Chapter 17:

The Tenth Floor

How I (Accidently) Became a Demon Lord

Rath reached the opening of the tenth floor, shock filling his face. The floor was one large cavern with a high ceiling and rounded walls. Towards the back of the cavern stood a figure. It was made of a similar material as the rest of the dungeon, the deep black with hints of other color, except this one seemed to have an outline of some kind, keeping it from blending in with the rest of the room. The thing that disturbed Rath the most, was the porcelain white mask that covered its face. No eyes shone behind the open slots, just empty blackness.

“Welcome” A voice echoed from behind the mask, Rath readied Freesia. “Woh woh.” The figure waved what had to be its arms around. “Let's not get into it yet!”

“You can talk?” Rath asked, his body hurt from the jumping around from the last floor, and he was running low on mana.

“Of course I can, can’t you tell? Am I speaking the wrong language? I'm sorry.” The figure said again.

“You're sorry?” Rath asked.

“Oh you can understand me perfectly!” The figure said. It cleared its throat, or atleast made the sound to, before continuing. “Welcome to the bottom of my dungeon! It is not common to see anyone come this far, in fact I would say it is quite rare.”

“Thank you?” Rath said, quizzically.

“Yes yes.” The voice said again. “Anyways, you may call me Juxalaxe. Who might you be?”

“Rath.” Rath responded. “Do I get some kind of prize for making it down here?”

“Hm?” Juxalaxe said. “Oh no no. We will just fight. It's just been so long since anyone was here last, and the last one didn't last long at all!” he gestured to Rath’s side, a traveling bag and set of armor laid empty on the floor.

Rath relaxed a little. “Alright, so we fight, but you want to talk first, may I ask you things?”

“You have earned that right.” Juxalxe said, waving his hand as if to let Rath continue.

“Alright, first, what are you?” Rath said, hoping to draw out enough time to get some more mana back. He knew he was close to Zero Point, and he was afraid of what would happen if he hit that point mid fight.

“Oh that is a good question!” Juxalaxe said. “Lets see, I am the dungeon, and the dungeon is me.”

“I assumed.” Rath said, unfazed. “Based on how you look, and the fact you're the first monster to say something.”

“Oh those monsters are extensions of me.” Juxalaxe said proudly. “Think of them like my arms, they go out and fight Adventurers for me.”

“Why do you fight Adventurers?” Rath asked, his muscles were getting sore, and his feet burned from standing.

“Hm.” Juxalaxe’s mask turned to the roof as if to think. “I don't actually know, I just fight anyone that comes in.”

Rath thought about the comment, was he just a mindless warrior with alot of power? “What are you?”

“You already asked that.” Juxalaxe said, his mask turning back to Rath.

“Yes but I didn't get the answer I wanted.” Rath said. “You say you are the dungeon, but what does that mean? How did you come to be?”

Juxalaxe thought deeply on the question. “I'm not sure. I just remember being told to fight all who enter.”

“Someone made you then, you have a master of some kind.” Rath said, his sword now was pointed to the ground, his arms taking the moment to rest.

“Maybe.” Juxalaxe said.

Rath sighed. “Is there another layer to this dungeon?”

“Oh no, this is it.” Juxalaxe said. “Oh and the only way out is to beat me, or you could die, but that depends on your definition of getting out.”

“Alright, then i'll just have to beat you.” Rath said, moving to stretch his legs.

“Oh yes yes fight, oh but take your time!” Juaxalaxe said. “I want to have a good fight!”

“No point, if I rest I won't get up for a while.” Rath said, stretching more. “Plus I got places to be.”

“Oh impatient huh.” Juxalaxe said. “Very well, oh here to make this fair I will tell you my weak point, since you mortals are so squishy.”

“It's in the chest right, I picked up on that one.” Rath said, finishing his stretches.

“No no.” Juxalaxe said, his mask parted as if it was water, revealing a twisted black crystal in his head. The mask reformed as if undisturbed. “My core is in my head, cut it and you beat me.”

“Sounds easy enough.” Rath said. “Might I ask for a rule.” He placed his bag next to the remains of the last adventurer. “No attacking here, just dont want to destroy anything.” Juxalaxe nodded in agreement. Rath crouched low to prepare to fight. “You ready?”

“I am, are you?” Juxalaxe asked.

Rath took a deep breath, he didn't know how much mana he had left, Agnibolt was out of the question. He had to rely on the LongJump and Freesia to carry him through this fight. “Ready.”

With that declaration, the fight began. Juxalaxe struck first. The ground below Rath surged, threatening to impale him. Rath LongJumped forward, planting his left foot on the ground, his right still raised. The ground began to surge again, Rath tilting his body to the right, LongJumping again. When he landed it was on his right foot, his left raised now.

LongJump required his feet to be planted on a solid surface, but not both feet, just at least one. He leaned forward, launching himself again as another spike came up. Juxalaxe anticipated the charge, lifting his right arm at Rath. The arm bubbled and shot out, extending and growing in size. Rath forced his left leg to hit the ground, landing him in an awkward position. He LongJumped to the right, but as he was moving away, he was grazed by the strike.

His shield dropped more than halfway from the graze, a full hit would be enough to break a full shield and then some. Rath had to act fast, his body was already aching, and a full hit would most likely kill him. For now he had to launch himself until he entered a position to strike. Juxalaxe’s left arm began to bubble as Rath was landing, he knew another attack was coming.

Rath Heightened his LongJump, choosing to send himself upwards as the attack came. He forced himself to turn downwards, his feet hitting the roof of the ceiling hard. Pain shot through his body from the collision, but he swallowed it down, Heightening his LongJump again. The heightened spell shot him forward like an arrow, Juxalaxe had barely registered his position by the time he launched. Rath raised his sword to slash at Juxalaxe’s face, only to meet a pillar of the dungeon material. Strangely the material felt soft, as if it was a metal that had not cooled yet, as such Freesia sliced through it easily. Sadly the pillar threw off Rath’s attack, forcing his feet to land towards the base of the pillar and launch himself away.

Rath’s body back flipped, his feet landing hard on the ground, sliding against the floor. He needed to reach Juxalaxe before he could register him, or else a pillar would block his attack. Rath inhaled deeply, mobility was the key to his success, he just hoped his mana would last.

He cast his spell again, heightened to the right. He flew to the wall of the cavern, he only let his feet tap it before launching himself again. Rath passed Juxalaxe, but was too far to strike, though he didn't plan to yet. Twisting his body, he shot himself off the wall again, to the right. He kept doing this, darting across the cavern too quickly, he saw Juxalaxe only catching where he was, not where he was going.

‘Mastered LongJump’ filled Rath’s vision. The sudden disruption threw his footing off, he slammed into the wall hard, feeling his nose begin to bleed. He recovered quickly, he had to start all over. As he was launching himself, Juxalaxe’s pillar formed in front of where he was going.

Rath twisted himself, the pillar came from the wall, and ran straight back towards Juxalaxe. Juxalaxe expected Rath to hit the wall, or jump back from it. He decided to take the third option, launching himself into the air again. The impact of his feet on the ceiling didn't hurt as much as last, but that was due to how numb they were. He rested on the ceiling for a second, letting Juxalaxe see him. As gravity began to take Rath, he launched himself. Juxalaxe shot a spike from his left arm, Rath took his right foot, and moved to brush it against the spike as it passed.

It required perfect timing to kick off it and not get hit, one that Rath did not have. As he kicked off, the spike brushed against Rath’s shield, shattering it loudly. The spike was unmoved by the shattering, but Rath had launched quickly. This was his best chance, the shield shattering was left in his wake, Juxalaxe still focused intently on the afterimage it had created.

Rath pressed his numb body against the wall of the cavern, putting as much mana into his spell as he could. Zero Point was coming, he knew it from the chill that covered his body, he wouldn't be able to cast magic again for a while, and it would hurt. As he soared through the air, he focused hard on the mask, he had to slice straight through it, with this last swing.

Juxalaxe was close, and he began to turn towards Rath. He had to strike, he had to kill him before he could summon another spike, or he was dead. As he closed in, Rath realized his mistake. He was off, only slightly, his attack would be far too shallow, he wouldn't destroy the core.

“Reach!” Rath screamed in his mind. “Please reach!” he moved to strike, Freesia’s sharpened edge about to hit the mask. Time moved slowly, Freesia began to enter the mask, slicing through it like it had with the pillar. “Reach!” Rath screamed again. He felt it, his blade reacted, and Rath's arm moved on its own, forcing itself to push the blade out, something he couldn't do due to the force of speed he launched himself. The move would leave Rath open, but it didn't matter in this case, as the mask was cut clean in two.

Rath tumbled into the wall, struggling to watch Juxalaxe. The top of his head fell from where it sat, and suddenly, the entire body vanished. No it was not the body alone, the dungeon itself vanished, leaving Rath in a pitch black cave. Strange markings appeared in red over his vision, Rath could not understand them. They seemed almost like an unlock message.

Taking a deep breath, Rath laid upside down on the cave floor. Suddenly the strange black with colors returned to the cave, lighting the cave again. Rath forced his body to move, getting to his feet, using Freesia as a walking stick. He could not go on, his invisible veins began to burn inside him, the chill still remaining.

“Wow I didn't expect that.” An oddly feminate voice said. Rath turned to the source, Seeing Juxalaxe, but its body seemed thinner, and it was almost as if it had hair, though it was still the black with swirling colors. “Congrats, you beat me.”

“Juxalaxe?” Rath said, breathing deeply.

“In a way.” Juxalaxe said. “I'm the next incarnation of Juxalaxe. Congrats Rath! It's been so long since someone beat me last.”

“What now then?” Rath said, his exhaustion making him less quisical.

“Oh you can leave.” Juxalaxe said, raising its thine arm to a wall, which opened to a staircase. “This will take you up to the first floor, right near the entrance. When you reach the top it'll be a see thru wall, just press yourself against it and it'll let you through.”

Rath huffed and puffed, his lungs pained from lack of oxygen. “What was the point of this!” he yelled out. “What was that ability!”

“Oh I don't know.” Juxalaxe said. “I was just told to fight, I don't know much else. Though the last one that beat me had the same question.”

“The last one?” Rath asked.

“Oh yes.” Juxalaxe said with a nod. “It was many many years ago, but I didn't have an answer for him either. How long ago was it? At Least a hundred years.”

Rath struggled to stand, the stairs ahead looked daunting. He wouldn't get anything else from this creature, but he wondered something.

“I broke your core, why didn't you die?” Rath asked.

“Um.” Juxalaxe began. “Not telling, but you did beat me, so be proud of that!”

This dungeon still had secrets that Rath did not understand, but what was there to understand. This dungeon may train Adventurers, but it also kills them. He didn't want the dungeon gone, so he was glad Juxalaxe was still alive, even if its in a different form.

“Alright, thank you Juxalaxe.” Rath said. “I think I learned all I need here.” He hobbled over and picked up his bag, the weight hurting his spine. He looked over the Adventurers gear, finding an amulet. Once Rath Observed it, he picked it up and slid it on his neck. The amulet sat next to the Adventurers memento, a locket like Jeel’s. With a final look at the creature, Rath began the grueling assent up the stairs, and out the dungeon.

Juxalaxe did not lie, the stairs took him directly to the exit, after that was the slow pained walk back to the inn. It was late night when he returned, the others had not come back so he decided to go to his room, and Rath slept, he slept for far too long.

“I think he had a point.” Tivis said to Jeel, she was picking up a core from a creature she killed. “Maybe we could have gone further, with Rath and Malphis we could have done it.”

“They carried us the whole way.” Jeel said. After Rath stormed off, Jeel was so angry he refused to speak for a while. He had fought more fiercely on the sixth floor, even getting cut after his shield shattered. “Without them we were too weak. We didn't even belong on Sixth.”

“Well still, we have been improving.” Ion said. “We could barely handle Second a week ago, now look at us!”

“Yeah!” Tivis said. “This is our potential!”

“You have a point.” Jeel said. “But still, overdoing it isn't the move, we should take it slow. I don't know, if Rath comes back, maybe we can talk about staying a little longer, see if we can improve any.”

“That's the spirit!” Tivis said. “I know Rath will be at the Young Dragon, probably after us, and we can all have a drink and talk about this more!”

That was the agreement, the group began their ascent to the surface. They had been swarmed by monsters on the way up, slowing their ascent. Jeel realized how much Rath and Malphis pulled their weight during those fights.

During one fight, Jeel’s shield had shattered, and the hulk moved to kill him. At that moment, the cave was suddenly engulfed in blackness. Jeel assumed he had died, but moments later it returned, and the hulks that attacked them were gone. No one had an explanation, but they knew the monsters were gone, and moved quickly. Tivis was out of mana, and it would take her a long time to recover.

“Steak.” Jeel said. “When we get back, everyone gets steak on me, even Rath, Hells, even Malphis.” He had been praising his good luck for the last half hour, his shield now recovered.

“Do you think we can really do this?” Ion said, looking low. “We almost died back there, how will we stand up to Tatalis?”

“Just gotta take our time, Tatalis isn't going anywhere, and if he does, there are other demon lords out there.” Jeel said.

“He's right. You all have great potential” A voice came from behind, the group turned, weapons raised. A figure appeared, revealing itself to be Malphis.

“Lords have mercy, Malphis, you scared me half to death.” Jeel said, lowering his sword. “Wait, what are you doing here? Weren't you with Rath?”

“We parted ways at the end of the eighth floor.” Malphis said, approaching hte group.

“He went to ninth!” Tivis said in shock. “Alone!”

“Yes, I think he went further, all the way down.” Malphis said.

“Lords what!” Ion said. “Alone? What is the point! There is no money to gain.”

“Oh there is so much more down there.” Malphis said.

“Well you can tell us about it on the way, we're all exhausted, wanna come with us? We're heading up.” Jeel said.

“Sure.” Malphis said.

The group all turned, Jeel taking the lead with Tivis next to him. He shot a glance back at Malphis, who walked just a bit behind Ion, looking at something under his sleeve. Jeel turned forward again, with Malphis they could make it safely back to the surface, they would live and fight another day, and he would tell Rath how sorry he was for being such a coward.

It was sudden, the sound of a shield shattering, followed by a screech of pain. Jeel spun around to face the attacker, Tivis joining him. They both stood frozen in horror at what they saw.

Ion’s eyes twitched, looking up to the ceiling, trying to see the chunk of iron that was lodged deep into his skull, all the way down to his nose. Holding the iron was Malphis. Ion twitched for just a few more moments, before going limp.

Tivis only had time to gasp before Malphis was upon her, he swung his massive sword across her stomach. Her shield shattering only halted him for a moment, his sword cutting her clean in two.

Malphis now was upon Jeel, who could only pee himself in response as the Iron was dropped on his shoulder. The blade went in diagonally, digging deep and cutting across his heart. Jeel just lets tears flow as his life faded, the bored look of Malphis burned into his mind.

Malphis now stood alone, he raised his sword to put it away, only for Jeel’s body to cling to it. “Even in death you annoy me.” Malphis thought to himself. With a few shakes Jeel fell to the floor, his body beginning to disintegrate into the floor. He looked at his wrist, the clock telling him it was almost time for the walls to shift. He gathered the party's crystals and coins, then walked on. The walls began to move, forming between the three piles of armor, spreading them throughout the dungeon. Malphis simply walked on, thinking of who he needed to contact. He figured Pelone would be the best option, walking casually, his face expressionless as ever.

Rath passed the Divide river a day ago, he had been antsy ever since. Kider told him to eat, and so Rath chewed quickly. They had left Kyrit almost immediately after Rath recovered. The day after his fight, Rath burned in pain, a symptom of the Zero Point. It took two full days for Rath to recover enough to travel.

“We're almost there.” Rath said as they continued down the road, Jen pulled hard, feeling Rath’s excitement. “Look, that is the Ash tree, Barder and I used to climb it all the time.”

“Yes yes Rath I know.” Kider laughed. Kider had a large haul to take back to pierce, with a few choice items for some of the villagers of Criss. “Settle down, we will be there shortly.”

The sound of an unfamiliar bell rang out quickly. Rath grabbed at his sword handle, realizing that it was probably signalling their approach. As the eastern gate came into view, Rath caught sight of the villagers all standing at the gate.

He launched himself off the cart, doing a mix of a sprint and LongJump to reach them faster. Everyone cheered Rath’s return as he came barreling into them, grabbing hold of whoever he reached and hugging them tightly. Mirv, Barder, and Turv were in the mess of people he had reached and he pushed them all to the ground with the force of his speed.

“I missed you all.” Rath said, tears in his eyes. He looked around and caught sight of Nekra.

Nekra’s left arm was wrapped in a sling, and a crutch was holding him up. Rath got to his feet and rushed over to him.

“What happened?” Rath asked.

“Don't worry, it'll heal soon.” Nekra said, raising the broken arm.

“He protected us.” Turv said. “Crazy lad almost died doing so.”

Rath got down to Nekra’s level, looking him dead in the eye. “Thank you for protecting everyone, and thank you for living.” Rath pulled Nekra into a hug, just light enough to not hurt the kobold. “Now, let's have a feast, and you can tell me all about what happened. I'm excited to see what has changed around here.”

“Only after you tell us about Depths.” Nekra said.

“I have much to tell you.” Rath said, his memory returning to the strange ability that he had unlocked, but did not know. That ability and Growth both were a mystery to him, one he would have to solve. But for now, he wanted to spend time with his family. “Come on, Turv will serve us all.”

“The whole village!” Turv yelled out.

“Of course, it wouldn't be a feast without the whole family.” Rath said, leading everyone into the village, Kider following behind. There was no place Rath would rather be, then home.  

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