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A note from Exterminatus

I've been banging my ahead against this chapter for over a week and I've decided to accept that it, and the rest of the onging arc, will not be very good. Apologies for that in advance.

Updates will be painfully slow for a while since I'm struggling to find the time to actually write (mostly busy with work) in addition to feeling a bit lost as to how to actually progress the story. I know where it needs to go, but getting there is proving to be a real pain in the ass.

Still, I've decided I'm going to force myself to post at least 1 chapter a week (even if it'll be relatively short) just to keep the story trucking along.

And speaking of weeks, here's a nother not-at-all-shameless reminder to vote for me on topwebfiction.

Reginald was currently seated in his office, trying to think up ways to profit off of the ongoing festive mood. Of course, he was thinking more in terms of how to best use his secret shapeshifter society to conduct illegal business, rather than worrying about his Facade’s banking guild. Indeed, the former was infinitely more suited for opportunistic operations, while the latter served mostly as a front and money laundering scheme. The Namhel Brothers bank still made a profit on its own, of course, although it was hardly the main source of Reginald’s income and influence.

There was a polite knock on the door to his otherwise magically eavesdrop-proofed office, which tore him away from his schemes. A few seconds later, his personal secretary poked her head into the room.

“Excuse me, Mr Namhel?” she said with a confused expression. “There’s a Mrs Mainus here to see you. She’s… quite insistent.”

“… Mrs Mainus, huh? Doesn’t sound familiar,” he muttered after a brief moment of silence.

“Should I send her away?”

“No, no, that’s quite alright. Show her in, won’t you?”

“Of course, sir. Right this way, Mrs Mainus.”

The secretary stepped to the side and allowed an elven woman to walk past her. The visitor’s long coat, demeanor and average looks were far from eye-catching, and the only impression she would leave people with would be ‘just some lady on the street.’ She shot the secretary a sharp glare, prompting the youthful elf to leave the office and close the door behind her.

“My Master sends you its kindest regards, Reggie,” said ‘Mrs Mainus’ while reverting to her base form. “Though perhaps not in as many words.”

“Ah… Snack, was it? Am I to assume I owe this visit to your owner being otherwise preoccupied?”

This wasn’t the first time that creature had used its demonic familiar as a proxy for a meeting. Reginald understood it was necessary sometimes, but he personally disliked doing things this way. Not so much because the individual themselves weren't present, but more to do with his wariness of demonkind as a whole. However, if that’s how his business partner insisted on doing things, then Reginald had little choice but to consent to it.

Besides, simply not being in the same room with that absurd entity was relaxing in its own way.

“Indeed,” answered the succubus. “The Master’s newfound social obligations are proving to be quite tasty, albeit a bit too time-consuming.”

“Well, that was surely to be expected,” commented Reginald. “Grabbing the attention of the entire nation would surely make it difficult to move around as freely as it used to. I’m quite surprised it went public with revealing Keira as a Hero.”

“That wasn’t exactly planned, though. Which is why my Master and I are struggling somewhat to handle the situation, although we’re still making the most of it.”

“Quite. I can only imagine the amount of XP it’s raking in as we speak,” said the old ‘ganger with a jealous tone. “It’s already Ranked Up, hasn’t it? Probably into some rare variant given its rather… unique take on the Doppelganger Job.”

“Jolly good guess,” offered Xera with a smile.

Truthfully speaking, Boxxy’s Rank Up had happened well before this whole Hero business started, and its Doppelganger Job was already so far ahead that it would probably go beyond Level 35 after Keira’s upcoming award ceremony. However, Reggie didn’t necessarily need to know any of that.

“Also, I heard about the Hero of Chaos’s little visit to the Slyth household the day before yesterday. The young miss Morgana had apparently made quite the impression.”

“And how did you find out about that particular event?” asked Xera on Boxxy’s behalf.

It shouldn’t have been through any of his agents, as her Master was certain there were no Doppelgangers in that mansion other than itself. Indeed, even the oddly suspicious Mr Ridgeworth turned out to be just a regular human who was a bit too overzealous when it came to personal hygiene. The Mimic had never even considered someone would be wasteful enough to use an expensive product like Odor Blocker elixirs for anything other than hiding from sharp-nosed predators. It had also come across a maid who was using illusion magic to hide her real face, although that turned out to be because she wished to cover up the ugly scar on her cheek rather than some nefarious purpose.

In other words, Boxxy had spent much of that evening learning not to underestimate the vanity of rich people, but didn’t see a single sign that one of Reggie’s lot was anywhere on the premises.

“Are you kidding?” replied the Doppelganger with an incredulous tone. “Mrs Slyth wasted no time in bragging about it to all her friends. Pretty much everyone who’s anyone knows about it by now.”

Though it would appear he didn’t particularly need them in the first place.

“Is that really something to brag about?”

“Of course. The prestige that comes from being associated with a Hero is no laughing matter. However she may have acted, that devious woman is definitely trying to sponge off of Keira’s popularity. Especially since her family’s more ruthless business policies haven’t exactly earned them many friends. Samulus is a bit of an idiot when it comes to that sort of stuff, but his wife is one of the shrewdest women I know.”

Boxxy had already suspected Doris had an ulterior motive, so hearing this affirmation was a bit reassuring. After all, there was an undeniable difference in class between Keira and Rowana that would be quite difficult to overcome under normal circumstances. The former’s background was more or less that of a street rat that got lucky, while the latter was essentially of noble birth. True, the Republic government was run by elected officials rather than a nobility caste, but the wealth and influence of families like the Slyths made them pretty much the same. Especially considering the Pixie Powder Pavilion’s monopoly on the government’s alchemical supply contracts.

“That’s why Boxxy needs to be extremely careful in how it acts around those two,” continued Reggie. “I suspect Doris Slyth does legitimately wish for her progeny to be happy, but make no mistake - this public acceptance of her daughter’s same-sex relationship is very much a calculated political move.”

“Wouldn’t that do more harm than good to the Slyth family in the long run?” asked Xera, both on her Master’s behalf and out of genuine curiosity. “Neither Rowana nor Keira have the business acumen, aptitude or training to take over their trade empire, not to mention it’s impossible to produce an heir. Yet that woman is already talking about marriage like it’s a done deal, knowing full well it would be a serious risk to both her legacy and her bloodline.”

“That’s hardly an issue considering their firstborn will most likely be taking over as head of the family. That’s why they sent him off to study commerce with the dwarves in the first place.”

“Firstborn son, huh?” mused the succubus with a thoughtful look. “Funny how nobody said anything about it to my Master.”

“Maybe it just didn’t come up in conversation,” offered Reggie with a shrug. “It’s not exactly a big secret. Heck, the Slyths probably expected Keira to know all about it, though it seems this was not exactly the case.”

“No, it wasn’t. Seems to me like that bimbo princess of theirs either spaced out or got lost in her own little world or something and completely neglected to mention her own brother,” said the succubus in a somewhat venomous tone. “She’s really quite the vapid cunt, even by mortal standards.”

Boxxy had been wondering why Doris had been so nice to Keira and why she brought up the not-exactly-legal marriage right at the start, but now it somewhat understood. Thankfully, even though the Mimic was quite ignorant and mostly inexperienced on matters of high-society intrigue, it had Xera to rely on. After all, the hereditary intricacies and backroom politics that people with influence took part in were what she used to live for, up until about 6 months ago. Nowadays all she cared about was being forcefully dominated by her uncaring owner, but those past memories and experiences were still buried somewhere in that rotten little head of hers.

And she would share her insight freely and eagerly, as many times as possible if it meant the next ‘motivational talk’ would come sooner rather than later.

“My Master wishes to extend a word of thanks for the information, Reggie,” stated the demoness in a business-like fashion.

“Don’t mention it. After all, it’ll be both our asses on the line if Boxxy’s high-profile Facade gets exposed because little miss Morgana said the wrong thing at the wrong time. The last thing we need is to give those Inquisition people a reason to start looking at this country instead of their own.”

Reginald wasn’t just saying that to be dramatic, but because it was a legitimate concern. It was, after all, a past iteration of the Inquisition that spearheaded the Silent War that nearly led the Doppelgangers to extinction centuries ago. They’d surely turn their sights to the Republic should they catch wind of there being shapeshifters among the populace. The ‘ganger capo felt confident he could keep word from getting out under normal circumstances, but this was a situation where even a rogue rumor could catch the attention of some pointlessly righteous truth-seeker.

“That’s the main reason why I’m here,” stated the succubus. “My Master also doesn’t wish to have the Inquisition snooping around here, so it wants to expedite the process of dealing with Mr Alexis.”

“I see,” said Reginald while doing his best to not let his relief show on his face.

He had half suspected Boxxy might just skimp out on its part of the deal after getting its off-the-books Warlock Job advancement early, and he wouldn’t be able to do much about it. But it would appear that Mr Morningwood would uphold its end of the bargain, which was good news. It showed that the rogue element wished to continue working with Reginald in the future, which would surely be beneficial to both sides. The old Doppelganger was also quite relieved to hear that creature was taking the Inquisition thing seriously on a personal level, which was reassuring.

He was, of course, blissfully unaware of the non-zero probability of said Inquisition coming to Azurvale anyway since that’s where the one responsible for the Calamity of Monotal was currently hiding.

“And does your Master require any additional support from me or my agents?”

“Not in the slightest. You pathetic scum would only going to get in my magnificent Master’s way,” she said with a cold glare.

Reginald watched silently as the succubus lifted her hands up to her head and Fireballed her own face. She then fell on the ground while writhing and moaning as the magical flames clung to her skin. When it died down several seconds later, she stood back up covered in horrible burns and continued speaking as if nothing had happened.

“My Master requires any and all information you may have regarding the target’s current whereabouts and latest activities, and will let you know should it require further assistance.”

“… Quite. Well, to begin with, he hasn’t changed hideouts since we last spoke-”

Xera just sort of stood there and listened in silence as she relayed all the relevant information to her Master, who was currently out on a date with Rowana. The female elf had clung incessantly to Keira ever since the latter’s return and had not given the shapeshifter much opportunity to move around as it pleases. It had initially put up with her antics since it was going to aim for the Slyth family fortune through her, but now it found out that this was going to be harder than anticipated.

After a brief bout of ‘innocent’ questioning regarding Rowana’s brother, it became apparent that it had been just as Xera had said. The elf had been too engrossed in hers and Keira’s issues to worry about someone else, especially not her big brother Almer, who had been away from the Republic for the past four years. While on the topic, Keira also inquired about the rest of Rowana’s family so as to spare itself any nasty surprises.

Her grandparents were retired and living in some luxurious villa well away from the hustle and bustle of the capital. She also had an uncle on her father’s side who had a falling out with the rest of the Slyth family and was currently living on the western coast of the Republic. As for her own parents, it turned out that Samulus had married into the Slyth household, and that it was Doris that carried on the family bloodline. Not only that, but she had apparently been a formidable adventurer in her youth, which helped explain her somewhat violent tendencies.

And while there was obviously a lot more to that family’s history, Boxxy’s main takeaway was that Keira would not be able to inherit the Slyth fortune. Not without a lot of influential people dying off, at least. In fact, given her father’s suspicions, taking even the slightest advantage of their political influence would also be quite difficult.

In other words, Rowana’s usefulness to Boxxy was now pretty much nil. In fact, she was steadily becoming a hindrance to the monster’s operations, almost akin to a cancerous tumor that could speak. If she weren’t so integral to the Mimic’s Facade, she would have been disposed of ages ago. Permanently replacing her with one of Reggie’s Doppelgangers was another option, but that would give the old banker some measure of leverage over Boxxy, which was not a very tasty notion. Having Snack do it was also a potential solution, but that too was risky since she wasn’t as experienced at running long cons.

Ultimately, Boxxy decided it would put up with Rowana’s continued existence, at least until its Doppelganger Job no longer needed her. Besides, no matter how much it complained, the Mimic still felt a certain amount of gratification in stringing the unwitting girl along. It was a playful-yet-sinister act that was very much like a cat playing with its prey before killing it.

Almost exactly like that, actually.

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About the author

Exterminatus

  • Chestiest Chest That Ever Chested

Bio: I'm a programmer, a mythical creature that survives completely on beer and cynicism. We skulk in the dark, secretly cursing and despising everyone else. Especially other programmers.

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