Chapter 35:

Freedom To Change

How I (Accidently) Became a Demon Lord

Rath sat in his room patiently. The night had passed slowly as he listened to the smallest sounds from the halls. He heard the sound of Fenrin snore, the slight shift of Nasui as he sat uneasy in his room.

Nasui had reported to Rath about what he overheard. The news was shocking but they couldn't do much now. Something in Rath told him to trust Chaoram, and as such he accepted the fate he may have. Fenrin and Nasui were given orders to leave if things turned bad for him. They both had denied the order however.

“I would never leave you like that!” Nasui had said.

“I would just fight that demon lord before it got full control over you! Ill be The Great Fenrin! Demon Slayer!” Fenrin said, his eyes sparkling in excitement.

They both refused to leave, and so Rath simply instructed them to live and if he was taken by Chaoram to let the people of Criss know. Even Fenrin had accepted that part, though he was more focused on fighting. With that the three retreated to their rooms for the night. Chaoram had promised Rath his help, would he go back on his promise?

Before long Rath was sitting at the breakfast table, Malphis sitting across from him. Malphis had his sword leaning against the chair, close enough to reach in a heartbeat. Reese was shooed from the room by Malphis, given secret orders. The food was good, but it was hard to enjoy with the overhanging silence.

Fenrin seemed unfazed, he was digging in deeply, filling his massive stomach. Nasui picked at his food, inspecting every piece while shooting looks around for danger. Malphis ate as if nothing was wrong, though he remained silent for the most part.

“Master Chaoram has asked me to guide you to his study once you have gotten your fill.” Malphis said, stabbing his fork deep into a piece of meat.

“Very well.” Rath said, feeling Freesia at his hip.

Once the meal was finished they began the death march. The halls felt more cold than ever before. Each step echoed loudly in the silent halls. Nasui and Fenrin took up the rear, while Malphis led, Rath in the center. He watched, Malphis’s muscles showed no sign of being tense, he seemed relaxed even. Could he be that confident in the situation?

The door to the study opened wide, revealing Chaoram sitting near the fire like he had the day they first met. The difference was that Chaoram now faced Rath as he entered, rising to his feet with an open arm.

“Ah Rath welcome, and your companions please come in.” Chaoram said, his tone was jolly.

Rath caught sight of Reese standing off to the side, Pelone near the window sill. Could they be watching in case they ran? Malphis closed the door behind the three, standing firm in front of it. Their two exits blocked by at least one body. Pelone had a sly smile on her lips as the door closed.

“Come come.” Chaoram said, waving for Rath to approach.

Rath accepted, breaking off from his companions. Nasui watched, concern showing plainly on his face. Fenrin stood firm, he stood back against a wall where he could see Malphis out of his peripherals.

It took Rath a moment to notice the most glaring change in the study since his last time in the room. It was the lines painted across the room, they formed a circle around where Chaoram stood, runes in between sections of paint. Rath had studied a bit of runes from his Artificer book, however all these seemed odd. Runes were always very straight, looking boxy in some ways. They never looked like how some of these runes looked, they were wild with dashes and sharp twists. They looked more like the red words that he had seen when he killed Juxalaxe.

“Now then.” Chaoram said, his eyes showing a light he hadn't seen before. “Let me tell you something.”

“I'm listening.” Rath said, his body tense. He leaned back slightly, hoping to get LongJump off incase of a sudden attack.

“You remember how I mentioned a blessing when you first came here, correct?” Chaoram began.

“Yes, you were relieved that I had not received it.” Rath stated.

“Yes, if you knew about the blessing, it means you could read the words.” Chaoram began. “It is known as the Blessing of Duty. It would appear in light blue letters and be in a language you wouldn't know, yet you would know what the words mean.”

“So what did I get?” Rath asked.

“The Blessing of Freedom.” Chaoram explained. “In my opinion, a far better ability.”

“A Blessing of Duty doesn't sound bad.” Rath said, tilting his head. “I have a duty to my people, to protect them and all of that.”

“And you do that for your own freedom.” Chaoram explained. “You may continue to serve that duty forever, or drop it now. In the end it's your choice though.”

“What do the blessings do?” Rath asked.

“Absolutely nothing.” Chaoram laughed. “Sort of.” He stood a short distance from Rath, the rest of the watchers silent out of respect. “They are kind of like badges that others can identify you as. They do other things, but none that you can use currently.”

Rath looked low, confused. “So why did I get this ability, and why cant I read it?”

“Because” Chaoram began, raising a finger to the ceiling. “Someone doesn't want everyone to have that ability. It is an ability that allows you to break free of the chains that would be opposed on you.”

“Someone wants those chains opposed on people?” Rath questioned.

Chaoram smiled, still pointing upwards. “You are correct, you are a free person. And they don't like that.”

Rath smiled. “I'm used to not following what others want.”

“I expect so.” Chaoram laughed. “If you weren't we wouldn't be standing here.” He lowered his finger. “It is for the reason that you are a free person that I offer you my power. Everything I can offer you I offer to you to use.”

Rath’s eyes lit in delight. “You mean it!”

Chaoram held out a hand for Rath to take. “Assuming you will accept it.”

Rath took the hand firmly. “Of course! Whatever it takes to protect my people!”

“Are you willing to give everything truly?” Chaoram’s grip tightened to match Raths.

Rath gripped harder. “Everything and anything. I would kill, I would throw away my humanity. I'd become a demon if that is what it meant.”

Chaoram’s smiled. “Then you may have it all.” Suddenly his smile lowered to a sad frown. “I am sorry.”

Rath felt it then, it came from the hand that held Chaoram. It was heat, unbearable heat began to fill him. Rath tried to let go but could not. He looked swiftly around. The lines on the ground had lit up in a red glow, forming a barrier of some kind around Rath and Charoam, blocking anyone else from getting close.

Nasui rushed forward, hitting the energy wall as if it was solid, he hammered on the wall and screamed, though Rath could not hear it. Fenrin had pulled out his Weapon and turned to face Malphis. Pelone sat on the edge of the window, laughing widely. Reese looked on, a tear rolling down his cheek.

Malphis was the last the Rath caught sight of, even with Fenrin turning on him he still leaned on the door. Malphis didn't look happy, he looked sad, a tear began to form in his eye as he stared at the scene. As the tear began to roll down his face, it began. “Flame Lash Unlocked” appeared in his vision, blocking part of his vision. Then another appeared faster than a single heart beat.

The second set of words overlapped the first, pushed slightly to the top. The two words were unreadable, but became less so after the third line appeared. Then a fourth, a fifth, a sixth, they kept appearing faster then they vanished slowly filling Rath’s vision. It wasn't long before all Rath saw was red.

His head began to spin, he dropped to his knees, both of his hands steadying him on the ground that he couldn't see. The heat was overwhelming him, he felt as if he was in an inferno. He couldn't process anything, just feel what was happening to him. What felt like a millennium passed as the heat engulfed him, yet never killed him. Why was he still alive?

Suddenly he could see, the red cleared in an instant, the same instant the heat calmed. He felt warm, and his head felt heavy. He looked up to see everyone staring at him. Fenrin turned on Rath, anger filling his eyes. Nasui stood, his mouth agape, looking on the verge of tears.

“Master Rath?” Nasui said, his voice shaking. “Is that you?”

“Yeah.” Rath croacked. “Yeah, it's me.”

“What!” came the voice of Pelone. Rath turned to see the Harpy, her face filling with anger. “What do you mean! Master Chaoram that is you! Don't fool them!”

“Hes right.” Malphis said, drawing Rath’s eye. He had wiped the tear free at some point, and now was on one knee, bowing towards Rath. “That is Rath of Criss.”

“What in Hells!” Pelone yelled out. “What do you mean!”

Rath began to rise to his feet, but his head felt heavy. He raised a hand to his head, reaching for his forehead. It was then that he realized what happened. It was hard, protruding from his forehead and curving towards the back of his head, a twin to match it. He pulled his hands down to look at them, they were an ashy grey now.

“Lords above.” Rath said inrelization. “Im.” He held back in shock. He looked around for the Demon lord, and caught sight of him in a large mirror. Rath’s skin was fully grey, and the twin black horns were slicked back and led to a point each. “I'm a Demon Lord!”

“That is correct.” Malphis said, his head still low. “Master Chaoram had given you his power as promised.”

Rath turned to them all now, who watched him cautiously. Fenrin took his free arm and swung it down, slamming into Malphis' side. The Goliath went flying a few feet, slamming into a bookcase. Nasui drew his swords now, watching Pelone and Reese.

“The Hells you mean!” Fenrin growled at the bundle that was Malphis. “Get off your knees and speak like a man!”

Malphis rose, his expression solid like stone. “It is as I said, Rath has received Master Chaoram’s powers.” He turned toward Rath. “The Blessing of Freedom that he spoke of. He told you that it was a power you could do nothing with. That is because it is the power that allows one to become a Demon Lord.”

“I thought he was taking his body!” Pelone yelled out.

Malphis turned towards her. “I apologize, Master Chaoram did not have that power.”

“But why would he give up his power!” Pelone yelled out. “Demon Lords are immortal! Even if he looked old he was still strong!”

“You are correct, Pelone.” Malphis said casually, moving away from the wreckage of the shelf. “However, Chaoram had lived for too long, he was one of the oldest Demon Lords, he wished to die in peace.”

Tears filled Pelones eyes. “Why? Why him!”

Malphis returned next to Fenrin. “He met the criteria that the Master looked for.”

“You knew about this the whole time!” Pelone yelled out. “You didn't tell any of us did you! Reese did he tell you!”

“He didn't need to be told.” Malphis began. “And neither did you, I apologize for devising you Rath but I did it for my master.”

“Damnit!” Pelone said, dropping to her knees and pounding on the ground with her fist. “I didn't even get to say goodbye! That old bastard!”

“Rath.” Malphis began. “You inherited Chaoram’s power, as well as all his resources. This castle, the books within, and his servants.” He returned to a kneel, Reese following suit.

Rath felt the way his body moved, it felt more fluid then before. It was as if he was moving through water his whole life and this was the first time he had reached dry land. He looked at the kneeling people. “I'll take the knowledge.” He began. “However, I do not want servants, that is not how I treat people. All of you are free to do as you wish. However, Malphis, I do ask that you take me home.”

“Malphis stayed in the bow. “I shall transport you of course, and I wish to serve you Master Rath. Will you allow me?”

Rath thought it over.”Will you instead serve Criss?” He asked. “As lord of Criss you would serve me and serve my home.”

“Very well.” Malphis said, drawing his blade and turning it so the flat of it faced Rath. “I offer you, Rath, Lord of Criss, Demon Lord of Flames, my blade. I shall serve you and your home from this day till my last.”

“Screw that!” Pelone yelled out. Everyone turned to her. He pushed open the windows. “I promised my allegiance to Chaoram! Not this farm boy! My sisters and I are leaving!” With that, she took off into the air.

Rath watched her leave, then turned to Reese. “What of you?”

“Dunno.” Reese said with a shrug. “I just work the kitchens, sounds like I won't have anyone eating from this kitchen from now on.”

Rath gave a slight smile. “We have just built a fortress in Criss, we do need a cook, got a lot of people to feed.”

Reese shrugged. “Fine, I shall join you.”

“Master Rath.” Malphis said, still bowing.

“Rise Malphis, you do not kneel to me, kind of off putting to see you do.” Rath said.

“I will send you back, however I wish to remain here for a short time if that is allowed.” Malphis said.

“For what reason?” Rath asked.

“I wish to gather any treasures that my master has left for you, as well as try to convince Pelone to reconsider your assistance.” Malphis began.

“Let her be.” Rath said. “She does not need to join if she does not want to.”

Malphis lowered his head. “I would still like to try, I feel she is clouded by her emotions and will make a decision that she shall regret.”

“Very well.” Rath said, suddenly his head began to spin. Nasui caught him under his arm. “What?”

“It is the power my Lord.” Malphis said. “It will take time for you to adjust, you should rest once you return.”

Nekra stared at the portal as it opened, his jaw dropped. A Demon Lord emerged from the portal, held up by Nasui, Fenrin followed behind. Nekra drew his blade and raised his staff, dropping into a fighting stance. He heard the sounds of the guards drawing weapons and bows. The village went silent as they all stood, unsure what to do.

“Wait!” Nasui yelled out. “You do not understand!”

“Nasui get back!” Nekra yelled out, his mouth a growl, he would not let this monster hurt his people.

“Nekra please!” Nasui began again.

Nekra was about to speak again, until Mirv walked past him. It was as if the fiery aura did not affect her, as if the demon was not there. As if someone else stood in its place. She stopped close to the demon and cocked a head at it. She ran a hand across his face, feeling the brown beard.

“You gotta shave that.” Mirv said with a smile. “Beards are annoying. So scratchy.”

The demon lord smiled. “I kinda forgot about it. I know how you hate them, just a little distracted.”

“Good.” She said, looking into the demon’s eyes. Nekra followed the look, they were the same as Rath’s.

“Rath?” Nekra questioned.

Rath turned to Nekra. “You had the right instincts. Though we should figure out a code word or something in case something like this happens again.”

“By the Dragons.” Nekra said, looking over his friend. “What happened!”

“Ill tell ya later, I need some rest.” Rath said, his eyes growing distant. “Nasui help get Reese a place to stay.”

It was then that Nekra caught sight of the small creature that stood at Nekra’s eye level. It made sense he wouldn't notice since he was so used to looking up at the group.

Nekra watched as Mirv moved under Rath’s other arm and the three moved towards the fortress, Fenrin hanging back. The small creature, Reese, hopped after the trio.

After that, Rath locked himself in his room. He refused food, and he refused to talk to anyone for the night. Nekra could see him looking out over the balcony from his room far above the village. He thought that Rath looked sad. 

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