“What do you mean ‘no?’” Boxxy protested.
“Exactly what I said,” Rupert replied jovially. “It’s not one of those words that have a bunch of different meanings or anything like that.”
“Alright, fine. Why not?”
“Ah, see, now that is a question worth asking. I would’ve thought the answer was rather obvious to a clever box like yourself, but apparently not, so allow me to explain.”
The Goddess of Misfortune coughed a few times on the other end of the interdimensional call, presumably to clear her bobcat before proceeding.
“Let’s go down the sequence of events, shall we? First, you find some reference to some buried treasure at the bottom of the ocean in the four-hundred year old notes of a dead elf. Then, you being you, you go to dig it up. In the process you unleashed a slumbering army of war golems that attacked the local civilization. You then ‘fixed’ this issue by sicking a town-sized sea monster on them, and are now requesting I give you yet another divine favour despite you not having spent the first one. That sum everything up?”
“Uh… More or less, yeah.”
“Right. Okay. See, I’m not going to pay you because you resolved a problem you created by yourself.”
“But it was Old God stuff, right? Like with that Eren guy?”
“Oh, no, this and that are completely different. See, you didn’t crush the divine avatar of a rogue deity. What you actually did was randomly come across a bunch of leftovers. Leftovers, that I might add, which have remained dormant for millennia, and would have most likely remained that way for millennia still if you hadn’t butted in.”
Indeed, while that submerged and buried facility was unquestionably something left behind by Udar, the Old God of Weaponry, the big man himself was nowhere to be found. It was possible he might have returned if his creations were given enough time to multiply and revive his religion, but that would never have happened, regardless of Boxxy’s interference. And the reason Timothy was so sure of that was because he had personally made arrangements to prevent that.
“Not to mention that it wasn’t really you that stopped them, not really,” he continued. “It was Big Smoke. And considering that I’m the one who both taught him to hate divinity and tricked him into living there, I’d say the credit should go mostly to myself.”
Boxxy felt like it should’ve somehow guessed that already, as it made perfect sense in retrospect. Milton most likely knew there were a bunch of war golems holed up down there somewhere, just not their exact location. Gods were neither omniscient nor omnipotent, after all, so this sort of autonomous insurance net became necessary. Frankly speaking, Big Smoke would have probably shown up even without Boxxy trying to get its attention. All things considered, the shapeshifter truly was in no position to ask for any sort of compensation or reward.
That said, there was one matter that had been bothering it ever since then.
“Well, can you at least tell me what the leviathan said?”
“Why are you asking me? It’s not like I was there to hear him-”
“Don’t act like you don’t know.”
“… Yeah, fine. He complained that you forgot to put cheese on one of his number forty-fives.”
“Have I mentioned he’s very senile? Look, I know it sounds stupid, but you can ask Xera if you don’t believe me. Pretty sure Deep Speech is one of the exotic languages her Versatile Tongue is capable of translating.”
“Yeah, about that, if you didn’t want anyone waking up a bunch of mechanized zealots, why the flying fuck can succubi read their language?” Boxxy asked pointedly.
“Hey, it’s not like I personally design a demon’s Skills.”
“Then who does?”
“Nobody. They just sort of… happen, you know? Anyway, I really have better things to do, so I’ll be going now.”
Boxxy would call that conversation enlightening, but it was more disappointing than anything else. Then again, perhaps it had become a bit too entitled as of late. After all the XP and shinies it had gotten out of that underwater adventure, asking for even more free shit was just the height of arrogance. It also didn’t cost anything more than a bit of time, though, so the shapeshifter just brushed the conversation off and went back to dealing with what was important.
Namely, its freshly acquired Ultimate Skill. Now that it was back in its dungeon lair, it could really put this Essence Shift ability through its paces. It had toyed with it a little, of course, but wanted to be somewhere truly safe and private before it began stress-testing it. It was rather intensive on the MP consumption, too, so the dungeon’s mana-rich environment would also help lessen the downtime between trials.
So far Boxxy had been able to determine exactly what the Skill meant when it mentioned ‘Attribute Groups.’ It would appear that the Skill classified the twelve different Attributes that could appear on one’s Status as either physical, mental, or personal. STR, DEX, AGI, and END made up the first type, INT, WIS, MNT, and PER belonged to the second, and CHR, FTH, AFF, and LCK comprised the third. The last group was the most troublesome, as the shapeshifter didn’t have much of those Attributes to begin with. The upside was that it could at least easily put FTH back up to above zero should it venture into Taboo territory again.
Incidentally, it didn’t seem as though it was possible to drain an Attribute to a value below 1. Boxxy also found out that it was possible to lose its Legendary Perks if it wasn’t careful with Essence Shift. This could potentially be disastrous as the Skill required that four of those Perks be active, and would most likely cease to function should that no longer be the case. And since the effects of Essence Shift seemed to last indefinitely, Boxxy could theoretically find itself locked out of using its own Ultimate.
On the other hand, this also meant that, by carefully redistributing its Attributes, the shapeshifter would be able to qualify for at least one or two more of those tasty Legendary Perks. Which was precisely what it proceeded to do. Since it already had seven of the bloody things, that meant it was left with five potential options - WIS, LCK, CHR, FTH, and AFF. And of these, the most attractive target was, of course, LCK, while the least desirable was CHR. Thus, after spending a few moments to recollect itself, the monster initiated its Ultimate.
Your personality shifts. CHR -50. LCK +50.
Your personality shifts. CHR -50. LCK +50.
Your personality shifts. CHR -50. LCK +50.
Your personality shifts. CHR -50. LCK +50.
Feat of strength performed! You have unlocked a new Perk: Legendary Luck.
Feat of strength performed! You have unlocked a new Perk: Legendary Overachiever.
All Attributes +35. AFF +30. MNT +5.
“… Wait, what?” it blurted out.
Description: A peerless existence beyond all comprehension.
Requirements: Any 8 Legendary Attribute Perks.
Effects: The effects of all other Perks are doubled where applicable.
It took several moments for this sudden discovery to fully sink in. If all Perk effects were doubled, then the sudden burst of Attributes was because of the monster’s various Attribute-boosting Perks. More importantly, however, it meant that all of the Legendary ones also had their already juicy effects amplified. The shapeshifter had others, of course, but it was only natural those would be the most impactful.
Description: A being whose raw physical might is the stuff of legends.
Requirements: Reach 1,000 Strength (STR).
Effects: Increases base muscle strength by 10%.
Melee physical damage ignores 20% of the target’s defenses.
Description: A being whose finesse and precise movements are the stuff of legends.
Requirements: Reach 1,000 Dexterity (DEX).
Effects: Increases base flexibility and range of motion of all joints by 20%.
Ranged physical damage ignores 20% of the target’s defenses.
Description: A being whose vitality and constitution are the stuff of legends.
Requirements: Reach 1,000 Endurance (END).
Effects: Increases poison and disease resistance by 75%.
Increases stamina recovery rate by 50%.
Description: A being whose speed and flexibility are the stuff of legends.
Requirements: Reach 1,000 Agility (AGI).
Effects: Increases physical damage dealt by up to 25% based on speed and momentum.
Reduces physical damage taken by up to 25% based on speed and momentum.
Description: A being whose capacity for knowledge and understanding are the stuff of legends.
Requirements: Reach 1,000 Intelligence (INT).
Effects: Increases total magic damage caused by Skills by 50%.
Can recall events experienced in the last 48 hours with extreme clarity and detail.
Description: A being whose power of will is the stuff of legends.
Requirements: Reach 750 Mental Fortitude (MNT).
Effects: Spells and Skills that affect the mind can be used on Golems, Demons, and Undead at 30% effectiveness.
Reduces the duration of hostile mind control effects by 80%.
Description: A being whose senses are the stuff of legends.
Requirements: Reach 500 Perception (PER).
Effects: Reduces the effects of sensory overload by 60%.
Can perceive ambient magical energies.
Taken altogether, it meant that Boxxy was no longer just highly resistant, but outright immune to poison, disease, mind control, and sensory overload. Not only that, but it had become much, much deadlier as a whole. Of course, that wasn’t even counting the addition to the Status that made all of this possible:
Description: A being whose uncanny good fortune is the stuff of legends.
Requirements: Reach 500 Luck (LCK).
Effects: Increases the likelihood of randomly gaining LCK.
Grants a chance that incoming ranged attacks will fail.
This right here was the source of Minic’s reality-bending good fortune. If there was ever a Perk that personified the saying ‘the rich get richer,’ it was this one. Of course, LCK being the most difficult Attribute to increase, it was highly probable that very few beings actually managed to meet its requirements. Hence why information on it was practically non-existent. The only reason Boxxy knew of its details in advance was because it had asked Jen to perform a Full Appraisal on Minic.
But Legendary Overachiever? It was hard to imagine that any but the most anomalous of existences could meet its frankly ludicrous requirements. Most things would just die of power creep long before they’d even gotten close. Wait… did Arisha have this? It was certainly possible, at least in theory. Having Ranked Up twice, that self-styled Bloody Baroness most likely had a power creep tolerance level that surpassed even Boxxy’s.
Speaking of which, the shapeshifter realized it had gained about seven hundred Attribute points over the last few days, what with all the Perks and Levels that had fallen into its proverbial lap.
|General Information||Attributes||Job Information|
|Name||Boxxy T. Morningwood||Name||Value||Name||Value||Name||Level||Progress||Name||Level||Progress|
|Species||Creeper (Hylt) (+)||STR||1205||LCK||582||Doppelganger||50||MAX||Wizard||50||MAX|
|Guild||Hidden Arrow||END||1715||PER||695||Flamespitter Artificer||50||78%|
|MP||8303/8303 (+13.7/sec)||WIS||860||AFF||365||Blade Dancer||75||MAX|
This was bad. The total sum of its Attributes had surpassed ten thousand. This was definitely beyond its current body’s limits, and it would surely start feeling the symptoms of power creep in a day or two. It wouldn’t be enough to cause any lasting damage, but the monster wasn’t looking forward to the constant aches and pains that were about to follow. They would surely make life annoying and suck the fun out of its newly acquired power spike, but it wasn’t all bad.
After all, Boxxy was one mental twitch away from fixing that problem once and for all.
Rank Up - Creeper (Hylt)
Requirements: Level 50 Doppelganger Job
The Requirements have been met. You may now Rank Up by using one of the following options:
“… Let’s put those away for now.”
Boxxy may have gotten a bit carried away, but it still couldn’t quite face that damned list. It was far too long, to the point where the monster was afraid of making a choice. One of those thirteen species was sure to be an invincible creature that the world would simply have no answer for. There were certainly some promising-sounding names in there. Unfortunately, Boxxy was sorely lacking in information regarding the scope and breadth of these options.
Which wasn’t to say it was completely ignorant. It knew that wendigos, for instance, had been a species of bestial shapeshifting mammals that had once been a huge problem for the giants of Percepeia, right up until the Boneshaper showed up and ‘extincted’ them. Treants were not all that impressive, if the one Boxxy had met during the Collapse investigation was any indication. Abominations were giant mounds of sentient flesh that supposedly never stopped growing, and queen slimes were also a known quantity.
That was all general knowledge, however. At present, the shapeshifter had no idea which of the multiple variants it had been offered were better than the others. Nor did it know what a barghest, sporelord, abyssal hivemind, or spirit flayer even were. The most it could gather was that they were different degrees of shapeshifters, but that was hardly helpful to its dilemma.
“Bah!” Boxxy suddenly shouted, erupting from its chest-bound form. “I’m doing it again! Stupid, stupid, stupid!”
It was overthinking things again. This Rank Up clearly demanded an educated decision, which, in turn, required an actual education regarding the subject at hand. The ex-mimic clearly had a lot of studying to do, so it collected its thoughts, made a mental checklist of the things to look up, and set off into the city of Azurvale as Keira. While no longer necessary for XP gain, its Facade still had its uses. The connections of Boxxy’s public persona were quite formidable, so it was sure it could obtain the rare and obscure knowledge it needed through them.
There was one small caveat, though. Namely the fact that Rowana and Keira were supposed to be getting married in just three weeks, saddling Boxxy with a bunch of social obligations it suddenly didn’t need. Unfortunately, there was no telling how long it would take to get the details related to all those exotic and rare monster species, so it was stuck acting the part. The upside was that it had three whole weeks to prepare for its Rank Up. If not for its premature Level Up, it would’ve learned of its Rank Up options a mere five days before the Dragon Festival was poised to begin.
Of course, the thought of ‘Do I really need to Rank Up?’ had crossed the creature’s mind. Reggie, for instance, had lived a quiet and stable life for many decades while remaining a doppelganger. He was admittedly brainwashed into doing that, but Boxxy could definitely see the appeal. The problem was that the Hero of Chaos had always been, at its core, a mimic. It was a far more monstrous monster than the average doppelganger. Frankly speaking, it had been a small miracle that its Facade had lasted for almost three years given all the violent and murderous impulses it had to deal with on a daily basis.
Thankfully it had had its fill of carnage after that whole war golem debacle, so it would have no trouble keeping its monstrous instincts in check for a few weeks.
“Honey, I’m hooome!”
Keira announced her return in her usual manner, which was to say that she kicked the front door open and shouted at the top of her lungs. There seemed to be no reply, though. Well, not from Rowana, at least. A sentient mannequin in a white apron and outrageously purple hat walked out of the living room and bowed deeply, welcoming the wayward beastkin.
“Manny? Where’s Rowie?”
The wooden doll got a small notebook out of his apron’s pocket and quickly scribbled down his answer for Keira to see.
“Flower shopping?” she raised an eyebrow. “Why would she- Oh, crap! The flower arrangements for the wedding! I was supposed to take care of those two weeks ago! You think she’ll be mad?”
Manny tilted his head, then wordlessly took a step back.
“There you are!” the elf in question shouted from behind. “Do you have any idea how embarrassed you made me today?!”
Keira turned around just in time to see a furious Rowana take a swing at her with her purse, though the experienced Ranger effortlessly dodged it.
“Don’t avoid it!” the elf screamed as she made another attempt. “Accept your punishment for being so irresponsible!”
“Look, what’s done is done!” Keira argued while dodging and weaving. “Hitting me won’t solve anything!”
“It’ll make me feel better!”
“Yeah? Well, so will this!”
The redhead then stepped in and kissed her wife to be out of the blue. Rowana’s eyes widened in surprise, but she melted into her lover’s arms immediately. By the time their lips parted, her cheeks were red with something that was quite different from frustration.
“It’s not fair. You’ve gotten far too good at this,” she cooed.
“I’ve had a good teacher,” Keira smirked. “And look, I’m sorry I forgot. I just had my hands full with all the stuff that was going on, and-”
“It’s okay, really. I just got a bit excited to see you back safe and sound. Did you take care of your business?”
“… Business?” the beastkin raised an eyebrow.
“You know, the FIB thing you were called away for?”
“Oh. Right, that. Yeah, that was easy, but I got a bit distracted with other stuff that came up… I’m here now, though, and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”
“Really? Not even upstairs, in our bedroom?”
“… Okay, almost nowhere else.”
The two women chuckled lightly and took their flirting inside, shutting the door behind them. Probably a wise idea, given how public that display of affection had been. Though not all of the couple’s neighbors had returned to their homes after the Collapse scare, the branch-top street was nevertheless fairly busy on this lazy summer afternoon. Over a dozen people had been made to witness the soon-to-be-wed pair flaunt their romance shamelessly.
There was one of these onlookers, however, who was not there by accident. A lanky elf in his mid-thirties, with short and oily ginger hair, attentive green eyes, and pale skin that clearly didn’t see much of the sun on a daily basis. This stranger, dressed in a heavy coat and wide-brimmed hat despite the summer heat, was currently sitting calmly on a street bench, just opposite the Morgana residence. He had his legs crossed, gaze lowered, and hands busy taking notes. His spindly fingers rapidly scribbled sentence after sentence in a small, black, leather-bound notebook.
After a few more minutes of this, he put the small book inside his coat and replaced it with a much bigger and thicker one, which he proceeded to pretend to read, much like he had been doing earlier. He spent a few hours staking the house out like this before he saw activity again. Keira and Rowana left through the front door, all dressed and dolled up in formal wear. The stranger couldn’t hear them, but by reading their lips he gathered they were heading out for an impromptu date of some kind. He remained perfectly still as they walked almost right past him, and for a solid half hour afterwards. Only then did he allow himself to stand up and walk off in the opposite direction.
By the time he made it back to his office, the elf was positively drenched in sweat. Not the muggy perspiration of walking around in heavy clothes during summer, but the cold sweat of a man at his wits’ end. He threw his coat and hat onto a nearby chair, sat behind his desk, and buried his face in his palms.
“What the fuck are you doing?!” he chastised himself. “You’re Daylor Varic, damn it! You know better than to get so close to your subject! This isn’t amateur hour, dumbass!”
Investigating a Ranger without being found out was already hard enough, but a famous Hero like Keira Morgana? It was a miracle that she seemed too distracted to realize he had been sitting out there the entire damn day. Granted, he had no idea when she’d actually return from wherever it was she disappeared to, but that sort of near-encounter couldn’t happen again. If word got out he was stalking Azurvale’s sweetheart without good reason, he’d probably be lynched and kicked out of town.
No, that wasn’t right. He had ample reason to suspect there was something wrong with that woman. Her track record read like something out of a bad power fantasy novel. When he’d first heard of her, she was already being hailed as a war hero and one of the gods’ chosen. Even got a bloody parade and everything. She then moved on to become a respected adventurer, explorer, innovator, and teacher. And as if that hadn’t been enough, she was hailed as the person who single-handedly made same-sex marriage legal for the first time in elven history.
Now, Daylor may have been a born cynic who always believed the worst in people, but that was simply the nature of this filthy world. Monsters, demons, illusions, curses, and all manner of other foul trickery seemed to ooze out of the very soil. He had been suspicious of Keira Morgana since he first heard of her, but had never bothered to look into her private affairs before. This was partly because there was always some other big scoop to chase after, but mostly due to the fact that, while questionable, her feats at least seemed plausible.
But, as a professional investigative reporter, Daylor could no longer turn a blind eye to that red-headed freak and her ludicrous exploits. The tipping point for him had been the fairly recent Great Collapse and the news that the Hero of Chaos had single-handedly discovered and detained the mastermind behind it. Sure, parts of that story were likely exaggerated, but it was an undeniable fact that she had been the one to bring in the man that the Republic courts found guilty of the terrible act.
That was the core of what the elven reporter took issue with. To say that the Collapse was orchestrated by the remnants of the fabled Gilded Hand as some kind of revenge plot was ludicrous, and the FIB were idiots for believing that even for a second. But Daylor knew better. He knew the late Spymaster Edward Allen personally. That merciless man would have enacted that sort of attack years ago if his people had been capable of it. More importantly, none of his agents were stupid enough to go off on some pointless act of vengeance. The Gilded Hand as a whole was far too pragmatic for that sort of frivolous thing.
Which, of course, raised the question - if the Empire’s top-notch spy ring weren’t responsible for the Great Collapse, then who was? Was Ms. Morgana in on it? Was the FIB part of some kind of cover-up or conspiracy? What about this mysterious Foundation Daylor had heard about in hushed whispers? Many possibilities to be sure, but the one that stood at the middle of it all was none other than the Hero of Chaos.
Granted, it was possible the elf’s gut feeling was wrong, but he severely doubted that.
After all, he wouldn’t have lasted this long as a Gilded Hand informant if his insight was anything but top-notch.