Chapter 38:

Flames in the Dead of Winter

How I (Accidently) Became a Demon Lord

Nekra stood in the large clearing, the snow melting even though it was mid winter. He had been coming here with Rath the last few days for Rath’s training. Rath currently stood in the center of the clearing, far enough away from Nekra to avoid him getting hurt incase of an accident.

Rath held a hand up to the sky, the other hand holding his arm steady. “Flame Lash” he yelled out, followed by a whip of fire shooting out of his hand forward. The flame continued to extend outward, but began to dip to the ground after a few yards. Rath was seeing how far the lash would go out, but it just kept going and going. The flames coiled and melted the snow, revealing the burns from previous days practice. Finally Rath clutched his hand on the whip and it stopped extending.

“That's the limit?” Nekra asked, his chin in his palms.

“No.” Rath said casually. “I can feel my mana still being full, I'm barely touching the surface of it.”

Nekra looked at Rath’s mana battery that hung from his hand, even without the reserve he had he still had so much. Rath had spent the last few days testing his abilities. In that time they had seen Rath’s Agnibolt become massive in size, and his Terima was weaker than before.

“Seems like Fire is for you.” Nekra explained causally.

“Yeah. its a good think LongJump and Disc aren't elemental.” Rath explained. He bent his knees and launched himself high into the air, then stopped mid air. After a moment he dropped, plummeting to the ground and letting his legs hit the ground hard. Nekra caught sight of Rath’s legs shattering as a small crater formed where he stood. However, his legs almost immediately recovered, a boon of being a Demon Lord.

“Doesn't that hurt?” Nekra asked.

“Like all the Hells.” Rath explained, his face looked pained. “It seems like my body uses mana to heal.”

“Makes some sense.” Nekra explained. “So as long as you have mana you can heal, kinda strong wouldn't you say?”

Rath looked at the ground. “It's how you kill us.” Rath explained. “Run our mana dry so we cant heal then go for the killing blow.”

“How long does it take you to recover mana?” Nekra asked.

“A few minutes but it only recovers if i'm not exerting myself.” Rath explained. “So in a fight I wouldn't recover mana.”

Nekra tilted his head at this. He had been picked to watch Rath’s training due to his resistance to fire. It felt odd, this was the point where winter should be its worst, yet he was warm. The whole village was warm, everyone realized it was Rath, he seemed to emanate heat.

“Hey Rath.” Nekra began, feeling the pull again. “I have something to tell you.”

“Sure anything.” Rath said, the fire whip was still burning out in the grass even though he let go of it.

“Well I got my water soul.” Nekra began.

Rath turned sharply to Nekra. “No way that's incredible!” Rath’s face was full of excitement. “That means you're a full shaman right!”

“Yes it does.” Nekra began. “I also learned that as a Shaman I will live longer than other Kobolds, not sure how long though.”

Rath looked at Nekra thoughtfully. “I'm glad,” he said with a soft smile. “I want all my family to live a long life.”

“Well.” Nekra continued. “I can start finding my specialty soul. But I think its calling out to me.”

“How so?” Rath questioned.

“Ive been feeling this pull from the west.” Nekra explained. “I think the soul is telling me to go that way.”

Rath looked westward. “There isn't a whole lot that way. Pierce, the spirit sea, Ive heard of an island a little ways past the spirit sea where halflings live, maybe its there?”

“What if it's past that?” Nekra questioned. “Do we know what's past the spirit sea?”

“No clue.” Rath said with a shrug. “I heard a rumor when I was a kid that there was an expedition that way, but they vanished completely.”

Nekra looked low, if the soul was that far out he wouldn't be able to reach it. Rath walked up to Nekra and placed a kind hand on his shoulder.

“If that is where it is, we'll go there.” Rath explained. “Ill do whatever I can to help you find your true potential.”

“Rath” Nekra began. “Thank you.”

“However, we should wait just a bit before crossing the sea.” Rath laughed. “We would have to pass through Pierce, and I'm pretty sure we would not be welcome there.”

“Well after Turv told off the Tax collector most of us aren't welcome.” Nekra laughed. Just before winter hit, the Tax collector came, Turv refusing to pay the taxes on behalf of Rath. They figured that revealing a Demon Lord lived there wouldn't be too helpful currently.

Rath looked off westward, his mind lost in thought. “They will be attacking eventually.” Rath explained. “They will wait till after winter, that is Tirim’s style. We need to be ready.”

“Nasui has been training all our guards for attack.” Nekra explained. “They have been coming along nicely.”

“We are training them to defend their home.” Rath explained. “But what after that?”

“What do you mean?” Nekra asked.

Rath broke his gaze, turning a smile to Nekra. “Nothing, let's head back.” He grabbed the mana battery from Nekra and put it on. Rath still wore the ring for Terima, however he learned that he did not need a focus to cast anymore. Yet he continued to wear it, as if to make them believe he was weaker then he was.

The trainees all had their bows nocked, holding them tightly as Nasui slithered down the line, adjusting shoulders or offering advice. Rath and Nekra spotted the training and watched. Nasui was preparing them for an attack, holding the arrows till told to fire. It was hard on the muscles but helped them grow stronger.

“Fire.” Nasui yelled out. They all launched in unison, hitting the targets with relatively good accuracy. None hit the bullseye but they all came close, close enough to kill or take someone out of a fight, or break a shield.

Peel had been making the Naga drill arrows and they now filled all the arrow baskets along walls, ready for an adventurer. For training they used standard arrow heads, but when trouble came it was the drills that were used. They had become so efficient that the last two Adventurers that tried to attack were taken down by guards, which annoyed Fenrin.

“Master Rath.” Nasui called out, all the trainees turning to their leader. The group was a mix of Nagas, Kobolds, and Humans. “What a pleasure for you to come to our practice.”

“We were just passing through.” Rath explained. “You all are doing well, keep it up.”

The trainees all looked pleased with the praise. Nasui turned to the group. “Let us take a break.” With that, Nasui joined Rath and Nekra as they walked.

“What do you think?” Rath asked.

“They are very well, they have a purpose so they will fight for it.” Nasui explained.

Rath nodded. “Protecting their home is important.”

“However.” Nasui began to explain. “There is something weighing on them, they do not see an end goal.”

Rath nodded. “I know, we need to figure something out. Adventurers are still coming even after the warnings. I have to find a way to stop it completely.”

Nasui gave a slight smile. “If that is what you think, though you are not alone.”

Nekra looked at the two, he saw Rath’s eyes. He was holding something back, he didn't know how he knew, but he could tell Rath had something on his mind. Nekra’s thoughts were interrupted as they entered the town square and caught sight of something he had not expected.

“I just need to see Rath.” Malphis had explained. He stood just past the waystone, a cart with a tarp covering it next to him, pulled by a mule. “Just take me to him.”

“Not till we settle this!” Fenrin yelled out at the Goliath, his weapon drawn. “I gotta show you that I'm far stronger than you!”

Malphis sighed, then caught sight of Rath’s group. “Ah Master.” Malphis said, dropping to a bow. “I apologize for the time it took me to return.”

“Do not worry yourself Malphis.” Rath said. “Please do not bow to me, its unlike you.”

“As you wish.” Malphis said, standing again. “I bring a collection of books for you, as well as news that I would like to give you.”

Rath tilted his head. “Very well, you can bring it to the keep. Though did you bring that cart through the portal?”

“Yes.” Malphis explained. “I could have pulled it myself, but figured the mule was fine.”

“What too good to pull a cart!” Fenrin yelled out. “I bet you could barely pull one!”

Malphis shot Fenrin a look. “I just figured bringing a mule for the village’s use would be better than me pulling it myself and leaving it behind.”

Fenrin puffed out his nose. “Sure.”

“Shall we go?” Malphis asked.

“Of course.” Rath explained, the group following towards the keep.

The keep had become known in the village as Rath Keep. Though Rath wasnt a fan of it, thinking it needed a far better name. The keep had become filled with villagers that maintained it. Reese had taken to the kitchen and bossed around a staff of cooks, much to his pleasure and displeasure.

Several Naga attendants took the cart that Malphis had brought. It was filled with weapons and books. The books were taken to the study and would be put aside for Rath to look over later. The weapons were taken to the barracks for Nasui to examine later.

The group passed through the throne room that Rath hated to use. Turv had said it makes him look more like a leader, but Rath felt it made him appear better than others, a feeling he hated. Nekra looked at the throne as they passed, its red cushions and black metal frame fit Rath perfectly. The one time Rath had sat on it Nekra thought that he looked like a king. The throne had earned the nickname of the Unburning Throne, a name Nekra quite liked.

They entered the war room, it held a large round table with several chairs all around it. Malphis placed several scrolls on the table as he took a seat across from Rath. Nekra and Nasui flanked both sides of Rath, while Fenrin sat next to Malphis and glared at the Goliath.

“What are these?” Rath asked, taking the scrolls.

“Several maps.” Malphis explained. “There is one of Tirim and others of more surrounding areas. I believed they would be of use to you.”

Rath unfurled the scrolls, Nekra and Nasui looking over them from the side. They were highly detailed. The map of Tirim even showed the territory each lord controlled, Criss even was on the map.

“This is incredible!” Rath explained. “These will be useful in the future, thank you Malphis!”

“Of course.” Malphis explained. “Anything to be of service.”

“So does this mean that you are here to stay?” Rath asked.

“I do wish to join your side now, yes.” Malphis explained. “You already know my fighting abilities, but I also am quite knowledgeable in war as well as magic. I would like to take a role that would best help you, my Lord.”

Rath thought it over. “Nasui how do you feel about Malphis joining in the training?”

“It would increase my training.” Nasui explained. “You specialise in the sword Malphis?”

“Yes, as well as some ranged though it is a weaker point to me.” Malphis explained.

“That would work for me.” Nasui explained. “I can focus on our archers while he works with the spearman and axeman.”

“It would be an honor.” Malphis said humbly. “However there is a request I would like to ask of you, Lord Rath.”

“What is it?” Rath asked, cocking his head.

“It is about Pelone.” Malphis said, his orb-like eyes looking at Rath, not breaking. “I believe she is in need of help.”

“The stupid bird?” Fenrin said with a laugh. “She said she didn't want to help us. Why would we help her?”

“She did flee from us.” Nasui explained. “It seemed clear that she didnt want to associate with Master Rath.”

“She did in fact do this.” Malphis explained.

“Did she ask for help?” Rath asked.

“No.” Malphis explained. “Her pride would not allow her.”

“Then she doesn't get our help.” Fenrin said, waving a hand. “Cant even be bothered to ask, don't get help.”

“Nasui didn't ask for help.” Rath explained.

“He kinda did.” Nekra said, pointing a finger at Rath.

“Either way, tell us more.” Rath said.

Malphis nodded. “Her people, the Hapries, lived in the mountains for generations. However a threat to them started to enter their lands, creatures known as Augurials.”

“I remember them being mentioned at the palace.” Rath said.

“Yes, they have been a threat to them for many years.” Malphis said. “Master Chaoram pushed them back, and his presence kept them from pushing into their lands too hard.”

“But with him gone they are pushing harder.” Rath said.

“Yes.” Malphis said. “I visited their home, I saw their people, they were not well from the attacks.”

Rath looked at the table for the moment. Fenrin opened his mouth to speak again, but was stopped by Rath. “Ill go.” He explained. “We can protect them.”

“Master.” Nasui began. “We cannot protect a people in the mountains that far north.”

“Yeah I know.” Rath said as if Nasui said something stupid. “Well bring them here.”

“I'm not sure how well that will work with how Pelone feels about us.” Nasui explained.

“True.” Rath said. “Then at least I can help push back those monsters, however I am going to get them here.”

“You're sure you can get them here?” Nasui explained.

“Harpies are like Nagas and Kobolds, looked down on by Adventurers.” Rath explained. “That means Criss welcomes them with open arms. If they don't want to come then that is their choice, but I'm going to protect them and offer them a home.”

Nekra cracked a smile. “I expect nothing less of you.”

“Malphis, can you take me there?” Rath asked.

“Of course. They are not far from Choaram’s castle.” Malphis explained.

“Very well. I will head out in the morning.” Rath said.

“We will head out in the morning.” Nekra chimed in.

Rath turned a shocked look at Nekra. “What, no I need you here.”

“Sorry Master.” Nasui said, his arms folded and nodding in agreement with Nekra. “Sending you alone won't be enough, we will join you.”

“Malphis.” Fenrin chimed in. “How many of those monsters are there?”

“Hundreds from what they said.” Malphis said.

“Perfect, I'm going.” Fenrin explained. “Not to help the birds, but to kill the monsters.”

“Augurials are bird-like monsters.” Malphis chimed in.

“Is that so?” Fenrin smiled deviously. “So no one would fault me if I mixed up them and Pelone?”

“Please no.” Rath said with a sigh. “Fine, you guys can come too. Is that okay Malphis?”

“It should help in your goals.” Malphis explained. “We shall leave in the morning.”

Rath looked over the table, Fenrin trying to pick a fight with Malphis. Nasui joking with Nekra, this was nice. He loved these moments with his friends. He wondered if he could convince Jeel, Ion, and Tivis to join Criss should he ever meet them again. 

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