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As Basil’s old axe cut another goblin in half, he realized that splitting skulls was no different than chopping wood.

In fact, the former had become frighteningly easy after taking a level in Berserker. Basil wielded his axe as if it were part of him. His muscles almost moved on their own, guiding his hand and imbuing it with new might.

It’s not just the increased stats, Basil thought as he swung his weapon at a second goblin, bisecting him from the waist down. I know axe-fu now. My Berserker class downloaded knowledge into my brain somehow.

Thankfully, Basil’s clothes didn’t count as ‘armor’ for the purpose of the Slaughterer Perk. He would rather avoid fighting in his underwear due to the cold temperature.

“Help!” Plato called for help. A monster had emerged from the stream to chase after the cat. “Wet alert! Somebody help!”

Having slain the last goblin, Basil moved to answer Plato’s call. A wolf-sized otter with sharp spines on its back hunted the cat, its fur drenched in water. Bugsy was biting the aquatic monster’s tail with his mandibles to little effect, besides poisoning it.

Spinotter
Level 2 [Beast/Aquatic]
Status: Poisoned!

It was the second enemy group Basil and his pets had confronted since they forded the stream to reach the other side. The goblins had brought new monsters with them both times; first a duo of dinocranes that Plato made short work of, and then this otter creature.

Basil flanked the otter. The beast saw him coming and fired spines from its back like javelins. Surprised by the unexpected attack, Basil deflected a projectile with his axe but missed another aiming for his left shoulder. The spine tore through the shirt and grazed the skin underneath before finishing its course in a nearby tree.

Basil gritted his teeth in pain and rage. His axe hit the otter’s head and opened a bloody wound, but failed to cut through the skull. The beast snapped its jaws at Basil, nearly biting his ankle.

“I got this!” Bugsy used the spinotter’s distraction to coil around it. The stronger centipede hissed in pain upon touching his prey’s spines, but managed to restrain it all the same. “I got this!”

Basil roared as he struck the spinotter’s head again. This time he hit the beast hard enough to split the skull open. The third and final blow shattered it.

Once the beast was dead, Basil took a moment to gather his breath.

Your party earned 1050 EXP (323 EXP each). You earned 1 level!

100 base EXP per level 1 goblin and dinocrane, 250 base EXP for the level 2 Spinotter, Basil calculated in his head. He quickly figured out the underlying formula, or at least the gist of it. The experience was divided between each party members, then the share I received from the goblins and dinocranes was reduced by around 10%. The penalty applied even after assigning my excess level.

It made sense. A party could include individuals of different levels who shouldn't be subjected to the same penalties. Basil suspected other factors were at work in the experience calculation, but the System wouldn't give him more details.

“Is it dead?” Plato asked as he touched the spinotter’s leg. A drop of water fell on the cat’s bloodied paw and startled him. “Ah, it’s wet!”

“What a child,” Basil said with a grin. He had to carry Plato in his arms when they forded the stream on foot. “Bugsy, are you wounded?”

“It’s alright, Boss, you hit me way harder.” Bugsy uncoiled from the dead otter. The spines had barely scratched his thick exoskeleton.

Basil couldn’t say the same for his bleeding shoulder. A goblin had also managed to strike him in the chest with a club in the melee, leaving him with a nasty bruise. Basil had had the foresight to take a waist bag full of bandages on the expedition, but he couldn’t rule out the risk of infection from the marsh. The human body could only take so much punishment.

Health Points
620/700 (Healthy)

“Quick question,” Basil asked as he applied a bandage to his shoulder wound. “How do Health Points work? Are they a general representation of my health or a hard value?”

Your Health Points represent your general health. If they reach 0, you die.

“What if.” Basil took a long deep breath as he made his problem with the HP concept known. “If I were to use a needle to inflict 1 damage to a goblin by stabbing their arm while avoiding the vitals, would it eventually kill him?”

No System tutorial appeared to enlighten Basil.

“Screen, answer the question.”

It didn’t.

“I’m tempted to capture a goblin alive to test out my hypothesis,” Basil said. “But that would be animal cruelty.”

“Capture a goblin alive?” Plato licked the blood off his paws. “I can’t guarantee anything. The greenies look determined to commit assisted suicide.”

Basil sighed. Indeed, his cat was right. Their group had tried to talk it out with the monsters after Bugsy’s Tremorsense detected their ambush attempt, but they kept fighting to the death even when the tide turned against them. Did the dungeon’s Boss frighten them so much that they would rather throw their lives away than go home to face punishment?

“Is it genocide if it’s done in self-defense?” Basil wondered out loud.

“I’m sorry, Boss?” Bugsy asked.

“We are confronted by a hostile species smart enough to talk back, but clearly not enough to stop bothering us,” Basil said. “That species attacks us with suicidal zeal even though they take terrible losses. They won’t consider diplomacy no matter how much we try to establish a constructive dialogue. Ponder this question, Bugsy Alphonse Venture.”

Basil waved his weapon at the dead monsters surrounding them. “Is it genocide if we kill them all because they wouldn’t stop attacking otherwise? Or is it self-defense?”

Bugsy considered the question for a few seconds before answering. “I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves, Boss. I mean, we haven’t killed them all yet.”

“We’re putting semantics before the slaughter,” said Plato. “We can always settle on how we’ll call the goblins’ extinction after we do the deed.”

“I don’t think we can exterminate the goblins at all,” Bugsy pointed out, “the dungeon will create more of them so long as it remains active and there are probably other tribes elsewhere across the world. They can absorb their losses easily enough.”

“We just have to try hard—” Basil froze as his mind registered his centipede’s words. “Come again?”

“I said goblins can absorb losses easily enough—”

“I meant the first part.” Basil frowned at his insectoid pet. “The dungeon creates monsters from nothing?”

Bugsy nodded in confirmation, much to Basil’s chagrin. “Is there any way to stop the process?” he asked. “Or do we have to blow up the place from the ground up?”

This time, the System agreed to provide an answer.

Dungeons have a core called a neurotower that becomes accessible once the local Boss is slain. Whoever touches the neurotower first can decide the dungeon’s fate.

Good to know. “Can we get the dungeon’s location, please?”

The dungeon will be marked on your map once you discover it.

“I hate you so much.”

Dismaker Labs wishes you a happy apocalypse!

After this enlightening interaction, Basil took a moment to examine the spinotter. He cut the creature’s belly open with his axe and the half-digested remains of two minks spilled out.

Reminds me of invasive species, Basil thought. He had already noticed the conspicuous absence of normal cranes and birds that usually lived in the Barthes. Monsters will edge out the local wildlife in no time.

He shuddered to imagine the looming ecological disaster. The Barthes were a wildlife reserve with many of its local species vulnerable to disturbances. Basil had no qualms about hunting animals for food, but the possibility of a non-invasive species going extinct deeply bothered him. They would be gone from the world, never to come back. He would have felt the same way at a monument’s destruction.

A part of Basil hoped that sabotaging the dungeon and culling the monster population would give the local wildlife a chance to survive.

At least this spinotter will make a fine carpet, Basil thought as he set out to finish the task his team had crossed the stream for: pulling down the human corpse on the other side. Basil swiftly cut the barbed wire holding the body up to the tree with his axe and examined it. The body’s fresher than I thought, but insect scavengers did a number on him. He probably died when the dungeons appeared two days ago.

Something had shattered the ribs and damaged the heart, probably in a single blow from the impact. That was too strong for a goblin’s club.

“Can Bosses leave their dungeon?” Basil asked.

“I don’t think so,” Bugsy answered when the System wouldn’t. The centipede touched the ground with his antennae to monitor the area in case the goblins planned to ambush them again. “What do we do with the human meat, Boss? We eat it?”

“No, we’ll bury him near a tree.” Basil frowned at Bugsy. “Don’t tell me you would eat a member of your own species?”

“I would, if it’s well-cooked,” the centipede replied before checking his belly. “I wonder how I would taste.”

They could always check if they crossed another centipede’s path.

Although the victim carried no identification papers, his face felt vaguely familiar to Basil now that he could take a closer look. On the road, he remembered. I saw him a few times while driving on the road while he was going to work at—

“The water quality control station,” Basil muttered out loud.

“The waterwhat?” Bugsy asked.

“There’s an old facility meant to check the quality of the river’s water nearby.” Basil remembered that the French public services also repurposed the building to house a weather station to cut costs. “The goblins must have ambushed our man while he was going to work. From the body’s state, he must have died right after the dungeon appeared.”

“Oh, I get it!” Bugsy rejoiced. “The dungeon and the station must be close to each other!”

“Probably,” Basil confirmed. “We could check—”

“No,” Plato interrupted his owner. His tone reminded Basil of an adult scolding a child. “No.”

“You don’t even know what I’m about—”

“No to water!” Plato hissed at the stream. “I only like it behind a glass window or in a bowl.”

Basil locked eyes with his housecat. “Didn’t you tell me you were a dwarf panther instead of a cat?”

Plato puffed his chest, full of pride. “Yes, what of it?”

“Panthers can swim, Plato. Even dwarf ones.”

When Plato pouted in embarrassment, Basil knew he had already won the debate. “I-I can swim too, I just don’t like it! Do you take a shower every day?”

“No, but I wash when I must.” Basil shrugged. “Truthfully, I’m torn over this. The station is hours away from the house even with shortcuts. We’ll leave our home unattended.”

Besides, the dungeon’s Boss Ogremoche had enough control over the local goblins to shape them into a semi-cohesive fighting force. He must have fortified the area, making a direct assault risky without preparations.

Plato nodded so abruptly that some of his fur fell off his face from the sheer speed. “See, see? What if it’s all part of the goblins’ master plan to lure us away from the house? Think, Basil! Will you fall for such an obvious ploy? Or you could go to the station with Bugsy while I valiantly watch over our home from atop the sofa! What do you say about that?”

Basil pondered his cat’s proposal, before suddenly realizing that Bugsy hadn’t spoken a word in a while. The red centipede kept his antennae applied to the soft grass, his back as tense as a bowstring.

He had detected a threat.

“Bugsy?” Basil asked, his grip on his axe tightening. Plato understood the danger and rose on two legs. He smelled the wind in an attempt to detect smells. “What do you hear?”

“Explosions, Boss,” the centipede murmured back. “Small ones.”

Basil’s jaw clenched in alarm. “How far?”

“Far.” Bugsy let out a sigh of relief. “Moving away. Northwest.”

Basil kept his guard up. “Plato? What do you smell?”

“Enough goblin blood to make me puke, and a bug.”

“I’m right next to you,” Bugsy said in confusion.

“Another bug,” Plato clarified before shuddering. “It reminds me of these nasty giant Asian hornets who made their nest in our attic last summer.”

“You don’t smell gunpowder?” Basil fished for more information. “Or fire?”

His cat came up short and shrugged. If Plato had smelled firearms, Basil would have expected the French army coming to liberate the region. But the smell of hornets leaned more towards the hypothesis of an unregistered monster wrecking havoc.

An ugly picture quickly formed in Basil’s mind as he put two and two together. “System, what could I do with a dungeon’s core?”

This information is locked until you access one.

This doesn’t bode well, Basil thought. Not well at all. “Guys, change of plans. We’ll set traps around the house, bar the windows, close the door, and then we’ll move to inspect the station.”

Plato, who knew his owner well enough, immediately realized something was terribly wrong. “Basil, are you suggesting that we leave the house without any defender?”

“The water quality control station is in the northwest,” Basil explained. “If we assume it’s close to the dungeon’s location, then a powerful bug monster is probably fighting the goblins over it.”

“Oh, good for us then.” As always, Plato’s allergy to work made itself known. “We can satisfy our blood oath without lifting a finger. We can sit back and watch the fireworks.”

“Except you don’t attack a fortress full of monsters without expecting a reward,” Basil replied. “What could a monster gain from taking over a dungeon from its Boss?”

“Basil, how should I know?”

“And that’s my problem, Plato: we don’t know what will happen,” said Basil. “It might make the situation worse somehow. That’s why we’re going to monitor this situation closely.”

The enemy of my enemy was not always a friend.

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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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