Boxxy was in the midst of distracting itself from its problems by indulging itself in tinkering and alchemy. Its corruption and addiction overlapped to make it not only extremely irritable, but also quite jittery. This would normally be a huge problem for any artisan, as a single slip of the hand could ruin weeks, months, or even years of effort. Boxxy was no different in that aspect. It took almost all of its focus and concentration to avoid having its limbs tremble, and even then there would be the occasional nervous twitch that royally screwed up its projects.
That was why the shapeshifter stuck to small, simple, and largely unimportant creations. At present it had effectively locked itself in Fizzy’s workshop, where it was building a mechanism of some sort inside a plain wooden chest. This steel-bound container looked eerily similar if not outright identical to the deceitful predator it was born as. Though it still took on that comfortable and familiar shape whenever it had time to relax, it hadn’t gotten much opportunity to do so ever since going all out on the orcs and undead on Velos.
As for the nature of this chesty construct, not even Boxxy knew what it was doing with it. It was mostly just going through the motions, installing cogs, circuits, pistons, wires, bolts and springs wherever they would fit. It just had to keep its hands and tentacles busy, which this elaborate waste of time was able to accomplish quite easily. Unfortunately, there was one other unpleasant sensation that needed to be taken care of - the itching of the teeth. The nectar withdrawal symptom was so persistent that it even affected a shapeshifter’s bizarre physiology that could grow or discard teeth at will.
Which was why it was currently nibbling on a Snack, much to the masochistic demoness’s enjoyment.
Xera was sitting next to her master, trying desperately to suppress her moans while it absentmindedly gnawed on her arm. Boxxy completely disregarded her sentience and free will as it scratched its itchy fangs on her meat and bones, effectively reducing the djinn to nothing more than a living chew-toy. This dispassionate and degrading attitude only fueled her perversions, of course. It was just the sort of treatment that she had grown to love and expect ever since she first came into the ex-mimic’s service. That and the fact that her bountiful flavor was aiding her beloved box in its time of need gave her a certain degree of emotional satisfaction to go along with the delicious physical sensations.
It was therefore entirely understandable why she would be struggling to keep her voice from spilling out of her throat every time Boxxy’s teeth slowly tightened on her limb.
Okay, perhaps ‘understandable’ wasn’t the right word for it, but Fizzy was nevertheless rather envious of Xera. At least that demented demon was receiving some of the shapeshifter’s attention, no matter how minor. The radiant golem, on the other hand, had to keep herself outside of Boxxy’s sight. If that incident at the Redbolt compound was any indication, having her irresistible shininess anywhere within the unstable creature’s periphery while it was otherwise occupied was a recipe for disaster. Even if the shapeshifter was focusing on small and unimportant gadgets and creations, it still got pissed whenever one of them didn’t turn out right. The metal Paladin had therefore decided to ignore the selfish impulse to have Boxxy feed her ego in favor of keeping an eye on it from the other side of the room. At least until it was done tinkering.
Which, by the look of things, had just happened. Boxxy stood abruptly, its jaws completely tearing off Xera’s arm. It then devoured its tasty Snack in a few quick bites and began cleaning up its workstation. Feeling that her chance to shine - literally - had come, Fizzy approached the monster, the wide hips of her Service Mode swaying with her every step.
“So, how did it come out?” she asked casually.
“Can’t complain,” Boxxy replied with a shrug. “I was just putting stuff in at random, so the fact that it does anything at all is kinda surprising.”
“It really isn’t,” the golem commented as she took a cursory glance at the chest-bound contraption. “All high-Level Artificers occasionally let pure inspiration and whim guide them as they make things. I know I’ve made at least three inventions that have sprung up literally out of nowhere.”
“And were any of those actually useful?”
“No, but that’s not the point. What I’m saying is it’s normal to just work on something that doesn’t serve a point. It only feels weird to you because it’s rare for you to put effort in without a distinct objective in mind.”
Boxxy had always been an industrious creature, one that loathed spending its time, energy, and resources on unproductive activities. Well, aside from recreational murder and the appreciation of shiny and/or tasty things. Those served the very important purpose of helping it destress and generally making it feel better. Bottom line was that it was unusual for it to let its mind wander aimlessly like this, but preferable to throwing another colossal hissy fit.
“So what does this thing actually do?” Fizzy asked.
The shapeshifter responded by reaching into the wooden chest and flipping a switch on the inside. This made eight mechanical spider legs extend from its base while a pleasant jingle emanated from it. The thing stood up, did a little tapdance, then sat itself down and went silent.
“That was actually kind of cute.”
The golem was being entirely sincere, though her reaction was tinted by her monstrous worldview and choice of crafting profession. Any reasonable person would’ve found the dancing mecha-spider-chest to be rather bizarre at best, or downright creepy at worst.
“Where’d you get the idea for it?”
“Oh, I used to do that sort of thing,” Boxxy revealed. “It was before you and I met. Those were… simpler times.”
Fizzy had no intention of hearing about the past that didn’t include her glorious self, so she tried to change the subject before the shapeshifter started reminiscing like an old man.
“Incidentally, didn’t you mention something about a possible cure for your nectar problem? How’s that going?”
“I mentioned it was pointless.”
It was almost endearing how Rowana thought she was being stealthy or subtle when she brought home those very obvious books related to Keira’s ‘secret project.’ Drea had kept a close eye on the elf that day, so Boxxy was both fully aware of the woman’s intentions and mildly amused at how self-delusional she was. That aside, the specialized literature was helpful in determining that developing a nectar ‘antidote’ was a thoroughly fruitless endeavor.
Mostly because the shapeshifter was by no means a researcher. It understood how things worked by taking them apart and then putting them back together. This applied to both machinery and anatomy, but not when it came to the narcotic effects of raw dryad nectar on doppelganger physiology. That was entirely new territory that Boxxy would need to look into by itself, with nothing to guide it.
The only thing of actual relevance in those specialized textbooks was the fact it took the finest minds of an entire generation to properly refine hylt sap into Honeydew. It then took almost as much effort to develop an anti-drug to it for the various enlightened races. Boxxy wasn’t going to delude itself into thinking that it, a mostly-self-taught three-year-old, could pull something like that off with a substance that was sort-of-like Honeydew. Especially not in the less-than-two-months before the Dragon Festival. It had therefore scrapped the project completely.
“I gave up on trying to fix myself through alchemy,” it told Fizzy dismissively.
“Then what are you going to do about your dependency? Just keep fighting it the hard way?”
“Yup. It’s not really all that bad compared to the corruption thing, to be honest.”
“Well, if you say so.”
Fizzy wanted to gloat how she, as a clearly superior being made of glorious, nigh-indestructible mithril, was completely above such trifling matters of the flesh. However, she knew better than to pour oil into the blast powder keg that was Boxxy T. Morningwood. Not to mention she respected the creature too much to just disregard it so offhandedly.
“What else have you been working on, lately?” she asked curiously. “I mean, aside from wind-up tap-dancing spider-chests.”
“Oh, odds and ends. Tiny ideas I’ve been tossing around in my head but never got around to actually building. I’ve also been experimenting more actively with using my Artificer and Alchemist Jobs together to come up with some… inventions, I guess you could call them.”
“You brought more of your own original designs to life?!” Fizzy’s eyes practically sparkled. “Show me!”
The Dragon Thorn used during the battle against Erena had been frighteningly effective, so the golem was clearly looking forward to what other creative contraptions the shapeshifter had come up with. Boxxy didn’t particularly want to show off its latest designs though, mainly because most of them were gimmicks or toys with very little practical application. Not the sort of things one would brag about. Still, it couldn’t refuse the excited smile on Fizzy’s face. It made her so radiant it almost felt the need to turn away lest it be blinded.
It would never do that, of course, as failure to burn the golem’s unparalleled shininess into its memory was almost a sin in Boxxy’s book.
“… Alright, you asked for it.”
The monstrous mechanic opened its Storage and began taking out contraption after contraption, naming each and every one as it piled them up on the worktable.
“I've got ankle wrenches, mimic feeders, hammer seats, electric heaters, flesh compactors, blood extractors, power rods and mana meters. Stabby-talkies, groper wires, safety goggles, radial pyres, GG pellets, rubber mallets, fans and dehumanifiers. People hangers, stomach cutters, liver irons, kidney shutters, face removers, marrow movers, fasting tape and gastric gutters. Tonsil faucets, holding tables, nasal stripping, jumper cables, hooking shackles, trouting tackle, tower foggers, spoons and ladles. Pesticides for fumigation, high-performance lubrication, metal roofing, water cooling, multi-purpose insulation. Hair compressors, brain connectors, pinning chisels, smell detectors, bladder gauges, children cages, thermo-hats and knife deflectors. Golem-safe demagnetizers, automatic circumcisers, menace jackets, angle brackets, mega-bells and oxidizers. Profit panels, circuit breakers, value cleaners, toffee makers, oscillators, respirators, matching salt and pepper shakers.”
Fizzy could do little but stare wide-eyed as an entire hardware store’s worth of gadgets, contraptions, devices and chemicals was brought out before her. This stuff ranged from the somewhat useful to the borderline pointless. There was an entire range of appliances that seemed designed to dismember humans for presumably culinary purposes. For the most part though, she had absolutely no idea what sort of purpose, if any, most of these things served. Nor could she understand what would compel someone to make things like…
“Matching salt and pepper shakers?” she said dumbly.
Two tendrils shot out of the shapeshifter’s shoulders and grasped the spice dispensers in question. They were a pair of tiny chests carved out of blocks of wood, with tiny holes in their tiny lids, which were attached to their tiny bottom halves with tiny hinges and tiny locks. Functional locks too, as Boxxy demonstrated when it poked one with a needle. It made a tiny click and the tiny lid flipped open to reveal a tiny deposit of sparkling gold-dyed salt.
“How did you even make these?” Fizzy asked, still somewhat stupefied. “I thought fine work like that was beyond you right now.”
“Yeah, I don’t have a good answer for that, actually,” the shapeshifter looked at the tiny containers inquisitively. “These just sort of appeared in my Storage yesterday. Or was it the day before yesterday?”
“What do you mean ‘just sort of appeared?’ How can you not remember doing something like this?”
“I’ve been suffering from insomnia, actually. Haven’t been able to sleep for five days now. I’m so catatonic I have no idea what I’ve been doing for the past two hours, let alone what I did two days ago.”
“Wait, how can you suffer from insomnia?” a mechanical eyebrow was raised.
“Every time I try to doze off I subconsciously punch whatever’s around me and wake myself up instantly.”
“Oh… What about the literal bucket-fulls of sleeping potion you carry around? Or Xera’s Dreamweaver Skill?”
“Those just knock me out for about half an hour before I punch myself awake,” it groaned, its body slouching forward at a nearly spine-breaking angle.“I can’t get any Brittany-damned rest like that. Oh right, that reminds me.”
The monster straightened itself out and took a moment to resummon its djinn familiar, then sent her off back to the dungeon. Snack time was over, and it needed her to continue doing what she had been doing previously. After that was settled, it turned its attention back towards its latest creation, intending to keep messing around with it.
“How is aimlessly tinkering with pointless contraptions going to help with any of that?” Fizzy resumed her questioning.
“It won’t. I’m just killing time until Jen is done deciphering Tol-Saroth’s notes,” it answered matter-of-factly.
“Wait, she’s still at it? Didn’t you get the code or whatever from that demon-book-thing you captured?”
The golem had naturally been brought up to speed regarding Boxxy’s search for a way to cure itself of its demonic corruption. However, she was underestimating something.
“There’s a lot of notes.”
The sheer volume of notebooks Tol-Saroth had filled with writing, either personally or via familiar, was rather mind boggling. Even the feathery Scribe was having trouble sorting through all of them. Boxxy couldn’t help her out because paperwork was never one of its talents, let alone now that it had a violently short fuse. Still, it wanted that stuff deciphered right away, so it had Snack and Lavender help untangle the mess that was Tol-Saroth’s shorthand.
Boxxy was a bit unsure whether that ditzy alraune would be able to do it, but it had slightly underestimated her Laborer Job. Or, more specifically, the Muscle Memory Skill. This ability allowed the Laborer to become more efficient when performing repetitive and menial tasks. And since decoding Tol-Saroth’s notes basically boiled down to a few hundred variations of ‘replace A with B,’ it was more or less the mental equivalent of stacking bricks. Lavender had therefore been able to work through the cartload of notebooks at almost the same pace as Jen, even though the flower-girl had no idea what all those big words and sentences meant.
Sorting through the ‘translated’ texts for anything relevant to Boxxy’s condition was therefore relegated to Snack - the most knowledgeable and intelligent of its familiars. The shapeshifter had gotten her a pair of Skimming Spectacles for this exact purpose. The enchanted eyewear allowed one to read entire books in minutes, though information gleaned this way would only be retained for about a half hour before it completely fades from memory. Not great for actual learning, but ideal for searching through a library’s worth of information in a few days.
According to Snack’s notes on Tol-Saroth’s work, the old sage had developed a near-crippling obsession with demons and their conjured bodies. Though this was hardly a surprise considering the man’s legacy, the lengths he went to in order to further his research were rather extreme. He made it a point to never willingly hurt an enlightened being, but monsters, animals, and demons were fair game, and were experimented on relentlessly. A journal states this had apparently been one of the reasons why Lunar had revoked his Hero of Magic title, though the main cause had been his becoming a complete misanthrope in his later years.
As for Stonetusk’s Parting Gift, the dungeon facility beneath the graveyard, that actually appeared to be the source of Tol-Saroth’s house mimics. The creation process itself consisted of, in the simplest and crudest terms, ripping a mortal soul out of a living being, forcing it into a suitable vessel, and then using demonic essence to make it ‘stick.’ The first of those components, referred to as the ‘donor’ in the sage’s notes, was typically a harmless non-monstrous critter. The ‘suitable vessel’ was one Tol-Saroth made himself through an alchemical fusion of conjured demon flesh, fresh doppelganger flesh, and inanimate objects.
Incidentally, his source of shapeshifter ‘material’ had been a doppelganger that he had found, captured, and kept imprisoned within the dungeon for decades.
Xera had taken extensive notes on this procedure and its development. Though it seemed largely irrelevant to Boxxy’s condition, poring through the related texts with the Skimming Spectacles revealed there were dozens of references to her master’s name. Indeed, as impossible as it seemed, ‘Boxxy’ did appear in Tol-Saroth’s records and journals. It had been the name of his pet, a peculiar orange tabby cat that he found sitting in a wicker box in an alleyway.
Reading about that feline had helped the ex-succubus recall some near-forgotten memories of her being forced to look after the thing. Those hadn’t been wiped, she had simply put the critter completely out of her mind. After all, taking care of it had been a minor, if somewhat demeaning chore, but that was it. She didn’t even recall most of her previous contractors anyway, so it was only natural some mewling furbag wouldn’t be worth remembering. That aside, monster-Boxxy had been less than thrilled when it heard about kitty-Boxxy’s existence, as it had been yet another uncomfortable coincidence.
As for why and how a tabby cat had any relevance on the creation of house mimics, that part was relatively simple, if a bit ridiculous from the shapeshifter’s perspective. Apparently Tol-Saroth hated and dreaded the fact that his beloved pet would die of old age long before he did. Completely natural behavior for any well-adjusted person. However, the then Hero of Magic loathed it so much that he started looking into ways of increasing the natural lifespan of mortal beings. Not for himself, but for his pet cat. When modern-day Boxxy read that part of Snack’s summary, it rolled its eyes so hard it had to grow an extra three pairs of them just to express how stupid of a motive that was.
Regardless of his reasons though, Tol-Saroth had succeeded. It had taken all the money, favors, and influence he had on top of making repeated and significant sacrifices to the know-it-all LIAR, but he had succeeded. He had figured out a way to make his pet effectively immortal through the aforementioned house mimic procedure. Once he perfected it, he successfully transplanted kitty-Boxxy’s soul from its old and dying flesh into a new body, one that would not suffer old age. A body that had the shape of a hand-sized wooden jewelry box with a gold trim and a bright red gem resting in the middle of its lid.
A quick inquiry into the records of the Central Consortium from about three years ago revealed that Minic’s original name, the one it had before Keira thoughtlessly had it renamed, had been ‘Boxxy.’
Doppelganger-Boxxy was rather relieved when it learned this information. For one thing, it meant that it wasn’t the reincarnation of Tol-Saroth’s pet cat, which would’ve been almost worse than being Tol-Saroth himself. More importantly, it helped explain the circumstances and coincidences surrounding its miniature namesake. Minic’s reality-warping good fortune was so extreme that this sort of thing happening around it was almost commonplace. The two of them sharing the same name was hardly surprising within that context.
This was especially true if one considered the circumstances through which the ex-mimic had acquired the moniker ‘Boxxy T. Morningwood.’ It wasn’t one the monster had chosen for itself, but was assigned to it at random after it turned Monotal into a swirling death cloud. Which, considering this was the event that had earned it the curious attention of the Goddess of Happenstance, was most likely not all that ‘random’ to begin with. The important part was that blaming all of the coincidences related to Tol-Saroth on that tiny box’s four-digit Luck (LCK) Attribute gave Boxxy a good deal of peace of mind. A very important thing to have given its current efforts to maintain a firm grip on its sanity.
Unfortunately, while certainly informative, Tol-Saroth’s notebooks, schematics, and journals had not revealed anything that might suggest a cure to its demonic corruption. Jen, Lavender and Snack had only gone through about half of the recovered materials, so at present Boxxy had literally nothing better to do but to tinker aimlessly while it waited for them to finish. If those failed to reveal anything useful, then the shapeshifter’s next course of action was to get-
“Master, we have a situation.”
Boxxy had been in the middle of figuring out how to make the dancing mechanical chest do a backflip when Xera’s voice entered its thoughts.
“What is it this time?” it responded in a tired tone. “Did Lavender try to eat one of the old notebooks again?”
“Not exactly, no. Ambrosia is awake, and she is demanding to see you.”
The shapeshifter’s fidgety limbs instantly froze in place. This was sooner than it was expecting, so it needed to take a few deep breaths and collect its thoughts before responding.
“Alright. I’m on my way.”
Boxxy gave Fizzy the news and the two of them headed off towards the Dryad’s Domain. The shapeshifter wasn’t quite sure what it was going to do, though. It had planned to move the rather ridiculous amount of shinies it had to another dungeon before the dryad had risen from her months-long ‘power nap.’ However, it hadn’t even started that process, meaning it stood to lose much should it and Ambrosia have a falling out. The timing of it all was… unfortunate, to say the least.
Hence why the shapeshifter decided to avoid calling attention to the addictive properties of Ambrosia’s nectar, at least for the time being. It would just pretend everything was fine and dandy and stall for time. Once this corruption issue was resolved one way or the other and it had finished relocating its hoard, then it would have its tree-to-monster confrontation. It informed Fizzy of its intentions, and the golem agreed that now was not a good time to be burning bridges with a millenia-old tree spirit of nebulous power.
Granted, there was never going to be ‘a good time’ when it came to that confrontation, and it would have to happen eventually, just not right now.
The golem and the creeper entered the dungeon through a hidden entrance near Keira’s house and made for the central platform. The crystal core loomed overhead, pulsating with pseudo-sunlight as per usual. Jen and Snack could be seen off to the side amidst a small stack of papers and books, having been told to ignore the dryad and continue their work. Lavender did not have such luxury, of course, as she was Ambrosia’s plaything first and foremost.
However, judging by the dryad’s demeanor, ‘play time’ was not at all on the agenda. She was sitting on a random branch she had conjured for herself, both her arms and legs crossed. Her face was stern and her glare cold as Boxxy approached. As for the alraune, she was sitting inside her flower at the dryad’s feet, her lips locked into a displeased pout.
“Greetings, milord,” Ambrosia said flatly. “Tis good to see thou hast not perished in mine absence.”
“What’s with the attitude?” Boxxy responded curtly.
“This child has informed me thou art raising another like her. One that thou intends to gift to one of mine sisters?”
“Yes, and? Is it a problem?”
“I refuse to share what is mine with one of them. And anything that grows within mine trunk or dangles from mine branches is mine, regardless of whether it be fruits, flowers, or sentient plants.”
This made sense, in a way. Hylt trees were, for all intents and purposes, the apex predators of the plant world. The concept of ‘sharing’ wasn’t alien to them, it was simply not in their nature. After all, none of them would’ve been able to grow to be as large as mountains without selfishly hogging as much sunlight and nutrients as vegetatively possible. Boxxy understood all that, even related to it a little. It could easily see and agree with Ambrosia’s point of view.
“Yourself included, of course,” the tree-woman smiled sweetly.
“You WHAT?!” the shapeshifter snapped.
Though her intent was to reassure Boxxy that she saw it as a child of hers, she had chosen to express this in the worst possible way.
“I am not YOURS!”
Ambrosia was therefore momentarily taken aback by the creature’s furious outburst. Not to mention this was the first time Boxxy had ever raised its voice in such a clearly aggressive manner, doubling her surprise.
“I… I did not mean-”
“You didn’t!?” the monster kept yelling. “You trying to say you ‘accidentally’ fed me that damned nectar of yours?! That you didn’t ‘mean’ to turn me into a mindless puppet that’s a slave to your every whim?!”
Fiend-like horns started growing out of the hylt creeper’s head, a clear sign that its demonic corruption was starting to overtake it. Having felt its temper was getting out of control, Fizzy was already in the middle of reconfiguring her body with her physical Augmentation Module. She rapidly transitioned from her usual slim and stylish Service Mode to the troll-like and large-fisted Charger Mode. She tackled the shapeshifter to the ground before its tantrum could truly begin, and used her electrify frame to try and pacify it. Holding a shapeshifter that had gone blind with rage was no easy task, however, as Boxxy took less than a second to slither out from her considerable grasp. It then stood up, practically foaming at the mouth.
Which was when Jen flew into it and wrapped her arms around it from behind. Unlike the golem, the griffin-harpy had managed to grab the creature by the spine, making it significantly more difficult for the rampaging monster to escape. It tried to grow countless sharp blades from its back, but its Metal Mimicry was not capable of piercing the Monk’s Ki-infused skin. Boxxy naturally had a myriad of ways it could break free, but its blind rage prevented it from even considering anything but the most straightforward and brutish methods.
Xera then appeared immediately above the struggling monsters, holding a bucket of sleeping potion she had retrieved from the dungeon core’s Item Allocation module. She dumped it on Boxxy, though some of it splashed onto Jen as well. This external application of the elixir wasn’t as effective as drinking it directly, but it was still enough to at least partially tranquilize the shapeshifter. This distracted it just long enough to let Fizzy get close enough to trigger a hidden switch on the HERPES device affixed to Boxxy’s spine, knocking it out with a precise jolt of electricity.
The djinn, the harpy and the golem watched with relief as the horns growing out of the monster’s skull just peeled off like dead leaves. Jen was also a bit woozy since she got splashed with some of that sleeping potion, but was able to remain on her feet while the shapeshifter fell to the floor like a sack of turnips. This may have been her first time witnessing Boxxy’s corruption firsthand, but she had been told and warned of it. That was how she was able to react with only minimal hesitation.
Ambrosia, on the other hand, had no idea what she had just witnessed.
“… Which one of thou wishes to tell me what had just transpired?”
“Boxxy’s just, uh, dealing with some issues. Nothing for you to worry about,” Fizzy tried to deflect the question.
“Clearly, that is not the case.”
Her attempt hadn’t been very effective.
“Tell me what has happened to milord in my absence,” Ambrosia demanded.
“It’s all that red-skinned meathead’s fault,” Xera responded without skipping a beat. “Her immeasurable stupidity nearly got her killed for good, and Master would’ve been destroyed along with her because of the contract. We had to perform an improvised ritual to save them both. It worked, but not without side effects.”
The demoness had been able to deduce Boxxy’s desire to remain quiet about the addiction for the moment, so she tried to focus the dryad’s attention her master’s other pressing issue.
“And milord’s foul comments regarding mine nectar?”
Unfortunately, it would appear the tongue was already out of the chest.
“You tried to drug me with it,” Boxxy groaned, having already woken up.“You fed me a substance you knew full well would make me into your slave.”
It raised both hands in the air, prompting Fizzy, Jen, and Xera to help it to its feet while Ambrosia walked up to it.
“And I don’t like that sort of thing,” it said to her face.
The dryad looked at it long and hard with a stony expression on her face, and it glared back. The resulting staring contest lasted for what felt like several painfully silent minutes before Ambrosia turned her head away in shame.
“… I truly did not mean for that to happen,” she said in a near-whisper. “I just couldn’t help myself.”
Fizzy elected to protest, but Boxxy gestured at her to be quiet and let it handle this, which she conceded to immediately.
“So you knew your nectar would screw with my head?” it asked accusingly.
“Yes,” she looked back at it with sad eyes. “Of course I did. ‘Tis mine bosom it originates from, after all.”
“Yet you still fed me the stuff. Knowing how much I hate someone trying to control me.”
“… Alright. Let’s hear it. Why?”
“Because I was afraid. Back when milord first entered mine life, it was a time of bliss. Crystalline core or not, I felt truly happy whenever thou would return to mine embrace or rely on mine strength. So when thou returned with the stench of another dryad’s nectar on thy breath, I feared she would steal thee away from me.”
Indeed, the whole nectar thing had started only after Boxxy came back from its encounter with the youthful dryad near Fort Yimin. Who, now that Ambrosia had mentioned it, most likely had ulterior motives when she offered the Sandman a drink from her teat. However, her ‘unripe’ nectar was no match for the rapturous fluid that gushed forth endlessly from Ambrosia. There was no doubt as to which dryad would emerge the victor in that little contest.
“So what, you just decided you’d rather be the one to enslave me?” the shapeshifter asked.
“Thou doth not understand,” she shook her head. “The core, it made thee seem like a flawless, unerring being to mine mind. ‘Milord would surely not be ruined by mine nectar,’ I thought. I realize now ‘twas foolish of me to consider such an impossible feat.”
“See, you say you deluded yourself into thinking that, yet you kept feeding me the stuff with a goddamn smile on your face even after you broke free from the dungeon core.”
“Because thou maketh the impossible possible,” she declared. “Thou had not only returned from the dead, but thy grip on reality remained as firm as ever despite consuming truly lethal amounts of mine nectar.”
Ambrosia’s face slowly adopted a wide and gentle smile.
“No other mortal hath ever displayed such magnificent fortitude and resilience. Thou art the only fleshling who hath enjoyed and praised mine venomous nectar so vehemently whilst also seeking it eagerly of thy own volition. ‘Twas a joy I am unable to describe, but one I shalt be forever thankful for. I truly wished, nay, believed milord to be a miraculous child, one who was impervious to mine damning allure. How could I ever spoil thy fun with what I considered to be pointless warnings?”
Her face then returned to its former gloom.
“It would appear, however, I hath been sorely mistaken.”
Boxxy’s featureless face stared into hers as it silently processed and judged her words.
Maybe it was the lingering effects of the alchemical tranquilizer or that pacifying electric shock. Maybe it was the way Ambrosia, a being truly beyond Boxxy, acted genuinely meek, apologetic, and remorseful in front of it. Maybe it was the fact that the shapeshifter could, on some very basic level, sympathize with the way the dryad’s urges had gotten the better of her despite her better judgement. Perhaps it was a combination of all of the above, or some other factor outside the monster’s conscious perception.
Regardless of the circumstances, the mass-murdering shapeshifter no longer felt mad with Ambrosia. It hadn’t forgiven her - not by a long shot - but even its supercharged temper refused to flare up after having heard plainly and clearly that its addiction problem was, at its core, its own fault. It had indulged in pursuing its gluttonous satisfaction to the point where whatever addiction resistance its constitution afforded it with had been completely overpowered by the sheer volume of its intake.
“Do you know of a way I can rid myself of this compulsion?” it asked flatly.
“… I do not,” she shook her head.
“What if I abstain from it? Will that help?”
“That I also do not know.”
“And if I,” the shapeshifter paused for a moment, “kept indulging?”
“Thou would deteriorate and expire without question.”
Now that she had realized her notion that Boxxy was somehow immune to the habit-forming properties of her nectar was nothing but a self-delusion, Ambrosia knew full well what the future held in store. It might take years, maybe decades if she was lucky, but the creature would inevitably become a gibbering wreck with no sense of self if it kept feeding on her. Right up until the painful moment it passed away within her arms.
It was at times like these that Ambrosia really hated the goddess that thoughtlessly gave her sentience.
“What about your previous ‘partners?’” Boxxy pressed on. “Have all of them died like that?”
“Not all. There are those who simply left and did not return after their first drink.”
“Do you know their names?”
If they had managed to get a dryad’s attention to the point of being ‘rewarded’ with nectar straight from the source, then they were likely people of great historical significance. The type of people that would have surely had their entire lives scrutinized and recorded for future generations. Enlightened like to do that sort of thing.
However, the dryad shook her head.
“Names are such easily forgotten details.”
“What about their looks?” the hylt creeper changed its approach. “You remember faces, right? Or rather, do you recognize this one?”
Boxxy’s face shifted into the image of a ginger elf with hollowed out cheeks and heavy bags under his eyes. It was its best attempt at replicating Tol-Saroth’s visage, which it had pieced together from old paintings and historical descriptions of the sage’s appearance.
“I do not know this person,” Ambrosia said after a brief pause.
Meaning that she had either never met Tol-Saroth or that she had forgotten him completely, neither of which were helpful in Boxxy’s search for a magic cure for its addiction.
“Well, it was worth a shot,” it sighed, reverting to its true form. “Guess I’ll just have to keep toughing it out.”
Strictly speaking though, the withdrawal symptoms were hardly impossible to live with, especially since things would surely get easier once the corruption was dealt with. From then on it just had to wait for the shaking, irritability and other infuriating discomforts to go away on their own over the next two months or so. If that didn’t happen, then its imminent Rank Up would most likely purge it of those cravings for good. Failing that, it still had the divine I.O.U. as an insurance policy. And if it became necessary to use that favor to wash its soul clean of Kora’s demonic taint, then there was no reason it couldn’t have Voldo purge two afflictions with one snap of his scissors.
“I understand if thou wishes to leave,” Ambrosia stated, twiddling her fingers. “However, I do wish thee wouldst remain.”
“I would prefer to keep things as they are,” Boxxy stated calmly, much to the dryad’s joy. “Just so long as you don’t try force me into drinking any more of that stuff.”
“Of course, milord,” she agreed immediately. “Though mine bosom will miss thy healthy appetite, thy company alone is most… tasty.”
Things would be uneasy and awkward, at least for a while, but that was a minor inconvenience. It would be far more troublesome if the shapeshifter had to relocate its hoard and operations, especially since this was its only dungeon anywhere even remotely close to Azurvale.
“By the way,” Boxxy looked over its shoulder, “what exactly are you three doing?”
“Reporting that I am securing you in case of another violent outburst,” claimed Jen, whose fuzzy forearms were tightly hugging its upper body from behind.
“I’m more worried that you’d give into your cravings,” Fizzy said sternly while clamping down onto its right arm and shoulder with her massive hands.
“Don’t mind me, Master. I’m just selfishly enjoying myself,” Xera cooed while on her knees and sensually stroking the shapeshifter’s muscular abdomen and thighs.
The three of them had been like this ever since helping Boxxy to its feet, and while neither it nor Ambrosia were especially bothered by their behavior, enough was enough.
“And how long do you think you’re going to keep that up?” it asked in an annoyed tone.
“Until this Ambrosia person leaves,” was the harpy’s straight-faced answer.
“Or you stop leering and drooling at the dryad’s breasts,” the golem added.
“I just want to be punished for being a naughty and insubordinate slut-slave,” the djinn let her fantasies gush forth.
Ambrosia lifted a hand to her lips, then smiled knowingly.
“I understand. I shall give thee thy privacy. Come, Lavender. Let us not get in the way of this… group activity.”
She then disappeared into the ground, taking the alraune and her misunderstandings with her.
As for Boxxy and its clingy monster girl entourage, they all remained as they were for a few more minutes before the shapeshifter finally had enough and forced them off.