As Boxxy walked into the dungeon following a debatably restful Dreamweaver-induced coma, it grumbled inaudibly at the small row of cages lined up underneath the glowing core. They were all delightfully cubic in shape though infuriatingly grate-like in their construction, and none were any taller than its knees. These seven containers held an assortment of relatively harmless critters. From left-to-right, there was a mangy pooch, a pissed-off mega-termite, a tortoise, some kind of mutated squirrel, a janther cub, a sleeping boar, and a desperately floundering catfish.
The monster approached and deprived itself of any and all organs capable of perceiving sound since it did not want to deal with the cacophony of noises these things were making. It then got busy inspecting and appraising each captive critter. Moments later it lifted an arm, which was shapeshifted into a comically large mallet, and then smashed the dog-sized insect and six-legged feline into paste along with their cages. Creatures harboring the violent and vicious instincts normally found within monsters were not suitable for its purposes. Something it thought had been made crystal clear when it sent its minions out last night, but it would appear this was not the case.
The mongrel was clearly diseased and not exactly full of life and vitality, and was thusly also summarily rejected. The oddly proportioned squirrel, on the other hand, was deemed contaminated by some unknown purpose and was also smushed. This narrowed Boxxy’s options to the tortoise, the boar, and the fish. It ultimately decided to go with the shelled reptile, as it felt a weird sense of camaraderie with the animal and how it refused to come out of its ‘box.’
A chittering cheer was heard from about a dozen meters away. Drea, whose ‘offering’ had been picked, pumped her fist in triumph while dangling upside down from a line of webbing. This mild celebration was immediately interpreted as gloating by the rest of Boxxy’s entourage. It wasn’t just Kora, Xera, Fizzy, and Jen. Even Lavender and Ambrosia had somehow gotten suckered into participating in this little ‘competition.’
“What are you idiots standing around for?!” Boxxy yelled at them. “Don’t you have work to do?!”
The monster girls all scattered, except for the dryad.
“Excuse my ignorance, milord, but what was the purpose of this event?”
“To find the final ‘ingredient’ I need to cure myself of my corruption,” it answered plainly.
“Apologies,” Ambrosia bowed. “I did not realize thy request was of such importance.”
She had initially assumed this to be some kind of game, an idle distraction. That was why she had chosen to ‘borrow’ that baby janther from one of the Monster Tamers that lived on her branches. If she had known what Boxxy actually needed it for, she would’ve chosen more wisely. She would’ve also kept Lavender from spawning a termite with the dungeon core’s power.
As for Boxxy, it put the caged tortoise in its Storage, along with a generous amount of air for it to breathe, and then exited the dungeon. It was still early morning shortly before dawn, so Azurvale’s streets were blissfully empty as it made its way towards the graveyard. It reached Tol-Saroth’s hidden laboratory without incident, arriving at about the same time as Claws. The arachnid demoness was discreetly transporting what appeared to be an older elf with a somewhat regal appearance, though the man was thoroughly paralyzed and securely wrapped up in webbing. Fizzy arrived shortly afterwards with Snek in one hand and Minic in the other, and it took several more minutes before Snack, Arms and Jen flew in under the cover of the djinn’s illusions.
“Wait,” Boxxy halted the trio before they could enter. “Where’s Mouthy?”
‘Mouthy’ had been the shapeshifter’s nickname for Torzessirth, the book-bound beholder it had instructed these three to bring with them. He was Tol-Saroth’s final surviving familiar, and was deemed an important source of information just in case things went bad. However, the pointed lack of loud, drawn-out cursing suggested he was not currently in their possession.
“Uh, yeah, about that,” Kora awkwardly scratched her head. “He kind of… exploded.”
“… He what?” the shapeshifter asked dumbly.
“The weakling committed suicide, Master,” Xera clearly stated. “This red idiot was complaining about being carried by this other idiot’s talons, so we failed to hear the book chanting a Spell. The result was a point-blank Fireball that exploded inside Dicks-for-brains’ hands and turned the book into ash.”
In other words, it would appear the group had collectively overestimated the beholder’s prideful nature, as he was clearly not above admitting ‘defeat’ through suicide. In truth Torzessirth would have already offed himself if not for the wards and restrictions placed upon his holding cell within the dungeon. In retrospect, bringing him out of there had been a terrible idea, but it was too late to do anything about it. The harpy and the two demons had likely put off telling their boss about their screw up until they were in position to subdue it should the news trigger a fit of rage.
Though it would seem the shapeshifter’s reaction wasn’t one of anger, but something even worse - disappointment.
“Forget it, just… get inside the damn dungeon.”
It ushered the rather ashamed-looking trio into the underground facility and was about to follow them inside when it heard a very familiar ringing noise at the back of its head.
“Hi?” it asked tentatively.
“Hey, Boxxy. Carl from Demons ‘R’ Us here. Got a minute?”
“I guess. What’s up?”
“So, I’m calling about a demon called Torzessirth.”
“What? Why would- Oh wait, you’re his agent, aren’t you?”
From what Boxxy understood of how Demons ‘R’ Us ran things, each devil had a list of mortal clients and another list of potential contractors. Barring exceptional cases, the same Warlock would usually be redirected towards the same operator every time they mind-dialed the Beyond. In short, this meant that, since Carl was Snack’s handler, it stood to reason that Tol-Saroth’s other minions would also be part of his responsibilities.
“What does he want?” the shapeshifter asked indignantly.
“Oh, nothing in particular. He just called me a few minutes ago, wanted to complain about something or other, entitled beholder bullshit. Thing is, I accidentally let it slip that the entirety of the Beyond knew your little secret and were banned from revealing it to mortals.”
Which was to say that ‘Mouthy’ had realized that its brilliant deduction regarding the true identity of the Hero of Chaos was effectively worthless. It would certainly explain his sudden and successful suicidal tendencies.
“So, I’m calling to say sorry about that,” Carl added. “It was deeply unprofessional of me. Don’t worry though, I’ll make sure he won’t be able to get another contract for a decade or two.”
“… Why, exactly?”
Though Boxxy recognized the devil was trying to make up for his gaffe somehow, it failed to comprehend why preventing the beholder from making any contracts would be any of its concern.
“Oh. Uh… You know that ‘no spoilers’ policy we have over here? The one the big brick upstairs put in place to protect your secret identity?”
“That only applies to what’s seen on the Boxxy Show broadcasts. But since Torzessirth learned about it on his own, then he has every right to spill the beans to his next contractor out of spite. Which, as far as I can tell, had been his intention all along. And since that was my fault, I thought I’d do you a solid and keep a lid on things. Discreetly, of course.”
“Oh. Thanks, I guess.”
“Hey, it’s the least I could do for sort-of ruining your plans. Hope you won’t be too mad about it.”
“No, it’s fine. I already got quite a bit of data out of him.”
The demonic tome had been less than vital to the shapeshifter’s endeavors, though it was still rather pissed about losing a valuable source of information.
“That’s great. And again, I apologize for doing that, I was just kinda happy to hear that old bastard’s voice again and got sloppy. Oh, speaking of which, you know that spire fiend you ran into? Freallausiz Aurphoirriz Zalathraxas de Thotealphiol?”
“You mean the one with the axe?”
“That one. Apparently being able to retain her sanity after four centuries of perpetual drowning had allowed her to Rank Up into an archfiend the instant she returned to the Beyond. She now struts around like some kind of half-dragon made of steel.”
“Half dragon, huh?”
“Oh yeah. I mean, this is just her soul-self and not her physical manifestation, but she has these four thick horns that sweep back over her head, a pair of metallic dragon wings and this long and thick spike-tipped tail. Also her tits look even bigger and perkier than I remember. You should see her, it’s really quite something.”
Boxxy took a deep breath before urging the conversation in a slightly more productive direction.
“What’s this all got to do with me?”
“Oh, right. She told me to tell you that she’s thankful for freeing her from that living death, and that she’s willing to work with you if you can arrange a proper rematch between her and Koralenteprix. It was actually rather uncomfortable how many times she used the phrase ‘tail pegging,’ but that’s besides the point.”
“I’ll think about it,” Boxxy lied. “Is that all?”
“Yup, that’s everything from my end. So unless you have anything I can help you with…”
“No, I’ve got it. Bye, Carl.”
Having concluded the informative-yet-pointless conversation, Boxxy followed its minions inside the dungeon and headed towards Tol-Saroth’s mimic making machine with the intent of putting it to good use.
The shapeshifter had realized both itself and Snack had overlooked something when initially reviewing the old sage’s notes and journals that described the device and its function. Their very basic summary of the creation process was that it ‘involved ripping a mortal soul out of a living being, forcing it into a suitable vessel, and then using demonic essence to make it stick.’ What the master-servant pair had, at the time, failed to do had been to look into the exact nature and origin of that last component.
A second, more pointed search through the salvaged writings and materials revealed that this so-called ‘demonic essence’ was the same soul-wrenching corruption currently tormenting Boxxy. Tol-Saroth had, in a manner and method completely different from the shapeshifter’s misuse of Malefic Union, intentionally allowed himself to become contaminated with the taint of the Beyond. That energy could supposedly only be stored within a living host, and said host needed to be powerful enough to keep it from permanently bonding with and consuming them. And being the antisocial nutcase that he was, Tol-Saroth had volunteered himself for that position.
Boxxy would’ve loved to hear what exact methods were used in that self-destructive endeavor, but that particular secret had been lost to time. What it did know for certain was that it had been the final step of the sage’s mimic-conjuring preparations. According to the journals, he had carried that twisting taint for only minutes at a time. However, considering the sheer volume of house mimics that he had created, that had still been far too much exposure. It wasn’t hard for Boxxy to imagine that these experiments had been the main reason for Tol-Saroth’s gradual decline from ‘brilliant researcher’ to ‘mad alchemist.’ Especially when comparing the tone of his earlier journals to that of his later ones.
That aside, the writings made it clear that the corrupting psycho-something-something energy plaguing the shapeshifter would be burned up as ‘fuel’ during the mimic creation process. Which meant that Boxxy had to perform the procedure if it hoped to cure itself of those increasingly common fits of all-consuming rage. But first, it needed to prepare the other necessary components. Namely the ‘vessel’ and the ‘donor.’
The latter of those had been relatively simple. The donor needed to be a living creature that was so pathetically weak that its only lot in life was to spawn progeny before it became something else’s dinner. Something with so little force of will that it could be swayed by a bit of food and a few head pats. Such creatures were so far beneath Boxxy’s notice that it just delegated the gathering of candidates to its minions while it attempted to rest up as much as it could. Hence the ‘pet parade’ from earlier. The shapeshifter strode into the dome-shaped chamber where the old sage’s weird device had been situated and placed the unsuspecting tortoise in the metal cage suspended from the ceiling.
With that settled, it then went to prepare the vessel. It spat out a lovely nightstand from its Storage. It had been carved out of hylt wood, which according to the notes was one of the best receptacles for what was about to happen. It then had Snek patiently instruct Minic, who was the dungeon’s owner, to use its authority to open up one of the many vats filled with orange liquids and demon corpses. This took a few tries, but one of the spire fiend’s pickled and lifeless bodies had been successfully retrieved and hundreds of liters of the mystery fluid had been caught in an array of silver-plated tubs before it could drain away.
Using the diagrams described in the journals, Boxxy surgically removed a three kilogram piece of demonic muscle from the centuries-old corpse and tossed it into one of the tubs. It then turned its attention towards the sedated knife-eared captive Claws had dragged in earlier. Though he looked like a dignified elf, the man was actually one of the few doppelgangers that had been stupid enough to stick around even after Reggie had disappeared years ago. Boxxy unceremoniously zapped its fellow shapeshifter back into its true form with one of Fizzy’s devices, cut open its torso, then ripped out precisely seventeen hundred grams of nondescript biomass. This was immediately dropped into the same tub as the fiend flesh.
Boxxy then grabbed hold of an unenchanted silver staff and slowly stirred the bizarre meat soup it had just created. The doppelganger’s bits dissolved rapidly into a sort of foul, brown sludge that looked incredibly unappetizing. It also pulsed disturbingly, as if trying to emulate a heartbeat. Some of it even crept up the smooth silver rod Boxxy was stirring it with, but it slipped off and fell back into the mix shortly afterwards. Having nowhere to go, the ooze began seeping into and fusing with the lump of demon-flesh next to it.
This had been precisely the sort of reaction Boxxy was hoping to see. It didn’t quite understand the science or logic behind it, so the best it could do was follow the ‘recipe’ and hope that the result would turn out alright. It was therefore positively delighted to see that, after a few minutes of careful and slow stirring, the two samples of monstrous flesh had completely melded into one visibly pulsating lump.
Next came the tricky part. It had to lift its creation out of the tub without touching it. A feat that Tol-Saroth had performed using telekinesis, which Boxxy lacked. It did, however, have the next best thing. It took a moment to focus and then chanted a Weightless Space Spell, creating a large bubble of anti-gravity around it and its experiment. The silver tub, the orange fluid and the mass of demonically-enhanced shapeshifter flesh floated upwards. Boxxy would’ve followed suit if it hadn’t shapeshifted its feet into sucker-tipped appendages that stuck firmly to the smooth floor.
The shapeshifter then signaled to Jen, who was standing outside the Weightless Space’s area of effect. The harpy moved her wings in a single, powerful beat that created a rather violent gust of air. This pushed the nightmarish wad of meat towards the hylt creeper. Boxxy extended an arm towards the aforementioned nightstand, completely pulled out its only drawer, caught the lump of writhing flesh with it, then slammed it back in its place. It let out a Disrupting Wave to disperse the gravity magic in the area, then threw the now shaking piece of furniture into one of the larger tubs it had prepared earlier.
What followed next would be about three hours of waiting until several kilograms of ‘adaptive tissue,’ as Tol-Saroth called it, did its thing. Apparently that mix of demon flesh and doppelganger body mass had a number of interesting applications. If applied to a living being, it would reconstruct missing limbs and organs, with the end result being indistinguishable from the original. This was hardly all that remarkable though, as there were other, far less troublesome ways of treating extreme injuries like that.
What made the adaptive tissue truly special was that it had the ability to turn inanimate objects into living, breathing creatures. It would form lungs, hearts, brains, nervous systems, bone structures, sensory organs, and other such complex body parts necessary to make a viable organism. This was something it could do entirely on its own and without any external help or prodding, though such intervention was apparently necessary to get the best results. This phenomenon had been described by Tol-Saroth as ‘the ability to mimic life,’ hence why he called the resulting creatures ‘mimics.’
In short, the brilliant elf had figured out how to create life from nothing, his initial mimics being nothing more than mindless flesh golems that lacked free will. This was by design though, as he had intended to transplant the souls of his various pets into them through a process that had been based on his knowledge and understanding of demonic possession. Facilitating that endeavor had been the main reason why demon flesh was vital to a house mimic’s creation, as it made them far more accommodating hosts. It was also why the process required fuel in the shape of the corrupting essence that all demonic souls left behind on the material realm like some sort of emotional residue.
Now, in all honesty, Boxxy likely didn’t have to go through the entire process just to burn off its corruption. However, the shapeshifter had no idea what it was doing, and it lacked the time, patience, and expertise necessary to figure it all out. It had therefore decided to go through the motions step by step from start to finish, lest it miss something important and have it all blow up in its face.
That said, it wasn’t about to spend several months imprinting various pacifistic and servantile instincts upon the soulless husk. According to Tol-Saroth’s notes, that had been what separated the docile house mimics he made in his youth from the violent and bloodthirsty monstrosities he had been forced to create shortly before his death. However, that did not matter to Boxxy. It couldn’t care less about what sort of creature came out of the mimic-making machine. All that mattered was that the device burned off its corruption.
Hence why, as soon as the prerequisite three hours were up, Boxxy took the now breathing nightstand out of the tub of orange miracle-goo and took it to the soul transfer chamber. It placed the barely animate piece of furniture on the platform underneath the caged tortoise suspended from the ceiling, then sat in the chair and strapped itself in. It then called Fizzy over and handed her something from its Storage. It was a rectangular piece of paper about the size of an envelope used to deliver letters. Its surface glimmered with a prismatic hodgepodge of colours that swirled around and bled into one another unpredictably. The only constant on it was the text that read ‘I. O. U.’ in big, black, and thick lettering.
“W-what are you doing?” she asked warily.
“I need you to take this,” it insisted.
“Yeah, but why?”
“Because I have a feeling something incredibly un-tasty is about to happen.”
Which was a mild way of saying that this endeavor had the potential to go very, very wrong indeed. Boxxy could go insane, fall into a coma, get turned into a powerless nightstand, have its soul sucked into the Beyond or just outright die. Any of those outcomes could easily be reversed with Virginia’s help, but it wouldn’t be in any position to ask for it. It was therefore necessary to have someone else take charge of its god-given insurance policy, and Fizzy was the only being on Terrania or beyond that it would trust with such a thing.
“I… Okay. I understand.”
The golem smiled and calmly accepted the oversized card. It wasn’t as if she didn’t understand the weight of the responsibility that Boxxy had just handed off to her, she just didn’t see why it would be necessary. After all, she had complete and utmost faith that things would work out. But, if it made the jumpy shapeshifter feel better, then she would play along. Not to mention that the jealous looks she got from Xera and Drea on her way back to them felt uniquely satisfying. As for Kora and Jen, they seemed to mirror the radiant Paladin’s inner thoughts that Boxxy was just being melodramatic and stood around with bored expressions on their faces.
“Now all of you get out and shut the door,” it commanded. “I don’t need any of you interfering.”
The shapeshifter’s monstrous posse left the chamber, with Fizzy making sure that Minic and its reality-warping luck were nowhere near the mysterious device. Once they were all clear, Boxxy took a deep breath and loudly counted down from ten before finally pulling the lever next to the seat. A loud clang echoed throughout the entire dungeon, followed by a low hum that rapidly grew in volume and pitch as some unseen machinery spooled up. Boxxy had only just begun to wonder whether electricity was somehow involved in this when it got its anwer.
Countless bolts of purple and blue lightning jumped frantically between the chair, the cage, the platform, and the metal knee-high rods poking out of the ground.
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A jumbled mass of utter gibberish flooded Boxxy’s consciousness, which had suddenly found itself drifting above its own body. It watched, shocked, as its flesh burned and boiled and melted under the devastating arcane magics coursing through it. It didn’t hurt, which was a mild consolation. At least not until the crackling energy permeating the room zapped its momentarily drifting soul, flooding it with… a lot less pain than one might expect. It still hurt, but it was only at the level of stubbing one’s toe into a table leg.
The disembodied monster watched without eyes as it was, for lack of a better word, split in two unequal halves. A barely perceivable mass of red-tinged darkness drifted away from it like a toxic fart. It seemed to lunge towards its body, but was caught in several tendrils of pure energy that dragged it into the metal rods, where it seemed to disappear without a trace. The runes of creation etched into the room’s perimeter began to glow like searchlights, and there was a second deafening clang as Boxxy was overcome with the sensation of falling.
The shapeshifter let out an indecipherable shriek as it jerked away from the chair. Its bound and half-molten limbs snapped off as if they were glass, leaving the monster to collapse on the ground in a wet puddle of its own liquefied flesh. There was not a single fiber of its entire being that wasn’t in blinding agony. Its eyesight just barely recognized what appeared to be a demonic nightstand running wildly around the room. It had tiny horns poking out of its top and sides and was foaming furiously at the mouth. Drawer. Whatever that tooth-filled thing was.
Fizzy rushed in at that point and clobbered the enraged furniture into a smoldering smear against the wall with a single kick of her shiny boot. She rushed over to the disgusting mess that was Boxxy, but had no idea what to do. Her hands clutched the I.O.U. so hard that she looked ready to rip it in half. She then remembered that she was a Paladin, and as such had the power to heal all kinds of nasty injuries.
Divine power has healed your wounds. HP +1,382.
You are no longer stunned.
Your Skills are no longer disabled.
The restorative Spell seeped into Boxxy’s body, momentarily dousing the wildfire that were its wounds. Its Mend Flesh kicked in moments later, and a few more healing bursts from the golem saw it rapidly return to full health. Once it had stabilized its form and regrown its missing limbs, Fizzy threw her arms around it and put it in one of her usual bone-crushing hugs, complete with copious amounts of electricity from her Static Field generator.
Boxxy let out a few nasty gurgles that served to instantly remind her that the shapeshifter was not appreciative of such things, and she immediately let go. The monster stood groggily, only to have Jen fly into it like a woman-shaped missile, knocking it off its feet as she performed a surprise tackle-hug. Emphasis on the tackle.
“Are you trying to kill me?!” it roared as it kicked the selectively affectionate harpy off of itself.
It then looked up to see that Jen was actually standing patiently near the exit. It looked towards the other Jen, who had just smacked face-first into the wall and was moaning quietly on the floor. It would appear Xera had seen her chance for a bit of ‘roleplay’ and taken it, ignoring the time and place as per usual. Boxxy looked back to the real harpy, who had this look of subtly intense disgust about her despite the stoic poker-face she was trying to maintain. Kora, on the other hand, simply waved dumbly with two of her arms when she spotted her boss’s gaze drift towards her. It was only then that Drea, who had been too afraid to look, peeked her head in through the door.
“I knew I should’ve locked that door,” Boxxy grumbled as it stood once more.
“So, how do you feel?” Fizzy asked eagerly.
“… Good,” it said after a brief pause. “I mean, my back still hurts, my body feels like it ran a marathon and I’m pretty sure I almost died because that fucking moron used lightning for some gods-damned reason. But, other than that, good.”
Relief came over the golem’s face, and Drea practically collapsed in the background when she let the tension escape her body.
“Great, even,” Boxxy continued. “Fantastic. Spectacular. And other shiny words.”
After spending so long on pins and needles, the shapeshifter was finally back to its old self. It was as if all the joy and happiness it had been denied during this ordeal bubbled up to the surface all at once. The more the after-effects of the excruciating procedure faded away, the more its mood kept improving. It felt so giddy it would probably be making the goofiest smile the world had ever seen if it actually bothered to make a mouth capable of smiling.
This feeling of euphoric happiness would probably fade after a while, so the shapeshifter decided to capitalize on it while it could and hold a little celebration.
“Snack, take over Keira duty for the day. And bring the house mimics back to the house while you’re at it. Fizzy, do whatever you can to evaporate that thing in the corner until nothing’s left. Claws, go out and catch something tasty for me. Actually, make that a lot of ‘somethings.’ Jen and Arms, you two stay right here and make sure I’m not disturbed.”
Which was to say it barked a bunch of orders, then collapsed on the ground, assumed the shape of a fancy wooden treasure chest and fell asleep the instant its lid had slammed shut. Only once it had slept as much as it could sleep and had eaten as much as it could eat would it worry about anything else. Not that there was anything to really worry about, though. The Dragon Festival preparations were more or less done and the grand wedding that would mark its Rank Up was so close that it could almost taste it.
The only thing that could really be called a problem was the nectar withdrawal, but Boxxy felt confident that it could handle it now that its wrathful corruption had been dealt with. In fact, the shapeshifter presently felt quite full of confidence. So much so that, even while dreaming of swimming in a river of diamonds, it had subconsciously decided to try something that it had initially dismissed as ‘not worth the risk.’
It would go and investigate this ‘stockpile of deadly weaponry’ that, according to one of Tol-Saroth’s salvaged journals, lay buried at the bottom of the Shimmering Ocean.
Your actions have altered the flows of chaos.
A notion it might have had second thoughts about if it had been awake to see that notification.