Years before Anna and Louise were even born, Chloe Zeeb stretched out her long, slender arms, letting out the stiffness that built up in their long drive. To celebrate their recent marriage, she and her new husband, Lucas, decided to attempt the Tower of the Phoenix; home of the legendary bird of fire. Unlike other towers, the Tower of the Phoenix was built on top of a hill and was able to escape being buried beneath the sand. It also lacked any kind of glass along its exterior, giving it a look that like of an old castle but built with twenty floors. The dark stone bricks, however, were held together with a mortar that was constantly burning with a purple-green flame. It was an eerie look that was ill suited for a honeymoon.
For experienced raiders, however, what could be more suited then taking time away from raiding for money and security, and instead doing it for personal power and having their marriage blessed by a divine beast. Surprisingly, entering that tower, and other towers like it, was actually a popular honeymoon activity amongst powerful raiders. For Chloe, a Gunslinger whose beauty made her often mistaken for an Elf, and Lucas, an All-Rounder Elf that was born with a neurological disorder that allowed him to display empathy towards others, the idea of having the approval of the closest creatures to the gods was the perfect way to spend their time off.
Lucas was lucky; the medical technology that could have found his condition was destroyed during the fall, saving him from the fate of those born with visible disfigurements. When his disorder was diagnosed, he had already made a name for himself so it was too wasteful to simply kill him off. Instead, it was ruled that he wasn’t permitted to ever breed with an Elf. That just made Chloe even more precious to him, he might be disfigured in the eyes of his people, but while he had her, he felt whole.
The front door to the tower was a pair heavy wooden doors, braced with a dark metal, that despite their weight opened effortlessly. The first floor was a clear space with a large basin-like fountain that was filled with cool, sweet tasting water. It had been reported that the phoenix only granted a pact to those who cleaned themselves with that water before attempting the tower. Under the heat of the burning tower, it almost seemed like glazing a cake with sugary water.
As they climbed up the stairs to the first floor, they found the room was filled with a flock of raven like birds. The birds attacked, not giving them time to react and their beautiful skin was quickly covered in scratches. Recovering from the surprise, they quickly killed the birds with their guns, knives and sword. The birds were barley more than animals, rather than monsters, and weren’t able to put up much of a fight. It was said that The Phoenix Tower was a place that the Glass Tower System didn’t function, where they wouldn’t gain any levels regardless of however much they killed.
As such, they were placing far more emprises on their knife and sword skills, not wanting to spend expensive bullets on targets they wouldn’t even get experience from. Altogether, they had two knives, a pistol, a revolver, a short sword and a rifle; more than enough weapons to deal with simple birds. After spending a little mana to heal the cuts and insure there wouldn’t be any scars, they went to the next floor.
Knowing what to expect, from the second floor onward, they had no problems. Each floor was filled with enemies of gradually increasing difficulty. The enemies were all birdlike, on fire or both. With that narrow pool of options the increase in difficulty was often just more health or more enemies. The actual hardest part wasn’t really the enemies, but instead the building itself. With each floor they rose, the hotter the room became. It was gradual at first, to the point that they hadn’t noticed till the fifth floor, but the difference became really noticeable beyond the tenth floor.
By the eighteenth level, the rooms were too hot to wear armour or use metal weapons. It was starting to reach a level where they were starting to worry about the guns going off from the heat. Because of that, they had to use some of their precious little remaining mana to cool themselves off. Hot and tired, the trip was starting to feel far less enjoyable than they had imagined. By that point, what was dragging them forward was their pride as expert tower raiders.
When they reached the top floor, they found themselves on the roof. A cold night breeze touched their skin and the sensation filled them with the comfort of water in a desert. In the centre of the roof, a huge bird, about 2 meter tall, roosted. Its feet seemed connected to the building itself as the purple-green flames that held the tower together were apparently the substance that made up its body.
The phoenix let out a cry, a sound that their minds somehow understood. “Greetings, O beings whom underwent this sacred trial, this lowly servant of fire greets you. This one would ask, is your goal to have your union recognised by the gods, or to gain the gift of fire? This one can only grant one boon.”
Having to choose wasn’t unexpected; others who made the trip were also given the choice. They had heard that the gift of fire granted a powerful Fire Manipulation ability, even to races that wouldn’t normally be able to use that power. It was said that if a marriage was recognised by the gods it would be impossible to ever get a divorce. It was hard to believe anyone would pass on the power to control fire for something that was little more than a romantic gesture. None the less, that was the goal those two came there for, and thus their decision was made.
The phoenix seemed to laugh when hearing their choice. “Your choice is a respectable one, O beings whom passed the true trial, and this one will grant unto you the pact of the phoenix. When you desire power beyond your life and means, use this array and this one shall burn time from your life to grant your desire.”
A magical array floated in the back of their minds. Whenever they thought about the pact, the array once again came clearly to mind. Under that condition, it would be almost impossible to make a mistake when drawing the array. After thanking the Bird of Fire, they started to leave. As they approached the door, it spoke once more.
“A final warning before you leave; this one’s power is one that goes against nature. When burning life; your fate is burnt along with it. Know that it is a cursed life that lives without fate. This one wholeheartedly recommends to never use the power this one granted.”
It was a strange warning from Lucas’s perspective. He had never been one to believe in fate. If anything, the idea of shortening his life could be seen as a blessing. It was always in the back of his mind that Chloe would die far, far younger than him and he would have to go on living without her. For that reason, he never hesitated to call on the phoenix, despite Chloe telling him to stop.
The Demon Isi was in a lot of trouble. Most of her body had been completely crushed, eaten by a large, lizard like creature in the sands of the wasteland. In fact, the only part of her left was her horn; witch was lucky, since that was all a Demon needed to survive. Well, calling it lucky was less then truthful; she had left that body behind deliberately to make sure she survived. What was unfortunate was that a sandstorm kicked up not long afterwards, and the strong wind lifted her up and sent her spiralling through the sky.
As a species, Demons were called ‘the creatures closest to mana’ since most of their bodies were incorporeal, aside from a curved horn. They latched themselves to dead bodies and controlled them, often replacing undesirable parts with parts from other bodies. Depending on the individual, the parts chosen could be selected with different purposes in mind. Some Demons might hunt powerful monsters while others might seek out beautiful people. There was one legend that said the first Elf to start breeding for beauty was inspired to do so after seeing a Demon who chose only the most beautiful parts of every race. Demons could modify the parts to some extent, mostly to ensure a consistent colour scheme and rough size, and kept the parts in a state that was neither living nor dead.
Even more curious was the abilities of their horns. If their horn were broke they would die, but while it was intact it held special properties. The most amazing of which was without a doubt part storage; the ability to store spare body parts within a magically created space inside the horn. The amount of mass it could store was proportional to the Demon’s age, as was the length of the horn. Some small thing, like clothes, could also be stored within the space, but the efficacy was far worse than with body parts. The horn also displayed sexual dimorphism in that a feminine horn had a spiral, almost drill-like, shape along its curved body, while a masculine horn was completely smooth.
Isi was a young Demon, having broken off the tip of her mother’s horn only five years prior. As such, her mental age was something similar to a human in their late teens or early twenties. Normally, she should have stayed with a group of Demons around her own age until they each had bodies they were comfortable with, but Isi wanted explore around trying out as many body types until she found one she liked. Taking a whole body could be a risky thing if it wasn’t timed well, too soon and its soul could still be attached, too late and the memories it contained could break down.
Missing out on the memories wasn’t such a bad thing, but it was how their species grew. Demons grew at a rough rate of a millimetre a year, once they finished their growth period. For every year of unique memory information they drained from a body, they grew an extra millimetre. In order for a new Demon to be born, the top five centimetres of a female Demon’s horn would break off. As that represented fifty years of natural growth, it was normal for them to supplement their own time with the memories of those around them. Male Demons in particular were targets for draining, since their length could be directly absorbed. Since an adult Demon, age four, was at least ten centimetres, consuming a male Demon ensured enough length of at least two children.
There was once a time when Demons were hunted in order to make magical bags, and as such they tended to shy away from contacting other races, especially without powerful bodies. Though, if a body was maintained well, it was possible for a Demon to have offspring with that body. However, if that body contained any body parts aside from the original, even if it was as little as a replaced hand, then the offspring born turned out as a race called a Mongrel. Mongrels were a race that resembled a human with assorted animalistic or monstrous features. Their always retained features from their non-Demon parent and had a tiny two centimetre horn on their forehead, but otherwise their bodies were a mix of animal parts with no consistent reason or logic. From an Elf’s perspective, they were so hideous that it wasn’t uncommon for an Elf to faint on seeing one.
After being dragged about by the wind for a while, she eventually stuck against a Glass Tower, and fell to the soft sand beneath. Relived to be in contact with the earth once again, she rolled herself through a broken window and onto an office desk within. Inside she found herself staring at a half-dressed red Draconian pointing a gun at an elf pinned underneath the dead body of a haze. It was her lucky day after all; when they eventually left they left the haze’s body behind. While it had been dead too long for her to salvage memories, she was happy just to have a body again. She had inserted her horn onto the base of its neck in an attempt to make herself harder to notice; while it was unlikely she would find another demon, it would be embarrassing to be seen in such a weak body.
After hearing the sound of combat, she used the body’s ability to cloak itself and moved carefully up the stairs. When she was the Elf get killed she knew it was her opportunity. When that Draconian shot her body she dumped all of it aside from the strange organ that generated the cloaking effect and rolled towards the Elf. The Draconian was busy with the other nearby hazes, and his apparent grief, and didn’t notice her taking the body.
While she managed to store all of the body, she only had enough space left for its clothes and had to leave the heavy coat and weapons behind. Although it was sad to leave good items behind, having such a good body was worth it. With the body stored, she rolled herself into a shadowy corner and let the haze cloak do its job. While she waited for the Draconian to leave, she started to assimilate the body’s memories.
That was where things started to go wrong for her; she had acted too soon. The body still had a soul attached and it reacted aggressively to her attempts to assimilate it. What was worse, the soul had been augmented by the Glass Tower System, and Isa could feel her power loosing against the strength of the soul. After a few minutes of struggling, Isi had lost. The soul had taken control of her body instead of the other way around. With control lost, the soul started to assimilate her memories.
After a few hours more there was no Isi. Isi had been completely absorbed by the soul and instead a new Demon controlled the body; a Demon named Louise.