Apocalypse Tamer - Chapter 71: Woman vs Painting
Chapter 71: Woman vs Painting
The shadows gathered around her boyfriend and dragged him away.
Neither flames nor ice dissipated the encroaching darkness. Her spells melted in a black ocean that soon swallowed a quarter of the room. Basil, Plato, and Pluto vanished like stars into a black hole.
“Basil!” Vasi shouted her boyfriend’s name. She received no answer and aimed her broomstick at the shadows. “Basil!”
“Vasi, back off!” Shellgirl warned as she struggled to hold onto her waist. Her sticky fingers left slime traces on Vasi’s dress. “We’ll get swallowed too!”
Vasi didn’t care. She refused to leave her boyfriend behind, doubly so since his demise would spell her own. Drawing upon her coven’s powers, she summoned a murder of bloody crows from her fingers. The birds swarmed the blob of darkness, only to be absorbed within it alongside everything else.
Her attack caused a reaction though. The shadows condensed into a shrinking sphere within seconds. This strange black hole collapsed on itself and vanished as if it had never existed.
Basil, Plato, Pluto… all of them had disappeared without a trace.
Only the cerberus and his minions remained.
Damn it, Vasi cursed as the three-headed hound opened fire at her. One of its heads breathed a stream of flame at the flying witch, while the two others did the same with Bugsy and Rosemarine. Both of them powered through the attack unscathed and bit the hound’s ankles, but Vasi had no choice but to zigzag in the air to avoid burning to death. Damn it, damn it!
“Boss!” Bugsy snarled in anger as he coiled around the cerberus’ leg and crushed bones under his grip. The beast roared in pain in response. Vasi was fond of dogs and would have frowned upon Bugsy’s action once, but she was in no mood for sympathy. “You’ll pay for this!”
“Mister!” Rosemarine let go of the cerberus and rushed to the spot where Basil had vanished. Minions of Anubis attempted to flank her, but she vaporized them with a quick sunbeam. Basil’s Deadslayer effect still empowered her. “Mister, where are you?!”
“Everyone, let’s take out the cerberus first!” Vasi shouted as Rosemarine fruitlessly scratched the ground, like a dog looking for a missing bone. “Shadowspikes!”
Shadows gathered under the cerberus and surged from the ground in the form of sharp spikes. Vasi’s spell gored through the monster’s belly, letting blood spill all over the gallery and narrowly missing Bugsy. The cerberus let out a vicious roar strong enough to shake the room.
Vasi immediately felt her magic slip away. Her perception of time, accelerated by the Hasten spell, returned to normal in an instant. Her buffs vanished and her shadowspike spell dissipated.
Cerberus’ [Disruptive Roar] canceled all magical effects!
Then her broomstick started to lose altitude.
Vasi’s SP sustained her tool’s flight, yet she felt her connection to it waning away. Her expert, tightly controlled flight turned into a maddened crash course toward the gallery’s windows.
“I can’t turn it back!” Vasi warned Shellgirl with panic in her tone. “We’ll have to jump!”
“I’ve got you!” Shellgirl grabbed Vasi by the waist and jumped with her off the broomstick. The mimic booty pivoted to put herself between her friend and the ground. Her slimy body absorbed the impact as they crashed near a broken statue, softening the blow like a cushion and probably saving both of their lives.
It’s soft like a cloud, Vasi couldn’t help but think as her face landed right between Shellgirl’s ‘assets.’ I could sleep on them…
A snapping sound brought her back to reality. Vasi’s broomstick crashed against a stained glass window, cracked it, and snapped in half.
The sight filled Vasi with cold anger and sorrow. Her broom had been a constant companion even before she arrived on Earth; with her hut’s destruction, it had been her only remaining memento of her homeworld of Outremonde.
This dog would pay for breaking it!
“Are you unharmed, girlfriend?” Shellgirl asked as Vasi rolled over her. The witch was drenched in slime. “Sorry, I’m always sticky when I’m nervous.”
“Later,” Vasi said as the cerberus growled at them, its three heads burning with hellfire. Vasi acted quicker and blasted it with a volley of ice shards, causing the vicious monster to recoil in pain.
“It’s vulnerable to Frost,” Vasi guessed. “Shellgirl, help me–”
“Vasi, look!” Shellgirl cut her off, a finger raised at something behind them. “Rosemarine!”
Vasi glanced at the tropidrake, as her great shadow loomed over the gallery.
Rosemarine was growing.
The magical potion that had shrunk her to manageable size waned off in seconds, stripped away by the cerberus’ roar. The tropidrake more than doubled in size, crushing two minions of Anubis under her weight. Rosemarine grew so large that she hardly fit in the gallery. Her tail cracked the stained glass windows as it waved from left to right. She faced the cerberus, with the standoff reminding Vasi of an alligator staring at a hound.
Although Vasi noticed a hint of fear in the cerberus’ eyes, the monster remained steadfast. It roared with all three heads, shook Bugsy off its broken foot, and charged at Rosemarine on its remaining three legs. The two titans clashed and brawled in a vicious melee of teeth and claws, the ground shaking with each of their blows. The cerberus’ charge pushed Rosemarine back, forcing Vasi and Shellgirl to roll to the side to avoid being trampled to death. The remaining minions of Anubis were crushed underfoot by the two giants after failing to escape.
The giant hound slammed Rosemarine against the neurotower’s forcefield, its red energy flaring with crimson lightning. The tropidrake snarled in pain as she swiped the cerberus with her claws and left bloody gashes on its three heads.
“Target the legs!” Vasi shouted a command as she and Shellgirl stood back on their feet. They were swiftly joined by Bugsy, all three of them unleashing projectiles on the cerberus’ ankles from behind. The centimagma’s flames licked the hound’s fur without inflicting damage, but Vasi’s ice shards and Shellgirl’s cold bullets both shredded the cerberus’ legs. The beast collapsed under its weight, which allowed Rosemarine to grab it with her clawed hands.
“Can dogs fly?” Rosemarine asked with murderous glee.
She threw the cerberus through the gallery’s windows without waiting for an answer.
Vasi, Shellgirl, and Bugsy ducked down to avoid a storm of glass shards. The cerberus’ massive form flew through the dungeon’s walls, shattered them, and fell from four floors into the quarry outside the UNESCO House.
“Look, it flies away!” Rosemarine shouted with joy. “Like a bird!”
The cerberus crashed heads-first onto the ground in a terrible crash. His three necks bent in a way that shouldn’t be biologically possible and bones pierced their way to freedom through his fur. The beast’s corpse crumbled under its own weight, dead and stiff. Piles of gold and loot materialized next to the cadaver and a familiar message confirmed its demise.
Your party earned 255,000 EXP (38250 for you). You earned a level.
You cannot assign your new level until [Basil Bohen] does.
The message, once an annoyance, came as a relief. Whatever happened to her boyfriend, Basil still lived. The party and Tamer connections remained intact.
“You aren’t going to claim the treasures?” Bugsy asked Shellgirl as the two observed the cerberus’ remains through the broken windows. Dungeon particles were already starting to repair the damage done to the building.
“No time for it,” Shellgirl replied without hesitation. Money mattered less to her than friends. “We need to save the others.”
“Mister Who-Feeds-Me is gone,” Rosemarine whined, her eyes glancing at the spot where Basil and Plato vanished. The tropidrake was too big to fully turn inside the gallery. “Mister Plato too…”
“They’re both alive, Rosemarine,” Vasi reassured her. “And still in the dungeon.”
“I know we would have perished Basil if he had died, but how can you tell about the dungeon?” Shellgirl asked in confusion.
“The Neurotower’s forcefield is still up.” Vasi pointed at the protected metal structure. The battle hadn’t even dented its magical barrier. “Since Pluto is this dungeon’s Boss, the forcefield would have vanished if he had left its confines. Besides, I can still cast Coven spells; which means Plato survived too.”
Vasi opened her System screen, swiftly confirmed her teammates were still attached to the Party, and tried to contact them with the Logs feature.
[Mona Lisa] blocked your message.
“Mona Lisa?” Vasi asked in confusion. She had heard Basil mention it once, but couldn’t put her finger on which circumstances. “The name sounds vaguely familiar.”
“I’ve read about it,” Shellgirl said with a grin. “It’s the most expensive painting on Earth, nearly priceless.”
Of course Shellgirl would know that kind of thing. Considering how the Trimurti System often changed famous items into powerful artifacts, Vasi shuddered to imagine what kind of power the Louvre’s cultural treasures now possessed. From what Basil told her, the museum housed wonders from all across the world.
Bugsy glanced at Vasi. “What do we do next?”
“Why are you asking me?” Vasi asked with a frown.
“The Boss is gone and Plato is the right-hand cat,” Bugsy replied. “With both of them indisposed, someone has to take charge.”
Bugsy meant it as a compliment, but it offended Vasi to have a tiger cub ahead of her in his mental hierarchy; however cute Plato might have been.
“You think Plato would have made a better leader than my dear Vasi?” Shellgirl complained. “He licks his ass each morning and naps eighteen hours a day!”
“And you’re our senior member, Bugsy,” Vasi pointed out. “You joined the party earlier than any of us here.”
“But I’m a minion through and through,” Bugsy replied with humility. “You, though, you took charge when we were fighting the cerberus. You’re the best option, I truly think so.”
“I’m flattered, but…” Vasi crossed her arms. The idea of ‘taking charge,’ as Bugsy put it, made her feel uncomfortable. The witch was confident in herself, but she preferred to go along with the ride rather than bark orders. “I don’t think I’m the best option on the table.”
“Come on, you will do great, Vasi.” Shellgirl reassured her best friend by taking Vasi’s hands into her own. “I’m right behind you.”
“I can take charge, if you don’t want to,” Rosemarine proposed kindly.
Vasi silently looked up at Rosemarine, whose fanged mouth morphed into a ghastly smile. Memories of screams and blood echoed in the back of her mind, a terrible warning of massacres to come.
“It’s all right, Rosemarine.” All of Vasi’s doubts vanished instantly, and she forced herself to smile back. “I will bear the burden of command.”
“Awww, are you sure?” Rosemarine asked, clearly disappointed.
“Certain.” Like any good democracy, the real choice wasn’t about selecting the best leader of them all, but the least murderous. “But thank you all the same.”
With the matter of Basil’s succession settled, Vasi glanced at the broken ceiling. Dungeon particles slowly repaired the damage, though the hole remained large enough that Rosemarine could easily fit through. Kalki’s music echoed beyond it, strong and powerful.
“Let’s follow the tune,” Vasi decided. Pluto couldn’t possibly leave Kalki unattended. If they found the bard, they could potentially lure their enemy into a trap… or at worst, trade him away for Basil. Vasi had nothing against Kalki, but her boyfriend’s safety took priority.
After checking her broomstick, Vasi confirmed her Repair Crafting option remained active thanks to her Witch Brew Perk. A few seconds later, her favored tool pieced itself back together and she rode it once again toward the next floor. Rosemarine grabbed Bugsy and Shellgirl in one hand each, rose on her back legs, and lifted them through the hole in the ceiling.
The seventh and last floor of the UNESCO half of the dungeon was, as expected, the panoramic restaurant. It was certainly the classiest area yet, with gold-laced walls, exotic wood decorations representing colorful sarcophagi, and candlelit tables. A magnificent window showcased the quarry outside.
However, ghastly details disturbed Vasi when she landed on the floor. Mummies sat around the empty tables, still and stiff. Each of them had a hole in the chest, as if they had been slain a second time recently. The Neurotower stood in the middle of the room, but a strange, floating painting was grafted into the forcefield; Kalki’s song came from it. Vasi went on to check it after burning all the mummies to cinders for safety’s sake.
The painting showcased a party set in a city of marble columns and ancient statues. Hundreds of men drank wine around a banquet table, with a familiar figure sitting at the very center of the portrait: a young man with light brown skin and curled raven hair falling on his shoulders, playing the flute. A mighty feathered bird and a three-headed golden cobra stood at each of his sides.
“I’ve found Kalki,” Vasi told the others as they walked to her sides. As for poor Rosemarine, she could only peek through the floor. “He has become art itself.”
[The Wedding Feast at Cana]. You cannot store this item in your Inventory nor gather information from it.
Vasi carefully brushed her fingers against the painting. As she expected, her nails went through the paint as if it were a soft curtain of water. She immediately pulled her hand out.
“It’s a portal of some kind,” Vasi guessed. “Kalki is on the other side.”
“Why is he staying inside?” Bugsy asked in confusion.
“Because he has no choice.” Vasi studied the painting carefully. Powerful enchantments protected it and shrouded its System features from her sight. “I doubt you can escape this trap if you fully cross over.”
“Wait a sec.” Shellgirl snapped her fingers. “Basil managed to contact our backup earlier.”
“He did,” Vasi confirmed, her eyes widening as she put two and two together. “The Mona Lisa didn’t block communications back then.”
“Exactly! So either the magical painting blocks communications within a limited range…” Shellgirl pointed at the painted portal. “Or the Logs feature failed because Basil was inside it.”
Vasi nodded sharply. That made sense. The paintings were technically within the dungeon, but probably acted as private pocket dimensions. This way, Pluto could both maintain control over the pyramid and trap people within magical jails.
That meant Basil was in a separate painting from the one right in front of the party.
“Where was this Mona Lisa exposed?” Vasi questioned Shellgirl, who had read the museum’s maps beforehand. “Hopefully Pluto didn’t move it away.”
“The Mona Lisa was placed on the first floor, according to the old maps,” Shellgirl said, her expression thoughtful. “If the pyramid is right above us, since the Louvre has a ground floor and two basements… then it’s four floors above us. We’ll need to keep climbing for a while.”
They couldn’t afford to waste time. “Bugsy, help me grab the painting,” Vasi ordered. Her own firm tone surprised her somewhat. Taking charge was easier than she thought, especially when it was for the sake of her friends. “I can’t store it in the Guild inventory.”
“Yes, of course!” Bugsy seized one side of the painting with his mandibles and Vasi the other with her hands. Neither the centimagma’s strength nor the witch’s finesse worked. The painting’s frame was merged tightly with the Neurotower’s forcefield and refused to budge. “Argh, I can’t hold it!”
“We’ll need to defeat Pluto if we want to move the painting,” Vasi said in frustration. “Entering it is risky.”
“Maybe if we send someone with a rope, they can grab Kalki and leave,” Bugsy suggested.
“I doubt it would be so easy,” Vasi replied. “If one of us tries and is trapped inside, we’ll become easy pickings.”
“Oh, let me try!” Rosemarine coughed and spat out a Fire Seed. “Go, my spawn! Go forth to new land and bloom!”
“Good thinking, Rosemarine!” Shellgirl grabbed a dusty tablecloth off one of the restaurant’s tables, turned it into an improvised rope, and tied it to the Fire Seed. “Give a tug when you want us to pull you out, rookie.”
The Fire Seed immediately leaped into the painting, vanished through the portal… and the rope immediately severed behind it. The poor monster appeared among the characters in the banquet, right next to an urn full of wine.
“I hope she can sing like I do,” Rosemarine said. Vasi shuddered upon remembering the tropidrake’s last encounter with alcohol.
“It’s one way only,” Shellgirl replied sadly. “Why can his music travel back though? It makes no sense!”
“Perhaps some spells can cross the portal, but we don’t have the time to test it further,” Vasi said. “Let’s leave him behind for now.”
“Are you sure?” Bugsy asked, slightly uncomfortable with the suggestion. “What if anything happens to him while we’re gone?”
“You’ve seen it yourself, nobody can damage the painting nor escape it,” Vasi pointed out. “He’s as safe as he can be, at least for now.”
“Yeah, Pluto won’t risk destroying the world by killing Kalki,” Shellgirl said before chewing her lip. “But Basil… he’s expendable.”
That was what worried Vasi the most. She didn’t know why Pluto had kidnapped her boyfriend—perhaps he wanted to keep Basil as a trophy or interrogate him—but the madman could dispose of his captive at any time.
“Let’s secure the Mona Lisa first,” Vasi decided. “We’ll travel up through the dungeon and find the others. Rosemarine will stay behind to keep Kalki’s painting, since she’s too large to fit through the other floors.”
“Aww, abandoned again?” Rosemarine sulked. “I hope I will get smaller when I evolve.”
“Sorry girl,” Shellgirl said with an apologetic smile. “On the bright side, you can crush anyone approaching this way!”
To Vasi’s surprise, Rosemarine didn’t appear enthusiastic at all. “Slaughter means nothing without Mister’s smile,” the tropidrake said sadly. “A massacre is like a cake. It’s better when you share it.”
“We’ll get him back,” Vasi promised. “I swear it.”
Pluto had made the worst mistake possible: he had forced Vasi to play the role of the paladin, saving her boyfriend in distress.
He wouldn’t live to tell the tale.