It was frustrating. Even if we survived – if most of us survived, that did not stop it from being frustrating.
I lost monsters before and I was pained from the loss, but recalling the loss of Nakra hurt even more. I was closer to her than I was to the others on an emotional level. Even on a physical level, she had begun to comfortably sleep with me and the others. I became so used to having her around that I now had to get used to being without her.
But that did not stop me from smiling.
Even when it hurt to smile, I forced myself to. Remembering how upset it made my monsters to see me when I was outraged over not being able to leave my territory – I did not want them to see me in such a state again. For the sake of my monsters, my family, I did my best to act as if nothing was wrong.
Yet the more I did so, the tighter my chest felt.
Smiling, laughing, praising my monsters for their excellence in the battle – all of this was far harder than I ever knew it could be.
It was only after we dealt with all the corpses of the humans, stripping them of their gear to put in a pile before I converted their corpses, that I told my monsters I wished to be alone.
The aching in my chest became too much to bear around them.
Rather than sit down in my throne where they would be able to see me from the hall, I sat down behind it with my back against it.
“Deiti,” I said. After all, I was never truly alone so long as I had Deiti with me. “Is there anything that I can—”
“No,” Deiti was quick to answer as she already knew exactly what I wanted to ask. “The dead are dead. Even if you could bring her back, it would be too late.”
“What if I summon another one? I unlocked the ability to summon more norbolds when she joined us, didn’t I?” I forget if I ever mentioned that or not. Similar to how I learned the ability to summon new monsters by evolving mine, I learned how to summon more norbolds by officially recruiting Nakra. “If I summon one, since I absorbed her aether… could it be her?”
“No. It is possible that you may summon one who looks like her, potentially one who both looks and behaves like her, but it would not truly be her.”
“There is more to a being than that. Even if you were to use the exact aether you gained from converting her to summon a norbold exactly like her, it would not be her.”
“But if it looks and acts like her, and even has the same aether, then—”
“Then she would still lack her soul. She would lack her memories. Her emotions. Her dreams and goals. Her experiences. Everything that truly made her who she was would not return. Trying to summon her back would give you nothing more than a doll imitating her. It would be an insult to her. Furthermore… we both know that it would not take the pain you feel away.”
“Is there really no way?”
“There is really no way. I wish that there was, but there is not.”
There was something else that Deiti mentioned which made me curious about it, and I figured that asking her questions might be good for distracting myself. “What’s the difference between a soul and somebody’s aether?”
“Aether is inside of all things. One cannot exist without aether. Even the tiniest of pebbles or specks of sand will have aether within them, albeit in such miniscule amounts that you would not gain any noticeable amount even if you were to convert thousands of them. The soul – that is something unique to every single one of us. Aether makes us what we are, but the soul makes us who we are. Aether makes the physical form. The soul makes the person – animal, monster, or any other sentient being, who they are. Do you understand that?”
“Aether gives us our bodies, but the soul makes us who we are.”
“What about me? Do I have a soul?”
“Yes, though it may be more appropriate to say that you have a fragment of my own soul that you have modified to be more original. It is… complicated, and I am not even entirely sure of what I did myself.”
“How can you not be sure? You’re the one who did it.”
“Yes, I may have done it, but that does not mean I understand how I did it. Well, not completely, anyways. Much of it was random experimentation – essentially chasing a ‘feeling’ and hoping for the best.”
“What if something would have went wrong?”
“Then I may have potentially died… compared to the alternative of dying regardless. It was either die while failing with my experiment of bringing you to life, die while doing nothing, or fuse my soul with you and then allow my physical body to die regardless. All options involved death. Only one option involved my spirit staying here.”
“What would have happened to your soul if it didn’t stay here? What’s happened to… Nakra’s soul?”
“I cannot even begin to think about what happens to our souls once we are dead. Me being here with you – I am the exception. If I were to fail, or regarding the souls of those who die normally, Nakra included… I truly have no idea what happens to their souls. Some humans believe in an afterlife of sorts where their souls reside after death. I once encountered monsters who believe in reincarnation – they believed that souls are placed into new bodies upon death and given another life without any of their previous memories. Others believe that nothing happens. That everything is simply over. I cannot tell you which of these is the truth, nor can I tell you if any of them are. Whoever discovers the truth will likely be the one to change this world.”
“I see. Then, if Nakra’s soul is somewhere still… then all I have to do is find it and bring it back.”
There was a long silence between what I said and Deiti’s response. When she did finally respond to me, though, I was met with something I was unfamiliar with coming from her.
“Ga-gahahaha! You – I have never heard of anybody say such a thing! That is… that is so truly absurd that I cannot wait until you are intelligent enough to understand what you have just said. To wish to go after somebody’s soul to bring them back to life, no matter where they may be – that is so… this is something that I would expect nothing less from the emperor of this volcano. I am glad that your arrogance and confidence are developing so wonderfully. You are making for more and more of a truly entertaining companion.”
“You didn’t answer my question,” I said.
“How could I? After all, you were once a rock – a rock that has gained sentience and a soul combined with a dragon’s, who now has his own dungeon, monsters, a body… perhaps you will be able to discover the truth of what comes after this world, and perhaps you will find a way to drag souls back to us. Only time will tell with you, I am sure, but I will not be discouraging you from attempting such an entertaining journey.”
She still didn’t give me a proper answer, but I could feel just how entertained she was by me, and that did make me feel at least a tiny bit better. After all, our emotions were linked. Even if I felt horrible, making Deiti laugh made her happy, and her feeling happy made by feel happier.
But only by a small amount.
There was still a tightening sensation within my chest that throbbed and ached, and it would not go away so easily.
Before I could try to relax or distract myself with Deiti any further, though, another voice spoke up to grab my attention.
“My – my lord? Are you here?” Corra asked.
I wasn’t sure how I wanted to respond. I could have told her to leave as I still wished to be alone – just to clarify, when I say “alone,” Deiti is excluded from that. Deiti was always with me ever since the very first moment that I gained sentience. She was a part of me that I did not know how to live without. As annoying as she may have been at times, the thought of separating myself and getting space away from her never occurred to me. Now, back to Corra, I was not sure if I wished to tell her if I wanted to stay alone or if I should allow her to stay since I was sure that was what she wanted.
“You should confide in her,” Deiti suggested. “Confiding in me does nothing. I already know everything about how you feel and why. Perhaps spending this time of grief with another who is not inside of your head will help you accept it.”
“My lord…? I heard you talking. Are you alright?” Corra asked again, still looking around for me.
Looking back, it was obvious that she knew where I was, but she was waiting for me to call out to her.
I decided to accept Deiti’s advice and called out to Corra. “I’m back here,” I said, sticking one arm out from behind my throne to signal to her.
Corra appeared standing next to me the very next second. She really did know exactly where I was that entire time. “My lord… are you alright? You left us so suddenly before.”
“No,” I answered honestly and placed a hand over my chest. “There is a burning pain in my chest whenever I think about… Nakra.”
Rather than say anything, Corra wrapped her arms around my head and hugged me against her chest. “You acted fine in front of us so that we would not feel bad, didn’t you, my lord?”
((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.))
Feeling Corra’s warm embrace – I understood what Deiti meant. Even if Deiti knew everything about how I felt, she could not offer me any physical comfort like Corra could, and to be open and honest to somebody who did not already know everything was different. “I… yes,” I answered, honestly.
“I am not happy that you hid your feelings from us, but thank you, my lord. But please… don’t worry about me right now. Allow me to pamper you to your heart’s content. There is not much else that I can do.”
“Yes, my lord! Please, stand up.” I wasn’t sure what Corra intended, but I stood up as she requested. She took my spot right after I did, sitting down with her back to the back of my throne and her legs extended out in front of her. “Here, my lord.” She patted the top of her bared thighs. “Rest your head here, please!”
I got on the ground and laid down onto my back, allowing the back of my head to land atop Corra’s thighs.
She wasted no time in bringing one hand up to my head where she brushed the hair away from my forehead and stroked her fingers through my hair. Meanwhile, her other hand traced gentle circles and other shapes along my skin using the tips of her fingers.
“Thank you, my lord,” Corra said as she hung her head over my own, looking directly into my eyes.
Between the soft warmth of her thighs against the back of my head and the gentle movements of her fingers, I felt the pain in my chest begin to ease… at the cost of the wetness of my eyes increasing.
I found myself struggling to say anything as a tear rolled down from the corner of my eye.
Corra smiled and wiped at the tear with the hand that was stroking through my hair before bringing her face even closer to mine. “My lord, will you please close your eyes for me?” she asked.
Once more, I did as she requested by closing my eyes.
Her soft lips pressed against my forehead between where my horns stuck up from. “Thank you, my lord. If I may make one more selfish request… please allow yourself to release your emotions around me. Even if you do not let anybody else see you when you are like this, please do not hide it from me. I want nothing more than to be of service to you however you may need me, whether it is to kill our enemies or to soothe you when you are hurt. No matter how many tears may run from your eyes, you are still my lord, and… I love my lord. I will never judge you no matter what side of you that you reveal to me, because I love every side you have to offer, and I will always accept however you may feel.”
“You don’t only have control over fire,” I said to her as I wiped at my own tears that time.
“My lord? What do you mean?”
“Tears. I did not know you have control over tears if you are able to make so many come out.” Yes, what was essentially my first ever joke was about me crying.
Corra held one hand over her mouth to giggle. “My – my lord, I do not believe I have such control… but I am happy if I can help bring your feelings to the surface.”
My chest still ached, but I felt better with every tear that left my eyes, and the pain of loss was slowly replaced with appreciation and gratitude for the living once more. “Thank you, Corra.”
“There is nothing to thank me for, my lord. I am happy to be of service to you.”
“No, allow me to thank you. You came here even after I said I would like to be alone to do all of this for me. You deserve to be thanked, and I will thank you.”
“My – my lord…”
“Thank you, Corra. This time, I want to hear you accept my gratitude. Be selfish.”
“I am already being beyond selfish, my lord. To accept your message of thanks would be—”
“I am taking my head off your lap if you do not accept it.”
Corra’s eyes opened wide. “You’re – you’re welcome, my lord! N-now… keep your head here and do not threaten me with something so cruel again.”
Sometimes, you have to threaten somebody with not letting them pamper you in order to get them to accept gratitude.
Corra and I looked into one another’s eyes and smiled, each of us laughing just a bit at the situation.
I learned just how nice it can feel to open up and bare my emotions to others, and I can only hope that all of you, my readers, know to do this as well.