Locating the dungeon had been an easy task. They only had to follow the dead.
Whoever had attacked the goblins had done so with lethal efficiency. The marsh’s putrid air had grown heavy with the stench of dead bodies thrown into the mud. Black stingers pierced the hearts of bleeding goblins while purple acid dissolved the remains of spinotters into poisonous puddles.
“Twenty-one, twenty-two,” Plato counted the dead as the group walked through a game trail Basil knew by heart. “Twenty-three…”
Bugsy shuddered with his antennae against the ground. “Hard to believe a single monster could do so much damage.”
“Yet it was alone.” Basil had picked up a trail of abnormal footprints in the grass, light but confident, with two fingers per foot. “And experienced too. The stingers all hit vital areas.”
The scene felt like the aftermath of a professional soldier rampaging through a crowd of helpless civilians. Basil wouldn’t mourn goblins, but the sheer one-sided nature of their demise made him uneasy. Although he had taken both his axe and rifle on the expedition, the former in his hand and the other attached to his back by a leather strap, Basil would have traded them both for an AK-47.
Even the boisterous Bugsy twitched from time to time. “Boss, you should assign your level.”
“Yeah,” Basil agreed. The creature could fall upon them any minute. “I’ll upgrade the [Tamer] class.”
“Not Berserker?” Plato asked. “Odd choice.”
“Berserker will make me a better fighter, but Tamer will do the same for both of you,” Basil explained. “It will help the group more.”
Tamer Level 2 Stat Gains: + 1 STR; +1 AGI; +1 MAG; +1 CHA. Your Health Points were raised by 20 and Special Points by 10.
After the rush of pleasure from the level-up died down, Basil awaited the coming of his new Perk for several seconds. “Wait, I won’t get a new power this time?”
Classes grant a Perk on odd levels and when you complete its progression path.
“You couldn’t tell me before I assigned the level?” Basil grunted in frustration.
“It’s okay, Boss,” Bugsy tried to reassure him. “It still allowed us to assign our own extra level.”
Basil opened his mouth to argue, before closing it just as swiftly. The dungeon and the water quality control station both came into sight.
They were, after all, one and the same.
Located at the junction between the stream and the larger l’Adour river, the water quality control station had been a small facility no bigger than a metal shack. The oval structure that had risen in its place was over four stories tall. Walls of mossy stone had replaced the station’s metal doors, with neolithic symbols of boars and bears crudely carved onto their surface. The region’s auroras pulsed from above the roof in swirling waves.
The dungeon’s oval shape reminded Basil of a stone egg. Only part of it was visible; a good chunk of it was submerged by the l’Adour river while the rest had sunk into the marsh’s muddy ground. A wide crack into the stone façade with wood and bone totems on each side formed the dungeon’s foreboding entrance.
Dungeon: Ogre Den of the Barthes
Field Type: Den.
[Fire], [Metal], [Earth], [Soul], and [Mythic] elements are empowered.
[Wind] and [Lightning] elements are weakened.
Improved chances of inflicting the [Berserk], [Petrify], and [Terror] status ailments.
They even rolled out the red carpet, Basil thought as he glanced at the bloody remains of goblins littering the ground. The remains of wooden barricades laid broken in tall grass. We’ve arrived too late.
A scavenger had beaten them to the prize and was trying to eat a dead goblin before their eyes. The moment Basil laid his gaze upon this new monster, his heart skipped a beat.
The beautiful creature resembled a venus flytrap bigger than Plato. Its mouth took the shape of multiple golden petals with spiky teeth around a cute, hungry gullet. Its green stem divided itself into six beautiful thorny vines wriggling in the mud. Watching the creature attempt to swallow a goblin too big for its mouth was both horrifying and adorable.
Level 1 [Plant]
“Beautiful,” Basil whispered. Plato sent him a tired glance but kept his mouth shut.
Bugsy proved himself less wise. “Oh, a new bag of exp! Let’s gang up on it, Boss—”
Basil lightly slapped his tasteless centipede on the back of the head. “You uncultured fool!”
“Boss, you slapped me!” Bugsy whined. “Why did you slap me?!”
“I’m a man of action, but I’m also a caring gardener!” Basil snarled loud enough for the plant to abandon its dinner to look at them. “Look at it! Look at it, Bugsy! Don’t you feel anything when you stare at its petals?”
His centipede looked at the killaplant in confusion. “I-Is it about the greenhouse, Boss?”
“Yes, it is,” Basil confirmed. He wouldn’t let Bugsy forget that part anytime soon. “This beautiful flower belongs in my greenhouse and not in a grave.”
“Beautiful?” Plato squinted at the plant with unwelcome skepticism. “It doesn’t look like catnip to me.”
“Look at its bright petals,” Basil argued. “It’ll be perfect as part of a flower bed among roses and more exotic plants.”
Besides cultivating vegetables, Basil took good care of his garden’s appearance. He had even considered building a flowering hedge over his fence before the System arrived to ruin all his plans for the future.
But now that he saw this creature, Basil realized a whole new world had opened up to him. Could there be marvelous, aesthetical vegetal monsters out there? Lost creatures begging to become part of his house’s scenery? Could he make a hedge out of monstrous plants?
He would start exploring this new future here and now.
The beautiful plant had turned to face the newcomers with its eyeless petals, a goblin corpse still stuck halfway through its mouth. The scene reminded Basil of that time he had caught a pelican trying to eat a fish too big for their gullet.
“Shush…” Basil whispered as he slowly approached the wary plant. It took a step back in fear and accidentally let its goblin catch slip through its petals. “Don’t worry, I don’t want to hurt you.”
“If you start talking to trees too, I’m leaving,” Plato commented on the scene with a deadpan tone.
Basil ignored him. “You want to eat, little plant? But you can’t cut the corpse into tasty goblin legs?”
The killaplant watched warily without answering. To earn its trust, Basil brought down his axe on the dead goblin’s legs and severed it. He then grabbed the severed piece of bloody meat and dangled it before the flower, immediately earning its interest.
“You want it?” Basil asked. When the flower replied by opening its mouth and salivating, he tossed the severed leg at it. The plant jumped and ate the piece of meat in one bite.
“Boss, what are you doing?” Bugsy looked utterly confused by the scene unfolding before his eyes. “Are you… are you taming that monster? Without violence?”
“Like a dog,” Plato added with condescension.
“Who’s a good plant?” Basil asked as he tossed more severed limbs at the hungry flower. The pieces were small enough for the monster to eat them. “Who’s a good plant?”
“You are nice!” The plant squealed back with an adorable, high-pitched girly voice. “I like you!”
Aww, she was a little girl!
“Sweet Pollen!” Once she had finished eating her meal, the flower exhaled pink dust at Basil’s group. It smelled so sweet. Bugsy hissed as if expecting an attack, but Basil stopped him with a wave of his hand. He felt his fatigue vanish and the wounds underneath his bandages closing on their own.
You have recovered 35 HP!
Aww, she healed them!
“When I evolve, I will kill everyone!” said the plant with her adorable voice, before pointing at Basil, Plato, and Bugsy with one of her vines. “Except you! And you! And you!”
Aww, she had an attitude problem!
Basil decided now was the time to make her his offer with a big bright smile. “Do you want to live in my greenhouse in the middle of the woods?”
“Shouldn’t you offer her candies first?” Plato asked mockingly. “Or a tour in your minivan?”
“Plato, shut up.” Basil kept smiling at the beautiful flower. “I will feed you goblin meat fillets, and you will grow in fertile soil. I can give you sun, warmth, and TV.”
“We also have a fence,” Bugsy thought it important to add.
“Mmm…” The plant wriggled in place before letting out a squeal. “Alright!”
Killaplant has joined your party!
“Henceforth, I shall name you…” Basil gathered his breath and let his muse speak through his lips. “Rosemarine Eglantine de la Barthe.”
Distinguished. Precious. Bourgeois.
Killaplant’s name has been changed to: Rosemarine Eglantine de la Barthe.
“I have a name!” Rosemarine made her happiness known with another squeal. “When I evolve, I will scare everyone!”
“You sure will,” Basil replied as he petted his new plant on the head. “You sure will.”
The dungeon was bigger than its outside appearance suggested.
The very first room alone occupied a space larger than Basil's entire house. A few primitive, flickering braziers dangled from a dizzyingly high ceiling. Their feeble light illuminated crude goblin carvings on walls of smooth gray stone. Basil felt like an explorer discovering a paleolithic cave.
There’s some space-time shenanigans happening here, Basil thought. The cavern reeked of sweat, blood, and dung. Half a dozen goblin and dinocrane corpses littered the ground.
“I’m so happy not to be the newbie anymore,” Bugsy said as Rosemarine happily hopped after him. “Can I bully her?”
“No,” Basil replied flatly, much to his centipede’s chagrin. “Don’t lower your guard either.”
“When I evolve, I will bully everyone,” Rosemarine chirped. “Except you! Because you are my friends!”
“Friends? Do you mistake me for a golden retriever?” Plato shrugged as he smelled the air. “I let you live in my house, that’s all.”
“Your house?” Basil asked with a raised eyebrow. He walked to a broken wood door at the end of the cavern protected by two primitive wooden totems topped with goblin skulls. Someone had shattered the idols.
Effect: launch [Poison] needles upon being approached by non-goblins.
Goblin traps set for intruders and meant to work in tandem. Disabled.
“Boss?” Bugsy asked. “Am I no longer your favorite?”
Basil looked over his shoulder. “What do you mean?”
“You’re treating her so well,” Bugsy said while glaring at Rosemarine. The adorable plant scouted the corpses in search of a body part to eat. “But she’s so dim!”
“This place is so dark and dusty!” Rosemarine chirped, utterly oblivious to the centipede’s disdain for her. “I hate it!”
“I don’t have a favorite,” Basil protested.
Plato squinted at his owner. “You don’t?”
Somehow, the cat made these two words sound like a veiled threat.
“Are you seriously doing this right now?” Basil frowned at his team. “In an enemy camp?”
Plato wagged his tail. “This discussion will wait until after we’ve finished cleaning up the place.”
“But we will not forget,” Bugsy finished.
My Lord, did I just start a war? Basil thought. “Bugsy, what does your Tremorsense tell you?”
“I hear a commotion slightly ahead of us.” Bugsy shuddered. “There’s a fight happening in the next room, Boss.”
The invader was close. Basil took a few seconds to check Rosemarine’s stats and see if she could pull her weight in a fight.
Paralyzing Bite: You treat fangs and jaw-enhancing weapons as if you had medium proficiency with them (x1.5 damage). Additionally, your bite attacks may inflict the [Paralysis] ailment on contact.
Bugcatcher: Natural attacks have the [Bugslayer] effect, making them supereffective against [Bug] type (x3 damage).
Sweet Pollen: 10 SP, [Life]. Unleashes pollen regenerating a little HP among those who breathe it.
Basil winced. Rosemarine’s Perks could be useful, but her physical stats were frankly terrible. She would fall in a single blow.
“Are you unhappy, Mister?” Rosemarine asked upon noticing his sore expression.
“It’s alright, Rosemarine, we’ll figure it out,” Basil reassured his plant. “If the worst comes to pass, Bugsy and I will move to the front. Plato, you sneak around to flank. Rosemarine, could you heal us if we’re wounded?”
Rosemarine let out a squeal of approval. “I will help you, Mister-who-feeds-me.”
Plato tensed up, ears raised. “You’re not going to use the rifle, Basil?”
“It’s effective against birds, not bugs, and I hit harder with my axe.” Basil took a step forward through the broken door. “Let’s go.”
The door opened into a narrow tunnel that seemed to stretch on forever. The air grew hotter as the group advanced. An unbearable smell of stewing meat assaulted Basil’s nostrils. He immediately knew that the cook had messed up the dish beyond repair.
Basil saw light at the end of the tunnel and heard the noise of battle. An unseen beast let out a roar full of wrath and pain before being swiftly silenced. Basil put a finger on his lips and his pets didn’t make a sound.
When they reached the next room, the battle was already over.
Basil’s group discreetly entered a primitive hall in shambles. The cave was as large as the previous one and circular in length, with a throne of bones occupying the wall opposite of the entrance. Spinotter pelts covered the walls like tapestries and torches provided a measure of light. A cauldron full of boiling stew occupied the hall’s center; a monster was busy drowning another’s face in it when Basil’s group arrived.
“Weakling!” the battle’s winner said with a masculine, cavernous voice. “None of you are worthy!”
As suspected, the monster responsible for the massacre was a Bug Type. Two meters tall and humanoid in shape, he had stingers as long as swords sticking out of his forearms. A thick green exoskeleton covered every inch of his body except for hornet wings, sharp mandibles, and crimson compound eyes. His forearms were drenched in blood.
Megabug, Apollyon Drone
Level 10 [Bug]
Faction: Apocalypse Force
Basil blinked twice upon seeing the creature’s level. Shit.
The monster’s victim was an oversized goblin even taller than Basil, with powerful hands struggling to hold a mighty bone club. Megabug held onto him by his red mane of hair and kept his head buried in the stew. Three stinger wounds bled profusely on his chest, and the remains of a shattered tusk had fallen at the cauldron’s feet. The giant goblin gasped for air when Megabug lifted his head out of the stew, his breath weak.
Basil observed the defeated giant goblin from afar and the System swiftly confirmed his suspicions.
Ogremoche, Ogre Den’s Boss
Level 5 Elite [Giant/Beast]
Basil noticed a few goblin survivors watching the scene from behind two chests located in a corner of the hall. The cowards had lost all hope after watching their leader beaten within an inch of his life.
“Where is the neurotower?” Megabug lifted Ogremoche above the ground with one hand. The ogre attempted to lift his club to strike, but was so weak that the weapon slipped through his fingers. “Answer me or I’ll rip out your eyes.”
Okay, retreat, he’s too strong for us, Basil thought, his hands sweating against his axe. We need to retreat—
“Level 10?!” Bugsy choked in surprise. “That’s enormo—”
Plato silenced him with a glare, but Megabug had already heard them.
So much for stealth, Basil thought as the insect monster glanced in their direction. Something in the creature’s posture and body language chilled him to the bone. That subtle aura of menace, of cold-blooded brutality…
This monster was no primitive savage playing war. He was a violent assassin who killed as easily as he breathed.
“A human?” Megabug’s eyes briefly glowed with a blue light as he observed Basil. “A Tamer too?”
“Damn it, Bugsy,” Basil complained.
“I-I’m sorry, Boss,” the centipede apologized, his antennae lowering in shame. “I-I, I never saw someone with such a high level before…”
Four against one, Basil thought as his group took a few steps into the room while keeping a respectable distance away from their foe. Megabug had massacred his way through dozens of monsters and their leader, but Basil could barely see a scratch on his exoskeleton. Four times screwed, that’s what we are!
“Who are you?” Megabug asked as he casually tossed Ogremoche into his own cauldron. The Boss sank into his own stew, his feet sticking out of it. “Did you come to claim this dungeon?”
“Basil Bohen,” Basil introduced himself. He had to stall for time until he figured out a way for his team to escape with their lives. “Actually, we came to kill all the goblins. I made a blood oath to kill them all after they ruined my view of the forest.”
If the team’s surprise appearance bothered Megabug, he showed no hint of it. “Interesting. I can respect that.”
“And who are you?” Basil asked.
“Megabug, Apocalypse Force scout.”
“So cool and confident,” Bugsy whispered so low that Basil could barely hear him.
Plato scoffed. “Megabug? That's your real name?”
Megabug glared at the cat. “What of it?”
“Where’s Gigabug?” Plato asked with a chuckle. His tone sounded confident, but his tense posture betrayed his unease. “Or Omegabug?”
“I do not know of any Gigabug nor Omegabug,” Megabug answered flatly. Apparently, his kind couldn’t understand sarcasm. “Do they serve another Horseman?”
Basil didn’t miss the fact that he had called himself a scout though. A scout implied an army.
“So you serve someone else?” Basil asked. Could he throw Megabug into the cauldron’s firewood while he was distracted? Would flames even wound him?
“This world is too weak for Lord Apollyon yet,” the monster replied. “My level was low enough to let me cross when you humans summoned the Trimurti System to this world. I will claim this dungeon and secure my faction an early lead in the competition.”
The humans summoned the System? Basil took note of this information and kept it in mind for later. Dismaker Labs wishes you a happy apocalypse… it must be connected.
“Basil, what do we do?” Plato whispered too low for Megabug to hear. “Fight or flight?”
If we run, he’ll catch up to us in seconds, Basil thought grimly. “How do you intend to do that, my insectoid friend?
“Once I finish this ‘Boss’,” Megabug snickered as he said the last word, “I can claim this dungeon’s resources for my masters. Its monsters will serve them as I do. As will you.”
Damn it, he really is someone else’s grunt, Basil thought before the last sentence registered. “You want me to kiss your ass?”
“Why? Would it buff me?” Megabug asked without any trace of sarcasm. “Your Tamer class is valuable to train soldiers, so there is a place for your kind in the Apocalypse Force. Submit and serve.”
“What’s in it for me?” Basil asked warily. He had no intention of working for anyone, but at its worst, it beat being killed.
“You’ll live,” Megabug replied. “You’ll have the chance to earn your worth. The strong will devour the weak and reach greater heights of power. The seas will turn red with blood, the stench of a billion corpses will choke the heavens. When the Apocalypse Force purifies this planet of unworthy lifeforms, you will be on the winning side.”
Charming, Basil thought while doing his best to hide his distaste. That settled it, he couldn’t let a would-be genocidal warlord access a potentially limitless army of monsters. Humanity first. “You’re alone in our world?”
“Yes, for now.” Megabug’s back straightened up. “Enough talk, human. In?”
He raised his left arm, a drop of venom oozing from his stinger.