The janther was a fearsome creature. At first look it appeared to be a big cat. Its head had typical features one would expect to see in something like a mountain lion - whiskers, perky ears, pointed teeth, elongated face, soft fur and keen eyes. Its torso, too, was pretty much the same in structure, even if a bit longer than one might expect. It also had a soft-looking tail which it used to adjust its balance when running or falling.
That is, however, where the similarities end. For one thing, its fur was a dark green, bordering on black. It also grew to sizes impossible for a normal animal, easily reaching up to 4 meters in length from head to rump and about 150 centimeters in height. Its most telling feature, however, was the extra pair of legs growing out right behind the frontmost ones. If it reared up on its hind paws, it would almost look like a two-legged, four armed creature. And every heavily muscled appendage was tipped with razor sharp claws capable of shredding people into ribbons.
It made its home in thick forests, where it could prowl and look for prey undisturbed. Hovering around Level 30 during adulthood, these big cats usually dominated the local food chain. They were also highly territorial and competitive with their own kind. A janther encroaching on another’s turf was no different than a declaration of war. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that each of these individuals ruled over their domain like kings or queens.
These majestic beasts were, without question, apex predators. They had an aura of undeniable strength about them, a sort of almost regal bearing befitting of a powerful ruler. It was something a certain treasure chest was just now made aware of as it desperately tried to conceal its presence.
While exploring this new ‘cave’ called the wide world, the first living being it found was a janther. It beheld its form relaxing up in a particularly old and thick tree. The green fur blended in perfectly with the tree’s foliage, making it impossible to see with the naked human eye. Which was what this particular shapeshifter was using to look around. It therefore failed to notice the huge janther ahead of time.
When it walked within about 10 meters of the fearsome creature, the Mimic finally detected it with its magical perception. The recently quiet instincts then screamed at it with all their might. ‘Hide!’ they shouted. ‘Hide if you want to live, retard!’ And so it did. It immediately undid all of its mutations and once again became a perfectly unassuming chest while activating its Stealth Skill.
This was a good call, because janther whiskers were very sensitive towards mana. So something like magical perception, which was essentially a kind of magical sonar, made them react. The sleeping janther woke up immediately when it felt the odd disturbance, after which it heard a soft impact of something hitting the grassy ground.
In its haste, the Mimic had retracted its feet so quickly that its rectangular body fell to the ground with a soft thud. It had no choice in the matter. If the shapeshifter was any slower, then its true identity would have been revealed immediately. Instead, all the janther saw when it looked down from its perch was a perfectly normal wooden treasure chest.
A rectangular pile of wood with steel edges which had appeared out of nowhere in the middle of a forest. This was not, in fact, as ‘normal’ as the Mimic thought it was. How could it possibly know that chests did not exist in the wilderness? Still, even if it realized it now, it was far too late. The huge cat had leapt down from its perch and was currently sniffing at the chest. That faint presence it felt just a moment ago disappeared almost completely, but it was still definitely there. As expected, something about this box unsettled it, but the beast had trouble figuring out what it was. That resulted in a sort of stalemate between the two.
A stalemate of ignorance, that is.
The Mimic kept observing the huge predator with its magical perception, unaware that its gaze was the reason for its current predicament. The janther, on the other hand, wasn’t sure what this odd tingling in its whiskers was. The only reason it took interest in this strange pile of wood was that, quite simply, it was curious. And while the saying that ‘curiosity killed the cat’ seemed like it might become reality, there was simply no way that would happen.
The Mimic, objectively speaking, had no chance of victory here. The janther before it had a staggering 534 HP and more than double the Mimic’s STR and AGI. It was much tougher, stronger and faster. Unlike the all-rounder Mimic Job, the specialized Big Cat Job focused only on physical Attributes. Because of that, even if the two were on equal footing, the janther would still win in a straight fight. It was a species well suited to combat, unlike its theoretical opponent. On the other hand, if the Mimic had managed to land a surprise attack, it would have a decent chance of taking down the bigger creature.
But all that was a ‘what if’ scenario. The ‘what is’ scenario was one where the janther would have an overwhelming victory no matter what the box did. The gap in Levels was simply too high. And while strategy and experience might have been able to compensate for that, the Mimic had neither of those things right now. At least, nothing it could use against a creature it had just seen for the first time.
So what would this self-proclaimed king do when it found a suspicious object in its territory? Why, claim it as its own of course! Whatever this thing was, it was clearly inside its domain. Yet it smelled like it belonged to someone else. In actuality, that smell was what bothered the six-legged monster the most. So, after turning its body to the side and urinating on top of the weird pile of lumber, it went up its tree and drifted off to sleep. Even if its whiskers were still tingling slightly, it wasn’t at a level where it couldn’t be ignored. The slightly foreign sensation may have woken it up since it was a light sleeper, but it was now used to it.
The freshly marked Mimic was not, as one might expect, outraged. It wasn’t feeling humiliated, nor was its pride crushed. The simple creature didn’t have things like pride, humility or shame to begin with. So what if it was covered in cat piss? Right now, it was simply glad to be alive. The big scary fuzzy thing had gone back to where it came from and the immediate danger had passed. But the crisis was far from over. Even the slightest movement on the Mimic’s part was sure to wake the big scary thing up again. Therefore, the faux-chest focused its entire being on chesting. It would be the Chestiest Chest That Ever Chested!
And so it waited. Again. It wouldn’t need to wait as long as it did last time though. It just had to lay low until the six-legged green thing went away. Eventually the sun rose. As the Mimic felt the celestial body’s warm light for the first time in its cave-bound life, it had absolutely nothing to say about the matter. Chests don’t speak, after all. It did quietly ponder just what was causing it, though.
Several hours after sunrise, the janther finally woke up. It yawned and stretched a bit, then just sort of lazed around its tree. It was, after all, a nocturnal creature. It wouldn’t leave to hunt until early evening and would sit idly while scratching its ass until then. Truly an attitude befitting of a king.
But before any of that could happen, at around 2:30 PM in the afternoon, the janther suddenly leaped down from its tree. It let out a low growl from its throat while it scanned its surrounding. The Mimic briefly wondered what caused this sudden behavior. It could have such idle thoughts since it didn’t seem to be the focus of the beast’s attention. Not this time, anyway. And, a few seconds later, it got its answer.
An arrow flew out from a nearby bush. It cut through the air at unnaturally high speeds, aimed squarely at the janther’s eye. Its target dodged out of the way with a grace and speed that belied the size and weight of its body. The errant projectile flew over the Mimic and stuck itself in the wide tree trunk. The janther then roared loudly, as if demanding whoever had the nerve to shoot at it to show themselves.
What it got in response was another arrow. Then another one. And another one. The gigantic mass of muscle and fur dodged them nimbly every time, but refused to fall for the obvious provocations. Its keen sense of smell already told it there were multiple people waiting to ambush it on the other side of that foliage. Once they realized their trap wouldn’t work, the would-be assassins showed themselves.
The first ones to run out of the bush were two men. Their matching longswords, kite shields and half-plate armor all looked well used, but in good condition. Behind them was a pointy-eared female elf carrying a thick oaken staff and a green robe that was modeled to look like a one piece dress. The last one to show themselves was another elf, only this one was male and held an intricately decorated longbow while clad in a tunic and trousers made out of brown leather.
The four-man adventuring party’s target was, without question, the janther. These mighty beasts were a highly profitable source of income. The eyeballs, brain, sharp teeth, liver and several other of its parts were useful to alchemists and enchanters, but the pelt was the most valuable of them all. They all fetched a good price because it was a rare monster that not everyone living in these parts could take down.
In addition to all that, this particular beast was already responsible for attacking several merchant caravans. Its infamy earned it a sizable bounty, which is what these four were aiming to collect. The thrill of a double jackpot like this was too enticing. And even if their Levels were still short of reaching 20, they actually had the strategy and teamwork necessary to take down the tougher opponent. There is strength in numbers, after all.
The Mimic, which was just kind of sitting there, hesitated as to what to do. The janther had leaped out of range of its magical perception some time ago. It had no idea what was going on nearby, but it definitely knew something was happening. It could clearly hear the sounds of battle, after all. So would it flee or stay put? After a while, it decided it need to at least verify the situation before making any rash decisions. It sprouted an eye on its left side, taking extra care to disguise the eyelid with a layer of wood-textured skin. It knew for certain there was nobody within 10 meters of it, so it was confident the tiny abnormality on its surface would not be noticed. When it was ready, it timidly peeked at what was going on.
It saw that indomitable janther bleeding heavily from its front. One of its eyes had been wounded. Its chest and frontmost legs were covered in cuts and several arrows were stuck in its side. In truth, even if it appeared heavily injured, none of those wounds were particularly deep, let alone fatal. The eye was a bit of a problem, but it would grow back if given time. Therefore, at least for the time being, it could keep attacking as fiercely as possible.
The giant cat-like creature swung its two left front paws at the black-haired Warrior. The man blocked both of them with his kite shield, but was sent flying backwards from the impact. He fell a few meters away from it, coughing up blood from the heavy impact. The other Warrior, a brown haired and stocky man, took his place. The elven Druid in the back then chanted “Rejuvenate!” as she completed her Spell. A soft green light engulfed the wounded black-haired man and began refilling his HP. “Entangle!” she continued. Green plants that looked like barbed roots burst from the ground. They coiled themselves around all four of the janther’s front limbs, pinning it in place. It struggled to break free, but that would take some time.
Taking this opportunity, the Ranger nocked an arrow. He concentrated for a brief moment and then let loose with a shout of “Multishot!” The Martial Art activated splendidly. The single arrow multiplied into four the instant it was fired. The quartet of arrows struck the immobile janther’s right flank, causing it to yelp in pain. In the next instant it finished breaking free of the roots and slammed into the brown-haired Warrior in a fit of rage. It was a repeat of a little while ago as one Warrior was knocked back and the other intercepted the monster in his stead.
This was a scene the Mimic was actually familiar with. The ones in front would keep the enemy busy and block their advance. Then there would be that one person in the back who applied healing magic and disrupted the tougher opponent. And finally, there would be someone even further away attacking from a distance. The shapeshifting chest knew this formation well - it had faced it several times in the past. While it did prefer solo targets, the adventurers who explored dungeons completely alone were few in number. It often had to fight groups of two or three, sometimes four of them so it knew first-hand just how painful that simple strategy was. Even those four it killed last night tried to do pretty much the same thing. If it didn’t have the advantages of a higher Level or the element of surprise, it would probably not be alive right now.
The Mimic did not know much, but it knew two things were certain. One - the janther would probably lose. It couldn’t land a telling blow on those well armored people in the front and that green-haired woman would not allow them to die. The second thing was that the healer - in this case the Druid - was the lynchpin of this formation. If she were not here, then not all of those adventurers would survive the encounter. Getting wiped out was also extremely likely.
Although, objectively speaking, the Mimic was really just a bystander in all this. It had no obligations to help either side and would be justified if it chose to stay completely out of this mess. While it is true that adventurers and monsters were fated to be enemies, it was also true that different species of monsters very rarely got along. This was a situation where the enemy of its enemy was still an enemy. So in some ways, it didn’t matter at all who would win.
But that was not entirely true, was it? If the janther won, it would simply go back to sleep or run off to hunt. If the adventurers won, they would want to open the mysterious chest that this formidable creature was ‘guarding.’ And with its true nature inevitably revealed, the Mimic would just be killed. If those four could take down an opponent which the Mimic had no hope against, then it would not fare much better.
Could it escape right now? Definitely. Neither of these two forces would be able to chase after it while they were busy with each other. So why not try and kill a few of those people first? At the very least, if it had to choose, it would want the janther would win. True, it did piss all over the poor thing, but the Mimic didn’t particularly hate it. It was warm and sort of pleasant actually. Of course, it might think differently if it had a sense of smell or if some of it got into its mouth.
Having made its decision to interfere, it next needed to choose a method. Shadowbolt was an option. What better place to test its power? It even had the perfect target - that Druid in the middle. The Mimic was completely in her blind spot and had a clear shot. Not to mention that, unlike the other three that constantly orbited around their target, the female elf had to stand perfectly still while chanting.
Oh, right. Chanting. It would need to chant the Shadowbolt Spell out loud, possibly attracting attention to itself. Still, with all that commotion, it doubted it would be caught as long as it was quiet. It was still under the effects of its Stealth Skill, after all. That meant any sound, including its ‘speech,’ would be lessened to some degree.
Right, now all that was left was to choose the right moment. The janther was rapidly running out of HP and the adventurers were clearly getting tired, but the winner was pretty much obvious at this point. The climax of the battle would be here soon and there might not be a good chance if it waited too long. And then, one of the Warriors was blown back again. The Druid would now undoubtedly focus on healing her teammate and would be a sitting duck.
The chest lid lifted ever so slightly. A low gurgle-like sound could barely be heard as it charged its Spell. When the Druid started muttering an incantation of her own, the Mimic released its Spell with a whisper.
The mass of darkness streaked through the air with a low hiss. The female Druid had just finished preparing her next Rejuvenation Spell and was about to invoke it with the keyword. She shouted “Re-,” but only got as far as the first syllable. The Shadowbolt caught her completely off guard and made impact with the side of her skull.
The sprawling shadow engulfed her head in an instant. The eldritch energies then viciously pulled her flesh and bones apart. There was a horrible sloshing sound as her head burst open like a gory firework. Drops of blood, bits of brain, clumps of hair, shards of bone and patches of skin rained down on her comrades. The suddenly headless body stood upright for an impossibly long second before falling over with a wet thud.
Assassination Skill triggered. Your attack has dealt 200% more damage. Target HP -126.
You have slain your target in a single strike. Assassination Proficiency increased.
Feat of strength performed! You have unlocked a new Perk: Arcane Assassin.
Congratulations, you are now a level 5 Warlock! INT +10. MNT +10. END +10.
You have learned a new Spell: Ebonfire.
You have learned a new Spell: Mass Panic.
Feat of strength performed! You have unlocked a new Perk: Monster Magic.
Proficiency level increased. Ruin Mastery is now Level 2. INT +4. WIS +2. END +2.
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