Boxxy re-summoned Kora once it was done educating her on matters of unambiguous reports. Well, the fiend wouldn’t be able to fight properly without those limbs it tore off her. It then joined the others in resting up before they tackled the Spire proper. This wide open courtyard seemed to be more or less a safe place, so it looked like a suitable resting spot. However, those Stone Soldier-like statues that dotted the area made it a bit nervous. The square marble-like pedestals they were standing on were likely the mechanism that created them, but appeared to be inert for the moment.
After making sure that everyone’s HP and MP had properly recovered, it ordered them towards the central Spire itself. After seeing it from up close, it really did look like it was sculpted out of one gigantic piece of black stone. The surface of it was smooth to the point of being slightly reflective. However, the Mimic couldn’t spot anything that looked like an entrance, at least not on the side that was visible from the group’s current position.
It circled the 20-meter wide structure to the left with Kora and the surviving high-class undead taking the lead. It did two full circles around the Spire’s base, but noticed no way in.
“Nasty,” it called out, “go inside and look around.”
“Whatever you say, honey ~♡!”
The lich merrily turned herself immaterial and attempted to fly through the solid surface. However, it would seem this black stone prevented that sort of intrusion, as evidenced by how she slammed into it face-first, much to the amusement of the other girls. It would seem Fizzy and the two demons were somewhat united in their apparent disdain for Valeria, although each for completely different reasons.
Xera merely saw her as an arrogant upstart who was unworthy of serving the same Master. She thought the same of the gnome, of course, albeit to a lesser degree. That little Paladin would serve as a good training partner for Boxxy’s socialization practice. Well, that and she could really swing that wrench when properly provoked, so she wasn’t completely hopeless.
Kora disliked the lich because of the way she fought. From her point of view, it was the undead that did all the work while she leisurely sat back and tossed out Spells sometimes. Well, that and she knew she’d be hopelessly outmatched if the two fought. Even if the fiend was capable of snapping Valeria in half, that only counted if Kora managed to hit her. It was only natural that she would dislike something she was incapable of smashing. She was, of course, blissfully unaware of the difficulties of properly commanding the mindless dead. Skeletons would sometimes stand idle or Death Knights would fail to get into the proper position unless commanded specifically, so the lich was plenty busy trying to manage them until that point.
As for Fizzy, she still pinned the blame for her misfortunes sorely on Valeria’s shoulders. She would often say to herself ‘If only it wasn’t for that dead slut’ over and over. There was also the matter of her newfound nature as a Paladin that made her instinctively resent the undead, especially one with such a high Level of Taboo. But, no matter how much she wanted to get rid of her, she couldn’t. The difference in Levels was simply too high to confront her directly. Even if she were capable of doing so, she would still hold herself back. Valeria was, after all, Boxxy’s thing. And if there’s one thing that Mimic hated, it was someone taking its things away.
“Master, above!” shouted Xera.
The Mimic immediately turned its gaze upward to see a trio of shadows swooping in from above. It didn’t have time to think as one of them was falling down towards it at breakneck speeds. It hurriedly dodged to the side as the thing fell from above like boulder, making a loud impact with the stone-covered ground. The other two hit the ground with just as much force, with the second one squashing the last remaining Death Knight and the third landing directly onto Valeria. Thankfully she was still under the effects of her Ethereal Body Skill, so she got off with just a scare.
Not wasting any time, the Mimic immediately leaped into the dust cloud kicked up from the impact and coiled itself around the closest of the intruders. Even if it obstructed regular vision, this dust screen was no match for its magical perception. It was able to tell the thing that landed hand wings, and would likely lift off into the air if it allowed it.
As for the intruders themselves, they were a trio of gargoyles. They looked like living statues that moved with an agility one wouldn’t expect, much like the Stone Soldiers, and even had a similarly tall build that slightly towered over Kora. They were mostly humanoid in shape, albeit with much thicker shoulders, torso and arms than one would expect, making them look more like apes than humans. A total of four bat-like wings sprouted out of their backs, and their faces were carved into the likeness of beasts. The one that aimed for Valeria had the ugly face of a troll, the one that landed on the undead had the head of a snarling tiger, and the one that aimed for Boxxy was, for some reason, bearing the likeness of a llama.
And much like the Mimic had guessed, the gargoyles attempted to rise up into the air almost immediately. Their goal was most likely to stay out of harm’s way while they positioned themselves for another dive-bomb attack. Boxxy wrapped a number of tentacles around the wings of its target, but that didn’t seem to stop or even slow down the gargoyle as it flew off into the sky, reaching an altitude of 30 or so meters in an instant. It would appear that these creatures did not even need to flap those thin sheets of stone to gain altitude. However, the supernatural current of air flowing out of those appendages made it clear that they weren’t simple decorations, either.
“Get everyone ready,” it commanded through the telepathic link, “I’m bringing them down!”
“Understood, Master!” replied Xera.
Boxxy wasted no time and applied Metal Mimicry to its tentacles, allowing sharp steel teeth to jut out from the thin appendages. It then started moving them up and down the wings of the llama-faced gargoyle it was coiled around. The living saws ruthlessly cut through the relatively softer monster’s flesh in an attempt to cut those wings clean off.
The creature started thrashing about and rolling around in mid-air, as if it had just noticed Boxxy’s presence, but it was too late. The Mimic had already ensnared itself around it and mercilessly chewed through the base of its large wings, breaking them off one after the other. The tiger-faced monster attempted to aid its comrade and tried to punch the Mimic clean off the llama’s back as it flew past. However, Boxxy countered by catching its stone fist with a maw full of steel teeth, much to the wannabe tiger’s distress. The flying golem tried to pull its arm away, but the Mimic’s teeth had already sunk too deep into the arm to let it escape so easily.
It was at this point that Boxxy finished breaking through off the third of the llama head’s wings. It started plummeting towards the ground, threatening to drag both the Mimic and its comrade along with it. Boxxy then promptly released the crippled creature from its grasp and hurriedly coiled itself around the tiger-faced gargoyle, subjecting it to much the same treatment. It heard a heavy impact from down below, most likely the result of the last one repeating its dive-bomb attack. It had aimed for the group of 4 Skeletal Mages and successfully annihilated 3 of them. It was then followed by a second, slightly softer impact of the wingless llama-head gargoyle hitting the ground.
After damaging the tiger head’s wings sufficiently and hitting it with a blast of corrosive acid for good measure, it finished biting its way through its arm and fell through the air. A pair of demonic wings sprang forth from its backside, allowing Boxxy to glide in the direction of the last airborne target. That troll-headed statue appeared to have some sort of grudge against the undead, as it was currently positioning itself to attack one of the two dullahans currently on the ground.
However, it noticed that its two brethren had hit the ground and were not getting back up. Realizing that something must have knocked them out of the sky, it turned out to spot a bizarre spider-legged, demon-winged chest gliding straight towards it. Rather than face it head on, it chose to increase its altitude, which put it well out of the monster’s reach. It was quite obvious that this strange box was not capable of full flight and could only control its descent at best, so avoiding it was a simple matter.
It would appear that the succubus did not wait idly by and moved to support her Master. She had used Invisibility to position herself directly above the last flying gargoyle and launched a surprise attack of her own. The Fireball hit the large statue squarely in the back and set fire to it, but seemed to have little effect. These flying golems appeared to be significantly more resistant to magic when compared to those Stone Soldiers.
The troll-faced creature immediately gave up on targeting the Mimic and bolted around, charging at the succubus that was already chanting her next Spell.
It hit the gargoyle directly in the face, but it brushed it off as if it were a joke and kept charging at her, clearly intent to turn her into pulp with a swing of its massive fists. The succubus reacted by cloaking herself in Invisibility once more and effortlessly dodging the monster that had suddenly lost its target. She then launched another two Fireballs after repositioning herself, which set off what was bound to be an aerial game of cat and mouse. As if this succubus would ever let such a stupid, straightforward attack hit her!
Back on the ground, Boxxy’s companions had already engaged the grounded gargoyles.
Kora and Fizzy had teamed up to take on the llama-headed one that tried to stomp down on the Mimic. The fiend had engaged the living statue in a duel of fists, but it had rapidly devolved into the kind of brawl one would expect to see in a pub. There was no technique or logic to it, just two meat-heads beating the ever-loving shit out of each other. The pint-sized Paladin had thrown a couple of Holy Lights at the demon at first, but decided it would be better if she created an opening for Kora to use her Martial Arts. After all, even if they didn’t require chanting, that didn’t mean she could just pull them off on a whim. One needed a few moments to prepare if they were going to properly activate one of those techniques.
The gnome surged forward between the two pairs of legs while doing her best to avoid being stepped on. Her eyes and weapon glowed with a bright, yellow-green light as she triggered her Divine Wrath Skill and took a big, two-handed swing with her heavy wrench. Although it might appear that she was aiming at air, the gargoyle’s leg moved into the path of her swing all on its own.
Fizzy was a Champion of Chaos. While not at the level of Bob himself, this Skill still allowed her to subconsciously read between the lines, measure the variables and calculate the most likely outcome. This seemingly complex Skill manifested itself in battle as a form of precognition, provided she was focusing her attention on a single target. Ghostly outlines resembling her opponent would dance around in her vision, painting a picture only she could see. Although she thought she had been going crazy at first, she later realized that her enemies would often make the exact same movements as these ‘ghosts’ several moments after the gnome had seen them. This was merely a prediction, however, and wasn’t foolproof. There were also times when multiple possible outcomes branched out before her, and she had to make a snap decision about which one to follow. But after some practice and a lot of observation the gnome was able to grasp that the most likely outcome was also the one that appeared to be the thickest and most clearly defined.
And in this instance, she had seen that the gargoyle would be knocked slightly off balance by an extra heavy hit from Kora. It would then wobble a bit and readjust its legs, which brought its leg right into the path of Fizzy’s swing. The heavy tool smashed into the stone knee dead-on, cracking it heavily and forcing the stone statue to stumble and go down to one knee. Noticing the chance the gnome had made, Kora immediately took a step forward. She stretched out all four of her arms and swung them horizontally at the stumbling gargoyle’s ill-fitting face.
All four of her fists hit the llama head at once, two from each side. A deep crack spread diagonally across it, causing a large portion of its head to break off completely and fall to the ground. Fizzy, who was still underfoot, delivered another heavy blow to its knee, this time managing to break it completely. She then rolled out of the way to avoid being crushed by the stone statue that tipped over sideways as it fell roughly on its left arm.
The fiend then put her boot down on its chest for good measure. It didn’t turn to dust like the Stone Soldiers, but was still broken up into three large pieces. The gargoyle bits had gone completely inert.
“Yeah!” cheered Kora while throwing her arms in the air. “Get some!”
“Wuh- Watch it!” came a squeaky voice from below. “Yo- you almost stomped me flat!”
“Oh right, you were there. Sorry squirt, but you’re just way too tiny! Hahahaha!”
Fizzy let out an exasperated sigh while thinking something along the lines of ‘One of these days!’ to herself. Looking around, she spotted that Boxxy, Valeria and the two remaining dullahans were ganged up on the tiger-faced gargoyle. The war hammer-wielding headless knights were doing a great job of keeping the stone creature busy. They skillfully blocked or parried its plain attacks while counter-attacking at every opportunity, but they seemed to do very little damage. The Mimic was the one who appeared to be doing all the work. It had transformed the tip of its tongue into a large steel ball with several thick, short spikes jutting out of it and was swinging it around like some sort of flail.
As for the lich herself, she was standing completely still while floating in mid-air and holding her hands in front of her face as if she were gripping an invisible watermelon. Upon closer inspection, she actually appeared to be chanting something. After a few seconds, a strange ball of clearly unnatural bright blue smoke materialized between her palms.
“By the cursed ice, I command thee! Become brittle like glass!”
She then finished her 6-second long chant with some ominous words. The Mimic and the two dullahans took a step away from the tiger-faced gargoyle. The blue smoke between the lich’s hands snaked forward as if it had a mind of its own. Finding no other target, it quickly coiled itself around the living statue and seeped into its body, turning its stony skin from a dull gray into a pale shade of blue. Boxxy charged at it as soon as the curse took hold and swung its organic flail at it. It hit its target squarely in the waist, causing the stone creature to explode into pebbles with a single blow.
What Valeria had performed just now was Curse of Shattering. It had the effect of massively amplifying physical damage taken by those affected by it. The downside was that it had a much longer chant than most Spells although this was a common theme among magic derived from the Hexcraft Skill. That long prep time was the reason the lich did not dare use a curse against the agile Mimic during their confrontation. Curses also had the nasty habit of sometimes disobeying their caster’s wishes and latching onto a completely different target, so great care had to be taken when employing them.
However, the debilitating effects they inflicted were extremely powerful, making them well worth the effort.
One of the other hexes Valeria knew about was the Curse of Silence that prevented the use of Martial Arts, Skills and Spells for up to 20 seconds. Then there was the Curse of Fatigue that gradually drained stamina and dulled movement over the course of 3 minutes. The last and probably most horrifying one she knew was the Curse of Solitude that completely took away one’s senses. It completely cut off all sensations such as sight or touch, leaving the target’s mind trapped in a world of pure darkness and total silence for 30 seconds. Although they retained full control of their body, they would be completely unable to tell what was happening around them. Or to them.
Needless to say, being afflicted with any of these curses in the middle of battle was nothing short of a death sentence. Even with the long cast time and unreliable targeting, Hexcraft would become a source of great power to those that used it wisely, although such power came at a price.
The foul practice of applying curses to others was something that violated the taboo of Lunar, the Goddess that governed over matters of wisdom, magic and learning. Her teachings dictated that curses and hexes were to be avoided since their foul energy would taint and pollute the world’s ambient magic. This phenomenon could be plainly seen inside this dungeon’s territory, where the mystical energy known as mana was thick in the air. The blue smog that permeated the smashed up gargoyle bits began slowly leaking out, staining both the air and the ground with the remnants of the curse.
Not that anyone present could give a damn about that sort of thing right now though. They still had one more gargoyle to deal with. Or at least, that’s what they thought until the large, troll-faced statue came crashing down to the ground in a blaze of fire a few seconds later. It picked itself up off the ground almost immediately after, showing that both its wings and its health appeared to be in good shape, yet it was no longer able to fly.
Even if this was the first time Xera had fought these things, the experienced succubus knew full well that any phenomenon which defied the laws of physics used up MP as compensation. And as an owner of a pair of fully functioning wings, she was able to immediately realize that her enemy’s flight was clearly unnatural and was likely the effect of a sustained Skill. Therefore, she focused her attention towards chipping away at her target’s MP by relying on the combination of her Devouring Flame and Mana Burn Skills.
Description: Overwhelming fire leaves behind naught but ash and cinders
Requirements: Level 5 Pyromancer, INT 40
Type: Toggled (ON)
Activation Time: N/A
Range: 100 meters
Effects: Increases the cost of Pyroclasm Spells by 20%.
Pyroclasm Spells will apply Devouring Flame to your target for 5 seconds.
Devouring Flame inflicts damage equal to 10% of the initial hit each second.
Increases the damage of Devouring Flame by 20% per Level of this Skill.
Description: A Pyromancer’s flame can burn away magic itself
Requirements: Level 10 Pyromancer, Devouring Flame, INT 45, WIS 45
Activation Time: N/A
Effects: Devouring Flame effect will reduce the target’s MP by an amount equal to 25% of its HP damage.
Increases the duration of Devouring Flame by 0.5 seconds per Level of this Skill.
So what if the gargoyle had tons of HP? It was a sort of rule of thumb that tough monsters like that had a tiny MP pool in comparison. Therefore, all Xera had to do was keep showering the statue with Fireballs until it was no longer able to sustain its magically induced flight. And now that it had been thoroughly grounded, it found itself facing down four beings that were more than eager to shatter it to bits.
After finishing off the last gargoyle, Boxxy noticed a rather loud crumbling noise coming from the tower. It turned around to see that a significant portion of the solid black stone that made up the Spire’s exterior had crumbled away into dust. A tall, oval-shaped hole had appeared on the side of the otherwise featureless tower some 16 meters from where the Mimic currently was, providing a way into Spire itself.
It would appear those three gargoyles were some kind of gatekeepers that kept the tower sealed. Boxxy had assumed something strange was going on as those creatures were noticeably tougher than the garden variety Stone Soldiers the party had been fighting with until then. Well, they were still no match for Boxxy’s group, but they put up a better fight than the other golems in this place. It was highly likely that those gargoyles were the next evolution of Stone Soldiers, which meant they were over Level 50.
The area guardians of the Emerald Maze have been slain.
To the victor go the spoils.
The Black Stairs can now be accessed freely for the next 24 hours.
This message more or less confirmed Boxxy’s suspicion that the three flying statues were indeed special existences in this dungeon. This wasn’t the first time the Mimic had seen the term ‘area guardian,’ either. It remembered seeing it before when it had briefly obtained ownership of the Ishigar Dungeon Complex’s stolen dungeon core. ‘Area Guardian Management’ was one of the items in the list of unavailable functions it saw before the core went into meltdown.
Thinking back on it, Boxxy realized that it didn’t run across any such entities when it raided its own birthplace. Then again, that dungeon also did not repair any damage to its structure. Those two facts, combined with this Spire of the Jade King’s much thicker concentration of mana in the air, made one thing clear to the Mimic. This place’s dungeon core had ready access to a lot more features.
That’s when the Mimic started questioning whether it was worth it entering the Spire itself. Things like traps or puzzles were also things that this dungeon could do. Was there a point to dealing with such things? Since it just needed Job Levels, then surely spending a few days fighting Stone Soldiers out here in the open would be enough to get it to Level 50. Thinking on it objectively, was there any need to actually go through that entrance?
Boxxy glanced at the opening in question while considering its options. It spotted something inside. Momentarily doubting its one eye, it grew two more just to be sure and did indeed confirm that the sight it saw was very much real. Come to think of it, the message just now did mention something about ‘spoils,’ didn’t it?
Just inside the stone archway that has suddenly opened up was a single treasure chest. Indeed, this was the incentive, no, the bait that dungeons used to lure adventurers to their demise. And the Mimic’s own greed which hadn’t had a chance to surface ever since its capture gushed forth like a flood. Boxxy threw caution to the wind and ran off towards the chest, completely ignoring the voices of its minions.
The ornate treasure chest flung open all on its own when the Mimic approached as if it recognized its rightful owner. There was a flash of light and an ominous looking staff floated out of the chest and hung loosely in mid-air. The most eye-catching part of the staff was the sculpture of a clearly demonic skull that appeared to be molded out of some sort of black metal. It had two pairs of eye holes, one directly under the other, and each of them was socketed with a glittering red ruby that seemed to shine with an inner light. A pair of thick, ram-like horns jutted out from either side of it, while the open, seemingly laughing jaw was filled with two rows of sharp, dagger-like teeth. This macabre sculpture was held in place between four curved sheets of shining metal that resembled scythe blades. The arrangement gave off the impression of a large creature or demon that was preparing to crush the skull between its claws. This rather elaborate staff head was connected to a shaft forged out of the same pitch black metal that had a small, circular red gem attached at the bottom end. The weapon was a total of 180 centimeters long, which would normally raise questions as to how it fit inside that treasure chest in the first place.
However, Boxxy was too awestruck to even attempt questioning such things. This spectacle before it was perhaps the shiniest thing it had ever seen in its relatively short life. It stared at it reverently as it warily reached out to it with a tongue tentacle. It hesitated for a moment, almost as if it would sully the precious thing with its touch. However, such thoughts were silly and puerile. This thing in front of it was its reward, its compensation for taking out those 3 gargoyles. Having put its thoughts in order it touched the cool metal surface, reveling in the sensation of being in contact with something so precious. Two more tongues shot out and coiled themselves around it, shamelessly licking its prize all over.
The rest of the group had ended up following after the Mimic inside the Spire itself. They had tried to stop Boxxy from doing anything rash at first, but gave up almost immediately. It was plainly obvious that the Mimic was lost in its own world. They stared on wide-eyed as the monster slobbered all over the inanimate object.
“How enviable,” commented Valeria as she looked at the spectacle with glassy eyes. It was painfully obvious all sorts of lewd fantasies were coursing through her rotten head.
“Ugh,” grimaced Kora, clearly disgusted at the sight. “I didn’t think the boss would actually go and do that…”
“Well, I wouldn’t say this was unexpected,” commented Xera.
“R-really? Th-then Boxxy has done something like this b-b-before?” asked Fizzy.
“No, not quite. I was sure something like this was bound to happen eventually though. I know my Master better than anyone after all.”
The succubus seemed oddly smug as she said those words, but the lich they were directed at was already lost in her own world.
Kora’s eyes went wide when she remembered a piece of common sense when it came to looting things inside a dungeon.
“Wait, we can’t bring that thing out of the dungeon, right? Shouldn’t someone tell the boss?”
“N-not it!” called out Fizzy. She did not want to get beaten.
“Not it!” echoed Kora. She did not want to get eaten
“I think we should just let the Master it enjoy itself while it can,” commented Xera.
While she would gladly participate in both those activities, a good servant would not dare to interrupt her beloved Master’s entertainment. Besides, it was highly likely the Mimic would be distraught once it found out the truth and would seek comfort by devouring its favorite Snack.
After all, any dungeon chest that had been opened once would soon crumble into nothing. This also applied to the intricately decorated, solid-gold chest that the Mimic was currently licking all over. The fancy-looking staff that popped out of it would be another story entirely and was a permanent item, but would probably feel like a consolation prize.