As Boxxy stared down the arrogant woman that had identified it as the Sandman, it immediately decided it had no intention of engaging with this unknown quantity right now. Or ever, for that matter. So, it decided to deal with this issue the same way it dealt with all of its problems - by lying like there was no tomorrow.
“The Sandman? Me? No, you got the wrong guy, lady!” it claimed in a shaky voice while raising its hands in surrender.
“… I do?”
“You match the description I was given,” she argued.
“You, uh, flatter me, but I’m just a common thug that likes to borrow his look. Y’know, to scare people.”
“That’s a rather weird thing to just openly admit.”
“I get very honest when I’m scared.”
“Alright, then do you know where to find the real one?”
“Way I hear it, he operates primarily in Republic territory. Does all kinds of shady stuff over there.”
Its improvised ruse seemed to be doing the trick, if the way Arisha’s intensity was rapidly decreasing was any indication. It then realized that it should have directed her elsewhere, but it was too late to take its words back now. Besides, she would’ve found that out by herself in due time. The only reason she didn’t already know about it was because she’d been given misleading information by whoever she’d asked prior to coming here.
“What Republic?” she asked pointedly.
“Uh… the Ishigar Republic? You know, the elven nation? The one way up north?”
“Ugh, how many times are those tree-hugging knife-ears going to change their stupid government?” she remarked with a groan.
“Beats me,” Boxxy shrugged. “But if you’re after the Sandman, that’s where you should be looking.”
“I see, this is good to know,” she relaxed her stance. “I guess even lowlifes like you are good for something. Now be a dear and go play in the mud or something, would you?”
For a moment Boxxy felt like splashing around in some mud might actually be pretty fun. That thought was then immediately discarded when it remembered that mud was as un-tasty and un-shiny as a thing could get. It turned its attention back to Arisha, who just stood there, staring intently at it rather than turning around and going on her merry way.
“I said go play in the mud.”
She then repeated her words, but this time had none of the dismissive and arrogant attitude she had displayed just moments ago. Her voice was firm and forceful as if giving an order. That immensely stupid thought crossed the shapeshifter’s mind again, but was just as easily rejected. A few tense moments passed before both parties simultaneously realized what was going on. The woman had used her magic-laced words to try and control Boxxy’s actions, but the creature’s nearly Legendary MNT had allowed it to brush off the attempt with no difficulty.
“Ah… I see!” Arisha’s face lit up. “So it was you! No mere copycat could resist my words of power so easily!”
“Haaah, yes,” it finally admitted with a sigh. “I’m the Sandman.”
There was no point in keeping this charade up at this point, so the only thing Boxxy could do was get ready to either throw down or escape. Possibly the latter, seeing as how there was very little to be gained from fighting this total stranger that, as far as it could tell, was a double Ranker.
“My name is Arisha Nightriver, also known as the Bloody Baroness.”
It was therefore rather surprised when she suddenly put away her weapon and approached it while formally introducing herself without even a hint of aggression or doubt.
“What’s your business with me?”
“Five nights ago I met a foolish young girl called Kaede, whom I believe you are acquainted with,” the woman explained. “She spoke very highly of you, enough to pique my curiosity. I’ve been looking for you for about a week, and now that I’ve found you, I was hoping you’d oblige me with a little favor.”
It didn’t seem to be something stupid like a duel to the death, so Boxxy tried to approach it like it approached any other opportunity.
“Asking is free,” the Sandman replied. “What is it?”
Arisha then smirked and clapped her hands together, causing a silver bottle to appear out of thin air.
“Have a drink with me.”
The shapeshifter glared distrustingly at the mysterious container. Even at three years old, it knew perfectly well how bad it was to accept anything from a stranger it had just met, especially in the middle of the woods. Arisha had already produced a pair of fancy-looking wine glasses from somewhere and had started pouring the suspicious blood-red fluid before she noticed the Sandman’s hesitation.
“What?” she asked with a scowl.
“How do I know that isn’t a poison of some kind.”
“It technically is, actually,” she admitted. “It’s the most potent alcoholic drink you’ll ever find, made by yours truly’s Ultimate Skill. It would kill most plebeians outright, but you probably have Legendary Endurance, so you’ll be fine.”
“And why would I want to drink something that you just admitted might as well be considered poison?”
“Because,” she paused to take a delighted sip, “it is the most delicious drink you will ever find.”
If this were the usual Boxxy, it would insist on declining. No amount of tastiness was worth the risk, especially after that whole dryad nectar debacle. But, since the doppelganger was feeling especially jovial, it decided to humor the woman by having one of its minions taste-test the stuff.
“Snack!” it bellowed. “Get out here!”
Arisha cocked an eyebrow at this outburst, then stepped back with unmitigated levels of disgust plastered on her face once the demonic seductress appeared by the Sandman’s side.
“Sweet Lord!” the pale woman exclaimed. “That is one hideous wench!”
Well, if anything made it clear she was a member of the nosferatu race, it was this overreaction. Realizing it was probably best not to offend Arisha, Boxxy grabbed Xera by the neck and kneed her in the nose a few times. When it let go of the djinn, her once sensual visage had been reduced to a bloody pulp.
“Oh, that is rather thoughtful of you. My gratitude.”
The nosferata certainly seemed to approve of this makeover, seeing as how she let the demoness take a sip of her ‘most delicious drink’ without making a fuss.
And the effects were instantaneous. The ex-succubus swooned and fell on her plush rump, unable to stay on her feet. She looked at her master, her rapidly healing face adopting an indecent expression as her sky-blue cheeks turned a dark shade of purple. However, the depraved thoughts going through her head were not, for once, those of carnal pleasure.
“It’s sho goood!” she slurred. “That shtuff is the beesht!”
Boxxy rapidly applied its alchemical knowledge of poisons and toxins to examine the djinn, and concluded that she had merely been severely intoxicated. It hesitated for a few moments more before finally making up its mind.
“Alright, let’s have at it.”
The Sandman stepped forward and removed his mask, revealing himself to be a bald middle-aged man whose face and head had been covered by all manner of nasty scars and old wounds. Arisha seemed to appreciate this ‘handsome’ visage, and passed the tall mercenary one of her cups. She then offered a toast to ‘the eternal night’ or somesuch, and Boxxy finally partook of her Ethereal Vintage. A delightful, almost overpowering flavor overtook its mouth. It was impossible to compare it to anything else it had ever tasted, except maybe Ambrosia’s nectar. It might have gotten suspicious all over again at that comparison, but that was when the impossibly potent alcohol kicked in.
You have consumed an Ethereal Vintage.
Your wounds disappear. HP +3,000.
All Attributes increased by 200 for the next 6 hours.
Automatic MP Recovery increased by 120% for the next 6 hours.
All damage taken reduced by 35% for the next 6 hours.
All healing taken increased by 35% for the next 6 hours.
It had downed the entire glass and was already asking for a refill, completely ignoring the myriad of potent effects the fantastical elixir had given it. Arisha happily obliged and the two of them started rapidly approaching a state that was colloquially known as ‘shitfaced.’ It wasn’t long before the two beings of terrifying power started conversing.
“So like, you got a bunch of demons, right?” Arisha asked lazily.
“Heheh. Yeah. They’re pretty neat,” Boxxy replied in a much-too-happy manner.
“Never liked them, myself. They’re so… demon-y, you know?”
“I guess, but they’re pretty damn useful. Like this one here.”
The Sandman lifted his hand and loudly slapped Xera on the butt. Well, it was more of an open-palmed strike, but it still produced a loud smack that seemed to echo throughout the surrounding forest. The djinn, who was currently bent over on all fours and serving as her master’s seat, let out a throaty moan while her lower half positively drenched itself. The magical wine had made her even more amorous than usual, but she was too busy wallowing in a drunken haze to properly articulate her desires.
“I call her Snack,” the Sandman continued. “Cuz she’s, like, tasty. Really tasty. And I can just keep summoning her back even if I eat her whole. Here, try a bite.”
It casually pinched off part of Xera’s shoulder and tossed it to Arisha. The nosferatu bloodlord didn’t even flinch as she flicked the piece of conjured flesh away with a finger.
“I appreciate the thought, but I’m not into that sort of thing,” she politely declined.
“Suit yourself. More for me!”
Boxxy then ripped out another chunk out of its squirming seat and delightedly munched on it, swallowing it with a generous mouthful of wine.
“Not like I’d run out,” it shrugged. “I can just re-summon her if I want more.”
“You already said that.”
“Said what?” the ‘Sandman’ asked with a thoroughly blank stare.
“… Nevermind. What were you doing out here, anyway? I could hear you for miles!”
“What’s a miles? Is it tasty?”
“Oh, right. Old habit. Meant kilometers.”
“But is miles tasty, though?” the mercenary insisted.
“I wouldn’t say so, no.”
“So, what were you doing out here, so far from civilization?” Arisha reiterated her question.
“New game I invented. Here, lemme show you! Arms, get your elbows out here!”
Kora sighed, grumbled, and bitched under her breath as she made her way through the nearby foliage. She and Jen had been watching the whole thing go down from nearby, ready to jump in should things turn hostile with Arisha. That hadn’t happened though, so the two of them just sort of awkwardly stood there until now. And while the hoarder couldn’t refuse a command like that, the harpy had decided it best to back off and circle overhead at a safe distance of about two kilometers. Considering she had just had her first experience with ‘Happy Boxxy,’ she had no intention of finding out what ‘Drunk Boxxy’ was like. Especially since, if her past experiences with Hilda were any indication, it was almost guaranteed to end in disaster.
Her expedient retreat was proven to have been the right decision when Kora’s tremendous figure flew right past Jen while she was still gaining altitude. Admittedly that hadn’t been too atypical considering it was the eight or ninth time this had happened tonight, but the fact that the demon was on fire was a new development. She looked back at the clearing and noticed with rising panic as Boxxy was blatantly standing around with its tail-tentacle out, blatantly revealing its shapeshifting ability to Arisha. Its new drinking buddy didn’t seem to care, however, as she was openly chatting with it about something.
Jen took a deep breath, as she had a hunch where this was going.
And sure enough, a very confused nosferatu bloodlord sailed right past her a few seconds later.
A bizarre, ever-shifting cackle echoed through the night as Boxxy rolled around on the forest floor. It had clearly abandoned any thought of caution or reason, otherwise it wouldn’t have flung the mysterious person of vaguely defined power it had only just met. Though the shapeshifter was clearly just playing around, such an act could clearly be interpreted as a declaration of war. Thankfully, Arisha was about to prove she was a good sport, and not above a little roughhousing.
Kora’s flailing body crashed into the dirt in front of the still laughing Sandman, making a small crater in the process. There was a mild hissing noise as a slender figure clad in pitch-black shadows materialized on the other side of the six-armed projectile’s landing site. The darkness peeled itself off to reveal a playfully smirking Arisha underneath.
“SHASHASHASHA!” Boxxy continued laughing. “‘Can I try,’ she asks! BAHAHAHAHAHA!”
“Heh, okay,” she chuckled, “you got me there.”
Once they had settled down, the two commenced a rather spirited competition of Idiot Toss. To the shapeshifter’s bemused surprise, its new drinking buddy could conjure up a pair of grotesque eel-things that sprung from her upper back, which she used to grab onto and hurl Kora. Interestingly enough, these fanged appendages had been forged out of solidified shadows. In a momentary flash of sobriety, the shapeshifter asked whether those were the product of a Warlock’s Conjure Shadowling Skill, to which she replied that it was only partly right.
Apparently those things were the product of her other Ultimate Skill, called Sovereign of Shadows, which she obtained upon reaching Level 100 of her Warlock Job. What followed was a surprisingly productive conversation regarding the eldritch occupation in question as the two of them shared their respective experiences with it. Though Boxxy had been aware of the various paths one could take regarding Skill choice, this was its first time meeting one like Arisha face-to-face.
Rather than tapping into demonic powers or honing the Job’s devastating Ruin magic, she had instead chosen to walk the path of the so-called ‘Suppressor.’ Warlocks of this archetype used mental attacks in conjunction with various types of blood magic to cripple their opponents. Blood plagues, waking nightmares, siphoning vitality, conjuring mindless minions out of darkness and soil, and a plethora of other nasty stuff. They had multiple Skills that bolstered their vitality, including a high-speed regeneration ability called Boiling Blood. The problem there was that nearly all of their advanced offensive capabilities were rendered pointless when facing golems, elementals, undead, or any other monsters that lacked blood and/or a mind.
This wasn’t a problem for Arisha, though. She claimed that, throughout her extensively long life, she had toyed around with all Jobs at one point or another. At the moment she had been trying her hand at Rogue, Blade Dancer, and Sculptor, which were respectively at level 81, 86, and 67. Upon hearing this, Boxxy decided to ask something that it probably wouldn’t have if it were in its right state of mind.
“You wanna come along to this year’s Dragon Festival?” it offered, half-jokingly, but also semi-seriously. “Bet you can easily get that third Rank Up, and stuff.”
The goofy and relaxed expression Arisha had had for the majority of the party steadily reduced itself into one of gloom.
“No,” she said flatly.
The change in demeanor had been so sudden that even while happily intoxicated, the shapeshifter still caught on that something was amiss.
“… Was it something I said?”
“Don’t get me wrong,” she added, “you’re a hoot and a half, and every bit as interesting as Kaede led me to believe you would be. I also adore that face of yours, even if it’s just a shifter’s mask. However, while I appreciate the offer, I do not wish to Rank Up again.”
Indeed, thinking about it rationally, her ageless constitution would’ve allowed her to get a third Job to Level 100 many times over by now. It wasn’t as if she’d need to put herself in danger to do so, either. She could’ve simply spent one or two of the many centuries she’d been alive to max out a second crafting profession besides Alchemist. Which was to say that the only feasible reason why Arisha hadn’t advanced further in all these years had been because she, for whatever reason, simply didn’t want to.
“Wait, you know I’m a shapeshifter?”
However, Boxxy was a bit too out of it to think rationally at the moment, and had chosen to focus on something else entirely.
“You didn’t exactly try to hide it,” she pointed out. “Probably a doppelganger by the smell of you, right?”
“And you don’t wanna fight me?”
“Lord, no! I’m not some muscle-brained maniac that gets their kicks from headbutting dragons! Besides, some of my best friends are doppelgangers. Or, they used to be, before I outlived them all. I just find they’re easier to get along with than regular people. Not as reserved or judgemental, you know? More fun, too.”
“If you say so.”
Boxxy wondered whether those ‘friends’ of hers had obliterated over eight thousand people in a single stroke, but, for better or for worse, didn’t get a chance to ask before Arisha continued.
“But yeah, take it from me, you don’t wanna climb too high up the Rank Up ladder.”
Arisha then looked up at the night sky, and pointed at a constellation.
“See that group of five stars? The ones just next to the moon, on the right?”
Boxxy squinted upwards as it tried to make sense of its blurry double vision. It closed one eye, but that didn’t help. It then opened ten new eyes, which seemed to do the trick.
“… The ones sorta shaped like a pyramid?” it asked.
“No, the other moon.”
“Oh, okay. Those. The really shiny ones.”
“They’re also what happened to my oldest teammates when they chose to ascend ahead of me.”
“When they Ranked Up, their bodies turned into white light and shot up into the sky, where they became stars.”
“Woah. Trippy. And?”
“And… I’m pretty sure they’re not alive,” Arisha lowered her hand. “I want to believe they are, but I can’t. I know in my heart of hearts they have passed on. I could be wrong… but I’m too much of a coward to find out for myself.”
Her claims seemed a bit ludicrous at first, but it made a certain amount of sense. Especially if one considered the fact that there seemed to be a grand total of zero triple-VIPs running around Terrania. Even double Rankers were nearly godlike existences, so it seemed ludicrous that they wouldn’t be able to reach the next step. There seemed to be very little logical reason why someone in Arisha’s place wouldn’t aim for Rank Up number three. But if what she was saying was true, then it would go a long way towards explaining why enlightened at her stage were so abysmally rare. The select few who managed to become double Rankers would doubtlessly seek out newer heights, resulting in them essentially removing themselves from the world.
And while a certain intoxicated shapeshifter with a slightly ironic knack for out-of-the-box thinking had no idea whether this ‘ascension’ stuff was actually true or why it would work that way, it had a pretty good idea of who was behind it.
“Y’know, it’s probably that divine bastard’s fault,” it said lazily. “The Goddess of Lotteries.”
“You know, Rupert. I mean, Connie. Kelley. Alvin? Or was it Bush? Pretty sure it was Gary. Might’ve been Freeman. No, wait, I got it, it’s Ralph! Yeah, Lee. That’s the one. Anyway, that definitely sounds like something Marianne would do.”
“Riiiiight. I think you’ve had enough to drink, friend.”
“Nah, I’m good. No, seriously, hand over the tasty before someone gets hurt,” it said in as serious a voice as it could muster.
“You do realize you’re standing upside down, right?” the noblewoman pointed out.
“And? I fail to see how that disqualifies me from another drink!”
“… Fine. It’s not like there’s a lot of the Ethereal Vintage left, anyway.”
Arisha poured her new drinking buddy another glass with a shrug and chuckle, which was the point where Boxxy blacked out. Thankfully for its minions and the surrounding forest, this was because it had dozed off after that final mouthful of alchemical wine. When it woke up the next morning, it was lying face-down in the dirt, just a few meters from where it last saw Arisha. Though its memory of the previous night had been blurry, it still remembered more or less everything. It then had a mild panic attack when it realized just how idiotically it had behaved. It had honestly been an incredible stroke of luck that the macabre noblewoman hadn’t been the easily offended type, otherwise there’s no telling what might’ve happened.
When it pushed itself off the ground, it spotted a corked beaker with a pale-yellow liquid in it, and a folded note underneath.
Thanks so much for last night, it was the most excitement I’d had in ages. We should do it again sometime, hopefully have that Kaede girl join in the fun. Oh, and in case I forgot to mention, I am grateful for the way you helped her cope with her hideous deformities. I would ask for you to help me with my own complex regarding my looks, but I know it wouldn’t help. I’ve tried 103 consecutive years of therapy without any success, so I doubt you would be much help. Either way, I would appreciate it if you dropped by my castle sometime. It’s the one behind the illusory barrier atop the mountain peak closest to the city of Verac Valona.
Arisha Nightriver, the Bloody Baroness
P.S. I’ve left you a little gift as a token of my appreciation. It’s a panacea, an ancient secret nosferatu cure-all formula. This stuff can annihilate even the most stubborn of curses and diseases, so I’m sure it’ll help with that trifling addiction problem your hideous servant mentioned.
Boxxy eyed the container suspiciously, then realized that Arisha had plenty of opportunity to poison or harm it, so it decided to just roll with it. Even if something bad happened, it still had that I. O. U. to fall back on. With that in mind, it gulped the concoction down in one go, noting how it felt and tasted distinctly of very clean water. It waited for a few minutes for something to happen, but nothing did. The nectar craving was still there, and its hands still shook rather uncontrollably when it held them out, so it concluded that the dose was so ancient that it had lost its potency.
“Oh well, it was worth a try.”
The shapeshifter shrugged and began to take stock of last night’s damage. The forest itself seemed relatively unscathed, aside from the numerous impact sites left behind by the friendly game of Idiot Toss. Speaking of which, it would appear that Arms and Snack had taken the full brunt of the inebriated duo’s antics, though only one of them had enjoyed the festivities. Jen and Claws had been completely forgotten about and had spent the night having what they called a girls night out. After questioning them more thoroughly, it found out this basically amounted to them hunting woodland animals and monsters for sport, then fishing for food in a nearby pond. Fizzy had spent the entire night working within the weightless vacuum of Boxxy’s Storage and had no idea anything of note had happened. She understandably chose to remain inside once she was told of Arisha’s… visit.
With everything seemingly in order, the Sandman continued on his trip towards the coast, feeling incredibly refreshed. It mused that it wouldn’t be opposed to taking Arisha up on her offer, mostly because it wanted more of that especially delicious wine. It also felt fairly confident that the drink didn’t have any addictive properties since it had been conjured entirely through magic and would therefore not have any residual effects. In short, the Ethereal Vintage seemed to be the alcoholic equivalent of Boxxy’s own Snack.
This next leg of the trip went by at a much faster pace than the previous one. Boxxy admitted it had wasted a lot of time yesterday, so its group proceeded forward almost exclusively through repeated uses of the Gate Spell. The monstrous Warlock nevertheless stuck to relatively short jumps, as it had no idea what would be on the other side of the magical portal before it opened it. This was a more time-consuming and MP intensive mode of spatial transportation, but it was still many times faster than simply walking. Not to mention that, with the sun out, its Hylt Metabolism nearly tripled its MP recovery speed anyway.
All in all, it had taken just short of six hours for Boxxy to reach the coast. It was now mid-afternoon, and the sparkling blue waves of the Shimmering Ocean stretched out before the group. The shapeshifter was taking a moment to appreciate the shiny sight when Xera suddenly realized something.
“Master, you said our destination is at the bottom of the ocean, right?”
“So… how far out are we talking?”
“About three hundred and fifty kilometers off the coast.”
“The fuck?” Kora suddenly caught on. “How are we gonna get all the way over there?”
The hoarder put a hand over her stupid mouth, as she realized too late that this was a perfect setup for her mischievous master to say something dreadful like ‘we’ll swim the whole way.’ Thankfully the shapeshifter seems to have gotten most of that out of its system by now and had a more reasonable notion in mind.
“We’ll take a ship, of course.”
Well, relatively more reasonable.
“A ship?” Jen raised an eyebrow. “On such short notice? In the middle of nowhere?”
The Shimmering Ocean was known for being one of the most treacherous environments on Terrania. It took sturdy ships and seasoned seamen to successfully navigate its shifting currents, indecisive climate and deadly monsters, and there didn’t seem to be any seaworthy vessels on this random strip of sandy beach. In fact, there weren’t any signs of civilization at all apart from that hermit crab currently using an old skull as its home.
“Nah, I got this,” Boxxy stated confidently. “Here, watch.”
It reached into its pocket dimension and produced an old hooded lantern of some kind. Though its brass surface might have once gleamed with pride, it was now a tarnished, barnacle-covered mess. Whatever glass it might have once held had long ago been shattered, making the rectangular thing look more like a cage than a lamp. Jen thought it looked familiar, but didn’t get the chance to ask if that was what she thought it was before Boxxy lifted it up to its face and ignited it with a small puff of Fire Breath.
When the plume of orange fire faded, the lantern was left housing a pale green flame. Boxxy gripped the item with both hands - one on top and the other below - and poured every last drop of its MP into it. That tiny flicker of a light grew until it looked like a miniature inferno, yet one that seemed dreadfully cold rather than scorchingly hot. A pillar of pale green light that matched the flames shot out of the water a few hundred meters into the ocean, and something massive began to emerge from the depths.
It took a minute for the thing to fully materialize, but once it was done, it was impossible to look at it without the words ‘ghost ship’ coming to mind. The vessel’s hull was beaten and full of holes, the sails upon its two masts were all ripped in various ways, and the whole thing was slightly transparent and giving off a soft green glow. Numerous ghostly figures could be seen milling about the spectral ship, making it clear that this twenty-meter-long vessel came with its very own cursed crew.
“Before you say anything,” Boxxy turned to Jen, “that’s not actually a bunch of undead.”
“I know,” she responded flatly. “It’s an animated construct of light, force, heat, and wind magic. It’s based on the same principles as the Guardian Skills available to the likes of Pyromancers and Cryomancers, though on a much larger scale. It’s summoned through the use of an Artifact called the Admiral’s Luggage, formerly in the personal possession of the Gilded Hand operative codenamed Bandit.”
“… You’re no fun,” Boxxy grumbled. “I was kinda hoping you’d have only heard about it or something”
In actuality, Jen, or ‘Zone’ as she used to be known as back in those days, had at one point single-handedly eliminated one of the Artifact’s former owners. The reason she knew so much about how the Admiral’s Luggage functioned was because of the long-winded lecture she had been forced to endure upon ‘acquiring’ it. It had been thoroughly explained to her that the vessel only looked like a ghost ship, and the guy commanding it had not been some kind of fearsome Necromancer. He had, in fact, been one of the Gilded Hand’s own agents carrying out a mission of naval subterfuge, which had been royally screwed over by Zone’s impulsive actions.
Admittedly that misunderstanding hadn’t been entirely the Monk’s fault, as whoever made that thing had done a really convincing job of it. When Boxxy brought everyone aboard with another Gate Spell, it found itself in the middle of an entire crew of painfully stereotypical ghost pirates. They all had the predictable rag-covered skeleton theme going on, with the occasional eyepatch, hook-hand or peg-leg for flavor. Their bones creaked, their eye sockets glowed, their jaws clattered, and every step they made produced dreadfully realistic groans from the ‘wooden’ deck.
The shapeshifter was approached by an illusory gentleman that seemed to be the captain of this ship, judging by the fancy tricorn hat, large lapel, heavy boots and skeletal parrot on his shoulder. He had some semblance of skin on his face and even a full beard, but looked just as undead as the others.
“Ahoy, me hearties, and welcome aboard the Pale Pearl!” he said in a loud and gruff voice. “The ol’ gal has seen better days, but she’ll get ye to where ye need to go. Fer the right price, of course, heh heh heh.”
“Our destination lies precisely three hundred and forty six kilometers south of our current position,” Boxxy flatly stated, “at a heading of two hundred degrees.”
“Ye heard the man, lads!” the ‘captain’ shouted to the others. “Raise the anchor! Hoist the mizzenmast and batten down the hatches! I wanna see hustle, or else ye be walkin’ the plank!”
He continued spewing a bunch of other predetermined phrases as the ship slowly began to move. Very little of the nautical jargon being thrown around was actually accurate, though. Boxxy knew for a fact that most of the voice lines were either things no actual sailor would ever say, or were used in completely the wrong context. Whoever designed the Admiral’s Luggage clearly had no idea how naval vessels actually operated, but that was fine. All of this ghost pirate nonsense was just an illusion, a sort of elaborate stage play. The ship itself was a magical construct, and was perfectly capable of both steering and navigating without any of the ‘crew.’
“Old Jenny knows a place!”
Hence why Boxxy wasted very little time before it shouted a command phrase that put the Pale Pearl into what it liked to call ‘silent mode.’ All of the ghostly sailors disappeared in puffs of smoke and the ship took on a more mundane and well-kept appearance. It looked so thoroughly ordinary that it was impossible to tell it wasn’t real by sight alone, though the complete and total lack of crew members would likely tip people off that something was amiss. Still, it was sure to attract a lot less attention this way, both from sea monsters and other ships.
Which was crucial, because the Pale Pearl was a lot more fragile than it appeared. It was, in simple terms, a magical bubble of hot air disguised to look like a ship, and it couldn’t take a lot of punishment before it popped. It also couldn’t carry too much weight, and would either move slower or outright break if overloaded. Thankfully Boxxy’s troupe wasn’t quite heavy enough to cause any problems even with Kora and Fizzy aboard, but it was close. Speaking of which, the shapeshifter decided this was a good a spot as any, and had the golem exit its Storage so she could be ready in case something was stupid enough to attack them.
It wouldn’t be the end of the world if something happened to the Pale Pearl, though. Boxxy could just conjure a new copy of it if this one got destroyed, but it hated going through that conversation with the ‘captain.’ Which, incidentally, was the only way to relay orders to the ship. This meant the craft would need to be brought out of silent mode with the appropriate passphrase if Boxxy wanted to change its course or something, but that was unlikely to become necessary. So long as it kept the Admiral’s Luggage safe and sufficiently charged with its MP, the Pale Pearl would get it and its posse to their destination without fail.
In the meantime, it handed out the enchanted diving gear to Claws and Arms and told them to patrol the underside of the ship and deal with any aquatic monsters. Snack was also given her equipment, but she couldn’t swim fast enough to keep up and instead remained on standby at the front of the ship along with Fizzy. Jen, on the other hand, was made to circle the sky and intercept any airborne threats that might appear.
After handing out everyone else’s posts and assignments, Boxxy took out a bunch of cushions from its Storage and bundled them up into a pile on the deck. It changed into its arachno-chest form and sat atop of them with a relieved sigh. It wasn’t sleepy or anything, but spending most of the day actively draining its MP had left it feeling quite exhausted, and it really needed a breather. Granted, it could’ve tried the bed in the captain’s quarters, but that was as hard as the floor. Plus, it wouldn’t be able to catch any of the sun’s nourishing rays indoors, so this was the superior resting spot by far.
Yet as it lay basking in the warm sunlight and listening to the crashing of the ocean’s waves, Boxxy found itself unable to relax. In fact, it felt its fatigue increasing, almost as if sitting perfectly still was somehow the most tiring thing it had done all day. And the more tired it felt, the less inclined its body was to listen to it. A few minutes of hesitation later, and the shapeshifter found itself unable to move a single muscle. Its body had been completely paralyzed by some unknown force, but its mind was still as free as ever.
“Snack! I can’t move!” it called out telepathically. “Get Fizzy over here and help me!”
Its entire world then went white and its hearing was permeated by a loud, high-pitched ringing. It was almost as if someone had detonated the mother of all flashbangs right inside its brain. When it came back to its senses several seconds later, it saw the djinn and the golem standing over it, arguing loudly about something. Upon closer inspection, their heated discussion probably had something to do with the copious amounts of dark red doppelganger blood that had leaked out of Boxxy and soaked the pillows underneath it.
It was a fair assumption that this was what those two were so upset about, but the monster didn’t know for sure until it got its hearing back a few heartbeats later.
“Then why did it start gushing blood like a malfunctioning coolant pump!?” Fizzy’s screaming burrowed into its lid.
“How am I supposed to know!” Xera argued in an equally loud voice. “Master said it needed help, and that was it!”
“I’m fine,” Boxxy spoke aloud, interrupting them. “It was a false alarm, my bad.”
“… Are you sure about that?” they asked in a unison of doubt.
The djinn sighed in relief, but the golem frowned and gave Boxxy’s wooden shell a rather painful kick.
“Hey!” it protested. “What was that for?”
“Don’t scare me like that, you box-brained moron!” she yelled at it. “I swear, first you party all night with some vampire bitch and now this? What the fuck is wrong with you?!”
“I’m fine, really,” the shapeshifter reassured her.
“Then what’s with all this freaking blood?!”
“Oh, I’m guessing that’s just a side effect of some medicine I took this morning.”
It would appear that Arisha’s dose of that ‘ancient secret nosferatu cure-all formula’ hadn’t been a dud after all.
Your body has been purged of all ailments, infections, and contaminants.
Feat of strength performed! You have unlocked a new Perk: Nectar-Adapted. AFF +5. MNT +5.
Feat of strength performed! You have unlocked a new Perk: Legendary Mentality.
The panacea merely needed some time to work its magic.