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“I still can’t believe the little guy actually made it all the way here,” Rowana muttered with awe. “I know it has a habit of popping up out of nowhere, but this one was just… Wow!”

“At this point I’m honestly wondering if it even needs us to take care of it,” Keira replied thoughtfully. “I mean it’s survived for four centuries before us, so probably not.”

The topic of their conversation was quite obviously Minic. The aptly named mini-mimic had licked each member of its ‘crew’ goodbye just before being picked up, after which the odd collection of sea creatures slinked off into the sunset. The animate jewelry box that was lucky beyond any mortal or divine comprehension was currently sitting on top of Keira’s head, right between her feline ears. The spot had become one of its favorite seats ever since its current owner grew her crimson hair out. It was voluminous and surprisingly fluffy, making it a great place for Minic to park its tiny bottom.

It would have preferred to snuggle against Rowana’s soft breasts, but it couldn’t do that while the elf was walking around. She and Keira were currently on their way back to the inn, with the latter occasionally reaching a hand up to stroke Minic’s lid-mounted gemstone. Something the little guy seemed to appreciate if those delighted ‘yip-yip’ sounds were any indication.

“Any idea how it actually managed to do it?” the elf asked curiously.

“Not really. Not unless it somehow smuggled its way into your potion shipment without us noticing and then mysteriously fell off the ship along with your crate.”

As unlikely and full of holes as that theory sounded, it was nothing out of the ordinary for the thing that could turn up anywhere at any time.

“I suppose it doesn’t really matter how it got here,” Rowana finally gave up. “I’m just glad it’s safe and sound, though I do wish we could discipline it somehow.”

“Well, too late for that now. Would’ve liked if its new friends stuck around, myself. They were all so precious.”

Quite literally, too. Many small sea creatures like those were considered endangered species. There were plenty of Druids and Monster Tamers that would pay good coin in order to preserve them. Or, alternatively, there would be quite a few aristocrats who simply wanted a taste of these delicacies before they vanished for good. Boxxy personally never cared for seafood too much, but even it was curious if those green sea turtles tasted as good as the rumors said they did.

“Ohh, I know,” Rowana said in a sympathetic voice. “Minic made so many cute and happy friends. They probably had a whale of a time getting here, unlike us.”

Keira raised an eyebrow with a cheeky smirk.

“A whale of a time, huh?”

“Oh, no.”

“I sea what you did there, Row-ana.”

“Keira, could you not?”

“What? Am I making waves or something?”

“You know I can’t stand it when you get like this.”

Water you talking about? I’m just going with the flow.”

“Yip?”

The elf raised her hands as if giving up and picked up the pace.

“I’m going back to the inn alone.”

“Come on, no need to be so salty.”

“Stop following me!”

“Nonsense, I can’t just leave my wharf to be all by herself!”

“You keep this up, and I won’t be your anything-to-be!”

“Even if you say that, you’ll always be my gull-friend.”

“Yip yip!”

“Great, now look what you did! Minic’s doing it, too!”

“Be reasonable, it’s not like its doing it on porpoise.”

“Honestly, when did you even find the time to think up all this stuff?!”

“Just now. While we were cod-dling.”

“Wow, seriously?”

“Sorry, my mind comes up with all kinds of weird ship if I let it wander.”

“Yeep yeeep!”

Rowana took a few more deep breaths as she reminded herself over and over that this was still the woman she loved. Her fondness for terrible puns was just another of those quirks that made every day spent living with her feel like an adventure in and of itself. Even if it was bloody insufferable at times, it was still lively and exciting in its own way. Plus, the make-up sex afterwards was always amazing, so there was that too.

“You’re lucky you’re so damn cute,” the elf finally said. “Otherwise I don’t think I’d be able to stand you as well as I do.”

“In that case you ought to navigate yourself to a sea-t, because I’m not quite fin-ished with my current batch of manatee-rial.”

“AAAAAARGH!”

Having finally lost it, Rowana stomped off in a random direction while visibly shaking in anger.

“You’re sleeping on the floor tonight!” she shouted over her shoulder.

“That’s okay, I’ll gladly accept my pun-ishment!”

Having reached pun overload, the platinum blonde elf could do nothing but half-groan half-scream in frustration. Keira would’ve kept following and bugging her, but the shit-eating grin on her face showed that her mission had already been accomplished with no regrets. She then reached up and held her loosely clenched fist in front of Minic, prompting the tiny creature to boop it with one of its stubby legs.

“Good work.”

“Yip.”

Boxing Teamwork, by dmaxcustom

Granted, the thing didn’t really contribute to this in any way whatsoever, nor did it have the slightest inkling why Keira just boop-fisted it, but it was having fun nonetheless. Which was fitting considering that messing with the elf for a bit of entertainment was the sole purpose of that exchange. This behavior could be partly attributed to some lingering side-effects of Boxxy’s relatively recent Malefic Union with Snack, but it was mostly due to the monster’s slightly warped sense of humor. Years of toying with people’s emotions had resulted in it finding genuine joy in the psychological torment of sentient beings, especially if there was some ironic twist at play.

That said, Boxxy made sure not to go overboard with this new hobby whenever it was roleplaying as Keira for obvious reasons. It was also quite aware of how potentially dangerous this attitude was, as underestimating one’s opponent had been the downfall of many-a-powerful being. At least that’s what enlightened stories said, but Boxxy was already at a stage where it could afford such frivolities without any tangible risk of repercussion. Putting it simply, the shapeshifter had become one of the bullies in this playground called Terrania. The only things it had to worry about was seriously pissing off either the parents (Gods) or one of the other big kids (entities of immense power).

Other than those, everyone else was ‘fair game.’

“Uh, excuse me? Miss Morgana?”

Keira turned around to face the one who had called out to her. It was a lightly tanned elven woman with dark green hair and similarly colored eyes. She wore a slightly revealing top that exposed her belly, shoulders and collarbone, and would have also showed off her cleavage if not for her unfortunate upper body proportions. Her generous backside and supple thighs, on the other hand, filled out her shorts to the point where they looked as if they might rip if she bent over too hard. A pale green, wide-brimmed hat woven from jungle plant fibers rested on her head, offering protection from both sun and rain. Her jewelry was far more impressive, as she had six rings, a pair of mismatched earrings and three whole amulets, all of which were either silver or mithril and studded with green gems. The only exception was the gaudy golden bracelet on her left wrist. It was also the most notable piece, which was why Keira’s eyes lingered on it for a second or two without their owner realizing.

“Ow. Ow. Ow-ow-owwwww!” the stranger suddenly started yelling while clutching her left hand with her right. “Snek, knock it off! You’re going to break my arm!”

She then pulled the ‘bracelet’ off, revealing it to be a gold-plated snake-like construct that immediately coiled itself around her extended fingers.

“Snek!” it called out to her in a tiny voice. “Sneksneksneksnek!”

“Calm down, will you! I can’t understand what you’re saying and you’re making a scene in front of the nice lady and her friend!”

“… Snek?”

The golden serpent turned its ruby eyes towards the dumbfounded Keira, its sight settling on the thing resting atop her head.

“Yip?” Minic replied, as if only just noticing the shiny serpent.

“Snek!”

“Yip!”

Both creatures leapt off of their respective owners onto the mossy stone pavement below.

“Snek?”

“Yip. Yap?”

“Snek. Snek snek?”

“Yip!”

“Snek, snek! Snek snekek.”

“Yeep. Yip yap yeeep.”

“Sne… sneeek…”

Meanwhile, as this conversation for the ages was just taking off, the two women were finally able to awkwardly introduce themselves.

“Sorry about that,” the elf said apologetically. “I’m Opia.”

“I’m Keira, Keira Morgana,” the beastkin replied courteously. “Though you already knew that.”

“Ah-heh, yeah. Sorry for approaching you in the street like this, but I’ve been running all over trying to get a hold of you for like three days now. You really get around, don’t you?”

“So I’ve been told. Seriously though, what was that all about?”

“Oh, right. This is Snek. It’s more of a comrade than a pet. It’s been acting a bit on edge ever since this whole orc situation started, but it normally lightly squeezes down on my wrist to warn me of danger. It’s really good at it too.”

“Is it, now?”

“Sne-!?”

Keira crouched down and hugged her knees, then smiled at the creature, which made it freeze in place in the middle of its… ‘sentence.’

“What a reliable partner you have.”

Though her words and tone sounded warm, the borderline sadistic grin she was giving the thing made it wish it could sweat. It was such a chilling expression that the serpent reflexively coiled itself around its own head, its beady eyes peeking out from between its plates while Minic yipped in confusion.

“Such a shame,” that sickeningly sweet voice said. “I don’t think it likes me very much. And here I was hoping we could be friends. Do you think we can get along, little Snek?”

Snek’s head then bobbed up and down rapidly inside its ball, nodding vigorously to show that the underlying message of ‘you don’t want to be my enemy’ had been received loud and clear. Keira then stood back up as if nothing had happened. Her malicious intent had been directed with such pinpoint precision that Opia was left none the wiser, despite having seen the whole thing.

“At least yours looks to be a cheerful little guy,” the elf said while scratching her arm nervously.

“Yeah, Minic’s a fun pet to keep around. Not nearly as useful as yours, but I don’t mind. Is Snek a house mimic, too?”

“Mmhm. Brought it with me when I moved here from the north. I just wish I knew what’s been going on with it lately.”

“Just doing its job, isn’t it? This whole orc thing has gotten really out of hand now that the undead are involved. You never know what’s going to happen next.”

“That’s true, but its reaction still worries me. Even if I don’t always understand its warnings, Snek has never been wrong. Do you think Oar’s Rest is in danger?”

“That was probably my bad. I tend to be rather hostile when a stranger suddenly approaches me in the street. Especially if that stranger has been following me around for a while.”

“Oh. You, uh, noticed me?”

“I peek over my shoulder more often than I’d like. Nothing personal, just an occupational habit as Hero of Chaos.”

“Right, of course. Sorry about that.”

Snek was both surprised and terrified that such a flimsy excuse worked. Thinking about it objectively, Opia should have been far more concerned not only with the timing of the warning, but also the magnitude of it. Especially when considering she trusted the gold-plated serpent with her life and treated its signals with significantly more severity than what she was showing at present.

However, this abnormal behavior was not exactly her fault. Part of why the elf with the plus-sized rear let her guard down so easily around Keira was because the catgirl was designed to give off an extremely favorable first impression. Which, when combined with the significant amount of Charisma (CHR) under her belt made it so that every word that rolled out of the Facade’s lips carried a lot more weight than it would have otherwise.

Granted, awareness of the Attribute would normally lower its effectiveness, but Keira was known as neither a Bard nor a politician, so Opia had no reason to suspect her of having it.

“I didn’t mean to stalk you or anything,” the elf continued apologizing, “but I didn’t want to interrupt you and your… friend?”

“Girlfriend.”

“Ah, didn’t want to assume. Waaait… Does that mean the… you know…”

Opia pointed towards her ear while staring intently at the earring on Keira’s, her mind only now connecting the dots. And yes, ‘girlfriend’ was not entirely accurate, but ‘wife to be’ would require a certain degree of explaining that Keira wasn’t exactly in the mood for.

“Look, nevermind that. There’s a bit of a crowd gathering and something tells me you didn’t just stop me to say hi, so why don’t we take this conversation somewhere a bit more private?”

The elf looked around, realizing a little too late that several people were indeed gawking at them, though they tried not to be too obvious about it.

“Uh, yeah, alright.”

The two women picked up their respective house mimics, walked away from the random onlookers and ducked inside an empty side street. Opia looked around to check if anyone was within earshot, though her movements made it clear as day she wasn’t used to this ‘subtlety’ thing. That was putting it lightly, though. The way her head swiveled around like a spinning top was so childish that Boxxy felt weirdly insulted. The only thing that ridiculous circus act would do was attract attention from random passers by. Thankfully for the elf, she stopped acting like a clown before the shapeshifter’s growing urge to slap her teeth out overpowered its reason and jumped straight to the point.

“I’m here on behalf of someone who says she has a lucrative job opportunity for you,” she said in a serious tone.

Keira raised an eyebrow quizzically.

“Care to be more specific?”

“I wish I could, but that really is as much as I can say. I know it sounds suspicious, but she’s secretive like that. I honestly wouldn’t have agreed to this if I didn’t owe her so much.”

“Then how can I possibly know if this ‘someone’ is trustworthy or not?”

“Well, she’s my partner. Business partner, not, uh, life partner,” Opia awkwardly added. “We’ve worked together for a few years and she’s never double crossed anyone we’ve worked with. I’d trust her with my life.”

The elf certainly sounded sincere, which was a start.

“No offense, but your word alone isn’t exactly reassuring.”

“Uhm… would it help if I mentioned I was the Venom Dealer? Don’t mean to brag, but I’m something of a local celebrity. Maybe you’ve heard of me?”

Boxxy was indeed familiar with that moniker. It was the pseudonym of the one who had supposedly encountered and defeated a certain lich that migrated here from the north about two years ago. The shapeshifter initially thought that was a load of crap, as it was dubious whether a Druid specialized in scourge magic could defeat a being that was immune to such things. At least not by herself, but it was possible if this mysterious ‘partner’ of hers was strong enough.

That said, Keira had never personally investigated that incident, so it was better to play dumb.

“Sorry, can’t say that I have,” the catgirl said while rubbing her chin in thought. “More importantly though, if your friend is so great, then why don’t they come to see me personally?”

“Normally she would, but she has a… complicated relationship with some of the people in town.”

“Those ‘people’ wouldn’t happen to be the ‘law enforcement’ type, would they?”

“Look, I really don’t care what you think of me or my partner, but the offer still stands if you’re willing to hear her out.”

Keira tried to push for more information, but it would appear that was as much as her powers of persuasion were able to get out of her.

“If you’re interested, then meet us at the old temple of Axel a few kilometers east of town. You know the place?”

“That overgrown building with the warrior statue on top?”

“Yeah, that’s the one. We’ll be waiting for you at around noon tomorrow.”

“I assume it won’t be a problem if I bring someone to watch my back, right?”

“It shouldn’t be. So long as they’re not Inquisition. My friend’s a bit jumpy around that lot.”

That wasn’t going to be an issue since the one Keira was talking about was Fizzy, though she would mostly be coming along for appearance’s sake.

“Alright, I’ll think about it.”

Though Boxxy only offered a noncommittal response before parting ways with the elf, it actually had every intention of showing up. Agreeing to this meeting was such a no-brainer that it had already decided to do so the instant it heard the word ‘lucrative.’ This sort of thing was precisely the reason why it put so much time and effort in its Facade in the first place. Having a reputation as a problem solver brought all kinds of personal requests to Keira’s doorstep. And if someone was willing to go as far as to petition the Hero of Chaos, then there was a good chance some rather extraordinary circumstances were involved. Circumstances that more often than not allowed Boxxy to expand its collection with unique and exciting loot.

Well, either that or it was some sort of setup to ambush the controversial catgirl, but anyone stupid enough to use that sort of obvious method deserved to be eaten without a trace.

After spending the rest of the evening reconciling with Rowana and playing with Minic - though not necessarily in that order - Boxxy tried to catch some sleep. Unfortunately, though the room the couple had rented was hardly uncomfortable, it was still an unfamiliar space. Old habits died hard, and the shapeshifter’s borderline paranoia of being attacked in its sleep was still as strong as ever. It was repeatedly woken up by random noises from the street or Rowana shifting slightly in her sleep next to it, keeping it from getting a good night’s rest.

Normally it would swap places with Snack and retreat into its dungeon lair, but that was not an option at present. It was still looking for a good place to set up that last inert dungeon core it had in its possession, so it couldn’t use the Nexus Access feature to teleport back to Azurvale just yet. The only upside to this situation was that there was no danger of it accidentally sleep-eating the elf next to it since it had relieved a great deal of peace-stress over the past few days.

Before Keira set off to meet Opia’s ‘partner’ the next morning, she first dropped by Castle Arin to visit Nao, allowing the Hero of Magic to brief her on the whole Gutzstompa-Aleister-Boneshaper situation. This made the catgirl’s inner self relieved that it hadn’t directly pissed off the most powerful undead being in existence. On the other hand it was a bit worrisome that this rogue Blight Lord was apparently capable of subterfuge, which reinforced the notion that Boxxy would want to vacate the continent sooner rather than later.

Sigmund then showed up just as Keira was about to leave and pulled her aside for a private chat. Apparently he was going to be far too busy investigating this Aleister fellow to look after Teresa’s triplets, which meant that he would have to dump them on her sooner than expected. When asked about ‘how soon is sooner than expected,’ the man explained that Keira would have to pick them up on her way back to Azurvale.

Which was bad news for Boxxy. The shapeshifter was supposed to have a few more months before it had to look after those brats, and had planned accordingly. However, this sudden shift in schedule meant it would have to alter some of its ongoing schemes to compensate for this interference. Not by much, but enough to evoke complaints about punctuality and deadlines from its inner Artificer. There was also no telling how much Sigmund’s ‘nieces’ knew of Keira’s indirect involvement with their birth since they had yet to meet in person, but that was a concern for a later date.

At present the shapeshifter had to focus on the meeting at hand, as Keira had arrived at the predetermined spot at the arranged time via Gate Spell. She was clad in full combat gear and had Fizzy by her side, both of them making a show of being cautious as they approached the old temple. The large stone building was not all that remarkable from a historical or cultural standpoint. As far as the locals were concerned, it was just a religious site between towns that had been reclaimed by the jungle. Though it had only been abandoned for less than a year, the vibrant plant life had almost completely covered it in vines, shrubs and leaves. Even the white statue on the roof depicting an armored raptor holding a sword to the sky was barely visible from all the foliage clinging to it.

That said, the temple was definitely inhabited at present. There was a massive jungle hydra laying next to it, with a few of its six heads yawning lazily at Keira and Fizzy’s approach. The thing was clearly a Monster Tamer’s pet, as it had been fitted with a saddle and plate armor, both of which were likely custom made to fit its body. Opia, who appeared to be the creature’s owner, climbed down from its back and greeted the approaching pair with a wave.

“Oh wow!” she exclaimed. “Is that the Rustblood Juggernaut?!”

“That’s me, alright,” the golem said proudly while puffing her chest out. “And yes, everything you’ve heard about me is true.”

“For real? Even the parts where you fart lightning and piss molten mithril?”

“Pfft!”

Keira snorted with laughter, unable to hold it in after picturing Fizzy doing either of those things.

“… Okay, almost everything,” the golem said dejectedly. “Can we just get on with this?”

“Right, yeah. In here, please.”

The elf led the other two inside through the doorless stone archway that served as the temple’s entrance. The interior was a long, wide hall with tall windows lining the walls and row upon row of dusty wooden pews flanking either side of the central aisle. This much was a common sight in all churches, regardless of which deity they were dedicated to. What set this one apart was what looked to be a ten-meter-wide and half-meter-tall circular platform at the other end of the hall. It was a place where Axel’s faithful could settle disputes in an honorable manner befitting the God of War and Combat. It was illuminated by the mid-day sun, the dust in the air giving it an almost ephemeral atmosphere. That said, the hole through which the sunlight was pouring through didn’t seem to have been by design, but had been made by something or someone crashing through the tiled roof.

A black-haired human woman sat in a meditative cross-legged position in the center of this ring of honor, though Keira and Fizzy could only see her back initially. The woman stood up upon hearing the footsteps behind her and turned around, showing herself to be the former Gilded Hand agent codenamed Zone, though she went by ‘Jen’ ever since the spy ring’s dissolution. Her upper body was wrapped in a yellow cross top whose only purpose seemed to be keeping her formidable bust in place, allowing the whole world to see her muscular arms, abs and back. The lower half of her outfit was a set of loose-fitting leggings with slits in the side, likely the same pair she had back when Boxxy last saw her.

“Uh, hi? You wanted to speak with me?”

However, though the monster within knew of this woman very well, Keira did not. She had plenty of reason to seeing as how Jen was the one that killed her teacher during the war, but the two had never met face to face. Nor had the catgirl ever been shown what the Monk in question looked like. It might have been a small thing, but this was precisely the sort of stuff that could compromise an otherwise airtight cover. That was why Keira called out to Jen in a wary manner rather than a hostile one, though she still had to use her hand to signal the spooling war machine next to her to ease off. Though it wasn’t immediately obvious by looking at the golem, Boxxy had heard the distinct ‘clunk’ that accompanied the activation of Fizzy’s Engine of Destruction. It was a sign that the golem was raring for a rematch, but now wasn’t the time for that.

After all, if the ex-Zone was intending to fight them, then she would have straight up challenged it instead of calling it out like this. Indeed, though her eyes seemed to size up both the catgirl and the golem, that was nothing more than a conditioned reflex. She showed no other signs of hostility, so the shapeshifter decided to give her a chance to prove that the ‘lucrative job offer’ it was promised was legitimate. That said, it was a bit suspicious that she had an easy escape route via the hole in the ceiling, especially since it seemed likely that she was the one who made it in the first place. It showed she expected this talk to turn sour, though one could hardly blame the Monk for being cautious when considering who she had invited here.

After a few tense seconds, Jen became convinced that neither of the two monsters were going to attack and nodded at Opia. The elf rolled her eyes slightly, but nevertheless went outside while giving her a thumbs up. Several more seconds later a series of heavy footsteps were heard as Opia’s pet hydra, affectionately named Spittles, left the area with the elf riding on his back. The shapeshifter then asked Fizzy to stand watch outside so it could chat with the angelic Monk without interruption. The golem gave her companion a puzzled look, but silently agreed and left the building all the same in a manner similar to the elf.

“Give me one good reason why I should let you live,” Boxxy spoke in a very un-Keira tone.

“Unnecessary,” the woman replied in that dull monotone of hers. “You have no good reason to want me dead.”

There was the fact that she had robbed the ex-mimic of its Warlock Job back in the day, but neither party wanted to bring that up. Though Jen didn’t know the specifics, she knew as well as Boxxy that it wouldn’t have become the Hero of Chaos it was today if not for that event. Seeking revenge for that was so incredibly petty that even the spiteful box didn’t see a point in it, especially since the one who ordered her to do so was already dead. Jennifer had also known of Keira’s true nature for over two years, yet as far as Boxxy knew never once made an attempt to expose her. Whether it was out of respect, fear, or in recognition of the reality that nobody would take the word of a war criminal seriously, it was an undeniable fact that she had kept her mouth shut.

That said, there were a myriad of other reasons to want this human dead.

“You’re worth XP, and there’s a bounty on your head. You also look quite delicious. That’s three ‘for’ and none ‘against.’ Shall I keep going?”

“I know you’re looking for The Gauntlet. I know where it is, and how to get inside.”

Those words immediately grabbed Boxxy’s attention, as that was the name of the dungeon its familiars had been searching for ever since it came to Velos. It briefly wondered how she managed to find that out, but it probably wasn’t all that hard to deduce given its track record. Jen knew it was born in a dungeon and indirectly used its core to blow up a city, not to mention that Keira had a reputation for being a successful dungeoneer.

However, whether this was a lucky guess or a sign of Jen’s deductive skills was not all that important. All that mattered was that she knew.

“Okay, that’s something,” Boxxy consented. “Let’s hear it then, what will this information cost me?”

“Help me conquer it.”

“… Excuse you?”

That had been perhaps the last thing it expected this woman to say, so the monster couldn’t help but be surprised.

“Help me conquer it,” Jen repeated, her voice as level as ever.

“Alright, I’ll bite. Why not go by yourself? Or with that elf Druid?”

“The Gauntlet is a special dungeon with strict rules. It requires a team of two to enter, and scales in difficulty to match the stronger one. A partner of comparable or greater strength is therefore preferred.”

“So what, you had nobody else to turn to but me?”

Jen immediately nodded in response to Boxxy’s question, which got the shapeshifter thinking. It wasn’t hard to imagine the local big-shots would not want to work with a wanted criminal. Granted, they might not know she was one right off the bat, but would find out soon enough. After all, they probably wouldn’t have reached Level 100 in their primary Job if they were careless enough to put their lives in someone else’s hands without at least running a background check. And since powerful individuals like Jen were a limited resource when it came to getting combat XP at high Levels, it seemed reasonable that the local VIPs would prefer to kill her rather than help her.

Or at least that was what Boxxy would’ve done, but Boxxy was an amoral man-eating monster with an insatiable appetite for both tasties and shinies. Whether the Rankers of Velos shared its opinion was… questionable at best.

“What’s so important about this dungeon that you’re willing to risk reaching out to me like this?” was Keira’s next question.

“The Gauntlet holds some of the most powerful items in the world. I require those items if I am to attend the upcoming Dragon Festival.”

Now it was starting to make sense. Big shots all around the world did all kinds of things in preparation for the event in question, from hiring legions of mercenaries and support staff to hoarding high-grade equipment like their life depended on it. Which it did, because taking part in the Dragon Festival was so risky it was borderline suicide, even for someone like Jen. Come to think of it, that woman must have been through it at least once before. Most people at her Level had been, even those with artisan-type Jobs. She was most likely aiming to Rank Up a second time, but didn’t have Edward or his organization to lean back on. This meant she was probably trying to handle the preparations all by herself, but must have been struggling if she was desperate enough to reach out to an old enemy for help.

Which was good. Boxxy could work with ‘desperate.’

“Alright, let’s say I believe you. What’s in it for me?”

“Everything aside from the final reward. Claiming ‘dibs’ on that one.”

“And what’s to stop me from mind-raping the information out of your head and keeping all the loot for myself?

Jen held up a hand with two extended fingers.

“You need at least one follower of Axel to recite the prayer and open The Gauntlet, and Heroes are not allowed.”

Okay, those were two very solid arguments. However, that was only if she was telling the truth, and that second one was a bit questionable considering who it was she was asking for help.

“If Heroes aren’t allowed, then how am I supposed to help you defeat it?”

“I require the use of your golem, not you personally.”

“… Seriously?”

“Affirmative.”

“Oh-ho-ho-hoh,” Keira chuckled humorlessly while waving her finger at Jen. “You got me good.”

The shapeshifter had to admit, it was mildly impressed. Though this woman was a muscle-headed battle junkie like Arms, it would appear she had her cunning side as well. She must’ve done her homework and given Opia intentionally shady instructions. That way the dramatis personae of Keira would have no choice but to bring a ‘bodyguard’ to the suspicious meeting, even if the monster underneath didn’t necessarily need it. And who better to serve as bodyguard to Boxxy’s alter ego than Fizzy, the ultimate trophy wife?

Or this was all one big coincidence and it was giving Jen too much credit, but it seemed unwise to underestimate the cunning of one of Edward’s inner circle.

“You do realize you’re asking the wrong monster for permission, right?”

Jen blinked rapidly a few times, seemingly in confusion.

“Clarification required: Are you not the golem’s master?”

“No, she’s my equal,” it corrected her. “If you wanted to borrow Fizzy, then you should’ve said something before I sent her away.”

“I… see…”

Signs of unease began to leak through the Monk’s otherwise stone-faced expression, mostly in the way her eyes darted between the redheaded catgirl and the church’s exit. It would appear she had some reservations about talking to the radiant Paladin. Was she feeling embarrassed her assumptions were off? Or was she nervous because the golem was of a rival faith? Admittedly, so was Boxxy, but Fizzy was significantly more pious than it ever was. The monster honestly couldn’t tell what the source of Jen’s discomfort was since it was unfamiliar with those minute expressions of hers, so it decided to drop the matter and move on.

“Okay, tell you what,” Keira finally spoke, breaking the awkward silence. “I’ll go ask her on your behalf, then you two can work out the details.”

“… Understood,” Jen confirmed with a nod.

Boxxy then made an about face and left the ex-spy behind to find Fizzy leaning against the overgrown stone wall just outside the entrance.

“You heard everything, right?” it immediately asked.

“Yup,” the golem responded while rapping her knickles across the stonework. “These walls are much thinner than they appear.”

That, and she also had a relatively decent amount of Perception (PER) thanks to her Artificer Job and Skills.

“That saves us a bit of time. So, what do you think? Feel like helping our old ‘friend’ there?”

“I dunno Boxxy. This smells as rusty as a hundred-year-old bucket at the bottom of the ocean. You sure she’s telling the truth?”

“Oh, I’m certain she isn’t. I just haven’t worked out which bits she’s lying about. Not yet, anyway.”

“But you still think there’s merit to agreeing to her proposal?”

“Yes, but only if you think you can handle it.”

“Hmm, let me ask the others.”

Fizzy then shifted her gaze to stare at somewhere beyond the tree-filled horizon as she talked things over with her inner selves.

“Okay, we’ll do it,” she said after about a minute. “But only on one condition.”

“Which is?”

“I get to punch her once for what she did to you.”

“I don’t mind, and she probably won’t either. Just… don’t try to kill her, okay? Can’t exactly use her if she’s dead.”

“You sure about that? I hear necromancy is ‘in’ right now.”

“Fizzy,” it sternly reprimanded her.

“Fine, fine. It’s not like she’s weak enough to keel over from a single love tap anyway.”

The golem peeled herself away from the wall and went inside, her metal feet scraping along the floor with every step. Muffled voices came out of the old church a few seconds later, but Boxxy was too busy scheming to pay attention to them. If this was the same monster from two years ago, it would have definitely tried to eliminate her on the spot, but the hylt creeper of the present day was a little older, a little smarter, and a little wiser. Most important of all, however, was the particular talent that made the God of Flukes like it in the first place. The same gift that had been honed through the entirety of Boxxy’s life as a Hero of Chaos to an almost terrifying degree.

It was the ability to smell opportunity.

“Grit your teeth, meatbag!”

*THUNK*

Your actions have altered the flows of chaos.

And this woman practically reeked of it.


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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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oisnot @oisnot ago

Boxxy and his pets!

Lord Vile @Lord Vile ago

Thanks for the chapter

stads @stads ago

nice chapter thx for writing it shame the et mimics crew whent away would have loved seeing boxy taking care of more pets

TalismanOfApathy @TalismanOfApathy ago

Err minor point...... Fizzy was captured at the same time Boxxy was when Zone/Jen removed his warlock class, so surely she knows Fizzy's background as a individual rather than a belonging?

Dragomanpl @Dragomanpl ago

  1. That crew of animals will later evolve into bunch of sea monsters. Just a feeling.

InsaneChemist @InsaneChemist ago

So just to make sure, every time the box about altering the flows of chaos shows up it's because Boxxy did something Craig didn't expect him to?

    Granitefish @Granitefish ago

    No. It's a trigger that causes the effects of that action to be potentially much larger than they would have before.

      Neruz @Neruz ago

      If you skim back through the story it becomes obvious that the 'flows of chaos' announcement means something huge and ridiculous is going to happen in relation to\as a consequence of what has just happened.

      Granitefish @Granitefish ago

      The Huge and Ridiculous is a result of the trigger. The Trigger is a result of the Agent of Chaos Skill, which has the Effect of "Your Actions have more Profound Effects." The message is a cause not an effect.

      Ignorus @Ignorus ago

      Also its not always "huge and ridiculous". One time all that came of it was Nao getting himself a succubus - granted, it might have made him less of a shut-in, but that was when the "flows of chaos returned to normal".

      Granitefish @Granitefish ago

      Or the commonly misattributed one. The Dryad sisters going to sleep and their leaves turning Red. Them murdering the city was a result of what Boxxy did but it wasn't caused by the Agent of Chaos (at least not directly, but that's true for a lot of events).

armsdealer12 @armsdealer12 ago

Tastes just like chicken hmmmm.. Thanks for the chapter

Fnord13 @Fnord13 ago

Good chapter. In Green Tide 5, Plus is shown casting the Lightning Bolt spell, which she (or Fizzy) learned by studying. You need to add that spell to Fizzy's status list.

NeroTheHero @NeroTheHero ago

Five bucks she has to defeat the gauntlet to become the hero of overdue violence