Hilda, Lichter, and Drea had been following the directions that Xera had left for them by burning images into the floors and walls. That was fine in and of itself, although why the succubus had chosen to leave behind pictures of dicks rather than arrows was- No, it was actually completely understandable, all things considered. But while the phallic graffiti did technically serve its purpose in guiding the rest of the ‘rescue party,’ they didn’t get far before they ran into serious resistance.
Which was how Hilda found herself upside down and lodged halfway through a steel wall.
“Slimes… Why’d it have to be slimes?!”
The Stonekin dwarf grumbled as she dislodged herself from her predicament, landing on the ground with a heavy thud. The reason for her complaint was that slimes were a bad matchup for Berserkers like her. They had high endurance and an innate resistance to physical blows, which was her main way of un-aliving things. This meant that, even though she would win in combat against them eventually, it would always take way too much time, unless she had a massive Level advantage.
So when faced against two Queen Slimes that had bodies of liquid steel, her chances of a quick and easy win became non-existent. The monstrous pair in question had taken on the appearances of well-endowed women that had amorphous blobs for lower bodies. They smiled and giggled mischievously before they charged at her once again, bouncing off of the walls and ceiling of the metal passageway in an erratic manner as they closed in on her.
The massive axe Hilda was stubbornly holding onto disappeared in a flash of light, and was replaced by a pair of runed swords. One of them was a white mithril blade that crackled with electricity, while the other was a pitch black obsidian longsword that smoldered with unnatural heat. Even if those things could nullify her brute strength, she would still make them contend with the arsenal of magic weapons at her disposal. Smiling widely beneath her helmet, she charged forward to meet them head on.
Over on the other side of the wall, Lichter was not faring much better as he faced down a squad of five suspiciously well-armed and well-trained harpies in mid-air combat. The auditorium he wound up in gave him a good amount of maneuverability, but the same went for his opponents. The half-bird half-human monsters actually seemed more adept at fighting in these relatively cramped conditions than the Paladin and were practically flying circles around him.
This air superiority seemed to be due to the fact that one of these feather-headed beauties had been trained in the ways of the Shaman. Enhancing her allies with her wind-based magic amplified their already formidable flying skills, allowing them to make drastic turns and rapid accelerations with but a single beat of their wings-for-arms. At the same time, they used the talons on their birdlike feet to wield swords, bows and spears with mind-boggling dexterity. Their sheer speed and surprisingly good teamwork allowed them to keep hitting the Paladin without him being able to land a single blow in return.
In fact, their cooperation was so good that if the High Elf didn’t know any better, he’d swear he was the boss monster, and the harpies were the adventuring party that showed up to kill it. And they might have just accomplished this feat if it wasn’t for three small details.
One - Lichter was still under the effects of the sound-dampening Elixir of Greater Suppression. This nullified the power of their voices, which was arguably their greatest weapon. Two - even if he was taking damage and they weren’t, it was like a praying mantis fighting a battleship. His stamina and endurance would win out in the end, at which point a single well-placed blow from his mighty hammer would turn any of them into mush.
Third, and perhaps most important of all, he wasn’t alone.
A shadow passed over the harpy Shaman in the blink of an eye, producing a single, barely audible slicing sound. A breath or two later, the winged magic user fell to the ground while her head, which was no longer attached to her body, landed a few meters away from her still-twitching corpse. With the air manipulator out of the picture, Lichter was finally able to catch up to the Ranger harpy that had been taking pot shots at him the entire time and crushed her like a bug against the wall.
With their formation well and truly fucked, it took less than a minute for the Paladin to catch up to and subsequently splatter two more of them. The fifth and final one was impaled from behind by Drea, putting an end to the pointless confrontation. One that would have lasted much longer if it wasn’t for the Stalker’s assistance.
“Good work,” said the High Elf with a small nod in the spider-demon’s general direction.
“We’re wasting time here!” she hissed. “We need to catch the target-t-t-t-t before he escapes!”
“That is not our mission here, demon,” he replied in a stern manner.
“Maybe not yours… Tktktktktktk….”
Drea gave off an ominous-sounding chitter as she slinked back into the shadows, thoroughly reminding the Paladin why he hated working with demons. As an inherently good person, it was impossible for him to get along with beings that were quite literally born evil. Still, the contemptuous assassin had a point, and they were definitely wasting time here. He landed back on the ground and ran out of the auditorium, back into the hallway where Hilda was still struggling with her Queen Slime problem.
He was just about to leap in and give her a hand when he heard a very familiar voice from the deep end of the passageway. He turned his head to see that the succubus that had gone ahead earlier was using yet another ability she shouldn’t have at her disposal. One that manifested itself in the shape of six rings of yellow light that looped around her elbows, knees, scalp and waist, decorating her like some sort of chandelier.
She used the Skill a second time, wrapping one of the Queen Slimes in similar-looking rings of light that orbited around her undulating body. Although this seemed like she was empowering her enemy, that assessment could not be further from the truth. At least, not when said enemy lacked offensive magic of their own.
Description: The djinn’s natural affinity for magic allows them to easily magnify the effects of almost all Spells and Skills.
Requirements: Level 5 Djinn
Activation Time: Instant
Cost: 300 MP
Range: 15 Meters
Effects: Increases magic damage and healing done by 10% per Level of this Skill.
Increases magic damage and healing taken by 10% per Level of this Skill.
Increases the duration and effectiveness of all temporary Status Effects by 5% per Level of this Skill.
The effects of this Skill will last 15 seconds.
While normally a double-edged sword, this Skill practically shone when used against magically-neutered targets like Steel Queen Slimes. It allowed Xera to take advantage of all of this Skill’s aspects without increasing the risk towards her allies.
After prepping the stage, the winged demoness unleashed a devastating beam of white heat that shot out of the skull-headed staff in her hands and struck one of the Queen Slimes dead on. The bulbous woman screamed in pain as the dull gray color of her ‘skin’ rapidly began turning red. She immediately tried to retreat, but a well-placed body slam to her center of mass from Hilda made her crash into the nearby wall. This allowed Xera to keep her Spell trained on her target for a few seconds longer. The thermal overload caused the slime’s body heat to increase until she started to visibly bubble over and lose consistency until she exploded into a shower of molten steel a few seconds later.
Seeing her ‘sister’ die in a such a visceral manner snapped the other Queen Slime out of whatever battle trance she was in. Realizing that any further opposition would only lead to a rather horrible death, the monster immediately retreated while she had the chance. She willed her body to become completely fluid and escaped through one of the drains in the floor.
“Oy!” shouted Hilda as she stomped on top of the opening. “We’re not done here, ye droopy cunt!”
“Yes, we are,” said the succubus as she walked closer.
“What’d ye mean ‘yes we-’ Lass! Ye’re safe!”
“By the Goddess!”
It was at this point that both VIPs spotted the small, trembling figure standing behind the succubus. The dusky skin, bright crimson hair and fuzzy-looking triangular ears were very much like the catgirl they came here to rescue. At the same time, her lively yellow eyes seemed dull and vacant. Her thousand-meter stare combined with her blank expression and uncharacteristically meek attitude gave off the unmistakable impression of ‘damaged goods.’ The fact that she was wrapped up in what appeared to be a soiled bed sheet was indicative that her stay here was anything but pleasant.
“What did they do to you, child?!” asked Lichter as he rushed to her side and grabbed her by the shoulders.
Keira, however, did not respond. In fact, she barely even seemed to register his presence.
“These assholes,” growled Hilda while punching the wall. “I’ll turn ‘em all into mincemeat for daring to lay a finger on my cute disciple!”
“That is not our objective, you raging cuntwaffle,” spat out Xera. “The target is secure, and we need to vacate the area. Now!”
“She’s right, Hilda,” said the Paladin as he picked the barely responsive Keira up in his arms. “We need to prioritize her safety first.”
“So these sick bastards can come after her again?!” protested the dwarf. “She won’t be safe until we put every last one of ‘em in the ground!”
“My Master is already working on that,” interrupted Xera.
“He… He is?”
“I’ll explain on the way, come on!”
The succubus began feeding the rescue party the cartload of fresh bullshit that Boxxy had prepared for them, but Drea, who was following behind while clinging to the ceiling, didn’t hear a word of it. She was still way too conflicted to do anything but move her body on autopilot while she processed this sudden turn of events.
Her master had died, that much was an undeniable fact. That was why she and Xera were in this place to begin with - to get revenge. Yet at the same time, its Facade had made a sudden reappearance. More confusing still, her comrade was acting as if it was the most natural thing in the world. She honestly didn’t know whether Boxxy was back among the living, whether this was just another of Xera’s frighteningly realistic illusions, or-
A deep voice that only she could hear suddenly grabbed the Stalker’s attention, nearly causing her to lose her grip on the ceiling and fall to the ground. She looked wide eyed at the catgirl in Lichter’s arms, whose eyes were staring back at her. Or rather, giving the sheer intensity of that glare, it was more like they were staring through her. It was a gaze that immediately made her nervous and twitchy, as her body recognized who it was that was so brazenly ogling her before her mind could catch up.
At least until the heard the second dose of Whisper Wind aimed at her.
“I need you to kill yourself so that I can re-establish the contract.”
The Stalker hung from the ceiling by her legs and offered a deep upside-down bow to the air in front of her. She mouthed the words ‘As you wish, Master,’ before chopping her own head off with a smile on her face. A few seconds later, Carl from Demons ‘R’ Us reached out to Boxxy in order to inform the Mimic that another of its contracts had been reestablished.
And now that it had reclaimed its third stray familiar, Boxxy focused its attention on the next step of its hastily thrown together escape plan.
Kora let out her characteristic warcry as she kicked the door to the director’s office with enough force to turn it into splinters. She put a lot more strength into that pointless gesture than was necessary, as she was still riding high from all the violence she had inflicted upon the Foundation. Both elven grunts and their alchemically tamed monsters stood in her way, and all of them were pounded into a fine paste. She also noticed whoever was running things seemed to have a thing for monster girls, as there was a clear bias in the gender of tamed monsters. Kora certainly wasn’t complaining about this inequality though, as it had given her a unique opportunity to sample some rather exotic merchandise.
It was just a shame that so few of them survived long enough to actually get her rocks off.
“Knock, knock, Malon!” yelled the murderapist as she entered the director’s office. “I got a special delivery for ya!”
It was at that point that she realized someone had beaten her to the punch, as the elf in question was already lying on the floor in a pool of his own blood.
“Aw, man! And I was so looking forward to it, too!” she whined out loud before reporting the matter to her Master through their telepathic link.
“So someone already killed him? Was it Zilla?” asked Boxxy.
“The one that killed me.”
“Oh. No, I don’t think it was him. This guy was stabbed through the heart, it’s way too clean. Some poor sap outside the door had his head smashed open, though.”
This revelation led Boxxy to conclude that there had been another intruder on the base besides Snack’s welcome wagon, just as the Mimic had suspected. After all, while being able to avenge its own death with little difficulty was certainly tasty, at the same time the shapeshifter felt as if the whole encounter was almost too easy. Almost as if Zilla had already been affected by some sort of debilitating poison or curse before he had shown up to reclaim ‘his’ Honoka.
After taking the scene that both Arms and its Mirror Image reported about into account, it could only assume that Malon had been assassinated by someone outside the Foundation. The mutated House Mimic certainly wasn’t the one who had killed him, otherwise he would’ve been a lot more brutal. Just like he was with the man who was probably Malon’s assistant and/or secretary, who he probably murdered because he was an eyewitness to Zilla’s encounter with this mysterious assassin.
“Alright. Arms, forget the flat-faced goblin, just follow my clone’s lead.”
The Sandman-shaped Mirror Image walked into the room as it carried out its new set of orders. Kora watched curiously as the soulless doll went over to a section of the wall and began tapping on it with a gloved hand as if looking for something. This guide of hers hadn’t been much use in battle since Boxxy wasn’t around to direct it, but she was actually a bit thankful for that. It just meant there was more things for her to stomp on.
*Don Don Don*
A segment of the wall that should have been lifeless stone let out a hollow-sounding metal ring when the not-Boxxy knocked on it. The towering Mirror Image stood aside and gestured towards the spot while uttering a single word towards Kora.
“Don’t mind if I do! ORA!”
The fiend took a large wind up and introduced her topmost right fist into the situation, which left a sizable dent in the camouflaged door. And then a second, and a third and so on, until the secret entrance crumbled under her repeated pounding and fell over. The six-angled chamber that lied beyond was unnaturally cold, to the point where every surface was covered in a thick layer of ice.
Kora followed the Mirror Image’s commands and entered the room, though it was a bit of a tight fit for someone of her stature. The place was just under 3 meters tall and about 6 meters wide, so she really didn’t have a lot of space to work with. At the same time, however, she spotted what was likely her reason for unearthing this freezing chamber.
Floating in the middle of the room was a floating spherical object, which bobbed up and down and slightly twisted around in the icy breeze, but generally hovering at around the same spot over a crystal pedestal. The orb itself also appeared to be made out of crystals, which gave off a serene white glow. One wouldn’t be blamed for thinking this thing a dungeon core.
However, as someone who had punched two of the things in the past, Kora knew this wasn’t quite right. For starters, it didn’t really look the part, as it seemed to be composed out of hundreds of small pieces that fit together like a puzzle, rather than being a solid and perfectly smooth ball. Each segment seemed to have been carved individually by hand, as while no two of them were exactly alike, each shape had the sort of straight edges and angles that would never occur naturally.
“Hey, Boss? I think I found the thing you were looking for,” reported the Archfiend after a brief moment.
“I know,” came the instant reply. “Clone’s there, remember?”
“Right. So, what is this thing anyway? It sorta looks like a dungeon core, but somehow I doubt that’s the case.”
It wasn’t just the construction that was off, either. There was also the matter of how this pseudo-core was leaking cold air from in between the seams where its components fit together. Not to mention the various pipes and tubes that seemed to be hooked up to it somehow. No matter how she looked at it, Kora couldn’t help but feel that, while similar, this was by no means an actual dungeon core.
“Well, it’s sort of like an artificial dungeon core, so you’re technically right on both counts.”
More precisely, it was a magic tool created to gather, store, and redistribute ambient magical energy. Nothing more, nothing less. Its design was based on the magical power source necessary to operate the Republic’s Forest Gates. Except that the Foundation had adapted and expanded upon the design in order to power their underground research facility. Magical lights, Stasis Fields, large equipment, various security measures and even the alarm incessantly blaring in the background were all hooked up to this thing. Even if it lacked most of the functionality that a real core would have access to, it was still the literal heart of this facility.
“Damn, the nerds around here come up with the craziest shit, don’t they?” commented Kora. “So what’s the game plan? Want me to grab it and run?”
“No. Not exactly.”
“You sure? It’s pretty shiny.”
“Gnn! No! I can’t. As much as I want to keep it, I have a better use for it.”
“Oh? Like what?”
“Even if it’s an artificial core, it can still make a very real big boom.”
There was a moment of silence as the Mimic’s intentions sank into Kora.
“… I dunno Boss. Won’t you get caught up in the blast, too?” she asked in an exceedingly rare show of concern.
“Nope. I’m already out of range, actually.”
The details surrounding this device were something Boxxy had stolen from Professor Honoka’s corpse via the Broken Reflection Skill. Her oxygen-deprived mind had wandered to this place while Boxxy was slowly choking the life out of her. Her final thoughts were not of a loved one, but of a failsafe measure called Protocol 66, which was designed to wipe out the entire facility and everything within by detonating the power source in front of Kora.
It was the ultimate failsafe, in case the Foundation’s illegal, unethical, unofficial, and largely unsupervised monster factory ever became a threat or a liability. In Honoka’s desperate situation, she felt that it was the only way to truly stop the creature that had its hands around her throat. Of course, doing so would mean sacrificing decades’ worth of research, millions worth of GP and hundreds of people just to kill one monster, but she felt it would be worth it if it meant ridding the world of this natural-born terrorist.
And now that very same walking calamity would use the universal ‘undo’ button to wipe out any remaining traces of its capture.
Unfortunately for the Mimic, while Honoka’s thoughts did reveal the existence, location, and function of Protocol 66, they did not disclose the way to actually trigger it. This naturally posed a problem, but not one that Boxxy was perturbed by. After all, the creature knew of a catch-all solution to any of life’s problems.
“So… does that mean what I think it means?!” asked Kora expectantly.
“If you’re thinking about hitting it really hard, then yes.”
Namely, a copious application of violence.