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The tower loomed over the house in the morning sun, casting a long shadow across the whole yard. I paced around it to get a better view.
It was a limestone brick structure like many buildings in Austin, and if the state of the building was any indication, it was relatively new construction. It was around twenty feet in diameter and looked like it was a full four stories tall. The roof was a cone made from wooden slats, built in the manner of old-fashioned shingles. There were four windows, one for each cardinal direction, on every floor, and I could see a single window in the conical roof to let light in from above. Lastly, there was a single door on the lowest floor with a stone pathway leading up to it from the driveway.
There was absolutely no way that Cindy or Taylor didn’t know about this. It would have taken several days to construct, even with the accelerated building speed that abilities and powers offered. Why had they not told me? And, perhaps most importantly, why hadn’t I noticed when I flew in last night. I was tired, that much was true, but not too tired to miss a forty-foot tower in my back yard.
Cautiously, I decided to knock on the door, rapping on it heavily with my knuckles. If my suspicions were correct, this was almost assuredly the word of Ellie McLaurin, the girl who Zald had stay at my house.
From within I heard a voice shout, “Just a second!”, followed by the sound of footsteps pounding down a set of stairs.
The door creaked open, revealing the slim face of my tenant, a few errant locks of wavy brown hair sticking to her face.
“Hey, Ellie. We need to talk.”
It seems my displeasure was obvious, as immediately she started to visibly panic.
“M-Ms. Gale. Come in! I mean, it’s your property, you don’t need to knock I guess, but anyway just come in and make yourself at home I can explain I promise please don’t be angry.”
After the tirade of panicked comments, I was left a bit taken aback. I was still a bit mad, but I decided I could afford to wait for her to explain the situation before I took this any further. Considering that my friends didn’t feel like explaining it to me, there was probably a good reason for this, though it was also possible that they didn’t notice it similar to how I didn’t when I first arrived.
The inside of the tower was clean and homey. I expected it to feel stuffy due to no air circulation, but I found that it wasn’t the case. There was new furniture grown from plants, probably Taylor’s work, scattered around the bottom floor, and a staircase to the next floor took up a large part of the room, leaving just enough space for a couple of nice padded chairs around a coffee table. The table was laden with books and papers. It was obvious Ellie had been working here on something, but I couldn’t decipher the strange symbols and scribbles of whatever she had been up to.
I took a seat in one of the chairs and gestured for her to join me. With a few shaky steps she sat down across from me, a dejected and nervous expression on her face.
“So, first things first, I just have to know. Why is there a tower in my yard? Obviously, you had it constructed, but why here?”
I intentionally used a calmer voice when speaking to hopefully reduce her panic and stuffed my anger at the situation into a dark hole where I could deal with it later. I wanted to take on this situation without any anger. This place was my childhood home, but it was also a largely unused plot of land, so I could forgive her ignorance of my feelings. Most of my anger was at the defacement of something my mother left me, and suppressing emotions centered around my mom was nothing new to me.
Ellie took a deep breath before speaking.
“This is a mage tower. When mages get to a certain strength, they can build towers that increase their abilities while they are nearby. I needed support from… somewhere. You weren’t here, and Cindy couldn’t help me. After the third week of waiting for you to get back, I decided to build it to keep me safe.”
As expected, brushing her off probably wasn’t the best option. At least some of the responsibility was on my shoulders, but that still left lots of unanswered questions.
“Why here? Why would you decide to build your tower right next to my house, on my land?”
Ellie blushed in embarrassment and turned her head to look out the nearby window.
“I was… grateful for your generosity. You took me in and let me stay in your house even though you didn’t have to. I was little better than a squatter, and you helped me anyway. After the past month, I’ve grown to love this place, and I wanted to make sure it was safe.”
Though I couldn’t sense lies like Steph in all her overpowered glory, I thought I still had a good head on my shoulders. Unless Ellie was a world-class actor, she was probably telling the truth, or at least mostly the truth. My anger faded, replaced with a twinge of guilt. It was probably undeserved, but I felt bad for being so mad at such a little girl. That being said, undertaking a massive construction job on my land without telling me was more than most young girls could accomplish. I would hold onto my anger until I understood just what this tower did.
This time, I made sure my voice was stern. I wanted her to understand that both the house and land were important to me, and I inflected that in my statement.
“You’ve brought up safety twice, both for yourself, and for my house and land. Can you show me what this tower does?”
Ellie quickly stood up and turned towards the stairs.
“Yes! Of course! I’ll show you right away.”
She quickly took me on a tour of the tower, guiding me higher up the stone structure, and I was shocked at what I found.
The second floor was a laboratory of sorts, complete with alchemy equipment of higher grade than what I brought out of the ruins for Michael, as well as equipment for carving runes and magic circles. The floor was covered with an impressive magic circle drawn in chalk, far larger than anything I had seen yet. The third floor was equally interesting, holding bookshelves over most of the walls and a fancy desk laden with yet more research papers. The final floor was closer to an observatory, and was accessed through a ladder instead of a stairwell. This floor was where all of the magic was cast, and functioned as a sort of observatory. There was a medley of magic circles all over the walls, ceiling, and floor, and I had Ellie walk me through what each one did, just to be safe.
The biggest effect that the tower had, was, like Ellie said, to increase the power of her magic while she was nearby. It functioned as an antenna for attracting aether and could zap pure mana to Ellie if she needed it and was within a few hundred feet. It also worked as a communications tower, able to receive a few magical message forms from extremely long distance and would alert Ellie if anyone came within a certain distance of the tower, allowing her to keep track of trespassers.
The final thing it did, and the reason that I couldn’t see the tower when I flew up, was provided a non-recognition barrier to those that didn’t know the tower wasn’t already there. If you saw the tower and had too low stats, you would simply forget that it was there in the first place and go on by like you had never even seen it. This field extended to my house as well and would protect anything hidden within.
After learning about what the tower did, I agreed that it would be better to have it on my land than to not. To top it all off, Ellie was a good caretaker, and kept the house clean. It was better to let the space be used and kept safe than let it rot away with the rest of the buildings out here, and she had proven that she was trustworthy enough to act as a tenant. We weren’t friends yet, but we didn’t need to be either.
We moved back to the bottom floor, and Ellie brought out some breakfast and some coffee from the kitchen.
“Ellie, I know you want to keep your privacy, but what can you tell me about yourself? You just showed up out of nowhere, with a letter of recommendation from a god no less and needed a place to stay. When I was here last, you seemed… well, downright terrified of something.
“I don’t expect you to tell me all of your secrets, as I won’t be telling you all of mine, but I’d like to know a bit more about you if you are comfortable.”
She looked thoughtful, and I could tell she was running something around in her head. After a few seconds, she turned back to me.
“Well, alright. I’ve talked with Zald, and he assured me that you are trustworthy. I’ll tell you what I can, but I don’t know everything. Also, Zald said that he wants the materials you’ve gathered so he can start work on your armor set while we talk.”
“Oh, okay. Umm… does he need, like, measurements or parameters or something?”
“You can give me your requests, and he’ll be able to hear them.”
I guess Ellie and Zald are connected like Luna was to me? That explains her thoughtful expression; she must have been communicating with Zald. I had to suppress a pang of jealousy. I still missed the connection with Luna. What was their relationship to allow their communication? I would have to ask.
I placed the materials I gathered into a neat pile, making sure to include both the gold metal from the spider dungeon, as well as the arachne queen thread. I also threw in both the wind and earth attuned monster cores, and the storm paraelemental eggshell and tears. I also decided to throw in a sack of my metallic feathers, just to top it all off. As I continued to lay out rare and valuable materials, Ellie’s eyes opened wider and wider. She must be identifying all of the things as I put them down.
I was going all in on this armor set, throwing everything I had into it. It wasn’t every day a god made you something specific like this, and I wanted it to be as strong as possible to carry me through rank 3. Using a spare piece of paper on the table, I went ahead an added as much description as I could about what I needed to set to be capable of, before adding that to the pile last.
With a nod, I let Ellie know that I had added everything I possibly could, and I marveled as a magic circle appeared out of thin air, absorbing all the materials and taking it away.
“Zald says the armor will be done in a week or so. He’s grateful that you let me say here, and very happy you gave me a home, so he’s going to try and make you something really special. And… I’m grateful too. Thank you for letting me stay here. If you ever need something, just ask.”
“I’ll be sure to.”
Ellie was settling in, getting ready to start her story. Before she got into it, though, I wanted to check out her race. She looked like a superhuman, but her skill with magic was absurd. There was no way she wasn’t a magic race, and I wanted to see what she was.
I looked at her and activated the skill, but for the first time, nothing happened. There was no box, no readout, nothing. I was simply incapable of using it, like the skill wasn’t even there. Experimentally, I tried using identify on the tower, and once more, the skill didn’t function. Did it break?
I looked down and used the skill on my arm, and was relieved to see my race, rank, and level read correctly.
“Ellie, what race are you?”
She looked confused at my question, raising an eyebrow and cocking her head.
“I’m superhuman. Why do you ask?”
Now I was even more confused.
“How can you be superhuman? Your skill with magic is crazy. Does your power have to do with learning or something?”
She shook her head.
“Nope. I have very minor empathic abilities. I can read a room to see what people are feeling, but it’s extremely weak.”
“You’re kidding. How are you so good at magic? Are you a beta tester? There’s got to be some kind of trick.”
“No, I was changed during the second wave.”
She smiled, seeing my obvious incredulity. How the hell was she so good with magic?
“Honestly, Ms. Gale, I just really like magic. For some reason, it just clicked when I started using it. I got to level 10 pretty quickly by trying out my power; it gets stronger in crowds, and I was around lots of people at the start of… everything. After that though, I chose the Beginner Wizard class and started figuring things out bit by bit. Zald discovered me shortly after, and helped me escape…”
Obviously, her reminiscing brought up some unpleasant memories. It seemed like she stumbled across them on accident, but it was a good segue into her past. I wanted to know why the daughter of a state congressman wanted to run away, and I was hoping it would shed some light on the weird people in the capital right now.
“Just call me Vic. Ms. Gale sounds so weird. What did you need to escape from?”
Her expression changed to one that was very grim, and she grew silent, starting to close up on herself.
“Hey, Ellie. You’re okay, now. You’re safe here.”
She nodded and pulled herself together enough to talk.
“Y-yes. You’re right.”
She let out a long shaky breath.
“I don’t know who I was running from. I just know I needed to escape. I was in the capital building with my dad. He is… was… a congressman. After the first wave, he took me and my big brother into the capital with him for a briefing. We ended up staying there long enough for the second wave to come through, and the power to fail.”
That matched up with what Steph had mentioned. She said that congress met up, but something happened in the capital and they all died. What caused it?
“I stayed with brother in a side room. I had become a superhuman, but he didn’t change in the second wave. I was just practicing my abilities in secret. Most of congress was still together in the capital building, as they had brought soldiers over from camp Mabry to protect us. Dad said we would be safe.
“After the third wave, when the obelisks appeared, I got my class and started practicing magic. Brother still hadn’t changed yet, and we were all scared. Brother wanted to leave and go home where it was safer, but Dad wanted to stay where the soldiers were. After that, the governor called congress in to meet.
“I don’t know what happened after that because I fell asleep, but I woke up to people screaming. Zald connected to me and told me to take my brother and leave the building as fast as possible, that my dad was… dead. But my brother was gone, and I didn’t know where he was. I ran out the door, and… it was horrible.”
She paused to breathe, wiping the starts of tears from her eyes.
“There were screams in the distance, and the cries of… something else. The hallway was dark, and full of blood. It was everywhere; the walls, the ceiling, the floor. It was covering everything, but there were no bodies. I ran out the door, but there were people following me. I couldn’t see who they were, but I cast a basic spell to alert me to pursuers. I got on a bike, and rode out of town, following Zald’s directions to your house. I didn’t stop until the spell stopped picking things up.”
Ellie paused, her tears flowing freely now. She was able to pull herself together after just a few seconds, returning to a neutral expression. Whatever was happening in the capital couldn’t be anything good. I needed to get this information to Cindy and Steph as soon as possible. Maybe they could do something with it. I, on the other hand, needed to get to rank 3. I had a sinking feeling that I would need all the strength I could muster for whatever was coming.