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“Gotta say, I’m surprised yer still kickin’ Gux,” Hilda commented. “Was expectin’ ye to have drowned ‘cus you fancied a swim in molten lava.”

“Gux had indeed tried that since we last met, old friend,” he responded. “Gux found the lava surprisingly pleasant, if a bit smoky.”

“Oh come off it,” Keira grumbled. “I don’t care how tough you are, nobody can swim in lava then come out unscathed.”

“I dunno, I bet I could do it,” Fizzy chimed in. “Then again, that’s mostly because it’s not nearly hot enough to melt through my fabulous frame.”

The four of them were currently trekking through the overgrown jungles of Velos. Well, Gux was technically floating slightly above them while in a cross-legged sitting position, but that was mostly because the razorscale raptor found it less tiring than walking. Even if he was a high Level magic user, fighter types like the other three simply had a lot more stamina and endurance.

“Yeah, but Gux is flesh and blood,” the catgirl pointed out. “Those typically have a lower melting point than mithril.”

“He’s a Hero like yerself, lass,” Hilda chimed in. “One of his special Skills makes him immune to environmental hazards so long as they’re natural and not in a dungeon or somethin’.”

“So, what? Lava won’t burn him?”

“Nope. He can still fooken drown, though.”

“Actually, Null tells me lava’s too dense to let a meatbag sink in it,” Fizzy pointed out.

“Huh. Did not know that. Well, live and learn I s’pose,” Hilda said with a shrug.

“Where did you even find actual flowing laval?” the catgirl inquired.

“Gux came across an erupting volcano while exploring the region of Hell.”

“Hell?!” she practically screamed. “You went to Hell?! Like, of your own volition?!”

“It is surprisingly scenic and calming so long as one manages to avoid disturbing the locals.”

He made it sound like that was no big deal, but the fact of the matter was that one of those ‘locals’ was none other than the elder dragon Hadros, a castle-sized cataclysm of flame, greed and spite. The day it moved into the Horkensaft Kingdom and claimed the volcanic region of Hell as its own was one of the darkest moments in dwarven history. Hadros not only denied them access to the bountiful and valuable minerals found within Hell, but also displaced or incinerated tens of thousands of people. He also effectively held the entire Kingdom hostage for ransom, forcing them to pay a yearly tribute of gold and jewels in exchange for not turning it into ash.

And Gux was claiming that he went to such a place and risked provoking an actual elder dragon because he wanted to go sightseeing.

“Wow. Okay. I take back what I said during the meeting, you’re as crazy as a horse’s sock at sunset,” Keira said while shaking her head.

One would think the Heroes would have had more important things to discuss at their meeting than the Hero of Rain’s sanity, or lack thereof, but that was not the case. Sigmund, Hesk and Gux had very little information to share beyond the identity of the orc warlord, who apparently went by the name Gutzstompa. It went without question that he would be a force to be reckoned with, and not only because of his clearly superior physique and advanced species. The biggest problem when dealing with him would be the sheer number of monsters under his control.

Common orcs, typically referred to as peons or grunts, were complete savages that acted purely on instinct. They had very little in the way of individual thoughts or wants beyond the basic desires present in all living things. However, what set them apart from other tribal monsters like gnolls or goblins was their unique racial Skill, the Green Tide. In essence, it allowed orcs within the same warband to link together in a sort of subliminal psychic network. The more individuals that joined the same connection, the more their mental and physical abilities rose as a whole, and the more likely it was that a warlord capable of leading them would appear.

And with a staggering hundred thousand orcs under his command, Gutzstompa’s horde had the potential to wage warfare that would make the Lodrak Empire look like children swinging toy swords around. Logistics, strategy, troop movements, armaments and siege weaponry would be organized and brought to bear against the Eight Tribes of Velos. The worst part was that these orcs would fight like seasoned veterans, with strength and endurance far surpassing that of the greenskins found in roaming independent groups.

Nevertheless, there were ways and means to combat this effect, such as thinning the orcish scourge. That was part of the reason why Fizzy, Keira, Gux and Hilda were out here in the jungle to begin with. They were currently on their way to the reported location of an orc camp, where roughly two thousand of the beasts were reportedly making war preparations. Taking that group out would not make too much of a dent in the enemy’s numbers, but it was a start. Besides, eradication wasn’t their main objective, but merely a byproduct of their actual goal.

Which was to help harvest the 3,719 orc corpses that the LIAR demanded in order to reveal the secret behind Gutzstompa’s sudden rise to power. The other Heroes were also engaged in similar missions. Kaede, Hesk, and a joint strike force between the Broadfang and Mistclaw tribes were on their way to assault an orc-infested swampy region. They planned to use extensive hit and run tactics to gradually whittle down the nearly eight thousand greenskins that resided there. Sigmund and a contingent of his Inquisition forces went to investigate an old mine that supposedly became an orc nest, with Orrin and a dozen of his fellow giants for support.

As for Nao, he and Kuro had borrowed a griffin to carry them to various points on Velos in order to carry out their own independent investigation. Even if the LIAR gave factually accurate answers, there was a solid chance that ‘What is the root cause of the current orcish invasion?’ was not the right question. The wolfkin pair had a few extra hands keeping them company, but for the most part the bulk of the adventurers and Eight Tribes’ forces were currently digging themselves in. There were several teams of elite fighters that were sent to carry out preemptive strikes against the orcs.

Granted, none of them would be anywhere near as outnumbered as Keira’s group, but considering the people in it, even five hundred to one seemed unfair towards the orcs.

“Hold.”

The catgirl raised an arm and gave a quiet word of caution, causing the other three to stop in their tracks.

“There’s a faint scent of burning flesh in the air,” she reported. “I’m also hearing the sound of metal striking metal.”

“Combat?” Hilda asked in a whisper.

“No, it’s too rhythmic. It’s either smithing or construction.”

“Sounds like our target, alright.”

“I’ll go scout ahead. You three there stay here and wait for my return.”

Keira accessed her belt-mounted magical storage and withdrew her Prismatic Cloak.

“Gux could investigate with the Wandering Mind,” the sightless raptor offered.

“I’d much rather you stay here and watch for- Uh, I mean, keep Fizzy and Hilda out of trouble. The last thing we need is for the orcs to find us and go on high alert before we’re ready.”

The catgirl threw on the multi-colored hooded garment, making herself invisible to the naked eye. There was then a rustling of bushes and vines as she disappeared completely, almost like a ghost.

“The Chosen of Chaos does not seem to trust Gux much,” the raptor remarked.

“Sure she does, she just trusts herself more,” Fizzy claimed.

In reality, Boxxy simply wanted to be as far away from Gux as feasibly possible. A Psionic’s Skills made them perceptive in troublesome ways, and this Level 100 mindbender would have surely sensed Keira’s true nature if not for the catgirl’s helmet. It had been specially enchanted to ward off telepathic probing, as such things were the number one threat to Boxxy’s Facade. It probably wouldn’t be able to block Gux if he actively tried to bypass it, but that would essentially be an attack on Keira’s person, which would likely lead to a Clash of Fate. Even if it did give the catgirl a legitimate reason to fight back and possibly kill the raptor, it was a scenario that the once-mimic wanted to avoid if at all possible.

Which was precisely why it had that mind-shielding helmet made in the first place. It, much like the other pieces of Keira’s current equipment, belonged to one of several sets of armor, each with their own enchantments and effects. One was geared towards desert travel, others designed to help tackle extreme weather conditions, and there was even a set aimed at facilitating underwater exploration. Having an extensive ‘wardrobe’ like that was nothing out of the ordinary for accomplished adventurers, so Keira owning all that stuff was almost to be expected. Nobody would question her why she wore an anti-Psionic helmet, either, as people were inherently distrustful towards users of mind-altering magic. However, it was not one that Boxxy wore regularly, chiefly because it also had the side effects of blocking the passive thought link between itself and its familiars. And now that it had put some distance between itself and Gux, the shapeshifter removed its headgear and called out to its pet demons.

“Claws, Snack, made any progress?”

“I’m afraid not, Master,” the stalker replied. “This dungeon is very well hidden.”

“Either that or it requires some special circumstances or conditions to be met before one can enter,” the other demoness chimed in.

“You think we might have another Stairway to Heaven situation?” Boxxy asked warily.

Stairway to Heaven was a dungeon under Teresa’s control, and as such did not allow entry to anyone that had been ‘seduced by unholy powers.’ Which in more practical terms meant Taboo holders, Necromancers, and Warlocks with demonic familiars. Needless to say, the shapeshifter was most disappointed when it failed to plunder its riches because it physically could not enter it. It was a feature that had a very significant MP upkeep, and as such was only available to high tier dungeons.

“I dare say it is a non-zero possibility, Master,” Xera stated. “Given its approximate location, the one we are searching for most likely belongs to Axel.”

“And we all know how the God of War and Combat feels about monsters, huh?”

“Precisely. It would not surprise me if there was an ‘enlightened only’ rule involved.”

“We’ll deal with that later. Right now I need you to focus on tracking down its location. Same to you, Claws.”

“Understood, Master,” the two replied in unison.

Truthfully speaking though, neither of them were likely to find any useful leads. Drea was taking the direct approach to using her mana-sensitive eyesight to track down potential dungeon locations, but she had a massive, sprawling jungle to search through. As for the djinn, it was unlikely she’d find anything out from the locals since they were all preoccupied with the orc threat. That was also why Boxxy barely got a chance to ask around as Keira before its Facade had to attend this mission. It would appear that the fastest way to dig up the whereabouts of this Gauntlet was to resolve the greenskin problem.

Which was precisely why it had sent Kora to engage a particularly massive group of orcs that Hesk’s scouts warned Keira about, some forty kilometres south of the catgirl’s current position. The archfiend was sent there to test the enemy’s strength, which she deemed was nothing to worry about when Boxxy last heard from her a few hours ago. The orcs had unsurprisingly overwhelmed and killed her, though not before she slaughtered enough of them to give her master a Perk.

Hunter of Orcs
Description: Repetition is the mother of learning. Especially when it comes to slaughter.
Requirements: Kill more than 2,000 orcs.
Effects: Increases all damage dealt to orcs by 5%.
Reduces all damage taken from orcs by 5%.

Admittedly this was more of an upgrade since Keira’s dungeon-delving had already earned Boxxy the Slayer of Orcs title at five hundred kills and then some. However, if the monster’s calculations were correct, that still meant its pet brawler had eliminated somewhere around a thousand of them all by herself. That alone was more than enough for the doppelganger to confirm that the orcs were not a threat to it personally. Admittedly it was difficult to tell whether Arms’s feat was possible because the orcs were not as tough as expected or because archfiends were ridiculous, but it didn’t matter all that much. If a single-minded pinhead like her could kill so many of the orcs with no support, then Boxxy’s troupe could probably wipe out all hundred thousand of them if given enough time.

Not that the shapeshifter had any intention of doing so. Simply put, there was no profit to be had in the wholesale slaughter of a bunch of mindless savages that wouldn’t know where to find a shiny thing even if it was shoved up their backsides. It would still massacre a bunch of them to blow off some steam, but that would have to wait until Keira fulfilled her duties. Slipping the mind-shielding helmet back on, the catgirl tracked down a roaming band of thirty or so orcs. She leapt from treetop to treetop while under the cover of her Prismatic Cloak’s invisibility as she followed them. This lot appeared to be a hunting party coming back with their catch - a live jungle janther. The massive beast had had most of its legs severed and was being dragged along by its stumps, but the fact that it was still alive suggested it would not be turned into food.

Instead, the greenskins would most probably use the creature to facilitate their grotesque reproductive cycle. They needed to ‘plant their seed’ inside a living being, which would soon develop into a number of flesh-eating slug-like parasites. These larvae would consume both their unwilling host and each other as they rapidly grew in size. The survivors would eventually burst out of their ‘mother’ and finish eating up the rest of the corpse before entering a cocoon-like state much like a butterfly. Needless to say, the thing that would pop out of that would be far more grotesque and vicious than a tiny insect with colorful wings.

Not that this lot and their catch would have the opportunity to engage in that vile process, as they had led Keira straight to their base camp. It was a primitive settlement dominated by wonky tents and spike-covered burrows. About twenty of the canvas-covered dwellings were far larger than the rest and spewed a constant stream of smoke as the orcs within readied their weapons of war. The perimeter of the camp had been left almost completely barren since its residents had consumed all plant and animal life within about a hundred and forty meters of it and were showing no sign of stopping. Population wise there seemed to be about two thousand of them, give or take a few hundred. Their military composition consisted entirely of melee-oriented brutes carrying clubs, swords and axes of various sizes and shapes with barely any armor or clothing on them.

It wasn’t the most ideal of setups to say the least, but the orcs didn’t really have a choice in the matter. Lacking any individual thought made it practically impossible for any of the common grunts to harness the power of magic. Their thick fingers and wide frames, on the other hand, made them ill-suited to archery or subterfuge, but excellent at cracking skulls. Therefore, an entire camp of nothing but brawlers was not only to be expected, but also matched up perfectly with the briefing Keira had been given after that Hero conference two days ago.

However, the report she had been given neglected to mention the presence of an orc warlord. It was relatively easy to spot him considering he was significantly taller and more vocal than the rest, not to mention far more articulate. He was likely an underling of the ‘big boss’ called Gutzstompa and was acting as an overseer for this particular encampment. What made him stand out even more was the fact that he was obviously a magic user. A Necromancer if the shambling half-rotten orc corpses he was barking orders at were any indication.

After confirming everything with her own eyes, Keira retreated to a more secluded spot and reported her findings back to Hilda via Comm-crystal.

“A Necromancer? That’s odd,” the dwarf-shaped illusion remarked.

“Yeah, I know,” the catgirl agreed. “I thought tribal monsters like orcs, goblins and the like could only get more ‘fire and forget’ Jobs, like Druid or Pyromancer.”

“Dunno what to tell ye, lass. Orcs ain’t my speciality. What do ye think, Gux?” she asked while turning her head to the side. “That so? … Alright then. Cloud-brain here says he’s seen orc Warlocks before so I guess it’s not all that unusual. ‘Sides, those zombies won’t be any trouble with yer trophy wife around.”

“I suppose, though his presence does gives me an idea. I think we can use him to our advantage.”

“Oh? Ye got a plan of some kind brewin’?”

“You could say that, yeah.”

“Is it better than mine?”

“Hilda, literally anything is a better plan than ‘swinging my axe until my arms get tired.’ That’s not even a plan!”

“Careful there. Ye’re startin’ to sound a lot like that shoestrap Faehorn.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment. I’m on my way back, I’ll explain everything when I get back there.”

About two hours later, the orc camp was still unaware of the adventurers right outside their doorstep. The orcs were milling about, either busy with carrying materials, shaping them into weapons or viciously beating each other half to death for no apparent reason. They were so absorbed in their own daily grind that they didn’t even notice Hilda leaving the dense jungle and stepping onto the orc-ravaged portion of the land. Admittedly being a dwarf meant she wasn’t all that tall, but she was still clad head-to-toe in black adamantite armor against a backdrop of bright green vegetation. The bright red plume of hair sticking out of the top of her helmet only contributed to her eyesore status. Yet the orcs completely failed to notice her, despite the fact that she was now roughly fifty meters from their camp.

This was a problem, but not something Hilda couldn’t resolve. As a Berserker, she had the ability to produce certain effects with the power of her voice. Her Ultimate Skill, Tempest of Rage, was a testament to that aspect of her primary Job. The ability to both empower allies and demoralize enemies en masse with a single ear-piercing war cry was sure to be very useful in this campaign, but this was neither the time nor place for it. Her goal was to merely get their attention and make them follow her into the jungle, which she could accomplish by employing a much more basic Skill.

Hilda took as deep a breath as her powerful lungs could, then employed the rather fancifully named Belligerent Roar, which was empowered beyond its normal limits by her War Crier Skill.

“Oi! Green cunts!”

The magically amplified profanity drowned out all other noise as it echoed across the camp, inside the orcs’ skulls and into the jungle beyond. Those savages were just bundles of hate and anger wrapped in green skin, so the vocal Skill’s aggression-coaxing properties made them instantly go berserk. However, though they gathered together while making an awful racket, the orcs refused to go beyond the flimsy fence surrounding their camp. They were almost like a pack of rabid dogs barking at something beyond the reach of their leash.

“Wot’s all dis, den?!”

The borderline feral greenskins made way for the only one among them that could actually speak words. He was an orc standing at a fiend-like height of over two and a half meters, draped in a loose-fitting set of hooded robes haphazardly sewn together from the scaly hide of a hydra and holding a staff carved out of some sort of massive bone. It was the spitting image of the Necromancer overseer Keira had described, allowing Hilda to easily identify him as such.

“Wot you wan, tin-man?!” he shouted at her.

The ‘man’ part of that irked the dwarf slightly, but she had more important things to deal with than arguing about her gender.

“I’m lookin’ fer a fight, ye daft git!” she shouted back. “I heard ye orcs were s’posed to be tough, but all I see is a bunch of flower-sniffin’ pansies!”

“Wot?! You fink I wuz born yesterday? Ay?! A bunch of me boyz iz missin, an den you show up makin all dat noiz? Sumfin tellin me you’z gotz all kindz of nastiez waitin for us!”

It would appear that the orc had noticed that several of his patrols and hunting parties had mysteriously gone missing, and had grown suspicious as a direct result of that.

“If you wanna proper foight, you cum to us! If not, den shove off! We gotz a sketch-, a shed- We gotz stuff to do!”

He then turned around as if to leave, suggesting he had no intention to give into those taunts. It would appear this warlord was nowhere as dim as his species, looks and manner of speech would imply, but Hilda wasn’t worried. Even if he was keeping himself and the others from running wild, at the end of the day an orc was still an orc. It didn’t take much to get their kind riled up into a frenzy so long as one knew the right button to push.

And few people could match Hilda when it came to anger management.

“Oh!? That’s some big talk comin’ from a pansy wearin’ a napkin on his head!”

All of the orcs suddenly froze and shut up at the dwarf’s words, making it obvious she had struck a nerve.

“Ye might make me shiver if ye weren’t dressed in a nightgown!” she continued yelling. “Ye look like me nanny!”

Admittedly the other party did not know some of those words, but the sharp tone of Hilda’s voice was more than enough to make it clear she was spouting insults.

“Ye call that thing in yer hand a weapon? Looks like a toothpick! Ye won’t hurt anyone swinging yer leftovers around! Ye’d be better off usin’ yer face as a weapon!”

The orc overseer glared over his shoulder, the grip on his staff tightening and making it shake in direct proportion to his urge to kill that loudmouth.

“This! Is a weapon!”

Hilda reached into her extra-dimensional armory and pulled out a massive war axe. Whether this thing was intended to slice things apart or simply crush them with its overwhelming size was anybody’s guess.

“And it’s bigger than yours!”

After stating the obvious, the dwarf gave the weapon a sharp swing that produced a localized gale, then hoisted it above her head and rested its shaft on her shoulder. She then employed Belligerent Roar once again to deliver the finishing blow.

“What do ye think of that mister pajama-wearing, shovel-faced, stick-wielding, clype-dreep-bachle, gether-uping-blate-maw, bleathering, gomeril, jessie, oaf-looking, scooner, nyaff, plookie, shan, milk-drinking, lime-faced shilpit, mim-moothed, sniveling, worm-eyed, hotten-blaugh, vile-stoochie, cally-breek-tattie!”

“WAAAAAAGH!”

The orc warlord let out a warcry that was quickly echoed by the rest of the greenskins, amplifying it to deafening proportions. The ground shook and rumbled as roughly two hundred and fifty tons of enraged muscle stampeded towards the silver-tongued dwarf. Hilda grinned ear to ear as she lowered the visor of her helmet and gripped her axe with both hands. To say she was looking forward to this next bit would be a gross understatement. After all, it wasn’t very often she got to truly cut loose.

“Miss Hilda, please don’t forget your part in the plan,” a distant voice whispered in her ear. “It won’t matter how many you cut down if you get overwhelmed and die in the process.”

“Wow, even their nagging is the same,” she grumbled her breath. “Those two really are way too alike.”

Having been helpfully reminded of what she was supposed to be doing, the dwarf dug her feet into the ground and braced herself. The orcs, on the other hand, encircled her from all sides, with many of them leaping several meters into the air. They piled on top of Hilda like an almost literal tsunami of green, threatening to drown her where she stood. The orcs were violently thrown off in the next instant as the armored dwarf threw them off her through sheer brute force. Her axe was swung in a wide arc, tearing through muscle and bone and drenching the surroundings in bright red orc blood.

Hilda roared and screamed as she carved her way back towards the jungle. Several orcs were cleft in twain each time her weapon sang through the air, but it was like throwing pebbles against a flood. They kept rushing at her with no regard for their own lives, their primitive weapons clattering incessantly against her armor. The high-tier equipment, which was also bolstered by Hilda’s Armsmaster Skills, did a splendid job of shrugging off those attacks without so much as suffering a scratch.

However, the same could not be said of the dwarf within. As good as her armor was, Hilda’s gear was not capable of completely absorbing the sheer number of heavy impacts. Her bones rattled and muscles groaned as her body was being thrown around inside her armor. This slow but steady loss of HP only proved that Keira’s concerns were more than valid, but there was an upside to it. The more injured a Berserker got, the faster and stronger they grew. After losing a third of her overall vitality, Hilda got the edge she needed to break out of the orc-bog around her and make a dash for the jungle.

“After ‘im, ya gitz!” the warlord bellowed. “Don’t let that scum get away!”

“WAAAAAAAGH!”

The rest of the orcs raised their voices as one as they charged after the intruder and into the brush. Unlike his simple minded kin, however, the overseer stayed firmly in place. Even enraged as he was, he recognized his own importance as a warlord and a commander. Not to mention that he was a Necromancer and could therefore make good use of all these fresh corpses. It was only natural he’d not give chase personally. And now that the dwarf had disappeared from his sight, he began to realize his knee jerk reaction might have been a mistake.

He didn’t get much of a chance to consider calling off his ‘boyz’ before something slim and shiny hit him in the side of the head. The orc’s head recoiled and threw him off balance as a result, but he did not fall. He had the haft of a solid mithril arrow poking out of his cranium, but he was still very much alive. The sheer amount of vitality needed to still function with a foreign object lodged deep in his brain was beyond the comprehension of most people.

That was when the arrow suddenly flared up, flooding the orc’s head with magical flames. Yes, being made of pure mithril made it a heavier and therefore more devastating projectile, but that was merely a bonus. The precious metal’s true worth was that it could hold powerful enchantments that would make most other materials snap in half. In this instance, the shiny shaft was imbued with the raw power of fire. It cooked what was left of the orc Necromancer’s brain inside his skull, making jets of flame and smoke spew out of his nose, eyes and ears.

The other orcs that had yet to move out barely even registered the fact their leader just fell over with a piece of charcoal where his face used to be. His last words still echoed across the Green Tide, compelling them to chase the dwarf into the jungle even if it meant walking around or over his massive body. Once the last remaining greenskins had cleared out, Keira appeared out of seemingly thin air on top of one of the larger tents. She wasn’t here to perform sabotage or anything like that, though.

Boxxy just wanted its shiny arrow back.

Meanwhile, Hilda was still goading the orcs further into the jungle. She had given up on swinging that ridiculous axe around and had swapped it out for a pair of shields with sharpened edges. They were nowhere as lethal, but made it far easier to keep the greenskins off of her, which was in itself a huge challenge. The orcs were native to Velos, so they knew how to use the jungle to their advantage. Using trees, vines and other vegetation allowed them to keep dropping down on the dwarf from above with a surprising degree of accuracy and agility.

They certainly had the edge when it came to mobility, but that also meant they were far more prone to running into the ‘presents’ that Fizzy and Keira had left for them. The Artificer duo had lined both the treetops and the soil with an obscene number of booby traps that the orcs ran into head-first. Tripwires were tripped and pressure plates were pressed, leading to the jungle being rocked by a series of gut-wrenching explosions. Hundreds of greenskins were ripped to shreds or turned into mulch within a matter of seconds, yet they showed no signs of stopping or backing down. Without their leader to direct them and tell them to back off, the mindless peons continued to charge headfirst into their deaths.

This reckless, borderline suicidal behavior was one of the orcs’ weaknesses, but it was also their greatest weapon. Keira’s Artifact-grade belt could only hold so much ordnance, so it didn’t take long for all of the surprises to be used up. The greenskins suffered significant casualties, but their morale remained as fervent as ever. Hilda herself hadn’t gotten out of the danger zone entirely unscathed either, as she had stepped on two or three landmines herself. The armor had deflected all of the shrapnel, but she was pretty sure she had some internal bleeding from the shock waves. On the upside she got a bit of breathing room, allowing her to reach her target destination.

The dwarf burst out of the treeline and into a small clearing, where Gux and Fizzy were already waiting.

“Ugh, this is the last time I go along with one of that Merry Popper’s plans,” she grumbled as she came to a stop. “My ears will be ringing for a week.”

“This coming from the woman that had me make an explosive helmet for her?” the golem asked while crossing her arms.

“Hey, I never said my ideas were any better!”

“Gux suggests you tend to her wounds, metal one,” the raptor said in a serious tone. “The orcs will not be far behind.”

Fizzy nodded and proceeded to use her holy magic to restore Hilda to full health. The two heavily armored shorties then stood in front of the raptor as if to shield him from the incoming monsters, but it was actually Gux who would be protecting them.

“Psychic Blackout!”

A faint purple wave of magic washed over a cone-shaped area in front of the scaly Psionic, covering a distance of roughly twenty meters. It passed through Hilda and Fizzy with little to no effect, though the same could not be said for the incoming orcs. The Spell had severed their connection to the Green Tide, nullifying all the various bonuses that came with it. Their movements slowed, their voices weakened and the burning fire in their eyes diminished greatly. A bunch of them even tripped over their own feet or each other in a pathetic display of coordinated clumsiness.

The raptor, who had been float-sitting with his legs crossed the entire time, then raised his scaly hand into the air. He swung it downwards as if trying to swat a fly, invoking his telekinetic might to crush the orcs and leave a palm-shaped dent in the jungle floor. He then made a backhanded horizontal sweeping motion to his left, sweeping away a group of orcs that his mental jamming Spell had missed. Simply throwing them around like ragdolls wasn’t enough to kill them, but it still bought Gux the time he needed to repeat his incantation.

“Psychic Blackout!”

The old sage then proceeded to toss around and/or mentally neuter each group of orcs as they assaulted his position. The relentless greenskin onslaught didn’t give him the breathing room to pull off more devastating magic, nor did he necessarily need to do so. Robbing the orcs of the power they gained through their excessive pack mentality was his main purpose in this invasion. He was no different from other Psionics in that regard, though he was probably the only one around who could hold off hundreds of them completely by himself.

As for the actual culling of the brain-scrambled orcs, that was where Hilda and Fizzy came in. The dwarf in particular was already back to happily swinging that ridiculous hunk of metal she called an axe. She moved from one incapacitated group of orcs to the next, mowing them down like weeds while letting out screams of grim delight. Some of her victims tried to fight back on instinct, but Gux’s brain-jamming had left them lacking in any sort of coordination - both amongst themselves and between their own limbs. In their current state they were about as threatening to Hilda as sacks of potatoes with pointed sticks sticking out of them.

The mithril golem was doing much the same, except she could not hope to match the howling Berserker’s wide reach so she had to make up for it by cooperating with her alternate selves.

Minus had been given full control of the construct’s body, and was currently using it to play ‘Pop Goes The Meatbag.’ It was a game of her own invention that involved separating the heads and limbs of her enemies from the rest of them with her bare hands. This also let Fizzy focus the entirety of her concentration on making six solid steel bricks fly through the air with her magnetic abilities. These ‘handleless hammers,’ as she called them, were repeatedly launched at orcish faces with skull-crushing force. Then there was Plus, who mostly contributed by smiting the godless green freaks with repeated casts of the Judgement and Lightning Bolt Spells, the latter of which she learned by studying.

The only one of them not taking part in the orc bashing was Null, the third and final entity born of the Parallel Plot Skill. Unlike the perky Plus and the violently pessimistic Minus, Null was either incapable of or unwilling to express emotion. She had a cold and calculating personality that always looked at things from as logical and objective a viewpoint as golemly possible. Fancying herself an intellectual, she very rarely spoke or shared her inner thoughts with the others other than to point out what she deemed to be mistakes or inefficiencies. These traits made her an invaluable asset when it came to fine-tuning and improving upon Fizzy’s original Artificer designs, but at the same time turned her into an insufferable know-it-all. Her smart-ass attitude wasn’t limited to the inside of the golem’s head, either, as she recently used one of Fizzy’s magically animated armor sets to write a certain dissertation.

It was titled ‘Meatbags: An Outdated and Horribly Inefficient Form of Life,’ was ninety six pages long, and it basically boiled down to ‘you’re all going to die anyway so save us all the trouble and kill yourselves.’

Bottom line was that Null did not care for the art of combat, as it was something she saw as a terrible waste of her time and intellect. She did technically participate in the violent proceedings, though it was questionable whether keeping track of everyone’s kills was of any practical use. Then again, it wasn’t as if Null’s help was even necessary with Gux on crowd control and Hilda assisting her alternate selves with the actual killing. Once the group had gotten in sync with one another they were able to maintain a steady pace of orc-slaying that allowed them to cull the beasts faster than they could arrive. Unfortunately the orc corpses kept piling up and getting in the way of Hilda and Fizzy’s footwork, so the trio had to change locations a few times during the skirmish.

The seemingly endless stream of orcs finally began to die down about half an hour later while the adventurers were in an overgrown thicket. Seeing that there were only stragglers in the single digits left, Hilda finally allowed herself to take a breather while Fizzy mopped up the leftovers. The dwarf sat down on a nearby stump - the result of her accidentally chopping down a tree in one swing - and took off her helmet. Her braided ginger hair was a mess, sweat rolled off of her forehead in several thin rivulets and there seemed to be a concerning amount of dried up blood all over her face.

“Gux is surprised you’re still capable of exerting yourself so much, old friend,” the Hero of Rain commented. “And Gux uses the word ‘old’ lightly.”

“Har, har, har. I’ll have ye know I can run circles around these morons for hours if I have to. It’s this bloody heat that’s the problem.”

She lifted a hand as if to wipe away the sweat from her brow, but gave up when she saw it was caked with orc blood. Gux seemed to sense her predicament and handed her a napkin, which she eagerly accepted.

“The jungles of Velos can be a harsh place,” he said sagely, “but it is far from inhospitable.”

“Aye, could be worse I suppose. At least it’s not rainin’.”

“Not yet.”

The old lizard then pointed to the sky, drawing Hilda’s attention to the heavy cloud coverage. He may have been sightless, but being both a Shaman and the Hero of Rain gave him a rather impressive knack for predicting the weather. Granted, his forecasts weren’t a hundred percent accurate, but he was significantly better at it than the dwarf who had been too engrossed in decapitating orcs to realize the sun was gone.

“Fan-fooken-tastic,” she exclaimed. “Now I’m gonna be soggy and sweaty.”

“A little rain never hurt anyone.”

“Tell that to the poor sods that’ll be pickin’ up our handiwork.”

Needless to say, the thing Hilda was most thankful about was that she wouldn’t have to lug these orc corpses back to Castle Arin. That particular chore would be handled by copious amounts of teleportation magic, courtesy of Gux’s fellow Sagescale tribe members. They were currently on standby and waiting for Keira’s squad to inform them via Comm-crystal that the orc camp had been secured. And seeing as how the remaining orcs were currently running for their lives from a cackling mithril golem, it was safe to assume their part in this was done.

There was just one minor problem.

“What of the Chosen of Chaos? Gux has not heard from her since she felled the orc warlord.”

“Aye, she kinda skipped out on all the work, didn’t she?”

“That is not what Gux meant.”

It was without question that Keira was the main reason this operation had gone as smoothly as it did. Yes, Fizzy, Gux and Hilda did the vast majority of the killing, but their formation would not have worked as well as it did if she hadn’t taken that orc Necromancer out of the equation. Not only did that make the orcs highly predictable, but those booby traps helped thin out and disperse the horde, making the others’ jobs easier.

“I know, I know,” the dwarf said dismissively. “I wouldn’t worry about her though. She can handle herself, but more importantly she knows her limits. Not the type of lass to start a fight she can’t finish. She’s ten times better at this adventurer stuff than I was at her age.”

“Is that jealousy Gux hears in your voice?”

“… Maybe, a little,” Hilda admitted. “I cannae complain too much, though. She’s earned her status after all the crap she’s been through on account of that flaky boss of hers.”

“That seems like all the more reason that Gux should personally confirm her safety.”

“Hey, knock yerself out. I’ll call yer twinkle-finger buddies to pick up the greens while yer doin’ that. Actually, ye should try calling kitty-face’s Comm-crystal before- Ye’re already gone, aren’t ye?”

Indeed, though the raptor’s body remained seated in a meditative state, his Wandering Mind had already left the scene. Invisible, weightless, and virtually undetectable, Gux’s consciousness drifted over the trail of carnage he and his companions had left. He found his way back to the orc camp, whereupon he stumbled on what seemed to be a trail of greenskin corpses. It started from the warlord’s remains at the edge of the camp, which had been mysteriously reduced to black ash, and moved in the opposite direction of where Hilda was.

As the old lizard followed the bloodbath hoping to find Keira, he couldn’t help but notice the condition of the corpses. From pinpoint cuts to vital areas and precise headshots to dismembered, charred and half-pulverized remains, the sheer variety of violence that had been inflicted upon them was mind-boggling. He began to question whether this was truly the work of a single person, but didn’t get a lot of opportunity to think on it before he heard a sound like rolling thunder. However, this was not the sky preparing to unleash its watery payload, but the rather distinct roar of Artificer-made explosives going off in the nearby jungle.

Gux willed his Wandering Mind towards the direction of that disturbance with all due haste until he found Keira, who was currently in the middle of fighting a group of several dozen orcs. No, perhaps it was more accurate to say that she wasn’t ‘fighting,’ but ‘dismantling’ them. Unlike Hilda or Fizzy, she didn’t overwhelm the orcs with strength, but with speed and finesse. The brutes swung at the crimson-haired woman with savage intent from all sides, only to hit naught but air as she slipped between their axes, clubs and swords. Her ability to dodge and evade attacks from all angles was so ridiculously high that Gux couldn’t help but wonder if she had eyes on the back of her head.

This odd feeling of awe was also reinforced by the fact that Keira mixed offense and defense, using her body’s athletic movements to strike at the orcs at every turn. Rapier in one hand and dagger in the other, every greenskin she slipped by suffered deep cuts. Some were merely disarmed by having their fingers and hands cut through, while others had their bellies sliced clean through. There seemed to be no pattern or reason behind her strikes, as each of them was an attack of opportunity that was made on the spot, yet executed flawlessly. That being said, Gux couldn’t help but notice that there was a certain flowing rhythm to the violence. It was the first time in a long while that he had seen a Blade Dancer so completely embody their Job’s namesake.

The bloody performance began to draw to an end when the last eight orcs finally managed to completely encircle Keira. Unlike the ones her companions fought, this bunch were still empowered by the Green Tide, so their movements were perfectly synchronized with one another. Just as she seemed like she had no way out, Keira leaped at one of them as he lifted his axe. She lodged her mithril dagger into his skull with a disgusting noise and used it to pull herself over him as if she was scaling the orc with a climbing pick. In a flash she was already stepping on his broad shoulders, after which she leapt up and away from the others while doing a spinning front flip.

She then used the athletic movement to temporarily let go of her weapon, as she needed both hands to dispense a half dozen fist-sized metal canisters from her storage-belt. The explosive devices went off in tandem as they hit the ground, turning the orcs into a puff of smoke, flames and chunky red bits. Keira had somehow managed to grab onto a dangling vine and used it to swing around a tree trunk, shielding herself from the blasts. She then landed on the ground with a small roll and raised her hand upwards just in time to catch her mithril rapier by the handle. Afterwards she calmly lifted her other hand as her dagger’s Recall enchantment removed it from the mangled orc skull it was stuck in and teleported it directly into her open palm.

Keira looked at the short blade curiously, seemingly studying the bits of blood and brain that were still stuck to it. She then tentatively licked the fresh red liquid, only to immediately start coughing, spitting and gagging.

“Blech, that was nasty,” she complained out loud with her tongue hanging out. “I honestly don’t know what I was thinking.”

The blood-soaked woman then looked over her shoulder, her bright yellow eyes practically stabbing through seemingly empty space.

“I know you’re there, Gux,” she stated confidently. “I’ll make my way over to you in a bit. However, I seriously don’t appreciate you spying on me, so get lost!”

She then idly swung her rapier through the spot the raptor’s Wandering Mind was occupying. That wouldn’t hurt Gux in any way, shape or form, but it still got her message across as the faint presence the Mana Locator Gland in her chest cavity sensed immediately dispersed. Yes, it was rude of her, but so was the Psionic’s conduct, so her actions were entirely justified. And if the lizard later questioned how she felt his presence, she could easily chalk it up to one of the Perks she obtained from her high Level Ranger and Artificer Jobs.

Legendary Perception
Description: A being whose senses are the stuff of legends.
Requirements: Reach 500 Perception (PER).
Effects: Reduces the effects of sensory overload by 60%.
Can perceive ambient magical energies.

It was admittedly nowhere as accurate or reliable as a mimic’s MLG or the enhanced eyesight of a webstalker, but it still allowed the user to see things they wouldn’t otherwise. This also meant that Boxxy had to be wary of others using it against itself or its minions. Things like Snack’s illusions, Claws’s optical camouflage and the invisibility of its Prismatic Cloak could all be theoretically seen through. As for the monster itself, the tastiest part about this Perk was the extra resistance against sensory overload. Having overtly sharp senses made one especially susceptible to being potentially incapacitated by blinding lights, deafening sounds or sickening odors. None of which were things Boxxy needed to worry about now that it had Legendary Perception.

Granted, 60% resistance was not total immunity, but it reduced the adverse effects enough to let the monster power through them through sheer force of will and its MNT Attribute.

Right now, however, the shapeshifter was more concerned about that nosy Psionic. It had expected Gux to poke his snout in where it didn’t belong, which was why it had to stay in character as much as possible. It momentarily slipped when it tried to verify the local orcs’ flavor earlier, but that wasn’t something that couldn’t be explained by Keira’s quirky personality. The point was that it couldn’t cut loose as much as it wanted under these circumstances without having others question its Facade on where it was and what it was doing. It needed some sort of excuse, something that would allow the inquisitive beastkin it was roleplaying as to put a significant amount of distance between itself and that damnable lizard.

Something like, say, that giant pillar of blue light pouring out of the cloudy skies far to the south.

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A note from Exterminatus
Orc Necromancer sketch, by dmaxcustom
Hilda in full gear, by dmaxcustom
Keira vs Orcs, by dmaxcustom

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About the author

Exterminatus

  • Chestiest Chest That Ever Chested

Bio: I'm a programmer, a mythical creature that survives completely on beer and cynicism. We skulk in the dark, secretly cursing and despising everyone else. Especially other programmers.

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Comments(113)
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oisnot @oisnot ago

Yay. More Boxxy!

Pandetu @Pandetu ago

Thanks for the chapter

Draconic @Draconic ago

Just five minutes ago I was looking at how long it's been since the last ELLC chapter, and wondering when the next one will come :):)

Bombastus @Bombastus ago

You all like spreadsheets, right?

Well, given how popular the character status pages are, I'm pretty sure there's at least a few spreadsheet-lovers out there.  I aggregated a bunch of information on Jobs, Skills, Perks, and whatnot when I did my re-read over the last few weeks, and put it all on a Google Sheets page.

Feel free to peruse at your leasure.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1qlHGI1wQimc7qFrr_w4HXm5ZkqLDW29kyC3Bql8vuF4/edit?usp=sharing

Ink Deity @Ink Deity ago

Thanks For The Meal su~!

Shikots @Shikots ago

Thanks for the chapter!
"nobody’s swimming in lava without coming out unscathed" Doesn't this mean that everybody who swims in lava comes out unscathed? Maybe something like "and comes out unscathed" instead? Or just scathed?

CrimsonEclipse18 @CrimsonEclipse18 ago

Huzzah! The Chestiest Chest That Ever Chested has returned once more to grace us with more of its delightful tale! All Hail Boxxy!

stads @stads ago

nice chapter thx for writing it and yea pillers work for a reason to get away i guess

do hope boxxy can cut lose abit hoping for a 50k kill rate atleast

CrimsonWarden @CrimsonWarden ago

The chestiness is here!!!