“Shit,” Basil said.

“Thirty-one,” Plato replied.

With his supply bag weighing on his back, Basil and his cat followed Shellgirl along a meandering trail. The clam mimic hopped in the shadow of gnarled trees. Basil didn’t recognize their species, but they certainly shouldn’t be growing in the Barthes. The vegetation in the area was foreign to the region, from the trees to the strange purple grass under his feet.

“Damn,” Basil whispered. “Bloody hell.”

“Thirty-two, thirty-three,” Plato replied.

“What are you doing?” Shellgirl asked with a curious look.

“I’m counting how many times Basil has cursed since morning.” Plato chuckled. “We’re thirty-six swearing words short of the all-time record.”

“We’re fucked,” Basil said. “So utterly fucked.”

“Thirty-four, thirty-five. You can do it, buddy. I believe in your swearing spirit.”

“It’s fine!” Shellgirl waved a reassuring hand at Basil. “I told you, she’s clean!”

The forest witch didn’t worry Basil; the dungeon under construction in Dax did. Officer Elissalde swore to him that her team successfully bombed it from above, but the robots would try to rebuild it again. They would have the means to fully focus their resources on the task once the army retreated to Bordeaux.

Basil cursed his short-sightedness. He should have seen it coming. If an Earth company successfully built a dungeon-summoning server, then an army of magical machines could do the same.

He had to expel the Unity’s forces from the region before they completed their infernal machine and flooded the countryside with robots. Could he convince the army to make a last-ditch attempt at wiping them out? Officer Elissalde had arranged her pick-up for tomorrow and Basil left her at home with the rest of his party to recover until then.

“Why won’t they leave me alone?” Basil asked out loud. “All I want is to live in peace and harmony. Yet whenever we solve a problem, another pops up! It’s maddening!”

“Take it from me, Basil.” Plato mimicked a beheading motion. “No birds, no problems. Same with the gizmos. I say we pick them off one after another until they leave.”

It… it could work actually. The Unity’s forces in Dax were stretched so thinly that they couldn’t properly patrol their own conquered city. The gearsman ambush nearly cost the party their lives, but their victory deprived the robots of a heavy hitter. If the group avoided direct combat and continuously thinned down their enemies’ numbers, they could force them out of the region.

The Second Neighborhood War appeared inevitable.

“Perhaps it’s time to introduce everyone to an ancient Bulgarian tradition then.” Basil smiled cruelly. “Guerilla warfare.”

“Could I sit this one out?” Shellgirl asked with little enthusiasm. “Or at least stay at the rear? I’ll be all for funding a war, but participating is another matter.”

“That’s the neat thing about guerilla attacks: if done well, you’re gone before the enemy can strike back.” Basil stopped at the end of the trail and the witch’s house. “Is this the place?”

A field of purple flowers bloomed within a ring of leafless trees. A two-story izba hut dominated the grove, its walls built from logs, its roof from dirt and straw. The light of candles pierced through its windows. A fence of wooden spikes topped with shrunken goblin heads and burning skulls surrounded the building.

Basil found the decoration aesthetically pleasing. Inspiring even.

“I see someone shares our neighborhood problems,” Plato commented. “Why do I have the feeling you’ll get along with her, Basil?”

“Because he will!” Shellgirl hopped to the hut’s door and knocked on it. “Vasi, my dear! It’s me!”

“Coming!” a muffled voice answered from within the house. Her accent sounded vaguely Belarusian. “Welcome!”

The door opened and the witch walked out.

Years of pop culture indoctrination had taught Basil that witches were either ugly as sin or dazzling beauties, and his neighbor clearly fell into the second category. She looked around his age, with a lovely heart-shaped face and crimson eyes. Her skin was an inhuman pale shade of olive green. She wore a short sleeveless black dress, an elegant red scarf, a rounded wizard's hat atop mid-long raven hair, and a pair of heels.

Vasilisa ‘Vasi’ Yaga, Changeling
Level 13 [Demon/Fairy]

Demon. Did she hide horns under her hat?

Basil was immediately on his guard and looked for any sign of weaponry. The woman didn’t carry any wand to cast spells with. Her nails weren’t claws ready to tear his throat out. When she smiled kindly at the group, white teeth showed under her lips rather than fangs.

In short, she appeared oddly harmless for a fiend.

“Shellgirl, how good to see you again!” The witch exchanged a high-five with the clam mimic. “Have you combed your slime hair? I love it.”

“My, I did!” Shellgirl grinned with pride. “I’m glad you noticed!”

“I didn’t,” Plato said. Neither did Basil.

“Who is that handsome human with you?” The witch put a finger on her lips as she examined Basil from head to toes. “The ogre of the Barthes?”

“Basil,” he replied with a blank face. He would go on a rampage if that nickname caught on with the local monsters. “Basil Jean-François Bohen.”

The two studied each other for a few seconds. Basil was ready to summon his halberd at the first sign of treachery. The witch’s Dreambrew potion worked as advertised, but he couldn’t rule out the fact she lured him into a trap of some kind. Her name also sounded familiar to him, although he couldn’t put his finger on why.

“Mmm, you are quite the good-looking fellow,” the witch said with a fox-like smile. “A fine connoisseur of potions and a warrior. It’s a winning combination.”

Basil looked flatly at her. He knew her type and refused to play her game.

The witch sighed in disappointment upon realizing her flirty façade and insincere flattery wouldn’t work with him. “You didn’t even blush. I must be getting rusty.”

“Your assets are useless against me, woman.” Basil liked girls, but not enough to fawn over them. “No pretty smiles will buy you favors from me.”

“You’ve been single for too long, Basil,” Plato said with a sad, sad voice. “I fear your dating life is beyond saving now.”

“I do like a man with his head on his shoulders,” the witch mused playfully, taking the rejection in stride. “Sorry, old habits. I used to trick would-be paladins into running errands for me with a wink and a smile. One jumped off a cliff trying to look for a dragon egg, if you can believe that.”

“Natural selection at its finest,” Plato commented.

Basil kept a poker face and did his best not to show surprise. The witch mentioned the anecdote like something that happened often enough to become a habit. This implied a long history, yet the dungeons only appeared weeks ago…

She’s different from other monsters somehow. Basil could tell from her behavior. Wiser, more mature.

“Anyway, the name’s Vasilisa Yaga or ‘Vasi’ for short.” The witch knelt and petted Plato behind the ears. “What’s yours, oh mighty king of cats?”

“His Majesty Plato the First.” Plato glanced up at his owner. “Can we keep her? She understands my greatness.”

“Nobody owns me, Your Majesty.” The witch stood up and invited the group inside. “Come along, let’s have a drink inside.”

“Her liquor is amazing, you’ll see!” Shellgirl declared before crawling into the house. After a short moment of hesitation, Basil followed alongside Plato. The witch closed the door behind them.

The group entered a comfortable room with a wooden table in its middle. A colossal white bear’s pelt carpeted the floor and the stuffed head of a reptilian creature overlooked a chimney. Bundles of dried herbs, potions, and grimoires occupied rows of shelves along the walls. Their neat organization contrasted with the empty bottles on the ground, the dust on the windows, and the stench of alcohol in the air. An unused broomstick waited in a corner.

“Are you a student?” Basil asked.

“I study magic, yes.” Vasi squinted at him. “How did you know?”

He pointed a finger at the empty bottles. Vasi chuckled as she invited the group to sit. “Don’t mind them, I’ll clean tomorrow.”

In student slang, ‘tomorrow’ meant ‘never.’ Basil had learned this subtle difference to his dismay when he last shared an apartment.

Vasi proved a good host and served drinks to her guests: a bowl of milk for Plato and bottles of orange beverages for everyone else. Basil recognized them as krupnik, a sweet Slavic liqueur. Shellgirl thirstily grabbed her drink, but he didn’t touch his own.

Vasi smiled at his reaction. “Are you afraid of being poisoned? In my homeland, we believe in hospitality.”

“I don’t drink alcohol,” Basil replied. Too many bad memories associated with it.

“Don’t you know the proverb? Never trust a man who doesn't drink?” Vasi grabbed a bottle off a shelf while sipping her own krupnik. “I have beet juice mixed with carrots, if you prefer.”

“Careful Basil, the vegan revolution has begun,” Plato mocked his owner. He licked the bowl and then his lips. “Tasty. Is this goat milk?”

“You have a good sense of taste,” Vasi complimented him. “Shellgirl traded it to me a few days ago.”

“I got it from the orcs,” gloated the mimic. “I exchanged a beer bottle for six bottles full of milk.”

Basil felt slightly guilty since the alcohol in question came from René’s old cave. He had decided to trade most of his liquors away considering how little use it would find otherwise.

“Speaking of drinks, did my Dreambrew work?” Vasi asked Basil. “You can’t fathom how many dreams I had to catch to craft it.”

“It worked fine.” Which was the reason why Basil accepted this meeting at all. “How do you catch a dream?”

“With the right spell.” His question seemed to amuse the witch. “Your ignorance doesn’t surprise me. You strike me more as the Fighter-class type with more brains than most.”

Basil would storm off if she ever asked for his Intelligence score. “I didn’t know monsters could take Spellcaster levels.”

“We can’t, but we may still learn spells with the right Perks.” Vasi uncorked her bottle. “To what do we toast?”

“To a good quarter!” Shellgirl yelled as she raised her bottle. Vasi chuckled at that and answered with ‘prosit.’

Basil glanced at Plato with amusement. “You too, you have hands now.”

The cat groaned but joined the toast nonetheless. After analyzing his juice with the System, Basil sipped his juice. The drink tasted quite good, much to his surprise. He waited pointlessly for a poison to take effect and relaxed upon realizing that there was no danger.

“The frog prince potion is on the shelf to your left,” Vasi said with a wink. “I keep it for special occasions.”

“I gotta say, I’m pleasantly surprised,” Basil replied with a chuckle. “When I saw your house I expected the worst. Yet you seem to be quite the friendly fellow.”

“See, see?” Shellgirl gluttonously sipped from her drink. “Told you she was clean.”

“I like guests, but not the uninvited kind,” Vasi explained. “The skulls and shrunken heads outside keep the fools from disturbing me when I study. I’m not from this place so I had to establish clear boundaries.”

“Perhaps that’s what we were missing, Basil,” Plato said. “The corpses of our dead enemies impaled on the fence. That will send a message.”

“When they start rotting, they’ll spread diseases,” Basil replied before focusing on his host. “By ‘not from this place,’ you mean the marsh? From which dungeon did you come?”

“The better question would be…” Vasi smiled coyly. “Which world?”

Basil’s hand tightened on his drink and Plato raised his head from his bowl in shock. Only Shellgirl didn’t appear surprised. “Astonishing, isn’t it?” she asked her allies. “I had the same reaction when I heard it for the first time!”

“I came from a place called the Winter Kingdoms, a land of magic, dragons, and fairies,” Vasi explained. “We have our own System there, slightly different from this world’s. I suppose that’s why I could cross over.”

Cross over. Megabug had used the same wording. Basil studied the witch’s face for any hint of lying but didn’t find any. “Another world?” he asked. “How?”

“How did I get into this one?” Vasi shrugged. “I don’t fully understand it myself. Sometimes humans from other worlds reincarnate in ours, but they had to die first. I remember seeing a screen offering me to participate in an ‘incursion’ into another world.

“And you just accepted?” Basil asked in shock.

“Yes I did, and next thing I know I had been teleported to this marsh.” The casual way she answered Basil’s question left him feeling incredulous. “I felt stuck in a routine. Wake up in the morning, have a drink, decide against going outside because it snows too much… I wanted to shake things up a bit, to study new magical traditions. It wasn’t like I had anyone to tie me down in my old place either. Do you see what I mean?”

“I do, a bit.” Basil abandoned civilization to live in the woods. Abandoning Earth sounded like too big of a jump though. “I left my homeland to study too.”

“Good, traveling builds character. We should exchange stories someday.”

“Maybe another time,” Basil replied, though he would take her up on it. He found the witch’s friendliness disarming.

Her odd behavior made more sense now. After encountering Megabug and the Unity, Basil had considered the possibility that some monsters came from other worlds. Vasi only confirmed his hypothesis. It made sense she didn’t possess the urge to kill humans on sight if she had been born naturally rather than spawned from a dungeon.

However, her confession raised disturbing possibilities about these ‘incursions.’ The Ogre’s Den dungeon warned that its destruction wouldn’t prevent the phenomenon and that more information would be shared in the next ‘event.’ It meant more monsters would invade Earth in the near future and that some would be like Megabug: deadly.

“We came for business.” Shellgirl summoned an item stored in her inventory on the table: the lightning runestone harvested from the gearsman. “What do ya think of this? That’s the pretty stone we harvested from the big machine I told you about!”

Vasi’s eyes flashed with greedy curiosity. Her nails fell upon the stone like an eagle’s talons on prey and seized it. “Hey!” Shellgirl complained, but the witch didn’t listen. “Careful, it’s precious!”

Vasi’s behavior changed from that of a friendly student to a scientist muttering observations to herself. “It resembles a lightning powerstone, but not quite… synthetic? Shades of fire and ice too… very interesting.”

“Powerstone?” Basil asked, hope rising in his heart. Were they finally making progress on the petrification problem?

“A mineral formed from the fossilized remains of very powerful magical creatures, mostly ancient fairies and dragons. It doesn’t surprise me to find one powering a big machine.” Vasi nodded at Shellgirl. “It would fetch a good price in my world.”

“I knew it,” the mimic rejoiced. “Partner, are there dragon graves around to exploit?”

“If komodo dragons count, then we have one on the other side of the world,” Basil quipped.

“Ever heard of the Unity, Vasi? The Apocalypse Force? Metal Olympus?”

“Mmm…” Vasi pressed a finger on her lips, her eyes thoughtful. “Doesn’t ring much of a bell. They must come from elsewhere.”

“Other worlds?” Plato asked. “How many are there?”

Vasi shrugged her shoulders. Basil opened his bag and spilled out its content on the table: the remains of a watcher.

“These creatures turn people to stone on sight,” he explained as the witch examined the scraps. “I tried to reverse-engineer their method but a safety feature blocked me.”

“Crafting Encryption.” Vasi nodded to herself. “I can’t break it either. Their creator must have a very high level.”

“So you can craft monsters?” Basil probed for information. He already suspected it, but wanted confirmation from an outside source.

“Crafters can make golems, homunculi, robots, wicker men… or at least they could do it in my world.” Vasi pushed the watcher's remains with an apologetic expression. “Sorry, I can't make use of them.”

“You can’t cure petrification?”

“I didn’t say that.” Vasi toyed with her alcohol bottle. “I know a recipe that can cure petrification. The issue is manufacturing it. How many potions would you need?”

“Considering Dax’s population…” Basil winced. “At least ten thousand.”

The witch laughed in his face. Basil sighed, having expected as much.

“Yo dog, don’t make that face.” Plato patted his owner on the shoulder with his paw. “I know, we give the recipe to the army and they can deal with it.”

“We could,” Basil agreed without enthusiasm. Officer Elissalde made it clear saving Dax’s population wasn’t a priority as far as the army’s strategy was concerned. They had bigger fish to fry.

“Or you could kill two birds with one stone,” Vasi said. “Shellgirl told me you were looking to summon an angel.”

“We are.” Basil frowned. “You can cast Prayers?”

“Of course not,” she replied with a short laugh. “I’m a witch, a demon, and an unbeliever. I don’t pray to anyone… but I can run a Ritual. They’re spells that demand very specific circumstances to cast, but form the strongest school of magic. I happened to learn a thing or two about summonings.”

“Do we need to sacrifice a virgin?” Basil asked with a snort. “Because if so, you’re a few years late to use me.”

“Nothing so quaint, but good to know,” the witch mused. “How about this? I keep the powerstone for my personal research and in exchange, I help you summon an angel. They’re annoying, but nobody can contest their healing powers. Sounds good?”

“Deal,” Basil replied immediately.

After a short silence, Plato squinted at Shellgirl suspiciously. “Why aren’t you protesting?“

“About the shiny? I call it sound investing.” Shellgirl put her hands behind her hair. “Think about it. If we figure out a cure for petrification, families will pay us an exorbitant price to heal their stoned kin! More than we could ever hope to gain from the stone alone.”

She never lost an occasion to milk an opportunity for all it was worth.

“Oh, how good it is to collaborate with intelligent people,” Vasi said. “I’d be down to trade potions and spellbooks too. I can make my own items, but I lack the material needed to say… experiment.”

“You can come visit my lab anytime,” Basil proposed. “We’ll trade recipes.”

“With pleasure.”

His offer confused Shellgirl. “Didn’t you want to keep our HQ hidden, partner?”

“She showed us her home,” Basil shrugged. “If she causes us trouble, we know where she lives now.”

“Mutually assured home destruction?” Vasi noted with some amusement. Basil felt like she didn’t truly believe that he would follow through with his threat. “For the Ritual, I will need a sacred place to cast the spell and a powerful object related to angels. Do you have anything like this in your repertoire, handsome?”

“Would this relic work as a focus?” Basil summoned the Reliquary of Saint Bernadette from his Inventory.

“Ohoh, an artifact!” Vasi immediately grabbed the Reliquary with the same delicateness she showed with the runestone. “Wonderful! With it, I can summon a big shot! Should be fun!”

“As for the place, I know an old church up the stream,” Basil suggested. He had fond memories of the place. “It’s been long abandoned, but it was consecrated and everything.”

“Good idea.” Plato’s head perked up with interest. “It’s been a while since we visited his tombstone.”

Far too long in Basil’s opinion. The constant attacks on his household had distracted him from his monthly visitations. He already knew which flowers to bring.

Shellgirl winced. “The church up the stream… you mean that crumbling wooden shack with the engraved stones in its backyard?”

“Yes.” Basil frowned. He didn’t like her tone. “Shellgirl, why the sorry face?”

“Remember what I said about aquatic monsters showing up more often?” she asked. “Well, some mermaid necromancer from Lourdes took refuge in it. I tried to trade with her but she cast spells at me and—”

Basil sent Shellgirl a furious glare and she didn’t dare finish her sentence. Plato tensed up, his body utterly still.

“Necromancer?” Basil asked, his voice icy. “You mean someone who raises the dead as zombies?”

“Skeletons, mummies, undead, etc,” Vasi clarified. “A good necromancer can do many things.”

Basil felt his blood boil within his veins and his head hurt from silent rage. His beet-carrot juice bottle shattered from his grip. Shards cut into his flesh and Vasi gave him a frown of disapproval. He didn’t care. He was too furious to feel pain or shame.

“Plato, Shellgirl, pack your things.” Basil rose from the table. His jaw tightened so much that he thought that his teeth might break from the pressure. “We’re cleaning the church ourselves.”

“What, right now?” Shellgirl asked in shock.

“Right now!” Plato’s claws came out. “If a fish dared desecrate his corpse—”

“She won’t live to regret it,” Basil promised.

“Hey, calm down, what’s happening?” Vasi rose from her seat. “Is a friend of yours buried at that church?”


The Old Man himself.

A note from Maxime J. Durand (Void Herald)

One of my goals of Apocalypse Tamer is to clarify how my various LitRPG works (like Vainqueur, Never Die Twice and Kairos) fit in a wider multiverse. Reading any of these works isn't necessary to enjoy Tamer, but old fans will recognize a few references ;)

Otherwise, my good friend MelasD has released a new story, Thera! I had the honor of beta-reading the first chapter so I can attest it's a good friendly turtle adventure (with no intense struggle for survival in a chaotic world). Don't hesitate to check it out if you're interested in non-human characters.

Other links you might be interested in:

My Patreon (10 to 20 advance chapters of Apocalypse Tamer)

My Amazon if you wanna check my other books

My Vainqueur the Dragon Webtoon on Tapas

My Discord Server

Thanks to my patrons on Patreon:

Support "Apocalypse Tamer"

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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