The city of New Whitehall had just suffered through hours of protracted battle between the Empire and the Republic, followed by the titanic clash between two demonic Overlords. Their respective otherworldly minions wrought havoc on both sides and against each other, further adding to the chaos, death and destruction. That all ended abruptly when Nagnamor’s Armageddon destroyed himself, Liusolra, and a significant chunk of the city in an instant, causing the lesser demons to disappear along with their leaders. When the dust finally settled, a rough estimate placed the survivors on both sides somewhere between a third and a quarter of their original strength, leaving them essentially annihilated. Over half of the city was either reduced to ash, in the process of becoming ash, or in ruins.
As if that wasn’t enough excitement for one day, both sides were then made keenly aware of two more unexpected revelations. The first one was that a Hero of Chaos was not only present at the scene, but had also directly confronted the Hero of the Hammer in a Clash of Fate. The second was that this unknown intruder then proceeded to triumphed over the Empire’s rising star in a ‘flawless victory.’
The victorious Hero, however, collapsed immediately after accomplishing that monumental feat. Given the situation, the surviving nine men and women that witnessed Keira’s duel did the only thing they could think of - they retreated. They had no idea what sort of attention the flashy showdown between the catgirl and that human would attract, so they collectively decided to immediately leave the scene and seek out the remnants of the Republic’s chain of command. They departed the ash-filled desert and navigated their way through the burning wreckage of the city while carrying the unconscious Decanus, their fallen comrades’ belongings, as well as the body of the fallen Hero.
That last one didn’t exactly sit well with all of them, of course. However, they had to begrudgingly agree that simply leaving him in that wasteland was not the right thing to do. Even if he was an enemy, even if he killed their friends, even if he was the only one they could blame for Keira’s condition, he was still a Hero. A man chosen by a Goddess was worthy of respect, regardless of any mortal sins or crimes he may have committed. Even then, numerous religious teachings dictated that such things were absolved with one’s death, and urged others not to hold grudges towards those no longer of this world.
The living did not have the right to judge the souls of the dead.
Eventually, the mentally and physically exhausted troops managed to reunite with Syme’s group, and then with what was left of the 2nd and 3rd Republic Legions. Bernard’s body and cursed warhammer were respectfully handed over to the higher-ups so they could do with them as they saw fit. Hilda and Keira were quickly taken to a large warehouse that had been converted to a field hospital so that their conditions could be closely monitored.
And monitoring their Decanus was pretty much the only thing the soldiers and conscripts under her command could do. The military medics at the scene had declared that her condition appeared to be stable, but they could not help her in the slightest. Much like the Berserker, the beastkin would have to be treated with a ‘wait and see’ approach.
That being the case, Keira was then moved to a nearby, relatively undamaged house where she was given her own private room. Once there, her squad did the only thing they could - they waited, and they prayed. At first their prayers were said aloud, but as the hours rolled on, they were gradually overcome by a grim, heavy silence, broken up only by the muffled shouts and noises coming from outside.
And then, after five excruciating hours, she finally showed signs of waking up.
“Dec? Dec! Guys, she’s waking up!” yelled Mikey with a stupid grin on his face.
At the human Rogue’s words, the other 10 people in the room quickly surrounded the catgirl’s bed, while a dozen or so more started gathering outside the room. They watched with awe and relief as the beastkin’s yellow eyes fluttered open. Her glazed-over look passed over them, until it focused on a particular elven Warrior’s face.
“Sy… Syme?” she uttered in a low whisper. “Is that… you?”
“Yes! I’m right here, Dec!” he responded enthusiastically, moving closer to her side.
“I… Nnngh,” she groaned. “Your… your…”
“What? What is it?”
The elf knelt down to her bedside, putting his ear closer to her mouth so he could hear her better.
“Your breath reeks.”
“I said your breath stinks,” she repeated, louder this time. “Smells like something crawled inside your mouth, died, came back to life, farted and then died again.”
Syme and several others could no longer contain their joy and threw themselves at Keira’s upper body, hugging her from all sides while shouting things like ‘Dec,’ ‘You’re okay!’ and ‘I’m so glad!’ The ones standing outside wanted to rush in as well, but the room was far too cramped for that, so they would have to wait for their turn while cheering loudly.
That was until one of them suddenly let out a painful scream, putting an abrupt end to their celebration. He backed away from the Decanus while clutching his hand, which seemed to be bleeding heavily from three long cuts. Sensing an ominous aura coming from their commanding officer, the others immediately left her personal space. A passing glance revealed that the cause for said injury was the catgirl herself, as evidenced by the bloodied retractable claws on her right hand.
“If one of you tries to grope my boobs again, I swear to whatever God is listening that I will slice the offending appendage off and then ram it down your throat.”
She spoke with a voice dripping with bloodlust while her sharp, predatory glare caused everyone present to break out in a cold sweat.
“Are we clear?!”
“Good. Now then. Syme - where are we?”
“We’re back at base, Ma’am. What’s left of it, anyway.”
“And how long was I out?”
“It’s been about five and a half hours since you lost consciousness. Ma’am.”
“... And the VIP?”
“Safe and sound, though she still hasn’t woken up. Everyone else managed to make it back without suffering… additional casualties.”
Keira’s eyes and ears drooped visibly when the mention of casualties showed up. No matter how strict or scary she seemed out in the field, she still cared about the lives of each and every soldier in her charge.
“Thank you, Syme. What about the Empire?”
“They’ve been real quiet ever since the, uh, Overlord situation. I don’t think they have the balls to come after us, with everything that happened, and our side isn’t exactly willing to go at it either. Especially not since the whole Clash of Fate thing…”
“Oh… Right, of course. I guess that makes sense…”
An awkward silence descended upon the group until Mikey decided to address the sphinx in the room.
“So… Dec… Ma’am. You were a Hero all this time?”
Keira averted her eyes out of guilt and gripped the edges of the old blankets she was covered with.
Initially the human Rogue wanted to question her why she didn’t just challenge Bernard if she was a Hero herself. If she had done that, then surely Holt and the others would still be alive, right? However, once he cooled off and talked things over with the rest of the squad, he began to understand that this was not the case. If she had rushed headfirst into that fight without properly studying her opponent, then the one being turned into salt would be her. And once she was out of the way, that guy would have pummeled the rest of them into dust. It wasn’t fair to put the blame for those three’s deaths onto her shoulders. Sacrifices had to be made for the good of the whole, even if she never intended for them to die.
Besides, even if those guys had known ahead of time things would turn out that way, they would have probably accepted their fate with smiles on their faces.
“So… what’s it like?” he asked instead. “Being a Hero, I mean?”
“... Uhm… There’s nothing special about it, really,” she answered nervously.
“But Heroes get those unbeatable divine Skills don’t they?”
“Uh, I don’t know what sort of Skills others get, but being the chosen Hero of Chaos is… It’s a liability.”
“A liability? How do you mean?”
“... Remember when my hair caught fire earlier this morning?”
“You mean when you messed up starting a campfire?”
“I didn’t mess up. It caught fire all on its own.”
“One of those ‘divine Skills’ you mentioned? It causes random things to happen around me every now and then. If it isn’t making my head do a torch impersonation, it might instead turn me pink. Or I’d get teleported 20 meters straight up in the air and break my leg when I land. Maybe I’ll even transform into a potted plant for 10 seconds for no discernible reason. Sure, sometimes it’s helpful and amplifies my attacks or replenishes my vitality, but even then I can’t really take advantage of it. Because I have no control over it whatsoever… I can’t even turn it off! I never know when I might just get struck by lightning and die on the spot one day! It’s… terrifying!”
The squad fell silent as they could only imagine the mental strain something like that must place on a person. That wasn’t to say that death couldn’t randomly sneak up on a person anyway, but that Skill sounded unexpectedly sinister. It was like having someone remind them every minute of every day that not only could they win the death lottery at any moment, but they had extra tickets to it, too.
“Is… Is that why you haven’t told us, Ma’am?” asked Syme. “Or anyone, for that matter?”
“... No. I mean, if it was just that, then I could deal with it. But… the other Skill is even worse. At least the most that first one could do is hurt me personally. The other one, though… It causes disasters to happen around me everywhere I go.”
“Surely you’re exaggerating, Ma’am.”
“Don’t talk to me about exaggerating!” she snapped suddenly. “I mean, just look at my track record! I finally find myself a new home - a war breaks out. I go to fight in said war - I suddenly have to play call-girl to some demon-loving stranger that, frankly, scares the crap out of me! Fuck, I had to turn five innocent dryads into weapons of mass destruction! Do you even realize how ludicrous that sounds?! How crazy the very idea of that is?!”
“Ma’am, not for nothing, but aren’t those good things?” asked Mikey. “I mean if it wasn’t for-”
“Don’t you fucking say it!” she wailed at him with tears welling up in her eyes. “You’re not the one that had to lie to innocent children and mislead them into causing a massacre! You’re not the one who has to worry whether their mere existence might destroy everything they hold dear! You’re not the one who had this fucking vortex of stupidity, and shit, and-and-and-and mayhem forced upon them by a God who just wanted to watch someone dance for his fucking entertainment!”
The furious catgirl bit her lip and buried her face in her legs, weeping uncontrollably while the rest of the unit watched on with heavy hearts.
“It’s not fair!” she shouted in between sobs. “Teresa’s Hero got two fucking instant-kill moves!”
There was not a single thing any of them could say or do as they began to realize the enormous burden this 16 year old girl had been shouldering all this time.
“And what did I get?! *Hic! Hic! Hic!* A life where I will never, ever find peace, *Hic!* no matter how hard I *Hic* try!”
Like an overthrowing dam that had burst open, a veritable flood of complaints and resentment gushed forth, seemingly without end.
“And why me?! *Hic!* Of all people on this fucking planet, why in the shit did that *Hic! Hic!* asshole have to torture ME?!”
“That’s the question everyone asks when things aren’t going their way.”
A metallic voice from the open doorway suddenly filled the room.
“Why me? Why did this happen? What did I do to deserve this?”
The one-armed Fizzy strode inside while asking those rhetorical questions.
“The answer to all of those is really simple.”
She flicked a golden coin with her thumb. It spun around on the air and landed on the bed with a soft thud, squarely in front of the curled up beastkin. Keira looked up from her knees and stared at the bitterly smiling mithril golem with puffy eyes.
“There is no reason. It’s just *Hic!* the luck of the draw,” said the catgirl with a shaky, quiet voice.
“That’s right,” confirmed Fizzy. “However, it’s up to us to figure out what to do with the reality the flows of chaos have presented us with. We are the ones who decide whether our fortune is good or bad.”
The golem walked up to the side of the bed and smiled radiantly at the much-too-young Hero.
“So, what say you, o Chosen of Chaos? Will you just roll with the punches, or fight back against your fate?”
“... Neither,” muttered Keira. She then looked up to stare down at the golem with a weak smile as she tried to put up a tough front.
“I’m gonna make fate my bitch.”
“Haha! There you go!” cheered the Paladin.
The catgirl let out a rather uncomely voice at the sudden, much-too-heavy pat on the back. Seemingly oblivious that she might have injured a sick person, Fizzy just kept on smiling.
“You’re getting the hang of this Hero of Chaos thing already!”
Of course, this whole performance was merely an act, and not a very original one either. Thanks to Keira’s overly melodramatic outburst, Fizzy was able to easily learn that not only was Boxxy awake, but also determined the shapeshifter’s intentions. Picking out what seemed to be the right moment, the two of them then played out this little scene that was a direct adaptation of Fizzy and Boxxy’s first meeting with the God of Unpredictability himself.
And it seemed to have the desired effect, as the surrounding men and women relaxed significantly when they saw Keira visibly perk up a bit.
Unfortunately for the Mimic, while its acting skills and Fizzy’s assist may have somehow placated the ones around them, there was a much bigger issue at hand. Mainly the fact that it never intended to publicly reveal Keira as the Hero of Chaos. Sure, that unexpected Clash of Fate announcement may have spilled the beans, but all Boxxy needed to do was eliminate the witnesses and blame their deaths on the enemy VIP. With nobody to dispute Keira and Fizzy’s story, the two of them could come up with any number of explanations regarding the identity of said Hero, and Republic officials would have little choice than to believe them. Not only that, but it would also be able to claim that guy’s Demonbane hammer and corpse for itself.
But that’s when Her Divine Bitchiness had to interfere and ruin everything. Boxxy wasn’t sure what Arms and Hugo were going to do to her, but it hoped that it would be something terrible and mentally scarring. Indeed, considering that the Goddess of Children’s Card Games had demanded that fiend’s assistance, it wasn’t hard to deduce that Teresa was probably getting railed from behind at that very moment.
However, fantasies of godly punishment aside, the damage was already done, and the cat was out of the bag. Something made abundantly clear by the female elf poking her head through the doorframe. The lime-green hair, mismatched blue-and-green eyes and uniform identical to that of Silus Underwood made her immediately recognizable as one Primus Cecilia Underwood, no relation.
“All of you - out,” she commanded in a stern voice. “I need to debrief miss Morgana immediately.”
The soldiers acknowledged her orders with a few dispirited yes-ma’ams and filed out of the room. The Primus and Fizzy flashed each other mutually knowing looks as the golem passed by the officer. Once everyone was out, she closed the door behind them and walked up to the foot of the bed. She crossed her arms in front of her nonexistent chest and raised an eyebrow at the slightly unstable catgirl.
“So. Hero of Chaos, huh?”
“How, why and where. Explain.” she demanded.
“The, uhm… after my parents were killed, I *sniffle* had to fend for myself and-”
The elf suddenly tossed a small metal ball at the catgirl.
Keira fumbled about a bit but managed to catch it without issue.
The ball then let out a small metallic sound-
-followed immediately by a rather potent electric current, which was transmitted to the catgirl through her hands.
Keira let out a series of unflattering noises as a result of the sudden shock coursing through her. After a second or so of making her shake and spasm while causing her hair to stand on end, the orb ran out of juice and fell out of her still trembling hands.
“What the fuck was that?!” she screamed in an incredulous tone.
“... Damn. And I was so sure you were the Sandman in disguise.”
“You what?! How does that make any sense?! I mean, look at me! How could I possibly pass for someone that fucking huge?!”
“You could do it if you were a shapeshifter.”
There were a few brief moments where the only sound heard was that of Keira’s heavy breaths and gnashing teeth.
“... So did I pass your test?”.
“I, uh… Yes.”
Fizzy’s Shock Ball was loaded with enough juice to easily knock out even the toughest of shapeshifters. The golem had guaranteed that it wouldn’t kill Keira and would at most leave her at half HP, something Cecilia had tested on another soldier with similar vitality to what the catgirl had on record. However, she was warned not to to do anything weird to her suspect while she was still unconscious, as it could jeopardize her condition. Therefore, she had to wait until Keira had awoken before running this little test.
And now that she had, she had to begrudgingly accept that the pint-sized-Paladin was right, and that her ad-hoc theory regarding the Sandman’s identity was wrong.
“I’m, uh, sorry for springing this-”
“Damn right you’re sorry!”
Keira sprang to her feet and tossed the now-inert metal ball straight at the Priestess’s face.
The elf barely managed to duck under it, causing the object to slam hard against the wooden door, then fall to the floor with another heavy thud. Taking it as a signal that something had gone wrong, a trio of fully armed guards burst through the door in the next instant, with several more visible through the door frame.
“No! Nononono! Stand down! Down, I say!” Cecilia spoke frantically while flailing her hands around. “I’m fine! We’re fine! Nothing to worry about! Nothing at all! We’re all good, okay? Yeah, all good, right? Ahah! Ahahaha! Ahahaha… *Ahem* Thank you, Optio. That will be all.”
The guards gave each other a few questioning looks, but decided that if the person herself said she was okay, then that’s all there was to it. They then promptly left the room and closed the door behind them. Cecilia then awkwardly turned around to face Keira, who had stood up on top of her bed in the commotion, shoulders still shaking with fury. The beastkin didn’t seem to care or even realize that she was in her undergarments, either.
“Uhm, miss Morgana, I would appreciate it if you didn’t try to assault your s-s-superior officer in the future…”
“Fuck you,” came the cold, angry response.
“... Okay, I earned that. Once again, I am truly sorry for putting you through all that so suddenly. It was not my intention to hurt you - just to be sure we didn’t have a monster in my midst.”
“I don’t care!” growled the catgirl. “I’ve enough shit to deal with as it is! Prosecute me, boil me, I don’t care which, but either leave right now or - I swear to Bob - I will make you, you crazy cunt-waffle!”
Clearly not used to such a violent confrontation, Cecilia had no idea what to do. Unlike Silus, she lacked the people skills to properly control and calm down an upset adventurer. She was an analyst first, a Priest second and an amateur sculptor third, none of which were suited to this type of situation.
“Th-then I will leave,” she consented. “I’ve clearly overstepped my boundaries. Please don’t think too badly of me. Whether you like it or not, you will probably be seeing more of me in the future.”
“As if! Why would I ever have to-?!”
Keira ended her biting remarks abruptly and blinked a few seconds in surprise.
“Where’s mister Underwood? Shouldn’t he be here for this?”
“Silus, he… We were evacuating headquarters when those demons sent a stray ice fragment flying towards us. He saw it coming. I didn’t. He pushed me out of the way and… he… didn’t make it.”
Hearing the sad news, the catgirl sat back down on her bed and once again hugged her knees.
“I’m sorry,” offered Cecilia.
“... Have I mentioned how much I hate this fucking war?”
“Funny. I was thinking the same thing. Excuse me.”
The elf wiped a few tears out of the corners of her eyes and promptly made her way out.
“Could you call Fizzy up for me, please? I don’t think I should be alone.”
Cecilia instantly wanted to make a comment about how she should be the one to comfort Keira. After all, who better to console the Hero of Chaos than a Priestess who was an Apostle of Chaos? However, even she wasn’t dense enough to realize that she was probably the last person Keira wanted to speak with right now. What the beastkin needed was not spiritual guidance, but a friend’s shoulder to cry on.
And right now, in that room, there was no Hero of Chaos. Just a distraught girl at her wit’s end.
“Of course. I’ll be sure to let her know.”
The young miss Underwood left the room with a heavy step, ordering the soldiers still waiting outside to disperse. About half a minute later, Fizzy entered the room, closed the door, walked up to the bed and sat next to Keira, her abnormal weight causing the old bed to creak ominously. Boxxy did one more scan of the room and its immediate surroundings using its Mana Locator Gland and confirmed there were no eavesdroppers around.
“It’s clear,” it said in a calm monotone. “Good work earlier.”
The golem smiled happily after being praised.
“How’s your arm?”
Her smile disappeared as she looked down at the torn-up remains of her left shoulder.
“It’s a lost cause. I picked up as many pieces of it as I could find, but repairing it is impossible.”
“What about the shield gauntlet?”
“Perfectly intact. Not a scratch on it, actually.”
It was about what one would expect from a magic item of Artifact quality. Treasures like those had the rather ominous habit of outliving their users.
“Oh. That’s something I guess.”
“Good to see you didn’t turn back.”
Fizzy had always been secretly afraid that being separated from the source of her curse would once again trap her in that uselessly fleshy body. It was a concern that nagged at her in the back of her mind, so she was quite relieved to find out it was nothing to worry about.
“So… What can we do to fix up your arm?”
Needless to say, Boxxy wanted its prized shiny restored to mint condition ASAP. Probably even more than the golem herself did.
“I need to make a new one from scratch and attach it. The problem is I lack the tools, materials, and expertise to do it, and I won’t find any of those around here. Or in Azurvale. Or anywhere outside of Horkensaft’s state-of-the-art golem foundries, for that matter.”
“Damn. Guess we’ll need to visit that place sooner than expected.”
“Yeah… By the way, how’d you pass the shock test?”
Keira raised her arm and showed the back of her hand to Fizzy. The catgirl’s tanned skin peeled off all on its own to reveal a black, rubbery substance directly underneath.
“I grew a layer of Bouncewood underneath my skin.”
The Mimic MLG hidden inside the monster’s body was able to easily detect the spherical device inside Cecilia’s pocket, so it had prepared accordingly. Boxxy had come up with this particular transformation in order to shield itself from its elemental weakness, but it wasn’t something that it could perform instantly. It would probably reach that point with practice, but for the moment it still needed a few seconds to completely insulate itself.
“Woah, that’s brilliant!” shout-whispered Fizzy in astonishment. “I never would’ve thought of that! Does that mean you’re immune to electricity now?!”
“Not immune, highly resistant,” it corrected her. “This layer absorbs only about two thirds of the damage, and electric shocks still hurt like hell, but at least it keeps me from losing control of my body.”
It was a bit regrettable that it would still take damage from lightning-based Spells and electricity-discharging devices, but it couldn‘t be helped. After all, a monster completely overcoming its Bane was impossible, even for this particular box-shaped nexus of absurdity. Even doing this much was already a monumental achievement in and of itself, as evidenced by how easily it passed that ‘surprise’ trial earlier.
However, it still had one small gripe about it.
“You knew she’d use that thing on me, right?”
“Oh yeah,” confirmed Fizzy. “She straight up told me what she wanted to do, otherwise I couldn’t have configured it correctly.”
“Wasn’t your ‘configuration’ a bit much, though? You didn’t hold back at all!”
“Couldn’t be helped. If I went easy on you, she would have probably connected the dots anyway.”
“Okay, fair enough. But how did you know I could bear something of that magnitude?”
Boxxy’s ability to grow a subdermal layer Bouncewood was something that Fizzy shouldn’t have been aware of. Indeed, the golem herself admitted she hadn’t even considered that possibility until just moments ago.
“I didn’t,” admitted Fizzy with a goofy smile. “I just had faith in you.”