The tunnels were grinning at Basil.
He almost missed the cold, sterile walls of the Paris underground. There was no one beneath the city’s concrete, no water or people—only dreadful silence. The transit system had fallen into disrepair, leaving its tunnels empty and almost safe to journey through. It should have been a sign that something terrible frightened monsters away from the city’s depths, but the party progressed through them nonetheless. They had rested and prepared as much as the ticking clock would allow. They had traveled through the subway, used Bugsy to dig tunnels whenever they encountered a roadblock, and finally found a way into the catacombs three hours into their search.
In doing so, they had left the comfort of civilization for the world of the dead.
Corpses formed the catacombs’ foundations. Walls of skulls supported arched ceilings of bones, kept barely illuminated by ephemeral ghostlights. The place felt neither cold nor warm; the air was dry and thick with dust. Strange noises often echoed through this maze of death: pained cries, cracking bones, and the sound of an invisible wind blowing in the distance.
“Still nothing?” Basil asked Bugsy as he and the centimagma advanced at the group’s vanguard. His fiery halberd provided a measure of light, as did a flame floating inside Vasi’s opened hand. “We were told this place was crawling with undead monsters.”
“I detect footsteps a few tunnels ahead, Boss,” Bugsy whispered back, his voice so low that Basil could barely hear him. “But they’re few and far between.”
“I smell dust and rot everywhere,” Plato warned behind Basil. Although the cat was usually sent ahead of the group to scout, the current terrain made it a risky proposition. Basil had seen enough Indiana Jones and Mummy movies to know that underground tombs always included trapdoors and closing walls. The party couldn’t afford to split up. “This place gives me the creeps.”
“Wait for me,” Rosemarine protested as she closed the march. Once as long as a bus, she had shrunk to the size of a large alligator. “I miss open spaces…”
Rosemarine’s size had presented quite the challenge for Basil: the tropidrake was too big to fit into the tunnels, but also integral to the party’s composition and a trusted teammate. He had considered switching her for Zachariel—who remained at the Lair base with Neria–before finding a different solution.
His Jekyll & Stein alchemy manual had once again proved its weight in gold. One of its potions, Gulliver’s Drink, allowed the user to temporarily shrink in size for hours at the cost of halving physical stats for the same duration. Basil managed to craft three doses, enough to let Rosemarine accompany the party into the catacombs. Somehow, dwarfism had made her even cuter.
Basil had nicknamed this form Chibimarine.
“How far are we from the dungeon?” Vasi asked Shellgirl, who was busy examining the team’s maps.
“Close,” Shellgirl replied. “We need to take left at the next crossroads and then right. We’re almost to the quarry.”
Which, according to BuzzBand’s map, was the junction between the catacombs and Pluto’s dungeon. Basil suspected that the Louvre’s plaza was right above their heads.
“We have progressed so far and yet to face opposition.” Vasi shook her head. “I can’t believe our foes wouldn’t send anyone to patrol the underground.”
“Me neither,” Basil said grimly. “The catacombs aren’t exactly a state secret either. We should have encountered resistance by now.”
Basil’s eyes darted from one wall to another. The skulls and bones making up the foundations often formed ghastly designs of broken hearts, arrows, and Christian crosses. He stopped upon noticing fingerbones assembled into a sentence.
Lasciate ogni speranza, voi che entrate.
“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,” Basil translated. “How charming.”
“Be wary, handsome,” Vasi warned him. “I disabled a few trap glyphs as we walked. These words can trigger curses if spoken aloud.”
“Duly noted,” Basil replied, only for Bugsy to freeze in place. “What is it?”
“Enemies incoming, Boss,” the centimagma warned, his antennae touching the ground as he spoke. “Two of them, maybe more.”
Basil cursed. Their luck had to run out at one point. “Can we avoid them?”
“I don’t think so, Boss,” Bugsy replied. “They’re in our way.”
“All right, then let’s finish them off quickly before they can sound the alarm.” Basil almost welcomed the interruption after the monotone, underground journey. “Everyone, time to buff it up.”
“Be thankful, I shall grace you with my new illusion powers!” Plato joined his palm and activated his new sorcery. “Mirage!”
“Good work, oh king of cats,” Vasi said before casting her favorite spell. “Hasten.”
“Motivate!” Shellgirl added.
The buffs empowered Basil and swiftly spread to his team.
[Mirage] status! Your chances of dodging Physical attacks are doubled for three minutes!
[Hasten] status! Your speed is doubled for two minutes!
[Motivate] raised your accuracy and critical hit chances for five minutes!
[All for One] shared your buffs with your allies!
A pity Basil couldn’t drink Vasi’s mind-protecting potion yet. Since it canceled shapeshifting effects, it would disable Rosemarine’s chibi form and immediately return her to normal size. Hopefully, he wouldn’t need it until they reached the pyramid.
The enemy appeared at the end of the tunnel.
Basil blinked in surprise at the sight. Instead of a monster, a little human girl no older than ten stood in the party’s way. She was white and immaculate from her feet and dress to her skin and eyes. Her facial features were blurry, to the point Basil struggled to recognize her face.
[Monster Insight] cannot work on this target.
“Who are you?” Basil asked, raising his halberd for battle. “Doesn’t matter if you look underage, I’ll hit you anyway.”
“Poor choice of words,” Plato joked, causing Vasi to chuckle. “She’s too old for you anyway.”
Before Basil could utter a clever retort, the white girl vanished as swiftly as she appeared. “Huh?” Shellgirl asked. “What was that?”
“I didn’t hear her coming,” Bugsy apologized. “I’m sorry, Boss.”
“I couldn’t read her stats,” Vasi said. “She must have been an illusion.”
“Nah, I can see through those,” Plato replied. “As creepy as it sounds, she was real.”
“Quiet, all of you,” Basil whispered. “Bugsy said two monsters are nearby. They could be–”
“Who’s there?” a voice called from the next tunnel.
Listening. Basil cursed as two shambling mummies walked into sight, their bandages wrapped around jewels and golden funerary masks.
Level 30 [Undead/Humanoid]
Faction: Metal Olympus (Psychopompos).
Immune: Soul, all ailments.
Resist: Frost, Earth, Darkness, Mythic.
Weak: Deadslayer, Manslayer, Wood, Life, Water, Light.
The new vanguard of the Franco-Egyptian fashion circuit, these monsters showcase the latest trend in funerary practices. Undeath: don’t settle on lifelike.
Oh, and they had rifles.
“I told you, Seti!” one of the mummies rasped. “I heard vermin!”
“Shoot them!” its companion shouted. The monster raised its weapon at the Bohens, his finger twitching on the trigger. “Shoot–”
Basil and Bugsy closed the gap between them in the blink of an eye. Their bodies blurred from the sheer speed, surprising the mummies before they could open fire. Basil sliced one in half in a single swing, head to groin, while Bugsy crushed the other’s skull with his mandibles.
“Basil, above you!” Plato shouted a warning.
Basil looked up to see a scythe phasing through the ceiling.
The blade fell as swiftly as a guillotine, but Basil’s Hasten buff let him dodge. The scythe cut through the ground, and its wielder revealed itself as a cloaked specter with a skull for a face. As Basil pivoted to strike back, shouts echoed through the tunnel. Bedsheet ghosts with flames for eyes and shuttered mouths emerged from the walls to strike with blackened hands of solid shadows.
Basil cursed his lack of foresight. Of course underground catacombs would be teeming with ghosts! Since they were intangible, neither Bugsy nor Plato’s enhanced senses could detect them!
Level 29 [Undead]
Faction: Metal Olympus (Psychopompos).
Level 18 [Undead]
Faction: Metal Olympus (Psychopompos).
Basil moved too fast to make full use of his Monster Insight Perk, and he didn’t need it. Their enemies were all Undead Types; that fact alone spelled their demise.
The scythe monster swung his weapon in an attempt to behead Bugsy before the centimagma could recover from his surprise. Basil parried the blow, their blades locking. Bugsy immediately attempted to back up his friend by striking the specter, but his mandibles harmlessly phased through its incorporeal substance.
“Physical attacks won’t help,” Vasi warned as she blasted a ghost with fire and fury. Shellgirl stored the maps in her inventory before firing ice projectiles in all directions. Plato struck with blades of wind as more specters emerged from the walls. “Use fire and magic!”
“Pick a god and pray, strangers,” the reaper taunted Basil as it raised its scythe for another strike. “You’re outnumbered.”
“Perhaps.” Basil swung his halberd with all his might, cut through the scythe, and sliced the undead spirit in half. The undead could only stare in shock as the Soulbound weapon shredded its incorporeal form. “But you’re outmatched!”
Supereffective hit! Critical hit!
One blow was all it took.
By the time the reaper had dissipated into a cloud of smoke, Basil was already moving on to the next target. His Soulbound halberd tore through one ghost after another, slaying them in one blow. Having recovered from his surprise, Bugsy switched to his fiery breath and blasted one ghost after another with it.
“Mister, Mister!” Only Rosemarine struggled to pull her weight, as the lack of luminosity prevented her from using her beam attack. She was reduced to fruitlessly snapping her jaw at enemies she couldn’t harm. “I wither in the dark!”
“Let’s move to a larger room!” Vasi suggested. “The walls and tight space favors them!”
“To the crossroads beyond!” Shellgirl shouted.
Empowered by Hasten, the party crossed through the tunnel with dozens of lesser ghosts hot on their tail. The specters failed to catch up to them, and the group swiftly reached a hall of skulls where four paths crossed.
Vasi and Bugsy immediately welcomed their pursuers with a sea of flames, dispelling the weak ghosts in a torrent of fire. Half a dozen reapers emerged from the walls to replace them.
So much for infiltration. They had fallen right into an ambush.
“All right, fine, you don’t want to play a stealth game?” Basil summoned his laser pistol from his inventory, lifting his halberd with his left hand and his firearm with the right one. “I’m up for a hit ‘em all!”
“Another kill count competition, handsome?” Vasi mused as she gathered flames in her hand. “I’ll win again.”
“Shadowscythe!” a reaper snarled in response. A volley of black sickles materialized from its fingers and flew straight at the Bohens.
Empowered by their buffs, the party dispersed across the hall to dodge the attack and struck back with relentless speed and ferocity. Basil’s eyes struggled to keep track of his faster allies’ movements, but he didn’t need to worry for them. Plato dodged projectiles and scythes alike, his blades of wind cutting through bones and specters like tissue paper. Vasi and Shellgirl stood back to back, each of them unleashing fire and ice in one direction. Bugsy activated Agility Up and became so fast that his body turned into a red blur. Only Rosemarine struggled to fight back without her lightbeam, though she managed to dodge attacks and run circles around the ghosts.
As for Basil, his world could be reduced to a single System message.
Supereffective hit! Critical hit!
Supereffective hit! Critical hit!
Supereffective hit! Critical hit!
The words repeated with each fatal blow that he landed. Basil’s build, once all over the place, now showed its emerging potential. The buffs provided by his allies enhanced the strengths of his other classes and hard-earned equipment, allowing him to dish out lethal blows left and right. Every monster that met his blade dropped dead—or deader—in short order.
Two surviving reapers stood back from the chaos, spooked by the one-sided massacre. “How many buffs do they have?” one of them asked in shock. “How could they…”
“They’re too strong,” its comrade rasped, its ghoulish visage twisted into an expression of abject fear. “We can’t gain any ground!”
“Then let’s bury them under it!” Another reaper moved towards a wall, its phantom hand phasing through a skull at the center of a Christian cross design. “Alone with the dead!”
Basil immediately realized the danger and rushed at the reaper. The other remaining scythe-wielder moved to intercept him, and although a halberd swing slew it in one blow, the delay allowed its undead kindred to complete its task.
The skull’s orbits shone with a bright blue hue, and a ‘clicking’ sound echoed through the tunnel. The walls trembled with a roaring noise. A layer of dust fell onto Basil’s head, a warning of the disaster to come.
“Boss, the ceiling is collapsing!” Bugsy warned.
“No recall or intervention can work in this place!” the ghost declared with a burst of wicked laughter. “You will never see the sunlight aga–”
Vasi shot the specter with a fire blast before it could finish its sentence, dispelling it.
“Follow me!” Bugsy shouted, rushing through a tunnel on the left with his antennae touching the ground. “This way!”
“After him!” Basil shouted as the Bohens followed their ally. Bugsy charged through the maze of tunnels, trusting his Tremorsense to guide the party through them. Skulls fell from the ceiling and Basil deflected them with his halberd before they could hit him.
The race lasted more than a minute, forcing Vasi to cast Hasten on her boyfriend again to keep the team up to speed. Basil heard a loud crack behind him, and looked over his shoulder to see the tunnel collapsing behind Rosemarine and Plato. Both cat and tropidrake rushed as fast as they could to escape an incoming cloud of dust and debris.
Bugsy took a corner, but Basil blinked upon seeing that it led to a wall of skulls. “Dead end!” he shouted in alarm.
But Bugsy didn’t slow down. In fact, the centimagma cast Agility Up once again as he charged headfirst into the wall. His mighty body shattered skulls and bones on impact, blowing a hole for the party to escape through.
Basil didn’t hesitate. He stored his pistol back in his inventory, grabbed Vasi’s hand, and leaped with her through the hole.
The landing on the other side wasn’t very glorious. The party fell from a small height upon one another, with Basil crash-landing on Bugsy’s back and serving as an unexpected cushion for his girlfriend and cat alike. The tunnel collapsed behind them, with a flood of bone debris closing the hole behind them.
“Ugh…” Basil coughed dust as Vasi rolled off his back. He glanced around himself, and to his relief, all his team had made it through the catacombs unharmed. “Is everyone all right?”
“I’m fine, Boss,” Bugsy replied before rising back up. “I didn’t feel a thing.”
“Speak for yourself.” Plato scoffed. His black fur was covered in dust. “I’m dirty! Dirty!”
“I’ll heal you, Mister Plato,” Rosemarine said before glowing brightly. The room they had landed in was better lit than the catacombs, allowing her to use her Perks. “Sunbath.”
The healing light cleared away Basil’s exhaustion as his buffs ran out and the System awarded them experience.
Congratulations, your party earned 970,000 EXP (54000 for you). You earned two levels (total 38).
“Thanks for the landing pad, Basil,” Vasi whispered as she helped her boyfriend rise back to his feet. “Your back is very soft, you know? I could get used to it.”
“Please don’t make it a habit,” Basil grumbled. At first look, his party had landed in some kind of ancient underground quarry. A hall of stone large enough to house an airport opened before them, with dizzyingly tall pillars of stone holding a dark ceiling over ten meters high. Burning hieroglyphs covered the walls and repelled the darkness with bright light. “Good job, Bugsy. Your quick thinking saved us all.”
“Oh Boss, you’re making me blush,” the centimagma replied with happy eyes. “It was nothing.”
“No need for false modesty, Bugsy,” Shellgirl said with a grin. “We owe you our lives.”
“One of them at least,” Plato said. “But how did you know this path would be safe?”
“I, uh…” Bugsy scoffed in embarrassment. “I sensed the walls were very porous in the last tunnel over. Considering the local architecture, I guessed that it meant they bordered the quarry.”
“So you knew because you’re an architecture nerd?” Plato deadpanned.
“What’s a nerd?” Rosemarine asked naïvely. “How does it taste?”
“Either bitter or very sweet,” Vasi joked. “So… is this the quarry we were looking for?”
“If you ask me…” Shellgirl raised a finger at a distant structure. “My merchant sense tells me this is our place.”
Basil’s gaze followed her lead.
As weird as it looked, a seven-floor modern building of concrete stood at the quarry’s center. Shaped like a three-sided star, the structure supported the ceiling alongside the stone pillars. The remains of petrified trees and empty ponds surrounded its gates of steel. Thousands of stained glass windows covered the façade, preventing outsiders from seeing the horrors inside. In spite of being located deep underground, the building appeared strangely well-preserved.
A bronze sign written in both English and French loomed over its entrance.
United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization
“The UNESCO HQ,” Basil whispered. The place where it all began. The building Kalki desired to visit above all else.
Dungeon: Louvre Pyramid
Faction: Metal Olympus
Field Type: Tartarus.
- [Soul], [Corrosion], [Fire], [Earth], [Darkness], and [Mythic] elements are strengthened.
- [Wood], [Water], and [Light] elements are weakened.
- Healing effects are halved and chances of suffering from [Insta-Death] are doubled.
- All creatures that die in the Field will rise up at sundown as mindless [Undead] Types.
As BuzzBand had warned, the Pyramid had assimilated the UNESCO into itself. Basil suspected that ascending through the building’s floors would lead them straight into the Louvre’s halls.
Level variable? Basil gritted his teeth as he read the dungeon’s stats. Of course these cheaters won’t play by everyone else’s rules.
“Looks like we exorcized the ghosts,” Shellgirl noted. The path to the catacombs was closed by a hill of dirt and broken bones, and with it, their escape route. “That, or they’ve decided to cut their losses and flee.”
“We should assume the worst, sad as it sounds,” Vasi said. “One of them might be warning their master as we speak.”
“Agreed, let’s move before reinforcements arrive.” Basil looked up at the windows. The building appeared empty and silent, with no enemy to welcome his team outside its walls. Yet he felt an invisible pressure on his shoulders.
The disturbing sensation of being watched.