Chapter 13:

Burning Embers

How I (Accidently) Became a Demon Lord

The first three floors had become a cake walk for Rath and his group. The wolves barely had even posed a threat to them at this point. The fourth floor bears they were better about, though Tivis had to use some of her spells to help. They had set the goal of using as little magic as possible so they could rely on it in a pinch.

The group now rested on the fourth floor, they had yet to find a way down to the fifth just yet. Rath’s personal gem bag was filling nicely, though he still had room for more. Jeel was munching at a bar of rations that did not spoil. Tivis was just leaning on the wall with her eyes closed, and Ion was picking away at a crystal they had found. Malphis laid flat on the floor, as if he had no care in the world.

“Stride works.” Jeel said to Rath. Jeel had been on a quest to convince Rath that Longjump was not a good spell, and was coming up with any other spell to deter him. “It gives you a fast run, and you can turn easier!”

“But it doesn't have the upward momentum.” Rath explained again. “Plus backwards momentum to get out of danger.”

“Yeah but if it was that good, wouldn't everyone be using it?” Jeel said.

“Probably.” Rath said. “I never said it was the best spell, just the one I wanted to use, maybe I will have to give Stride a try when I can.”

Ion had finished mining at the wall, the group getting to their feet to move on. Jeel checked the clock, noting that it was still early so they could set up camp on the fifth floor. The search continued on for far longer than any of them would have liked.

Normally the trek would be fine, but now Rath’s bag was weighed down by the bed roll and other necessities he needed for the expedition. Tivis had packed a second bag full of rations for everyone in case they ran low. Malphis' bag didn't seem to change much, almost as if he was always packed for an expedition. Weirdly enough Rath had yet to see Malphis sleeping bag, which he figured would have to be huge on account of the Goliath’s size.

The fifth floor was eventually found, and it sprawled with crystals all over. The floor was virtually untouched past the entrance, so they began to gather. The crystals were massive compared to the fourth floor, almost double the size.

“It's because of how untouched this area usually is.” Malphis explained to Rath quietly, pulling his pic free for the first time. “Most dont come this low to often, so the crystals just keep growing and growing.” He turned his eyes out towards the hall, droplets falling from the ceiling.

It was only two that fell, but they were massive in comparison to the bears. This floor was much larger than the fourth, high ceiling and wider halls. The droplets formed into large hulking humanoid shapes with shoulders as broad as Malphis’s.

“These are what you can expect from the lower floors.” Malphis said, drawing his smaller sword out.

Rath dropped his pick, going straight for Freesia. If these were the kinds of creatures that littered the lower floors, he had to master them. Lowering himself, Rath cast Longjump and shot forward at the left hulk. Tivis, Ion, and Jeel had caught sight of the two then, drawing their weapons as Rath shot past.

“I got the left!” He called out, hoping the others took the hint and went right.

Rath reached the left hulk, his feet planted firmly on the ground in front of it. The hulk pulled back its large tree trunk arms, dropping it faster than Rath had expected. Barley dodging the strike, Rath fell low, ducking below the attack. He took the opportunity to strike at the chest, left open by the creature's swing.

Rath caught notice of something he hadn't seen before, the legs of the hulk. They weren't massive tree trunks like the arms, they were twisted and skinny in comparison to the rest of the body, though still larger than Rath’s own legs. As Rath pressed the attack, the legs twisted themselves, tightening into a spring, then untwisted, launching the hulk back. It all happened in almost an instant, the hulk had gotten a small distance between him and Rath.

Almost dumbfounded, Rath pressed forward. He took the legs into account now, shifting his sword to his right hand. As he neared, the hulk swung again, this time Rath stepped back to avoid the strike, and shot an Agnibolt into the creature's head. The creature had no eyes, and he figured it saw through some other means, but it still hurt the creature for a second, its legs launching it back. Rath took the retreat into account, as it launched itself, he launched himself. The creature had yet to pull its arms back from the last attack, and was still open, letting Freesia slide into its chest.

The hulk melted on the floor, a large core remaining. Rath turned to face the other hulk, which had just been slain by Jeel, who stood over it victoriously. Rath gathered his core, and returned to the party. Malphis had hung back, most likely due to Jeel and Ion moving in to flank, and Tivis readying a spell to protect them.

“That was rough.” Jeel had said. His shield was low, apparently from taking a single hit from those creatures. “We gotta be prepared for that stuff, Ion I think a blessing will help.”

“Strength?” Ion said, pulling out his amulet.

“Works for me.” Jeel had said.

Ion placed a hand against Jeel’s arm, his other hand wrapped around the amulet. Ion spoke a prayer to his Lord, and light shined from his hand, leaving a thin layer around Jeel.

“You next.” Ion said, approaching Rath.

“No thank you.” Rath said. “I would like to learn to fight with what I have.”

“You planning to fight alone?” Ion asked.

“Not alone.” Rath thought back to Nekra, Urin, and Talon back home. “I just want to be able to stand on my own.”

Ion shrugged. “Have it your way, what about you giant?”

Malphis glared at Ion, who simply turned away. He blessed Tivis with Speed and the party moved on. Their bags were getting filled before long, the hulks continuing to appear from time to time, though they were not as frequent as he had thought.

“Lets camp out here for the night.” Jeel said, looking at his clock. “Sun is setting up on top.”

The group formed a small circle with their bed rolls. The cave was not cold, oddly, it felt like nothing, not warm, not cold, nothing. Wanting to feel some warmth, they built a small fire, the smoke rose to the ceiling and was absorbed by the strange blackness. Jeel pulled out some meat he had packed tightly and cooked it.

“Meat! Really Jeel!” Tivis yelled. “That takes up so much space! And it doesn't last that long!”

“Oh relax Tiv” Jeel laughed, the meat cooking over the flame sending out a wonderful smell. “It's a treat, since we made it this low!”

“That isn't the point!” Tivis said again. “The space that meat took could have been used for something else, potions, rations, fire wood, but no you wasted it on meat.”

“Fine you don't get any then.” Jeel said, turning the meat on the spit.

“Wait, I didn't say I didn't want any!” Tivis said.

It wasn't long before the group was tearing into the meat, split between us evenly, to evenly. Malphis had gotten a small piece based on his size. Rath caught a glance of anger from Jeel towards Malphis, he had been tagging along but rarely fought much with the rest of the group. Malphis never took crystals or cores he didn't earn, and didn't even take the coins that were meant to be split amongst the party. He was a solo Adventurer, and it showed, and Jeel didn't like that.

“Ill take first watch.” Rath said. “Can I get the clock?”

Jeel handed the clock over to Rath, he held it and let Jeel explain when to wake him. As the rest of the group lied down, a noise filled the cave. The sound of stone moving filled the cave, then the quakes began to shake them. It was no longer then two minutes before all was quiet.

“Was that the shifting?” Ion asked, the group on their feet, weapons drawn except Malphis.

“Yes.” Malphis said. “Means we will have to find another way up on the return trip.”

“We're only going one more floor down.” Jeel said, laying back down. “After that we are heading back up, you got that everyone?”

Tivis and Ion sounded in agreement, Malphis scoffed. The Goliath was leaning against the walls of the cave, a blanket over him, no bedroll. The group began to sleep, but Rath sat, staring into the fire that he kept up. Floor six was the lowest he would be able to go if he left now, the lowest an Adventurer returning from Depths would go is eight, and the lowest was ten, he needed to go deeper.

“Dont go blind.” Malphis' voice echoed. It had been several silent minutes, the only sounds being from Jeel, Ion, and Tivis quiet snores.

“Shouldn't you be sleeping?” Rath asked, his eyes locked on the fires, watching how they went from blue to orange to yellow.

“I don't sleep much down here.” Malphis said. “Just resting the body, sleeping is risky.”

“When you're alone.” Rath said.

“Or with people you don't trust.” Malphis said.

Rath was silent for a moment, Malphis didn't feel accepted in the group. It was a condition that Jeel had only worsened with the passive aggressive actions he took. “Sorry.” Rath said.

Malphis chuckled in his throat. “Don't worry too much.” There was silence between them for a moment. “You want to go deeper don't you?”

“Yes.” Rath said, his eyes watching the flickering of the flames.

“How deep?” Malphis asked.

“Ten.” Rath said, the flames lapping higher as they burned at a new log.

“Brave.” Malphis said. “I haven't been that low before.”

“Only one has from what I hear, and I am going to be the second.” Rath said, embers shot up into the air as the log fell on the charcoal below it. The embers danced above Rath’s eyes before fading away. “I need to get stronger.”

“Then why not go to the DreadFort?” Malphis asked. “Most people train there after Depths, that method leads to very powerful Adventurers.”

“Why have you been here so long?” Rath asked. “You're strong, you dont show it to others but I can tell. You had to have gotten all you could out of training here, are you going for the bottom too?”

Malphis chuckled. “I have reasons. Though getting to the bottom isn't on my priority list, I do like the idea of going lower though.”

“You've been down past six havent you.” Rath said, the log burning and blackening.

“What makes you say that?” Malphis asked.

“Hunch.” Rath said, still focused on the blackening log. “Am I right?”

“Perhaps.” Malphis said, shifting his body around.

Rath let the silence fill the cave, staring into the fire. It wasnt long till Jeel was woken for his watch. Rath did not sleep; however, he laid on the hard floor, conscious of every sound, waiting for morning to come, to go deeper.

Once everyone was up, they packed their camp site, the ashes left on the floor of the cave. A few hulks and half an hour later, and they had found the stairs. The fifth floor was larger than the last, a trend Rath took notice of, the walls so spread out a house could fit inside it.

“Is that?” Tivis said, Rath already had noticed but was just standing, his mouth gaping.

The group all took notice immediately, seeing the set of stairs heading down deeper into Depth. Ion ran over to them to peer down them. Jeel was clearly lost in thought.

“We can go to seventh.” Rath said. “It's right there.”

“No.” Jeel said. “That is way too dangerous. We should train on here, get used to the monsters here then go down.”

Rath turned to Jeel, he realized that Jeel was afraid. Was he too afraid to go any lower? He was the one who always got hurt, his shield had shattered a few times during their earlier training, maybe he was afraid of it shattering too low and not having a way out.

“We should go lower.” Rath said. “How often do people get this kind of chance?”

“No!” Jeel yelled out. “I'm the leader here! I say we train here! Give it a couple hours and we will go down!”

Rath stared at him, Jeel had always acted leaderly, but he never enforced his authority on them. Rath did not have the time, he had to get lower faster, he had to leave Depths soon.

“No!” Rath yelled back. “We should go lower, we can handle it!”

“Like Hells!” Jeel yelled back. “Look we don't need to go down lower, once we're back up we should be ready for DreadFort, lets not push out luck.” Fear had taken Jeel again. “Were strong! And The Flaming Brotherhood is about to go out that way, they invited us to join, me Tivis and Ion are going, we were going to talk to you about it after we got back up top.” He ranted on, looking for some kind of grab to pull Rath towards his side.

“What does the DreadFort matter!” Rath yelled out. “You going to complete that or wait till you're ‘Strong enough’ to move on to the next dungeon. Are you going to keep doing that till you're at a Demon Lords doorstep? Just a series of half fulfilments, then what? Stand over the Demon Lord and just not kill him? I'm going to follow through with this dungeon, you want to stay here, be my guest!”

Tivis got between the two now, holding up neutral hands to both of them. “Lets not get ahead of ourselves, come on Rath, there is nothing down there but more monsters, what's the point? Everyone knows that there is no big treasure at the end, Kryit said it himself. This is just a training ground for people to get stronger to fight, we will just be wasting time down there.”

Rath turned on Tivis. “You go ahead, go back up, I need to go deeper. Good luck to you all.” and he began towards the stairs.

“Rath.” Ion said. “Listen it doesn't have to be this way, stay with us till we get back up, maybe you can find a group who wants to go lower, don't go getting yourself killed.”

“I mean it when I said good luck to you.” Rath said. “I hope you all go to the Dreadfort and do amazing things, save the world, but I don't have time for some wishy washy heroes. I'm going lower, even if its alone.”

“Ill go.” Malphis said from behind Rath. He walked over to Rath quickly. “Enjoy six.” he said to the trio.

Rath reached the stairs, Malphis at his side. He didn't even turn back to face the trio who probably stood in disbelief. With a deep inhale, Rath took the first step down the stairs, leaving behind a group of Adventurers he actually liked. 

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