Daniel Selby waited in a large tent for the storm to pass. He sat in his squat, black, two-seat sand buggy with his seat reclined. Like most vehicles, the buggy had been modified so that the engine ran on the same mysterious crystal energy that traders used as currency. Inside most monsters, people and advanced technology were a small crystal, about the size of a thumb, which could store an energy that acted in many ways like magic, but was somehow different. Daniel didn’t really understand, or care to understand, the details of it, all that mattered to him was that people used the charges as money and it would keep his car moving.
In many ways it was an ideal currency; exact units could be traded by touching stones and saying the number, touching the stone to your forehead somehow conveyed how many units a stone contained straight to the mind and no matter how much money was in a stone it didn’t gain so much as a gram. Furthermore, even non-traders wanted the energy in order to run any devices they had or use powers if they didn’t know any magic. The system even helped keep the poor safe, since bandits knew it usually netted more wealth to hunt the prolific wildlife then it was to shoot a farmer. Not that that stopped every idiot with a gun, but it seemed to help a little.
As he lay there in boredom he took out a cloth and started shining his scales. As a Draconian, a member of the dragon-like race, plate-like scales lined his arms, legs, chest and some of his face. He also had two jagged, backwards facing horns that protruded from his head. He would someday also grow a tail and wings, as he was still only in his early thirties that was still a long way off. Taking after his mother more than his father meant that his hard scales were redder than they were yellow. Unfortunately, that same red had a tendency to look pinkish if they weren’t shined regularly. Not that a Draconian would have a problem with pink scales, pink dragons were some of the fiercest and had one of the most powerful acid breaths of all the dragon species. No, his own species wasn’t the problem there, the issue was that he had spent a lot of time around humans and despite their own pale pink skin they seemed to associate the colour with weakness. He found that odd. Did humans inherently believe themselves to be weak? Having been inside a bar more than once told him that there were at least some that didn’t think like that.
Questions of human frailty aside, he cleaned and oiled his naked body taking special care to ensure the oil cleaned his horns and not his hair. Experience had been a harsh teacher and once the cleaning oil got into his brown hair, it wouldn’t come off without cutting. Since he was already cleaning, he picked up his rifle for the passenger seat and started to clean it also. It was a strange weapon, a F2000; it was mostly plastic and gave a futuristic impression. Though it was a relatively heavy five kilos, it was reliable when well maintained and, most importantly, the only rifle he owned. So long as that remained true, he would sing its praise as the best gun ever made.
The gun was originally made to support a power sources in the stock, so adapting it to run with crystal energy was easy enough. It had several strange attachments around the scope, though most of them didn’t seem to function, and hadn’t since he owned it. The only thing that needed power was the torch in front of the forward hand grip. Even knowing that, he still put his crystal in it. If the crystal was hidden in his gun and someone else had it, chances were that he wasn’t in a situation where money would help.
As he finished cleaning, a message displayed in the corner of his vision; ‘Skill level increased’.
Normally he wouldn’t bother checking every little increase, but he was board to the point that he had cleaned his already clean gun and scales. Anything that helped pass the time was a plus.
Gunner Mage (4)
|Racial Bonuses:||Fire Breath (low)
Pepper Breath (mid)
He then navigated to the skills sheet. A sense of dread filled him as he thought about what skill could have levelled. Sure enough, there it was, both cleaning and vanity had increased.
Gunner Mage (4)
|Racial Skills:||Mana Perception [Lv.6]
Prana Perception [Lv4]
Fire Manipulation [Lv.8]
Gas Manipulation [Lv.2]
Breath Attack Mastery [Lv.5]
Claw Mastery [Lv.2]
Tail Mastery [Lv.0]
|Trained Skills:||Car Mastery [Lv.2]
First Aid [Lv.3]
Knife Mastery [Lv.1]
Mana Manipulation [Lv.5]
Pistol Mastery [Lv.2]
Prana Manipulation [Lv.3]
Quick Draw [Lv.2]
Quick Drawing [Lv.5]
Rifle Mastery [Lv.7]
Sword Mastery [Lv.1]
|Glass Tower Skill Points:||30
|Glass Tower Skills:||Fast Healing [Lv.2]
Unnatural Accuracy [Lv.3]
Closing the window with a sigh, he set about practising mana and prana manipulation. There wasn’t a lot of difference between the two, mana was the magic in his body and prana was the magic that occurred naturally. The way it was explained to him was that every living cell produced mana, even when they were too full to hold any more, and the excess mana leaves the cell to get caught in the air as prana. Mana could be easily moved like a muscle, just by thinking about it, but prana had to be forced into shaped using mana. If a spell required 200 mana but the person casting it only had 180, would they be able to cast it? Yes, since if a person has that kind of crazy mana supply, they probably had at least 10% prana efficiency. That meant that 10% of the total mana cost could be paid with prana. The more a person practiced prana manipulation, the higher the prana percentage. On the other hand, the more a person practised mana manipulation, the lower the total cost per spell.
To use the most basic kind of spell was easy enough; just pore mana into a hand and draw two concentric circles. Then in the middle of the two, draw a six sided star with the points of the star somewhere between the two circles. The lengths of the points determined the ratio of each element in the spell which then created the final effect. The six elements in the basic category were Force, Fire, Wind, Water, Earth and Anima. While the other elements were fairly self-explanatory, Anima was a little vaguer. It was once known a spirit or life element, and others described it as pure mana. It was the element that was responsible for more complicated actions, like healing, animating objects or raising ghosts. As it could also be used to simply change the shape of a spell, very few spells were cast without any Anima in them.
As he lost himself in reviewing his lessons on magic, a static filled message came through on the radio.
“-s is Louise Zeeb… …den of Enoksen. Wi… …ssing of Morrigan and N…da, I will no.. en… glass tower …Springhill and Lo… …ver and signal out.”
While he waited for the storm to pass, someone forced a march on his prize. In a rush to regain lost time, he quickly dressed himself in cargo pants and the chest piece from a set of silver-black riot gear. If he didn’t hurry, whoever that Lousies person was, and whatever group she was with, would take the treasures before he could get anything. Few boots fit Draconian feet comfortably, so he was able to save more time by not having to put any on. He grabbed his belt and webbing from the passenger seat and clipped in secure while broadcasting his own will. If they hand any lookouts doing that would give him away, but a Draconian was bound by his word, both by tradition and instinct.
“This is Daniel Selby, of the Southernmost Den. With the blessing of Surtur, Tyr, Heimdall, and Odin, I will now enter the glass tower of Springhill and Locke. Over and signal out.”
With the ritual finished and his clothes on, he took his crystal out of the car and slotted it into his rifle. After making sure his tent was hidden, and that he could find it even if it were buried, he made his way over to the tower, just ten meters to his side. Checking the entrance he had scouted out before the storm hit he found that someone had already entered from there.
Sliding himself through the window he immediately saw a haze monster with the back of its head blown out and its claws stuck in the floor. That wasn’t entirely unexpected; hazes were just about the weakest thing he had ever seen in a tower. What was strange, however, was the woman trapped under its body, wiggling her way out.
It was entirely a guess, but he assumed that she was the Louise from the radio and her group left her behind when she got pinned. That wasn’t uncommon. It was bad practice, but it wasn’t uncommon. With her somewhat panicking about his sudden arrival, he quickly pointed his f2000 and told her to drop her pistol.
“Listen girl,” he said with a thick, gruff voice that was somehow uncomfortable with human languages, “I’d rather not shoot you, so drop the gun, don’t try to attack me and we’ll get along fine.”
It wasn’t until halfway through that sentence that he noticed she wasn’t completely human. Going by the ears she was probably part elf. Despite their race being notoriously racist, they were known to fuck a human every now and then just to boost their low birth rate. When he said they were racist, he wasn’t just being xenophobic, a stigma attached to his own race, as elves were slightly feared for having locked all of their dark skinned and unattractive people underground. That messed up attempt at eugenics lead to a very beautiful people, who were sociopathic and basically cruel by nature. Although they cross-bred with humans to counter their own low fertility, they would still kill any ugly or dark children at birth.
The fact that the half-breed in front of him had such tan skin meant she was either the product of the rare, almost mythical, loving relationship with an elf, or was a rape-child whose parent got away. Very different situations; neither had any bearing on the current one.
Since she dropped her gun and slid it over to him, his worries that she might not know English were baseless. As bad as his English was, he would hazard a guess that it was better than her Draconian. That wasn’t even considering how little Elven he knew. If they needed to speak Elven he could only say ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘that’ and ‘fuck’; that wasn’t the best way for a team to survive a tower. If she was the Louise from the radio then she spoke English better than he did.
Seeing that she had acted peacefully, albeit under pressure, he lowered his gun and helped her out from under the body.
“Are you Zeeb, the one that broadcasted their will a few minutes ago?”
She seemed to be startled by that, Odin knows why when it was on an open channel, and after a moment she seemed to calm down and responded in English with the slightest hint of an Elven accent, “Yes, that’s me, Louise Zeeb, Third Shield-bearer for the Order of Morrigan. To whom am I speaking?”
There was a light hint of annoying pride in her voice; it wasn’t as thick as elven pride, so it was probably the pride she took in her position. Bad enough it was he had to deal with a soldier from the Celtic Pantheon, but a devout one was a whole different game. The Shield-bearers were the protectors of the faithful, something like military police and assassins, and she was only three ranks from the top of her order. On top of that, the Morrigan Order was notoriously aggressive. He had a soul’s chance in Helheim that if she found out he followed the Norse Pantheon she would simply say, ‘Well, the world takes all types’. Rather than risk an unneeded fight against someone who managed to get a high rank in a war-party at an apparent young age, though he couldn’t really tell, he’d rather avoid that situation and work with her to some extent.
“Urr, yeah, I’m Daniel Selby, of the Southernmost Den. What’s a group of War-Maidens doing this far south? I would have thought you’d be busy with the armies of Zeus amassing to the east.”
“About that, that’s the reason I’m here alone. Ares’ Spear made a night raid and the Smith Street Village has fallen. I made it out but I lost my supplies and got pushed around by sandstorms.”
When she said that a wave of relief filled Daniel’s body; she was alone and out of supplies. If he hadn’t given her his word that he wouldn’t be hostile unless she was, he would have shot her then and there and be done with it. As it was, he’d have to make sure she didn’t find out who he followed and wait for the tower to take her. He’d also like to keep anything spear like out of her hands; the Morrigan Order trained to perfect spear arts and giving her one would likely end him.
“By the way,” she asked with a face filled with genuine curiosity, “what order are you with? I don’t remember too many Draconian near Smith Street.”
Thankfully she didn’t seem to know where she was. Smith Street was some distance to the north and Springhill and Locke was in the Celtic-Norse Contested Zone; in other words, no-man’s land at the enemy boarder. Shit. That was another thing he couldn’t let her hear. Dealing with War-Maidens was never easy.
“Well, putting that aside,” he said while trying to make it sound like he had difficulties with English, “you don’t seem like you came here particularly well prepared. Are you just going to wait out the storm here, or are you going to try and raid the tower.”
“Er… I was originally going to wait out the storm, but since I have you for back-up, I guess exploring wouldn’t be impossible.”
‘Way too trusting!’ he screamed in his head, ‘How hasn’t she been gutted if she’s so willing to trust a strange dragon on their first meeting?’
“Um, don’t you think you’re putting a little too much faith in a stranger” He asked cautiously, while hoping it wouldn’t spook her into actively opposing him.
“Well…” She started to say with a deep blush forming on her cute face, “I think that anyone who helps a stranger to stand without thinking about it deserves at least a little trust placed in them. Besides, you’re Draconian, you can’t lie, right?”
‘Was she a War-Maiden or a shrine-maiden? What’s with that blush!?’ he once again screamed in his mind. Though for once, he was somewhat happy that for other races ignorance. Demons couldn’t lie, Draconian didn’t break their word. It wasn’t that hard a concept. Was it the horns? Was it because both races had horns that people go them mixed up? Oh well, anything he could use was good.
“Something like that, anyway. So aside from that gun, do you have any other weapons?”
“Just a knife in my boot.”
He had no idea why she seemed to get happier as they spoke, nor why she seemed proud of how ill-prepared she was. It didn’t matter, even if it turned out she couldn’t fight, he could still use her as a shield.