*Knock knock knock*
There was a rapping on Reginald’s door, followed by his secretary poking her head inside the room a few seconds later.
“Excuse me, Mr Namhel, but Mrs Mainus is requesting another urgent meeting. I know you have company, but-”
“That’s quite alright, my dear,” said the old banker. “I was actually expecting her, and Mr Jensen here was just leaving.”
The other person in the room, a middle-aged elf with black hair, black eyes and a thoroughly forgettable face, nodded to show his consent. This was one of Reginald’s doppelganger associates, and the two of them had been discussing the hostile takeover of a certain human-run smuggling ring for the last 20 minutes. A discussion that would obviously need to wait until later.
Jensen got off his seat and walked out of the room, sharing a courtesy greeting with Mrs Mainus as the two shapeshifters passed by each other. Once she was alone with him, Xera reverted back to her pretend-succubus form.
“Hello Reggie,” she said casually while taking a seat.
“Miss Snack,” he responded in kind. “I trust your presence here means your Master is alive and well?”
“Indeed. We hit a small snag when doing you that favor, so we had to go off the grid for a while.”
“Mmmm… Yes, I assumed as much when I heard the Hero of Chaos had vanished from the public eye a week ago.”
Keira’s abrupt disappearance had made waves within Azurvale, despite the local government’s attempts to keep her kidnapping under wraps. After all, she was the face of victory against the Empire, so they couldn’t openly admit they let her be taken on their watch. Their concerns were then validated yesterday, as the Slyth household had withdrawn their missing person report, stating it was all a big misunderstanding caused by the Hero’s quirky ability to attract trouble.
But while they were relieved their trophy child was safe and sound, the damage had already been done, as there was supposed to be a huge award ceremony in Keira’s honor. It was slated to be a very public, high profile event during which the Exarch - the Republic government’s elected leader - was supposed to personally recognize the young soldier’s contributions to the war effort. And since the guest of honor was a no-show, they had little choice but to cancel it, sending the city’s rumor mill into full swing.
“Though I do wish Boxxy wouldn’t do things in such a flashy manner,” added Reginald with a sigh. “I understand Mr Alexis was a powerful individual, but burning down three city blocks was a bit overkill, wouldn’t you say?”
“That was indeed an accident, but it couldn’t be helped.”
“And what about this earthquake the day before yesterday, hmm? Was that another accident?”
“Nope. That one was actually intentional. It marked the end of the organization supporting your mysterious Doppelganger hunter.”
“Really now? So that living nightmare succeeded after all, huh? Then you know who was supporting him?”
“We do. But then again, so do you.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“So you don’t know anything about a Foundation?”
“Which Foundation?” asked the old shapeshifter. “Do you mean Saint Helena’s Foundation for the Magically Maimed?”
“Alright, let me put it in a different way,” said Xera while leaning back in her seat and crossing her legs. “Would you kindly tell me what you know about the Foundation, old boy?”
“The Foundation of the Founding Father was created nearly 20 years ago by the previous Exarch. It exists to further the works of the Founding Father and bring prosperity to elvenkind at any reasonable cost.”
It was a flawless, smooth answer, delivered in the same tone of voice one might use to describe how they liked their coffee.
“Founding Father,eh? And who would that be?” asked Xera.
“Again, no idea what you’re talking about,” answered Reginald in an annoyed tone. “Do these pointless questions serve a purpose here?”
“Would you kindly tell me who the Foundation’s Founding Father is, old boy?”
“Commonly referred to as Tol-Saroth, the Founding Father was the man who laid the groundwork for the dissolution of the corrupt Elven Dominion and brought about the rise of the Ishigar Republic.”
Xera continued interrogating Reginald, also known as Project Lighthouse, for the better part of half an hour. He shared everything he knew about the secretive government-funded organization, and even divulged the secrets of his own network of shapeshifters. And he did this willingly and eagerly, because he was a sleeper agent of the Foundation. He had been conditioned to carry out any orders or requests he received, so long as they were framed by the dual code phrases ‘would you kindly’ and ‘old boy.’ And he would do these things subconsciously, without being aware someone else had told him to do so and retaining seemingly no memory of the event.
That was why he sent Boxxy to confront Jones Alexis in the first place. He had received standing orders to send any exceptional shapeshifters he came across to the Foundation’s lackey, who would subdue them and bring them in as test subjects. He was also supposed to warn Zilla when he was about to get a new ‘delivery,’ but since Boxxy spontaneously decided to challenge its target, Reginald never had that information to begin with.
As for why the Foundation had sunk their claws into Reggie in the first place - it was simple. It gave the shadowy organization their own private spy network, which they used to attack and take over various crime syndicates. Doppelgangers weren’t much of a combat-oriented species, but they were still monsters, which made them inherently stronger and faster than regular elves. Not to mention that, with their ability to infiltrate, these hostile takeovers would often end without a single drop of blood being shed or anyone realizing their leaders had been silently replaced. And the proceeds from all this unlawful activity would then either be used as additional Foundation funding, or be funneled through the Namhel Brothers bank to provide financial support to the government.
In other words, the main reason the fake Reginald Namhel’s little empire had survived for as long as it did was because it was allowed to.
“Would you kindly tell me what you know about Soulstones, old boy?”
Xera began wrapping up her interrogation of Reggie by asking the last and arguably most important thing Boxxy wanted to know from him.
“I don’t know anything about Soulstones.”
“I see. Then would you kindly use your spies to find out everything you can about Soulstones, old boy?”
“Yes. I will do that,” he affirmed in a flat monotone.
“Thank you Reggie, you’ve been very helpful,” said Xera with a twisted smile.
“Uhm, you’re welcome?” answered the confused shapeshifter. “What about the matter of Jones Alexis, though?”
“Oh you don’t need to worry about that. In fact, would you kindly forget everything about Jones Alexis, Boxxy T. Morningwood, or any of their associates, old boy?”
“Yes. I will do that.”
In the next instant he snapped out of his trance, and found himself staring at an unfamiliar demon in the middle of his office.
“What? Who are you?! How did you get in here!?”
Xera stood from her seat and walked over to the door while Reginald became more and more aggressive.
“Would you kindly forget you ever saw me, old boy?”
“Yes. I will do that.”
With those final words, she transformed into Mrs Mainus and left his office before he had a chance to snap out of his trance.
“Are you sure this is okay, Master?” she asked telepathically while making her way out of the building.
“It’ll be fine,” it responded. “At least this way he won’t be able to tell anyone who comes snooping about my true identity.”
“Shouldn’t we break him free of the Foundation’s control?”
“Why would we? He’s much easier to handle like this.”
“I suppose, but… Doesn’t his condition seem a bit too pathetic?”
“What do you mean?”
“That sorry creature in there is what you would’ve become eventually if we didn’t arrive when we did…”
“No, it wouldn’t. I’d kill myself before I let someone control me like that.”
“You… would really do that?”
“Of course. My mind, my body and my life are mine and mine alone. I’d much rather see them destroyed than let someone else take them from me.”
“If you’re all done there, then go deliver Keira’s personal belongings to the mansion.”
“I hear and obey my Master.”
The ‘belongings’ in question consisted of the mithril rapier, casual clothes, jewelry and other things that the catgirl would’ve had on her when she was captured. The idea was that Snack would present them to the Slyths as a gesture of good faith from the Sandman when she went to pick up his fee for participating in the rescue quest. The cloaked mercenary would have come across them when he was cleaning up the base and decided to do the catgirl a favor by bringing them out. That way the catgirl would officially have her stuff back, instead of having it magically reappear in her possession even though she was found butt-naked in a hallway.
Honestly speaking, the Mimic could probably do without the vast majority of that stuff, but four of those items were vitally important. The jeweled mithril rapier was an obvious one, as getting to carry that superbly shiny article around as Keira was one of the perks of its Facade. It was also becoming something of a signature weapon, as she carried it around a lot, so its whereabouts had to be accounted for.
The other three were the trio of simple-looking iron rings that the catgirl typically wore on her right hand. These supposedly sentimental items were actually vital to Boxxy’s disguise since they brought its overall weight down to about third of what it normally was. If it wasn’t for those, then Keira would be far too heavy for a beastkin her size. Or any size, for that matter. Right now she was wearing them on the inside of her body to maintain her cover, but this was hardly ideal. Having foreign objects inside itself got in the way of Boxxy’s shapeshifting, not to mention it was uncomfortable. It was therefore rather vital that Snack ‘deliver’ them so it could wear them on Keira’s fingers rather than inside her buttocks.
“By the way, how goes it on your end, Master?” asked Xera as she was making her way back to the mansion. “Have you managed to convince that vapid cunt to stop being so gods-damned clingy?”
“No. Looks like I’ll have to wait this one out.”
“I could always take her place…” she said in an oddly hopeful tone of voice.
“Maybe, but you can’t take the place of her parents, Hilda and Lichter all at once.”
“It’s not just Rowana - all five of them are telling me the same thing.”
Namely ‘stay put where we can keep an eye on you.’
Following Keira’s rescue, it had been unanimously decided that the catgirl would spend an indeterminate amount of time on the premises of the Slyth family estate. Her ‘inner circle’ wanted to keep her somewhere where they could monitor her condition and protect her from any sort of retaliation from that underground organization’s remnants. They were all very valid concerns from the point of view of people who didn’t know any better, so the Mimic had no choice but begrudgingly accept if it wanted to keep its Facade strong.
And it couldn’t just say ‘yes’ and then do whatever the hell it wanted anyway, as it was impossible to slip away from the mansion without Keira’s absence being found out pretty rapidly. Having Snack take its place also wasn’t feasible, as she couldn’t recreate the Soulstone lodged in Keira’s back with her shapeshifting. She could still do it with her Conjure Mirage Skill, but that would come with its own share of problems. Mainly to do with Rowana, who had become, as Snack herself had so succinctly put it, ‘gods-damned clingy.’ Which meant that any illusion the djinn placed upon her body would dissipate the instant that elf touched it, blowing the demon’s cover wide open.
That girl was proving to be something of a headache to Boxxy’s plans yet again, but it couldn’t get rid of her just yet. Not while it still had Doppelganger Levels to attain. Even if it was just one person, the sheer degree with which she loved, believed in, and trusted Keira had been a steady source of Doppelganger XP. Sure, the monster had gotten quite a few Levels from Keira’s popularity among the masses, but that was going to diminish eventually. Getting rid of Rowana at this point would be like quitting one’s steady job because they won a small fortune from a lottery. It seemed attractive at first glance as it freed Boxxy up in the short term, but it had to consider the long game here.
After all, getting those next 15 Doppelganger Levels was going to take a looooong time.
The same couldn’t be said for the next 15 Warlock Levels, though. Or rather, the next 14, as the amount of death and destruction it and its familiars had caused during their recent escape had boosted it up to Level 61 of the Job, granting the Mimic access to another Warlock Skill. A Skill that Boxxy had high expectations of, if the research it conducted on it beforehand was any indication.
Description: Allows the Warlock to tap into and control the flow of gravity, bending the natural force to his will through sheer mystic might.
Requirements: Level 60 Warlock, Level 10 Ruin Mastery
Activation Time: N/A
Effects: Grants knowledge of a new gravity-altering Ruin Spell at Level 1, 4, 7 and 10 of this Skill.
Increases the effectiveness of all gravity-altering effects by 3% per Level of this Skill.
Increases resistance to all gravity-altering effects by 3% per Level of this Skill.
The amount of new ‘freebie’ Spells that magic-based Jobs had access to past Level 50 was effectively zero. Which meant that adventurers such as Pyromancers, Cryomancers, Wizards and Warlocks/Witches had to use one of two approaches if they hoped to expand their magical arsenal beyond that point. They either had to learn Spells the hard, manual way, which would take years of time and effort, or rely on ‘Library Skills’ like Graviton Manipulation. And according to what Boxxy had read up regarding the ones Warlocks had access to, learning this cluster of gravity magic Spells was very much a worthwhile endeavor.
The first of these magical incantations, and also the only one that Boxxy currently had access to, was Momentum Anomaly. Simply put, it projected a zone of mystic energy where the faster something moved, the heavier it got. The magic trick could be used to protect against physical projectile attacks like throwing knives or arrows as it would throw them off-course, but that wasn’t its core use. Momentum Anomaly was the perfect tool to trap targets such as Rogues, Rangers and Monks, which relied on fast and agile movements to survive. And the faster they got, the sooner they would find themselves pinned to the ground under their own body weight. This aspect made Momentum Anomaly one of the few Spells that actually rose in effectiveness when used against higher Level opponents. Unfortunately, it would do very little when used against targets that didn’t move very quickly, such as most magic users, or individuals that could withstand the added weight, like Warriors or Paladins.
That was fine, though, because the one Boxxy wanted to use it on was definitely not the muscle-headed type.
The other Spells the Mimic would learn later on were Weightless Space at Level 4, Gravity Well at Level 7, and then Magnetic Tilt at Level 10. The first of those did exactly what it said on the cover and rendered everything within its area of effect completely weightless, while the second of those did the opposite and massively amplified gravity in an area. It was similar in effect to the Ultimate Skill of that crazy old Warlock VIP that Boxxy met and subsequently murdered during the war, albeit on a much smaller scale. The last of those was arguably the most interesting, as it would shift the direction that gravity was pointing in within its effective range.
Overall, it was an extremely flexible array of magic with a good deal of applications both in and out of combat situations. And since all of those were area effect Spells, they could all be used in conjunction with Crystallize Magic. Truthfully speaking though, although Boxxy was looking forward to playing around with them, it was starting to wonder just how many more tricks it needed in its repertoire. While being flexible and having many options was definitely a good thing, spreading itself out so much was starting to feel detrimental. After all, it was impossible for a single creature to fire arrows, fight with swords and cast magic all at once.
Not to mention that if its fight with Zilla had taught it anything, it was that all the trickery and misdirection in the world was worthless in the face of absolute power. It had ran through its recollection of that encounter countless times as it sat inside its Foundation cell. And no matter how much it thought back on it, it just couldn’t see itself winning in that situation. The only halfway acceptable outcome would have been if it had kept running and made its escape instead of turning around to face the thing in open combat. However, the sudden burst of reinvigorating energy it got from Chaotic Disposition had momentarily clouded its judgement.
It was more than a little ironic that if it wasn’t for that seemingly positive random outcome, then the Mimic likely wouldn’t have died back then. It just went to show how foolish Boxxy had been to rely on luck and trickery to take down an opponent of that terrifying a magnitude. It needed to keep that in mind the next time it tried to foolishly tackle something beyond its means. Which was pretty much exactly what it was planning to do, as it was already making preparations to stand up to one of the original twelve dryads.
A confrontation that, by the look of things, was not going to end peacefully.
“Arms, Claws,” it called out telepathically. “Progress report.”
“We’re still clearing the way, boss,” answered Kora. “There’s a lot of shit down here so it’ll take at least a day or two more at this rate.”
“Ugh, ‘shit’ is right, though,” scoffed Drea. “I’m glad I’ve never had to wade through all that muck until now.”
While the djinn was taking advantage of Reggie’s brainwashing, the Archfiend and the Stalker were sent to investigate a certain dilapidated sewer tunnel. It was the same one that Boxxy, Arms, and Snack had used to first gain entry into what would later become the Dryad’s Domain dungeon. However, rather than the barely serviceable tunnel they were expecting, the Mimic’s familiars had instead found a completely collapsed ruin. And judging from how the walls seemed to have exploded in a deluge of loose dirt and stone, the culprit behind that destruction was the dryad herself.
The discovery of her ‘footprints’ at the scene answered how the passage had collapsed, and although Boxxy wasn’t completely sure, it could hazard a guess as to the ‘why’ of things. After all, either the dryad was still under the orphaned dungeon core’s influence, or she wasn’t. If it was the former, then she would most probably perceive Boxxy as an intruder, an imposter, or both at the same time. Which meant she would likely attack it on sight. On the other hand, if she had broken free, then she would have realized the Mimic had been manipulating her all this time. Resulting in her most likely attacking it on sight to get revenge.
And given how she had sealed off all known entrances to her trunk, it was most likely that second option.
“I dunno boss, are we even sure that hole’s still there?” asked Kora.
“It better be. Otherwise we’re going to have a very hard time getting inside,” said the Mimic. “And by ‘we’ I of course mean ‘you.’”
“Ugh, more manual labor. Wonderful.”
“Tell me about it,” chimed in Drea. “That old hag better appreciate all the trouble the Master’s going through just to meet her!”
“Uh, not for nothing, bug-breath, but we’re the ones doing all the heavy lifting here,” pointed out Kora.
“And you better do a good job of it, meat-head!” shouted Xera while she was still in-transit. “This is the Master’s triumphant return to its domain, and you need to make sure my beloved has an unobstructed path to victory!”
“Shut it, bubble-butt! Just because you got the easy assignment this time doesn’t give you the right to give me orders! Get your plump ass down here, then you can pretend to be in charge, alright?”
“As if! That place is filthy, untasty, and unshiny - it is entirely unworthy of the Master’s prized Snack!”
“Snack, you’re going down there to help out as soon as you’re done with your delivery,” commanded the Master in question.
“Yes, Master! This worthless slut shall engrave the humiliation into the eternal darkness that is her heart, Master!” proudly declared Xera.
“Yeesh, talk about a two-faced hypocrite,” grumbled Kora.
“That must be nice, being able to enjoy this sort of stuff…” lamented Drea to nobody in particular.
“Hey, boss? Not that I wouldn’t enjoy watching the Jizz Tornado try and then fail to lift a rock, but how exactly is she going to be of use? She’d only get in the way down here with those pathetic wanking noodles she calls arms.”
“I’ll have you know, my amped-up magic can easily melt stone,” she sneered back. “I can burn a path to that root way before you can headbutt your way to it. And if the tunnel is sealed like the rest, then I’ll burn a hole through it, too!”
It was at that point that Boxxy, who was silently reading a book titled Treasures of the Horkensaft Kingdom in the Slyth household’s library, suddenly had an epiphany.
“Yeah, because that worked out so well for you the last time you tried it, didn’t it?” sneered Kora.
Thinking back on all of the truly formidable people and monsters it had met so far, it realized that each and every last one of them had a specialization - their own ‘thing,’ as it were.
“I wonder if I can get a bite of the Master’s meal sometimes. It’d be like an indirect kiss…” continued the Stalker, who was lost inside her own little world.
Hilda fought by honing her unyielding rage into a knife’s edge. Lichter focused on the synergies between his Paladin Skills and his equipment to get the most out of his gear. Faehorn was an expert sniper whose target acquisition rate was second to none. Even Zilla seemed to have taken up lightning-based magic as his main weapon, despite being the amalgamation of over half a dozen monsters.
“Hey, I’m a djinn now! My magic is on a completely different Level from before!”
Even the Mimic’s own familiars were the embodiments of that. Even though they were overall weaker than their Master, they still surpassed it their own areas of expertise. Snack’s ability to lay waste to her enemies with her magic was definitely ahead of Boxxy’s. Arms could withstand more punishment and had a lot more raw physical strength than the Mimic. And Drea completely left the shapeshifter in the dust when it came to disappearing from sight and getting the drop on her targets.
“I think your Shameless Slut Job was the one that gained the most from your weird-ass Rank Up!”
But Boxxy had nothing like that. It dabbled in a lot of fields when it came to combat, but none of them stood out as particularly outstanding by themselves. Trying to look at itself objectively, it couldn’t put its finger on any sort of innate talent or natural gift it could develop into its own ‘thing.’
“Mmmmm… I wonder if Boxxy will want to lick me all over if I smear myself in human blood…”
Sure, it was an above average shapeshifter and could bullshit its way through civilized life without too much difficulty, but neither of those would help it win in a straight up fight. All the deception in the world was pointless once its gimmicks were exposed and its back was up against the wall. Which was bound to happen if it wanted to go up against the Empire’s Spymaster and get revenge on him.
“Just because you became even more of a thick-headed moron with your Rank Up doesn’t mean the rest of us have to be as unfortunate as you!”
It was also the Hero of Chaos, but the Skills associated with that title were uncontrollable by their very nature, so they couldn’t be relied upon.
“You weren’t complaining last night when you had both my dicks up your ass!”
And it couldn’t just pick melee, ranged, magic or stealth-based combat to focus on on a whim.
“-and then maybe we’d cuddle in the moonlight and I could get my boobs fondled…”
When presented with so many options, it somehow actually made the decision even harder, as all of them had their good and bad points.
“Oh puh-lease! As if your tomato sticks could ever hope to compare to the Master’s, hnnng, thoroughly invasive methods ~♡! You barely even qualify as a satisfying fuck anymore.”
That was only to be expected though, as there was no ‘best’ way to fight, as each and every battle had its own set of unique circumstances.
“I’ll have you know, I get booty calls from the high bitch Teresa herself twice a week! I give her such a thorough dicking even her clergy can feel it!”
Focusing on just the one thing always felt like playing Rock, Paper, Scissors by always throwing Rock.
“But then we’d be seen on the Boxxy Show, right? Ahh, why does that thought turn me on even more?!”
It was just that some people threw Rock so hard, they were able to somehow crush both Paper and other Rocks with it.
“And here I thought only Drea had a habit of fantasizing about impossible scenarios!”
But did Boxxy truly not have something like that?
“Fuck you, bitch!”
“… Wait, what?”
“Fuck me?! You wish!”
“Get down here and it won’t be a wish anymore!”
“Did I just think all that stuff out loud?!”
“Are you three just about done?!” mentally shouted Boxxy in an annoyed manner. “Daylight’s burning out there so quit your pointless bickering and focus on your assigned tasks!”
“Yes, Master! At once, Master!” replied the three demons in unison with what sounded like huge smiles on their faces.
“I swear, it’s like trying to herd a gaggle of retarded cats,” grumbled the Mimic. “Now, where was I?”
Boxxy slumped back in Keira’s seat as it resumed its mental self-assessment, completely oblivious to the fact that the fierce loyalty it inspired in its demonic servants was already one for the record books.