“Oh yeah! There was a guy who had living furniture like that!” exclaimed Xera.
“Really? That’s all you can say about him?” asked Boxxy.
“Forgive me, Master. It’s just that I really did not care about my masters before I met you, so they all sort of blur together.”
The succubus had a point. Typically speaking, demons didn’t exactly hold mortals in high regard. Even if she was contracted to Tol-Saroth, it didn’t mean she actually paid much attention to the man.
“Can you at least tell me what he was like?”
“Let’s see… He was insane, the boring kind. He would obsess over one project or another and lock himself in his workshop, often leaving us familiars in the Beyond or just told us to hang around and guard his tower. He was also a total homo and never got so much as a semi no matter how many times I thrust my breasts in his face or sensually caressed his thighs.”
“What about after he left the Dominion?”
“Hmm, he did get a bit more interesting after moving in with those humans. That’s the point where he started obsessing over Rank Ups for some reason. I really didn’t pay much attention, but it was fun to see him literally rip his hair out from stress and frustration. Well, up until he detonated that dungeon core he was experimenting on.”
So it would seem this was what Snack was alluding to when she said she knew what a ‘catastrophic meltdown’ was all those months ago.
“What about the creation of mimics?”
“No idea, Master. Like I said, he did all his research and experiments while cooped up in his room. All I know is his furniture suddenly started moving around and trying to bite me at some point.”
“And your personal opinion on him?”
“Well, I suppose he knew how to ruin someone’s day with Ruin magic, that was fun to watch. I think that’s where I picked up my staff-twirling habits from, actually. They don’t really do anything, but they’re kinda fun to do. Huh, I guess he wasn’t too bad a master all things considered. Not nearly as great as you, though.”
Her words weren’t particularly helpful or insightful, but they were sort of interesting. The only reason the Mimic was questioning her about its ancestors’ creator, was out of curiosity rather than necessity, so this much was enough.
“I’ll be coming by the dungeon later. Stand by the dungeon core until then.”
The Mimic cut off the telepathic communication and walked out of the restroom.
“All done, Keira?” asked Rowana with an idle smile.
Boxxy found it difficult to maintain its cover while talking to its familiars. Splitting its attention between physical and mental conversations was difficult, so it decided it was better to excuse itself for a while rather than seemingly space out in the middle of a talk.
“Where’s Lia?” asked the catgirl.
“Ah, she said she had to run, something about helping her father in the inn.”
“Oh right. She did say she wasn’t going to stick around long. How’s Minic?”
“Mmm, hugging it like this is a bit uncomfortable, but the little guy seems happy enough so I don’t mind.”
The mini-mimic in question gave a small happy-sounding cry from in between the elf’s arms. She was holding it against her well-shaped breasts as if it were a precious book, and the tiny creature seemed to thoroughly enjoy the soft sensation pressing against its underside. Well, Boxxy’s own undercarriage was pretty sensitive while it was still a Mimic, so it sort of understood where it was coming from. It made a mental note to get the little guy a soft pillow to sit on in the future.
“Well, I think that’s enough excitement for one day. Shall we get home, sweetie?” offered Rowana.
“Sure!” replied Keira.
The two of them proceeded to walk down the road while chatting away happily about thoroughly inconsequential stuff. Boxxy just smiled and nodded for the most part. It realized that Keira really did not have any hobbies beyond being a Ranger, which was perhaps a flaw in her character. It was common for adventurers to pick up a secondary artisan-type Job, so perhaps this was a good opportunity to make Keira’s Artificer Job public.
Actually no, it was still too early for that. Faehorn had told all his students to put off on acquiring a second Job until they got past Level 25 of their Ranger Job. After that, he recommended they look into Alchemist, Rogue or Monster Tamer, as those had high compatibility with the bow-wielding Ranger. It made Boxxy giggle a bit on the inside. A monster with the Monster Tamer Job sounded so ridiculous that it almost wanted to give that a try just for the fuck of it. That would be a waste of time though, as the former Mimic’s ability and willingness to look after living creatures was non-existent.
Besides, Keira would definitely go after the Artificer Job when the time came, and would be aided by a very capable teacher she happened to meet and become friends with after a certain joint training lesson. Besides, Boxxy had to be very careful in regards to what Jobs it got in the future. It learned it was impossible for a living being to have more than a certain amount of Jobs, although it would appear that number varied between races.
Elves, for example, could have as many as 8, while dwarves and gnomes were a bit lower at 7. Humans on the other hand could get all the way up to 10 and beastkin were normally limited to 6. Well, it was normally hard to find a person with more than 4 or 5 of them, so it wasn’t much of an issue for them. It was, however, an issue for Boxxy. The Consortium’s library had no information regarding the maximum number of Jobs a monster could posses, but records showed Appraisals of creatures that had as many as 13. After all, a Monster could Rank Up many times durings its lifespan, and every new Rank Up could come with a new Job, so it seemed logical that they would have more Job slots available.
But it was highly unlikely such things would be unlimited. Even if Boxxy didn’t presently know its limit, that still meant the garbage-tier Cat Job was taking up a valuable slot. Both the Attribute bonuses and effects of this Job and its derived Skill, Feline Agility, were extremely lackluster. It was also impossible to Rank Up, as Boxxy was not of a feline species. It had therefore decided to avoid using Cadaver Absorption on small critters, as it might end up doing more harm than good.
It was theoretically possible to get a Scribe to remove it, although such a thing was completely impossible in practice. Accomplishing it required that Boxxy would need to find someone not only capable of Appraising the clearly inhuman Cat Job, but also wouldn’t ask questions as to how a person got an animal’s Job. It was also out of the question to try and learn the Scribe Job for itself, as such applicants were subjected to an anti-shapeshifter shock test ever since the fall of the Doppelgangers.
Therefore, Boxxy was stuck with it, at least for the time being. It would need to be very careful regarding Job acquisition in the future, lest it ruin its chances at Ranking Up into an even more powerful species.
“Keira? You’re spacing out again.”
“Oh, sorry Rowie. I was just thinking about the future,” replied the catgirl. “Our future,” she added in an attempt to smooth things over.
“Oh! Oh my! I-I-I’m flattered, but I- Uhm, I mean… I think it’s a bit too early to be thinking about m-m-marr-”
Just then, someone bumped into Rowana with a lot of force, clearly on purpose.
“Waah!” she screamed as she fell over to the side. Keira deftly caught her, keeping her from falling to the ground.
“Hey, watch it!” she yelled out after the figure, who was already sprinting away at full force. “Huh? Wait, where’s Minic?!”
“Ah! I must’ve dropped him in the- Oh no! That guy stole him!”
“... Wait here.”
The normally cheerful catgirl’s voice was practically ice cold. Boxxy couldn’t help itself. Someone had just dared laid a hand on its shiny, so its anger overflowed through its facade. It made Rowana slightly fearful as a result, which was not really a good thing. Realizing its blunder, the monster tried to cover it up fast.
“Look, I’m sorry. I have to go get it back! I won’t let anyone take something precious from me ever again!”
There was more truth in those words than Boxxy had intended, but they had the right effect.
“... I understand. Just be careful!”
“I always am.”
The elf felt a bit relieved when she saw the same reassuring smile Keira always gave her, and watched as the beastkin took off into the crowd on all fours. Having somehow salvaged the situation, Boxxy turned its attention towards the cloaked figure that had attempted to rob it. It had already moved beyond its magical perception range and blended into the crowd, but it wasn’t a problem. The apprentice Ranger already had the scent of its target, and the Tracking Skill was highlighting the man’s trail. It was as if his footprints gave off a soft glow that only Boxxy could see.
The beastkin ran through the crowds with reckless abandon as per usual, going in between legs, through stalls and over carts. Eventually, she turned into a side alley which had some old boxes and jars strewn about.
“Shit! What the fuck is this?!” came a clearly disgruntled voice.
As expected, the thief had taken what he thought to be an expensive-looking ornate jewelry box, but that box was now struggling against his grasp.
“Ah, whatever! That jewel should be worth something at least!”
He reached behind his belt and took out a small knife, clearly intending to carve the expensive-looking thing out of-
“Hands off, dickface!”
The still-in-character catgirl ran up to him while he was distracted and slashed at his forearm with a set of retractable claws.
“Gah! The fuck?!”
It didn’t do a lot of damage and the cut was rather shallow, but it still caused the hooded elf to stagger backwards and drop the panicking box. Having obtained its freedom, Minic quickly ran away from the scary person and hid behind its bigger, incredibly reliable cousin.
“You got some nerve trying to steal other people’s pets!” said Keira accusingly while pointing a bloody claw at him.
“You’ll regret that you little bitch!”
The man swung at the catgirl with more speed than she was expecting. Judging from his movements, he must have been at least Level 25, maybe even 30 or 35 if he was a Rogue, which was common among pickpockets. He was no problem for a monster of Boxxy’s caliber, but the Mimic was currently undercover. Objectively speaking, there’s no way a Level 14 Ranger should be able to defeat a Level 30-something Rogue, especially not while she was unarmed.
Of course, that only applied if the catgirl in question were the one doing the fighting.
A tall, cloaked figure suddenly dropped down between the two and caught the rogue’s figure with a metal-clad hand. It appeared to be a man, with naturally wide shoulders and well over 2 meters in height. A long, black cloak obscured his figure, while a blue face-wrap concealed his face. Only the area around his eyes was visible, and it revealed sickly, pale skin and a pair of oddly circular yellow eyes.
It let out a disjointed, inhuman laugh while it pressed the terrified thief’s own weapon against his throat. The voice itself sounded strangely tinny, as if it were coming out of a metal pipe.
“What’s going on here?!”
A loud, commanding voice came in from the entrance to the alley. It was a group of 8 people in matching silver-like plate armor, with an eagle wing motif decorating their shoulderplates and helmets. This was a guard patrol who had come to investigate the clearly suspicious alley, attracted by the loud voices within. The cloaked figure threw a glance at them over its shoulder, then clambered up the side of the building and disappeared over the rooftops. The Rogue was left behind sprawled out on the ground. Well, most of him was, anyway.
“Aarrgh! My arrrm! Grrraaaar!”
He screamed and roared as blood flowed out of the stump on his right hand. The cloaked figure must have cleaved it clean off before it retreated.
“Medic, quickly! You - watch the girl! The rest of you - up those rooftops!”
The guard in the fanciest-looking helmet started barking orders and the rest of the 8-man patrol flew into a frenzy. The leader and the ‘medic’ attended to the wounded thief, while a third one told Keira to sit by and not make any sudden moves. The other five also deftly clambered up the walls, despite the heavy-looking armor. They would return a few minutes later, carrying only the stranger’s discarded cloak and mask, claiming he vanished into thin air when they thought they cornered him.
The would-be-thief, the catgirl and her pet box with teeth were then taken into custody and questioned. Keira merely told the truth - she was walking home with her ‘friend’ when that guy tried to rob her. She chased after him using her natural agility and Ranger Skills and confronted him in the alley. She was just about to get stabbed when that mysterious figure appeared out of nowhere.
“So, you did not know the supposed thief?” asked the guard interrogating her.
“No. I’ve never seen him before in my life.”
“Hmm… Alright, what about the man who intervened?”
“Same. He just dropped in out of nowhere and saved me. If it wasn’t for him…”
“Indeed, you’re lucky he showed up, otherwise you would have been seriously hurt.”
“Yeah… who was he, though? I owe him my life, so I would really love to show my gratitude!”
The adorable catgirl’s sincere demeanor made the soldier’s eyes swim for a bit. The effects of Boxxy’s unseen Charisma (CHR) Attribute coupled with its attractive outward appearance meant that it was easy to lull people into a false sense of security with the right attitude. This again was something that Snack had demonstrated many times over the past month or so.
“... Look, officially we’re told not to deny his existence,” said the guard in a hushed tone, “but I think that was the Sandman from the rumors.”
“Eh?! He’s real?!”
“Shh! Keep your voice down!”
“Ah! Right, of course. Thanks for sharing with me, mister guard!”
The radiant smile that was like a sunflower in full bloom made the middle-aged elf cough lightly in embarrassment. The catgirl in front of him was so adorable that he found himself wanting to hug her, pat her head and scratch her fuzzy ears. But he held himself back, for such behavior was unbecoming of a married man, let alone a peacekeeper.
“W-well, just keep it between us, okay? My boss will yell at me if I he learned I went around saying stuff like that. It’s just my personal opinion, that’s all!”
“You got it, mister guard! It’ll be our little secret!”
She gave the guard a small wink with a finger against her thin lips, making him almost unable to bear it. This girl was downright dangerous, almost as if someone had weaponized cuteness itself. Which was, more or less, the case.
Of course, the guard’s guess was both right and wrong at the same time. The truth was that the Mimic had spotted the patrol approach from the opposite end of the street it was on. It was hard not to, given their shiny suits of armor. That’s why it not only remained in character, but made sure to be as loud as possible to attract their attention.
The mysterious figure that ‘saved’ Keira was simply the Doppelganger’s Mirror Image. It had been instructed to take on the same disguise the monster used back in Erosa, supplanted with copious amounts of Metal Mimicry to cover its body in armor-like chitin. It was a way to divert attention from Keira and pin it onto the vigilante. It was the first time that ‘Mr Sandman’ had left any witnesses, which meant that rumors about it would steadily grow.
And once those in power were more or less convinced it was a real entity, it would offer them its services. It didn’t matter what country they were from, all politicians had under-the-table dealings with unsavory elements. They would definitely need something done on the down low, and Boxxy would take care of it for them. For a nominal fee, of course. After all, it was far easier to trust someone who wanted money than someone who claimed to do things out of the goodness of their heart. And Boxxy was most assuredly the former.
“In any event, we appreciate your assistance with this case, miss Morgana. Thank you for speaking with us and we apologize you had to see the disgraceful side of Azurvale.”
The way this guard was speaking was as if Keira was a tourist or something. Well, he wasn’t entirely wrong in that regard either.
“It’s okay, I understand. I’m also sorry I called you guys a bunch of worthless pigs when I got arrested for defending myself a while back…”
“Haha! Then I guess we’re even now, huh?”
The two shared a short laugh and the guard escorted the ‘victim’ out of the large building that served as both barracks and dungeon. Rowana was patiently waiting for her in the lobby with Minic, both of whom were plainly glad she was alright. The elf scolded her a bit for being reckless while the animate box sort of nuzzled affectionately against her ankles. Although it was far from sentient, Minic still vaguely understood its life was saved.
Congratulations, you are now a Level 14 Doppelganger! All Attributes +2.
Level Up, get!
Boxxy let off a tiny celebration in its mind as the couple and their new pet proceeded happily towards their love nest. They got home without further incident, had a modest dinner of some type of vegetable soup and performed their nightly dose of lovemaking and cuddling before Rowana fell asleep in Keira’s arms. The catgirl waited a bit longer to make sure she was completely out of it, before wriggling out of her arms and exchanging places with Xera through use of the Transfamiliar Spell. The succubus would keep an eye on Rowana and make sure she didn’t wake up and notice Keira’s absence. Xera was under orders to only use the Sleep Spell, and to avoid activating the Dreamweaver Skill unless absolutely necessary. Repeated use of the Skill made it unreliable, and Boxxy didn’t want another repeat of Fizzy’s attempted betrayal.
“‘Tis good to see thee again, milord,” said Ambrosia once Boxxy was back in its dungeon. The overjoyed smile on her face made it seem like those were her honest, albeit twisted, feelings.
“Yeah, it’s good to be back” replied the Mimic as it transformed from its base Doppelganger shape into a chest with spider legs.
It wasn’t sure why or how, but the Transfamiliar Spell forcefully undid its shapeshifting. If other teleportation-type Spells had the same effect, then that might prove to be a big problem. After all, Elves relied on these gigantic circular Forest Gates to transport goods and people across large distances in an instant. Those could only be activated once every week and only for an hour at a time, and it was highly likely that Boxxy would need to use them at some point. The fact that the use of those Gates use was strictly regulated and supervised meant it couldn’t just test it out at its leisure, either. Then again, the Beyond-derived Transfamiliar Spell supposedly worked on very different principles from regular Spatial Magic, so it was perhaps a needless worry.
Putting its worries aside for the moment, the box began inspecting the workshop that Fizzy had set up with the dungeon’s assistance. A large, rectangular room had been carved into the side of the tree through Terrain Sculpting, and was easily accessible from the platform where the dungeon core resided. It had only three walls, meaning there was no doorway or anything to separate the workshop from the rest of the open space.
Inside it were a large stone furnace, three anvils of different make and material, a myriad of tools lined the walls and a plethora of shelves, toolboxes and display cases stood vacant, ready to be filled with all kinds of parts and mechanisms. There were also a long wooden table attached to the left wall, opposite the furnace. This would probably serve as Fizzy’s workstation, and she had already gotten busy on something, judging from the half-finished assembly that had been left lying around.
“Was all of this made through Item Allocation and Terrain Sculpting?” asked the Mimic.
“‘Tis so, milord. These tools and facilities were created and maintained through the core, although they require a small amount of upkeep to keep them operational.”
“Hmm, I suppose that much is fine then. What about using dungeon-created materials to Level Up the Job. Did Fizzy try that?”
“Indeed she did, milord. Unfortunately, it did not seem to be sufficient. ‘Tis the reason she is currently away procuring materials at this time.
“Well, that was to be expected.”
Temporary things born of pure mana did not provide a permanent boost to one’s Job or Skill Levels. It was a sort of unwritten rule of this world. Using magically-created tools was probably okay though, just so long as the original materials used in the manufacturing process came from outside the dungeon.
“Oh! That reminds me, I hath some more good news regarding milady Fizzy’s position, milord,” said Ambrosia with a bit of enthusiasm. “Thine servant hath discovered the dungeon is capable of creating a Bracelet of Allegiance, a magical item that identifies anyone who wears it as a friend to the dungeon. I hath taken the liberty of preparing one for milady Fizzy upon her return.”
The dryad pointed towards a small pedestal that stood just outside the magically-created Artificer workshop. On it was a thin steel bangle that had a tiny, glowing gem embedded into it. It almost looked like it was a miniature version of the dungeon core.
“I see! This is very good!”
It would most likely vanish into nothingness if it were taken out of the dungeon’s sphere of influence, but it meant that it would not regard the golem as a hostile while she wore it.
“Hm? Where’s Arms?”
“Thy many-limbed servant is currently assisting this one. I hath found a small nest of pests that hath burrowed themselves into mine bark, and she is currently evicting them.”
“... These ‘pests’ are termites and not elves, right?”
“Of course, milord. This one would rather not harm the favored of Nyrie if it could be avoided. They art responsible for carrying this one’s fruits and seeds throughout the land and raising mine offspring in safety. In return I provide them with shelter and nourishment. ‘Tis a symbiotic relationship, though I do wish they would refrain from peeling at mine bark so much.”
“Okay, that’s good.”
The last thing the Mimic wanted was to have authorities start investigating this tree’s interior because some people went missing.
“What if they came into the dungeon portion of your body?”
“Then this one would ask them to leave. Or force them to if they refused.”
“That’s naive, Ambrosia!”
“Dungeons are known to hold valuables and treasures! If word got out that your body had become one, it would lead to all sorts of greedy individuals attacking the dungeon in an attempt to plunder its riches! You wouldn’t want that, right?”
“Heavens no, milord! Just the thought of that happening is… extremely unpleasant. Then, what doth milord suggest I do with such miscreants?”
“Capture them alive and prevent them from leaving here. You should be able to do that much without relying on Prison Management, yes?”
“‘Tis so, milord. I can imprison them in cages made of mine roots and branches and sustain them with mine fruits for as long as need be. But, what would that accomplish? Surely ‘tis better to just kill them and use them as fertilizer, no?”
“That is also naive! The absence of certain people is sure to be noticed, which would mean those elves would send even more people to investigate their disappearance. The end result would be no different than simply letting them go.”
“Ah! ‘Tis verily so!”
“But worry not, for Snack and I are on your side! We’ll be sure to handle those intruders in a way that will not draw attention to this place! If they’re unimportant and will not be missed, they will be eaten. If they are regular citizens or people of importance, then we can tamper with their memory or cover up this place’s existence in some other way.”
“I see! Milord’s wisdom belies thy age! I shalt engrave thy words unto mine heartwood.”
Ambrosia took a deep bow while her emerald-green eyes shone with respect. As expected, she was completely oblivious to the relationships between dungeons and adventurers, so Boxxy wanted to make a good impression on her. It was a sort of insurance should the dungeon core’s influence weaken in the future. Should the dryad reclaim her wits, then she will have memories of being treated as a partner rather than a slave, which would probably be enough to douse her ire.
Come to think of it, why did dungeons exist in the first place? There were honestly very little benefits to the owner beyond making it a safe place to live in. So then how come dungeons seem to invite and tempt others into them? Was it because the vast majority of these places seemed to be controlled by one God or another?
Thinking back to the Litigar Dungeon Complex, that place was definitely made for the enjoyment of the Goddess of Improbabilities. The fact she immediately contacted Boxxy and offered to make it the dungeon master showed she was actively keeping an eye on things through the Surveillance Net. And yet the Spire of the Jade King was far less responsive, suggesting the owner in question had a lot less interest in the place. It was therefore logical that owning a dungeon was not a vital thing for those deities. Perhaps dungeons were simply a means through which to test the resolve and mettle of mortals? Something like ‘prove you are worthy and claim the power you deserve’ type of thing?
Well, one thing was for sure - Boxxy would definitely not reward any invaders for breaking into its house and robbing it blind. In fact, now that Fizzy would be seen as the dungeon’s ally, it could fill the place with even more traps. It was particularly looking forward to the Exploding Treasure Chest it could build through Trap Management. Not to mention the anti-air countermeasures it installed all over this chasm last night.
“Arms, are you still busy cleaning out that termite nest?”
“Hey, Boss! Yeah, I am! It’s taking longer than I thought, but I’m almost done!”
Kora lacked Xera’s wide-area fire magic, so she was probably doing it the old fashioned way. Both her Berserker and Fiend Jobs made her extremely well suited to crushing many little things in rapid succession, so she was probably having a blast. Especially since her Violent Meditation Skill allowed her to recover a tiny bit of MP whenever she hit something, allowing her to use her Skills and Martial Arts a lot more often.
And while she was scarily effective against many squishy targets like that, she was no less capable of taking down tough, armored opponents. Well, not since she got her Resonating Blows Skill. Using that, she could send destructive shockwaves that penetrated an opponent’s defenses and ripped their insides to shreds. They were strong enough to rattle even Fizzy’s highly durable mithril frame. Well, provided she actually got a good hit on her. That golem had gotten scarily good at avoiding and deflecting attacks like that.
Overall, Boxxy was superbly pleased with the progress of all of its minions. Which is why it was really looking forward to what was about to happen next.
“Meet me at the highest point of dungeon with Nexus Access when you’re done,” it commanded.
“You got it, boss!” replied the fiend with more than a little enthusiasm. “We’re doing the thing, tonight, right?!”
Tonight was the night of the Lunar Convergence where all three moons would be visible in the sky. It was time to see whether this Unholy Wealth thing was all that it was cracked up to be, and it was a fairly reasonable assumption that completing it would earn it that last chunk of Demonology Proficiency it need to hit Level 8 and obtain its third familiar.
But first, it would have to do something about the hitchhiker that had been affectionately rubbing onto Keira’s leg while she was busy concentrating on the Transfamiliar Spell-
-and had gotten transported into the dungeon by accident.