Large sheets of hardened glass protruded from the golden sand, reflecting the morning light like burning knives warding any who would set their sights on the great beast’s grave. Though the tower was long dead and rust grew along its surface like a vine, it still seemed to be proud in its own way; a warrior that didn’t fall even in death.
As many though tower-hearts were myths, the notion of a tower’s death was strange to comprehend. Whether it was age, damage from raiders or simply an inevitability of the design, it was held that towers simply died eventually. Those who did believe in tower-hearts would say that towers died when the heart was drained or broken. The idea that a tower could die was also strange to think about; for it to die than it would have had to have been alive. The idea of a living building didn’t sit right with most people, so it could also be called broken. But broken also didn’t seem to sit right, given a tower’s ability to fix itself. Even the tower that Broken Tower was named for rebuilt a floor every few years.
But as they drove closer to the decaying building, the definition of life was far from Daniel’s mind. As Loralei and Leah prepared their weapons and checked over their supplies, the building dropped one of its scale like glass sheets. Caught by the wind, the sheet hit the sand next to the car; a reminder that a dead tower was by no means safer than a living one.
Monsters would often seek out the remains of towers, both as shelter and materials to improve themselves. While monsters, aside from Tower Leaches, in living towers wouldn’t damage the tower, dead towers were often consumed by monsters, after both the residual mana and rare minerals. As such, dead tower monsters were often made from the hardened materials of the tower and had an abundance of magic abilities. Given the remains seemed to have weathered at least a few storms it was likely that there were numerous beasts within.
Both Daniel and Leah were filled to the bursting point with anger that their eggs were being taken to such a location. The moment they reached the edge of the tower, the car stopped and they got out. Once again only spending the time to put on the chest piece of his armour, he passed the M77 to Loralei and told her to back the car up and shoot Mel if she exits the tower without them. She responded with a confident nod and received the weapon that was two thirds her height. With the life sight on the scope, he had complete confidence that Loralei would be a competent rear-guard. Even if she wasn’t confident with the rifle, she could always use magic.
Leah drew her pistol and knife, waiting by at the side of a broken window entrance. With his F2000 braced, Daniel signalled forward and they entered the building. The first floor was clear; no sign of monsters, but warm bullet casings littered the area and strange coloured blood throughout. The rounds were 5.56mm, the same kind he used, and from the temperature, they weren’t fired very long ago. Furthermore, the blood was still wet with dragging trails leading both up and down.
Splitting up was never a good idea in a tower, but in their anger they were far from thinking clearly. Leah started to head upward and Daniel moved down. With the light on the F2000’s barrel, it was easier for him to hunt down then it was for Leah. Aside from just the light, Daniel also felt safer on lower levels then upper ones, it wasn’t a rational thing, but instead an emotional one. If he were calm, it wouldn’t affect him much, but while he was worked up, the memories of everyone he’d seen die on upper levels would well up.
As they separated and he snaked his way down the stairs, he could hear voices coming from through a nearby door. It was the distinct sound of desperate pleading. Somehow Mel was in trouble and was begging and rationalising.
“Please, please, you have to understand. My research needs these. My research could save thousands, even millions of Orc lives.” Fear and desperation coated her every word.
But a voice responded with a tone so cold, it pierced through his anger and sent a chill down his back. “I truly couldn’t care less. You dared to touch something you shouldn’t have. You dared to trick someone you shouldn’t have. I should cut your legs off and leave you to the scavengers.”
His instincts told him to flee, avoid the owner of that voice at any cost and run. However, he couldn’t do that. His eggs were in that room and his pride wouldn’t let him run without even seeing what he was running from.
“You have to understand, we Orcs require so much more food to survive then other races. We need so much, and kids need even more still. Our village is pushed to its limit just surviving and each year more of it is converted into food production. If I can replicate the egg’s photo-pranasynthesis in my species, then the need for food would drop by so much. It would save us.” Mel continued to try speaking passionately despite the voice’s apparent disinterest. It wasn’t clear whether the passion was for her research or her life, though it was likely a mix of the two.
“I said I don’t care. Now shut up or I’ll cut your filthy mouth ou… wait.” As Daniel reached for the door’s handle, the voice trailed off.
With the sound of footsteps approaching, he ignored his instincts once more and opened the door and prepared to run. Before he could even react, the moment the door was open, he felt heavy pressure against his chest as he was knocked back. His rifle clamoured against the floor outside of his reach, coming to a stop while balancing over a ledge. His hand shot for the knife on his belt, only to stop in response to a familiar voice.
“Brother! Brother, I’ve finally caught you.” The sweet voice filled his mind completely as he looked down to find his younger sister pressing herself against his chest. Any thoughts of the earlier voice, that sent shivers through his body, had vanished completely; he couldn’t even remember what he had wanted to run from. Aria had grown in his absence, she was filled with a confidence she had always lacked and her golden scales gleamed with vitality. The past her, who was often sick or hurt, seemed like a lie when compared to the woman that was tightly holding herself in his arms.
The most surprising part was her aura. She was giving off more waste-mana then he was. When the body held its mana capacity, any leftover mana, waste-mana, was released into the air where it would eventually become prana. From her aura, Aria had about a full third more mana then he did. He had thought that his own capacity was already unbelievable; hers could only be described as monstrous. Furthermore, the prana around her seemed to dance, swaying happily while trying to get close to her. It was like her body was a magnet, and the prana was caught in rings or fields around her. He had never seen anything like that, and couldn’t imagine what kind of magic she would be capable of.
She was wearing a form fitting light brown robe and around her neck was a glass orb, about as large as a rockmelon, held to a cord with a silver clasp. The outfit suited her, and each element was coated with enchantments. He didn’t know enough about the subject to know what they did, but the mana flowing through them was obvious.
Her gem like red eyes looked up at him and he could feel her warmth, both physical and emotional. He felt overwhelmingly comfortable, to the point that he was willing to ignore all the questions that filled the back of his mind. At that moment, Mel sneaking past them went entirely unnoticed, as her existence only served to dampen their reunion.
“Brother,” she repeated once more, “I won’t let you go anywhere without me again.”
Their comfortable mood didn’t last long, however, as the echo of gunfire filled the building. From the sound of it, it was Leah’s pistol and from the number of shots, she was in trouble. He rose to his feet and picked up both his sister and gun. She showed no sign of letting go of him, even with the tension, leaving him no option but lifting her. With his recently improved strength, it was easy for him to hold her weight, though it was still awkward to move.
Seeing his difficulty, Aria reluctantly agreed to walk for herself, on the condition that he held her hand at all times. While he was happy for how cute she was, he did wish she would consider the time and place a little more. His F2000 could still be used with one hand, but it was uncomfortable to do so, and he wouldn’t be able to reload it. As they ran up the stairs, he thought that if he needed to reload, he could always drop the gun and use his claws or magic.
The first floor above was empty, so they continued to rush upward. On the second floor, the sound grew louder, as they saw Leah through the open door. She was covered in small cuts, from head to toe, and was lashing out at the surrounding monsters. They seemed to be Haze monsters, but something wasn’t right with them. There were too many and each time Leah’s knife struck against them, sparks would fly. Their natural armour level was far too high. The bodies of a couple dead ones were littered throughout the room, with small holes in their bodies from Leah’s gun.
The gun itself was lying not far from Leah, discarded once no rounds remained. If she had a spare magazine, it might have been possible to reload in the chaos, but without it was just a weight to slow her down. As things stood, her nine bullets were able to kill two, despite being close range and on target. Her knife wasn’t doing much better. The knife scraped against their bodies doing more from the impact than any kind of cut; their bodies were infused with the hardened tower glass and her knife was doing nothing to it. Out of pain and frustration, Leah let out a cry.
“Buy ‘Class Skill 1’” she yelled as her body gave the slight glow that showed that she spent Glass Tower Skill Points.
The Class Skill series of skills were different for each class, and there wasn’t any real way of knowing what they would be, aside from asking someone else with that class. For rare classes, the best they could hope for is that someone left a legend somewhere. As Leah hadn’t noticed Daniel’s arrival, she used her last ten points on a gamble, that the Death Bringer’s first skill would be useful. As knowledge filled her, she knew that it had paid off. The skill was called Mana Weapon, and it was definitely worth it.
Suddenly her knife lit up with a myriad of blue-purple colours, and the blade extended to about thirty centimetres. The blade sunk deeply into the closest creature’s skin; while it didn’t break the armour completely, with Leah’s skills it was more than deep enough to be lethal. With newfound confidence, she danced throughout the enemies, slicing he blade through limbs, necks and chests as she moved. Her dance was reinforced by the covering fire of Daniel’s rifle. At first Leah barely noticed Aria’s presence, but when she started to cast magic, both she and Daniel were taken aback.
She drew the circle dexterously with her whole hand, moving each finger simultaneously with precision. From a distance, it looked like she waved her hand and a spell was formed. It was a kind of Quick Drawing that put Daniel to shame. And it wasn’t just the speed of her spell; it was the exactness and power. Not a drop of wasted mana was used and the result was several times as powerful as anything Leah had ever cast. With a single exaggerated wave of her arm, a dozen hexagrams were created, sending large sharp shards of ice into each of the creatures. Prana fed itself into the shots, to the point where it looked like they were powered four-fifths by prana, but surprisingly there were no waves in the nearby prana.
To Daniel’s shock, after massacring the creatures effortlessly, Aria let out a cold laugh. “That’s what you get for interrupting my time with brother.”
Her cold voice echoed throughout the silent room and Leah and Daniel could only stand there confused. Not waiting for a response, Aria rubbed herself against the unmoving Daniel like a cat. She wrapped herself in his arms, once again, as if she were declaring it her rightful spot, and broke the silence by speaking to Leah in a haughty tone.
“You there, Leah Lemann, I’ll thank you for looking after my brother till now, but you can leave now. I, Aria Selby, the Golden Sage of the Selby Kinship, am taking back my rightful place at his side.”
The words were coldly spoken and they left no trace of doubt; she saw Daniel as her own thing and Leah was only a hindrance to her. When she turned to face Daniel, however, that cold tone completely disappeared and once again started acting sweet. Towards him, she would be the kindest angel to ever walk the earth, but towards hindrances, she was the avatar of a blizzard. Sighing to himself that his sister had become so twisted, he decided to reason with her.
“You know Aria, Leah is one of my mates. It makes me sad to see my sweet Aria being mean to her.” With that, her eyes lit up with the realisation that she might have made a mistake.
“Eh, brother, I’m sorry.” Without a moment of hesitation, she sincerely apologised to him and turned to face Leah. “Sister Leah, I said something mean to you. I hope that from now on we can get along together.” Though her tone and words sounded entirely honest, Leah could see the look in her eyes say, ‘Try to monopolise him and I’ll cook you’.
It was at that point the building rumbled with the sound of a metallic impact and glass shattering. From the ground floor they could hear Loralie’s yell.
“We’ve got a problem; a really big, well-armed problem.”
Looking out a window they could see what she meant. Waiting outside of the building was a car sized floating disc with five people riding it. Four of them were dressed in thick, black, ultra-modern looking armour. The only flesh the armour left visible was their mouths below the one-way mirror visor, the tails and the wings. In short, they were the elite strike force from the Southernmost Den.
Each was equipped with a weapon that defined their position in the group. The Fighter with a heavy two-handed sword; the mage with a long range rifle able to back them up while having mana for healing; the sprightly shooter with a pistol and knife to get or lose attention and make silent attacks; the woman with a rocket launcher. They were a balanced group, and even without their armour, it would be hard to deal with them. As he wondered what they wanted what they wanted, the mage used a spell to boost the fighter’s voice.
“Aria Isaksen, we know you’re in there and we know you have company. We may need them alive, but they have no such need. Come quietly with us to the Golden Den or we’ll kill everyone.”
From the colour of the fighter’s wings, and the sickening sound of his voice, Daniel knew who it was. A venomous snarl spread across his face, frightening Loralei, who had the misfortune of walking up the stairs at that moment. In her arms was a soft foam box with the eggs and over her shoulder was the M77 of the Gem Dragon. A mix of relief and joy, spread through him on seeing her, and he quickly expressed that with a kiss. While she was distracted, he took the rifle from her and charged it to full.
Waiting for the perfect moment, when the fighter turned sidewards to talk to one of the people next to him, Daniel let the rifle roar as the heavy bullet cut the copper wings off the fighter’s back. He fell to the ground, writhing in pain as his blood burst from his back. Wings were useful but they couldn’t be used with armour. For most mature stage Draconian and older it was considered somewhat like kicking genitalia, but that meant it was a very effective first strike. What he did feel bad about, however, was that the shot continued after hitting its target, striking the hovercraft. Damaging something that valuable never felt right.
As the disk hit the ground, spinning out of control, the driver and the mage, who were still in it, were sent flying by the collision. Not losing a moment, he passed the M77 to Loralei and flew from the gap with the F2000. He glided through the air and landed atop the copper scaled bastard. While kicking his armoured gut, Daniel yelled out.
“My name is Daniel Selby, a ruby gold tail-bitter from the Southernmost Den, and by Tyr I’ll send you to Helheim you bastard.”
Without a moment of pause, and without letting anyone’s thoughts catch up, he place the barrel of his gun in the exposed mouth of the copper colour patriarch and shot through the head. Through the sound of the rifle, there was the distinct sound of impact, as the armour’s helmet refused to let the bullet pass, even at that range.
The gunner fell back with surprise; he had long since started to think that they were invincible in the armour. What was more; the killer was someone they had been told was dead. He trembled as he cried out, “You can’t be here, you’re dead!” as if thinking that if he said that he would go away.
As Daniel raised his gun to repeat the process, the woman with a rocket launcher took aim with her sidearm. Not wanting to risk getting shot, he dove behind the remains the hovercraft. “You fuckers can still leave you know. Go, go and tell those little bitches in the council that they failed, that the Selby kinship survives with me. Tell them that Daniel will have them pay in blood for what they’ve done.”
On hearing the pure hate spill from his mouth, the woman was shaken. Like most in the Southernmost Den, she grew up hearing stories about the Den’s protectors, the heroes of the Selby Kinship. When the council announced that they had been wiped out, there was a full week of public grief before another Kinship was promoted to fill their place. Several years later and the elite were still overworked compared with before. She was filled with conflicting feelings over her current target; a survivor from the Selby kinship proved that Aria was right, but at the same time, that man was letting out a loathing more pure then she had ever seen.
It was clear that he was dangerous. Wilhelm had been an absolute dick who made her feel worse for being the same species, but he was still their leader. Even if he was the leader simply because the council gave him the position and he hadn’t ever demonstrated any kind of merit. Even if he had endangered the rest of the group with his bad orders and stupid boisterous nature, he was still their leader. The more she thought about it, the less reason she could see to do anything.
After a brief pause she sighed and yelled out, “Sure, give me your word you won’t shoot me in the back after I leave and give me that sand-sled, and you’ve got a deal.”
Daniel honestly hadn’t seen that coming, but after a moment to think about it, he made the arrangements and radioed the others to tell them about the deal. The shooter however, didn’t agree with it. Instead he dashed to the side and started to shoot at Daniel while he was busy with the radio. Taking a round into his armour and scales, Daniel fell back into the soft sand.
The shooter made a triumphant pose and sent a thumb up to the woman, thinking he was victorious. While he was feeling like the world shone for him, the air around him started to turn cold. It hadn’t literally, but as a reaper like figure approached, it felt as though it had. Aria, their target, walked slowly out to greet them. Not taking a hint, the shooter thought that she had come to surrender and approached her. Thinking his idiocy couldn’t be cured with death, the rocketeer, left him to his fate.
As her hands danced through the air, a complicated array formed with twists that could be mistaken for a knot of snakes or Gaelic art. Before he could even react, four thousand units worth of mana and prana formed ice and encased him, crushing him into a fine powder in an instant. It was like a tower or iceberg formed in that desert, serving as a warning for any who would see it. If seen through eye’s that could see prana, it was like a vortex drawing power from the heavens and collapsing it into her.
The elite’s mage could only cry to himself on seeing that display, there was no way he could ever hope to even come close to that level of mastery. They knew she was a monster, that was why they had the armour, but she could have just as easily killed all of them. He felt no remorse over the loss of his teammates, the only thing he could feel was grateful that she had spared him. Not willing to wait for her to change her mind, he ran after the sand-sled, not even minding if he had to walk back.
As they left, Daniel stripped off his armour. He felt sad to have to throw it away, since it had been with him since he left the den, but it was damaged beyond the point of usefulness. Burying it beneath the sand, he stripped the copper idiot of his armour and claimed it for his own. With new armour and a new companion, they took a moment to rest and introduce themselves. While Daniel wasn’t there, Aria had ensured Loralie knew not to get in her way, only to find Loralie not willing to back down and instead provoked her with her greeting.
“It’s so nice to meet you, dear sister Aria I’m Loralei Selby, first mate of Daniel Selby. I hope we get along.”