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“Maya!” Officer Elissalde raised her rifle at the reptilian abomination facing them. “Release her at once!”

“Did you take me for a fool, Elissalde?” ‘Dionysus’—or rather, the man pretending to be him—smiled ear to ear. His teeth were fangs and his tongue forked. “Do you think any loose end is beneath my notice? When you escaped my fog with that child’s help, I knew you would come back with army reinforcements and prepared accordingly.”

The serpent head coiling around the unconscious Maya Elissalde opened its mouth. Fangs surged right above the hostage’s head, ready to bite it off at the first warning.

"Still, to think you would bring me the Preserver… we might be able to make a fair deal after all,” ‘Dionysus’ said. “How about this? The Preserver’s avatar for your sister’s life,”

Neria’s handle on her rifle wavered. She was considering the shot, but the threat to her sister’s life stayed her hand. Her dogs growled and barked in anger. Bugsy tensed up next to Nessia’s projection, ready for battle. Shellgirl and ‘Kalki’ both glanced at Basil, waiting for a signal of any kind.

He didn’t say a thing. His mind struggled to make sense out of the situation, and even the System wouldn’t help.

Dionysus-Orochi’s [Divine Vessel] blocked your [Monster Insight].

“Partner,” Shellgirl whispered. “Do you want me to negotiate an exchange? I can do it, you know.”

Basil remained silent. His hand tightened on his halberd’s shaft with a mix of incomprehension and cold-blooded fury. If he had identified the voice correctly… then one of the five people single-handedly responsible for this entire mess stood before him. Basil needed to confirm the creature’s identity, and if he had guessed right…

Then there would be blood all over the shop.

“I wouldn’t wait too long if I were you,” the reptilian abomination taunted them. “My three mouths consume indiscriminately. Food and flesh and wine. This body turns even the most hideous taste into blissful pleasure. It just feels… right.”

This time, Basil opened his mouth to speak. “I didn’t know you were a closet cannibal, Mr. Tamura.”

The name echoed across the bridge, carried by the wind.

It was a gamble. Basil knew little of the man beside his name and involvement in Dismaker Labs. Yet he had a sharp ear and memorized the voices of his tormentors.

The brief flash of shock in the monster’s eyes was unmistakable.

No fucking way, Basil thought as most of his allies looked at him in confusion. None of their stares felt as heavy as the so-called god’s. Basil held his gaze while trying not to show emotion.

“Mr. Tamura?” Neria asked in confusion. ‘Dionysus’ briefly glanced at her and then back at Basil. His face remained undecipherable under that silly mask of his.

“Is that what you traded your corporate suit for?” Basil taunted the false god. “Scales and a tail? If you ask me, you’ve been shortchanged.”

“Who are you?” the false Dionysus rasped with two voices at once. Basil’s words had shaken him. “My Logs indicate you destroyed a dungeon and conquered another… that you fought an incarnation of Apollyon too. But you have no ties to our organization. So who are you?”

“You’re smart Mr. Tamura, figure it out,” Basil snorted. He put emphasis on the name to better destabilize him. Throw him off his game. “I’m the one looking for answers here and you’ll give them.”

After a short silence, the fake god smiled arrogantly. “It sounds strange to hear my name spoken again after so long… by a gaijin of all people.”

I knew it. Basil had guessed correctly. The question is: what the hell happened?

“Partner, what’s happening?” Shellgirl asked in confusion. “Do you know this guy?”

“He’s a member of Dismaker Labs’ board of directors.” Basil pointed his halberd at the false Dionysus. “A human pretending to be a god.”

“A… a member of the board?” Officer Elissalde looked back and forth between Basil and ‘Dionysus.’ “I don’t understand.”

“She knows nothing?” ‘Dionysus’ scoffed and locked eyes with Basil. “I see. You were the one who organized this meeting, not this woman. You are the one who captured the avatar to force this confrontation. What purpose do you seek?”

“I want the truth,” Basil lied. He hadn’t expected such an opportunity to fall on his lap, but he wouldn’t miss it. “I have a lot of questions and I want answers. And if you won’t provide them…”

He pointed his halberd at the disguised Vasi, who faked struggling against her bindings.

“He gets it,” Basil threatened.

“You went through the trouble of capturing the Preserver and bringing him to me to satisfy your curiosity?” The false Dionysus chuckled to himself. “I must admit, I admire your spirit. Most young men of your age would rather play video games rather than seek enlightenment.”

Each word coming out of his mouth makes me want to punch him harder, Basil thought. Still, he couldn’t keep this up for long. The elixir hiding Vasi’s System information from sight suffered from a short time limit… albeit not as short as that of the invisibility potions. “I told your servant that you had five minutes of my time Mr. Tamura. Don’t waste them.”

The invisible pressure on Basil’s back worsened. A vile aura of malicious power radiated from the false Dionysus. Shellgirl covered her mouth and Neria’s dogs whined at the oppressive aura coming off him. Dionysus’ priestess took a step back in fear as the bridge trembled beneath their feet...

Yet Basil held strong. He remembered Walter’s words: that a true god would have nothing to prove to lesser men. This walking handbag tried to intimidate him because he felt vulnerable; because as far as he knew, Basil was the one holding the world’s fate at his blade’s tip.

“Do not push your luck, boy,” the false deity warned. His snake heads snapped at Basil threateningly. “We are not equals, not by a long shot. Do not presume to command me. I wield more power than you can fathom.”

Basil sneered. If that was true, he would have seen through Vasi’s simple illusion.

“The girl and the truth against the avatar’s life,” Basil said, holding his ground. “That’s my last offer. Take it or shove it up Shiva’s ass.”

The false god locked eyes with Basil for long, agonizing seconds. His gaze radiated malice and cold-blooded cruelty. This man had killed many… yet when Basil refused to fold, he realized a simple truth.

Basil Bohen didn’t take shit from anyone.

“Very well.” The pressure radiating from ‘Dionysus’ lessened, although it didn’t completely go away. “Honesty will be a suitable reward for your perseverance.”

“My lord?” his priestess asked in confusion.

“Quiet,” her false god replied. She didn’t dare interrupt him again. “What do you want to know?”

“Release the hostage first,” Basil ordered.

“I think not. I would be a poor negotiator if I renounced my leverage so easily. You will have to release the avatar at the same time, and I doubt our discussion will remain afterward.”

“He’s got a point,” Shellgirl said with a sigh.

“Not helping,” Basil replied. He hadn’t expected the handbag to actually follow through with the exchange, but at least he tried. Basil was certain a fight would break out the moment he surrendered ‘Kalki’ anyway. “Fine. Then stop hiding your true self. Tell them all who you really are.”

“You want a proper introduction?” The false Dionysus laughed. “Very well. No more pretenses.”

He extended his arms and revealed the truth.

“I am Shinzō Tamura,” the false deity declared for all to hear. “Former Chief Financial Officer of Dismaker Labs, former chairman of Tamura Zanbatsu, and currently… a god of the New World.”

“Shinzō Tamura?” Officer Elissalde recognized the name. “The gambling mogul?”

Oh right, the Tamura Pachinko! Basil kicked himself for not recognizing the name. His father always wasted money on those stupid slot machines. If anything, that only made Basil dislike this man even more.

“Gambling?” Tamura mused. His priestess looked up at her master in shock and denial, but he ignored her utterly. “I owned so much more than casinos. Fitness centers, arcades, even cars… The prime minister once called me the Vampire of Tokyo, because I siphoned money from all of Nippon’s industries as if it was blood.”

“You know, I would have loved to exchange business tips,” Shellgirl commented. “But considering your methods, I don’t think we share the same ethics.”

“You don’t say,” Basil deadpanned.

Nessia’s projection looked up at the false god in utter confusion. “You are… you are not Dionysus?”

“I am a Player like you, girl.” Tamura’s scales shone under the glow of the bridge’s lamp lights. “Though obviously, my avatar is far more… optimized than yours. An ‘early adopter privilege,’ if you would like. You play heroes, I play a god.”

“I knew it!” Bugsy snapped his mandibles. “You’re a big phony!”

“I am not pretending to be a god, bug. I am one.” The false deity put a hand on his reptilian chest. “This body is divine… though the previous owner is no longer in control, I’ll confess. It is my will that drives this vehicle now.”

“You are a parasite.” Nessia’s projection growled in anger and disgust. “You are the disease I sensed.”

Tamura sneered at her. “Quiet, half-breed child. I shan’t be mocked by the likes of you. This body’s previous owner wasted his potential on wine and sex. I shall make better use of it than he ever could.”

“I… I don’t get it,” Neria whispered in confusion. “You are… a human soul in the body of a god?”

“Gods and spirits are different from us creatures of flesh,” Tamura replied. “They are beings of raw thought and magic, infinitely malleable. Human beliefs and sacrifices can influence their nature, as did our summoning programs. Creating this avatar for my soul was simply a matter of finding the right… calibrations.”

Nessia’s comparison was appropriate. This man was like a parasite, a brain-disease having taken over a god’s mind and transformed it into an abomination.

“Between us, I did not want Dionysus as my host,” Tamura confessed. “I wished to become the great Susano-o, lord of the storms and master of Nippon. But we lacked the data required to summon a functional avatar, so I had to settle for a young Greek god instead.”

“And the snake parts?” Basil asked. The two snake heads hissed at him. “You spliced up with reptile DNA, Jurassic Park-style?”

“I admit full responsibility for this mishap,” Tamura confessed. “I insisted that Anton incorporate the data we collected on Susano-o into my avatar anyway. Alas, the well’s waters were tainted. Lesser gods are like spirits. They draw their substance from the myths about them. The essence that came through belonged to the Yamata-no-Orochi, the great serpent that Susano-o once vanquished and made a part of his legend. I suppose this is punishment for my greed. As they say, those who chase after two rabbits will not even catch one.”

“I wondered where the ‘Metal’ part of Metal Olympus came from, but now I understand.” Basil squinted at this… this twisted chimera. “Deus ex machina. Gods from the machine. And I assume your colleagues make up the rest of your pantheon.”

“Mayhaps…” Tamura scoffed.

Basil took it as a yes. Good. Now he knew where to look to cross names off his kill list.

“Still, I am happy with the result.” Tamura raised a scaled arm and examined it with rapturous attention. “It’s better than anything I expected. Such power, such vitality… ah, it feels so good to walk again.”

“Release him.” Little Nessia glared at Tamura with burning anger. “Release Dionysus. He’s in unimaginable pain. You’re hurting him.”

“So what?” Tamura looked down on her. “Yes, I hear my host’s pleas in the depths of my soul. Like background noise, I’ve stopped paying attention. In time, his words will become my thoughts. His malleable essence slowly morphs to fit my desires, my soul… this is my life now.”

Basil tried to imagine what his host suffered through. Becoming a prisoner in his own body, his mind overwritten by a foreign presence, violated physically and mentally… and then vanishing while someone else carried on with his face and name.

Basil didn’t know much about Dionysus besides the fundamentals, except that Greek gods were jerks in general, but he didn’t wish this kind of fate on anyone. Not even a pagan god. Death would have been kinder.

Shellgirl glanced at Nessia’s projection and whispered into her ear. Basil’s sharp ears were close enough to hear. “Is there any way to free him?”

“I think… only one.” Little Nessia chewed her lip angrily. “He’s begging for it inside.”

Death. The god inside wished for death. That made things easier to swallow for Basil, though only a little.

“I still don’t understand how you could pull it off,” Neria said. She kept her rifle pointed at the false god, but waited for Basil’s signal. She understood now was the perfect time to gain information. “How could you transform the entire world? How could you reshape all of reality?”

“You foolish woman, do you think we created all of this from nothing?” Tamura waved a hand at the fog covering Bordeaux and the darkness spreading in the skies. “Even such marvels as the computers you take for granted demand rare ore extracted from the earth. Our technology harnessed forces that were already there.”

Basil remembered the description of Prayer spells, back when he inspected Dax’s cathedral. “I’ve read books implying that prayers always had power,” he said.

“Miracles once existed, yes.” Tamura nodded with his human head. “What they lacked in modern times was the energy required to fuel their effects. Although they fled to other planes as this world’s magic rarified in ancient times, gods once walked among us, unseen and unknowable. Some slumbered deep underground like fossils, waiting to be reawakened. Others had to be cast down to Earth with the right summoning program.“

The false god then glanced at the disguised Vasi.

“And then, of course, there are Overgods like the Trimurti, who need no worship and whose power knows no bounds,” he said. “It took us great effort to gain those threes' attention and summon them to this plane.”

“How did you do that?” Shellgirl asked with a frown. “I don’t get it. You said this planet didn’t have magic before. So how could you summon this handsome, delightful boy without it?”

Tamura seemed to find the wording funny, for he laughed to himself. Yet the malicious edge in his voice sent shivers down Basil’s spine.

“Have you ever wondered,” the false god asked softly, “why you gain power from killing?”

Basil’s blood went cold. “What do you mean?”

“You must have noticed by now, Mr. Bohen,” Tamura said upon noticing his unease. “The Quests you receive, aren’t they all about death or creating better tools of war? About calling more pigs to the slaughter? Why would our System provide these incentives? Where do you think experience points come from?”

Basil clenched his jaw. He remembered all the undead people he slew coming back for his head on Halloween. Their existence had proved the existence of the soul, that something remained of the living even beyond death.

Basil could see the implications of the false god’s words, and he didn’t like them one bit.

“Speak clearly,” he ordered.

“I already have,” Tamura replied mockingly. “If you can’t see the truth on the walls, then you are wasting my time.”

“Where’s Anton Maxwell?” Neria pointed her rifle at Tamura’s human head. The false god moved his hostage in the path as a human shield. “Where. Is. He?”

“I do not know,” Tamura replied with a shrug.

“Lies.”

“You question my words, woman?” The false god grunted in genuine anger. “Our association came to an end. Only Ashok is still in contact with Maxwell as far as I know, and I do not care what either of them do. I will contact them again once the avatar is in my hands, but that’s it.”

Having been floating slightly above the ground so far, Shinzō Tamura landed on the bridge with aristocratic grace. Yet his face was marred with anger, and his eyes set on Vasi.

“I tire of this standoff,” he warned. “Do you have another question, or will we make the hostage exchange at last?”

Basil could tell that the false god had reached the end of his patience… and the potion’s effects would soon wear off anyway. Yet he had one last question on his mind, one that wouldn’t stop bugging him.

“Why?”

Tamura glanced at him in confusion. “Why?”

“Why? Why the hell?!” Basil waved his halberd at the fog covering Bordeaux, at the devastation the System had left in his wake. “Why did you do all of this? Because you wanted power? You wrecked the planet so you could call yourself a god? Are you so hollow inside?”

The false deity crossed his arms. His gaze remained full of anger, yet to Basil’s surprise, he noticed a hint of bitterness in it.

“Have you ever been sick, young man?” Tamura asked, his twin voices surprisingly low and deep. “Have you been bedridden by fever, helpless and weak?”

Basil frowned. “I have.”

“Now imagine living like this for years.” The man’s reptilian lips twisted into a sneer of distaste. “Trapped in a wheelchair when you could once run. Gasping for bottled air when you could once dive in the Pacific’s deepest abysses. Feeling your mind slip away when other men once honored your foresight. Needing diapers from servants who once trembled at the mere mention of your name. Watching powerlessly as your ungrateful children fight over your inheritance like vultures over a corpse. Imagine being treated as dead while you still live.”

Basil flinched as if punched in the face. He remembered René's last months, the despair and bitterness he felt as the cancer prevented him from even moving from his bed. The Old Man had never said anything when Basil brought him his meals, but his adopted son always knew how much he hated being catered for instead of doing things himself. That feeling of helplessness had killed René as much as the disease.

“I can imagine,” Basil whispered.

“You cannot, and be thankful for it.” The old geezer shook his head angrily. Words flowed out of his mouth like a river of filth out of an old, aging mountain. “Aging is dreadful agony beyond description. I couldn’t even take solace in the future. None of my heirs were worthy of my empire. They were spoiled, self-centered brats, all of them. They tried to flatter me in the hope I would make them my sole heir, saying I should retire in peace, but I wasn’t blind. They would rather party on yachts and sell my legacy to these cryptocurrency frauds rather than honor our family. Wealth corrupted their hearts like worms in an apple.”

Okay, that hit close to home. Although the man in front of him was a mass murderer and a shitbag, Basil couldn’t help but feel a little compassion for him. He had already seen René go through the exact same torment. Even though one was a rich oligarch and the other a retiree living in the woods, age struck all without regard for their net worth.

Some things don’t change, Basil thought grimly. Whichever side of the world, some children simply didn’t appreciate the sacrifices their parents made for them. Only demons would sell their father’s cherished company to crypto bros.

In the end though, the Old Man had made peace with his fate. He had accepted his demise with dignity and gifted his remaining possession to Basil, who had stood by his side when his own flesh and blood wouldn’t.

“My heart was filled with despair as the long shadow of death grew close. I wept in shame. I prayed to the Kami of my ancestors for a solution… And then that…” Tamura breathed in relief. “That man came along.”

Yet Tamura had chosen a different path.

“Anton Maxwell was a genius,” he said. “A man who could do so many things. Yes, I knew he was an akuma, a wicked soul, but he offered me my heart’s desire. A new life and eternal youth. Health and strength! When he showed me his laboratory, when he presented to me the wonders he had created… I realized I would no longer need to pray to the gods for mercy. I was destined to become one.”

“You killed millions for it,” Neria accused him angrily. She clearly felt none of Basil’s sympathy.

“So what?” Tamura replied with utter contempt. “Where others enjoyed sex and booze and vacations, I spent my days studying and working. I toiled for seventy years without complaining. I deserve this new life.”

Deserve?!”

Basil turned his head at Bugsy. The centimagma steamed with anger, literally. Vapors rose from his body and smoke came out of his mouth. “Bugsy?”

“You deserve nothing!” Bugsy snarled angrily. His eyes burned with rage. “You’re a cheater and a fraud!”

Tamura’s body once again radiated potent malice. The air choked from the pressure of his hateful glare. “You dare?”

Bugsy dared. “You’re a thief and a cheat! All of us, we fought to get where we are! We killed and lost and kept going, but you… you didn’t earn this power! You stole it from someone else, and worst of all, you pretend it was yours by right! You sicken me!”

Basil had yet to remember seeing Bugsy ever so angry. Even the house’s destruction hadn’t triggered that kind of reaction. But it made sense. The centimagma took pride in getting stronger. To hear Tamura’s self-indulgent rant probably hit all of his buttons.

“Boss, I swear, just give me the signal…” Bugsy snapped his mandibles angrily. “I’ll tear his head off!”

“Just try,” the false Dionysus replied smugly. Venom oozed from his snakes’ fangs, and his priestess adopted a fighting stance. “Reel in your pet Mr. Bohen, before I squash him where he stands.”

On one hand, he is just an old geezer with the power of a god, Basil thought, but on the other hand, he is an old geezer with the power of a god.

Bugsy was right, Tamura didn’t earn his power. This gave the party the edge. Perhaps Tamura’s borrowed body possessed great powers, but control did not equal mastery. Whereas Basil’s group fought tooth and nail to reach their current level of power, the oligarch literally paid to win. The mere fact Tamura could be fooled by a simple illusion showed that he was nowhere near as powerful as he pretended to be. Basil’s party trumped him in experience, cunning, and determination.

Would that be enough?

Whatever the case, Bugsy was right. This man deserved nothing but scorn. No matter his circumstances, he willingly stole another person’s life and murdered millions more. Basil couldn’t allow his feelings to cloud his judgment.

“Couldn’t you just accept death with dignity?” Basil glared at Tamura, at this corporate thief. “Pass on the torch to someone and simply let the world run its proper course?”

“Accepting death with dignity?” Tamura laughed scornfully. “Only a weakling would say that.”

And like that, he pressed the René button.

Whatever sympathy Basil held for the man vanished from his heart. He had projected René’s plight on this fake god without realizing that he was an utter asshole. Of course the two were different. Besides the sheer difference in wealth, René was a noble person; even if he had been rich and powerful enough to seek an alternative, he would never have condemned millions to a gruesome death for a new lease on life.

The Old Man would have accepted his demise with dignity because he was brave enough to. Something which the likes of Tamura would never understand.

Shellgirl sent Basil a brief, but instant gaze. Less than a minute left before the potions’ expiration.

Basil took a long, deep breath.

“I’m going to cut your serpent balls,” he told Shinzō Tamura, his voice barely louder than a whisper. “And shove them down your throat.”

The false god scoffed. “What—”

Basil was running at him by the time Tamura finished his word.

He crossed the gap between them in the blink of an eye, halberd raised for the kill. The priestess reacted before her master, who clearly hadn’t expected such a brazen attack; Tamura had no combat instincts to speak of.

Still, the bastard moved quickly.

“Thiasus,” Tamura said, his eyes shining with a red glow. Puffs of smoke started popping up all over the bridge.

Dionysus-Orochi spawned reinforcements!

Basil focused on the task at hand. The priestess moved in their path, fists raised to strike. He pushed her to the side with a swing of his halberd and kept going.

Tamura’s snake head started coiling around his hostage and its maw opened for a killing blow. Neria shot it first with her rifle, the bullet pushing back the serpent. Tamura raised a hand…

And screamed in pain as a needle-thin blade cut through the back of his skull and came out through his right eye. Purple blood erupted from the wound, revealing a shape standing on his shoulders.

A certain invisible cat asserted his dominance with a fearsome war cry. “Dwarf panther to the face!”

The distraction was brief, but enough. Basil swung his halberd and cut the snake holding Maya Elissalde in one swift slice. The severed head fell onto the ground alongside its hostage.

“And then, I swear it on the Virgin Mary…” Basil gritted his teeth in fury as reptilian blood covered his face. He heard Bugsy roaring and rushing after him to join the fray, while Vasi undid her bindings and Shellgirl shouted something. “I’ll go full Spanish Inquisition on your entire pantheon!”

A System notification popped up right as an explosion rocked the bridge.

New Main Quest: Flipping the Board!
Recommended Level: 80+.
You don’t like the cards you’ve been dealt with, so you’ve decided to flip the board? The System will hold you true to your vow! Defeat all five members of Dismaker Labs’ board of directors, Anton Maxwell included, and prove you don’t need to pay to win!
Reward: 24,000,000 EXP + God Card.

Challenge accepted.

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About the author

Maxime J. Durand (Void Herald)

Bio: I'm Maxime Julien Durand ([email protected]), a European warlock living in the distant realm known as France, spending all his time writing tales and forbidden scrolls.

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