First came the pickaxes. It took a couple of days for Novla to forge all of the required tools but, once he was done, we had a surplus of pickaxes ready to be used in the caves.
But there was nobody to use them yet.
That meant it was time for more monster summoning. Just as Novla and I had discussed, I summoned one more aurbold so that the dungeon now hosted two of them before summoning a total of ten kobolds. Together, these aurbolds and kobolds made up what would become our first expeditionary mining group!
Novla and I stood next to each other, proud of our work. He stood there with his hands confidently on his hips, and I liked that, so I copied him. The two of us stood side by side, hands on our hips, proud smiles on our faces. Ah, and Corra was also there copying our pose with her hands on her hips.
Admittedly, Novla did most of the work. He worked the forge for two days to get all of those pickaxes ready. Me? I simply had to summon the monsters. However, Novla was one of my monsters now, so that meant that I could be proud of his work!
“Now, you understand what your task is,” I said to the group. I already explained to them what needed to be done, so I won’t bother repeating that for you since you learned of their would-be task last chapter.
“Elder CORE,” Novla spoke up. “Will you name them?”
“Name them? Ah, you mean giving them each names.”
“No, the group.”
“What do you mean?”
“Back in the village, we named our groups. Our mining group was named the Stone Scales. The ones who tended to the plants were Brown Hides.”
“I see. Is there a point in naming a group?”
“Tradition, and it inspires unity within the group.”
“I see. Then,” I turned to look back at the new mining group, “is a name for your group something that you would like?”
While the aurbolds were more reserved with their nodding, the kobolds excitedly jumped up and down.
“Very well! Then from now on, you shall be named… I will name you… hmm. Naming is difficult even when it comes to giving a group name.”
“Oh! My lord! I know!” Corra shouted.
“The Emperor’s Picks!”
I did like that the name appealed to my ego, so I looked over the group to see what they thought of it. Fortunately, they loved it. “Very well! From now on, you will be known as the Emperor’s Picks! You will work as a group, live as a group, and fight as a group should you find yourselves in a situation where you cannot escape. However, your highest priority is to stay alive. Even if it should mean abandoning the rarest metals that you’ve found while you are out, if you are threatened, you are to return here without delay. Not a single one of you are permitted to die. Do you understand?”
The aurbolds and kobolds lifted their pickaxes into the air and cheered.
“Now, go out and prove to the world that you are the greatest miners to have ever existed!”
And with that, the Emperor’s Picks rushed out of the dungeon ready to bring back more resources.
“I like that about you, Elder CORE,” Novla said.
“Like what?” I asked, partly because I enjoyed having others say what they liked about me and partly because I had no idea which part of me he was talking about.
“You cherish the lives of even the weakest. In our village, kobolds were treated as expendable. Their lives were only given value if they lived long enough to grow into aurbolds.”
“The more I learn about Deta and the treatment of monsters in your village, the more I dislike them.”
“I can’t imagine the village lasting much longer between the humans and the ancients. Not under Deta’s leadership. If anything, it would be better to take it over yourself. Bring it under your rule and make use of the resources there.”
“I agree!” Corra spoke up. “Besides, we have our lord! There is no need for other leaders to exist within this world so long as our lord is here to guide all of us! He is the only one that any of us need. If anything, Deta’s existence is an insult to our lord! My lord, don’t you agree that we should remove him and bring those underneath him under you instead? If you would like me to, I would be happy to—”
“We are allies,” I interrupted her. “We made a deal and I will not go back on my word.”
Novla shrugged and Corra sighed.
The idea of taking over Deta’s village never even occurred to me before, and I did not see how it would be a good idea at all. That would mean even more lives that I was directly responsible for without having the means to safely protect all of them yet.
It was out of the question.
However, something else was in the question.
“Now that the Emperor’s Picks have been sent on their mission, it is time for the cave leeches. Who should I send with you?” I asked Novla.
“Right, you need me to lead the way,” Novla said before yawning. Now was the time when he would be sleeping – he always slept after working. “Do you want to come?” he asked Corra.
“I am perfectly fine staying here by my lord’s side,” Corra said with a huff as if she was insulted by the question.
“Then… the obsidian gnomes?”
“Hmm, they are experienced in traveling beyond the dungeon’s territory,” I said. “Very well. They will be sent with you – wait. I should give them a name as well, shouldn’t I?”
And one instantly came to mind – the name that I have been prematurely teasing this entire time.
After gathering the Sidi, Dian, and the obsidian constructs together, I looked over them with pride. Pride in them and pride in the name that I came up with without any help.
“From now on,” I said before getting interrupted.
“Say ‘henceforth’ instead of ‘from now on.’ It sounds more regal,” Deiti chimed in as annoyingly as ever.
With a sigh, I started over. She was lucky that her suggestion did sound better. “Henceforth, you will be known as the Obsidian Guard! You are the guards that protect this volcano and its inhabitants from all threats, and it is your duty to venture beyond these tunnels to ensure that none may ever come to threaten our territory! Do you accept this name, my Obsidian Guard!?”
The constructs and Sidi were relaxed and had no notable reaction, but Dian raised his spear and shouted, “We do, my lord! But… may I ask why you have decided to name us?”
“Because group names inspire unity! And tradition!”
“It is tradition?”
“It is now.”
“I see! Alright, my lord!” Dian then turned to face the others, speaking in a hushed voice. “Show some excitement for our lord.”
“Yay,” Sidi said in a voice even more monotone than Ahti’s while the constructs lazily lifted their spears.
“It is alright,” I said. “You are hard workers, so I will not doubt your enthusiasm. So long as you approve of the name, everything is well.”
After hearing that, Sidi and the constructs lifted their spears considerably higher than before, and I will admit that it did make me happy to see that.
“Now, I have a mission for you!”
They lowered their spears.
Dian turned around to scold them again, but I stopped him before he could open his mouth.
“It is alright. However, this needs to be done, and I will reward you all with extended rest upon competition of the task. Does that make up for interrupting your rest?” I asked.
They lifted their spears back up. Even though they lacked expressive faces and voices, I could still read the mood and tell how they felt.
“Good. You will be accompanying Novla here into a cave known for being a breeding ground for cave leeches. All you must do is protect him and follow any orders he gives in the field in regard to the capture of the leeches.”
“Say ‘procurement’ instead of ‘capture’ next time,” Deiti chimed in again. Now that she no longer had to teach me about speaking in general, she began to focus on teaching me specific words to improve my vocabulary so that I no longer spoke with such basic words.
“The procurement of the leeches is your priority.”
“Oh, can I go?” asked Lucia from behind me. “I’m interested in seeing what a breeding tunnel for the cave leeches looks like, and I may have some… ideas that may benefit us.”
“Very well. You may accompany Novla and the Obsidian Guard.”
“Thank you. I’ll go grab my things.”
“Novla, make sure that she does not get herself into any trouble,” I said as soon as Lucia was gone.
“I’ll try, Elder CORE,” Novla whispered in response.
“By the way… I have noticed that you have become especially fond of saying ‘very well.’ I wonder who you could have possibly picked that up from,” Deiti said.
And she was right. She used to say it rather frequently, and then I started to say it. It is simply… such a useful phrase. It can be used in almost any situation! However, let us move on before I write an entire chapter on how useful that particular phrase is.
Once Novla, Lucia, and the Obsidian Guard departed for the tunnels with the cave leeches, I was left in what felt like a rather empty dungeon. It was the emptiest it had been ever since before I first acquired so many monsters.
However, before I go into detail regarding what happened in the cave leech tunnels, there is somebody who I have not yet given any attention to this volume.
“Master, are you ready?” Ahti asked as she stood across from me, standing with a relaxed pose.
I cracked my neck and stretched my arms. “I’m ready, Ahti.”
Those who were still around, including Corra, Crim, and my pyre emperor, gathered to watch the daily sparring session between Ahti and I just like always.
The relaxed Ahti switched to a combat stance the exact second that she heard I was ready, and then she leapt at me.
Ahti may have been a gnome whose body was made of stone, but every fight increased her speed and agility. As proud as I was of her, that was a problem for me since she seemed to improve much faster than I was.
I could hardly raise my arms in time to block her fist that was aimed straight at my face.
Then with my arms already occupied, I felt a kick in my side with enough force behind it to almost knock me over.
Her other leg then pressed against my abdomen and used me as a wall to jump off of, getting her back to safety before I even had a chance to retaliate while also pushing me back a little.
All of these were attacks that I had seen from her before, but this was the first time that she used all three in such a quick combination and in that order.
((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.))
“Impressive, Ahti,” I said. “But you are not the only one developing new techniques.”
“Master isn’t giving up?” Ahti asked. Even though she had a blank expression and spoke with zero emotion in her voice, I could tell that intended to tease me. After all, she knew that there would be no way that I could consider giving up on her!
And now, it was my turn to attack. She readied her defense as I lunged at her, ready to strike at her core which was what I usually went for.
But instead of committing to punching her core, I feigned the attack to sweep my leg toward hers.
There was a problem with that, though. The problem was that she anticipated my fake attack, jumped up, and wrapped her arms around my neck as she flipped over my head, resulting in her hanging down against my back with her chin resting on my right shoulder.
“Is Master sure he doesn’t want to give up?” Ahti asked.
“Master is sure,” I answered, grabbing onto her arms to keep her in place before jumping up and falling down onto my back, crushing Ahti between me and the floor.
While she was stunned from that, I broke free from her grasp and rolled over so that I had her pinned down underneath me, my legs on each side of her torso as I held one hand down against her neck and the other against her forehead.
“The question is if Ahti wants to give up,” I teased.
Ahti opened up her eyes with a rare smile before kicking her legs up, managing to wrap them around my neck and head, and pulling me backward until my head was hit against the ground as her legs stayed around my head.
She had me pinned and there was nothing that I could do to break free. All I was able to do was grab her legs and try to pry them off of me, but they were too powerful. Nobody’s legs, not even my own, could match Ahti’s in sheer strength.
Our sparring session lasted under a minute before I was forced to surrender.
“You – you win,” I groaned out, hardly able to speak.
Ahti immediately released me upon hearing that. “Ahti’s undefeatable,” she said. If she ever actually showed emotion, I am positive that she would have looked as smug as one could possibly look.
“How do you improve so quickly?”
“Ahti wants to be the strongest for Master. Ahti has to be strong to protect her treasure.”
“There’s nothing else? You are only improving so quickly because of your desire to protect me?”
“Yeah. Ahti doesn’t need any other reason.”
“Then I will have to rely on my desire to protect all of you the next time I am training. I wanted to grow stronger to fight even stronger enemies as well as protecting you, but I will focus only on my desire to protect you the next time.”
“It’s okay. Think about fighting enemies. Ahti will do the protecting.”
“I cannot allow you to be the only one doing the protecting.”
“Corra will help. And Crim. And the others.”
“She has a point, my lord!” Corra spoke up. “We will defend you while you may focus on whatever else it is that you would like to do! Though… I would like it if your focus was on wanting us rather than wanting to fight bigger monsters.” Corra raised her hands up to her cheeks as her tail squirmed behind her. “Ah… to imagine my lord desiring me so fervently… per-perhaps that is too strong of a focus for you to have right now. I am not sure if I would be able to handle it…”
“Ahti could handle it,” Ahti said.
“Then – then I am sure I could handle it as well!”
“Ahti could handle it better.”
If it wasn’t for Corra knowing that she had no effective way of even pretending to fight Ahti, then she would have challenged her to a sparring duel, but Corra knew how pointless that was.
Ahti was too strong for any of us.