“Teach!” yelled Boxxy.
“No!” replied Fizzy in an equally high voice. “Don’t wanna! Go away!”
“I want to! But cage!”
The Mimic swayed inside its personal prison as if to make a point. Not too hard though, the highly untasty glowy stuff was back.
It had been in a rage ever since it woke up 30 minutes ago and found itself back in the cell, minus 2 Jobs. It was still coming to terms with its more… limited brain capacity. After all, it had lost about a third of its INT and a good chunk of WIS. Its mental processes had regressed back to what they were three weeks ago - just after the Calamity that started this whole mess took place.
And it did not like that, not one bit.
“Teeeach!” yelled Xera’s misplaced head again.
It wanted to reclaim what it once had. The Warlock Job, it had no idea where it would get it. The first time was a total lucky fluke, it was highly unlikely for that to happen again. At least Artificer could be recovered easily enough as long as that insufferable gnome granted it the Job again.
“Please! Just leave me alone!”
She was, understandably, not particularly willing to do so. Fizzy had not even come to terms with the horrible reality of her unjust imprisonment when those guards came back and left this terrifying box in the same cell with her. She begged the guards to be put in a different place, but those humans just stared at each other awkwardly before locking them in together and silently walking away.
A man bearing His Majesty’s royal seal had given them an order, and they carried it out. Nothing more, nothing less. Even though all of them sympathized with her, none of them were willing to risk incurring that man’s wrath.
“HHHRRAAAHRG!” roared the Mimic. “Teach! Me! Art fisher!”
“Oh shut up already you fucking idiot!”
Why did she kick the cage just now? She knew full well it was electrified. Maybe the real idiot was her after all?
The gnome decided it would be probably better to just explain.
“You see these shackles?!”
She lifted her bound arms for emphasis.
“These are mana-sealing shackles, you dimwit! Not only do they disable its recovery, but they also drain any MP left over! And I can’t activate my Mentor Skill without MP! Therefore, I can’t give you the Job even if I wanted to!”
“You lie! Betrayer! Liar! Un-tasty, vile thing!”
“You have that same stuff bolted onto you, moron! You don’t have your MP, either, right?!”
“So if you understand then please just shut the fuck up!”
And it did indeed go quiet. The gnome stared at it, her small shoulders going up and down as she steadied her agitated breathing. She really should have just said that stuff at the start. Boxxy was always good at listening to her direction so it probably wouldn’t ask again. Alas, once she did indeed calm herself down, she was once again gripped by anxiety and uncertainty.
She just yelled and insulted a monster that could gobble her up in one mouthful. That realization was more than enough to cause her to back off into the far corner of the cell and lie down in the fetal position, facing away from her cellmate. At least this arrangement was entirely temporary. Those guards said something about moving both of them the next day, so all she had to do was grin and bear it until they were separated.
And then continue grin and bearing it. For years. While she was forced to build war machines. And would likely be whipped and beaten if she did a poor job of it. Hell, she might just be whipped and beaten regardless of how well she did. Would they even release her once her sentence was up? Would that sentence even end?!
Fizzy looked over her shoulder at those words. The Mimic had completely regained its composure and was currently asking her something with a determined face.
“... How fast what?”
She found herself answering despite herself.
“How fast does MP go away?”
“How can you not know?”
“Was not awake.”
“... I think it was 50 per second or something like that.”
It went quiet once more. The pale-faced head retreated back inside its shell, leaving the monster’s appearance as a simple, suspended chest. It would appear it had no more desire to speak with her, and Fizzy wasn’t exactly looking for a conversation partner right now.
Okay, she was. She desperately wanted someone to at least hear out her troubles, but she wasn’t going to get a shred of sympathy from that creature. Why did she have to share a cell with this horrible monster that had caused her so much pain in the first place? First it… Huh?
She sat up and looked at it curiously. Did it actually do anything to her?
No, no, no, Boxxy had clearly stated it was responsible for the death of her brother and father! That was more than enough reason to hate it, right?! Wait, that’s not right. During the interrogation it mentioned it at the scene of their deaths, but it claimed it didn’t kill them, but merely… ate them. Still, desecrating the dead like that was surely deserving of scorn, right? Not to mention it went on a murdering spree and wiped out both the bandits that killed her family and the adventurers that failed to protect them.
In other words… it got revenge for her, didn’t it? Anyone and everyone that was responsible for those two’s untimely demise was sitting somewhere at the bottom of that monster’s gullet.
She screamed and rolled around on the ground. What the hell was she thinking?! There’s no way that monster would’ve let them live! It would have definitely finished them off if the bandits hadn’t gotten to them first! Then there’s all the times it wiped her memory for no reason!
Ah, but that was technically to protect its identity, wasn’t it? Wait, how come it did that instead of just killing her? If Fizzy had simply talked to it rather than betrayed it, then they would definitely be in her workshop practicing their craft rather than sitting in jail and awaiting some dismal fate.
If anything, Boxxy was technically her benefactor considering how much business it gave her. Fizzy’s Fidgety Widgets was never a prosperous shop, but the unfortunate gnome was struggling to keep it afloat all on her own. The vast majority of her clients had cancelled their orders once they found out those two were no more, so she was really in a pinch about how to maintain her father’s legacy.
“... Boxxy, can I ask you something?”
The Mimic was currently trying to organize its fractured mind, so it didn’t feel like engaging the little gnome in the corner. The all of the knowledge pertaining to magic and almost everything it knew about demons vanished in a flash of light. Its knowledge of cogwheels, gears, sprockets, springs and explosives was also likewise gone with the wind.
No wait, it wasn’t all gone. Those one-on-one tutoring sessions with Fizzy were still in its memory. The conversations with Carl and most of the memories it had concerning its familiars were still there. The information Xera had gathered for it before it got captured was mostly intact as well. Perhaps it could recover from this after all?
“Why did you want to become an Artificer?” asked Fizzy.
It would seem she had taken the monster’s lack of response for silent confirmation it would speak with her, when in truth it was just ignoring her. If it could magnificently ignore a couple of demons having violent sex for 6 hours straight, then some nosy little gnome as no trouble at all. But still, perhaps there might be merit in speaking with her. She might yield some more useful information, and it would need all the help it could get if it was to break out of this place.
Xera’s bald face appeared from the chest’s front. The gnome didn’t even flinch at the bizarre action.
“Machines are tasty.”
“Machines are tasty.”
“You... eat Artificer-made tools?”
“But you think they’re tasty?”
“How can you claim they’re tasty when you don’t want to eat them?”
“Because they are.”
“... What’s with that inane reasoning?”
“You don’t think art fishers are tasty?”
“... Um, no?”
“Then why teach art fishing if you don’t think its tasty?”
The gnome decided it would be better for everyone involved if she just minded her own business. She laid down in the fetal position once again, but with one small change. This time she lay down while facing the Mimic and quietly stared it. Boxxy seemed to mirror that sentiment and returned to its mental cataloguing after making its head disappear. The cell remained silent for the rest of the day and evening, save for the footsteps of the odd guard patrol, Fizzy’s own breathing and the gentle hum of the electrified cage. The mentally exhausted gnome ended up focusing on that last one. It was a familiar sound that reminded of a better, happier time.
After all, that cage was something she had personally made over 6 months ago by the behest of the local Lord, a man named Osorlov. Her ears and Tick Counter Skill told her the electrifying mechanism wasn’t functioning as efficiently as it should be. Those humans had probably ignored her advice regarding and neglected doing proper maintenance or stored in sub-optimal conditions. She even gave them a manual and everything. Well, all that meant was that the charge wouldn’t persist as long, but that still meant it should last for at least two weeks.
Fizzy eventually found herself lulled to sleep by that oddly comforting sound. However minor it was, it still reminded her of a better, happier time. Perhaps it’s because of that noise that she dreamt about the time she had an argument with her brother over what constituted as a ‘clean work environment.’ That guy, how he managed to find anything inside that ‘organized chaos’ of his was a complete mystery. He even had the audacity to get angry when Cornie went and tidied up the mess of tools and parts he made. It got so intense that they nearly came to blows over it.
“Rise and shine you two!” came a guard’s voice, waking her up from that strangely happy dream.
“Ack! Wha-! Oh…”
She was back in the real world, much to her disappointment. At least she didn’t feel quite as depressed about it as yesterday. Somehow, watching that Mimic quietly sit there made her strangely motivated. Wailing and thrashing about wasn’t going to help her in any way. Also, she really didn’t want to lose to the Mimic. If that stupid box could calmly await what Fizzy assumed would be a much more cruel fate than her own, then the least she could do was not be a crybaby about it.
The guards escorted both her and the caged monster out of the dungeon and into the courtyard. Waiting for them there were a duo of griffins. These winged monsters appeared to have the front half of an eagle and the rear half of a janther. Their beak-tipped heads and long necks were covered in brilliantly white feathers that turned to a dark brown around their chest and forelegs. The front two feet ended in birdlike talons and were also covered in brown plumage. The rest of the creature’s torso as well as its hind legs were like that of a huge cat with a golden coat that seemed to glisten in the morning sun. Their long tail was tipped with a spattering of feathers.
Those banners visible off to the side really did not do these majestic beasts justice. The feeling they gave off when met in person was completely different from some caricature. They even seemed to give off a regal aura that made one instinctively want to grovel before them.
Well, that last bit could also be attributed to their huge size. Standing with their heads held high put their eye level a good 7-8 meters off the ground. The massive wings that were attached to just above their front legs unfurled to a wingspan of nearly 15 meters.
Strapped to each of their wide backs like a pair of oversized backpacks were two specially designed cabins. One was made out of wood and had round glass windows - clearly intended to ferry passengers while shielding them from the frigid winds that usually accompany high-altitude flight. It was highly probably the temperature inside would be regulated to ensure maximum comfort. The other one was, for lack of a better term, a giant steel box that was used to carry any cargo and/or luggage the air convoy’s passengers may have.
“That’s how we’re being transported?!” asked Fizzy with an oddly enthusiastic tone. “I’ve always wanted to ride a griffin!”
“Easy there, girlie,” said one of the guards escorting the two prisoners. “Don’t get your hopes up. You and that thing over there are riding with the cargo.”
And there went what little optimism the female gnome could muster. Now she really felt like crying.
The two of them were brought before the gigantic beast that was currently lieing down. A large wheeled ramp had been brought out to provide access to its back that was a few meters off the ground. The guards dutifully escorted both prisoners up that wooden slope and unlocked the double doors that were at the back of the windowless metal container. They swung open to reveal a largely empty space. Beams of sunlight entered through a series of small holes along the sides of it, near the top, providing air and little bit of light.
Boxxy’s cage was placed in the far right corner on a thin mat of Bouncewood bark. This was, ironically, made from the same batch of materials that the monster itself had delivered. The cage was then strapped securely to the floor using a number of ropes that appeared to be coated in some type of resin. They wrapped around the cage’s bars were tied to specially designed hooks that poked out of the bottom and sides of the container itself. Once it was properly secured, one of the guards re-started the cage’s electric field. The floor mat and ropes appeared to have been specially prepared so as to not disperse the charge through the rest of the metal container.
As for Fizzy, she was also put into a cage that was attached to the floor, although this one was considerably smaller, probably intended for animals rather than people. It was more to keep her from doing as she pleased rather than keeping her from being tossed around. After all, the flight would go on for 2 days straight and would leave her and her alleged accomplice completely unsupervised during that time.
The Spymaster was confidents Boxxy’s restraints would be sufficient. It lost the ability to use magic, and even then a monster’s natural abilities demanded MP in order to function. Any shapeshifting tricks it tried to use would be cut short by an electric jolt. In some ways, the gnome was far more likely to escape her shackles. An Artificer would be able to take apart pretty much anything, provided they had the right tools. Of which Fizzy had none. Still, Edward made sure she was locked up securely and not allowed to run free.
At least he had the common courtesy to provide her with some basic necessities. A small cot filled with hay to lie down on, thick blankets to shield herself from the cold, a number of water skins and dried military rations for sustenance and a small bucket for her waste. This, wasn’t out of kindness or pity, but necessity. He couldn’t put her to work if she ended up starving or freezing to death during the trip. That latter one was a very real possibility since their course would take them above the snow-covered summits of the Sawblade Mountain range to the north.
Once the prisoners were securely strapped in place and Edward personally inspected their restraints, he left the cargo container and locked its doors. About an hour later they heard the griffins’ eagle-like cries. Their temporary dwelling then started shaking violently to signify they were now airborne. The shaking and swaying lasted for about 20 minutes while the creature gained altitude, but it seemed to be a smooth ride after that.
Fizzy spent her time idly staring at the box in the corner. There wasn’t any particular reason for that, though. There was simply nothing else around to distract her from her depressing thoughts. Plus, the container would shake occasionally and cause the box to sway into the electrified cage and get zapped, to which it reacted with a yelp and growl. It was oddly entertaining to watch.
The hours rolled by. Morning turned to noon, then to evening, then to night. The beams of clear sunlight that poked through the holes near the ceiling and bathed the interior in a soft yellow light gradually disappeared. They were replaced with much weaker moonlight that barely lit up the inside.
The gnome could not sleep though. The sound the winds made as they rushed into those holes and the occasional shaking made such things pointless. That luxury carriage she saw was probably stabilized to the point where its occupants would think they were on solid ground. Not to mention it would be pleasantly warm. The blankets she was given were not quite enough. While she probably wouldn’t freeze to death, it didn’t mean that she wasn’t cold. Those equally chilly rations and water she had to consume didn’t help much either.
As for the Mimic, it did what most of its more simple-minded and less complicated brethren did. It sat perfectly still while waiting for a good opportunity to come. It took a lot of patience, a good amount of pain and having to give up two of its hard-earned Jobs, but that chance had finally come.
And Boxxy T. Morningwood would seize it without fail.