“I don’t… want anybody tortured-hurt. We lived every day-night like that. Even if only for a short-small time… nobody deserves torture.”
“But he refuses to help us! How are we going to heal you and our lord without him?!”
I could no longer see through my eyes at all, but I could still hear what was happening.
I also heard when Lucia shouted out, “Corra! Watch—”
While Corra had her back turned to the human, he realized that he had no better opportunity to die. He had no intention of experiencing more of her flames, and he desired revenge for what we did to his friends. That was why a short blade off of his hip that we failed to take from him amid the panic and thrust it toward Corra’s back.
I might not have been able to see anything, but I could hear that Corra was in danger and I knew that Corra was right in front of me going by her voice.
I left Novla to grab onto Corra, shielding her within my arms.
A sharp blade pierced my side. The pain was nothing compared to that which I already felt, but it did cause one more wound for me to bleed from. Then, because my throat no longer allowed me to speak and because my eyes refused to see, I had to run my hands over Corra to check on her to see if she was alright.
Corra could tell what I was doing and grabbed onto my hands to stop me. “I am fine… my lord,” she said, her voice lowered. “Even when you are like this… you still – you still… Nakra,” she spoke up, “I will not torture him, but you have no problem with us killing those who harm us, do you?”
Nakra, still held in Crim’s arms, shook her head.
She was only against cruelly torturing people. She was not naïve; she had no issue with killing those who wished to kill us.
“I am sorry that we could not convince him, my lord,” Corra said, leaving my arms to deal with the man who tried to kill her.
“Stay – stay away from me! I’ll kill you!” he shouted.
“You came here as part of a group who wishes to take our lives. You refused to heal us when given the chance. You tried to kill me, and you dared to attack my lord. You are the one who shall die here,” Corra explained, approaching him with her body rather than using her flames on him from a distance.
Part of me desperately wanted to stop her to keep him alive in hopes of somehow convincing him to heal Nakra, but that wasn’t going to happen. Furthermore, now this human had the determination to fight for his life. He was no longer the coward who could not run away.
He had every intention of going down with a fight.
And Corra was the one to offer him the fight he sought.
He slashed his blade at her, but Corra twisted around to evade it while using her tail to sweep his legs out from underneath him. He fell to the ground and tried to turn himself over to cut at her, but she wrapped her powerful tail around the wrist that held his weapon.
She may have never won any of the sparring sessions with my other monsters, but she still gained valuable experience in close-quarters combat thanks to these sessions.
Corra used her tail to drag the man across the ground toward the edge of the ground – right up to the magma.
“We will not suffer his screams if he goes face first,” Corra said, grabbing the man by the back of his neck to hold him over the magma.
He was already close enough to the heat to be burning. Just as he started to shout, Corra pushed his face into the magma and held it there for several seconds before pushing the rest of his body in.
There was no way for us to convince him to help us. He refused to listen to Lucia’s offer, he refused to break by Corra’s methods – he was set in his stubborn beliefs.
I would have been angry at how stubborn he was if it were not for the fact that I was more concerned about Nakra’s condition.
And then I felt a couple of small hands press against my chest.
I immediately recognized the feeling – I recognized the healing magic flowing into me.
Her magic worked quickly enough for me to be able shout at her again. “Heal yourself!” I ordered.
“All… I can do,” Nakra said, her voice sounding even weaker than before.
I could see once more. Crim stood before me with a somber expression on his face as he held Nakra, helping her in defying me.
Nakra’s magic ended almost as quickly as it began. The miniscule power that she regained was immediately poured into me, and there was only just barely enough to make me able to speak and see again. I still had a bleeding hole in my side, my eyes and throat still burned, and my chest remained tight, but she was able to heal me just barely enough so that I was not completely useless.
Such minor healing never would have been enough to begin closing the hole in her abdomen.
“Did you give her her blood back?” I asked Crim.
“That… did not work well, my lord. I am sorry,” Crim apologized. “I was only able to return an insignificant amount of her blood to her. I am preventing her from bleeding out, but… her insides – several of her organs were destroyed.”
“It’s a miracle she is still conscious,” Lucia joined in.
“I still had… a job-goal to do,” Nakra said, looking up at me with a weak-but-smiling expression. “When I… will you convert-turn me like the others?”
I took Nakra from Crim’s arms. “I will,” I answered. “You will always be a part of me and the dungeon. You will be a part of every one of us as long as I convert you.” While Nakra smiled, I turned my attention to Deiti. “Please. Is there anything that I can do to save her?”
“All you can do now is comfort her,” Deiti answered. “The size of her wound is even larger than yours was, and hers is in a much more vital location. If anything, it is a miracle that you were not more gravely wounded than you were from that attack. Nakra… is not so lucky.”
In other words, there was nothing that I could do.
I was powerless.
Just like when it came to trying to leave my dungeon, there was not a single thing that I could do no matter how hard I tried.
All I could do was comfort her.
While humans assaulted my dungeon from the southern entrance, making their way through my traps toward the arena room, and while more humans brought their weapons against my constructs and gnomes in the south-eastern room, Nakra faced death in my arms.
Yet she did not look to be in pain.
Nakra looked weak, but she was smiling.
“Thank you,” she said, reaching up to place a hand on my cheek.
Even leaving that healer alive to try and save her was pointless. All it accomplished was reminding her of the days when she was tortured.
“Are… are you sure that you can’t heal yourself? Is there anything that—”
Nakra shook her head to interrupt me.
I could feel her body grow weaker within my arms. Her ears fell flat, her tail hung limp in the air as did her arms and legs – now that Crim was no longer preventing the bleeding, she was rapidly approaching death.
The only thing that I could do was stand there with her, holding her in my arms, to try and comfort her however I could in her final moments.
“Are… you safe-alright?” Nakra asked me.
“I’m fine. You healed me, thank you,” I answered.
“G-good. If… you are safe-alright… I can take a nap.”
“You’ve earned it. Rest for as long as you need to.”
That wasn’t what I wanted to say.
I wanted to shout and plead with her not to rest – to keep her eyes open no matter what. I wanted to give her an order to stay alive no matter how she felt.
But that was not what was appropriate.
“Thank you,” Nakra said again.
“Thank you for taking care of us,” I told her. “We wouldn’t be here if it was not for your help. You have been, and always will be, important to us.”
Tears stained the fur around Nakra’s eyes. “Sorry that I… could not help-heal more.”
“Don’t be. You have already done more than enough.”
“Is it… really alright if I sleep-rest now?”
“It is. Whenever you are ready.”
“Then… I think I will sleep now. It hurts-pains to stay awake. Thank you,” Nakra said to me before slowly turning her head around to look at the others around. “Thanks for… being my family.”
Corra was handling it similar to how I was as she tried her best to smile, but the sudden movements of her shoulders and her twitching lips reveled to me how she truly felt.
I felt the exact same way.
“Goodnight,” Nakra said. “See you… when I wake up.”
Nakra’s eyes slowly shut as her life left her body.
Between the loss of organs and bleeding out, it was impossible for her to stay conscious – to stay alive without significant healing.
There was nothing that I could do to stop Nakra from dying in my arms.
All that I could do was follow my instincts as a dungeon core.
With her lifeless body in my arms, I converted Nakra’s corpse into aether to absorb it.
She would always be with us, even in death.
And her death would not be in vain.