A mimic in the shape of a plain wooden treasure chest idly strolled through a forest atop eight giant arachnid legs, humming a random tune as it did so. The sun was shining down with all its warmth, and the ground was covered with soft grass perfect for sitting. It would have been something of an idyllic scene if not for the highly obvious and blissfully oblivious monster strolling through it. The way the creature was skipping along would make one think it had not a single care in the world.
A small congregation of ten humans suddenly appeared before the animate treasure chest. They were all healthy men and women, with fit bodies that positively bulged with supple muscles, clothed in garments made from meat so fresh it was dripping tasty, nutritious blood everywhere. Rather than being alarmed by the monster in front of them, the humans happily formed a circle around it and began presenting it with various gifts. Statues of mithril, bouquets of precious gemstones, and a veritable motherlode of glimmering golden coins.
The mimic gleefully strode over to the mountain of shinies, but its way was barred by one of the humans, a woman with radiant golden hair and positively massive breasts. She knelt down in front of the spider-box and held up those illogically huge fat deposits with a smile on her face. The simple creature instantly understood the obvious invitation. It opened its maw wide and bit into them eagerly, causing a nostalgic flavor to flood its mouth while a piercing shriek filled its ears.
Boxxy’s eyes flew open in the next instant, its head positively ringing as a result of that scream. Wait, why did it have eyes? Or ears? Or a head, for that matter? Was that scenery just a dream? It certainly seemed to be the case considering such an idyllic scenario would never happen in reality. But if that was so, then how come the shapeshifter still had that familiar flavor on its tongue?
After a few more moments, Boxxy suddenly realized what was going on. It had indeed been sleeping. However, it was doing so as Keira. On a bed. Next to Rowana. Whose left breast was currently between the catgirl’s teeth. Or, well, half of it a least. The other half was still attached to her torso. Needless to say, the voice and blood filling the bedroom were both hers. The shapeshifter acted immediately by knocking her out with a precise blow to the head. It then produced a pair of vials from its Storage and poured their contents down her gullet. One was a healing potion that closed her wound, the other a mild anesthetic to make sure she stayed out cold for the next half hour or so.
Now that both the screaming and the bleeding were contained, it finally swallowed the chunk of breast flesh in its mouth, then sighed. It spent several seconds grumbling inwardly about having that wonderful dream interrupted. At the very least its Legendary Intelligence allowed it to keep a perfect recollection of it. Said memory would likely fade in about forty eight hours, but it was still an alright consolation prize, all things considered.
“Arms, where are you right now?” it called out telepathically.
“Oh, hey boss. I’m in the dungeon, playing Hide The Salami with Mega-Tits and Ultra-Tits.”
Which, in non-Kora speak, meant she was having a threesome with Xera and Lavender. Ambrosia had made it abundantly clear the demon was not to touch the alraune ever again, but she was currently hibernating and therefore unable to step in. There would likely be more corporal punishment in store for Kora once she woke up and found out, but the demoness would probably shrug it off with a ‘doesn’t matter, had sex.’ As for her master, it had a far more immediate concern.
“Stop that right now and make your way over to the healing bath. Let me know when you’re there.”
While the archfiend was doing that, Boxxy grabbed the elf and flung her over Keira’s shoulder like a bag of old turnips. Then, once it heard back from Kora, used Transfamiliar to teleport both itself and its luggage into its personal dungeon. It took a few moments to get its bearings, after which it dumped the woman in the nearby vat of Waters of Life. The clear green liquid bubbled lightly as it restored her to perfect health over the next several seconds. The hylt creeper then fished her out of the wooden tub before the regenerative fluid could wake her up and Transfamiliar’d back to their bedroom.
“Master? Is something the matter?” Xera’s voice filled its head.
“Nothing I can’t handle.”
“You were sleep-eating again, weren’t you?”
“I worry about you, Master. This is the third time this month.”
“I don’t pay you to worry about me,” it snapped back.
“Technically, you don’t pay us at all boss,” Kora pointed out.
“Speak for yourself,” the djinn argued. “Master’s throbbing tree-dick is all the reward I need.”
“Just shut up and stay off the mind-link. Both of you.”
Boxxy continued to pace about the bedroom in an agitated state. Snack had raised a valid point, but it was far too cranky from that rude awakening to indulge her right now, not to mention it had a cleanup to attend to. It took a Shower In a Bottle from its Storage and opened it. The tiny storm cloud poured out of its container and covered the ceiling, blanketing the bloodied bed with a localized rain of orange-tinted liquid. Rowana’s bodily fluids were separated from the sheets and flowed freely onto the hardwood floor where Boxxy could easily slurp them up.
It took a few more Showers to get all of it out, but five minutes later there was not a single shred of evidence that someone had part of them ripped off by a monster. Even the alchemical cleaning concoction had evaporated mere seconds after doing its job, leaving the room completely dry and smelling very faintly of hylt fruit. Boxxy then rapidly changed Rowana’s ripped up sleepwear, making a mental note to get a replacement before she noticed one of her nightgowns was missing. Having officially concluded its cleanup, the shapeshifter laid the still unconscious elf back in the bed and assumed its position as a sleeping Keira. Then waited.
After about fifteen minutes, Rowana suddenly came to while screaming, instantly bolting up into a seated position. She reached down to grab hold of her chest, only to find out that, much to her relief, her ‘girls’ were completely intact. She then glanced around the dark room with a look of confusion for a few moments before realizing a pair of yellow feline eyes were staring at her from the side.
The elf positively leaped out of the bed, falling sideways and onto the wooden floor.
“Rowie?! What’s wrong?!”
“Ugh,” the elf groaned while rising up from the floor. “I’m really sorry for that, sweetie. I just had another of those horrible nightmares.”
It was far better to let her come to that conclusion on her own rather than erase the event from her head via the ex-succubus’s Dreamweaver Skill. Past experiences had taught Boxxy that it was unwise to use that ability on people it interacted with regularly, so it opted for this far less mind-rapey solution.
“That’s like the third time this month,” she continued. “I think I should go get my head examined after all.”
“You’re overreacting, Rowie.”
“Am I? I don’t know about you, but I personally find the idea of being ripped to pieces by my own girlfriend extremely abhorrent.”
Keira scooted over to where Rowana was sitting on the bed and started comforting her.
“You’re just acclimating to the new house, honey. Let’s not get worked up over it. A change in environment can do that to a person. Trust me, I’ve been there.”
Truthfully speaking, if anyone was ‘acclimating’ here, it was Boxxy. While the pair did buy a larger house as per Keira’s suggestion, the shapeshifter found it difficult to let down its guard in it. Even after installing a bunch of magic security systems under the pretense of protecting the catgirl’s belongings, it just couldn’t feel at ease. Getting comfortable with the place was why it spent so much time sleeping here instead of inside the dungeon, but it was now having serious doubts whether that was a good idea. These ‘sleep-eating’ incidents could not be allowed to continue, lest Boxxy do something no amount of play-acting would be able to smooth over.
Thankfully the couple had installed a soundproofing charm around the bedroom, which prevented Rowana’s screams from leaking out. It would have been rather difficult to keep those violent incidents a secret otherwise since this house was built in a more densely populated area of Ambrosia’s tree than the old one. Ironically enough, that particular measure was originally Rowana’s idea. She was worried that the high-pitched voices she and her girlfriend made during their lovemaking would disturb the neighbors. She probably never imagined her good intentions would be co-opted to conceal a manipulative monster’s malicious mishaps, nor would she ever find out if Boxxy had any say in the matter.
Keira kept soothing and comforting the upset elf until the two of them eventually returned to bed. The night rolled on and dawn came without any further incidents, and the pair went about their morning routine in a similarly casual way. Rowana was already at a stage where anything Keira said automatically became fact in her mind, so there was no worry about her questioning her ‘nightmares.’
After eating breakfast, Keira left the beautiful two-story building and walked down the street-sized branch it was built on while greeting the neighbours with a smile and a wave. She rode one of the city’s magic flying platforms down to the ground level with a small crowd of pedestrians, then made her way over to the Central Consortium. What followed was another methodical smile-and-wave act as she circled around the huge building and to the field out back, where her Advanced Scouting class was already lined up and waiting for her.
However, of the thirty three adventurers that signed up for it initially, only ten of them had lasted this long. It would appear nearly all of them had shown up because of Keira’s celebrity status and had very little interest in the harsh training itself. Once they realized the Hero of Chaos was not there for their entertainment, they quickly lost interest and dropped out. Others tried to stick with it, but couldn’t keep up with Keira’s increasingly intense demands.
In short, though over two thirds of the catgirl’s first class were gone, only the ones worth teaching were left.
“Good morning, everyone,” Keira stated as she marched down the row of people. “Mister Phimenor, my eyes are up here.”
“Y-yes, ma’am! Sorry, ma’am!” one of the elves blurted out.
“Mister Ironhide, I trust the head wound you received yesterday is completely healed?”
“Yes, ma’am! Thank you, ma’am!” the black-bearded dwarf responded.
“Miss Enra. Did you forget to bring your caltrops and smoke bombs today as well?”
“No, ma’am! Have them right here, ma’am!” a blue-haired elf replied.
“Very good. Ah. And I see that Mister Finks is still with us. Isn’t that a pleasant surprise?”
Jared, the ever-present troublemaker, swallowed audibly after hearing his name. Beads of cold sweat started forming on his forehead and palms when Keira stood in front of him and stared at his face so hard it was like she was trying to melt with some kind of eye-beam. She then dropped her shoulders and let out a disappointing sigh.
“I must admit, Mister Finks, I am both disappointed and impressed. My expectations of you were practically nonexistent, yet you still somehow managed to fail them. I can’t help but wonder how in Vivienne’s holy name you seem to be getting worse each day despite all the time and energy I put into you.”
The rest of the class threw each other glances that seemed to say ‘here we go again’ while Jared himself was finding it increasingly difficult to keep his mouth shut.
“I would commend you on your persistence in sticking it out this long, but nowadays I’m convinced that’s actually your pigheaded stubbornness in play. I honestly have no idea why or how someone as arrogant, inept, and borderline delusional like yourself is even trying to be an adventurer, but I strongly recommend you give it a rest. Go learn to be a farmer or something, at least then the only things you will get killed are plants or livestock rather than your teammates.”
“Now listen here you charlatan!” the elf finally snapped in a fit of anger. “Just because you can’t admit your methods are flawed-!”
The bald-headed upstart fell over screaming at the knife that had suddenly appeared in his right thigh.
“Does anyone else here have a problem with my methods?!”
“No, ma’am!” shouted all of the other nine in unison.
“Then we all agree Mister Finks here should retire from being an adventurer?!”
Keira then removed the knife out of the elf’s leg, the wound already closing. The catgirl had found it troublesome to have to shout for the medic every time this moron acted up, so she had this special ‘Wellness Blade’ made on the cheap. It was a plain-looking dagger with a moderate healing enchantment on it that would mend any cut the blade made within seconds. With it, Keira could ‘educate’ the uppity uncooperative pain-in-the-ass without having to stop the class every time he was acting up.
“I’ve had with you, Mister Finks,” she told the whimpering man. “I tried everything I could think of to help you, but all that resulted in was a waste of my time and efforts. Get out of my sight and never come back here again, or else no healer alive will be able to fix what I do to you.”
She then beckoned two of her students over to drag him away and toss him out, which they did gladly.
Strictly speaking, though her way of doing things seemed extreme on the surface, Keira only took such a heavy-handed stance with Jared. The rest of the class were treated to a firm but fair way of teaching that mirrored that of the catgirl’s own Ranger instructor, the late Milo Faehorn. She was tough, demanding and often times mean, but the real world was no different - something the rest of her students were already well aware of. These people came to her to push their limits and pick up techniques and tricks that might save lives, whether it be their own or those of their clients and comrades. A joker like Jared who only stuck around out of some stubborn sense of pride was nothing but a nuisance that held everyone back.
After all, there was a reason why the paradoxical weapon Keira used earlier was commonly known as ‘The Jared Special.’
“I have some exciting news for you all!”
The catgirl continued with the highlight of today’s agenda once the two trainees had returned from escorting the troublemaker out of everyone’s collective hair. The prospect of ‘exciting news’ was not well received by the group, however. The last time their instructor used those words she led them on a grueling two-week-long training camp in the Republic’s northern forests, which were considerably more inhospitable than the southern regions. It was during that time that they began to wonder whether Keira or the roaming packs of hobgoblins and gnolls were the biggest threat.
“Congratulations, you all pass!”
The group were expecting another tough assignment, so these words took them completely by surprise. They were so dumbfounded that it took one of them several seconds before one of them could respond.
“Excuse me, ma’am?” the dwarf named Ironhide called out. “What do you mean we passed?”
“Exactly what it sounds like,” she replied with a smile. “The Advanced Scouting class has run its course, and all of you here and now have officially graduated.”
It was only then the group realized it. They had been worked to the bone on a nearly daily basis as Keira hammered her scouting philosophy into their hearts and minds, so they didn’t even notice it had already been four months since the course started.
“What’s with you sorry lot?!” Keira suddenly yelled, her voice sending a chill down their spines. “Was standing around and staring with your mouths open like a bunch of trolls what I taught you sorry scrubs?!”
“No, ma’am!” the class shouted as one.
“Then what is it we learned over the past four months?!”
“How to survive, ma’am!”
“What is your greatest enemy?!”
“How do you prepare yourselves to face it?!”
“With sharp eyes and sharper wits!”
“What do you do when it comes after you!?”
“We hit it where it hurts!”
“And if violence doesn’t work?!”
“Then we failed to use enough of it!”
“Much better! Now go out there and show this world you will not let it push you around!”
With their spirits reinvigorated, the nine graduates of Keira Morgana’s first Advanced Scouting class let out a loud cheer. Their instructor proudly led them into the Consortium building, where each of them was presented with a commemorative dagger. It didn’t matter if they were Rogues or Rangers, every scout needed a knife for emergencies, and the ones these nine were given were fine blades indeed. Each item was of either Superior or Masterwork quality, and the special metal they were forged out of gave them a mysterious fiery red sheen despite the fact they were not enchanted.
The material in question was known as volcanite, a stubborn mineral that was difficult for most smiths to handle due to the extreme temperatures necessary to forge it. However, that was not a problem for a golem like Fizzy, and the radiant artisan wasted no time in exploiting that fact. She forged hundreds of those crimson blades and earned a sizable chunk of Blacksmith XP as a result of working with the difficult material. The resulting weapons were more or less similar in performance to those forged of regular steel, except that they were a bit lighter and had a marginally higher durability rating.
As for the reason Boxxy was just giving these away, it was because neither it nor Fizzy could think of anything better to do with these un-shiny things. They could have simply pawned them off, of course, but that just felt like a waste of potential. Handing out these novelty items to those that graduated from Keira’s classes just seemed like the best way to use them. They were both practical and their red sheen was oddly reminiscent of the catgirl’s signature crimson hair, so it was likely these blades would hold special significance to the ones that received them. Which in turn would only mean an increase in Doppelganger XP for Boxxy.
Once the improvised award ceremony was done with, Keira bid farewell to her students and paid a visit to the Hidden Arrow guild’s office. She spoke to the receptionist and asked to see all the personal requests she had gotten. The huge box of envelopes she received in return was rather overwhelming, but understandable given her popularity. After confirming with the receptionist that any and all rude, illicit or inappropriate requests had been removed, she took a seat on a nearby sofa and began poring over them.
Boxxy had originally intended to receive word from Reggie via these submissions, but the elder doppelganger had disappeared completely ever since their last meeting. It honestly gave up expecting to hear from him at all, which was why it allowed these things to pile up so much. The reason it was paying them any mind at present was to deal with that ‘sleep-eating’ problem, the cause of which could be summed up in a single word.
Which, from the perspective of a creature that had grown up on a diet of violence, death and destruction, meant that its body craved more of those things. They were the same urges that the shapeshifter had been suppressing over the past few months as a result of Keira’s new day job. Teaching was hard, especially for a monster, so Boxxy had to focus its undivided attention towards making sure it did the best job it could, all in order to raise its Facade’s credibility. However, it would appear its primal side refused to be silenced any longer and was causing it to act out at times when its guard was down, such as during its sleep.
This was the conclusion Boxxy had come to after confirming the glee that welled up in its chest when it stabbed Jared earlier. Well, that and it remembered Fizzy sometimes had such episodes, though it wasn’t clear whether that was because of her being a golem or her being a psychopath. Whatever the case, Boxxy needed to seriously blow off some steam, but it couldn’t do that here. The shapeshifter was a connoisseur of carnage, and the sort of mayhem it had to unleash upon the world was best aimed away from anywhere that might compromise its Facade.
In other words, it was time for Keira to go on a little adventure, and what better source for that than a Quest someone deemed worthy of the Hero of Chaos?
Admittedly Keira’s Hero title didn’t stop people from submitting horribly mundane and pointless requests, but there were quite a few interesting ones. Like this Shaman seeking to reach the summit of Cloudburst Mountain in order to commune with the elements and seek a covenant with one of the wind spirits that dwelled there. Boxxy had never been to that mountain nor sampled its wildlife, but it had heard good things. It also hadn’t had fresh seafood in a long while, so the one about locating some ancient treasure at the bottom of the Oculus Sea was also tempting. Then there was a subjugation request demanding the death of a particularly nasty wyvern - another thing Boxxy had yet to learn the flavor of.
After spending about an hour going through the hundred or so envelopes, Keira finally settled on the tastiest looking one. She put all the rejected ones back into the box and left them with the receptionist while informing her of the job she’d picked. She then strode briskly out of the building and made her way across the city, though she wasn’t headed towards her client’s place of residence. She first had to go fetch a certain someone who would probably be a big help on this expedition. A certain someone that resided within a warehouse-sized workshop in Azurvale’s dwarven neighborhood, otherwise known as the Stone District.
Keira arrived at her destination without much incident and proceeded to slam her fist against the heavy metal door to the large stone building. The grinding and hammering noises coming from the other side came to an abrupt stop, and the door was flung open several seconds later to reveal a very irate-looking mithril woman.
“I thought I said-! Oh, hey Keira.”
“Hi Fizzy. Bad time?”
“No, just some meatbag problems. Come on in.”
The catgirl walked into the workshop’s interior, which was in a state that could be summed up as ‘organized chaos.’ Boxxy honestly had no idea how Fizzy kept track of this mess of parts, tools and half-finished devices, but it wasn’t here to poke holes in her workflow.
“Is it those Fizzlesprockets again?” she asked once inside. “Do I need to go pay them a visit after all?”
By which Boxxy meant it would slaughter their entire clan, gobble up the bodies, rob them of their belongings and burn down their houses for good measure.
“I would appreciate it if you didn’t do anything that would eradicate decades’ worth of scientific progress,” the golem grumbled. “Arrogant meatbags or not, they still make some decent innovations every now and then. Anyway, it wasn’t them. They don’t have the nuts to stir up trouble outside their home turf.”
“Oh? Then who’s been bothering you?”
“Just a bunch of fanboys and fangirls, they pop in every now and then like I’m some tourist attraction.”
“I thought you liked the attention, though?”
“Well yeah, but not when they distract me from my work. Speaking of which, I’ve been making some serious progress.”
The golem led the catgirl into the former warehouse’s main storage room, in the middle of which stood an enormous cannon. Its base where the firing mechanism was contained was about the size of a small house, and the stupidly long barrel was currently in the midst of being assembled. It was a huge project, too big for even someone like Fizzy to handle on her own. As capable as her Service Mode was, there were just some things she needed an extra pair of hands for.
Which was why she had some help, courtesy of the ability she gained at Level 20 of her War Golem Job.
Description: The golem brings an armored shell to life in order to carry out its bidding.
Requirements: Level 10 War Golem, Level 25 Blacksmith
Type: Active, Reservation
Activation Time: 10 seconds
Cost: 20% of max MP
Effects: Bestow autonomous movement upon a set of unenchanted metal armor and gain control over it.
The Animated Armor’s strength is dependant on the Level of this Skill and the Quality of materials used in its creation.
This Skill will fail if the MP used is insufficient for the mass of the target.
At present, Fizzy had three of these Animated Armors helping out with the less technical construction of the weapon. Each of them had been forged by her personally and bore a striking resemblance to her Service Mode, though scaled up to a little over two meters in height and made out of steel rather than mithril. Boxxy had verified first hand how tough and durable they were, as Animate Armor seemed to amplify the toughness and durability of those armored shells three times over.
It still had some flaws, however. For instance, the Skill made the metal bend and warp ever-so-slightly while it moved about, making it a bad idea to build any delicate Artificer-made devices into them. These living armor sets were also mostly mindless, meaning Fizzy had to control their movements with her thoughts and words. A task that had been relegated to the Parallel entities living in her head, allowing the main personality to focus on the project’s more complex components.
“So, what do you think?” she asked excitedly. “Coming along nicely, isn’t it?”
“It’s freaking amazing!” Keira exclaimed with eyes full of wonder. “Seeing it in person has a completely different impact from hearing you talk about it!”
That excited response was so genuine that Fizzy had a hard time determining whether Boxxy or Keira was speaking right now. Frankly speaking, the shapeshifter’s ability to change between its Facade and true self on a whim sometimes made her wonder if it might have developed some sort of split personality disorder. It was an especially valid concern coming from someone who literally had multiple versions of herself living in her head. In the end though, she decided to trust the monster had its psyche in check and simply accepted the compliment.
“Hehe, you think it’s impressive now, wait until you see it in action. If my calculations are correct, this baby will be able to shoot at targets over thirty kilometers away. Might even punch a hole straight through a dragon, but it’s hard to say for sure until we try it.”
The person-sized shell in the corner was more than enough to make it clear that statement was no empty boast. Surely not even those legendary creatures will be able to shrug off an impact from something that large and solid hitting them at four times the speed of sound. That wasn’t even taking into account the special piercing rounds she had in mind. Assuming the weapon was able to land a hit on an airborne target, of course.
“Wait… Does the government know you’re building this thing?” Keira asked suddenly.
“Know about it? Who do you think is bankrolling it? I’m not a hundred percent sure how they plan to use my baby, though I doubt it would revolutionize warfare.”
As impressive as this rail cannon was, Fizzy knew from personal experience that magic had a way of subverting the laws of physics. It was still possible to absorb or redirect each shot, even with the absurd amount of kinetic energy behind it. A sustained long-range barrage would eventually punch through a fortress’s defensive barriers, but whether that was a cost effective strategy was questionable at best.
“Ah, okay. I guess that makes sense,” Keira nodded. “But… isn’t it a bit too big?”
“Yeah, I’m not gonna lie, maintaining, mobilizing and defending something of this size is going to be a logistical nightmare. Expensive too. If it were me, I’d just stick it on a border fortress somewhere and use it for defense. Or better yet - a deterrent.”
Treating the rail cannon as a defensive piece of siege equipment made more sense than mobilizing it to assault an enemy position. Not only was it far simpler to do so, but any invading army would not have the luxury of a magically entrenched position. Getting shelled repeatedly by an enemy they couldn’t even see would surely demoralize even the most hardened of veterans, to say nothing of the casualties involved.
“That’s not what I meant,” the catgirl said, scratching her cheek. “I’m more concerned with how you’re going to get it out of here. Pretty sure there’s no Wizard alive that can teleport something this damn huge and heavy.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that. I’m going to mount it on a mobile platform to make it move under its own power. Might need to find me a Flamespitter Artificer to help design the engine, but it shouldn’t be too much of an issue.”
“Ah. So what’s your ingenious plan to make it fit through the door?”
Fizzy looked towards the loading bay Keira was pointing at. She then glanced up at the nearly completed rail cannon prototype, then back towards the building’s largest exit. There was absolutely zero chance the weapon would pass through that opening without demolishing the place. Something that was so plainly obvious it was a wonder Fizzy didn’t stop to consider it until now.
“Uhhh… I’ll… have to… get back to you on that… Oh, right. Minus wants to know why you’re here. She has doubts you showed up just to say hi, and I think I agree with her.”
“Yeah, I’m gonna need to borrow you and your knowledge of sacred texts for this.”
Keira handed Fizzy the paper detailing the request she picked out back at the guild.
|Submitter: Corrai of Clan Daiei
Address: Black Rose Hotel, southern base of Tree Helia, Azurvale
Quest Name: Find Miguel’s Relics
Description: Greetings, chosen Hero of Chaos! I am a servant of the Lord of Luck, and have been tasked with locating His holy relics. I have been trying for many years, and though I have made some progress, I regret that I have hit a dead end. I come to you, hoping you will help me find the way. I know this sounds dubious, but I assure you I have definite proof of my purpose.
Approximate Difficulty: 58 Eagles
Estimated Completion Time: Unsure.
Due Date: By summer’s end.
Reward: The relics are yours, if we should find them.
“Is this… what I think it is?!” the golem asked, eyes wide.
“Yup,” Keira confirmed with a nod. “We’re going to hunt us down a potential Divine-class item.”