When Basil woke up with a pop-up before his eyes, he came to a sudden realization.
Your party earned 100 EXP (30 EXP each).
The screens were here to stay.
It was one thing to say the truth and another to accept it. A foolish part of Basil had hoped reality would return to normal once he woke up from sleep like a bad dream. The bandage on his arm, where the goblin had struck, reminded him that he wouldn’t be so lucky.
It’s not so bad, Basil tried to tell himself. Besides the occasional attack on his property, life had gone on as before. Though I miss the internet.
“It is time, Basil,” Plato said as he kneaded his owner’s chest. “It is time for breakfast.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Basil grunted as he rose from his bed, his cat following after him. “I got EXP… did you guys do something while I was asleep?”
“I hunted a bird last night. It was so big Bugsy had to help me carry the corpse.” Plato licked his shoulder. “I can't resist the urge. When I see a bird, I have to kill it.”
“You never attacked the chickens though,” Basil pointed out as they moved to the kitchen. As it turned out, Bugsy and Plato had tossed their newest trophy on the counter.
“Because they’re good birds.”
“There are good and bad birds?” Basil raised an eyebrow as he examined the dead bird monster. It looked vaguely like a crane bird, except with red feathers, fangs in its beak, and dagger-like talons. Plato had sliced its neck with his claws.
Level 1 [Avian/Reptile]
“Yes, of course. The good birds like chickens, they don’t fly. The bad ones, they do. Very simple.” Plato puffed his chest with pride. “How do you find my catch? It’s my biggest yet.”
“It’s impressive,” Basil admitted. “But correct me if I’m wrong: the level 1 goblins before gave 100 EXP per head in total, 33 for each of us. So why did we only get 30 each this time? Where are the missing points?”
To avoid easy level grinding and to incentivize fighting powerful opponents, you receive less EXP from lower level enemies. If the gap is too wide, you won’t earn EXP at all.
Ugh, wonderful. Although Basil noted that EXP could be shared among party members even if they didn’t participate in a kill. He suspected that this mechanism was meant to allow weaker members of a group to catch up to their stronger allies.
“You’ve never killed anything bigger than you before,” Basil observed. His cat had never brought anything bigger than a pigeon home, but the Dinocrane was more than thrice Plato’s size.
Plato frowned in outrage at his owner’s skepticism. “Of course I did. You just didn’t see me.”
Of course. Come to think of it, Basil remembered Plato disemboweling a goblin with his bare claws; a feat worthy of a tiger. Basil checked the ‘Party’ screen and his cat’s Perks. The System quickly confirmed his suspicions.
- Sharp Claws: Plato’s claws inflict SKI-based damage. Plato gains advanced proficiency with Unarmed Attacks such as fangs and claws (x2 damage, +10 Crit).
- Heavy Napper: while under the [Sleep] ailment, Plato benefits from a [Regen] positive effect (recovers 1/16th of max HP per minute).
- Birdbane: Plato’s attacks with natural weapons gain the [Birdslayer] effect, making them supereffective against the [Avian] Type (x3 damage).
Double damage with claws stacking with [Birdbane]... Basil guessed that the Dinocrane probably died in one hit. “Are all cats so overpowered at first level?”
“Why wouldn’t we be?” Plato replied with typical feline arrogance.
Basil pitied the mice and rats of the world. “System,” he muttered as a thought crossed his mind, “how is damage calculated exactly?”
Ignoring the random factor, damage with your fists scales with your Strength. If you use a weapon instead, it inflicts damage based on the appropriate Power stat and the weapon’s additional bonus.
Basil frowned and quickly moved to check his weapons. As he remembered, his old iron axe ran on Strength. The rifle, however, relied on Skill.
Duckslayer, Old Hunting Rifle
Family: Weapon (Firearm)
Power: + 11 SKI
Crit: + 0 %
Accuracy: 80 %
Effect: [Birdslayer]: Supereffective damage against the [Avian] type (x3 damage).
Old Man René’s old hunting rifle, which ruffled a few feathers… with blood!
Basil calculated the potential damage in his head. The old iron axe added +8 to his Strength of 18 for a total of 26, while the rifle added +11 to his Skill of 14 for a total of 25. “Wait, does this mean that I inflict more damage with a rusty old axe than a firearm?”
Basil blushed as a humiliating realization came to mind. Considering Plato’s high Skill, combined with his multiplied claw damage…
“Yo Basil, why do you look so ashamed all of a sudden?” his cat asked with concern.
“Whether I use an axe or a rifle, you hit harder than me either way.”
Plato’s feline lips stretched into the smuggest, most condescending grin imaginable.
The System made no sense!
The rest of the day happened without incident. Basil put Plato’s newest trophy in the freezer until he could figure out how to cook it, gathered a bounty of chicken eggs from his feathered tenants, fed his rabbits, watered his vegetables in the greenhouse, and checked on the electricity. Although the house appeared cut off from the French energy grid, the aurora in the skies had a beneficial effect on the solar panels’ output. The house wouldn’t run out of power anytime soon.
His work done in the morning, Basil took his afternoon off. He set a longchair in the garden while his rabbits and chicken peacefully waded through the garden.
Basil alternated between dozing off and exploring his menu’s options; what he could access anyway. The ‘Spellbook’ feature remained unavailable, probably because of his piss-poor Magic stat. Yer no wizard, Basil, he thought with annoyance.
As per the name, ‘Logs’ recorded whatever information that Basil gathered. This included a journal of Quests, basic information about enemies his party had slain, and a small map of the local area. ‘Classes’ allowed Basil to assign his levels to Classes he had unlocked. [Gardener] and [Fisherman] tempted him the most considering their potential utility.
It was the ‘Inventory’ feature that amazed Basil the most, however.
Your Inventory is an extra-dimensional space where you can stock your items and summon them to your location at will. You can store 1 item per level by touching them. An Inventory’s items will reappear at their owner’s location upon death.
Basil raised an eyebrow and turned his head to look at his house.
Could it be… no, that would be ridiculous… but what if…
Basil bolted off from his chair and slammed his palm against the nearest wall.
No, your Inventory cannot store buildings.
Basil roared out of sheer disappointment, startling the hens in the garden. But another brilliant idea soon crossed his mind and filled his heart with hope. His legs moved on their own and carried him all the way to the garage.
His multipurpose vehicle, an old Renault Kangoo, awaited his arrival. Its lustrous blue paint only showcased the scratches on its left door, the scars of a fever-pitched battle against a deer determined to commit suicide by car at night. Basil’s hand brushed against its fearsome hood with near-religious respect.
“Store,” Basil whispered.
A pulse of energy spread from his hand to bathe the car in holy light. The Renault Kangoo vanished in a flash, leaving the garage an empty church deprived of its relic.
Vehicle: [Renault Kangoo] has been added to your Inventory.
“I knew it!” Basil let out a laugh of triumph. Yes, yes! He wouldn’t have to pay for parking ever again!
What else could he store? Did ships count? Planes? Could he store a plane? So thought Basil as he exited his garage to find Bugsy waiting for him.
“Greetings Boss, I completed my patrol!” The centipede straightened up like a soldier reporting to his general. “The nest’s perimeter is secure!”
“No more goblins?”
“Not since we put up a signboard with skulls on top. I sense them lurking nearby with my [Tremorsense], but they don’t dare to approach.”
Finally, the locals had learned to respect Basil’s boundaries. “Good, let’s hope our neighbors behave from now on.”
“So what do we do next, Boss?” Bugsy asked with his antennae raised. “We fortify the nest and then go clear the dungeon?”
“Sure, we can set traps around the place,” Basil replied, “but why would we clear the dungeon?”
Bugsy looked at him in confusion. “W-Why not, Boss? Didn’t we get a quest to do it?”
“Yes, but it was recommended for level 5 and we’re three short of that.” Basil shrugged. “And why would we have to fulfill it anyway? If the goblins stop attacking our home, we won’t attack theirs. Good neighbors stick to themselves.”
“But Boss, don’t you want to get stronger and richer?” Bugsy argued. “I’m sure the ogre keeps a treasure stashed in the dungeon!”
“What would we spend it for?” Basil frowned. “If you’re worried about rent, you’re paying it with your work.”
Bugsy wagged his antennae in confusion. “I don’t understand, Boss. Don’t you want to become stronger and richer?”
Basil gritted his teeth in silent anger. The words had struck a nerve. “No, I don’t.”
Bugsy winced at his owner’s harsh tone, which made Basil shrug. The centipede deserved some explanations. “Okay, Bugsy, let me tell you where I come from,” he declared with patriotic fervor. “The great land of Bulgaria.”
“Is it a dungeon?”
“I… maybe?” Basil didn’t know what counted for a dungeon or not nowadays. “Bulgaria is a great country, but a poor one. After the communists fell, we joined Europe to become wealthier.”
“Communists? What kind of monsters are they, Boss? They sound very low-level.”
“They’re like goblins, but red,” Basil joked. Bugsy took him at his word. “Like many, I thought I could get out of poverty by getting an education in a more developed country; the one we’re in right now, France. Since I didn’t have a family rich enough to pay my rent, I had to work in my free time and holidays to fund my studies.”
Like taking care of an old man in the middle of nowhere in the summer.
“I did it because people promised me that my degree would earn me a good salary,” Basil explained. “Except that when I got out of university, I ended up in direct competition with thousands of people with the exact same qualifications for a dozen posts. Half of my competitors came from schools with a better rep than mine.”
“Sounds like a monster’s life to me,” Bugsy said. “Everybody fights everybody.”
“Yeah, well, the best I could find were exploitative internships to ‘get experience’ or menial jobs. I wasted five years of my life just to go right back to square one. So you know what I did?”
Bugsy thoughtfully considered the question. “You killed all your competitors to get the job?”
Once a monster, always a monster.
“I said ‘fuck it’ and went to live in the woods.” Basil snorted. “The moral of the story is that the lure of money is a mirage used by modern society to make wheel-running hamsters out of us. If you can live well and peacefully with little, then why bother doing more? It won’t add anything, it won’t make you happier. Same with that dungeon.”
“I think I understand.” Bugsy didn’t hide his disappointment, but accepted Basil’s wisdom all the same. “So, uh, if we won’t raid the dungeon, what do we do from now on, Boss?”
“We live.” Basil shrugged. “Have you ever played Mario Kart?”
“You will. I also have board games, soccer balls, and—” Basil stopped as he smelled a foul stench. The wind blowing from the Barthes carried a terrible odor. “What’s this?”
Bugsy’s antennae bristled with the soft breeze. “Smells like rotting meat, Boss. I think its coming from the stream.”
I’ve got a bad feeling about this, Basil thought. He immediately moved to the back of his house, where a freshwater stream separated his home from the marshes beyond. The brook was a tributary of the larger l’Adour river, but deep enough that water would reach up to Basil’s waist if he tried to cross it. Green marshy meadows and trees spanned the other side of the stream, a wild reserve full of bugs, birds, and other protected animals. How many times had Basil crossed into the wildlands to help René with his naturalist projects? A dozen, a hundred times?
Plato had already beat Basil and Bugsy to the shorebank. He must have smelled the disturbance too. “Yo, Basil, we’ve got a problem,” the cat complained. “That ugly manling is ruining my view of the marsh.”
A dead body faced them on the other side of the stream, hung from a tree.
A human body. Although he couldn’t see clearly due to the distance from the other shore, Basil estimated the victim as a man in his thirties. The body had been stripped of everything except his underwear and hanged to a branch with barbed wire. From its pallid skin and smell, he had been killed recently.
Words had been written into the corpse’s chest with feces. Basil didn’t recognize the language used, but that the System translated for him all the same: ‘yer next, hummie!’
Bugsy straightened up, his body tense as a pole. “Boss, I think this is a warning.”
“Worse, Bugsy.” Basil’s jaws tightened with cold rage. “This is an insult.”
“Who cares? I leave corpses everywhere too, no big deal.” Plato stretched his legs. “Let’s just pull it down and go back to the sofa.”
Basil glanced at his cat with a dark look. “Plato, fetch me a knife.”
“A knife?” His cat meowed in disappointment. “Oh come on, Basil, not again! It’s like, the third time!”
“The third time for what?” Bugsy asked.
“That he swears a vendetta against complete strangers!” When Basil wouldn’t relent, Plato sighed and bolted back into the house. “Goddamn it, Basil, you always overblow things!”
If anything, Basil believed his response was entirely proportionate. The goblins had shown themselves brutal enough to kill and would show no mercy. They weren’t mere predatory animals he could live with, but organized savages. If not stopped, they might end up killing him and his pets in their sleep.
Threatening to kill him was par the course for the world they now lived in, but murdering someone else to intimidate him?
It was a cause for war!
Basil opened his System screen and finally decided to assign his second level. He skipped the Crafters and the Rogues, the Spellcasters and the Monsters. Something primal guided his hand to the most appropriate option.
[Berserker]: This wrathful Fighter Class focuses on raging offense at the cost of defense. Growths: Strength (S); Magic (B); Vitality (B); Skill (D); Agility (B); Intelligence (E); Charisma (C); Luck (C).
Basil assigned his level to this class. He immediately felt a near-addictive shiver of pleasure course through his veins and abs growing underneath his skin.
Berserker Level 1 Stat Gains: + 2 STR; +1 VIT; +1 SKI; +1 AGI; +1 CHA; +1 LCK. Your Health Points were raised by 50 and Special Points by 10.
New Perk: Slaughterer I (Passive): You gain advanced proficiency with Axes, Maces, Spears, and Unarmed Attacks (x2 damage, +10 percent Crit chances). However, all [Berserker] class Perks are made inactive if you wield a shield, armor, or accessory reducing the damage that you take. Monster skins and damage resistance provided by spells or Perks do not violate this rule.
This new level had changed his body somehow. Basil could feel it in his bones.
Plato returned with a small knife in his mouth, which his owner swiftly claimed for himself. “Here we go again,” the cat complained.
“I, Basil Jean-François Bohen,” Basil shouted to the heavens and his heart, “son of Dragan and Aleksandra Bohen, I hereby swear a blood oath before our Lord Jesus Christ! I will not rest until I have driven off the goblin menace from the Barthes of l’Adour!”
“How do we even know the goblins did it?” Plato asked, but was ignored. “It could be the birds. Treacherous, sneaky little birds.”
“I swear never to let them violate the sanctity of my home! My fence shall be a great wall against which goblin hordes will break like wind before a mountain! I curse them! I curse them to the thirteenth generation of their blood!”
Basil lightly slashed his hand, just deep enough to draw blood without leaving a scar. He let drops of his red blood fall into the stream and raised his knife as if to strike the skies above.
“To the death!”
Basil’s battle cry echoed across the river, and his chickens loudly joined in with wild clucking noises.
“That was epic!” Bugsy snapped his mandibles with excitement. “Can I do it too? Can I swear too?”
“You shall all swear,” Basil declared. His eyes turned to Plato, who tried to avoid his gaze the best he could. “Yes, that includes you.”
Plato whined. “Can I at least spit out a hairball instead of blood?”
Basil would allow it. His two companions each made their vow to the river with blood and hair, swearing to fight until evil was at long last driven off from their land.
The First Neighborhood War had begun.