Chapter 2 – Fallen Tower
Two hours later and the sandstorm had passed. Daniel stood numbly, surrounded by bags filled with office supplies and machine scraps, slowly digging his tent out of the red sand. If he told himself from that morning that he would leave the tower with a level, an extra thirteen and a half crystal charge and a large pile of scrap he would have entered without the slightest hint of concern. Himself in that moment, standing in the afternoon light with its fire-like shades dying the ground in it colour, would have passed on the cash and waited the storm out on the first floor or in his tent. Not that his regrets mattered, he made a decision on greed and bloodlust and would have to live with that.
As twilight came, his tent was packed and his was buggy once again free to move across the wasting sands. He removed the metal plate that served as the buggy’s roof, tied it behind with a study rope and proceeded to load hit treasures onto it like a sand-sled. Having absorbed his old and new crystal together he confirmed the amount; one hundred and thirty-eight charge, his life’s savings.
He said it was his life’s savings, but it was more than that. A large portion of it had been his friends and kin’s. When he fled the Southernmost Den, he had thought about giving the money to someone they cared about, but in the end he didn’t. He didn’t for three reasons. The first being greed; he couldn’t bear to part with that some of money. The second being fear; he couldn’t face them, tell the loved ones of those close to him that he survived while the one’s they cared for were devoured by the tower. Thirdly, and it was just as important; he didn’t have the opportunity. When he fled the den, he wasn’t chased or cast out but as a Draconian sole-survivor he was a shame on his parents and kin. Had he gone back, he would have shamed himself and his family, so he left the den and let them think he was dead.
Tail-Bitting Hatchling; that was the name Draconian gave a sole-survivor. It came from the oldest legends; that dragons were born into the world with their tail in their mouth because they were whole and complete as solitary beings, able to survive by themselves from the moment they first left their eggs. However, while there were the dependents of dragons, Draconian weren’t dragons. They were born without a tail to bite, and had to live together with others to be complete. When someone failed to live and die with their kin, they disgraced that concept and acted like a hatchling; thinking they could live alone.
Kin were a subset of a den. If a den were a town, then a kin was a street. Every member of the kin shared the same last name, kin name, and were treated as family even those without blood relations. After overcoming a rite and being labelled an adult by the den, a Draconian entered the Kin of their strongest parent. In the case that they were evenly strong, or the heritage was unknown, then it was the individual’s choice. In Daniels case, he was the sole-surviving member of the Selby kinship.
Night had fallen and the steady thump of his buggy’s engine was the only sound to be heard across the no man’s land. Despite the danger, he was headed north-east into Celtic Pantheon territory. If he encountered a warrior order, or just a trigger happy zealot, then he would be hunted till he either retreated or died. To reach Enoksen, the Celtic capital, he would have to drive for several days and he didn’t have the supplies to make that trip on hand. He was going to have to make a stop at either a prosperous town or a trade depot.
Some called trade depots the founders of civilisation. They were large metal platforms about the size of a sport field, which floated about a meter above the sand. In the centre of each was a stone tower, with a glass dome ceiling, that they called an ACC. The rear section of a depot was covered with storage crates and the front was a great bazaar. The most important aspect of trade depots was their neutrality. They didn’t belong to any denomination and had the firepower to make sure they didn’t get dragged into it.
As midnight came, he arrived at the border town of Fallen Tower. It was named, quite literally, because the glass tower the town was built around had broken, with the top falling to the ground and leaving only two floors standing above the sand. It was a situation that had worked out well for the founders. Most of the dangers had died or were injured in the fall, so they just moved in and cleaned out what was left. They then used the treasures from the top section to clear the remaining section. Despite losing its top, the bottom half still generated an abundance of water. With that as a basis, they slowly used magic to improve the and into soil, around the tower, and start growing crops. With a steady supply of food and water, it wasn’t long until it became a thriving town.
The town had a patrol of four people in riot armour and a two meter fence that was made from the strange metal-like glass of the top section of the tower. Given its durability, raiding the city would be very difficult. The glass was normally strong enough to survive a bullet from a pistol unharmed, but if mana was circulated through it then a car crashing into it wouldn’t scratch it.
He approached the front gate and waited for one of the guards to signal him to approach. To his annoyance, the guard was a human with a stupid looking smirk on his face.
“Can I see your licence and registration, please?” The pale skinned man asked something incomprehensible. Was that some new thing they were doing in warm-blood cities? Seeing Daniel give zero reaction, the man gave a sigh and then laughed, “It’s a joke, lighten up lizard, it might be the middle of the night but you can still have some fun. Since you’re Draconian, I just need your word that you won’t start a fight unprovoked and you can go straight in.”
“If that’s all then you have my word. Is there an inn or a traveller’s lodge in this town?”
“Sure is, May’s Place on sub floor three or just get yourself arrested for drunk ‘en disorderly and we’ll throw you in a cell overnight to sober up. Depending on your tolerance that might be more expensive, but.” The man gave a hearty laugh at his own attempt at a joke, and waved Daniel through the gate.
He found where the town’s vehicles were parked and pulled up there. He was able to park his car there for .1 crystal charge per night. It was fairly cheap, but there were no guaranties about the security. Before heading off to find the inn, he used 50 points of mana to construct a force-field around his buggy and trailer. Magic force-fields were fairly simple things to use and break, the only problem was efficiency. They could only, realistically, be broken by the person who set it up or with a force-spear spell with higher mana concentration. For example, the field he set up could be broken with a 51 mana spear. He doubted, however, that there were too many people in that town who had that much mana to spare, and if they did, that they needed to resort to petty theft.
It wasn’t well known, but the most valuable thing Glass Towers housed was experience. The first time someone killed something in a tower, or broke something like a turret, the tower installed a monitoring system in their body. The purpose for that system wasn’t fully known, but it recorded their actions and improved their bodies through levelling. When Daniel first got the system, his mana capacity was 15; slightly higher than this species average and higher still when compared to a human. Since his level rose to five, his current max was 90. Apparently the amount he gained each level doubled. It was easy to understand how the previous civilisation grew so powerful, if they had access to technology that made them grow so fast.
Since crystal charge could be used as a mana replacement, it was possible for someone to buy their way through his field, but they weren’t likely to make a profit when considering the value of the junk he placed on the outside of the pile. With reasonable confidence that his things were safe, he took his crystal and headed for the inn. The ground floor of the tower seemed to serve as a combination, reception and government office. One of the window sections had been replaced with a large doorway and a ramp was placed to make the entrance seem seamless. At that time of night, the reception was vacant and only a couple night-fill staff worked in the offices. The stairs were kept clean and clear with a guard preventing anyone from traveling to the first floor. He made no attempt to look at the lower two floors and went straight for the third; even if they were open at that hour they wouldn’t have appreciated his business.
From looking down the stairwell, it seemed that there were several more floors lower than the third. That gave him some small relief; they weren’t hiding the inn in the basement in shame. In fact, the inn was a pleasant surprise for him. He was used to communities paying little mind to the living conditions of travellers and throwing them where-ever they fit, but May’s Place had actual beds laid out neatly with walls and curtains. The ‘rooms’ weren’t much bigger than the beds, but considering some of the places he had stayed, it was far from the worst.
He was greeted by a young Draconian girl. She seemed to be in her developing stage and her scales still seemed too large for her body. It was a cute look and it was amplified by her height. She was a white variant, also known as a night-drake, a Draconian with white scales that were incredibly sensitive to sunlight. With the state of the world, her variant were even rarer with a large portion of them being destroyed by the light. She seemed surprised by him, but tried to imitate professionalism anyway.
“Welcome to May’s Place. Will others from your den be joining you soon? We offer group discounts.” She may have meant well, but seeing his reaction, she realised something was wrong but wasn’t experienced enough to work out what. “Eh, um, I mean, well, Its 2 charge per night.”
With the sound of her panicking, he quickly corrected his appearance; the kid hadn’t meant anything and worrying her seemed wrong. “Yes, that will be fine.” He said as he held out the crystal, “is there any chance you can wake me up at first light?”
“Sure thing, the sun’s bright early around these parts so warming up won’t take too long. I’ll wake you up before I go if you help make sure I don’t burn.”
As partially cold-blooded creatures, Draconian didn’t generate enough body heat and required to supplement what they made with sunlight. It wasn’t as bad as some lizards that needed to spend most of the morning in the sun, and they could survive without, it just made them drowsy and weak to go without. Even night-drakes, that were mostly nocturnal, still required some sunlight each day to maintain their health.
“Sounds fair. I’m Daniel Selby, a red tail-bitter from the Southernmost Den. It’s nice to meet you.”
With a cute laugh the girl replied, “I’m Loralei May-child, a white night-drake that hasn’t been attached to a den yet. It’s nice to meet you, too.”