The village of Carran was a remote settlement that had just under 300 residents, although calling it ‘peaceful’ would be a lie. This place was located at the foot of the Sawblade mountains, and as such often found itself under siege by packs of monsters that had overflowed from those treacherous peaks. Which is the reason the people living there had erected a 4-meter high wooden wall, as protecting themselves without such a thing was impossible. Fortunately for them, they had more than just bare walls to rely on.
Common logic dictated that adventurers would appear wherever monsters cropped up. And wherever these monster hunting professionals went, their guilds would follow. Even this isolated place wasn’t completely exempt from this unwritten law since as many as 50 adventurers split up among 3 guilds made their home here. The rest of the populace earned their livelihoods through tending the fields just outside the walls and digging up metals from the mine that ran underneath the village.
Being a tiny village like this meant that it did not have guards, but instead relied on a local militia comprised of about two thirds of the adventurers that lived here. These people had taken up this dangerous profession out of necessity and the desire to protect their friends and family rather than some selfish pursuit of wealth and/or glory. The rest of them did not have many ties to this place and were simply drifting through or earning their livelihood, but they still contributed to the safety of the region in their own way.
In fact, even these outsiders sometimes took night shifts watching the wall for no pay. What prompted these unusual acts of charity was Flanne, the local innkeeper’s daughter. She would often bring them a homemade meal to reinvigorate their bodies, while her lovely smile was capable of melting even the coldest of hearts. Her kind demeanor, attractive figure, superb cooking and pretty face had made her the most eligible bride in the village, despite being part of the only elven household in it. Even the housewives had a favorable impression of her.
The closely-knit community would undoubtedly be devastated if they knew that she was about to die quietly in her sleep of natural causes.
Assassination Skill triggered. Your attack has dealt 500% more damage. Target HP -1,482.
You have slain your target in a single strike.
Well, as natural as being stabbed through the heart could be. Statistically speaking though, ‘assassinated by a doppelganger’ was already the lead cause of death in the village, as this woman was Boxxy’s 94th victim for the night. The chest-with-legs methodically withdrew the mithril dagger from her body and swung it once to get the blood off it, then quickly and quietly moved towards the next room. Flanne’s father, mother and younger brother, as well as all 7 of the inn’s guests were silently executed in rapid succession.
Once everyone in the inn was dead, Boxxy did one more round to devour or absorb all the corpses, then left the building and silently crept over to the house next door. It broke in, murdered and ate the residents and moved onto the next place, and then the next after that, never taking more than 3 minutes per house. Fizzy and Kora were told to stand by outside the village wall since they were ill-suited to sneaking around. After all, one was a 250 centimeter tall mountain of muscle and violence, while the other was a walking pile of steel. To say that subterfuge wasn’t their strong point would be a gross understatement.
Xera on the other hand, while able to keep quite for the most part, lacked a means of silent execution. She was therefore relegated to scouting duty, keeping an eye on the village from the sky to make sure no nosy neighbours or night watch raised an alarm. While Boxxy felt reasonably confident about its chances of taking on an entire village, that didn’t mean it necessarily had to go and do that. Not when it had the option of slaughtering everyone in their sleep without suffering a single scratch.
Peaceful solutions really were the best, after all!
Besides, it was possible one of the villagers or adventurers might escape in the confusion, which was something that had to be avoided at all costs. They would doubtlessly alert other human settlements of Boxxy’s presence, and the Mimic was sure that those news would reach that terrifying Spymaster in no time flat. Granted, he was bound to find out eventually that Boxxy performed a massacre, but later was better than sooner.
When the sun finally rose over Carran village, it had turned into a ghost town. Every last one of its 291 residents had been added to the writhing abyss of flesh that was Boxxy’s body. The monster had gorged itself on almost 100 bodies before it felt truly full for the first time since its Rank Up 3 days ago, but kept on eating them anyway. While its hunger had technically been satiated the entire time, that didn’t mean it had eaten its fill. It would appear that a Doppelganger demanded considerably more sustenance than a Mimic, either that or it was still suffering from a post-Rank Up hunger pains. Only time would tell which was which.
It didn’t eat all the corpses though. The 50 or so adventurers that lived in Carran had become fodder for its Cadaver Absorption, resulting in Attribute gains of +37 AGI, +28 INT and +31 STR, as well as an extra 2 Levels’ worth of Sword Mastery proficiency. Several of the tastier-looking bodies were stowed away into its Storage for later and the rest were gobbled up without leaving a single hair behind. Overeating like this made Boxxy feel quite bloated, but that glutton was never one to do things in moderation. It also had the option of using Cadaver Absorption on the villagers, but felt like raising the Biomass Skill Level was more important as it was necessary for its next Rank Up. Besides, it was the duty of a child to eat so that it would grow up big and strong, even if said child happened to be a Juvenile Doppelganger.
And grow is exactly what it did. Although outwardly it still retained the same appearance as it had prior to the Rank Up, its body was easily 4, maybe 5 times heavier than it used to be. The incredibly dense tissue could be expanded outwards to about the size of a horse with no difficulty, although assuming a bigger form would only make Boxxy a bigger target. That’s why it stuck to the relatively compact shape of a chest. Theoretically it could assume its even more compact base form of a 7 or 8 year old child, but the monster just didn’t feel right unless it was in a chest-based shape.
Once it was done eating everything and everyone in sight, Boxxy did another round of the village to make extra sure there were no people left, living or otherwise. After confirming that was case, it returned to the center of the settlement and took a break next to the large stone well that served as a water source. It wasn’t particularly tired or anything, but taking a lazy nap in the warm sun after eating its fill just seemed right.
It slept contently until around noon. As per usual, its body became active several seconds before its mind did, causing it to flail about wildly in a half-conscious state. It would seem that the monster had still yet to master the subtle art of waking up.
“Master?! What’s going on?” asked Xera through the telepathic link. Her transmitted thoughts broke Boxxy out of its half-sleeping stupor, allowing it to think clearly once again.
“Nothing, just woke up.”
“Then what was that loud crash just now?”
“Just knocked over the well, nothing to worry about,” it said while digging itself out of the rubble.
“No, that’s plenty to worry about!”
Rather than get better, it actually seemed like Boxxy’s morning tantrums had only become worse.
“Master, we need to work on this bad habit of yours!” said Xera. “How are you supposed to fit in with the elves if you wreck something every time you wake up?!”
“Nevermind that. Did you finish looking for all the shiny things?”
The succubus had been told to join the other two in their search of anything of value once she confirmed there were no survivors making a run for it.
“I believe so, Master. We’ve found a total of 5,530 GP worth of coins and about 1,800 GP worth of jewelry.”
“That much?!” asked Boxxy with surprised delight. “I don’t remember seeing that many shiny things in the houses from last night!”
“You would be correct, Master. A lot of this came from those 3 adventurer guild buildings you so graciously left wide open for us.”
The three guilds that had a presence here were the martial combat oriented Fighters’ Guild, the magic-using Brotherhood of the Third Eye and the Union of Excavators, which supported the village’s mining community.
“I see. Anything else in them?”
“They didn’t have any magic items,” continued Xera, “but we did find a cache of alchemical supplies in the dark blue one. It contained about two dozen healing potions, half as many mana potions, 7 elixirs and 5 different jars of oil.”
Elixirs and oils were alchemical products that provided long-lasting effects. Drinking a vial of the former would fortify or strengthen the body in some way. The latter was a substance that imbued weapons and/or armor it was applied to with a temporary magical effect. Boxxy was quite pleased to have some extra insurance, although it spotted something rather worrying in the distance.
“Snack, are you sure there were no survivors?”
“I am certain of it, Master.”
“Then why is there a column of smoke rising towards the east?”
“Ah, your pet golem decided rummaging through all those houses was beneath her, so she disregarded her orders and went to smithy. Something about forging components. I tried to stop her, but she didn’t listen. I think some sort of punishment is necessary, Master.”
“It’s okay, was running low on parts anyway. Get Arms and meet me where the smoke is coming from. We’ll be leaving soon.”
Boxxy walked off into the deathly-silent streets with a small spring in its step. Last night had proved to be much more profitable than it had thought, although it had wished that its Level had risen more. It had barely gotten up to Level 8 of its Doppelganger Job, despite murdering nearly 300 people. Even if the vast majority of them would have been a low Level, it still expected more. And that wasn’t just simple greed or impatience speaking, it honestly felt like this slow progression was out of place for a Job that was still in the single-digit Levels.
One possible reason was that the maxed-out Mimic Job was absorbing a portion of the XP, essentially wasting it. However, this seemed unlikely. The Rank Up process had made Doppelganger into the monster’s Main Job, which meant that it should have priority on gaining XP from killing things, so this didn’t seem like the right answer.
Maybe the two Monster Jobs were linked in a sequence rather than being separate? If that were the case, then Boxxy’s Doppelganger Job would have actually been treated as Level 51 rather than Level 1. No, on second thought that didn’t seem quite right, either. The progression was far too quick considering how long it took to bridge the gap between Level 41 and 50.
Could it be that the Doppelganger Job simply required a lot more XP to Level Up when compared to a Mimic or Warlock Job. It made sense considering it was supposed to be the Job of a higher, stronger species and was supported by the clearly abnormal growth rate. Therefore, Boxxy decided it would accept this explanation for the moment, as it was the best one it could come up with.
Regardless of the cause, however, it was a fact that achieving the next Rank Up would not be as easy as Boxxy had expected. Other than reaching Level 25 of its Doppelganger Job, it also required that both Biomass and Shapeshift be at Level 13. It was highly likely that the Rank Up beyond that would require both of those Skills to be at 15, in addition to the Doppelganger Job being Level 50. It wasn’t a very complicated pattern, so Boxxy felt this was most likely the case. It would be a lot of work, but it would be worth it. Especially if the monster could obtain high-class Skills like the one it got after reaching Level 5 last night.
Description: The doppelganger creates body doubles to confuse and befuddle its opponents.
Requirements: Doppelganger Job, 100 INT, 100 WIS
Activation Time: Instant
Cost: 400 MP
Range: 5 Meters
Effects: Creates an autonomous replica of the user’s body.
Mirror Images will last for 15 seconds per Level of the Shapeshift Skill.
Mirror Images will inherit a portion of the original’s Attributes equal to 10% per Level of this Skill.
Mirror Images cannot activate any Skills, Spells or Martial Arts.
This Skill seemed quite similar to the Conjure Fleshling Skill that Boxxy could’ve unlocked from its Mimic Job, but one that had a lot more potential. Much like the Skill had described, activating it caused an exact replica of Boxxy’s to quite literally leap out of the monster’s original body. The relatively high MP cost was a bit daunting at first, but made sense considering the Skill activated instantly and did not diminish the Mimic’s Biomass reserves.
These Mirror Images behaved a lot like living dolls - they didn’t appear to have any sense of self and readily followed any orders that Boxxy gave them. However, they weren’t completely brainless like Valeria’s undead and possessed some degree of forethought and judgement. It made them excellent disposable pawns, and the Mimic had used them extensively to speed up the culling process last night. Well, their actual fighting ability was lacking at the moment, but it was more than adequate to deal with some sleeping villagers.
Still, the potential power and versatility of this Skill were undeniable - as expected of a high-class shapeshifting species. Even if these duplicates couldn’t use active Skills such as Mend Flesh or Acid Spray, they could still make use of passive ones such as Adaptive Defense or Metal Mimicry. They were created without any weapons of their own, but could easily create weapons such as swords, daggers, maces or shields through Metal Mimicry as necessary. They would then be equipped to fight with a certain degree of expertise and finesse due to the various Mastery Skills under their disposal. Granted, they would never be as quick-witted or ferocious as the original, but it still made them excellent disposable pawns. Especially when Boxxy could create as many of these as it wanted, provided it had the MP to do so.
It’s not like these flawed copies didn’t have downsides, though. For one thing, they lacked the convenient telepathic link that Boxxy shared with its familiars. This meant that they had to communicate the old fashioned way - through words and gestures. Killing things by proxy also meant that Boxxy would get only about half of the XP. At least the Mirror Image Skill proficiency rose quite rapidly, allowing the Mimic to reach Level 4 of the Skill in a single night.
Actually, wouldn’t it be possible to use these Mirror Images as a sort of workforce to mass-produce traps, explosives and gadgets? No, on second thought that was a stupid idea. For one thing, it was highly unlikely the Mimic’s Artificer Job would grow if such things were relegated the work to others. Not to mention that there’s not much they could accomplish with a lifespan of only a few minutes. Besides, if it wanted help with some Artificer project, then it already had an assistant/teacher that would gladly give her all to assist it.
Boxxy started picking up the distinct noise of metal hitting metal as it made its way closer to the source of that column of smoke it saw earlier. The rhythmic ringing noises echoed slightly through the now-deserted village, almost like a funeral bell marking the death of the settlement. When the monster finally reached the open-air smithy, it saw the peculiar sight of Fizzy hammering and shaping a piece of red-hot iron with her bare hands.
“Oh, hey Boxxy!” she called out when she noticed it approach. “Give me a minute to finish this up, okay?”
Her smiling face turned focused once again as she resumed pounding the half-molten metal shard. Sparks flew about as her tiny fist smashed into the strip of iron on top of the anvil. Those sparks were probably the reason why she had taken off her clothes and was currently smithing in the nude. After all, her outfit might just catch fire if she wore it under those circumstances, and it was the only set of clothes that would fit her, even if loosely.
“Master, we have arrived,” stated Xera from somewhere off to the side.
“Hey, Boss! Have a nice nap?” waved Kora with a small laugh.
She was carrying a large sack on either shoulder. One was filled with coins and jewelry while the other held the alchemical supply cache that Xera had mentioned. The fiend set them down in front of Boxxy and then turned her attention towards the nude golem.
“Hey squirt. Nice rack like always,” she said with two thumbs up.
“Huh?” asked Fizzy. “What do you- Oh for fuck sake! It happened again!”
She suddenly stomped off towards the pile of clothes on the corner and started putting them on while huffing and puffing in exasperation. It would seem that her stripping habit had resurfaced without her noticing it. Just when she thought she finally had it under control, too. She immediately went back to applying her Component Forging Skill after getting dressed. Kora stared curiously as the golem continued working with a noticeable pout. The nosy fiend’s attention was then caught by how the golem was actually smithing.
“Don’t your hands hurt from that?” she asked curiously.
“Nope!” said Fizzy with a large smile. “Don’t feel anything but the impact!”
“Sounds convenient, but won’t your hand melt if you keep doing that?”
“Hah! As if flames this weak could hope to hurt my glorious frame!” she replied with a proud look on her face. “You shouldn’t underestimate forged steel!”
“Hoh ho! Is that right?” said Xera with a small grin.
“Oy, better watch yourself, pipsqueak,” cautioned Kora. “The Slutinator is getting that mad look in her eye.”
“I’ll be sure to ram the handle of my wrench up her ass if she tries anything.”
“That’s exactly what she wants you to do, though…”
Fizzy wonderfully ignored the two demons as she continued shaping the iron plate in front of her.
“Oh! I almost forgot!” she exclaimed suddenly. “I found a thing inside the smithy’s warehouse!”
She reached into her trousers’ back pocket and pulled out a rough, uncut gemstone. It was about 3 centimeters in diameter and had a deep, dark red color that bordered on black. She went over to Boxxy, who was currently engrossed in counting up and appraising all of the loot the familiars brought with them, and presented it to the monster with a huge smile.
“Here you go, Boxxy!”
The Mimic stopped what it was doing and stared at the gemstone intently. The rough surface was distinctly lacking shininess, making this object seem more like a pebble than a precious stone. And yet the monster could not help but notice the strange flow of mana that seemed to swirl around it.
“What is this?” it asked curiously.
“I think it’s an unrefined Midnight Ruby,” said Fizzy. “I’ve heard of them but never-”
Boxxy immediately shot out a tentacle and seized the gemstone out of her grasp. Xera and Kora were both momentarily shocked that the monster would ignore the literal bag of gold in front of it in favor of this thoroughly un-shiny thing. That’s when Xera remembered that this magical gemstone was an ingredient that her Master had been after for quite a while.
The last thing it needed in order to perform the Ritual of Unholy Wealth.