“Sorry to say, but I wasn’t able to complete the order quite to your… specifications,” Nao said matter-of-factly.
“What? Why not?” Fizzy asked in a confused manner.
“You told me you wanted ‘Recall and a few other things,’ then left the castle before I realized the work order you filled out also asked for Increased Weight.”
“So?! Space and gravity are opposite elements! Seriously, how do people keep forgetting that? Anyway, bottom line is I can’t put Recall and Increased Weight on the same item without something breaking, so I ended up dropping the second one.”
“You have to be kidding me. That enchantment was supposed to compensate for the fact that it’s much too light for a hammer!”
“It’s your own fault for suddenly dropping by out of the blue with a last-minute job. Besides, if you’re planning to use magic to cover up an item’s faults, you need to consult an Enchanter before you started making the thing. Not weeks after it’s already done.”
The object these two were arguing over on this fine morning was Fizzy’s new weapon, which she had made as a replacement for the high-tech wrench she lost during a failed Quest. The golem had naturally omitted the part where she made it inside a dungeon using materials a shapeshifter had teleported in from another continent, but she wasn’t lying about the gist of it. She didn’t want to board the ship to Atica unprepared, so she had Nao enchant it literally the day before she had to leave along with the Morgana household. Which was in a few hours from now, meaning it was far too late to be making any corrections.
“The good news is,” Nao continued, “that I managed to figure out a workaround. I figured you wanted something to give the hammer some more ‘oomph,’ so I put Impact Amplification on it instead. It’s a force-type enchantment so there were zero compatibility issues with Recall.”
“… Impact Amplification? That’s a thing?”
“It is, though not a very popular one since it doesn’t have the added benefit of increasing a blunt weapon’s inertia. However, that won’t be an issue for someone with your, um, unique circumstances. Your mithril frame is many times heavier than a regular person’s body, so you should do great so long as you put your entire weight behind the swings instead of just using your arms. Which I assume you already do anyway.”
“Hmm? You actually have a surprisingly good grasp of how momentum works, don’t you?” the golem remarked. “Didn’t expect that from a spineless wimp who’d never swung a mace in his life.”
“Magic exists to subvert the natural laws, after all,” the wolfkin said with a wry smile. “Can’t do that unless you know what rules you’re supposed to be breaking.”
“I guess that’s a point. Anyway, can I get my weapon back now?”
“Of course. Just as soon as you pay me.”
It was only natural that Nao had requested payment for his efforts. Not only did he have to use his own materials, but had to work on it throughout the night to get it ready in time. In fact, he hadn’t even gone to bed yet when the golem barged into the workshop just minutes ago. Frankly speaking he wouldn’t have even taken the job if it wasn’t doing it as a favor to Keira, so charging only twice his normal rate seemed more than reasonable under the circumstances.
Fizzy reached into the Bag of Holding strapped to her thigh and took out a Minic-sized strongbox containing the agreed upon amount. The Hero of Magic accepted it and opened his Item Box, allowing a solid mithril hammer to emerge from it. It had a relatively plain shaft that was about a meter long with a few short cables sticking out of it and a rubberized grip at the lower end. The head was an irregular cone shape, with a wide, circular and flat face on the front and a spiky electrical coil on the back end. The middle bit that connected these parts to the handle was blockier, with a circular dial in the middle to indicate the charge level of the built-in Direct Impact Lightning Discharge Oscillator. Overall it was a weapon that looked either like a long one-handed hammer or a short two-handed one when Fizzy held it.
“To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised when I actually started working on it,” Nao digressed while handing over the weapon. “It looks odd, but the workmanship is exquisite. The mithril accepted the Recall enchantment with such ease that I initially thought it had fizzled out and failed to take.”
It was quite fortunate he succeeded on the first try too, as preparing all the magical reagents needed to permanently bind that spatial magic to an object took three hours to prepare.
“I thought mithril was supposed to be easy to enchant anyway,” Fizzy remarked while looking over her creation.
“It is, but this thing was something else. In layman’s terms if imbuing a mithril item with Recall was like threading a needle, yours was closer to throwing a rock down a well. I’ve only had the pleasure of working with such excellent bases five or six times before.”
“Well, you know me,” the golem said smugly. “Being made of mithril does let me cheat a bit when forging the stuff.”
“I can imagine. I honestly wish you’d brought this to me sooner, or at the very least let me hang onto it for a bit so I can test its limits better. Especially that device you’ve built into the head.”
Nao’s curiosity had gotten the better of him and he tried testing out the hammer’s Direct Impact Lightning Discharge Oscillator by charging it with his own magic. It was a one-time cursory examination that taught him two things. That its destructive potential was far beyond any similar magic items he’d seen, and that electrifying a metal hammer while holding it with his bare hands was a terrible idea.
“That’s not going to happen. Ever,” the golem rejected him. “That component is almost entirely encapsulated in mithril. I can repair and maintain it easily enough, but not if you shatter it into a dozen pieces because you went overboard with one of your ‘tests.’ Or do I need to remind you what you did to Keira’s dagger two years ago?”
“… You two are never going to let me live that down, will you?”
In truth that unfortunate event was arguably just as much Boxxy’s fault as it was Nao’s, but the latter had ended up taking most if not all of the blame.
“Heh,” Kuro chuckled from the corner of the room. “Given your track record, I’m surprised this fortress is still in one piece.”
“Not helping, Kuro,” Nao grumbled.
“Just to be sure, do you have a report on how my baby turned out?” Fizzy interjected.
“Of course, I do. I actually had a feeling you might have your doubts considering I had to improvise a bit, so I had a representative of a local Enchanter’s guild appraise it on my behalf just before you arrived.”
Nao rummaged through the mess on the nearby desk briefly before producing an envelope bearing an official-looking seal.
“You know,” he smiled while handing it over, “just in case you wanted an unbiased opinion.”
Though the Hero of Magic was a Scribe and perfectly capable of appraising a magic item he helped create, doing so was generally seen as a bad idea. No artisan could be trusted to give an honest evaluation of their creations whenever money was involved, and anyone who insisted otherwise was either a fool or a conman. Even if unintentionally, it was possible their personal bias might skew the results either because they thought too highly of themselves or were overtly critical of their own faults. Indeed, Nao getting a third party to double-check the fruits of his labor was not only a matter of professional courtesy among craftsmen, but also common practice.
Something that Fizzy was keenly aware of, which was why she wasted no time in ripping open the envelope and reading through its contents.
|Item Appraisal Order #5264-C
Inspected by Xacc of Clan Vass, Head Scribe to the Verdant Mist Guild
As requested by Nao Shoki, Hero of Magic
A one-handed war hammer forged primarily out of pure mithril by Fizzy Rustblood. Its flawless craftsmanship combined with its high-grade materials allows it to withstand immense impacts without suffering a single dent. The weapon is relatively lightweight for its class, reducing bludgeoning damage dealt. This flaw is alleviated by a mysterious device of unknown make and origin built into the weapon’s core, allowing the weapon to both absorb and discharge vast amounts of lightning.
Type: War Hammer
Enchantments: Recall, Impact Amplification, Greater Cold Resistance
Estimated Value: 1,700 GP
Though Recall had been the main point of having Nao pull an all-nighter, Fizzy had requested two simpler enchantments to go along with it. One of them was Increased Weight, which the wolfkin had explained was a no-go, and something to help defend against her Bane. She was therefore quite happy that Nao had managed to fit a Greater tier resistance effect on it. This translated into a 15% reduction to damage taken from that particular element, which would overpower and override the vast majority of other similar enchantments. The only way she could get more was if she found a piece of equipment with Major Cold Resistance, but those were typically limited to items ranked Artifact and above.
As for the 10% Spell boost, that was there as a result of the excellent mana conductivity of pure mithril and the Masterwork craftsmanship of the weapon. Fizzy certainly wasn’t going to complain about this extra boon, though she did take issue with other parts of the Item Appraisal.
“‘Mysterious device of unknown make and origin?’ What kind of hack did you find to inspect my masterpiece?”
“Can’t really fault the locals for not knowing anything about Artificers,” Nao shrugged. “Your craft has zero presence in a place like Velos, after all.”
Indeed, the high humidity, rampant vegetation and overabundance of pollen and bugs made the continent an extremely hostile environment towards delicate devices and complex contraptions. And since the golem’s primary Artisan Job wasn’t all that relevant to the natives, it was only natural their Scribes would not be able to offer an in-depth analysis of her work. The only reason Xacc of clan Vass knew this hammer housed a device of any type was because Nao had told him about it. When faced with something so completely outside his understanding, it was only natural he’d resort to flowery language like ‘mysterious’ and ‘unknown.’
Which was not the case when it came for the names of the weapon and its creator. Nao had, at Fizzy’s behest, imprinted those on the item itself as something called ‘meta-magical data.’ It was like a label that could be easily read by another Scribe, but was invisible to anyone else. The article’s name, Novaspike, was derived from the spike-shaped component built into the weapon’s back end, which was commonly referred to as a nova coil by Arclight Artificers. Its function was to extend the range of the golem’s Static Field Skill, allowing her to ‘throw lightning’ up to a distance of about three meters. It wouldn’t do as much damage as a point-blank zap, but the extra range more than made up for it considering weapon reach was something the shorter-than-average Paladin often struggled with. It wasn’t an exaggeration to say the nova coil was arguably the most prominent part of the weapon.
It also made for a much more respectable namesake than the hammer’s other key component.
“I suppose it can’t be helped if these meatbags are too dumb to recognize greatness when they see it,” Fizzy conceded. “Anyway, mind if I take your Recall enchantment for a test run?”
“Could you not do it in here?” Nao stopped her. “People are already complaining about the weird smells and noises coming from my portable enchanting station. The last thing I need is you breaking a wall or something because of an over-enthusiastic swing.”
“Ugh, fine. I’ll be back if I have any complaints.”
The mithril golem left Nao’s chambers and walked briskly through the mostly empty halls of Castle Arin, which had become the wolfkin’s semi-permanent place of residence. Once she made it to the courtyard outside, she scanned the area for a suitable target and spotted some kind of colorful bird flying overhead. Deciding it was worth taking a shot at, she gripped her hammer with both hands and channeled her mana into charging its brand-new Recall feature. When she was done she spun around horizontally with it and launched it at the unsuspecting bird with a cry of ‘Hammer Toss!’
The pure white weapon took on a distinct red glow as it spun wildly towards her intended target, making it appear more like a glowing discus than a hammer. It curved upward unnaturally as it tore through the air, hitting its target and turning it into a cloud of red mist and rainbow-colored feathers without slowing down in the slightest. The Martial Art wore off a few moments later, causing the weapon to stop spinning and start falling just before it safely teleported itself back to Fizzy’s open palm.
“Huh, neat,” the golem commented, ignoring the startled soldiers and adventurers around her. “I just wish there was a better target around here…”
She eyed one of the Inquisition griffins flying off in the distance, but decided it was best not to aggravate those people just for kicks and went on her way. Once out of the fortress, she shifted into her Assault Mode and used its Jump Jets to dart from treetop to treetop, allowing her to rapidly traverse the Velosian jungle. She wasn’t quite as fast as a full-grown griffin, but it would still get her back to Oar’s Rest well before her ship was slated to depart.
More importantly, it gave her the opportunity to test her new hammer out on trees, rocks, orcs, hydras, and other suitably sized targets. Even with her lighter and physically weaker frame, the addition of Nao’s Impact Amplification made it so things she hit would either explode into a red mist or be launched into the air in a rather comedic fashion. And that was only assuming they weren’t weak enough to get straight up vaporized by a fully-charged DILDO burst.
As she got closer to the shoreline around Oar’s Rest, Fizzy began to catch glimpses of a naval armada anchored just outside of the port town’s bay at the apex of her jet-propelled jumps. A total of seventeen ships were ready to depart for Atica, with two more being loaded with passengers and cargo at the docks. The golem had to regretfully pack in her jump jets and proceed on foot now that she was back in civilization. She made her way over to the pier and joined Boxxy and its three pets aboard the S.S.S. Teresa’s Judgement, the same vessel that they arrived on.
The convoy set off from Oar’s Rest at noon, beginning its two-week journey across the treacherous Shimmering Ocean. The return trip was rapidly proving to be a lot less harrowing than the first one, as the large number of ships actively discouraged random monster attacks. Unfortunately, the size of the naval procession did little to soothe the savage weather, so it was hardly an uneventful voyage. The ships still had to contend with massive waves, powerful winds, impenetrable fogs and terrible thunderstorms on an almost daily basis. Yet this turbulent climate was a much more forgiving opponent than the ocean’s aquatic beasts.
In the end, the naval convoy managed to reach the northwestern continent without suffering a single casualty, which was the measure of an exceptionally successful voyage. The ships began splitting up and going their separate ways once the shores of Atica came into view. Though they traversed the Shimmering Ocean together for the sake of safety, they each had their own final destinations. It wasn’t until the evening of the fifteenth day since leaving Oar’s Rest that Teresa’s Judgement arrived at Ambershore, the Alliance port it had left from over a month ago.
“Ugh, finally,” Keira grumbled. “I don’t wanna see another ship for as long as I live.”
“Are you sure it’s just the ship?” Rowana asked with a concerned tone.
The two of them were currently atop the vessel’s deck and leaning on the wooden railing as they waited for it to pull into port along with most of the other passengers.
“What do you mean?”
“You’ve been really tense and on edge these past few days, but you weren’t like this during the trip to Velos. Isn’t there something besides travel fatigue that’s bothering you?”
“Rowie, you’re overthinking things,” the catgirl reassured her. “I’m just bored out of my skull. There was, like, nothing to bloody do during the entire trip, and there are only so many laps around the deck I can make before I start going a bit crazy. I’m not saying I wanted monsters to attack us, but it would have at least broken up the monotony of it.”
“There you go again with that stuff,” the elf pouted. “I know we talked about this, but how are we supposed to settle down when you constantly run off on thrill-seeking whims? It’s like you’re allergic to peace of something!”
“It’s not about that, it’s just-! I can’t help but feel like a prisoner sometimes. Especially when I’m stuck on this rotten, god-forsaken, thrice-damned tub!”
“Kindly mind your language, madam,” a passing sailor called out to her. “When you insult this fine vessel, you insult both her crew and the craftsmen that put her together.”
Keira glared daggers at the nosy mariner, giving him a none too subtle hint to buzz off if he fancied having all of his limbs attached. The message was received loud and clear, prompting the deckhand to excuse himself for butting in before speed-walking away.
“See? That’s what I mean!” Rowana exclaimed. “The look you gave that guy was so mean it even scared me!”
“I said I’m fine, Rowie,” the redhead insisted. “I just need to stretch my legs a bit and I’ll be back to normal, I swear.”
“… Fine, I won’t push. Just know that I’ll be here for you if you ever want to share what’s eating you up inside, alright?”
“I keep telling you, you’re overthinking things!”
“Better than leaping without even looking, Miss Swings-from-vines-and-breaks-roofs.”
There was a moment of awkward silence before Rowana spoke up again.
“I should go get our luggage ready. Do me a favor and find where Minic’s gone off to, will you?”
The elf gave the beastkin a peck on the cheek before slinking off back to their cabin, leaving Boxxy alone with its thoughts. It had to admit, it was both impressive and annoying how perceptive that woman could be sometimes, though mostly annoying. Something was indeed bothering the shapeshifter, quite profoundly at that. It was so agitated that its anxiety kept bubbling to the surface of its Facade in the shape of random involuntary tics regardless of how hard it tried to keep them in check. It would impatiently tap its foot, twitch an eyelid, bite its lip, grind its teeth, scratch its arm and other such minor gestures. They appeared sporadically, but often enough that even that lovestruck elf was starting to catch on that something was amiss.
Then again, those ridiculous feelings were likely the reason why she ended up noticing those little things in the first place.
“Ahh! Solid ground, how I missed you so!” Keira exclaimed with arms raised when she finally set foot ashore. “Rowie, I’m going to go for a run, can I ask you to find us a room for the night?”
“Sure, just don’t stay out too late,” the elf replied.
“Won’t be an issue, should be back in an hour, two tops! Catch you in a bit!”
And with that, the catgirl sprinted down the pier, weaving through the crowd and their luggage with practiced ease. Rowana waved goodbye at her until she was out of sight, then turned towards the mithril golem immediately next to her.
“Be honest, I’m not going crazy, am I?” the elf asked.
Fizzy, who was currently in her Service Mode and was effortlessly pulling along the cart with all their luggage, looked up at her with a puzzled expression.
“You do realize who you’re talking to, right?”
Though the Paladin was quite sane, it was hard to convince people of that considering she had three alternate versions of herself living inside her head. In fact, two of them were currently out and about helping carry the group’s stuff while the third was keeping a close eye on the couple’s hyperactive pet jewelry box.
“I mean, Keira has been acting really weird as of late, hasn’t she?” Rowana clarified. “You two hang out and go adventuring all the time, surely you’ve noticed something was off.”
Fizzy had indeed realized that Boxxy was not acting its usual self, as it missed a spot when helping her polish her frame the day before. Even if it was cosplaying as Keira, it would never allow such a travesty to transpire unless something immense was bothering it. Unfortunately, a crowded ship was not a safe place to ask potentially Facade-breaking questions, so the golem had been unable to address the issue. She didn’t worry too much though, as the shapeshifter would’ve found a way to approach her discreetly if it was that big a deal.
“Seems like just a severe case of stir craziness to me,” the Paladin shrugged. “You know she’s not the type to keep quiet just to avoid worrying people. She’d speak up if it was anything worth raising a fuss over.”
“Oh. Right. Yeah, of course. I feel kind of silly when you put it like that.”
Fizzy let out a breathless sigh. Covering for Boxxy like this was neither her strong suit nor something she enjoyed doing. Thankfully that mimic had rigorously trained its primary source of Doppelganger XP to accept such corny and banal excuses at face value. Now if only it could do something about that clingy and meddlesome side of hers.
“By the way, we might wanna book a carriage for tomorrow morning while we’re looking for a place to stay the night,” Fizzy changed the subject. “We still have to pick up your new house guests on our way to Azurvale, and I doubt there’s a lot of people willing to take us across the Imperial border on short notice.”
“I suppose that’s a good point. I just wish Keira would’ve told me about that before we left.”
“She would’ve if she knew. Law just kind of dumped the news on her out of nowhere.”
“Well, here’s hoping that guy at least raised them right. I don’t know what I’ll do if they turned out to be spoiled brats.”
Then again, the elf didn’t know much of anything about the girls in question, or their guardian for that matter. The only thing she’d been told so far was that Keira promised one of her colleagues that she would look after his nieces for a few months. Which wasn’t entirely false.
“You wouldn’t have to do anything. Keira would whip them into shape before you know it,” Fizzy pointed out.
“Haha! I suppose having an adventurer instructor for a wife does have its perks,” Rowana chuckled. “I mean, I know she can get a bit harsh when she goes into ‘Hero mode,’ but… Uh…” her voice shrank to a whisper. “She doesn’t… literally whip people who misbehave, does she?”
“Of course not, that would be ridiculous,” the golem reassured her. “She mostly just stabs them in non-lethal areas. Flesh wounds make for memorable lessons, or so I’m told.”
“… So, where did you say we needed to book a carriage to?”
While the elf was trying her best not to think too hard about what her future spouse did for a living, the catgirl in question was busy skulking through the seedier parts of the city. Not that anyone would recognize her, as Boxxy had done away with its eye-catching Facade the first chance it got and was now prowling around as a filthy-looking human pauper. Not the most pleasant of disguises, but ideal for the grimy slum it was currently walking through. After all nobody would bat an eye at another rag-covered scruffy-looking man with a dead look in his eyes.
The world’s most dangerous hobo kept circling the area in a methodical fashion, making sure to take every back alley and dingy side street it came across. After about half an hour of wandering around, the shapeshifter spotted two thugs that seemed to be of questionable repute. They were too well-armed and, according to its Eyes of the Dead God, had too much HP to be randomly wandering around this part of town, especially at this late hour. The sun might have only just set, but the only type of people that tended to stay out after dark were drunkards, thugs, and idiots.
Admittedly those things were not mutually exclusive, but the fact still stood that these gentlemen were most likely of ill repute. After silently trailing them for a bit, Boxxy spied on them entering through a suspicious-looking metal door. It stayed out of sight for several more minutes before ambling over to it while doing its best ‘inebriated idiot’ impression. Upon getting closer to it, the Mana Locator Gland in its chest was able to confirm the door had been fortified by an anti-peeking enchantment, the same type that Reggie used to have in his office. Which, as far as the shapeshifter was concerned, was the same as having a giant glowing sign that read ‘wretched den of scum and villainy.’
As for what flavor of shady individuals made this place their home, that was simple enough to deduce.
Like other major trade hubs that had an abundance of people and goods passing through it, so too did this city-state of Ambershore have a good number of smuggling rings. Boxxy had dismantled quite a significant number of illegal operations as the Sandman, so it practically had a nose for this kind of thing. Not that the monster had anything in particular against criminals. They just happened to make for good targets since society at large would not be sad to see them gone and they typically had something good to steal. It also wasn’t as if it was going after this bunch in particular. They just happened to be unlucky enough to be the first to catch the impatient shapeshifter’s notice.
After making sure there were was nobody around, Boxxy quickly and quietly changed its disguise from Random Human Beggar C to Random Elf Bandit B. It was a nondescript pointy-eared male, a stereotypical cutpurse right down to the face-concealing bandana and dark baggy clothes. It then proceeded to knock on the door. Which, when translated from mimicanese, meant it smashed it so hard the solid slab of enchanted steel flew clean off its hinges. The mangled door made a horrible racket as it splattered some poor soul against the far wall of the room beyond it. It was so sudden and violent that the other three sentries inside barely even had time to process the shocking event before Boxxy moved in and ripped their heads clean off in an instant.
This flashy entrance naturally put the entire compound on high alert, and over a dozen hardened criminals arrived at the site of the disturbance within seconds, never to be heard from again. Penetrating deeper into the hideout, the living calamity that walked like an elf located a hidden trap door and descended through it into a series of underground tunnels. It effortlessly eliminated six more guards before finally arriving at a secret subterranean grotto. The place had a deep saltwater basin, which was presumably connected to the ocean through an underwater passageway of some description.
“So, you’re the dipshit that’s been raising all that racket, eh?!”
What looked to be the boss of this gang called out to Boxxy. Surprisingly enough, it was a fox-eared beastkin woman with a deep scar across her left cheek, a Ranger by the look of her gear. It was likely she was an Ultimate Skill holder, as her HP was significantly higher than that of the other archers by her side. There were a total of thirty of these guys and gals, all pointing their arrows at the intruder from atop some shabby watchtowers they’d built inside the spacious cavern.
“Let’s get this over with.”
Fortunately for them, Boxxy wasn’t in the mood to play around right now.
“Turn him into a pincushion!”
The leader, whose name the shapeshifter didn’t even bother memorizing, ordered her men to open fire on the elven stranger. Their arrows rained upon Boxxy, though the only thing they accomplished was bouncing pathetically off of its dense Mana Shield. The barrier would eventually crumble under a sustained barrage, but a few seconds was all the shapeshifter needed. It tore off the baggy clothes covering its upper body, revealing the lean frame and pasty skin of a stereotypical ‘twig.’ Dozens of monstrous eyeballs of various sizes appeared all over its torso in the next instant. Each of them locked onto a different archer, after which Boxxy unleashed an omni-directional Petrifying Gaze.
The vast majority of the smugglers were caught completely by surprise by the surreal sight and were unable to look away as their bodies began to turn to stone. Some of them managed to deduce what they were facing was a basilisk’s signature Skill and shielded their eyes. With the arrows suddenly coming to a halt, Boxxy’s next move was to drop its barrier and unleash a wendigo’s Cold Snap. A wave of freezing energy radiated outwards, taking mere seconds to cover most of the chamber and all of its occupants in a thin layer of ice.
With most of their bodies either petrified or frozen, nobody was able to prevent the monster’s chanting as it unleashed its favorite Warlock Spell. The extra range of Ruinous Reach allowed it to land a hit on their boss all the way in the back, though not a direct one. The foxkin Ranger had attempted to dodge out of the way of the invisible guillotine at the last moment. Though she avoided a fatal wound, she still lost her left arm and left leg in the process, forcing her to writhe around atop her frozen perch, unable to do anything but scream her lungs out.
“Reality Slash! Reality Slash! Reality Slash!”
Well, that and watch in abject horror as the incomprehensible monstrosity that had barged through her front door systematically turned her people into man-salad. When only a few were left it effortlessly leaped up to the ramparts and got to work quickly and cleanly snapping one neck after the other. Realizing it was saving her for last, the woman did her best to crawl away, but something grabbed her by the unsevered leg and slammed her into the cave wall the instant she turned her back on it. She fell onto the ice-coated rocky ground, coughing up blood and in so much agony that she wasn’t even sure which way was up anymore.
However, blurry eyesight and ringing ears aside, there was no way she wouldn’t notice that domineering figure loom over her broken body. It grabbed her by the throat and lifted her up into the air, forcing her to stare into those inhuman yellow orbs the doppelganger called eyes.
An oppressive wave crashed into the gang leader’s shaky consciousness. She instinctively tried to fight it, but the fingers wrapped around her neck choked any modicum of resistance out of her. Even if she had Ranked Up into a werekin, the woman could do little but crumble under the combined physical and mental pressure, putting what was left of her firmly under the monster’s control. Boxxy then questioned her about her setup here, more specifically where she kept certain illicit goods. The stuff in question was quite the popular commodity within the criminal underworld, to the point where every thug had heard of if it and most had at least dabbled in its trade. There was no way a smuggling ring of this caliber wouldn’t have some on hand.
And sure enough, the ringleader confirmed that she was indeed in possession of the items Boxxy had been seeking, an entire crate’s full at that. This was exceptionally good news, as it meant the shapeshifter wouldn’t have to waste time searching for another gang hideout to raid. It wouldn’t have needed to get its hands dirty at all if it had a bit more foresight, but it had forgotten to stock up on the stuff before leaving Velos and had run out in the middle of the long voyage. The shapeshifter had plenty of it stashed in its main lair, of course, but the nearest access point to its dungeon network was at least two days’ worth of travel away. It couldn’t afford to make that sort of trip right now, which was why it sought out a more local source. It thanked the werekin by snapping her neck and eating her face off, then went off to fetch its prize.
After completing its primary objective, Boxxy scoured the hideout for anything else of value while simultaneously scrubbing it clean of any corpses or blood. A few gang members that had been out and about returned while it was doing that and were summarily added to the body count, but it was business as usual other than that. The once-mimic briefly considered using Cadaver Absorption on the corpses since there were quite a few good samples among them, but it decided against it. Its body was already at its current limits as far as Attributes were concerned, any more and it would start suffering symptoms of power creep again. And since it didn’t want to repeat that thoroughly unpleasant Attribute-sapping ritual, it chose to stick to more menial - not to mention tastier - ways of cleaning up the evidence.
That said, it did go back and stuff that Ranked Up Ranger’s corpse in a plus-sized ice-box for later, just in case.
Once all traces of its presence were erased, the shapeshifter collapsed the tunnels for good measure before returning triumphantly to the surface. It donned its primary Facade and started looking for the hotel that Rowana had checked the two of them into. It quickly realized it would probably have been a good idea to set up some kind of meeting point before suddenly running off earlier. Then again, there were only three inns in the vicinity of Ambershore’s docks, so it managed to find the right place without too much difficulty.
“Honey, I’m back!” Keira declared as she barged into the room.
“Eeek!” the elf jumped in her desk seat. “Oh, sweet Nyrie you startled me! Look what you made me do!”
She held up a letter to her parents she was in the middle of writing before the sudden intrusion made her spill ink all over it.
“S-sorry, I guess I got a bit over enthusiastic,” the beastkin apologized.
“Honestly… well, at least I hope this means you’re feeling better.”
The catgirl nodded and smiled in such a sweet manner that it almost gave Rowana a toothache.
“Yup! Told you I just needed to have a good run!”
“Heh. And to think you used to complain so much about having to do laps.”
The platinum-blonde elf felt relief wash over her, blissfully unaware that the reason for her girlfriend’s giddy mood was most definitely not a runner’s high.