The fight ended in a tie.
“Was this spat really necessary?” Officer Elissalde asked Basil and the Major with a frown of disapproval. “That was stupid and barbaric.”
“Backing down would have shamed my ancestors,” Basil replied with patriotic pride. He walked away from the fistfight with sore pains in his chest, a broken rib, and a black eye. Nothing Rosemarine’s pollen couldn’t heal. “My honor required it.”
“Your honor, or your idiocy?” Officer Elissalde took out a pack of cigarettes and lit one. “Madness. It was madness.”
“It’s okay Boss, you won the battle!” Bugsy reassured Basil, having encouraged him with Rosemarine all the way; Plato had spent the fight licking his own ass instead. “He’s twice your age and you still beat him into the ground!”
Rosemarine nodded in approval. “You will eat him next time, Mister.”
“He won’t,” Maya Elissalde replied. The houndmaster and her dogs had acted as the Major’s cheerleading squad during the duel. “The chief went easy on him.”
“So did the Boss!” Bugsy defended Basil’s honor. “He didn’t even use the Carmehameha secret technique!”
Officer Elissalde raised an eyebrow at the centimagma’s boast, but didn’t comment.
“What are you eastern Europeans made of, stone?” the Major asked as Zachariel healed his broken nose with a mere touch of his finger. The French soldier looked vaguely Iberian without his helmet. Basil pegged him as thirty-five years old or so, with short black hair and dark eyes. “You hit hard for an immigrant.”
“You didn’t do too bad either, for a frog-eater,” Basil replied. The Major was better in hand-to-hand combat techniques due to his training, but Basil surpassed him in speed and strength. Both accepted the tie with gracefulness.
Nothing better to build mutual respect than a nighttime brawl.
The Major let out a long, heavy sigh. “It’s the Yankees' fault, you know?”
“What?” Basil asked.
“The meme! The cheese-eating surrender monkeys meme! The Yankees used it because we wouldn’t follow them in Iraq, and that shit took root! Centuries of victories and sacrifices forgotten with one half-assed propaganda campaign!” The Major grunted. “I know the second world war wasn’t our finest hour, but we won the first, damn it! I’m sure we’ll win the tiebreaker!”
“I would prefer that we win this war first,” Basil replied.
“Me too.” Maya Elissalde petted her two dogs behind the ears. “We’re leaving people behind.”
Basil glanced at her eyepatch. It didn’t take a genius to guess what happened. “Did a watchman…”
“Shrapnel,” she replied with a wince. The event still seemed fresh in her mind. “From a gearsman.”
Officer Elissalde gave her sister a crestfallen look, and Basil turned to Zachariel. “Can you heal her eye?” he asked the angel.
“I can cure blindness of an eye, but not regenerate one,” Zachariel replied with a saddened voice. “I can file a demand to the miracle department, but I must warn you that they barely approve three or so per century.”
“I see,” Maya Elissalde replied. She didn’t look surprised, only disappointed. Her doberman and Basque Shepherd licked her hands in an attempt to cheer her up.
“Let me try!” Rosemarine showered Maya Elissalde with pollen. It only made her sneeze. “One day, I will grow a flower in your eye!”
“Keep faith,” Zachariel told Maya with optimism. “More healing options will come up as I regain my lost levels and earn new ones. A fellow human with the correct class might also help you regenerate your eye.”
Officer Elissalde raised an eyebrow. “Classes can do that?”
“Of course. The most powerful Prayer spells can split the sea in two, regrow arms, and even bring back the deceased.” Basil’s head perked up in interest as the angel continued his explanation. “If this world’s System is similar to mine, then it can do almost anything under the right circumstances.”
Zachariel’s last comments earned him confused glances, Basil’s included. Raise the dead? He had seen the System’s magic create a dungeon out of nowhere and raise corpses as monsters, but to raise the dead resurrection-style… could a powerful Priest say the right prayer at René tombstone and return him to life? Their prayers had become spells after all…
Stop dreaming, Basil scolded himself. You would have to be very high-level to achieve a miracle of that magnitude, or fulfill some godly quest.
Still, if the System could indeed raise the dead, what other wonders and terrors could it unleash on Earth?
“Maybe we’ll find a healer in Bordeaux, young mistress,” said the doberman. “Yes, someone who can make you a new eye!”
“I don’t want to retreat from this place.” The Major sounded so frustrated that Basil took him at his word. “Not before the job’s done. But the general won’t take no for an answer. I already had to beg to organize Neria’s pickup. A VAB can hold up to ten soldiers, yet we came with half as many, dogs included. That’s not the troops you send on key missions.”
“The higher-ups didn’t believe in a cure for the watchers’ stone curse,” Maya Elissalde said. “Everyone else left.”
“Everyone left?” Basil put the two and two together. “The rest of the army evacuated to Bordeaux already?”
“Yes,” the Major confirmed. “We’re the last troops in Dax.”
Basil clenched his fists. There went his hopes of convincing the army to clear the region for his peace of mind. “What about the petrified citizens?”
“We put the statues we could carry in trucks and brought them with us to Bordeaux,” the Major replied with a heavy heart. “The rest, we left behind.”
“Do your superiors know the robots are building a dungeon?” Basil asked. “If you don’t take them out now, they’ll fortify the city and you’ll never take it back.”
“Our parting shot delayed the server’s construction, but won’t stop it,” Officer Elissalde added. “We’re leaving thousands behind at the machines’ mercy.”
“I know, Officer,” the Major replied sadly. “But what can we do? Desert the army to stand our ground? If we unpetrify civilians, it will make evacuation difficult and our supply situation even worse.”
“We don’t have to unpetrify them,” Officer Elissalde argued. “Not immediately at least. We can continue transporting petrified victims to Bordeaux and heal them there.”
“And who will keep the machines busy while we organize these convoys, Officer? You heard General Leblanc: everyone must regroup in Bordeaux.”
“I’ll fight,” Basil said, catching everyone’s attention. He would rather have stayed under the radar, but with the Unity building a dungeon on his doorstep that was no longer an option. He would never have peace so long as the robots remained active in his backyard. “I was already considering guerrilla actions against them. Hit and run.”
“Partisan warfare?” The Major chuckled. “You would fight for France?”
Basil glanced at his monsters. “I’ll fight to protect my home and friends. No more.”
“I’m with you, Boss,” Bugsy said. “We beat a gearsman, we can do it again.”
“I told you, Basil.” Plato shrugged. “This is our territory. The gizmos will get the memo one death at a time.”
The Major listened in silence, before asking Officer Elissalde for a cigarette. “You know the army ordered a general mobilization?” he asked. “Every able-bodied French citizen can get drafted into the army.”
“I’m not French,” Basil replied gruffly, “and I’m not leaving my house.”
“I’ve got a better proposal in mind.” The Major lit his cigarette. “You are now an official auxiliary of the French armed forces, Mr. Bohen. Your mission, if you accept it, will be to protect your home, disrupt enemy actions behind the front lines, and bleed the machines for every inch of ground.”
Basil snorted. “So keep doing what I’ve been doing?”
“Yes, but with the army’s blessing.” The Major glanced at Maya Elissalde. “Give him a radio.”
“You’re sure, chief?” the houndmaster asked with a frown of skepticism. “We don’t have many of them.”
“If this Bulgarian immigrant wants to prove his manhood, then we’ll let him.”
A few minutes later, Basil became the proud owner of a military radio. The device resembled a cube of steel with a keypad, a wired phone, and a small screen. A little French flag was painted on the side.
“That way you’ll receive intel from us, maybe even weapon shipment drops if we can arrange it,” the Major explained. “Don’t lose it. That piece of tech costs more than you earn in a year.”
“Welcome to the maquis, Basil,” Officer Elissalde said with a small smile.
“Don’t expect me to leave the countryside for Bordeaux,” Basil replied with a smirk of his own. “But thank you for your trust.”
“You better earn it,” the Major replied before shrugging his shoulders. “We’ll leave after I finish my cigarette and see if we can arrange statue pick-ups later. Your angel is coming with us.”
“If Zach wants to.”
The angel raised a thumbs up. “I am always up for missionary work, Sir.”
Although the meeting didn’t go as well as Basil wanted, he felt a little bit of satisfaction at having made a difference. Zachariel would heal people who needed it.
Basil prepared to say goodbye to the Major’s unit and drive his pets home, when Plato leaped to his feet without warning. The cat looked up at the skies, his tail tense as a bowstring.
“What?” his owner asked.
“Do you feel that?” Plato’s whiskers wavered. “In the air?”
“We do,” the dogs present replied, their ears raised. “Everywhere.”
Bugsy raised his antennae. “Boss, I sense vibrations.”
“I sense them too, Mister,” Rosemarine said, her roots digging into the soil. “Everywhere.”
By the time Basil grabbed his halberd in alarm, Officer Elissalde and her teammates had brought out handguns. But no gearsman came crawling out of the woodworks to attack them.
Instead, Basil picked up the tension in the air; a vague feeling of a faint electrical current coursing over his skin. An invisible force blew over his face like a soft, feeble wind before continuing its course across the forest. Birds, bats, and bugs flew out of the trees’ branches by the road to flee; never a good sign.
And then the night sky caught fire.
The stars appeared to go supernova all at once. They flared with a bright red glow, tainting the heavens with a bloody, crimson hue. Golden lines spread to connect them like a great spider’s web or a computer’s circuitry. The first nodes spread from Dax in all directions, bringing the entire night sky into the network.
Plato’s eyes widened in alarm. “It’s coming from the city!”
“Elissalde!” The Major snarled, the dogs echoing his anger with panicked howls and barks. “Didn’t you destroy the server?”
“We did!” Officer Elissalde insisted. “We bombarded the arena! They shouldn’t have been able to complete it so quickly!”
“It’s not the server,” Basil replied grimly. The Barthes’ dungeon produced green auroras, not a circuit between the stars.
An ominous screen message appeared before his eyes and confirmed his worst fears.
Congratulations, Players of Earth! Thanks to your hard work, you have unlocked an [Incursion] event!
[Incursions] are worldwide phenomena where Earth temporarily connects to Trimurti System-compatible universes. Rifts will transport Players, monsters, dungeons, treasures, and even landmasses from other worlds!
[Incursions] are time-limited and centered around rifts; you can check the closest location with your [Logs] option. Additionally, experience gains will be boosted within the rift’s vicinity.
To foster healthy competition, a barrier will prevent Players and monsters too powerful for locals to defeat from crossing over. The greater the average level of Earth’s population grows, the weaker the barrier will become and [Incursions] will become more challenging.
Thanks to your hard work, the [Level Barrier] has now been raised to 25! Players, monsters, and dungeons up to level 25 will be able to cross over! Some existing dungeons will also increase in difficulty!
The [Incursion] will begin in 60 minutes and last for 5 hours. Don’t miss it! Only one of you can become the new [Overgod]!
Basil said the only thing appropriate in these circumstances.
Dismaker Labs wishes you a happy apocalypse!
“The hell?” The Major dropped his cigarette, his fingers trembling. “Level 25?”
One of the VAB’s front doors opened. The driver, a mousy woman with short black hair and glasses, stepped out of the vehicle. “Major, I received an urgent communication from HQ! It’s happening in Bordeaux too!”
Basil hastily opened his Logs option. It showed a map of the region, Dax included. A black, swirling whirlpool symbol covered the city’s arena.
Rift Destination: Electon Cluster.
Ruling Faction: Unity.
Max Spawn Level: 20.
Bonus: Experience gains are increased by 50% within one kilometer of the rift.
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.
“Level 20.” It was even worse than Basil expected. “That’s too much!”
The behavior of the Apocalypse Force and Unity made sense now. The former purged the low-leveled ones to raise the worldwide average level as fast as possible to trigger Incursions, and the latter petrified everyone its watchers could find to artificially keep the number down.
“Shit, shit, shit…” The Major clenched his fists. “Shit!”
“The rift is located in Dax’s arena,” Officer Elissalde said with a heavy face. “Did they know it would appear there?”
“Probably,” Basil replied. “It can’t be a coincidence that they tried to build a dungeon in the same location.”
“Boss, uh…” Bugsy cleared his throat. “Didn’t the server in the station say that you would have to stay inside to defend it?”
“Yes, you need a Boss to protect a dungeon.” Basil frowned at the centimagma. “What are you getting at?”
“Well, uh… maybe I’m wrong, but the robots built a dungeon without any strong creature to defend it. I mean, gearsmen are tough but we managed to defeat one anyway.”
Officer Elissalde caught on first. “You think a Boss is going to cross the rift.”
It made a worrying amount of sense to Basil. He had suspected the gearsman were awaiting reinforcements before kicking the army out of the city. These additional forces would arrive tonight, albeit without a dungeon homebase.
But what could Basil do? His party had punched above its weightclass before, but interfering with the rift would mean fighting high-level creatures in hostile territory. It would be a suicide mission with nothing to gain.
“Everyone, we’re returning home,” Basil told his teammates. “We’ll weather the storm and wait for it to calm down.”
“You can’t.” Maya Elissalde bit her lower lip. “You can’t.”
“And why not?”
Officer Elissalde’s face lost all colors. “You gain extra experience within the rift’s perimeter,” she whispered. “The robots will have free target practice.”
A shiver traveled down Basil’s spine. The Unity petrified low-level humans to keep the barrier strong enough to prevent Incursions. Now that they had failed, their petrified victims were of little use.
“We can’t be sure,” Basil said. “The Unity could keep its victims in storage to prevent the Level Limit from rising even further.”
“Can you guarantee it?” Officer Elissalde asked.
Basil’s jaw clenched. No, he couldn’t guarantee it. Not unless he moved to Dax to personally make sure that the Unity wouldn’t open fire on its prisoners.
“From what I read, the Incursion connects to a cluster,” Officer Elissalde added. “If by that the System means a star cluster, then more than Unity machines might cross over. We don’t know what kind of creatures will come through the rift and how violent they might be.”
Her sister nodded grimly and glanced at her superior. “Chief? What do we do?”
“Fuck me,” the older soldier replied as he climbed up on the VAB and moved behind his machine gun. “Can’t just stand by. Everyone buckle up, we’re checking for ourselves.”
“Are we going too, Mister?” Rosemarine asked Basil. Plato, Bugsy, and Zachariel looked at him expectedly. None of them showed much enthusiasm, but Basil could tell that they would follow him into the city if he asked.
He felt no emotional attachment to the people of Dax. His closest interaction with one had been bringing Plato to the veterinarian. He owed the locals nothing.
But Basil couldn’t close his eyes and hide as alien monsters threatened to slaughter them. Not when he could make a difference. It would be an act of untold cowardice.
“Yes.” Although it killed Basil a little to say so. “We’ll pick up Shellgirl and join in.”
“Thank you,” Officer Elissalde bowed slightly. “Your help will be precious.”
“Let’s hope you can hit the bastards as hard as my pretty face,” the Major declared before putting his helmet on. “We’ll strike from two fronts to try to save as many civilians as we can and coordinate through the radio.”
Officer Elissalde, her sister, and the hounds climbed into the VAB’s hold. A minute later, they were driving away towards the city.
“Are you certain, Basil?” Plato asked his owner. “Nobody will know. Nobody will care.”
“I will,” Basil replied with a sigh. And even if they ran, the robots would come for them eventually all the same. “Let’s go.”
They would either kick the Unity out of the region for good or die trying.