After about 30 minutes of hugging Boxxy and stroking its gangly head, the busty dryad seemed to have had her fill of skinship for the moment. She released the Hylt Creeper and took a few steps back, taking on a much more stern expression.
“This profane object in thy back… is how thou were brought back to this mortail coil?”
“Yes. It’s called a Soulstone. Do you know anything about it?”
Ambrosia shook her head.
“I’m afraid not. But I do not like this foul feeling it gives off.”
It made sense that something used to violate a Taboo wouldn’t be of much liking to a semi-divine being like a dryad. Still, it wasn’t like Boxxy was lugging it along because it wanted to.
“Please bear with it. I think it may be the only thing keeping me alive.”
“Thou can always try bathing in mine Waters of Life…” she offered with a pang of hope in her voice.
“I’d rather not. It may cause some kind of bad reaction.”
Not to mention that using her curative fluids would sap away at the Mimic’s life force and reduce its lifespan. At least, that’s what it surmised happened with all those ingredients that were kept forcefully alive and expired of seemingly natural causes all on their own. This reminded Boxxy that it would likely need to fetch new ones, as the Prison Management module had gone offline in its absence, meaning those meat donors had all but expired. It would seem the core’s autonomous mode did not understand the concept of keeping one’s meals fresh.
Speaking of which, the shapeshifter determined it was probably time to address the elephant in the room.
“The dungeon core… I don’t suppose you would be willing to become its dungeon master again?” it asked.
“No. I do not think that is an option anymore.”
“Are you sure? We won’t be able to communicate over long distances otherwise.”
Ambrosia wavered. She desperately wanted the ability to chat with Boxxy at any given time regardless of how far away it was. After all, as a tree-bound spirit, she could not join it on its adventurers no matter how much she wished. She also sorely missed those night-long language lessons. Not only did they show her the joy of teaching those that wished to learn, but seeing the Mimic’s progress filled her with a sense of pride and accomplishment.
“Truthfully, I would love to be able to reach out to milord at any time. However, I know now of that thing’s true nature, and I cannot be put under its spell ever again. Even if I wanted it to happen, mine inner self would not allow it.”
“That’s alright. We’ll figure something out.”
The Item Allocation module could create dungeon-related items through magic, so perhaps there was some sort of communicator. Alternatively, finding a subservient monster to use as a proxy dungeon master was also an option. The Mimic just needed to make sure that said proxy would not follow in the dryad’s footsteps and suddenly escape the dungeon’s control. Which naturally raised the question of what exactly Ambrosia did to get out of her contract.
“How did you break free of it in the first place?”
“Once I found out I was being controlled, I simply willed the connection broken, and it snapped with no resistance.”
Well, this was hardly unexpected. Even if that crystal ball was a marvelous tool with a plethora of impressive functions, it still had its limits. And keeping an ancient being of Ambrosia’s caliber shackled against her will was well beyond that. Which was why Boxxy had taken every precaution it could think of to not let her even suspect she was being influenced in the first place. That strategy had seemingly failed in its original purpose, but had worked to endear the real Ambrosia to Boxxy’s presence, so the Mimic wasn’t about to complain too much.
Still, it would be prudent to analyze its mistake and make sure it didn’t happen with Ambrosia’s replacement.
“How did you realize it was messing with your head?”
“Thine servant Fizzy told me. Right after I denied her access to thine collection.”
“She did, did she? Hmm… Wait, you didn’t hurt her or anything, right?!”
“No, milord. I ended up flushing her out of mine trunk.”
“Oh. Right, of course.”
Keira had heard through word of mouth that the Rustblood Juggernaut had departed for Horkensaft Kingdom after the two of them had a bad falling out. Which was putting it mildly, as very few friendly relationships persisted after one party quite literally died. Come to think of it, its death probably annulled that servantile oath she made way back when, much like how its contracts were severed. Whatever the case, the important thing was that the shiny golem had survived Ambrosia’s eviction.
However, the expression the dryad was making gave the Mimic pause. Being a millennia-long shut-in meant that she was never very good at hiding her emotions, so the reluctance and guilt plastered on her face was painfully obvious.
“There’s more isn’t there?” it asked in a somewhat stern manner.
“… I also ended up flushing the vast majority of thine treasured shinies into the tunnels beneath mine roots,” admitted the dryad.
“You what?! Why?!”
“I was outraged at thy deceptions and saddened at thy passing in equal measure, and I acted rashly. After I calmed down a bit, I realized the folly of mine actions and went out to gather milord’s precious mementos with all haste. I wanted to treasure them and keep them safe for all eternity, but then this damnable ball swallowed them up.”
She threw the dungeon core behind her a hateful glance for a moment before turning her attention back to Boxxy.
“Left with naught but sadness and regret, all that was left for me was to sleep, lest mine branches and leaves wilt as a result of mine sorrow. Which has been all but washed away by the torrent of joy that flowed within me when I heard thee call out to me, milord. I do not think I have ever roused from my slumber as quickly as I did.”
The dryad ended her story with a sweet smile and a slightly darker shade of green on her cheeks.
“You don’t have to call me that anymore, you know,” pointed out the Mimic.
“I know. However, milord is milord. It has become a habit, I’m afraid.”
The shapeshifter shrugged its shoulders. It never really cared for that ‘title’ but it didn’t particularly mind it, either. Not to mention it wasn’t about to argue with a millenia-old sentient tree over something so trivial.
“Then do I have permission to continue operating my dungeon inside your trunk?”
“I shall permit this, so long as milord lets me pamper thee every now and then for mine own satisfaction.”
A pampering that would probably include copious cuddling, breast feeding, and incomprehensibly delicious cuisine. Boxxy found two of those three things to be particularly delicious, so this was really a no-brainer.
“Works for me!” it declared.
“I would also appreciate it if milord were to clear up all this… clutter.”
Ambrosia gestured towards all the three dimensional maze of rooms and traps the dungeon core had constructed while it was still orphaned.
“Leave it to me.”
The Mimic then turned its gaze towards the trio of demons who were quietly sitting on standby this entire time, just as they were ordered.
“And by ‘me’ I of course mean ‘you three.’ Claws, Snack, Arms - I want this entire place to be put back in the way I left it! You are to listen to Ambrosia’s requests and directions if she feels something needs to be adjusted. Do I make myself clear?”
Kora raised three of her arms as if asking permission to speak.
“No, Arms, you may not throat-fuck the dryad. Not unless she wants to.”
Only to be immediately shot down by her Master.
“And I most certainly do not,” interjected Ambrosia while shooting Kora a murderous glare. “Actually, does milord mind if I borrow this unruly child for a bit?”
“Not really. She’s the most irresponsible of the lot anyway. Do what you will with her.”
A half dozen thick, thorny vines shot out from the walls and wrapped themselves around each of the Archfiend’s wrists.
“Come, vile creature,” said the dryad with a dangerous glint in her eye. “I believe it is time to discipline you!”
Kora was then flung upwards with frightening speeds, disappearing into the darkness high above the dungeon core as her voice echoed into the distance.
“She… Ktktktktkt, she won’t do anything weird to me, right?!” asked Drea nervously.
Ambrosia threw her a reassuring smile.
“Fret not, jittery one. Thou hast always been a good child, so I have no qualms with thee.”
“What about me?!” eagerly asked Xera. “Those thorny-”
“Why are you still here?!” roared Boxxy. “I gave you your orders! Do them now!”
The two demons replied in unison and darted off towards the giant-box-covered part of the hollowed-out tree trunk. Using their respective Dungeon Management screens, gained through virtue of being their Master’s soulbound servants, they began demolishing the unsightly structures and getting rid of all the monsters and traps. As they did that, Boxxy opened up the Item Allocation menu once again while simultaneously taking a rolled up piece of parchment out of its Storage.
“Milord? What is that?” asked Ambrosia curiously.
“It’s a list of all my stuff.”
“Did thou always have such a thing?”
“No, but I had an annoying amount of downtime recently so I made it to keep myself busy,” it explained as it unrolled the unreasonably long parchment. “Which is good, because I need to make sure nothing’s missing.”
“I see. However, art thou certain of this manifesto’s accuracy? I know milord is an exceptional individual, but the items in thine hoard easily numbered in the thousands…”
“10,269 to be exact.”
It then showed Ambrosia its list, causing the dryad’s eyes to become wider and wider with each line she skimmed across. Each item had been recorded with its name, a brief description, its estimated GP value, how many of it the creature had, and even had a ‘shininess rating.’
“By the Goddess!” she exclaimed. “And thou genuinely knew all this from memory?!”
“Of course. Well, I had to do quite a bit of thinking to remember everything, but it wasn’t that difficult. One should always be able to keep track of the things that are important to them, after all. I mean, I bet if you tried, you could tell me exactly how many leaves you had.”
“… No, actually. No I cannot. And yet I feel like I should be able to… I must think on this some more. Excuse me, milord.”
Ambrosia disappeared with a slightly defeated look on her face and focused her attention on punishing Kora for taking advantage of her muddled state of mind to sexually harass her. Boxxy on the other hand was left to carry out its impromptu audit in peace. It quickly learned that, to her credit, the dryad had managed to retrieve the vast majority of its belongings. Unfortunately, not all of them were retrieved in a pristine state. The crates containing the potions and various Artificer parts were designed to withstand impact, so the magical liquids and components were still safe.
However, the same could not be said for the statuette known as the King of Beasts, which had shattered into pieces. Well, False Diamond was roughly about as brittle as glass, so it was no wonder it didn’t survive its tumble down the sewers. The bits of it still sparkled alluringly even in their smashed-up state, but it was nowhere near as radiant as the majestic dragon spreading its wings in a triumphant manner. Bottom line was, some shininess was definitely lost.
On the upside, judging from the combined weight of the 30 or so shards stored within the dungeon core, Ambrosia had gathered every last piece of it. It showed she had been quite thorough in cleaning up after her outburst. The sorry state of that sewer tunnel down below was most likely due to her using her roots to search through the dirt for every last one of Boxxy’s shinies. And considering how the creature’s MLG had not picked up a single even remotely valuable thing down there, she had done a very admirable job of it.
And yet she had missed some of them. 3,241 GP worth of coins and gems, to be precise. Not a pair of old boots, not an errant sprocket that had fallen out of the toolbox, and not any of those tiny False Diamond shards. The things that were missing amounted to a pile of money, some precious stones, and one of the small wooden chests that Boxxy had been using as a container. It was a bit odd that these things specifically were no longer present. Actually no. On second thought it made perfect sense. After all, there was also one more piece missing. Arguably the most important of them all.
The mithril golem known as Fizzy.
Ambrosia said she flushed her down the drain along with Boxxy’s treasures, so this gap in the creature’s collection was most assuredly her doing. She must’ve found out about Boxxy’s death through Ambrosia, and since dead mimics had no use for shinies, she helped herself to a modest sum of it. She then must’ve assumed that whoever killed Boxxy might come after her, or that she might be implicated in Keira’s sudden disappearance, and ended up fleeing the country while she still could.
And Boxxy was sure this was what had happened, because that was exactly the sort of mentality it had beaten into her. The realization that it had been robbed blind stung a bit, but the feeling that dominated the creature’s assessment of her apparent actions was none other than disappointment. It expected more from its prized shiny, as the behavior she had displayed in its absence was a complete letdown. In fact, it would have some very harsh words with her in that regard when they met up.
By the look of things, Fizzy had found herself completely on her lonesome in a tunnel full of a dead monster’s treasures, yet she took only 3,241 GP?! What sort of weaksauce was that?! If their positions were reversed, then Boxxy would have secured as much value as it could carry without burdening itself before making its escape. And it was sure it had taught her at least this much common sense, but it would appear that had not been the case.
Thankfully, it wouldn’t need to wait too long to talk to her. True, it had been almost a month since they last saw each other, but it already knew where Fizzy had gone. According to Keira’s sources, or rather, the kindly old clerk she sweetly asked for a bit of information, the shiny golem had gone to some city called Steelhead, across the Republic’s eastern border. And since someone of her unparalleled shininess was sure to grab attention and leave a distinct impression, it wouldn’t take long to pick up her trail and track her down. Which was why Boxxy had already arranged for Keira to depart for that place first thing in the morning, as it could not bear to be apart from-
“Ack! What time is it?!” it blurted out suddenly.
The creature had gotten so preoccupied with this dungeon crawl that it completely forgot it had a schedule to keep.
“‘Tis the hour of the evening twilight, milord.”
Ambrosia appeared next to it in response to its outburst, and kindly informed it of the current time. According to her, the sun had just set, so it was now around 8 PM. Which was well past the evening curfew that Rowana had given Keira. Well, it wasn’t too big a deal as all Boxxy had to do was bat the catgirl’s lashes at the elf a few times and she’d be forgiven in an instant. However, it would probably be best if Keira didn’t return any later than she already had to.
“Listen, Ambrosia,” said the Mimic. “I need to go now. I’ll be away for a while, actually. Probably another week, maybe more.”
“… Thou art going to chase after that insufferable metallic abomination?”
“No, I’m going after Fizzy.”
The dryad rolled her eyes, then let out a heavy sigh.
“If this is milord’s wish, then I shall not object. However, I urge thee to be more cautious. This one cannot bear the thought of losing thee so soon after thy return…”
“Believe me, I have had my fill of life-and-death struggles. If the world could kindly inform me the next time it tried to kill me, then that would be super. In fact, it would be best if it could just stay out of my way entirely and let me idly enjoy the tasty and shiny things in life.”
“Indeed,” said the dryad with a nod. “However, methinks such a fantasy shall not come to pass. Especially considering the unpredictable nature of thy patron.”
The Hero of Chaos attracted great fortune and big trouble in equal measure. That much had become blatantly clear by now, even to someone like Ambrosia.
“Yeah, well, a box can dream, can’t it?” said Boxxy with a bemused tone.
The Mimic then used the newly reestablished Nexus Access to transfer itself to the dungeon entrance that led into the sewers. It would normally use the secret access tunnel that went right up to Rowana’s tiny home, but the autonomous mode had sealed off all alternate paths in or out of the place. To make matters worse, its MP management had been abysmal, and it didn’t have the spare energy necessary to rebuild that path right now. Boxxy deemed it would be faster and more efficient to leave the same way it came in rather than make a new way out, which is precisely what it tried to do.
When it exited into the newly cleared-up tunnel, however, it was confronted by a dark figure. One that was leaning casually against the tunnel wall some 8 or 9 meters outside the hole in Ambrosia’s root. Boxxy, which had taken on the guise of the Sandman in advance, was legitimately surprised by this fact. Whoever or whatever this intruder was had the ability to hide his presence from the Mimic’s MLG, just like that man Edward, which the creature instantly perceived as a hostile act. It immediately raised its guard and called for its minions to converge at its position, but it did not make a move to oppose this stranger directly.
After the experience it went through with Zilla, it was wary of engaging unknown entities in open combat without confirming the other side’s strength and/or motives. It carefully and silently studied the figure with its eyes, noticing immediately that he, while obviously male, was not of a species the shapeshifter had seen before. He was some kind of lizard-man with brown scales, a long and flattened snout and a muscular tail that thrashed idly between his legs. His hands and feet had three digits each, his ankles had an extra joint on them, and his chest was much too thick in relation to his waist to belong to a ‘normal’ person. As for his attire, he had a white skull-like mask hiding the upper part of his face, and a skintight black bodysuit covering the rest of him, aside from his clawed feet and hands. He also had a pair of dangerous-looking daggers on the right side of his waist.
“Greetingsss, Boxxy T. Morningwood.”
The intruder greeted what was quite obviously the Sandman with a raspy, slightly hissing voice while waving at it from a distance.
“Allow me to introduce myself. I am Accatau of clan Rakka, and I am the current Hero of Death.”
Boxxy’s wariness shot through the roof. As did its irritation. It had barely recovered after being killed, so how come it had to stare down the Hero of Death all of a sudden? It wanted to complain to life’s manager about this situation. Maybe burn life’s house down with some combustible lemons.
On the other hand, considering the reputation of the Hero of Death as the Gods’ personal Reaper, the fact that he was talking instead of stabbing was probably a good thing.
“You know me?” asked the Mimic.
“No, but I know who you are. You may be able to fool those idiotic elves with your innocent massssk, but you cannot hide yourself from my eyes, Hero of Chaosss.”
Yup, there was no question about it - Accatau clearly knew that Boxxy and Keira were one and the same. Actually, now that it had a chance to think about it, the Mimic realized what this raptor’s presence in the city entailed.
“You’re the one who killed Malon, weren’t you?”
“Hee, hee, hee,” he laughed dryly. “It was a good hunt, that one. Sssslipping in and out of that place was a worthy challenge. Unfortunately, I had gotten caught in the act by his pet abomination. I would not have sssucceeded in getting out of there as easily as I did were it not for the timely interference of your followers.”
The timing involved was no mere coincidence, though. The master assassin had stumbled across Claws and Snack’s attempts at rallying the VIPs to raid the same underground compound he had been looking to infiltrate. From then on it was a simple matter to match their movements and time his attack so that he would reach his target before they caused all the alarms to go off. Once they had thrown the place into a state of panic, it was a simple matter for the amphibious lizard to slip out of the base through one of the water-filled drainage pipes and into the nearby underground river.
Not that this Boxxy T. Morningwood needed to know any of that, of course.
“But as interesting as these divine Quests are, they sadly don’t pay anything,” he added.
“My heart weeps for you,” said the shapeshifter in a cold tone. “What does any of that have to do with me?”
“Everything, my despicable friend. You see, my boss is something a ssssore loser, and he wants me to re-dead you, just on principle, you see. However, I have no intention of pointlessly invoking a Clash of Fate when I ssstand to gain very little from it. Am I correct in assuming you feel the same way?”
“… You could say that.”
“Then it’s simple! You want to maintain this little ssssecret life of yours, and I want to get paid. I’m sure you and I can work sssomething out.”
“Oh. So it’s about blackmail. You should’ve just said so from the start.”
Mortimer’s Reaper had a certain reputation to uphold. As the harbinger of Death, he was scarily effective at his job, and never backed out of a deal once money had changed hands. At the same time, as a professional in service to the God of Commerce and Trading, Accatau also had a certain duty to secure profit with minimal risk in every venture he undertook. It was a very practical approach, and Boxxy could completely understand where this man-lizard-thing was coming from.
It just had one question. Indeed, it was the only question that was worth asking in this situation.
The overgrown lizard blinked showed his sharp, misaligned teeth in a gesture that Boxxy could only assume as a smile.
“Right to the point. I like that. This is where it gets tricky though. Unless you can offer me ssssomething that would appease both me and my patron, then I cannot guarantee I won’t be forced to come after you eventually.”
“I see… So I’m basically bidding for the contract on my life against the God of Death?”
“Hee, hee, hee… That is a good way of putting it.”
“… I think I may have just the thing. However, it is rather cumbersome. Would you rather follow me inside or wait out here for a minute?”
“I will wait for you out here. But do be prompt about it.”
“Understood. Then, if you will excuse me.”
Having said that the figure of the Sandman crept into the hollowed-out root from before, back into what Accatau had deduced was its lair. Agile assassins and tight spaces like those did not mix very well, and he wasn’t about to give this creature the opportunity to lure it into an ambush. Out here in this decrepit tunnel was another story. He had already swept the place for traps and possible ambush locations while his newest client was inside, and even prepared three separate escape routes. Should the creature try anything, then he would vanish in an instant before begrudgingly doing as Mortimer wished.
After a few minutes, he heard shuffling from the interior of the hollow root, and the cloaked humanoid figure reappeared shortly after. According to the name and HP total that the Hero of Death saw floating above its head, it was definitely the same creature, and not one of its body doubles. However, while its identity was not in question, its motives most definitely were, as it had returned seemingly empty-handed.
“Where issss your tribute?” asked the raptor with a hint of displeasure in his voice.
Saying that, Boxxy opened up its Storage portal. Accatau reacted at this sudden event by leaping backwards and unsheathing his blades.
“… Right, of course,” said the Mimic in a dull monotone. “Nobody would trust a backstabbing, treacherous monster like myself, hmm? Then, I will just leave this here, and I’ll be on my way.”
The shapeshifter then reached into the portal and after straining a bit with effort, pulled out one of the crowning jewels of its collection - the solid gold skeleton it had created through heretical means. It took a few slow steps forward while carrying the macabre treasure, leaned it against a particularly large boulder that had been left lying around, and then slowly backed off.
“I trust this will do,” it said in a proud tone.
That was pretty much an understatement considering how the raptor’s eyes practically sparkled at the sight of it.
“Would you look at that…” he mumbled despite himself.
He couldn’t help but be in awe of it. These gilded remains were the embodiment of everything Mortimer and Accatau stood for. Even in this near pitch-black darkness it gave off the sort of sheen and radiance one would expect from pure, polished gold. And considering how easily its bony feet sank into the soft, moist ground underneath, it wasn’t hard to imagine that the precious metal made up the vast majority, if not the entirety of its construction. The value of the gold itself was likely in the neighborhood of several hundred thousand GP, and that was just the raw material. Accatau could not even begin to imagine how much it would cost to have a sculptor shape it in such a precise and frighteningly realistic way.
Then again, he wouldn’t really have to.
A total of seven spears made out of highly compressed Ironbark shot out of the ground, walls and ceiling all at once, piercing the momentarily distracted Hero’s body and ending his life in an instant.
“Thanks, Ambrosia,” called out Boxxy. “I appreciate the assists.”
The dryad’s widely smiling face emerged out of the ground in front of Accatau’s propped up corpse.
“T’was my pleasure, milord.”
She then retracted her spring-loaded needle-roots, allowing the humanoid crocodile to fall into a pool of his own blood with a wet plop. The Mimic walked over to the hole-riddled corpse, picked it up with one hand, and gave it a thorough inspection. Whatever Skill was obscuring its MLG seemed to still be in effect, so it had to check the insides the old fashioned way. Thankfully, it would appear Ambrosia had done a good job of leaving the heart and brain as undamaged as possible. All things considered, her no longer being confined to the insides of her tree trunk really worked out in its favor.
“Alright,” mumbled the Mimic as it stared into Accatau’s lifeless eyes. “Let us see if my lucky streak will hold up!”