Boxxy woke up within the aptly named Vessel of Dreams, which was located in the depths of its personal dungeon. It crawled out of the mithril chest in its natural Hylt Creeper form, then rapidly moved through a series of bodily transformations in rapid succession. It became a wooden chest, a perky catgirl, a tower mercenary, a mini-Nagnamor, a goat-headed toad, and a giant porcupine with swords for needles, only to end up back where it started.
These ‘morning stretches’ were something it had been doing quite regularly lately, as its body had been feeling strangely stiff whenever it woke up. That oddity was troubling to say the least, but not as much as the frequency with which it happened. Whereas before the shapeshifter could go for a few days without bedrest, these days it found it hard to stay active for more than twenty hours or so. It wasn’t like it was getting weaker or slower or anything, it was just feeling inexplicably tired all the time, to the point where it had slept every single night ever since Keira’s official return to Azurvale four days ago.
Initially it had attributed this lack of energy to pushing itself on Mortimer’s Quest, but it was having serious doubts whether fatigue build up was the cause of this. It was ludicrous to think someone with Legendary Endurance would succumb so easily to something as simple as exhaustion. Was this caused by some weird disease? Or perhaps it being a plant hybrid was to blame? Trees did enter a sort of dormant state during the winter, so perhaps the vegetative part of its confusing physiology was trying to hibernate?
No, that wasn’t it. Even if that was somehow possible, Boxxy was part Hylt. Those titanic trees continued to produce fruit and maintain their foliage even while being pelted by blizzards. If it inherited even a tiny bit of that absurd vitality, then there was no way the cold was having an adverse effect on the creeper. It was unlikely it would be a disease, as Legendary Endurance made it so all but the most ridiculous of illnesses would fail to so much as cause a sniffle. And if the creature had been infected with something like that, it would be suffering a lot more than some exhaustion and stiff joints.
The only other thing it could think of was that something was going on with the doppelganger side of its body. Unfortunately, it had nobody to ask. Reggie still hasn’t made contact ever since going dark, making Boxxy wonder if the old ‘ganger just skipped town entirely. Well, it expected that sort of thing when it cut the elder monster loose, so it really shouldn’t have gotten mad at him for running away to preserve his own life.
It shouldn’t have.
But it still did.
This was another issue Boxxy noticed ever since coming back to its lair - it was way too easily agitated, getting needlessly emotional over seemingly inconsequential things. Granted, the Mimic was by no means a bastion of rationality and logic, but it still found itself getting incredibly ticked off at even the smallest thing. Its temper had gotten so bad that it even started spilling out into its Facade despite its best efforts to remain calm, due in no small part to that antagonistic bodyguard.
Speaking of which, it was about time to get back into character.
“Snack, how goes it?” it called out telepathically.
“Good morning, Master. I am almost done eating breakfast with the elf. I’ll be out of the house and on my way to the Central Consortium within minutes.”
The ex-succubus had been filling in for Keira so that her master could sleep in peace within its shiny bed. It didn’t help its fatigue much, but it was still the preferable sleeping arrangement.
“Alright, let me know when you’re out of the house so we can swap. After that you’re to resume tending to the alraune seedling.”
“Ugh. That fucking thing again?” groaned Xera. “Can I not?”
Boxxy and its demonic posse had been able to acquire said plant during their trip through human lands. The djinn was the one who led the shapeshifter to the source of the mountain alraune that Ambrosia had taken a liking to. Yet she had quite a few reservations about handling it, mostly because of what she was forced to do in order to secure it. It was not a tasty experience, to say the least.
“You know full well you’re the only one who can care for it, so don’t slack off and do it seriously. Ambrosia’s expecting a prime specimen, and you do not want to disappoint her. Or me. Understood?”
“… Yes, Master.”
“Arms, how are things on your end?”
“Hey, boss. Still as fucking quiet as ever,” reported Kora.
“Hmmm, perhaps you were a bit too subtle last time?”
“Pfahahaha!” burst out Xera, unable to contain her laughter. “Subtle?! That meathead?! Aaah-hahahahaha!”
“Shut it, Snack!” snapped the Mimic. “Claws, find Arms another target to crush. Something a bit more high profile.”
“You got it, Boxxy!” responded Drea in high spirits.
The intent here was to have the archfiend serve as bait to draw out the Foundation. She was the most easily recognizable of the Sandman’s minions, so having her trample a few small time illicit businesses was sure to catch their notice. She was, of course, not the most observant of demons, which was why Claws was on hand to act as her eyes and ears. It didn’t have to worry about either of them getting captured, either, as even if they could be overpowered and subdued, the addendum to their contracts would allow them to flee at any point. Admittedly whether such a crude tactic would actually work on an organization as secretive as the Foundation was… questionable, to say the least. However, the Mimic couldn’t just keep reacting to things, so it had to try something.
At the very least the living embodiment of violence that was Kora was able to bring back a decent amount of loot from her outings. Not just gold and gems, but also alchemical supplies, raw materials, enchanted gear and other illicit goods. She was actually getting rather good at discerning the value of an item beyond ‘it looks shiny,’ which was a pleasant surprise for boxxy. Perhaps her claims that she wouldn’t be a singularity of stupidity forever had some weight behind them, though Xera naturally remained sceptical.
After sorting out its shady business for the day, Boxxy swapped places with Snack and assumed the guise of Keira. It continued on its way to the Central Consortium while mulling over its recent health issues, for lack of a better term. Nothing had changed since earlier that morning though, so it still couldn’t think of how to go about addressing them. Not even a dunk in Ambrosia’s Waters of Life had cured it, so it was already out of options.
No, that wasn’t quite true. There was still Whatshisface the gazer demon, the one that Arms met during their last dungeon crawl. Hiring him as a dungeon master in exchange to poke at the information in his centuries-old mind was definitely an option, but not a tasty one. Demons were inherently devious and untrustworthy beings, and the ‘rankers’ were even worse. The business with acquiring the alraune seedling in particular showed just how unpredictable they could be. The Mimic therefore continued to resist the temptation to hire him, at least for the time being.
Boxxy gave up running in place mentally when it arrived at the Central Consortium building and focused its attention on the task at hand. Keira walked into the lobby and, with her trademark smile and cheerful voice, called out to the beastkin that was waiting for her.
“Hey, Nao! I’m not late, am I?”
“Morning, Keira,” he replied. “No, you’re right on time as usual. Did you, uh, sleep well?”
“More or less. What’s tall, dark, and gruesome doing here?” she asked while pointing at the bodyguard standing behind him.
“My job, ya little shit,” responded Kuro “You burned off Nao’s eyebrows yesterday, so I’m tagging along to make sure you don’t take off his head next.”
“That was just Chaotic Disposition randomly going off! It wasn’t like I was trying to harm him on purpose!”
“Oh, so you’re saying you only accidentally set people on fire? That’s not exactly helping your case.”
This was bad. Boxxy seriously could not deal with this guy, as his hostility towards its Facade was a major source of ire. It was well warranted, all things considered, but that was besides the point. The shapeshifter needed to make an effort not to engage with him, otherwise things could get out of hand real fast.
“Yeah, okay, I guess you have a point,” conceded the catgirl with a sigh. “Intentional or not, it was my fault. I’ll try and be more careful from here on.”
“Now, now, don’t beat yourself up over it,” said Nao reassuringly. “Random magical emissions aside, you’re getting the hang of things much smoother than I anticipated. I guess being a polymagus isn’t just for show, huh?”
This ‘polymagus’ thing did turn out to be relatively tasty, despite how badly the Hero of Magic had phrased it at first. Apparently it was a trait that was exceptionally rare amongst people, but present in nearly all dungeon-born monsters, including Boxxy. The important part was that, while a polymagus didn’t have a ‘strongest’ element, they also didn’t have a ‘weakest’ one. They had the potential to wield all forms of magic at a reasonably high degree of competence, though actually doing that would take considerable training, study, and dedication.
“I fail to understand why lightning seems the odd one out though,” remarked the Hero of Magic while cupping his chin. “You seem to struggle with it a lot more than you should. Perhaps it’s some form of psychological block or mental trauma? Can you think of anything like that?”
Boxxy naturally knew full well what ‘psychological block’ was causing this. It was because lightning was its Bane, so channeling the element filled it with a sense of primal loathing bordering on fear. It made it profoundly difficult to successfully cast either the Lightning Bolt or the Spark Blast Spells. It could still do it if tried hard enough, though, and it wouldn’t even get hurt. At least, not unless it was stupid enough to stand within Spark Blast’s area of effect.
However, all things considered, this wasn’t something the shapeshifter was planning to risk using in the heat of combat. Nor was it about to divulge that information to its teacher. Luckily, it knew just the right scapegoat to blame for keira’s inadequacies.
“… Well, I suppose there was this one incident during the war,” she said quietly while scratching her neck. “I’m not going to go into details, but the gist of it was that a superior officer subjected me to a rather harsh and unwarranted jolt of electricity. Right after waking up from being in an inexplicable coma for a few days, no less.”
“O-oh. I, err, wow,” stammered Nao. “I suppose that would have caused you to have some reservations about the element. But it’ll be okay! I’m sure you’ll overcome it and get the handle of lightning if you put your mind to it!”
“I can’t take all the credit,” she replied with a smile. “You’re a pretty good teacher, you know.”
Seeing him laugh in a goofy manner at a such superficial and stereotypical compliment gave Boxxy pause. Nao had steadily been developing a crush on the redhead catgirl over the last few days, which was perfectly in line with the monster’s plans and goals. However, the same couldn’t be said about Keira’s. She wasn’t the sort of girl who’d fool around on her significant other, nor was she dense enough to not notice the awkward wolfkin’s affections. There was no way this could carry on for much longer.
Strictly speaking, it was already something of a miracle this had carried on for as long as it did. Not only was Keira’s romantic relationship with Rowana not a secret anymore, but it was still something of a hot topic within the capital’s rumor mill. Then again, Nao was the shut-in bookworm type, so he probably didn’t have a lot of chances to gossip.
His sworn brother Kuro was another matter entirely, however. He may have been rather crude and vulgar, but he didn’t seem like the type that would miss a saucy rumor like that. It was therefore in the catgirl’s best interest that she be the one to clear this up, lest she be suspected of stringing Nao along on purpose. The only reason someone like her would do that was if she was buttering him up for her own personal gain. Either that, or she secretly played for both teams and was about to become a cheating slut.
And, as stated earlier, Keira wasn’t that sort of girl.
“Nao, I really need to tell you something,” she said in serious tone.
“Wh-what is it?” he responded with more of his awkward stammering.
“We, uh, we should probably go to the practice range first. It’s kind of… personal.”
It wasn’t like there were that many people around. In fact, the place was pretty dead during winter since the very few adventurers were willing to undertake Quests in this sort of weather. However, the lobby was still a public space where anyone could walk past and overhear something sensitive.
“Oh. Yeah, okay. Let’s go, Kuro.”
The beastkin trio headed towards a certain room in the building’s basement, one large enough to be an auditorium. The walls here were heavily fortified with magic dampening enchantments and lined with bronze to further raise their durability against Spells while various target dummies shaped like common monsters were strewn about the place. This was a space where magic users could practice their craft without fear of hurting or inconveniencing others, and was the site of Nao and Keira’s private lessons. The chamber normally had quite a few people in it, but when the Hero of Magic requested to reserve it, the Broken Mirror guild that owned it were more than happy to oblige. His title carried quite a bit of weight within the robed community, after all.
“So, what’s this about Keira?” asked Nao.
“Well… Uh… Wow, this is harder than I thought it would be… I guess I should start by saying that I’m sorry. I might have unwittingly sent you some mixed signals and given you the wrong idea.”
“… Okay? And what idea would that be?”
“Sweet Brandon this is awkward! Look. I like you, Nao, and I don’t want to hurt you, but if you’re going to be like this, then I’ll just come out and say it.”
Her words understandably confused the wolfkin. He was happy to hear ‘I like you,’ but the context filled him with unease and dread. Which were well warranted, considering the bomb Keira dropped on him next.
“I can see clear as day that you’re… attracted to me, and while I appreciate the sentiment, I’m already in a serious romantic relationship, so I can’t be with you.”
“Oh… That’s…” muttered Nao, obviously not sure how to cope with this news. “So you don’t… feel anything towards me?”
“I do! Just not in that way.”
“Why not in that way?!” he shouted, his voice cracking and taking on a weird tone. “What’s wrong with me?! Is it because I’m not ‘man’ enough for you?!”
“No! For real, it’s not because of you! You’re great guy that any girl would be lucky to-”
“That’s what women always say!” he snapped back. “I’m not an idiot! If you have a problem with me, come out and say it! I’d rather have the truth than your pity!”
“Nao. She is telling the truth,” butted in Kuro. “This girl here? She’s a carpet muncher.”
“… A what?” he blurted out dumbly.
“She’s not into men, but into women. Really girly girls, too, the way I heard it.”
“So you knew? Why didn’t you tell me?!”
“I just heard it recently from the receptionist here, okay? Besides, it’s not like you would’ve listened to me with all the blood rushing to the wrong head!”
“That’s so not fair!”
“Neither is getting angry at me. I’m not the one you have a problem with right now.”
“Yeah, about that!” shouted Nao, his outrage snapping back to Keira after being skilfully deflected by Kuro. “How come you didn’t tell me sooner?!”
“I thought you knew!” she countered. “It’s not like I went out of my way to hide it! I mean, what sort of relationship do you think I had with Rowie for us to be living together in a one-bedroom house?!”
“… I thought you were roommates or cousins or something.”
“Lovers, Nao! We’re lovers! Girlfriend and girlfriend! The kind that take long moonlit walks through the park and do naughty things together!”
“… At the same time?” interjected Kuro from the side.
“You stay out of this, Fido!” snapped Keira.
“Okay! Okay, I get it!” yelled Nao, throwing his hands up in defeat. “I never stood a chance! You didn’t have to rub it in!”
“Yes, I did!” she insisted. “You may be smart, but you’re way too dense! Otherwise you would have realized this on your own!”
Thinking back on it, the baby-faced Hero realized she had a point. Though he only saw them together for a little while, Rowana and Keira were indeed exceptionally close. Intimate even. He was so overjoyed there didn’t seem to be a ‘mister Morgana’ that he turned a blind eye to the possibility of there being a ‘missus.’
“Again, I’m really sorry,” apologized the catgirl for the upteempth time. “I didn’t mean to string you along and give you false hope, but it just sort of happened.”
“No, no, I get it,” he said in a quiet, quivering voice. “It was my fault for assuming that I, uh… That you were… You know…”
“We can still be friends,” said the catgirl while putting a hand on his shoulder. “I’d very much like that, to be honest. Us Heroes, we need to stick together, y’know?”
“I, uhm… I don’t… I just… Exc-excuse me, I’ll be back in a bit.”
Nao left the practice range and ran into an adjacent storage room to sulk in peace, leaving Keira alone with Kuro. The two maintained an awkward silence for about a minute before the catgirl finally addressed the elephant in the room.
“He’s going to be okay, right?”
“Of course he will. Even if he acts and looks like a kid, he’s still a grown-ass man in his mid twenties. He’ll get over this misunderstanding without too much drama.”
“That’s good. I was really worried how this would turn out.”
“So did I, to be honest. You were the first girl he’s allowed to get so close to him in a long time, so I wasn’t sure what to do. Heh. Y’know, it’s kind of ironic, but you turning out to be a carpet muncher might turn out for the best in the long run.”
“Please stop calling me that. I’m not completely sure what it means, but I’m betting its something vulgar.”
“Yeah, yeah. Still, I’m glad I misjudged you, kiddo. Don’t tell Nao I said this, but I’d appreciate it if you looked out for him, even if it’s as a friend. Goddess knows he needs more of those.”
“Oh? Does this mean you’ll finally get off my case?”
“Fuck, no! You may not be a two-timing skank, but you’re still a cheeky brat!”
“And you’re still a troll masquerading as a person, so I guess we’re even.”
The two glared at each other yet again, though the atmosphere this time around was more akin to rivalry than outright hostility. It would appear Boxxy had made the right move, as Keira coming clean and resolving this matter on her own had clearly alleviated some of the worries the bodyguard had about her. He wasn’t about to join the fanclub, but at the very least he would be more tolerant of her presence.
“We could always just work out our differences in a hand-to-hand duel,” suggested Kuro with a very Arms-like grin. “They say fists speak louder than words.”
“No, ‘they’ don’t. Nobody says that. Nobody’s ever said that. That’s idiotic. Even for you.”
“Yeesh, what a spoilsport.”
Silence filled the room again until Nao returned about twenty minutes later. He had freshened up quite a bit, but it was obvious by his puffy red eyes that he had been crying the entire time. He and Keira made up, and the Hero of Magic declared that he would indeed like to remain friends. Even though he had his affections so completely rejected, he still appreciated her company. Especially the way she treated him as an equal. That was the main the reason he developed a crush on her in the first place. Not to mention that, now that all the cards were on the table, he found it much easier to communicate with Keira. Something both parties were silently grateful for, though admittedly for very different reasons.
The magic lessons began more or less according to plan as Keira launched Spell after Spell at the target dummies while Kuro kept an eye out for any random magical discharges. There was a delay of just over a second between Chaotic Disposition triggering and the effect manifesting itself. This gave the Berserker enough time to cover Nao with his body, assuming that the catgirl warned them the instant she got the message.
As for the Hero of Magic, he kept watching over his pupil, giving her various tips regarding chanting whenever appropriate. Some of his advice was obvious, but a good deal of it was things one would be hard-pressed to find in a book or from a Skill. One such trick was the technique of ‘cooking’ Spells, whereby the caster would delay uttering the last part of the incantation in order to unleash it at an opportune moment. All of his hints were seemingly little things like that, but Boxxy was more than happy to feed off Nao’s expertise and experience. The Mimic naturally did not forget to act out a few total failures here and there though, as the catgirl it was portraying was supposed to be a total beginner at magic.
Practical tricks aside, the theoretical knowledge it picked up over the past four days was the truly valuable part of these lessons. For instance, the Mimic was now aware that Spells were made up of two major parts - the shape and the payload. The first of those referred to what form the magic took when invoked. The delivery method for the payload, in other words. ‘Missiles’ such as Shadowbolt and Fireball were the most common, but by no means the only ones. The others five basic forms were beam, field, wave, injection, and cloak. Respective examples of each of those forms were the Scorching Ray and Inferno Spells from Snack’s repertoire, followed by Dark Explosion, Ebonfire, and Shadowbind from Boxxy’s.
The payload portion of a Spell was where things got more complicated, as this part employed a combination of up to three of the fourteen magical elements. Keeping track of each of those and the relationship between them was proving harder for Boxxy to memorize than anticipated. It could still call them up with Legendary Intelligence’s ‘rewind’ feature, but that had a time limit. So, until it was able to commit everything to its long term memory, the Mimic had Keira prepare a little cheat sheet for itself, which it kept on a scrap of paper inside its pocket:
Admittedly most of these were quite obvious, such as light being the polar opposite of dark, or that cold and water worked exceptionally well together to produce ice. At the same time, some of the other relations were far more obtuse. Like the fact that wind and water were opposites, even though it made very little sense at first glance. Thankfully Nao was on hand to point out that neither of those things could coexist within the same space. Even if things like water sprays and bubbling pools existed in nature, it was impossible for an air current to dwell beneath the surface of a lake.
Then there was the scourge element, which prompted its own set of questions. Boxxy had no idea this was even a thing until these tutoring sessions started, it since then learned that pure scourge manifested itself as disease, decay, poison, and the like. Combining it with other elements would produce magical ailments usually intended to impair rather than outright kill. Its opposite being the only restorative element made sense in that context, but its supposedly cooperative relationship with mind magic? That seemed rather puzzling to say the least.
But in the end the shapeshifter couldn’t argue with the effectiveness of the combo. Its Hysteria Spell, much like the most of the Domination school of magic, turned out to be a composite incantation of mind and scourge. The auditory and visual hallucination it invoked upon its targets could easily be described as ‘a malady of the mind,’ so it definitely made sense. After that, it began to pick apart other magics it knew of in an attempt to figure out what components they were comprised of.
Fireball, for instance, was a missile-shaped lump of heat and wind, the latter facilitating the explosion of fire that came out when it hit something. That last part was how it differed from a Wizard’s Firebolt, which, just like all Basic Spells, had only a single element. This made it less flashy, but arguably more deadly since the magical power was more focused. It was similar in that respect to Ruin magic’s Reality Slash, which was actually a narrow wave of pure force. However, being so straightforward also meant that it was easier to defend against them, even if they were technically more damaging than Spells with a composite elemental makeup.
Needless to say, most Spells that employed multiple elements used ones that were relatively close together on the ‘complimentary’ chain. ‘Most’ being the operative word in that statement, as Spells that used ‘distant’ elements most definitely existed. A good example of this was Snack’s Purge, which could get rid of toxins in the body by burning them away while also cauterizing wounds. It was an unbalanced and counterintuitive injection of cure and heat, which naturally led to it causing a bit of damage to the one being treated. The upside was that the Spells’ aggressive nature made it work much quicker than other magical remedies.
Polar opposites, however, could not be mixed into the same Spell. And it was those relationships that interested Boxxy the most, as it was finally starting to grasp how to put the Pandomenium Spell to good use. With enough practice and study, it would be able to predict exactly how a Spell would react when filtered through this magic-flipping field. Interestingly enough, even the shapes appeared to turned into their opposites. Missiles became beams, fields turned to waves, injections transformed into cloaks, and vice-versa.
In other words, Snack’s Fireballs became flashes of freezing beams the instant they passed through Pandomenium’s area of effect. Boxxy’s Shadowbolts - which were missiles of volatile darkness stabilized by gravity - became rays of bright light that tried to disintegrate whatever they hit. Those were the straightforward ones, though. Complicated ones such as Shadowbind were more difficult to predict. In that case, the ‘cloak’ of earth and darkness that normally produced chains to physically hold people down transformed into a magical malady that periodically shocked its victim from within.
And yet all that was barely scratching the surface of the science of magic. The topic gained another layer of complexity when Nao was explaining the secret behind the divine mystic arts. The Holy school of magic was more than just a mix of cure, light and/or mind. It also required, as the Hero of Magic so eloquently put it, ‘a little bit extra.’ The secret behind its function wasn’t a formally recognized fifteenth element, but more of an alternative power source. Priest and Paladin Spells supposedly converted the mana that dwelled within one’s body into something called ki, otherwise known as one’s spiritual energy or divine spark. It was the same mysterious force that Monks used to empower themselves and their strikes, and was the main reason why Holy Spells behaved a little differently from magic fueled by regular mana.
The wolfkin gave a wonderfully detailed explanation on the subject, which was befitting of one aiming to become the greatest scholar of his generation. Unfortunately he got a bit too technical without realizing it, leading to much of the information sailing squarely over both Boxxy and Keira’s heads. At the very least the Mimic was able to assert that this ‘spiritual energy conversion’ was something it had been doing unwittingly whenever it performed the stupidly long Transfamiliar incantation. It was likely all of the Beyond-related Spells gained through the Demonic Insight Skill were like this. It would certainly explain why their chants were so long, or why none of them completely conformed to the conventional framework of magic that Keira was still learning about.
“Alright, now let’s try this one last time,” said Nao as he was wrapping up today’s lessons. “Try putting some more vigor behind the trigger phrase this time around, it’ll help solidify the image.”
Keira nodded in response and turned her attention towards the troll-shaped wooden dummy at the other end of the practice range, some fifteen meters away. She gripped the practice staff she was given tightly and pointed it at the statue while keeping it level at her hip. She then took a deep breath and began uttering the words of power while focusing on the mental image of a room full of air being stuffed into a kickball.
“From sandy beaches to mounds of snow, all shall move if the wind wills it so! Air Hammer!”
A green-tinted transparent lump of compressed air shot out of the staff and flew into the inanimate monster. It crashed into it with a dull thud and a gust of wind, the concussive force of the rapidly expanding air making the troll doll wobble violently for a second before it settled down.
“Gah! Still can’t knock it down!” grumbled Keira. “You sure I should be able to do that?!”
“Quite so. Even a Level 15 Wizard should be able to kick over a hollow carving of that size with a decent Air Hammer.”
“Then what gives?!”
“It’s because your Air Hammers are still sloppy,” said Nao in a stern tone. “Your chanting is on point, but it seems your mental image of what needs to happen isn’t sharp enough. Which is weird. I thought for sure blowing wind at a dummy would be natural for an airhead like you.”
“… If you’re going to be snarky about being dumped, you need to get better material,” replied the catgirl with a disappointed pout.
“I’m still working on it, give me a day or two. I was serious about the first part, though. You’ll be fine so long as you practice visualizing it better.”
What the Hero of Magic didn’t know, however, was that Boxxy was ‘visualizing’ the Air Hammer exactly how it wanted to. The shapeshifter never once struggled with that part, actually, ever since it first got the Warlock Job. The knowledge of a Spell was like a recipe or a blueprint, so all it needed to do was execute the formula and magic would come out. It wasn’t sure whether it was because of this polymagus thing or not, but the fact still stood it struggled more with the chanting than the mental imagery. It honestly had no idea why people found that part challenging to begin with.
Could it be that Boxxy was a genius at magic all along?
Wild fantasies aside however, if the Mimic were to use magic like normal, then the resulting Air Hammer would’ve done a lot more than knocking over a wooden troll doll. It would rip it to splinters, and maybe even punch a hole through the reinforced wall behind it. That was why the Mimic had been intentionally sabotaging its mental image. Doing so brought its otherwise considerable mystic might to a fraction of its actual strength. It took some trial and a lot of error, but it had mostly nailed down how much it needed to ‘muddy the waters’ so that Keira’s magic doesn’t seem more powerful than it should be.
It was honestly kind of impressive how accurate its inaccuracy had become as of late.
“Can I try again?” asked the catgirl. “I feel like I can do it this time!”
“I dunno,” said Nao, scratching his cheek. “We’ve been at it for a while. You really should stop here for the day.”
“I have plenty of MP left, though.”
“Magic stresses the body and the mind just like any form of physical exercise. You need to pace yourself accordingly.”
“I’m a Ranger though. My conditioning is a lot better than your average weak-bodied twinkle-fingers. Er, no offense.”
“Don’t be an idiot, Keira. Even if you think you have the power to keep conjuring Spells without end, the build-up of mental fatigue can creep up on you and trip you up when you least expect it. Overworking yourself is counter-productive, so let’s seriously stop here for the day.”
However, the catgirl did not answer, as she was too busy spacing out. Something about Nao’s words had caused a particular phrase to resurface in Boxxy’s mind.
“Keira?” called out Nao, snapping the doppelganger out of its thoughts.
“… Sorry, I tuned out for a sec,” she replied as she put away the practice staff.
“Is something the matter?”
“No! No… Yes. There is, actually.”
The jolt to the Mimic’s memory from a few seconds ago had shaken loose a certain phrase. One it had heard in passing and only amongst veteran adventurers. Something it had offhandedly dismissed at the time as unrelated to itself since it was a ‘people problem,’ but in retrospect could potentially be related to its recent health issues.
“Is it something I can help with in any way?” offered Nao.
“I don’t know if you can,” answered Keira, “but I’ll ask you anyway. Have you ever heard of ‘power creep?’”