Malon Gehana strode confidently down a metal hallway, his shoes clacking audibly against the steel floor with every step. He carried himself with a sense of dignity and poise, taking wide, deliberate steps while keeping his spine straight and his chin held high. His face had nothing remarkable about it at first glance, although a single look at his profile would reveal it was surprisingly flat. Even that description was being generous, as some less-than-flattering statements claimed he could probably bite a wall if he really tried. It was so bad that he actually had to apply a dab of light adhesive to the bridge of his wide nose, otherwise his half-rim spectacles would slide right off it, though his pride would never allow him to openly admit to doing so.
But, although his linear visage made him appear like someone obtuse and not exactly literate, this assumption would be very far from the truth. Behind those maniacally bright, pale-blue eyes resided one of the most outstanding and well-read minds on the continent. Something he was very much aware of, if the cocky grin on his face was any indication. His sense of self-worth was bolstered even further by his Rank Up into a High Elf, which he obtained upon becoming a Level 100 Occult Alchemist at the record-breaking age of 34.
However, just because he was a bit full of himself didn’t mean he was also careless. In fact, he was so meticulous and devoted to maintaining the purity of his craft, that he shaved his head, face and eyebrows every single day, lest a stray hair contaminate any of his experiments. His bald scalp, pointed ears, and sneering face gave him a rather unique appearance that was strangely reminiscent of a pale goblin. Assuming, of course, that said goblin had been hit in the face with a frying pan six times a day, every day, for 20 years straight.
The High Elf’s brisk walk down the magically-lit hallway came to an abrupt end when he reached his destination. The metal-plated path behind him had snaked left and right, and he had passed by several vault-like doors on the way here, but the one he was standing in front of was the only one that had people guarding it. Four of them, to be exact. And the reason they had been stationed here specifically, was because this was the only chamber in this wing of the facility that was currently occupied.
“Professor Gehana, sir,” said the man on the far right with a small salute.
He was a somewhat baby-faced elf with short silver hair and reddish eyes. His uniform consisted of a mithril chain vest and a white undershirt, with a light-blue tunic draped over it. A pair of matching blue trousers covered his legs, and a pair of thick black boots adorned his feet and protected his shins. Strapped to the left side of his waist were a pair of shortswords, while a brown leather satchel hung off his right hip.
“How many times do I need to say you need not be so uptight, Mr Simmons,” said Malon with a thoroughly relaxed tone. “You’re not in the army anymore.”
“Sorry, sir, but I can’t do that. You can take the man out of the Legion, but you can’t take the Legion out of the man. Sir.”
The resident genius let out a tired sigh as if to say ‘oh well, I tried.’ Even if he was in a good mood, small talk was never his strong point. Nor was it the reason he was here in the first place.
“So I hear our guest has regained consciousness, hmm?”
“Yes, sir,” confirmed Simmons. “We noticed it roughly 15 minutes ago, but I’m afraid we don’t know how long its been since it woke up.”
Malon raised a shaved eyebrow quizzically.
“Really now? And why is that, hmmm? Why is it that you dared take your eyes off of the extremely valuable sample that we have retrieved at significant cost and great risk to Project Legacy?”
Indeed, even though Simmons and the rest of his men were technically guards, their current responsibilities made them nothing more than glorified doormen. They were stationed here to prevent unauthorized access while keeping an eye on the sample. Physically containing the creature was not part of their job description, as anything strong enough to break out of that Stasis Field would surely turn them into mincemeat.
“With all due respect, sir, these ‘samples’ of yours usually make a lot of noise when they wake up. But this one was… different.”
“Hmm, I suppose it did reanimate much sooner than anticipated, so you’re hardly to blame. I better go in and see it for myself.”
“… I think that would be for the best, sir,” said Simmons after momentary pause. “Also, I should inform you that Professor Honoka is already inside. Along with another of your, uh, ‘prized specimens,’ sir.”
“Is she now? And how did she get here before me?”
“She was the one that had us check up on the creature in the first place, sir. And when we found out it had already recovered she insisted she stay behind and observe it.”
“I see. And Specimen 49 accompanied her as per usual. Very well. Stand aside, Mr Simmons.”
The guard did as instructed, signaling the others to make way for Malon. The High Elf strode towards the large, circular bulkhead in front and placed a hand on a blue-colored metal slab just to the right of it. He felt a small prick on his finger as the arcane security measure used a sample of his blood to verify his identity. There were a few loud clicks as the locks holding the unreasonably thick circular bulkhead were released, followed by a low groan as it rolled to the left, receding inside a hollowed-out section of the wall to allow entry.
Malon strode confidently through the security checkpoint and into the chamber beyond. Simmons then sealed the bulkhead behind him as protocol dictated, but it wasn’t until the locking clamps snapped back into place with their telltale clang that he and the rest of the soldiers allowed themselves small sighs of relief. It didn’t matter how many times they met the man, they could never get used to his vile, disgusting presence. The stink of Taboo around him was so strong that even psychotic serial killers would immediately condemn him. But these men believed in something far greater than some distant Gods who demanded their praise and worship, and gave very little in return.
Malon Gehana and his colleagues had already made sure of their convictions.
As for the sinner himself, he found himself in a gigantic dome, forged out of layer upon layer of magically reinforced steel. And in the center of this hemispherical space stood a shining cage seemingly forged out of solidified sunlights. Both of these were parts of a containment cell that was capable of holding even those mightiests of magical beasts - the dragonkin. Admittedly its current occupant was nowhere near as powerful as those sentient calamities, but Malon was certain it could one day attain those heights. With proper guidance, of course.
Something the other researcher in the room was probably having a hard time believing.
“C’mon! Just talk to me already!”
Right next to the golden-hued Stasis Field was another elf, a woman that was wearing a coat similar to Malon’s. Her dark blue hair was tied up in a loose ponytail as always, while her pudgy face was twisted into a thoroughly dissatisfied expression. She also had a complexion that was so sickeningly pale that it would make people wonder if she had lived inside a cave for the last 20 or so years. She was also visibly overweight and had a much thicker frame than her peers, which was just another testament to her unhealthy lifestyle.
“Zilla!” she yelled while looking to her left. “Do something!”
Specimen 49, A.K.A. Jones Alexis, A.K.A. Wardrobzilla, A.K.A. Project Legacy, stood a few meters further back from the cage. He was asked to maintain a humanoid appearance whenever he was on site, as having a horrifying chimera walking around was not only needlessly disturbing, but also made communication with it needlessly difficult. As for how he responded to Honoka’s insistence, the best he could do was shrug his shoulders.
“I don’t know what you want me to do,” he said in a defeated tone of voice. “I’m the one that killed it, you know. If anything, my presence here is probably a detriment to- Oh. Hello, Malon.”
Honoka stopped pointlessly pounding away on the sophisticated magical barrier with her fists and turned around with an even more displeased expression.
“Professor Gehana,” she said in a voice oozing of contempt.
“Professor Honoka,” he answered calmly, refusing to respond to her vile attitude. “What seems to be the issue? You’re not normally this… upset.”
“It’s your latest sample!” she complained while pointing at the cage. “The results of your autopsy were quite fascinating, so it got me all excited! And when it finally woke up, it just sits there! I mean just look at it!”
Malon’s eyes looked in the direction she was pointing, towards the very middle of the transparent cube, where Boxxy was currently chesting with all its might.
“Fascinating,” muttered the other researcher while adjusting his spectacles. “I’ve never seen a reaction like this!”
Much like Simmons had stated, Malon’s test subjects usually made a lot of noise when they woke up in captivity. Either banging on the walls of their cell, howling pointlessly in anger, attempting to talk their way out of their confinement, or a mix of all of the above. Struggling against one’s captors was a natural response not only for monsters, but for any creature that understood the concept of freedom. And yet this one was simply standing there. As a wooden chest of all things.
“I wonder why this shape in particular though,” he mused.
“That’s what I want to know!” insisted Honoka. “I’m 80% sure your Soulstone treatment left it brain-damaged or something!”
“Preposterous. Either the Soulstone revives the target, or it doesn’t. There are no halfway measures here. I will admit this is an anomalous reaction, but I can state with absolute certainty it’s not because of anything I did.”
“Then why is it acting like this?!”
“… It probably feels safer that way,” butted in Zilla.
“What do you mean?” asked Malon.
“I don’t think you would understand. It’s a mimic thing.”
The former House Mimic also sometimes sought comfort in a familiar shape. Having lived for hundreds of years as a semi-sentient wardrobe made it impossible for it to completely discard its old identity. Even though it could assume any number of forms, only one of them actually felt ‘right.’
“Try me,” said the bald man.
“I guess… it’s sort of like slipping into a comfortable set of clothes after a long day’s work.”
“Hmmm, I think I sort of get it. Why a chest, though? It seems so… impractical.”
Even if the Appraisal results of the corpse made it clear this Boxxy T. Morningwood used to be a dungeon-born mimic that Ranked Up into a Doppelganger, it didn’t seem logical that it would revert to a more primitive shape. What Malon failed to realize, was that monsters were very often quite irrational if viewed from an enlightened perspective.
“LIke I said, it’s a mimic thing,” repeated Zilla while rolling his eyes.
“Alright, that explains the chest shape, but not why it’s doing it,” continued Honoka. “Nor does it explain how it managed to wake up in only two days! Are you sure you didn’t revive it with half a soul or something?!”
“Are you questioning my competence, Professor Honoka?!” said Malon dryly. “I’ll have you know, I’ve performed the procedure precisely 52 times, and never once have I-!”
Malon’s complaints were cut short when he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. The iron-bound chest had grown a set of eight smooth arachnid legs from its undercarriage and was slowly pacing towards him. Honoka was equally unwilling to continue the argument, as the creature she had grown a scientific interest in had finally shown signs of movement. The animate spider-chest glided towards the edge of its cage, sitting itself down right next to the edge. Malon found himself stepping closer to it, until he was less than a meter from the subject.
The wooden chest’s lid creaked open on its own, and a pair of round yellow eyes shone from the darkness within.
“Are you in charge around here?”
What came out was a deep, silky smooth voice that was entirely too ‘normal.’ The kind of voice one would expect from a veteran Bard, not a murderous monster with an utter and complete disregard for other living things. It was clearly a ruse of some kind, but it was hard to deny how creepy the odd disconnect truly was.
“I am indeed,” responded the High Elf after a brief pause. “My name is Malon Gehana, and it is good to have you back amongst the living, Boxxy. Or do you perhaps prefer ‘Mr Sandman,’ hmmmm?”
The shapeshifter’s alter ego had been exposed. Zilla himself had reported Boxxy had assumed the infamous mercenary’s shape, and judging by the two demons that assisted it, they were definitely one and the same. Well, the red-skinned fiend had one more pair of arms than expected, but was definitely the same familiar that openly participated in the battles for Fort Yimin and New Whitehall. An artist’s rendition of the demon in question and Zilla’s own testimony had made it abundantly clear that they both shared the same face and overall body structure. The Mimic’s rather… unique collection of Jobs and Skills also supported this theory.
“I see. So you’re the one that brought me back to life.”
Plus, the creature didn’t seem to want to deny it, though that was mostly because it had more important things to worry about.
“Why?” it asked. “What do you want from me?”
“Ah-hah!” exclaimed Malon. “Straight to the point, hmm? Well, as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, you’re far more valuable to us alive than dead. You hold maaaany secrets, my busy little box, and I for one can’t wait to rip them out of you.”
Secrets such as the origin of the Elder Dryad’s Authority, the magic item that had the ability to force those legendary tree spirits to show themselves. Not to mention the trick it used to control a demonic Overlord. And, perhaps most importantly of all, the process through which this less-than-an-year old monster was able to cause the Calamity of Monotal - something only Tol-Saroth himself had accomplished.
Admittedly, that last bit was something of a stretch, but the pieces of the puzzle were all there. Teresa herself revealed the one responsible for that event was a monster, and what better place for that monster to hide from those it had wronged than under their enemy’s shadow. It also explained why it revealed itself to the Republic and joined the fight against the Empire in the first place.
The Appraisal of the creature’s body, on the other hand, had also shown it possessed the Butcher of Humanity Perk, which meant it had somehow killed at least 5,000 humans in just 8 months. The only realistic way it could’ve achieved such a feat was if it caused the Calamity in the first place. Theoretically it was also possible that Boxxy could’ve done it the old-fashioned way, but that would mean it had to kill an average of 20 humans a day since the moment it was born. And while the monster was definitely capable of such things, those constant mass-killings would have left a very obvious trail of blood.
The last nail in the coffin was the Hero Killer Perk, which Malon assumed it must have acquired by obliterating Bernard Samson at Monotal, prior to his ‘miraculous’ revival. In actuality, the monster had only gotten this ‘badge of honor’ after its Clash of Fate with the Hero of the Hammer while under the guise of its Facade. The reason it hadn’t gotten it half a year ago was because Teresa had snatched away and revived her Hero in a matter of seconds, well before Boxxy’s Status had been able to catch up and finish processing all the damage caused by the dungeon core’s detonation. As such, he was already alive when the Mimic was receiving the rewards for its ‘hard work,’ meaning the Hero of the Hammer did not count among the 8,235 souls that were lost that day.
As for Boxxy’s own divine gifts, those were powers that clung to one’s soul rather than their body, and were thus not present when its corpse was appraised. Something that string of post-resurrection notifications made abundantly clear. Otherwise, Malon and his superiors would’ve had a significantly different reaction to its capture. It was highly unlikely said reaction would include simply letting the Mimic go, so the monster decided to keep it hidden for the moment. It hadn’t gotten a chance to use the short-ranged Vengeance Skill during the fight with Zilla, either, so it wanted to keep that trump card hidden for as long as possible.
“I’m also quite curious about your connection with the Hero of Chaos,” continued Malon, “not to mention why you assaulted Zilla here. Most important of all, however, is the matter of your obvious hatred towards humanity, not to mention your aptitude for violence. I’m sure both of those traits will serve us greatly in our ongoing struggle against the Empire.”
“‘Our’ struggle? If you’re talking about the Republic, then the war’s over,” stated Boxxy matter-of-factly. “Or have you not heard?”
“What? That little scuffle?” scoffed Malon. “That barely even counted as armed conflict. Sure, the humans may have gotten a bloody nose, but they’ll be back. Whether it be next year, next decade or next century - they’ll surely come for us again. Those vile creatures can’t help it - it’s within their nature to hate and despise those different from them. It honestly makes me question who the real monster is,” he added with a wicked grin.
“Alright, I understand,” replied Boxxy. “In that case you can count me in. Assuming you can afford my fee, of course.”
“The price of my cooperation, of course. I expect to be adequately compensated for my troubles.”
The Mimic’s business-like attitude caused Malon to blink repeatedly in confusion. His mouth opened and closed a few times, but no words came out.
“I am getting paid for this, right?” it asked somewhat insistently.
“What do you mean by ‘getting paid?’”
Honoka, who had been content to sit and listen until now, decided to come to the flabbergasted Malon’s rescue.
“Gold. Jewels. Mithril. That sort of thing,” clarified Boxxy. “Providing compensation in exchange for goods and services is how civilization works, isn’t it?”
“What would a monster need with money anyway?” she asked, more to herself than her captive.
It was a question that had been bugging her ever since she heard of the extremely high likelihood that Boxxy and the Sandman were one and the same.
“I don’t want the money itself,” came the immediate answer. “It’s just that the shiniest of shinies cost a lot of it.”
“Ah. I see.”
Honoka was starting to understand somewhat. She’d known Zilla for most of her life, even before she, Malon and the others began experimenting on him. He has had an unhealthy obsession with clothes ever since he was a simple-minded House Mimic, which had survived his forced Rank Up into a Changeling. And while the source of this compulsion was somewhat of a mystery, it made a certain amount of sense considering he lived as a semi-sentient wardrobe for nearly four centuries. After all - what better place to keep one’s snappy attire than in a lavishly decorated cupboard? It was a somewhat childish theory that made Honoka’s peers roll their eyes, but at the same time it was hard for them to refute it.
Considering Boxxy’s current shape and its Appraisal results, it was quite clear it was originally a chest-shaped mimic. One that was born in the Litigar Dungeon Complex if the Monotal connection was to be believed. And when Honoka used Zilla as her basis for standard mimic behavior and applied the same sort of logic to Boxxy, then she already had her answer. It was blindingly obvious, now that she thought about it.
After all, fancy clothes were to wardrobes as what treasure was to a treasure chest, and nothing said ‘treasure’ like a pile of glistening gold coins and shimmering jewels.
“Hmpf!” scoffed Malon, who had recovered somewhat from his shock. “Your cooperation is not up for debate. You’ll serve this country, regardless of your opinion on the matter. And you won’t bleed a single coin from her coffers ever again!”
“I see. So that’s how it is,” said Boxxy. “Well, you did bring me back to life, so I guess I’ll at least tell you one thing free of charge.”
There was a brief, deliberate pause for dramatic effect.
“I’m going to enjoy killing you when I get out of here.”
So far, Boxxy had been trying to keep an open mind about this situation. Sure, it might have been killed by this ‘Zilla’ character, but on the other hand it had also gotten brought back to life through this ‘Soulstone treatment,’ which sort of balanced things out. The opportunistic monster thought it might have been able to strike some sort of deal to work together with its captors while it plotted its inevitable revenge. In other words, it was giving them a chance to show they could be useful to it, and would thus get to keep their lives for a while longer.
Something Malon forfeited when he not only rejected Boxxy’s generous offer, but also implied he planned to control its mind.
“Is that a fact?” sneered the elf. “Sorry to break it to you, but even at your full power you couldn’t even budge your containment field. You’ll have to try a lot harder if you plan to threaten someone of my-”
The wooden lid suddenly flipped open, and what looked like a massive segmented worm as wide as a tree trunk shot out from the inside. It opened its round maw, revealing numerous concentric circles of dagger-like teeth, which crashed into the magic cage with a loud din when it lurched forward. Zilla moved in front of Honoka as if to protect her, while Malon stumbled backwards and fell on his ass in a panic. He stared in terrified reverence as a countless number of razor-sharp edges scratched against magic cage’s surface, producing an array of bright sparks accompanied by an ear-splitting scratching. It was a profoundly unnerving noise, as if a thousand fingernails were being dragged along a thousand blackboards all at once.
“That’s not a threat, meat!” roared Boxxy, its feral voice easily overpowering the hellish cacophony. “It’s a promise!”
Malon barely had time to react before Zilla grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and dragged him towards the exit like a sack of rotten turnips. The guards outside the chamber had heard the racket and opened the bulkhead in advance, allowing the two scientist and their prized specimen to vacate Boxxy’s holding cell with all due haste. The massive circular door rolled back into its usual spot, and a series of clangs informed everyone present that the locking clamps were back in place.
However, even though the door was shut, the prisoner’s ungodly thrashing and howling could still be heard through the 50 centimeter wide slab of solid, reinforced adamantite.
“Holy shit, sir! You poked open one hell of a hornet’s nest!” commented Simmons, more out of surprise than malice.
“Sir, it’s not going to bust out of there, is it?” asked one of the guards while nervously eyeing the door.
“It’ll be fine, rookie. That Stasis Field was designed to contain far more dangerous things than a restless shapeshifter.”
“I wouldn’t underestimate this creature if I were you, Mr Simmons,” called out Zilla from the side. “While it’s true that not even I can breach that barrier, your prisoner is a monster that posses considerable physical strength, formidable magical might, and outstanding adaptability. You would be wise to keep your guard up.”
The guards stared intently at their resident living weapon, obviously feeling uneasy at having the thing address them directly like this.
“You heard the man!” shouted Honoka. “Triple the guard detail! I want eyes on it at all times! I want you to raise the alarm the instant you so much as suspect it might escape! I’ll make sure Zilla will be on hand to subdue it at a moment’s notice!”
“Yes, ma’am!” replied the guards.
“Bah! You’re overreacting!” sneered Malon from the side. “That cage was designed by Tol-Saroth himself! There’s no way some wild savage can breach out of it!”
His haughty attitude aside, however, it was quite obvious he didn’t come out of that room entirely unscathed. His bald scalp glistened with sweat while the tips of his fingers trembled somewhat while he adjusted his spectacles, showing that Boxxy’s violent display had rattled him quite a bit. For all his bravado and self-importance, Malon Gehana was still a scholar whose fighting prowess and battle experience were both pretty much nil. As such, it would actually be more surprising if he wasn’t shaken up.
“Are you… feeling okay, Malon?” asked Honoka while throwing her visibly shaken colleague a suspicious look.
“Yes, yes, I’ll be fine,” he said while waving his hand around a bit. “It just… startled me a bit, that’s all.”
“No. It’s not fine,” she insisted. “We need to talk. Come with me.”
Honoka grabbed him by the shoulder and somewhat forcibly dragged him down the hallway, away from the gawking guards. Zilla was going to follow after her as per usual, but she motioned for him to stay behind. Once she and Malon were reasonably out of earshot, she spoke to him in a stern, almost nagging tone of voice.
“Now, I don’t mean to undermine your authority or anything, but what you did in there was idiotic.”
“I beg your pardon?!” came the indignant response.
“You responded to its provocations! Not only that, but you needlessly fed it information!”
“So what?! It needs to learn its place! And who cares if it went berserk?! You can’t expect all of those brutes to be as subservient as your freakish boyfriend!”
“For the last time, Zilla is not my-!”
The female elf reigned in her outrage with a tired sigh. Talking to Malon about pretty much anything was exhausting, to say the least. Not only was he lacking in common sense, but he was obviously dismissive of Zilla’s rather worrisome words of warning. Her companion had never once given such a high evaluation of another living being, be it man nor monster. It was pretty evident he even respected it in some aspects, which was why she was treating this matter with such severity. That was also why she couldn’t just stay silent about Malon’s brazen attitude this time around. He needed to get with the program before his ego got himself and everyone at the base killed.
“Listen to me, Malon. This one is not like the rest. Just think about it. Not only did it wake up far ahead of schedule, but was also perfectly docile until someone in charge came along. And when it realized that person was you, it engaged you directly. It tested you, and you failed.”
“Oh. I ‘failed,’ did I?” he said in a mocking manner. “And what is it that I was being tested on, Miss Honoka? Please, enlighten me.”
“Your courage, Malon. You stared into a bottomless abyss of hatred and malice. And when that abyss stared back at you, you blinked.”