Do-it-yourself work was among Basil’s small pleasures in life.
He found few greater joys than repairing old things or creating new ones with his own hands, step by step. Crafting made building faster and easier, but in many ways effort was its own reward.
“Here you go, Boss!” Bugsy unleashed his fire breath and welded two metal plates together. The bronze and steel fused along a burning line as Basil held them in place with heat-resistant gloves. “Done!”
Basil took a step back to admire the result of their work: a simple, elegant metal shack built entirely from the gearsman’s remains right next to the old garage. They had also replaced the house’s old entrance doors with enlarged side-by-side versions so Bugsy could fit through them. It involved pulling down part of the walls, but it worked well in the end.
It would have taken Basil days to build something like this before the System arrived. Not only could he rely on additional hands—including Plato’s, to the cat’s dismay—but his enhanced strength and endurance let him work at peak performance for hours on end. Of course he was no carpenter so his work was shoddy, but it was acceptable.
“Now all that’s left is transferring the stuff from the old garage to the new one,” Basil said. “We’ll turn the extra space into a true bedroom.”
“Don’t worry, Boss, I’ll do it myself!” Bugsy replied joyfully. Out of everyone in his party, the centimagma shared Basil’s enthusiasm for old school manual labor the most. “I can use the gearsman’s leftovers to make a fence around the new garden plots, and enlarge the rabbits’ hutch too! More space would make them happier!”
“You’re sure you don’t need a hand?” Basil asked, slightly worried. The centimagma had grown more comfortable with his increased size, but nobody would call him skillful.
“Don’t worry, Boss, I’ve got this,” Bugsy replied with fire in his eyes. “I will raise great spikes of wood and bind them with earth! I shall build an impenetrable wall that no robot can ever hope to breach!”
Basil nearly pointed out that the watchers could simply fly over the fence, but he couldn’t bring himself to shatter Bugsy’s enthusiasm. He would rather bolster the centimagma’s low self-worth through positive reinforcement.
“Alright.” Basil patted Bugsy on the head. “I trust you with the task.”
“You do? Without supervision?” Bugsy wriggled with excitement. “Thanks, Boss, I won’t disappoint you!”
It’s nice to have helpers for a change, Basil thought as he surveyed the garden. The chickens and rabbits frolicked outside the house under Plato’s supervision. The shepherd cat was currently engaged in an intense staring contest with the biggest chicken for dominance. Both animals locked eyes, unblinking, unmoving. Each was of the same height as the other and refused to budge.
Plato rose on his hind legs. He towered over the chicken and looked down on it.
After a moment of desperate resistance, the bird lowered its head in submission.
“Better,” Plato declared as he looked down upon his defeated foe with smug satisfaction. “Once a bird, always a bird.”
“Mister Plato, you should stop bullying the chickens,” Bugsy protested. “They lay eggs on time!”
“I can’t help it.” Plato groomed himself. “Since the birds left the forest, I feel restless. Something is missing in my life.”
“I can give you more work to fill the void if you want,” Basil replied with a smirk.
“No thank you.” Plato hissed. “Hammering nails is the most mind-numbing task I ever had the displeasure of suffering through. It makes me more frustrated, not less.”
“Then how would you feel about switching from birds to fish?”
“Fish?” Plato wagged his tail in anticipation. “I’m listening.”
“Shellgirl informed me that more aquatic monsters are making their home in the l’Adour river and its tributaries lately, alongside amphibians.” She said it wouldn’t disturb her trade trips, but it was a trend Basil paid close attention to. “Fishing would help offset our lack of livestock.”
Plato shuddered. “I’m all for killing fish, as long as we do it away from water. Dirty evil water.”
“Sure, we’ll challenge the fish to an honorable battle on land,” Basil said with heavy sarcasm. In retrospect, perhaps he should have taken a level in Fisherman and another in Gardener.
“Or we could hunt in the Pyrenées mountains in the south,” Plato suggested with more enthusiasm. “I’ve never killed an eagle before!”
“I’ll pass.” The Pyrénées were a two-hour drive to the south through a countryside full of potentially hostile monsters.
“Mister Who-Feeds-Me, Mister, look!”
Basil looked over his shoulder and jumped in shock. Rosemarine pointed six police handguns at him, one in each of her vines.
“I have weapons like you!” The man-eating plant waved her firearms around. Thankfully the safeties were still on. “When I evolve, I will have a hundred guns!”
Basil didn’t know whether to feel amazed or frightened. A little bit of both, probably. “I think we’re onto something, Rosemarine, but please lower your weapons.”
After they salvaged everything they could take from the helicopter, Basil put his veto on selling the guns they found inside. Goblins had been dangerous enough with clubs; firearms would make any low-level monster a terrible foe. Shellgirl and Basil had argued for nearly an hour before she gave in.
However, leaving the guns where Rosemarine could find them might not have been the wisest course of action. Basil glanced at the new crop plot and let out a sigh of relief. The vegetables preferred to spend their day growing in the fertile soil and enjoying the sun rather than wandering around the house with weapons. Only the bean ninja among them had the appendages needed to use a gun at all.
“I’ll train you to use guns, Rosemarine, in a safe and controlled environment,” Basil said. “You too Plato, if you’re up for it.”
“I’ll pass,” the cat replied with a snort. “According to my menu, I can only use my new Wind Slash technique with a sword. Besides, guns are noisy and smell terrible.”
“Isn’t there a firearm adapted for mandibles?” Bugsy asked with a hint of jealousy. “A lightning head-cannon like the gearsman?”
“Hey, don’t complain.” Plato glared at the centimagma and raised his paws at him. “You transformed into a giant engine of destruction at level seven, while I grew thumbs! Thumbs!”
“I-I didn’t mean to demean you, Mr. Plato, I swear!”
“You can already breathe fire and set the world ablaze!” Rosemarine pointed out as she relinquished her weapons to Basil, who swiftly stored them in his inventory. “Death by burning alive is the sweetest of them all!”
“I…” Bugsy’s antennae grew agitated. Clearly, he had no idea how to answer that remark. “I suppose…”
Seeing that everyone had finished their chores for the day, Basil took a minute to check his new Monster Lair Perk. As written in its descriptions, he found a new option in his ‘Status’ screen.
[Lairs] are a powerful monster’s customizable den. A Lair’s benefits apply to all members of the owner’s party. A monster can only have one lair at a time. Once selected, a Lair’s choice cannot be changed unless it is destroyed.
You can customize your [Lair] by spending Lair Points (LP) equal to your level to purchase Lair Features. LP invested in a [Lair] cannot be recovered, even after the location’s destruction. A Lair Feature’s power can be strengthened at an exponential cost. Lair Features are divided into two categories: Positive Features that improve the owner’s quality of life; and Negative Features that weaken invaders.
Please select your [Lair] among the following choices: Basil’s House; Water Quality Control Station.
It surprised Basil to find the water station among his possible choices. Did the System consider that he had ‘conquered’ the area after defeating Ogremoche? Whatever the case, there was only one possible choice.
You registered the Lair: Basil’s House
Faction: The Bohens
Field Type: Industrial.
[Corrosion], [Metal], [Fire], [Water] and [Lightning] elements are empowered.
[Soul], [Wood] and [Wind] elements are weakened.
[Improved Processes]: Buffs and positive effects last longer.
Unlockable Lair Features available to your Lair:
Basil clicked on the ‘Stealthy’ option the second he saw it. He would purchase anything that could hide his home from prying eyes!
Stealthy: Non-party members have a harder time finding the Lair.
Tier I: The Lair will benefit from a [Camouflage] effect and blend with the scenery from a distance. Cost: 3 LP.
Tier II: Non-party members cannot register the Lair’s location in System Logs. Cost: 6 LP.
Tier III: Magical attempts to detect the Lair’s location from individuals with a level below yours will fail. Cost: 9 LP.
“Wait, I have to purchase each step individually?” Basil asked with a frown. “To raise Stealthy to Tier II, I must spend 9 Lair Points in total? No reduction for prior investment?”
Dismaker Labs wishes you a happy apocalypse!
“Is the System messing with us again?” Plato asked with an annoyed face. “How about we hunt down the customer supporter rather than eagles?”
“You speak sense, my friend.” Basil quickly checked other defensive features available. Toxic Atmosphere and Confusing Architecture inflicted ailments on intruders and the rest damaged them with different elements. All of them followed the same pattern of price escalation. Even if Basil reached level 100, he wouldn’t have enough LP to fully upgrade the Lair.
Swallowing his frustration, Basil purchased the first tier of the Stealthy Feature. A veil of magic fell upon his surroundings. The house’s roof took on a grassy color and a layer of moss grew over the walls. Leaves covered the chicken coop, the rabbit hutch, and the metal garage. The greenhouse and the surface of the house’s glass panels shifted the least, their surface tinted to resemble water.
“I preferred the old paint job,” Bugsy said.
“Me too,” Basil replied. The camouflage blended in better with the surrounding woods and marsh, true, but anyone studying the area for more than a passing glance would notice oddities. He trailed his hand along the house’s wall and felt moss brushing against his fingers.
Of course, the System couldn’t make a hideout entirely undetectable, for it encouraged conflict. The other upgrades for Stealthy were circumstantially useful, enough that Basil considered other options. He checked the other options available with a grunt of disappointment.
Exp Boost: Boosts the experience your party earns within one hectare centered around the Lair.
Tier I: x1.2 experience after the level penalty is applied. Cost: 3 LP.
Tier II: x1.5 experience after the level penalty is applied. Cost: 6 LP.
Tier III: x2 experience after the level penalty is applied. Cost: 9 LP.
Basil reread the text multiple times. He was pleasantly surprised and the other positive Features proved quite enticing. Loot Boost improved the drop rate of monsters dying near the house, Crafter Workshop did the same with crafting chances, while HP and SP Recovery accelerated the natural rate at which party members regained both. Only Attractive didn’t appeal to Basil, since it would subtly lure rare monsters to his house; an anathema for a peaceful man like him.
“Very interesting.” Basil turned to his party members. “It seems that besides improving the security, my new Perk can potentially make our life easier.”
“Can we grow more food?” Plato asked.
“No, unfortunately.” That was a Feature Basil would have killed for. “But we could gain more experience and loot if we kill creatures in the vicinity—”
“Did somebody say loot?” Shellgirl hopped out of the stream near the house like a flying fish. She rushed as quickly as she could to Basil’s position with surprising speed for a giant clam. “I’m all ears!”
How did… when… Basil’s mind struggled to compute her sudden appearance. Was she like a genie, summoned to this earthly realm with the right word of power?
“You’re back early.” Basil was surprised by her surprise appearance. “I didn’t expect you until sundown.”
“I suspect her hearing is even better than mine,” Plato said with amusement.
“Well, well, well, did you worry about me?” Shellgirl grinned. “I couldn’t wait to tell you the good news, but now I can! What did you say about loot?”
Why did Basil have the feeling he had unleashed a terrible force upon the world? “To put it bluntly, I can improve the house so that it gives us bonuses within one hectare of itself,” he explained. “I, however, do not have the resources to access all of them. I need more levels.”
Basil described the various features to his team. Shellgirl obviously only had eyes for the potential riches they could bring. The others’ opinions were more diverse.
“Boss, if I may.” Bugsy cleared his throat. “Wouldn’t it be smarter to take the Exp Bonus first? That way you can gain levels quicker and then improve the house afterward?”
Plato nodded in support. “Agreed, that feature sounds like it will pay for itself quickly.”
“We only benefit from the bonus experience within one hectare around the house,” Basil pointed out. “We would need to bring monsters to our home alive for the slaughter.”
“Yes, and?” Plato shrugged. “Didn’t you want to raise livestock or fish at the stream? We would get meat and experience both ways.”
“We could use the fertilizer to grow more vegetables too,” Bugsy protested with enthusiasm. The centimagma was always eager to gain more levels. “What if we took Attractive—”
“No,” Basil said.
“No, Bugsy,” Basil repeated, more harshly. “No way in hell. I won’t budge on this.”
Surprisingly, Rosemarine protested against the plan too. “No killing plant babies! They are the seeds that will bloom when the world ends!”
“Nope.” Plato came to their support. “No more tin cans wandering into our turf.”
“But Mr. Plato, you were alright with killing fish a minute ago!” Bugsy protested. “What’s the difference?”
“I was fine with killing things that can’t fight back,” Plato clarified, putting emphasis on his last words.
“I aspire to live a quiet and peaceful existence,” Basil declared. “Levels make life easier, Bugsy, that is a fact, but they are not an end in themselves.”
“Exactly, experience is not the best thing in the world: money is!” Shellgirl rubbed her hands. “Don’t you see? Who needs to kill monsters when we can produce more goods from the safety of our HQ! With Crafter Workshop, we’ll improve productivity and flood the market!”
She never lets an opportunity go. Basil privately agreed the Crafter Workshop would prove the wisest investment. It wasn’t as flashy as the others, but it trumped them in practicality.
“Anyway, Shellgirl,” Basil said, changing the subject. “What good news did you want to share?”
“Well, remember my witch contact?” she asked. “I was chatting her up for a nice good deal when she invited me for a tea brew. I accepted, of course, friendly saleswoman that I am. Can’t forget the personal element and proximity—”
Basil interrupted her. “Less self-gratification, more hard facts.”
“It’s important context, not self-gratification! Anyway, I told her all about our little trouble with the tin can and how we harvested good loot from it after bombing it to oblivion.”
“You did what?” Basil gritted his teeth. “You told our battle tactics to a potential foe?”
“She’s not a potential enemy, she’s a customer!” Shellgirl protested. “And how are we supposed to show we mean business if we don’t brag about our successes?”
“If she shares that information with someone else, it will come back to bite us in the ass!” Basil pinched his nose in annoyance. The damage was already done. “Go on…”
“Well, anyway, she was super duper interested in your explosives and the rune thingie we harvested from the gearsman. She wanted to meet you before, but now she insists I bring you along for my next trip!”
“No,” Basil replied flatly.
“I predicted you would say that!” Shellgirl chuckled. “So my witch contact asked me how I could entice you to come, and I told her about your troubles with the comatose woman upstairs, the petrified people in the town, your angel summoning project…”
“Did you tell her where we live too?” Plato asked with a sarcastic tone. “Or about the panic room? Did you tell her about our secret panic room?”
“We have a panic room?” Bugsy asked, suddenly curious.
“Yes we do,” Basil confirmed. The Old Man always feared the police wouldn’t arrive in time in case of a home robbery. “I’ll show it to you one day.”
“Of course I didn’t tell her where we lived,” Shellgirl protested. “Hey, I promised I wouldn’t.”
“My bad, I should have specified a greater list of forbidden information.” Basil struggled to keep his anger in check. That was exactly why he was worried about trading with the outside world. “What were you thinking?”
“Partner, you’re drawing the wrong conclusions.” Shellgirl put her hands behind her jelly hair, trying to look relaxed. “I wouldn’t share intel if I didn’t trust my customer. She’s clean. Almost a friend.”
“Even if this witch is ‘clean’, she might reveal sensitive information to people who don’t have our best interests at heart,” Basil pointed out. “If two people know of a secret, ten more will learn it in time.”
“Yeah, I get that,” Shellgirl replied with a serious expression, “but if you never take a leap of faith, then who’s ever going to trust you?”
Basil clenched his jaw, but didn’t answer. She had struck a nerve.
“Someone has to take the first step, partner,” Shellgirl said. “You trusted me to help you out and I did. I brought you the tools you needed for your lab, juicy info too. I trust my contact and I gave her the benefit of the doubt. You should try too.”
Her response surprised Basil in more ways than one. There was wisdom in them, something he didn’t expect from Shellgirl. The clam mimic based her identity on business manuals and hearsay, but her words came from her heart rather than a self-help booklet.
Even when created from dungeons, monsters possess free will. Basil already guessed as much from Bugsy’s self-doubts and Rosemarine’s strange maternal behavior towards the vegetables. They can mature and develop beliefs of their own.
Did that mean peaceful coexistence between monsters and humans might become possible one day?
Basil crossed his arms in skepticism. They still had a long, long way to go. “I suppose this witch told you she could solve everything if only I would visit her?”
“Yes, and she gave me a token of her goodwill to prove it.” Shellgirl snapped her fingers and a purple potion appeared in her slimy hand. The glass container was crude, no longer than ten centimeters; a little ribbon with the words ‘From V with love’ and a tiny heart symbol written on it was attached to the plug. “Here.”
Basil carefully took the potion in his hand. It weighed almost nothing, like bottled feathers.
Family: Consumable (Potion)
Effect 1: Cures the [Sleep] ailment.
Effect 2: Cures [Nightmare] effects.
A witch’s brew harvested from dreams so bad, they’ll make anyone drinking this potion wake up from sheer disgust.
“V?” Plato asked.
“Vasilisa, that’s her name,” Shellgirl explained. “Pretty neat, huh? She said it will help your damsel in distress wake up from her slumber, sleeping beauty style!”
Vasilisa, that was a Slavic name; it had been over a year since Basil heard one. Somehow hearing it made him nostalgic for his homeland. “What did it cost you?” he asked Shellgirl.
“Nothing, she gave it away free of charge. Said it was a gift from one crafter to another.”
Basil was always wary of the kindness of strangers. It sounded to him like the witch wanted something from him—probably the gearsman’s remains—and was trying to sweet-talk him into surrendering them.
But well, if she could indeed help with his other problems… that would be a win-win proposition.
“That’s not all! When she made her proposal, it inspired a brilliant idea!” Shellgirl raised her hands as if expanding an imaginary banner. “A networking event! I read—I mean, I invented this brand new concept. We bring monsters interested in trading together in a safe zone where we can exchange business tips and rumors of new opportunities! Like the orc tribe! How does that sound?”
Like a terrible idea. The more people aware of Basil’s existence, the more trouble down the line.
The more naïve Rosemarine salivated in anticipation. “More food!”
“I don’t do social events,” Basil replied with a bear-like grunt.
“Oh come on.” Shellgirl pumped a fist. “Everybody wants to meet the ogre lord of the marshes!”
“The ogre lord? Ogremoche?” Bugsy squinted in confusion. “But we ate him yesterday night!”
“Ergo, that’s why Big B’s the new ogre in town.” Shellgirl licked her lips with her slimy tongue. “Killing enemies is the natural way of life. Cooking them afterward with salt and pepper? That forces respect.”
Basil opened his mouth to protest, closed it as he mulled it over, and realized that it made sense in a strange way. He did look like an ogre, eating monsters with his pets in his corner of the marsh.
“I don’t do networking,” Basil declared, standing his ground. “But if this Dreambrew works… then I’ll be happy to meet with your witch contact.”
He would still bring his halberd.
Just in case.