The dragon was slow but unstoppable.

Steamslime lacked wings or hind legs, and so he had to drag his enormous shell across the city. But what he lacked in speed, he more than made up for in strength. The slime dragon bulldozed his way through houses, tossed cars aside, and crushed the pavement underfoot. He was making a beeline for the city’s stadium and woe to anyone crossing his path.

Basil considered fleeing to another battlefield, but chose to stand his ground. The stadium’s wide, open space would favor his party against a giant target, and the nearby municipal swimming pool could make for a good fallback site if the fight turned against them.

Basil Bohen wouldn’t cower before a giant snail.

“Partner?” Shellgirl asked, her cannons pointed at the oncoming juggernaut. “What’s your plan?”

“First we deal with his escort,” Basil said. The swarm of Unity watchers surrounded their master like a noxious cloud. “Shellgirl, bombard them from afar. Bugsy, Rosemarine, use the same technique we used with the gearsman. Plato, wind slash’em. Zachariel, you coordinate with Officer Elissalde on the radio and help refuel the team.”

“Yes, Boss.” Bugsy nodded with determination. He looked eager to make up for his previous, lackluster displays against the gearsmen. “I won’t let you down again, I swear.”

“What about you, sir?” the angel asked. He sounded relieved not to be sent to the front line.

Basil glanced at the stadium. A mound of dirt and grass stood proudly on its northern side, its shadow looming over the sports complex’s barriers. His eyes then turned to the Mercedes Benz stuffed to the brim with fertilizer.

“I’m gonna add yet another car crime to my list,” Basil replied.

The sound of cannon fire echoed all around him as he switched on the Mercedes. Bugsy helped Shellgirl climb on the Renault Kangoo’s roof to take up a better artillery position, and the merchant immediately unloaded her napalm projectiles. The bombs exploded on the Unity drones in a deluge of flames and smoke. Massive explosions sent shockwaves spreading through the air, blasting apart Unity watchers by the dozens. Fireclouds swallowed the horizon.

Rosemarine duplicated herself and Bugsy hastily threw her clone at Steamslime. A Unity watcher flew in the projectile’s way and self-detonated. The duplicate’s payload ignited in a shower of searing hot flames. The white phosphorus seeped into the watchers’ metal shell and set their crystal eyes alight.

Basil froze in awe at the burning display. Flames covered the world under a crimson sky. The horizon bled fire.

There was something fascinating in the sheer destructive power of modern weapons, a primal urge to revel in the utter annihilation of one’s enemy. Plato’s blades of sharp winds looked so feeble and forgettable in comparison. If Officer Elissalde’s group wasn’t aware of the party’s position, they only had to follow the flames.

And yet, the bombardment barely slowed Steamslime down.

The monstrous dragon emerged from the smoke nearly unscathed. The exhaust ports of his steel shell poured torrents of pressured water in all directions. They weren’t enough to save the watchers from the napalm and the white phosphorus, but they coated the dragon’s body in a layer of water. The liquid exhausted the flames touching his slimy body.

Can this beast truly be level 20? Basil wondered. I would have given it twice more.

The System enlightened him.

Elite creatures possess exceptional stats and unique abilities similar to a dungeon’s [Boss], making them far more powerful than their level would suggest. They also offer greater rewards than common monsters.

Basil guessed he should have expected something like that from a dragon. He took solace in the idea that once his team defeated Steamslime and expelled the Unity from the region, they would finally find peace.

Basil positioned the Mercedes at the base of the mound, oriented it in Steamslime’s direction, and smashed the accelerator.

The engine roared. The wheels climbed heaps of dirt and grass. When the car reached the top of the mound, Basil jumped away from the driver’s seat. The Mercedes Benz flew into the air at full speed right as Steamslime reached the sports complex.

The dragon raised his head at the improvised projectile. A light shone within his thorax, bright and lethal.

Steamslime opened his mouth and death poured out of his throat.

The dragon spat a stream of sick, greenish ooze. Its surface ignited into a stream of yellow fumes. The smog swallowed the flying Mercedes before it could reach its target. The bodywork rusted, the windshield melted, and the fertilizer rotted years in the space of seconds. The car had been vaporized before it could get anywhere close, let alone explode.

“Shit, shit, shit!” Basil muttered as he ran down the mound for his life. Whatever grass the dragon’s breath touched withered and died. Basil avoided a direct hit by outrunning the poison. The mound collapsed behind him with a terrible racket.

“Basil, look up!” Plato shouted a warning. The watchers that survived the bombardment flung themselves at the stadium by the dozen.

“[SELF-DESTRUCT] PROTOCOL ACTIVATED!” The watchers’ surfaces heated up until they turned red. “THIS WORLD WILL KNOW PEACE!”

Basil barely had the time to cover his face with his arms to protect himself. Plato slew the closest watchers with his Windslash technique, Shellgirl hit a few with ice pearls, and Bugsy breathed fire at them. It destroyed most of the robots before they could hit the ground, but didn’t prevent the bombardment.

Watchers rained down from the sky like a meteor shower. One of them exploded close to Basil, throwing him onto his back. When he rose back up, the stadium looked closer to the Moon’s surface than a football field.

“Guys!” he called out to his allies. A dense cloud of dust obscured his vision. “Guys?!”

Bugsy answered his call, although he couldn’t see the centimagma. “Run for cover, Boss! I’m coming to the rescue!”

Basil heard the sound of trampled barriers, the rumbling noise of a colossal beast’s steps, and a dragon’s roar. Steam pushed the dust away and a titanic monster followed in its wake.

Only then did Basil realize just how big Steamslime was.

It was one thing to observe a ten-meter tall behemoth from afar, and another to see it up close. The beast’s black claws were almost as long as Basil himself. Steamslime’s reptilian head and torso overshadowed him the same way a castle’s tower would; his metal shell was a roaring factory, a bursting mass of steams, gears, chimneys, and exhaust ports. The monster embodied primeval savagery and industrial brutality packaged in a single force of destruction.

Basil didn’t fear anything, but when he looked up to meet Steamslime’s golden eyes…

He blinked.

The dragon’s jaws snapped at Basil to devour him whole, the same way a chicken would try to eat a worm. Basil rolled to the ground to dodge. He tried to strike the monster with his halberd the moment he recovered, but instead ran to avoid being crushed under Steamslime’s palm.

“Run, run, little manling!” Steamslime let out a roar that shook the very earth. “Run and hide!”

Basil gritted his teeth and ran across the football field with the rampaging dragon hot on his tail. He caught sight of Bugsy and Plato on his left, both casting buffs on themselves.

“A bug and a cat?” Steamslime glared down on the two with contempt. Bugsy and Plato looked no bigger than mice compared to the mighty dragon. “What can you do? Needle me to death?”

“I know you are strong,” Bugsy said without a hint of fear, embers coming out of his mandibles. Plato sneakily leaped on Steamslime’s shell without a word. “But I refuse to be weak! I won’t cower again!”

The centimagma fearlessly breathed fire at the much larger dragon, and Basil couldn’t be prouder of his friend.

When Bugsy burned Steamslime on the flank and the dragon roared in response, Basil remembered Vasi’s words: that a strong affinity in an element usually resulted in a weak one in its opposite. Steamslime wielded the power of steam and water, but feared fire in return. The dragon needed to shower himself with liquid to extinguish the flames he feared. Bugsy’s breath burned a patch of slimy skin until it turned the color of coal.

A lightning ray to the back stopped the centimagma in his tracks.

Bugsy rolled on the burning grass, stunned. Basil looked over at the source of the attack: two gearsmen rushing towards the football field from the parking lot. Shellgirl exchanged volleys of projectiles with them, assisted by Rosemarine.

A pincer attack? Basil cursed under his breath. The gearsmen had sneaked upon the Party from behind while they were focused on fighting their master.

Steamslime raised a claw to squash Bugsy. Zachariel interfered by throwing his chlorine bomb at the dragon’s face. The device exploded in a burst of gas that briefly distracted the beast. Bugsy exploited the brief distraction to crawl away and Steamslime’s palm hit dirt.

The chlorine did nothing more than briefly inconvenience the dragon. One of his steam pipes pointed at Bugsy and blasted him with a stream of pressurized water. The centimagma was propelled backward into a crater left by the watchers.

Steamslime then turned his furious gaze at Zachariel, the Renault Kangoo, and Shellgirl.

“Uh oh,” the angel muttered, wings extended.

Steamslime backhanded the group with a wide swing. Zachariel dodged by flying away, but Basil’s Kangoo wasn’t so lucky. Steamslime’s fist rammed it with a truck’s strength. Half the vehicle shattered and the other tumbled to the side. Shellgirl, too distracted by the gearsmen to see the hit coming, went flying with it.

Basil’s eyes widened in rage. “My car!”

“Poison? On me? Me?!” Steamslime hissed in outrage. The chlorine gas dissipated with the wind. “I am poison! I am the smog! I am—”

“A heap of shit slipping out of an oversized toilet!” Basil snarled back. He swung his halberd at the dragon’s left arm. The blade ignited from the movement and cut through the slimy flesh like a knife through butter.

Steamslime hissed, yellowish ooze seeping from his wound. He turned his eyes in Basil’s direction, his iris glowing. “Lightning Bolt!”

An arc of electricity surged from the dragon’s gaze and hit Basil in the chest. It burned through his clothes and incinerated the ogre pendant he gained from Ogremoche. The lightning coursed through his flesh and nerves. His heart skipped a beat.

Supereffective damage!

Basil gritted his teeth through the pain. He had gone through far worse over the last month. A scar of burned skin formed on his chest, yet Basil Bohen did not back down.

Plato, who had finished climbing Steamslime’s shell, rushed across his back and neck. The cat leaped on his head and stabbed his right eye with his fencing sword. Steamslime’s shriek was music to Basil’s ears, and he hacked at the dragon’s side with a smile.

However, the gearsmen were free to act without anyone to provide suppression fire. The first of them leaped over the Kangoo’s wrecks and an unconscious Shellgirl. Rosemarine stopped the second by standing in its path.

“Here I go dying again!” said Rosemarine’s clone as it showered the gearsman with white phosphorus. The substance burned through the machine’s metal shielding, but didn’t destroy it. The original Rosemarine raised all of her guns and opened fire. She matched each lightning ray with bullets.

The other gearsman opened fire on Basil with a lightning beam, forcing him to abandon his assault on Steamslime. As the dragon attempted to swipe Plato off his back, Basil zigzagged along the field to avoid the gearsman’s attacks. He charged to close the gap, but the machine wisely kept its distance.

The robot could think tactically. It knew Basil lacked an effective long-range weapon and thus stuck to ranged attacks.

Where was Zachariel? The Major and his group? Where were his reinforcements?!

Warning: Cait Sith Plato has been [Poisoned]!

Basil’s eyes turned at his cat in panic. Plato had fallen off Steamslime’s back and crashed on the ground, his fur green, his sword slipping between his fingers. The poor cat vomited and writhed in agony. His legs and paws were covered in putrid goo.

Steamslime’s skin was toxic.

“Plato!” Basil rushed at his pet’s help. “Plato!”

“Dragons adapt to all,” Steamslime boasted and raised a hand. “The poisoned waters of Electon course through my veins!”

He squashed Plato underfoot and left a bloody smear on the ground.

Basil’s vision turned red with rage. The strength of his rage carried his halberd forward. His blade hit the dragon’s chest and left a gaping gash in its wake. Wounds and burns covered Steamslime’s body, yet he remained the very picture of arrogant strength.

“Lightning Bolt!” Steamslime’s last eye blasted Basil with electricity. Somehow this bolt hit even harder than the last. A tree-shaped scar spread over Basil’s torso as the electricity burned its way through his flesh. His vision went white for a few seconds and the smell of cooked flesh reached his nose. His shirt turned to ashes and his knees collapsed under him.

Basil barely managed to stand against his halberd’s shaft, his fingers trembling. The lightning had numbed all sensations in his limbs.

All except for pain.

Critical health! Critical health!

Basil struggled to breathe as the dragon’s shadow loomed over him.

“When I hatched, the Grandmaster took me away from my nest and told me: ‘you are a scion of dragonkind. Follow me, and you shall unite the universe.’” Steamslime opened his mouth wide, his chest bright with light. “This is the order of things. The rule of nature.”

“Warp…” Basil whispered through his teeth. He refused to die here. “Spa—”

A rifle’s shot echoed and Steamslime’s right eye burst into a shower of golden blood. The dragon’s breath died with a screech in his mouth, his hands covering his face. Basil didn’t finish his sentence, astonished by this turn of events.

Steamslime has been [Blinded]. Steamslime’s [Shelter] activated! His Vitality has been buffed and his Agility debuffed!

The gearsman attempted to finish off Basil by crushing his head under its metal feet.

A VAB rammed it at full speed first to the tune of a machine gun. The military vehicle tore through the gearsman in half, and the Major atop its roof finished off the machine with a hail of bullets.

Basil heard dogs howl in the distance and felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned his head to see Zachariel land behind him; Maya Elissalde jumped off the angel’s back, whip in hand. A green glow banished away the pain from Basil’s bones and newfound strength coursed through his veins.

Your wounds are healed.
[Brave Howl] buffed your Strength and Magic for five minutes!

“My eyes!” Steamslime snarled. “I can’t see anything!”

More bullets hit his throat. Basil glanced at their source, a humanoid figure standing atop a distant building’s ruins. Officer Elissalde was sniping Steamslime from afar with a rifle almost as long as Basil’s halberd.

“You asked for it, sir,” Zachariel said. He carried the military radio in his free hand. “I coordinated with our allies.”

It was about time.

“A snail?” The Major asked as his VAB turned around. He opened fire on Steamslime with his machine gun. “I'll eat it for dinner!”

How much more damage can he shrug off? Basil wondered. Steamslime had taken napalm bombs, white phosphorus, a hail of bullets, and the stings of weapons without flinching. Scars marked his body from his blinded eyes to his torso. Yet the dragon continued to fight. What will it take to kill him, a nuke?

Basil surveyed the area to check on his allies. Maya’s doberman howled from a safe distance as her Basque Shepherd dragged Shellgirl off the Renault Kangoo’s wreck. Plato had revived from his lethal wound to Basil’s relief, although it cost him another of his lives.

And Bugsy had crawled out of the hole Steamslime sent him into, still carrying the thermite with four of his many legs. The water stream had exhausted the flames coursing through his veins, and yet his eyes remained full of resolve.

“Bugsy, retreat!” Basil shouted. “Retreat!”

“I refuse, Boss.” Bugsy stood up with pride. “Not until we’ve slain this creep and cooked him! With roasted chicken, soda, and potatoes!”

“I got one too, Mister!” Rosemarine stood triumphant atop the burning husk of the last gearsman. Fumes rose from her handguns’ barrels. “I got one all by myself!”

They grew up too soon.

“Thank you, Zach,” Basil told the angel. “Go heal Shellgirl. We need artillery support.”

When Zachariel executed his order, Basil turned to Maya Elissalde. “What can you do?”

“I can buff you,” Maya Elissalde proposed.

“Then what are you waiting for?”

Maya Elissalde struck his face with her whip in response.

“Argh!” Basil winced in outrage. “You stupid b—”

“Attack!” The houndmaster spoke to Basil as if he were one of her dogs. “Attack!”

Your chances of inflicting critical hits have increased!

Basil gritted his teeth, suppressed the urge to murder his own ally, and instead unloaded his rage on Steamslime.

“Fuck this dispshit System!” Basil snarled as he hacked into the dragon’s chest. “Fuck Dismaker Labs, fuck dragons, fuck you all!”

“Don’t complain, Basil!” Plato leaped back to his feet and helped his owner with wind slashes. “I lost a life to a snail! A snail!”

Bugsy joined in with flames and Rosemarine with suicide clones. Bullets and flames and sharp winds rained on Steamslime from above while Basil hacked at him from below. The dragon covered his face with his arms in a desperate attempt to protect himself. His situation was only about to worsen: Zachariel healed Shellgirl, Maya Elissalde buffed Rosemarine, and her hounds did the same with Bugsy.

“Enough!” Steamslime roared. His shell’s gears ground louder and louder. “You will die! You will all die!”

Pressurized streams of water erupted from the dragon’s pipes and chimneys. One hit Rosemarine and pushed her away. The others forced the group to disperse and retreat, Basil included. This gave Steamslime enough time to gather his breath.

“Take this!” The Major unloaded his machine gun at the dragon’s throat. Steamslime leaked yellow blood from a dozen areas. “For France!”

Steamslime unleashed a torrent of poison from his maw straight at the VAB. Perhaps the dragon had a tremorsense of his own, or he simply figured out the vehicle’s location from the noise. Whatever the case, he hit the VAB head-on.

The military vehicle proved no better at resisting Steamslime’s breath than Basil’s Mercedes. The shielding melted alongside its driver. The Major’s body armor and flesh were stripped from his bones. Soon those turned to dust as well, and nothing remained of the soldier nor his vehicle.

“Chief!” Maya Elissalde’s voice broke in utter despair. “Chief!”

“Get down!” Zachariel shoved her head first onto the ground, narrowingly avoiding Steamslime’s breath. The dragon fired in all directions, blinded by rage and his lack of eyesight. Basil dropped to the ground to avoid being vaporized too. Steamslime roared and spat and thrashed around with mindless anger.

In spite of the chaos and her superior’s death, Officer Elissalde kept sniping the dragon from afar.

Once he ran out of breath, Steamslime retreated inside his shell. His slimy torso and head vanished safely inside the metal device. The exhaust ports and chimneys started to unload noxious green fumes rather than steam.

The dragon was trying to gas the stadium and everyone nearby.

“Partner!” Shellgirl shouted over the melee. Zachariel’s treatment must have worked. “He’s using Shelter!”

“What about it?!” Basil coughed through the noxious fumes.

“I have the Perk too! It activates when I’m below half-health!”

Then Steamslime was on his last leg. He wasn’t trying to kill the group, but to force them to retreat while he licked his wounds. Golden lightning coursed through the star circuits and the crimson skies. The Incursion wasn’t over yet, and Steamslime might very well escape back home.

Basil couldn’t let him live to fight another day.

He glanced at the dragon’s shell, then at Bugsy and his thermite canister. An idea crossed his mind.

“Bugsy, the exhaust ports!” Basil started climbing Steamslime’s shell. “Throw the thermite into the exhaust ports!”

“Yes, Boss!” The centipede fearlessly charged into the toxic fumes. “Agility Up!”

“Basil, get away!” Plato shouted. “The gas—”

“I’ll manage!” Basil held his breath as he continued his ascent of the steel slope. “Everyone else retreat!”

He couldn’t run when a Frenchman stood his ground! That would be beyond shameful! Neither could Basil dishonor the soldier’s memory by coming home defeated. He powered through the fumes even as they burned his skin and made his nose itch.

[Corrosion] damage resisted. [Poison] ailment resisted.

Basil positioned himself right above the hole in which Steamslime retreated, halberd raised. His allies retreated from the toxic cloud with the exception of Bugsy. The centimagma climbed the shell’s exhaust port and tossed the thermite into it. The device melted into the steel and ignited the noxious fumes. Flames came out of the shell’s chimneys and Steamslime’s screech echoed out from the pipes.

The dragon was cooking inside his own fortress. Basil waited for him to emerge from his hole with his weapon raised. The moment came swiftly. Steamslime’s head snapped out of the shell in a desperate attempt to avoid burning alive.

A guillotine would have been more appropriate, Basil thought as he brought his halberd down. But it’ll do.

“Saint George,” he shouted, “witness me!”

Basil’s blade sliced Steamslime’s neck to the sound of a supereffective hit.

And the dragon fell.

A note from Maxime J. Durand (Void Herald)

Hi guys, big news, the first volume of my Underland series is now available for pre-order on Kindle! The paperback should be released on August 22 and the ebook on September 6th.

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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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