Having had their fill of frivolous activity for the moment, Boxxy and its demonic entourage finally set foot into Ambrosia’s trunk. The hole in the root was oddly enough left open, which the Mimic could only assume was done on purpose. After all, if the dryad willed it, she could easily patch something like that in an instant, even without the dungeon core’s assistance. The only reason she had left it open in the first place was because her body was so huge that it was easy to overlook a few holes here and there.
You have entered the Dryad’s Domain.
Your body begins to feed off the ambient mana. Automatic HP and MP recovery increased by 100%.
Boxxy had passed through the invisible border of its former dungeon as it and its posse progressed through the tight, winding cavity of Ambrosia’s roots. Its Hylt Metabolism Skill kicked in almost immediately, signifying the abnormally high concentration of mana maintained by the crystal core. It was the Mimic’s first time quite literally eating the ambient mystical energy around it. Oddly enough, while the feeling flooding into every pore of its skin leaned towards the positive end of the tastiness scale, it wasn’t quite as tasty as it had expected. Then again, the surprisingly tasty ‘flavor’ of sunlight had somewhat skewed its expectations.
The Mimic quickly abandoned such idle thoughts when it realized the small passageway had begun to change. Initially it was so tight that Arms could not physically fit through it, which was why she was left outside at first. But after entering the dungeon’s territory, it had been growing wider and wider. It was currently at the stage where Snack could stand upright rather than have to crawl on all fours in front of Boxxy. She still kept doing it, but that was mostly because she wasn’t right in the head.
It wasn’t just the size of it, either. What was once a random cave tunnel carved out of hungry termites had rapidly become a proper hallway. It was still made of wood, but had right angles, flat surfaces and magical glowing crystals adorning the walls. It eventually led to what appeared to be a grand circular staircase going straight up. It was grown entirely out of wood and bark, with a few errant branches and leaves poking out of the central column it was coiled around.
This was most definitely not a natural occurrence, nor was it here the last time it checked. Granted, it had been a while since it had used the sewer entrance, but it was certain it would remember something like this.
“Did any of you three remodel this part of the dungeon at some point?”
Boxxy’s inquiry was met with a triple unanimous ‘No, Master,’ although it suspected as much. It wasn’t like those frivolous slackers would try and do anything that seemed like work unless ordered to. Fizzy, on the other hand, never had the authority to use Terrain Sculpting, which meant that Ambrosia was the only one who could have done this. However, the real question on its mind wasn’t ‘who,’ but ‘why.’ Why had the dryad gone out of her way to make her innards slightly more accessible?
Proficiency level increased. Hylt Metabolism is now Level 3. END +5. INT +3.
Automatic HP and MP recovery increased by an additional 50%.
Well, the Mimic wasn’t going to complain about it. Rather, since it was convenient, it took advantage of the extra space and summoned Arms back to its new position. Its MP recovery was through the roof, so it would only be a few minutes before it recouped the cost of her summoning. Once the monstrous quartet was back together - and after Boxxy took the time to prepare some extra Spell Crystals - they began ascending the staircase.
“Master?” spoke up Snack after a while. “Forgive this worthless slut, but isn’t this part oddly familiar?”
“Come to think of it, yeah,” agreed Arms. “It’s a lot like when we were in that black place with whatsherface. Vagisil or something?”
“Oh! The raid on the Spire of the Jade King with the lich, Valeria!” exclaimed Claws. “That was a pretty fun episode!”
Indeed, this spiral staircase was oddly reminiscent of Boxxy’s second dungeon conquest. It was too similar for it to be a simple coincidence.
And judging from the endless chittering that began approaching from both behind and in front, the Mimic was right. Much like that time, this too was an ambush, only rather than crystal scarabs, the swarm that descended upon Boxxy and its group was that of giant termites the size of large dogs. Extremely toxic dungeon born variants by the look of things, as they were putrid green in color, and the venom dripping from their mandibles was potent enough to eat away at the timber steps when it fell to the floor.
But even if they were a particularly dangerous type of termite, they were termites nonetheless. Meaning that when they actually tried to descend upon Boxxy, the insects found themselves suddenly paralyzed by fear and unable to move. Despite the dungeon core’s influence, they couldn’t help but question exactly what they were trying to do with their lives. The spider-legged chest in front of them had a certain air about it that made their instincts scream for them to run away with all their might.
And the reason for that, was because on her first visit here, Xera had killed a generous number of these things. At least 20,000 of them, to be a bit more accurate. And since she was her master’s familiar, that feat ended up conferring a little something onto Boxxy.
Natural Enemy of Termites
Description: Repetition is the mother of learning. Especially when it comes to extermination.
Requirements: Kill more than 20,000 termites.
Effects: Increases all damage dealt to termite monster species by 10%.
Killing a termite invigorates you, restoring 2% of max HP and MP.
Faced with what they perceived to be the annihilator of their very species, there was no way these basic, mindless insects would not be influenced by it. As for Boxxy, it decided to take advantage of this opportunity to develop a Job it had been neglecting for a while. The chest’s lid opened up, and a jeweled mithril rapier rose into the air out of it. By the time the weapon came down, Boxxy had already assumed Keira’s form and nimbly grabbed hold of it.
It sliced through six of the dumbfounded insects with a single slash of its ice-imbued weapon, turning them into a dozen abstract ice sculptures. Having been dealt the initial blow, the vermin finally snapped out of their trance as the dungeon core urged them to repel the invaders. What followed was a one-sided massacre that saw them all either diced up and turned to ice by Boxxy’s swordplay as it rampaged up the stairs. Those behind got crushed by Kora’s fists and heels, gobbled up by Drea’s gluttonous maw, or turned to ash by Xera’s flames.
All things said and done, the ‘ambush’ was stomped with minimal difficulty, letting the Mimic reach Level 27 of its Blade Dancer Job. It also gained a tiny bit of Warlock XP, but that was so negligible that it barely passed 1% of the way to the next Level. Afterward, Boxxy and the demonic trio regrouped at the top of the stairs, where a massive wooden door with glowing golden letters on it blocked their way.
A goblin, a squirrel and a bird are racing up a pine tree. Which one of them will reach the apple first?
“… Is this a joke?” asked Xera in an indignant manner after reading the words.
“No, it’s a riddle,” replied Boxxy. “Looks like a Puzzle Door.”
“Why would she put one of those up though?” inquired Drea absentmindedly.
“We can ask her after we get through it. Stand aside! … Scorching-!”
The djinn was about to unleash her magic on it, but Boxxy kicked her in the back of the head, smashing her face against the Puzzle Door.
“Don’t do unnecessary things, you pathetic idiot,” it snarled. “These things are impossible to breach with brute force.”
The Mimic vaguely remembered the specifications of it in the dungeon core’s Trap Construction menu. It was an obstacle that would only open up after giving the right answer or password. Giving the wrong one or trying to break it down the hard way, on the other hand, would normally spring some sort of nasty surprise or trap. Boxxy’s MLG didn’t pick anything up in its surroundings, but things were often not as they appeared in a full fledged dungeon.
“We just have to answer the riddle, right?” confirmed Kora. “Then it’s easy! The answer is obviously the goblin!”
“Squirrels are faster and more nimble than goblins, though,” pointed out Drea.
“Nonsense,” declared Xera after that brief but enjoyable bout of punishment. “A bird can fly. It doesn’t have to climb at all.”
“Maybe, but goblins are nasty little buggers,” argued Kora. “It would just kill both of them right at the start!”
The three of them argued back and forth for a while. Thankfully they were using the mental link between them and their master, so their bickering didn’t cause any sort of reaction. As for Boxxy, it quickly determined they were all idiots and stood in front of the door while still posing as a nude Keira, and uttered three simple words.
“None of them.”
The golden lettering on the double doors glowed intensely for a brief moment. They then began to slowly open outward while the three demons looked on in confusion. Boxxy didn’t even need to be a mind reader to tell they were all wondering how that made any sense.
“Apples don’t grow on pine trees.”
After pointing out this rather obvious fact it calmly crossed through the doors while the trio of girls followed in various states of dissatisfaction. Xera was, as was to be expected of her, getting off on being shown to be inferior to her Master. Kora, on the other hand, was pissed she got one-upped by someone and Drea was just plain ashamed she fell for that trick question.
They didn’t have much time to lament on the event, however, as the large chamber beyond that Puzzle Door was filled with dozens of treants. Bearing the appearance of four-to-five-meter-tall tree-people, these monsters were known for their high durability and slow, but devastating attacks. They were also covered by some type of parasitic purple flowers that had encroached on their bodies. These things spat out poisonous spores that had a severe numbing and muscle-relaxant effect. Anyone that breathed those in would suddenly find themselves less capable of dodging the treants’ massive attacks and end up as nothing but a bloody smear on the ground.
At least that was what might happen to an unprepared group of adventurers.
Boxxy and Xera instantly annihilated the lumbering targets with their combined magic, leaving them as flaming splinters. Xera’s Purge Spell came in particularly useful in this encounter. With it, she was able to literally burn away all poisons, toxins and diseases from herself and her allies while also cauterizing their wounds. The purifying flames inflicted a bit of damage on her, but it was well worth the payoff.
From then on, the Mimic’s party was faced with a series of chambers, each with its own challenge. Some of them were full of monsters with a distinctly plant-like and/or poisonous nature. A few of them were Puzzle Doors, all but one of which Boxxy was able to solve instantly. That one wasn’t so much a riddle as it was a history question regarding the Elven Dominion which the Mimic didn’t know the answer to. Drea was surprisingly enough able to step in and solve it, as she and one of her former masters had taken part in the ancient war campaign the Puzzle Door was asking about.
The most frustrating of these places, however, were the trap chambers. Giant moving sawblades and guillotines, spike floors, dart traps, teleportation traps, pitfalls and other nasty things had to be traversed. They really were incredibly annoying to get past, at least from the demons’ perspective. All Boxxy had to do was throw the three of them at these booby-trapped corridors over and over until they were beaten either by Xera’s Mist Form, Kora’s pigheadedness, or Drea’s agility and speed. Most commonly the last one. After a demon had made it through to the other side, Boxxy just needed to Transfamiliar to the exit and move on.
Overall, the revamped Dryad’s Domain wasn’t any more difficult than the Spire of the Jade King in terms of monster strength, but it was quite a bit more annoying. Traps and inane Puzzle Doors aside, the very layout of the dungeon was an incomprehensible three-dimensional maze. One whose connecting doors and passages seemed to shift around at set intervals of about 40 minutes, making a mess of Boxxy’s mental map of the place in the process.
It wasn’t that big a deal, though. With Hylt Metabolism reaching Level 4, Boxxy was enjoying an overall boost of 250% to its MP recovery rate when combined with Meditation, drastically shortening the downtime needed between demonic summons. It also didn’t need to worry about sustenance despite the hours-long dungeon expedition, proving that this Skill was exactly what Boxxy imagined it would be when it picked it up. Namely an invaluable tool for conquering dungeons and plundering all the loot left behind by the gods.
And indeed, based on the volumes upon volumes of books it read during its short hiatus, it was able to grasp exactly why dungeons existed. Simply put, they were places to allow adventurers to get both stronger and richer. They were a sort of divine proving ground where challengers hoped to show themselves worthy of being granted obscene amounts of gold and outrageous magic items. It was even rumored that Axel, the God of War, and Zephyra, the Goddess of Rain, used their personal dungeons as a means of picking their next Hero.
But the question that kept bugging Boxxy’s mind had nothing to do with some deity’s entertainment. It just couldn’t grasp why in the world Ambrosia would do all this. Or why she refused to show herself. It had made a personal appearance in full force with the hopes of getting her attention and opening a dialogue with her, but the buxom bushel of a broad was nowhere to be seen. Even after the Mimic had spent so much time ploughing through this maze-like dungeon, it still couldn’t get a reaction from her.
Then, roughly 5 hours since the expedition started, it finally reached the deepest part of the Dryad’s Domain - the dungeon core platform. What was once an outcropping in a colossal cavern made of timber was now something more of a balcony. Boxxy and its troupe had made it ‘outside’ the endless series of chambers, and were able to observe what appeared to be hundreds of giant wooden cubes taking up the formerly empty space within Ambrosia’s hollowed out trunk. New ones were slowly taking shape along the edges and up top, suggesting the dungeon was still expanding.
As for the source of all this hustle and bustle, it was currently hovering directly above the spider-chest. The dungeon core was still in its magically affixed position, where it shone brightly like a miniature sun and pulsed quietly with reality-warping magic. Seeing nothing better to do, Boxxy leapt up to the 2-meter wide orb and landed deftly on top of it, prompting it to flash for a moment the instant its arachnid legs made contact with its smooth crystal surface.
You are now the owner of dungeon core PT-5484-BM.
Dungeon core PT-5484-BM will now cease autonomous management of Dryad’s Domain.
As if recognizing its rightful owner had come home, the crystal ball immediately linked up with Boxxy. The Mimic paused for a few moments, as it hadn’t expected this turn of events. It was also slightly taken aback by how eagerly the core latched onto it. On the other hand, it had pretty much done the same when the creature first rolled it out of its former home.
Not wishing to waste any more time, Boxxy immediately went to check on its reclaimed hideout.
|General Information||Basic Functions||Advanced Features|
|Owner||Boxxy T. Morningwood||Name||Status||Name||Status|
|Core ID||PT-5484-BM||Dungeon Expansion||Active||Guardian Assignment||Ready|
|Core Status||Active (Dryad’s Domain)||Item Allocation||Active||Nexus Access||Ready|
|Dungeon Master||Mana Collection||Active||Prison Management||Ready|
|Integrity||100%||Monster Spawner||Active||Terrain Sculpting||Ready|
|MP||241/20,000 (+1.6/sec)||Surveillance Net||Active||Trap Construction||Ready|
It would appear that Ambrosia wasn’t the one who was responsible for this dungeon after all. She was no longer the dungeon master, and had chosen to ignore the dungeon core completely, as evidenced by how it had apparently been orphaned until just now. With nobody to tell it what to do, the core had fallen back on some built-in programming that made it generate a dungeon according to certain built-in patterns. That was why all those rooms looked so… repetitive and uninspired, and also why that staircase at the start was so eerily similar to the one in the Spire of the Jade King. The core’s autonomous mode must have dug up the design from its internal records and implemented it here. Frankly speaking, the fact that it was able to recognize the ‘entrance’ of the dungeon and spruce it up was quite impressive in its own way.
That still didn’t answer the main question Boxxy had though.
“Ambrooooosiaaaaaa!” it bellowed from atop the core, its powerful voice echoing as it climbed the empty space overhead. “Where! Are! My! Shinieees!?”
There was no response, almost as if it were trying to talk to a corpse. This was really frustrating, as the Mimic desperately wanted its stuff back. It knew for a fact it wasn’t where it last left it, as it and the others had happened upon the place where its secret vault was. Or rather, Boxxy had purposefully moved in that particular direction as it navigated the three-dimensional maze. And while it was overjoyed to find the place more or less untouched by the automated renovation, the doors were wide open and its collection had vanished without a trace.
“What is it, Claws?!” it snapped back in a frustrated manner.
“Maybe the dungeon collected them while it was in autonomous mode?”
“… Dungeon Management: Item Allocation.”
A gigantic list with hundreds upon hundreds of items suddenly appeared in Boxxy’s consciousness.
“Well, what do you know. Good work, Claws.”
“Ehehehe! I got praised!”
The Stalker bounced in place with her clawed hands on her cheeks from all the excitement. Although that ‘good work’ seemed a bit too casual to be sincere, it was actually quite significant when considering the half-assed compliment’s source. In fact, it was among the nicest things Boxxy had ever said to Drea, so she couldn’t help but feel giddy about it. Xera was a tiny bit jealous of her because of that, but only a tiny bit. After all, she had gotten plenty of ‘compliments’ during the hours-long ‘punishment’ prior to entering the dungeon. In fact, it had been so thorough and satisfying, that she still couldn’t walk straight at times. Not because she was still hurt or injured or anything like that, but because it was still fresh in her mind and she’d still get unbelievably aroused just by thinking about it. She was actually raring to go for another round here and now, but the chances of that happening were quite literally zero.
It would seem her Rank Up had not only amplified the sensations transmitted to her, but made her even more insatiable than she was before.
But even with its possessions and dungeon reclaimed, Boxxy was still left… incomplete. Ambrosia’s ongoing silence was more than a little disturbing after all. It really did not want to give up on her, and not only because it had set up camp inside her body. It legitimately missed her. Or, well, it missed the exquisite cuisine and mouth-watering nectar she fed it on a daily basis, but that was more or less the same thing. Thankfully, as it idly went over the list of things tucked away in the dungeon core’s Item Allocation banks, it came across a very special item. One that finally helped it grasp what had happened in its absence, and also provided the key to getting the reclusive dryad’s attention.
Armed with this epiphany, it then took something out of the dungeon core’s equivalent to its own Storage, which materialized in front of its lid out of thin air. It was a small orb that was 7, maybe 8 centimeters in diameter. It was made of deep, orange amber with a high degree of transparency and a flawlessly smooth surface. A single flower with 7 large petals was trapped inside the resin as if it were suspended in time, and one could just about tell its color was a bright pink.
Boxxy transformed back into its base Hylt Creeper form, plucked the floating amber sphere out of the air with its right hand, leapt down to the platform beneath the core, and called out in a commanding voice-
“Mater est opus vobis!”
The Elder Dryad’s Authority in its hand let out a blinding white light, outshining even the dungeon core immediately overhead. Unlike the last time, the Mimic had its eyes closed and avoided having to roll around on the ground while screaming in an unsightly manner. When it felt the object in its hand had finished fulfilling its function, it opened its eyes back up. But unlike the time at Fort Yimin, there were no dryads to be found.
Or at least, not quite yet.
A heavy tone echoed through the cavern as the insides of the Hylt tree’s titanic trunk began to, for the lack of a better word, bloom. Multi-colored flowers and unreasonably long grasses sprouted out from the ground. Vines adorned with fresh leaves descended from on high. Branches popped out from the walls, creating a canopy of their own within the dungeon’s interior.
And then, immediately in front of Boxxy, Ambrosia’s antler-adorned head rose halfway out of the ground, almost as if she were a mermaid peeking out of the ocean water. Her eyes fluttered open and took in the scenery before her. She looked up at the Hylt Creeper in front of her, then to the spent orb in its hand, then to the three demons obediently waiting nearby, before finally meeting Boxxy’s gaze.
Once she had confirmed the parties present, the rest of her quickly rose up from the grass-covered floor. The lower half of her face was turned into a displeased frown that matched the cold, hateful look in her eyes. Her arms were crossed in front of her massive bosom, and she had put most of her weight on her back leg. Toe-to-tip, this was clearly a woman who was not in a good mood.
Boxxy took the initiative and spoke first, which prompted the plant lady to momentarily raise an eyebrow before returning to her frown. The Mimic had taken on the form the dryad preferred the most in an attempt to appeal to her somewhat, but it didn’t seem to be doing much.
“Thou art supposed to be dead,” she said in a low voice.
“Then how art thou standing before me?”
“I got better.”
“‘Tis a joke to thee?!”
The dryad shouted out in anger in response to the Mimic trying to make light of this situation.
“Thou foul-mouthed slave barged into my home and set mine insides on fire! Then, thy tricked me with thine promises and made me do things I never would have thought myself capable of before suddenly getting thyself killed! And then thou still hast the gall to show thy face-thing and act like not a thing has happened?!”
A torrent of complaints streamed out of the dryad as she steadily drew closer to Boxxy. The overgrowth around her grew out in an even more rampant manner with every word uttered. By the end of it she found herself standing in what was a mix between a dense forest and an untamed jungle. All the while staring at it so hard it looked like she was trying to burn a hole through its head.
“Well?! What does thou have to say for thyself?!”
She had gotten so close to the shapeshifter that their foreheads would collide if she took another step forward.
“It is good to see you again, Ambrosia.”
But Boxxy didn’t budge. It remained firmly rooted in place, and spoke with a calm voice. Its casual attitude seemed to enrage the dryad even further, as she opened her mouth and bared her teeth. Her lips quivered under the strain of emotions welling up within her, until she could bear it no more, and snapped. She lunged forward wrapping her arms around the creature and pressing it tightly against herself. She gently kissed its forehead, then proceeded to practically smother its head in between her pillowy breasts with a sad smile on her face while the shapeshifter just sort of stood there and let it happen.
“‘Tis good to see thee as well, Boxxy of the Morningwoods.”
No matter how much she wanted to, Ambrosia just couldn’t bring herself to hate Boxxy. True, it did technically try to enslave her via that dungeon core, but at the same time still treated her with respect. It helped her out as much as it could, and only asked for seemingly trivial things in return, never presuming to force her into anything.
That was why even after she had broken free of her role as dungeon master and looked back at the past several months with a critical eye, she still found an overwhelming amount of joy in the very brief time she spent with this bizarre creature. In fact, the only blemish on those good times stemmed from the fact that she had been ‘politely informed’ of the dungeon core’s influence. It was something she wanted to desperately forget, so that in the future she may freely indulge in the warm feeling of basking in those fragments of the past. That was why she went to sleep. For the same reason that all dryads slumbered.
To forget, so that they would not mourn.
Ambrosia had done so many times in the past. This wasn’t the first time she had gotten herself attached to a fleeting mortal existence, and it probably wouldn’t be the last. But Boxxy was different from the rest. For the first time in her timeless existence, Ambrosia had felt she actually connected with another being. A bond forged through mutual understanding and respect that she did not wish to sever, even if it meant her heart would have to suffer the sadness of loss.
That was why she had literally engraved Boxxy’s words onto her heartwood. So that she would have a permanent record of its existence. So that she would remember what mattered most.
Incidentally, that was also why the Hylt Creeper had been so calm this entire time. Because while surveying its surroundings atop the shiny core, it managed to spot the literal writing on the wall. The one on the other side of the dungeon core platform. The one that ended in a line of words that were not there before, which described a certain wish. And although Boxxy was not able to read it completely, it still managed to grasp its meaning.
‘Rest well, my child, and I pray that thy future lives be as fulfilling as the one thou hath given me.’
|General Information||Attributes||Job Information|
|Name||Boxxy T. Morningwood||Name||Value||Name||Value||Name||Level||Progress||Name||Level||Progress|
|Species||Creeper (Hylt)||STR||727||LCK||259||Doppelganger||36||3%||Blade Dancer||33||57%|
|Assassination||10||MAX||Crystallize Magic||9||12%||Rapid Riposte||2||41%|
|Storage||10||MAX||Chant Reduction||8||30%||Chaotic Disposition||1||MAX|
|Cadaver Absorption||9||56%||Demonic Insight||7||91%||Agent of Chaos||1||MAX|
|Biomass||14||12%||Despair Aura||5||32%||Essence Concealment||1||MAX|
|Natural Armor||10||MAX||Soul Link||6||45%||Vengeance||1||MAX|
|Metal Mimicry||10||MAX||Enslave Demon||4||36%||Shapeshift||13||94%|
|Mend Flesh||10||MAX||Graviton Manipulation||2||60%||Phytokinesis||5||33%|
|Adaptive Defense||10||MAX||Clockwork Expertise||8||30%||Stealth||10||MAX|
|Acid Spray||10||MAX||Explosives Handling||6||88%||Lockpick||4||10%|
|Ruinous Reach||5||12%||Optics Expertise||2||84%||Meditation||5||10%|
|Feline Agility||10||MAX||Tracking||8||67%||Sword Mastery||10||95%|
|Mirror Image||8||29%||Marksman||8||89%||Projectile Mastery||10||MAX|
|Pheromone Control||10||MAX||Whisper Wind||7||80%||Dagger Mastery||10||0%|
|Broken Reflection||4||61%||Fleet Footed||6||26%||Ruin Mastery||15||21%|
|Puppet Parasite||6||90%||Hunter's Mark||5||48%||Domination Mastery||10||61%|
|Spirit Echo||3||55%||Eagle Eye||4||51%||Primal Mastery||5||51%|
|Hylt Metabolism||4||19%||Hornet Style||10||MAX||Shield Mastery||10||MAX|
|Summon Familiar||10||MAX||Adagio Variation||7||63%||Staff Mastery||6||5%|
|Power Overwhelming||10||MAX||Winterlich Waltz||8||41%||Bow Mastery||13||52%|
|Spell List||Martial Arts List|
|Shadowbolt||Mass Panic||Implosion||Power Shot|
|Dark Explosion||Mind Blast||Blast Arrow|
|Singularity||Mind Control||Pinning Shot|
|Massive Rejection||Chain Shot|
|Monster Magic||Nature's Bounty|
|Grand Theft Arcana (2)||Hero Killer|
|Butcher of Humanity||Hero of Chaos|
|Rare Golem Dismantler - Jade||Usurper of Justice|
|Natural Enemy of Termites||Slayer of Elfkind|
|Seeker of Redemption|