The basement trembled as Basil switched on the back-up generator. The mechanical device hummed as it gluttonously tapped into a gas cylinder to make that sweet, sweet electricity.
“Here we go,” Basil muttered to himself. “All good.”
The house had suffered an hour-long outage before electricity came back and Basil expected more. Either bug monsters had damaged the cables or electrical engineers no longer maintained the grid. Running water might last a few more weeks, but it would go out too in time.
Old Man René had spent most of his meager pension funds into installing a solar panel system on the roof, but he could never rely on the sun all year long. The Landes were a temperate region with their share of rain, windstorms, and obscured skies. As such, the old man had brought a second home generator and stockpiled gas to fuel it. Basil could probably last for years if he rationed electricity, and the stream outside would provide clear water once purified the old-fashioned way.
“Guess you were half-right, Old Man,” Basil said. “A disaster came, but not in the form you expected.”
Old Man René had bet the world would end with a devastating nuclear war, and Basil because of global warming fostering the development of pandemics. None of them could have predicted an alien invasion from video game monsters.
After checking the generator, Basil went on to review the food reserve. The freezer was filled to the brim with fries, fish, deer meat, and frozen vegetables. Rows after rows of canned food filled the basement’s shelves, alongside pasta, rice, oil, and last but not least, the Old Man’s extensive collection of ricard pastis bottles.
Although René loved to sit in the garden to sip a glass of ricard in the evening, Basil had sworn off alcohol after watching his father drink himself to oblivion. He had never touched the bottles since the Old Man’s passing.
A screen popped up as Basil checked the closest bottle’s brand.
Old René’s Ricard
Family: Consumable (Potion)
Effect: Applies the [Drunk] ailment on a failed Vitality check.
René’s favorite brand of pastis which has now been discontinued. Tastes of nostalgia.
Basil didn’t remember taking anything before bed last night, but could he have drunk a dangerous substance giving him hallucinations somehow? Or eaten a bad mushroom? “Is that why I’m seeing this?” Basil asked the screen. “Did I drink something and don’t remember it? Am I drunk?”
“Am I high?”
“Did I take LSD?”
“Am I dreaming?”
“Not even in purgatory?”
“Under alien influence?”
“In a virtual game?”
Negative, this is real.
“Do I have a government chip in my head?”
“Okay you win, nothing else comes to mind.”
Dismaker Labs wishes you a happy apocalypse!
That name again… Basil knew he had heard it before, but where? Questions for later. “Also,” he said while staring at René’s ricard pastis, “why does a bottle of alcohol come up with a description, but nothing else?”
Your Intelligence Stat is too low to provide information on most items.
“Are you calling me dumb?!” Basil choked on his own indignation. “I’ve got a Master’s Degree in fucking Pharmacovigilance!”
Which never earned him a high-paying job, but still!
Your current Intelligence score is 11.
Yes, the screen was calling him stupid. “Who said that, an internet IQ score?”
You can check your stats by selecting ‘Status’ in your menu.
Basil followed the instruction and an enormous wall of text appeared before his eyes.
Basil blinked at the sheer amount of information and struggled to make sense out of it. It looked very much like an RPG game character’s sheet, but it included a compendium of elements for some reason.
Basil remembered seeing things like ‘+1 INT’ or ‘+1 CHA’ when he leveled up. He guessed they were shorthands for the stats on the screen. Did that mean Basil started with a 10 in Intelligence? Was that good? Bad? Average?
Basil suddenly felt very insecure about his IQ score.
“So if my intelligence stat increases,” he asked for confirmation, “I’m getting smarter?”
Intelligence improves spell memorization, influences your chances of learning crafting recipes, unlocks many Crafter classes and provides information on items and enemies.
So it didn’t improve intelligence as much as knowledge. Since the screen appeared in a good enough mood to answer his questions for now, Basil fished for more details. “What about the other stats? What do they do?”
Of course, a goddamn wall of text came up. Basil grunted as he forced himself to read everything.
Health Points represent your life; if they reach 0 after taking enough damage, you die. Special Points represent a pool of energy used to power active perks such as spells or techniques. Both HP and SP regenerate over time.
Strength represents your physical might. Strength affects access to many Fighter classes, the power of weapon attacks, and your ability to wear heavy equipment.
Magic represents your spellcasting might. Magic affects access to Spellcaster classes, the power of magical abilities, and your odds of learning new spells.
Skill represents dexterity, accuracy, and perception. It affects your chances of detecting enemies, your odds of hitting a target, and access to many Rogue classes.
Agility represents your speed, reflexes, and chances of dodging attacks. The higher it is, the faster you will move and react. High Agility will also allow you to attack more often.
Vitality represents your constitution; it affects your resistance to ailments, tolerance for physical damage, and rate of HP recovery.
Charisma represents your personal charm and willpower. It affects the power of your support abilities, tolerance for magical damage, and rate of SP recovery.
Luck represents your good fortune. It mostly affects critical hits, drop rates of items, and your chances of triggering beneficial events.
“Thank you, Mr. Tutorial.” Basil’s piss-poor magic didn’t surprise him, since he had never cast a spell in his life, and his physical stats looked good. He guessed exercising regularly had paid off.
Come to think of it, Basil remembered that some options of the System could be changed with the ‘setting’ option. He immediately checked it and a list of propositions appeared before his eyes, none of them good.
Disable Menu Features?
“Wait, you win this ‘game’ by reaching level 100 and become ‘Overgod,’ right?” Basil asked, utterly confused. “So what’s the point of disabling level-ups?”
Some players enjoy the thrill of death more than the possibility of becoming Overgod.
So it was an option for masochists. “What about difficulty?”
You can increase the difficulty to Hard. Enemies will inflict x1.5 more damage and they will receive x0.75 damage from your attacks. Once chosen, Hard difficulty cannot be disabled.
“Is there any practical benefit to it?”
You get a nice visual icon on your System Screen.
Basil couldn’t imagine what kind of madman would make the apocalypse harder for themselves. Come to think of it, all of the setting changes available involved worsening the user’s conditions rather than easing them up.
Basil was about to ask more questions when he heard a noise coming from upstairs. “What’s happening?!”
“Little green men in the garden!” Plato shouted back from upstairs. “They want to eat the hens!”
Sighing in exasperation, Basil prepared to defend his property again. Thankfully, Basil had checked up on Old Man René’s belongings after the centipede attack and found his hunting rifle.
Basil had never seriously used a firearm, but it couldn’t be too hard. Just point and fire, right?
When Basil barged out of his house with the hunting rifle loaded, he found Plato and the red centipede shielding the coop and hutch from a gang of five monsters.
The little green pigs would have been a better term to describe the creatures rampaging through his yard. No bigger than human children, the beasts had snouts, boar-like tusks, and red tufts of hair on their skulls. Though they moved on two legs and carried wood branches as improvised clubs, the creatures wore nothing more than tattered loincloths. Pustules grew all over their green hides.
Level 1 [Beast]
Basil fired a warning shot and instantly won everyone’s attention.
“Okay, ground rules,” Basil said as the goblins hissed at him. “I’ve been threatened with knives in back alleys more than once and I always fought back. You don’t scare me, and I won’t hesitate to use lethal force to defend my life and property.”
I’m reading the riot act to walking pigs, Basil thought. Please make this a delusion. I don’t want to live in that kind of world.
“Now that that’s cleared, let’s talk this out like intelligent people.” Although the goblins looked more like animals than humans, a part of Basil didn’t feel easy starting a fight with humanoids if he could avoid it. “Get the fuck off of my property.”
“Suck my snout, human!” One of the goblins threatened Basil with his wooden club. “The swamp belongs to Ogremoche!”
“The biggest ogre there is!” Another goblin pointed at the northern lights in the skies. “He’s a big shot, the Dungeon’s Boss!”
To Basil’s utter lack of surprise, another screen popped up before his eyes.
New Quest: Baddest Ogre in Town
Recommended Level: 5.
Objective: Conquer the Barthes’ Dungeon by defeating Ogremoche.
Reward: 500 Bonus EXP + [Ogre Necklace].
“That’s fine, my house isn’t part of the swamp.” Basil pointed at his fence with the rifle. “Here, this is civilization’s frontier.”
“Exactly, it’s our territory,” Plato added. “I have my scent all over!”
“All I’m saying, we don’t have to fight,” Basil explained to the goblins. “We stick to our respective homes and stay good neighbors.”
“You’re right, human, we don’t have to fight.” One of the goblins grinned, rows of pointy fangs behind his lips. “But we want to, because killing humans is fun.”
They’re making it really hard for me not to press the trigger, Basil thought. “Last warning. Don’t fuck with me, goblins. Don’t ever try to fuck me.”
It made the goblins laugh. “Oh, he’s threatenin’ us! The human is threatenin’ us with his metal club!”
“Human, we’re going to burn your house, kill everyone inside, and deliver you to Ogremoche! We’ll eat you for dinner, and then…” A goblin loudmouth turned around and showed Basil his ass. “We’ll shit you, yeah! Right through this hole—”
Basil shot the goblin in the back before he could finish.
Basil was aiming for the ass, but somehow he managed to hit the head. The bullet went through the back of the goblin’s skull and came out on the other side, the creature falling dead on the grass.
How are they still surprised after I warned them thrice? Basil wondered as the goblins turned silent. He only believed in diplomacy up to a point. When a fight looks inevitable, better to strike first and seize the initiative.
The little green pigs were too startled to strike back immediately, which allowed Plato to pounce on one of them with his claws out. The red centipede joined in by snapping his mandibles on a goblin’s neck, beheading him in one strike. The goblins regained their composure and charged with their clubs raised.
Basil’s next shots were significantly less impressive than the first. In fact, he wasted two bullets; and when he hit a goblin’s chest with the third, it wasn’t enough to put him down. “You dirty human!” the wounded creature shouted while rushing at Basil. “I’ll kill you!”
Basil grunted as he pressed his rifle’s trigger, only for the weapon to jam. He barely had time to dodge a hit meant for his knee. The goblin kept trying to strike without care for his self-preservation.
Basil kicked the monster in the face with enough force to stun him. He threw the rifle aside, grabbed the goblin by the hair, and then slammed his face against his house’s wall. Blood splattered all over the paint.
Oh God, goblins bleed, Basil realized. He had already seen the centipede shed blood, but it hit differently with the warm fluid all over his hand. His brief shock allowed the goblin to scratch his arm with his sharp nails, making Basil wince in pain. I felt that.
“I’ll kij jou!” Although the goblin had lost many teeth, he remained somewhat understandable. Since he attempted to hit Basil with his club rather than beg for mercy like the centipede, the human introduced his unwelcome guest’s face to the wall once more.
This time the goblin was too dead to threaten him again.
Meanwhile, Plato had disemboweled another invader like a fish and the centipede squeezed the last one to death anaconda-style. “I got another!” the centipede shouted with pride. “I got two of them, Boss!”
With the rush of adrenaline dying down, Basil watched his dead goblin fall on the grass with a sick feeling in his chest. He half expected the corpse to vanish in a cloud of smoke like in video games, but nope, it stayed.
Basil looked at his arm where the goblin scratched him. Three red marks cut through his skin deeply enough to draw blood. This feels real, he thought. Fuck, this is real.
It wasn’t a delusion. Basil had killed a humanoid pig out for his blood in his garden. If he hadn’t fought back, he would have died.
Well… it wasn’t any different from killing a wild boar, Basil tried to tell himself. It made it easier, but he tried not to think too much about the implications.
“Good job,” Basil thanked the centipede. He would have to bandage his wound and clean it to avoid infection, then wash the blood off his wall later.
Your party earned 500 EXP (166 EXP each). You earned 1 level!
“Party?” Basil asked as he read the screen, only for another to pop up. It showed his own stats, plus two additions.
From what Basil read, he was in a team with his two pets and experience points were shared between them. But why was their level marked as 1+1 instead of 2?
Oh wait, the monsters in my group can’t be a higher level than me, Basil thought. I’ve got to assign mine before they can do the same.
“I don’t see any Classes on your stat sheet,” Basil informed his allies. “Is that normal?”
“Classes? That’s something for humans, Boss!” The centipede uncoiled from his last victim. “We monsters, we gain new Perks by evolving into stronger forms once we level up enough!”
“Could I become a lion?” Plato raised his tail with sudden interest. “A smilodon?”
So the letters and percentage beneath their stats were their expected growths on a level-up? Good to know. Basil was about to ask the centipede a very important question when another came up first. “What’s your name?”
The centipede gave Basil a funny look. “I’m sorry, Boss?”
“What’s your name?” Basil asked. “I’m tired of calling you ‘centipede’ in my thoughts.”
The bug lowered his antennae in shame. “I don’t have a name.”
“You don’t have a name?!” Plato mocked him while licking goblin blood off his fur.
“I-I thought a human would drop one upon dying!”
“Well, I’ll give you one right now…” Basil trailed off until he had a eureka moment. He snapped his fingers, proud of himself. “Bugsy. Bugsy Alphonse Venture.”
Powerful. Sophisticated. Transgressive.
Bugsy looked up at Basil with his beautiful green eyes, astonished by the honor done to him. “B-Bugsy, Boss? It sounds a bit stupi—”
“Are you talking to me, Bugsy Alphonse Venture?” Basil interrupted his uppity minion.
“N-No, Boss!” Bugsy immediately submitted to the pecking order and accepted his fate. “It’s a great name!”
Red Centipede’s name has been changed to: Bugsy Alphonse Venture.
“Perfect,” Basil said. “Now, Bugsy, did you repair the fence and the greenhouse?”
As it turned out, he did a poor job out of it. Bugsy had closed the hole in the fence with a pile of stones and melded back the glass shards of the greenhouse with his poisonous saliva. A shoddy work all over.
When Basil finished his inspection, Bugsy flattened on the ground like a living carpet. His antennae wavered in fear. Clearly, he expected his head to roll. “So, Boss?”
“I give you some points for effort.” In retrospect, Basil should have known that an armless centipede would make a poor manual laborer. “Okay, I’ll consider your debt paid. If you swear never to harm another human again, I’ll let you go.”
“Go?” To Basil’s surprise, Bugsy looked downright horrified. “But where?”
“Anywhere you want.” Basil frowned. “What, you wanna stay with us?”
“Can I?” Bugsy whistled in happiness. “Your nest is so warm and safe, Boss… and you’re so tough! Nobody’s going to mess with us and live to tell the tale!”
Nobody dumb enough to threaten someone with a rifle at least, Basil thought. “Well, in that case, welcome to the team long-term.”
Plato was all too happy to exploit the situation. “I will allow you to live if you respect my seniority. You will hunt food for me whenever I feel too important to walk.”
The poor centipede didn’t dare to argue. “Yes, Mr. Plato!”
“You’ll protect the chicken and the rabbits when I let them out of their homes,” Basil ordered Bugsy. “No more intrusion on your watch.”
“Yes, Boss!” Bugsy nodded furiously. “No living goblin will get past the fence!”
“What do we do with the dead ones?” Plato asked while pointing at the pile of goblin corpses. “Do we dump them in the river? Or do we feed them to the chickens?”
“Are goblins even edible?” Basil asked, slightly curious.
Plato smelled the goblins, exchanged a glance with his owner, and then looked back at the corpses.
A few hours later, Basil’s pets anxiously watched their owner as he took the day’s dinner out of the oven.
Basil put the plate on the counter and cut off a piece with a long kitchen knife. The tender goblin meat seemed to melt as the sharp steel edge sliced it. Basil had stuffed the creature with apple, onions, and mushrooms before adding a dash of pepper. The whole thing was served on a bed of homemade potatoes. Their soft golden surface cracked from the heat with an appetizing sound.
Basil raised his fork like a man going to war, stabbed the slice of meat with a deft strike…
And ate it.
A tense silence settled in the kitchen as Basil’s teeth sank into the meat, his tongue savoring the flavor. “So?” Plato asked while wagging his tail.
“They taste a bit like boar, a bit like duck too,” Basil answered before taking another bite. More than that, it tasted like karma and victory. “It’s good, you can eat it.”
Basil watched on with happiness as Plato and Bugsy ate their fill of meat. That settled the matter.
Goblins were the new boars.