Keira ‘woke up’ the next day as per usual. She had her morning interactions with Rowana, making sure the elf felt loved and appreciated as part of her cover. She then played a bit with Minic, who she very nearly forgot about back in the dungeon, and fed it some dried fruits that the couple had bought the day before. The catgirl eventually made to leave the building in order to attend Faehorn’s Ranger course, but Minic seemed hell-bent on following her outside the house. The mini-mimic had apparently grown overly attached to its bigger cousin, and would not settle down unless Boxxy was nearby.
“Why don’t you just take him along?” asked Rowana.
“... I don’t think mister Faehorn would appreciate me bringing a pet to class. Especially not with our line of work.”
“Okay, tell you what. Since I have the time, why don’t we both go? If this Faehorn character doesn’t let you look after it during the day, then I’ll bring it home with me.”
“But, someone might try to steal it again!”
The catgirl hugged the gilded box closer to her chest, as if to protect it. That was actually genuine concern on Boxxy’s part since Minic was already part of its collection. The Mimic was sure it could handle another theft attempt as long as it was around, but if it was just the powerless Rowana then she wouldn’t be able to do a single thing. Actually, that was also a good point.
“You might even get hurt!”
“... Okay, I’ll make sure it doesn’t leave home. Come here, Minnie!”
The elf took the living jewelry box from Keira and held it tight. It struggled a bit, but settled down when the moment it felt her chest-pillows press against its underside.
This guy, he definitely likes breasts, noted Boxxy. Well, Minic was technically part demon, so such urges were perhaps understandable, even if it was genderless. Perhaps it was soft things in general, and not breasts specifically? Only time would tell.
Having resolved the matter of pet care, Keira left the house and made her way towards the Central Consortium building. This time she used the regular walkway rather than swinging around on vines, as she had gotten an earful about it from Rowana. So, having to pretend to care about her opinion, the wannabe catgirl started going up the large, circular staircase that went all the way around the outside of the Hylt tree. Once it got up to the upper branch, it would be able to ride an elevator down to the ground and proceed on foot from there.
Once it got to the class, which was fashionably late as per Keira’s character, it proceeded to make nice with the elves, all the while paying special attention to the tasty-smelling Lia. The green-haired elf seemed to open up after yesterday, and confessed she had been bullied and discriminated against in her childhood due to her quarter-human ancestry. This was apparently also the reason she couldn’t bear to see selfish old men do the same to lesbian couples like Keira and Rowana.
It was a very touching and slightly emotional conversation, but Boxxy’s head wasn’t in it as it kept getting troubling reports from Ambrosia and its familiars.
Apparently, Claws was trying to build a nest or lair of some sort, which resulted in her covering a part of the dungeon’s interior in her webs. Her stalker body allowed her to produce a near-unlimited amount of sticky spider silk that shot out from her palms or feet in thick, sturdy ropes, and could also be discharged from the tips of her claws in thin, fine strands. She could also spend MP to alter the strands at will, making them stronger, thicker or stickier than normal. Of course, it would eventually crumble into nothing, as was traditional for things born of mana, but spider-silk was a special case. Not only would it persist after the demon was banished back to the Beyond, but it would last for weeks, possibly months if left undisturbed.
However, Claws would not get a chance to show off her web-spinning skills, as Snack thought her silk looked pleasantly flammable. So she flung a Fireball at it to test it out, and as it turned out, she was right. The barn-sized mass of stalker-silk that Claws had been working on all morning went up in flames and blazed out of existence in a matter of seconds. This naturally made the spider-girl incredibly pissed off, as she was planning to laze about in her spider-home-turned-ashes until Boxxy returned.
Normally that would mean she would indiscriminately attack and murder the succubus, but both of them were forbidden from directly harming one another due to their master’s orders. So what happened was that Claws jumped on top of Snack, tied her up in webs, drained her of her MP and left her strung up in mid-air. Well, the pyromaniac eventually recovered enough MP to burn off her bonds, but it was obvious the two were at each other’s throats.
Arms, on the other hand, seemed to have reached some sort of silent agreement with Claws, and the two avoided each other completely. A physical confrontation between them was just impossible, as the fiend was the worst type of combatant a stalker demon could go up against. Headstrong, sturdy, and armored enough to block her attacks. Even if they were sharp and could slice through meat and bone, a stalker’s natural weapons were no match for the demonic steel arms and armor that fiends could manifest.
Bottom line was, while Arms and Snack got along, Claws was left as something of an outsider. Boxxy decided this could not be allowed to continue, as it was steadily learning that interpersonal relationships could make or break an outstanding adventurer team. Granted, that wasn’t directly applicable to a group of monsters, but some of it still held true. Even if the 3 demons could be ordered to work together, true cooperation was not something that could be made possible through contracts alone.
Come to think of it, didn’t something like this happen before? Thinking back on the first few days after Arms was summoned, Boxxy recalled that she and Snack were also on very hostile terms. Although it lacked the mental capacity and emotional understanding to notice or care about such things at the time, it now understood how bad their relationship was. The succubus and fiend did not get along in the slightest, and were always at each other’s throats, both figuratively and literally. Well, they still bickered to this day, but it was much less aggressive than it was back then.
And the catalyst that allowed their relationship to improve was to simply let the demons be demons and let them take their aggressions (and other things) out on each other. Therefore, while Boxxy was busy chumming it up with the elves, it gave its familiars a simple order.
“Just for today, I’m allowing you to kill, maim and murder your fellow demons all you want!”
It also made sure to turn on the auto-repair function from the dungeon’s Terrain Sculpting module and instructed Ambrosia to document their confrontations with the Surveillance Net. The dungeon core was capable of capturing any event within its sphere of influence and record it within itself as a series of moving images, which could be played back at any time. While doing this for extended periods of time would put a significant drain on the core’s MP reserves, it would allow Boxxy to review and analyze its newest minion’s performance without personally being there at the time. It could also do that in real time, but it had to focus on the tracking and hunting exercises at hand.
The particularly hard part about Faehorn’s classes was when it came to practicing the Marksman Martial Arts. Activating them was simple enough, almost as if casting a Spell with one’s body, but the problem was as they could trigger the Chaotic Disposition Skill’s random magical effects. Such as that time the Skill caused a small, localized earthquake around Keira, or suddenly turned her flesh invisible, but left her armor and equipment as they were. Boxxy had been able to keep such side-effects hidden for the moment, but that Skill was an accident waiting to happen. After all, something like a newbie Ranger suddenly bursting into flames for no discernable reason was bound to raise suspicion. Well, it had a few contingencies in place should something like that happen, but for the moment it took every plausible excuse to avoid activating any of those Martial Arts while other people were around.
Since part of the day’s exercise was a light hunt, Boxxy’s Ranger Job finally reached Level 15. It picked up the Whisper Wind Skill, which could be used to stealthily communicate with others at long distances. Boxxy was not very enthusiastic about it, as it really didn’t need such a Skill. However, it was necessary for Keira if she wanted to fit in. Faehorn was training them up to be scouts and spotters, so this Skill was mandatory in his opinion. If it wasn’t for that guy, Boxxy would definitely go for the Magic Arrows Skill that would let it conjure ammunition out of thin air. Well, the Ranger Job’s main function was to serve as Keira’s cover, so it was not that big a deal if she wasted one or two Skill slots. Besides, it was still usable in tandem with Fizzy or the Mirror Images, so it wasn’t a complete waste.
Once class for the day was done, Keira hit the library, this time to study up on the various Gods and their respective taboos. The monster’s FTH Attribute would grow steadily over time thanks to the various All Attribute bonuses, but it had to be careful of accidentally being saddled with that stigma of a Skill again. And as expected of an adventurer-focused library in the capital a country, it had quite a lot of information regarding all of this world’s Gods and Goddesses, major and minor alike. Well, except for Nobunaga, the God of Change. It would seem Boxxy’s patron was considered a minor deity that was shrouded in mystery. Unlike the other eight members of the pantheon, his motivations, likes, and dislikes were more or less completely unknown to the general public. Well, it could just ask a certain Champion of Chaos regarding such things later, so for now it focused on the one that gave it so much trouble last night.
Namely the taboo of Goroth, the Earth God and patron of artists, artisans and craftsmen. Much like Fizzy said, he forbade anyone from permanently transmuting anything into silver, gold, platinum, mithril or sinium. Boxxy’s thoughts got derailed the instant it read about this ‘sinium’ thing. It had never heard of it, but it definitely sounded shiny. In fact, the order in which these precious metals were listed made it sound like it would be shiniest of all!
Brimming with curiosity, Keira immediately visited the Hammers of Horkensaft guild’s forges to ask around, and found out that sinium, otherwise known as ‘Godsteel,’ was an Artifact-grade material said to be infused with divine essence. However, nobody could tell it how shiny this thing actually was, as none of the people there had even seen it, let alone worked with it. The best answer she got was that it was ‘a pale, sky blue material.’
Disappointed, Keira made to leave their workshop when she saw that Fizzy was currently giving out a lecture regarding Artificers. The catgirl took this opportunity to publicly befriend the golem as well as express an obvious interest in becoming an Artificer. That way she established that Keira was fascinated by the potential of an Artificer’s gadgets. It would just seem more natural when she eventually started using Artificer-made tools and weapons on the battlefield.
Realizing it had gotten sidetracked, Boxxy discretely asked the Paladin about her God’s taboo. And while she did indeed know of it, it was something nonsensical, yet logical at the same time. Truly befitting of the Goddess of Dice Rolls. It wrote it down on the piece of paper it was carrying and returned to the library to resume studying up on the other deities. It took a few hours, but the Mimic eventually compiled a comprehensive list of things that would raise the various Gods’ ire.
Willingly and knowingly turning unshiny things into shiny things - Goroth, Earth God
Willingly and knowingly participating in time travel - That Guy
Willingly and knowingly mating with monsters or animals - Nyrie, Fertility Goddess
Willingly and knowingly breaking an oath made in her name - Teresa, Justice Goddess
Willingly and knowingly using Hexcraft or creating cursed items - Lunar, Moon Goddess
Willingly and knowingly participating in the genocide of an enlightened race - Solus, Sun God
Willingly and knowingly killing prisoners of war without cause or provocation - Axel, War God
Willingly and knowingly desecrating the dead and/or their graves - Mortimer, Death God
Willingly and knowingly dealing irreparable damage to the environment - Zephyra, Rain Goddess
Overall, this had been a very productive afternoon, as Boxxy was sure it would have accidentally violated Axel’s taboo at some point in the future. Nyrie’s was also potentially problematic considering the sexual relations Keira and Rowana, but that was only at first glance. A deeper study revealed it only applied to enlightened beings as some monsters, Doppelgangers included, could not procreate without cross-species copulation. Nyrie could hardly be called a Goddess of Fertility if she got in the way of a monster’s procreation cycles.
However, while Boxxy seemed to be safe from violating the taboo of the Fertility Goddess, Rowana was not. Then again, the elf had no idea her partner was a monster. Therefore, while the ‘willingly’ part of the act was certainly there, the ‘knowingly’ was not. Also, it was highly debatable whether what they did could be considered ‘mating,’ as no child could ever be born of that union in the first place.
This list also helped Boxxy realize just how close it had been to being branded with major Taboo Levels as a result of what it did to the city of Monotal, but managed to avoid two counts of that due to technicalities. First was Solus’s ‘no genocide’ rule. Considering Boxxy murdered a whole lot of humans that day, it could by all means be called a genocide. Then again, it wasn’t only humans that caught up in it, and it wasn’t targeting them in particular, so perhaps it didn’t really count as a genocide.
There was also the matter of Zephyra’s taboo. The fact that both the land and air surrounding the former city of Monotal had been left poisoned and barren was something Boxxy learned about well after the fact. In other words, it had no idea that the dungeon core meltdown would cause all that, so it didn’t knowingly trash the environment, but it was unlikely it would be let off if it did that again.
Another possibility was that Jerome was the one who took the blame for it. After all, it was him that overloaded the core in the first place, so the environment would have been fucked by the following meltdown with or without the Mimic’s interference. Of course, none of that would have happened in the first place if the monster had just left the shiny thing behind, but it quickly disregarded such minor, unimportant details as unrelated to the matter.
It was on the way back from the library that Boxxy realized that, surprisingly, all 3 of its familiars were currently active. After checking in with Ambrosia, it was told that there was indeed a violent and physical confrontation between them, but it appeared to have been resolved without any of them actually killing each other off. Deciding it was a good time to do so, it accessed the recordings the dryad made through the dungeon’s Surveillance Net, and played them back in the corner of its vision as it walked idly along the street.
The only recording the dryad took was about 8 minutes long and showed that the succubus and the stalker engaged in battle the instant Boxxy gave them the go ahead.
To begin with, Claws activated her Stalk Skill - a superior version of Stealth that not only muffled sounds, but also obscured the user’s body. It was as if her body was draped in a black mist that made it easier for the spider-woman to hide herself from sight, even with Snack’s darkness-piercing eyesight. She sometimes spotted her opponent skittering along the walls or ceiling while trying to get a good angle of attack, but Claws somehow still managed to slip out oif the succubus’s eyesight.
Watching the footage, Boxxy realized that both of the demons performed admirably. Snack did an amazing job at zoning out her opponent with area effect Spells, even without knowing her exact position. Her use of the Molten Guardian Skill and her wings made her an incredibly slippery target. Not to mention that her fire-based magic also had good compatibility against the spider’s webbing, as any attempts at ensnaring her from a distance were incinerated without difficulty.
The barrage of Fireballs sent at Claws was dealt with in an extraordinary fashion. On one hand, the spider was able to tell where the succubus was aiming even before she finished chanting the Spell, so she was able to dodge about half of her attacks without difficulty. And even the ones that were on target still failed to hit her, as her six, back-mounted scythe-legs quite literally sliced the fiery projectiles apart, causing them to dissipate instantly. That would be the effect of Claws’ Counterspell Skill, which could forcefully disrupt an opponent’s magic so long as one had the right timing.
And yet despite that, Snack was still able to land a number of solid hits on her. She messed up her opponent’s timing and predictions by forcefully delaying her chants, shifting her aim at the last second or feinting a Spell cast. A total of 8 Spells managed to land on the stalker - 4 Fireballs, 3 Magma Missiles and a Flamethrower.
However, for those 8 that landed, what felt like hundreds more missed. The succubus did an admirable job managing her mana and avoiding so much as a scratch, but the equilibrium couldn’t last and she eventually began to run out of steam, forcing her Spell-slinging to slow down. Noticing the opening, Claws made a daring move whereby she used her webbing to swing through the air directly at the succubus. The stalker then changed direction in mid-air for a total of 3 times in rapid succession in order to dodge the incoming Spells and the Magma Guardian’s attacks, but she finally reached Snack.
Once she was close enough, she webbed up the succubus’s mouth, preventing her from chanting. She then stabbed the long, dagger-like claws poking out of her right foot right in the succubus’s breasts. The Molten Guardian immediately chased her away, but the damage was done. The Hornet Stalker’s signature paralytic venom rapidly took effect, leaving Snack slow and sluggish, forcing the succubus to use the Purge Spell to forcefully burn away the toxins inside her body.
However, Claws did not give her an opportunity to recover and launched another web-assisted aerial attack, this time slashing her opponent’s shoulder open with her venom-coated back-sickles and rip off the succubus’s left wing with her arm claws. It was at this point that the duel was settled, as Snack fell to the ground and was rapidly wrapped up in webs for the second time today. Claws then stabbed her in the gut and made excited clicking noises as the succubus’s remaining MP was forcefully drained away while her body went limp from the poison. The Molten Guardian fizzled out of existence a few seconds later, leaving Claws as the victor. Rather than cut her down on the spot, the stalker began dragging her off somewhere, likely to toy with her as revenge for her burned home.
It was at this point that the recording cut off. From the Mimic’s perspective, both of its demons did everything right, but Claws showed she clearly had more combat experience. She cleverly applied pressure to her opponent, making her use more MP than necessary to defend herself. The stalker steadily exhausted and cornered her prey until a decisive blow could be made. She did not rush, nor did she panic. Even the few hits she took seemed to be planned, as if to make her opponent thing her approach was working.
In other words, Claws had complete control of the fight the entire time. She completely suppressed the embarrassed, awkward appearance she showed Boxxy, displaying her cold, calculating and ruthless side. In fact, she probably wouldn’t have even bothered attacking Snack unless she was absolutely sure of her victory. She was obviously a Boxxy fan, which meant she definitely knew how its familiars fought in the field.
Now all that remained was the vital question - did this little bout help alleviate their aggression?
“Claws,” it called out telepathically.
“Heeek! Y-yes, Master?”
“What do you think of Snack after you had a little fun with her?”
“Oh, she’s fantastic!” she said in a strangely chipper tone. “I’m starting to understand why Master favors her so!”
Boxxy was pretty sure it didn’t really favor Snack one way or another. Even if she was a skilled infiltrator and tasted great, she still had a number of downsides that made her unreliable at times. In fact, Arms was far easier to get along with. Boxxy just had to point at a thing and it would get smashed, no questions asked.
“So you’re getting along?
“We are! In fact, I think I may be falling in love with her as well!”
Well, that was definitely a good thing. What about the other side of the story, though?
“Snack, are you getting along with Claws as well?”
“Indeed I am, Master,” replied Xera in her calm, stately manner. “We’ve had a very interesting discussion, and I think we’ll be able to work together quite well in the future.”
“Excellent. And where are you now?”
“The two of us are having a bath together in the dungeon. It’s quite enjoyable.”
“Is having a bath really that tasty?”
Keira took baths to clean herself, but it just felt like a chore.
“It’s the dryad’s special Waters of Life that make it tasty for us, Master.”
“Well, apparently it’s potent enough to help regrow lost limbs in an instant.”
“Oh? That is very good to hear!”
As a shapeshifter, Boxxy had very little problems with such things since it could move and mold its body mass around as needed. Its demons were also not greatly perturbed by the loss of body parts as they could just be re-summoned. Even Fizzy said she would probably be fine if she lost an arm or something as she could be repaired with enough spare parts.
However, elves and humans were different, and something like losing a leg or an eye was a permanent injury in most cases. Healing magic and potions that were potent enough to restore lost body parts did exist, but were uncommon and rather expensive. For example, a soldier or adventurer that had been maimed in combat could afford to pay for the treatment and be returned to full strength, but a peasant that had gotten into an accident was often left to suffer.
But the dryad’s miraculous Waters of Life were different. Ambrosia herself said producing them was not too difficult for a tree of her age and size, so this opened up a lot of possibilities. Profit could easily be obtained as long as the Mimic organized some sort of spa or clinic, but such things carried risks of its own. It had to very carefully evaluate such things in the future. Right now, however, it needed an answer to a nagging question.
“Snack, how did you find out about that property of the Waters of Life?”
“The dryad let us know herself, Master,” came the immediate response.
“Strange, she didn’t mention it to me.”
“Perhaps Master didn’t ask?”
“That is true.”
Ambrosia had not yet taken up her position as dungeon master when the topic of the Waters of Life were being discussed, and it simply hadn’t come up since then. So then, the fact that she told Snack unprovoked, meant that there was a need to. And quickly checking up on the pair of demons using the Surveillance Net what that reason was.
“Actually Snack, I think I will be joining you for that bath after all.”
“Oh?! Please do, Master! I’m sure both of us would enjoy that greatly!”
The images relayed by the dungeon core showed that Snack was, as expected, submerged in the green-tinged water of life. And Claws was in there with her, taking huge bites out of the succubus’s delicious flesh, which healed back within seconds. It was a scene that left Boxxy with a rather un-tasty thought.
How come I didn’t think of that?!