A monster and its pet gnome were walking along an old dirt path. They’d been heading northwest along the Sawblade Mountains just as the divine revelation said. Of course, Boxxy refused to outright believe Fizzy would suddenly know where they were. Scared of incurring the monster’s wrath, she came up with some bullshit excuse like being able to smell the undead from afar. The Mimic apparently found it plausible enough, seeing as how it decided to humor the gnome.
That, however, was several days ago, and the Mimic was starting to seriously doubt whether this pint-sized Paladin was telling the truth. While it’s true that mimics were a species of monster with a great deal of patience, it was still feeling agitated at having wasted so much time on this little adventure. That time limit on its all-important quest was seriously starting to worry it. Its brief interaction with that Goddess of Probability gave it the distinct impression that she was an extremely fickle deity. Clarice could easily ‘get bored’ with Boxxy at any given moment.
Granted, the two of them didn’t spend all that time simply walking.
Fizzy had already reached Level 25 and was currently honing her Paladin Skills, while Boxxy was already Level 46. The next Rank Up was within reach and was bound to be a tasty thing. But again, it felt rushed at the unknowable deadline. Worthy prey had been growing thin as of late and it had to share the XP with the pink-haired gnome, so its Level gains were not as quick as they could be. There was also the matter of the Shapeshift Skill. While it was currently at Level 9, which was a good thing, it was getting harder and harder to gain proficiency in it. The Mimic Job was going to hit Level 50 well before that Skill got to 10, and it needed both to Rank Up.
However, it would seem the reason for the lack of prey around this neck of the woods had revealed itself. They were indeed getting closer to something foul, as evidenced by their environment. The rocky terrain around them adopted a much more barren look. Well, more barren than usual. While the vegetation on this rocky mountain was always sparse, it was much worse in this area. The grass and bushes were dried up, and the few pine trees around were reduced to nothing but bare, rotten trunks. A significant number of them had fallen over, unable to bear their own weight. The soil itself seemed to be dying out and the faint stench of rot wafted on the breeze.
This phenomenon. known as the Blight, was strongly associated with the presence of undead. Whether the Blight caused the dead to rise or whether the undead spread the Blight through their presence was largely a mystery, but they both seemed to grow in equal measure if left unchecked. There was a very real example of what would happen if it were left to grow out of control. The continent to the far northeast, a landmass formerly known as Percepeia, was wholly consumed by this supernatural disease. It was a place that was so thick with the undead, that the very air itself seemed to spread death and decay.
However, that did not happen overnight. While Blight was dangerous, it spread slowly. It took nearly two centuries for it to cover the entire continent that was now known as the Deadlands. This particular patch of Blighted mountain terrain had probably been here for a few years, possibly decades, so it was still relatively simple for the Empire to heal its lands. Priests and Paladins would purify the soil, water and air while Shamans and Druids aided in the environment’s recovery. It would also demand a regiment of soldiers to wipe out the undead that dwelled here.
As for the reason the Lodrak Empire had not moved to handle this yet, they simply didn’t know about it yet. Even if it was reported, it would take a long while before they could address it. After all, the Arcaneum currently had its hands full dealing with the aftermath of the Calamity. While the Blight could be called a disease that was dangerous if left to fester, the Calamity’s side effects were more like a poison that had to be dealt with quickly. It as a matter of priority - they just did not possess the manpower to deal with both situations at once.
And they needed the manpower, for subduing a Blight was no easy task. The thousands of undead beasts that walked these lands were sure to attempt and repel any nosy living beings that dared show their faces around here. The zombified and skeletal monsters that dwelled around here would never tire or grow hungry. And while their intelligence would deteriorate after rising from the dead, their instincts and strength were left mostly intact. They could also keep fighting without feeling pain or fear, making them much more dangerous than when they were alive.
That is, unless one happened to be proficient in Holy Magic.
“Holy Light!” chanted Fizzy.
A bright yellow-green light enveloped the Zombie Troll she and Boxxy had come across. Black smoke came out of its body as bits of its rotten flesh turned to dust. A significant chunk of its torso and thighs disappeared, causing its left leg to snap off. The undead monster then fell over like a stack of bricks.
Your holy magic has purified the undead. Target HP -367.
Your target has been weakened for 6 seconds.
It wasn’t quite dead though. It still kept crawling towards Fizzy, pulling itself along the ground with its arms, though it was much more sluggish than before.
The second Spell caused the monster’s right arm and shoulder to vanish much like its leg, but its still kept crawling at her. As expected of a monster that fought literally to the last.
The third one did the trick, completing the large ape-like zombie’s transformation into a smoldering pile of white ash.
“I-I-I-I did it!” screamed Fizzy.
This was her first time fighting something undead and it was a huge success. It didn’t even get a chance to get near her. As expected, using a monster’s elemental weakness against it was scarily effective.
“Boxxy! Look!” she yelled while pointing at the troll’s remains. “I did it! I-”
“Shut up and help, stupid thing!”
“... Oh, right! I’m on my way!”
She took out and gripped her oversized wrench and ran towards where Boxxy was currently fighting 5 more of those things. In her excitement she completely forgot that they ran into a group of zombies. She may have taken one of them down, but the Mimic was currently busy fighting the others. They had surrounded it on all sides, but the strangely agile spider chest was hopping all over the place, easily avoiding their clumsy attempts to claw and bite at it.
Just because it could easily outheal the damage didn’t mean it wanted to get hit on purpose.
The gnome approached the scuffle and chanted her next Spell.
A ring of holy energy spread out from beneath Boxxy. It seeped into the soil beneath its feet, causing a gentle light to seep out from between the cracks in the dried up soil within a radius of 8 meters. This temporary holy ground would serve to slowly heal both Fizzy and the Mimic while simultaneously purifying and weakening the undead that were caught up in it. Boxxy took advantage of its enemies’ sudden loss of speed and swiftly went about beheading them while Fizzy crushed their kneecaps and pummeled their heads. The two of them managed to clean up the remaining undead before the 12-second effect of the Consecrate Spell faded.
“Fizzy,” said the Mimic.
Having been named directly, the gnome let out a high-pitched scream.
“W-w-what is it, B-B-Boxxy?”
Her presence here turned that fight into a piece of cake, as expected of the anti-undead specialist. Granted, Boxxy would’ve been able to handle those things on its own, but it would have taken much longer. The Mimic was well aware that undead usually roamed in large packs, and had prepared itself for a constant fight until the lich it was hunting finally showed up. Therefore, making sure its victories were fast and efficient was a must-have. Well, that was why it made sure she trained up her Skills and Spells.
“No hesitation or fear, just like monster,” it added.
However, the old Fizzy would have undoubtedly been incapacitated by fear. Momentary weaknesses like that were deadly when fighting monsters. That’s the main reason it spent so much time thoroughly educating the naive gnome, beating the fear and hesitation out of her.
“Good job,” it repeated.
“Th-thanks Boxxy!” she replied with a quivering smile.
Well, the ‘training’ worked, though perhaps not in the way the Mimic imagined it. Cornie Fizzlesprocket was still very much a scaredy cat, and was practically shaking in her boots the entire time, though not because of some silly zombies. She was scared shitless that she might displease the Mimic if she performed poorly. That chest-shaped mass of murder was far more terrifying. The fact that she didn’t disappoint Boxxy and wouldn’t get beaten today was the best news she could’ve hoped for.
“Where to now?”asked the Mimic.
Fizzy’s weak smile disappeared in an instant as panic gripped her. She had no idea where to go from here. Her tired green eyes surveyed the surroundings in a panic and spotted something on the horizon.
“There!” she shouted while pointing in the distance. “There’s a wuh-wuh-white tower over there! The li- lich is probably inside!”
Boxxy traced her finger and did indeed spot a tall, pearly-white structure in the far distance, on top of a mountain ridge and surrounded by gray, Blighted land on all sides. It was so far away that it looked smaller than a grain of rice from this distance. It would be impossible to pick out against the horizon if the gnome didn’t point it out. The only reason she saw it in the first place was due to her well-developed Perception (PER) Attribute.
“I see. Okay. Let’s go.”
The gnome let out a relieved sigh and followed after the Mimic. She offered a silent prayer to her God as thanks that the Mimic bought her wild guess. Well, it wasn’t a completely ungrounded theory. There was nothing but barren, dead land for kilometers around and a lich is supposed to be a powerful being. It made sense that it would want to hole up somewhere like a tower.
The two of them kept walking for hours, just as they had been for the past 3 weeks. Except that the rate at which fights broke out was much higher. They had to fight off an average of 4 packs of zombified or skeletonized beasts every hour. Fizzy’s much higher END Attribute allowed her to keep marching onward without getting too exhausted, though. She also learned that using Holy Light as a source of damage just wasn’t worth it. It was far more efficient to just use Consecrate to weaken the undead, shatter their kneecaps and then smash their heads in once they had fallen over.
However, another enemy reared its head as they made their way into the heart of this dead land.
Your body has been weakened by Blight. Automatic HP recovery has been reduced by 2.6 per second.
There’s no way the debilitating disease that permeated this place wouldn’t have an effect on them. Boxxy was fine since it had a high amount of HP recovery to begin with, but Fizzy was not so lucky. Her HP recovery actually went into the negative, meaning her body was slowly withering away as time went on. A flash of Holy Light would alleviate her condition and restore her vitality, but it was a stopgap measure. Using Consecrate would cleanse the land and allow her to recover naturally, but she was constantly on the move and didn’t have the MP to keep using that Spell.
The matter of provisions was also a problem. Boxxy was mostly fine since it could take a carcass or two out of its Storage and immediately gobble it up, but Fizzy had it rough. She was carrying her own food and water, which became contaminated from the prolonged Blight exposure. The crystal clear water in her waterskin had become brown and murky, while the dried meat she was carrying had gone way beyond bad. It was basically dirt by the time she took it out of her pack and tried to chow down on it.
It took them the rest of the day to reach their destination, which left the pint-sized Paladin thoroughly exhausted, both physically and mentally. Not only was she denied both rest and sustenance, but she had to help Boxxy fight off at least 200 undead. She dreaded the trip back, but at least took solace in the fact that the Mimic seemed to be satisfied with her performance. Well, that only hinged on whether her guess would pan out.
The stone tower ahead of them was about 17 meters high and about 7 meters in diameter. It stood on a ridge that made its top the highest point in the entire Blighted area. The setting sun had dyed the brilliantly white bricks in red, highlighting the few tiny windows on its upper floors. Both Fizzy and Boxxy recognized this structure. It looked exactly like the tower back in Erosa’s courtyard - the same building where the Mimic had its Jobs stripped from it.
It would appear that the organization known as Arcaneum once held a research outpost of some kind out here. Ruins of a short stone wall could be seen around the tower, as well as what appeared to be the remnants of a few wooden houses and shacks inside it. A part of the courtyard had been separated by what appeared to be a stone fence, probably a place where they grew crops or herbs, maybe even kept farm animals.
Fizzy briefly wondered what the circumstances were. Was the lich perhaps once a magical researcher here? Or did it occupy this place decades ago after stumbling onto it by chance? She then quickly dispersed such pointless thoughts and mentally prepared herself for what was doubtlessly going to be a tough fight.
The monster and the gnome slowly approached the tower. They passed through a large gap in the outer wall and approached the entrance that probably once had grand double doors. Such things were washed away by the ravages of time, however. They drew their weapons and warily entered.
The ground floor was a large open space that had most of the furniture and decorations cleaned out of it. The white stone walls were bare and the wooden floor had nothing on it, save for a few moth-eaten rugs. A large stone staircase was visible way in the back and a few entrances to small side-rooms were lined up on the left side.
*Clank clank clank*
Heavy, metallic footsteps could be heard from the rooms in the back. Fizzy audibly swallowed and readjusted the grip on her improvised mace. Three humanoid figures came out almost simultaneously and stepped into the fading day’s light that flooded in from the wide-open entrance. They were all clad head-to-toe in intimidating-looking suits of full plate armor. It was pitch black, spiky and looked to be ancient, rusty and scratched up. However, it still seemed thick enough to absorb anything the gnome’s feeble arms could throw at it. The open-faced helmets displayed a trio of thoroughly rotten and half-skeletal faces, making it painfully obvious that these three were undead. Their armaments and behavior made it abundantly clear that they were no regular undead, either. The one in the middle bore a huge greatsword that was almost as long as he was tall, while the two on either side of him had large, heavy shields and thick longswords.
These were Death Knights, a type of undead that were normally born from the corpses of skilled warriors and fighters. They sometimes appeared in dungeons or places where particularly bloody battles took place, but most of the time they were created. And indeed, judging from how each of them took steady-looking stances and lined up in a loose formation, they were not mindless corpses that attacked everything on sight. They had a master, an owner.
And it would seem they wanted to personally greet their ‘visitor.’
“So, you’re the one who’s been making all that noise out there, hmm?”
A cold voice dripping with malice echoed through the old tower. That’s when Fizzy beheld the lich she and Boxxy were looking for all this time. It walked down the stone staircase in a calm manner. No, that’s not quite right. The lich did not walk, it floated. Also, that being was not an ‘it,’ but quite obviously a ‘she.’
The lich had the appearance of a human woman in her early 20s. Her skin was a sickeningly pale purple and her relatively short black hair was tied in twin side tails. The face was surprisingly beautiful, except that he eyes were pitch black, with red dots floating inside them. They seemed to size up and lick all over Fizzy as if tasting her. A thick, black metal collar was around her neck, with an odd X-shaped marking at the very front. Immediately underneath that was a large, diamond-cut red gem that was nestled securely between her massive breasts. Those things looked large enough to compete with a certain succubus. There also a trio of glowing red runes that appeared to be tattooed vertically across her stomach.
As for the reason Fizzy could actually see those, it was because the lich was practically naked.
A long, dark blue stretch of cloth that resembled a tattered bandage of some sort was the only thing she was wearing that could be called clothing. It was wrapped diagonally around her breasts, went around her back and down her hips, leaving her shoulders, arms, midriff and most of her breast flesh completely exposed. It securely bound her legs together, leaving her bare-toed feet drifting idly a few centimeters off the ground. There was also, technically speaking, the tattered remains of a skirt that drifted around her waist, but it did absolutely nothing to conceal her private place. In fact, the outlines of both her nipples and cameltoe could be seen clearly through the long stretch of cloth. There were also a number of thick, ethereal-looking chains floating around her, attached to her iron collar and looped through her arms. They swayed gently as if they were flags in the breeze, letting out an ominous rattling noise as they did so.
“What, a gnome?” she said in a clearly patronizing voice. “You can’t be serious!”
“I-I-I-I-I’ll have you kn- know! I’m a P-P-Paladin! I’m not afraid of some stinking undead!”
Fizzy attempted to put up a strong front, but she was clearly terrified. The vibes she got from this woman were very bad indeed.
“Oh, a Paladin. How droll. Let me guess, you’re on some sort of righteous mission from God to slay me, are you not?”
“W-Well… You’re not wrong…”
“Haah, typical. This is why I never liked you religious types. Always with the-”
Something metal flashed in the darkened room, behind and above the lich’s head, interrupting her rant before it even started.
You have suffered a devastating blow. HP -942.
Your undead constitution has prevented you from being Stunned.
Proficiency level increased. Physical Nullity is now Level 3. END +12.
“SHREEEEEEAAAAAAA!” she shrieked, clearly in pain.
In the next instant, she turned transparent and flew forward, away from the thing that just stabbed her in the back. Another dagger came swinging as she retreated, but merely passed harmlessly through her body, as if she were a ghost. She flew forward and passed through her Death Knights, putting them between herself and the enemy she failed to notice. After turning around in midair, she saw her attacker - a simple wooden chest, standing on 8 black spider legs, with two white daggers held in the air by a pair of long, red tongue-tentacles.
Boxxy had activated Stealth and scuttled off to the side the instant it entered the room. Not even Fizzy noticed its disappearance as it got in position to ambush the enemy that would most definitely come. And when she did, it took the opportunity while she was talking to the gnome to successfully trigger its Level 9 Assassinate on her. But it failed to take her down in a single blow. And now that the lich was made painfully aware of the presence of another enemy, it was highly unlikely the Mimic would have another chance.
As for the victim herself, her face was marred by an expression of pure rage.
Which then gave way to a look of absolute shock and surprise.
Followed by an even more enraged look.
“You, again?!” she screamed. “How many times?! How many times do you have to kill me before you’re satisfied?! You stupid fucking box! This is all-”
Fizzy’s magic enveloped the ethereal lich, causing her to scream loud enough to deafen all around her. Her transparent body turned to mist and dispersed in the next instant. The three Death Knights that were lined up and awaiting the order to attack then crumbled to dust, signifying their master had indeed been slain. The tiny Paladin that dealt the killing blow then collapsed on her knees and breathed heavily.
“Huff, huff, huff! Yeah! Take that!”
She really did not think she’d meet someone as outwardly terrifying as Boxxy, and yet there she was. The sheer malice coming off from that lich was enough to freeze her dead in her tracks, but the Mimic’s reappearance broke her out of her stupor. She was able to then take advantage of the distracted lich and finish her off without much of a struggle.
“Get up,” stated Boxxy, who had walked up to the gnome before she noticed.
“Ah right!” exclaimed Fizzy. “We should get out of-”
“Have to find the lich.”
“... Huh? Wasn’t that her?!”
“Maybe. Maybe not. Quest not done yet.”
“... Alr- alright, Boxxy. Wh-wh-whatever you say Boxxy!”
The thoroughly abused gnome didn’t even question it. Well, she did have one question though. What or who was it that just bit the big one? And how come she seemed to recognize a Mimic?
“Uhm… B-B-B-Boxxy, did you know th- that woman?”
Gnomes were curious creatures, and she just couldn’t help herself sometimes.
Still, her question was answered in Boxxy’s typical fashion. Concisely and to the point, without any additional information.
“Who- who was she?”
“Someone I killed. Long time ago.”
Indeed. This was actually the second time the Mimic had brought about that woman’s demise. Granted, the first time it killed her was so long ago that it felt like an entire lifetime had passed since then. And yet it still remembered her. How could it not? That kill had some rather… memorable circumstances surrounding it. After all, her body was the last thing it ate before setting out to leave its birthplace behind, at a time when it was still being influenced by that dungeon.
At a time when the black-haired Necromancer known as Valeria Vortena was still human.