They held the funeral in the rain.

The Bohens and House Garden parties were gathered for it, with the notable exception of Vasi and Orcine. Basil presided over the ceremony before the smoking crater of his house, hands joined in prayer.

He glanced at his audience, at the mourning faces of his companions. His dear cat Plato, who had known the deceased the longest, held his tiny hat against his chest with his eyes closed. Bugsy, ever the bleeding heart, could hardly suppress the lava tears in his centimagma eyes. Rosemarine stood in quiet dignity, her immense shadow looming over the clearing. Her vegetable minions carried the tombstone. Even Shellgirl had joined her hands in quiet mourning right next to Kuikui.

Basil observed each of them and then gathered his breath. It was never easy to say farewell… especially to a dear friend.

“Today,” Basil said, “we are gathered to honor the memory of René’s house one last time.”

He waved a hand at House Garden’s members, inviting them to do their duty. The vegetables carried the granite tombstone and set it in front of the crater. Basil had carved the words on its surface himself.

René’s House
She was too comfy for this sinful world.

Basil had never asked René for the date of his house’s completion and would forever regret it.

“It seems to me like only yesterday that René welcomed me into her loving embrace,” Basil began the eulogy. He had titled it Requiem for a House, and would preserve its text for generations to come. “From the first day on, his house became like a second mother to me; when humans would offer words of condemnation, she offered warmth and air conditioning. She was more than a shelter to me; she was a trusted confidant. She saw me at my best and at my worst, never complaining, always protecting, always loving.”

Bugsy collapsed in tears. Basil stopped his speech; he knew how much he had worked on the house before her cruel demise.

“Please don’t cry,” Rosemarine said, trying to comfort the centimagma. “It’s alright. She is in a better place.”

“She was too young,” the centimagma whispered as Shellgirl patted him on the back. “The fence… I had finished painting the fence… and the TV…”

Bugsy screamed his despair to the heavens. “I will never know how Major Chicken ends now!”

“One day, we will find a new TV and Major Chicken DVDs,” Basil promised. It was a long shot; finding the full season of Major Chicken was already difficult before the apocalypse. “Never forget the episode on which we stopped, Bugsy. Never forget.”

“I won’t…” Bugsy wiped away his tears with his tiny arms. “I won’t, Boss.”

Basil nodded sadly. “Do any of you have words to honor our departed friend?”

Plato raised his paw. “I would like to honor the sofa with a minute of silence,” he said. “This unsung hero who shouldered my weight and warmed me up in the night. It is he and his cushions that I mourn the most.”

Basil assented to the request and silence stretched on for a full minute. The rain stopped and the skies threatened to clear up.

“Kuikui, make it rain again,” Basil ordered as the minute of silence came to an end.

“Kui at it!” Kuikui started twirling in place. His Rain Dance Perk activated, renewing the downpour.

Basil couldn’t let a sunny autumn day stand in the way of his mournful funeral. “Does anybody else have words to say? Bugsy?”

“I… I can’t, Boss,” Bugsy replied sadly. “It’s… it’s too much for me.”

Shellgirl took the next turn. The clam mimic cleared her throat like a professional marketer preparing to make an announcement.

“I mourn our HQ too, and all the wares we lost with her,” she said. “But most of all, I mourn what she represented: peaceful, profitable days long gone. The loss of a business is never an easy one. I know we will bounce back soon and rebuild our company even better than before… but we must never forget. Only by learning from our failures can we hope not to repeat them.”

Kuikui then said his own piece. His speech was most eloquent by velociraptor standards.

“Kui bred. Kui best lover, Kui lasted for hours.” The velociraptor sighed in defeat. “But Kui’s hen wives ran. Kui will never see eggs grow. Kui never eat his children. Now Kui single again. Kui very sad.”

“It’s alright, Kuikui,” Bugsy sympathized with him. “You will find a new girlfriend, I’m sure of it.”

“Kui hope so.” Kuikui glanced at the centimagma with an addict's eyes. “Kui has needs.”

Only one party member had yet to deliver her eulogy.

“Rosemarine?” Basil asked. “Any words?”

“My eulogy will be written with blood, Mister,” Rosemarine replied cheerfully. “Very soon.”

“Indeed,” Basil rasped. “For we must not forget that our dear departed house died prematurely. She was never given the chance to grow old and dreary. No, her life was cut short!”

He pumped his fist to the skies.

“Our house was brutalized!” Basil shouted with a warrior angel’s fury. "Martyrized! Murdered by the Apocalypse Force! Now her slayers still live, delighting at their own crime as we speak! Shall we leave their sin unpunished? Or shall we avenge our departed home with steel and fire?!”

“VENGEANCE!” His pets and allies shouted in response, his zeal inspired in them a rush of righteous fury. “VENGEANCE FOR THE HOUSE!”

“I hear you!” Basil declared as the clouds cleared once again. “Then follow my lead! For the time of reckoning has come!”

The light of dawn shone through the clouds and miraculously illuminated the instrument of their vengeance.

As befitting of a giant snail dragon’s refuge, Steamslime’s shell was a ten meters tall behemoth of metal plates, pipes, and steam engines. The team had spent three days customizing it. They scavenged vehicles from Dax to fully mount it on large tires at the front and tracked wheels at the back. The exhaust port Bugsy blew up during the battle with Steamslime had been repaired, at least as well as a group with no experience with steam machinery could, alongside the holes in its shielding.

Basil’s group had also added a few windows here and there, to serve as sniper nests, emergency exits, or light sources for a future greenhouse. A rudimentary steel bar door protected the main entrance, and a harness of chains would allow Rosemarine to pull the vehicle like a carriage across all terrains.

In short, it was a mobile fortress large enough to house everyone inside, with the noticeable exception of Rosemarine—who preferred to stay outside anyway. This vehicle, this enormous caravan, would carry Basil’s team all the way to Bordeaux in due time.

But they had a dungeon to ravage first.

“Everyone, board the Steamobile!” Basil encouraged his teammates. “We shall drive to battle!”

“The Steamobile?” Plato complained with a groan. “Couldn’t you find a better name?”

“This is a democracy,” Basil reminded him. “Which means I’m willing to pretend to listen and then explain to you why I was right all along.”

Nobody dared to challenge him in a public debate and both parties boarded the caravan in short order. Basil himself stayed behind to help Rosemarine put on the harness.

“Mister, I have grown new food,” Rosemarine said before shaking. Half a dozen red fruit pustules fell off her leaf-scales, ripe for consumption. “They taste of blood!”

Aww, she cared!

“Thank you, sweetie,” Basil said as he stored the fruits in his inventory and patted her behind her petals. Rosemarine wriggled in pleasure, her forked tongue dripping with saliva. “Who’s going to eat many bugs today? That’s you, yes, that is you!”

Rosemarine’s Harvest Perk had been invaluable over the last few days, since it allowed her to grow tasty fruits in the sunlight. It didn’t fully make up for the lack of supplies, but it helped sustain the party in combination with whatever canned meat they salvaged from the house’s wreckage.

They couldn’t rely on it forever though. With winter around the corner, even plant dragons would come up short on the harvest department. Basil’s party would have to fall back on the tried and true method of raiding the enemy for food.

It was only fair. The Apocalypse Force burned their pantry first.

“Mister, can we find a new gun after we have eaten all the bugs?” Rosemarine asked as Basil finished attaching the harness. “A big gun, large enough for me? The others are too small now.”

“Mmm…” Basil examined his dear tropidrake. Her rootlike fingers were no longer adapted to wielding firearms anymore, but she could easily carry a howitzer on her back. “We’ll try to find a big ass cannon in Bordeaux. I’m sure they’ll have one to spare.”

“I cannot wait,” Rosemarine chirped with enthusiasm. “The meat tastes so much better when sweetened with tears and gunpowder.”

After patting his tropidrake’s back and glancing one last time at his home’s ruins, Basil stepped inside the Steamobile. Rosemarine roared loud enough to shake the earth and then began pulling the carriage across the forest.

The inside of the Steamobile made Basil regret losing his house all the more. Where his home had been a tastefully decorated, comfy place, Steamslime’s old shell was a lifeless series of metal rooms with no doors to separate them. Steel ladders led to upper levels offering a little more privacy, but nothing filtered the loud noise of steam traveling through the pipes. Accommodations were rudimentary.

Basil found Vasi and Orcine in the steam engine room. The former worked on Steamslime’s training holomachine and the latter fueled the machine with coal. A bag full of bugspray cans sat in a corner to Basil’s delight. He had sent Orcine to scavenge them from the city so he could use them to make bombs.

“You should keep those away from the fire,” Basil warned Orcine. “They’re flammable.”

“Great, we can use them as fuel,” Orcine replied, wiping sweat off her forehead. “You’re sure these tiny gizmos can kill the bugs? Most of them are bigger than us, ya know.”

“Certain, and you’re more likely to blow up our new house like the old one if you use them as fuel.” It saddened Basil that his own reserve of bombs ended up finishing off his burning home after the swarm detonated it. “We’ll use them in battle soon enough.”

“Good, I'm sick of waiting.” Orcine grinned savagely. Basil had lost a home in the swarm’s attack, but the young orc had lost people. “Let’s bash some skulls.”

“Are we truly going to attack in broad daylight?” Vasi asked after turning away from the holomachine. She had reservations about a straight-up offensive plan from the beginning. “They will see us coming from a mile away, Basil. I know Samhain is tomorrow, but it would be safer to infiltrate the dungeon tonight with darkness as our cover.”

“Infiltration is useless,” Basil replied. “They’ll be expecting retaliation after their raid. Besides, Rosemarine’s best abilities only work in daylight and she’s our heaviest hitter.”

“We will walk into battle without a plan.”

“I have a plan, Vasi, just not a subtle one,” Basil countered. “What about the elves?”

From Vasi’s contrite expression, they shouldn’t count on reinforcements.

“I surveyed the dinosaur forest as you asked,” the witch replied. “I found what remains of their encampment and found it empty with no trace of battle. From the tracks left, I suspect they bypassed the dungeon to flee in the northeast.”

“Pointy ears,” Orcine snickered with contempt. “All bark and no bite.”

It didn’t surprise Basil much. Estrid Firekiss warned him that her elves would leave the region before the Apocalypse Force could locate them. The raid on the Barthes had served as a pretty dire warning.

Basil never expected to count on their help to take down the Seignosse dungeon, but he would miss the loss in manpower.

“We’ll make do without them,” Basil said with a shrug, before focusing on the truly important matter. “You missed the funeral, Vasi.”

Basil could forgive Orcine’s absence since she had never lived in it, but Vasi had crashed the place before. The house deserved her respect.

“Basil, I’m not holding a funeral for a house,” Vasi replied with a remorseless chuckle. “Even a comfy one.”

“Yeah, I threw my parents’ ashes to the wind and you don’t hear me whining about it,” Orcine said with a shrug. “Don’t you eat your dead anyway?”

How could it be that Basil was the only sensible, caring soul here? These two were heartless barbarians.

“Please don’t hold a grudge,” Vasi pleaded with a coy smile. “I’ll throw fireballs in your house’s honor, I swear—”

“Good,” Basil said.

“—after you assign your levels,” Vasi added, ever the sweet-talker. “Now that I am part of your party, I can’t assign mine until you do. A logistical weakness if you ask me.”

“That’s why I left as soon as I got my hidden Perk,” Orcine said with a shrug. “It's a pretty nifty one though. I’ll never say no to more power.”

Out of all of Basil’s allies, Orcine was the most straightforward in terms of special abilities. As in, she had none: she hit hard and her multiple passives simply made her better at it.

She wouldn’t outshine Basil anytime soon in that department though. He immediately assigned his two levels to the Berserker class, relishing the thought of ripping Apollyon’s limbs from his body.

Berserker Level 4 & 5 Stat Gains: +4 STR; +2 AGI; +1 VIT; +2 MAG; +1 CHA; +2 LCK. You earned 70 HP and 25 SP.
[Runic I]: 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.
As you already possess [Runic I] from another Class, your Perk has been upgraded to Runic II. You can now learn and cast [Runic] Spells up to Tier II.

“Runic II?” It surprised Basil that the Berserker class allowed him to cast spells at all. Then he remembered that the Norse god of berserkers, Odin, used runes. Maybe that was the reason why the class could do the same? “I suppose that explains the B in Magic.”

“Interesting.” Vasi put a finger on her cheek, her expression thoughtful. “What’s your growth in Intelligence?”

Basil winced. Intelligence was his one weakness. “E.”

“If this System is anything like mine, an E rating means that the stat never increases,” Vasi explained with a scoff. “A B in Magic and an E in Intelligence means that your few spells will hit hard, but you’ll struggle to learn any. Fitting for a Fighter class.”

“Who cares?” Orcine asked. “You don’t need fancy powers, big man. Just buff up and rack up four digit damage.”

When she put it this way…

Since they had a few hours to kill on the way to Seignosse’s dungeon, Basil joined Vasi in a session of Wyrde’s Grimoire. The holomachine program included Runic spells up to Tier VI, so it could teach him a few tricks.

“The Unity figured it out, by the way,” Vasi said.

“Figured out what?” Basil asked as the Runic Tier II spell list appeared on the holomachine’s mirror. Three of them were Corrosion, Metal, and Wood elemental variants of his Fire Rune spell, alongside two more unique options.

“The formula that determines your chances of learning a new spell. According to Wyrde’s Grimoire, it is the sum of your Magic, Intelligence and Level, multiplied by the average elemental affinity factor and then divided by the spell’s tier. The result is then rounded down.”

Basil kept it in mind as he read the new spells’ information.

Spell: Venomous Rune.
School: Runic.
Affinity: Ailment.
Tier: II.
Cost: 20 SP.
Empowers one of your weapons with venomous power, giving it 20% chance of inflicting the [Poison] ailment on a successful damaging hit for 5 minutes; perfect to deal with pesky political opponents. Multiple applications of [Venomous Rune] do not stack and the weapon loses its properties if you no longer wield it.
Chance of learning this spell: 75%.
Learn spell?

Basil made calculations in his head. With 26 in Magic, 24 in Intelligence, a level of 25, and a strong Ailment affinity multiplying his chances by two… the formula checked.

Spell: Savage Rune.
School: Runic.
Affinity: Support.
Tier: II.
Cost: 20 SP.
Empowers one of your weapons with savage power, increasing its chances of inflicting a critical hit by 20% for five minutes; the Berserker’s favorite tool. Multiple applications of [Savage Rune] do not stack and the weapon loses its properties if you no longer wield it.
Chance of learning this spell: 37%.
Learn spell?

Basil’s lack of strong affinity for Support cut his chances in half. Oh well. He tried to register both of them in his spellbook.

Two sounds echoed in his mind: a gentle notification and the screeching noise of failure.

Congratulations, you learned [Venomous Rune]!
Oh no, you failed to learn [Savage Rune]! You can try to learn it again once 24 Earth hours have passed.
You have enough Intelligence to register 1 additional spell in your Spellbook.

“From your sorry face, guess things didn’t work out well,” Orcine said. The orc teen had no interest in magic and instead polished a two-meters tall shield near the steam boiler. If memory served, her late father wore it the one time Basil encountered him; she must have kept it as a memento.

“It’s alright,” Basil replied with a shrug. Instead of waiting for tomorrow, which might never come if the battle didn’t end well, he decided to learn the Corrosion elemental variant of his Fire Rune spell. The more elemental attacks available to him, the better. Thankfully his strong Corrosion affinity made it easy to register the spell. “Would you like your mace crispy, frosty, or corrosive?”

Orcine grinned ear to ear as she lent him her spiked mace. “Caustic corrosive.”

“A true critic,” Basil deadpanned as he touched the weapon’s shaft. “Magitek: Corrosion Rune.”

His Refinement attempt infused the mace with the Corrosion element. The iron’s color changed to a sick shade of purple, its pointed barbs fuming with poisonous fumes.

“Cool,” Orcine whispered as she grabbed her mace, swinging it near the boiler. “You can do that with any weapon?”

“Yes, so long as they’re forged.” Basil’s eyes widened as a brilliant idea crossed his mind. “The guns!”

“You’ve got firearms? Grea—”

Basil had already bolted out of the engine room before Orcine could finish. He rummaged through the belongings his party managed to save from the house fire and finally found what he was looking for.

One of Rosemarine’s handguns. Now that the plant had grown too big to wield it, the weapon had been left to gather dust.

“Magitek: Venomous Rune,” Basil said, his magic infusing the firearm. “Magitek: Ice Rune.”

Two symbols appeared on each side of the barrel: a windy snowflake irradiating cold on the left, and a sinister green skull on the right.

Frosty Poisonous Handgun
Family: Weapon (Firearm)
Quality: C
Power: +9 SKI
Crit: + 0 %
Accuracy: 80 %
Effect 1: [Venomous Rune]: +20% chance of inflicting the [Poison] ailment.
Effect 2: [Ice Rune]: Inflicts +20% additional [Frost] damage.
Man’s best friend, and it will shoot anyone who denies it.

As Basil suspected, he could apply multiple runes to a piece of equipment so long as they differed. An elemental damage enhancement didn’t conflict with an ailment one.

Basil cursed his lack of foresight. Why didn’t he think of upgrading everyone’s equipment before? He had focused too much on utilities and crafting flashy alchemical bombs over the practicality of refining his weapons.

Basil wouldn’t inflict as much damage with this gun as with his halberd, but the extra Frost damage and Poison ailment should make up for it somewhat. He finally had a good ranged option.

“Well, better late than never,” Basil said as he stored the gun in his inventory. “Time to upgrade our war effort.”

Basil spent the next few hours empowering what weapons he could find, crafting bombs out of bugspray cans, and checking the Steamobile’s inner shielding one last time. He sensed his body tense up in anticipation as time passed.

When Bugsy called him from the upper floors to inform him that they were approaching the dungeon, it came as a relief.

“Boss!” Bugsy shouted. “I can see it from here!”

Basil climbed up a ladder to the upper floor, walked by the centimagma, and peeked through an open glass window.

Located near the empty town of Seignosse, the Etang Noir natural reserve, or black pond, owed its name to the dark silt in its depths. Before the apocalypse, a large corridor of earth separated it from its neighborhood, the lake of l’Etang Blanc. The end of the world had joined them into a singular body of blackened water.

The region’s dungeon loomed in the middle of the lake, perched on an isle of rock under a red-green aurora borealis. It was an imposing and foreboding gothic castle of black walls and terrible towers; Basil estimated that the central one reached as high as fifty meters. A precarious bridge of granite wove a path through the lake from the fortified gates to the shore.

The remains of monsters, from giant wolves to dinosaurs, were staked on the outer walls as a warning to intruders. Some were still fresh, but most had long turned to bones. Half a dozen Apollyon drones feasted on them, while two more were surveying the area by running circles in the skies.

There it was. The Apocalypse Force’s local stronghold, where they plotted to destroy Basil’s peaceful life beyond repair.

Dungeon: Château Muloup.
Level: 25.
Faction: Apocalypse Force.
Field Type: Cursed Castle.
[Metal], [Soul], [Darkness] and [Mythic] elements are empowered.
[Wood] and [Light] elements are weakened.
[Cursed Place]: Players and Monsters within the field’s limit will suffer from the [Curse] ailment unless they are immune to it; their chances of receiving critical hits are doubled and they cannot magically recover HP/SP.

Basil’s teeth gritted as he read the text. No wonder Apollyon was willing to waste so many forces on the Barthes raid; the dungeon’s defensive effect was formidable. The impossibility to heal within the castle’s confines complicated matters and Basil would have to adapt his strategy accordingly. On the plus side, that defense would serve the party well once they claimed the dungeon.

However, Basil noticed an oddity. The field effect included all Players and Monsters not immune to the Curse ailment.

Did it affect the defenders as well?

“How do we get in, Boss?” Bugsy asked, his voice brimming with anticipation.

“The quickest way.” Basil summoned his halberd to his hand. “Through the front door.”

By nightfall, the lake would run red with blood.

A note from Maxime J. Durand (Void Herald)

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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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