Boxxy noticed it was being tailed at around the time it was exiting the magic item emporium. It realized that a certain pair of elves were always hanging around outside the various places it visited as if they were waiting for it. Of course they did their best to blend in with the background or keep out of sight, but could not evade the mimic-grade MLG inside Keira’s chest cavity. One of them appeared to be an adult male with a painfully average face and short, dark green hair that was extremely common among the elves. The other was a young girl on the cusp of womanhood, who appeared to be just as bland and unremarkable as her partner. To top it all off, both of them wore dull-colored casual clothes, much like Boxxy’s current outfit.
And yes, they were most definitely working together. Even if they kept a good distance between themselves and their target, the identical set of flasks and weapons they kept hidden beneath their coats were a dead giveaway. The utter lack of any badges or identifying papers was a sign they were most likely not part of the FIB like Underwood. Meaning they were either enemy spies or belonged to some underground organization.
The highly suspect pair kept following the seemingly oblivious catgirl around the city, no matter how many seemingly random turns she took. Keeping track of them was a bit tricky at first since they intermittently went in and out of the MLG’s range. Boxxy solved that problem by ducking into a random lavatory on its pointless post-lunch hike and using Voidcaller to quickly and (relatively) quietly summon Drea. Since then, the Mimic continued being tailed by the elven duo, who were in turn stalked by the Stalker, who fed information regarding their actions and whereabouts back to her master.
That’s how Boxxy found itself in the current situation, sitting in a desolate park on an overcast day, while staring off into the distance. According to Claws, the two elves were hiding behind some trees and bushes a few meters outside the MLG’s range. Based on what both the demon and the Mimic had seen, those two were very skilled at infiltration and stealth. Since a direct confrontation was unlikely to be fruitful, the Mimic decided on preparing a chance for them to strike. Of course, this move still held an element of danger. After all, trying to deduce their actual Jobs or Levels based on sight alone was impossible. At the very least they appeared to be far too young to be higher than Level 65 or so.
Boxxy wasn’t just guessing when it made this estimate, though. Most combat-oriented Jobs saw a drastic decrease in growth once they approached that Level, mostly due to a lack of worthy prey. Indeed, finding a monster whose Level was over 50 was easier said than done. And even then, this would most likely be a Ranked Up individual like Boxxy, which meant that a whole team of similarly-Leveled adventurers would be needed to take it down safely. Which, in turn, meant that the XP for defeating it would be split up amongst the participants. But not only was the Mimic well above those Levels, but it also had Drea for backup. That’s why it was fairly certain it would easily triumph if it fought for real.
The problem was that doing so might compromise its disguise. Even if this park didn’t appear to have any people in it right now, there was no guarantee that there would be no witnesses. Not to mention that whatever organization these two belonged to might grow even more cautious if two of its members just up and disappeared. In the end, Boxxy decided it would play along with their schemes for a while. At least until it felt its life was actually in danger, of course.
Which was why Keira, who was leaning back on the wooden bench with her arms crossed, steadily began to nod off. Her head drooped and her eyes closed, and she let out a light snoring noise. If her pursuers maintained their position, then their goal was most likely not the catgirl herself, but one of her acquaintances or contacts. However, this was clearly not the case, as the man began warily approaching her after a few minutes while the girl kept an eye out for any witnesses. She even checked the cloudy sky and bare branches above her for abnormalities. Just the fact that she looked up seemingly out of habit marked her as someone experienced.
Well, she still failed to spot Drea who was clinging to the side of a nearby tree, but she could be forgiven for that. Even the Stalker’s master had difficulty tracking her down if she got serious.
The beastkin kept snoozing quietly as the elf crept closer and closer without making a sound, likely due to the Stealth Skill. He reached into his coat and pulled a strange cylindrical flask from it, but its contents were more gaseous than liquid. It was quite obvious he intended to spray his quarry with some dubious substance, likely to knock her out for a while. After all, if he meant to kill or harm her, he would instead reach either for the dagger strapped to his thigh or one of the small knives on the back of his belt.
When he was about 2 or 3 meters away from Keira, however, the man failed to notice the dry twig hidden underneath the grass and fallen leaves.
He stepped on it, producing an audible sound that the Stealth Skill could not eliminate.
There was no way a Ranger of Keira’s caliber would miss that auditory anomaly. She ‘woke up’ and instantly stood from her seat while turning around. Her wide-open eyes beheld the clearly suspicious individual for a few tense moments before she spoke up.
“Do you have business with me?!” she asked in a rather aggressive tone.
“I apologize, I didn’t mean to startle you. It’s just that you really shouldn’t be sleeping at a place like this. You’ll catch a cold, you know.”
His instant reply and casual tone would have probably fooled most people, but Keira had grown more wary and suspicious of her surroundings during her deployment. The catgirl’s eyes darted up and down the man, scanning for any visible hints that he was spouting bullshit.
“Is that so? Then what about that thing sticking out of your coat pocket?!”
The alchemical spray he was holding earlier had been hurriedly stuffed in there. However, the elf failed to account that the container was too big to fit properly.
“Oh this?” he said while pulling out the item in question. “It’s just a little something for self defense in case muggers or other unsavory types show up. Can never be too careful, you know? Especially during these turbulent times.”
“My thoughts exactly!”
The catgirl’s ears twitched slightly, after which she abruptly rolled to the side. She just barely dodged a thrown knife covered in some suspicious liquid. It ripped her her coat’s shoulder, but failed to scratch her skin. While the man was occupying her attention with his words, the girl had snuck around to her side and tried to ambush her with that ranged attack.
“Master, can I eat her up?!” asked the Claws with more than a hint of anticipation.
“Not yet. Remain on standby until I say otherwise.”
The male didn’t lose any time and reached for his dagger, which was also coated in the same blue-ish stuff as that knife. He dashed forward and slashed at the catgirl’s side, but she stepped closer to him and caught his outstretched arm by the wrist. She made note of the above-average force behind that blow and grunted a bit, then slashed at his clenched fist with the claws on her free hand. The man let out a yell of pain as he dropped his weapon while blood gushed out from his nearly dismembered fingers. Keira snatched the blade before it fell to the ground and created some distance between them. She put the dagger in her mouth and clung onto the handle with her teeth, before dropping down on all fours. The catgirl then turned tail and started running away in a zigzag pattern.
However, she had just barely started escaping when both elves unleashed a flurry of throwing knives. Most of those missed, but one was allowed to embed itself in Keira’s thigh.
She screamed out in pain and fell to the ground, dropping the dagger in the process. She tried to get up and continue running, but her leg didn’t seem to be listening to her. The tiny knife did barely any damage, but the paralytic poison on it was already coursing through Keira’s body.
The elven couple caught up with the crippled beastkin a few moments later. The man grabbed her from behind in something akin to a sleeper hold and forced her to her feet. She struggled and screamed, but his physical strength was too much for Keira to break out of. The female elf at the scene then sprayed the captive in the face with the same stuff her partner-in-crime was trying to use initially. Keira coughed and thrashed about some more. Her movements gradually turned duller and more lethargic until her body went completely limp.
The two assailants carefully looked her over, making sure she was out while scanning their surroundings for any passers-by or other would be witnesses. After concluding that everything was in order, the man pulled out a large, thick bag and stuffed the unmoving catgirl inside. He then threw it over his shoulder and he and his accomplice calmly walked out of the park. Their captive was packaged in such a way that it was hard to tell whether that lump of ‘something’ on the man’s back was actually a person or not. Well, his catch was not technically a person to begin with, but that was besides the point.
“Now can I eat them up, Master?!” insisted Claws through the telepathic link.
“Not quite yet. Just shadow them.”
Of course Boxxy wasn’t really unconscious, but merely playing along. Its absurd END Attribute made it quite resistant to poisons so it hardly suffered any ill effects from it, despite its ‘captors’ being convinced otherwise. After all, if anything knew how to act like something they weren’t, it was be the Mimic-cum-Doppelganger. And the purpose of this whole charade was quite simple.
Boxxy wanted to find out why they bothered to attack Keira in the first place. They went out of their way to capture her alive, which cemented the notion that there was something they, or most likely their boss, wanted from her. And if someone wanted something, then they just might be willing to part with something else in order to get it. The Mimic saw this whole thing as a sort of business opportunity, albeit a risky one. However, Boxxy had an easy out since it could just silently chant Transfamiliar at any given time. It even had countermeasures in place should they try to bind it with those mana-sealing shackles.
“You almost screwed the pooch on this one, K,” said the elf girl suddenly.
“I know, I know!” shout-whispered ‘K.’ “It’s just been a while since I was out in the field, okay? Besides, you completely cocked up the chance I gave you after she woke up!”
Boxxy was keeping a close eye on both of them through its MLG, so it could easily listen in on their conversation.
“That couldn’t be helped. Her dossier said she was extremely observant, you know. Hardly a surprise she noticed me once you made her go into high alert.”
K made a sour face as he silently admitted to himself that he was the one at fault. His eyes swam for a few moments before he came up with an excuse.
“Well, the mission was a success in the end, right?” he said pleadingly. “I mean, we secured the target without drawing any undue attention. No need to mention that little mishap to the head, you know?”
“... I suppose you have a point,” conceded the woman. “Fine, I’ll keep my mouth shut, but you owe me one.”
“Yeah. Thanks, J.”
The two of them went silent as they entered the more densely populated areas of the city, but they had already said quite a bit. First of all, they apparently had a good deal of information on Keira, enough to warrant a dossier. This was rather troubling, as Boxxy was quite certain it’s alter ego didn’t do anything suspicious enough to warrant that sort of thing. Second of all, they were indeed part of some organization, and judging from the man’s tone, the ‘head’ was not to be trifled with. Most importantly, however, was the fact that the thing they were doing was clearly illegal, meaning it was highly likely the Sandman might make an appearance.
“Claws, where are they taking me?” asked Boxxy.
Even if it had its MLG to rely on, it was quite difficult to get its bearings without keeping track of the gigantic Hylt trees in the distance.
“Towards the north end of the city, Master. Looks like they’re headed straight for the commercial district.”
Now this was interesting. That part of the city was where all kinds of deals were made - from small trades between two people to gigantic agreements between guilds. Not to mention it also had several peculiar buildings called ‘banks.’ Boxxy wasn’t too sure exactly what people did in there, nor did it care. The only thing that mattered about them was that they contained massive amounts of money, accompanied by copious amounts of security - magical or otherwise. The Mimic had cased those places in the past and already had plans for breaking into most of them, raiding their underground vaults and absconding with the money. However, doing so would attract too much heat, so it decided not to perform any heists until it was ready to leave this place.
Interestingly enough, a bank was precisely the place that Boxxy’s abductors ended up entering. A place called ‘Namhel Brothers,’ to be exact. The large foyer on the ground floor was lavishly decorated, well lit and heavily guarded. Although one might expect such things from a bank, this one easily outdid all of the other ones in the city, presumably because it was the most successful one.
The woman called J queued up at one of the tellers in the spacious lobby while K went towards one of the guards.
“Excuse me,” he said with an appropriately quiet tone.
“I have a package for mister Namhel. The eldest one. He should be expecting me.”
“Understood, sir. Please take a seat while I confirm the details.”
He gestured at the large sofa next to the wall, and K obediently took a seat. The guard pulled out a Comm-crystal and spoke to what looked like a young woman for about a minute. After receiving an affirmative answer, he brought K into the back and led him up a staircase to the building’s third and final floor. The two of them briskly walked down the carpeted hallway that ultimately led to a door with a gold-plated plaque.
Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder
of Namhel Brothers, Azurvale branch
Beyond the door was a small office, its only occupant being the woman the guard spoke with earlier, likely a secretary or assistant to the big man himself. She greeted the two visitors with a small smile and directed them towards the door next to her desk. It looked exactly like the one Boxxy had been carried through moments ago, but the fact its MLG failed to peer into the neighboring room proved it was anything but normal. Its sudden short-sightedness was a clear sign that the place had been warded against eavesdropping, magical or otherwise. The conference room back in Fort Yimin had the same sort of protection, so while this wasn’t an unfamiliar sensation for the Mimic, it was certainly out of place.
Boxxy’s feeling of incongruity only grew deeper when it was taken into that place. The office was both unnecessarily wide and remarkably plain. Surely the workspace of a big shot in a place that had so much money flowing through it would have at least some shinies lying around, right? Especially when it had those military-grade magical wards around it. Yet instead of golden statues or an indoors fountain, it just had some tasteful furniture around the desk in the middle, a few old portraits hanging from the walls and several bookcases and cupboards strewn about the place. Even that secretary’s much smaller room looked more luxurious than… whatever this was.
As for the owner of the room, he was standing next to one of the tall windows and staring down at the street.
“Excuse me, mister Namhel. Your delivery is here,” announced the guard.
The owner of the room - and indeed most of the bank - turned around.
Simply put, Reginald Namhel was an older elf who had aged gracefully. He had a thick, well-kempt beard and a full head of slicked-back hair. A few dignified streaks of gray were mixed in with his chestnut-brown hair, facial or otherwise. He also appeared to be noticeably more thick-jawed than the average elf, giving him a slightly more rugged appearance. His body was covered by a fancy-looking dark blue robe that concealed a set of muscles one wouldn’t expect from a pencil pusher. The hem of the garment stopped just above his ankles, allowing the whole world a glimpse of his heeled boots. A choice Boxxy approved of, considering that the footwear’s well-polished, pitch-black leather was the only even remotely shiny thing in the room.
“Ah, Kevin!” exclaimed Reginald with a jovial voice. “Thank you so much for doing me this favor.”
“It was no bother, sir,” answered ‘Kevin’ while setting his luggage down on the ground.
“No need to be modest, my dear lad! I know full well how heavy those things can be. Come, let me treat you to a drink for your troubles.”
“I really shouldn’t, sir. I still have more work to do.”
“Nonsense! I insist! And if anyone gives you any lip over it, just send them my way!”
“... Well, in that case it would be rude of me to decline, sir!”
“That’s the spirit! Ah, you may leave us now, mister Morx.”
“As you say, mister Namhel,” said the guard with a bow of his head before returning to his post.
The instant he slammed the door shut, the older elf’s good mood disappeared instantly, his generous smile replaced by a stern scowl.
“You’re late, K,” he said in a displeased voice.
“I know. We didn’t get a good opportunity to secure the package until about an hour ago.”
“Hmm… Things like that do happen, I suppose. No matter, just get her ready for the interview and wake her up.”
K did as commanded and took out the still ‘unconscious’ Keira from his bag. He seated her in one of the cushioned armchairs, then walked over to a nearby cupboard. He rummaged around it for a short while before taking out a thick, dull gray metal collar and a pair of matching shackles. The former was promptly placed around Keira’s neck while the latter bound her wrists together. Although they appeared to be a few sizes too big for the slender catgirl at first, the magic items quickly shrank in size until they dug into her tanned skin. They then lit up with a number of reddish runes and began greedily devouring the Mimic’s MP.
Boxxy reacted by stealthily turning the flesh beneath its restraints into bronze. It was one of the few mundane metals that was highly resistant to magic. While this did mean that bronze-forged gear was excellent at deflecting magical attacks. In fact, the Mimic had personally testified as to those abilities during its Mercenary Guild days. However, the anti-magic nature of this material also came with some heavy downsides. Not only was it nigh-impossible to enchant, but also interfered with the activation of most Spells and Martial Arts, and even prevented the use of some Skills.
Well, neither Shapeshift nor Metal Mimicry were affected by it, so Boxxy was able to cut off the MP-draining effects by drastically reducing the area of skin-to-metal contact without either of the two elves realizing it. The pair still waited around patiently for a few minutes until they were sure their captive was sucked dry, though. The man called K then reached into his coat and produced a vial of what looked to be an all-purpose antidote. He lifted the catgirl’s head and dumped its contents into her gaping mouth.
Keira’s eyes slowly began to open. She blinked a few times while moaning groggily, then suddenly ‘remembered’ what had happened.
“Who… Wha- Hey!” she screamed. “What’s going- Oof!”
She tried to stand up from her chair in a panic, but K grabbed her by the shoulders and threw her back into her seat.
“Let me go!” she struggled against his vice-like grasp. “Take your filthy hands off me! Don’t touch me!”
“Settle down my dear,” said Reginald in his initial, reassuring tone. “Please understand you are here for your own protection.”
“Yeah right!” shouted the catgirl. “And the sun likes to turn blue during the winter! Do I look like that big of an idiot to you?!”
“Hmm, well, you don’t look like one, but you most certainly act like one.”
“Why, you! I said get your fucking hands off me!”
The catgirl bit at the wrist of the man who was restraining her. Her pointed canines dug deep into his skin, enough to draw blood, but this ‘K’ person didn’t even flinch. Come to think of it, his reaction to having his fingers cut almost clean through back at the park was rather… subdued. Boxxy definitely felt the undeniable sensation of bone grinding against claws, yet that guy treated it as nothing more than a nasty paper cut. It was as if the surprise hurt him more than the actual wound.
“Okay, let’s say we let you go,” said Reginald while pacing in front of Keira. “What happens then? You’ll turn us in, let the authorities lock us up?”
The catgirl’s cold, silent glare showed that was exactly what she would do.
“First of all - good luck with that. It’ll be your word against mine. A brat who showed up a few months ago out of nowhere, or one of the city’s benefactors who supported this failing Republic for decades? Who do you think the people will believe?”
Well, he was right on principle, but he clearly had no idea what Keira had accomplished at Fort Yimin, otherwise he wouldn’t be so cocky. Still, Boxxy made sure not to slacken its resentful glare in the slightest.
“So what happens after that? Will you go back to pretending you’re an adventurer? Or will you return to that pointless relationship with your supposed girlfriend? Perhaps you’d much rather dress up in a heavy cloak and exact revenge upon us in the name of ‘justice?’ Maybe even sick some demons on us, hmm?”
This old guy’s insinuations were right on the money, making it clear he was aware of Keira’s true identity. That knowledge alone, whether confirmed or just suspicion, made him extremely dangerous. Boxxy decided then and there that this guy would be eaten without fail, but letting him run his mouth for a while longer might provide some more insight into exactly what was going on.
Which is why it would vehemently deny everything that was said.
“Are you sure your head’s screwed on straight, gramps?” responded Keira with a fittingly confused look.
“Oh yes, I am most definitely of sound mind,” he said confidently. “You, however, are way too reckless. Infiltrating one of the Central Consortium’s guilds? Are you insane?! I’m not completely sure how you managed to avoid being found out, but believe me when I say this - it cannot last! Honestly it’s a miracle we managed to find you before you screwed it up for the rest of us.”
Reginald leaned menacingly towards the genuinely confuzzled catgirl.
“But don’t you worry. I know exactly how to handle snot-nosed upstarts who start making waves for no damned reason. After all-”
In the next instant, his head transformed into a shape that looked like an upside-down pear. It had wrinkled, pitch-black skin, a pair of perfectly round yellow eyes and a mouth that ran vertically across his non-existent face.
“-you’re hardly the first Doppelganger to stir up trouble around here.”