The construction work for the new Slyth family home was trudging along on schedule. The site was prepped and the foundations were already being laid, despite it being only a week or so since the project started. Of course, that wasn’t all that surprising considering there were Druids capable of moving entire fields’ worth of dirt with but a wave of their hand. There were no such people here, though. The only people working this site were a small army of Architects, Laborers and Carpenters.
Well, them and one generously proportioned house mimic. Having heard that Homer belonged to none other than the Keira Morgana made the workers approach it with wonder and excitement rather than the suspicion and wariness one would expect. The Hero of Chaos’s popularity had only gone up when her part in the Collapse investigation was made public. The government was once again using her as propaganda, completely omitting the fact that the Sandman and his minions had allegedly done most of the work.
Not that Homer understood any of this, of course. The sentient shack had always been a massive coward despite its size, and being left ownerless and abandoned for over four centuries had not helped its disposition. It would have never even attempted to get close to civilization if not for Boxxy outright telling it to. Homer had some apprehensions at first, especially given the nasty bump Fizzy had given it, but it ultimately decided to obey the wishes of its new owner.
The same owner that was currently visiting the gargantuan house mimic’s new stomping grounds.
“Oh, Miss Morgana!” the forewoman in charge called out to her. “Fancy meetin’ you here.”
This one was a dwarven Architect from Azurvale’s Stone District, and the one responsible for designing the mansion commissioned by Elias Slyth. Which wasn’t to say she didn’t get her hands dirty. Her brown-and-gray overalls, work shirt, gloves and safety goggles all made it clear she was here to do work, not just scribble plans on a paper. Her long ginger hair was tied in a braided bun so as to avoid getting in her way, and the freckles covering her face gave her a very homely ‘village girl’ vibe.
“Good afternoon, Mrs Kindbraid,” Keira returned the greeting. “I’m just dropping by to see how Homer is doing.”
“The big lug’s doin’ fine, far as I can tell. Tried to make himself useful by helpin’ out, but honestly? He’s become somethin’ of a disturbance.”
“Want me to scold him for you?”
“Nah,” the dwarf waved her hand, “you got it all wrong. It isn’t even his fault, it’s the dumbasses I gotta supervise that are the problem. They keep feeding it construction materials and messing around with it on the job.”
It was why the project was moving along on budget and according to schedule even though Homer helped with some of the heavy lifting.
“Wait, what do you mean by feeding it?” Keira cocked an eyebrow. “As far as I could tell, it doesn’t actually ‘eat’ things.”
“Yeah? Then how do you explain that?”
Kindbraid jerked her head to the side, in the vague direction of the corner Homer was in. What used to be a cozy run-down two-story cottage now looked more like a villa. It still had two floors, but had gone up noticeably in volume. It had also ‘Leveled Up’ aesthetically, with decorated beams and walls, fancy windows, fresh paint and spacious balconies. In simpler, Boxxy-er terms, Homer’s shininess had gone up dramatically in the few days since the shapeshifter had last visited.
Still, while this development was pleasantly surprising, the house mimic’s wellbeing was hardly why Boxxy was here. It had merely dropped by to ask whether any more of Tol-Saroth’s living furniture had shown up, which didn’t seem to be the case according to Kindbraid. Disappointed at having wasted its time coming here, the shapeshifter spent some more time making small talk before heading back to Keira’s house.
Looking out for house mimics lured in by Homer’s presence would normally have been Drea’s job, but Boxxy had judged that tailing and keeping an eye on Rowana was more important. Its primary XP factory liked to go on walks with some of the mimics, which the deceitful creature imagined would attract the wrong kind of attention. The stalky, kidnappy, headache-inducing kind of attention.
Boxxy acknowledged the fact that it was perhaps being unnecessarily cautious when it gave that order, but as it was about to find out, its paranoia had been somewhat justified.
“Master, I’ve caught… something,” Drea notified it.
“What ‘something?’ Give me details.”
“A flying book with eyes and teeth. It was following Rowana around while she was checking out some books from a library.”
“Is it a house mimic?”
“I don’t think so, it’s far too vicious.”
The way her captive snarled and thrashed about as it failed to escape her webbing made it obvious this creature was nowhere near as docile as the average house mimic.
“Should I kill it?” the webstalker asked.
“Not yet. Bring it to the dungeon so I can interrogate it.”
“Which one, Master? The graveyard or the tree?”
Upon entering the Dryad’s Domain several minutes later, Boxxy was able to see this ‘peeping tome’ for itself. It appeared to be an old, thick, leather-bound book bearing the title Beginner’s Primer to Maggots. As one might expect from a mimic, it was completely indistinguishable from the genuine article by sight alone. However, the way it had been glued to the dungeon wall with a wad of stalker webbing made it clear this was no ordinary book. Well, that and the fact that Boxxy’s Eyes of the Dead God revealed it was a creature named Booker with 183 HP.
The shapeshifter was just about to reach out and grab the thing when a large, yellow eye with a vertical slit opened up on its front cover.
“Weeeeell now,” a deep, drawn out voice emanated from it. “If it isn’t the biiiig baaaad Saaaaandman.”
“… You know who I am?”
Boxxy wasn’t currently wearing that particular disguise. Or any other, for that matter. It had opted to show itself in its natural hylt creeper form. Therefore, being instantly identified by its alter ego had been somewhat surprising.
“How could I noooooot?” the vexed volume groaned. “You and that stuuuupid caaaaat have been a pain in my spine ever since you moooved into tooooown.”
“What stupid cat? You mean Keira Morgana?”
“Why would a book have issue with a beastkin adventurer?”
“I just want to live a quieeeet liiife, and having a crisis magnet like a Hero of Chaos around is nothing but baaad neeeeeews.”
“Uh-huh. And what idiotic complaints do you have about me?”
“Just looook at me,” it wriggled fruitlessly against the webs. “I kneeeeew this sort of thing would happen if our paaaaaaths crooooossed.”
“But how did you even recognize me? I’m not exactly in uniform, so to speak.”
“I didn’t. I just made an eeeeducated gueeeeess.”
And Boxxy had given itself away with its response. It was a classic trick, but it was nothing of consequence. After all, the shapeshifter wouldn’t have brought Booker here if it planned on letting the babbling book go in the first place. Especially since it was fairly obvious that this thing wasn’t just another house mimic.
“So who are you, really?”
“Wouldn’t you liiiiike to knoooooow?”
“Mhm. That’s definitely the sort of arrogant response I’d expect from a beholder. And given your drawn out manner of speaking, you’re most likely a chronicler. Which, in turn, suggests that you are none other than Tol-Saroth’s former familiar, who’s currently inhabiting the body of one of his house mimics.”
A somewhat bold leap of logic, but anything seemed possible to Boxxy considering what and who it found beneath that graveyard.
“… I have noooo ideeeea what you’re taaaaaalking abooooout.”
Though it would seem the demon-possessed tome wasn’t going to fall for its own trick and unwittingly confirm the other side’s accusation.
“Maybe not, but I know someone who does.”
Boxxy then mentally called for Xera, who was busy tending to an alraune seedling. Though a lot had happened since then, the shapeshifter had not forgotten the deal it had struck with the dryad Alderis - a flower-girl for the traitorous treant called Yule. That sorry sack of timber had been Reggie’s accomplice in the causing of the Collapse, and a loose end that Boxxy wanted to silence for good. It honestly wasn’t getting much out of that exchange since the old ‘ganger capo had disappeared without a trace, but earning the favor of another dryad was hardly a bad thing.
Besides, Snack was the one doing the actual ‘gardening’ involved, and Boxxy had no qualms about wasting months of her time on such a low-priority task. Right now, however, it needed the former succubus at its side, and the perverted demoness was more than happy to respond. She appeared next to the shapeshifter and in front of the sentient book with a barely audible pop. She then wasted no time in practically wrapping herself around the hylt creeper.
“Is it time for you to gouge out my pussy yet, Master?” she asked hopefully.
Boxxy grabbed her by the neck and casually choke-slammed her into the ground, much to the djinn’s delight.
“I’d like you to meet my new friend here,” it directed her attention to the webbed up book with the giant eyeball.
“… Who’s this worthless piece of shit supposed to be?” she asked with a pout.
“That’s myyyy liiiine,” it groaned back at her.
“Wait, I know that stupid voice!” she exclaimed, rising to her feet. “Aren’t you that old faggot’s personal bitch? Y’know, the one he had cleaning up all his messess and was routinely used as a punching bag? What was your worthless name again? Thorn-shit or something?”
“Fooor the laaast tiiime, it’s Torzessirth!”
Xera smirked knowingly and shifted her appearance to the succubus that she used to be four hundred years ago.
“… Craaaaap,” it grumbled.
“Good work, Snack,” Boxxy commended her.
“Any time, Master. May I have my reward now?”
“Later, go attend to your duties.”
“I shall await with bated breath, then.”
The djinn bowed, both to show respect and make her bountiful bosom bounce, then disappeared with another abrupt popping sound.
“So,” the shapeshifter turned its attention back to the book-bound beholder. “Let’s talk.”
It placed a hand over the webbed up tome and channeled its Enslave Demon Skill into it. Unlike Frealla, this one lacked the mountains of MNT that came with a conjured familiar’s body, and was thus far more susceptible to mental manipulation. Its current body was so pathetic that Boxxy was able to both easily and repeatedly dominate Torzessirth and make him spill Tol-Saroth’s secrets until it got the one it was after.
Namely, the cipher for Tol-Saroth’s old notes. Though, as it turned out, they weren’t written in code, not really. Apparently the book’s former master had used a form of shorthand that was so convoluted that it might as well have been a foreign language. It was no wonder why Jen had made zero progress in decoding those ancient texts - there was simply no code to crack. Thankfully Torzessirth had often been made to take dictation in that same style, and as such still remembered all the rules and quirks of Tol-Saroth’s particular form of writing.
The bound demon naturally tried to struggle within the confines of Boxxy’s orders just to waste its time, taking every possible opportunity to digress or go on a tangent. However, after around half an hour of spiteful resistance, Torzessirth suddenly became far more cooperative. His answers to the shapeshifter’s questions became short, succinct and to the point rather than the painfully long diatribes he had resorted to until then. Boxxy wasn’t going to complain about being able to get this interrogation over with much faster, but this behavior struck it as rather odd. After all, a beholder was a creature of pride first and foremost. It wouldn’t make sense for one of them to simply yield their secrets like this.
So, once it was certain it had gotten all the rules and details regarding Tol-Saroth’s shorthand out of him, Boxxy decided to ask Torzessirth directly.
“Why did you suddenly become so cooperative?”
“Because I fiiiinally figured out why you feeeelt so infuriatingly faaaamiliaaaar,” was the droning reply.
The book-bound beholder was still under the influence of the shapeshifter’s Enslave Demon, so it couldn’t speak untruths even if it wanted to. Which, for once, it genuinely didn’t seem to want to.
“What, because I’m Tol-Saroth’s reincarnation?” the shapeshifter asked half-jokingly.
“Do not insuuuult my intelligence. As if such a thing were poooossible.”
“Oh? And why would you think that?”
“Because Toool-Saroooth’s soul was taken ooooout of the reincarnation cycle. Did you even reeeead your summoning contract?”
Yes, it most certainly had. Granted, it lacked the mental capacity to do so back when it first contracted Snack, but it had meticulously studied the soul-binding contract dozens of times since then. There were indeed a few clauses that would imply the Warlock’s soul would not be reincarnated in the event of their death. The most obvious one was the punishment for allowing a familiar’s immortal soul to be permanently destroyed, but that clearly didn’t apply to Tol-Saroth considering all three of his familiars were alive and well. Granted, one of them had spent four centuries in a constant state of drowning, but her soul and sanity were quite intact.
The other provisions that had a similar consequence all seemed similarly unlikely, though there was one that was… less unlikely than the others.
“Are you talking about clause 23-4?”
Namely the part of the contract that stated ‘Should the mortal Warlock acquire the means through which to affect the immaterium and/or the Aether, their soul will become the rightful property of Overlord Liusolra upon their death.’
“Thaaaat’s the ooooone,” the book confirmed.
“How did he qualify for that, though?”
“He leaaarned the Laaanguage of Creaaaation.”
“… You mean those weird runes used in demonic rituals?”
“Oh? I guess you’re not as duuumb as you loook.”
Boxxy was of two minds about this revelation. On one hand, it was relieved to learn that it was its own chest, and its actions weren’t being dictated by some four hundred year old dead guy’s impulses. The various similarities between itself and Tol-Saroth had been nothing but pure coincidences. Which, in a manner of speaking, was only to be expected of the Hero of Chaos. On the other hand, if what Torzessirth had claimed was true - and the demon certainly believed it to be so - then Boxxy’s own soul was also destined to become Liusolra’s property, whatever that entailed.
Then again, all that really meant was that the shapeshifter wouldn’t be reincarnated after it died, which it couldn’t care less about.
“Is this ‘Language of Creation’ really that big a deal?” it continued its questioning.
“Of coooourse. How eeelse did you think that haaack was able to make those stuuupid fuuucking miiiimics?”
It would appear this particular demon had something of a hatred for Tol-Saroth’s living furniture, and likely had many valid reasons to do so. It would also explain why he took enough of an interest in Rowana’s visit to that library to get himself caught. It wasn’t the elf, but the house mimics she had with her that incited this entire thing. Yet as enlightening as this chat had been, there was still one matter that Boxxy was unclear on.
“So, if I’m not Tol-Saroth’s reincarnation, then why would I feel ‘familiar’ to you?”
“It’s becaaause of the diviiiine spaaark you carry, Mister Heeeeero of Chaos.”
“Yeah, right. Since when can demons sense divine sparks?”
“We caaan’t, but this hoooouse mimic body caaaaaan,” he declared smugly.
Boxxy felt something click in its head when it heard that, almost like a stopped watch that had just resumed ticking along happily after having a faulty gear replaced.
“Tol-Saroth was a Hero!”
Somehow, that seemingly obvious thought had never crossed its mind until now.
“Yeeees,” the book confirmed. “Heeeero of Maaagic, to be precise.”
History may have forgotten that significant bit of trivia about the elven sage, but Boxxy did not question it for a second. It just made sense. After all, if the shapeshifter wasn’t Tol-Saroth’s reincarnation, then why would those harmless critters be so trusting of a monster with the blood of thousands on its hands? For the same reason why Tick Tockleton had warmed up so quickly to Kaede. House mimics were simple creatures guided by powerful instincts. And if one of those instincts was to be drawn to the normally imperceptible holy presence that all Heroes carried, otherwise known as their ‘divine spark,’ then it was no wonder why even intelligent ones like Snek or Manny were so accepting of Boxxy.
However, Torzessirth was another story. Even he was currently inhabiting the frail form of a book mimic, he was still an immortal, amoral, secret-hoarding demon on the inside. A demon that had just learned what was undoubtedly the biggest secret in the Republic. It had deduced that Keira Morgana, the Hero of Chaos beloved by all, had been a shapeshifting monster this entire time. It was without question the con of the century, and Torzessirth felt awfully full of himself for having caught wind of it, hence his newfound talkativeness. He probably felt his brilliant deduction gave him some sort of leverage over the creature.
And the only reason the beholder believed that was because he had yet to realize that literally the entirety of the Beyond was in on the big secret.
“Your assistance is most appreciated,” Boxxy said coldly. “I’ll make sure to come back if I need anything else.”
“What is thaaaat supposed to meeeean?”
The webstalker leapt down from the ceiling the instant she was called, landing softly between it and the book.
“Yes, tktktktkt, Master?”
“Show our ‘guest’ here to the box where he will be spending the rest of eternity.”
“Waaaaait! Wait, wait, wait!” the demonic lexicon pleaded. “Let’s not be haaasty! Sureeely we can taaalk about thiiis!”
Unlike Frealla, this particular demon had spent the last four centuries living life to the fullest. This form, though pathetically weak, was far less conspicuous than his original body. It had allowed him to flutter from library to library without notice, giving him easy access to all the books he could ever read and the ability to hoard mountains of knowledge. He could also listen in on private conversations and peek at studious individuals’ notes and theorems. It was the ideal vessel for a demon whose sole desire was to be ultimate know-it-all, but it couldn’t achieve that if it was locked up in some dark hole.
Unfortunately for Torzessirth, he was barking up the wrong doppelganger.
“There’s nothing to talk about. I am now your owner, and you are now my property. Which means you’re going to stay put until I deem you’re needed, regardless of whether you like it.”
“You son of a biiiiiii-!”
Boxxy didn’t even wait for him to say that as it transported itself away with Nexus Access. Strictly speaking, that entire exchange at the end was rather pointless. The possessed pile of paper was doomed to be its possession from the moment it caught Drea’s attention. It’s only real way out of spending who-knows-how-many years as Boxxy’s plaything was to somehow attempt and succeed at suicide. However, that would be admitting defeat, and if there was one thing beholders hated more than anything else, it was to lose. Especially to a mortal.
As for Boxxy’s little ‘you’re mine now, deal with it’ act, that was done entirely for its own entertainment.