“Be more careful this time,” Deiti warned me. “I know how you feel. Do not forget that our feelings are shared. I want revenge as much as you do, and that is why I wish for you to be careful. You will not be able to kill every last one of these humans if you get yourself gravely wounded again.”
I was ready to refuse Deiti’s warning until she told me that last part. She did not want me to be careful for our own protection so much as she wanted me to be careful so that I could kill more of the humans. After all, I would not be able to kill them if I was dead.
I never heard of such a good reason to be careful before.
To kill the human invaders was to not only avenge Nakra, but it was to safeguard the future of all of my monsters. There was no path forward that did involve killing every last one of the intruders upon my territory.
“Stay here and prepare for another attack,” I ordered my nearby monsters while picking up my sword that Novla fetched for me.
They accepted my order in silence. Even if Nakra had not been with us for long, she was a member of our dungeon – our family. Even Lucia, a human, looked as if she regretted what had happened.
So I would give them time to grieve. Even if it was only for a few minutes, I wished to give them space as I knew they would keep up their emotional barriers for as long as I was around. None of them wanted to show just how shaken up they were in front of me while we were under attack. I would not have minded in the slightest if they did, but I could not spend the time explaining to them how showing all of their emotions in front of me was more than alright while there was a battle raging in the southern room.
I left them so that they could grieve, and so that I could join the gnomes and constructs in the southern room’s battle.
My own grieving would be saved for later.
It had to be saved for later.
No matter how much I may have wanted to sit down and let my emotions run their course, I had to continue the fight. I had to fight so that my monsters could live for another day.
I would always stand against any foe who dared to challenge us no matter when, where, nor how I felt.
“Move!” I shouted, running up from behind my monsters in the southern room.
Dian and Sidi, standing at the center of the defensive line against the humans, moved to give me just enough space to charge between them.
The human who was standing on the other side was cleaved in two from above as I tore my sword through his body.
“What did I tell you about being careful?! Running into the middle of the humans is not being careful!” Deiti shouted at me.
Being careful was easier said than done.
“What – what is this monster?!” one of the human soldiers shouted. This southern room had more humans than northern passage did, but they were less armored and more standardized. Each had a sword and shield, and they grouped up in lines with ranged support behind them and healers in the back.
Not even the healers would be spared this time.
One of the humans brought his sword against me, but he did not even put enough force into his swing to cut my arm.
“Such a weak-willed swing could never cut me!” I shouted at him before slamming my horns into his armored forehead. He failed to cut me, but I did not fail to dent in his armor and stagger him. Then, I looked back at my monsters. “Do not stand still! Push forward! Push them back until there is no ground left for them! If they wish to take our volcano from us, they may bathe in its magma!”
Dian and Sidi, with their shields and spears, pushed forward against the humans. One other construct had a sword and shield as well, but the rest of them had to use their arms to push.
The humans were not equipped well enough to deal with constructs made of obsidian, either. They could only push back with their shields to try and counter the push of my monsters.
But with my disrupting their ranks, that became impossible for them to do.
Then I turned just in time to see a human thrusting his sword at my head.
And I saw Ahti jump down between us, breaking the sword into two before slamming her fist into the human’s face.
“Ahti will fight with master,” she said.
“Do not leave a single one of them alive,” I whispered to her, failing to prevent a single crack in my voice.
Ahti immediately knew that something was wrong because of that, but she still nodded and readied her fists to fight by my side.
Only, there was a problem.
The southern room was exposed to the caldera that my throne room sat in the middle of. As soon as we pushed the humans back enough, those ranged hunters around the top would be able to take shots at us.
And we had no method of countering their attack.
Or rather, we had no proven method.
“Will that be enough?” I asked Deiti.
“That? What are you – you… you mean that? Using that when your aether is already short is too dangerous! You will have to immediately acquire more aether this is over if you want to do that, and you will not have any bodies to convert if you throw them all into the lava!” Deiti replied.
“But will it work?”
“I – I do not know, but it is probably our best option for dealing with those above.”
“How do I use it?”
“You should be able to feel what to do when you try to activate it. Follow the natural course that you feel once you begin. Just… be careful. You cannot afford to run out of aether. If you do, then—”
Deiti did not reply, but I could sense that I reassured her even if only slightly.
“Ahti,” I said, handing my sword over to her, “protect me.”
Ahti nodded and wielded the sword with ease. It looked even more oversized when she was the one holding it, but that did not stop her from almost effortlessly swinging it around into our enemies.
Now, just to be careful since Deiti was right in her concern, I looked down at the corpse of the human who I split into halves.
There was no need for Deiti to give me one of her windows asking me if I wanted to convert the corpse or not. The answer was obvious.
This attack would consume my own natural aether, the aether of the human who I converted… and the aether of Nakra.
I pushed forward through the humans while Ahti cut down any who tried to stop me. As soon as I reached a point where I could look up and see the top of the caldera, I confirmed that the hunters were still up there and grabbed the nearest soldier. I wrapped my left arm around his neck and held him up in front of me, hanging him down over my torso.
Just as I hoped, the hunters had no intention of killing him to reach me.
“This monster is too smart! What’s with it?! Nobody told us about this!” one of the other soldiers shouted as the one who I held scratched at my arm in a desperate attempt to break free.
Just as my line of gnomes and constructs were about to reach me, I held my free arm out to stop them.
And then I held it out toward the top of the caldera.
Deiti was right that all I had to do was think about it and then let it run its course.
All I had to do was chase the sensation I received in response to activating it.
“It is time for you to serve your emperor,” I ordered. “Return from the beyond and use your power in service of me. Bathe those who wish to intrude upon my territory in your flames.” I felt her coil around my body, but she was not yet visible. It was the manifestation of her in raw aether that I felt. “You who were once my enemy will now serve none other than I. You will use your powers for none other than I. Former guardian of this room—”
The ancient pyre emperor manifested around me, her large body pushing away the humans around me as she hung her head in the air next to my own.
“—unleash your Breath of the Pyre Emperor!”
She released a roar that nearly deafened the humans before slithering through them, pushing them out of the way as a volley of shots from the caldera’s rim tore through her.
But there was no body for the shots to harm.
She was a manifestation composed entirely of the aether that I collected within me. The shots passed right through her false form.
Those at the top of the rim did not know what was waiting for them.
Rearing her head back and opening her maw, the manifested pyre emperor unleashed her flames that burned white hot. She rotated her head around to hit most of the rim of the caldera, only leaving the area directly above us as none of the ranged hunters were there. Any humans caught in the fire would not survive for long, and those who did managed to get away from the rim did so at the expense of leaving their weapons behind to be destroyed by the flames.
“This… I had no idea that this is what would happen. I had a feeling that whatever it was would be impressive because of the aether cost, but this – I had no idea that she would manifest in such a form. I simply thought that you would be stealing an ability from her, not summoning her to perform the ability herself,” Deiti said, clearly sounding impressed with me.
And I could feel just how impressed she was as well.
But now that I could feel the toll of using so much aether, Deiti was not happy. “Wait! CORE! I told you to be careful! You are almost completely out of aether! If you lose anymore, you will—”
My manifested pyre emperor vanished, leaving only the humans, my monsters, and myself as I dropped down to one knee. “Now!” I ordered. “Push!”
Even if I needed the humans’ bodies for more aether, I wanted to see them thrown into the magma even more. Besides, a few of the humans were already dead on the ground for me to convert.
“Push as hard as you can!” Dian shouted to the construct as he pushed forward with both his shield and spear. Sidi did the same, and Ahti got in front of me to protect me with the sword I lent her.
“Ahti… would you please help me up?” I asked.
“Master?” Ahti asked.
“I want to watch. I need to see this.”
Ahti nodded, dropping my sword to help me up instead.
Standing with Ahti’s assistance, I watched as Dian, Sidi, and the obsidian constructs pushed the humans back inch by inch. Some of the humans began to climb back up the ropes that they used to lower them down onto this room’s edge, but fire shot out from over our heads to deal with the ropes and prevent the humans’ escape.
Once more, it was Corra and my own pyre emperor who came to lend us their assistance.
“I know that you gave us an order, but we won’t let our flames be outdone, my lord,” Corra said. My pyre emperor nodded with her words.
As proud as I was of them, I couldn’t help but to notice just how red Corra’s eyes were.
Yet she came to help us regardless of that.
“Thank you,” I said.
Corra smiled and rushed over to me to help Ahti in keeping me standing while my pyre emperor watched to make sure that no emergency ropes were lowered.
((This series is only officially posted to: scribblehub.com, acearriande.com, patreon.com/acearriande, and royalroad.com. If you are reading this series on any other website, please send me an email at [email protected] I will not be able to continue posting my stories for free if my series continue being uploaded without my consent to other platforms. If you have paid money for this on Amazon, email me, file a report, and request a refund as it has been stolen and illegally published.))
“Do something! We’re running out of ground!” one of the humans shouted.
“Stop! My – my feet! You’re pushing me into the lava!”
“Can anybody hear us up there?! Help us! Get us out of here!”
“What happened to the hunters?! Why aren’t they shooting them?! Did that snake seriously kill all of them?!”
“Push back as hard as you can! We’re all going to die if you don’t!”
Dian looked over his shoulder to me.
I nodded my head.
“Keep pushing!” Dian ordered.
The first humans were pushed into the caldera’s magma. The healers went first as they were in the back. Smoke rose from their bodies as they burned alive, and their screams and shouts for help were met with the bodies of the ranged soldiers being pushed on top of them.
We created a slowly sinking pile of humans as every last one of them were pushed off of the ground. Once the healers were burned up, the ranged soldiers began to burn. Once they were burned through, the frontline soldiers were burned.
Row by row, the humans were burned.
My only regret was that we did not have enough shields and spears for all of the constructs yet. If we did, pushing them into the magma would have been even faster.
Then, as the final row of human soldiers were pushed off the ground into the magma, one of them grabbed onto Dian’s shield and desperately clung onto it. “Please, please!” he shouted. “Don’t – don’t kill me! I’m sorry! I was only following orders! You – you can understand me, right? Don’t – I have a wife! I have kids! They—”
“Dian, let him have the shield if he wants it so badly,” I ordered.
Dian nodded, dropping his shield into the magma with the human still clinging to it. He then thrust his spear through the man’s head, ending his begging.
With that, all of the humans in the southern room were killed.
“How dare he use his family against us while daring to harm ours,” Deiti said.
“I understand what kids are, but what is a wife?” I asked her.
“I… I will explain that to you once this is over. For now, please hurry and convert all of these corpses lying around.”
There were only seven dead humans for me to convert, but that was enough to restore a healthy portion of my aether. I was not able to regain enough to use Breath of the Pyre Emperor again, but I did regain enough to not be in any immediate risk of running out.
We dealt with the humans who wished to drop toxic gas into my dungeon from above.
We dealt with the humans at the northern passage.
We dealt with the humans on the rim of the caldera.
And now we dealt with the humans who dropped into the southern room.
All that was left were the humans who dared to invade from the main entrance – those who were making their way through the traps to be met with my ashen firebones in the arena.
And I would meet them there.
“My lord,” Corra said, “I… I do not think we’ll be able to provide any more support with our fire.”
I looked down at her and my pyre emperor. “You two have done enough. Thank you.”
“Is there anything else that we can do?”
I looked through the room. Several of the constructs had missing arms, but they were already looking for their respective arms to try and reattach to their bodies. No harm came to the gnomes at all aside from some scratches, but enough continued attacks were able to break the arms off of the constructs.
“You can help them find their arms,” I answered.
“But – there are still humans!” Corra said.
“I will deal with them.”
“Are… are you sure that you do not need me to help fight them?”
“I need you to help the others right now. That is the most important thing you can do in this moment.”
Corra’s concern turned into relief as I made sure that she knew I needed her. “I will do whatever you need of me, my lord! You,” she said, looking down at my pyre emperor, “will help me as well!”
My pyre emperor nodded, leaving my side to help the constructs.
“What will master do now?” Ahti asked. She looked disappointed that I no longer needed her for support.
“I will kill the rest of the humans in our dungeon,” I answered.
“Ahti will help.”
As much as I wished to be able to handle the humans all on my own, I knew that if anybody was to help me, Ahti was the most likely to survive just because of how durable her body was. There was also the fact that she was a powerful fighter all on her own.
“We will help as well, my lord,” Dian said with Sidi at his side.
Before I could say anything, the one construct who had a shield and spear offered their shield to Dian.
Dian accepted it with a smile and a thanks.
Seeing my monsters work together – how could I refuse working together with them?
“Alright,” I said. “The four of us will meet the humans in the arena.”
“The five of us, my lord. You would not leave me out of this when I have not gotten to do much yet, would you?” Crim asked from behind me. “Besides, I have not had a real chance to fight with this body yet. I have been looking forward to my first proper battle with it in service of you.”
I could not help but to smile. “Then the five of us will show these humans what happens when they dare to attack us. But before we go, I will give you each two orders. Your first order is to stay alive at all costs. Your second order is to show the intruders no mercy. Do you understand?”
“Yes, my lord!” Crim and Dian answered. Ahti and Sidi nodded their heads.
“Then let us go and meet our would-be conquerors,” I said. “We will show them who the true conquerors of this volcano are!”