Boxxy found itself standing alone in a jail cell of solid stone with a steel grate blocking the exit. The creature snarled on reflex as it was reminded of the time that hateful human had captured it. It then turned that awoken animosity inwards, silently chastising itself for not spotting that teleportation trap. That didn’t last long, however, as it quickly shifted the blame for that slip-up onto the environment messing with its magical perception.
The overabundant ambient mana had filled the perception range of its Mana Locator Gland with what was essentially white noise. That was why the teleportation trap, which was a magical formation rather than a physical mechanism, had been rendered near-invisible against the background of the dungeon’s magically-charged air. Boxxy’s MLG could still make out solid objects without much difficulty, but detecting magic in this environment was going to be much harder than it had originally anticipated.
Ultimately, it had simply trusted the overly-sensitive sensory organ a bit too much, and as a direct result was now in a position whereby it was cut off from its allies.
You are in an anti-magic zone. The use of Spells and Caster Skills is restricted.
And if this alert floating around inside its mind was any indication, it meant it would have to stay this way for a while. It was as if the Warlock Job had been reduced to just a lump of Attributes and nothing more, effectively neutering its mystical abilities. It couldn’t summon any of its familiars to its side, nor could it even reach out to them telepathically. Attempting to view their Statuses only flooded its consciousness with a stream of incomprehensible gibberish, and even a cursory attempt to contact Demons ‘R’ Us proved futile.
This ‘anti-magic zone’ was not a feature the shapeshifter was familiar with. Even now when it remotely accessed its own dungeon core, it failed to find anything even remotely close to it. It did, however, notice that certain plant-based monsters, constructs and traps it had access to previously had mysteriously disappeared. It never had much interest in running its base of operations like an actual dungeon, so it rarely if ever bothered with those sections of the Dungeon Management screen.
And that was when it realized that the key difference between then and now was that Ambrosia was no longer the dungeon master. It would seem that special options and features not normally available would be unlocked if the right curator was ‘employed,’ and would be lost if said overseer was ‘fired.’ And this place was overseen by a djinn, who were supposedly the most talented in the mystic arts among all of demonkind. So, all things considered, Boxxy concluded that it wasn’t all that strange that an anti-magic zone could be established in a place like this.
“Welcome to the Glacial Gallows.”
The nagging voice of the dungeon master in question echoed through the prison’s halls, heralding the appearance of her mist-like illusion just outside of the Mimic’s cell.
“I hope it is to your liking,” she said with a shit-eating grin. “It’s a special ‘time-out room’ for naughty little Spell-slingers who rely too much on their tongue-twisters and mystical mojo. Go on - just try to get out of here with those noodly appendages of yours.”
The Mimic walked up to the steel cage and grasped one of the bars with the Sandman’s oversized hand. Realizing that her script made no sense in this particular situation made the djinn droop her shoulders and roll her eyes, but she didn’t seem all that bothered by this minor slip-up.
“Okay,” she continued, “admittedly you’re a freak of nature that’s a bit more heavy-set than I’m used to, but you’re still not getting out of there. Your only hope is to wait for your whores to come and rescue-”
Her monologue was suddenly interrupted by the sound of the cage lock being unlocked, followed by the loud creaking of the steel door as it swung open. The Sandman stepped out of the jail cell in a casual manner, stood before the djinn’s floating illusion and practically loomed over her as it stared into her glowing white eyes.
“You were saying?” he asked mockingly.
“Th-this doesn’t mean jack shit! So what if you can pick a lock?! You think a prison like this doesn’t have guards!?”
The djinn turned put her index finger and thumb in her mouth and let out a sharp whistle that echoed slightly in the stone brick hallway. The flames of the lit torches on the walls began to twist and deform as a gust of cold air washed over Boxxy. A chorus of scraping and rattling emanated from a nearby corner as a trio of creatures about as large as the Sandman crept into view.
The monsters were all of the same reptilian species, which Boxxy had never laid eyes on before. They had a humanoid torsos, arms and heads, but their lower bodies were long and serpentine like a snake’s. Their heads had protruding jaws lined with needle-like teeth, and a plethora of spikes and fins adorned the sides, top and back of their heads almost like hair. Their facial features were somewhat reminiscent of that Hero of Death the shapeshifter killed a while back, but they had a distinctly more feral edge to them.
In terms of equipment, they had black leather shoulder pads, elbow guards and vambracers attached to their upper bodies and limbs. However, those seemed to be more for ceremonial or decorative purposes rather than personal defense, as they were laughably frail compared to the scales that lay underneath. As for weapons, they had none save for the sharp claws at the tips of their four-fingered hands and the spear-like spike at the tips of their tails. Both of which were sturdy enough to puncture through unenchanted armor like it were paper.
“Better start running,” said the djinn with a smirk. “These boys haven’t been fed in a while.”
As if on cue, the ‘guards’ let out loud hisses while baring their pointy teeth. They lunged at Boxxy, with the one in front using his muscular tail like a spring to launch himself forward. Rather than sit there and take the charge head on, the Mimic also rushed forward straight through the djinn’s illusion, making it scatter like a cloud of smoke. Her mental projection didn’t even attempt to reconstitute itself, as the dungeon master had gone off to attend to her other ‘guests.’
The Mimic produced a two-handed broadsword from its Storage and swung it at the airborne lizard-man, smashing the blade into the side of its head and sending it careening into the wall. It was a solid hit strong enough to daze it, but did not slice its head in half like a ripe melon as Boxxy had intended. Admittedly the sword itself was a bit dull, but the fact that it couldn’t break through the creature’s scales and shatter its skull spoke volumes of how tough these things were. It was a clear demonstration of how high-end enchanted equipment was mandatory if adventurers were to stand up against high Level monsters.
Luckily, Boxxy had just the thing to resolve this situation. After side-stepping the second lizard and batting away the third, it discarded the worthless sword and pulled out its favorite mithril rapier. It rushed one of its dazed opponents, stabbing it through the eye socket and driving the beautiful weapon deep into its skull. It then used the shiny weapon as a lever as it abruptly grabbed hold of the creature’s shoulder and twisted its head around until it heard a loud crack.
The lizard-thing began twitching and writhing uncontrollably within Boxxy’s grasp, but with its brain pierced and its neck snapped, it was already dead.
Proficiency level increased. Sword Mastery is now Level 11. STR +2. DEX +2.
Congratulations, you are now a Level 34 Blade Dancer! DEX +2. END +2. STR +1. AGI +1.
Feat of strength performed! You have unlocked a new Perk: Legendary Endurance.
And through its demise it had unwittingly provided its killer with the last bit of XP it needed to reach a very important milestone.
Description: A being whose vitality and constitution are the stuff of legends.
Requirements: Reach 1,000 Endurance (END).
Effects: Increases poison and disease resistance by 75%.
Increases stamina recovery rate by 50%.
This came as a pleasantly tasty surprise to Boxxy, as it had no idea a thousand Attributes awarded a significant Perk like this. Granted it was never particularly worried about tiring out in combat or succumbing to things like poisons or toxins, but now it could more or less put those quandaries out of its mind completely. Assessing how tasty this new Perk truly was would have to wait for later, however, as it had yet more bundles of XP to reap.
Quite a bit more, actually, as dozens of the slithering creatures began swarming it from all sides before it was done dealing with the initial three. They were hardly anything for Boxxy to worry about, though, as it had already devised a method to quickly and cleanly deal with them. Using a combination of its MLG and the Blade Dancer Job’s Adagio Variation and Hornet Style Skills allowed it to make pinpoint strikes to the swarming monsters’ weak spots.
It used finesse rather than brute strength to gouge out eyes, slit open throats and, on a few rare occasions, skewer hearts. Trying to wedge the tip of the slender blade in between the gaps in their scales was a fresh experience, one that the Mimic found strangely fun and therapeutic. Even by itself it outclassed these things so completely that it wound up treating this encounter like a game rather than the life-or-death struggle it was supposed to be. Realizing that such a casual attitude was ill-advised in a place such as this, Boxxy then stopped toying with its food and concentrated solely on wiping out the enemy.
Its killing spree only sped up once the Blade Dancer Job reached Level 35, at which point it picked up Flamenco de Fuego, the second Deadly Dance Skill. Rather than the sweeping slashes of Winterlich Waltz that chilled enemies to the bone, this one used quick step-ins and rapid thrusts to riddle them with burning holes. It was pretty much ideal for taking on its current adversaries, as fire seemed to be the Bane of these serpentine monsters.
The Mimic felt that was a bit unfortunate for them, as it was frightfully common for adventuring parties to have someone capable of using fire magic among them. Then again, this entire area was an anti-magic zone, meaning that Pyromancers, Wizards and the like would normally be powerless and unable to conjure flames. There was also the matter of the various traps that littered these hallways. Things like spikes, darts and water-based contraptions would make life difficult for any would-be invaders, as it would either injure them severely or otherwise slow down their progress. At the same time, they did no harm to the thick-skinned monstrous residents.
Boxxy had to admit, having the dungeon’s environment compensate for the monster’s weaknesses as much as possible was a smart decision on behalf of the dungeon master. It was actually learning quite a bit about proper Dungeon Management from her, which would surely come in useful in the future. Said dungeon master would probably end up picking up a few lessons herself if she were to review the Mimic’s trail of carnage. The most important of which was that good judgement alone was wholly incapable of containing the walking cataclysm that was Boxxy T. Morningwood.
The Mimic’s rampage continued until it had fought its way out of the prison’s insides and into its main yard. The ground here was made up of hard-packed dirt that had been frozen solid, making it as hard and coarse as a rock. The open space was surrounded by four tall stone walls covered with ice, apart from the massive gatehouse barring the exit on one side and the prison building itself on the other. The mist-shrouded mountain peak loomed over the walls, making it clear that this dungeon within a dungeon was built at the base of the cliff upon which the titular Palace of the Crystal Maiden could be found.
The fact that the prisoner had made it this far was precisely why the djinn suddenly made an appearance.
However, when her projection materialized out of thin air and relayed what it saw back to her, she was struck completely dumb. At least thirty of the Icescale Naga she’d placed in the Glacial Gallows lay on the ground either dead or dying, their purple blood smeared across every conceivable surface. The bodies were still being steadily reclaimed by the dungeon, which had allowed the Sandman to sit himself atop what was essentially a throne of corpses. His mask and cowl were both off, revealing a grotesque bald head, riddled with burn scars and old cut wounds.
It was a horrific face to be sure, but what really got to the dungeon master was the fact he was casually eating one of her subordinates’ lopped off tails as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
“Was wondering when you’d show up,” he spoke after swallowing his mouthful. “You got any more of these tasty things? I’m running out of snacks!”
He then proceeded to take another bite out of the tail, letting out a series of disturbing crunching noises as bone, scale and meat were ground to a fine paste within his massive jaw. Incidentally, the comment regarding the flavor wasn’t part of an act, but rather Boxxy’s honest assessment. The scales were arguably the best part, as they became delightfully crunchy once their owners had lost their lives, allowing the monster to snack on them with earnest gusto. The fact that its Hylt Metabolism allowed it to digest mana also meant that the meal was much more filling than it would be otherwise, which only made it that much more satisfying.
“What in the fuck are you?!” bellowed the dungeon master. “There’s no way a mere human would be able to, ugh, eat them! They have poisonous blood for crying out loud!”
“Ohhh!” exclaimed the mercenary. “So that’s where that spicy tang is coming from!”
It made sense considering most of these snake-men had tried assaulting it with their venomous breaths, but those too had done very little against someone with Legendary Endurance.
*CRUNCH MUNCH MUNCH*
“Oh, God! I can’t look at this!”
It would appear that for all her self-confidence, this floating lady demon was surprisingly squeamish. Either that or her acting skills were top-notch, but Boxxy didn’t care either way as it just kept eating to pass the time while it rested up after that prolonged skirmish. The fact that its behavior was visibly unsettling the djinn to this degree was only a bonus, really. And ‘unsettled’ was certainly the way to describe her current emotional state, as she desperately tried to wrap her head around this situation. The dungeon core’s Invader Analysis had told her that this guy was a Level 61 human Warlock named Hugh Mungus, so this scene made absolutely no sense to her. Unless, of course-
“… You’re a Hero?!” she blurted out.
There was no way other way to fool the Invader Analysis function of a dungeon core. Even if the information it provided amounted to nothing more than a Basic Appraisal, it was able to bypass any and all trickery that would normally fool a Scribe’s check. Except for the Essence Concealment Skill, which was exclusive to those chosen by the gods.
“What, you realize this just now?” responded the Sandman after swallowing audibly. “What sort of shitty dungeon master are you? You sure you’re actually qualified for this job? Maybe teaching little kids how to read would be a better fit for you.”
The djinn’s spiteful expression and seething glare were telltale signs that the Mimic had managed to strike a nerve by questioning her competence. It may have been unintentional at first, but Boxxy was now deliberately messing with her in an attempt to goad her into doing something rash and/or stupid that it could take advantage of. Unfortunately, what followed next was not at all what the shady shapeshifter had expected, as the curator’s expression turned from one of utter disgust and disdain to one of violent delight.
“Well, that changes things, doesn’t it?” she said in an oddly chipper voice. “Looks like I get to put you and your freaky sex slaves through the Hero-only course! Oh, what fun!”
She quickly accessed the Guardian Assignment section of the Dungeon Management screen and turned a few things ‘on.’ She then floated up into the air and yelled up towards the roof of the tower-like Glacial Gallows.
“Ohhhh, Timmy! Lunch time!”
A loud roar fell on top of Boxxy as a massive shadow passed over it. The creature overhead seemed to be of the same variety as the others it faced so far, except for several key differences. It was a few sizes large and it had a pair of massive bat-like wings that let it fly around, well out of reach. It was also better armed than the ground-bount grunts in every sense of the word, as it had four arms, each of which held a fancy-looking crystal weapon. The upper, longer set of limbs wielded a crystal spear and kite shield, while the lower pair were gripping a short sword each.
The Mimic wanted to complain about this thing’s three-dimensional movement, as this dungeon was supposed to be a no-fly area. That was why Snack was forced to walk on the way in, as any attempts at floating above a certain height were met with her being slammed into the ground by an unseen force. And yet this thing, which according to its Eyes of the Dead God was indeed named Timothy, was blatantly ignoring that rule. Then again, it wouldn’t make sense for a dungeon to impede its own guards, so the residents were likely excluded from such limitations.
Which probably went double for the uniquely powerful creatures, such as this one. It had more than double the HP of the fodder Boxxy had been slaughtering for the past half hour or so and was clearly of a higher species, probably also a rare variant. Not to mention that the djinn said this was part of a ‘Hero-only course,’ suggesting it would take an exceptional individual to take this thing down. All things considered, it was quite obvious this was the area guardian of the Glacial Gallows.
“Oh-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho!” The demoness let out a haughty laugh as she looked down at the Sandman’s gruesome visage. “Better prepare your anus, scrotum-face! Because Timmy here’s a Drakeling Alpha of the Icescale Naga tribe, and he’s going to-! Going to… Err… ”
Her words began to trail off the more she looked into the invader’s yellow eyes. They were not at all the eyes of fearful awe she was expecting. They were, in fact, quite the opposite, as they seemed to be sizing up Timmy as if he were a full-course gourmet meal that was about to be served. Worst of all, at least in the djinn’s eyes, was the thoroughly creepy half-crescent grin that this weirdo’s bloodstained lips had curved into.
“Wuh-why are you smiling?” she stammered aloud.
“This thing is an area guardian, right?!” asked the Sandman without averting his gaze.
“This means I’ll get a treasure chest when I kill it, right?!”
Without even waiting for a response, Boxxy immediately dropped all pretense of being a person. It formed its legs into a long serpentine tail, similar to the one it had been munching on until a few moments ago, complete with a set of bark-like scales. It coiled and tensed up the muscular appendage, as it mimicked the same move the fodder had used multiple times to try and lunge at it from afar. The organic spring then unfurled in a sharp snapping motion as the Mimic’s ridiculous Attributes sent it flying straight upwards like a confused meteorite.
No, ‘flying’ wasn’t the right word. In actuality, what the shapeshifter was doing was ‘jumping,’ so the dungeon was powerless to stop its ascent towards its target. Timmy wasn’t the boss of this area for nothing, however. As expected of a high-tier monster, it didn’t even question how something was able to leap over 20 meters into the air and simply thrust its spear at the incoming shiny-seeking-missile.
The glimmering weapon found its mark and pierced clean through Boxxy’s chest as the two monsters collided into each other. Or rather, it was more the case that the Mimic had willingly impaled itself upon its weapon. It was a calculated risk it deemed was worth it, as these Icescale Naga were the type of monster that excelled in endurance and defense, but their offensive capabilities left something to be desired.
And this one was no different. Even if it was three times stronger than the average lizard, it would have been impossible for it take away more than a third of the Mimic’s maximum HP in a single blow. But even that had proven to be an overestimation, as Boxxy was left with more than three quarters of its life force intact. It wasn’t until Timmy slashed at its massive body with its swords several times before the shapeshifter’s HP fell to about half.
Which was exactly what Boxxy was aiming for.
The shapeshifter grasped the spear shaft with one hand for leverage, took out one of the best longswords it had in its Storage and invoked the Skill it had pilfered from Teresa’s Hero.
Description: Those who dare lay their hands on the champion of justice shall feel the fury of the Goddess herself.
Activation Time: Instant
Cost: 5% of max MP
Effects: Imbues the next non-Martial Art melee attack with divine power.
Increases the damage dealt by this Skill by 10% for every 5% of maximum HP lost over the last 10 seconds.
Damage dealt by this Skill bypasses 50% of enemy defenses.
This Skill may not be activated more than once every 10 seconds.
The sword was wrapped up in a radiant white glow, which produced a trail of light as the weapon was swung through the air. Infused with divine energy as it was, the blade easily split open the alpha naga’s chest, leaving behind a massive gash and making the creature howl with a shrill cry of pain. However, even if it looked like a grievous wound, the area boss still had most of its HP remaining and refused to fall to the ground.
But Boxxy was not quite done with it yet, though. It sprouted a pair of tentacles out of its right shoulder while its left arm continued to cling to its opponent. One of the newly grown appendages reached into its Storage and pulled out a 20-centimeter long metal cylinder. The other fleshy tendril then skillfully pulled the pin out of it, after which both limbs worked together to stuff the object as deep into the naga’s open chest wound as it would go.
The Mimic then forcefully kicked away from its opponent and began to fall like a rock. It sprouted a pair of demonic wings out of its back and glided down to the ground. It landed a bit sloppily onto the same pile of corpses it was resting on before, making a disgusting squelching sound while also sending spurts of blood flying everywhere. After that, it picked up the half-eaten tail it had discarded earlier and bit right into it.
It was at that point that the incendiary grenade it had stuffed into the naga’s body exploded, wrapping it in an intense chemical fire that it had no hope of putting out. Being enveloped by its Bane so suddenly, the creature had no choice but to flail around in the air for a few moments before going into a spiraling nosedive. It smashed head-first into the Glacial Gallows building, and then crashed into the blood soaked ground behind Boxxy with a satisfying thud. The flaming pile of lizard continued to writhe and whine for a while longer before the persistent flames robbed it of its remaining HP and ended its life.
The area guardian of the Glacial Gallows has been slain.
To the victor go the spoils.
The Glacial Gallows can now be accessed freely for the next 24 hours.
A loud grinding noise came out of the nearby gatehouse as it began opening up its massives gates and metal portcullis, all while the djinn looked on with a look of utter disbelief. It was the same expression she had ever since Boxxy launched itself upward. She even seemed to have forgotten to breathe as her mind was still parsing the events of the last several seconds. Her mental buffering come to an abrupt end when the exit to the Glacial Gallows finished opening up with a loud clang, revealing a golden treasure chest that lay immediately beyond them.
“… What?” she let out weakly. “But that’s not… But Timmy was… The anti-magic zone… Where did the fire… And since when could Warlocks… WHAT?!”
“LET ME MAKE ONE THING CLEAR, PUNY WEAKLING!”
The pink-skinned woman let out a tiny scream entirely unbefitting of her status as a centuries-old Ranked Up demon. Her reaction wasn’t caused by the gravelly, authoritative voice that came from behind her, nor was it the foreboding shadow that suddenly loomed over her. It was the fact that she recognized both of those that truly gave her pause. Shaking profusely, she turned her head around, only to behold Boxxy’s 3-meter tall impersonation of Nagnamor. She didn’t even have time to process the fact that this was just a copy before the Mimic thrust its charcoal-colored draconic skull into her face and howled at her-
“YOU ARE NO LONGER IN CONTROL!”
The djinn known as Setre suddenly leaped atop her throne in a fit of shock and panic. She panted heavily while looking around the frozen throne room she resided in, feeling as if she had just awoken from a nightmare. Which was a surprisingly apt comparison, seeing as how she was suddenly confronted with her old boss yelling at her. She was so thoroughly terrified by that unexpected scene that she had instinctively undone her Mistborn Projection, causing her consciousness to snap back to her real body. Once she calmed down somewhat, she realized that there was no way that was the actual Overlord of the Flaming Legion, much to her chagrin.
“Argh, I’m such an idiot!” she screamed angrily while flailing around like a spoiled child. “His head wasn’t even on fire or anything! That fucking bastard! How dare he get the better of me! I don’t care who or what he is, I’m gonna kill him, bury him, and piss on his corpse for good measure!”
In a fit of spite, she quickly accessed the dungeon’s Item Allocation menu and took a peek inside the chest her adversary had been awarded with. It would seem he was randomly allotted a sapphire-laden diadem that had excellent effects for a Spell-slinger. He hadn’t opened it up just yet, so she took this opportunity to try and swap it out for another item. She couldn’t give him complete trash, though, no matter how much she wished she could. Her contract with Goroth mandated that hard-working adventurers were entitled to their proper rewards, and defeating an area guardian was worthy of a substantial prize indeed.
However, she could still swap the item out for one that would be practically useless to that asshole. But what would that something be? Caster items were obviously right out, and she hesitated to opt for a piece of armor or something like a heavy sword or axe, as he was obviously much more proficient in martial combat than she had initially assumed. As she listed through the catalog of Artifact-grade items available, she suddenly came across the perfect thing - the Winter’s Bite. It was a crystalline longbow that had a bunch of features, but the most notable one was that it produced its own ice-imbued ammunition when the string was drawn.
“This will do! Take that, dickface!”
Declaring thusly, she switched out the golden chest’s contents just as the invader was about to open it, and she leaned back in her chair with a smug smile on her face. It was something of a rash decision, but she was sure her petty revenge had been worth it. Sure, it was technically a more valuable item than the one that was originally in there, but it would be completely useless to a creature like that. Even if that absurd being was somehow able to use the weapon, it wouldn’t help it conquer the dungeon in the slightest since ice-based attacks were meaningless against its monsters.
“Alright, let’s see if I can get one of the other-”
The area guardian of the Menagerie has been slain.
To the victor go the spoils.
The Menagerie can now be accessed freely for the next 24 hours.
Her scheming was then rudely interrupted when a dungeon-wide notification informed her that another one of its bosses had been defeated.
“… Okay. I guess I underestimated that tree as well.”
She really should’ve known better considering how that spriggan was soaking up mana like nobody’s business, but she never imagined a walking twig could take down the Menagerie guardian by herself. Then again, this was a Hero’s party, so it was natural she’d be some absurd existence in her own right. Well, it wasn’t that big of a problem, as all Setre needed to do was offer that Warlock’s familiars the right deal and she was sure she could win them over to her side. Her ‘meetings’ with them didn’t go over too well, but at the very least they had no reason to go above and beyond to protect their summoner. In fact, considering that they’d been cut off from receiving new orders, they were probably just lazing around doing nothing.
The area guardian of the Torture Chamber has been slain.
To the victor go the spoils.
The Torture Chamber can now be accessed freely for the next 24 hours.
It was at that point that Setre realized that not-Nagnamor was right, and that she truly was no longer in control of this situation.