Pretty much everyone in Nautilin had heard the news of Dorval Bluegabber’s violent demise by the next morning. An outsider might find it rather questionable how a city that never saw the light of the sun could have ‘mornings,’ but its magical lamps were designed to dim at sunset and brighten at dawn. It would seem the krymer had not been able to escape their ancient surface-dwelling ancestors’ need for a proper day-night cycle in the several millennia since they’d settled on the ocean floor. Either that or this city in particular wished to keep itself attuned to that rhythm in case any drylanders came to visit.
Speaking of which, Mister Hugh Mungus was deemed one of the suspects for the murder of Dorval Bluegabber. An influential citizen bites the big one just as a mysterious mercenary was visiting? It would be foolish to think it a mere coincidence. However, testimonies from both Wyatt and Amona confirmed that the outsider and his entire entourage had alibis for the evening, and neither of them showed signs of being mentally manipulated. The authorities were therefore forced to conclude that the visitor was not involved.
Of course, the main reason for this was because the female guide had omitted the part where she’d been too busy fraternising with the Warlock to actually keep an eye on everyone. She personally had no love for the now-dead mobster, and had no intention of getting fired over this, regardless of whether the man was responsible or not. As such, she feigned ignorance and spent most of the next day practically glued to Hugh’s arm. Wyatt seemed to have figured out that something inappropriate was going on, but didn’t seem to want to get involved.
It would appear that ‘not my problem’ seemed to be the default response whenever a citizen of Nautilin spotted suspicious activity. Though the city was far from lawless, most successful people seemed to be running some kind of illicit scheme. Wyatt was no different, as a cursory probing of his sleeping mind by Xera revealed he was taking payoffs from a smuggling ring to look the other way every now and then. As for Amona, she was squeaky clean aside from her deviant fascination with surfacers, which appeared to be the main reason she’d taken this job in the first place.
That said, the two guides had been a bit more lax in their observation of the visitors during the second day. This was primarily because Jen and Fizzy were given their special permits, which allowed them to roam the city by themselves. The golem used her newfound freedom to go soak up crafting knowledge from the local smithing guilds as she was quite curious how they processed metals underwater. She was disappointed to learn that it was the exact same process as the surface, albeit within an air bubble and with the aid of pressure-negating equipment. The locals primarily made gear out of the bones and hides of sea monsters, so metalworking was more of a niche occupation.
The harpy was not let off her leash, however, primarily because Boxxy couldn’t trust her to not cause an international incident. It dragged her and its familiars along as it continued probing official sources of information for anything that might suggest the presence of a hidden weapons cache. They pored through records, consulted historical experts, and asked around at various adventuring guilds. They found practically zero information regarding their objective, but Boxxy took this to be a good sign that meant this mysterious stash hadn’t been discovered yet.
The shapeshifter did stumble upon something of note, however. Namely that there appeared to be a branch of the Maleficium guild down here. History claimed Tol-Saroth had been a key member of said organization back in his day, so this was rather promising. A bit of digging revealed that the elven sage had personally visited Nautilin on multiple occasions, though it had been a tiny fishing village at the time. The guild he left behind denied knowledge of what purpose these visits had, though the fact that he established a branch office here suggested something rather significant had gone down.
Xera unsurprisingly had no memory of this, though this was most likely because Tol-Saroth hadn’t sprung for diving equipment for his familiars like Boxxy had.
In any event, the doppelganger had unearthed very little tangible information to go on. This was unsurprising, as it seemed unlikely anyone would just willingly hand over something like that to an outsider. However, Boxxy now knew where to dig. It was just a matter of getting what it wanted without pissing off an entire city of people, a considerable number of whom wielded heretical practices. The locals’ stockpile of Demonbane weapons was something to be especially wary of, as was the non-insignificant number of krymer Rankers around. These individuals were called ‘deep ones’ by the locals and were easily distinguishable by the two squid-like tentacles protruding from their upper backs. These extra limbs were every bit as long, flexible, and powerful as their muscular tails, and had enough manual dexterity to be considered an additional pair of arms.
Bottom line was that open hostility with the locals was simply not worth the risk, especially since there was a good chance Boxxy was on a red herring chase. The ex-mimic was nothing if not stubborn, though, so it would not leave until it had exhausted every possible lead. With day two coming to a close, it waited patiently until the next morning before it resumed the search. It told its guides that it wanted to check out some shops, restaurants, and maybe a theater or something as a change of pace. During this seemingly casual outing, it had Fizzy stop by Fahrenheit Luxury Imports with the excuse that she had some surface-made goods she wished to sell.
After establishing that the solid mithril golem was not, in fact, for sale, the shapeshifting slitherer gave her the information he had dug up regarding the not-a-dungeon he had mentioned earlier. Apparently it was a little-known spot where some adventurers went to train their combat Jobs, about twenty-something kilometers out of town, in the active volcanic region. This was promising, though he didn’t have an exact location. Mister F did, however, provide Fizzy with the address of a local guide. This individual was supposedly a platinum-ranked unenlightened like the amphibious shapeshifter and an expert on the volcanic region, but that was all the information he’d dug up on them on such short notice.
The golem decided to take the initiative and check this out for herself. She would’ve gotten Boxxy, but she had no idea where the shapeshifter was right now. Not to mention she was quite eager to get this over with so she could get back to the surface. Staying underwater for extended periods of time wasn’t damaging to her radiant frame, but the stubborn colony of deep-sea algae growing on her butt was quite infuriating. With that in mind, she got directions to the address from Mister F and set off. Her passage naturally gathered quite a few stares, as she was the only creature in the entire city to be literally walking across the ocean floor. And yet, as she got closer to her destination, she couldn’t help but notice that people were gawking at her considerably less than before.
Fizzy eventually found herself standing in front of a spire of some kind. It was four stories tall and only wide enough to house either an extra-large bedroom or two tiny rooms on each floor. Unlike most other krymer structures, the front door was thankfully at the bottom rather than the top. It wasn’t as if Fizzy’s jet-assisted Assault Mode couldn’t make it up there, she just preferred to keep that ability a secret if at all possible. After double checking that this was, indeed, the address she was given, the golem walked up to it and loudly banged on the door with her fist. Several seconds passed before the wooden entrance slide open, and revealed the reason why people in this part of the city weren’t all that impressed with Fizzy’s unique appearance.
Standing in the doorway was a creature that was, without a doubt, another war golem. Or, to be more specific, a woman that had been turned into a war golem. She had the same style of interlocking multi-layered armored frame as Fizzy, complete with various cables visible through some of the gaps in the outer layer. Her face was also just as energetic and lifelike as her visitor’s, which made it obvious she was just as surprised by this turn of events as her visitor.
That was where the similarities ended, however. For starters, her frame was of a silver-colored metal that could not hope to match Fizzy’s mithril plating. Another obvious difference was that she was both taller and significantly more feminine than the former gnome, with clearly defined breasts on her chest, a slim waist, and exceptionally wide thighs. She also seemed to have once been a krymer given the way she had the same kind of tail, though the fins on the end of it were now shaped like a double-bladed battle axe. The fins on her forearms had likewise been transformed into menacing glaives that were attached to her arms with a pair of hydraulic levers, allowing her to control them separately. Each of her legs had a dozen turbines that differed in size and orientation, and were no doubt the means through which she moved around in this aquatic environment.
She didn’t seem keen to demonstrate that ability just yet, however, as the first thing she did after the initial shock faded was to slam her door shut.
“Hey! Get back here!” Fizzy shouted as she pounded on that surprisingly sturdy door.
“Non! Allez-vous en!” she replied in a panicked voice.
“I don’t speak your shitty language!”
“Merde! I said go away, connard!”
“You get that cheap knock-off ass out here or else I’m-”
That seemed to hit a nerve as the door flew open once more. The taller golem, now clearly enraged, swung her exceptionally large fist right at Fizzy’s face. The ex-gnome didn’t even flinch as she stepped into the punch, headbutting it. A deep gong resounded through the surrounding waters as silver knuckles met mithril forehead. Fizzy then raised her right arm, her wrist swinging open to reveal her Magitech Cannon. The other construct did the same, though in her case a rather large hole opened up in her plus-sized palm.
“Woah, woah, woah!” a voice called out to them. “Let’s calm it down! Détend tes seins, Nora!”
The two golems looked to the side to reveal a frantically approaching male krymer in an outfit almost identical to Wyatt’s though this one was clearly younger. He started yelling at the native construct in Aquarian. Fizzy had no idea what was being said, but she managed to gather that ‘Nora’ was apparently this silver golem’s name. Which, incidentally, was the same name Fahrenheit had given her, meaning this one was indeed the guide she’d been looking for. As for this interloper, he identified himself as a local adventurer and one of Nora’s friends. He claimed he had ‘stuff to do’ and excused himself after calming the situation down, leaving the two war golems to sort things between themselves.
“… This sucks,” Fizzy was the first to speak. “And here I thought I was the only one of my kind.”
“I understand the feeling,” Nora grumbled. “Could be worse. At least I’m not a short anchor with shorter legs.”
“You’re just jealous that stupid silver plating can’t compare to my glorious mithril.”
“Is silverite, not silver.”
The material in question was a mildly magical metal that was about as strong as forged steel, but only half as heavy and would never rust or tarnish.
“Whatever, doesn’t make it any less inferior to me.”
Just like Fizzy said, silverite was nowhere near as good as pure mithril, though Nora seemed unwilling to admit defeat.
“My frame is still more beautifully sculpted,” the taller one insisted with a smirk. “Also, I do not ‘ave weird things growing on my bottom.”
“It’d probably help cover up that embarrassingly bad wiring of yours.”
“My wiring is elegant. Yours looks like it belongs on a metal slug.”
“Can’t help it if my advanced mechanisms require a lot more power than your pathetic hinges.”
“You wouldn’t need them if you weren’t so fat.”
Though this increasingly petty part-measuring contest seemed bitter and even a bit pathetic, it was far better than the alternative. A golem was a golem, and with that came a certain amount of ego that made even the most intelligent constructs into violently selfish narcissists. These two had some modicum of enlightened sensibility about them, so the overinflated sense of self-worth was less pronounced. It was still there, however, otherwise they wouldn’t have nearly had an all-out brawl in the middle of the city. This pointless exchange of insults was merely their way of appeasing their natural urges without any collateral damage.
That said, it wasn’t until nearly ten minutes later that the argument was put to rest by the arrival of the rest of Boxxy’s entourage.
“Fizzy! What do you think you’re doing!?” the cloaked surfacer chided her.
“I’m not doing anything!”
“Then care to explain why I was just told that ‘my golem is making a scene’ just now?!”
The two of them arguing loudly in public had made people complain to the authorities, which was how Boxxy’s guides caught wind of this situation.
“Because she refuses to admit she’s an ugly-ass pile of junk!” Fizzy shrieked, oblivious to the volume of her own voice.
“I don’t care! Shut your face hole before you get us kicked out of town! Is this how you repay all the hospitality these fine people have shown us?!”
Those last words were mostly for Amona and Wyatt’s sake, but Boxxy was legitimately upset that the only being it trusted besides itself would needlessly cause a ruckus. Or at least it assumed the ruckus was needless. Frankly speaking, it was just as surprised as Fizzy to see another civilized war golem, though it did a far better job of hiding it.
“What are you even doing here?” it asked the important question.
The radiant construct took a few moments to collect her thoughts, as she couldn’t just blurt out the truth. Just because she was about as stealthy as a shrieking meteor didn’t mean she understood nothing of subtlety.
“I was just doing some shopping when I heard a rumor there was another like me, so I came to check it out. I thought for sure it wasn’t true so… I may have lost my temper when I found out. Just a bit, though.”
It was a blatant lie, but Boxxy managed to grasp that Mister F had directed the mithril Paladin to this other golem, meaning she was somehow important to its investigation. The ex-krymer herself was standing off to the side with her arms crossed and a smug look on her face, clearly enjoying the sight of her new rival being scolded.
“Please forgive my companion’s outbursts,” the cloaked shapeshifter approached her.
“And who might you be?” she shot back while eyeing it up and down.
“My name is Hugh, Hugh Mungus. As you can tell, I’m an adventurer from the surface. And who might you be?”
“… Nora. I’m an adventurer from the bottom of the ocean.”
Boxxy wasn’t sure exactly why its contact had directed Fizzy to this mechanized fish-lady, so it had decided it was necessary to find out who she was and what she knew.
“Oh? Interesting. Do you mind if we chat for a bit? I’m sure a streamlined model like yourself has lots of stories.”
Its experience in dealing with golems was clearly showing, as it knew that all Nora needed to spill her guts was to be offered the opportunity to talk about her.
“I would be ‘appy to,” she smiled appreciatively. “Please, come inside. Only you, though. My house, she is a bit small, you see.”
“I’m afraid I must accompany Mr. Mungus everywhere he goes,” Amona butted in, a pang of jealousy in her voice.
“It’ll be fine, Amona,” Boxxy insisted. “I’ll only be a short while, so please wait for me out here.”
It took a bit more convincing before the woman finally relented, and the shapeshifter accompanied Nora inside. The interior was more like a storage space than a residence, which was hardly surprising considering the occupant had no need for sleep or food. She did have a golem beauty salon of sorts on the third floor, though, most likely to keep herself as shiny as feasibly possible. Boxxy wondered if she had something for that weird algae growing on its prized shiny’s backside, but for now it needed to hear what this was all about.
“So. Nora. I’ll be direct. What happened to you?”
“In short, a miracle,” she smirked. “Though I dislike using the word, it is ‘ard to describe it in any other way.”
“Really, now? My companion likes to say the same thing about her own transformation.”
Except that Fizzy’s case had been a literal miracle brought on by actual divine powers, but saying that sort of thing out loud was unlikely to win Boxxy any friends around here.
“She used to be a gnome until she found a powerful curse that turned her into a steel golem, a normal one,” it explained. “She Ranked Up a few times until she became what you see today.”
“She is war golem now, non?”
“Yup. A lightning-infused dynamo golem, to be precise. You are a different variant, by the look of things.”
One that was clearly suited to this underwater environment, though that went without saying.
“Yes,” she nodded. “I am a silverite torpille golem.”
“… What’s a torpille?”
“No idea,” she shrugged. “That’s what my Status says.”
Which meant that ‘torpille’ was likely an Aquarian word. After a brief mental consultation with Snack and her Versatile Tongue Skill, Boxxy learned that it translated into ‘torpedo,’ though neither it nor its familiar had any idea what that actually was. Logic dictated that it was some kind of aquatic mechanism, like how dynamo golems could produce electricity at will. It was a curious quandary to be sure, but the shapeshifter had more important questions on its mind. Such as how Nora managed to pull off a process that had taken a Hero Skill and a powerful cursed Artifact to accomplish in Fizzy’s case.
The shapeshifter proceeded to ask a series of increasingly probing questions regarding Nora’s origins, though it made sure to present its interest as curteous curiosity. Long story short, she had once been a flesh-and-blood krymer like any other, though born with some kind of rare condition the locals called Coral Syndrome. This birth defect rendered her bones exceptionally brittle and shortened her expected lifespan to about a quarter of what it would normally be. It was potentially treatable with alchemy, but the costs involved were far beyond her family’s means since it involved bringing in experts from the surface. They still tried, though, and even went so far as to pay for language lessons, which was how Nora picked up Atican.
Not wishing to see her mother and father ruin themselves for her sake, the girl had decided on killing herself at the young age of sixteen. She had ventured into the not-a-dungeon Boxxy was interested in, a region that she referred to simply as ‘the Trenches,’ where she sought a quick death at the hands of a monster. A few days later she returned to Nautilin as a full-bodied war golem, though she claimed to have no recollection of the transformation itself. A bit of gentle urging on Boxxy’s side got her to reveal that she did indeed remember bits and pieces, but even those were nothing but agony and suffering. Apparently the most vivid recollection she had was of her own heart being ripped out of her body, which hinted a vastly different golemification method than Fizzy’s.
And yet Nora seemed to treat this turn of events as, much like she had initially put it, a miracle. It was, after all, undeniable that she had been saved from the frailty of her former form and was deeply thankful for the boons that came with being a construct of metal and magic. Her story was not too dissimilar from how Fizzy felt upon her own metallic metamorphosis. Nora’s parents had a different opinion on the matter, though. They seemed to think that their daughter had died in the Trenches, and that this ‘cured’ Nora was just an impostor wearing her face. The golem in question was utterly convinced that this was not the case, as her memory and Status clearly marked her as the real deal. However, she apparently no longer cared what those ‘delusional meatbags’ thought of her and hadn’t spoken to or even seen them since.
Incidentally, this had all happened more than ten years ago, and Nora openly stated that she has zero regrets about how it had turned out.
“Did you ever try to find out exactly what happened to you in those Trenches?” Boxxy asked afterwards.
“Of course, I did. ‘Owever, as much as I search, I cannot find any answers. The only clue I have seen is a strange ‘alf-beast ‘alf-machine that rests atop a metal platform, but it’s probably unrelated.”
Now this sounded promising, even if Nora seemed to think otherwise.
“Why do you think it’s unrelated?”
“Because it resides in the deepest part of the Trenches. I would never ‘ave made it that far as the pathetic creature I once was.”
“I see. Still, would you be willing to guide me and my companions to this creature?”
Nora’s mechanical eyelids narrowed.
“I think it may be related to the Quest I’m currently on. I was sent here to locate a treasure that’s at least four centuries old, and I have a hunch that beast you mentioned might be guarding it. You’re an adventurer and sound like you’re very familiar with the region, so I want to hire you as our guide.”
“I should warn you, mon ami, the beast, it is deadly. None who ‘ave tried to challenge it ‘ave survived.”
“I’m not asking you to kill it, I’m asking you to take my team and I to it. Whether we fight it or not once we get there remains to be seen.”
The torpedo golem shut her eyes and stood perfectly still for several moments, presumably lost in thought.
“Very well. I shall show you the way, but I demand payment up front. Thirty thousand pearls.”
‘Pearls’ was the name of the local currency, though it was denoted by specially carved bone chips rather than the gemstones it was named for. Thirty thousand of them were roughly equal to eight hundred gold pieces, which was a few months’ worth of wages for most commoners. It was a trifling sum to Boxxy and it had already bought some pearls the previous morning, so it had no problems paying her right then and there. The only reason it held off on doing so was because it wanted to get a bit more information out of her.
“Before I agree to anything, how long will the trip take?”
“Three, maybe four hours to reach the Trenches. A few days to navigate to where the mech-beast is. Then just as much to get back. On the whole, a round trip should take almost a week.”
“Are there any environmental hazards we should be wary of?”
“There is a lot of volcanic activity in the region, making the water there very ‘ot. Not a problem for me, but meatbags like you will be boiled alive without ‘eat protection.”
“That won’t be a problem. Anything else?”
“Mmm…” she racked her brains. “I suppose I should warn you, the water there ‘as some weird stuff mixed into it that can cause hallucinations. Your diving equipment will filter it out, but any gill-breathers in your group should take precautions.”
“Noted. What about your combat abilities? How well can you fight?”
Following her arrogant proclamation, Nora lifted her arm and clenched her fist, causing the blade attached to her forearm to spring forward in a nasty-looking stabbing motion.
“My magnifique body is a superbly dangerous weapon, and I am also a Rogue and ‘Ydromancer, both at Level 75. I can easily ‘andle all the puny weaklings in our way, but I refuse to fight the big one for any reason.”
“I see. What about your War Golem Job, though?”
“What about it?” she placed her hands on her hips.
“What Level is it?”
“Level None-of-your-business, branleur.”
Her stern and rather rude reply made it clear that Boxxy’s question had hit a nerve. Or was it more accurate to say it had struck a wire? Shorted a circuit? Whatever it was, the shapeshifter assumed that the most likely reason for this hostile response was that she’d maxed out her Monster Job without being able to Rank Up. Either that or she was wary of revealing all of her abilities to a suspicious stranger, but the important part was that the doppelganger wouldn’t need to babysit her.
“Good enough for me,” it nodded. “Consider yourself hired.”
The cloaked mercenary produced three small bags with ten thousand pearls each, which Nora greedily snatched up and meticulously counted up. Boxxy noted that she seemed considerably less dextrous than Fizzy, judging by the way she fumbled with those bone chips. Its MLG told it that her inner workings were quite different from those of its prized shiny, making it difficult to tell whether her relative clumsiness was caused by technical limitations or a lack of DEX. Probably the former, if she was being truthful about her Level 75 Rogue Job.
“It’s a deal, then,” she declared after confirming the amount. “When do we leave?”
“I need to make some preparations, so, in an hour?”
“Bien. I will wait for you at the north garrison.”
Boxxy left the weirdly vertical house and informed the rest of its posse as well as its guides that they will be going on an expedition to the Trenches. Neither Amona nor Wyatt seemed to know what that was, which was natural considering it was supposed to be an obscure region only known to veteran adventurers. The important part was that Hugh’s group would be leaving the city within the hour and would be gone for about a week. Amona seemed torn on whether she wanted to tag along, but gave up once she was told it would be a monster-hunting expedition. She may have had a drylander fetish, but she wasn’t going to risk her life over it.
With all of that settled the group arrived at the garrison at the promised time, finding Nora sitting casually atop a boulder just outside the fortified structure. Boxxy then conducted some formal introductions.
“This is Nora. She will be our guide and escort, so make sure you play nice. Nora, these are my demonic familiars - Snack, Arms, and Claws.”
“These are some peculiar names, non?” the marine golem remarked.
“You would do well to remember them,” Xera said in a serious business-like manner. “I am Master’s Snack. Addressing me as anything else would be an insult.”
“My name’s actually Koralenteprix,” Kora declared, “but you can call me whatever you want so long as you’re fine with me jamming my fist down your throat.”
“Tktktktkt…” Drea chittered awkwardly while poking her head out from behind Boxxy’s billowing cloak.
Nora silently determined that the peculiar names perfectly fit these peculiar creatures. It was honestly quite unsettling watching these demons swim around, the big one and the chittering one especially. The way they used all those extra limbs to propel themselves forward like mutated squids was more than a little strange, but at least it seemed to be effective. As for the naked one, the fact that she maintained this depth with those absurdly buoyant things on her chest was surely only made possible through the use of some exceptionally powerful magic.
And yet there was a creature here that trumped all of those combined when it came to weirdness factor, and it wasn’t even the fat little mithril golem.
“And the big yellow thing?” Nora asked while pointing at it.
“That’s Jen. The yellow thing is her special diving suit,” Hugh explained.
“And those weird things poking out of her back?”
“What, like those bird things that swim through the air?”
“Yeah. Long story. Just think of her as a visiting unenlightened.”
“Uh-huh. But will she be able to keep up with the rest of us?”
Boxxy gestured at Jen to make a demonstration, and the ducky-suited Monk immediately obliged. A simultaneous flap of her adorable arms, a beat of her fluffy wings, and a kick from her comically large feet sent her streaming through the water with such explosive force that she left a cloud of foam and bubbles in her wake. She showed off by rapidly changing direction and speed in such a way that even a krymer would start to feel sick. She finished showing off by smashing head-first into the giant rock Nora was sitting on, easily splitting it in two as she went right through it.
Her seat destroyed, the submarine construct lowered herself to the ocean floor with the aid of the numerous water jets in her torso and legs.
“Good enough?” Hugh asked with a smirk.
“Going that far was unnecessary,” she complained. “But yes, good enough.”
Nora then turned towards the ‘anchor with legs,’ intending to ask her the same question she had for Jen. However, she immediately gave up on that when she saw the cocky grin on Fizzy’s face. It was as if the smaller golem was daring her to ask whether she could keep up, and Nora wasn’t about to oblige her for fear of what the answer would be. The dynamo golem then answered her unspoken query anyway by activating her Physical Augmentation Module, reconfiguring her body structure into her sleek and lightweight Assault Mode. The two jump-jets that had appeared on her back rumbled to life and effortlessly propelled her forward and upward.
It was at this point Nora was forced to admit that Fizzy was clearly the superior golem, though she wouldn’t say it to her face. The silver-plated construct could compare their materials, shapes, and sizes all she wanted, but at the end of the day she could not transform like that. Sure, her Hydromancer Job gave her access to a special Skill called Depth Charge, but it was nowhere near as cool as the Artificer golem’s Physical Augmentation Module. If anything at least Nora could now give up on this pointless contest and focus solely on the job she’d been hired to do.
Luckily the trip itself was shaping up to be a remarkably quick one. The time estimates Nora had given the cloaked surfacer were based on the average speed of krymer adventurers, but her built-in propulsion system allowed her to cut through the water nearly three times as fast. It was really a matter of whether her clients could keep up with her. And while these drylanders couldn’t match her top speed, they still performed far better than anyone else Nora had escorted. Even the Warlock was keeping pace, though how he managed to do it was a bit of a mystery to the mecha-fish-lady since his cloak made it difficult to see his swimming technique. From her perspective he might as well have been propelling himself with magical farts, but at least he wasn’t slowing the group down. The only one that actually struggled was Xera as the physically weakest of the bunch, but that problem was solved by having her cling onto Kora’s back and letting the tireless musclehead do all the work.
Incidentally, the hoarder had taken to referring to the torpedo golem as ‘Battle-Tits’ for reasons only she understood.
All things said and done, Nora had guided the group of monsters and demons to the Trenches within about two hours of leaving Nautilin. The ocean floor had a series of deep chasms in it that made it seem like someone had carved it up with a castle-sized knife. A stream of molten rock glowed at the bottom of each gorge, with numerous tiny volcanoes dotting the sheer vertical cliffs. These erupted sporadically, releasing clouds of smoke, dust, and bubbles into the surrounding waters in short bursts. This seemed to be the source of the hallucinogenic chemicals Nora had mentioned earlier, which Boxxy could quite literally taste. The flavor was hardly what it would call appetizing, though.
Your body begins to feed off the ambient mana. Automatic HP and MP recovery increased by 350%.
The raw magical energies flowing around it were far more delicious, however. They weren’t potent enough to reach the full 500% potential increase of its Level 10 Hylt Metabolism Skill, but the same could be said of every other environment Boxxy had been in thus far. The highest it had been able to reach was 400% during its visit to one of the most dangerous dungeons on the continent. It doubted anything short of the Shattered Isles would allow it to push the limits on that particular ability.
In more local news, the extremely potent ambient mana within these Trenches went a long way to explain its odd classification as ‘not-a-dungeon.’ Fonts of magical energy like this were a breeding ground for powerful monsters, which were either drawn to it or born from it. This case seemed to be a bit of both, as Boxxy could see both kinds of creatures floating around in those depths. Lava-lobsters, bubbling magma elementals and even a street-sized scaly sea serpent, to name a few. It also surmised that the only reason the place hadn’t been turned into an actual dungeon was because the gods that dabbled in that sort of stuff had practically zero influence down here.
“Okay, where do we go from here?” the mercenary asked the guide.
“Over there,” she pointed, “see that big crown-shaped rock formation?”
“There’s an old dormant volcano inside it that leads to a cave system. The creature you want is at the bottom.”
“Alright. Lead the way.”
The group proceeded carefully, being wary of any of the resident creatures coming up to assail them. Yet none of the locals seemed keen to leave the trenches, despite the fact that many of them clearly noticed the group pass overhead. Not even the aforementioned sea serpent offered more of a reaction than to snap upwards before going on its merry way. Boxxy wondered whether this was simply how things were around here. It was made clear this was most definitely not the case when it noticed Nora looking around frantically while her leg’s built-in water jets propelled her forward.
“What’s wrong?” it asked.
“The monsters, they are not attacking.”
“I can see that. Why are they not attacking?”
“I am not sure. Usually they only behave this way when Big Smoke is near, but that can’t be it.”
“What or who is Big Smoke?”
“It’s the biggest, toughest, oldest leviathan you’ll ever see,” Nora said bluntly.
“And why do you think it’s not the cause?”
“Because it only comes here to get ‘igh off the Trenches, but they’re not burning ‘otly enough for their smoke to affect a monster that big.”
“… I’m sorry, it comes here to get what?”
“‘Igh, you know?” she repeated herself. “Is, how you say, stoned. Wasted.”
“Oh. High. Okay.”
Boxxy had just been told that the ‘biggest, toughest, oldest leviathan’ had a habit of huffing vast quantities of hallucinogenic volcanic residue, and yet that somehow wasn’t the part of Nora’s story that it took issue with.
“Big Smoke isn’t actually its name, right?” it asked pointedly.
“Of course not. It’s true name is just long and ‘ard to say. Like, Car-Shark-Leg or something.”
“You mean Khar-Shargurk’ithlag?”
“Oui, that seems about right,” she nodded. “You’ve ‘eard of it before?”
“You… could say that.”
Though Boxxy’s highly enhanced vision was limited to just a hundred meters or so in these murky depths, its Eyes of the Dead God extended out to about a kilometer beyond that. And right now that ability was telling it three vital pieces of information. The first was that something called ‘Khar-Shargurk’ithlag’ was floating around in the darkness above them. The second was that said something had a rather disheartening one and a half million HP. It was the third and arguably most important tidbit that really gave Boxxy pause, however.
“Unrelated, I really think we should be getting a move on. Like, now!”
Namely the fact that it was most definitely getting closer.