It took until nightfall for Vasi to complete her preparations.
In stark contrast with the ease at which she blasted an undead’s face into oblivion, the witch took her time to draw a complex circle on the church’s grounds. She traced symbols on the dirt with her broomstick’s shaft as Basil watched, humming a song to herself.
Meanwhile, Plato trained with his new sword near the river and Shellgirl sorted through the various trophies gathered from the team’s latest victims.
“Two gold teeth, a pair of rusted iron gauntlets, and best of all…” Shellgirl showcased a bloated blue organ wriggling in her hand. “An undying liver!”
“You found an undying liver?” Vasi looked over her shoulder and grinned when she noticed the nauseous treasure. “That’s marvelous! Can I take it?”
“What use could you have for an undead’s liver?” Basil asked with slight disgust. Imagining his organs living on after his demise soured his stomach.
The witch’s eyes flared with horror as if he had blasphemed in her presence. “Are you kidding? You can use undying livers to craft highly efficient detox potions! It wipes away drunkenness and hangovers in an instant!”
“We would make a killing selling this to the orc tribe down the stream!” Shellgirl snapped her fingers, an idea crossing her mind. “We could make a package with beer and wine!”
“Whatever,” Basil replied, leaving the two ladies to decide what to do about the organ. Shellgirl swiftly negotiated the liver against a percentage of the detox potion Vasi would create with it.
Basil had a more important matter to deal with: assigning his new levels. He could finally invest in Gardener, Runesmith, or Fisherman. He would take a level in Gardener as it was a priority to help increase the food supply, but he hesitated between his two other options. On one hand, Fisherman would help him deal with the aquatic monsters moving into the river; he doubted the mermaid would be the only threat to come from Lourdes. On the other hand, Runesmith might give him an edge against the Unity’s gearsmen. It would also be his first spellcasting class.
“Vasi.” Basil turned to the witch, who was about to complete a hexagram design within her circle. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure,” she replied.
“You said I should consider becoming a spellcaster because I had strong and rare affinities. Can you elaborate on your reasoning?”
“I stand by what I said. It’s rare to have someone with strong affinities in the full Wood, Metal, and Corrosion triad, let alone Fire and Water. Usually, a strong affinity in one of these elements is balanced by a weakness in their counterparts. Few humans also possess a strong Ailment affinity.” Vasi finished tracing the circle in the grass. “I suppose it’s counterbalanced by your weaknesses in key elements like Soul, Wind, Lightning, and Light. This closes nearly a fourth of the magical repertoire to you.”
Basil frowned. “What do you mean?”
“You can’t learn special Techniques or Spells from an element in which you have a weak affinity. To give you an example, the Ritual I’m about to cast depends on Soul and Mythic elemental affinities. I’m strong with Soul and neutral with Mythic, so I can learn and cast the spell. If I had a weak affinity in either, I would have failed to even learn it.”
“But you don't need a strong affinity in both elements,” Basil noted.
“No, although a strong affinity in Mythic would have made it easier for me to learn the spell and empowered it further.” Vasi smiled at him. “Did you listen to my advice and consider a spellcasting class change?”
“Somewhat,” Basil replied. “I’ve considered investing a level in Runesmith.”
“Good, I own a spellbook about runes. I could lend it to you as payback for letting me use your lab.” Vasi set Saint Bernadette’s Reliquary in the hexagram’s center. “Runes aren’t as flashy as other schools of magic, but they’re practical and can be used for many things. Reinforcing your equipment, fueling magical items, traps…”
She had him at ‘practical.’ Basil assigned his two new levels.
Runesmith & Gardener Level 1 Stat Gains: +1 STR, +2 AGI, +2 VIT, +2 MAG, +1 INT, +2 CHA, +1 LCK. You gained 50 HP and 30 SP.
New Perk: Runic I (Passive): You can now learn and cast [Runic] Spells up to Tier I. If you gain the ability to cast [Runic] Spells from other classes or Perks, the Tiers stack together.
New Perk: Jardin Secret I (Active): You can determine an area equal to 1 hectare per Gardener level as your [Jardin Secret]. Seeds planted in the area will have their growth period divided by your gardener level multiplied by 2; [Plant] Monsters grown from these seeds will be naturally friendly to you and can be immediately added to your Party. You can change your [Jardin Secret]’s location once per week, but if you do, the previous area loses all of its [Gardener]-related benefits.
Monsters grown from these seeds will be naturally friendly to you and can be immediately added to your Party…
“Partner, why are you looking like you want to kill someone?” Shellgirl asked him.
“Because I am a stupid, stupid man!” Basil replied angrily. If he had taken Gardener early he wouldn’t have had to purge most of his vegetables! At least the Jardin Secret Perk would make harvesting food much easier.
To Basil’s surprise, a new screen appeared before his eyes.
Congratulations, you’ve completed the hidden requirements to unlock the secret [Technomancer] Spellcaster/Crafter hybrid class!
Technomancer: A class harnessing the power of runes and science to create magical technology. STR (C), AGI (C), VIT (C), SKI (B), MAG (B), INT (B), CHA (C), LCK (C).
“Hybrid class?” Basil asked. “What’s that?”
Hybrid classes are special classes that count as two categories at once. For example, [Technomancer] levels count both as Crafter and Spellcaster levels; its Perks offer benefits for crafting items and casting spells. Hybrid classes need special requirements to unlock and have a lower level cap than normal classes.
[Technomancer] class requirements: strong [Metal] affinity; level 10+; Magic 15+; can cast [Runic] spells; can craft science items without a recipe; completed a laboratory-building quest.
Basil wondered how many people would fit these requirements. What struck him the most, however, was the possibility of unlocking new classes other than the ones available from the start.
“Basil, check this out!” Plato called out to his owner and raised his rapier. “Wind Slash!”
Basil watched with amazement as air swirled around the tip of Plato’s sword. The cat swung his weapon and unleashed a sharp blade of wind across the stream. It cut neatly through the water’s surface, carved a line on the other shore’s dirt, and sliced a tree in half.
“Nice!” Shellgirl clapped, as did Vasi.
“Thank you, thank you.” Plato offered a mock bow. “I deserve it.”
“Now you can help me chop wood,” Basil quipped. His cat hissed at him in response.
“Something is missing though,” Vasi said with a chuckle. She took her witch hat out, moved closer to Plato, and put it on his head. It was a bit too large for the cat at first, but quickly shrunk to adjust to his size. Basil had to admit it looked good on his pet. “Here you go! You look dashing!”
“You’re wrong.” Plato checked his reflection in the stream and brandished his sword at the moon. He had become a true puss-in-boots. “I look perfect!”
“You’re sure about the hat?” Basil asked Vasi.
“Keep it, I have plenty more at home.” She winked at him. “Though I wouldn’t mind a few potions in compensation.”
“You’ll have them,” Basil replied with gratefulness. He didn’t know how much of the witch’s generosity was natural or a calculated move to earn favors, but it wouldn’t go to waste. “Are we ready to begin?”
“Yes, although I must warn you that the Ritual does not give me any control over what I’m about to summon.” Vasi joined her hands. “I would keep your halberd ready if I were you, in case I call someone in a cranky mood.”
Basil summoned his weapon to his hand and turned to his other allies. “Shellgirl, Plato, you heard the lady.”
“Our foes shall suffer the agony of a thousand deaths by my sword!” Plato declared with the tone of a dramatic actor. “Give me a glove to duel with! Woe to the first dog to cross my path!”
With such a talented star, Basil thought they should start a theater troupe.
Vasi’s hands burned with sparks of magic. She touched the circle’s edge with her soft fingers, the energy within them traveling through the symbol and the hexagram within it. The design shone brightly under the faint light of the night sky's moon. The otherworldly energies coursing through the symbols burst into a purple geyser of particles and the Reliquary of Saint Bernadette vanished in their light.
“Here it comes,” Vasi whispered.
A humanoid shape formed at the center of the particle geyser. Shellgirl pointed her cannons at the figure and Basil prepared to strike at the first sign of hostility. He had been taught all his life that angels were a force of good, but the world went mad a long time ago…
The otherworldly lights died to reveal a strange creature. It was a humanoid no taller than Basil himself, with elegant feathered white wings growing out of its shoulders. The rest of the body didn’t look like any angel from the scriptures. It wore a yellow coat with a cowl, green boots, latex gloves, and a black rounded hat. A white plague doctor’s mask hid the angel’s face and a bandolier full of potions was strapped on its chest. The outfit didn’t leave a single spot of skin exposed to the outside world.
Basil expected more holy light from an angel. This one appeared humble, almost mundane; it didn’t even possess a halo.
Zachariel, Junior Angel of Healing
Level 13(-7) [Angel]
Basil couldn’t identify the name and he didn’t know what to make of the ‘junior’ part.
“Hello!” The angel waved a friendly hand at Basil. His voice was nasal, masculine. “My name is Zachariel, but please, call me Zach! Did you summon me for a consultation? Do you fear for your spiritual health?”
“I…” Basil didn’t know how to respond to that. He hadn’t prayed for a long time and the presence of an angel right in front of him begged many, many theological questions. “I don’t think so—”
“Did you take a baptism booster?” the angel asked before he could finish.
A baptism booster? “I’ve been baptized at birth, if that’s what you meant.”
“Good, good.” The angel nodded. “But you should take a second baptism shot, to be sure. You seem in good spiritual health for now, but even the most faithful can propagate coronatheism to their sicker brethren.”
“You mean the coronavirus?” Basil asked with a frown.
“No, the coronatheism,” the angel replied. “It’s a rampant affliction that ravages the victim’s spiritual health. We haven’t found a vaccine yet and the faithful haven’t yet developed collective immunity.”
Basil stared at the angel in utter confusion. The gospels hadn’t prepared him for… whatever this was.
Shellgirl scratched her head. “He’s a bit strange, no?”
“He’s half-bird,” Plato snorted and pointed at the angel’s wings. “That’s never a good sign.”
Their words brought Zachariel’s full attention upon them. He examined them one after the other, lights shining through the glass eyes of his mask.
“I see your cat suffered from agnostic cancer, but it is safely in remission,” the angel informed Basil. “I advise a steady diet of holy water in the morning, noon, and evening. Your mimic is late for a baptism shot, but we can arrange that right now.”
“Wait, did you say cancer?” Plato’s eyes widened in horror. “I have cancer?”
“In remission,” the angel replied. “For the witch, I’m less optimistic. She has accumulated a lot of negative karma cholesterol.”
“Here we go,” Vasi said with a sigh. “If you try to sell me a karma insurance package, I’m leaving.”
“That’s not my department,” Zachariel replied calmly. “What I can do is to register you to our new convent shock therapy. The karma recovery rate reached seventy percent last year.”
“I don’t understand,” Basil said. None of this made sense. “Do you serve the Lord? Is this God’s plan? The Apocalypse, the Four Horsemen?”
“The apocalypse?” The angel appeared truly puzzled by Basil’s questions. “What do you mean? I thought the event had been canceled decades ago?”
The angel’s response plunged Basil into an abyss of existential dread. Things he had taken for gospel brought nothing but confusion from a heavenly messenger. This didn’t bode well.
“Wait, were we Christians…” Basil gulped. “Were we wrong? Were the Muslims correct? The Jews?”
Zachariel observed Basil without a word for a long minute before finally answering. “I’m sorry, but what are you talking about? What’s a Muslim?”
“It’s my fault, Basil,” Vasi apologized. “I messed up.”
“I don’t understand,” Basil said. He understood nothing! “How so?”
“He is an angel from heaven, alright.” Vasi smiled sheepishly. “But not your world’s heaven.”
Basil blinked a few times as he processed the witch’s words. His eyes turned to his allies, who shrugged their shoulders, and then to the angel.
“On which planet,” Basil asked, “do you think we are?”
“Outremonde?” Zachariel answered, immediately realizing he had guessed wrong. “No?”
“No, this is Earth,” Basil replied, his teeth grinding together in frustration. “Earth.”
“Which one?” the angel asked innocently.
At this moment, Basil realized that the universe hated him.
“Can we get another try?” he pleaded with Vasi.
“Not without something like the Reliquary, I’m afraid,” the witch replied. The artifact had vanished alongside the summoning circle. “My spell consumes the focus.”
They used the consecrated remains of a Catholic saint on a church’s grounds…
And they still messed up the summoning!
“The fact you’re from another world doesn’t absolve you from respecting the right spiritual health procedures,” Zachariel declared with the boundless enthusiasm of a medical intern. “You must pray three times a day, quarantine the unbelievers, and avoid sexual relationships unprotected by the bonds of marriage. It’s the best way to protect yourself from coronatheism.”
“Can we talk about my cancer, please?” Plato asked. He sounded very worried. “If I lose a life again, will it go away?”
Vasi chuckled lightly, as did Shellgirl. Basil couldn’t bring himself to share their amusement. Between the Reliquary falling on his lap and the angel-summoning quest, he’d thought God had some kind of mysterious plan to help him. He should have known better. The existence of more than one heaven also bothered him on a theological level.
Okay, maybe it’s not so bad. Basil tried to remain optimistic as Zachariel reassured Plato about his spiritual health. He’s an angel of healing. He’s got to be able to help somehow.
Basil did wonder about the strange negative value right next to the angel’s level.
Monsters exceeding the Incursion Level Limit will suffer a level penalty from the Trimurti System if prematurely summoned to Earth. Experience points will instead allow them to regain their lost levels, stats, and Perks rather than gaining new ones.
“Thirteen plus seven…” Basil counted. “His real level is twenty?”
“Oh, I hadn’t noticed.” Zachariel looked at his hands. “How odd. This is the first time I’ve heard of anything like this.”
Well, Basil was glad he wasn’t the only one asking himself questions. “System, what does ‘Incursion Level Limit’ mean?”
Information locked until the next Incursion event.
Of course. Basil had the nagging suspicion it had something to do with the Unity’s warning about levels needing to stay down.
“Anyway, Zachariel, Vasi summoned you at my behest,” Basil explained after regaining his composure. “We need help to cure people petrified by monsters. Can you help?”
“Of course,” the angel replied, much to Basil’s relief. “My blessed hands can heal any ailment of the body, petrification included. Where are the victims?”
Okay, maybe this summoning wasn’t a bust after all.
Quest: Bernie’s Hotline completed! Your party earned 9000 bonus experience (1800 for you). You earned a level!
The day had been profitable level wise. And if Zachariel was correct and could cure the petrified victims of the Unity, then it made retaking the city and scraping the bots possible. All Basil had to do was convince the army to help.
Somehow, he didn’t feel good about his odds.