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The woman would live.

Carrying her to the house, removing the shrapnel, and force-feeding her half his reserves of healing potions saved her life. Basil had to remove her armor and most of her clothes to patch up her wounds, which felt dirty when done to an unconscious woman. He hoped she wouldn’t hold it against him when she woke up.

If she ever woke up.

The woman’s wounds had healed, yet she remained unconscious. Perhaps the blood loss caused her to enter a coma. Basil was no doctor and couldn’t tell. It astonished him that this woman even survived. Based on the timeline of events, she had crawled out of the helicopter and bled out in the grass for almost a day. Blood loss normally killed a human in minutes.

Basil let the policewoman rest in a spare guest bedroom in the attic. Old Man René took to stockpiling furniture and clothes he no longer needed in it before his demise; mostly mementos of better times when his family cared about him.

Basil opened the one window to let the dust outside and glanced at the garden below. The moon shone brightly in the night sky. Rosemarine soothed the vegetable recruits to sleep in their allocated plot of land. Bugsy dragged pieces of the destroyed gearsman from the bog into the garage which Shellgirl then sorted.

Plato himself followed his owner inside the bedroom and sat on the bed. He didn’t say a word as Basil examined the sleeping woman’s belongings. Her phone was locked and her walkie-talkie was filled with mud, but Basil found a badge and electronic ID card in her riot gear’s pockets.

Basil identified his guest as Neria Elissalde, a ‘General-Brigadier’ of the Dax municipal police. He didn’t know what her rank meant, although it sounded like a ground officer. She was twenty-six, only a few years older than him.

Come to think of it, why didn’t the System tell him her name and level? It did so with monsters.

Your Intelligence score is too low to analyze a fellow Player’s stats.

“Shut up.”

“I didn’t say a thing,” Plato replied, confused.

“Don’t think about it,” Basil grunted as he examined the police ID card. The woman had black eyes and looked quite friendly in the picture. Pretty too, in a common sort of way. “Elissalde. That’s a Basque name.”

Unfortunately, Basil had nothing else to hang onto. No way to contact her unit. He didn’t know how to repair the walkie-talkie nor how to unlock the phone. She used a code rather than facial biometric security. Should he leave an encrypted message at the crash site in case the army investigated it? What if the Unity found it first?

“Basil?” Plato suddenly asked out of the blue. “Do you think of your mother sometimes?”

“I do not,” Basil lied. The memory of his clash with the gearsman came to mind like poison spreading in his veins. “Why the question?”

“I don’t know, seeing this woman sleep reminds me of her,” Plato admitted. “I remember suckling my mom and her tongue when she licked my fur. Nothing else. I was taken too soon.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“I wonder if she’s alive.” Plato looked up at his owner. “Is yours?”

“I don’t know.” Basil’s mother was holding a shop in Bulgaria on the other side of Europe. He stopped interacting much with her besides wiring her what spare money he could scrounge up. Her son knew that she considered him a disappointment after he failed to find a high-earning job.

Basil would always remember what she told him when he voiced the idea of starting his own company if he couldn’t find employment.

‘You should ask the French state for unemployment benefits. They pay people for nothing in Western Europe. I’ve seen it on the news.’

Basil would rather take the most demeaning menial jobs available rather than living on state benefits, which his mother didn’t understand. It was her sheer lack of confidence in his ability to prevail that truly shattered him. Their relationship never fully recovered from the following argument.

In spite of their estrangement, Basil hoped his mother would live through the apocalypse. He couldn’t exactly journey across all of Europe to check on her by himself.

Thinking of his mom put Basil in a foul mood and made him want a breath of fresh air. He set officer Elissalde’s belongings aside and climbed down the stairs to the first floor. Plato followed after him.

“Any idea how to wake her up?” the cat asked. “Maybe you should pray to her bedside with your magic book.”

“I can’t cast spells,” Basil replied. “Ain’t a priest.”

“You’re missing the obvious solution: if you can’t or won’t do it yourself, find someone that will do it for you.” Plato proudly nodded to himself. “That’s my life’s motto.”

“How unsurprising,” Basil deadpanned. “Tell me, do you have a priest on standby I could call upon?”

“Depends, where do they reproduce? I could always try to find a priest’s nest.”

Basil genuinely couldn’t tell if his cat was joking or not. The remark inspired a weird idea in him. “We could always domesticate an angel.”

“An angel?” Plato shrugged. “Now that’s silly.”

“Less silly than giant robots and centipedes?” If Christian prayers now worked as spells, then Basil had to assume angels and demons existed too. For better or worse. “Granted, I don’t know where to find an angel either.”

Lourdes might have one or two, but Basil wouldn’t visit a new city anytime soon. The one next door already gave him too many headaches. Perhaps Saint Bernadette’s reliquary could help with the coma case?

A System screen popped up, much to Basil’s surprise.

New Quest: Bernie’s Hotline.
Recommended Level: Any.
Objective: Use Saint Bernadette’s reliquary to summon an angel, fallen or otherwise.
Reward: Bonus EXP proportional to the summoned angel’s level.

“Seriously?” Basil meant it as a joke! At least it confirmed that the reliquary possessed magical powers of its own. “I suppose a set of detailed instructions would be too much to ask?”

Dismaker Labs wishes you a happy apocalypse!

One day, Basil would find the company’s board of directors and make them eat their words.

He and Plato strolled out into the garden outside. Rosemarine had successfully lulled the vegetables to sleep and Bugsy piled up what remained of the gearsman next to the garage’s wall. Shellgirl examined a handgun salvaged from the helicopter.

“Hey, partner!” Shellgirl waved the weapon at Basil. “That bog pool is a real treasure’s trove!”

“Did you find any other survivor?” Basil asked. He didn’t expect a positive answer, but it didn’t hurt to check.

Shellgirl shook her head. “I found two corpses in the helicopter, partner. They didn’t make it.”

“I buried them under a tree, Boss,” Bugsy said. “Like the hanged man on the other shore.”

“But I looted them first, to make sure we didn’t bury any treasure.” Shellgirl studied a damaged walkie-talkie with childlike curiosity. “Can’t sell the broken stuff though. My customers expect the best.”

Basil examined the gearsman’s remains. The telescopic limbs were damaged beyond repair and the armor plates were reduced to metal scraps. The gears and bolts remained mostly intact alongside alien technology he didn’t comprehend. The System wouldn’t give him the names of the gathered treasures.

Your Intelligence score is too low to—

“I know!” Basil skipped the screen with a grunt of rage.

“Of course you do, you’re a fellow entrepreneur,” Shellgirl replied. “You understand business!”

Basil grabbed a shiny stone covered in runic symbols. A faint jolt of electricity coursed through his fingers. The primitive carving appeared completely out of place compared to the gearsman’s advanced technology.

Come to think of it, didn’t one of my available classes mention runes? Basil checked his Status. My only Spellcaster class: Runesmith.

Runesmith: A class using the magical runes to empower their tools and themselves. Growths: STR (A), AGI (D), VIT (B), SKI (C), MAG (A), INT (B), CHA (A), LCK (D).

Interesting. Basil wondered if it could unlock the stone’s secrets, but it would wait for later.

“We’ll use the broken armor as raw material to widen the doors and build a second garage,” he informed his team. “We’ll run out of space in the house otherwise.”

“How do we do that?” Plato asked with a frown.

“We can weld the shielding plates into walls and doors.” It would be all the simpler since Basil’s halberd could cut through them. “Bugsy’s firebreath should provide the adequate temperature to melt the metal.”

Bugsy’s mandibles snapped with excitement. “I’ve got your back, Boss!”

“What about the rest of the loot, partner?” Shellgirl raised a handgun. “Clients will line up for these babies!”

“I’ll sort out the stuff we’ll keep from what we can part with tomorrow morning.” Basil didn’t feel confident about selling guns to monsters at all. “I’m too tired to do it right now.”

Berserk rage exhausted the mind.


Basil ended up cooking Ogremoche’s last remains for dinner. He fileted the ogre’s meat and served it with grilled vegetables. Ogremoche tasted more bitter than his goblins, but everyone finished their meals all the same.

Basil started to worry about the sheer number of omnivores in his retinue. Although they looked content to eat nutrients from the soil so far, the vegetable recruits developed a taste for ogre flesh. Shellgirl preferred the mayonnaise salad over grilled ogre but Bugsy alone consumed as much meat as the rest of the party combined. Basil estimated that the centimagma required at least a third of his enormous body mass per day.

Bugsy’s metamorphosis also implied that Basil’s monsters might evolve into bigger creatures at any point, straining their food reserves all the more. Unless the party raised more livestock, the winter would be a tough one indeed.

Study the gearsman’s remains. Basil rested on his bed, the windows closed. His Nintendo Switch rested on a pillow with a full battery. Work on enlarging the house. Complete the lab. Heal petrified victims and the patient upstairs. Summon an angel. Train the vegetables and store more meat for winter.

Although Basil desired nothing more than a quiet, peaceful life, his to-do list kept growing exponentially. The Unity might lengthen it if the robots kept barging at his doorstep.

All he desired was to be left alone in his little corner of the world. Was that too much to ask?

The gearsman’s words haunted his mind, “you didn’t have what it takes to succeed, so you hide your shame in the woods.”

Basil clenched his jaw. He wasn’t ashamed of anything. There was a sickness at the heart of human civilization and he quarantined himself from the plague, nothing more. He felt happy with his current station.

His self-reassurance didn’t help him find sleep. Basil tried to keep his mind busy with a new Switch game and didn’t get past the tutorial. Today’s events had left him too exhausted to enjoy it.

How frustrating. He felt too tired to play, but too alert to rest.

His bedroom’s door opened and a black cat slipped in.

“What’s up, dog?” Plato leaped on his owner’s bed. “I hear you turning around in your bed from the next room over. It’s maddening.”

“Can’t find sleep.”

Plato sat on his owner’s belly. “Is it about the gearsman?”

“Partly.” Basil sighed. “The future seems more and more complicated.”

“Eh, only because you think too much about it. Take my advice: go with the flow and wing it as problems come along, the cat's way.”

Basil snorted. “Should I sleep eighteen hours a day too?”

“If it makes you happier.” Plato shrugged. “Life’s too short to do things you don’t enjoy, Basil. Worrying is one of them.”

“Hard not to when we live right next to a killer robot hive and you’ve got to feed an ever-expanding family of monsters. That fight with the gearsman could have ended with all of us dead.”

“Don’t remind me how fragile life is, I already lost one.” Plato put a paw over the other. “The battle was tough, yes, and we won it anyway. We’ll defend our territory if another gizmo comes up, but we shouldn’t live in fear all the time. That’s what makes rabbits die before they hit ten.”

Basil looked up at the ceiling. He imagined General-Brigadier Elissalde sleeping in the room above, far more peacefully than he did over the last week.

“Plato.”

“Yes?”

“Do you think the world is ever going to return to normal?”

“What’s normal? Picking flowers in the morning and watching TV in the evening?” The cat shrugged. “A few years ago, a normal day involved wandering the roads picking up trash to live. Then René and you took me away to this house. I was scared at first, but then I grew used to my new life. It became my new normal.”

“Your point is that we’re going to get used to…” Basil struggled to find the right word. “Everything?”

“You can get used to anything and everything.” Plato licked his fur. “You know how we killed or scared away all the goblins and bird monsters? They learned not to mess with us. Eventually the gizmos will get the message too and leave us alone. Then we can go picking flowers in the morning and watching TV in the evening.”

Basil considered his cat’s words. Even if he didn’t share such easy-going optimism, he had adapted to unforeseen circumstances too. From leaving Bulgaria to his post-student crisis and the coronavirus, Basil always discovered a new form of stability after a short struggle. The apocalypse was a far bigger stress test, but eventually he would find the right balance.

It didn’t matter how much shit the universe threw at Basil, he would always shove it back in its cosmic ass.

“As for the rest, can’t your classes help deal with it?” Plato asked. “You gained two new levels. Better make use of them rather than let the power gather dust.”

Basil conceded the point and opened his status screen. Yes, assigning the levels could help deal with his ever-growing list of headaches. He checked the available classes and one stood out as all the more useful in the current circumstances.

Gardener: A class harvesting the full potential of plant life, monsters included. Growths: STR (C), AGI (B), VIT (C), SKI (B), MAG (B), INT (C), CHA (C), LCK (B).

The problem with classes was that Basil didn’t know ahead of time what Perks they would give him and his experience with Tamer showed that Perks grew in power with more levels. Specialization gave more power in a narrow area of expertise. Generalization meant more options available.

Taking two levels in Tamer would make him better at training monsters in general and thus increase their odds of fending off attacks; perhaps it would even help with the angel quest. Taking one level in Runesmith and one in Gardener would give him insight into the Unity’s technology and let him grow more food for the winter.

Neither option was guaranteed to yield results.

“Argh, too many options!” Basil let out a roar of frustration. “I hate choice paralysis!”

“Then I’ll decide for you.” Plato locked eyes with his owner with his big beautiful yellow eyes. “Look at me. Look at me.”

Basil held his breath. His cat only behaved like this when he wanted something inane.

“Basil.” Plato gathered his breath, his tail wagging behind him. “I want to become a smilodon.”

“A smilodon?”

“Or a lion. I can settle for either.” Plato lightly headbutted his owner. “Please! Put all your levels in Tamer! Bugsy grew into a bug dragon, so imagine what I could become!”

“Bugsy is a Bug/Elemental Type,” Basil corrected his cat.

“Pff, I’m sure he’ll grow wings before level 30! I’m sure a new Tamer Perk would give me a mane or a set of saberteeth!” Plato kneaded his owner’s belly. “Come on, come on, come on! It’ll help us win fights!”

“Fine, fine!” Basil rolled his eyes and assigned his levels. “You’re worse than a child.”

He figured that Gardener would help him with the vegetables and Runesmith with the Unity’s tech, but Tamer would benefit everyone. And Plato had a point, the group needed greater strength in case more gearsman came knocking.

Tamer Levels 4 & 5 Stat Gains: +1 STR, +2 AGI, +1 VIT, +1 SKI, +1 MAG, +2 CHA, +1 LCK. You earned 50 HP and 20 SP.
Passive Perk: Monster Lair I: You can select a hideout or dungeon under your control as your personal Lair. Lairs offer benefits based on your level. You can select and improve your Lair by clicking on Status in your menu.

Plato started shining almost immediately. A purple glow set his fur alight like a cloak of stars. So blinding was the radiance that Basil covered his eyes with a hand.

“I can feel the power!” Plato laughed with overbearing pride. “Worship me! Worship me!”

When light receded, Basil lowered his hand and gazed upon his cat’s new form.

Which looked like the old one.

Plato hadn’t grown an inch. He didn’t transform into a lion nor grew a pair of giant fangs. The only change Basil noticed was a small, crescent-shaped patch of silver fur below his cat’s throat.

Congratulations! By reaching level 9, Plato metamorphosed into a Cait Sith (Beast/Fairy)! Plato learned the [Swordsmanship I] Passive Perk! Plato learned the [Wind Slash] and [Luck Up] Active Perks!

Plato blinked multiple times in short succession. He looked at his tail, at his chest, even at his ass. He checked every part of his anatomy.

“Where are they?” he asked with a confused voice. “Where is the mane? The big fangs? Where’s the A-material?”

Basil studied his pet and noticed a small change in his front paws. He grabbed the cat’s paws and quickly confirmed that the gap between them had grown slightly larger. They looked more flexible, like a mix between a normal cat’s paws and a human hand.

“That’s it?” Plato didn’t hide his disappointment. “I gained hands?”

“Good, I have hands too,” Basil replied with a deadpan tone. “You can hold many things with them. Many things!”

“That’s not funny!” A sulking Plato whipped his tail in his owner’s direction. His expression soured with bitterness. “That’s not funny at all!”

Basil grabbed his cat and lifted him above him, Lion King style. “That’s okay,” he reassured Plato. “You will always be my adorable little Simba.”

“Please don’t make me call you Rafiki.” Plato’s mood improved a little. “This System is horrendously designed!”

“It’s better than you think,” Basil replied with a grin. ”Now that you have thumbs and can carry tools, you can help me with the house. I’ll teach you how to use screws and hammers tomorrow.”

“But that’s work for the plebeians! Slaver! Slaver!” Plato shrieked with indignation. “I opened my heart to you and you collared it!”

“Next we’ll find you a cute musketeer hat and a fencing sword,” Basil teased his cat before putting him down on his belly. “Like Antonio Banderas in the Shrek movies.”

“Stop mocking me!” Plato glanced at the goblin boots. “I feel weird running on all four with these on my paws already. Can you fathom how difficult it is to walk on two legs?”

Basil suspected the metamorphosis helped with it. “Try again.”

Plato squinted at his best friend and rose on his hind legs. To his own apparent confusion, the cat walked gracefully along the bed; perhaps even more than he did on all four.

“Wow. So strange.” Plato glanced around the bedroom as if he experienced it through new eyes. “I can look down on smaller animals. Show them how much I disdain them.”

“That’s the best part of being human,” Basil quipped. “Height superiority.”

“You know what?” Plato curled on Basil’s chest. “I will purr in disappointment until you fall asleep. That will teach you to mess with me.”

After such a harrowing day, Basil couldn’t help but laugh at his cat’s antics. “Sleep well, Plato.”

“Less talking, more snoring.”

Basil closed his eyes, his cat’s warmth and soothing purrs lulling him to slumber. His worries faded from his mind and his body relaxed. The accumulated stress left his flesh.

After such a harrowing day, Basil Bohen slept sweetly.

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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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