Chapter 33:

Thoughts on the Riverbed

How I (Accidently) Became a Demon Lord

“What happened to you!” Rath yelled out.

Fenrin stood outside their rooms, his face bruised and small scratches. “Fought.”

“I swear if you caused us any issues!” Nasui began to yell out.

“Dont worry none snake” Fenrin said with a large smile.

Rath glared at Fenrin, Nasui joining suit. Rath had spent most of the day with Chaoram learning as much as he could. He now had a book under his arm that Chaoram had offered him to read and planned to power through it that night. They had a smaller meal brought to their rooms, mostly due to Chaoram getting tired from working with Rath all day.

“Anything interesting?” Rath asked Nasui.

“Lots of empty rooms.” Nasui said slowly. “Part of the east wing is so empty that there is dust everywhere. Besides that, nothing of note.”

“Alright, have you seen anyone else besides who we had dinner with.” Rath asked.

“I did spot a few harpies flying around outside, but besides that no.” Nasui explained. “Something I noticed when I walked along the outer wall, I don't see any civilization in any direction,”

“Were very isolated then.” Rath said.

“The outer gate points west.” Nasui began to explain. “Meaning that at some point there had to be people coming from the west for protection or trade.”

“So if we need to run, we run west.” Rath noted to himself. “Useful, can you keep looking tomorrow?”

“Of course Master.” Nasui said with a bow. “Though I did notice something else. A Lot of the walls and foundations are in a bad state, like no one has kept up on them in a long time. Though the northern wing and center are all maintained well enough. Our wing is also maintained but not quite as well as the others.”

Rath nodded and they all went to their rooms. He cracked open the book and read Chaoram’s notes about establishing trade with neighboring nations. The demon lord had told him that the book was written by him many years ago at the height of his control. Rath quickly took notes of nations and places that he never heard of, and doubted existed anymore. He read the book while sipping at a stew that slowly grew lukewarm, then cold, all while sipping as if it was still warm.

Nekra sat at the bottom of the river. The rocks tied to his feet kept him down, but he could easily slip the rope off to swim up when he needed to. Normally he would ask for a spotter, but today he went alone to think. He thought about the promise he made to Turv, the threat of the old man's death hanging on him.

Kobolds live for a fair amount of time to Nekra, but only half the life of humans. He hadn't thought about death too much, he knew he would die but he was less than half way into his life. When a kobold dies it usually isn't the biggest deal since they reproduce so quickly. However, lately its been very different.

Ten kobolds had passed away over the month, and normally kobolds would just throw them away and move on. However Rath had helped them build a funeral pyre for them. He said that it was a way to show respect for the dead in Criss and other human cultures.

Nekra realized that it was important for them to have a funeral culture, and rumors had spread about a dead kobold going to the dragon after life to become a dragon. It was strange to hear originally, but it made sense to him. Kobolds are the children of dragons, they can channel the dragon’s spirit, so why couldn't their after life be with their fathers and mothers. Nekra wasn't sure how, but he became the leader of this new belief. Rath had called him a priest, and Nasui agreed to teach him more about being this priest, apparently the kobolds were developing a ‘religion’ according to them.

Now that death was becoming revered, why was it that Nekra felt much sadder when someone was coming close to death? Shouldn't people be honored to die and reach that after life? Shouldn't he be happy that they are finding that after life they want?

So why wasn't he? Was it just that he wasn't positive there was this afterlife they talked about? He felt the spirits of dragons around him, if they were around him how could they be in an afterlife? And where would humans, nagas and the like go after they die? Did they turn into dragons like the kobolds?

Nekra was realizing he was thinking about death far too much, far more than he ever had before. He was scared, he realized, scared of dying too soon. Turv wanted to live to see Rath’s dream come true, and Nekra had realized he wanted to live to see his people live safely. Would he be able to rest in peace if he died before knowing his people were happy?

“How strange of you.” A voice spoke in Nekra’s ear. The voice was calm, and seemed to bubble around him. Nekra spun around, realizing he was still underwater. “You spend all this time using my gift, and haven't even noticed my presence.”

Nekra’s mouth opened in awe, sucking in water by mistake. The water filled his lungs, but seemed to not affect him. He felt his lungs pull out oxygen from the water, giving him breath, and exporting the remainder out as he exhaled.

“That is a good little one.” The voice whispered. Nekra found the spirit that surrounded him. “You think a lot, you think about more than others. Use my gift as you feel. Watalum.”

Watalum, Nekra thought to himself, the water dragon. He inhaled and exhaled in the water as if he had been doing it his whole life. How long had he been using the gift? He gave a bow towards the spirit in apology for not recognizing its blessing. The spirits rarely talked to Nekra, but it was clear they were there. He wondered if they would ever tell him about the afterlife.

As Nekra broke the surface he immediately began to feel the pull. It was faint, almost non-existent. It was like a breeze, trying to point him somewhere. Yet it was spiritual, and energy that grabbed on his body. The pull was towards the west, it was far he could tell, but he knew it was there. Excitement filled him as he realized what it was. His specialty soul, it was calling to him.

His master had gotten a specialty soul, a crystal dragon. However he had never said it called out to him, he just happened on it. Nekra thought about it, he could tell it was the soul of a dragon, but why was it calling to him? He pulled himself from the river and sat on the grass, looking west. Why wasn't the soul coming to him? Why does he have to go somewhere special for it? His master had not done such a thing, so why him?

Getting to his feet, the water dripping down his scales, Nekra began heading back to Criss. He could feel that slight tug but knew he could do nothing currently, his people were important, and it gave him time to think. He thought that maybe Rath would go with him, help him find the soul. Those thoughts dragged him on as he continued, thoughts returning to the religion that he was the leader of.

“Mirv.” The calm feminate voice called out again.

Mirv bolted up out of bed. She was so tired of the calling, it rang in her head all last night, ever since Rath had left. Once the sun had risen it went away, but now it was back. She felt the voice again, it was coming from her secret garden. She opened the wooden shutters of her room, looking over it again. She felt the presence there, something was there, waiting for her.

She didnt know what it was that compelled her to listen tonight, probably annoyance, but she went anyway. She wore her nightgown and threw on her shoes, making the quiet trek into the woods. Sneaking past the guards was easy since she had memorized their schedules at this point, slipping out into the night.

Her garden had grown much since she was a child, every inch of it was covered in flowers of wild colors. Careful not to step on any, she walked into the center of the clearing, spinning around to look for the presence.

“You came.” The woman's voice said again. Mirv spun to the voice, seeing someone standing in the shadow of the tree line.

“Who are you?” Mirv asked, suddenly aware she had no means of protection.

“A friend I promise you.” The voice said casually.

“A friend doesn't hide in the dark, and definitely doesn't whisper in my ear for a full night.” Mirv said, showing her tiredness.

“You make a point, I apologize.” The voice said, stepping out into the moonlight.

Mirv was caught off guard instantly. The woman had long brown muddy hair, her skin looked like green tree roots. She wore leaves and branches as clothes, just barely covering anything but highlighting them quite a bit.

“What are you?” Mirv asked, stepping back.

“I am a Druid.” The woman said. “A protector of nature.”

“Who are you?’ Mirv asked.

“You may call me Wynna” The druid said.

Mirv did not relax, the woman's voice remained so calm. Mirv noticed her eyes, a light green that seemed to shine in the night. “What do you want with me?”

“To teach you.” Wynna said.

“Excuse me?” Mirv questioned.

“You have been blessed with the opportunity to learn from the Druids.” Wynna said, raising her arms up as if there were others behind her. “We are an order that seeks the safety of the world, we are a balance keeping the world in check.”

“And why me?” Mirv asked.

“You awoke your powers through nature magic.” Wynna said. “You brew potions of nature, and have been instinctively infusing mana into them, making them stronger. You have been infusing the plants you grow and harvest with mana as well, unknowingly. It took a long time, but you awakened your spell casting with an affinity for nature magic.”

Mirv stood for a moment, watching the Druid. “What if I dont want it?”

“The choice is yours, but there are great gifts that the training can offer.” Wynna began. “We can teach you what others cannot, you can become a power druid.”

“At what cost.” Mirv asked.

“The Archdruid is about freedom.” Wynna explained. “We only ask that you act to protect nature, as well as assist when the Archdruid requests it, which all act in accordance with the protection of the world.”

“My people cut down trees.” Mirv explained. “And they will continue to do so.”

“And your people replant those trees.” Wynna said. “We understand the balance of nature and civilization, we do not stop people from trimming the weeds, it is the full destruction of nature that we try to prevent.”

“I dont know.” Mirv said, feeling unsure.

“You do not need to make the choice now.” Wynna explained, she bent low to the ground, whispering something. A bar began to fill above her head, once it filled a stick popped out of the ground. She lifted it and tossed it to Mirv, who caught it awkwardly. “Should you decide to learn, simply snap this stick and I'll be in this garden that night. You may also use it to call me for more questions. Think it over, the Archdruid has taken an interest in you, he believes you will learn fast.”

Mirv looked at the stick. “Ill think about it.” she said, looking back at Wynna.

“I await your response.” Wynna said, stepping back into the shadows of the tree. She placed a hand on the nearest tree. “Until we meet again.” Suddenly the woman was gone, leaving Mirv standing alone.

Fenrin dodged Malphis' spell. It had been four days since he began training, Their fifth day in total. He had learned much of dealing with Malphis, his movement still fast for Fenrin’s eye. With another successful dodge, Fenrin countered and slammed his hammer into the Goliath’s shield. The shield dropped more than halfway, though the Goliath didn't seem to flinch. Malphis took the opportunity to strike at Fenrin again, kicking his exposed stomach hard.

Nasui watched from the side, he had noticed the training on its second day and would stop to watch every now and then. He found Fenrin’s determination to beat the Goliath rather impressive considering how badly he keeps getting beaten. Nasui noticed that Fenrin had improved though, keeping up better, though he still made dumb descisions in an attempt to beat Malphis rather then stay alive.

Returning to his scouting, Nasui slithered down back into the castle. Nasui was no spy, but his slithering was quieter than steps. He also had the gift of curses, he could place a curse of silence on himself which would make no sound come from him. He didn't have a need to use this as they had full access to the castle, but he sometimes would use it to try and explore new areas.

He had not trusted the demon lord, he felt an odd feeling come from the words he spoke, as if he held something back. Nasui had spent the last few days looking for any evidence to convince Rath to leave, something to say the demon lord had ill intentions for his master. So far he hadn't found anything at all. As he turned a corner, he heard the window open. Pelone sat in the now open window, looking at Nasui.

“Your bull friend seems to be getting better.” Pelone said with a smile. “Why dont you train with them? Malphis is one of the best warriors you'll ever see.”

“He uses darkness magic.” Nasui said. “Why is that? Goliath’s have an affinity for ice magic don't they?”

“I don't know, ask him.” Pelone said without a care.

“What do you want exactly?” Nasui questioned.

“Oh, just curious about your group.” Pelone said. “Rath I get, he is an interesting fellow, and Bull is just a meathead, nothing there. But what of you? Mr Honorable snake? Is that all there is to you?”

“I am glad you like my Master.” Nasui began, but was interrupted before he could continue.

“I never said that.” Pelone said straight up. “I just said interesting, in fact I don't quite like any of you.”

“I appreciate the honesty.” Nasui said, a fist forming. “There is nothing to know of me then if you dislike me.”

“Oh why is that?” Pelone said, tilting her head.

“You have already made your judgement of me, and if you have no intention of changing that judgement then there is no point wasting energy on you.” Nasui explained.

“Oh that is so dull of you.” Pelone said, leaning forward in the window, almost about to fall but holding herself with her talons. “Speaking so shortly, gotta be the servant to a master. What's the point, is the only thing you care about serving Rath?”

Nasui stood silently for a moment. “You have family right?” He asked, not looking at Pelone, instead looking towards the windows.

“Yes.” Pelone stated. “Many sisters.”

“What would you do to protect those sisters?” Nasui asked.

Pelone’s eyes moved to a glare. “Anything.” She said it with so much force behind it that Nasui knew it was true.

“I am the same.” Nasui said. “I would give my own life for those I care about.”

Pelone laughed. “That is stupid.”

“Why is that stupid?” Nasui asked.

“How can you protect someone when you're dead?” Pelone asked, still laughing. “Even Rath has figured that one out. I get you a bit now, your a suicidal Honorable snake. So much depth to you now wow.” The last part seemed sarcastic.

Nasui glared at the harpy, but he didnt refute the point. “I think we have nothing left to discuss.”

“Probably not.” Pelone said. “See ya Mr boring.”

Nasui sighed. “You know, if you base your opinions of someone simply by looking at the surface, youll never learn who they really are.”

Pelone looked at him hard. “And who says I want to look past the surface of you? Its not like itll matter soon.” She flapped her wings and took off from the window.

Nasui was now left in the quiet hallway, the sound of metal clanging from the courtyard. His mind wandered from beyond this castle for a while before he began to slither again. He didn't like this place, he didn't like Pelone, and he didn't trust this demon lord.

Rath sat in the study listening intently. Chaoram had just finished his lecture for the day, sitting back in his chair. The two had been meeting like this constantly now, either in the study or walking somewhere in the castle. Chaoram had been teaching him many things, and referencing a large number of books from his shelves. Whenever he would mention one he would pull it down for Rath to look over. Currently a large stack of books sat on the table for Rath to read.

“Thank you.” Rath said again at the end of the lecture. “I really do appreciate all the help.”

Chaoram smiled at him. “I have been thinking.” He began. The demon lord got to his feet and walked over to the fireplace, looking deep into the flames. “You seem like a good person, one who is worthy of my power.” He turned back to Rath, the reflection of the fire reflecting in his eyes. “Tommorow we shall discuss what I will give you. After breakfast please come here. Bring your friends too, they have the right to be there.”

Rath’s eyes lit up in delight. “Of course, thank you Lord Chaoram.”

Chaoram laughed. “Come now.” He said, his face casual. “Just Great Deity of Hellfire Chaoram will be enough.”

The two shared a laugh at the joke. Rath was dismissed, Chaoram saying he needed to prepare for tomorrow. When Rath had left the demon lord was pulling books from his shelves.

Nasui was dumbfounded by the news from Rath, only one day left here. He breathed a sigh of relief knowing it would be over soon. Yet there he was, silently traveling the castle in the dead of night.

There was one place he had yet to look into, the northern tower. He would not enter the aviary, just observe it for anything off. When he finally arrived he had to duck behind the corner he just emerged from. He peeked around and caught Pelone in the hall, another harpy with her. The new harpy was smaller then Pelone, and had a worried expression.

“Dont you worry.” Pelone began. “Tomorrow it will be over. Come on you think the master would really help that guy?”

“But then why bring him here?” The harpy asked.

“Simple.” Pelone began to explain, waving a finger around. “Me and Malphis both were told to look at his strength. The master just wants his body. I bet you demon lords can transfer their souls into new bodies. He just wants to be rid of the old body he has and get something new.”

Nasui’s eyes widened at the proclamation. Pelone had reassured the harpy, and Nasui moved quickly back towards his rooms. He had to tell Rath of the threat this demon lord posed to him, he could not let this happen. 

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