In the dark depths of a Hungarian forest, a hundred people waited for death.

Ilona was among them. A twelve year old, she had been dragged out of her bed by raven-headed monsters in the night, beaten into submission, and then dragged into the woods. Her daddy and mommy occupied an iron cage halfway across a snow-covered clearing alongside a dozen other adults. Ilona shared her own with twice as many children. She recognized most of them from school; back when the world hadn’t ended and she still attended classes.

Morning had come, but little sunlight pierced through the canopy of trees. Winter snow covered a stone table at the center of the clearing. Traces of dried blood were visible on its surface and a terrible noise emanated from it. Ilona had learned evil ghosts existed since the dungeons appeared, but she prayed to God not to face one.

The monsters holding her prisoners were scary enough already.

They numbered in the dozens. Most were the same humanoid ravens that captured her in the first place. One creature, the leader, stood out from the rest; it was an ugly beast with goat legs, black horns, and a human torso. Its face was a skull with a wicked grin.

Satan himself walked the Earth.

Level 50 [Demon/Beast]
Faction: Apocalypse Force
Level 40 [Fairy/Avian]
Faction: Apocalypse Force

“Shush,” the demon leader said to the crying children. He polished the top of his fork weapon with blood. “Everything will be alright.”

“For us,” one of his bird minions said.

“Yes, for us,” the demon leader nodded to himself. “Now, you may wonder why we would want to harm you. Our weakest soldier is level 40 and none of your adults reach half that number. We wouldn’t gain experience by killing you.”

Lord, please Lord. Ilona joined her hands in prayer. Jesus Marie Joseph, please, if anyone listens… please send someone.

“But in the Apocalypse Force, we believe that each death has value,” the demon said joyfully. “We have found a workaround: we are going to force your parents to murder you so they can level up. Then we will force the survivors to kill each other until they become just strong enough that we can harvest experience from them.”

Oh Lord, if you save us all, Ilona prayed, I swear I will make my bed each morning and I will never steal sweets again!

“Now, I understand some of your parents may not like our foolproof method to deal with child support, so we will brainwash them with the Charm ailment first.” The demon showed a contrite face to his captives. “This may sound cruel, but it is strictly necessary. If we could have switched the order of execution and hastened your inheritance, we would have done it. I am truly sorry for the inconvenience.”

He almost sounded sincere too.

As the fiends laughed and the children cried, Ilona held her hands and looked at the canopy. She prayed that the Lord would send down an angel from the heavens to smite the demons.

And God listened.

The sound of clashing steel echoed across the forest alongside a catchy battle song. The demon leader stopped taunting his prisoners and looked up as one of his minions was sent flying above his head.

“What is this?!” the fiend roared in anger and surprise. Some of his servants fled in panic through the forest as the sound of battle came closer.

“The Bohens!” one of the raven-headed beasts said in panic. “It’s the Bohe–”

A blade of sharpened wind hit the bird and beheaded him on the spot.

A blazing projectile cut through the canopy from above and shattered the sacrificial stone table on impact. The weapon was long as a spear, yet with a tip shaped like a pointed axe. Branches fell and let the pale sunlight into the clearing.

Instead of an angel, God had sent Ilona a flaming halberd of justice.

A knight gracefully landed from the sky right next to the divine weapon. Unlike heroes from comics, he didn’t bother introducing himself in the name of righteousness. He simply grabbed his halberd and cut down a dozen raven-headed monsters in a single swing.

Ilona and the other children gasped in awe at their hero’s arrival. His purple armor glittered in the morning sunlight, as did the golden Orthodox cross painted on his chest. The helm showed two blue eyes glaring at the demons under a tuft of blond hair.

Ilona cheered in joy, swiftly echoed by the other children. The knight noticed their presence and then glared at the demon leader in righteous fury.

“I’m going to take that fork and stick it up your ass,” he told the fiend. “Like a chicken on the grill.”

“You must be Basil Bohen,” the demon leader said with a wicked grin. He raised his fork, flames dancing around the pointed ends. “The man who smoked Apollyon.”

“Rosemarine landed the killing blow,” the knight replied absentmindedly. But he didn’t completely deny the demon’s accusation. “And you are?”

“Ördög, thrall of Belphegor, Horseman of Death.” The fiend swung his fork, leaving a trail of flames in his wake. “A proud warlord of the Apocalypse For–”

“Again?” The knight let out a contemptuous sigh. A few raven-headed minions brave enough to challenge him surrounded him from all sides, but he didn’t seem to care. “How many of you cockroaches crossed over with the last Incursion?”

“Our numbers are beyond count,” the demon boasted. “Your death will be my ascension to the Horse–”

“Yes, yes, I’ve heard it before.” The knight made a rude gesture. “Rosemarine, get him.”

The demon exploded into a shower of blood and gore before Ilona could process the knight’s words. A piece of the monster’s brain bounced on her cheek, and its corpse flattened inside a small crater. It looked as if he had been crushed under an invisible giant’s foot.

“Sneaky toe!” a female, unseen voice shouted across the clearing.

What followed… Ilona wouldn’t call it a fight. The Knight of Bohen cut down minions left and right; everything in his body language, from his mechanical swings to his empty gaze screamed of boredom. A tiger cub with a shining sword leaped into the fray to help him. Within seconds, the clearing was drenched in demon blood.

Ilona would have almost felt sorry for these creatures, if she hadn’t hated them. At last, justice had been done! The villains had been slaughtered by the righteous!

A drip of saliva falling on her shoulder dashed her hopes.

Ilona raised her head and froze in terror. A veil of invisibility had been lifted, revealing the presence of a colossal monster. The beast resembled a cross between a giant lizard and a plant, with a fanged flower for a head and countless eyes.

“Ah!” Ilona screamed alongside all her fellow prisoners. Some cried in fear. “Don’t eat us!”

“I know I’m scary,” the plant monster said, saliva dripping from her tongue. “Your tears fill me with joy.”

“Rosemarine, stop traumatizing the children,” the Knight of Bohen chided her. He knelt before the cage and waved at the children inside reassuringly. “Do not worry, Rosemarine is a gentle soul.”

“Are we lying to children now?” the tiger cub commented dryly. “Perhaps you should remind them that Santa Claus is real too.”

“Shut up, Plato.” The Knight of Bohen removed his helmet and smiled kindly at the children. Somehow, it helped calm down most of them. The man sounded so trustworthy; his words made the prisoners feel safe. “I’m sorry that you had to see this. I promise you, we will reunite you with your parents. Our friends and allies are purging the other demon nests as we speak. You’re all safe.”

“When I’m old enough, I want to marry you,” Ilona replied with tears in her eyes.

“Oh, uh… thank you.” Her knight in shining armor seemed a bit embarrassed. “But, uh, I already have a lady of my own.”

“And he hasn’t let me sleep on his bed since,” the tiger cub complained. “I’ve been replaced.”

The knight ignored him and removed the cage’s lock with his bare hands, freeing everyone. Ilona looked fearfully at the plant dragon, but the mighty beast obediently took a step back at her master’s command.

“At the risk of looking like a tourist…” The Knight of Bohen cleared his throat. “Are we close to Szeged?”

“This is the park of Közép-Tiszai, close to Szolnok,” one of the kids said. “Szeged is over one hundred kilometers to the south.”

The knight frowned and exchanged a glance with his two pets. He planted his halberd in the ground and magically summoned a map to his hands.

“Ah,” said the Knight of Bohen. He sounded unhappy. “That’s unfortunate…”

“Are we lost again, Mister?” the plant monster asked innocently.

“We aren’t lost,” said the tiger cub with a wide grin. “We’re touring the countryside.”

The knight threw his map at the tiger’s face and cursed out loud.

The Bohens had to wipe out three more demon camps before noon.

Kalki and his pets took care of one, while Shellgirl, Bugsy, and Vasi helped a local militia storm the last two. Basil considered the whole venture closer to pest extermination than anything; they came, they saw, they slaughtered.

The party helped save hundreds of innocent people from a gruesome death, and that made him somewhat happy. That mitigated the fact they had gotten lost on the road to Bulgaria once again.

Your party earned 2,790,000 (289000 for you). You earned 2 levels (54 total).
Bugsy Alphonse Venture can now undergo a metamorphosis into a [Volcanipede] (Elemental/Bug) or [Archeopede] (Bug/Elemental).

At least this detour had a silver lining. It felt like a lifetime since Basil had last earned a level. Being overpowered spared the team many troubles, but also prevented them from earning much experience from anything.

These skirmishes had been occasions for Basil to test his new Dragoon Armor. Crafted from Apollyon’s remains, it offered excellent protection against ailments, damage protection, and allowed Basil to benefit from beneficial effects as if he were a Bug Type; he hadn’t yet found a use for the last part, but he would figure it out in time.

Once the job was complete, Basil and his crew gathered back to the Steamobile to continue on with their journey. The vehicle had gone through a few changes thanks to the help of German crafters in Berlin. Once a mismatched tangled shell of pipes and wheels, the Steamobile had been optimized into an armored, two-floor train stuffed to the brim with artillery pieces; including one of the late Apollyon’s personal cannons. The vehicle was large enough to house dozens of soldiers, yet light enough that Rosemarine could still pull it across Europe easily enough.

And pull it she did. The Bohens had spent most of December traveling from one country to the next on the way to Bulgaria. Germany, Austria, then Slovakia–after they took the wrong turn on the way to Budapest–and finally, Hungary.

So many adventures.

So many delays!

Basil’s homeland of Bulgaria was under siege and they were only halfway there! Not to mention Kalki’s girlfriend, who languished in captivity in Greece. At this rate, they wouldn’t save the world before 2023!

“Boss, they gave us beer!” Bugsy cheerfully pushed a crate full of Arany Aszok bottles to the Steamobile. “To thank us!”

“Ugh,” Basil grunted. He refused to touch alcohol since he had watched his father fall into drunkenness, but he couldn’t refuse a gift from villagers he had just saved from death. “Put them in the alchemy lab, I’ll find a crafting use for them.”

“They gave me porcelain too!” Shellgirl said, carrying a full tea set in her hands. “I can’t wait to drink with them!”

“The locals offered to host us for the night,” Vasi told her boyfriend. The witch had used a glamor spell to disguise herself as a human, to avoid unfortunate incidents on the road. Too many demons had given horned people a bad name in the region. “I politely told them we were in a hurry.”

“Good call,” Basil said. The people of Hungary were rather friendly and hospitable—except for the occasional bands of bloodthirsty cultists—but the team was on a tight schedule. “Christmas Eve is tomorrow night, so we better cover the most ground possible while we can.”

“I am unfamiliar with such celebrations,” Kalki admitted. His serpentine familiar, Ananta, hissed in confusion as well. “Does this Christmas have special significance?”

“It’s this world’s version of Yule,” Vasi explained. “If it’s anything like Samhain, then it will turn into a System event and we can expect to fight more monsters.”

“And get a big fat reward!” Shellgirl rejoiced. “We’re still using those we got from Halloween, so the Christmas ones must be good!”

Basil just hoped the System’s event wouldn’t involve shuttles falling from the sky and zombie armies like the last one. Europe could only take so much of a beating.

Everywhere they went, the team saw the consequences of the most recent Incursion. Although Apollyon’s defeat and the dungeon network’s sabotage had minimized damage, thousands of powerful invaders crossed the portals into Earth. The Apocalypse Force and the Unity had deployed forces all across Europe. Dungeons had grown in strength and danger and level forty monsters were now the norm.

Worse, word that Basil’s crew had slain Apollyon spread to the rest of the Apocalypse Force. Many times they had been ambushed on the road by ambitious upstarts eager to ‘claim’ the late Horseman of Famine’s throne by slaying his killers. All of the attacks failed of course, but they kept delaying the group.

The result of all these changes? Only one road out of ten was still usable and half of central Europe’s settlements were ghost towns. Basil’s maps had proved all but useless halfway through Austria, forcing the team into constant detours.

“Considering everything that happened on the way, I’ll rate Hungary six out of ten as far as adventuring destinations go, ahead of Germany and Slovakia but behind Austria,” Plato commented as they finished stuffing the Steamobile with gifts and provisions. “Budapest was amazing from start to finish, but that cultist village near the river was our worst side quest yet.”

“That one is on you, oh dear king of cats,” Vasi mused.

“You just had to kill the Turul,” Basil glared at Plato. “Of all the things you could have done, you just had to kill the Turul.”

The cultists had a statue of the bird in their central square, and his former cat still couldn’t help himself.

“How could I have known that they worshiped the damn thing?” Plato protested. “Honestly, who would pray to a giant bird for protection? Couldn’t they pick a leopard?”

“The only leopards in Hungary are German tanks, Plato,” Basil replied while rolling his eyes. “Anyway, let’s go. With luck, we’ll cross the border to Romania tomorrow morning and travel halfway to Bucharest.”

Shellgirl’s head perked up with interest. “We’re going back to Budapest already?”

“We’re going to Bucharest, in Romania,” Basil said with a sigh. “Not Budapest.”

“I will never understand human naming conventions,” Bugsy said.

“Are you so eager to meet your ex already, Shellgirl?” Plato mused. “Sorry, should I say Miss Varga?”

“I’m still not used to it,” Shellgirl said as she glanced at the wedding ring on her finger. The marriage had lasted six hours, but that had been six too many. “Thankfully, I asked for a prenuptial agreement.”

Many esteemed minds had tortured themselves over a simple question: what would happen if you were to get a slime monster drunk?

Basil Bohen had learned the answer in Budapest against his will, and did his best to suppress the memory ever since.

“Rosemarine, can you remind them of the law?” Basil asked his dearest dragon.

“What happens in Budapest stays in Budapest!” Rosemarine repeated these wise words written in blood and tears. “Especially the dead!”

“That’s my girl.” Basil petted Rosemarine and then leaped on her back. His Dragon Rider Perk gave him supernatural balance when he mounted the much larger tropidrake; the experience felt as smooth as riding a motorcycle. “Everybody, time to go. The Unity won’t wait for us.”

“Garud and I will scout the terrain from above,” Kalki proposed kindly. “Hopefully we will find a clear path.”

“I will join,” Vasi said with a mysterious smile, before jumping on her broomstick. It was a good call. The skies were infested with various monsters, making reconnaissance difficult.

Bugsy was the last to hop back onto the Steamobile. “Boss, I have unlocked a new metamorphosis.”

“I’ve seen,” Basil said with a frown. “But correct me if I’m wrong, the Essence of Apollo unlocked a metamorphosis at level seventy-three or so? This one is two dozen levels too early.”

Or was it like Pokemon, where Bug-types went through intermediary phases?

“That’s right, Boss,” Bugsy confirmed with a nod. “Maybe I’ve reached my cocoon metamorphosis? I’ve heard some bugs go through that stage.”

Basil had yet to hear of cocooned centipedes, and the names of Bugsy’s potential metamorphosis didn’t lean into that hypothesis. Pokemon logic then.

“Well, Bugsy, you can meditate on which choice you want to take during the day,” Basil declared. “I’ll assign my levels on our next stop, after I’ve considered which class to invest in further.”

At this point, Basil was dedicated to filling out the warrior-oriented Dragonknight class and utility ones like Technomancer and Runesmith. However, the Warrior Saint class he had unlocked in Paris appealed to him as well. He needed a bit longer to reach a decision.

And then of course, there was the question of Christmas to consider.

“Please tell me we won’t have to fight Santa Claus,” Basil begged the System. “That would be truly bothersome.”

Dismaker Labs wishes you a happy apocalypse!

Basil groaned and prayed for a Merry Christmas.

A note from Maxime J. Durand (Void Herald)

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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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