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A note from Exterminatus
Secretary Keira Pinup, by dmaxcustom

“Well, that could’ve gone better,” Robin grumbled.

“That’s one way of putting it,” Keira agreed. “Still not sure why you had your heart set on spiders, of all things.”

“Not sure, really.”

The youngest nephilim had attempted to tame her first wild monster. Sure, she had practiced her new Job quite a bit under the supervision of her tutor, the veteran knight called Yoshin, but only on pathetically weak creatures or ones bred in captivity. Trying out what she’d learned in the real world was why she and Keira had taken a moment to venture into some random monster-infested woods this fine morning. They had no trouble locating potential pets, but the nephilim had, for some reason, insisted on getting a giant arachnid as her pet the instant she learned it was an option.

“Something about them having all those limbs seemed really cool,” Robin explained. “I wasn’t expecting all the other gunk, though.”

The result of that taming attempt was that the two of them were now covered in various types of spider goo and sticky webbing as they made their way back to camp. Giant spiders turned out to be surprisingly hostile to people walking into their nests and slaughtering the colony in an attempt to steal and enslave one of their own. By the time Robin and Keira had cleared out all the hostile arachnids, they realized there were none left for the muscular blonde to attempt to dominate.

“We can try again after breakfast, if you want,” the catgirl offered.

“No, I’m good. I think I’ve seen enough spider guts for one day. Besides, I don’t want to waste any more of your time.”

“It’s fine. It’s not like it took that long.”

All things considered, the two of them would return to the camp by the road less than half an hour after leaving it. One of the upsides of spending the night in this monster-infested wilderness was that potential prey was not difficult to find, especially with a skilled Ranger like Keira around. On the other hand, it also increased the chances of getting attacked in one’s sleep, but the girls had Fizzy and her alternate selves on hand to keep watch throughout the night. Also Xera and Drea, of course, though they were instructed to keep out of sight as much as possible.

When Keira and Robin returned to the camp, they found Sarah, Lydia and Madeline were just about done preparing breakfast. The purple-haired foxgirl was dousing the flames in the firepit while the nephilim were divvying up the freshly grilled mushrooms and sausages into portions. They weren’t the only ones keeping busy, though. Fizzy, Plus and Minus were folding up one of the three large, white tents as they prepared to load it into the horse-drawn carriage closer to the road. Null’s mithril shell was also there, though the Parallel herself was far too busy designing a tent-packing apparatus to give the others a hand.

Yet she was still arguably useful in her own way, which was more than could be said about Mimi. The flaming lesbian seemed more interested in ogling the mithril golems than actually doing her part. Keira reprimanded her for that lazy attitude with a firm bonk on the head and a few biting words, after which everyone sat down to eat. A hearty meal and some hustle later, the seven of them piled into and onto the carriage, then continued on their way.

Their destination was the home of one Paulman Redbolt, Mimi’s Flamespitter Artificer teacher. The old gnome resided in a rather large private laboratory in the middle of nowhere, and would take several days by carriage to reach, even with the help of the Republic’s Forest Gates. Thankfully Boxxy was able to convince its XP factory to stay back in Azurvale, mostly because it didn’t want to deal with her right now.

Well, that and Rowana had to be there both to supervise the repairs to the house and to meet her older brother when he finally returned from Velos. The mother had already sent word of her husband’s death and called him back, but it was unclear when he would actually get there. The two women of the Slyth household were nevertheless unhappy with Keira running off so suddenly, but both of them had grown used to it by now.

This left the shapeshifter free of that particular distraction, at least for the moment. The nephilim were still a pain in the lid as always, but if all went according to its plans it would be able to pawn them off to someone else soon enough. Right now it was focusing all of its attention on the upcoming meeting with Redbolt. Judging from what Mimi had said, the master tinkerer only accepted new disciples if they passed an extremely challenging proficiency test.

The blonde foxgirl had managed to ace hers by throwing together the prototype of her custom-made flame-thrower, which she called a ‘thermite shotgun.’ It was a pump-loaded firearm that used special ammo to launch highly flammable substances at her targets. Apparently her Pyromancer side-Job somehow played a part in both its construction and operation. This led Boxxy to believe that the trial involved combining Artificer Skills with abilities and techniques from other Jobs, and it had spent every waking moment thinking up creative ways to do just that.

Right up until Keira and her companions arrived at Redbolt’s laboratory. Or rather, it would be more accurate to call it an estate. The property was built atop an otherwise completely bare hill and was large enough to be called a tiny village, with plenty of buildings to match. There were three greenhouses, a barn, a wizard’s tower, servant housing and a three-story mansion, with plenty of garden space between them. The most notable structure, however, was a massive steel dome with a number of belching smoke stacks poking out of it.

However, nobody showed up to greet the visitors even as Keira’s carriage slowly passed through the open gates. She had sent a missive shortly before leaving Azurvale to inform the estate of her impending visit, so the absence of a welcoming party of any kind was a bit disconcerting. As the catgirl steered the vehicle down the stone path, she couldn’t help but notice that the buildings were all in terrible disrepair. They were essentially ruins if one had to be completely honest. The only sign of life in this place was the thick black smoke rising from the dome at the far end of the estate.

“Mimi! You sure this is the right place?!”

The redhead shouted at her back, prompting the blonde foxgirl to poke her head out of the carriage’s window.

“Oh yeah, this is definitely it,” she declared. “Don’t mind those old houses, Paulie just hasn’t bothered to knock them down ever since he moved in. Just ignore them and head for the dome.”

“Alright.”

It was what Keira was intending to do anyway, she just had the horses pick up the pace a little. As the carriage rolled past the aforementioned structures, it soon became clear why the local landlord hadn’t torn them down. The large holes in the walls and ceilings as well as the scattered and charred debris all over the place suggested they were being used as either target practice, testing grounds, or a bit of both.

The hemisphere of steel, on the other hand, was more akin to a weirdly shaped fortress. Not only was it huge and doubtlessly sturdy, but it also had plenty of openings along its surface, either for windows, balconies, or armed platforms. The hex-patterned outer plating glistened with a reddish sheen in the morning sunlight, suggesting it was not mere steel. Dozens of mechanized guns popped out of hidden panels when the carriage drew closer and pointed at it with a series of concerning clicks.

“Hey, Paulie!” Mimi yelled. “Stop being an old coot and let me in!”

The foxgirl was waving at the turrets while leaning out of the carriage’s window. She nearly fell out of it, but Sarah’s armored hand caught her by the shoulder and pulled her back in. Her ‘greeting’ seemed to have been enough as the weapons concealed themselves once more. A set of double doors slid open with a groan, inviting the carriage and its passengers inside. After some more reassurance from Mimi, Keira drove the vehicle into the opening, the dome’s outer shell sealing itself shut behind it.

Its interior was not quite what any of the visitors were expecting, though. The place was mostly hollow, giving the impression of a massive cavern rather than a gnome-made structure. Hundreds of small lights of either a magical or electric nature lined the walls and ceiling, illuminating everything within like a flock of miniature white suns. The densely-packed houses beneath them were all hewn from stone rather than thrown together out of metal or wood and there were dozens of gnomes milling about. It almost seemed like an entirely different world from the abandoned estate just outside it. There were even trees, shrubs and grass covering the ground, especially around the fenced-off entrance area that Keira stopped the carriage in.

A trio of fiend-sized metal golems approached the vehicle with heavy steps just as its passengers departed it. Fizzy couldn’t help but scoff at the pitiful things when she noticed them. These constructs were flat-footed, thick-necked, wide-chested and long-armed brutes that looked like they’d be unable to stand up with their own power if knocked over. They were clearly not wild ones though, as evidenced by the bright crimson tabards covering their bodies, each stamped with a golden shield-shaped crest. The golems’ approach still startled the horses, prompting Robin to try and calm them down.

“Hey, Paulie! Long time no see!”

Mimi’s voice pulled the visiting party’s gazes away from the brutish constructs’ faces and chests and down to their feet. There they saw a rather eccentric-looking gnome barely more than a meter tall. They couldn’t see the brown eyes underneath his goggles, but nevertheless got the impression he was giving each of them a mean look. The man was clearly of advanced age, with plenty of wrinkles around his eyes and on his forehead. His hairline had both receded and gone white with age, leaving the front half of his bumpy cranium bald. What was left of it seemed to be standing on edge, almost as if it was exploding outward from the back of his skull.

It was a fitting look, considering his occupation.

“Hmpf! You’re lucky my sentries didn’t incinerate you on the spot,” he grumbled while stroking his thick moustache. “What’s the idea, dropping in unannounced like that? And with strangers, to boot!”

“Unannounced?” the foxgirl raised an eyebrow, turning to Keira. “Didn’t you send a message?”

“Yeah, I sent one just like you said,” she responded. “I even paid for priority airmail just to make sure it got here ahead of us.”

“Ah, fuck,” Mimi lowered her face into her hands. “Sorry, I should’ve mentioned this place has some… overzealous anti-air measures.”

“Overzealous!?” the old gnome protested. “I’ll have you know, the flying beasties that live around here are no joke!”

He was likely referring to the rocs that nested in the surrounding region. A few of those massive bird monsters had attempted to assault Keira’s carriage, but her bow, Mimi’s shotgun and Fizzy’s arm-cannon made short work of them. Even Madeline had gotten in on the action by using her voice and violin to hurl ice shards with her Arcane Song, resulting in her rapidly gaining several Wizard Levels. However, now that the group thought about it, they realized something.

“Is… is that why there’ve been no rocs in sight for the last several kilometers?” Lydia warily asked.

“Damn, right! Those filthy things used to shit all over my wonderful Blast Dome like they had a grudge against it!” Redbolt angrily shook his fist. “My cannons showed them, though! It took several years for them to get the message, but they don’t dare come near my home anymore! I still have my golem sentries take potshots at them whenever they veer into range, just to remind them to keep their bird-poop off my property!”

The problem was that, as Mimi would later explain, said ‘potshots’ were directed at every airborne target, including people and monsters trying to deliver letters and packages via air. Rocs could easily be evaded since their flying speed was relatively low, but exploding flak shells were another story entirely. Most Horkensaft-based courier services knew about this and avoided this airspace, but the one that Keira hired in Azurvale did not. At least not when they accepted the job, but they were well aware of the danger once their dispatched courier failed to complete the delivery for fear of being injured or killed.

Which was why the Hero of Chaos would find both her introductory letter and a strongly-worded message from the Winged Parcel Service waiting for her when she returned home.

“Well, anyway, this is Keira Morgana and she’s looking to become a Flamespitter Artificer,” Mimi explained. “I personally think she’d be great at it, so I agreed to bring her here.”

The gnome peered at the redheaded catgirl while stroking his moustache.

“Hmm, we’ll see about that,” he said inquisitively. “What about the others?”

“Oh, the three blonde cuties are just out on a field trip. Sarah over there’s my new bodyguard, and Fizzy is Keira’s basic Artificer Mentor.”

The old gnome stopped fiddling with his facial hair and walked up to the mithril golem with a look of wonder on his face.

“Fascinating! So you are real!”

“I would certainly hope so,” the radiant construct responded.

“How extraordinary!” he ignored her comment. “So you’re Rory Fizzlesprocket’s little girl, eh?”

“You knew my father?”

“Not personally, although I did follow his work. Heard what happened to him down south, terrible shame that. Even if he was exiled due to ideological differences, it’s impossible to deny that he was a brilliant inventor. Good to see he managed to pass that on before kicking the bucket.”

The meatbag that Fizzy used to be might have felt insulted at Redbolt’s crass attitude regarding her father’s death, but the golem that she had become felt nothing but a cold indifference.

“If you say so,” she shrugged. “However, I’m not here because of him. I’m here for my student.”

“Ah, yes, of course,” the gnome turned towards the redhead in question. “It is a bit regrettable, though.”

“What is?” Keira butted in.

“Your lineage,” he bluntly stated. “I personally don’t have an issue with it, but my peers would. I nearly got kicked out of the Tinkerer’s Union when they found out I took in a half-breed, but you don’t seem to have a single drop of gnomish blood in you. They’d have my head for sure. I’m sorry you came all this way for nothing, but my career is too important to jeopardize by training you.”

Boxxy somewhat expected this response. Gnomish and dwarven culture was a deeply conservative one that placed a lot of importance on an individual’s ancestry. In Mimi’s case, she had been allowed to pursue the Job she wanted because of her father, Richard Flickerbutton. Her lighter skin tone, shorter than average height and cuttingly sharp wit were all traits she attributed to him. More importantly, the fact that she inherited his name opened a lot of doors in Horkensaft, even if her old man was more or less a nobody.

Keira didn’t have any such credentials, nor did Boxxy claim she did, but the catgirl persona did possess one thing that would likely change his mind.

“Would it help if I said I was the Hero of Chaos?”

The redhead was quite famous within Azurvale and infamous among adventurers at large, but neither of those applied to this remote compound within the Horkensaft Kingdom. It was therefore reasonable to assume that Redbolt had no idea she was one of the gods’ chosen. Which, judging from his reaction, was indeed the case.

“Oh-hoh!” the gnome adjusted his goggles. “You had my attention, but now you have my curiosity! Come, we can talk further inside.”

He had some attendants take care of the horses and carriage and led his guests into one of the buildings for refreshments. Unfortunately the buildings were all dwarf-sized at best, so everyone except Fizzy had to constantly mind their heads. Even Mimi at a hundred and fifty centimeters nearly smacked into a doorframe. It wasn’t a problem once they were all seated, but it would certainly be a pain to live in this place. Especially for the nephilim since they had to be mindful of their horns.

After getting a Scribe to verify Keira’s Status, she and Redbolt got down to the nitty-gritty details while the others were treated to a tour of the compound. Long story short, the gnome was willing to overlook the redhead’s lineage for the privilege of training the world’s first Flamespitter Artificer Hero. That particular branch of the Job was not as reputable as Arclight or Automata since it had a significantly higher focus on destruction than creation. Which, coupled with how controversial of a figure the Original Artificer had been revealed to be over the past few years, made the populace more skeptical of the profession as a whole.

However, there had never been any Hero with a specialized Artificer Job, let alone a Flamespitter. If Keira publicly went down this path, then it would go a long way towards mending the people’s faith in the occupation and its products. And if Redbolt were the one to make it happen, then his colleagues would have no choice but to applaud him even if the catgirl was a complete outsider. Which was precisely what Boxxy had been counting on.

Now that the political aspects of the Job advancement had been settled, Redbolt moved onto the practical requirements of it. Yes, Keira’s Hero title compensated for her unfavorable lineage, but she still had to prove she possessed the sort of technical expertise and ingenuity that Redbolt looked for in a student. The fact that her Job was Level 50 at such a young age was promising, but the gnome insisted that he needed to witness her alleged brilliance for himself. Something Keira could accomplish by undergoing the same interview that Mimi had gone through, the terms of which were rather simple.

Keira would be given a theme, free reign of a stocked workshop, and forty eight hours. She had to use those resources to create a device that would showcase what she was capable of beyond the confines of her Artificer Job. She could use whatever Skills or Spells she wanted, but the only tools and materials available to her were the ones provided. There would also always be someone monitoring her at all times. Redbolt then mentioned a bunch of legal stuff regarding patents and intellectual property, but that was of little concern to Boxxy.

After agreeing to all the terms and conditions and signing some formal documents, Keira was brought to the workshop where her two-day-trial would be held. It was an isolated environment similar to the testing chamber that Fizzy had back in her warehouse. The high walls were reinforced with blast-absorbing materials and a series of armored glass panes allowed for observation. The chamber was supplied with ample tools, equipment and ingredients to facilitate most enchanting, smithing and alchemical tasks in addition to mechanical engineering.

Keira entered the chamber at around noon the same day, ready to begin her trial. She had foregone her usual attire in favor of protective equipment that consisted of a white coat, welder’s mask, safety goggles, and a set of leather gloves and boots. The girls she had come with were lining the windows as spectators, as were Redbolt and several of his students, colleagues and servants. Word had instantly spread that a Hero was auditioning to become a Flamespitter Artificer, so the peanut gallery had been quick to gather.

“Testing, testing,” the old gnome’s voice echoed through the room. “Ah, wave if you can hear me in there.”

The blast-proofing on the walls also made it impossible for sound to pass through, which meant that communication had to be done through gestures and voice pipes.

“Excellent,” Redbolt remarked upon seeing the redhead’s confirmation. “You already know the details, so let’s not waste any more time. The theme for your trial is ‘delivery,’ and your time starts… now!”

Keira immediately flew into action, by reaching for a pencil, a ruler, and some graph paper, much to the nephilim triplets’ surprise. Lines, numbers and curves were drawn in rapid succession as Boxxy laid out the schematic that would serve as a basis for its creation. It wasn’t as if it couldn’t work off of a purely mental blueprint, but this was an official examination, so proper procedure had to be followed. Its first draft was done in a matter of minutes, after which it started taking parts and components from the surrounding shelves and laying them down on top of the workbench.

“Hmmm, I guess she really is a student of yours,” Redbolt commented towards Fizzy.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” the golem responded.

“She reached for the electrical wires first. Arclight Artificers tend to do that a lot in my experience.”

“Is that so? Never paid attention to it myself, but I suppose you have a point.”

Electricity was the lifeblood of most of Fizzy’s devices, so it was only natural that the wiring would be one of the first things she considered when starting a new project. It was a basic principle of all branches of the Artificer Job. Improper transferral of energy could easily ruin an otherwise brilliant device, regardless of whether said energy was electrical, mechanical, or kinetic in nature.

“Still, I’m surprised she’s planning on using electricity,” Fizzy added.

“Oh? Why is that?” Redbolt asked inquisitively.

“She’s had some… troubling experiences with lightning before. It’s the main reason she came to you instead of me for Job advancement.”

Well, that and Fizzy’s Arclight Artificer Job needed to be Level 75 before she could pass it on through the Mentor Skill, but the other thing was the main point.

“So she’s using technology she’s not comfortable with, eh?” the old gnome stroked his moustache thoughtfully. “I suppose we’ll see what comes of it.”

It wasn’t as if he was opposed to the idea of adapting techniques from occupations different from his own. On the contrary, he welcomed it. The Artificer Job was unique in that it wasn’t as self-contained a discipline as Blacksmith or Alchemist. Some might say it was reliant on those occupations, but Redbolt believed it to be the opposite. At its core, an Artificer’s craft was focused on assembly, not production. It was about creating something that was greater than the sum of its parts, which meant that the better said parts were, the more potential the result held.

“By the way, is something wrong with those three?”

Redbolt’s concern was directed at the nephilim triplets, whose faces were practically glued to the glass window overlooking Keira.

“Don’t mind them, this is just their first time seeing my star pupil in action,” Fizzy bragged. “I take it it’s the same for your boys by the look of them.”

Redbolt raised an eyebrow and looked to the other end of the room, only to sigh when he noticed his own people were just as enraptured with Keira’s display. While it was true that watching a consummate professional at work was a sight to behold, the redhead was by no means worthy of that much attention. However, he was looking at Keira from a purely technical standpoint as an expert in his field. Unlike his students, most of whom were single men. Seeing an attractive woman perform duties similar to theirs was a strangely invigorating experience.

“Come to think of it, where’s that scandalous fox gone off to?” the golem asked while looking around suspiciously.

“Oh, Flickerbutton? She said she was going to brush up on some research and headed for the library.”

Fizzy had the distinct impression that ‘research’ was the last thing on Mimi’s mind given that Sarah was missing too, but she had more important things to worry about. Such as overseeing Boxxy’s design. The magnification function her eyes gained from the Tactical Readout Skill allowed her to spy on the schematic it was working on and pick out the flaws in its design. She relayed this information to Plus, who used her remotely controlled shell to convey it to Drea, who passed it along to her master through their telepathic link.

Yes, it was essentially cheating, but Boxxy had never been one to play fair.

The audience eventually began to disperse once they had had enough of watching Keira do her thing. They had either grown bored of just looking or were practically itching to resume work on their own projects, mostly a mixture of both. Even Redbolt went off somewhere after a few hours, though he did leave one of his senior assistants as a replacement overseer. Only the golem remained in her spot, unmoving and unflinching as she did her best to stealthily assist the shapeshifter.

“Hey Fizzy,” Lydia called out to her at around nightfall. “How’s Keira doing?”

“Good,” the golem answered without looking away. “She’s finished her inner shell and is currently mixing the payload.”

The nephilim looked through the window to see the redhead was focusing intently on a boiling alchemical mixture that gave off a weirdly colored smoke.

“Those fumes aren’t toxic, I hope,” the blonde expressed concern.

“What makes you say that?”

“Miss Slyth mentioned that dark purple was generally a bad color when it comes to alchemical products.”

“They’re probably toxic now that I think about it.”

“Huh?”

“It would certainly explain why she wasted time mixing up that vial of all-purpose antidote.”

Fizzy was neither an Alchemist nor a breather, so the notion hadn’t even crossed her mind.

“Ah. Well. I suppose Keira knows what she’s doing,” Lydia reassured herself. “What is she doing, by the way?”

“She’s making a self-propelled explosive device by the look of things.”

“What, like a bomb that can move on its own?”

“Exactly.”

“Why that, of all things?”

“The theme for her test was ‘delivery,’ remember?”

“Oh, I see! So that’s what that was about!”

Though the examination was mostly freeform, seeing how each person interpreted and adhered to the aforementioned theme was part of the test. Redbolt had chosen ‘delivery’ for this particular one because of the missing letter that made Keira’s arrival more difficult than it should have been. Incidentally, the one he had given Mimi during her own trial was ‘flair,’ which she somehow interpreted as ‘setting things on fire from up to fifty meters away.’

The nephilim watched Keira work for a short while before she bid Fizzy goodnight and returned to the tents her group had put up near the dome’s entrance. Even if they were a bit tight, they were still roomier than the dwarf-sized sleeping quarters that the locals offered them. Several other people dropped by, including Redbolt himself, though he had only shown up to remind Keira that the bedroll in the corner of the test chamber was there for a reason.

The shapeshifter ignored the thinly veiled recommendation that it get some sleep and kept working throughout the night under Fizzy’s watchful eye. The project it had settled on was a fairly ambitious one and would not be ready in time if it had to pretend to get a full night’s rest. However, hunger was not an issue that could be avoided that easily. Though Keira was given sizeable portions to keep her strength up, they were not nearly nutritious enough to sustain a monster of Boxxy’s caliber. And with Keira under constant supervision, it couldn’t exactly gorge itself on the preserved carcasses inside its Storage.

It wasn’t as if it would starve to death in just two days, but the hunger pains were certainly… less than tasty. The only thing it could do was grit its teeth and focus on its work, much like it had for the past few weeks. The first half of the forty-eight-hour period flew by without any significant issues, though it started feeling mentally exhausted around midnight on the second day. It had made tremendous progress over the last thirty five hours, so it decided to indulge in six hours’ worth of sleep and put the finishing touches on its project the next morning.

Except it had underestimated just how tired it had been and ended up oversleeping despite Fizzy and Drea’s best efforts to wake it up. When it finally responded to its familiar’s mental prodding, it realized it had less than five hours left to complete the project. Not impossible, but it would be cutting it pretty close. Keira’s audience swelled in the meantime, as they were all eager to see what this curious wheel-shaped device she was putting together was capable of.

That said, the more observant among them had already deduced its nature. It was a self-driving wheel that used a compact electric motor to propel itself forward. A mana-infused gyroscopic stabilizer would ensure that the outer wheel spun around the engine in the middle rather than it being the other way around. The device would also carry a high-yield explosive charge that would detonate either on impact or after it had travelled a certain distance.

However, the article Keira was currently making was, at best, a prototype or proof of concept. There were a myriad of ways that it could be improved upon, but those required time, materials and technical expertise that Keira did not have right now. For instance, both its top speed and range could be improved by replacing the electric motor for a compact combustion engine. Using better materials to lessen the weight and improve the payload was also a feasible upgrade. In terms of new functionality, it could potentially be outfitted with steering and guidance capabilities for greater control and accuracy.

Boxxy shook its head to chase away those thoughts. As much as it enjoyed coming up with inventive ways to turn its enemies into red mist, it still had an exam to pass. The good news was that it was almost done with another hour to spare. The device was completely assembled, but still had a minor glitch in the gyroscopic stabilizer that made the wheel veer to the left during its earlier test runs.

As it was soldering some wires, however, it spotted something out of the corner of its eye. Fizzy was still up on the observation deck where she had always been, but there was something different about her. She was a good deal shinier than she was yesterday. The reason for that became apparent in the next instant when Mimi walked up to the golem and used a clean rag to apply a bit of metal polish to the golem’s scalp.

Seeing that caused a surge of something dangerously close to jealous rage to well up within Boxxy. This, in turn, made Keira’s hand twitch just enough to cross two wires that were really not supposed to be crossed. The sideways-lying metal wheel sprang to life as a result. It fell off of the workbench and onto the floor before the distracted shapeshifter could react, its internal mechanisms making it stand upright as it accelerated towards the wall. Its creator totally blanked out, unable to even move as it watched the device crash and then explode into a plume of flame, smoke, and shrapnel.

Your actions have altered the flows of chaos.

Keira fell to her knees and grabbed her hair as she screamed in disbelief. She fell forward, catching herself on all fours while letting her head hang low. Anger and frustration welled up within the monster, bubbling to the surface and beyond its control. Those untasty feelings made the catgirl rise to her feet with a furious howl, followed immediately by her kicking over the closest table. The volatile alchemical compounds that were on it spilled across the ground and caught fire, dousing the area in even more dark fumes.

Realizing that its temper was getting out of control, Fizzy smashed through the window and leapt into the chamber. She dashed through the smoke cloud at the thrashing beastkin just as a fiendish horn was starting to emerge from her forehead. The golem evaded her wild swing and grabbed her by the nape of her neck. The radiant construct then focused her magnetic abilities to trigger the HERPES that lay underneath the tanned skin. The device performed its function and delivered a localized shock to the doppelganger’s spine, instantly pacifying it and cutting its rampage short before it could truly begin.

However, though her intention was to try and preserve Boxxy’s secret identity, she had forgotten a certain side-effect of subjecting a shapeshifter to its Bane. With its central nervous system going haywire, the monster was unable to stop itself from reverting to its true form. The test chamber’s fire suppression system activated in the next instant, washing away what little cover the lingering smoke cloud provided.

When the shapeshifter returned to its senses a few seconds later, it looked up at its captivated audience. It carefully gauged each of them, their eyes filled with a mixture of apprehension, confusion, and dread. It traced the contours of its mostly featureless face with its spindly fingers, confirming that the source of their distress was none other than itself. The motion seemed to snap the onlookers from their shock, making them raise a huge fuss as they scrambled for the exits.

Boxxy took a deep, tired breath as it rose to its feet. It realized just a bit too late that it had been too impatient, too eager to get the thing it wanted. It neglected its unstable mental state as it pushed itself harder and harder until it eventually snapped at the tiniest thing. The scenario it always dreaded had thus come to pass - years of deception jeopardized by a single moment of carelessness. There was one bright side to all of this, though.

“Snack, Claws,” it reached out telepathically. “Begin Clean-Up Protocol A.”

This remote and isolated Artificer compound would be relatively easy to silence as far as populated settlements went.

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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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    no168_92 @no168_92 ago

    Sorry hijack

    does the cleanup entail mass slaughter ONLY or memory wipe partially?

    and keira's wheel kind of remind me of junkcrack from overwatch...

    thanks for the chapter :)

      Vincent1875 @Vincent1875 ago

      I don't think there's any way they're going to be left alive. Too many people.

      no168_92 @no168_92 ago

      what about the triplets? boxxy could make it seems like his wheel of death exploded and destroyed/killed half of the facility or peanut gallery at the least and memory alter the other half... we can hope...

       

      well in the end, whatever exterminatus wants, goes...

      Vincent1875 @Vincent1875 ago

      It's easier altering 3 to 5 memories rather than this entire village worth.

      That story isn't realistic. There would need to be an actual explosion that destroyed half the facility and it would have to somehow kill everyone in it. Yet, Keira at ground zero survived.

      ZapDaddy @ZapDaddy ago

      instead of blaming the explosion, blame the toxic cloud... Created from the explosion in the test chamber causing all the alchemical fluids to mix and explode into a huge toxic cloud. Then explain the survival of the test subject buy Fizzy breaking into the chamber and protecting her. Then save the most important members of The Village through selective memory changes and place them at distances or in places where the cloud could not reach. Considering this is an enclosed Dome, there would have to be some sort of air circulation system. That would cause the toxic cloud to get into all the places where it normally would not be able to reach easily and would explain why there was such a massive death toll. And that's merely one way he could handle it. Besides which, if they can contain the situation fast enough... The whole village doesn't need to die. Just the lower-level functionaries that were close enough to actually see Boxxy.

      Vincent1875 @Vincent1875 ago

      The problem is that they'd have to poison them all to death which they don't really have the skills to do. Plus Fizzy would then be blamed for all the death.

      no168_92 @no168_92 ago

      the premise is the containment that is urgent is only those that saw boxxy, meaning peanut gallery only.. not the whole settlement...

      anyways, lets just wait for the next chapter...

      Vincent1875 @Vincent1875 ago

      The peanut gallery is rather large since a lot of people turned out to see the result of the test. There's also the question of if these people can be quietly killed before alerting the rest of the settlemet. Seems highly unlikely.

      Dyneamaeus @Dyneamaeus ago

      Clean up protocol A:

      Claws and Snack pop out of nowhere and decend on Boxxy. Each acts as if they're suppressing it while Boxxy spits out a Sandman clone, who "arrives" to assist. They play act for a bit and as things calm down "Sandman" announces keira was once turned into a random monster due to Chaos Hero Shennanigans. After almost being murdered in monster form, and maybe accidentally killing some folks, She sent Sandman a private request to keep an eye on her, incase anything similar occured. An hour or two later, flash of light explosions, fanfare, Keira reappears, naked for distraction value, with no idea what happened.

      Hypothetically.

      ZapDaddy @ZapDaddy ago

      something like that would work well enough, in theory...

      no168_92 @no168_92 ago

      its almost like you took a sneak peek from exterminatus book of plots.. LOL

VeryPeeved @VeryPeeved ago

ah, well, i wonder if this means no more mimi? nah, i can't be that lucky.

Moridain @Moridain ago

I am starting to think that the Goddess of Seven Sided Die really hate artificers for some reason. Keira just can't seem to visit a high tech area without accidentally causing genocide.

munch @munch ago

Huh, I was just thinking three (non-demon-touched) lesbian named characters (Rowana+these two) seemed disproportionate, especially considering how unnecessary, even egregious the nympho was, with how oversexed everything else already is. Now the two of them are minutes from death. Nice side benefit.

Lorcogoth @Lorcogoth ago

Slaughter them! Bring their corpses before me! Kill miam burn! Kill Maim Burn! KILL MAIM BURN!

Almarna @Almarna ago

yes something interesting