The catgirl kept aggressively cuddling Fizzy for a good three minutes. The Forest Gate had already closed itself and the dwarven ‘mercenaries’ had long since cleared the plaza by the time she finally let the radiant golem go. She then greeted Lola with a much shorter and far more platonic hug before she finally introduced herself to Jess as one Keira Morgana, a scout in service to the 3rd Legion and also Fizzy’s apprentice. Under normal circumstances, that last bit would’ve thrown the gnome for a loop. An airhead like that being the disciple of a Fizzlesprocket? It was a preposterous notion, yet hardly the most surprising thing that had happened to Jess that afternoon.
After introductions were done, Keira and Fizzy went to pick up a load of heavy crates that the catgirl had ordered on her teacher’s behalf. There were so many of them that they had to borrow a cart in order to deliver them back to Fizzy’s ‘workshop.’ Granted, the golem could’ve probably handled that weight all on her own, but the sheer volume of it would have made it hard for her to maintain her balance.
Of course, the catgirl’s antics didn’t cease on the ride back to camp. She kept caressing and rubbing her face all over Fizzy’s frame in the back of the cart, yet again the golem seemed happy about it rather than annoyed. Lola, who was sitting at the front, just sort of ignored them and focused her attention on steering the horse-drawn cart through the winding streets. In fact, if anyone had a problem with Keira’s behavior, it was the gnome seated next to the elf. She had tagged along mainly because of Fizzy, but that beastkin’s shameless actions were really ticking her off.
How dared she treat her teacher that way? It was brazen, shameless and extremely envi-
“By the way, Jess?”
“Ack! Uhm, y-yes?”
Being addressed so suddenly by the source of her annoyance caught the gnome a bit off guard and completely derailed her train of thought. She turned back to her on reflex and found the catgirl’s piercing yellow eyes staring right into hers.
“You said you were an Artificer too, right?”
“Do you have a specialty like Fizzy?”
“No, not quite yet. I’m still only Level 43. I’m planning on becoming a Flamespitter Artificer though.”
“Oh, nice! I was thinking of being one myself!”
“Huh? Aren’t you going to become an Arclight like Fizzy? Isn’t that insulting towards your teacher?!”
“Well… I mean, I’m grateful for her guidance but…”
“She’s no good at it,” said Fizzy with a casual tone. “Keira may have a lot of potential, but both Flamespitter and Automata would be a much better fit for her than Arclight.”
“Oh. Well if this is Fizzy’s verdict, then I guess that’s fine, then!”
“Uhm, I feel a bit out of the loop here,” said Lola while speaking over her shoulder. “What’s the difference?”
“Arclight Artificers like me use electricity and magnetism to create complex devices with a variety of uses,” explained Fizzy. “Automata Artificers are mostly about making mechanical dolls called Automatons. They’re basically advanced golems that may or may not run on magic. As for the Flamespitters, they’re the best when it comes to handling combustible materials. Rocket propulsion, flamethrowers, advanced explosives - that sort of thing.”
“Hah! Hahahaha!” laughed Lola. “I see, I see! That last one is indeed a perfect fit for the Merry Popper!”
“Lola! I told you not to use that embarrassing nickname!” protested Keira.
“Merry Popper?” asked Jess almost involuntarily.
“Yeah, see,” began the elf while ignoring the catgirl’s protests, “this redhead has been exploding things around her ever since we graduated from the Consortium together. I don’t think a day passed without something or another being blown to smithereens.”
“You’re exaggerating!” argued Keira.
“Don’t listen to her. I mean, this is the girl who went hunting for game with a row of grenades on her belt and returned with a stack of mangled and charred boar carcasses.”
“She was also the only nutjob that could’ve come up with the idea for those exploding arrowheads you guys were talking about earlier.”
“And she always has this goofy grin on her face whenever she blows something up! If I didn’t know any better I’d think she was crazier than Fizzy!”
“Hey! Leave me out of this!”
“Are you or are you not the one who showed her how to make those dangerous things in the first place?”
“My personal favorite incident was just before we were conscripted,” continued Lola. “She was trying to use one of those flashbangs on a group of monsters, but it bounced off a tree branch and went off right in her face! And yet she just laughed it off as if going blind for a minute or two was no big deal!”
“Come on Looolaaa! You’re making me sound like a weirdooo!”
The catgirl had grabbed the elf’s shoulders from behind and shook her desperately while Lola had a good laugh at her expense.
All of a sudden, Jess placed a hand on Keira’s arm. The catgirl turned towards her with a face that was on the verge of tears, only to be met by a pointlessly determined expression and a thumbs up.
“I totally get you!”
“Of course! Explosions are an Artificer’s romance, after all! The feeling of a shockwave passing through me, the pleasure of having my bones rattled, the sensation of hot air washing over my skin - they’re unrivaled!”
“Hmm, I can’t say I agree with you on that, but I can definitely understand it!” claimed Keira. “So then, what are you working on, exactly?!”
“Me and my team’s main purpose here is to set up a minefield.”
“Y-you know about them?”
“Of course I do! I’m Fizzy’s disciple, after all!”
“Right, of course…”
As expected of a Fizzlesprocket. Even if the former gnome’s family were ‘exiled’ and lived half a continent away didn’t mean they didn’t get any news coming out of Horkensaft. And if this was the girl that helped create those elegant Boom-tubes, then her knowing about other explosive devices was hardly surprising.
“So, have you already laid them out?” she asked with an excited face.
“Not yet. So far I’ve planned to set them in several rows far ahead of the walls, just within range of our defensive line.”
“... Oh,” said the catgirl with a hint of disappointment.
“I mean… I don’t want to question your expert opinion or anything… But are you sure that’ll accomplish anything?”
“Of course it will. Once people realize their every step could blow them up, they’ll start to hesitate. Either they will slow their advance or have to brave the minefield - either way it will be a great help to the defense!”
“Yeah but, you do realize Druids and Shamans are a thing, right?”
“... Huh? How does that matter?”
“Well, you see, Druids can ‘see’ beneath the soil. Not to mention that back in the… in… the… siege… there… this…”
The catgirl’s expression rapidly grew dark and her voice lowered in volume until she was basically moving her mouth without making a sound.
“Back in the battle for Fort Yimin,” spoke up Lola on her behalf, “there was this amazing enemy Shaman. He caused a gigantic earthquake that toppled a whole section of a wall. Granted, he used an Ultimate Skill to do it, but even run-of-the-mill Shamans can shake the ground to a certain degree. That’s what you wanted to say, right?”
“... Yeah. Thanks, Lola,” whispered Keira.
“Don’t mention it,” she whispered back.
“My point is,” continued the slightly glum catgirl, “there’s a good chance those guys will detect and then remotely detonate your minefield with no difficulty. We’ve nailed them with many-a-nasty surprises already, so they’re bound to be on high alert.”
“Crap. I didn’t consider that at all! Argh, I’m such an idiot! Of course there’d be magic that makes all my hard work pointless! I can’t even use them as a deterrent! Aaaah I’m fucking ruined!”
“Woah, easy there!” exclaimed Lola while trying to restrain the horse pulling their carriage. “Your flailing about isn’t going to achieve anything other than upset our ride!”
“But I’ll be ruined! Ruined I say! If I can’t deliver on the contract, I’ll be left penniless! In debt! Bankrupt! It’ll take years to work it off!”
“What, you’re giving up already?” asked Fizzy with a look of disdain. “Sweet Jonathan, you’re such a crybaby.”
“What else am I supposed to do! If I can’t hide them in the dirt then they’re useless!”
“So don’t hide them in the dirt.”
Jess stopped her bawling and turned towards the catgirl who had said such an idiotically obvious thing.
“There’s plenty of other places that a good landmine can be hidden without being adversely affected by druidic or shamanistic magic.”
“Yeah? Like where?”
“Under the floorboards of houses,” said Keira in a dull monotone. “Beneath the cobblestone tiles of streets and alleyways. Rigging them up to drop the enemy into the sewers or collapse a building or two on top of them would also be good. Could put them inside the wall itself, but that’d probably backfire.”
“I… Yes… There is that, I suppose…” answered the slightly creeped out gnome. “I’ll, uh, think about it.”
“Aaah, serious-mode Keira came out,” said Lola with a shake of her head.
While the elf genuinely enjoyed the company of that cheerful and open-minded catgirl, she became a completely different person out in the field. Well, she liked this calculating and rather ruthless part of her too, but she had to admit the drastic shift in attitude was a bit unnerving at times. At the very least Keira seemed to be in complete control of her faculties and wasn’t about to start arguing with the muffin man inside her head like a certain someone.
Even if Fizzy’s split personality thing was supposed to be a Skill, it was still super weird.
“You know what? That’s actually a pretty good idea,” admitted Jess after a few moments of silence. “That wall is coming down sooner or later, so preparing for that rather than trying to prevent it seems like the better idea. Well, we’d have to modify the triggers on over 500 devices and I’d have to run this by the Legate, but it’s definitely doable.”
She then turned towards the catgirl with perhaps the first genuine smile she’d shown her.
“Thanks a lot for the input, Keira. You’re a lifesaver!”
“Nah, it wasn’t that big a deal. Any adventurer would’ve told you that much if you had just asked.”
“Yes, I suppose you’re right. Still, gotta give credit where credit’s due, you know?”
“If you insist. Oh, do you think I can maybe drop by your workshop?! I’d love to see your work!”
“I don’t know…”
“Just for the record,” butted in Fizzy, “Keira could probably put together and dismantle a landmine while blindfolded.”
“No! Of course not! Fizzy just has too much pride in her student, hahahahaha!”
“Right, of course! Well, if she thinks so highly of you then I have no reason to refuse.”
“Sure you do,” said Lola. “For one thing, Keira has responsibilities as a Legionnaire and a Decanus.”
“... What’s a Decanus?”
“Even though she doesn’t look like it, this girl’s an officer with the authority to command her own 10-man unit out in the field. Well, you probably can’t tell since you’re not military, but that’s a huge achievement considering she’s a conscript.”
“Oh, right!” exclaimed Fizzy. “I forgot to speak with the CO about transferring to her unit!”
“Won’t happen,” stated Lola. “I know how you feel, but that guy won’t let you go so easily - you’re far too valuable. Our best bet to be in the same unit is to have Keira join ours as an XO.”
“Come to think of it we haven’t had one since the last one went AWOL 5 days ago, huh?”
“I dunno, guys,” joined in Keira. “Mister Underwood might have some special plans in mind for me.”
“I’m sure he wouldn’t refuse if you asked him nicely. Everyone can tell he has a soft spot for you.”
“C’mon Lola, let’s be real. This isn’t a picnic.”
Jess had been taken aback when the topic shifted military arrangements. She failed to understand much of the ongoing conversation other than the fact that Keira was actually kind of a big deal, and that the three of them were planning to go into battle together. However, what really brought her tension down was the realization that she was an outsider - something she had briefly forgotten about in all the excitement. Indeed, there was no guarantee that any of them would make it through the week, let alone the months to come.
That’s why she decided to be proactive for once. She waited quietly until the group were back at camp and just sort of stuck around after that. Keira had almost immediately gone off to speak with her superior officer while Lola and Fizzy unloaded the cargo and put it inside the smithy that the golem had ‘appropriated.’ The elf then went to return the cart to its rightful place, leaving Jess alone with the shiny, gnome-shaped Artificer.
If she was going to say something, it had to be now or never.
“Uhm, Fizzy? Ma’am?”
“What is it, meatbag?” answered the golem without looking back.
She was currently busy verifying the contents of her shipment, so she didn’t give her much attention.
“Do you, um, have any plans for the evening?”
“Yeah. I’ll be putting together a charge pack for my weapon.”
The golem pointed over her shoulder, towards the oversized wrench leaning against the soot-covered wall.
“... This is your weapon?”
Jess slowly approached it with a curious look, inspecting it top-to-bottom. It was… plain and completely unremarkable aside from the dimensions. That was the only way she could describe it, and exactly what made it feel so out of place.
“And, uh, how long have you had it?”
“77 days, 6 hours, 41 minutes and… 34 seconds.”
“Is that when you… You know…”
“When I became a golem, yes.”
“And, uh, does it see a lot of… use?”
“Almost on a daily basis.”
“Unbelievable,” she muttered.
“It’s a heavy lump of iron on a stick. It works just fine as a mace.”
“But there’s not even a scratch on it!”
Indeed, the wrench seemed to be in mint condition. Not even heavily-enchanted weapons could go that long without showing signs of wear and tear, so how come this simple tool was so… pristine.
Fizzy looked over her shoulder at the gawking Jess and a smirk spread on her face.
“Hey, meatbag!” she called out as she stepped up to her and grasped the wrench. “Wanna see something cool?”
“Er, I- I guess?”
The golem strode over to one of the black anvils in the room. She gripped the wrench with both hands, lifted it above her head and swung it forward with all her might.
A clear bell-like sound rang out as metal clashed against metal. The golem turned around with a triumphant smile, showing that not only was the wrench head bent at a weird angle, but that one of the anvil’s corners had been noticeably dented.
“Oh, wow!” exclaimed Jess.
As an Artificer herself, she was able to grasp the sort of forces that had to come into play for such a thing to happen. It was the kind of impact that would surely shatter a normal person’s arm from the recoil.
“It’s too early to be impressed,” stated Fizzy. “I haven’t even started yet!”
Jess looked on expectantly as the gnome focused her attention on her two-handed grip.
“Holy Light,” she chanted, causing a flash of green-ish light to both envelop her and her weapon.
The wrench in her hands let out a rather unpleasant sound as it warped back into its previous shape, as if it was never damaged to begin with. Satisfied with the result, Fizzy set it aside for the moment and placed both her hands on the anvil. She invoked another Holy Light, which caused the dent in the hunk of iron to buff itself out with a slight *Fwump* sound.
“How’d you like them apples?” asked the Paladin with a wide grin on her face.
“I... You… Did you just… heal metal?!”
Typically speaking, healing magic would only affect living beings. Golems were somewhat as an exception, because while they were not strictly ‘alive,’ as magical constructs that could move under their own will they were still ‘close enough.’ Inanimate items and objects, however, were right out. There were, of course, specialized Skills and tools that could repair things with ease, but something like holy magic mending a wrench was just unthinkable.
“Neat trick, isn’t it?” gloated the golem.
“Trick? Trick?! Do you have any idea how this could revolutionize metallurgy?! What am I saying - of course you do! But- Why haven’t you gone public with this?!”
“A girl has to have some secrets,” said Fizzy with a playful wink.
“In all seriousness though, it’s something only I can do. You can’t teach your average golem to have faith in a God, you know.”
The actual ‘trick’ to it was surprisingly straightforward. Fizzy, as a Paladin, used Holy Light on herself while simultaneously channelling said magic through the item she was ‘bonded’ with via Metallopathy. Of course, not being well-versed in the magical principles like a Wizard or Warlock might be, she had no idea why or how this worked. But it did and she could reproduce the phenomenon at will. Which, strictly speaking, was all she needed to know.
“Besides,” she continued, “while convenient, this trick still has some limits.”
She looked around and picked up an iron rod that was just lying around on her workbench, then snapped it in half like it was a twig.
The healing magic enveloped her once more, and while she did transfer it to the metal pieces in her hands, it did nothing but smooth out the jagged ends where the rod had been broken off.
“So there you have it.”
“Fascinating,” commented Jess. “What if you used it on a damaged mechanism?”
“If all the parts are still attached, then it should get healed.”
“Incredible! Then, couldn’t you in theory open the VBM?!”
“... In theory, yes.”
“However! I have zero intention of going back to Horkensaft!”
“I… I see…”
“Yeah, me too, Plus. I’ll take care of it the next chance I get.”
After having yet another short conversation with herself, the golem turned her attention towards her ‘visitor.’
“So is there anything else, or can I get started my work?”
“Just one question - who is this Plus you keep talking to?”
It was one of the things that had nagged her for a long while now. While gnomish Artificers were prone to having certain… eccentricities, that particular behavior was more than a little worrying.
“... Was that out loud?”
“Yeah… you’ve been kind of talking to yourself all afternoon…”
Fizzy shoulders drooped and she hung her head.
“Sorry, still getting used to this whole Parallel thing. Don’t be alarmed though, I’m not crazy. Plus is very much real.”
“... Yeah of course she wouldn’t believe me… Tell you what, why don’t I just introduce you.”
“Y-you don’t have to-”
Fizzy’s left eye suddenly lit up with a bright green light. Her normally strict and scrutinizing expression became much softer and all around sweeter.
“Hey there!” she said while raising her hand in greeting. “I’m Plus! So good to finally meet you!”
“Uhm, h-hello? I’m-”
“I know who you are, silly! Me and Fizzy share the same head, after all!”
Okay, Jess had to admit the golem definitely wasn’t mentally disturbed, and that this ‘Plus’ was not a figment of her imagination. Not only were her current words and behavior radically different from moments ago, but even the voice sounded different. Younger. Livelier. Nicer, even. There was no more doubt in Jess’s mind that Fizzy did indeed share her body with someone else.
Which, honestly speaking, was a lot more worrying.
“Aw, come on! I’m not that scary!” insisted Plus while puffing up her cheeks.
“Of course you are, idiot,” replied Fizzy. “She’ll think I’m possessed or something if you don’t explain properly.”
“Oh. Right. Oops.”
“Yeah, ‘oops.’ Anyway, Jess, this is Plus,” said Fizzy while gesturing towards her left side, which was currently waving excitedly. “She’s a Skill of mine that… drastically increases my multitasking abilities. She’s a bit of a handful, but she is still me for the most part.”
“Yeah! We’re like sisters!”
The golem’s head nodded vigorously, although only the left side of her mouth seemed to be smiling.
“I see, I think I get it now,” said Jess with a calm smile. “It was rude of me to assume you were hearing voices that weren’t there.”
“No hard feelings, yeah!”
“Indeed. It’s fine as long as you understand.”
“Yeah, I completely understand,” said the blonde gnome while chuckling to herself. “The crazy one was me, after all!”
“Of course! It makes so much sense! I must have hit my head harder than I thought! Well, better go see a medic about that concussion! Hahahahaha! Ahahaha! Hahaha…”
Jess kept laughing forcibly and loudly as she saw herself out of the smithy. Fizzy and Plus could both hear her cackling voice drifting away as she made her way out of the 3rd Legion’s camp.
“Poor child,” said the Parallel with sadness in her voice.
“Can’t be helped,” claimed the original with a shrug. “Meatbags are faulty like that. It’s like they were designed to break apart from the get-go.”
“I suppose,” agreed Plus with a sigh. “But to think she had mental health issues all this time and none of us noticed…”
“Come to think of it, didn’t I overhear something about ‘electroshock therapy’ back in the capital.”
“Oh! That procedure that supposedly helped people with mental issues, right?”
“That’s the one.”
“But, aren’t the details around it kind of fuzzy?”
“It’s fine, it’s fine,” declared Fizzy while reaching for her spot-welder. “That’s what experiments are for, after all!”