And now it is time for one of those chapters where I tell you about what my monsters were doing beyond my territory rather than what I was doing. Well, I suppose I can tell you a bit of what I was doing during this time.
When I had nothing better to do and had already finished my training, I would either sit or lie around. Naturally, every time I did one of these, Ahti and Corra would come join me by either cuddling with one of my sides or on top of me. Ahti was typically the one who reigned over resting on top of me while Corra preferred to be by my side with an arm wrapped around her.
And then there was the little one – the flame-tail rat. He liked to curl up within my hair. Fortunately, my hair wasn’t flammable, so the ever-burning fire at the tip of his tail never caused me any trouble.
Now that you are aware of the mundane happenings that took place while the others were gone, let us switch to their journey through the tunnels.
Novla led the way. At first, it seemed like they were heading toward Deta’s village, but they had to take a small path hidden sight by a large boulder that could be pushed out of the way. According to Lucia, it was an undiscovered passage as far as humans were concerned. None of the hunters who explored the volcano and its tunnels ever tried to look for hidden passages nor anything similar. They simply charted what could easily be found, often killing everything in their way while taking any resources that were easily found during their trips.
For this new tunnel, it did not lead the group as deep into the volcano as Deta’s village was, but it did stay much closer to the tube of magma that extended deep into the world. Lucia, in particular, struggled with the heat and had to strip her vest off to leave her in only a shirt and shorts. Between that and how much she was sweating, it was likely an… erotic sight, speaking from personal experience in seeing her during such states. But the Obsidian Guard lacked my interest in such sights, and Novla preferred his women to be smooth-chested and covered in scales.
Everybody has their own preferences, after all.
As for me, I understand that bringing up Lucia’s appearance and how erotic it could have been seen as is not exactly relevant to the rest of the chapter, but how could I resist? I appreciate such sights and they deserve to be known! Of course, this also extends to men. Who am I to not admire the beauty in everybody? An emperor cannot be a proper emperor if he is so shortsighted that he only finds beauty in some people! Everybody has beauty within them. Unfortunately, there is not exactly any exciting details to share regarding the others. Novla had to walk sideways through the tight passage due to his size. Lucia had to do the same, resulting in her chest causing her problems with the wall in front of her. Then there were my obsidian gnomes and constructs. They were petite enough that they could walk forward rather than sideways, but their shoulders still occasionally grinded against the rocky walls of the tunnel.
See? Out of all of those, Lucia’s situation is the only one that provides stimulating thoughts for the imagination.
But I will try not to linger on her situation too much. After all, at the end of the tunnel was the breeding den of the cave leeches.
“I’ve… never seen so many of them in one place before,” Lucia said, looking throughout the cavern that was lit only by a river of twisting magma running through its floor.
The ceiling was covered in cave leeches. Well, perhaps that is not a good way of describing how they lived. Not many people are familiar with cave leeches, after all. Therefore, I will give you a lesson on them.
We might as well put some education into the chapter while we are it!
You see, cave leeches are given their name for two reasons. One, they live in caves. Two, they leech off of the lives of others. How do they do this? Well, they do this by digging holes into the ceiling of tunnels that they then curl up within. They can blend in with the ceiling if you are not looking carefully, but they can be easily spotted when you are. They are rather bulbous, fleshy creatures that create burrows within the ceiling, and they only blend in in the sense that they are often a similar color to whatever the environment around them is like.
Now, as for how they “leech” the lives of others…
“Be careful!” Novla shouted as Dian stepped forward.
Dian had no idea what to look for. As far as he might have been concerned, those strange masses within the ceiling were simply some other type of rock.
It was already too late for him and he had no time to react.
The cave leech overheard unfurled itself and sent seven, slimy tentacles down from the ceiling to immediately wrap around his limbs and lift him up. It struggled to lift him up due to his weight, but it managed to do so if not a bit more slowly than it would usually take.
Dian was lifted right up to the ceiling with his head approaching the maw of the cave leech first. A cave leech’s mouth was full of dangerous teeth that could tear through scales with ease, and now Dian’s head was being brought right into the center of the mouth.
The cave leech pulled him in until his entire head was within its mouth, leaving its fangs aimed at his neck.
That is how cave leeches kill – decapitation.
The cave leech closed its maw around the neck… and broke its teeth doing so. Its tentacles unwrapped Dian and dropped him to the ground, doing more damage to him from chipping some of the rock his body was made out of more than it did by trying to decapitate him.
“Are… you alright?” Lucia asked Dian.
The rest of the Obsidian Guard didn’t even seem bothered at the fact that Dian was potentially in a life-threatening situation.
Dian looked up at Lucia and nodded, picking his shield and spear back up afterward.
Now, remember how I said the rest of the Obsidian Guard didn’t seem bothered?
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Of course you do. It was only a couple of sentences ago. Now, I do mean that they only seemed to not be bothered.
Sidi, with her spear held over her shoulder and ready to throw, lined up her spear to the cave leech that assaulted Dian and threw it as hard as she could. The spear went straight into the leech’s mouth, penetrating the organs hidden deeper into the ceiling.
Now, when a cave leech eats something that it shouldn’t to, it has a defensive mechanism of… vomiting everything inside of its body out.
Dian was still standing underneath it.
Apparently, having a spear thrown into the leech’s body counted as activating that defense mechanism.
A waterfall of blood and everything within the leech’s stomach at the time came crashing onto Dian from above. He became covered from head to toe in various fluids from the cave leech, and he could not have looked any more disappointed if he tried to as he stared at Sidi.
Sidi stared right back at him, too.
Now, this is only a rumor supported purely by Dian’s record. Nobody else saw it. But, supposedly… Dian saw Sidi almost crack a smile. It was subtle – the corners of her lips barely curved upward and it happened so quickly that it was impossibly lucky to catch it at all.
But he always believed that she enjoyed the aftermath of her revenge.
“Please don’t come anywhere near me,” Lucia said, already holding her fingers up to pinch her nostrils shut.
Novla sighed and shook his head. “Be careful, not that it matters to any of you other than the human. If you cause too much of a disturbance then they’re going to dig back into the cave’s ceiling and find some other tunnel to breed in.”
“Sorry,” Dian said. He also said that just in time for the cave leech above him to officially die, resulting in its entire body coming loose from the burrow in the ceiling to crash down onto him and knock him over.
Sidi walked over and, rather than help Dian up or get the corpse off from him, she grabbed her spear and pulled it out. That was all.
Dian’s annoyance with her only grew as she continued to cause trouble for him without putting in any effort to help him afterward.
“So, this is what their whole body looks like,” Lucia said, looking the corpse over.
On top of Dian was a very long, soft corpse. From the ground, only their mouth and tentacles were visible. Once exposed, though, you could see the rest of their bodies. Behind their mouths was a long, fleshy mass that contained their brain, stomach, heart – all of their organs and other important parts. Furthermore, you would also be able to see that they have a set of shorter tentacles with claws attached to their tips used for digging through stone. They might not look like very large creatures when you can only see their maw attached to a ceiling, but their true size is exposed once they are no longer hiding the majority of it behind rock.
And in the distance…
“Look, there,” Novla said, pointing across the room to where two cave leeches extended particularly slimy tendrils from within their mouths to meet each other in the air between them. These tentacles wrapped around each other and continued to coil around one another’s lengths until they could no longer do so, tying them together.
“Are they… mating?” Lucia asked.
Novla nodded his head.
“Which is the male and which is the female? Is there any way to tell? If those are their sexual organs, they look the exact same.”
“Both are both. They will each bear offspring in two weeks’ time.” Novla then pointed over to a small pit in the ground directly underneath one of the cave leeches. The pit was full of white fluid… and what appeared to be large grubs writhing around inside of it.
“Are those the children?” Lucia asked.
Novla nodded again. “And that fluid is the milk. The young live in the milk that their parent will replenish whenever it gets low.”
As if one of the cave leeches wanted to provide an example of this, a nearby cave leech extended another tentacle from within its mouth to hang over its pit full of young. Its milk then sprayed out from the tip of the tendril, filling the pit to the point of covering the young and creating a pool for them to swim around in.
“Interesting. They seem to be able to swim and breathe underneath that milk, at least while they’re young. I wonder what would happen to them if they were submerged under water,” Lucia said. “I suspect that being submerged in saltwater would have no short amount of negative effects on their bodies, but freshwater may be survivable for them. Anyways, how is it harvested? Would going underneath the leech not put you in harm’s way?”
“We don’t have the tools for it, but I can make them. They would use a long pole with a bucket attached to the end to scoop the milk from the pit without ever putting our bodies under the leeches,” Novla explained.
“The leeches don’t attack the poles?”
“We covered them in spikes. If the leeches tried, they would only hurt themselves and pull their tentacles back.”
“But what about the buckets?”
“Also covered in spikes.”
“I see. Does harvesting the milk have any effect on the young?”
“The leeches provide more than enough milk. The moment a pit is emptied, they fill it back up. You can harvest the same pit three times in a row before the cave leech is no longer able to fill it, and it’ll be able to fill it again the next day. The only problem is when one of the young get into the bucket.”
“What happens to those?”
“We eat them. They don’t have mouths full of teeth yet at that age, so you can eat them raw without any preparation.”
Lucia shivered at the thought. “Right… that sounds horrible and repulsive, but I suppose that it may not be that bad by monster standards. Anyways, it may be possible to harvest this milk more efficiently than by using those poles you mentioned. I imagine that these cave leeches are at least slightly intelligent.” She looked over at Dian who only just got up from the floor after getting out from underneath the cave leech corpse. “Since you have already been through it… would you please go step underneath that cave leech?”
“Why?” Dian asked, for once questioning an order rather than immediately satisfying it.
“I don’t understand.”
“CORE would want you to listen to me.”
Dian opened his mouth to say something but then stopped. Lucia was smart enough to realize that she could manipulate my monsters into performing “science” so long as she used my name to justify it. Of course, her punishment for this would come at a later time.
Now, the scene with Dian and the first cave leech was repeated when he walked underneath a different one. It lifted him up, trying to bite his head off, and then dropped him to the ground after failing to do so.
“Good. Now, come back over here,” Lucia said.
Dian did as requested.
“Now, walk back underneath it.”
“I am testing to see if they will simply latch onto anything they detect underneath, or if they are smart and will know better than to try again against something that was hard enough to break their teeth the first time around.”
Dian lowered his shoulders and walked back underneath the cave leech. It shot its tentacles back down toward him… but then stopped just before reaching him.
“I see. It looks as if they may instinctively try to latch onto anything that moves into their space, but they are intelligent enough to stop themselves if they recognize danger. Now, the question becomes how long this danger is recognizable for. Will they still recognize you tomorrow? In a week from now? We will have to perform some tests to find out how long their memory is good for. Assuming that it lasts more than a few minutes, though, then it may be possible for CORE to summon some more constructs to dedicate to harvesting these. They will be in no danger from the leech’s mouths and it should be a much faster process than having to use poles with buckets hanging from them. It would also save on resources to only make buckets rather than poles to go with them.”
And so, the plan for harvesting cave leech milk began to come together.