“Miss Hilda! Mr Lichter! You’re making a huge mistake!”
The dwarven Berserker looked like she was about to rush in axe-a-swinging, but Zilla’s clear, authoritative voice gave her and her companions pause. The Foundation grunts at the scene were equally taken aback by this sudden outburst from Specimen 49, but didn’t dare interrupt it. After all, suddenly finding themselves staring down two obviously hostile VIPs was not what they were expecting, and all of them were dead meat should it escalate further.
The same went for Project Legacy himself, however. If it were one on one, then Zilla would have been able to take either of them in a fight. But both at the same time while his recovery Skill had been sealed by a Hero’s Skill? His chances of victory under these conditions were somewhere between ‘zero’ and ‘fuck all.’
“Am I now?” she shot back. “So you fellas are not in the business of abducting sweet young girls?”
“I don’t know what you’ve been told, but we most certainly are not!”
Well, there were probably a few ‘sweet young girls’ involved, but it wasn’t like the Foundation was aiming for them in particular.
“This is a government run institution!” he continued. “What you’re doing could be considered treason! Stand down and I’m sure we can sort this out!”
“Don’t listen to him!” shouted Xera. “Isn’t he the perpetrator we’re looking for in the first place?!”
Indeed, the scar-faced one-eyed human in the reddish full body leather armor was a perfect fit for the description both Hilda and Lichter were given. Having been reminded of that, the one who made the next move was not the volatile Berserker, but the High Elf Paladin.
“Enough of your lies, heathen!” he bellowed. “If you will not give us the girl’s location, then I shall beat it out of you!”
He flapped his wings once, sending him careening into the enemy’s front line. He crashed into them like a tidal wave, throwing them aside as he charged right at Zilla. The human-shaped monster threw up his right hand and unleashed a torrent of water generated by overlapping his Hydro Hand and Liquid Mimicry Skills. It enveloped everything in front of him and stopped the angel’s charge in his tracks.
At the same time he casted a Spell that instantly turned the improvised river to ice, blocking off the hallway with a magically-generated glacier, encasing the intruders in the stuff. However, while certainly impressive, this tactic didn’t even serve as a stopgap measure.
The transparent ice glowed with a bright yellow light as Xera’s flames reduced the blockade to steam in a matter of seconds. As expected of a Job that encouraged reckless behavior, the dwarven Berserker rushed through the scalding cloud of vapors and flames swinging her axe in a wide horizontal arc. Zilla had managed to back-step away from the sweeping attack, but five of his ‘comrades’ were not as lucky and were cleaved in half.
With his first attempt at buying time to escape foiled so easily, the shapeshifter resorted to more drastic measures. His head quickly transformed into the sharp-beaked, yellow-feathered head of a Thunderbird, at which point he unleashed the deafening Thunderous Screech exclusive to that genus of monster. The horrifyingly sharp sound bounced off the metal confines of this access tunnel and was amplified to such a degree that everyone within it instantly buckled to their knees.
Or at least, that’s what should have happened. But to Zilla’s surprise, it had minimal effect on the intruders, even though he himself was suffering under the effects of his own auditory assault. The Foundation grunts were already writhing around on the ground with blood pouring out of their ears, noses and eyes, yet that demon, dwarf and Paladin were not only standing on their feet, but also slowly approaching the bird-headed criminal. The hellish screech seemed to place a heavy burden on them, but it was nowhere near as severe as it should have been.
Just as he was about to wonder what was going on, Zilla was suddenly decapitated from behind by Drea. He had to do away with his MLG to avoid the sensory backlash that would have hit him otherwise, which gave the Stalker the perfect opportunity to sneak around him. She had definitely learned from her last encounter, as evidenced by how she aimed for the vulnerable throat muscles on her target’s neck, rather than the rock-solid body attached to it.
However, even decapitated, Zilla was able to twist around, grab the demon by the neck and shoulder, and throw her into the path of the incoming VIPs. Hilda ducked under while Xera and Lichter flew over the spidery projectile, but that maneuver had bought their opponent the precious few moments he needed. Using the momentum from his shoulder throw, the headless human spun around and kicked the wall on his right with his heel, sending a Basilisk’s Tectonic Shift Skill through the steel plating and into the surrounding earth. The localized earthquake he triggered caused the metal, already weakened by the extreme temperature fluctuations, to buckle and give way, burying both the tunnel and the invaders in an incalculable amount of stone and soil.
Zilla’s head was reconstructed in the next instant, but the damage caused by that rather impressive ambush remained. Of course, he was highly doubtful that any of his adversaries perished in that cave in. If a VIP could be killed by something as mundane as a couple of big rocks, then there would be no need for genetically engineered killers like him to exist in the first place. It was only a matter of time before the intruders would be able to dig their way through and resume their assault, regardless of whether they were caught up in the cave-in or not.
Still, it would be enough of a distraction to let him achieve his objective. He had already rightfully deduced that he - not the foundation - was their target, so no matter how much he wanted his perfect revenge, he had to give up on it. His and his owner’s survival came first, so he decided to abandon his plans and get Honoka out of here through one of the other exits. Ideally he would teleport the two of them to safety, but this facility had been warded against such things since it was a security issue.
At the same time that the treacherous wardrobe was making his way back to the prison sub-level, the rubble on the outer side of the cave-in suddenly exploded outwards. The violent act caused the debris to shift and the ground to rumble slightly as the rescue party came back up for air.
“Koff! Koff! Koff! Everyone alright?” asked Lichter in a concerned voice.
“Aye, I’m fine,” said Hilda with a wave of her hand. “Not the first time I’ve had a mountain dropped on me.”
“I am unharmed as well,” reported the succubus, who seemed completely untouched by the cave-in.
“S-S-s-same here, ktktktktktkt…”
There was, of course, no need to ask who those chittering words belonged to, nor where they were coming from. Both the Berserker and the Paladin were more or less used to having that Stalker on hand by now, so they already knew that the answer to those questions was ‘Claws’ and ‘around,’ respectively.
“Still, looks like yer boss’s info was spot on,” commented Hilda as she brushed the dust off her shoulders.
“Indeed,” agreed Lichter with a nod. “I don’t think we would’ve withstood that screech if it we didn’t come prepared.”
Although it wasn’t visible on the outside, all four of these individuals had used an Elixir of Greater Suppression, which massively increased their resistance to sound-based attacks.
“It makes me wonder though,” continued the Paladin. “How did the Sandman know about him?”
“My master has actually been investigating this Jones Alexis for months,” explained Xera. “He hasn’t made a move on him so far because the target was deemed too powerful, but recent events have forced his hand.”
“Heh,” chuckled the dwarf. “Did he know the part about him being a freak, too? He failed to mention that bit!”
A wry smile appeared on the succubus’s lips.
“My master is hardly all-knowing, miss Hilda. Just the fact that he managed to discover this hideout in the first place was a small miracle.”
“Mmmm, guess I shouldn’t complain. Now then, should we get to digging? We still have ourselves a Hero to rescue.”
“Assuming the young miss Morgana is still alive,” added Lichter with a grim expression.
“She should be. If the suspect wanted her dead, then he would’ve killed her instead of taking her in the first place,” pointed out the devious trickster. “However, we should remain wary of ambushes and trickery. My master’s intelligence on the guy suggests he's normally quite… thorough when it comes to covering his tracks. Therefore, him allowing witnesses like the Slyths to live could be interpreted as a way to lure my master into a trap.”
Xera was, as to be expected, pulling all of this conjecture out of her ass. She wanted to make sure the mortals were more wary of her target’s words, as this entire operation could fall apart if they started doubting her motives. Or rather, the motices she had presented them with.
“A fair point, but it could also be because he recognized that engaging milady Slyth in battle would be folly,” offered Lichter. “Win or lose, even I wouldn’t want to get on her bad side.”
“Is she really that strong?”
“Indeed. Even if she isn’t a High Elf, one should never underestimate a follower of Axel, especially not a Monk. Disciples of War like her are especially troublesome in one-on-one combat. I doubt she would’ve been able to defeat the creature, but she definitely would’ve stalled it long enough for reinforcements to arrive. Besides, I doubt young Morgana would let herself be captured without at least injuring her assailant.”
“I see, that does make a certain degree of sense. My master is grateful for the information and will take it into consideration. As such, he will deduct its value from your final bill,” added Xera with another wry smile.
“… Bill? What?”
One could practically see the dumb look on the Paladin’s face, despite his helmet’s visor being in the way.
“Well duh!” exclaimed Hilda from the side. The dwarf was already hard at work moving rocks out of the way with her bare hands. “That guy probably went to great lengths to secure the intel he gave us, it’s only natural he’d charge for it.”
“It seems a bit… opportunistic, though. Especially with what’s at stake,” argued the Paladin.
“Maybe, but I don’t give a damn. I’d give him every last coin I own if it meant we could get our Merry Popper back.”
“Right, of course. We mustn’t lose sight of our objective.”
“In that case quit yer yappin’ and give me hand with this rubble! Who knows what that fuckface is up to at this very moment!”
As the two VIPs got busy flexing their muscles, Xera couldn’t help but let a solemn smile float onto her lips behind their backs. Even if this was one of the greatest cons she’d ever pulled off, it was only made possible because of her late beloved’s efforts.
Rowana and her mother had both gone out to search for Keira after she suddenly disappeared from their tea party. They had naturally come poking around the site of Boxxy’s final battle, as it was the most obvious place to look, but the authorities had already sealed off the area by the time they had gotten there. That being the case, they continued to scour the surrounding slums in search of the missing red-haired catgirl.
Which was when Xera made her move. She used her newly-acquired Conjure Mirage Skill to show them an illusion where Jones Alexis was carrying an unconscious Keira off into the back alleys. Doris instantly gave chase, but while she was definitely faster than she looked, she had no chance of catching that which didn’t exist. From her perspective, Keira’s kidnapper had given her a mean look before disappearing around the corner somewhere, much to hers and Rowana’s dismay.
That little play had the desired effect, as both of them were convinced someone had taken the catgirl against her will. They instantly filed a missing person report with the city guard, who took the situation quite seriously considering who the missing person was. Of course, their investigation was doomed from the start, so all Xera and Drea had to do was wait a few days until desperation set in, before showing up at the Slyth household to offer their services on the Sandman’s behalf. The Hero and the mercenary were sort-of-known to be on good terms, so it was hardly a stretch of the imagination to see the latter look out for the former.
From then on, it was child’s play to get the influential family’s backing and organize a ‘search and rescue’ party. Hilda was personally indebted to the Sandman during the war and had a good personal and professional relationship with Keira, so her participation was a foregone conclusion. Lichter, on the other hand, was the righteously selfless type, so while it took a little persuasion to bring him on board, it was hardly difficult to convince him to help save his late comrade’s last disciple. Especially not with Rowana desperately begging him to help save her lover.
All that was left from that point on was to lead those two gullible idiots to the enemy’s doorstep and just have them wreak havoc until Boxxy’s murderer was dead. However, the target had proven to be every bit as tricky as Drea had said, possibly surpassing the two demons’ former master in variety of methods of attack. This blockade was obviously a diversion to cover his escape, which was something Xera could not allow. If they let him get away here, then there was no way of tracking him down and making him pay for his crimes.
Fortunately, even though she had taken on the appearance of a succubus, this was merely because it was a form that both Lichter and Hilda were familiar with. But Xera wasn’t just some common cum-guzzling slut. Ever since her Rank Up a few days ago, she was now the cum-guzzling slut.
“I’ll be going on ahead,” she declared in a commanding tone. “Follow behind as quickly as you can.”
Without waiting for a response, Xera’s curvaceous figure exploded into a puff of transparent white smoke, almost like a thin fog. The gaseous substance seeped into the dozens of tiny gaps in the rubble ahead, disappearing from sight in a matter of seconds.
“… Could succubi do that sort of thing?” asked Hilda after a brief pause.
“No. No they cannot,” declared Lichter, who was rather well-versed when it came to fighting demons.
“Then how the bloody hell did that bint disappear like that?”
“That I cannot say, but one thing is for certain - our ‘benefactor’ has been holding out on us.”
Just as the Paladin had deduced, what Xera had just demonstrated was something that went beyond anything a Warlock’s familiar should have been capable of. Then again, it wasn’t all that surprising considering it wasn’t just any Warlock they were talking about. The Sandman had demonstrated an outstanding ability to command the denizens of the Beyond, earning him the monicker of ‘Demon Whisperer’ in certain circles.
His proficiency in such things was clearly demonstrated by how much his many-limbed fiend had grown in power ever since Armageddon Day. Her sudden growth in combat prowess combined with her new look made it quite obvious that she had somehow Ranked Up as a demonic being, though the details were, as expected, a mystery to everybody but one. That being said, something like the Sandman’s pet succubus suddenly pulling off a vampire-like technique was pretty much par for the course.
Of course, while Xera’s performance was eerily similar to the Dread Mist Skill inherent to those blood-sucking undead, it was actually a byproduct of her exotic Rank Up.
Description: The djinn’s alluring figure vanishes into a cloud of mist, becoming as untouchable as a fleeting dream.
Requirements: Level 15 Djinn
Activation Time: Instant
Cost: 250 MP/sec
Effects: Transforms the user’s corporeal form into mist.
Grants immunity to physical attacks while this Skill is active.
Increases magic damage taken by 100% while this Skill is active.
Reduces the MP cost of this Skill by 4% per Level of this Skill.
The mist in question also allowed Xera to maintain awareness of where she was, so something like oozing through the cracks in a pile of rocks was not all that difficult. She was also confident she could pass through solid stone walls with enough practice, but had to be very careful when materializing. Even though she wasn’t 100% sure what would happen if she tried to turn solid in her current state, it was a fair assumption to say it would result in a very painful death. As alluring as that thought was, however, she still had a mission to carry out, and was thus rather relieved when she was able to pass through the rubble and emerge on the other side without incident. Her luscious body reformed out of what was essentially thin air, reverting to her new true form as a djinn.
She wasn’t the only one who had done so, either, as the demon-infested Voidcaller staff had followed her on her vaporous voyage, and now floated idly besides her. She had bonded with the Ifrit Sultan imprisoned inside the item during her Rank Up, which allowed her some measure of control over the staff. Which was good, considering she wouldn’t be able to even lift the blasted thing otherwise. She could also swing it around as a means of attack, which would inflict a decent amount of damage due to the staff’s massive weight and nigh-invulnerable construction.
And such a thing was bound to prove very useful, considering Boxxy’s killer seemed to be completely unphased by fire. It was probably in possession of the Fire Affinity Skill, much like her new self, so her magic would hardly even phase it. Even though a succubus’s Penetration Expertise allowed their Spells to bypass a portion of her target’s elemental resistances, she wasn’t sure if her flames would be able to-
She shook her head. Now was not the time to mull over maybes. No matter how miniscule her efforts, she had to find that thing and stall it long enough for those muscle-heads to arrive. Of course, the bastard was nowhere to be seen, but that wasn’t about to stop her. Xera raised both hands towards the obfuscated heavens and called upon another of her djinni powers.
A tiny mote of pure white flickered into existence before her. No bigger than a beetle, the miniscule sun bobbed up and down seemingly at random as it oriented itself.
It stood in front of its owner’s face and requested orders with a low, drawn-out noise that was closer to a bizarre musical instrument than a voice.
“Go! Bring me to the one I seek!” commanded Xera.
Having received its orders, the sprite darted off down the half-collapsed hallway with the former succubus following close behind. However, since Xera was still new at using this particular form of magical guidance, she was unaware that she had accidentally given it the wrong instructions. This misunderstanding was hardly the sprite’s fault, because while it could almost unerringly lead a djinn to its target, it could only ever be aimed at an individual’s deepest desire. And even though the demoness had convinced herself that the thing she wanted most was to find and kill her master’s murderer, the floating ball of light knew this was nothing but a self-delusional lie. Meaning that the semi-sentient piece of clairvoyance magic was directing her to was the one - and indeed only - thing she truly yearned for.
Luckily for Xera, both the shapeshifter she wanted to kill and the shapeshifter she wanted to be abused by happened to be in the same room.