A series of metallic clangs rang out inside the smithy, after which Fizzy looked over the sheet of heated bronze in her hands. The rectangular piece of metal had been carefully bent into a rounded half cylinder, but the Artificer didn’t quite approve of its shape. She put her right hand inside it and held it up. Her left was curled into a fist with the index knuckle extended and pointed at the sheet of bronze.
She struck the heated metal four times in rapid succession, ever so slightly bending it into the correct dimensions. Satisfied with her alteration, she dipped the now flawless half-cylinder in the nearby barrel of water to quench it. As it was cooling off, she reached into her overalls’ pocket with her free hand and grasped the large mithril nail from within. She then brought out the still-hot piece of bronze and used the nail to carve a series of grooves on its inner side with impeccable precision.
Such things were, of course, possible only because she was a mithril golem. It was a privilege that not only allowed her to work with abnormal precision, but also let her skip all those boorish safety precautions that meatbags had to follow. Coupled with her constitution that allowed her to keep working non-stop without rest meant that her current project was about to be completed in 6 hours rather than 3 or so days.
After finishing her inscription and cleaning off the metal shavings, she reached for a tiny bottle of alchemically-prepared blue-tinted liquid. It steadily trickled out of the bottle’s narrow opening drop by drop as the Artificer expertly filled the newly-carved grooves with it. It reacted with the lingering heat in the bronze and solidified almost immediately, permanently binding itself to the metal surface. The whole thing was then dipped into the water barrel once more for a few more minutes before Fizzy took it back out.
The golem thoroughly inspected her creation once more using both her eyes and her Metallopathy. She nodded approvingly to herself and then walked over to the contraption on her workbench - a mechanism so strange that it would look positively alien to most of this world’s residents.
A large crystal tube filled with bright-blue cyan liquid, all manner of strangely-shaped parts from varying materials and a hodgepodge of wiring, bolts and rods - all encased in a steel box that was about the size and shape of a thick dictionary or history book. Fizzy set her bronze half-cylinder down next to it, reached inside the strange box and grasped a pair of disconnected wires - one red and one blue. She then retrieved her spot-welder - an advanced pen-shaped tool that generated large amounts of heat at the expense of the user’s MP - and permanently connected that pair of wires to two very specific points of the newly forged part.
Once that was done, she set the tool aside, lifted the bronze cylinder and carefully lowered it on top of the exposed crystal tube. She pressed down on it gently until she heard a barely-audible click. The slab of metal was then secured to the base of the steel box with a bit of welding, after which the open container was sealed up completely by a thick sheet of steel and yet more welding.
You have created a customized Electric Charge Pack of Masterwork quality.
Congratulations, you are now a Level 59 Arclight Artificer! DEX +2. WIS +2. PER +2.
Proficiency level increased. Tick Counter is now Level 7. INT +3. WIS +3.
Proficiency level increased. Electrical Expertise is now Level 4. INT +6. END +2.
Fizzy smiled broadly. Her latest creation was without a doubt the best thing she’d ever made in her whole career, even though this was only her first attempt at throwing one together. Well, technically speaking, it was actually her third, but the first two didn’t count since she was still a worthless meatbag at the time. Either way, this was definitely her greatest work yet.
And she wasn’t actually done with it just yet. The golem placed both her hands on her creation and grasped as much of its construction as she could through her Metallopathy. Of course, not all of its components were metal, but she could fill in those blanks from the blueprints and memories inside her head easily enough.
She then took a deep breath and chanted the fateful word.
The charge pack started vibrating and rattling while Fizzy used her abilities to observe the changes going on within in. The numerous places that were welded together transformed and melted into each other. It was as if the various components inside stopped being interconnected parts and became closer to a single, impossibly whole object.
A few moments later, her creation settled down, and a very welcome notification appeared in her mind.
Your Upgrade was a major success!
Electric Charge Pack durability increased by 5%.
Electric Charge Pack power output increased by 10%.
“Alright!” she cried out.
“Nice one, Fizzy!” echoed Plus inside her head.
Description: It is within an Artificer’s nature to tinker.
Requirements: Level 45 Artificer
Activation Time: Instant
Cost: 100 MP
Effects: Attempts to permanently improve any item of Masterwork or lesser Quality.
This Skill can fail. Success rate depends on the Level of this Skill and the user’s knowledge regarding the target of this Skill.
This Skill has a 20% chance to permanently reduce the targeted item’s Quality by 1 grade whenever it fails.
This Skill may not be activated more than once every 24 hours on the same target.
Unlike an enchantment that imbued an object with magic, Upgrade attempted to optimize the item’s physical properties, drawing out every last bit of their potential. It could also be technically used on simpler items, like swords or tools, but showed much weaker effects on such things. After all, if Blacksmiths wanted to roll the dice at a chance to improve their work, then they could just use their Reforge Skill, which was their equivalent of an Artificer’s Upgrade. Alchemists also had something along those lines in the Synthesize Skill, although that one was limited only to the Magichem Alchemy specialization past Level 50.
However, all three of those Skills shared the same downside in that they could fail. When that happened, they caused some sort of flaw or defect within the item which was sometimes permanent. No matter how prepared or confidant the artisan felt, there was always a chance that their attempts to push their creations beyond their initial specifications could end in disaster.
Which was why Fizzy dropped to one knee, clasped her hands together and sent Harold a silent prayer. The result she had obtained was more or less the best one she could’ve hoped for, so she didn’t hesitate to show her gratitude to the God of Ḭ̖̞͚͉̰̜́͝n҉̸̝̹͓ś҉ͅt̲͔̗͈̫͎̻͈͘͞ͅḁ͙͉͈̫̰p̸̪ͅr̛̲̟̺̬͕o͈̯͚̙͠b̢̢̖͍͍͇͡i̦̝̯͢͝ĺ̸̹̲̥̼̩͇͡i̟̰̤ṭ̭̺̝͔̝y҉̥̼͇̞̰̩͈͡.
“… Huh, now that was just weird.”
“What’s the matter, Fizzy?”
“There was a weird buzzing in my head when I was wrapping up the prayer.”
“I didn’t hear anything though.”
“Oh, well. It was probably just Gunther being Urkel. Now then, where was I?”
Having fulfilled her religious duties, the pious golem stood up and grabbed the charge pack. She lifted it up to reveal two belts made out of Bouncewood rubber had been attached to the underside of it. She put it on as if it were a backpack and pulled the black belts over both her shoulders, forming a large X on her torso. She then did a few experimental movements and maneuvers, but as expected the pack barely even budged. It was, after all, molded to perfecty fit her upper back.
“Alright, let’s see how powerful this thing really is!”
After hyping herself up, the golem reached around and turned a small dial on the side of the device with a trio of audible clicks. She had gone past the ‘stun’ and ‘shock’ settings and directly to ‘vaporize.’ The charge pack buzzed loudly as high voltage electricity ran across her frame. Fizzy stared at her fingers in wonderment, captivated by the bright blue arcs that jumped between them seemingly at random.
This was, of course, as intended. When she had told Jess earlier that she was making a charge pack for her weapon, she didn’t exactly tell her that involved her impeccable frame as well. The wrench was just an extra at that point, really.
“Speaking of which…”
Fizzy rushed over to where said tool was resting against the wall and grasped it by the handle. The high-voltage current enveloped it in an instant as she held up to her face, causing even larger arcs of electricity to bounce between the two surfaces. She gave it a small swing in the air, which produced a rather satisfying *vrooom* sound as she lightly struck the wooden floor of the smithy.
The spot where iron met floor emitted a small puff of smoke as a large thornvine-like scar was instantaneously burned into it. Of course, Fizzy’s simple clothes fared no better as the charge pack mercilessly burned holes through them at random. At the very least the electrified Artificer had worn a pair of well-insulated boots, otherwise all the power in her pack’s battery would be dispersing through the wooden floorboards instead of clinging to her body.
She then turned the dial on the side down a notch, setting the output to ‘stun.’ Fizzy had calibrated it in such a way so that it could be used to seriously injure and incapacitate a soldier that was about Level 30. She could, of course, just leave it on ‘vaporize,’ but doing so would rapidly drain the battery not to mention risk damaging the device. There was also the ‘shock’ setting which was intended more for prodding people or disabling non-combatants, but she had no intention of actually using it and had merely put it there out of habit.
Smiling broadly, the golem kept shamelessly playing around with her electrified weapon and body. Much like how that blonde gnome had a fetish for explosions, Fizzy had always been captivated by the unbridled power and beauty of lightning. She always dreamed of having that sort of power at her fingertips. And now that she was a golem, she was finally able to make said dream into a reality, albeit a bit more literal than she first imagined.
As she was idly swinging her wrench through the air, however, Fizzy suddenly sensed a presence. She turned on reflex while swinging her charged weapon in a wide arc, stopping the electrified wrench mere millimeters from Keira’s smug face.
“... I really wish you’d stop testing me,” complained the golem while turning off her charge pack and lowering her weapon.
“Good to see you haven’t grown rusty while I was away,” said the delighted monster.
“Mithril doesn’t rust, you know,” she retorted as she removed her pack. “So, how are things on your end?”
Earlier that day Boxxy had discreetly informed Fizzy that it would properly catch up with her at a later time, so she was more or less expecting this visit. Especially since it was past midnight and the vast majority of the camp was asleep. Of course, it went without saying that both Boxxy and Claws were keeping an eye out for anyone who may have been eavesdropping. Since no such interlopers were around, the Mimic abbreviated what it had gone through the past week and relayed it to its shiniest minion. It mostly focused on matters related to its unexpected Rank Up into a Hylt Creeper Doppelganger, as well as the meeting and subsequent interactions with Reggie.
All while shamelessly groping the irresistibly shiny and inappropriately happy golem, of course.
“A secret Doppelganger society, huh?” commented Fizzy with a content smile on her face. “Have you learned how to tell them apart from other people yet?”
“Sort of. I can kind of un-smell them, but it’s tricky.”
The golem that was currently sitting in the wannabe-catgirl’s lap looked up at Boxxy with a somewhat puzzled look.
“What the heck does ‘un-smell’ mean?!” asked Plus as if giving voice to her thoughts.
Fizzy, however, knew better than to pointlessly question things Boxxy said. Its thought processes were still quite… bewildering.
“Alright,” she consented. “And are we going to crush them when we get back?”
“We won’t. At least not unless they try something. After all, they can do things I can’t and vice-versa, and have already shown to be able to deliver.”
“So that deal you mentioned regarding the nosy Wizard - did you take care of him already?”
“Not yet. Cooking that guy will take a long while, so it’ll have to wait until after the war. But I did manage to convince Reggie to pay up front. I’ll have to finish my side of the bargain if I want those guys to cooperate, though.”
“Oh! So you’re above Level 50 Warlock now?!”
It was only natural that there would exist illegal Job trainers selling their services to less-than-reputable individuals. However, Boxxy was more or less ignorant of the workings of the criminal underground and completely lacked the connections necessary to take advantage of their services.
“Level 54, to be exact,” it clarified. “Had quite a bit of XP overflow from killing that VIP during the siege.”
“You mean the one you were ‘saving for later?’ Did you absorb him yet?”
“Yes. Cadaver Absorption actually succeeded on a valuable target for once. However… it got me a brand new Skill at Level 4.”
“... Why do you seem so displeased by that? I thought that’s what it was supposed to do in the first place, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah, but it’s supposed to target the dead guy’s most developed Skill, so how come it didn’t go for Ruin or Domination Mastery? Surely a VIP that old had at least one of them at Level 25, right?”
Fizzy crossed her arms and racked her brains. She had come to understand the functions and effects of that clearly unfair Skill, but knew next to nothing regarding the specifics.
“What do you mean by ’most-developed’?” she asked. “What’s the exact wording?”
“Highest Proficiency,” answered Boxxy while gently stroking her pigtails.
“And this new Skill was worth 10 Attributes per Level?”
“Yes, it was actually.”
The amount of Attributes awarded by enlightened Jobs and their related Skills followed a certain pattern, a set of unwritten laws. For starters, all Job Level-Ups provided a total of 6 Attribute points, at least 2 of which would always be Endurance (END) if it was a combat-oriented profession. Skills of the first tier - which was to say those acquired prior to Level 25 - granted 4 points upon going up in Level. Second tier Skills that were available from Level 25 to Level 50 provided 2 more points for a total of 6 Attributes. The third tier went up to 8, and the fourth and final one gave out 10 every time their proficiency Level increased. And, although it was not exactly common knowledge, all Ultimate Skills awarded at Level 100 of a Job gave a remarkable total of 50 Attribute points for their first and only Level.
In short, the Ruinous Reach Skill that Boxxy acquired had been of the highest tier. And if the Attribute count wasn’t indicative of its quality, then the effects most certainly were.
Description: A Warlock’s mastery over unstable energies grant their magic a controversial amount of stability.
Activation Time: N/A
Effects: Increases the range of all Spells by 3% per Level of this Skill.
Increases the range of Ruin Spells by an additional 12% per Level of this Skill.
Finally, a straight up power boost without any downsides or tricky usage. A simple, uncomplicated Skill that did exactly what it said and didn’t endanger Boxxy’s existence in some way. However, the method of its acquisition was greatly disturbing, as it seemed to cast doubt on how Boxxy’s most valuable Skill actually functioned.
“Well then, there you have it,” stated Fizzy with a smile.
“... Uhm, you are aware that top-tier Skills take a LOT more Proficiency to Level Up than Masteries, right?”
“But it’s 25 Levels’ worth! How can that be more than a Skill that should be 10 at most?!”
“Because that’s like… comparing 25 coin pouches to 10 treasure chests. One would have a lot more shinies in it than the other, see?”
“Oh! So that’s how it was, huh? I see!” exclaimed Keira with an enlightened expression, which turned into a peeved off one almost immediately. “How come nobody ever told me about that?”
“Because you didn’t ask?”
“... Good point,” consented the Mimic, as for once it was hard to shift the blame for its ignorance onto other people.
This ‘revelation’ regarding the way a being’s Status operated was yet another one of those things that everyone knew yet nobody talked about. Boxxy, who was less than a year old and had been in proper contact with civilization for only about 2 months, understandably hadn’t heard about it before. It simply hadn’t been an issue until it absorbed that old guy, and it hadn’t had a chance to ask around yet. After all, that whole event had occurred less than an hour before it was shipped off to New Whitehall.
“How about you? What’ve you been up to?” asked the monster as it resumed licking Fizzy’s exposed shoulders with the tongues sticking out of Keira’s hands.
“I’m, uh, doing all the things you said, Boxxy. I’m getting closer to the others and while working hard on my Levels, but… it’s been slow.”
“... Right now I’m at 59 Artificer, 36 Paladin and 33 Golem,” she answered in a low voice.
Fizzy reflexively braced herself as she admitted her failure. She had been told multiple times to stop being a weakling, yet no matter how much she tried she could not hope to catch up with Boxxy. She had been behind in Levels ever since they met, and the gap between their abilities was only widening. Whether it be her crafting Job, combat Job or monster Job, she was completely unable to match that shapeshifter’s illogical rate of growth. She hung in there for a while after her transformation since she fought monsters almost non-stop, but lately that hasn’t been an option. And not just because of the surrounding white spot of a forest.
Something Boxxy understood full well.
“That’s not too bad,” it commented, much to her surprise.
“S-so you’re not mad at me?” asked the golem with a slightly quivering voice.
“Even I realize certain things can’t be helped. Besides, you’ll get your chance to Level Up big-time soon.”
“I was told that, judging by incoming reports, the Empire’s main force will attack the city within the next 2 to 3 days.”
“They’re that close?!” blurted out Fizzy. “When and how did they manage to advance so much in a single day?!”
The ones she and her squad had encountered yesterday, or technically speaking the day before yesterday, were supposed to be at least a week ahead of the main force.
“I don’t know, I just got here. But they’re sending the Sandman over to investigate tonight, so I’ll find out soon enough.”
“But if they’re that close to the city… then is spatial traffic already been cut off?!”
“Not yet, but it will be before dawn comes.”
Laying out anti-teleportation sigils was standard strategy when defending a key position. Mostly as a way to prevent any magically-insisted sneak attacks.
“What about the Forest Gate?!” asked Fizzy in a bit a fluster.
“Currently being dismantled. They began shortly after my group passed through it, actually.”
This also was something that was necessary. Not only were the anti-teleportation sigils going to render the Forest Gate inoperable anyway, but that particular construct was something they could not allow to fall into the Empire’s hands.
“Then isn’t Jess stranded here?! Her life is going to be in danger if they don’t get her out right now!”
Boxxy eyed the golem up and down, as if what she had just said was heresy.
“And just why would you care about an insignificant thing like that?” it asked with clear suspicion in its voice while tightening its grip around Fizzy.
The Mimic never fully trusted anyone. It didn’t trust the Republic’s higher-ups, nor did it believe Reggie would play ball forever. It somewhat relied on the partially brainwashed Ambrosia as well as those contractually-bound demons, but it always expected they would turn on it sooner or later. Fizzy was no different, either. Even if she was shiny, even if she was fanatically devoted, even if she had gone as far as to swear an oath to the deity that seemed to despise ‘cheating’ more than the Goddess of Truth - there was always a chance she might go against Boxxy.
The main reason for the Mimic’s distrust, other than its nature as a monster, was because the golem was once a person, no matter how much she seemed to despise it. And people had the bad habit of taking foolish, illogical actions that went against their self-preservation instincts.
“... She’s… She reminds me a lot of my former self,” admitted Fizzy. “I would therefore like to make sure she safely makes it out of the city.”
“I see. Well, I suppose it might be good to have a contact in Horkensaft when I eventually visit.”
In some ways it was inevitable that the Mimic would go to the golem’s homeland. It was a necessity if it wished to progress its Artificer Job beyond Level 50 without relying on Fizzy’s self-destructive specialization.
“That’s not going to be much use,” claimed the shiny in its lap. “That girl is a nobody. Knowing her wouldn’t give you or me any leeway in that country.”
“But if she has no value, then why would I waste my time looking after her?”
“Like I said… it’s personal. Besides, it’s not like she has absolutely no value. She did end up reminding me about something rather important.”
“Oh? And what would that be?”
The golem glanced down at the curse-bearing gauntlet permanently affixed to her left hand and stared at her open palm intently.
“It’s about a certain place,” she explained, “one that has been locked up for centuries. A place in Horkensaft said to encompass our forefathers’ secrets. The whole country knows about it and where it is, yet nobody has been able to get inside. And that girl helped me realize that as am I right now-”
As if making up her resolve, Fizzy tightened her fingers into a fist and looked up at Keira’s scrutinizing eyes with an extremely motivated expression.
“-there’s a non-zero chance I might be the one to finally open the Vault Beneath the Mountain.”