Boxxy’s group kept trekking north through the wilderness for 4 more days without anything of note really taking place. Although the monster was quite eager to perform the ritual said to call forth ‘Unholy Wealth’ right away, it still needed to wait until a night where all three of this world’s moons were visible in the sky at once. Unfortunately, it had no idea when that would be. It had no knowledge of their orbits, nor did it really know what moons were in the first place. It just vaguely understood that they were these big glowing shapes that sometimes appeared in the night sky.
The first and last time it saw all three of them in the sky felt like a lifetime ago. It was on the night it left its birthplace for the first time. Could it be that the 3 moons aligning was a rare occurrence? Then again, the ground-bound monster may have simply missed the celestial event since it really didn’t have a habit of staring at the night sky. While it’s true that the stars shone like jewels, they were forever out of its reach, like an unobtainable collection of shiny things that only existed to taunt the simple creature. That’s why Boxxy actually made a point of ignoring the night sky as much as possible, a decision it was now regretting.
The former Mimic tried to consult its minions on the matter, but that was a futile effort. Of course none of them would have knowledge of the movements of celestial bodies. After all, the two demons were more interested in their genitals than observing the heavens, and Fizzy had always been the early to bed, early to rise type of person. Well, while she still needed sleep, that is.
Speaking of which, Boxxy noticed that its sleeping schedule did indeed go up in frequency. Rather than once a week, it now felt the urge to sleep once every 3 or 4 days. It would appear that a Doppelganger’s higher cognitive functions demanded more upkeep than that of a Mimic. It was worth it though, because the monster’s ability to learn and recognize patterns had gone up immensely. It was able to soak in and comprehend Xera’s acting lessons with ease, likely due to the Doppelganger’s innate nature as an infiltrator and a spy. Becoming a species that was proficient in such things really felt like the right Rank Up choice to Boxxy.
Of course, the immature monster had no way of knowing that Queen Slimes were considered a species superior to Doppelgangers. In reality, a Queen Slime’s amorphous body was actually composed of nearly a hundred smaller slimes that had melded and gelled together. It was essentially a self-contained hivemind that had enormous growth potential when it came to its intelligence and learning capacity.
Their shapeshifting abilities were not particularly lacking, either. Not only could they compress and shrink down their amorphous body in a manner similar to Doppelgangers, but lacking a base form meant that a Queen Slime’s transformations were truly limitless. Most interesting of all was a Queen Slime’s unique ability to divide its own body into multiple sentient blobs. After all, they had hundreds of slime nuclei floating inside their bodies, so something like splitting up into multiple copies of themselves was child’s play.
Granted, each one would possess only a fraction of the original’s Attributes, but doing this dramatically increased the monster’s survival rate. Not only was fighting a group much more challenging than attacking an individual, but a Queen Slime only needed about 20 or so slime cores to escape from a fight in order to survive. Although losing a large chunk of its nuclei would temporarily reduce the creature’s overall Attributes and cause severe memory problems, it was still preferable to being completely destroyed.
However, while a Queen Slime’s shapeshifting ability could not be called inferior to a Doppelganger’s, it would be hard to call it superior. It was rather the situation where both species were specialized towards different types of shapeshifting. Putting it roughly, it was like comparing a Blacksmith who mass-produced standard quality swords to one that would pour months into honing and refining a single blade. It would be impossible to say which approach was the better one, as they served completely different purposes.
But, at the very least, Doppelgangers would be far superior to Queen Slimes when it came to blending in with their surroundings. In fact, these monsters used to be extremely widespread in civilized society in the past, to the point where if one gathered a group of 20 random people in a room, at least 1 or 2 of them would be a Doppelganger. They were completely indistinguishable from those they were imitating, as body structure, skin tone, internal organs, language and mannerisms were all perfectly mimicked.
However, such things were ultimately put to an end several hundred years ago when the Doppelgangers that controlled society from the shadows failed to stop the spread and usage of Appraisal. This magical analysis would be able to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt whether a person was actually who they claimed to be. Once word got out that shapeshifting monsters were among them, the enlightened races quickly took measures to weed them out.
The cunning shapeshifters would not go out quietly, however. The Doppelganger communities started aggressively eliminating and replacing key figures. They often posed as Scribes and tried to falsify Appraisal results through any means necessary. After all, a Scribe could only give second hand accounts for what they saw through Appraisal, so if a Doppelganger said that one of its kin was not a monster, the other people had little choice but to accept it. Of course, they could not maintain this guise for long as they didn’t actually have the Scribe Job, but it was still enough to let their compatriots escape or assume new identities. This constant back-and-forth between the secretive shapeshifters and the authorities had created a period of confusion and distrust that histories now refer to as the Silent Rebellion.
This Silent Rebellion lasted for nearly a decade before it ended rather abruptly when news of the Doppelgangers’ Bane had come to light.
All monsters, without exception, possessed a weakness towards a specific substance or element, known as their Bane. Being subjected to their Bane would not only cause severe damage to a monster, but also inflict some kind of debilitating condition. In the case of the undead, holy magic would purify their rotting bodies, greatly weakening them if not outright destroying them. Enlightened races such as dwarves, elves and humans, on the other hand, did not posses such a glaring weakness. Grasping and exploiting a monster’s Bane was their way of gaining the upper hand against a normally stronger and more dangerous opponent, but they themselves were exempt from such things.
The Bane of Doppelgangers, and indeed all shapeshifters, was being hit by any and all forms of electricity. Being struck by a lightning Spell, for example, would cause their nervous system to go haywire, rendering them completely paralyzed for a few seconds and forcing them to revert back into their base form. This was something Boxxy had already experienced firsthand back in Erosa, and the one thing that ultimately led to the downfall of the Doppelgangers. No matter how they lie, cheat and betray, getting zapped would instantly reveal their true nature to everyone around them.
Once this fact became widely known, Scribes started subjecting themselves to minor electrical shocks, usually produced through a magic item. This allowed them to unquestionably prove themselves as the real deal, which meant their Appraisals could be trusted on the matter of weeding out the Doppelgangers. It was thus that an effective yet simple set of anti-shapeshifter measures had been established.
First, all government-sanctioned officials had to subject themselves to mild electrocutions twice a year while under the watchful eye of at least 20 armed guards. Once the Scribes were proven to not be compromised, they began inspecting and Appraising the entire population, one household at a time. Granted, this was a long and arduous process and it was believed many of the monsters were able to slip away, but it proved to be sufficient.
The Lodrak Empire, for example, saw a massive drop in murders, theft, banditry and missing person reports in as little as a year since implementing these measures. Of course, there was the rather touchy subject of how Doppelgangers reproduced. No mother wanted to find out the child they had been raising for years was actually a monster, and that their real son or daughter had disappeared without anyone realizing it. Then there was the implication that they had copulated with a shapeshifter, often without realizing it. Add onto that the directive that any confirmed Doppelgangers had to be put down on the spot, and a recipe for tragedy unlike no other had been born. There were more than a few incidents where distraught and confused mothers refused to accept reality and attempted to protect and safeguard these things. They still saw them as ‘their children,’ despite the cold hard logic that stated their actual offspring was long gone. Some of them even went as far as to escape society and attempt to live away from others like hermits, all for the sake of raising their broken family in peace.
Needless to say, none of these women were ever heard from again, as the ones they were foolishly trying to safeguard had, in all likelihood, murdered them once they were strong enough. To a Doppelganger, their parent was nothing more than a cover, so once that was blown, they quickly turned on them. It was a gruesome, cruel fate, but such things often befalled those who succumbed to foolishness.
In the grand scheme of things, the Silent Rebellion had ultimately been completely crushed. Not only were active Doppelgangers hunted down, but they also lost their ability to reproduce in peace. This was why they were now largely considered to be on the brink of extinction. They would never truly disappear, however, as every now and then, a new one appeared through Rank Ups from lesser species. Such monsters often found it impossible to successfully integrate into modern society in the long term, as sooner or later they would need to be subjected to an Appraisal that would reveal their true colors.
But Boxxy was different. The former Mimic was a Hero, and as such possessed the Essence Concealment Skill. This divine power to fool Appraisal was something no mortal Scribe could hope to beat. Granted, the Juvenile Doppelganger still possessed a weakness to electricity, but that was a relatively uncommon element. It didn’t exist in nature outside of thunderstorms, and only a select few Jobs and certain species of monsters could conjure lightning with magic. Arclight Artificers and Spellbinder Enchanters, on the other hand, were the only ones that were capable of creating items and weapons that employed electrical effects.
All things considered, it was a manageable weakness, but still a deadly one. Boxxy had made the silent decision to seek out magic items that provide additional defense against that particular element, or just magic in general. Although it was impossible to completely neutralize a monster’s weakness, Boxxy could at the very least severely dampen its negative effects. The monster had a hunch such equipment could be easily obtained as long as it managed to integrate itself into a large enough city.
And therein lay the biggest problem, for in order to successfully do so, it had to act and speak in a befitting manner - something Boxxy had to practice. Which is why the former Mimic had changed out of its prefered chesty shape, and into the slightly uncomfortable form of a young elven male. It looked to be about 16 or 17 years old, with pale green eyes and somewhat pale skin. The face was unremarkably plain, while the trademark knife-like ears sprouted out from either side of its short, ginger hair.
It wore a long, dark red robe that had a purple eye-shaped insignia on the right shoulder and carried a plain-looking wooden staff with a gray crystal orb serving as the head. This equipment, along with the face, was something that was ‘borrowed’ from one of the adventurers in the village of Carran. Boxxy had assumed this form ever since it and its party happened upon the imperial highway that headed north-by-northeast. It felt uncomfortable and slightly irritated walking around like this, but understood it was something it had to get used to eventually.
As for why it chose this form specifically, that much was simple. Its instincts as both a Doppelganger and a Mimic drove it to pick something simple, plain and unassuming. The appearance of a snot-nosed youngster was more or less perfect. This thin presence would undoubtedly make others ignore the creature all on their own, allowing it to easily blend in with the crowd. It also helped that becoming a Doppelganger had seemed to make it a natural at controlling its pigmentation, so it was quite confident in its replication.
Of course, it didn’t use just its own skewed judgement to determine all this. The monster also asked its minions for any opinions they had. According to Snack, Boxxy’s current face was so bland and uninteresting that even she sometimes ignored it on reflex. Arms had a similar reaction while Fizzy just offered a slightly disinterested ‘looks fine to me.’ Having received three mediocre reviews like that meant that this form would do very well in avoiding any unwanted attention once Boxxy crossed the border. It kept traveling along the imperial highway with the full intention of putting that assumption to the test.
And inevitably, the quartet of monsters ran into people. More specifically, they came across a horse-drawn carriage that was traveling in the opposite direction, towards the capital to the southwest. It was large enough to accommodate its 6 passengers with room to spare, and a sizable pile of luggage was strapped to the roof. The carriage itself looked distinctly fancy as it was painted white, and had gold trimmings along the roof and windows. A gryphon-headed crest adorned either side of it, signifying its passengers as people of importance to the Empire. Which also explained why 12 mounted knights in full plate armor were escorting it along the road.
Boxxy tried using the ‘Smile And Wave’ strategy that Xera taught it over the last few days. Getting the monster to abandon its vapid, carefree smile was proving more difficult than she thought, so for the time being she decided to make use of it.
Except it didn’t really work. The armed guards, the passengers, the coach driver and even the horses all gawked wide-eyed and slack-jawed at the ginger elf that was merrily waving at them as they approached. They stared at it for a good 10 seconds before one of the escorts gave a hand signal for the entire convoy stop some 20 meters away from the monster in disguise.
“Who goes there?!” shouted the veteran knight while adjusting the grip on his spear. He had the shiniest helmet, so it was likely he was the man with the highest rank.
“Identify yourselves at once!” he demanded.
Boxxy wasn’t sure what it did wrong in order to warrant this aggressive reaction. It’s first thought was to rip him apart and feast on his delicious entrails, but had to withhold itself. Doing so would ruin the whole purpose of this training exercise.
“Hello. My name is Bo-”
“Not you, twig! I’m talking about those dangerous-looking over there!”
Boxxy turned around after being rudely interrupted, only to realize a major flaw in its cover. What made these people suspicious wasn’t a problem with its disguise, but the company it kept.
“What’s that, pencil dick?!” jeered Kora. “You want a piece of this? Huh?!”
“Ankles, spine, neck,” mumbled Fizzy as she pondered the order in which she would dismantle this rude infidel. After all, Boxxy was her God’s chosen Hero, so there’s no way she’d sit idly by and let it be disrespected like that. “Oh, maybe shins, crotch then skull would be good too.”
Xera didn’t say anything, but instead facepalmed as she realized something so obvious that she honestly felt like an idiot for not considering it. Thinking about it objectively, traveling with a four-armed mountain of muscle, a walking steel statue and a practically naked buxom beauty would raise suspicion no matter how unassuming or innocent her Master made itself out to be. Even if she disguised herself, the other two simply stood out way too much.
She therefore quickly relayed a few silent instructions to Boxxy on how to deal with this particular situation. It was quite obvious to her that this knight and the people behind him were nobles. Which meant they were most likely self-righteous assholes who wouldn’t know left from right unless it was pointed out to them. In other words, dealing with these people should be rather easy.
“I beg of you to forgive my minions, Sir Knight,” said Boxxy respectfully. “They are rather rude.”
The man’s eyesight returned to the figure of the young elf before him.
“Your minions?! Is a twerp like you really capable of controlling these things?!”
“Yes, milord. I may be incompetent, but I can do at least this much. Allow me to demonstrate.”
The knight raised an eyebrow questioningly as the young elf before him turned to face the clearly aggressive demon.
“Arms. Punch yourself in the face 25 times. No holding back.”
“Oh man…” said Kora dejectedly before proceeding to viciously kick her own ass.
“The rest of you, bow before the brave Knight.”
Xera and Fizzy both prostrated themselves as instructed, and Boxxy itself took a knee in order to pander to this person’s ego.
“Humpf. At least you know your place, twig.”
“It is so, milord. A lowly creature like me would not dare to presume itself equal to someone as great as yourself. Surely your heroic exploits are beyond anything my feeble self could even dream of performing.”
These were, of course, not its own words, but the pointless flattery that it spoke on Xera’s behalf. And it appeared to be working, judging by the soldier’s pleased attitude. He was so full of himself he didn’t even realize that the source of those goosebumps he felt weren’t coming from the demon currently pounding on its own face, but from the ‘twig’ he dismissed offhandedly. Boxxy took note of this misunderstanding, as this sort of misdirection was bound to be useful in the future.
“Very well! Since you have shown humility then I, the gracious Sir Graham Brown, shall spare your worthless life!”
“I am grateful for such mercy, milord.”
“If you understand, then get out of the way, peasant!”
Boxxy stood up and, without lifting its gaze, moved to the side of the road to give the carriage plenty of room to pass, with Fizzy and Xera following in kind. The man called Brown signaled the stupefied coachman to resume their journey, while the other knights kept a close watch on the still bowing trio and the fiend who was still hitting herself with enough force to send blood flying all over the place. The well-dressed passengers inside kept gawking at the curious entourage, exchanging rather unflattering comments in barely hushed whispers.
There was also one small boy who could be overheard as saying ‘I want one!’ while pointing shamelessly at Fizzy. That was a rather dangerous request, for nobles were often known to do as they please. Normally they would not hesitate to take the steel golem from this lowly elf by force just to spoil their child, which would undoubtedly result in Boxxy doing its best to rip them apart and eat their rotten heads. However, it would seem the monster’s eerie aura was keeping their selfishness in check, and they merely ushered the driver to get a move on.
Several minutes passed before the convoy was out of sight, and Boxxy silently resumed its journey north.
“Uh, Boxxy? Are we letting them go?” asked Fizzy.
“Those humans on the horses would be tricky to kill. Armor stinks of magic and there were a lot of them.”
Even if it didn’t know the Levels of those people, their enchanted gear alone was enough to make them hard to bring down.
“We could always stalk them and smash their heads in their sleep,” suggested the golem.
“No need to risk it.”
“But… But! They disrespected you!”
“So?! Aren’t you angry! I’m fuming over here!”
The pint-sized Paladin was clearly raring to go on a one-woman crusade right about now.
“I’m sure we can crush those guys with ease!” she kept demanding.
“The soldiers, maybe. But that guy in the carriage was dangerous.”
“… Guy? What guy?”
“Master is probably referring to the old man with the black beard and the pointy hat,” clarified Xera. “It was definitely someone well versed in magic, likely a Warlock himself. Not someone we can ignore while trying to handle a dozen of those tin soldiers.”
“I… see. I guess I still have much to learn,” lamented Fizzy.
It was more or less as Xera stated. Boxxy simply didn’t want to raise the ire of yet another old man who might turn out to be a monster. It still had some regrets about letting them go, though. It was sure that looting those people would bring it even more wealth, but all the shinies in the world would be pointless if it died trying to obtain them. Therefore, it let them go peacefully without causing any-
Your actions have altered the flows of chaos.
Okay, maybe a fight might have been the better option after all.