A note from Maxime J. Durand (Void Herald)

This interlude was chosen by my patrons on Patreon. Enjoy. 

To kill. That was the monster’s first thought as he became self-aware.

Magic shaped him from nothing. Otherworldly energies assembled his raw particles into the shape of an unliving being. He had no parents, no past to call his own; for he was a putrid four-legged horror with festering flesh, cold black scales, sharp claws, and cruel fangs. His jaws could break stones like reeds and unleash poison anathema to the living.

The undead had no name, though he knew what he was: a Festering Gator, the perfect mixture of reptilian cruelty and zombie resilience. He did not need a name, for his purpose was simple.

To eat, to kill, to rule.

You have been created by Dismaker Labs. We hope you have a pleasant stay in the new world we have created.

Information flooded the creature’s mind as he exited his dungeon. He had been created by the Trimurti System to participate in a worldwide contest of strength with only one rule: whoever reached level 100 first would rule this planet.

The dungeon birthed him at level 20, so he had many kills to go. The System told him that planet Earth was already home to many creatures worth experience points, with none tastier than its dominant species: man.

Some humans wielded powerful equipment but most were weak. Their skin was soft and they possessed neither claws nor fangs. They would be easy prey. Within minutes he had learned all he needed to kill them.

It took days of travel from his dungeon to the nearest manhive. He crossed the dry desert of his dark birth to the brilliant Mediterranean coast. The sight of buildings and houses ripe for annihilation welcomed him.

You have arrived in: Tunis, Tunisia.

Driven by an instinct embedded into his very bones, the monster walked up a paved road in search of prey. He salivated from the smell of sweet human flesh nearby.

A small creature was sitting in his path.

“Begone!” it said with a squeaky female voice.

The fur ball was so small compared to the Festering Gator that he almost didn’t notice her. The creature looked vaguely similar to feline monsters from his dungeon, but tiny, young, frail. Her yellow fur stood out from the black road, as did her orange eyes.

“I’m Misha! I’m a cat!” The creature wagged her tail and looked up at the Festering Gator with foolish bravery. “I can only let friends in! Evil beasties must stay outside! Go away and I won’t hurt you!”

The Festering Gator lowered the two black abysses that served as his eyes. Confusion filled his empty heart. He didn’t understand what he saw.

This critter, this vermin, did not fear him.

The thought filled the Festering Gator with rage. How could this small, inferior creature fail to recognize his might? He, the future Overgod of all creation? He wouldn’t let that stand! He roared at the female furball and lunged at her with all his might.

Instead of cowering, the tiny creature leaped at him. “I’ll hit you!”

The Festering Gator never saw the swipe that slew him.

The paw moved faster than sound and shattered his skull to pieces. The blow propelled his body off the road with cataclysmic strength, his steel-strong bones cracking from the impact. The magic that animated him evaporated from his carcass in an instant.

“Aww… why didn’t you turn away?” Misha whispered with a sad, sad look. She had just wanted to scare him off. She didn’t take pleasure in swiping anyone except the birdies and the screens. Not all beasties were bad, the good Imam said; some became good friends of man. “I’m sorry…”

She poked the beastie and waited for him to wake up again. He didn’t. The smell of rot attracted a swarm of flies, one of them brave enough to approach Misha.

“Oh, a fly!” Misha couldn’t help herself. She tried to catch the bug, but it was quicker and flew away. “Get back here!”

Misha chased after the fly, leaving the beastie’s corpse behind.

Misha caught the fly, much to her joy.

Misha was a good cat, so she tried to be happy; even when she visited Aya, which always made her a little sad. She patrolled the road to protect humans from evil birdies and beasties each morning. She never complained. Not even once!

But Misha couldn’t swipe the evil screen, no matter how hard she tried.

You can undergo metamorphosis into—

“Sneak attack!” Misha jumped at the nasty blue box. She went through it and scratched the road instead. The ground shook from the power of her mighty paws.

You have denied metamorphosis for the second time. You will not gain new Perks or improve your base stats, but your growth rates will be greatly increased.

“Get back here!” Misha challenged the screen as it ran away. “Come back and die to me!”

The evil screen treacherously hid away from her, which made Misha mad… for a few minutes until a leaf in the wind distracted her. Misha’s anger only lasted as long as her brief attention span allowed it.

Today would be a great day. Angelo and Sami had returned from the city of Sousse with new shinies! Misha would meet with them at the hungry place near the sea and they would gorge themselves on fish.

Tunis was a big gray human city, crowded and dirty, but the Sidi Bou Said district was small. The white stone houses shone under the sunlight. The air from the sea tasted salty and the good Muezzin called people to the prayers from atop his tower. Humans drank tea around tables near the coffee shops. Not all of them were smiling, so Misha decided to cheer them up.

“Good day!” Misha greeted people as she ran along the walkway. “Peace be with you!”

Her presence caused the humans to smile back, as they always did when a cat passed by. It made them feel safe. It had only been a month since the skies opened and the evil birdies attacked. Even if cats like Misha had cleaned up the streets and kept Tunis safe, humans still feared for their life.

They could only die once after all.

Misha reached the restaurant by the sea. It was high up on a cliff, so high that they could see one of Tunis’ dungeons from there: the Brass Tower of Carthage. It was the shiniest litter in all of Tunisia, a tall arrow of metal pointing at the skies near the waters. Don Le Minet, the lion sultan of cats, ruled Tunis from there after eating the previous Boss. Misha had been there many times. The Animafia Guild always called for her to kill strong beasties who wandered too close to the city. But they never gave her more complicated tasks, for Misha was only good at swiping and scratching.

As she walked inside the restaurant, Misha noticed a human family sitting around a table under the watchful eye of their feline protector. Two parents ate cake, while their daughter laughed at something her cat whispered in her ear. It reminded Misha of Aya.

Aya was the best owner ever. She fed Misha, dressed her up with ribbons, and groomed her fur. Aya was always smiling, always laughing. Aya was asleep for now, but Misha would wait for her to wake up.

“Misha!” Sami barked at her from their usual table. “Over here!”

“Sami, Angelo!” Misha ran to her friends as fast as the wind. The human waiters had set cushions just for them near the cliff’s edge, with tiny stones so they could sharpen their claws. Sami and Angelo were already waiting for Misha alongside a new friend she didn’t know.

Sami was a good hound, a big brown molossus with kind eyes and a smelly snout. Cats and dogs got along well in the Animafia Guild. Doggies cheered on cats to make them stronger, strong enough to swipe even the meanest birdie. Don Le Minet always sent Sami on the toughest missions outside the city, and he never complained.

Angelo was a black cat with brown streaks, sour outside, and a sweetie inside. He always tried to play it cool, except with his human, who he called ‘Minion’ and rubbed his legs all the time. The System gave him jet black wings after he reached level 7, and one day, he would grow into a big black sphinx. It happened to old Wejdene at level 25!

As for the new friend, he was a big tiger with two long fangs that reached as low as the floor; a ferocious smilodon!

“Hello!” Misha greeted the newcomer the moment she landed on her cushion. “I’m Misha! What’s your name?”

“Chad.” The smilodon puffed his chest. “Smilo Chad.”

“His real name is Baboo,” Angelo said.

“Shut up, Angelo,” Smilo Baboo-Chad replied angrily. “You’re just jealous of my sabertooth swagger!”

“Misha, how good to smell you again!” Sami licked Misha behind the ears, which she liked very much. “I missed you so much.”

“Me too, Sami!”

Angelo ignored his new friend and greeted Misha instead. “Hello, kiddie.”

“I’m four months old!” Misha defended her clawiness. “I’m strong and I have teeth!”

She roared to prove it, loud enough to spook Smilo Baboo-Chad.

“Nobody denies that part,” Angelo replied calmly. Misha was the highest level animal in the city behind Don Le Minet and the Koala, because she swiped evil beasties left and right. She wouldn’t let any of them near a human ever again. “But you’re still the youngest of us, so I get to call you kiddie.”

Misha grumbled, but she didn’t have the heart to stay mad at her friend for long. Especially not when they brought a new shiny: an oil lamp of red glass, with pretty pictures of flames on its surface. It let out a sweet-smelling mist on the table.

“Check this out Misha,” Sami said with pride. “We found it in Sousse’s Jinn Court dungeon.”

“What does it do? What does it do?” Misha asked with excitement. Magical shinies fascinated her. “Can it summon a genie like in Aladdin? Can I make a wish?”

“Unfortunately no,” Sami replied. “But it can disperse illusions and darkness.”

Misha tried her best not to look disappointed. She had hoped to wish Aya could wake up. Then she would have wished for the poor people of Tunis to become wealthy, and finally for a sea of sweet milk!

The human waiter, Mohammed, arrived with the snackies: freshly cut fish and yummy lamb couscous! Misha licked her lips and Sami gnawed on the meat, but Angelo stared at the platter with incomprehension.

“Where’s my sushi, Mohammed?” he asked the waiter, pointing at sliced fish with his paw.

“This is sushi,” Mohammed grunted. “A sashimi slice.”

“Sushis have rice in them!” Angelo slammed the platter with his paw and sent a fish flying in the air. Smilo Baboo-Chad tried to catch it midair, but the food bounced off his long fang. “Where’s my sushi, Mohammed? Have you forgotten the rules? We keep the streets clean of monsters, and in return, you feed us, love us, house us, and fulfill all our whims! You’re disrespecting me, Mohammed!”

“I can’t make nigiri without rice,” Mohammed replied calmly. Mohammed was never afraid of anything. “We don’t produce rice in Tunisia, we mostly import it. In case you haven’t noticed, the worldwide supply chain is kinda broken right now.”

“The supply chain?” Angelo hissed. “Where is it? I will give its links a good tug!”

Mohammed’s lips curled. “Sometimes I wonder why we bother with this arrangement.”

“Look, let’s be objective here.” Angelo smirked smugly. “The System gifted us with advanced claw proficiency, incredible agility, the ability to slay all birds, and nine lives. All at level one! Meanwhile, it turned you into a clever cook. It’s just the way things are meant to be.”

“Your Tamer owner gave you nine lives,” Mohammed replied with a tired voice.

“Exactly,” Angelo said with a nod. “He exists to improve my comfortable existence.”

“Then find rice for me and I will cook you nigiri,” Mohammed said before serving another feline client. Angelo glared at him but didn’t find a clever retort.

New Quest: Mad Rice: Nigiri Road
Recommended Level: 10.
Mohammed needs rice to make yummy food. Find rice—

“Sneak attack!” Misha swiped the screen, to no avail.

Dismaker Labs wishes you a happy apocalypse!

The screen vanished and Misha sulked.

“I will get you next time,” she swore. “Next time!”

“You know you can’t harm it, right?” Angelo asked. “Try all you want, you won’t get rid of the screens.”

“I hate the screens,” Misha complained. “It’s because of them Aya got hurt. I hate them more than pointers, and they keep pointing at me!”

Sami and Angelo exchanged a glance. In the background, Smilo Baboo-Chad was struggling to eat his fish without getting it stuck between his fangs.

“You’re still visiting Aya?” Sami asked, a sad look on his snouty face.

“Each day,” Misha replied with a proud nod. “I can’t wait for her to wake up.”

“Look, Misha…” Angelo cleared his throat. “I don’t want to be the one to say this, but… I don’t think Aya will ever wake up. It’s been a month.”

“She will,” Misha insisted. “The Imam said it, and the Imam never lies!”

“Yes, but…” Angelo winced as Sami stepped on his tail for some reason. “Ouch!”

“So, where do you come from?” Misha asked her new friend. “Are you from Tunis? Or Djerba?”

“I’m from Sousse,” said Smilo Baboo-Chad after finally swallowing his fish. “I’ll probably move to Tunis long-term as my city’s ambassador.”

“He’s Souspicious,” Angelo said with a chuckle. Nobody ever laughed at his puns, but Misha always nodded in approval so he wouldn’t feel alone.

“Oh, do you have a lion sultan?” Misha pressed her new friend for details. She couldn’t help herself. She was too curious!

“We don’t have a Guildmaster, no,” Smilo Baboo-Chad explained. “Our dungeon is tougher than yours. It mostly produces jinns, ghouls, and elementals. Not birdies like yours.”

“So the locals are like, ten levels behind us,” Sami explained. “They couldn’t rack up experience early like we did.”

“Oooh…” Misha whispered. She thought all cats had become strong on the first day when evil birdies emerged from the Tower of Carthage and the Wind Palace in the Medina. It had made them strong enough to protect humans… most of them. “Are humans safe in Sousse?”

“Sort of,” Smilo Baboo-Chad answered. “We’ve got a loose confederation of parties taking care of themselves. Humans, dogs, cats… even turtles and ferals formed groups in Sousse. Problem is, none of them can agree on anything.”

“You see, Misha, when Don Le Minet stormed the Tower of Carthage with the other zoo animals, it allowed him to create the Animafia and organize us,” Angelo explained. “The humans came to us begging for protection.”

Misha knew that story by heart, but politely let her friend say it again. Don Le Minet had been a mighty lion at Tunis’ Zoo, and the System made him the strongest feline of all times. He gathered a great clowder of cats and slaughtered all the birdies for levels, before making the city his territory.

“We cats were so powerful after slaughtering the birdies that it simply made sense for us to handle monsters while humans took care of the food and cuddling.” Angelo glared at Mohammed and shouted at him. “Which they’re doing a poor job at it!”

“Whatever,” the waiter replied.

“Don Le Minet agreed to take care of dungeon stuff and let the human council of Imams manage the city,” Sami explained. “But the people of Sousse never managed to organize without a Guild. It’s complete chaos.”

“That would change if we could clear the dungeon, but we can barely maintain truce zones between our parties,” Smilo Baboo-Chad said. “That’s why we asked for reinforcements from you guys.”

“We met Baboo while cleaning up the second floor,” Angelo explained. Smilo Baboo-Chad scowled at the name. “But the third was too tough for our group. We would need at least ten high-level parties to reach the Boss.”

“Or the right animal.” Sami scowled. “There’s rumors that the Don intends to send the Koala to clean up.”

Misha held her breath in terror. “He can’t!”

“He can,” Angelo replied with a shrug. “But yeah, the Koala is more likely to collapse the dungeon than conquer the place.”

The Koala—his true name was Sleepy, but nobody dared to speak it—was the most powerful creature in the entire Animafia behind Don Le Minet. Misha remembered him vaguely from the time Aya brought her to the zoo, before the dungeons. The guardians let Aya touch the Koala, but he preferred to munch plants rather than get out of his cage. He was new and shy.

But that was before.

The System made cats better and lions nobler, but it turned the Koala into a terror. Within the first hour of his metamorphosis, he had eaten all of the zoo’s hippopotamuses, half the alligators, and one of the bears. Nobody knew how Don Le Minet managed to reason with him; or at least, none survived to tell the tale.

“That’s why I think we should move to Egypt,” Angelo declared. “Less headaches this way.”

“Here we go again.” Sami rolled his eyes. “I wondered when you would bring it up today.”

“You can’t understand, you weren’t worshiped as a god,” Angelo replied. “The Egyptians, they respect us cats. They would have rice for sushi.”

“Egypt is too far away,” Smilo Baboo-Chad said with a shrug. “We would have to swim or walk through Algeria to reach the place.”

“Libya,” Sami said. Sami could always tell left from right, because he was smart. “It’s Libya between Tunisia and Egypt.”

“Same, it’s sand.”

The conversation fizzled out afterward and the food platter shrank to nothing. But before she finished everything, Misha slipped a meaty fishtail into a waiter’s pocket as he passed by.

“Why did you do that?” Smilo Baboo-Chad asked in confusion.

“It’s my tip,” Misha explained with pride. “The good Imam says ‘you must always give a little of your wealth to the poor, so you can become wealthy in spirit.’ So I tip everyone!”

“Don’t you tip waiters in Sousse?” Sami asked. “I always leave them a bone.”

“I let them rub my belly,” Smilo Baboo-Chad admitted. “But I swipe them if they take too long.”

“You should teach humans never to expect anything,” Angelo grumbled. “It builds character.”

The group separated after many licks and tearful barks, but they promised to meet again tonight after their respective errands were completed. Misha wouldn’t miss her own for anything; not even for her friends.

She was going to visit Aya.

Aya slept in the south of Tunis, beyond the great lake. Misha had to run around it to avoid arriving wet. When she reached the doors of Aya’s new home, she found Habib at the entrance with sweet flowers in his arms.

Habib was a good Imam, an old human with long white robes and a kind smile of crooked teeth. Before the dungeons, he gave money to the poor, fed cats, and prayed for everyone. Now he healed the sick with spells, cleaned up beds with his broom, and took care of Aya in Misha’s absence.

“Hello, Mister Habib!” Misha greeted the good Imam. “Has Aya woken up today?”

“I’m afraid not,” the good Imam replied. His voice was soothing and wise, but his words saddened Misha a little. “Allah be merciful, I know she is thankful for your visits.”

“I wish I could come more often,” Misha complained. She would rather be at Aya’s side at all times, but she had promised to defend the city and needed to fulfill her vow.

“Allah tasks no soul beyond its capacity,” said the good Imam. “You have already exceeded many in faith and kindness. Aya is always with you, my child, even if you cannot see her yet.”

Misha’s head perked up with hope. “She is? Right now?”

“Yes, she is. And one day, Allah will lift the veil from your eyes and will be able to hold her again.” The good Imam petted Misha behind the ears. “Now go. She is waiting for you.”

Misha nodded and entered the Jellaz Cemetery.

She walked among the flowers and bed of stones, until she found Aya’s. Her owner slept between her parents, under a white soft slab covered in flowers. The good Imam had written words on its hard surface. It had taken Misha many days to learn how to read them.

Aya Zhaoui
Peace be upon her, the day she was born, and the day she died, and the day she is raised up alive.

Misha sat in front of Aya’s bed. So many words formed in her mind. She wanted to tell Aya about her day, about her new friend, about the new words she had learned and all the food she had eaten…

But she couldn’t. The words came out on their own.

“I’m sorry.”

That sentence felt sore in her mouth. Misha had uttered it so many times, but she could never get used to it. These words were like a curse, one she would have to live with for the rest of her life.

“I’m sorry, Aya,” Misha apologized with a small, little voice. “I’m sorry I let that birdie into our home. I’m sorry I hid under the bed when… when…”

Misha couldn’t say it. It hurt to remember that cruel night, when the screens showed up and filled the world with sorrow. Misha had tried to make it a happier place, as did all her friends… yet someone would always be missing.

“I swear, I haven’t let another evil birdie or beastie hurt anyone else since.” It soothed Misha’s guilt, but only a little. She always gave the beasties a chance to turn away from evil before swiping them, because Aya would have wanted it. Aya wanted everyone to become her friend. “Not one!”

Aya didn’t answer. Aya didn’t wake up. She didn’t play with Misha or pet her, didn’t put a ribbon on her head or bring her treats under the table. Misha wouldn’t lick her owner, wouldn’t rub her legs, or run after her. Once she did all of those things, but that felt like a long time ago.

“I miss you,” Misha whispered.

One day, the righteous would return. The Imam had said so. In the end times, good Allah would wake up Aya from her slumber and they would be together again.

Until that day, Misha would keep visiting her owner’s bed of stone.

For Misha was a good cat.

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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