“Well. That was exciting,” Boxxy commented cheerfully. “Not often you get to see something that big.”
“Wish I could say I’ve seen bigger, but it was indeed quite massive,” Xera chimed in.
“That’s what she said!” Kora added quickly.
“Yes. She did,” Fizzy stated bluntly. “Blockhead.”
“Why are you people this fucking calm?!” Nora screamed. “We nearly got crushed into ooze!”
“So?” the entire group responded in unison.
The krymer golem opened and closed her mouth a few times, but she had no idea where to start with them. Merely seeing Khar-Shargurk’ithlag, otherwise known as ‘Big Smoke,’ was usually enough to strike even the most hardened of adventurers speechless. And that was assuming they’d caught a glimpse of its mountainous shadow moving through the depths. Yet this bunch treated coming literally face-to-face with the worst leviathan in existence as if it were a minor footnote of their day.
As one might infer from the weight of their name alone, leviathans were the undisputed largest monsters in the Shimmering Ocean, often times reaching lengths of several hundred meters. People sometimes confused them for supersized krakens, which was understandable considering both species had an array of squid-like tentacles as their limbs. However, that was where the similarities ended. Leviathans were closer to serpents than mollusks, their long and relatively thin bodies separated into three distinct parts.
At the front stood a massive head that was vaguely draconic in its appearance, complete with an elongated set of terrifying jaws and a pair of yellow eyes that glowed like searchlights. Numerous spines grew out of the sides, top, and back of the skull, giving the vague impression of horns. An elongated neck attached the head to the torso region, which was twice as thick as the rest of the creature and had the aforementioned tentacles growing out of its upper back. These limbs were long and dextrous enough to serve a leviathan as arms and hands, allowing the creature to capture its prey and then hold it up to its face so it could feed on it. The snake-like tail that followed the torso region made up two thirds of the creature’s impressive length and ended in a serrated spear-like bone. Dozens of long and flexible fins that looked like underwater wings ran the length of the body below the neck, providing ample speed and maneuverability in spite of a leviathan’s bulk.
The one called Big Smoke was not massively different from the rest of its kind. In fact, it was considered a perfect specimen of leviathan biology. Especially the part where leviathans continuously grew larger as they grew older, like orcs. It was also assumed that they did not die of old age, but instead perished when their bodies became so large that they required more energy than they could take in. It still took many centuries for that to happen, but this much was known to be true among the krymer’s scientific circles. Big Smoke in particular was considered at the end of its natural lifespan, as its body was over two kilometers in length. It was so enormous that it was practically impossible for a single person to observe it in its entirety in the ocean’s murky depths.
It wasn’t just size, either. Big Smoke was also fast, powerful, cunning, and intelligent. It even knew a number of Spells in addition to the species’ innate magical abilities. Many krymer believed its combat abilities to be on near-equal terms with Miphelyr, the Ruinous Serpent. The elder dragon in question had made her lair in the deepest, darkest parts of the ocean, nearly ten kilometers below the surface. Old krymer legends spoke of how she and Big Smoke used to butt heads over territory disputes ages ago. Their conflicts were said to have left deep chasms in the ocean floor and had drowned much of Atica and Velos with the resulting tidal waves.
For better or for worse, the leviathan seemed to have lost that particular contest and had migrated to this part of the Shimmering Ocean about four hundred years ago. Thankfully for the locals, Big Smoke had no interest in lording over civilizations or demanding tributes of gold and gems like dragons did. Both the krymer and their cities were so far beneath its notice that it completely ignored them, even in the extremely rare occasions when it happened to swim overhead. The creature seemed utterly content in its role as the biggest fish in these waters. The only thing it seemed to care about was getting ‘baked’ off of the unique blend of chemicals the Trenches gave off during massive eruptions. The leviathan gobbled up these toxic clouds before they could dilute, hence its nickname.
Nora knew all of this, as did any other adventurer that frequented this volcanic area. So while one might argue that she should’ve seen Big Smoke’s arrival coming, she had no way of predicting it would turn hostile against her and her clients. They were practically plankton from that thing’s perspective, and yet it had very clearly attacked them. The sight of it coming into view from the darkness above had been like that of a meteorite with teeth. The way its street-sized tentacles shot down at the group made it clear it was targeting them specifically, too.
Thankfully Hugh’s early warning had given them just enough time to make it into the tunnel systems beneath the Trenches, though Big Smoke’s attack had thoroughly collapsed the entrance. Getting out would be much more difficult than getting in, but Nora wasn’t worried about that. Or at least not at this moment, as she was still trying to comprehend how and why a creature her ancestors had once worshipped as a god would ever bother with a bunch of lowly demons and monsters. Unless…
“Uh, silly question,” Nora approached the cloaked Warlock, “but you wouldn’t happen to be a Priest or something, non?”
“Who, me? Of course not,” Boxxy replied. “Jen’s a Monk and Fizzy’s a Paladin, though.”
“You’re telling me the fat war golem and the yellow bird-thing are servants of the gods?!”
“Affirmative,” the harpy nodded.
“Damn right!” Fizzy puffed her chest out. “Also, who you calling fat, rustbucket?!”
“… Merde,” Nora cursed quietly
“What’s this all about?” Boxxy stepped in.
“Big Smoke ‘ates the faithful,” she explained. “I don’t know why or ‘ow, but it senses them and squishes them on sight.”
This quirk was partly why this leviathan was considered ‘the meanest,’ and was no doubt a contributing factor to the ongoing godlessness of the local culture, though not a major one. And considering that Fizzy and Jen had over five hundred and three hundred Faith (FTH) respectively, they likely shone like beacons down here. It was a good thing Big Smoke hadn’t decided to randomly swim over Nautilin, otherwise a neighborhood or two might’ve been swept away.
“And you didn’t think to mention this sooner?” Boxxy asked demandingly.
“It never occurred to me why it would be an issue with this group!”
The thought that monsters might be religious hadn’t even crossed her mind. Sure, it made sense in theory, but in practice the need to believe in something greater than oneself was an entirely enlightened problem. It would have almost been better if the demon-loving shady mercenary had been a Priest. At least that unlikely possibility was one that she had considered.
“You could’ve asked what our general Job layout was,” the shapeshifter countered.
“Would you ‘ave told me?”
“Probably not,” it shrugged. “I guess we can point fingers later. Right now we should get a move on before Khar-Shargurk’ithlag decides it wants to try digging us out.”
Incidentally, though that name seemed like a demon’s, it most assuredly wasn’t. Demon names were made up of symbols from the divine language, but this one seemed like someone had vomited onto a dictionary page and written down the few letters that were left legible.
“Agreed,” Nora nodded. “We will need another way out, but we can figure that out later.”
The mechanized krymer then proceeded to perform the second half of the task she’d been hired for and led the group deeper into the tunnels. The area seemed remarkably stable considering it was in a hotbed of volcanic activity. There were a few pools of molten magma here and there that provided light, but they seemed mostly dormant. The heat was by far the biggest concern, though every member of the group dealt with it in their own way.
Boxxy and Xera were unharmed since they had Fire Affinity, but the shapeshifter still found it uncomfortable. Jen was equally unperturbed since her Diamond Soul, a high Level Monk Skill, protected her from environmental hazards like extreme temperatures. The two golems didn’t even feel the scalding water, which wasn’t nearly hot enough to affect their metal bodies. Kora had no such protection, so she was forced to grit her teeth and endure the heat. She was continuously taking damage, but it was more or less counteracted by her conjured body’s natural HP recovery.
As for Drea, she dealt with the unbearable heat by simply not being there. It had taken Boxxy a short while to realize it, but the webstalker hadn’t made it into the caverns. Apparently the sheer volume of water being displaced by the leviathan’s tentacle attack had sent her light body spiraling away from the entrance just before it collapsed. Xera would’ve probably gotten caught up in it too if she hadn’t been clinging to Kora’s back for dear life.
In any event, the webstalker was mostly unharmed and doing her best to follow the others from above. She could vaguely feel where her master was through the summoner-familiar thought link, so while she wasn’t directly on top of them, she was close enough to serve as Boxxy’s eyes and ears on the ‘surface.’ Which was how the doppelganger knew that Big Smoke had already left the Trenches, at least as far as a spider-demon with mana-sensitive eyesight could determine.
Down below the ocean floor, Nora was doing pretty much all of the work, just as she had said back in town. The monsters in the tunnels had very little variety to them. They were either crustaceans with stone-like shells that had adapted to the constant heat, or various magically animated lumps of molten rock. The torpedo golem handled these by darting around at high speeds, zipping from wall to wall as she cleaved them in half with her arm-blade-fins. She effortlessly maneuvered herself so she’d approach from the monsters’ blind spots, making her Assassinate Skill trigger on each attack.
Boxxy had been rather skeptical of how well a metallic Rogue would perform, especially underwater, but it was pleasantly surprised with Nora’s take on the Job. She was fast, precise, silent, and completely familiar with her environment. Her actions and motions were so smooth and fluid that it was an actual joy to watch her work, though the shapeshifter didn’t say that out loud so as not to injure the other golem’s pride. The mithril dynamo golem was by far shinier and more powerful, but she was out of her element here.
Putting it bluntly, if Nora was a scalpel, then Fizzy was a sledgehammer, and only one of those tools was suitable for surgical strikes.
Whatever whimsy Nora’s efficient killing methods garnered faded rapidly. She hadn’t been kidding when she said reaching the deepest part of the trenches would take a few days. It wasn’t a great distance, but the way these tunnels snaked and twisted around was something else entirely. It reminded Boxxy of the hedge maze it had challenged years ago, albeit in three dimensions and without being able to see its layout in its entirety. It really went to show just how much time Nora had spent exploring this place considering the confidence with which she navigated it.
She still had no idea how these tunnels actually came to be, nor did she seem to care. Boxxy was of the same opinion, as the sickeningly good mood it had been in since curing its demonic corruption was now well and truly gone. It began to realize how idiotic of an idea this expedition had been, but it was too stubborn to call it off after it put so much time and effort into getting this far. At least getting out would be easy since it could just open a Gate to where Claws was, hopefully without explosive pressure shenanigans.
Speaking of which, it would appear the group was going largely in circles from Drea’s perspective. Quite wide circles with a lot of vertical movement, but circles nonetheless. This did little to bring back Boxxy’s good mood, though there was some good news. Apparently Nora’s three day estimate had been the ‘pathetic meatbag standard,’ so this monstrous group and their seemingly bottomless stamina made some remarkably good time. They went even faster once Boxxy, Fizzy, and Jen started helping their guide clear up the volcanic vermin. Yes, she was capable of eliminating them in one shot, but it still took time to line up her angle of attack and there were a lot of the buggers.
All in all, the group travelled fast enough to reach their destination a mere twenty-six hours after their departure from Nautilin.
“We’re almost there,” Nora reported. “Should be a few more minutes.”
“Hmm… that’s interesting,” Boxxy noted as it swam after her.
“What is?” she asked over her shoulder.
“Did you know the city’s directly overhead?”
“Is that so?”
“Indeed. My familiar has been tracking us from above, and she’s currently in one of the residential districts.”
It wasn’t the most precise estimate and there was no way of knowing exactly how deep they were, but Boxxy was certain that Nautilin was somewhere overhead.
“Huh. That’s… worrying.”
“I do not think the citizens would like to know what lies below their ‘omes.”
The group turned a corner just as Nora said that, revealing a massive hollowed-out cavern shaped vaguely like the inside of a bell. It was at least a hundred meters tall and seventy or so wide at its lowest part. Dozens of holes dotted the walls, each of them resembling the one Boxxy’s group was currently peeking out of, though only a few of them were more than a meter or two deep. Looking down at the bottom, they saw a vaguely circular pool of bubbling magma, and poking out of the middle of it was the thing they had all come here to see.
Standing atop a perfectly circular metal platform that was clearly made by someone or something intelligent was a creature that could be described as a literal walking fortress. Its appearance was, at its base, similar to the stone-shelled crustaceans in the tunnels, but this crab was clearly different. For starters, it was about twenty meters wide and almost as tall, covering almost the entire platform it was sitting on. Secondly, its shell was a mix of masonry and machinery. It was as if someone had found a giant crab, built a small castle on its back, then outfitted it with armored plating, pistons, vents, and other miscellaneous parts.
Including, of course, suitably heavy siege weaponry.
“Are those… cannons?” Fizzy’s eyes widened. “Why in Joseph’s holy fruit-basket does a giant crab have cannons?!”
Judging by the shape, length, and thickness of the metal tubes poking out of its fortified back, the thing was carrying eight giant guns that were two-to-three meters in diameter at the tip of the barrel.
“Probably the same reason we do,” Nora pointed out. “Us golems get pretty troublesome when we get ranged attacks.”
“… Point taken.”
“Also, please warn me when you go kill yourselves so I can back away first,” the krymer construct said bluntly. “The mech-beast does not play around.”
She then pointed at one of the holes in the far wall.
“See that? That is what’s left of the last fool that ‘ired me to bring them ‘ere.”
Boxxy peered into it, noting that there was definitely something metal buried in the rock, most likely body armor given Nora’s words.
“So you’ve never seen it fight?” the shapeshifter asked.
“I’ve seen it shoot at things, can’t really call that fighting,” the golem shrugged.
“You said you challenged it a few times.”
“I did. I lost miserably and only survived because of this body. I gave up after the last time when I lost my legs and tail.”
“… But you still have your legs and tail,” Fizzy commented.
“I got new ones.”
The radiant Paladin was pretty sure not even Horkensaft’s top smiths and engineers could replicate war golem parts accurately enough for them to be attached. Even she couldn’t do it. The best she could do was recycle war golem bits retrieved from Hubert’s Divine-class dungeon generator.
“Assimilate Skill, of course.”
“Oh… Do you not ‘ave it?” Nora smirked smugly. “‘Ow very… primitive.”
“Primitive?!” the smaller golem shrieked. “I’ll have you know I’m an expert in multiple scientific fields!”
“Yeah, right,” the other one scoffed. “And I’m the Queen of Saphrina.”
“Looks like someone needs a practical demonstration in physics!”
Fizzy gripped her hammer with both hands and started charging the DILDO in its head with a loud crackle. Nora responded by snapping her arm-blades forward and invoking some Skill or another that made the water around her swirl in a miniature whirlpool. This was when Boxxy decided to step in, clonking its shiniest companion in the back of the head with a heavy punch. It got a rather painful zap from Fizzy’s electrified frame in return, but the blow had done the trick of snapping the golems out of their respective ego-trips.
“Cut it out you two,” it demanded. “This is neither the time nor place for this.”
Boxxy intended to eventually kill the krymer golem and add her frame to its collection, but right now it still needed information from her.
“Nora, focus,” it spoke sternly. “You still haven’t told me what that thing actually fires.”
“Right. Mmm, some kind of sonic projectile, I think?” was her uncertain reply.
“It is invisible, mostly silent, and passes through water without disturbing it. But, when it hits something solid, it smashes into them like a drunken whale. No barriers or armor will protect your meatbag insides from being turned into goo. Your only defense is to avoid it, but doing so is practically impossible.”
Boxxy had to try extra hard to hide its enthusiasm. This definitely sounded like the terrible weapon hinted at in Tol-Saroth’s journal. It probably wasn’t, given how absurdly difficult it must have been to find, but the shapeshifter didn’t care. Its ill-conceived expedition would definitely be worth it if it managed to secure, study, and replicate one of these sonic cannons. Its enthusiasm was only slightly curbed when it remembered that water conducted vibrations much better than air did. There was a good chance that this weapon wouldn’t be nearly as powerful on dry land, but it was certainly worth a shot if nothing else.
Having decided to dismantle the castle-crab, Boxxy immediately began planning on how to take it down. A brief glimpse with its Eyes of the Dead God revealed the creature’s HP was ‘only’ thirty thousand, though it might as well have been five times that given how notoriously difficult it was to damage a golem. Its name, which was revealed to be ‘CR-4B,’ seemed like a serial number that implied this was neither the first nor the last of its kind. This would normally have been the point where Boxxy stopped to question who would have the technology to make this sort of thing, especially if it was more than four centuries old.
“Impossible, huh? Watch this.”
However, Fizzy’s freshly bruised ego had driven her to make a decidedly rash decision before the shapeshifter’s train of thought had even left the station. Now in her heavily-armored Fortress Mode, she leapt from the group’s hidey-hole before anyone could stop her. Novaspike hammer in-hand and crackling electrical barrier around her, she sank headfirst towards the cannon-crab. The thing immediately reacted by angling four of its guns upwards. It fired an invisible shot with a heavy thumping sound. Moments later something ripped clean through Fizzy’s Static Shield and slammed into her chest with a dull ringing sound.
You have suffered moderate blunt force trauma. HP -935.
It would appear Nora hadn’t been exaggerating when she claimed that trying to take that blast head-on was a bad idea. The mithril golem’s barrier and Shock Absorption Skill had cushioned the impact, yet she still got chunked for about a sixth of her total HP. The hit was also forceful enough to momentarily halt her anchor-like descent and make her a sitting duck for the crab’s second shot, which it fired immediately after the first one hit.
Fizzy was ready for its attack this time, though. With timing only a skilled Artificer and a Champion of Chaos could achieve, she used her Lightning Warp to disappear into a burst of arcing electricity just before the sonic projectile hit her. She reappeared several meters below her previous position, right on time for a third blast.
The dynamo golem swung the shield on her left arm in a sweeping motion, producing a loud gong as she repelled the magical attack. The cavern walls above and to her side exploded simultaneously as the wayward shots collided with the sheer rocks. The cannon-crab still had a fourth gun trained on her, but by then the golem was just close enough to launch her own counter-attack. She momentarily let go of her weapon and made a grasping motion with her right hand. The fourth cannon groaned and bent under the force of her Geomagnetic Grip. Not a lot, but just enough to make it explode when its owner tried to fire it a fraction of a second later.
CR-4B let out a grating metallic screech as its massive body lurched from the force of the violent malfunction. Its discomfort was only amplified when Fizzy landed on one of its other guns and slammed her weapon into it hard enough to crack its barrel open. The DILDO then immediately discharged its payload into its unwilling recipient. The creature clearly wasn’t lightning-proof, seeing as how several bursts of sparks flew out from between its armored plating. It also wasn’t an idiot, as it immediately recognized that it couldn’t attack the intruder while she was on its back.
The castle-on-legs leapt backwards abruptly, shaking Fizzy off and dropping her onto the circular platform. Her heavyset frame wasn’t the most acrobatic, hence why she landed on her back with a heavy thunk. The crab landed in the surrounding lava pit, its pointy legs scraping along something extremely solid just underneath the relatively shallow pool of magma. It brought its six remaining guns to bear, all of them aimed squarely at the dynamo golem. Fizzy stood up just in time for her Champion of Chaos Skill to warn her that she was moments away from being flattened.
However, CR-4B did not fire on her then and there. It instead chose to hop to the side with speed and agility one wouldn’t expect from such a massive construct, narrowly avoiding the world’s duckiest dive-bomb. Though Jen had somehow managed to pull off her Air Raid ability underwater, it hadn’t been nearly as fast as she had hoped. The rest of the group followed close behind, with Kora landing in front of the golem as if to shield her, and Boxxy and Xera firing off a Reality Slash and Scorching Ray respectively. The silver-plated torpedo golem remained firmly inside the tunnel above, both unwilling to participate and genuinely amazed at her shorter counterpart’s performance.
Putting it bluntly, if Nora was a scalpel, then Fizzy was a sledgehammer, and only one of those tools was suitable for knocking down a wall.
The problem was that this particular ‘wall’ had legs, and it wasn’t afraid to use them. It ran wide circles around the edge of the cavern’s magma-covered floor while firing shot after shot in rapid succession. Thankfully it seemed that it’s usual pinpoint accuracy suffered greatly if it wasn’t standing still, but it compensated for this by changing up its ammunition. Rather than giant sonic cannonballs, it instead fired bursts of superheated shrapnel, piercing jets of boiling water, and metallic bubbles that burst in the open to release lethal hydraulic shocks in a wide area. These weren’t as devastating as its primary firing mode, but were much more difficult to dodge and required a lot less precision.
The monster-demon coalition, on the other hand, had a tough time nailing the thing. Boxxy’s repeated Reality Slashes failed to penetrate its armor even with Power Overwhelming supercharging its magic. Xera’s Scorching Ray seemed to be doing an okay job at melting through it, but she couldn’t stand still and focus on the Spell without being targeted by one of those multifunctional cannons. Kora was almost completely useless, as she was incapable of catching up to the sheer speed the crab was moving at. Jen was more than capable of keeping up with it and was repeatedly slamming into its side while avoiding those massive pincers. Unfortunately her suit made it impossible to properly grasp her favorite staff, so she wasn’t doing nearly as much damage as she would’ve liked. As for Fizzy, she remained in the center platform and returned fire with her Magitech Cannon as often as possible. She had also activated Parallel Plot, allowing Plus to keep the others healthy with Holy Light while Minus poured a stream of Lightning Bolts into the crab.
On the whole the invaders were most definitely standing their ground, though Boxxy did not like the way this was going. Straight up face-to-face combat was not how it did things. Sure, its team was doing an admirable job fighting that highly mobile artillery platform, but they weren’t doing a very good job of lowering its HP. The agonizingly slow rate with which they were chipping away at it was akin to trying to dig a tunnel through a mountain with a needle. Or at least it would be, if said mountain had giant magical guns and was gradually reinforcing itself. CR-4B would continuously shed the cracked, dented and melted parts of its armored shell, which were swiftly replaced by pristine steel plates that slid into place from somewhere within its body. The only upside was that the guns Fizzy had disabled remained firmly out of commission, but the other six continued to fire tirelessly.
So, all things considered, Boxxy decided to get serious before this turned into the battle of attrition this mechanized crab was clearly aiming for. The shapeshifter had a whole bunch of tricks, gadgets, and Skills at its disposal, but it couldn’t just unleash them thoughtlessly. Not because it was trying to keep its cover in front of Nora, though. She was going to become a lifeless trophy regardless of what she witnessed. Boxxy’s concern was that it wanted to dismantle those tasty-looking cannons to study and possibly reverse-engineer them, and it couldn’t do that if it obliterated CR-4B with the ‘Realm Scar’ it used back on Velos.
The call was therefore to immobilize, disable, and dismantle the stupid metal crab. Those legs were an obvious place to start, and Boxxy knew just how to get at them.
Boxxy unleashed the same Spell that had once rendered the similarly-sized Crystal Maiden completely immobile. Unfortunately, this particular walking fortress seemed to be put together a lot better. Though one of its legs did get caught in the Spell’s effects and instantly slammed into the magma pit as its velocity was converted into weight, the other five hoisted it free of the magical snare with relative ease. The shapeshifter tried a few more times, even overlapping Momentum Anomaly with Gravity Well, but the only thing it managed to do was slightly break its stride. Worse still, the giant enemy crab was clearly learning, as it began gingerly avoiding the areas of augmented gravity Boxxy put in its path.
Well, it looked like Plan A wasn’t going to work, so Plan B was put into motion. The monstrous Warlock ceased its magical barrage and dove into the relatively shallow lake of lava, its Fire Affinity protecting it from any damage it might have taken. Its enchanted diving gear had no such protection, however, and melted off as it burrowed through the molten rock. It had a feeling that would happen, but it could probably last a few hours even without those items, and it only needed a few seconds to carry out its plan.
The shapeshifter, now thoroughly stripped of all the trappings of civilization, burst out of the lava directly underneath the crab and slammed shoulder-first into its underbelly. CR-4B had been caught completely unawares by this maneuver and was unable to move away from Boxxy in time. The crafty creature blasted it with a point-blank Cold Snap, intending to take advantage of the colossal crab-golem’s Bane to freeze its legs in place. And while this did happen, it wasn’t in quite the way that Boxxy was expecting.
In the next instant, the entirety of CR-4B’s body was trapped in a perfectly spherical glacier precisely twenty-two meters in diameter, with only the tips of its legs and cannons poking out of the ice. Boxxy had failed to consider that water tended to turn solid when it was subjected to extreme cold, and was currently stuck in its center, its body pressing against the crab’s. It made the best of it though, same as it always did. It shrunk its body down as much as possible and used what movement it could in that tight space to retrieve Fizzy’s latest creation from its Storage.
The Arclight Artificer had spent most of the land-based part of this trip tinkering inside the airless void of Boxxy’s pocket dimension. She had realized she had no powered tools that functioned underwater, and had used that time to rectify this issue. The result was something she called an arc cutter, a handheld cylindrical device that produced a tiny stream of plasma capable of melting through almost anything. It was completely waterproof by design, though it could only be assembled properly within a vacuum.
Fizzy had no idea what Boxxy was doing at this point, however, and neither did the rest of the group. At present, they were just staring at the crabcicle as it slowly rolled around on that bed of lava, unsure of what to do. They were just as surprised by this turn of events as CR-4B, as their devious leader had neglected to inform them of its Plan B. Or Plan A. Or Plans C, D, and E, for that matter. Regardless, it was obvious the shapeshifter was up to something, and they didn’t want to compromise its plans by thoughtlessly breaking the ice.
The crab had no such qualms, of course. It set off one of its magical depth charge bubbles, causing the ice to instantly shake apart. It had sacrificed one of its cannons to do that, but was now free and probably a bit pissed off.
Okay, it was very pissed off.
With a roar and a vengeance, CR-4B dug in its heels and opened its pincers for the first time in the fight, revealing another cannon inside each one. It then started sucking up the magma through its legs, causing parts of its body to flare red as it was pumped through its body and into its claws.
“I think we should duck,” Fizzy suggested.
“Good plan,” Jen agreed.
Kora was a bit slow on the uptake, however. She looked on with a puzzled expression as the Paladin and the Monk ducked behind the only piece of cover available - her. She turned her attention back towards the crab-thing just in time to see it discharge some kind of beam from one of its pincer-cannons. The bright red burst of energy engulfed the trio in an instant, with the distracted demon taking the brunt of it.
To her credit, she was still standing when the energy stream subsided, but only barely. Her body had been charred black and her front half had been melted off nearly to the bone. Kora let off a muffled gurgle that sounded vaguely like ‘fuck this’ just before she collapsed and expired from the grevious wound. Behind her, part of Fizzy’s frame had grown red-hot and the left sleeve of Jen’s diving suit had been stripped away along with part of her skin, but they were mostly unharmed. Luckily for the Monk the suit’s rubbery material sealed itself around her arm, but it was clear that engaging this thing on its home turf had been a terrible idea.
There was an upside, at least. Whatever that attack was had melted through the crab’s right claw, disabling both the limb and the cannon within. The bad news was it still had one more of those, which was already in the process of spooling up. It used its other weapons to disrupt Xera’s attempts to cripple one of its legs with repeated Magma Missiles while it took aim at the faithful duo with its remaining lava-powered laser cannon. Neither the Monk nor the Paladin had any illusions of being able to dodge an attack that traveled at the speed of light, so the only thing they could do was brace themselves. Luckily Fizzy was still in her Fortress Mode and was charging up her Static Shield, which was better at deflecting heat energy than kinetic energy. Whether it could absorb enough of that energy was another point entirely.
What came next wasn’t a high-temperature beam, but an ear-splitting explosion, followed immediately by a deluge of smoke and scrap that poured out of a hole in CR-4B’s underbelly. The castle-crab shook and sputtered for a few seconds while various parts of it blew up in succession, then collapsed into a heap. Several heartbeats later Xera disappeared in a puff of green smoke and a rather haggard-looking Boxxy took her place. It immediately opened its Storage and dove into it, emerging shortly afterwards with a fresh set of diving equipment and a replacement Sandman cloak.
“Well, that was unpleasant,” it grumbled.
“What was?” Fizzy asked. “Actually, where did you even go?”
“Cut myself into that thing’s belly while the ice held. Thanks, by the way. This was a huge help.”
It tossed something to the golem, which she caught and immediately recognized as the mangled remains of her arc cutter.
“Really?! I barely even finished this and you already broke it?!” she couldn’t help but complain.
“Sorry. Seems my plan to cut away the thing’s core from the inside wasn’t as, uh, clean as I would’ve liked.”
Navigating the thing’s interior alone had taken a huge toll on Boxxy. Its spine was nearly crushed a number of times as it had to squeeze through some really tight spaces. Not to mention that everything was in motion. Gears, pistons, levers, belts - it would’ve been impossible to make it through all of that if it hadn’t been an MLG-equipped shapeshifter, especially not in under ten seconds. Having reached the crab-golem’s core, Boxxy immediately attempted to remove it with Fizzy’s arc cutter. It had barely even started when the object flashed red and then promptly blew up in its face.
All things considered, the shapeshifter had gotten out of there with about half its HP remaining and the rest rapidly regenerating, so it wasn’t complaining.
“I really wanted to keep that thing as whole as possible, too.”
Not much, anyway. The self-destruct sequence had clearly been designed as some kind of failsafe or security feature with the sole intent of preventing anyone from capturing that mechanism intact. It looked significantly more robust and advanced than either Fizzy or Nora’s, too. At least most of the cannons that the shapeshifter was initially after appeared to be intact for the moment. It was likely that they’d remain salvageable for a while longer since the cannon-crab wasn’t sinking into the lava it had collapsed into.
This was decidedly a good thing, as those things were far too large to fit through its Storage portal. Removing the cannons and transporting them all the way back to its lair would be a logistical challenge to say the least, but Boxxy would tackle it a bit later. Its highest priority right now was to satiate its curiosity regarding what it was, exactly, that CR-4B had been sitting on all this time.
“Sacrebleu!” Nora’s voice echoed from above. “You actually did it?!”
The krymer golem darted down and swam around the toppled crab with a look of wonderment on her face. It’s unclear how much of the fight she actually saw, but she clearly hadn’t witnessed anything that demanded immediate termination.
“Doesn’t feel like we did much,” Fizzy grumbled. “I only got one solid whack on it.”
She also hadn’t gotten nearly as much XP as she would’ve expected, but she assumed it was mostly because Boxxy had earned most of the credit by attacking its weak point for massive damage. In truth the shapeshifter hadn’t gotten much either since CR-4B had effectively killed itself, but it didn’t care too much about that right now. It was far too busy studying this weird metal platform that the mobile artillery platform had been presumably guarding. Its attempts to pierce the surface with its MLG proved futile, as whatever lay on the other side had been warded against magical observation. However, a solid stomp on it released a distinctly hollow-sounding din, making it clear that there was most certainly something to be found.
The problem was how to get through it. Cutting it open with high heat certainly wasn’t going to be easy considering it was oddly cool to the touch despite being right next to a pool of lava. It was very likely that the material was highly fortified, so any brute force approach would probably be met with futile frustration. Boxxy considered misusing its Storage Skill to cut a hole right through it, but that wasn’t going to work. The platform was too flat and wide for the portal to opened while overlapping with the solid surface. Teleporting through it was also not going to happen since there were wards against that, too.
“Fizzy, can you figure out how to get this thing open?”
Long story short, it couldn’t think of an easy way in, so it asked for a second opinion.
“Hm? Oh, right.”
The dynamo golem reverted to her usual Skirmisher Mode and knelt down to place her hand on the platform.
“What are you doing?” Nora inquired.
The torpedo golem had noticed the pair’s oddly non-celebratory behavior and had come over to see what they were up to.
“I’m channeling my Metallopathy, what does it look like?” the radiant construct grumbled in response. “Now shut up and let me focus.”
Nora was confused for a moment since she had no idea what the anchor-with-legs was talking about, but she kept her remarks to herself. Even her over-inflated ego couldn’t object after witnessing the smaller one’s might firsthand. As for Jen, she was currently kicking the crab’s remains with a vaguely dissatisfied mini-scowl, as if demanding it get back up and keep fighting. Xera was still trapped inside the thing with no way out and the debris slowly crushing the life out of her, but she had no complaints on the matter. Sadly Boxxy sent her a mental command to stop screwing around and get out of there with her Mist Form, which she did with surprisingly little difficulty.
“Okay, there’s a mechanism of some sort just on the other side,” Fizzy reported after a minute. “I think it’s a motorized hinge.”
“So, this whole platform is a giant door?” Boxxy asked, surprised.
Boxxy’s surprised tone was understandable since there didn’t seem to be any seams or markings to suggest that.
“Seems so, but there’s also a smaller one just over here.”
Fizzy stood up and walked to the far edge of the circular platform and, not wishing to tread actual molten lava, hung off the edge with one hand while clenching the other into a fist.
“Right here, it’s caked underneath all the soot and slag.”
She punched the side of it several times, causing untold centuries of volcanic residue to peel off and reveal the faint outlines of a two-by-one-meter rectangular door.
“Huh, how about that?” the shapeshifter remarked. “Can you get it open without breaking it down?”
“I suppose I could try a few things.”
“Then do them.”
“… Are you sure that’s a good idea, though?” Fizzy hesitatingly questioned.
“Of course. Why wouldn’t it be.”
“Let’s just say the last time I broke into an underground high-tech vault… didn’t go so well.”
“Either you get that door open, or I will,” Boxxy stated firmly.
“Fine, fine. You might wanna stand back a bit, though.”
Fizzy waited for the shapeshifter and the other golem to back away, then began trying to manipulate the locking mechanism with her magnetic abilities. They couldn’t get past the anti-magic enchantments on the walls, though. Her Metallopathy didn’t pierce all that deep, either, just surface-level stuff. She did notice what seemed to be electrical wiring, so she tried to jolt the thing to life. She gradually increased the output of her personal power generator, causing blue arcs of electricity to leap between her fingers and the door.
And then, with a clang, a hiss, and a rush of bubbles, the entrance sprang ajar.
“Nice! Great work, Fizzy! Now come on, let’s see what that stupid crab was guarding!”
“C-can I come, too?” Nora asked hopefully.
“Why, yes, of course! In fact, you should do the honors and go first.”
“Wow! Are you sure?”
“We wouldn’t be here without your excellent guidance, after all.”
“Well, when you put it like that, I’d be more than happy to!”
The excited krymer happily surged forward, but as she passed the shapeshifter it suddenly leapt from its cloak and coiled around her in a very unenlightened way. Nora immediately began to struggle in a panic, but the creature had completely locked her down. It then applied the Warlock Job’s Siphon Soul ability to her, which was only possible because of its recently acquired Legendary Mentality. The golem could do little but move her eyes and let out muffled screams as both her HP and MP were steadily drained from her until all that was left was a perfectly pristine and completely lifeless husk.
You are now a Level 86 Warlock. INT +2. MNT +2. END +2.
Wasn’t this a nice surprise? Boxxy hadn’t been expecting to gain any Levels during this trip, but it would appear that battling CR-4B and the XP bonus from Siphon Soul had given it a bit of a boost.
“Master, if you really wanted to choke the life out of someone-”
“Not now, Snack,” it interrupted her. “I’ll do you later, okay?”
“I shall await your embrace eagerly,” she nodded with a smile.
“Ugh… You’re going to keep that, aren’t you?” Fizzy grumbled.
Neither she nor the djinn had really considered that Boxxy wanted to expand its collection with Nora’s frame until it started merrily stuffing her into its Storage just now.
“Obviously,” it replied. “She’s not very shiny, but a unique specimen like that deserves a spot in my hoard. Now then- Jen! Stop kicking the stupid crab and come on! We have exploring to do!”
The Hero of Chaos then pushed open the metal door and, after briefly stopping to check for any booby traps, went inside. Xera and Jen followed closely behind, though Fizzy kept hesitating.
“I swear to Jumblebee, if I find another power-mad gearhead down there that tries to dissect me, I am going to quit following that stupid box around.”
I support this decision, Null spoke up from a corner of her mind. Unit Boxxy T. Morningwood has displayed highly inconsistent behavior with subpar efficiency over the past one hundred and ninety five hours.
Throw statistics around all you want, we’re stuck with that moron, Minus scoffed.
Yeah! We like Boxxy way too much to just walk out on it! Plus chimed in.
“I suppose it does give rather extraordinary shine-jobs,” Fizzy conceded.
It was probably a good thing golems were physically incapable of blushing, otherwise her cheeks would probably be red-hot right about now.