Apocalypse Tamer - Chapter 66: Man vs Tiger
Chapter 66: Man vs Tiger
The party left for Orléans in the morning.
A bitter storm of snow and wind engulfed them midway through, which considerably slowed down their progress. The situation didn’t improve much after the blizzard abated. The deep rifts of ice left behind damaged the main road, forcing them to take detour after detour. A journey meant to last three days stretched on for a week, until Basil decided to cut his losses and travel through the more practical A71 path. It would force the party to bypass Orléans, but at least they should arrive in Paris before December.
“Basil, why is the snow better at slowing us down than a goddess?” Plato had asked his best friend after yet another blizzard.
“Because she wasn’t the goddess of snow, obviously,” Basil had replied grimly. “I hate winter.”
Even then, difficulties piled up one after the other. An avalanche buried the Steamobile for a day; rot spoiled the party’s rations and forced them to hunt a herd of wooly rhinos for food; and a band of traveling human merchants they encountered on the way turned out to be maddened cannibals. They were too weak to present a challenge, but Basil had to throw away their ‘pork rations’ much to Rosemarine’s dismay.
Bugsy’s condition didn’t improve either.
The centimagma spent his days sneezing inside the Steamobile’s engine room under a hill of blankets and hot compresses. Where Rosemarine had grown somewhat used to the cold thanks to her ability to gather solar energy, Bugsy required a constant stream of Monster Cure II boosts to remain somewhat lucid. The situation grew so bad that Basil decided to resort to extreme measures.
“Sorry to summon you like this, Zachariel,” Basil apologized as he called the angel with his One for All Perk. “But I’m at a loss at how to treat him.”
“No worries, sir, I live for this.” Zachariel examined Bugsy. The centimagma coughed fire, forcing the angel to step back to avoid being incinerated. “Mmm… what a harsh Faithless Fever you have caught…”
“I’m zorry,” Bugsy whimpered with a nasally voice. “I don’t know what zappening to me…”
“I don’t know either,” Basil admitted. “It’s not an ailment and you aren’t losing HP, but your stats have been heavily debuffed. Staying warm inside the Steamobile doesn’t seem to help either.”
“If I may, sir, I believe this is related to the current Field you’re traveling through,” Zachariel explained. “Elemental Types are heavily vulnerable to their effects. Just like how a water creature would deeply suffer inside a volcano, I believe our friend here simply cannot survive normally in a snowy wasteland.”
Oh right, Basil hadn’t considered Field effects. Nothing about the area indicated that fire elementals would die in it, but it did weaken Fire and strengthen Frost. Bugsy breathed the former and feared the latter. Since Fields affected everyone within their area of effect, being inside the Steamobile didn’t provide any protection from them.
“So we either migrate south or leave Bugsy like this until we reach Paris?” Basil asked with a frown, to which Zachariel replied with a nod. “It might be days ahead. Don’t you have anything that could ease his suffering?”
“May I suggest using the pagan essence you harvested?” Zachariel proposed. “I am not fond of them, but your tropidrake’s resistance to the Field effect could be related to the one that she ingested in Bordeaux. Consuming false idols has many health benefits according to research.”
Basil doubted it, but at this point they might as well try. He searched for the essences among his belongings and presented them to Bugsy.
“Which one do you want?” he asked the centimagma. “Apollo’s? Or Artemis’?”
“From what Nessia taught me of this strange Greek religion, Apollo is a god of the sun and medicine,” Zachariel said. “He would be the obvious choice.”
“I don’t know, boz,” Bugsy replied. “Are you zure you want to feed me one? Didn’t you want to make a weapon with ziz?”
“We have enough guns as it is.” Neria had sent them a new ammo shipment through the guild inventory. “Your health is more important to us, my friend.”
“Friendz?” Bugsy’s eyes lit up with joy at the word. “I’m… thank zou so much, Boz.”
“Now open your mouth and take your medicine,” Basil said as he all but shoved the Apollo essence down his sick teammate’s throat. The sphere of divine power vanished into Bugsy’s body and caused his lava blood to heat up.
Centimagma Bugsy Venture absorbed the [Essence of Apollo]! Bugsy unlocked a new divine metamorphosis (level 73 required).
Level 73 was far away, but at least the makeshift cure had worked. Bugsy emerged from under the blankets warm and revitalized.
“How do you feel?” Basil asked.
“Better already, Boss,” Bugsy replied with his normal voice. Zachariel checked up on him with spells. “I could eat a whole mammoth!”
“Your metabolism has stabilized for now,” Zachariel confirmed. “But I suggest that you follow a healthy diet, just in case. Trade ice cream for coal candies, wear warm clothes to protect yourself from the cold, avoid premarital sex, and you should be fine.”
“Yes, Mr. Zachariel.” Bugsy let out a breath of fire. “I’m pumped now, Boss. Does Rosemarine need help with clearing the path of snow?”
“Not yet,” Basil replied. “We’ve made a stop to let her rest and Plato hasn’t returned from his scouting yet.”
“Oh.” Bugsy lowered his antennae in disappointment. “Isn’t there anything I can do? Maybe Vasi needs assistance with her potions? Or should I help Shellgirl with inventory management?”
Bugsy was eager to overwork himself right after recovering from a weeks-long sickness. Basil didn’t know whether to scold or praise his dedication. “I guess you could always manage the engine, if you feel up for it…”
“Sir, if I may,” Zachariel said. “Does our friend have an assigned Lair yet?”
“Uh, not yet,” Bugsy replied. “I wanted to make one in Chateau Muloup but Ronald’s got it covered.”
“Good, good.” Zachariel nodded to himself. “Then I would suggest looking for a suitable place to establish one. Building the correct Lair would let me return to Bordeaux in short order.”
“What do you mean?” Basil asked with a frown.
“Do you remember how your Lair II Perk allows us to create our own, sir?” Zachariel asked. “We have created a few in partnership with other angels and discovered that some of them could possess a very interesting feature: Teleportation Circle.”
“Teleportation Circle?” Basil’s heart skipped a beat. “Teleportation to where?”
“From what we gathered so far, to all Lairs with the same feature and whose owners belong to the same party or guild,” Zachariel explained. “We haven’t finished testing the distance limit yet, but early results are promising.”
“What did you say?” Shellgirl immediately barged into the engine room, much to Basil’s confusion. Had she been listening through the door? “Zach, did my ears deceive me? You have found a way to create a teleportation network?”
“It would be a boon for us,” Bugsy noted. “We could transport food to Ronald, back and forth.”
“A boon? A boon?! It’s a revolution in logistics!” Shellgirl shook Bugsy like a tree. “Can you fathom how much merchandise we could quickly transfer around with a teleportation network? How many people would pay us to travel from one safe warehouse to the other? No more time wasted in roadblocks and dirty snow!”
She had a point. Basil’s recent troubles with the roads had taught him he shouldn’t take good public service for granted. He wondered how much time they would have saved with a functional highway.
“Strange that I didn’t hear of it earlier,” Basil said. He had checked on Ronald, whose monster interns had established Lairs as safehouses and fortifications in the region around the dungeon. The fiendish burger hadn’t mentioned a Teleportation Circle at any point. “Our guild has established dozens of Lairs so far. Are certain criteria necessary to unlock the feature?”
“According to early forays, the Teleportation Circle only appears if the Lair in question is symbolically associated with thresholds and pathways,” Zachariel explained. “Castle, houses, even churches do not possess it, unlike caverns and haunted travel agencies.”
Ah, of course. Compared to dungeons, Lairs could be established almost anywhere but lacked many baseline abilities. Establishing a network of them would require a lot more prep-work.
“I guess we could try to find a suitable location on the way to Paris, or inside the city itself,” Basil suggested. “That would be easier than conquering a dungeon.”
“What if…” Bugsy managed to shrug Shellgirl off him, his eyes bright with hope. “What if I were to build it?”
“The Lair?” Basil asked in surprise.
“Yes, Boss! What if I were to build mine from the ground up instead of looking for one?” Bugsy snapped his mandibles in excitement. “Someone designed our house before we moved in, right? It didn’t sprout from the Earth like a dungeon!”
“But it still worked as a Lair…” Basil’s breath grew shorter as he realized the implications behind his friend’s idea. “Bugsy, you are a genius!”
“Why not build offices with business Lair Features?” Shellgirl suggested happily. “We put a huge door somewhere and bam, instant teleportation!”
“If we design standardized plans, we could make a template easy to build anywhere,” Basil thought out loud. “The Roman army could build fortified camps in three hours with practice. We can do the same.”
“Let me write down the plans, Boss!” Bugsy proposed. The centimagma had proved himself a strangely talented amateur architect, and he was always eager to practice his craft. “I’ll design the best Lair there is! It’ll be like a new house with a bigger chicken coop and pens for all farm animals! And to make sure we get the Teleportation Circle feature, I’ll… I’ll build doors within doors! A big ring-sized archway opening the path to the stars!”
“Make me proud, soldier.” Basil put a hand on the centimagma’s head. “Let us start a new Bulgarian architectural revolution, with brutalist walls and post-modernist archways!”
“Let me help, Bugsy,” Shellgirl proposed with enthusiasm. “I’ll supply you with the best materials you’ll need!”
“Don’t forget to add chapels,” Zachariel suggested. “Everyone always forgets the chapels.”
“I won’t disappoint, Boss,” Bugsy swore. “I’ll work harder than an ant and faster than a fly!”
Of that, Basil had no doubt.
Congratulations, your party earned 330,000 EXP (16,500 for you). You earned a level (total 36).
Cait Sith Plato can now undergo metamorphosis into either a [Carabas Cait] (Fairy/Beast) or a [Rakshasa Kitten] (Beast/Demon)!
Oh? It appeared Plato had slain a few creatures on his patrol.
Leaving his friends to discuss the merits of an office tower over a flat fort, Basil exited the Steamobile to face the cold outside. Rosemarine rested on the snow, under the shadow of an abandoned lodge close to a frozen river. Vasi cooked a potion stew in a cauldron right next to Plato, who dragged the corpse of a bear-sized penguin entirely made of ice across the ground.
“Ah, I missed hunting birds,” Plato said as he leaped on his dead prey’s belly and puffed his chest in pride. “I found a whole flock of them north. I couldn’t resist.”
“I thought you didn’t hunt land-bound birds?” Basil taunted him before lightly kissing Vasi on the cheek. His girlfriend returned the gesture with a wink. “Penguins can’t fly.”
“Only wicked birds can live in a place such as this,” Plato replied. “Anyway, Basil, you should rejoice. Our suffering is finally over.”
“Let me guess, you have found an oven?”
“I followed the frozen river,” Plato explained, wagging his tail in happiness. “Guess what? It dries up and leads to a warm, giant litter!”
“Warm?” Rosemarine’s head perked up in interest. “Where?”
“A litter?” Basil’s eyes widened in shock. “You mean a desert? Paris’ desert?”
“Yes!” Plato meowed in happiness. “I saw the Eiffel Tower on the horizon!”
“But that’s impossible.” Basil frowned and immediately summoned his map from the inventory. “We should still be days away, unless… unless we’ve reached the Gâtinais regional park already?”
“Did we lose our way again, handsome?” Vasi asked with a light chuckle.
“I’m afraid so,” Basil admitted after checking the map. They must have taken a wrong turn near Orléans. “But on the bright side, we were so lost that we ended up back on the right track.”
“Mister, can we leave now?” Rosemarine pleaded. She was back on her feet within seconds. “I’m ready to walk again!”
Aww, she was such a hard worker!
“It’s alright sweetie, you can rest a bit longer,” Basil said, only for his tropidrake to stomp the ground with her feet in frustration.
“I’ve had enough of the snow!” Rosemarine protested, saying out loud what everyone was feeling deep down. “I can’t even eat it! It makes my tummy growl!”
“Can you wait a few minutes until I bottle up my brew?” Vasi grinned ear to ear. “I’m almost finished.”
Basil glanced at her cauldron. A sky blue potion boiled within it, as viscous as British porridge and as unnatural as a coca-cola soda mixed with water.
Dr. Jekyll’s Angover Cure
Family: Potion (Consumable)
Effect 1: Grants immunity to mental Ailments for 1 minute per milliliter.
Effect 2: Cancels shapeshifting effects for 1 minute per milliliter.
The gentleman’s antidote to anger and accidental full moon transformations. Potential side effects include acne, blandness, and a nagging sense of existential emptiness. Keep it away from suicidal comedians!
Basil wasn’t certain that temporary ailment immunity was worth the loss of his sense of humor, which had taken many hits lately. “All shapeshifting effects?” he asked. “Does that include my werebear transformation?”
“Seems so,” Vasi confirmed with a sad face. “Please don’t abuse it. I like your fur.”
“Well, it’ll make for a nice ace-in-the-hole until we find a better option.” Basil helped his girlfriend store the potion inside glass bottles. “An item granting me complete ailment immunity would negate all the downsides of All For One.”
“Hopefully, the next bird on my path will drop one,” Plato said. “By the way, what’s a rakshasa? Seems I can transform into one now.”
“I’ve heard of them while doing research on Kalki,” Basil said. “It’s a tiger demon from Hindu mytholog–”
“You had me at tiger,” Plato cut in with excitement. “Do they have stripes?”
“I… I think?” Basil replied with a raised eyebrow. “They’re masters of illusions and man-eaters too.”
“Illusions? They’re magicians?” Vasi joined her hands. “That’s great! Maybe you will count as a witch and trigger my Hag Coven Perk!”
“I won’t let you eat Mister,” Rosemarine warned Plato. “And maybe Miss Neria too, because I like her. Everyone else is edible.”
“So long as men keep worshiping me, I will spare them my wrath,” the cat replied with pride. “Let’s go with Rakshasa.”
“The System says Rakshasa Kitten,” Basil pointed out. “You might end up smaller than you already are. And Carabas is a reference to the puss-in-boots. It could make you a better swordsman, or even a noble.”
“Mmm… true, I should hedge my bets.” Plato wagged his tail. “Yo dog, do you have an essence left? It unlocked a new metamorphosis for the big plant over here, hasn’t it?”
“I’m not sure it’ll alter the current choices, but I guess we can check…” Basil grabbed the Artemis essence and presented it to Plato. “This is our last one.”
“Is it wise, Basil?” Vasi asked with a scowl. “Walter proposed to forge weapons with them for us, and Metal Olympus can track essences.”
“We crossed that bridge when Rosemarine ate Tamura,” Basil replied with a shrug. “And I would rather avoid relying on Walter for everything.”
The man had made his position clear. He didn’t care for Earth and would happily trade with mankind’s enemies without remorse. Walter Tye had been helpful so far and Basil trusted his professionalism, but the necromancer could always decide to abandon their world without a moment’s notice.
In the end, the party could only rely on each other in a pinch.
“Here we go…” Plato grabbed the essence sphere. “Uh, am I supposed to swallow it? It’s almost as big as I am.”
“You can try to lick it really hard,” Basil teased him. “Can’t taste worse than your behind.”
“At least I don’t have to rob supermarkets for toilet paper like you primates.” Plato licked the essence, with the sphere brightening and disappearing into the cat’s chest. “Tiger god, here we go!”
Cait Sith Plato absorbed the [Essence of Artemis]! Plato unlocked a new divine metamorphosis (level 82 required).
Plato waited a moment, before frowning in disappointment. “Wait, that’s it?”
“Seems so,” Basil replied. “You can choose to become either a tiger kitten or a noble cat.”
Come to think of it, why a kitten? Tigers had cubs, not kittens. Shouldn’t tiger demons have those too? What was the reason for this odd naming choice?
Dismaker Labs wishes you a happy apocalypse!
Basil would never forgive the programmers for violating the rules of grammar.
“I’m already a noble,” Plato argued. “Stripes are the new crowns!”
“Suit yourself,” Basil replied before assigning his new level so Plato could do the same. Considering the large presence of undead enemies in Paris, he decided to continue on the path of the Deathknight.
Deathknight of the Sepulchre Level 2 Stat Gains: +1 STR, +1 AGI, +1 VIT, +1 SKI, + 1 MAG, +1 CHA, +1 LCK. You earned 40 HP and 15 SP.
Plato immediately glowed like the full moon, his body changing with the metamorphosis. He didn’t grow in size like Rosemarine or Bugsy before him, but the transformation was no less striking. The face of Basil’s beloved cat changed to fit that of a tiger instead of the dwarf panther he liked to present himself as. His tiny legs gained a lot of muscle, moving from graceful to nimble and powerful. Although his eyes remained as golden as ever, his fur adopted a pattern of black with white stripes. His boots and hat morphed to adapt to his new physiology, although they seemed weirdly out of place on a tiny tiger.
Congratulations, [Cait Sith] Plato metamorphosed into a [Rakshasa Kitten] (Beast/Demon)! Plato learned the [Pawerful Dao], [Manbane], and [Illusionist IV] Passive Perks, and the [Catnapping] Active Perk! His existing Perks have also been strengthened!
Plato’s [Illusionist IV] triggered [Hag Coven]! You can learn and cast Coven Witchcraft Spells again!
“So cute,” Vasi whispered as Plato looked at his mighty paws. She raised a hand, struggling against the urge to pet him. “Can I–”
“Look, but don’t touch!” Plato replied with pride. Basil immediately scratched him behind the ears. “Hey! Respect my authority!”
“Tigers love swimming, from what I’ve heard,” Basil said with a grin. “Should I throw you into a bath to check?”
“Do that and I will practice my new Manbane Perk on your back, like a punching bag.” Plato mimicked a boxing punch motion. “Paw, paw, paw!”
“Can you…” Vasi blushed in embarrassment. “Can you roar for me?”
Plato’s eyes snapped wide open as a dreadful thought crossed his mind. He cleared his throat, leaped on Rosemarine’s back, and stood atop the tropidrake’s head like Simba on Pride Rock. The tiny tiger stared at the sun, standing defiant and proud in the celestial light.
At that moment, Plato had never looked more kingly.
He glanced up at Basil and Vasi as if they were his subjects, gathered his breath… and opened his mouth.
A powerful sound echoed across the frozen wasteland.
A mighty squeal to shake the heavens. A high-pitched cry that only the cutest kitten could muster. The kind of sound that drove the internet mad.
Plato stopped, his expression devoid of emotion. Vasi clapped to cheer him up, but that only embarrassed the cat. Basil wisely remained silent so as not to shame him further.
“This is my first time, I will get it right soon.” Plato gathered his breath once more. “Meeeeh! Meeh!”
When no mighty roar erupted from his throat, the tiny tiger shouted louder, and louder, and louder. Ice cracked beneath Rosemarine’s feet and snow fell from trees. Yet Plato only succeeded in squealing higher.
Shellgirl’s panicked voice came out of the Steamobile. “Is someone waterboarding Plato?!”
“Not yet!” Basil shouted back.
“Oh, okay!” Shellgirl replied, immediately calming herself. “Quiet then! Some high-income individuals are working here!”
Plato ignored the advice and kept squealing. No roar came out of his maw, no matter how hard he tried. Even Rosemarine looked sorry for him.
“Do you know when Rakshasas enter puberty?” Basil asked Vasi, struggling not to laugh.
“I don’t know,” his girlfriend replied with a bright, happy smile. Her hands were joined in prayer. “I just hope they’re late bloomers.”
“Damn it!” Plato cursed as he collapsed to his knees. “Damn it, Mufasa! MUFASA!”