To say that Kora was in a foul mood would be an understatement. First, she’d had her shiny new toys taken from her. Then she had been denied the wholesale slaughter and pillaging she had been really looking forward to. And now, she was being made to do menial labor. All of this had made her reconsider whether it was a good idea to break off her contract. Not that she would actually do that, of course. Boxxy was still the best master that a familiar could hope for, but fantasizing about it was a good way to let off some steam.
“Oh. Found another one, boss!”
Following the ‘blip’ on the inside of her Artifact helmet, Kora started digging through the wreckage underfoot. Reducing the Coalition’s portable fortress to cinders in the span of a few minutes was great and all, but the rushed job had left a lot of survivors buried underneath the debris. The insatiable box would never allow these morsels to slip through its tendrils, so it launched a ‘search and devour’ effort. The unconscious gnome that Kora had just finished digging out of the rubble was one such individual.
Boxxy naturally wasted no time and effectively materialized at the hoarder’s side. It grabbed the victim by the neck and, with an application of a Warlock’s Siphon Soul Skill, started draining the life out of the sleeping gnome. It really should’ve done that more during the assault itself. It had every intention to, too. Unfortunately, it got a bit lost in just how fun it was to be an unstoppable juggernaut that just ripped through everything without breaking a sweat. Well, metaphorically speaking. The ridiculously irresponsible amount of energy it had put into its playtime had caused it to burn through a lot of the gravy weight it had put on yesterday. The abomination was still larger than when it first arrived on the Isles, but its bulk now stood at ‘only’ four meters tall.
That wasn’t really an issue. The problem was that, having neglected to Siphon Soul more, it had missed out on the additional XP that the Skill provided when it was used to finish something - or someone - off. A lot of the bodies were also mangled beyond recognition, making it difficult to get a good Cadaver Absorption off on them. That last part wasn’t such a big deal, though. Boxxy found itself having very little interest of using it on these weaklings. Sure, it could get some extra Skills and Attributes, but those would be like drops in the ocean at this point. It still absorbed what it could, of course, as there was no real reason not to.
Still, on the whole, this had been an extremely fruitful harvest. Its new Abomination Job seemed to demand ridiculous amounts of XP to increase in Level, but it had still progressed enough to unlock two new Skills. As for Boxxy’s Warlock Job, unless the shapeshifter had missed its guess, this gnome would provide the last bit needed-
Congratulations, you are now a Level 100 Warlock! INT +2. MNT +2. END +2.
Feat of strength performed! You have unlocked a new Perk: Ultimate Demonologist.
Proficiency level increased. Demon King’s Favor is now Level 1. MNT +50.
-to push it to its limit.
Truth be told, Boxxy was not expecting to gain its last twelve Warlock Levels so soon. Then again, it had just ended about a thousand years’ worth of collective adventuring careers. Not to mention it also had a couple of XP-boosting Perks at its disposal which had their effects doubled by Ultimate Overachiever. In hindsight it should have expected something like this, but it still felt ‘off’ somehow. It had been all too easy. And if past experiences were any indication, that meant something incomprehensibly terrible was about to happen.
Demon King’s Favor
Description: The Warlock’s intimate connection with the Beyond allows them to channel the dread power of Overlord Weaxohn himself.
Requirements: Ultimate Demonologist, Siphon Soul, Legendary Mentality
Activation Time: Instant
Cost: 1,500 MP
Effects: Afflicts the target with a mind-shattering curse that lasts for up to 30 days.
Reduces the target’s INT, WIS, CHR, and MNT Attributes to 0.
Removes the target’s ability to speak and understand language.
Removes the target’s ability to cast Spells and activate Skills.
Removes the target’s ability to discern friend from foe.
This Skill may not be activated more than once every 24 hours.
On the upside, it did gain a rather interesting Skill. Considering its intentions for the Dragon Festival, this would definitely become very useful once Boxxy ran into a group of Rankers that could actually stand a chance against it. Some testing would be required, of course, but at first glance this curse would just immediately remove an opponent from the battle. It could perhaps even affect a dragon, though they’d still remain a threat because of their raw physical might and destructive tendencies.
Then there was the matter of the other four Skills Boxxy had acquired this afternoon.
Relic Hunter’s Pact
Description: Sacrifices wealth to channel an otherworldly sense of greed.
Requirements: Level 60 Warlock, Demonology
Type: Active, Item-targeted
Activation Time: 6 seconds
Cost: 600 MP
Effects: Destroys one item with a value of at least 500 GP.
Grants intimate knowledge of the targeted item’s origins and construction.
If used on a magic item, gain the effects of the item’s enchantments.
Reveals the location of all items of similar cost, type, or quality rating within 10 kilometers.
Increases the detection range of this Skill by 5 kilometers at Levels 3, 6, and 8 of this Skill.
This Skill’s effects last for 2 hours per Level of this Skill or until this Skill is used again.
This was a curious addition. It was not something Boxxy had had access to when it passed the Level 60 mark previously. It wasn’t even sure how long it had been in its Warlock Skill List. It was probably safe to assume it had appeared there at some point after Arms’s transformation into a new breed of greed demon. A Warlock’s abilities supposedly originated from the Beyond and its denizens, so that seemed like the most likely explanation. It also bore the same name as the ‘Relic Hunter’ moniker it had acquired somewhat recently, which it was fairly certain was no accident.
There was no such thing as ‘mere coincidence’ whenever Bob was involved.
Boxxy certainly wasn’t going to complain, though. Not only would this ability allow it to track down excessively shiny items, but their owners as well. Certainly seemed more useful than the other stuff it could choose from, and it had to admit, the personal touch was nice. As for what to feed this Skill, it had already collected quite a few pieces of magical equipment while rummaging through the wreckage it had caused. They ranged from mediocre to fairly high end stuff, with plenty of unshiny sacrificial pieces. No Artifacts, of course. The shapeshifter still had a few extra ones in its possession that it could, theoretically, use to make a Relic Hunter’s Pact. However, it didn’t feel right sacrificing those unique treasures for merely the chance of finding another one. An Artifact was quite literally irreplaceable.
Description: The Warlock’s demon-touched mind becomes capable of comprehending the Beyond’s greatest secrets.
Requirements: Level 95 Warlock, Summoner’s Grimoire
Effects: Grants knowledge that allows alteration of demonic rituals.
Reduces the activation time of Summon Familiar by 5 seconds at Level 2 of this Skill.
Allows the use of Malefic Union while Malefic Union is active at Level 4 of this Skill.
Reduces the cast time of Warlock Spells by 20% at Level 6 of this Skill.
Increases resistance to demonic corruption by 60% at Level 8 of this Skill.
Grants knowledge of an Apocalypse Spell at Level 10 of this Skill.
Then there was this thing. Very few immediate effects and no obvious way to Level it up, but the ones it granted later on were all quite delicious. Especially that last one. Apocalypse Spells were the ultimate in destructive magic wielded by the Overlords themselves. Boxxy had personally been subjected to two of them, so it knew firsthand just how devastating they were. Of course, it had no way of knowing which one it would get, or whether it would be able to produce the same sort of city-flattening effect. There was also the concern that the Spell would most likely damage the caster as well, but that was something the shapeshifter could overcome through its pilfered elemental affinity Skills. And even if not, it was a very tasty all-around upgrade with plenty of opportunities for abuse.
On the other hand, the Abomination Skills were rather disappointing. Boxxy wasn’t sure what it expected from its new Monster Job, but getting the same shapeshifter stuff as the Mimic and Doppelganger Jobs made it feel a bit cheated. After mulling things over for a bit, it eventually settled on Liquid Mimicry as its first choice. Much like Metal Mimicry, it could only replicate nonmagical fluids and they would disappear after a set amount of time. Originally this seemed like something of a waste.
However, now that the ex-mimic was more knowledgeable in the fields of alchemy and artifice, it knew how to mix up some rather nasty concoctions. Some of them were toxic and/or caustic, yes, but the damage they did was far too little for Boxxy to bother with them. It was far more effective to make things to control the battlefield. Powerful adhesives, nasty oil slicks, obscuring gas clouds, and low-grade fuel for its Artificer devices could all be made possible through the miracle of on-the-spot chemistry.
Boxxy’s second choice of Abomination Skill was far simpler by comparison. Called Density Control, this passive ability allowed the shapeshifter to shrink and expand its hulking mass to greater degrees. It could’ve picked this one up at Level 20 Doppelganger, but it didn’t see the point. Sure it struggled with its size for a bit, but it was nothing worth picking a skill for. Its current generousness was a whole different story, though. Being a terrifying flesh mound that devours all in its path was certainly fun, though it also made Boxxy a bigger target. Plus, if it could shrink itself down far enough with the help of Density Control, it might eventually be able to reclaim its Sandman persona.
Well, ‘maybes’ and ‘eventualities’ were all fine and good, but it had a far more present and dire issue at hand. It let Kora keep searching the wreckage for any more victims and/or shinies while it made its way back to Ambrosia’s hastily-grown forest, and the towering bones full of dragon gravy it had sprouted around. Those elder dragon ribs were too delicious a find to just leave behind, and they would disappear along with the Shattered Isles when the Festival came to a close. Transporting even one of those to the mainland would have been a logistical nightmare even for a large organization like the Coalition, let alone for a small group of demons and monsters. Needless to say, taking it out of here and onto the mainland would be a monumental undertaking.
Boxxy still wanted the thing, though, and the shapeshifter had never been one to just give up on getting the things it wanted without exhausting every possible option... and maybe even a few impossible ones. It had already spent much of the past day discussing said options with its companions. Arms’s suggestion of just pushing it to the shoreline was instantly rejected. Even if she, Boxxy, and Jen were to pool their ridiculous muscle power, the ribs were far too massive and heavy. Any attempts to lift one would end with their legs digging into the ground beneath them even if they had the necessary might to lift it.
Jen then suggested that, should they manage to get the thing to the shoreline, the Coalition’s ships might prove capable of hauling it. That seemed unlikely, even before Boxxy got carried away and turned them all into splinters. Fizzy and her alter egos were unable to come up with any technical solution that would make this transportation possible before the Dragon Festival was slated to end. Claws was at even more of a loss, and Snack’s suggestion to shove the tower-sized bones into her rectum probably had nothing to do with the problem at hand.
Ultimately, it had been Ambrosia that had come up with a halfway feasible way of handling this dilemma, and as Boxxy approached her forest, it could already see the plan taking root. The massive rib bone that the spriggan was currently attached to was so completely encased in vegetation that it almost looked like a tree. Or a massive column of vegetation, at the very least. Either way, the whole thing shook periodically as Boxxy approached - a clear sign that Fizzy was already hard at work.
It was only natural the golem would be put in charge of dislodging the massive bone. Not only was her new reverberating hammer especially effective at breaking through its rocky shell, but the dragon gravy’s near-hypnotic aroma also had no sway over her. That last part was especially important. Even though Boxxy was completely accustomed to the smell, it still made the abomination drool like a waterfall. Thankfully there were plenty of ribs around, so the gluttonous shapeshifter was able to continue gorging itself on the one its group had originally cracked open while Fizzy worked on another.
The idea was that, once enough lightning-powered elbow grease had been applied, the titanic bone would eventually fall over and slam into Ambrosia’s little forest. Fizzy’s alter egos would then plug its broken end by packing it full of shattered shell fragments and alchemical adhesive to keep the sinfully delicious bone marrow from leaking out. The spriggan would then leverage the absurd amount of mana she was soaking in from the Shattered Isles’ atmosphere to command all of the plants she’d created over the last day or so to merge into a single mass of vegetation. She would then order this abomination of nature to haul Boxxy’s prize off of the island and into the ocean.
This plan, while certainly manageable, was by no means perfect. The first flaw was the time limit. Yes, the Dragon Festival would go on for almost a month, but Ambrosia’s spriggan body would expire after a week, not to mention an ether storm was slated to strike the area in the next few days. There was no way of knowing how long it would actually take her to get the rib off the island. Or, for that matter, whether her plants would be capable of moving it to begin with. And even if she managed to succeed, it would still be resting somewhere at the bottom of the ocean at the end of it. Granted, Boxxy and Fizzy would have all the time in the world to figure out how to retrieve it from there once the Festival was over, but it was hardly the most convenient of locations.
Nevertheless, if this worked out, then coming to the Shattered Isles would have been entirely worth it. If Boxxy were to give its honest opinion, it would admit that - between the dragon gravy and the dismantled Coalition - it had already earned enough ‘profit’ for it to just go home and enjoy itself. An outcome that may or may not have had something to do with its Legendary Luck. However, the greedy shapeshifter did not suffer the aforementioned bout of temporary insanity, so it naturally had every intention to continue scouring the place. It hadn’t gotten any especially notable shinies, nor had it found out what double-Rankers tasted like. Not to mention it really, really wanted a Phantasmal item to call its own, and those could only be claimed here.
All of that would have to wait until later, though. Right now, Boxxy was still waiting on Fizzy to do her part of the job while the rest of its group cleaned up the stragglers. It took another half-day of non-stop whacking before the rib fell with a thunderous impact that seemed like it would split the ground in half. An awe-inspiring event that did not fail to fill the radiant construct with elation.
“Yeaahhh!” she screamed in triumph. “Get demolished!”
“Wow. Sure showed that dead bone who’s boss, huh?” Kora grumbled, bored and unimpressed.
“Don’t mind her,” Minus’s doll frowned. “She’s just mad she couldn’t pull it off.”
“What?! I totally could have! You just got lucky that you had that-!”
A tree-sized mass of muscle flattened Kora against the ground, interrupting her before her childish complaint could devolve into full-fledged bitching.
“Stop whining and go patrol the perimeter,” Boxxy informed her in a strict monotone. “That impact might have attracted unwanted attention.”
Granted, this moron might not have been the best choice for that sort of thing, but she still had that helmet that could actively scan for enemies. Xera, Drea, and Jen were also sent to keep an eye out, finally giving Boxxy some alone time with Fizzy. The mithril construct was covered head to toe in dirt, dust, and other grime that seemed to obstruct her magnificent radiance, so she eagerly obliged when the shapeshifter offered her another express tongue-cleaning. Once it was done, it applied some more of that magical metal polish to really bring out Fizzy’s mithril shine.
“Thanks, I really needed that!” she gave one of its tendrils a hug. “I’m no stranger to dull and repetitive work, but all that hammering kinda stressed me out.”
She didn’t want to admit it, but she had been quite concerned that parts of her might have been shaken loose with all the destructive vibrations released by Ridley’s Rattler.
“I know,” Boxxy replied. “I appreciate you handling that for me. Here, I even made you a small gift while you were busy.”
It opened its massive maw wide and produced a peculiar contraption. It looked, predictably, like a small wooden chest. It was clearly mechanical in nature, seeing that it had a switch on its front side, just under the lip of the lid. It also had two circular lenses built into the frame, situated on either side of said switch. The delicate mechanisms behind them almost made them seem like little dopey eyes. On the whole, the object looked strangely cutesy and toy-like, completely at odds with the freakish abomination that created it. This was placed on a small table, likely one that had survived Boxxy’s rampage when it totalled those ships.
“Oh? A new music box?” Fizzy asked knowingly. “When did you even make it?”
“Just now,” the shapeshifter replied. “I got a bit bored so I threw it together with some debris and spare parts that were lying around.”
The golem was intrigued, though not surprised. She knew full well Boxxy liked tinkering with pointless stuff like this whenever it had some time to kill. She didn’t particularly care for that habit, but the fact that the shapeshifter had made this one especially for her made her a little excited. She enjoyed gifts as much as the next self-absorbed narcissist, and even more so when they were from that special some-box. Seeing that it was a small thing that would probably break if she handled it roughly, Fizzy eagerly changed into her more compact Service Mode and flipped the switch with a small click.
What she heard immediately afterwards wasn’t some melodious jingle, but a small whirr as the small chest’s lid lifted open and a rubberized tongue spilled out of it. The animatronic appendage flipped the switch down to it’s ‘off’ position and then abruptly retreated inside its box. Somewhat confused by this, Fizzy flipped it again, only to have the exact same thing happen. She stared at it blankly for a few more seconds. What was the point of this? Did she miss something? She could always ask Boxxy, but as the monster’s senior when it came to gadgets and gizmos, her pride wouldn’t let her admit she didn’t ‘get it.’ Determined to get to the bottom of it, she raised her hand to flip the switch a third time.
Except that, when she tried, the chest’s eye-like lenses seemed to notice the movement of her hand. A secondary mechanism activated and four tiny mechanical legs sprouted from each corner, one of which flipped its own switch on. Only to have the artificial tongue flip it off again. Fizzy, even more befuddled, tried to flip the switch again and again, but every time she tried, the thing turned itself off and back on again. She was, understandably, getting quite frustrated by this point.
The fact that the culprit was openly snickering a few steps away certainly didn’t help, either.
“Seriously, Boxxy?!” she finally exploded. “What in Desmond’s purple beard is this supposed to be?! All it does is switch itself on and off! This is the most useless thing you’ve ever made! Why would you do this?!”
Her complaints went unheard as the intensity of the shapeshifter’s giggling rose in direct proportion with Fizzy’s frustration. The sight of a chest-shaped eldritch abomination rolling on the ground and almost crying from laughter was a new and bizarre one, which helped the golem realize something in a moment of clarity. Well, strictly speaking it was Null that had noticed it first, but that still didn’t change the fact that Fizzy now understood what this was all about.
Boxxy was once more in a destructively good mood. It was understandable, in retrospect. After everything that had happened so far, and this being only the opening stages of the Dragon Festival, it was only natural the ex-mimic would be elated. Not that the realization did much to help Fizzy simmer down, as she now understood full well that she was being pranked from the start. In a fit of disappointed rage she swung her hand at the stupidly pointless box with the intent of smashing it. Except that it hopped out of the way, almost as if it were alive. The golem then just transformed back into her usual self and obliterated both the gag gift and the table it was standing on with her built-in hand-cannon. All while Boxxy cackled in a clearly mocking manner.
While all of this was going on, the rest of the group were adhering to their orders and patrolling the perimeter. It wasn’t difficult to keep an eye out for any intruders since there was nothing to obstruct their vision in this barren wasteland. Not even someone cloaked with invisibility could slip past them, as either Drea’s mana-sensitive eyesight or Kora’s Artifact-grade helmet would pick them up. All of them were ready for a fight, but one didn’t seem to be heading their way.
“Man, fuck this!” Kora complained. “I came here to crack skulls and collect trophies, not to sit around on Dale-damned guard duty!”
The immature hoarder demon took off her helmet and slammed it into the ground in frustration. She was quite upset at the lack of action she was getting. Sure, she got to smash up some Coalition members, but missed out on the big rampage entirely. She expected to have smashed a lot more things by now, whether it be monsters, people, or even dragons. But, as luck would have it, her boss had made landfall on a dead island with nothing on it.
“Fucking piece of shit stupid-ass dumb-ass fuck-ass lame-ass piss-ass dead-ass shit-ass island!”
A number of posterior-related swears spilled out of her as she stomped down on the Artifact in frustration, driving it a bit further into the dry dirt with every hit. The item was sturdy enough to take a beating like this, but Boxxy would probably dislike seeing its valuable property treated like this. Thankfully said box was well out of earshot at the moment, otherwise Kora wouldn’t risk throwing a tantrum like this.
Jen definitely saw it, though. She was patrolling the area from the air and, seeing the big red doofus stomp on something on the ground, assumed she had stumbled onto an enemy. The harpy wasn’t part of the demons’ telepathic network and thus not privy to their reports, so she flew down to investigate. She was quite disappointed to find it was just Kora having a fit, but she could understand it. Jen as well had expected to fight some worthy opponents to test the monstrous might she had been cultivating for the past few months, but only found pathetic fodder instead.
Still, she was more duty-minded and mature than the six-armed demon, so she just turned away with a sigh and resumed scanning the horizon.
“Wait,” she spoke, her eyes narrowing onto a point. “Is that a dragon?”
Hearing the ‘D-word,’ Kora’s head immediately snapped around.
“Is it?! Where?!” she looked around excitedly. “I’m gonna suplex the shit out of it!”
“Up there,” the harpy pointed skywards.
Looking up, Kora could clearly see a tiny silhouette that, even to her eyes, looked to belong to a dragon of some kind. It would appear that the earth-shattering fall of the elder dragon rib had indeed summoned some company. Either that or this one just happened to be passing by. Whatever the case, it seemed to just be circling overhead with no intention of landing. Most rational people would deem this to be a good thing, but no member of this group could ever be classified as either rational or people, let alone both.
“Oh. It’s flying,” Kora let out a disappointed sigh. “That sucks.”
Boxxy, having appeared behind her seemingly out of nowhere, plopped a thick and fleshy appendage onto her shoulder.
“I know that feeling,” it spoke in a knowing, almost sympathetic tone.
“Yeah?” the demon responded in mild surprise.
“I mean, it’s all the way up there.”
“I know, right?” she grumbled affirmatively.
“While you’re stuck all the way down here.”
“Uh…” she groaned in confusion as Boxxy’s grip on her shoulder tightened.
“If only there was some way… some way… for you to overcome that distance.”
“… Boss?” she asked nervously, realization dawning.
“Oh, wait. There is.”
“I see…” she smiled weakly in acceptance.
Strictly speaking, there were a number of practical applications for what was about to happen. It was an efficient and expedient way of getting Boxxy’s least mobile familiar into a fight, and could be used as a weapon of sorts in the right situation. However, such things were most definitely not on the shapeshifter’s mind at that moment.
It just thought it would be fun to throw Arms at a flying dragon.