The sky sure is blue.
This was, for once, not a thought that crossed through Jen’s mind, mostly because of the downpour dumping untold amounts of water on top of her. One would think the griffin-harpy might have an aversion to such weather since water was her Bane, but this was simply not the case. As with all elemental weaknesses inherent to monsters, it was only magic imbued with that aspect that was truly dangerous, and its natural form was an inconvenience at worst.
Well, aside from Boxxy’s case since natural lightning was magically charged more often than not due to the nature of the world, but that was besides the point.
As a harpy, the only thing Jen had to fear from a bit of rain was that her wings wouldn’t work too well if they got thoroughly soaked. Even that wasn’t much of a concern at the moment since she was only a few kilometers from her new home beneath the Rancid Summit - not the sort of distance that couldn’t be covered by foot. She wasn’t in any particular rush to go back at the moment either. The rainy weather had a habit of thinning out the fog of poisonous spores and pollen that normally permeated the region, making the Monk’s current environment feel strangely refreshing. Even if those airborne toxins were of no real threat to her, they were still unpleasant to inhale.
That was only a bonus, though. The main reason she was out in this weather was because it was also an ideal time to catch boulder-scaled piranha, a type of monstrous fish native to Velos that seemed to adore the rain. It was one of the few halfway delectable species of wildlife on the continent, and had been something of a staple of Jen’s diet since childhood. Catching them was relatively simple on paper, as they were hungry buggers that would instantly latch onto any lump of bloodied meat. Especially in weather like this where the rainfall would make them excitable and jumpy. Once the boulder-scaled piranha had taken the bait, pulling it out of the water was just a matter of overpowering it in a contest of strength.
Something that was laughably easy for Jen to do even before her monsterfication a week ago. All she had to worry about was having a fishing rod, line and hook that were sturdy enough to handle the forces at play. Which was why she was currently laying on her back atop a bare rock on a random riverbank. She stared up at the cloudy sky as water dripped all over her, clutching one end of her adamantite staff with her left foot. The other end of the weapon had been tied off with a metal cable forged from a mithril-silver alloy, which connected it to the piece of fresh bait currently drifting in the murky waters below.
“Really? That’s where five meters of my superconductor disappeared to?”
Jen shifted her gaze towards the source of that disgruntled voice, then sat up with a look of mild surprise.
“Uhm… it makes for a durable yet flexible line?” the Monk said in a confused tone.
“Line?!” Fizzy screamed. “You’re using cables I modeled after my own body parts for something as stupid as fishing?!”
“Fishing is not stupid.”
“Oh? It’s not, is it?”
The dynamo golem stepped closer and lifted her hand towards the improvised fishing rod, invoking her Geomagnetic Grip in the process. The high performance electrical cable slid off the end of Jen’s staff and flicked towards Fizzy as if it had a mind of its own. She grabbed it and then raised her body’s power output, causing the current permeating her body to spike. Arcs of blue lightning crackled around her, evaporating the raindrops that fell on her mithril frame in tiny bursts of steam. The current was transmitted through the superconductor in her hand and into the rushing river waters, electrocuting everything within a few dozen meters of it.
It lasted only for an instant, but the sudden shock had either stunned or outright killed dozens of fish, causing their unmoving bodies to float up to the surface.
“See? Stupid,” Fizzy grumbled as she reeled in her precious cable. “Why go through the trouble of baiting a line when you can just do stuff like that?”
“… Yeah, okay.”
Jen didn’t feel like arguing over the relaxing nature of the sport, or the whole ‘man versus wild’ aspect of it. Mostly because she didn’t really buy into that stuff. The only reason she was even doing it the ‘stupid’ way was because she was killing time while she waited for the rain to stop. Otherwise she could’ve used her wings to hover above the river and plucked the fish out of it with her lightning-fast feet. She certainly wasn’t going to complain about getting so many of them at once, especially when there was a far more pressing concern on her mind.
Not the fact that Fizzy had caught Jen ‘borrowing’ her custom-made component, but that she was all the way out here in the first place.
“I thought dungeon masters could not leave the dungeon?”
The Monk’s confusion was quite understandable. She was going to live in a dungeon for the foreseeable future, so it was only natural that her new employer had briefed her on the ins and outs of its functions. A lecture that also included the details surrounding the dungeon master position, in particular the fact that one could not leave the crystal core’s sphere of influence without severing the connection between them. It was the main reason why Jen was ill-suited to the post. She would need to spend most of her day out and about as she trained her Job and Skill Levels, so there wasn’t much point in appointing her as Fizzy’s replacement when she and Boxxy left Velos.
“They can if they’re quitting.”
A moment that had come sooner rather than later.
“I put the finishing touches on my new weapon earlier today, so we decided we’d be boarding the next boat out of here. Which is tomorrow morning.”
“… I see.”
Though rather abrupt, Boxxy’s departure was hardly unexpected considering the shapeshifter had discussed its plans for the immediate future with Jen in significant detail. Literally the only reason it stuck around this long was because its trophy wife insisted she finish her newest project while ‘the spark of inspiration was still bright’ or something along those lines. Once the shapeshifter departed, it would be at least another two weeks before it got an opportunity to drop in and check on Jen, meaning she’d be completely on her own until then.
“Will Boxxy be coming to pick you up, then?”
“It’s already here. It sent me to find you and bring you back, actually.”
“Understood, let me just grab some-”
“Now, meatbag!” Fizzy insisted. “We don’t have all day!”
Jen looked mournfully at the copious amounts of stunned fish floating down the river. As much as she wanted to rip into those, the golem was right - it was a bad idea to keep Boxxy waiting without a very good reason. Besides, she wouldn’t want to miss her chance to say goodbye. It was an odd urge prompted by her griffin-derived bond with the doppelganger, but she had learned the hard way that denying or ignoring her instincts would only make them louder. They had to be appeased before they were mastered.
Upon returning to the Dark Eyrie, Jen was confronted with a trio of unexpected visitors.
“Ah, the prodigal bird-brain returns.”
“‘Sup, chicken wings?”
Xera, Kora and Drea were all lined up in the open in front of Boxxy, who was currently wearing its ‘Sandman-lite’ disguise. This was also only the second time Jen had seen the tundra webstalker out in the open. Though they exchanged words on quite a few occasions, the arachnid woman had always concealed herself during her past interactions. Behavior that the Monk now knew was caused by a bizarre shyness inherent to her species, and not because of a lack of trust, a desire to remain vigilant at all times or any other such practical reasons.
And the fact that she and the other two were gathered like this could only mean one thing.
“Is it time for another team building exercise?” Jen asked in her traditional monotone.
“Precisely,” Boxxy confirmed. “I want to oversee you lot working together while I have the chance and I’m curious to see if there’ve been any improvements since last time.”
Solid teamwork was at least as important to a group’s survival as individual strength, arguably even more so. This was one of the first lessons the shapeshifter had learned in its life, as it had been forced to fight tightly-knit adventuring parties multiple times while it was still a simple box with teeth. It learned that the best way to engage such an enemy was to destroy or cripple the unity of the group before it engaged them in open combat. This was best accomplished through underhanded methods like psychological warfare or assassinating a key figure like the leader or healer.
Solid teamwork was also something the monster also recognized could be a great asset to itself, which it did by attempting to use its minions’ strengths to cover for its own weaknesses. This approach had plenty of benefits, but Boxxy had difficulty grasping the concept of teamwork due to its nature as an exceptionally selfish monster. It wasn’t until it started role playing as Keira Morgana that it began to understand teamwork was a two-way street. It had actually been the not-a-catgirl’s Ranger mentor, one Milo Faehorn, whose phrasing of the concept managed to frame the idea in a way the monster could truly understand.
“No matter how strong the bow or sharp the arrow, they are both worthless without the other.”
In other words, lofty ideals like unity, synergy, cohesion and cooperation were ultimately nothing more than a weapon to be mastered. It wasn’t a matter of trust or companionship, but knowing how one’s allies would react in any given situation, like an unseen muscle that had to be trained and practiced through experience. Once the shapeshifter started thinking of it in such terms, it was able to make significant progress towards improving the teamwork of its group. An effort that didn’t seem to bear much fruit until the head-on confrontation with the Gilded Hand. Boxxy’s synergy with its minions - especially the demons - had only continued to grow since then, though these days there was a distinct lack of opportunity to put it to use.
Something that would undoubtedly change once the Dragon Festival began. Which was why it was important for Jen to get used to working with the others in extreme situations as quickly as possible. Boxxy was a shapeshifter with a wide variety of abilities, so it could easily adapt to the presence of a new ally. The Monk had proven herself to be equally as flexible, no doubt a trait she picked up over a lifetime of fighting. The other girls were… less than cooperative, however.
Whether it be Fizzy’s pride or the stubborn nature of centuries-old demonic trio, they seemed to have some deep-rooted reservations towards working with a former enemy. This was a problem, as poor teamwork could prove to be disastrous when challenging the unpredictable terrain and unfathomably powerful beasts of the Shattered Isles. Boxxy had a fix for that, though. The girls just needed to be thrown in a few extreme situations together and get knocked around a bit while tripping over each other. Like it or not, they were bound to learn from their mistakes and get used to each other’s presence eventually.
And the ideal place to do that was currently in the palm of Boxxy’s hand.
“Hang on, I need a few more minutes to finish charging it.”
The Atlas of Dreams could provide the monstrous coalition with any number of instant dungeons, each of them with their own unique challenges and difficulty rating. Whether it was powerful monsters, extremely hostile environments, special rules, or a mix of all of the above, the vast majority Divine item’s fifty five dungeon templates could serve as a controlled training ground.
When the group tried it five days ago, they had gotten a preset called ‘The Nothingness.’ As the name implied, it was a black void devoid of any solid ground, gravity and light that threw asteroid golems at them, punctuated by a comet golem as the final boss. It was a perfect example of the group having to pool their individual talents and support one another, as not everyone could see in perfect darkness or fly in a weightless space.
At the very least there was breathable air, which was more than could be said of the Moon Madness instant dungeon.
“Alright, here it comes!”
Boxxy released the vibrating pink gemstone, which exploded into a ball of arcane energy. As per usual, it took a few seconds for the dungeon to form and the portal to stabilize. When it did, the pink inter-dimensional gateway revealed a peaceful scene of a blue sun and a light purple sky above an orange beach at the edge of a green-tinted ocean.
“Well, that sucks.”
“Ugh, this again, tktktktk…”
“Yeah, count me out.”
Everyone but Jen and Boxxy let out a dissatisfied groan or complaint when they recognized they’d hit one of the four ‘vacation’ dungeons. It was the least interesting one, too. At least the ski lodge in the Winter Wonderland offered a fun activity from another world that hadn’t quite caught on yet on Terrania. The Floating City, on the other hand, took place in an impossible town that floated atop the clouds with some unique cuisine and sights to enjoy. The Gambler’s Gambit was in a league of its own, as it took the shape of a luxurious casino with many features and activities that included, but were not limited to, blackjack and hookers. Compared to them, this ‘Fun In The Sun’ one was by far the most boring of the bunch.
Jen didn’t know that, though. This was her second time using the Atlas and first time seeing such an exotic-looking beach, so she found herself quite intrigued by the sight.
“Want to check it out?” Boxxy suggested when it noticed her gawking.
“Yes, Mas- Boxxy,” the Monk nodded.
“Alright, might as well put it to use then. You lot, go with her and keep her company.”
A series of puzzled expressions dawned upon the other four’s faces. Though they failed to grasp its reasons, Boxxy thought that, since it already put the time and effort in creating this dungeon, it might as well get some use out of it. Spending some casual time with one another was still a good way to increase team cohesion, even if not as expedient as live combat. Not to mention it looked like this vacation spot might score a few points with Jen, which was by no means a bad thing.
“Master, I do not believe this is a wise use of our time,” Xera insisted. “Instead you should focus on gaping my asshole so wide you could stuff a tree trunk in there, then doing it.”
“That was not a request. It’s an order. Now hop to it. And no in-fighting! Especially you, Snack. I don’t want to have to hear how you ‘accidentally’ almost vaporized Jen’s face off.”
“Yeeees, Master,” the demons replied in unison.
“Ah-hah. Yeah, no, screw that noise,” Fizzy firmly declined. “I don’t care what you say, I’m not stepping in that weird sand.”
The golem still hadn’t forgotten about the desert-spanning misadventure that she, Keira, Nao and that Monk raptor named Corrai mistakenly undertook. She could swear she still heard the rattle of loose sand within her chassis sometimes, even though Boxxy assured her on multiple occasions there was no leftover foreign matter. Bottom line was that Fizzy didn’t want to go and the shapeshifter couldn’t exactly force her to without a very good reason. That was part of what it meant to treat another being as an equal, so it couldn’t be helped.
“Yeah, alright,” it conceded. “I guess we should get back to town and see if Nao can enchant that new hammer of yours before we leave. I’m still ordering the rest of you to escort Jen into the instant dungeon and enjoy yourselves, though.”
As ridiculous and open to interpretation as it was to command someone to have fun, it was not a concept beyond the realm of the summoning contract. Boxxy and Fizzy exchanged curt goodbyes with Jen before leaving the dungeon and leaving the other four to carry out their new ‘mission.’ Deciding to see what all the fuss was about, the Monk wasted no more time and stepped through the swirling pink portal.
You have entered the Fun In The Sun instant dungeon.
Right away she was made aware of the all-encompassing heat of the environment, especially the warm sand beneath her leathery soles. It felt surprisingly pleasant, enough to coax her to take a few steps forward as she got used to the sensation of stepping on this weirdly smooth sand. When she looked down at her feet, however, she made a startling discovery.
All of her clothes and items except for her thigh-wraps seemed to have disappeared, and the only thing in their place was a yellow two-piece swimsuit that left very little to the imagination. Well, it wasn’t as if her usual outfit was particularly modest to begin with, but these garments were more akin to water-resistant lingerie. At least the fabric was flexible and both smooth and comfortable to the touch, but that was hardly enough to make up for the bigger issue at hand.
“What happened to my equipment?” she asked aloud.
“The dungeon forcibly changes you to a more, shall we say, ‘appropriate’ attire,” Xera answered from behind. “Don’t worry, you’ll get your old stuff back when you leave.”
Jen looked over her shoulder and noticed that the others also had their clothes swapped out. The archfiend was wearing a pure white and slightly sportier version of the Monk’s swimsuit without a single trace of her demonic armaments. The djinn was already practically naked, so she had been stripped of everything but her skimpy bottom and had her golden breast-band replaced by a cloth version. In typical Xera fashion, it was a significantly sluttier look than either Jen or Kora, yet it still wasn’t the most revealing one.
Drea, it would appear, had drawn the short stick of the lot. She had lost the vast majority of her icy carapace, except for the parts that made up her hands, feet, and six scythe-tipped limbs. The only other parts of her pale blue skin that weren’t exposed to the salty air were her nether regions and nipples, which seemed to have a total of three obscenely thin strips of ice glued over them.
“Well, looks like we’re stuck in here for the next hour,” Kora said while stretching her arms, “so I guess there’s no helping it. What do you say, bird-boobs, wanna have some fun with me?”
“Reporting that I will rip your dicks off and shove them down your throat if you proposition me again.”
Though she had managed to more or less kick that habitual way of speaking, the Monk couldn’t help but revert back to it whenever that lecherous fiend spoke to her. At Jen’s age, such lewd acts were nothing but a waste of time and energy. She despised it back when Question jokingly kept hitting on her, and she hated it even more when-
“Wow, who jizzed in your breakfast this morning?” Kora casually interrupted her train of thought. “I was just asking if you wanted to help me build a sand castle.”
“… Sand castle?”
“You do know what those are, right?”
Of course Jen knew, she just didn’t expect that sort of suggestion from a fiend, especially not this one. After all, Kora was the sort of demon that was only interested in the three Fs - fighting, fucking, and fight-fucking. And considering that Boxxy explicitly stated ‘no infighting,’ it was only natural the Monk would assume she meant the second of those since it was the only option left.
“Whatever, you’d probably suck at it with those furry hands of yours anyway.”
It was only when the archfiend brushed her off and walked past with an air of passive bitchiness that Jen spotted something more than just her regular clothes and armor were missing.
“Wait, where are her horns?” Jen turned towards Xera. “Or yours, for that matter.”
The jeweled crown-like growth on the djinn’s forehead as well as the three metallic spikes growing out of the archfiend’s head were mysteriously absent. The webstalker’s massive mandibles were also no longer framing her eight-eyed face. The harpy just had failed to take notice of these body parts’ absence because the demons looked more ‘normal’ to her without them than with them, but this was definitely strange in retrospect.
“Oh, the dungeon takes those too,” the djinn revealed. “Not sure why, it just does. Must see them as unacceptable accessories or something. And yes, that is also why Double-dicks over there is acting so mellow.”
A demon’s horns were the physical manifestation of their desires. Getting those removed - be it through force or because of a loopy dungeon with a bizarre dress code - would cause the familiar to lose some physiological aspect of their conjured bodies. They’d return to normal if those appendages were regrown or the demon was resummoned, or in this case left the dungeon, but for the time being Boxxy’s minions had to deal with some uncomfortable symptoms.
In Xera’s case, she could no longer float around at her leisure and had to walk like everybody else. For fiends like Kora, it took away some of their aggression and made them unable to get even the tiniest bit aroused, rendering them effectively impotent. Hellhounds, on the other hand, would grow even more feral than normal if their horns were broken off. It was extremely rare for that to happen in combat, however, as their horns took the shape of tiny spikes that ran down their spine and were barely even visible with all that fur in the way.
The other two species of familiar also had body parts that carried the same significance as horns, though theirs were not immediately obvious. For beholders it was their needle-like teeth, which under normal circumstances were entirely decorative. Knocking those out would make the floating heads start to salivate uncontrollably, which was perhaps the oddest symptom on this list. Webstalkers like Drea, whose horns were actually their sharp mandibles, gained a stutter when they spoke and their eyes became much more sensitive to light. The latter was the bigger issue, as having the sun shine on their face was enough to basically blind them.
Which was why the arctic arachnid was currently weaving a sun hat out of her webbing. She could also, in theory, make basic clothing to hide her embarrassingly vulgar appearance, but the dungeon would take them away the instant she put them on. Hats seemed to be one of the few things it tolerated, which was still better than nothing. At least Boxxy wasn’t here to make things more awkward for her, but she hadn’t quite warmed up to Jen’s presence yet and wound up feeling uncomfortable all the same.
“So… is there anything to fight here?” the Monk moved onto her next question.
“Sadly, no,” Xera replied. “I mean, there’s this big whale-thing lurking about, but it just runs away if you try to get near it. Not even Master can catch it, so you’re better off not even trying. Other than that there really isn’t much to do here except loiter around. I personally prefer to sunbathe, though. I’m a fire-type demon so the blazing heat feels quite comfortable.”
The djinn then laid herself face-up on the orange sand with the intent of basking in the warm light. She arched her back, causing her massive breasts to spill out towards her coyly smiling face. Her arms were thrown up on either side of her head while she raised her knees and curled her toes. It was the sort of posture that looked thoroughly seductive and equally uncomfortable, yet perfectly natural from the perspective of an ex-succubus. It was almost a crying shame that there was nobody around capable of appreciating her sex appeal.
Yet the djinn wasn’t the only one making herself comfortable in conventionally bizarre poses. Drea was only a few meters away, and was currently leaning back with her feet in the air, using her scythes to prop herself up as if she was on an imaginary lounge chair. With the vast majority of her carapace gone and the suggestive angle of her legs, she looked almost as lewd as Xera. That was hardly the stalker’s purpose, though. She just hated the feeling of stepping or sitting on the hot sand, so this was her compromise.
“That… does not look like the sun I know,” Jen pointed out as she not-too-subtly looked away from the practically naked women.
“I know, I know,” Xera grumbled, “but ‘sun’ is easier to say than ‘massive ball of blue flames that illuminates the area,’ so just roll with it.”
“You could t-t-t-t-try catching something if you’re bored,” Drea suggested with a light stutter. “Even if it’s fake, that green ocean has some really t-t-t-t-tasty fish,” she added.
Jen’s ears perked up at that statement, and she flew off in search of lunch without saying a word.
“Get some for me t-t-too, will you?!” the stalker shouted after her.
“I wouldn’t get your hopes up if I were you,” Xera scoffed at her.
“What? Why not? She’s not Boxxy, I’m sure she’ll sh-sh-sh-share if she gets a big one.”
“She’s a human turned monster by the living embodiment of greed. You’d have a hard time finding a more selfish combination than that.”
The djinn had only just finished that vitriolic statement when a shadow passed over her, followed by something massive, wet and slimy slamming her arched back flat against the sand.
“I caught one,” Jen reported as she hovered over the two-meter-long tuna that was currently thrashing on top of Xera.
“Woah! That was fast!” the stalker blurted out. “Usually it t-takes me at least t-t-t-twenty minutes to find something this big!”
The Monk didn’t reply with words, though the sudden yet honest compliment brought an almost comically bright blush to her cheeks.
“Shall I debone it real quick?” the arachnid demon offered.
“Will you idiots get this - Oof! - disgusting thing off me already!?”
Jen nodded, prompting Drea to get busy. She pulled the heavy fish off of the complaining-but-not-really djinn and used her webbing to hang it by its tail from a nearby palm tree. One of her scythes stabbed the fish between its eyes, killing it instantly so that it would sit still. She then raised her six-clawed hands in the air and expertly peeled away the oily skin in three fluid motions. Her scythes were next, slicing through the giant tuna in a flurry of slashes and turning it into a pile of neatly cut fillets that were collected atop a plate woven out of her steel spider thread.
Drea confidently put an entire piece of freshly sliced fish-flesh into her maw and chewed on it with a delighted expression on her face. She then offered one to Jen, but the Monk hesitated. Though the thing she caught certainly looked like a tuna on the outside, its insides were another story. It had bones and meat, but no sign of any guts or blood. It was not a living creature that could ever exist without copious amounts of the dungeon’s magical life support.
Her appetite and curiosity nevertheless won out, and the harpy took a tentative bite of the offered sample.
The freaky fish’s fatty flavor gushed out every time she chewed on it, causing her to let out a throaty moan of satisfaction.
“It’sh goof ishn’t it?!” Drea asked with full cheeks.
“Mhm!” Jen nodded firmly as she stuffed another piece of raw meat into her mouth.
While the two of them bonded over an appreciation for good seafood, Xera was left in a sour mood. Like Boxxy - or possibly because of it - she was not a fan of fish. She could say the same of most foods, to be honest. The only things she used to enjoy ingesting before being bound to that mimic was sperm and alcohol, but these days her cravings were more… eccentric. She looked over at the six-armed fiend that was kneeling in the sand and sighed dejectedly. That unfittingly gleeful smile of hers as she played with the sand all by herself was both unsettling and pathetic.
“Are you seriously going to do nothing but make shitty sand castles?” she called out to Kora in an annoyed tone of voice.
“Don’t get pissy at me just because you can’t find someone to get you off, Whoretania,” the fiend snapped back at her. “And they’re not ‘shitty!’”
Though the fiend’s pride denied it, Xera’s description was quite accurate. The things Kora was making were, objectively speaking, more akin to a collection of shapeless lumps of orange sand rather than any sort of coherent structure. They could be described as treacherous mountains at best, or steaming mounds of monster dung if one were to be blunt. The frustrated djinn had opted for the second option, but it didn’t seem to produce the desired result since the fiend, while ticked off, showed no desire to smash her brains out.
Then again, they were forbidden from fighting, and Boxxy was already far enough away to sever the telepathic link between them, so she couldn’t even ask for permission to get smashed.
“How about you make yourself useful for once and glassify my creation instead?”
“… I suppose,” Xera agreed. “Stand back, will you?”
The archfiend did as instructed, giving the Pyromancer the space she needed to do her thing.
A massive blaze of crimson flames swirled around Kora’s abstract work of art, turning it and everything within several meters into solid glass as if it were frozen solid. A reaction that was only made possible by the weird properties of this sand. It was a unique substance that Boxxy and Fizzy had tried to incorporate into their respective artisan Jobs, but neither had found any real use for it. It had some applications as a construction material, but it was impossible to take enough of it out of the instant dungeon to make that work.
“There, knock yourself out.”
“Thanks slut! Guess you’re good for something besides being a cum dumpster after all.”
Kora then leaped dozens of meters into the air and elbow-dropped on top of her vitrified ‘castle’ like a rock, turning it and its surroundings into a crater full of shattered glass. However, putting that much weight and force onto a single one of her arms had caused it to break, and her forearm was left dangling off her mangled elbow like a wet sock.
“Ah, goddamnit,” the fiend cursed. “I forgot I wasn’t wearing my gloves.”
The glass was also harder than it looked, which only contributed to her injury.
“Still, that was kinda fun. I’m gonna go do it again.”
Xera rolled her eyes, but even she had to admit watching the spectacle was at least mildly entertaining, so she would probably indulge the dim-witted fiend the next time she was asked for assistance. The djinn suddenly felt a rush of air blow past her, no doubt caused by Jen darting off in search of another fresh catch. The djinn looked over her shoulder in a curious manner, only to realize that the massive pile of raw fish meat had disappeared in the brief minute she had taken her eyes off of it.
It would appear that, intentionally or not, Boxxy and Drea’s combined gluttony had rubbed off on that fuzzy harpy at least a little.
The woman in question returned a few moments later, flying over to the webstalker’s side while gripping a much more reasonably sized fish in either foot. She gave one to the spider girl and grabbed hold of the other as Drea began showing her how to properly fillet a fish by only using her claws. It was an acquired skill and not nearly as easy as it seemed, especially when considering the state of Jen’s latest catch.
“You shouldn’t c-c-c-c-crush them like that,” Drea stuttered. “Even if these guys don’t have a lot of bones, taking them out will be a pain if you mangle their spines this badly.”
“I can still just grind those between my teeth.”
“Well, yeah, but that’s not nearly as t-t-t-tasty as chewing on meat with nothing in the way. You obviously think so t-t-too, otherwise you wouldn’t have asked me to teach you my technique.”
“That is a good point. I apologize.”
“Not a big deal, p-p-p-plenty of fish out there. That said, wouldn’t want to let these go to waste, now would we?”
The stalker then eagerly devoured the fish whole, letting out a disgusting cacophony of crunching, gnashing and slurping as she did so. It was a very primal way of eating that Jen also indulged in, though she started from the head and worked her way down in three big bites.
“I will go catch some more,” the Monk reported when she was done.
“T-t-t-t-try not to snap their spines this time.”
“I will, but it is difficult to resist the urge to squeeze down on things I’ve grabbed.”
That particular trait seemed to be caused by some sort of muscle reflex than a questionable instinct. The harpy would also unconsciously dig her talons into the ground whenever she stood still long enough, even if said ground was the hard stone floor of her dungeon home. It was a trait that could be attributed to a biological imperative to grip onto tree branches derived from the harpy half of her hybrid species. Something that Xera had deduced after observing the mortal woman over the past several days, and a thought that gave her a certain idea to help pass the time.
“Excuse me, Jen?” the sultry demoness called out.
“Sorry to interrupt your… cooking practice, but could I bother you for a quick favor? I’ve been feeling a bit stressed out lately since Master has been negle- delegating all sorts of errands to me ever since we came to Velos. I was hoping you could use those powerful legs of yours to give me a shoulder massage and relieve some of my tension.”
“Denied. You will just die.”
“No, I won’t, silly,” Xera brushed her off. “I’m a demon conjured by Boxxy. Even if I’m the Spell-slinging archetype, the body my Master gave me is much more durable than any plebeian mortal Caster. Besides, this is still supposed to be a bonding experience, is it not?”
The djinn’s true intentions were so paper thin that they were practically transparent to the other two demons, but Jen had, unfortunately, not been made aware of Xera’s ‘special tastes’ just yet.
“How could that possibly help with our teamwork?” the Monk asked, more out of genuine curiosity than skepticism.
“For starters, I’ll think slightly better of you if you took the time to do me this one favor,” the demoness started piling it on. “It will also help me get better accustomed to your strength. It will also be you helping me help you with practice the severity of your grip on living things. Mangled fish aside, you wouldn’t want to accidentally hurt Boxxy should you need to carry it, am I right?”
“I see,” Jen conceded. “Alright, let’s give it a try.”
Xera smiled and sat with her back turned towards the harpy, who stood on one leg and gripped the demon’s neck and left shoulder with the other. She then started slowly rolling her foot across the djinn’s surprisingly soft yet supple flesh. The Monk was focusing the entirety of her concentration on making minute, precise movements, making it hard to pay attention to her surroundings. It was surprisingly difficult for her to gauge whether she was squeezing down too tightly, not to mention she had to fight her grasping reflex. That was why she occasionally asked Xera how she was doing, yet failed to notice that the demoness kept saying things like ‘it’s not enough strength’ or ‘use a bit more force.’ Little by little her powerful grip on the demon’s upper body continued to tighten until it reached its inevitable conclusion.
Namely, with Xera’s collarbone and shoulder blade snapping loudly under the mounting pressure.
“Ahhn! Yeaaah!” she moaned at the top of her lungs. “Crush me harder, mommy!”
Realization of what she had been goaded into hit Jen like a ton of bricks, causing her to fling the shameless slut within her grasp into the purple sky dome. The djinn disappeared from sight while cackling gleefully as she flew towards that not-sun she seemed to like so much. Kora and Drea, who had silently watched the whole thing transpire from the sidelines, were having a hearty laugh and a stifled giggle at Jen’s expense. The Monk couldn’t fault them for their behavior though, as letting herself get roped into this tasteless prank was nobody’s fault but her own. The embarrassing experience had also left her with a new and slightly unexpected urge, though not an unreasonable one.
Despite the fact that she routinely covered them in blood and bile while fighting monsters, this was the first time Jen felt the urge to wash her feet with a deep scrub and plenty of soap.
Especially the left one.