Chapter 22:

The Tunnel

How I (Accidently) Became a Demon Lord

 Rath had a strange feeling ever since they left Criss. He had been watching their backs the whole way, hoping to catch sight of their pursuer. Some nights he would pretend to sleep, then dart in the direction of where the feeling was coming from. All that would happen is a bird taking flight. He was looking up constantly, a bird was flying overhead at almost all times. It didn't seem to be moving just following, not circling, almost hovering above, its wings barely a flap.

“Rath” Nasui said, drawing Rath’s attention. “I found the entrance. Over here.”

Rath looked back, the bird was flying off now, east, away from anything. He shook off his nerves and began to head towards Nasui. The entrance that he spoke of was a small hole that was hidden by a tree. Nasui led the way, Rath following, Nekra behind, and Fenrin taking up the rear.

“Hey.” Fenrin said, annoyed. “Isn't there a better way?”

Rath was holding back a chuckle, Nekra doing the same. The tunnel was tiny and cramped for Rath, so for Fenrin it was absolutely crushing. As such, he was walking on all fours, slowly, pressed against the tunnel walls. From Rath’s vantage point, Fenrin looked just like a normal bull with a weapon strapped to him.

“I'm sorry Master Bull.” Nasui began. “This was designed for us to sneak through, and we can move quickly low to the ground.”

“Ah yes I understand.” Fenrin said, nodding his head up and down, his horns tapping the ceiling. “Wait a second! You called me master!”

“You're ignoring the bull part?” Rath asked.

“I'm no bull!” Fenrin said angrily.

“Quiet down” Nasui said as he hung low to the ground. “Your voice is echoing, don't want to scare away the watchers.”

“Fine.” Fenrin grumbled.

Rath’s neck was killing him, he was ducking slightly, halfway into a crouch. The tunnel seemed to go on forever, maybe they traveled for an hour. After far too long, they reached a metal gate, lights from torches shining from beyond.

“Anyone there?” Nasui whispered, his voice was a little shaky.

“Nasui?” A voice called back, a torch light began to move towards them, revealing another naga. “By Secis you returned!” The naga said, fumbling at keys at his waist. “Did you find help?”

“Yes, I must speak with the Elders quickly.” Nasui said, leaning to show the rest of the group. “These are friends, they are going to help us.”

The naga stopped. “A human. You got help from humans.”

“Yes, because we had little other choice.” Nasui said, his voice rougher. “Are we going to turn down help just because it's coming from a human?”

The naga hesitated, finally deciding to take the risk and opening the gate. The group slid in, letting the naga lock the gate behind them.

“Quickly, Elder Maski will want to see you.” the naga said, guiding them back. “We have been keeping an eye out for you for days, everyone has been preparing to leave.”

“Already?” Nasui said, confused. “They sent me to find people to help us fight back, not run.”

“There is no chance.” The naga said somberly. “Lord Tix has declared us to be destroyed.”

“Lord Tix is here!” Nasui said suddenly. “I thought it was just a small part of his force, why is he here!”

“He is leading his army.” The naga said as they reached a smooth stone room, it had a smooth ramp that led up to a sealed door. “He grew tired of the time being wasted on us, he wants to end this quickly.”

“A siege with a large force makes sense.” Fenrin said, growing tall now that he was free of the cramped cave. “Less chances of losing troops that way.”

“There are probably other reasons for the hurry.” Rath said, thinking. “Perhaps the king is calling in his banners?”

“That would make sense.” Fenrin said. “You said there was a demon lord attacking to the east right?”

“Yeah but he is attacking Kyol.” Rath explained.

“Do Tirim and Kyol have an allegiance?” Fenrin asked.

“I'm not sure.” Rath explained. “Probably, guess that would explain why they would call banners.”

“Or perhaps another threat.” Nekra chimed in.

Rath tensed for a moment. “Not Criss, we still pay our taxes, and they plan to get silver from us and implement a lord.”

“North south and west are other places they may be attacking.” Fenrin said.

Nasui and the Watchman stood looking over the three as they discussed.

“West is the Spirit sea. South is the Elves, and the North is the Untamed.” Rath began. “Untamed has no ruler still, they are a bunch of warring tribes, nothing that would require Tirim’s full force.”

“The elves?” Fenrin asked. “I came from the south, I passed through there before coming this way, I didn't see any signs of war from them.”

“Doesn't matter right now.” Rath said as they all began to ascend up the ramp. “Right now we gotta get these people out of here.”

“Strange people you brought.” The watchman said.

“Very, but good people.” Nasui said with a smile.

The door had opened to a series of branching hallways, all with slopes along the edges. The walls were lined with serpentine patterns, Rath took in the looks of them. The ceiling seemed to be held up by curved pillars that made the room almost seem round. All along the halls were small Naga people, women, children, injured, any that couldn't fight. Rath felt the tension as he walked by, mothers pulling their child into their chest, eyes filled with horror at the sight of Rath.

“Am I a monster?” he whispered to himself. He wasn't talking about the nagas view, it was only a reminder. He felt guilt wash over him again, voices whispering in his ear. Wasn't he over this? Rath had made his choice, he would fight, feeling guilty for those that he had killed would do no good for these people.

“Elder Maski!” Nasui said, drawing Rath back, the voices halting in his mind. Nasui slithered towards an older man, younger than Turv but in his late forties. He was a naga like the others, but had a beard of silver that he had yet to see on any other naga. Was facial hair rare for these people?

“Nasui!” Maski said, turning away from the soldier he was just talking to. “Thank the Lord you return!”

“Elder we have to move quickly!” Nasui said in a hurry. “Get everyone ready to leave, we have somewhere to go! A village north, known as Criss!”

“Nasui please take a breath.” Maski said with a caring smile, resting a hand on Nasui’s shoulder. “We have been preparing for departure all day. We are not ready yet, at the setting of the sun tomorrow we move. Now who are these? I see a human amongst them.”

“This is Master Rath, Sir Nekra, and Sir Fenrin.” Nasui said, introducing the group.

“Master?” Maski questioned.

“He saved my life.” Nasui said. “By the code I am indebted to him for his service.”

“Is that so, and are they from this Criss you mention?” Maski hissed.

“Yes Elder.” Nasui said, looking around wildly. “Where are the other Elders?”

Maski’s face grew grim. “They went to Tix.” He began, Nasui gasped. “They went to negotiate for the Dial, and have yet to return.”

Rath got closer to the pair. “What is special about this Dial?”

“It's a religious symbol.” Nasui explained. “It holds much of our teachings, we keep it atop the pyramid, when the forces came we could not retrieve it in time.”

“I see.” Rath said. “And do you think the other Elders will be successful?”

“No.” Maski said sadly. “Tix wants to exterminate us, he does not care of our religion, or of letting us go.”

Rath looked around, people still backed away, throwing looks of fear at him. He looked to the ground, the stone was well worn from years of slithering. There was a feeling building from inside him, he took a deep breath and spoke.

“You are all welcome at Criss.” Rath said loudly to everyone. “We are preparing for your arrival already, you will have the protection of me and the people of Criss. Your religious views are welcome as long as it brings no harm to people. You have my word.”

“And what is the word of a human!” A naga yelled out.

“My word is whatever you make it.” Rath called back. “You can stay and die if you want, but I need people, and you need a home. You work and you can live with us, among us.” He spoke with a confidence he had not felt since the day he killed his first adventurer. “Maski.” Rath turned to the elder. “I offer you and other members of your people onto our council should you come, your people would have a voice in our village.”

Maski looked with his jaw dropped. “Very well.” He said recovering. “We move at sunset, do the rest of you hear that?” The nagas nodded.

“In the meantime.” Rath said, placing a hand on the grip of his sword. “Ill see about getting those Elders, and your Dial back.”

“You what!” Maski siad caught off guard. Even Nasui was in disbelief.

“I'm human.” Rath said, “They won't kill me on sight, perhaps I can negotiate with this Lord Tix.”

“Master Rath.” Nasui said in disbelief. “You do not have to do this.”

“Of course I do.” Rath said. “Those are my people in the enemy camp.” He turned to Nasui, passion filling his eyes. “And that Dial is important to my people.” 

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