“So then I realized the heart was the tastiest part only as long as the corpse was fresh,” explained Boxxy in a calm and serene manner. “Once it grows cold all the juices start turning goopy and the flavor just sort of leaks away. I’d say the tastiness falls below the maximum threshold after about 2 to 3 hours, depending how much blood-”
“Oh my god, will you just shut the fuck up?!” screamed Honoka, forcing her prisoner to go silent.
Needless to say, the interrogation wasn’t going quite as planned. When she asked Specimen 68 to reveal what it knew regarding the Calamity of Monotal, she had said she wanted to hear ‘everything’. And ‘everything’ was precisely what she was getting. Every small, excruciating detail that the creature could remember regarding the incident. A timeframe which, from its point of view, apparently went back to the moment of its birth.
“Honoka, do you want me to try?” offered Zilla, the only other soul in the room.
The elven researcher gave a tired sigh while rubbing her temples. It wasn’t the worst idea in the world. She, for once, certainly couldn’t stomach any more tips on how to eat humans. Not to mention that she didn’t really have any experience questioning others, neither was she ordered to actually do such things in the first place. So letting Zilla, who she suspected may have had interrogation training at some point, take over for her was probably for the best. It wouldn’t require extra work on her part, either, as the Opulent Obedience effect caused by Attitude Adjuster made the target extremely susceptible to anyone’s orders, not just her own.
The ‘truth serum’ component was just a fortunate side-effect, really.
“Sure, go right ahead.”
“Alright then. First I want to address a security concern, if that’s okay with you?”
“Oh. Err… Right, yeah. For sure. Wouldn’t want to take any chances,” she mumbled, slightly ashamed that she didn’t consider such things at all.
“Now then. Boxxy - open up your Storage and dump out everything that’s in it.”
The Mimic complied and opened the swirling abyss to its own pocket dimension. However, the 1 meter wide tear in the fabric of reality simply stood there idle for several seconds before closing up all on its own.
“Is the gas wearing off already?” asked Honoka after an awkward moment of silence.
“Maybe not. Boxxy - is your Storage completely empty?”
The creature’s eye twitched ever-so-slightly when it unwillingly revealed this truth, which did not escape Zilla’s notice.
“That’s a shame,” he said with a slight sigh of disappointment. “Alright, moving on. Boxxy, earlier you were telling Honoka you had just dislodged the dungeon core from its perch. Tell me what happened to over the course of the next 5 minutes and avoid going on any more tangents.”
“I had Arms carry it with her while we made towards the exit,” it began explaining. “It kept sending me requests to be its dungeon master, but I kept denying them. At one point it started flashing red at regular intervals, which I thought was some sort of alarm. It also began sucking in all the ambient mana while steadily growing larger. We had to start rolling it instead of carrying it towards the entrance because Arms was having a hard time keeping her balance. At the 5 minute mark it had grown to about two and a half times its original size.”
“Why did this ‘alarm’ appear?”
“I don’t know.”
“Then what or who caused it?”
“It was Hubert.”
“Hubert? Who’s Hubert?”
“I don’t know any Hubert.”
There was a brief pause where Zilla looked quizzically at his companion, but all Honoka could do was offer a shrug. Thinking he misheard or misunderstood, he decided to ask it again.
“Then who did you say caused the Ishigar Dungeon Complex’s core to start collecting ambient mana?”
“So… who was controlling the core?”
Just as Honoka was about to start doubting whether her chemical incentive had somehow fried Specimen 68’s brain, she suddenly had an epiphany. She remembered something she read in a report somewhere, one regarding a certain mithril golem that had appeared on the Republic’s doorstep. A thoroughly unique specimen like that was sure to catch the Foundation’s attention, and, as one of the more influential people within the organization, Honoka had been briefed regarding her case.
Including her unorthodox religious beliefs.
“Do you mean the Goddess of Probability, perchance?” she interjected.
“Now we’re getting somewhere!” she shouted in triumph. “So, this Goddess of Uncertainty was the one controlling the dungeon?”
“And how did you realize he was the one behind it?”
“Because she was theaaAAAAAARGH!”
Boxxy’s calm voice suddenly erupted into a piercing scream. It fell to the ground of its cage and began breathing heavily. It then opened its vertical face-mouth and forcefully regurgitated the contents of its gullet in a desperate effort to get the taste of its own flesh out of its throat.
Seeing the disgusting display had a profoundly adverse effect on Honoka. The monster’s graphic descriptions from earlier were already making her feel queasy, so seeing it vomit in front of her was, to put it mildly, not exactly helping her keep her breakfast down.
“It seems we’re out of time,” stated Zilla matter-of-factly.
Indeed, the first dose of Attitude Adjuster had just finished working itself out of Boxxy’s system, even though it had only been two or three minutes since it was gassed. Under normal circumstances it would have lasted up to about 10 minutes, but the creature’s Mental Fortitude (MNT) had forcibly dispelled the abnormal condition before it had run its full course.
In other words, Boxxy had regained its senses.
“I wiLL muRdEr yoU anD eAt yOUr Soul!”
And its first action upon doing so was to let out an ungodly screech with a fluctuating voice, while madly lashing out against its prison of light. It clawed at it in a blind rage, letting out a veritable whirlwind of claws, teeth, and blades as it desperately tried to gut Honoka. Realizing that her work here was done, the elf rapidly left the cell with Zilla in tow.
But the Mimic’s rage did not abate. It kept throwing itself against that indestructible barrier even after the two of them had vacated the holding cell and shut the door on it, as evidenced by the ungodly racket it made. It howled and screamed and wailed so much that it made the guards gathered outside instinctively reach for their weapons.
“Zilla,” called out Honoka, “on second thought why don’t you go in there and see if you can’t make it stop. Wouldn’t want it to accidentally kill itself.”
Especially since a Soulstone wouldn’t work a second time.
“Are you sure it would go that far?” he asked with a slightly shocked expression.
“I don’t know. I’m just saying it’s the only way I see it making trouble for us.”
“In that case I may need to restrain it directly,” he pointed out.
“Yeah, good point. Here, take the console.”
Honoka reached into her lab coat and brought out the black marble cube that she used earlier.
“You remember the ‘entry’ code?” she asked while handing it to Zilla.
“I do, yes. Don’t you worry, I’ll make sure it doesn’t do anything stupid.”
“Thanks, I knew I could count on you,” she said with a relieved smile. “And sorry about the ‘retarded fashionista’ thing.”
“It’s alright, you don’t need to apologize over something so trivial.”
Having said that, Zilla calmly opened the bulkhead back up and walked back into the hollow metal dome. The Foundation grunts quickly sealed the door behind him as he steadily crossed the distance to Specimen 68’s inner cell. As for the Mimic, it was currently going bonkers. It climbed up, down, around, and all over the insides of the Stasis Field in its arachno-chest form, wildly bashing away at it with a pair of steel flails courtesy of Metal Mimicry.
“Could you bring it down a notch?” shouted Zilla. “I came in here to silence you, so it wouldn’t look good if you just kept going berserk.”
The rampaging spider-box complied with his request and began slowing down and growing steadily quieter, until it came to a complete stop a few minutes later. It walked up to Zilla who was standing right outside its cage and sat down on the glowing yellow ground opposite its counterpart on the outside. He had taken this opportunity to transform into his own ‘base form,’ that of a 220 centimeter tall, 80 centimeter wide and 1 meter deep wardrobe seemingly made out of polished white cedar wood. It had a large relief of a scantily-clad elven maiden in a suggestive pose on each door, and a pair of large drawers taking up about a quarter of its body on the bottom.
And now that they were alone once more, the two shapeshifters could finally continue their box-to-box talk.
“How are you holding up?” asked the sentient cupboard.
“That stuff was much nastier than you said it would be,” replied the animate chest.
“Yeah, the first one is always the worst.”
“Whatever. Are you sure it won’t have any lasting side effects?”
“Quite sure. The long-term aspects of the mixture won’t start taking root until the third or fourth dose. With your Status, you’d probably last a week.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“I am,” stated Zilla firmly. “I’ve been blasted with so much of the stuff over the years that I can probably squeeze out a purple fart if I really tried to.”
“And you’re certain there’s no way I can build up a tolerance to the stuff like you did?”
“Hmmm, maybe if it was that weak prototype version they used on me. This concentrated stuff, though? It’ll get to you before you have the chance to get used to it.”
“Well, that sucks.”
“I must say though, even while drugged out of your knothole you still managed to waste a good deal of her time all on your own.”
“Yeah, well. Obedience does not equal compliance, know what I mean?”
“Oh, yes. I most certainly do.”
Even though Boxxy had been compelled to follow Honoka’s orders, it still had a certain amount of leeway. It just had to take advantage of the hubris within Honoka’s words and it could easily skirt around the topic she actually wanted to hear about. It was almost exactly like a demonic familiar subverting their summoner’s commands for their own gains.
“What about your end?” shot back the Mimic. “Did you manage to get the thing?”
“Yeah, got it right here.”
The wardrobe’s upper drawer silently opened up all by itself, and a human hand holding the remote control for the Stasis Field rose out of the gap.
“Let me see them!” it insisted. “The symbols on the front, I mean!”
“Alright, alright, calm down.”
Zilla manipulated the object to give his partner-in-crime a better look at it.
“Let’s see here…” muttered Boxxy thoughtfully as it memorized all nine of the sigils. “What was the password she used earlier to make it blue?”
“The sequence for ‘entry’ mode goes like this.”
A second hand rose out of the drawer and punched in the seven-part combination into the cube, prompting the Stasis Field to turn blue, just like it did before. And after 30 seconds or so it would automatically revert to its default ‘closed’ configuration due to a failsafe mechanism that was built into it.
“So? Think you can hijack it?” asked Zilla expectantly.
“I need better than ‘maybe’ if you want in on my plan, Boxxy.”
“Look, this stuff isn’t an exact science, okay? ‘Maybe’ is the best I can do. I need time to lock down the translation and figure out the counter-phrase. Which is going to be difficult considering my limited Divine vocabulary.”
“Translation? Divine vocabulary? What are you talking about?”
“Those symbols on the cube and the ones crawling all over the barrier? They’re letters in the language of the Gods.”
The ones on the remote control cube in particular could be read left-to-right and top-to-bottom as pellen, elei, vol, enim, ex, urna, cras, sodal, and nunc.
“Also, you’re actually holding it upside-down,” it pointed out.
“Are you sure about that?” asked Zilla in a doubtful tone. “I’ve never heard any of the researchers mention a language.”
“Dead sure. It’s the same ancient tongue used in every demonic ritual ever. I can give you a few examples that you can easily double-check for yourself if you don’t believe me.”
“No, that’s fine. I doubt you’d be stupid enough to waste your only chance at freedom in some futile attempt at betrayal just to get back at me.”
“Of course not,” replied Boxxy. “I’m nothing if not a bastion of logic, reason, and common sense.”
If Wardrobzilla had eyes right now, they would undoubtedly be burning a hole through the Mimic’s lid.
“… How did you-?”
“Don’t underestimate a Ranger’s ears. Also, your owner is really loud when she’s mad.”
“I suppose she is, isn’t she?” mused Zilla. He always thought Honoka was strangely adorable when she was flustered. “Anyway, back to the topic at hand - are you sure you can’t do better than ‘maybe?’”
“… Get me some food, and I’ll see if I can’t bump that up to a ‘probably.’”
“I haven’t eaten in 3 days,” pointed out Boxxy. “I normally carry emergency rations with me, but… you know.”
“Ah, your Storage situation. How come that’s empty though? I thought for sure you had a collection of shiny things in there.”
“I did. Until they disappeared,” said the Mimic with a mournful tone.
It went without saying that the cause of this development was unquestionably the creature’s demise. As for what happened to its loot was a question no mortal mind could answer. Whether it was reduced to nothingness, sent adrift between dimensions, or ended up in some guy’s basement didn’t matter. The important part was that they were not in Boxxy’s possession.
“That is… unfortunate,” offered Zilla. “I had no idea the revival process would have such an undesirable side-effect. So from one collector to another, let me at least apologize for that.”
Ever since his time as a House Mimic, Zilla has always had a huge number of clothes, shoes, costumes, hats and all kinds of other accessories tucked away in his Storage. The mere thought of all those items suddenly disappearing was quite unsettling. So far he had carried out his missions unafraid of death because he knew the Foundation would give him the Soulstone treatment if the worst were to happen. Thankfully that hadn’t been necessary thus far, but knowing his precious collection would vanish made him want to rethink his outlook on life. Or rather, death.
“You have a lot to apologize for,” growled the Mimic. “I lost a one-of-a-kind jeweled mithril rapier because of you. It was shiny, deadly, shiny, elegant, and shiny - it was a work of art if I’ve ever seen one.”
There was a brief pause while the monster seethed with anger. The whole situation actually made Zilla feel a bit sorry for causing all this, and then bringing it to light. Even back during their duel he could tell this creature was a kindred spirit, of a sorts. And his hunch had paid off, as speaking with it in secret while on guard duty had impressed him even further, to the point where he was certain Boxxy was the partner-in-crime he had been waiting for all these years.
That was why Zilla continued to keep its true identity as a Hero hidden from the Foundation for the time being, otherwise they would have taken its confinement much more seriously. Well, it was that sort of arrogance that would ultimately become their undoing, but time was of the essence. Zilla was bound for another Appraisal inspection to monitor his growth within the week, at which point the shiny new Hero Killer Perk on his Status would be revealed. He could always play off his silence on the matter with a ‘nobody asked’ sort of excuse or something else, but by that point he would have lost his chance to cooperate with the chest-bound harbinger of Chaos.
“Still, it’s better to wake up without your items than to wake up without your life, isn’t it?” offered Zilla in an attempt to appeal to his fellow treacherous shapeshifter.
“I know, I know,” said Boxxy dismissively. “I’d probably give up everything I own if it meant I got to keep breathing. Doesn’t make the situation any less un-tasty, though.”
“I suppose not. Speaking of taste, what about your food? I’ve no idea what dungeon mimics eat to be honest. Or Doppelgangers, for that matter.”
Zilla himself wasn’t really a picky eater, though if he had to say, his favorite treat was definitely Hylt fruit pudding. He adored that stuff, probably due to some residual House Mimic instinct. It was also partially why he didn’t want to be around Honoka right now. That new Shower In a Bottle formula made her smell even nicer than usual, to the point where he was having trouble controlling himself in her presence.
“Pretty much anything goes,” stated Boxxy. “Fresh meat is the best, but jerky or fruit can work too. I need volume more than anything, though. Gotta make up for lost Biomass.”
“Alright, I’ll see what I can scrounge up without raising too much suspicion.”
Wardrobzilla swiftly folded in on itself as it once again donned the guise of Jones Alexis, professional Doppelganger hunter. What a joke. The whole cover story thing was ridiculous, but those were his orders, so he couldn’t just say no. At least, not if he intended to keep masquerading as the vaunted Project Legacy. Then again, that joke of a cover did lure in Boxxy, so maybe those eggheads were onto something after all.
The conniving shapeshifter walked up to the bulkhead and banged on it a few times.
“It’s Specimen 49. I’m all done here.”
A few seconds later, he heard the telltale clangs of the bulkhead being unlocked, prompting him to hide his bitter smile. He honestly felt himself die a little inside every time he referred to himself with a number. Much like the Mimic behind him, he had a strong sense of individuality and absolutely despised the idea of others controlling his actions. It was a personality trait he gained after his ‘enlightenment,’ and subsequent realization that he had lived for over four centuries as a slave to a dead elf’s whims. But even though his memories of that time were now mere fragments, he clearly remembered the one thing that made life worthwhile.
And once he was out of Boxxy’s cell, his first thought was to go look for it.
“Where’s Professor Honoka?” he asked one of her assistants, who was still packing up the mobile alchemy set.
“Oh, she said she was going to compile a report on Specimen 68’s treatment.”
“Is that right? In that case I better go find her. I have some new information for her.”
Not really. It was just an excuse to visit her quarters and spend some more time with her. It wasn’t like he would disturb her or anything, anyway. ‘Compiling a report’ was just an excuse she gave others whenever she wanted to take a nap.
“Oh, okay. Also, I should tell you Professor Gehana sent word he was looking for you,” said the elf matter-of-factly.
“I see. Thank you for letting me know. Excuse me.”
Zilla politely walked away from the scene and made his way back to the Alchemical Innovations wing of the underground compound - Honoka’s department. Malon’s office was in the other direction, but that hobgoblin could wait. There was no way Zilla would miss out on peeking at her sleeping face. It had been far too long since he was able to spend this much time on site instead of running around in circles like an idiot, and he wanted to make the most of it. So until someone told him otherwise, he would do everything in his power to stick close to her for as long as possible.
And he could afford to play the fool because, even though it was implied that Zilla should go see the facility’s director, he wasn’t specifically ordered to do so.
This sort of malicious compliance was entirely necessary if he planned to fool its masters long enough to enact his revenge and subsequent escape. It was a simple three step plan in theory. First he had to release all the ongoing bio-weapon experiments like himself. Some of them were tamed, but the vast majority of them were still being… processed. And while none of those creatures were even close to his level - or Boxxy’s, for that matter - they should still prove more than a match for a group of complacent Legion rejects. The ensuing chaos and panic would provide him with the perfect cover to enact step two. Which was to gut that wall-faced goblin of a director and all his staff before they could call topside for help, or trigger some sort of failsafe.
Once the nuisances were gone, the traitor would have roughly 3 to 4 hours to finish the final phase of the plan before anyone off-site could realize something was amiss. It would then be another 40 minutes or so before the government’s response unit arrived. This gave Zilla more than enough time to sweep through the rest of the base and wipe out any remaining personnel and their precious research data while the facility was still on lockdown. From that point onward, he would be free to enjoy a life free of the Foundation, the Republic, and indeed civilization as a whole.
But before he could pull off this little coup, he first needed the release sequence for all the Stasis Fields. It was a closely-guarded secret that only a few people were made privy to, but Zilla knew for a fact that all of the containment cells used the same password. Which was where Boxxy came in. If that psychotic box could deliver on its promise and figure out how to break out of its cell, then Zilla would finally be able to enact his bloody rebellion while the Mimic would have earned its freedom.
That was the essence of their monster-to-monster agreement. It was a dangerous gamble that left Zilla vulnerable to treachery from Boxxy’s side, but it was better than having to spend years, possibly even decades before another chance arrived. And he wasn’t sure how much longer he could stand that.
The herbivore-turned-predator walked briskly into Honoka’s office. It was a depressingly empty room, with bare stone walls, a single wooden desk in the middle, a trio of cabinets lined up against the back wall and another door in the far left corner. It was deathly quiet, cold, and dimly lit, almost like some sort of mausoleum.
Thankfully, this tomb wasn’t Zilla’s destination. He glided over to the door on the other side of the office and quietly opened it. The room that lay beyond was completely different, and much more indicative of its owner’s personality. It was full of furniture, trinkets, decorations, and other miscellania that Honoka had brought here from her old house. Of particular note was the permanently disheveled bed in the far right corner and the poofy red sofa right next to it. She had even managed to arrange for wooden paneling on the walls, giving the room a distinctly warmer and more cozy atmosphere. And indeed, what other atmosphere could Honoka’s quarters possibly have?
Zilla closed the door behind him and silently strode across the fuzzy orange carpet. He took a seat in one of the impractically tubby armchairs, which creaked lightly under his weight.
The blue haired elf taking a nap on the bed let out a drowsy moan as she turned over on her other shoulder, but didn’t wake up. Zilla momentarily felt guilty for nearly disturbing her sleep, but such worries were abandoned when he realized he could now gaze upon her face rather than the back of her head. He even smiled a bit when he saw that her mouth was slightly open and a trickle of drool was leaking out of the corner of her lips. It reminded him of a simpler time, when Honoka was just a child, and he was still a simple piece of living furniture, both of them blissfully ignorant of the harsh realities of this world.
The Wardrobzilla of old was a thoroughly passive creature. It spent much of its time hibernating, oblivious to the fact that a certain family of elves had found it and appropriated it, using it to store their linens for many years without realizing it was a living being. This mutual cluelessness continued until the family’s only daughter - Honoka - had started hiding in the wardrobe. She was the pudgiest and homeliest of the neighborhood children of her generation, and was thus relentlessly teased and bullied for it. All the sensitive girl wanted was to fit in with the others and was instead met with so much scorn and rejection. At some point she began actively avoiding other kids, but without her dwarven father around and with her mother constantly working, the solitude began to press down on her until all she could do was hide away in the darkest corner she could find and weep.
And it was the frightening regularities of this occurrence that finally roused Wardrobzilla from its ageless slumber. It immediately took stock of its new contents, noting the fashion disaster of a child sitting inside it. Having lived for many decades while handling some of the Elven Dominion’s most expensive finery had given it a sixth sense regarding matters of style. Therefore, there was no way it would let this matter go unaddressed.
So, being the ever-helpful House Mimic it was designed to be, it offered this fashion victim a dress from its Storage. It was a sleeveless deep blue summer dress with white polka dots, beautiful in its simplicity and wonderfully preserved inside the vacuum of Wardrobzilla’s pocket dimension. The young girl was naturally surprised to see a garment appear out of thin air, but she eventually decided to put it on right then and there. She didn’t really care how it looked, and was just happy to have gotten what was very obviously a gift. She happily thanked ‘Mr Cupboard’ for the present and went outside with her head held high. Only to return while bawling her eyes out less than 10 minutes later.
As it turned out, Wardrobzilla’s fashion sense was so horribly dated that its dress had only invited a whole new wave of ridicule upon the poor girl’s head.
Still, ever since that day, Honoka and Wardrobzilla had been more or less inseparable. Despite its bungling, ‘Mr Cupboard’ was still the young girl’s safe space - her shelter from the outside world. Over time she gradually stopped visiting it just when she was sad, but also when she was happy, eagerly sharing both her troubles and her triumphs with her new friend. It could only grunt or groan back in response at seemingly random intervals, but the fact that someone was willing to just sit there and listen to her without calling her names was all the young girl wanted. Honoka had continued to rely on Wardrobzilla for emotional support for decades, even after she eventually joined up with the Foundation.
It was perhaps the happiest time in Wardrobzilla’s memory. And it would have still been that way if they didn’t strong-arm her into experimenting on her own companion. Sentience, free will, and great power it never asked for were forced upon it all at once. Strange concoctions polluted its rapidly developing mind, making it forget precious memories it had been holding onto for centuries. Zilla could not even remember its own creator’s face because of those idiots, though that was perhaps for the best.
And it would make them pay for their sin of enlightenment. Just killing them wasn’t enough. No, that was too easy. They had to taste the same despair, fear, and suffering they put Zilla through just to sate their own curiosity. It would burn their little house of cards to the ground in front of their very eyes and delight in their suffering as it thoroughly wringed the life out of the entire damned Foundation. Not only the ones down here, but those up top as well - none would be spared from his wrath.
Except for his Honoka, of course. This girl alone would be saved by him. He would take her away from this horrible, dark place that had corrupted her judgement and robbed her of her innocence. No longer would she be forced to torture innocents or work herself half to death in the name of some corrupt, pointless ideals. Zilla would instead give her a new life, an existence free of wants and needs. He would close himself around her once more, keeping her protected within his embrace, where she would be free from all pain and suffering.