The Emperor’s Spymaster walked out of the dungeon and into the courtyard of Erosa’s central castle. The ground was hard-packed dirt with not a scrap of vegetation, save for a small flower garden in the center of the wide open space. It was surrounded on all sides by magically reinforced stone walls and was home to three buildings.
The one directly behind the Spymaster was the dungeon, a flat-roofed stone structure with two above-ground floors and one underground level. Only the top floor’s cells had windows, and even those were way too tiny to call them that. The narrow vertical slits in the dull gray wall were way too tight for a person a squeeze through with their head intact, and they were further sealed off by three horizontal steel bars. Not even someone’s arms could squeeze through those. These were the so-called ‘VIP rooms,’ and there were 20 of them in total. The dungeon’s total capacity was a little over 80 cells, though realistically speaking only about 30 of them were in use at any given time.
The building to the far right was the keep itself, the last line of defense should the city get attacked. It had its own set of walls and stone turrets and was largely used to house the local Lord and his staff. The Lord had recently added two large blue banners on either side of its main gate, engraved with the image of a griffin in flight. This was the Empire’s crest and served as a constant reminder of its glory.
The last key structure directly in front of Edward was the city’s central barracks. It was an old horseshoe-shaped building with an angled roof that was roughly as big as the dungeon, except that it had a 3rd floor. This was the city guard’s headquarters which housed about 60 guardsmen. The other 450 or so were stationed at 12 buildings scattered around the city and did most of the actual patrols and peacekeeping. This place was mostly used for administrative duties and also served as the guard’s main training facility. The most eye-catching part of this place was the 17-meter tall white tower that housed the city’s Arcaneum department.
That was Edward’s destination.
The Arcaneum was the organization in charge of magical study and research. Although Jobs and Skills came ‘pre-packaged’ with their own magic and Spells, that did not mean it was impossible to develop new ones. It was considerably difficult, time-consuming and expensive, but it was definitely possible. That was their primary function. The secondary function of the Arcaneum was to investigate, document and, if necessary, contain the bizarre and illogical.
In a way, it was an oddly fitting place for Boxxy’s upcoming Appraisal. Initially the Spymaster had foregone inspecting his monstrous prisoner’s Status because he thought it a waste of time. After all, it was impossible for an enlightened mind to properly assess a monster’s natural Job and Skills.
‘Enlightened’ was the general term used to collectively refer to the civilized races of this world - those that flocked together, hid behind walls and achieved their goals mostly through wits, intelligence and tools. They had a completely different way of thinking and understanding from the predominantly violent and highly instinctive monsters they shared a world with. It was a gap between their mental states that was impossible to bridge with simply the Appraisal Skill. Attempting to use this on a monster would simply fill the appraiser’s head with a garbled mess of gibberish that made no sense whatsoever. Basic information such as HP, MP, Attributes and age were the normally the limit of halfway useful information.
As it turned out, however, this box had two Side Jobs. It was both a Warlock and an Artificer in addition to being a Mimic. Which is why the Spymaster suddenly found himself very eager to find out exactly what it had been up to.
He walked into the Arcaneum tower and went into its basement. This served as a ceremonial chamber used to perform the various rituals and rites that the tower’s residents required. It was a wide open space with a size of about 10 by 15 meters and had an abnormally high ceiling at almost 4 meters tall. Several stone support columns dotted the inside and rows upon rows of bookshelves lined the walls. Tomes, parchments, paints, bushels of dried herbs, bowls of powdered substances, chunks of ores, jars of pickled monster parts and a plethora of other resources, ingredients and reagents were all lined up and waiting to be put to use. Plain-looking chandeliers adorned with white magical lights dangled from the ceiling. They bathed the subterranean chamber with so much light that it appeared to be brighter than it was outside. The floor itself was a dull gray stone foundation, much like the dungeon. A significant part of it was charred, scratched, cracked or otherwise dirtied with various dried up substances - likely remnants of past rituals.
Edward looked around and spotted a group of 5 individuals in the far corner, huddled around the familiar black cage. He approached them at a brisk pace, eager to move his interrogation of the monster onto the next step. He gave the order to prepare this space the instant he realized his prisoner was a Warlock, but it took a while to have those wand-twirlers leave this place. It was necessary for what he planned to do, however.
The four guards that escorted the monster to this spot saluted him respectfully when they noticed his approach.
“Thank you, guardsmen,” he returned the salute. “That will be all. Leave us, and inform the rest of the Arcaneum we are not to be disturbed.”
They quickly made their way out without uttering a single peep. They didn’t quite know who this stranger was, but none dared to speak up against him. They were told he was their superior in both rank and ability, which was all they needed to know. Besides, it was common knowledge around the keep that he had subdued that vicious creature with a single blow. He was so terrifying that they didn’t even dare to joke about which one was the real monster.
Edward waited for those men to leave the basement, then turned to face the last person remaining in the chamber. She was a rather short and petite woman with shoulder-length black hair and yellow eyes. Her face was youthful and plainly cute, but her ice cold expression was severe enough to send chills down one’s spine. Her outfit consisted of an armor set and tabard that were nearly identical in design to Edward’s, clearly marking her as one of his subordinates.
“Zone, are you ready for the Appraisal yet?”
The woman nodded her head. “Get to it then, and give me the short version.”
The female operative walked up to the caged monster, which studied her curiously with its out of place head. She unlocked the powered-down cage and walked into it. She reached out over its head and placed a hand on its lid, an act which caused Boxxy quite a bit of distress. It instinctively wanted to lash out and hurt this woman, but an overpowering glare from that man quickly erased any such rebellious thoughts. Besides, it’s not like it would hurt, right? Adventurers did this sort of thing all the time, after all.
The woman called Zone opened her mouth and quietly chanted two words.
Boxxy immediately felt an extremely disturbing sensation. It’s as if countless tiny insects came out of her hand and spread out across its surface, then burrowed into its faux-wood shell. The invisible bugs that weren’t actually there enveloped it completely, crawling and tasting it all over. A few seconds, the woman started reporting on its Status with a quiet, monotone voice.
“Name - Boxxy T. Morningwood. Greater Mimic, 3 months old. HP at 1,524. MP at 1,210. Monster Job - unknown. Assumed Level 45 to 50 based on the number of unknowable Skills. Level 25 Warlock. Summon Familiar 7, Power Overwhelming 6, Demonology 6, Crystallize Magic 5. Level 12 Artificer. Clockwork Expertise 3, Explosives Handling 2. General Skills consist of Stealth 7, an unknowable Skill assumed to be Shapeshift and a total of six Mastery Skills, ranging from 3 to 8.”
Having finished her duty, she took a hand off the chest. The disgusting sensations permeating Boxxy’s body stopped instantly, leaving it with a feeling of somehow being violated. It was not a tasty feeling.
“Hmm… It’s quite tough for its Level isn’t it?” mused the Spymaster. “I’m starting to see how it could kill 20 of those guards so quickly. Also, a total of over 75 Levels in 3 months? Well, all things considered that’s perhaps even a little low. Zone, is that there?”
“Yes. Butcher of Humanity Perk is present.”
“So it was that after all, huh?”
The Slayer series of Perks that were received upon killing hundreds upon thousands of beings of the same species. The first rank of these was awarded after one had killed 500 of a specific species, and was known as ‘Slayer.’ Getting that kill count up to 2,000 would upgrade the perk into a ‘Hunter.’ Racking up 5,000 would turn one into a ‘Butcher,’ and 20,000 would turn them into a ‘Natural Enemy.’ However, although these Perks did raise one’s prowess when fighting a specific species, they also had an additional side effect that was not readily apparent.
Much like Taboo, the Slayer series of Perks altered the way others perceived the holder, and it grew stronger with each one of the Perk’s upgrade stages. In this monster’s case, humans would feel an instinctive fear that caused them to shy away from it. Edward himself felt it, although it took him a while to notice since his Nerves of Steel Skill dulled the influence of external mental influences like that. It wasn’t until he had spoken to this creature for a few minutes that did he start feeling beads of cold sweat forming in his palms for no apparent reason. It affected him even though he had reached Job Level 100 and Ranked Up to become an ascendant - a stronger, faster and smarter variant of a human.
“I should have just started with the Appraisal…”
He felt foolish for thinking it wouldn’t yield any useful information. He trusted his common sense and wasted his own time, but it was hardly a bad call. After all, who would’ve thought this simple creature would be capable of gaining not only one, but two non-Monster Jobs. The Artificer one had clearly been taught by that gnome, which meant that the Warlock one was likely taught by some equally naive Warlock trainer. Most likely this Carl person.
Still, after interrogating both its mind and its body, he was finally convinced. This creature was the culprit behind the Calamity. He wasn’t sure how this simple being eluded his Eyes of Truth earlier, though. No, actually being simple and straightforward like that was why it gave him so much trouble in the first place. Regardless, it was clear beyond the shadow of a doubt that it was guilty. There was simply no other way it could have killed 5,000 people in just 3 months. Edward himself was personally familiar with just how high a number that was. He himself was only a Slayer of Humanity and a Slayer of Elfkind, despite having performed assassinations and carrying out raids on criminal hideouts for over 60 years.
That was fine by him though. Perks like that were more like stigmas than achievements. In fact, the same could be said about most of those things and could in some extreme cases be even more damning than a Level 10 Taboo Skill. They were evidence of one’s past actions that would be easily laid bare with Appraisal.
And yet he held off having one done on this Mimic until he deemed it was absolutely necessary. After all, a Full Appraisal could only be performed once every 24 hours. Guilds could afford to have multiple Scribes on their payroll, but Edward could not risk any of this information leaking out. He only brought one subordinate with him that was capable of performing a Full Appraisal, so he had to be prudent with its usage.
And now that it was done, he would take full advantage of it.
“Zone, does it have any other Perks?”
“Yes, five in total. One unknowable. The others are Arcane Assassin, Butcher of Humanity, Collateral Damage and Grand Theft Arcana.”
The unknowable was something related to being a monster. Collateral Damage is… well, as expected of something that blew up an entire city. Arcane Assassin was something that one of his other subordinates possessed and made sense considering it was a Warlock with Stealth. It might even have Assassination, but if the source of that Skill was a Monster Job then it would also be an unknowable.
That last one, however, was not one he was familiar with.
“Grand Theft Arcana?”
Zone’s eyes stared off beyond the horizon as she focused her attention othe Mimic’s Status screen that was still in her mind.
“Awarded for taking a dungeon core out of its dungeon. Reward is a plus 10 to all Attributes. The subject has performed this feat once.”
“Such a thing can happen, huh? I see, so that’s what that was.”
When the Hero, Bernard Samson, described the giant orb thought to be the source of this calamity, it painted the image of an oversized dungeon core. The nearby dungeon had been completely caved in from the force of that blast, so there was really no way to verify if its core was still there. But now he had all the proof he needed.
Not that Boxxy had any idea that its deed had been exposed. It was still immensely nervous, however. It had just been through its first and highly unpleasant Appraisal, the thing that it had determined must be avoided at all costs. It was afraid of what would happen to it, of whether this terrifying human and that similarly dressed woman would just kill it off on the spot. Still, it held onto something vaguely resembling hope. They clearly wanted something from it, otherwise they would have killed it already. It was the same reasoning the Mimic itself used when it tried to run away with that gnome in tow.
“Interesting,” said Edward while holding a fist up to his chin. “Very interesting indeed. We’ll have to bring it back to headquarters so we can finish extracting the details from it. We might even be able to avoid asking Arcaneum for assistance.”
And it looks like it was right and its life had been spared, at least for the moment. If they were transporting it somewhere, then that might present an opportunity to escape.
“In the meantime, let’s make sure it doesn’t try to pull anything. Zone, get rid of those two Jobs.”
The head swiveled around to stare up at the black-haired woman still next to it in a panic. Was such a thing really possible?!
“What if the Warlock Job is involved?” she asked.
“Irrelevant. We just need its memory. Do it.”
Judging from their exchange and mechanical way that woman was moving her hands toward it, the Mimic quickly concluded that Job removal was indeed what she was trying to do. It felt a new type of fear, one it hadn’t felt in a long time. Not of death, that particular sensation it had already grown accustomed to thanks to Edward. This particular sensation was something it had experienced when its connection to its dungeon home was severed.
It was the fear of the unknown.
That wasn’t all, though. It also felt anger, rage even. How dare these damned humans attempt to separate it from what was rightfully its own? Did they even know how much time, effort, money and murder it had to go through to get those Jobs to their current state?!
Desperate and cornered, it lashed out. A dozen fleshy tendrils sprang forth from its surface and instantly wrapped around the woman’s hands, feet and neck. Now that it had a hold of a hostage, it just needed to-
“Hnng!” it groaned. “Eh? … HNNNNG!”
It tried to spin her around, pin her down and threaten her, but it couldn’t. She didn’t budge a muscle no matter how much it pulled on her limbs. In fact, it was the one that was getting pulled closer to her, even though it definitely should have been heavier. It was as if Boxxy was trying to pull down a mountain.
Zone had stopped her movements for a moment at the unexpected assault, but did not seem to mind them. In fact, she did not seem to even notice them anymore. As if this monster’s utmost effort was little more than a joke to this woman. In fact, judging from the tiny smile her normally expressionless face had, that was most likely the case. She placed her hand upon the chest once more, completely unhindered by its ‘restraints.’
“Job Removal: Warlock.”
A trio of previously inert runes etched into the stone floor under the cage lit up in response to her quiet words. A white light flowed forth from them and enveloped Boxxy, drowning out the creature’s senses and assaulting its consciousness.
Proficiency level decreased. Crystallize Magic is no longer available. INT -10. WIS -10.
Proficiency level decreased. Demonology is now Level 5. WIS -2. MNT -2.
Proficiency level decreased. Power Overwhelming is no longer available. INT -24.
Proficiency level decreased. Summon Familiar is no longer available. INT -14. WIS -7. MNT -7.
Your Warlock Job has been removed. INT -50. MNT -50. END -50.
It was over in an instant. The mental strain of having its Skills removed at once rendered the monster unconscious. Its tendrils uncoiled themselves from Zone and hung limply down to the ground. When it woke up, it would find that all the knowledge it had regarding magic and demons was now gone, obliterated from its mind as if it was never there to begin with.
Well, almost all of it.
“Odd,” said Zone. “Demonology won’t go below Level 5.”
“What? Why not?”
“But the Warlock Job and its other Skills were successfully removed?”
Edward had made sure to brush up on his knowledge of the Warlock Job ever since he heard demons were involved in the Monotal case. He had already deduced the presence of Summon Familiar and Demonology well before this Appraisal, although he had no idea why this Skill refused to go away.
“Good enough,” he stated. “Demonology is practically useless on its own anyway.”
The monster would probably retain the knowledge of demonic rituals, but the Skill’s main function was to upgrade Summon Familiar, which was no longer in its possession. The contracts it had with those two demons would have been severed as well.
“Do the next one.”
“Job Removal: Artificer.”
Proficiency level decreased. Explosives Handling is no longer available. DEX -4. WIS -4.
Proficiency level decreased. Clockwork Expertise is no longer available. DEX -6. PER -6.
Your Artificer Job has been removed. DEX-24. WIS -24. PER -24.
A window flashed inside the Mimic’s mind, but its owner was currently out for the count.
“Done. No abnormalities,” reported Zone.
“Good,” said Edward while staring absentmindedly at the unconscious monster. “Very good indeed. Looks like we’re done here.”
“We are?” asked Zone. “What about the elf connection?”
“Non-existent. As expected, it was either a fluke or an accident rather than an elven conspiracy.”
Of course the Spymaster never quite believed the elves were actually responsible for something like the Calamity of Monotal. He kept his mind open to the possibility, but a man of his experience was able to easily spot that the young Hero had been deceived. And now that he finally met and spoke with the perpetrator, he was convinced.
To begin with, those cowards of the elven-populated Ishigar Republic to the north would never dare incur the wrath of the militaristic Lodrak Empire. Their territory may be larger than the Empire’s at a glance, but was far behind when it came to matters of military strength. And while such acts of terrorism were right up their alley, they were also far more competent than the farce at Monotal. If an agent of theirs was indeed responsible for the Calamity, then there’s no way they’d ever allow it to be traced back to them. They take their spying and skulking in the shadows very seriously.
Then there was the matter of these supposed perpetrators’ choice of target. Considering the destructive potential of this Calamity, hitting a place like Monotal made very little sense. That city had very little strategic or economic value in the grand scheme of things. If they truly had the capability and the intention of wounding the Empire in such a way, then they would have gone after a more valuable region. Heck, might as well blow up the royal capital and gouge out the heart of the Empire while they’re at it. It was what Edward would have done in their position.
In fact, it’s what he was planning to do to them at this very moment.
“Sir, requesting permission to keep suspect as a pet.”
His subordinate’s bizarre question made Edward’s scheming grind to a halt. The black-haired woman was gently stroking the unconscious Mimic’s imitation wood surface with a tiny smile on her face.
“Really, Zone? This again?”
“Haah. Alright, I’ll bite. Why?”
“I have determined it is quite cute.”
This problem child always had a twisted sense of aesthetics. This wasn’t the first time she made the ludicrous request of keeping a murderous monster around as a pet, either.
“Also, there is a high chance that it likes me,” she added.
“I highly doubt that. It just tried to take you hostage, you know.”
“It did? When?”
“You know, when it wrapped those tentacles around you?”
He wiggled his fingers for emphasis. His subordinate tilted her head in confusion.
“That wasn’t a hug? But it was so squishy and warm...”
Edward sighed again. Did she really not notice? While it’s true that the monster had no chance of overpowering her outrageous STR Attribute, that didn’t mean it was being nice. Honestly, how come she was this ignorant even though she had Ranked Up? It really just boggled the mind.
“No, Zone, it wasn’t showing affection. It tried to hurt you.”
“I don’t mind. I promise I’ll discipline it. Therefore-”
“Forget it. We’ll be disposing of that thing once Hook is done rooting around in its mind for the Calamity method.”
The man with the codename Hook was a subordinate of Edward, much like Zone. His Main Job was that of Psionic, a rare occupation that utilized mind-based Skills and Spells in combat. Their Domination magic that was far more powerful and versatile than anything a Warlock had access to. Something like sifting through that monster’s memories to get the details surrounding that event was child’s play for a Psionic of Hook’s caliber.
And once Edward had gotten what he wanted out of it, he would execute it.
“Don’t give me that pleading look, Zone. You know we can’t risk the truth of the Calamity leaking out.”
The elves destroyed a human city and murdered thousands of humans.
This was the ‘official’ story he fed to that immature and hot-blooded Emperor. It wouldn’t be long before that lie was propagated throughout the Empire and spoon-fed to its citizens. With the entire country’s disdain and distrust towards the elves rising, it would be the perfect opportunity to finally engage in open warfare and wipe those twigs out from the face of this world. Once that was over, the Empire would be able to gobble up or vassalize the remaining nations, securing its dominion over the continent.
Some small part of him, actually wanted to thank that moronic Mimic. Not only did it provide them with a plausible reason to get the populace to support this war, but it was also going to provide them with a weapon of mass destruction. If the Calamity could be replicated and weaponized, then even world domination would be within the Empire’s grasp.
Or at least, that’s the way he would manipulate that juvenile Emperor into seeing things. As far as Edward was concerned, all these wars on the horizon were nothing more than a way for him to further his Jobs and Skills. He was so close to achieving a second Rank Up that he could almost taste it, but a man of his position found it difficult to raise Spy Skills during such peaceful times. He was so close to achieving a Breakthrough, and then he just had to diligently work at becoming a Level 100 Spy, at which point he would achieve his second Rank Up.
Of course, one could argue he should have picked an easier Job, but he had no time for such things. His lifespan may have been extended after he became an ascendant, but even that felt like it was about to run out. However, once he has evolved from an ascendant into an immortal, he would have all the time in the world to work towards achieving the ultimate Rank Up.
Until then, however, he had to be prudent, patient and careful.
“Now go fetch those guardsmen and tell them to drag our friend back to its cell. Prepare both it and that gnome for transport back to the capital. I want them out of here by tomorrow, understood?”