Boxxy woke up abruptly and violently, flailing around as usual.
Or at least it tried to. In the next instant, it was made painfully aware of two solid metal clamps that were bolted onto its imitation wood surface. They completely encircled its body as if it were a barrel and prevented the lid from opening up. The monster’s automatic HP recovery seemed to have restored its health, but it would appear that it also caused its flesh to fuse somewhat with the metal bolts that held its bindings in place.
Those were hardly all of the restraints, however. It was also suspended in mid-air by a total of four short chains that attached those metal clamps to the roof of a 2 by 2 by 2 meter cage. The series of vertical and horizontal bars were made out of an ominous-looking black metal and, judging from the low buzzing and blue sparks that occasionally leapt between them, were currently electrified. It was a good thing the Mimic stopped struggling, lest it accidentally sway into the metal and zap itself for no reason. Looking at its new prison more closely, it noticed a small metal box attached to the outer side, with several wires coming out of it. That was likely the source of that electrical charge.
Now that it had properly regained consciousness, it came to remember the situation it was in. That man called Edward had defeated it completely with a single blow. After introducing himself, he then poured some strange liquid onto the Mimic which made it pass out. And now it was here.
Where was here, though?
The room the cage was sitting in seemed to be a large jail cell, probably inside the local keep’s dungeon. The walls, floor and ceiling were nothing but plain stone bricks. For some reason, there was an empty wooden chair directly in front of-
Right, that old man was able to completely elude the Mimic’s magical perception. The voice came from somewhere in front, so Boxxy grew a yellow cat-like eye in its traditional place. And indeed, the man ‘appeared’ before him once again, sitting cross-legged in the chair right outside the cage. He looked into the blinking eye and took it as a sign that the monster was, indeed, awake.
“Very good. Now then, do grow back that head so we can have words. I’m sure- Oh, you already grew one. Nevermind.”
Indeed, Xera’s flawlessly sculpted face appeared out of the Mimic’s front in less than a second. It looked like someone had cut off her head, shaved it clean and glued it onto the chest. The man’s eyes seemed to focus onto the pseudo-succubus’s pointed ears that were normally hidden by her long, straight hair.
The Spymaster took out a small leather-bound notebook and opened it up on a blank page. He pulled a Never-ending Quill™ out of nowhere and scribbled ‘Erosa Mimic interrogation’ at the very top as a sort of title.
“Let’s begin, then. First of all, why use that appearance?”
He gestured at Xera’s pointy-eared face.
“I know it the best.”
He wrote down ‘elf witch connection?’ on the first line.
“And who is it you’re imitating?”
“Haah,” sighed Edward. This was only his third time speaking to a monster capable of both reason and language, so he had forgotten that one had to let go of certain expectations when speaking to such creatures. Some would argue he should just put the squeeze on his suspect, but he knew from experience that torture was not a viable method of gathering information. His way of interrogating prisoners was much faster, more reliable, and far less messy, although it did require a certain amount of patience.
“Who is Snack?” he asked.
Make that a lot of patience.
“Where is Snack right now?”
“So it’s a demon? Then how come it’s called Snack?”
He was keenly aware demons usually had long names that were impossible to say correctly without hurting one’s tongue.
“Very tasty, but not very filling.”
“... Right, and what species of demon is she?”
“So that face you’re showing me… belongs to a succubus?”
The Spymaster quickly crossed out ‘elf connection?’ and wrote ‘perverted box’ next to it.
“Then what of the red-skinned four armed demon that was reportedly with you? Is she your ally?”
He quickly added ‘knows 4-armed demon’ to his notes.
“What is your relationship with it?”
“She is my thing.”
He circled the words ‘perverted box’ and underlined them.
“How is she your thing?”
“... You’re the summoner?”
“So you’re a Warlock?”
The man stood up and walked off somewhere, outside the Mimic’s sight. There was the sound of a door opening and some distant voices were heard, but Boxxy couldn’t make out anything legible. Edward returned moments later and took his seat.
“Who taught you how to summon her?” he continued.
“Does he have a last name?”
“Uh-huh, and where is this Carl?”
The Mimic hesitated for a moment. Where was that guy? Was he really in the Beyond? He seemed to have access to something physical that made clacking noises, so he could be in the material realm too, right?
“Answer me!” yelled Edward. His powerful voice alone seemed to rock Boxxy down to its very core.
“Ack! I don’t know!”
The Spymaster wrote down ‘Carl - warlock mentor??’ in his notes and circled it.
“When did you contract this fiend?!”
“22 days ago! I think!”
“It was dark! Inside!” explained the scared monster. “Not sure of actual day! Please, no more yelling!”
The Spymaster regained his composure at the sight of the Mimic swaying back and forth in fear while shaking the pale white head sticking out of it. It was oddly pathetic, almost innocent in some weird way. Edward had gotten a bit overly excited when the monster said 22 days ago. After all, that was the same day the Calamity happened.
He wrote in ‘fiend contract - before or after CoM?’ in his notebook.
Of course, he wasn’t simply taking the monster’s word on all this stuff. Edward was in possession of an Ultimate Skill called The Eyes of Truth. It let him pierce the veil on any deception and easily see through both disguises and lies. That’s how he was able to instantly see through that succubus’s disguise the day before. It was a powerful ability well suited to his line of work, but he kept it a secret from the rest of the world for three reasons.
The first reason was religion. If the temples knew he had obtained a Skill that was so in tune with the Goddess Teresa herself, he’d probably get all sorts of religious nonsense he wanted no part in forced onto him. That wasn’t to say he was not a pious man, but that sort of thing was bound to attract unwanted attention and interfere with his work.
The second reason was politics. Nobles were creatures that lied even when they said ‘good morning.’ If they knew of Edward’s flawless lie detector then they would likely plot against him or his office, which in turn would just open up more pointless work for the Spymaster to deal with. Putting down uppity nobles was simply too much of a bother.
The third reason was practicality. If word spread of his Ultimate Skill, then that would make it much harder to use. People might choose their words carefully or only allude to the truth. Erosa’s troubles with that nun and her ‘cousin’ were a prime example of how one could skirt the truth.
Speaking of which.
“What of the disappearance of sister Lyo Roseta? Are you connected with that?”
“The nun that purportedly stole the Holy Pearl.”
“I don’t know such a person.”
This was, of course, the truth. Boxxy did know of a succubus that stole a Holy Pearl, but it knew nothing about a nun doing something like that. The old human stared at it for a few seconds before jotting down a note saying that case was probably unrelated. Having warmed up sufficiently, he moved onto the meat of the matter.
“What do you know of the Calamity of Monotal?”
“What’s a Monotal? Is it tasty?”
“... You don’t know about that place?”
The gears started spinning in the Spymaster’s head. That statement was not a lie, but it didn’t mean it was true, either. Perhaps it never even found out the name of the place?
“Have you ever been inside another city before coming here?”
“What’s an Erosa? Is it tasty?”
The Spymaster took a deep breath.
“It’s the city where I captured you.”
The two stared at each other for a while.
“So have you ever been to another city or not?”
“Where were you before coming here?”
“On the road.”
“Haaah… Where did you live before moving to Erosa.”
The Mimic paused for a moment to consider this question. Did it actually live anywhere? It had been pretty much homeless ever since it got out of the dungeon, so technically speaking...
“Litigar Dungeon Complex.”
“So, you were born in that dungeon?”
“Why did you leave it?”
‘Sweeper?’ was swiftly added to the list.
“Have you seen the human city near that dungeon?”
The old Spymaster’s eyes lit up. Now they were getting somewhere.
“That place is the city Monotal.”
“So you know of it after all?”
“Did you know it was destroyed?”
“How did you know it was gone?”
“Saw the smoke cloud.”
“Did you have anything to do with that?”
The monster just lied for the first time in this interview. Of course it lied. Right now its life rested entirely in the hands of this man, and it did not want to openly admit to knowingly murdering thousands of his kind. It may still be more or less a moron, but even it wasn’t that stupid.
As for Spymaster Allen, he was actually inwardly delighted. He had finally gotten a real lead on that troublesome case.
“Were you the one who destroyed it?” he asked.
This one wasn’t a lie. A fact that immediately put a damper on the man’s rising mood.
The Mimic believed from the bottom of its soul that it did not destroy a city. After all, it was that giant shiny ball that vaporized the city. Of course, it was impossible to claim it was completely unrelated to that incident.
“Did you order your familiar to ddestroy it?”
It ordered Arms to roll a ball into a city. The destruction sort of happened after that.
“Did you order anyone to destroy that city?”
“Are you affiliated with an elven witch in any way?”
“What’s an affiliated? Is it tasty?”
“Oh for fuck sake!”
The Spymaster finally lost his cool and ended up leaping out of his chair and punching the obsidian cage. It rattled and even bent slightly from the impact. It also reacted like any electrified surface would when something conductive made contact with it.
You have been electrocuted. HP -25.
“Mother fucker that stung!” he cursed as he shook his zapped fist.
Relatively speaking that jolt was completely insignificant, but painful things were painful. Edward took a few deep breaths to calm himself. The answers were not an issue - he just had to ask the right question. Deciding to change up his approach, he reached into his tunic and took out a rolled-up parchment.
“Okay, look, do you know this person?”
He unfurled it in front of his prisoner, revealing the expertly drawn image of a stern-looking middle-aged elf woman. She had short, spiky hair and a deep vertical scar across her left eye. This was an artist’s rendition of the culprit thought to be the main perpetrator behind the act, courtesy of Bernard Samson’s testimony.
Again, not a lie.
“... Is this succubus - this Snack - also your familiar?”
“Did you tell her to disguise herself as an elf?”
The man kept going back and forth exploring the possibility of the succubus pretending to be his suspect, but couldn’t get any confirmation. Of course he couldn’t, Boxxy had no idea that Xera had went and done something like that. As such, Edward was completely unable to grasp the connection between them and had to drop this line of questioning. He also considered the possibility of this succubus acting on her own, but he had no way of confirming that, either. At least, not for the moment.
“Do you know how the city was destroyed?”
The man took a deep breath. These endless questions were getting on his nerves. Normally his Silver Tongue Skill would have his prisoners spilling their guts all on their own, but it seemed like it was ineffective on this particular monster.
“How was the city destroyed?!”
“It blew up.”
This was incredibly infuriating. Something about this moronic box just immensely ticked off the Spymaster. It was partly his own fault, though. He had briefly forgotten that his Ultimate Skill was not almighty and that open-ended questions like that last one were the Skill’s weakness. He had to stick to concise questions whose answer could be a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ if he wanted to get anywhere.
So after rebuilding his composure yet again, he briefly thought back on what he knew.
He had caught a rampaging monster that, against all odds, seemed to be somehow connected to that Calamity. The key to that event was bound to be buried somewhere in its dim-witted mind, but Edward lacked the information necessary to ask the right questions. It had also shown to be capable of lying in order to protect itself, so simply asking about the ‘how’ and ‘why’ was likely pointless.
What about a slightly different approach that didn’t rely on mere words? Granted, he highly doubted it would work on a monster, but it was still worth a try.
The Spymaster silently left the room, leaving Boxxy all on its own. One would imagine this would be the Mimic’s perfect chance to make a break for it, but it did no such thing. It remained perfectly still, suspended inside an electrified cage. Of course it wanted to escape, to break free and get away from that dangerous being that called itself a man, but it had no way of doing so.
Boxxy’s MP was currently 0 and automatic MP recovery had been disabled. The reasons were unknown, but this was its current reality. It had to admit whoever or whatever was responsible knew what they were doing, as Boxxy couldn’t do anything to escape without MP. Storage was inaccessible, Acid Spray was unusable, Mend Flesh was disabled, Metal Mimicry wouldn’t function and Spells were right out. The only Skill that still had a use was Shapeshift, but that wouldn’t let it break out of this specially prepared cage.
How come it was always those insufferable grates that got in its way?
Several minutes passed in total silence before Boxxy once again heard the sound of a metal door opening in the distance.
“Please don’t! I didn’t do anything!” came a familiar, squeaky voice. “You can’t do this to me!”
“I can, actually,” answered Edward’s voice, “You are my prisoner, after all.”
He appeared before Boxxy once more, carrying Fizzy by the scruff of her neck as if she were a large bag. The gnome’s work clothes were gone, replaced by a rough-looking brown poncho that covered her torso and upper thighs. It looked less like a piece of clothing and more like an old potato sack. This appeared to be the only thing she was wearing, seeing as how her arms and shoulders were bare and her legs were completely exposed from the thighs down. Her bruised ankles and wrists were cuffed by cast iron shackles and bound together by sturdy-looking chains that rattled forebodingly.
“Nooo!” she screamed the moment her eyes met Boxxy’s. “No! Get it away! Please!”
She struggled desperately, waving her arms and legs all over the place and shaking her head.
“Quiet down, prisoner,” said Edward.
“But! That thing! It’s evil! Get it- GET IT AWAY! OOF!”
She was thrown roughly to the ground, landing just centimeters away from the cage.
“I said shut up. Before I make you.”
The gnome whimpered in pain and curled up into the fetal position. ‘This isn’t happening!’ was repeated inside her head over and over ever since she woke up in her cell. Nobody would even tell her why she was here, let alone hear her side of the story.
“Better. Now then, you in the cage. Do you know this girl?”
The calm, oddly monotone voice made the gnome freeze and caused her manic thoughts to grind to a halt.
“Is she important to you?”
“... In what way?” asked the old man in spite of himself.
Fizzy looked up at the suspended monster despite herself. She wanted to retort somehow, but the words wouldn’t come out of her throat. Objectively looking at it, that was exactly what she was. This also meant this monster, despite everything, trusted her in some way. There could be no betrayal without trust, after all.
As for Edward, his mind was already putting the puzzle together. Of course he was well aware of what this gnome was capable of. The Appraisal check she went through while unconscious made it clear as to exactly what her Job and Skills were.
“Hmm… So she taught you the Artificer Job?”
“Was that all she taught you about?”
“Does her teaching relate in any way to the Calamity of Monotal?”
“C-c-calamity?!” stammered out Fizzy. Her thoughts started running wild again.
“Oh?” asked Edward, smoothly shifting his focus towards the gnome on the ground. “You didn’t know that this mimic was somehow involved in that?”
“No! I had no idea!”
“Hmm, come to think of it…”
The man’s voice trailed off as he began searching through his notebook. He found the entry concerning the site of a smashed up caravan that had been found on the imperial highway between Monotal and Erosa.
“Ah, here we go. Rory and Lark Fizzlespricket. Your family, I presume?”
The gnome’s eyes went wide when her deceased father and brother were mentioned out of the blue. Anger flared up in her heart for him besmirching their family name like that, but she quickly quelled it. Pointlessly antagonizing her captor was a really stupid idea.
“... Yes,” she answered weakly.
“Interesting. You know, we never actually found any of the bodies. You wouldn’t know anything about that would you.”
He considered the possibility of them being somehow connected and faking their deaths to go underground. Surely they must have mentioned something to their only living kin if they had such designs.
“Of course not!”
Operative word being ‘if.’
“What about you?” asked the Spymaster, turning around towards Boxxy. “Did you have anything to do with a 3-wagon caravan along the imperial highway north of here?”
Fizzy’s eyes became even wider. She turned her gaze back to the Mimic in complete shock.
“Was this after the Cal- the destruction of Monotal?”
He was convinced they were talking about the same thing. All merchant traffic going in and out of Erosa was logged, and that convoy was the only one that fit both the timing and the description. Well, they took a while to confirm this since they never found one of the wagons, but the personal effects recovered from the scene left no doubt as to the owner’s identity.
“So you were at the site of that ambush?”
“Did you come upon it before it was attacked?”
“After the attack?”
“Ah, so you happened upon it while it was already under attack?”
He scribbled some more details in his notebook while Fizzy listened in intensely. She was so nervous she felt like her heart was lodged in her throat.
“Did you kill everyone there?”
She relaxed a bit.
“But you killed some of them?”
“Did that include two male gnomes?”
Then came relief.
“So they’re still alive?”
Followed by grim acceptance.
“Then where are their bodies?”
“I ate them.”
That instantly turned into rage.
“YOU BASTARD!” she screamed, unable to handle this rollercoaster of emotions.
A plain looking boot forced her down to the cold stone ground. It mercilessly pressed down on her back, squeezing the air out of her lungs. It was as if a mountain had just sat down on top of her, robbing her of the ability to speak or even breathe properly, although it did little to stem the flow of tears streaming out of her eyes.
Of course she knew they were dead. Even if the bodies were never found, she just knew. But hearing that this creature had brazenly eaten them felt like the ultimate insult to their memory.
“So they were dead when you found them?”
“What about the adventurer escort? Did you kill them?”
“Bandits as well?”
“You ate all of those people, too?”
“Because they were there.”
That was it. Nothing more, nothing less. Boxxy was a monster, a creature that attacked others without warning and for little reason.
The metal door outside of the Mimic’s field of vision opened up once more, followed by numerous sets of footsteps. A squad of several armored guards stood in front of the Spymaster and saluted him respectfully.
“Spymaster Allen, sir!” said the one with the extra-shiny hat. “We’re ready for you.”
“Ah, very good. I think we’re about done here. Show this creature to the site, I will be there shortly. And do be careful with the cage - don’t want to lose any fingers.”
Edward picked the gnome off the floor and left the jail cell to give the men enough space. Four men walked into the room and stared at the bizarre creature with a look of clear apprehension. One of them went over to the box that was stuck to the side of the cage, unlocked it, and then flipped the switch inside, powering down the electrical current coursing through the metal bars.
The cage was then picked up and carried out of the dank cell and towards the surface.
“... Where are they taking it?” asked Fizzy with a quivering voice.
Edward roughly dropped her on the ground once more.
“Nowhere that’s of any concern to you, prisoner.”
Fizzy sat up and glared at the man.
“Why am I even here?!”
“You seriously don’t know?”
“No. Nobody has told me anything about it!”
“Why it’s because you have to pay for your crimes, of course!”
“Let’s start with gross negligence that led to the death of others.”
“Your incompetence sent that creature into a murderous rampage that not only cost the lives of at least 20 of the city’s protectors, but also caused a riot that resulted in the death of 15 civilians.”
“Wuh… what? You’re pinning that thing’s behavior on me?!”
“Are you saying your rash actions did not set that chain of events into motion?”
“B-b-but-but what was I supposed to do?! Some monster was messing with my brain!”
“Did you not think to hire adventurers?”
Of course, it was painfully obvious now that someone else pointed it out. Even if she was worried the guards wouldn’t believe her words, there’s no way adventurers or mercenaries wouldn’t believe her gold. Dealing with monsters was their specialty, after all. If one thought about things logically then-
No, she refused to believe it. Any citizen in her shoes would have gone to the guards. After all, hiring an adventurer wasn’t something that could be done in the span of a few minutes, and she didn’t know whether she’d truly need one until she sprung her trap and verified Boxxy’s identity.
“I’m not buying it!” she insited. “How is any of that negligence?!”
Edward completely ignored her protests and continued his little speech.
“You also taught it a Job without verifying its identity with an Appraisal. You also failed to register yourself as a Mentor and did not apply for the appropriate teaching license.”
Okay, he had her there. All of those things were, technically speaking, illegal. However, such misdemeanors were hardly worth jail time.
“Fine! Then I’ll pay my fine and-”
“And it is the result of my observations that I hereby declare you guilty of colluding with a monster to spread chaos within His Majesty’s territory.”
This human just let out the most ludicrous thing she had ever heard with a completely deadpan voice. Fizzy instantly understood that her imprisonment was never a matter of guilt or innocence, but simply this man’s whim. And she couldn’t do anything about it. After all, if someone in power wanted a commoner, especially a non-human like her, thrown in prison, then they could make up any myriad of reasons and nobody would bat an eye.
“Why?” she asked. “What do you want from me?!”
“Ah see, we have a good old-fashioned war brewing, and I would very much like your assistance with the war preparations.”
As wondrous as they were, the vast majority of an Artificer’s creations were weapons. Instruments of death and destruction that could be used by anyone after a bit of training. They were a profession that was bound to be in high demand whenever military affairs were concerned.
“You can’t make me do that!” insisted Fizzy.
“Oh, but I can,” answered Edward. “You’re a convicted prisoner. Military service is your sentence.”
The gnome’s heart sank.
Her father always believed Artificers could be more than merchants of death. That their craft can be used for the betterment of life, rather than simply ending it. He dedicated his life’s work towards that noble goal. All of his research and experiments were simply meant to create devices of convenience and nothing more. And while he did create a few weapons, those were only meant as a ways of self-defence and were designed in such a way as to stun and incapacitate, rather than kill. He was no pacifist, but that did not mean he wanted to be a murderer, even if it was by proxy.
A naive and foolish ideal that Fizzy believed in with her entire being.
“Don’t worry,” said the old man with a rotten smile on his face. “I’m sure you’ll work it off after a few decades of hard work!”
He then tossed her inside the cell Boxxy was just a minute ago and shut the door, then walked off after the other guards.