Description: Those who stand on the shoulders of giants will never attain the heights of one who has stepped over said giants’ lifeless corpses.
Requirements: Single-handedly kill an Ultimate Skill holder.
Effects: Increases all XP gained by 10%.
Boxxy, who was already back in Keira mode, licked its lips at the absolutely delicious Perk it had gotten out of that fight. Well, winning that in the first place was a major stroke of luck since, in its haste, it completely neglected to consider a Level 100 human’s Ultimate Skill before engaging him in combat. Logically speaking, an Ultimate was always related to the Job it came from, so a Warlock that focuses almost entirely on offensive power should normally have one that was excessively destructive. In comparison, Shinji’s Abyssal Zone just seemed… lackluster.
That wasn’t to say that the old man’s Ultimate wasn’t powerful. It was doubtless that any human or elf who didn’t have a good amount of Strength (STR) or Endurance (END) would have been crushed flat under that enormous pressure. However, it also appears to target things indiscriminately and even interfered with magic to some degree. Even the Warlock’s own fiend couldn’t move freely inside it, and any and all ranged attacks coming in from the outside were nullified. Weaklings aside, all it did was stall and prolong a fight, as that Warlock seemed unable to do anything to Boxxy other than tie it down and throw words at it. Well, he probably had some way or another of using its effects to deal damage, but never got the chance.
Honestly speaking, the Mimic had lucked out since it happened to have those two weight-reducing rings in its possession, which made it truly unfortunate for the delusional old man. And, as per usual, a man’s misfortune was a monster’s gain. And there was much to be gained still, as Boxxy decided to take the corpse out of its Storage before it got back to the dryads. Using Corpse Absorption directly in front of them might be a bad idea, as it might ruin the illusion of ‘mommy.’
Wait, was it even a good idea to use Corpse Absorption to begin with? It was undoubtedly a high-quality corpse, but Boxxy had some doubts when it considered the possible results. That Skill always targeted the highest-ranking parts of one’s Status, so realistically speaking, there were only four possible outcomes.
The most likely one would be failure, as per usual. The second-most likely would be an Attribute gain, which would be INT without a doubt. The tastiest one would be if it absorbed a whole bunch of Warlock Job Levels, while the final favorable result would be a Skill gain. So while most likely it would get either a huge chunk of INT or a bit fat nothing, it didn’t want to waste the potential of the other two. Job Levels being absorbed would be a huge waste since it was already Level 50. Any XP gained at this stage would still be ‘stored,’ but would also be greatly neutered. It would be a lot better if it managed to find a Level 75 Warlock trainer before that happened.
As for the Skill gain, well, that was going to be either Ruin Mastery or Domination Mastery, most likely the former. Cadaver Absorption would transfer the highest-Leveled Skill of its target, so Mastery type Skills that could grow all the way up to Level 25 were prime candidates. Those that were stuck forever at Level 10 had no chance of being obtained beyond a certain point, while Ultimates that had only a single Level to begin with were right out.
Of course, this wasn’t just blind conjecture, but the results of much trial and error. After all, Boxxy had so far only gained various Mastery Levels whenever it absorbed a corpse’s Skill. The fact it managed to obtain Divine Attunement from that relatively low-Leveled Priest was pretty much an exception, as her Holy Mastery was probably not maxed out. Well, the Mimic did also get Acid Spray from those giant crab-like monsters during its time in Erosa, but that too was an exception since non-humanoid creatures very rarely had any form of Mastery.
Either way, its current Ruin Mastery Level was 12 out of 15, so if it gained a whole lot of proficiency for it from Shinji’s corpse, then it had a feeling much of it would be wasted, just like the potential Warlock Levels. And if the Cadaver Absorption was going to fail or just provide a bunch of INT, then there was no real rush to it. Therefore, Boxxy decided to hold off on absorbing the corpse and crammed it back into Storage. That airless space should serve to help preserve the body for a long while. Not that Boxxy understood how or why that was, but it was an undeniable side-effect that food inside its Storage took longer to spoil. Besides, it could still absorb a rotting corpse, so far as the head and heart were intact, so it had plenty of time.
As for the items the man was wearing, the robes and staff were not some disguised high-end magic items, but the same relatively low-grade stuff the rest of the Empire’s forces had. At least the jewelry was on-point. That human was wearing a number of magic rings and a shiny-looking silver amulet with a dark, orange gem embedded in it. All of them had different enchantments, of course, as the effects of identical enchantments would not stack with each other and only the one with the highest magnitude would work. Like if someone were to wear 5 rings that gave +10 INT each and five more that granted +15 INT, they would be left with a grand total of +15 INT and 9 useless decorations on their fingers. This sort of thing was common knowledge among adventurers, so there’s no way Boxxy wouldn’t find out about it. That’s why it wore a ring that reduced mass and another one that reduced weight, rather than two that reduced weight.
The Mimic wasn’t exactly sure as to the cause behind this strange limit, though. Of course it had tried to ask around as Keira, but the simple-minded creature was suddenly confronted with a whole lot of words and terms it wasn’t familiar with. The Enchanter it had questioned enthusiastically started explaining how the Something-or-other Coefficient could not do its thing while another thing was interfering with the third thing, but Boxxy wasn’t really listening. So what if it had absolutely no idea what the shit a ‘five-point conflux event’ was supposed to be? This was a creature that knew 84 distinct ways of taking a person’s life and could put an explosive device together with both its eyes and MLG closed, so it could do without useless trivia like that.
And thinking about that particular gland made Boxxy’s mood go sour as it recalled its repeated failures to copy a beholder’s superior sensory organ. Those eye-demons were quite popular among Warlocks that dabbled in the demonic arts, as they eliminated many of their masters’ weak spots. So while Boxxy had plenty of opportunity to observe and study their MLG, it completely failed to grasp how it worked. There was just something about it that didn’t make any sense. The most troublesome part was how the whole thing was completely detached and just sort of floated around inside the demon’s body. This was most likely because a beholder’s MLG worked more than as a simple sensory organ, given how it would spin wildly in many directions whenever its owner erected a defensive barrier of some kind. Regardless, this was an organ that the Mimic’s unstable shapeshifting flesh could not hope to recreate. Even using the trick with osmosis it learned when it was playing around with those wheels proved to be largely ineffective.
Boxxy was just about to enter the safe space where the five dryads were waiting when the Comm-crystal on its belt started vibrating.
What’s this? Should still be a few minutes before they sound the retreat, right?
After hesitating for a brief moment, Boxxy realized this wasn’t Keira’s Comm-crystal, but the Sandman’s. The one the beastkin was supposed to use was left behind with the dryads in the first place, so there’s no way this would be it. And yet the Mimic had almost answered it since it had gotten a bit full of itself after killing that foolish Warlock.
I really need to start labeling these things like that Underwood fellow.
Such things weren’t important right now though. The most pressing matter was ‘Why was that guy calling the masked vigilante all of a sudden?’ No, it really should have expected this. The Republic’s officers more or less demanded the password to that particular pair of magic items the day before. It was only natural that they wanted to be able to contact and coordinate with the mysterious Sandman at any point during or immediately after the siege.
This sort of thing is why I didn’t want to give them the password in the first place! it shouted inside Keira’s head. Ah, but denying them would be bad for business, huh? Well, if they’re anything like Carl, they probably hate being left waiting, so I might as well get ready!
The Mimic quickly changed back to its previous disguise and answered the Comm-crystal. The familiar sight of Silus Underwood appeared before it.
“Hello, mister Underwood,” it said in a low, displeased voice.
The elf on the other end furrowed his brows for a moment before confirming today’s passphrase.
“... In brightest day, in blackest night-”
“-I shan’t stop tickling bums with all my might.”
“Hello, Sandman. You know, I honestly wish you’d pick more decent words for these.”
“Nevermind that,” growled Boxxy. “What do you want? I’m busy!”
“You’ve been busy indeed, haven’t you? That’s exactly why I’m calling. Just so we’re on the same page - you did remove the Warlock VIP that attacked you, yes?”
“Yes. He’s dead.”
“Ah, good. Very good,” said Underwood with a slightly relieved tone.
It would seem the intelligence officer needed additional confirmation regarding that Warlock’s fate. Although one of his scouts was keeping an eye on the Sandman, he failed to see much of their battle since it kicked up a huge amount of dust and smoke. The grunt in question hadn’t even realized the opponent was a VIP until that large-scale Ultimate Skill was revealed, at which point many sets of eyes were gathered on them. As a result, multiple people reported that the cloaked vigilante had somehow shrugged off the immense gravity and caught his opponent by surprise, choking him by the neck and stabbing him through the torso over and over. The human’s presumed dead body disappeared somewhere under the Sandman’s cloak, and the vigilante himself vanished mere moments before that Spymaster’s lackey had shown up shortly afterwards.
“I won’t ask how or why,” said the elf, “but you have the Republic’s gratitude.”
“I can’t eat gratitude.”
“Indeed. That’s why I have been authorized to offer you a deal. Shinji Arakawa should have had with him a necklace, a silver one with an orange gemstone in it. If it is in your possession, then the Republic would very much want to take it off your hands. For a generous reward, of course.”
The Sandman went silent. While it was true that more money was definitely a good thing, it did not want to pass up uniquely shiny things so easily. That’s why it still held onto things like that bum’s golden skeleton, as well as the Profanus Gloria - the cursed chalice that created it in the first place. Besides, if the Republic wanted it, then perhaps this was a magic item of some power. Boxxy hadn’t yet confirmed its effects, but if this was an Artifact, or maybe even-
“Since you are mulling it over, then am I to understand the item in question is in your possession?”
The elf’s words completely derailed the monster’s train of thought. That Underwood fellow had managed to get a read on Boxxy’s thoughts just from that brief moment of silence. The Mimic had always been wary of his sharp intuition, which was why it wanted to minimize contact with him as much as possible in the first place. Unfortunately, asking for another point of contact was pretty much pointless. Even if the Republic agreed, Underwood would definitely be watching over the conversation anyway.
“Yes, I have it,” it admitted, “and I would be happy to take you up on your offer.”
If the Republic wanted this thing, then perhaps handing it over was for the best. The last thing Boxxy wanted was for them to start hunting the Sandman, and that would seriously put a damper on the Mimic’s activities.
“About the reward-”
“We will need to discuss that a later date,” interrupted Underwood. “While we want the item, it is by no means urgent. That said this is neither the time nor the place for negotiations.”
“Hmm, that is so.”
“Therefore I would like to ask that you safeguard the treasure for the moment.”
“Then I shall take my leave of this fort and contact you a few days from now. Assuming you still live, of course.”
“Of course,” answered the elf with a wry smile. “I shall look forward to that day. Underwood out.”
The intelligence officer cut off the connection, and the blue-tinged image of a head cloaked in rags disappeared from his palm. He then went back to organizing what was left of the 1st Scouting Battalion. Even if the snipers in the tree tops had the element of surprise at first, they were still taking quite the pounding from the enemy’s archers and long-range Spells. The Republic’s forces as a whole had already dwindled from 13,000 to about 8,000. The enemy’s casualties were nearly double their own by this point, as at least a third of that 30,000 strong force was already decimated. Hilda’s Ultimate had given the Republic a massive edge in melee combat, which when combined with the massive disturbance that Sandman inflicted was already-
The floor underneath Underwood’s feet shook mightily with a heavy roar. The stone keep that rested in the middle of Fort Yimin rattled and creaked while dust fell out of the less-than-tidy ceilings and walls.
“The ‘Black Tower’ has just used his Ultimate!” someone yelled in the busy war room. “I’m getting reports the south-facing wall is collapsing from the sudden earthquake!”
“We’re pulling back!” shouted the Legate from the back of the room. “Order the close-ranged fighters to break off the engagement and return to the keep at once!”
“Yes, sir!” came a chorus of replies.
Flares were shot into the air and orders were barked into Comm-crystals as the room practically flew into action.
“Those on the walls and in the trees should focus on covering the vanguard’s retreat, and then join them on their way inside the keep!”
“Yes, sir!” answered Underwood’s division.
It was still a bit early, but the officer’s humble opinion was that this was definitely the right move. Those melee-oriented soldiers and adventurers under the effects of Tempest of Rage would get pincered and annihilated at this rate. Even if the Ultimate gave them a massive edge in combat which resulted in many casualties on the Empire’s side, it didn’t mean the Republic’s fighters were invincible. Not to mention that none of the troops fighting on the southern side of the wall were under the effects of that dwarf’s Skill, so the Republic had little hope of pushing them away on that front.
“Prepare the northwestern gate! Make sure it’s ready to fly open the instant we need it to!”
“Yes, sir!” shouted a third group of elves.
“Prefect, let’s arm our little surprise!”
“Yes, sir!” came Vera’s clear voice. She had clearly anticipated those words, as the cube in her hand was already showing the image of a serious-looking beastkin that appeared to have someone unseen playing with her cat-like ears.
“What’s Imiryl doing?” asked Underwood towards his assistant to the right. “Wasn’t she supposed to keep that Shaman away from our walls?!”
“She had to withdraw since that flying VIP returned, sir.”
“Damn,” cursed Silus under his breath.
That Monk woman was a nuisance that they just couldn’t stop. No, Imiryl might be able to do something about her, but not when she’s outnumbered two-to-one. She had gotten a brief reprieve when that Monk broke off to interfere with the Sandman, but as expected she returned almost immediately. Falling back was the right choice, all things considered. Still, some small part of Underwood wished he could drive a knife right through that angelic bitch’s face. After all, she was the one who-
The elf took a deep breath to reign in his seething emotions and asked in a deadpan voice.
“Any news regarding Faehorn?”
“None, sir,” came the expected answer.
“I see,” said Underwood with a grim expression.
Even a high-Leveled Ranger wouldn’t escape falling off from that high a drop unharmed. No amount of AGI would allow someone to dodge the ground, after all. Even if he miraculously survived that drop, he would have been gravely injured and surrounded on all sides by the Empire. The only way he would still be alive was if he surrendered and let the enemy take him prisoner. However, Silus already knew that stubborn man would never allow such a thing. If his only way to survival was imprisonment in the Emperor’s dungeon and then being paraded around as a war trophy, then Milo Faehorn would definitely fight to his bitter last breath.
And since nobody has seen hide nor hair of him since his fall, then he was already just another nameless corpse on the ground.
Just another morsel on those dryads’ dinner plate.
Well… At the very least we can add some seasoning!
A grim and slightly sarcastic thought went through Silus’s head before he refocused his attention to coordinating the next phase of Operation Honeytrap. It may have been only for an instant, but in that brief moment Underwood found himself agreeing with a certain unhinged catgirl’s assessment of the Imperial army as ‘bags of high-grade fertilizer.’ Even after that flash of cruelty passed over him, he still felt a strong sense of resentment. Well, he still had some reservations regarding the soldiers who were just following orders, but their leaders were another thing altogether.
It was, after all, hard to describe the ones who had orchestrated this damned war as anything other than sacks of shit.