The countdown to destruction had fallen under fifteen minutes, but the party came prepared.
Basil drove his Renault Kangoo across Dax’s streets. A trailer carried Bugsy at the back, alongside enough weapons to blow up a city block.
The number of chemical weapons Basil could make from household products with the System’s help frightened him. He managed to craft thermite with rust, aluminum, and leftover magnesium; napalm bombs from refined gasoline and polystyrene; white phosphorus from his rabbits and chickens’ manure; and even a chlorine bomb from bleach.
Basil had stockpiled these devices since the gearsman’s attack to defend his home, but he would rather avoid using them at all. His lack of training in explosives made using them a dangerous proposition.
“Why did we bring the fertilizer too?” Plato asked, sitting in the passenger seat right next to him. Shellgirl, Rosemarine, and Zachariel squeezed in the back of the car. “You want to fight tanks with plants?”
“In 2020, two massive explosions shook Beirut in Lebanon,” Basil explained. “Both were caused by fertilizer. Nearly three thousand tons of the stuff caused damage akin to an earthquake. I’m hoping my product’s quality will make up for the lack of quantity.”
Zachariel crossed his arms in disapproval. “Sir, I am all for smiting infidels, but you cannot enter Heaven by blowing yourself up.”
“I should have known we were closet terrorists.” Plato glanced at Rosemarine, who candidly waved a vine back at him. “The suicide clones were a dead giveaway.”
“It’s only terrorism if we don’t have the governments’ backing, Plato,” Basil replied with a smile. “Otherwise, it’s property damage.”
The System showed him a screen of support.
New Quest: Goodbye, Geneva!
Recommended Level: 20.
Objective: Build a weapon of mass destruction… and use it.
Reward: 30,000 Bonus EXP + Alchemy Recipe.
An adventurer’s best friends were the bombs he built along the way.
According to the System, thermite bypasses Fire Resistance and inflicts supereffective damage against Artificial creatures, Basil thought. The military radio awaited on his dashboard, silent, unmoving. It should prove useful against the gearsmen. As for the portal, maybe we can blow it up with luck.
Basil had yet to find a problem he couldn’t solve with the right application of force. He glanced through his windshield at the reddened night sky. The moon had vanished from sight. The golden circuit binding the stars together had taken complex shapes that reminded Basil of a glyph.
A bright spiral of cosmic light occupied the center of the celestial phenomenon high above Dax’s arena. Its shape was that of a vibrant galaxy of many glowing colors; the same Basil witnessed in the Ogre Den.
“Beautiful,” Rosemarine whispered.
I take back what I said, Basil thought grimly. The rift—he assumed that the spiral was the portal—floated far above the clouds. You would need an astronaut to fly that high.
No watcher stopped the Renault Kangoo’s progress. Instead the Unity drones gathered around the arena in a swarm of steel. Their numbers had decreased since Basil’s last visit in the city, but they still numbered in the hundreds.
“Basil?” Officer Elissalde called through the radio. “Basil, do you hear me?”
“Roger that, Officer,” Basil replied. It amused him a little to use military jargon for once. “We’re approaching the stadium. We have the rift in sight.”
“Do not engage. I repeat, do not engage until we say so. Stay at a safe distance and watch until we can ascertain the situation. We’re crossing the northern bridge soon.”
“Alright, we’ll wait for your signal.” Basil parked his car next to Dax’s stadium. Built to cater to all sports, the complex covered seven hectares and included a swimming pool, a soccer stadium, archery stands, rooms for martial arts and fencing, and so many other accommodations. Unattended vegetal growth had started to break through the pavement and the buildings’ foundations. In time, moss and weeds would cover everything.
The parking lot was empty for the most part, although the statues of petrified citizens remained frozen in time along the road. The sight reassured Basil a little. He had half-expected the watchers to gather prisoners in the arena for a mass exp farming. So far so good.
“No gearsman nearby, Partner,” Shellgirl said as she hopped out of the car, quickly followed by the rest of the party. Bugsy clawed out of the trailer and stretched his back. “This place is safe and sound.”
“It’s the calm before the storm,” Basil replied. The spiral sent crimson lightning coursing through the skies. Although dawn wouldn’t rise before many hours, the group could see as well as in sunlight. “We’ll equip accordingly. Bugsy!”
“Boss!” The centimagma searched through the trailer’s piles of explosives. “What do you need? Chlorine bombs? Firebombs?”
Basil reviewed his stocks. His white phosphorus was kept in a hermetical sphere of glass and the chlorine in an iron shell. His napalm bombs had taken a shape similar to grenades, and the thermite was stored in a metal container with a fuse to ignite it.
“Rosemarine, we’ll strap the white phosphorus to you so you can duplicate it,” Basil decided, quickly assigning the weapons to everyone. “Shellgirl, load your cannons with the napalm bombs. Zachariel—”
“Sir, I am not a sword of heaven!” Zachariel protested. “I skipped the witch-burning training!”
“Then you’ll take the chlorine bomb and drop it from above.” Basil doubted it would help against unbreathing gearsmen and watchers, but as Officer Elissalde pointed out, creatures more dangerous than robots could cross the rift once it opened. “Bugsy, since you’re immune to fire, you’ll take the thermite.”
“You got it, Boss!”
“What about the fertilizer?” Plato asked. “You’ll carry it on your back?”
Basil surveyed the parking lot, his eyes set on a Mercedes Benz in a corner. A second later, he shattered the window with a fist, ignored the alarm as he opened the door, and grabbed the cables under the driving wheel.
“We’ll stuff the trunk and backseat with the fertilizer and leftover explosives,” Basil decided. He hotwired the car and switched off the alarm with disappointing ease. So much for German products. “If push comes to shove, we’ll ram the car against a gearsman.”
Basil swore to raid the closest supermarket if he survived the Incursion. He wondered if he could craft a nuke from household products.
“Where did you learn to hotwire a car?” Plato asked with a suspicious frown.
“I’m Bulgarian,” Basil replied evasively. “I know these things.”
“Of course, of course.” The cat’s deadpan delivery put British comedians to shame. “Shouldn’t we stuff the Renault Kangoo and keep the Mercedes? It looks more luxurious.”
“Never.” The thought hadn’t even occurred to Basil. “It’s more than a Renault Kangoo. It’s my car. Mine.”
It took a few minutes to equip everyone and prepare the Mercedes, at which point the countdown fell under ten. With very little time left to kill and no orders to advance, Basil decided to get a crash course on magic. He took the spellbook Vasi lent him out of his Inventory, a heavy grimoire as dense as a church manuscript.
I would rather have studied magic calmly at home, but better now than never, Basil thought as he skipped through the pages. You’re never too prepared for a raid.
The grimoire included many spells, most of them too high-level for him to cast. He stopped at the description of a flame-like symbol in the beginner’s chapter.
Spell: Fire Rune.
Cost: 10 SP.
Empowers one of your weapons with the power of flames, inflicting an additional 20% [Fire] damage for 5 minutes. Perfect for barbecues. Multiple applications of [Fire Rune] do not stack and the weapon loses its properties if you no longer wield it.
Chance of learning this spell: 86%.
The spell had two more variants: Ice Rune, which inflicted Frost damage; and Lightning Rune, to shock troublemakers.
Basil immediately noticed a pretty big gap between the three runes available. His odds of learning the Ice variant were forty-three percent. As for the Lightning Rune, the number was a flat zero.
Vasi warned him of how much affinities influenced his options and Basil took these percentage gaps as confirmation of her words. His weak affinity in the Lightning element made it impossible for him to learn electricity-themed spells; a strong affinity in Fire compared to his neutral one with Frost doubled his odds of learning a spell.
Basil tried his luck and was rewarded with instant success.
You learned the [Fire Rune] spell!
Warning, your Spellbook can only hold one spell per 5 points in [Magic] that you possess (current spell spots available: 3). If you exceed that amount, you will have to forget an old spell and replace it with the new one. You can only exceed that limit with the right Classes and Perks.
Of course the designers would lock the best abilities behind spellcasting classes. As if RPG games didn’t show enough favoritism for wizards already!
Holding the spellbook in one hand and summoning his halberd in the other, Basil immediately tested his Technomancer refinement option. A flame symbol appeared on his blade and its edge steamed with a searing hot white glow. The shaft felt warm to the touch.
“Oh look, a fire stick!” Plato mocked his owner. “You’re a few centuries late for the stone age, Basil.”
“It’s never too late for arson,” Basil replied as he checked his weapon’s stats.
La Ravageuse, Swiss Halberd
Family: Weapon (Axe/Spear).
Power: +13 STR.
Effect 1: Ignores half of a target’s defensive stats during damage calculation.
Effect 2: Fire Rune: inflicts an additional 20% [Fire] damage.
The crispy version of Switzerland’s third most popular invention can cut down enemies and burn enemies of the Pope at the stake.
So Technomancer’s refining option didn’t improve quality or base stats, but it could add more effects to a weapon. Good, good. Basil tried to register a second spell and succeeded in spite of the taller odds.
You learned the [Ice Rune] Spell!
Basil cast it on his halberd, but snowflakes fizzled out at the end of his halberd’s blade and vanished just as quickly.
Multiple rune effects cannot stack without the necessary Perks.
“What a tease.” Basil glanced at Plato’s fencing sword. “What would you prefer? Fire or ice?”
“Since we’re surrounded with dangerous explosives, I’ll go with ice.”
In response, Basil touched the tip of Plato’s blade with a finger. He immediately noticed his chances of refining the sword with the Ice Rune were inferior to those of empowering his halberd with the fire variant. He took the bet and ice burst on the fencing sword’s tip in response.
“Neat,” Plato said. Snowflakes trailed after his blade when he swung it.
“Just to be clear, Partner, we won’t have to get any closer right?” Shellgirl asked with an uneasy face. The rift pulsated with brighter bursts of light. “I would love a city all for ourselves, but I’ve got a bad feeling about this light…”
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Zachariel added. “So much magic pours through the skies… it must be a true god’s work.”
“A god?” Basil frowned. “So there’s more than one out there?”
The angel nodded. “In my home, we count fourteen of them. But this miracle doesn’t look like their handiwork. It’s too… orderly.”
Basil checked his countdown and witnessed it fall below five. The very air seemed to become tainted with a shade of red.
“Officer Elissalde?” Basil stored his spellbook in his Inventory and called his allies through his Kangoo’s radio. “Officer?”
“We passed the bridge and took cover,” the policewoman replied. “No gearsman in sight. Seems like they retreated to the arena.”
“What about the petrified civilians?”
“They weren’t moved. Try to put away… all you can…” Interferences transformed the officer’s words into a gargle. “Safety… now…”
“Officer?” Basil tried to adjust the frequency, but it didn’t improve the sound quality. “Officer? Officer?”
The voice that came out of the radio was clear, deep, and utterly inhuman. It was the bellowing gargle of an alligator trying to mimic human speech, the threat of a muffled chainsaw revving. Basil’s allies gathered around the car in alarm, startled by the noise.
“Who are you?” Basil answered carefully, eyes turned to the distant rift. The creature hijacking the airwaves probably called him from the other side.
“I recognize your voice. Yes, yes, you are the one who destroyed one of my gearsman.” Apparently, the Unity’s machines came equipped with recording devices. “What’s your name, manling?”
“Basil Bohen,” Basil replied without fear. He wouldn’t cower before an anonymous voice.
“Yes, yes, your name matches the records in the Logs. You’re the one who destroyed the Ogre Den dungeon. You and your minions.”
“Minions?” Zachariel asked. He seemed to find the word alarming for some reason.
“H-How do you know that?” Bugsy asked, trying and failing to hide the fearfulness in his voice.
“The world’s Logs.” The voice on the other side let out a hiss. “The dungeon was ours, manling. I was meant to claim it after securing this city. Not only did you dash my hopes once, but you then helped other apes destroy its replacement. When I grace this world with my presence, I shall find no seat worthy of my rank. This crime against me shall not go unpunished.”
“So sorry,” Basil replied with heavy sarcasm. “And who are you, oh overmighty radio show host?”
“Steamslime, Rook-ranked commander of the Unity.” The voice brimmed with pride and arrogance. “You should run while you still can, ape. I am coming down, yes. I’m coming down from the stars to teach you your place.”
“As far as threats go, I’ve heard better,” Plato commented.
“Bring it,” Basil replied with a snort. “You’ll leave this world the same way your gearsmen did: scrapped.”
“We’ll eat you!” Rosemarine promised, proudly carrying an explosive belt strapped with white phosphorus.
“Your death is on your head,” the voice replied angrily. “If you had submitted to us and let us stabilize the barrier, the transition would have been painless. We would have honored your species with our guidance, our wisdom, and protection. In return, you would have paid your tribute in wealth and minions in quiet gratitude. Now we shall take our due by force, and we will teach you obedience with fire and fury.”
As Basil suspected, the Unity petrified people for its own purposes. He had considered the vague possibility that its leaders sought to protect people through extreme methods, but they were no defenders of mankind. They were conquerors trying to oust the competition.
“Why?” Basil asked as the countdown went down to three. That was the question that bothered him for so long. “Why? What’s the point of all of this?”
“Why? You dare ask why, foolish ape?” The voice chuckled. “Because we are scaled perfection. We do not die, we rule. We are born as the apex of creation. It is our destiny to unite the stars. This world will join Grandmaster Wyrde’s hoard of planets, like so many others before it. We will not allow you or the Maleking to become an Overgod. This divine right belongs to our glorious race alone.”
Oh good grief, this whole speech reeked of old-fashioned colonialism and casual racism. As if there wasn’t enough of it on Earth.
“Scaled perfection? Hoard of planets?” Zachariel’s hands trembled. “Could it be…”
“You think you’ll teach me my place?” Basil snorted, utterly unimpressed. “Here’s my answer, asshole: come down, and I’ll teach you respect. With an axe to the face.”
“My breath carries rot and decay. My gullet is an abyss from which none escapes.” Steamslime let out a growl. “I bring you death, ape.”
The voice fell silent and static filled the radiowaves.
“Was that wise?” Plato whined to Basil. “You challenged an angry alien to a fight to the death!”
“Didn’t you say we should teach the machines to respect our territory?” Basil replied with a shrug of his shoulders. “After we destroy their leader, the lesson will finally stick.”
“I can’t make money in a world where a foreign government takes all our gains,” Shellgirl said. “I’ll defend free enterprise, you’ll se—”
“Sir, we must run!” Zachariel interrupted her. The angel’s panicked reaction contrasted starkly with everyone else’s bravery. “Or fly away!”
“There’s no more time,” Basil replied angrily. “The countdown is almost over!”
“W-We need to try! I think I know what creature Steamslime is, and if I’m correct… if I’m correct…” The angel joined his hands in prayer. “Oh Dice, random number god, our rolling savior, please prove me wrong.”
God smiles on us, Basil thought as the countdown approached its final stage. For the gates of Hell will open now.
The countdown reached zero and the Incursion began with a scream.
The rift let out an eerie, droning noise that shook the ground and the skies. Basil and his allies winced in pain. Plato outright covered his ears with his paws. The screech lasted a few seconds and a flash of red light followed in its wake.
The golden circuit of stars glowed brighter. Energy coursed through it and poured down from the rift in the shape of a beam. The laser fell upon Dax’s arena with a cataclysmic impact, bringing down its walls and vaporizing the closest watchers. The swarm of machines danced around the ray like a whirlpool of steel. Basil watched on with amazement as the beam stabilized into a strange pillar of otherworldly, purple particles.
“Basil?” Officer Elissalde called through the radio. “Basil? Can you hear me?”
“Somebody hijacked the airwaves,” Basil replied. “They’re coming through the portal soon.”
Monsters emerged from the pillar by the dozens.
A strange lot filled the city’s skies: puffy clouds with a single blue eye; strange beings made of a steel core and wings of lightning; noxious, acidic fumes in the shape of humanoids; and even a bird of prey the size of Basil’s Kangoo, its blue feathers sparkling with electricity.
Level 7 [Elemental]
Level 10 [Elemental]
Level 13 [Elemental/Artificial]
Level 16 [Avian/Elemental]
None of them belonged to the Unity, but the watchers didn’t open fire on them either. The invaders spread in all directions without rhyme or reason.
Shellgirl pointed her cannons at the skies, ready to open fire on the monsters. She didn’t need to. The creatures coming out of the portal flew past Basil’s party without a glance. They ignored the city’s petrified citizens and their defenders alike.
“They’re flying past us.” Officer Elissalde’s tone grew deeper, less confident. “It looks like they’re—”
“Running away,” Basil finished for her.
The tide of monsters dried up, leaving the path open for the largest of them.
A reptilian head emerged from the pillar, the light reflecting on glistening green scales and slimy flesh underneath. Its maw was large enough to swallow a bull whole, its golden eyes oozing with pus. Two powerful, clawed hands dragged a colossal body of slime out of the portal. The organic parts stopped at the waist, for the monster’s torso stuck out of a colossal cauldron of steel thrumming with burning pipes and steamy chimneys.
The creature vaguely reminded Basil of Shellgirl, a slime monster with half its body encased in a thick shell. But where Shellgirl was no larger than Basil himself, this jelly dinosaur and its technologically-advanced shell reached more than ten meters in height. The ground shook as the monster’s clawed hands dragged its steaming apparatus along the ground.
Basil instantly recognized this entity for what it was. A mythical monster enhanced to fit modern times, a paragon of power and greed. The scaled terror of legend.
Steamslime, Unity Dragonlord
Level 20 Elite [Dragon/Slime]
“I knew it.” Zachariel fell to his knees in terror. “We are doomed, doomed!”
The dragon turned in Basil’s direction. Although more than two kilometers separated the two sides, the beast seemed to notice the Party without difficulty. Steamslime roared to the heavens and crawled forward with his slimy arms, dragging his metal shell behind him, squashing cars and streetlights. The watcher swarm followed after him like bees shielding their queen.
“He’s coming straight for us.” Basil raised his halberd. “Guys, do you have my back?”
“Always,” Plato replied with a sigh. “Always, Basil.”
“You want to fight that?” Zachariel asked, dumbfounded.
“We stand with the Boss.” Although Bugsy looked shaken by the dragon’s size, the centimagma remained brave in the face of adversity. “I know we can do it!”
His example inspired the others to stand their ground. Even Zachariel rose to his feet with apprehension. The battle was on.
Basil had hunted many animals in his life.
But never a dragon.