[Vol. 2 pt. 41]
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The humans slowly made their way past the traps located at the main entrance to my dungeon. While traps are incredibly effective against unintelligent monsters and greedy hunters who do not know to be on the lookout for them, they are not capable of much when it comes to humans who are experienced, prepared, and cautious. Whether it was the boulders falling from the ceiling or spikes shooting out from the vents alongside toxic fumes, the humans managed to deal with each and every trap that they came across.

Similar to previous attempts at invading my territory, the humans had several heavily armored hunters leading the way. Each one wielded a shield that covered their entire front, and they wore special helmets that offered complete protection as well as a built-in mask to allow safe breathing even in dangerous environments. While my spiked pyroclastic burst trap may have left dents in the leading human’s shield, none of the spikes managed to pierce the powerful alloy used to construct it.

It did not help that the hunters were already aware of what traps waited for them within the tunnel. They still had intelligence regarding that from before Lucia joined us.

But there was one trap that they did not know of, and it was a trap that their shields would not be able to defend against.

However, before we get to that, allow me to explain something since I am sure some may be curious.

“Why didn’t they try to knock down the wall like before to skip the tunnel?”

Well, you see, they did to a very minor degree. Rather, it would be more appropriate to say that they pierced the wall with a small enough hole that allowed them to look through without putting themselves in danger. That hole was large enough to reveal that the floor on the other side was replaced with a wide pool of magma too long to jump over. To try and climb around it on the thin ledges that remained would have left them far too vulnerable. Unfortunately, they were not dumb enough to do that. They also lacked enough ranged weaponry to make attacking us from the other side of the magma a viable option, especially since they were already aware that I had monsters capable of spitting flames back at them.

So, with the preferred route unviable, they were left continuing through the main entrance which they were already prepared for. There was no need for them to cancel their mission as they were veterans who excelled in attacking positions such as ours. They knew how to deal with traps, they knew how to put down any monster who crossed them – they lacked fear.

Their overconfidence would be their downfall.

There is only one being alive who may wield such an overabundance of confidence, and that being is me!

That was why the humans were not expecting it when they activated my newest trap.

A thin layer of rocks in the ceiling gave way to allow the sharpened pillar enough room to swing down. The lead hunter braced himself behind his shield, but no amount of bracing would have spared him from what was about to happen.

The overwhelming pillar pierced his shield with ease and punched a significant hole into his abdomen. He did not die instantly, but enough of his internal organs were destroyed that there was no way he could survive. The hole created by the pillar was nearly thrice as large as the one I had shot through me.

Unfortunately, between the shield and the armor, his defenses slowed the pillar down enough to prevent it from hitting the hunter who was behind him.

But even managing to take care of one human with the trap was good enough for me. That one trap exploited the humans’ greatest flaw – their unearned confidence.

It struck fear into them.

Fear made them more dangerous, of course, because now they understood that they were in a fight for survival. The chances of them dying were very much legitimate. We were no mere monsters holing up in a cave with wooden traps and poorly dug pits. We were not foolish humans barricading themselves inside of a fortress.

They were not aware that they faced CORE, the most powerful dungeon core to have ever existed and that ever will exist. They were not aware that they faced my monsters, the most powerful and loyal monsters of a dungeon that have ever and that ever will exist!

Had they understood such basic truths, they would not have attacked us unless they were full of suicidal desire.

Yet they pressed on.

With nothing that they could do for their fallen lead, all they did was help him to the ground after pulling him off of the pillar and set him aside. Their course was set and they had no intention of backing down even if it they now understood their lives were in real danger.

Perhaps they truly desired death after all.

And if that was what they sought, then I would be more than happy to deliver it unto them. For when they entered the arena, I stood there beside my ashen firebones to greet them.

The first human to enter the room was quick to learn that every moment disturbed the ash on the ground. Even if they were safe from environmental hazards such as gas and ash, they still took care to disturb it as little as possible as the rest of them entered the room.

“I would offer you the chance to turn around and leave, but I know you humans never learn. You will return tomorrow with even greater numbers if I allow you to leave,” I told them. Of course, the chances of them returning with greater numbers after this were incredibly high in the first place. Especially if I didn’t let any of them return alive.

“You hear that?” one of the men in the group asked. “This monster is trying to talk like a human! Never heard that before.”

My speech was nothing more than an amusing trick to them.

“He looks strong. Don’t take him lightly,” another of the humans said, this time a woman.

There were six hunters in total excluding the now dead one in the tunnel. Only one of them was heavily armored with a shield and a mace. The rest were still well-equipped with survival gear to spare them from any potential environmental hazards. As far as weapons went, two of them wielded swords with smaller shields, one held a mighty hammer as large as his body was, one had a pair of blades at her hips, and the final human—the woman who warned not to take me lightly—had what looked like a hybrid of a bow and a firearm pointed directly at my head.

“He’s just standing there. Think he’s stupid or something?” another of the hunters asked, inspiring me to smile.

“Something’s not right,” the woman said. “We need to be—”

The man wielding the oversized hammer stepped forward, breaking free from the rest of them. “We have a job to do. The longer we stand around doing nothing, the longer it’s going to be before we get out of here. I don’t know about the rest of you lot, but I want paid and I want out of this place making me sweat so damn much.”

“But, sir! Don’t you think we should—”

“Haven’t you noticed already? Use your eyes and you’ll see exactly what this monster is waiting for.” To my surprise, the hammer-wielding man pointed his hammer at three spots on the floor. Each spot just so happened to be exactly where I had the disguised pits full of magma waiting for them to drop into. “The ash is too uniform around those spots. Probably pits under them. And if you look up, this ceiling is domed. I doubt there are any traps hidden up there. If there are, it’s high enough that we’ll be able to get out of the way in time. Other than that,” the man paused before exhaling a deep breath. All he did was breathe, yet I heard a loud-pitched ping-like noise in my ears for a fraction of a second. The rest of my nearby monsters heard it, too. “There are four more nearby, likely behind that corner. Three traps in the floor and six monsters total. As long as we avoid the traps, I don’t see what the problem is.”

“Leave it to our boss to figure all that out!” one of the hunters with a sword and shield said, patting the man on his back before joining him at his side.

“Was that some sort of magic?” I asked the, admittedly impressive, hunter with the hammer.

“Intelligent enough to ask questions, are you?” the man asked me in response. “Then I’ll entertain your question before I kill you. No, it was not ‘magic’ as you may be thinking.”

“Then what was it?”

“Let’s call it a technique from my homeland.”

“I see. Thank you for answering my questions.”

“You’re pretty polite for a monster.”

“I asked you not one, but two questions. You answered both. I see no reason to refuse you a thanks before I convert you into aether.”

“Heh. Never thought I’d meet a monster like you. I almost want to take my time to enjoy this instead of killing you right away.”

“You seem to be mistaken about who’s killing who today.”

“Am I? As far as I know, you and every last one of your monsters are the ones dying here in your cave.”

“You are. As far as I know, you and every last one of your humans are the ones dying here in my dungeon.”

Before I realized it, me and the human had a back-and-forth going on between who was going to be killing who. It was, to be quite honest, rather entertaining. Yet, with every rebuttal of my statements, my desire to prove him wrong by killing him was growing.

I was not making a friend so much as I was making a rival who I would enjoy killing even more.

((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.))

The man standing next to my new rival sighed and looked back at the others. “You know how long the boss is going to keep this going if we don’t interrupt. Ray, let’s get this going.”

“Got it,” the girl, who was apparently named Ray, replied with a nod as she leaned out from behind the hammer-wielding leader with her ranged weapon. The exact second the barrel of her weapon was pointed at my head, she pulled the trigger without any hesitation.

I tilted my head just quickly enough to avoid the shot. Instead of hitting me, it went right past my head into the wall behind me.

“Tch, I guess these brats are tired of waiting,” the hammer-wielding man said. “I’ll admit, I had fun, but it’s time to put an end to this.”

“I hope the next humans who offer their aether to me are as entertaining as you,” I replied.

“Ray, stay focused on that tunnel back there. Shoot anything that comes around the corner.”

“Yes, sir!” Ray said, switching her focus from me to the tunnel behind me.

“The rest of you, let’s put this monster in his place.”

Together, with their leader in the front, the humans charged at me while making sure to avoid the pitfall traps.

Fortunately, I never intended for them to fall into the pitfall traps in the first place.

From the two traps near the sides of the room, Dian and Sidi climbed out of them and jumped up, thrusting their spears down toward the nearest humans. I made sure to place Sidi in the pit that her twin used to reside in while Dian took Sidi’s former pit. Each of them hung in the pits with their fingers dug into the rock walls, ready to throw themselves upward and attack as soon as the humans were close enough.

Both Sidi and Dian scored a kill each. Sidi’s spear thrust into one hunter’s neck while Dian’s impaled the head of the nearest hunter to him. The spears made of the ancients’ legs proved to be incredibly effective. In just an instant, two humans were killed and the odds were in our favor.

Not that they were never in our favor in the first place.

Then, as the man with the hammer was about to swing it down against me, another of my monsters slid along the ground between my legs with a sword in tow.

Crim essentially had himself stuck to my back in waiting the entire time with his body morphed to match my exact shape. So long as I stayed still, it was easy for him to remain hidden behind me. When I had to tilt my head, all the hunters saw was more of my “hair” that was actually Crim’s body. Now, after sliding between my legs and the hammer-wielder’s legs, Crim made it straight to Ray. No obstacles were left between him and her as he returned his shape to its usual safe, his sword readied in his hands.

And that sword thrust right into the woman’s abdomen.

“I was hoping for more of a challenge,” Crim said to her, twisting the blade around before pulling it out.

The six humans were cut down to three as soon as the battle began. All that were left was the hammer-wielding leader, the one hunter wielding the suit of heavy armor with a shield and mace, and the remaining male with the sword and shield who was standing next to his boss.

As for me, I rose my arms up and crossed them in front of me to block the hammer’s blow. I felt, and heard, cracks in my arms from doing this, but I wished to fight the humans on my own terms. I had no intention of using that sword I took from them before.

So even if it meant breaking my arms, I was going to block the human’s hammer with my own body, and then I was going to kill him using it no matter how broken it may become.

Perhaps I was turning into a masochist. Either way, I would prove to this human that I did not need anything other than my own body to defeat him.

“I’ll handle this one. The rest of you can handle the others,” I ordered.

Meanwhile, my ashen firebones stood there by my side not really sure what to do with itself since the situation was otherwise under control.

Then there was Ahti who peeked her head around the corner to see what was happening. She was supposed to serve as a surprise attack when signaled, but my plan was being executed perfectly thus far. I never had to give her the signal. So, rather than fight, Ahti stayed in the back watching and waiting for the signal.

I still feel kind of bad about that.

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