Fizzy was standing completely still, making her seem like a simple albeit prohibitively expensive statue at first glance. She had her good arm raised above her head while gripping a rubber mallet, which had frozen mid-swing. Her face was one of intense focus, staring dead at a metal bolt sticking out of the side of a large, rectangular metal frame. Within those iron plates she was hammering into place was the automated silk-spinner mechanism, the one she designed to take Drea’s raw Demon Silk and weave it into easy to store spools of magical thread. Having only one arm made putting this contraption together a bit of a challenge and slowed her down considerably, but she still had a lot of fun building something original that she personally drew up the blueprints for.
As for the site she was building this room-sized machine, it was within the workshop that Boxxy had set up within the Dryad’s Domain. She had her own official residence within Azurvale, of course, but this hollowed-out Hylt tree had more or less become her actual home over the past few months. Her personal project, her Hero, and the only creatures she might dare to call ‘friends’ were all drawn to this place. Ambrosia herself had shown to be surprisingly welcoming and hospitable ever since Fizzy was given a Bracelet of Allegiance that made the dungeon see her as an ally rather than an intruder. It wasn’t a stretch to say that the golem’s entire life now revolved around this space.
Or at least, that’s how it was until approximately 10 seconds ago.
The living statue suddenly began moving, her neck letting out uncharacteristically heavy groans of metal grinding against metal as her head turned to her left. Her focused expression slowly warped into a polite smile, one aimed at the dryad that was currently standing within her new line of sight.
“I’m sorry,” she said in a voice so quiet that Fizzy herself could barely hear it. “What did you just say?”
Ambrosia’s green eyes looked into the golem’s glimmering ocular orbs, transmitting an array of pure sorrow straight into the former gnome’s soul.
“I’m afraid milord has passed.”
The dryad’s repeated words crashed into Fizzy’s thoughts like a battering ram attempting to burst open a castle gate.
“Now, when you say passed, do you mean that Boxxy has succeeded in some trial or test, or that it just dropped by the dungeon without me noticing?”
“Milord Morningwood is dead, milady Fizzy,” said Ambrosia.
“You mean just playing dead, right? You know Boxxy, so tricky and cunning and devious and-”
“No. Mine liege is definitely deceased. It is no more. It has ceased to be. It’s expired and gone to meet its maker. It is a late Mimic. It’s a stiff, bereft of life and rests in piece. If it was buried somewhere then it would be pushing up the daisies. Boxxy is an ex-Mimic.”
“No… No, it can’t be!” wailed Fizzy, still refusing to accept reality. “It was just heading out to grab some stupid Wizard or something, how could some idiotic human actually kill it! It’s impossible, I say! There’s no way Boxxy just died and left me here!”
The increasingly irrational golem fell to the ground and curled up in a fetal position, her metallic body shivering despite the fact she no longer felt cold.
“This isn’t happening,” she muttered. “This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening.”
She had always believed Boxxy would outlive her. Never once did she doubt that, when the time finally came, she would be the first of the two to bite the big one. It wasn’t an unreasonable assumption. After all, that absurd creature possessed a wickedness, malice and resourcefulness beyond anything Fizzy had thought possible. It managed to survive a literal Goddess’s assault, for crying out loud. How could a puny mortal meatbag ever hope to best such a thing?
In a moment of something resembling clarity, Fizzy silenced her frantic muttering in order to call Ambrosia out on her bullshit, but gave up before she even uttered another peep. She knew better than that. The brainwashed botanical bimbo would never say her ‘liege’ was gone unless she was absolutely sure of it. Her ancient bearing kept her from freaking out and rolling around on the ground like a pathetic crybaby. To say she was handling the news significantly better than Fizzy would be an understatement.
The golem understood all of that, and yet she couldn’t help but attempt to reject this new reality. The one where Boxxy - the only thing that was truly important to her - was no more. But no matter how hard she tried, all her wailing did was echo pointlessly through Ambrosia’s cavernous interior as Fizzy’s thrice-shattered mind grasped for something - anything to ground herself and give meaning to her pathetic existence.
“You know, there is a bright side to all this.”
A voice identical to her own echoed within Fizzy’s head.
“What?!” she snapped back. “What bright side could there possibly be to this!? Without Boxxy, I’m nothing!”
“That’s not true,” insisted Plus, the Parallel entity that she now shared a body with. “You still got a kick-ass bod, a brain sharper than a porcupine made of razors and an arm swing like a catapult! And with that thing gone, you can finally do what you want! You’re free now!”
“I’m… free… ?”
“Well yeah, it’s just that… Look, to be honest, Hero or not, I never really liked that thing.”
Even if Plus shared the same body, and by extension memories, as Fizzy, she was still her own person, so to speak. While the two of them shared a lot of character traits, they still had somewhat divergent opinions on some topics. Plus, for example, lacked the sort of twisted attachment that Fizzy had to Boxxy, so she was able to view the creature with a more critical eye.
“Now, I know I wasn’t there,” she continued, “but looking at your past I can’t help but think that Boxxy was the one that royally fucked your former life in the first place. Way I see it, if that thing had never entered your workshop, you’d still be living peacefully in Erosa!”
“… That wasn’t living, Plus,” stated the golem after a moment of silence. “After I learned that my father and brother were gone, I was devastated. Food had no taste, the world had no colors, and I had to work myself to the bone from dawn ‘till dusk just so I wouldn’t cry myself to sleep at night. If I didn’t have a promising disciple to keep me distracted, I would have ended myself. That’s the sort of cowardly, pathetic meatbag I was back then. Boxxy saved me from that.”
“Right, okay, I can understand that, not to mention the whole ‘unjustly imprisoned’ part. It also seemed to have accidentally avenged your family, which I’m not going to complain about, but what about the beatings? The torture? The sleep deprivation? You had to live for almost a month without being allowed a single proper meal or even a change of clothes, for Horatio’s sake!”
“B-b-b-but- I’m stronger because of it!”
“Don’t give me that bullshit! That monster put you through all kinds of hell! It even violated you in passing! As if you were just an afterthought! Those are not the actions of a benefactor, Fizzy, and you owe it to yourself to realize that!”
Plus’s unnecessarily spirited speech caused the rock-solid faith that Fizzy had in her Hero to quiver and quake.
“You… may have a point there,” she admitted out loud. “But on the flip side, if it wasn’t for Boxxy doing what it did, then neither of us would be where and who we are right now. I mean, you wouldn’t even exist if Boxxy hadn’t come along when it did.”
“Oh. Yeah, there is that too, I suppose.”
“Heh, in a way, that chest is sort of like your father.”
“Yeah, forget I said that. My point is that none of us have full control over our lives, no matter how much we like to think otherwise. It’s actually frightening how little of it we have if you stop and think about it. The fact we’re even having this conversation here and now is the byproduct of a countless number of miracles, both large and small.”
“Alright, alright, enough with the existential crap! You’ve made your point already!”
“And you have made yours. You’re right, Plus. Boxxy definitely treated me like shit.”
Thanks to Plus’s interference, Fizzy had been able to get a handle on her emotions and calm herself down significantly. Her gnomish wit and abnormal thought patterns had helped her process her grief, while at the same time reassessing the brief-yet-turbulent relationship she had with Boxxy.
“Did I enjoy being treated like a battle slave and mobile punching bag? Obviously not. It fucked me up bad, I know that. If I was physically capable of dreaming, then I’d probably have nightmares about it.”
And the conclusion was that it hadn’t been anywhere near as ‘rosy’ as she had deluded herself into thinking. But at the same time, it was hard to deny how much she gained from it as well.
“Am I stronger for it? Definitely. The way I am right now I no longer need to fear getting mugged, or ambushed by wolves. Not only that, but my abilities as an Artificer are incomparable.”
There was more to it than that, though she couldn’t bring herself to say it out loud. Namely that while her indentured service to Boxxy had been accompanied by much pain and suffering, she had eventually learned to find joy, serenity and purpose in it. The memories of those long nights where the Mimic carefully and gently polished her frame head-to-toe for hours on end would probably bring a blush to her cheeks if she still had blood. Or veins. Or a heart, for that matter.
“So what are you trying to say, boss?” asked Plus, who wasn’t quite grasping the situation.
“I guess… that I have no strong feelings one way or the other,” declared the conflicted golem. “I wouldn’t dare curse Boxxy’s name, nor do I particularly want to mourn for it. In fact, the only thing I feel I should do, is offer a brief prayer for the deceased. I owe at least that much to the Hero of Chaos I had sworn allegiance to.”
“Though if memory serves, you weren’t exactly in your right frame of mind when you did that.”
“Said the sentient voice in my head.”
“I’ll just… let you do your thing then.”
Fizzy picked herself off the ground, went down to one knee, lowered her head, and closed her eyes in silent prayer. When she finished, she stood up with a different sort of air around her. Somewhere within the mithril orbs on her face was a certain glint. Not the spark of madness exhibited by a murderous psychopath desperately trying to please her shallow monster of an owner, but the fire of an individual determined to forge her future through her own strength, without clinging to the past. She was surprised to find that this newfound resolve made her feel strangely light-headed and full of energy, with a good deal of quiet relief mixed in there. It was as if an invisible chain that had been wrapped tight around her neck for years was no longer there.
A chain named Boxxy T. Morningwood.
“Are you really okay with just this much?” asked Plus. “I mean you kind of stood up for your own torturer of a greedy murderbox back there…”
“It’s fine,” replied Fizzy. “You can bet your metaphysical ass that Oliver certainly isn’t paying Boxxy much heed anymore, right?”
“No, he wouldn’t do something like that. Doesn’t seem to be his style.”
“Exactly! So then why should I waste my own time and energy obsessing over it when I could be seizing life by the balls and making it my bitch?! That’s what I said I wanted when I cast off my shell, in the first place, didn’t I?!”
“So look out, world! Fizzy and her ‘plus one’ are coming for you!”
“Alriiiight! You tell ‘em sister! So where do we start?!”
“… That’s, uh, a very good question, actually.”
The golem let out a tired sigh as her sudden burst of hype deflated into nothingness. Now that she could do anything, she was drawing a blank as to what path to actually take. Actually, forget the path - she didn’t even have a destination.
“May I be of any assistance, milady Fizzy?”
The pint-sized Paladin jumped a bit in surprise. She had completely forgotten Ambrosia was still there. The soft, pitying look in her eyes made it abundantly clear she had witnessed Fizzy’s tantrum from earlier. But, being the shameless exhibitionist that she had become, the former gnome actually felt a bit better now that she realized she had an audience all this time. It made her feel less… alone.
“You seem troubled,” continued the illogically large-chested plant lady. “Perhaps I may be of some assistance?”
“I’m just… figuring out what I want to do with my new lease on life. I don’t have a reason to stick around here anymore, but I don’t have anywhere to go, either.”
“That’s not quite true,” interjected Plus. “You remember Jess, right? She said she and the rest of her gnomish posse are going to be shipping back to Horkensaft any day now. We might want to get in on that.”
“Right! I still need to get my arm fixed up! Also, reconnecting with my fellow inventors would be good for my craft. Peer review is vital to ensuring a new design is sound, after all. Alright, I’ve decided! I’ll accompany that puny meatbag to the dwarven capital, get my arm fixed up, then see about getting myself tenure at the Ritz!”
The Royal Institute of Technology, unofficially known as ‘the Ritz,’ was the most prestigious Artificer-focused organization in the world. Well, that was partly due to it being the only such organization in existence, but it was still a highly exclusive institution that accepted nothing less than the best. And the way she was right now, Fizzy was certain she could grab their attention, and use them as a stepping stone to further her old, nearly forgotten ambition.
That of being the greatest tinkerer that ever lived.
“My word!” exclaimed Ambrosia while clapping her hands together. “So milady Fizzy will finally be leaving mine trunk and branches?!”
“Uh, yeah, seems that way,” replied the golem with a curious look. “You seem… awfully excited by this prospect.”
“To be honest, I never cared for thy presence within mine and milord’s sanctum,” stated the dryad bluntly. “Both thou and thy creations art heavy, noisy, and unnatural. Not to mention all the smoke you’ve been making - it hasn’t been exactly pleasant,” she added with a sharp glare.
Fizzy was made very much aware that, even though dungeon core was influencing Ambrosia’s perception of Boxxy and by extension its minions to the extent where she basically revered them, the golem herself was different. She was still an ‘outsider,’ despite the Bracelet of Allegiance on her wrist.
“Oh. Sorry. I was inconsiderate of your needs and took advantage of your hospitality,” said the golem while bowing her head. “Please forgive me, I meant no offense.”
“Well, since thou apologized so sincerely, then I shall forgive thy transgressions,” declared Ambrosia with a slight sneer.
“Good one,” commented Plus. “Not antagonizing the gigantic god-tree was definitely the right move.”
“I appreciate your understanding,” continued Fizzy, “however, there is one last thing I need to do before I go out.”
The corners of Ambrosia’s eyes twitched a bit, but she maintained her overall amicable demeanor.
“Hey! What the heck are you doing?!” asked Plus in a panic.
“I’m going to need money if I am to afford my repairs. A lot of it, actually. As such, I would like to take a certain amount of Boxxy’s treasure with me.”
“Oh, right. Mithril is expensive as hell, isn’t it?”
“Denied,” came the immediate, ice-cold rejection. “Milord’s collection is all that I have left of it, and I shall enshrine it within my body for as long as I am able.”
“I’m not going to take all of it!” insisted Fizzy. “Just a bag or two! Three tops!”
“My word is final.”
Whatever favor Fizzy’s respectful apology might have earned her was already spent, and the dryad was becoming increasingly annoyed with her ‘guest.’ She had already made it abundantly clear that she did not appreciate Fizzy, and most likely only tolerated her because of Boxxy. But Boxxy wasn’t here to keep her placated anymore, so the golem was left to fend for herself. And for all she knew, that was exactly how things were going to be from now on.
After all, while it was true that the Mimic may have kept her chained, in a manner of speaking, it also took care of her. It not only gave her a one-of-a-kind private workshop where she could work day and night without being disturbed, but also provided any and all materials she requested without uttering a single complaint. Not to mention that, if she had to be completely honest, Boxxy’s reaction to Fizzy losing an arm made her profoundly happy. Even if she knew its motivations were entirely self-serving - that it only got mad because its shiny thing got banged up - she couldn’t help but smile when she thought back to the scene of Keira thoroughly humiliating and dismantling that self-righteous heathen of a Hero. It served that bastard right for daring to permanently scar her glorious body.
But that was then, this was now. And right now, what Fizzy needed wasn’t a fuzzy feeling in her spherical core, but an outrageous amount of capital.
“You do realize the dungeon core brainwashed you, right?” she asked.
“… Pardon?” answered the dryad, as if refusing to believe her pointed ears.
“You heard me,” she spoke up. “The only reason you think so highly of Boxxy is because dungeon cores are designed to enslave monsters under their influence, twisting their will and their perception. And as dungeon master, you got the brunt of it.”
“I… You-! Milord would never-!”
“Think about it!” shouted Fizzy. “Didn’t your attitude towards Boxxy become suddenly more accepting after you made that deal? Would you normally let someone like me anywhere near your heartwood? You are so far gone, you probably think yourself to be its lover or something! Well guess what? You! Are! Wrong!”
Ambrosia let out a powerful, shrieking voice that would have surely ruptured Fizzy’s eardrums if she still had those. It bounced off the walls of the wooden cavern, echoing forebodingly into the distance.
The dryad was ancient, so old that her tree predated the goddess whose blessing gave her sentience. That alone gave her a completely different perspective that no man nor monster could hope to attain. That was why she appeared to be so calm when she realized that the dungeon core’s owner had been killed. It was an inevitability she had already steeled herself for, even before she agreed to becoming a dungeon master. And even though their relationship had only lasted for what should have been nothing more than the blink of an eye from her perspective, it was perhaps the most meaningful period in her timeless existence.
And she had just been told that those feelings were nothing but a lie, an illusion conjured up by a glowing orb to keep her placated and obedient.
“… I never even considered it,” she muttered while staring up at the shimmering crystal in question, “but now… it certainly seems that way, doesn’t it? I would have spent the rest of my days living a lie if it wasn’t for you.”
“You’re very welc-”
“How dare you?!” roared Ambrosia, cutting off Fizzy’s words. “Why couldn’t you let me enjoy it, even if it was a lie?! You insufferable, miserable creature!”
A series of green vines sprouted from the walls, ceiling, and floor. They wrapped around Fizzy in an instant, squeezing her so hard that it made her mithril frame creak and groan under the pressure, but it held itself together. Either unable or unwilling to crack her open, Ambrosia tossed her off the dungeon’s central platform, sending the golem plummeting towards the ground. She banged her knees, elbow and head off the uneven, winding walls before colliding with the bottom of the cavern. A literal river of water poured down on top of Fizzy with a current so strong that even her heavy frame was swept away. The sentient lump of inorganic material was then violently ejected through one of the tree’s roots and into the old dilapidated sewers that Fizzy normally used as an entrance.
Once the current had subsided somewhat, the golem found herself lying flat on her face at the bottom of a completely flooded stone tunnel. Water continued rushed over her while debris of various shapes and sizes bounced off her anchored frame. She was in no mortal danger, of course, as she could neither drown nor rust, but her pitch-black surroundings were not exactly helpful. Neither was the idea of being submerged head-to-toe in centuries-old sewage particularly comforting. She struggled to regain her footing as the sheer volume of water crashing against her was trying its darndest to knock her down on her butt.
All while Plus whined incessantly in her head.
“What the fuck, Fizzy?! Even if we’re strapped for cash there are better ways to go about it!”
Things got a little out of hand, okay? she responded mentally.
“She could’ve crushed us easily if she really tried!”
I was just trying to do her a ‘favor’ so she wouldn’t be so attached to Boxxy’s junk!
“Oh. Well, good job on that,” said Plus sarcastically. “I’m sure she’s practically itching to give it to us now.”
The flow of water began easing up somewhat as the two sides of the same coin continued their mental squabbles.
Hey! I don’t need snark! Especially not from myself!
“It’s your own damn fault! You got way too emotional back there!”
Yeah! Well-! … I guess… It seems I’m not over Boxxy’s death as much as I thought… I really didn’t mean to rub it in so much…
“Right, well, what’s done is done. Just… try and keep your shit together, yeah?”
I know. I will.
By this point the dryad’s furious current had let up almost completely, and the water was steadily draining away and seeping into Azurvale’s newer sewage system. Fizzy stood in her spot, putting her disarrayed thoughts into order as the water level fell. Since she lacked a sense of touch and her eyes couldn’t penetrate the darkness around her, she briefly wondered if she would even notice if the water would drop below her eye level. A pointless worry, as it turned out, since her ears had at one point loudly and clearly declared that the sounds they were picking up were no longer muffled by a mass of liquid. Splashing her arms and body a bit allowed the golem to confirm that the water had drained away down to about her waist level, at which point she began walking-
-straight into a wall.
“Oh, right. I almost forgot - I have no idea where I am. Kinda wish I had one of those portable magic lights right about now.”
“C’mon, you can handle a little darkness, at least. You have a Spell that literally conjures a flash of light, remember?”
“Duh! Of course! … Holy Light!”
Fizzy bathed her frame in the brilliant yellow-green light of her magic. The Spell’s lingering magical charge illuminated the dark tunnel, bathing it in a multi-faceted shower of light that lasted for about half a second before disappearing completely.
“… Did you just see what I just saw?”
“I’m pretty sure I did, yes! … Holy Light!”
The second burst of luminescence confirmed what both Plus and Fizzy had spotted just now. Namely the literal piles of gold and jewels that glistened just beneath the murky water’s surface. It would appear that Ambrosia had been so outraged at the golem’s revelation, that she had flushed Boxxy’s hoard down the drain as well. In other words, Fizzy had succeeded in securing the necessary starting capital for her new adventure.
“Yes! Just as planned!” she exclaimed triumphantly.
“You… planned this?”
“Well, no, not exactly. I had every intention of getting lucky, though! ‘Bout time this Champion of Chaos thing paid off, y’know?”
The golem promptly activated Parallel One and had Plus light up the darkness with holy magic while she collected as much treasure as she could into one of the waterlogged treasure chests that had gotten caught up in the deluge.
“Say, Fizzy,” spoke up Plus in-between chants, “should you be taking so much?”
“What, should I leave it here for the rats, then?” answered the same set of lips in an incredulous tone. “Besides, I’ve probably earned a lot of this!”
“No, I realize that, it’s just… I have a bad feeling about this. I mean you’re essentially robbing Boxxy here.”
“So what? It’s not like it needs this stuff anymore. I mean, what’s it gonna do? Come back as a Zombieganger and claim vengeance on us?”
“... That’s not a thing that exists, is it?” asked Plus in a somewhat fearful tone.
“No! Of course not!” insisted Fizzy. “Well, probably not. It’s unlikely. Highly improbable to be sure.”
“So you’re saying there’s a non-zero chance of Boxxy rising from its grave and hunting us down in vengeance for pilfering its shinies.”
The golem’s hands stopped as she briefly pondered that sentence while eyeing the literal sea of treasure before her, which was easily worth at least 200,000 GP. And that didn’t account for all the loot that got washed away further down the ancient stone tunnel.
“You know what, I think this is enough money to last us for a while.”
Fizzy closed the half-filled wooden chest’s lid with a small click, hoisted it onto her shoulder and began walking away from the glittering coins and sparkling jewels without looking back.
“Good call, boss,” said Plus while nodding to herself. “Good call.”