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The drone footage was shared with all the sworn defenders. A carpet of Experience points was coming our way. They were happy to finally have something to fight and I extended our walls in a starburst pattern, a breakwater designed to funnel the Infernali into kill zones. Missile launches happened almost every hour as I took down flocks of demonic fliers. I might place the next ring of walls, sixteen miles away from the World Tree seed (which hadn't yet sprouted. Any day now). The amount of Mana flowing from that seed was already comparable to Marshall's aura, the highest-level person I've ever met.

The next day, I crystallized another point of DM, and used daydream.

 

Earth is but one of the many worlds threatened by the Infernali. In some of them, the struggle for dominance has gone on for thousands of years and devolved into a stalemate.

 

Good to know there's people (aliens?) out there fighting the good fight, but how does this help me? Will they cross the stars to come and help me? Probably not. Magical people can't survive in space without Mana.

Anyway, time to put guns on the walls, to help cull the Infernali if the defenders need any help.

 

*


*

 

Demons! Kill one, get one free!

I gave up on coding. Requests for aid popped up all the time and while the funnels were working as intended, the number of beasts coming our way didn't change. At least people were having their fill of Experience Points. We had a little problem. The Kodiak bears made for good opponents to train and level people up to the fifties but then it tapered down to almost nothing after level fifty-five. To the point it wasn't worth the Dungeon Mana. People fifty-five and above actually descended a step and went to a specialized horde-level version of the fourth floor (levels 30 ~ 39) where they would kill dozens of lions and tigers. It was still wasteful. The amount of DM used to level one such person could elevate another from zero to forty with some pocket change.

Now, they had their work cut out for them. Some scholarly-inclined types penned a bestiary for us and we started collecting video footage and data on the abilities of the Infernali. They fought, rotated with fresh teams, I shot with the guns to keep the monsters from exploiting the gap, and the cycle repeated. Sometimes a team was about to be overwhelmed and I used lasers, rockets, or railguns depending on the situation. Gruesome, repetitive work.

But so long we didn't have any fatalities or permanent incapacitating wounds, it was work that would become lighter over time. Our warriors would level up, improve, grow stronger, apply the leveling techniques of the Nobility Marshall shared with everyone. Plan their builds, keep themselves from getting stunted. I was actively pushing for everyone with a (Uncommon) Class to drop it and upgrade. Keeping one Perk and the Class skill (albeit with the loss of one rank) was a sweet deal, made easier to take when one looked at the lifetime differences between rarity levels. Faster sub-class acquisition, better Perks, and more Perks.

Days passed. Months.

Our warriors proved their worth on the battlefield. Even some of our citizens that hadn't taken the Oath of the Sacred Tree tried their hands at fighting the Infernali. When one of these greener parties took the floor, I would spray some bullets at the horde to soften them. Thin their numbers a bit. Snipe the tougher beasts. The ones we knew were trouble like Newton's Third Boar.

But the hordes were endless. Missiles fired. Demon birds died. Air supremacy was a must as it was a weak point in our defenses. That and digging. Feeling a surge of fear, I cast a beacon into the ground. No, nothing. Perhaps I should expand the city in rings all the way out to the forty-mile no-digging zone, and then build a Large Dungeon Collider cylinder going all the way down. There was something wrong with a Dungeon staying above-ground.

The warriors cheered their newfound wealth. They had hundreds of Mana stones to harvest every day. Some were hoarded, some were converted into credits and spent. I watched the numbers carefully to avoid inflationary pressure. A Dungeon was an infinite manufactory. Once I had sampled an item, I could make endless copies of it. I dumped some commodities in the market to alleviate the demand and keep people from raising prices.

Look at me! Almost a Central Bank!

Jokes aside, I was getting afraid. Where were these monsters coming from? If this many Infernali were just lying around in the countryside, there wouldn't be people traveling around. There wasn't many to begin with but people did travel.

I prepared a dozen unmanned airplane drones. I improved their antenna to increase the range but this was a suicide mission. They took off and then flew in all directions, transmitting video data back to me. I had Marshall and a few key leaders with me in the first wagon command center, staring at twelve gigantic LCD screens.

The carpet of monsters went for miles. We had our work cut out for us. With proper management, I could raise every adult in this city to level sixty, at least.

Then we lost four birds to their birds. Flying Infernali viciously ravaged our machines. They took minutes of harassment to break the tough drones, some even got sucked by the jet engines. The engines were fine after cooking and grinding a demon bird. That's how resilient those things were. But the birds were relentless. Eventually, one critical hit here and another there bypassed the drone's armor. They exploded because of course I would fill suicide machines with as much explosives as I could. This was a war for the fate of the planet.

Then we saw it.

Nobody made a sound. I noticed most people were holding their breaths.

"No," Marshall mumbled. "We killed it."

I killed it. But then I remember one of the advice Daydream gave me. The creature we called "Jabberwock" was just one of many.

Two hundred miles away from our location, we spotted several, at least a score of "Jabberwock" creatures, some with four, some with five heads, the bigger ones towering at least 900 feet tall. All of them were focused on their tasks. Keeping portals to hell open. Demon after demon poured from these, and they ran toward our city once they picked up the "scent of life."

The zurgh rush was eternal. They were at it for over a month without any signs of fatigue. And I saw a handful of Boboyotes, as well as another type of Kaiju that looked like a whale more than a thousand feet long from above. Chilling out on dry land. I counted eight of these whale Kaiju, which I named "Wobby Dick" just for kicks.

Then all mirth vanished we saw the lieutenants. Near the Kaiju, overseeing the portals, hundreds of humanoid demons, skin ranging from brown to red to purple, muscular, some wearing manufactured armor made of unrecognizable materials. Several of them pointed a hand at our airplanes and then shot fireballs. Without a way to control the dumb drones, they didn't dodge.

 

[SIGNAL LOST]

 

The same words popped up one after the other on every screen, covering in red the last frame received by the drones. Usually of the fireball about to hit. It signaled the end of this recon mission.

We were thoroughly fucked.

I knew how tough my drones were. They blew up to a single fireball. Each one of them. If one of these fireballs strike a person under level eighty that's not a tank build? Death will soon follow. Also, the range. The drones were flying two thousand feet above ground. The "Damniablos", as I named them, made sniping an airplane look easy.

 

*


*

 

With the recon show over, people silently went out of the command center. They didn't talk, they didn't comment. They also didn't run away screaming and crying, which I counted as a plus. Only Marshall and I were left in the room with the twelve dead monitors.

"How many do you think they brought?" He asked.

"More than twenty," I replied with Blackjack Six's synthesized voice. "Jabberwocks."

"Jabberwocks, plural," he let out a pained chuckle.

"Then there's the handful of Boboyotes, the dozen Wobby Dicks, and the hundreds of Damniablos."

"Your naming sense sucks."

"I want to see you do better."

"What can you do?"

"I can offer you whiskey."

He grimaced, "I'll take a bottle. But no, I mean..."

I Replicated a bottle of Scotch he brought from his personal vault a year ago. I had some vintage booze in my Replication menu now. Marshall took a long swig straight from the bottle.

"About the scores of Kaiju feeding us monsters."

"Yeah." Marshall was at his wits' end.

"We can't run away this time. At least the Jabberwocks will take more than half a year to get here this time."

"What if all these armored demons come here?"

"We fight. We die. Or we run and die later. But if that tree gets destroyed, we lose our only shot at winning."

"I bet you would survive," he spoke without thinking.

"I promise you I'll be the last living creature to leave these walls if push comes to shove."

"We have too many non-combatants," Marshall rambled.

"We need these. I can make more weapons. Bigger lasers. Launch more missiles. I still have Jabberwock's Mana stone. I can consume that and make more canons. What we need right now is to shore our weaknesses. Level up our people. Grow stronger. Try to keep anyone from dying."

He didn't reply. His mouth was busy chugging Scotch. He let the golden nectar drip down the corners of his mouth, staining his uniform. "Then we fight."

"I'm going to put a squad of robots in every section, ready to dive in and rescue people if we need. I'll also add more guns and heavy weapons to the walls. Also..."

Breaking taboo, I did something not even family members did to one another. I explained to him one of my sub-Classes, Artillery General. It also worked as a normal general and suddenly I felt bad for dumping one of its Perks for a few Attribute points.

 

Coordinated Communications: Increase comprehension and clarity of orders down the line of command by 50%. Reduce the odds of misunderstood orders by 20%.

 

"Yeah, you screwed up there. But we need to rank up that 'Command and Conquer' Skill of yours. Any combat bonuses are worth their weight in gold; You will command all combat teams now. I'll send Zoe here to help you."

Zoe was one of his advisors. The woman had a sharp mind.

 

*


*

 

I made some good living quarters for Zoe next to the command center. She moved in and we started coordinating the troops to fight the Infernali. We kept estimates of levels, tracked known abilities, studied the video footage for signs of weariness, fatigue, low morale, things that could lead to issues down the road. When our warriors returned, they took some time in the meadow next to the hospital, ate the best food, took a relaxing bath, slept in the best beds.

We needed to pamper them up so they would keep fighting for the sake of all of us.

An idea passed through my mind. I went back to those teenagers that were boring their brains out in the classroom, then Replicated a Mech outside the classroom. I pulled the instructor out and explained my idea to him. He glanced at the teens and then agreed to it.

Blackjack Six walked into the classroom. "Greetings, I know you remember me."

"You're not even the same tin can."

"Remember me, not the robot I'm piloting."

"How can we forget our crystal overlord?" The kid sarcastically jested.

"I have a special offer for you. I have weapons from before the Apocalypse that can kill demons from hundreds of feet away. I want you to train with them and try to unlock a new Class. A ranged warrior that can fight the demons with these weapons from afar."

"They're called guns. You can say it."

"Yes. Guns. I want to train you kids to be the first Rifle Rangers of this new world. We can't fight these Demons with just medieval weapons and spells."

And if I fought them myself, we would put all our eggs in a single basket. If my weapons weren't enough, that was it. These kids, with a specialized Class and combat Perks and Skills, could turn the tables if allowed the time needed to grow.

Powerful as I was, I had a huge problem when it came to fighting within the rules of this new, System-empowered world. The Classification of my Classes were all non-combatants. Except Mech Pilot, which was classified as Warrior. A specialized build focused on fighting, would have ancillary sub-Classes that improve that job of theirs.

As Marshall told me, my hasty selection of sub-Classes, while cool and stuff, wasn't well-planned. They broadened my horizons but didn't synergize to make me stronger at what I did. Or what I had to do.

"What do you say? Do you want to fire cool weapons and get special training, or do you want to sit your butts here and study?"

Their choice was easy.

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A note from MDW

I'll give a gold star to the first person to explain in a comment the pun in the title of this chapter.


About the author

MDW

Bio: The author would like to reinforce for the umpteenth time that the characters' opinions are their own, may be intentionally wrong, do not reflect my (MDW's) personal viewpoints neither are included in this work to further any political agenda (I don't even live in the same hemisphere or country as you, whichever those are. I'm writing from the Earth-Sun L3 point for all I care). My works serve no purpose other than to tell stories with conflicting viewpoints. Use of the reader's critical sense is highly advised.

Achievements
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