The Mimic and its posse were making their way due northwest through the mountainous wilderness while staying away from the imperial highway. After some consideration, Boxxy had made the decision to leave the Empire’s territory behind for good. It simply didn’t feel safe being in the same country as that man called Edward, although one could argue that, given the Spymaster’s prowess, nowhere was beyond his reach. That was hardly the only reason for this decision, though. The monster still desired to blend into civilized society. There were simply too many delicious opportunities to become stronger and/or wealthier to give up on that.
However, this time would be different. It had made several huge mistakes during its stay in Erosa, and had already learned a great deal from them.
First of all, its chest-like body made things difficult. It had managed to get away with it somewhat by concealing itself, but that towering figure simply stood out too much. Standing a little could still be useful in its own way, though. The Mimic was made aware of the advantages of having a reputation when that dwarf called Grog gave it some additional funds just before its capture. The problem was that its only humanoid form stood out in completely the wrong way. If it wanted to truly avoid raising suspicion, then it had to appear as unassuming and non-threatening as possible. It was the same instinctive logic that had served it extremely well during its early life.
Therefore, it needed to Rank Up into something that could freely change its form. Although it had some reservations about abandoning its chesty glory, it was hard to deny that treasure chests really had no place outside of a dungeon or maybe a warehouse. Besides, if it could truly take any form it wished, then it would just turn back into a chest if it ever felt too uncomfortable. Just because it could be anything didn’t mean it had to be something different, after all.
The second order of business was evading Appraisal, which was more or less already dealt with since it became a Hero. The Essence Concealment Skill was really handy once it got the hang of it. Things like name, race and age could be chosen freely, but Jobs and Skills were a different story. The fake Status Screen could only hide certain aspects of its actual Status. Changing it in such a way as to make itself appear stronger was simply not possible. Not that it had any intention of doing that, though.
After all, it just had to mask the fact it was actually a monster, which simply meant setting the Mimic Job as ‘hidden.’ Doing so would automatically hide all the related Skills and even adjust its apparent Attributes. That also included hiding the rather substantial Attribute gains it had gotten from Cadaver Absorption, which was rather convenient. Perks could be hidden as well, which was also important. As far as Boxxy could tell, its Butcher of Humanity Perk was a cause for concern. Indeed, thinking back on it now, it served as definite proof that it had took part in the murder of over 5,000 people. Which also led to the third problem it encountered when blending in.
Being a Butcher of Humanity seemed to be the main cause of the extraordinary fear and suspicions that humans regarded it with back in Erosa. They instinctively sensed that the masked, cloaked figure was someone who regarded them as little more than food. Which was impressive considering enlightened beings like humans seemed to have much weaker instincts than monsters. Bottom line was that Boxxy would never truly blend into a human-dominated society.
Then there was the fourth, possibly hardest hurdle it had to clear - interacting with people. Its nodding and short, awkward words worked in places like the Mercenary Guild, but were sometimes insufficient when speaking with street vendors. Not to mention that, according to Snack, its expressions were clearly unnatural.
It really couldn’t help it, though. Mimics were monsters that were born without a face, so it was really no surprise Boxxy had trouble controlling something complicated and delicate like that. That goofy grin it always seemed to have was merely a sign that it felt content and satisfied. However, it was clearly out of place on the 220-centimeter tall wide-chested human it was masquerading as. Pedestrians on the street had found its visage to be so off-putting, so thoroughly creepy that even little kids seemed genuinely disturbed by it. That’s why it had to resign itself to wrapping its placeholder of a head in a makeshift mask. Doing something like that raised suspicion in its own way, but was still somehow the less conspicuous option.
Lastly, it had to learn to read. Spoken language was something that it picked up naturally thanks to the telepathic communications between itself, Carl, Arms and Snack. It really was easy to learn since talking through thoughts allowed it to both ‘hear’ and ‘comprehend’ the words at the same time. Numbers were also easy enough to learn and understand since basic arithmetic seemed to come naturally with INT and WIS. However, reading letters was an entirely different matter. The rules and quirks of written language were impossible for it to pick up on its own.
And so, after thinking things through properly, the Mimic had compiled a short mental list of what it needed to accomplish. Boxxy’s current action plan was as follows:
1. Rank Up.
2. Learn to read.
3. Learn to act.
4. Move to elven country.
The monster was rather proud of itself for coming up with such a well thought-out and foolproof plan. Surely nothing but good things could come of it! Okay, so maybe it was still a work in progress, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t a good plan.
A cheerful, oddly melodic voice full of affection called out from behind Boxxy, interrupting its plotting. It quickly grew a head on its backside in order to answer. The reason it had to do this was because the person that called out wasn’t, as one might expect, its succubus familiar. Nor was it the gnome that had gotten herself involved with it.
“What is it, Nasty?”
It was Valeria the lich, nicknamed Nasty due to her foul flavor. However, rather than being insulted or apprehensive, she actually seemed to enjoy that nickname. In fact, she had been acting rather differently ever since her red bits turned yellow a while back. She had a wide, demure smile on her face. The intense look in her recently re-colored yellow-on-black eyes had been replaced with one that was incredibly soft and strangely happy. An impossible-yet-noticeable blush was visible on her cheeks every time she spoke to Boxxy.
The way she floated was also a little odd. She seemed to have gotten a habit of hovering, both literally and figuratively, right next to or immediately behind the Mimic. There was also the matter of her leaning forward all the time, as if to emphasize her rather formidable breasts and perpetually stiff nipples.
“What are you thinking about ~♡?” she asked in a sickeningly sweet voice.
It was horribly mismatched with her identity as an undead lich, but then again, she couldn’t help it. After all, it was plainly obvious that the tentacle-fueled orgy from a few hours ago had led her to develop a crush on the monster. The Agent of Chaos Skill had gone and done something completely unnecessary.
“Oh my!” she squealed. “Already making preparations for our marriage?!”
Naturally, the target of her affections had no intention of noticing, or even comprehending her feelings, let alone answering them. Her goal of somehow enticing or seducing Boxxy had so little chance of success, that it could, at best, be called a delusion.
This was something Xera understood well, unlike this newbie. That’s why she was able to calmly follow her beloved Master without being the least bit jealous. So, rather than pointlessly cause internal strife by butting her nose in, she just let the silly lich do as she pleased. Even if the two of them were to enter some sorry competition, it would be completely pointless. Besides, if such a time came that this heartless monster could feel love, she was confident she could easily triumph over the undead whore. After all, Xera and Boxxy’s souls were already linked by something far stronger than marriage.
Kora on the other hand was the same as always. She calmly walked in front of everyone while keeping an eye out for trouble. The intense session from earlier this morning was little more than a weirdly pleasant and slightly awkward memory. There’s no way a demon like her would be swayed so easily by a single fuck. She still thought of the Mimic as a respectable fighter and a fun master, but that was it.
As for Fizzy, it would seem she had not recovered at all from her ordeal. She obediently followed after Boxxy as instructed, but her soulless eyes and stiff movements gave off the impression of a mechanical doll rather than a person. She was still dealing with the indescribable trauma of being sexually assaulted by a creature that regularly beat and abused her. The former virgin felt disgusted, violated and enraged, though she could not let any of that show on her face lest she get kicked again. Part of her started outright hating Valeria for serving as the catalyst for that particular nightmare. Not to mention that the way she was fawning over Boxxy made the gnome want to smash her phylactery into tiny pieces and then take a literal shit on them.
“Then what are you planning ~♡?” asked Valeria.
She was obviously still intent on ‘getting to know’ the Mimic. Boxxy on the other hand, thought it might as well share its plans. After all, it’s not like Nasty was unrelated to the success of its plans.
“Operation TASTYCOCK,” it answered.
The entire party ground to a halt. Kora struggled valiantly not to laugh at the random outburst. The way Xera’s face lit up as if it was asking ‘Where?!’ did not help. Valeria and Fizzy simply drew blanks.
“Uh- Uhm… Th-th-that is,” stammered out the lich, “what do you mean by tas… tasty cocks?”
“Tasty And Shiny Things Yielded by Chesting Or Cheap Killing.”
“Pfuahahaha! AH HAHAHAHAHA!”
Kora finally burst into roaring laughter. She even went so far as to fall to the ground while clutching her stomach.
“As expected of Master, a truly splendid plan,” said Xera, voicing her approval.
Fizzy simply allowed herself a soft sigh of relief. For a second there assumed the Mimic had gotten ‘in the mood’ again, even though that made absolutely no sense. After all, mimics were genderless monsters that did not reproduce, making them physically incapable of sexual arousal in the first place. Technically speaking, it had not been in such a state even once in its brief lifetime, nor would it ever be in the future unless some extreme Rank Up completely overhauled its physiology. Valeria seemed to reached much the same conclusion as Fizzy, judging from how she drooped her shoulders in morbid disappointment.
Boxxy on the other hand was quite pleased to see a positive response to this. After all, it had spent the last hour or so thinking up that rather questionable name. Well, it’s not like it had anything better to do right now but strategize and plan ahead. Therefore, it had already determined the optimal methods for achieving the first four objectives of Operation TASTYCOCK.
Learning to read, write and how to interact with people was something Snack could teach it. Those sort of things appeared to be her specialty as far as Boxxy was concerned. In fact, she was the one that had quietly helped it come up with that acronym, though the meaning of it seemed to have been lost on the Mimic. There would be plenty of time to learn from her while they were on the road towards the elven-dominated Ishigar Republic to the far north. Once there, it would need to try and fit in somehow. If that didn’t work out, the homeland of the gnomes and dwarves would probably be its next best bet.
As for the reason they were headed northwest rather than straight north, that was to address the first and most vital point of that all-important plan. It still had 3 Levels to go before it could Rank Up and wanted to get those squared away. Thankfully, according to Nasty, there happened to be a dungeon in this area. She apparently found it while she was searching for the tower months ago, before she turned into a lich, and entered it by mistake. Boxxy briefly wondered how come she was able to confuse a tower with a dungeon, but that particular question had answered itself by the time they arrived at it.
You have entered the Spire of the Jade King.
Such a message showed up when the Mimic and the rest of its party approached a huge black tower. Overall it looked to be 40 meters tall and roughly 20 meters in diameter. It was hard to tell from a distance, but its outside wall was perfectly smooth, as if it was a singular piece of featureless black stone. There weren’t even any windows or balconies. The spire looked less like a man-made structure and more like a gigantic pillar sticking out of the ground. It was also surrounded on all sides by hundreds of meters’ worth of hedge mazes.
Valeria had already confirmed the species of monster that made these 5 meter tall green corridors their homes. They were beings known as Stone Soldiers, a species of golem in the form of a naked man wielding a spear and a tower shield that protected his entire body. Golems were rather troublesome opponents as their thick hides were notoriously resistant to damage, turning every fight they take part in into a battle of attrition. On the upside, they were rather simple and straightforward creatures that relied almost entirely on physical combat.
This would be a good place for Boxxy to check on the growth of its minions ever since they had been reunited. Well, it had steadily gained INT over these past 3 weeks by gaining Levels in its Mimic Job and Acid Spray Skill. As a result, both of them were currently at Level 47. Xera was a Level 27 Succubus and Level 20 Pyromancer, while Kora was a Level 27 Fiend and Level 20 Berserker. Her HP had even slightly surpassed the Mimic’s at 2120, though her MP was as pitifully useless as ever.
Regardless, both of them had a few new Skills each, not to mention that the Mimic had yet to see Valeria get serious. They did run into a few monsters on the way here, but they were hardly worthy opponents. Therefore, this place should serve as a good proving ground to verify just how much firepower the group possessed.
Fizzy had spoken for the first time since she had been raped. Being simultaneously terrified and furious with the Mimic, she couldn’t even look directly at it, but instead stared at her feet as she spoke.
“I n-n-n-need to get some p-p-p-provisions since my old ones were Blighted…”
It had been more than 24 hours since she’d last had a solid meal. She managed to fill her canteen with water out of a random stream they passed on the way here, but that wouldn’t last long.
“Also… I need s-s-s-sleep… Like… a l-lot…”
There was also the matter of her depleted stamina. It was now practically evening, perhaps 2 hours before the sun would set. This meant that the group had been walking for most of the day, draining what little physical strength she had left. Her already sleep deprived body had been running on empty in pretty much every sense of the word. If they were going to spend hours, maybe even days tackling a dungeon, then she needed to be fully rested before they started.
Boxxy was quite troubled over this. While it was true that they were in no particular rush, it didn’t feel like waiting around either. Honestly, if this gnome’s biological needs were going to keep getting in its way then that would be a problem. She was literally the only one that had to be pampered like this. After all, Boxxy was a monster with a much stronger constitution and endurance than the gnome and could last without food or sleep for much, much longer. Xera and Kora on the other hand were both demons and didn’t need food or water at all. They did get tired, though they could just be re-summoned in order to instantly fix that problem. The latest addition to the group was the least demanding of all. Valeria was undead, which meant she needed zero rest or sustenance. All her body required was that her phylactery was safe and relatively closeby. Which was currently the case since it had been tucked away in a fleshy sack at the base of Boxxy’s huge tongue.
However, it would seem the lich still had something to offer on the matter of sleep.
“Boxxy, I think you should let the poor thing rest.”
Fizzy became wide-eyed in shock at Valeria’s words.
“She’s only a gnome,” she continued. “If you don’t let people like her properly recover from their fatigue, then their performance will drop, and they can make crucial mistakes in combat.”
“Is that so?” asked the Mimic, as if just realizing this common sense.
“It is. Besides,” she added, “I also need some time to hunt for fresh bodies and replenish my own minions. I can’t make undead out of piles of dead rock, you know. So how about you let her rest while I do that?”
“... Okay,” assented the Mimic. “You and Fizzy go hunt, get meat and zombies.”
“Yes, my darling ~♡!”
“Snack, go with them and guard the small one. Make sure she doesn’t die.”
“Understood, Master,” answered Xera with a small bow.
“Arms, you’re with me. Let’s go check how strong those golems are.”
“You got it, Boss!”
The five of them split up into two groups as instructed. Xera, Val and Fizzy went away from the dungeon in search of prey while Boxxy and Kora prepared themselves for-
“Oh… Fuck!” it cursed.
“Hm? What’s wrong, boss?”
Boxxy had just realized something. It had used one of its precious mithril daggers as a projectile weapon during its brief fight with Valeria back in the 4th floor of the abandoned Arcaneum tower.
With all the excitement of having its Jobs restored it completely forgot to pick it back up.