In a small wooden cabin in the woods, some 30 kilometers northwest of the elven capital of Azurvale, a woman was pacing around the sole table in the living room. The place was covered in dust, and the only source of illumination was the lantern in the middle of said wooden table. Normally the sun would peek through the gaps in the boarded up windows, but it was now the dead of the night. Yet sleep was the farthest thing from the woman’s mind.
The look on her dark-skinned face was a complicated one, filled with both dread and joy, both brought upon by the same event. The human rolled up the left sleeve on her red jacket and stared at the underside of her wrist, but saw nothing but dusky skin covered in goosebumps. The chalky white skull-shaped tattoo that had been there for years was still nowhere to be found, just like the last 30 or so times she checked. It had been a ritualistic symbol, a brand that marked her as someone destined for great things, and its sudden disappearance could only mean one thing.
That Accatau was no more, and that she would soon become the new Hero of Death.
This was the source of her joy. Frankly speaking, she never liked that overgrown frog, though that was putting it mildly. She actually hated his guts on both a professional and a personal level. He was good at murdering things, but that was about the nicest thing she could say about him. As for their relationship, she was the one who was supposed to become his inevitable replacement, and the only reason she put up with him at all was for the sake of one day becoming a Hero.
The raptor naturally did not appreciate her attitude, but her appointment as his heir was not something he had a word in. The rumor that the acting Hero of Death chose who inherited their title was actually a piece of deliberate disinformation that had been spread long before Accatau’s time for reasons known only to his patron. This hearsay was still half-right though. The one who would become the next Hero of Death was indeed determined well ahead of time, except that the one who did so was Mortimer himself. Honestly though, Leanne couldn’t help but belittle anyone who seriously fell for that ridiculous story.
After all, Heroes wouldn’t be the known as the chosen of the Gods if said deities let mortals decide such things.
Which was for the best, in the woman’s probably unbiased opinion. She dreaded to think who that greedy bastard might appoint as the next Hero of Death if it were truly up to him. Knowing him, he’d probably sell off the right to it if he could. Mortimer apparently respected the lizard’s knack for making money hand over fist, but Leanne disapproved of both the methods and motivations of her predecessor. Much like the rest of his damned species, he thought himself to be much cleverer than he actually was. And she should know, she’d spent much of her childhood being bullied around by them, and then a good deal of her teenage years stabbing them in the eyes.
So to say she was relieved to find out that the scaly bastard finally bit the big one would be an understatement. With him out of the way, she would be able to claim the Hero title for herself, and finally bring it back to its roots. There was a reason why Mortimer’s chosen was called the Hero of Death, not the Hero of Profit. She would dedicate herself to making the world a better place one death at a time, rather than using her gifts to simply get rich off of the suffering of others. True, it would be a dirty, thankless job, but she would do it readily if it meant she could keep at least one little girl from turning out the same way she did.
The only problem was that she didn’t know when it would actually start, and it was driving her mad. It had already been 20 minutes since she realized the mark on her wrist had disappeared, yet nothing had happened. She was steadily growing more and more impatient, as evidenced by the fact that the room was thick with smoke from her pipe. It was a habit that would normally have a calming effect on her, but it wasn’t working this time around as she was just far too agitated. The moment that would change her life forever was steadily approaching, and she knew it was night, but the wait was killing her.
Leanne suddenly found herself not in an old rural shack, but standing in the middle of a seemingly endless graveyard. Startled with the inexplicable change in scenery, her eyes darted around registering nothing but countless rows of tombstones, each one engraved with a different inscription. Some were larger than the others, but they all seemed more or less identical. There were also a number of standing torches strewn about that burned with a pale green light, but the overall visibility was abysmal.
Before she could finish getting her bearings, a thin slab of obsidian suddenly erupted from the ground in front of her and rose rapidly upwards as if trying to pierce the infinite black void above. It stopped suddenly when it reached a height of about 6 or 7 meters, and a series of dimly glowing white letters started appearing on its smooth surface.
Accatau du Rakka
He died as he lived - with money on his mind.
A small smile spread on Leanne’s chocolatey lips, as she felt oddly vindicated by this memorial.
“Hack! Koff! Koff!”
She immediately reacted to the coughing noise from behind her by turning around abruptly while taking a step away from the source. She had unsheathed the dagger on her hip with her left hand, grasped a trio of throwing knives with her right, and assumed a coiled crouching stance that could propel her into any direction at the blink of an eye. All before the pipe she dropped clattered against the floor.
The human-sized cloaked figure that now stood in front of her reached down and grasped the still smoldering piece of carved wood with a bony hand.
“This stuff will kill you, you know?” said Mortimer in a calm tone. “Trust me, I should know.”
He tried to hand it back to Leanne, but she was already on her hands and knees with her forehead touching the dirt on the ground.
“It is an honor to stand before you, great one.”
“Come now, let us dispense with the formalities,” urged the God of Death. “We both have things to do, so get up from there already.”
“B-B-But I would not dare to presume-”
“I said stand!”
Leanne’s body shot upright against her will, and she found herself unable to move a single finger.
“I’m not big on flattery, young one,” said Mortimer in a displeased tone. “I respect results, and while I expect great things of you, you have yet to provide me with any. You may think yourself morally superior to Accatau, but at least he understood that time was money and wasted neither mine nor his own on pointless ceremony. You would be wise to learn from his example.”
“… Understood,” came the sheepish reply.
“Good. Now then, I’m sure you know why both of us are here, so I shall proceed immediately.”
Saying that, Mortimer lifted the rune-engraved scythe in his hands above his head. A dark mist almost like a swarm of flies expanded from the void that was the scythe’s blade, which enveloped Leanne in an instant. It then seeped into her body almost as quickly as it had appeared.
Feat of strength performed! You have unlocked a new Perk: Hero of Death.
Proficiency level increased. Eyes of the Dead God is now Level 1.
Proficiency level increased. Fatal Promise is now Level 1.
Proficiency level increased. Essence Concealment is now Level 1.
“There, all done,” declared the hooded skeleton while slamming the bottom of his divine armament into the ground. “Now, I’m sure you have many questions, so I shall answer as much as I can before sending you back.”
‘Many questions’ was an understatement. Now freed from her invisible bindings, Leanne was eager to learn about a plethora of things. But since her patron deity obviously despised having his time wasted, she decided to limit herself to the two most pressing issues.
“I have only two questions, actually,” she said while graciously accepting her snuffed-out pipe from Mortimer. She then pointed to the item in her hand and asked, “Will smoking this stuff really kill me?”
The act of setting ablaze the dried leaves of the Eofore plant and then inhaling the fumes through a wooden apparatus was something that had never caught on in this continent. Both the plant and the practice were indigenous to the jungles of Aldpine, which lay across the Shimmering Ocean to the south. It was the place where she grew up, though the dominant race of enlightened beings in that region were by far the raptors. In fact, they were the ones she picked up the habit from in the first place.
“Oh, it will,” confirmed Mortimer. “Accatau’s kind can huff and puff the stuff as much as they want, but humans like you will eventually have their lungs turned to charcoal from it and choke to death. I get at least 500 of those a year.”
Leanne had to admit, she had noticed an odd shortness of breath lately. Plus, this was the God of Death she was talking to, so if anyone knew whether the stuff was actually fatal, it would be him. The 500 a year figure was quite worrying as well, considering the human population on her home continent was much less prevalent than it was here.
“I see. In that case, I shall stop partaking of the Eofore leaves,” she declared with a respectful bow of her head.
“Good, see that you do. I really hate the smell of that stuff.”
Mortimer waved a bony hand in front of his bleached skull as if to disperse any lingering smoke. Come to think of it, he did cough and sputter earlier, so he definitely did not enjoy it. Questions regarding why a skeleton in a bathrobe needed to breathe or whether he even had lungs in the first place flashed across Leanne’s mind, but she chased them away. She had another, much more important query on her lips.
“Is it true you want the Hero of Chaos dead?”
That was most probably the thing that killed Accatau, and she did not want to challenge it if she could avoid doing so. Thankfully that wouldn’t seem to be necessary considering the God of Death and Commerce drooped his shoulders and let out a disappointed sigh at her words.
“Not in the slightest,” he declared. “Well, that’s not quite right. I mean, I want it dead on principle, but there’s nothing really in it for me. Kilroy already has claim over that soul, you see, which just takes the fun out of reaping it.”
Meaning that the sleazy lizard had been lying through his teeth yet again when he said he was off on some divine mission. He probably wanted to blackmail the creature, assuming he wasn’t lying about it being a shapeshifter hiding among the elves. Extortion, threats, kidnappings and all kinds of other underhanded methods was how he made a good deal of the money he was so proud of, so it definitely sounded like something he’d try to pull, like the irredeemable scumbag he was. Even after he got paid he would then either kill the other party off to cover his tracks, or send Leanne to do the job for him. She hated cleaning after him, but she was bound by the Oath of the Deathwalker to follow his orders.
That was one part of Mortimer’s Hero selection process that she could really do without. Thankfully the Oath also meant Accatau was sworn to ensure her survival, otherwise he’d probably have gotten her killed off already. Then again, she’d have already slit his throat in his sleep if it didn’t work both ways, so that was a moot point.
“Is that all?” asked the deity in question.
“Yes, that is all, great one,” said the woman with another respectful bow.
“Very good. I’ll contact you when you have an assignment for you. Off you go then.”
He waved a bony hand at Leanne, who felt the ground beneath her open up and swallow her whole. She had the distinct impression of falling faster than seemed possible, before ‘landing’ back in her physical body that had been left behind in the mortal realm. She had fallen over onto her face while Mortimer had called her consciousness into the Aether, so her first order of business after waking up was to get off the filthy floor.
Except that she couldn’t. When her senses finally came back to her in full, she was made aware of a massive weight on her back, which was pinning her to the ground. She opened her eyes and looked upwards in a panic, only to see Accatau’s brown-scaled body holding her down.
“You… You’re supposed to be dead,” she shouted in surprise and disbelief.
“Oh. Don’t worry. Your ‘friend’ is most certainly dead.”
However, the voice that came out of what looked like an adult raptor male clearly didn’t belong to it. It was deep, clear, and surprisingly eloquent. Leanne’s heart was gripped with horror as she slowly realized just who- what the thing on her back was. She began struggling on instinct, but in doing so reciprocated the creature’s hostility, triggering an event that sealed her fate.
Clash of Fate has been invoked!
The Hero of Chaos will now face the Hero of Death on the field of battle!
May destiny smile upon the victor!
HP and MP have fully recovered.
Skill and Spell cooldowns have been refreshed.
None can interfere in the Clash of Fate until it is resolved.
Boxxy then bit into the girl’s neck with the raptor’s powerful jaws. She struggled and gushed blood all over the place, but she was ultimately decapitated, and her head was spat out onto her lifeless body.
Clash of Fate has been resolved!
The Hero of Chaos has defeated the Hero of Death with a flawless victory!
Feat of strength performed! You have unlocked a new Perk: Usurper of Death
Proficiency level increased. Eyes of the Dead God is now Level 1.
“OH, COME ON!”
The Mimic then heard an incredulous and strangely familiar voice, but it couldn’t quite determine its origin nor its owner. If it still had memory of meeting Mortimer, then it would have deduced that this was merely Mortimer screaming in frustration all the way from the Aether. But it didn’t remember that event, so the most the creature could determine was that it had come across some sort of disembodied voice in a cabin that was completely deserted. And it was quite certain it was alone out here, because it had searched this place top-to-bottom while waiting for the human woman to wake up. It was bizarre to be sure, but it decided this wasn’t something to fret over too much.
All things considered, compared to the last time it killed a Hero, this much was nothing. After one-sidedly deciding that, it then checked on the tasty new treat it had managed to get its tentacles on.
Eyes of the Dead God
Description: None can escape the gaze of death itself.
Type: Toggled (OFF)
Activation Time: Instant
Cost: 0 MP
Range: 5 kilometers
Effects: Reveals the name and HP of all targets within direct line of sight.
Targets that possess any Level of the Taboo Skill will be highlighted.
Targets that possess Level 10 or higher of the Taboo Skill will be visible through walls and obstacles.
Well now, this was going to be useful. Wanting to try it out right away, the Mimic stepped away from the corpse, looked at its reflection in the old mirror on the wall and turned the Skill on. It saw the visage of Accatau staring back at it while it stood there stark naked and covered in fresh blood. Above its head it saw two lines of mirrored text in red-and-orange lettering. The first one read ‘Boxxy T. Morningwood,’ while the other was simply ‘6232,’ denoting its current HP.
This was going to be very useful indeed. Being able to instantly gauge the HP of its opponent was a good way to determine how strong they were. Admittedly, knowing the HP alone was not enough to accurately assess how dangerous an opponent was, but it was much better than the big fat nothing it had when facing off against Zilla. This alone made the creature extremely glad it decided to use Broken Reflection on Accatau’s corpse, rather than Cadaver Absorption. It was a gamble that had paid off in spades.
Speaking of which, there was still the matter of the fresh body it mutilated just moments ago. It returned to the woman lying in a pool of her own blood and placed one clawed hand on her head, and another on her back. It then mumbled ‘Broken Reflection’ under its breath, causing the woman’s flesh to get sucked into its hands as if it was liquid being forced through a straw. Its body then immediately took on the woman’s shape, in accordance to the Skill’s function.
It didn’t have to remain in this form, though. Nor did it necessarily need to use Accatau’s, either. However, it had found that rifling through the stolen memories of the deceased was much easier while using their likeness. And it needed to actively check on what that raptor knew about this hideout in order to actually find it.
This rickety old house was actually handed down from one Hero of Death to the next, and Accatau had no idea who the original owner was. Leanne, on the other hand, suspected it may have been someone in the Elven Dominion. A fair assumption considering the queer magic that permeated this place. It was a strange type of enchantment that would cause random people, monsters and animals to unwittingly avoid this place while they were passing by. Heck, even if that Spell wasn’t in place, they’d still probably get lost in the dense woods surrounding it.
In short, unless someone knew exactly where and what they were looking for, it was more or less impossible to find it.
And since Accatau had this information in recent memory, it now belonged to Boxxy as well. Along with the knowledge of a number of other safe houses across not only this continent, but also the southern one. Very little of that was actually stored inside those two dead Heroes’ heads though. Accatau had left behind a ledger containing all sorts of information useful to an assassin perpetually on the run from the law. It was an old book that had definitely passed through many pairs of hands before it ended up in Boxxy’s, and the Mimic was already eagerly listing through it. Hideouts, black market contacts, supply caches, money deposits - all kinds of tasty goodies lie in wait, waiting to be picked up as needed.
Truthfully speaking, this information was the real reason it had come here. The fact that it saw the next Hero of Death unconscious on the ground and decided to take advantage of it had been a happy little accident. It knew of her, of course, but had expected her to vacate the area immediately, but it would appear she felt safe in her little hidey-hole and decided to stick around until Mortimer contacted her.
An event that was now part of Boxxy’s memories. Through her, the creature had been given a rare glimpse at Mortimer himself and was able to learn much about the deity on a more personal level. Not to mention it was able to finally deduce the origin of that vocal complaint from earlier. Well, the God might complain, but ultimately it was his own fault for picking such a terrible Hero like Accatau in the first place. Boxxy just hoped that he wouldn’t reconsider his stance on wanting to claim the Mimic’s soul now that it killed two of his Heroes in a single night. Or, more precisely, that he wouldn’t act on it and lay down the divine smackdown on the impudent little box.
That was unlikely though, as Mortimer seemed a lot more level-headed than a certain blonde bimbo. But even were he to try something, the Mimic was certain that Luigi would step in. Gods seemed to have their own rules and regulations, and pulling stunts like what Teresa did was definitely against them. And it also looked like the God of Misfortune was some sort of enforcer who took it upon himself to keep the other deities in line. In other words, so long as Francis was Boxxy’s patron, then the Mimic had ‘the law’ on its side.