It was on Monday, October 31st, that Basil Bohen would learn the true meaning of dread.
Dusk crept on the horizon and the supermoon slowly rose in the skies. Basil enjoyed a clear view of the phenomenon from Château Muloup’s battlements. The moon was the closest to Earth yet and would soon dominate the skies. Its orange glow reminded him of a giant pumpkin.
“So beautiful,” Bugsy whispered at Basil’s side. The centimagma was supposed to oversee fortification work, but the presence of a bright glow moving close to the moon distracted him. “What’s that, Boss? Is that a star?”
“I think it’s the ISS reflecting sunlight at us,” Basil replied. It had been a while since it last became visible from the ground, especially without a telescope.
My eyesight sharply improved since I started leveling up. Basil could see details on the moon’s surface he never noticed with the naked eye before. Must be the Skill points showing. I wonder how far a class specialized in it could see.
“The isowhat, Boss?”
“The international space station. One of mankind’s greatest achievements.” Basil’s astronomy phase never truly went away. If his life had gone in another direction, he would have loved to become an astronaut. “Great nations worked together to build a ship sailing through space around the globe.”
Basil wondered what happened to the ISS’s crew. Seven astronauts worked on the station before the System’s arrival if memory served. Unless NASA and other space agencies survived the apocalypse, they must have run out of supplies by now.
“Oh, so multiple Guilds pooled their resources to create it?” Bugsy asked. As a young centimagma, he had little understanding of Earth’s culture. “And what do you mean by space? Can it teleport around?”
“How should I put it…” The discussion brought Basil back to his astronomy classes. “There is a layer of air around our planet called the atmosphere. Beyond it is a vast, infinite void called space. The moon, the planets, the stars, they all float in this sea of nothingness.”
Bugsy nodded with fascination. Basil couldn’t help but smile at his reaction. The centimagma reminded him of himself at a young age, fascinated by the cosmos and its mysteries.
“Each star is like our sun, with planets orbiting around it,” Basil explained. “Some say some of these planets host life like Earth, though scientists could never confirm it before the System’s arrival.”
Basil himself was pretty sure aliens existed out there. The universe was just too vast for humans alone to inhabit. Other species thrived in other dimensions, so why not among distant planets too?
“So there are dungeons creating monsters in space?” Bugsy asked. “Are the stars dungeons?”
“No, they aren’t.” Or at least, Basil didn’t think so. Dungeons already roughed Earth up pretty badly, he didn’t want to imagine them infesting the rest of the universe.
“What about the moon?” Bugsy pestered Basil like a child eager to learn the universe’s secrets. “Are there dungeons on the moon, Boss?”
Basil frowned in response. In truth, he had never pondered the question. Dismaker Labs needed to build a neurotower server to summon dungeons and he didn’t see the point of building one in space. Who would explore a moon dungeon? An astronaut party?
Yet Bugsy’s question planted a seed of doubt in Basil’s heart. He unstored a pair of binoculars from his inventory and looked up at the emerging supermoon. He would rather have used his telescope, but Apollyon burned it alongside the house.
Only the moon’s top was currently visible beyond the horizon, yet Basil’s enhanced sight allowed him to detect small shades of unnatural colors on its surface. Glowing spots of red, green, blue, purple, and white were faintly visible in the lunar region known as the Sea of Rains.
“I can’t believe it!” Basil choked in astonishment. “How did they—How did they build a neurotower on the freaking moon?!”
Did Dismaker Labs have contacts among NASA? Did Mars have dungeons too? Was Elon Musk in on the conspiracy?
Most importantly, why? Why? Why the hell would anyone build a dungeon on the moon?
Basil’s stomach turned as a dark thought crossed his mind. If Dismaker Labs could build a dungeon on Earth’s satellite, could they have sent others into orbit?
“The virtual reality showcase,” Basil muttered as he swiftly turned his binoculars in the ISS’s direction.
“What did you say, Boss?”
“Before the apocalypse, there were talks of a virtual reality showcase of life aboard the International Space Station.” Basil clenched his teeth as he gained a better view of the station. “Doesn’t that sound familiar to you, Bugsy?”
Basil was too far away and under-equipped to properly observe the ISS, yet he distinguished a halo of abnormal colors surrounding the light point. His fears were immediately confirmed. Dismaker Labs turned the ISS into a dungeon.
“That’s not good,” Basil whispered. “Not good at all.”
As if on cue, the System sent him a notification.
Congratulations, Players of Earth! You have survived long enough to reach the [Halloween] yearly event!
The [Halloween] event is a pseudo [Incursion] where rare, horror-themed monsters will spawn under the light of the supermoon. They will drop [Ghost Candies]; at dawn, parties will gain useful prizes depending on how many candies they collected. The monsters’ levels and danger will increase as the night progresses.
Dismaker Labs hopes that you will survive to collect your reward!
A short, hour-long countdown appeared at the edge of Basil’s vision.
“It will begin soon,” he noted upon lowering his binoculars.
“It’s alright, Boss, I think we’re ready.” Bugsy looked over the ramparts. “All is good?!”
“The traps are set!” A gargoyle replied from below the outer walls. He and his kindred finished covering a pit trap dug into the castle’s earth bridge with branches and a layer of dust. “Ain’t nobody getting past us without inside help!”
“Nor through us!” a lycan warrior said from atop a rampart, a crossbow in hands. Apollyon’s troops ravaged the food supplies, but thankfully didn’t have time to destroy the castle’s armory. “We’ll shoot any intruder down!”
Basil’s plan was simple: trap the bridge with pits to immobilize incoming monsters, then have long-range attackers shoot them from the walls to harvest experience. Close-combat specialists like Basil would then intercept the few enemies that managed to make their way to the dungeon.
It honestly surprised Basil that the previous occupants didn’t think of it. He assumed the baron’s party members were too self-assured that nobody would dare attack them in their own base.
Thanks to Lair II, tonight should be extremely profitable. Ronald had turned Château Muloup into his own Lair and spent most of his Lair Points purchasing EXP and Loot boosting features. Lairs’ positive effects benefited all party members within its vicinity, and as it turned out, that included fellow Guild members as well. Everyone would benefit from additional experience.
Basil reorganized his troops into three parties to fully make use of the situation. The Bohens included Plato, Bugsy, Shellgirl, Vasi, Rosemarine, and Basil himself. House Garden, led by Ronald, included the haunted armor, one gargoyle, and three Fire Seeds. The remaining monsters formed the last party, Muloup Watch. Each of them would rack up a kill count tonight and spread experience to the rest of their team.
On paper, the night should go well. Yet Basil felt uneasy whenever he looked at the sky.
“Bugsy, can you survey the moon and the ISS?” Basil asked as he moved down the stairs in the walls. “Inform me if you notice anything unusual.”
“Sure, Boss,” Bugsy replied. He was expected to snipe at incoming threats with his firebreath. “You expect something to happen?”
“I’m not sure,” Basil replied, his jaw tightening. “Call it intuition, but I have the feeling nothing good will come out of this. There’s something brewing up upstairs.”
Basil had grown wise enough to learn that nothing ever went as planned in the new world.
He climbed down the outer walls to find Shellgirl, Vasi, and Ronald discussing in the courtyard. Vasi had traced a circle full of arcane symbols on the ground and set five candles in a pentagram formation. From afar, the three looked like a Satanist club reunion.
“—I find it risky,” Vasi said. Basil had caught the conversation midway through. “The night will be difficult enough as it is.”
“So?” Shellgirl replied with a shrug. “All the new monsters will flock to our walls already. They just have to follow the aurora. At least we can ensure we’ll profit from the newcomers.”
“More food better,” Ronald added. “If King Basil allows it.”
“Allow what?” Basil asked, before pinching his nose. A terrible stench of rot filled his nostrils. “Ugh, what’s with the smell?”
“It’s the candles,” Vasi apologized. “I used orc fat for one of them.”
On second thought, Basil decided not to ask for more details.
“Partner, perfect timing.” Like any good salesman, Shellgirl immediately lobbied for his authority. “Ronald has enough Lair Points left for one last feature, and I suggest we take the Attractive one!”
“Hell no.” Basil squinted with skepticism. “That one makes it more likely for rare monsters to attack us. It will put the dungeon in greater danger.”
Shellgirl silently pointed at the very visible aurora floating above the castle. It advertised its location across the entire region.
“Okay, yes, anyone wishing to attack our place can find it,” Basil admitted. “But that’s not a reason to make it more likely. If this Halloween event is anything like the last Incursion, we’ll face many enemies already.”
“But that feature won’t summon more monsters,” Shellgirl pointed out. “It’ll just make it more likely for the rare ones among them to approach the Lair!”
“Rare monsters do offer better rewards,” Vasi agreed. “The Attractive feature would make Samhain more profitable for us, that’s a fact.”
“So why are you against it?” Basil asked.
“Well, my ritual involves sacrificing five babies and harvesting their souls for power. I need perfect concentration to cast it.”
“Babies, right,” Basil deadpanned. “Did you order them from a magazine?”
“I received a discount for the lot,” Vasi joked back. “More seriously, my ritual involves turning the dungeon into a fulcrum to harvest Samhain’s magical energies and use them to undergo a special form of metamorphosis. It’s an exceedingly complex task and I must fully focus on it.”
“I see.” Basil could read between the lines. “So you can’t help defend the dungeon while casting it.”
Vasi nodded with an apologetic face. “I would prefer it if you prevented any interruptions.”
“Come on, Vasi, most of us are level twenty-nine and the Incursion level limit is four levels lower than that!” Shellgirl argued. “Plus we’ve got a good defensive position, traps, and preparations! I’m sure we can handle anything that comes our way!”
Basil sighed. “If it’s about money—”
“It’s not about loot, it’s about the exp, Partner! I’m this—” Shellgirl raised her thumb and a finger. “This close to metamorphosis! One level tops! That way I can transform at the same time as my dear Vasi! At our level, we’ll need enemies above level nineteen to gain any experience at all!”
Basil crossed his arms and mulled over her point. True, the experience level penalty was starting to rear its ugly head. Basil hoped to reach level 30 before leaving for Bordeaux tomorrow, and that would be impossible if the castle only attracted level 10 critters. The rewards proposed by the System might also prove invaluable on the expedition.
It said something about his team’s progress for him to consider the equivalent of Megabug to be beneath his notice.
“There’s another advantage you don’t see,” Shellgirl said. “That feature will make it easier for us to recruit new Guild members!”
“How so?” Basil asked with a frown.
“Because all Guild members gain enhanced experience and loot from this place!” Shellgirl grinned deviously. “It’ll make it the best training ground in the entire region! Monsters will flock to our ranks to benefit from it!”
It… it made quite a lot of sense. The combination of the Attractive Lair features and dungeon defenses would turn Château Muloup into a precious level grinding spot. And Basil couldn’t hope to bring peace to the region again without recruiting troops…
“Alright, you’ve convinced me.” Basil decided to take the risk. “On one condition.”
Shellgirl tried to suppress her enthusiasm. “Yes, Partner?”
“You’ll be responsible for Vasi’s protection during her ritual,” Basil warned. “If she fails her ritual because you let an enemy through, I’ll hold you personally responsible.”
“Sweet, I would have done it for free anyway!” Shellgirl smiled at Vasi. “Don’t worry, I won’t let anybody approach you. I’ll be the best bodyguard you ever had.”
“I have mixed feelings about this plan,” Vasi replied with a sigh. “But I trust you, Shellgirl. Very well.”
Ronald barked in agreement and purchased the Attractive feature. With the countdown approaching half an hour, Basil decided to put on his Halloween costume.
“Pèth.” Basil touched his animal fur cloak. “Activate.”
A flash of bright light swallowed the world around Basil. He felt his body transform, his muscles strengthened with new power. His nails lengthened into fearsome claws and a layer of fur covered his skin. His clothes adapted to his new shape.
Basil expected to suffer from body dysmorphia when he regained his sense of sight. He did not. He had grown a head taller, his nose had turned into a muzzle and his hands had developed paws, but otherwise, his new body felt strangely comfortable. As if he was born to wear fur rather than skin. Perhaps the Pèth influenced his mind and reflexes somehow.
You have transformed into a [Werebear] (Humanoid/Beast). Your physical stats are buffed and your HP temporarily doubled.
And of course, he transformed into a bear. Basil hoped it wasn’t the panda kind, that would be humiliating.
A mere glance told Basil that none of his party members were surprised. Shellgirl told Ronald that he owed her a bone charm, whatever that meant, and Vasi blushed a little. Basil wondered why until he looked into the courtyard’s pool and stared at his reflection.
Basil looked like a bear alright; a proud brown Bulgarian bear, with soft fur, an adorable muzzle, and a terribly big belly. He looked a bit weird with the feathered armor on, but his large fangs would make up for it.
“I look like a zoo mascot,” Basil said with a deep and powerful voice. The transformation affected his vocal cords. “Why a bear though?”
[Werebeast]: The Pèth allows mono-Humanoid Type wearers to transform the wearer into a werebeast. The type of werebeast and associated bonuses depend on the wearer’s personality and/or totem spirit.
“I get that, but why a brown bear?” Basil asked in confusion. “Why not a polar bear? Or a grizzly?”
Dismaker Labs wishes you a happy apocalypse!
Some of nature’s mysteries were best left unsolved.
Plato, who was patrolling the castle, happened to walk into the courtyard at the same time. He locked eyes with Basil and immediately guessed what was happening.
“Saddening,” Plato said in disappointment. “I hoped for a werepanther.”
“Check this out.” Basil unstored his halberd, ready to take an intimidating bearbarian pose… only for the weapon to slip through his grasp. “What the…”
Basil tried to grab his halberd’s shaft and struggled. His hands had changed into paws with a few digits missing. His thumb was almost as long as his other fingers and nearly merged with them. It made a task as simple as grabbing a weapon exceedingly frustrating.
Plato watched Basil fruitlessly failing to lift his halberd for a full minute before exploding in laughter.
“Don’t make me use Warp Spasm!” Basil snarled as he dropped his halberd for the sixth time in a row. “Damn it!”
“Not so funny when it happens to you, right?” Plato taunted him. “You miss the thumbs, don’t you?”
“Try it with your mouth,” Shellgirl suggested.
At his wit’s end, Basil grabbed the halberd with his fearsome fangs and lifted it. His saliva dirtied his weapon’s shaft.
“Hosh do I losh?” Basil blurted through his teeth while struggling to keep his dignity.
“Ridiculous,” Plato said bluntly.
“Tasty,” Ronald replied.
Even Shellgirl appeared skeptical. “It looked better in my imagination.”
Basil dropped his halberd in frustration. “This bear form is less practical than it sounds.”
Basil turned his head to stare at Vasi. The witch’s green complexion had taken a pink complexion.
“Basil, could you…” Vasi let out a breath of embarrassment. “Could you dance for me?”
Basil stared back at her without a word.
“With your little paws?” Vasi gulped, but even in her shame she wouldn’t shut up. “Pretty please?”
“No,” Basil said grumpily.
“Oh.” Somehow, Vasi’s cheeks reddened further. “Then, can I… can I ride you? On your back?”
Basil immediately undid the transformation. In a flash of light, he shed his brown fur for pink skin. He and Vasi stared at each other in silence, until the witch crossed her arms and looked away in disappointment.
“Boss! Boss!” Bugsy shouted from the ramparts and glanced at the courtyard. “Boss!”
“What is it, Bugsy?”
“Uh, um…” Bugsy cleared his throat. “I noticed a star falling towards us, Boss.”
A falling star? After exchanging a short glance with his allies, Basil climbed back up on the walls and pulled out his binoculars.
“To your left, Boss,” Bugsy said, guiding him. “Can you see it now?”
“I do.” A shining fireball crossed the skies under the rising moon. A meteorite descended from the heavens towards the region.
“It came from the Isezes,” Bugsy said, mispronouncing ISS.
“The International Space Station?” Basil squinted behind his binoculars. The closer the object approached, the stronger its glow. Basil couldn’t even distinguish its features. “Are you sure?”
“I saw that star emerge from the station’s light,” Bugsy replied. “Maybe a part of the dungeon fell off?”
That was what Basil worried about. Could Attractive summon monsters from space?
The meteorite glowed so bright that it briefly illuminated the dark skies. A booming sound echoed as it crashed in the northern marshes a few minutes away from Château Muloup. Smoke rose from the distant crash site, black as coal.
“Phew, I thought it would fall on us,” Bugsy said with a relieved voice. “I could sense the blast from here.”
A System notification appeared the moment Basil lowered his binoculars.
New Main Quest: The Eye of Brahma
Recommended Level: 20.
Find the crash site’s treasure before Halloween monsters destroy it, and uncover the shocking nature of the new world. Warning: sanity checks incoming!
Reward: 30,000 Bonus EXP + hint for the Lotus of Remembrance Quest.
A main quest. Brahma was a member of the Trimurti, and the Lotus of Remembrance involved Kalki. Either of these pieces of information would have caught Basil’s interest, so both at once immediately raised alarm bells. He reread the notification with interest and swiftly reached a decision.
“Plato, with me,” he ordered. “We’ll go check on the crash site with Rosemarine. The rest of you, protect the castle.”
No time to waste.
The Halloween countdown hit zero before they reached the crash site.
Basil was riding atop Rosemarine’s back with Plato across the marsh when the first monsters spawned in their way. A festering zombie rose from muddy ground alongside a skeleton without warning, both of them hungry for flesh.
Level 2 [Undead]
Level 3 [Undead]
“Brains…” the zombie rasped. “Brains—”
Rosemarine stomped it and its comrade underfoot without slowing down. Their remains swiftly transformed into colorful pumpkin candies that the party didn’t bother picking up.
“Can I stomp them all, Mister?” Rosemarine pleaded, tossing trees aside as she followed the smoke to the crash site. More zombies rose from the ground all around them, weak yet numerous.
“You won’t gain any levels from it,” Plato pointed out.
“But they make a nice sound when I squish them,” Rosemarine argued. “It makes me feel warm inside.”
“Only those in our path, Rosemarine,” Basil replied. He had unstored his halberd and cut down any zombie foolish enough to try climbing on Rosemarine’s back. His weapon felt slippy with all the bear saliva left on the shaft. “Focus on the objective. We’ll indulge and recover the candies after securing the crash site.”
The monsters were low-level so far, but Basil wondered how long it would take for stronger creatures to spawn. The quest warned him that a few of them would try to destroy whatever treasure awaited him, and considering it was recommended for level 20 Players, he expected threats to escalate.
And the moon… The supermoon loomed in the night sky, so bright that it obscured the stars. Basil had taken a better look at it with his binoculars on the way and noticed multiple auroras centered around its Copernicus crater. He was now almost entirely sure a dungeon was located in its center.
Basil struggled to imagine any monster surviving a trip from the moon to France, but he had seen weirder shit. If a dungeon’s influence terraformed the land around it until it became unrecognizable, he shuddered to imagine what impact it would have on Earth’s satellite. This could mean trouble.
“Careful,” Plato said after taking a long, deep breath. “I smell cooked flesh ahead.”
“I wonder how aliens taste,” Rosemarine replied hungrily.
“I’m not sure the smell comes from aliens,” Basil replied grimly as they finally reached the crash site.
Rosemarine stepped over the edge of a small crater of broken trees and overturned dirt. The tattered remains of a parachute burned on the ground, filling the sky with smoke. A bullet-shaped capsule of blackened steel leaned at the crash site’s center. Its portholes cracked and spewed fire.
Basil recognized the device as a Soyuz, or what remained of it at least. The parachute must have malfunctioned during reentry and forced a harsh landing. It was a miracle it hadn’t disintegrated on impact.
Basil only had to look around the crater to identify the responsible parties: spherical, eye-shaped orbs lying broken around the shuttle. His teammates tensed up upon recognizing them.
“Not them again,” Plato whispered in annoyance.
“I’m afraid so,” Basil replied as he glared at the destroyed Unity watchers. “Looks like killer robots entered the space race.”