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It took only brief introspection to identify what was happening; why my mood had so drastically improved.
Being of Nature: You feel relaxed and at home in natural settings and have a powerful presence. You are attracted to natural wells of magic.
Just the act of being outside had flipped a switch in my brain and made me feel… something. It took me a few seconds to try and put words to the sensation.
I felt a sense of completeness like I was right where I should be. It wasn’t anything divine. I didn’t feel like being in nature was my calling, per se. I just felt like I was a part of it; a cog in a great machine making up the ecosystem of the planet. I could see exactly where I fit into everything. It was belonging. As far as instincts go, this one wasn’t all that bad. Far better than my warrior’s instinct, anyway.
Walking back into the house, I stored the embryonic liquid that was within my egg into an old five-gallon bucket, and then stored both it and the eggshell, into my monster pouch. I went ahead and used identify on them both, just to see if I could even do something with them.
Primordial Earth: The remnants of the ascension of a primordial. Has myriad uses for blacksmithing, enchanting, or potion-making.
Primordial Soup: A liquid of pure natural energy. Can restore or empower elementals through its consumption but is more powerful once refined.
The rarities of the items were expected. I would drop off some of the earth for Donny to deal with and feed the rest to my armor, but I was going to keep the soup all for myself. I was sure Donny could make something out of the earth eventually, but depending on his class and rank, that might be a long way off. Hardness four was nothing to laugh at. Just how sharp were my horns anyway to break through something like that? I was only rank three but was still fighting out of my weight class.
Shaking myself from my thoughts, I went outside yet again, taking to the sky. Flying was as pleasant as it had always been, but once I had climbed to five hundred feet, I had to activate levitation and pause to regain my composure.
I could now barely make out any of the houses that used to poke up around the area. Nothing was familiar anymore. The cedar tree forests had changed, the cedars growing to now impossible heights, and the forests themselves now dotted with strange and new trees. While the city itself still had some time left before it was completely taken over by the growing biomes, the outskirts and sparse houses here had no chance.
I thought back to the elderly Warner couple that were once my neighbors. I just barely made out the roof of their old house, as it had not one, but five tree trunks growing right through it. Taking a closer look, I could tell that they had left quite some time ago. I hoped they made it to the city in time, but there was practically no way to be sure.
Flying upward once again, I set off for the city. I cycled wind mana and threw it behind me like a pair of jet engines and rocketed off towards familiar territory. I let loose, throwing everything I had into speed. The wind was coming so fast I was nearly blinded, so I equipped my helmet, threw down the visor, and accelerated even faster.
Slowing slightly when I reached the downtown area, I took a look around me. The biomes had yet to encroach this far, but many buildings had been actively torn down. In their places were mostly medieval-style constructs of limestone and cedar planks with wooden or stone shingles. It was obvious that the construction workers were doing their best, trying to make enough houses for people to live in once nature moved in.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most impressive houses were centered around Zilker park and the obelisk. I could see the beginnings of construction projects for permanent businesses and shops all through the former park, and the roads between the myriad stalls had been paved with stone. The shopping spaces now extended even further, going as far as three miles from the obelisk. It was a medieval budding metropolis and would most likely become the new center of the city.
From the bazaar, there were two steady lines of foot traffic, flight, and vehicles. One headed north, and the other to the northeast, each pointing to one of the guild locations. I decided to follow the traffic from above. As I flew, another group who were flying signaled me to join them.
Diving down and slowing my speed, I matched their pace. We couldn’t talk without shouting due to the wind, but they nodded in acknowledgment, and I nodded back. Naturally, they couldn’t see my face through my full-faced helm, but they seemed friendly enough and didn’t seem to mind.
Two of them, a male and female, were harpies. They no longer had hands, but their feet looked rather dexterous, and they still had small thumbs on each wing with which to manipulate things. The third member of the group was a superhuman with some rather impressive flame powers. He was rocketing about like iron man, jets of energy blasting from his hands and feet to keep him stable. It was a pleasant experience flying around with others, and I found myself smiling.
Unfortunately, the flight didn’t last long. A block from the apartment, a large wall had been erected. It stood around twenty feet high and was a full five feet thick at the top, with an even broader base. The wall was made of smooth stone, and it seemed to buzz with energy. Guards were walking across the entire circumference of the barrier, and from what I could see, two gates to allow entry along the main street.
I followed the other flyers and landed in the middle of the street by the south entry, where we lined up in a short queue to enter. Curious, I took a closer look at the wall. From the air, it appeared complete, but I could now see that it was still unfinished. On either side of the entryway were two tall towers in the process of construction, and I could see a few more areas where the stone mages had yet to finish their tasks.
Finished or not, it was still extremely impressive for only six weeks’ worth of work, four while I was working on my new class, and two while I was ranking up. They must have started while I was working on my rune engraving. The project was a testament to the strange world that magic had formed, allowing both creation and destruction on a massive scale.
I turned towards the pair of harpies.
“Hey, I’m Vic.”
Both of them immediately perked up as I spoke, and turned to me with boisterous enthusiasm.
“OH! My name is Timothy, and this is my sister Helen! It’s nice to meet you! Your wings are so pretty! You are good at flying!”
Instead of adding onto the comment, Helen the harpy just gladly nodded along, then seemed to get distracted by a passing dragonfly.
“Thanks. Its… nice to meet you too. So, is there a reason we landed outside the gate? Couldn’t we have just gone inside from the air?”
Timothy vehemently shook his head, while Helen silently chewed her prey.
“No can do! If you go in from the sky, you get the shocks, and then you get a fine! It’s better to go in from the gate!”
“I see. Thanks for letting me know.”
Timothy kept chattering in my ear as we arrived at the entry. An adventurer stopped me at first, but quickly allowed me entry after I showed him my guild badge. I gave Timothy and Helen my farewells and found myself entering strangely unfamiliar territory.
From the sky, the amount of construction was slightly obscured, but at street level it was extreme. All of the buildings in a two-block radius of the guild hall had either been torn down and were in the process of reconstruction or had already been rebuilt completely.
The area around my apartment and the old hotel used to be occupied by a ratty strip center, a few run-down houses, and a cheap set of quadruplexes. In their place now were several restaurants, a new hotel, a collection of adventurer-targeted shops, and a large rectangular building sporting several billowing chimneys with a sign declaring ‘crafting center’.
Every person walking the streets now sported weapons and armor, and something like half proudly wore guild badges. It was almost like a renaissance fair. At the same time, adventurers carried laptops, drove four-wheelers or dirt bikes, and listen to music off of their phones. It was an almost unsettling hodge-podge of ancient and modern technology that felt slightly out of place.
Leaving the strange scenery for later, I moved towards the guild hall and my old apartment at the center of everything. Standing at the entrance, I could see that the hall was unchanged. It was still the same Hotel that I recognized. What was obviously different though was the Garcia’s store and my old apartments right next door.
The building used to be made from a rather plain orange brick. It was a rather narrow building and didn’t stand out much. Now, though, that had changed. The brick had been replaced with beautiful wooden planks. The building now took over the plot adjacent to it and had grown from four floors to five. Out front above a massive double-door entryway was a painted sign declaring ‘Garcia’s General Goods’ in bright letters, complete with a small cartoon picture of a two-tailed kitsune. I wanted to go meet Cindy immediately, but I decided to make time to see what became of my apartment and the familiar shop first.
The inside of the store was completely packed with adventurers. There was everything a monster hunter on the go could need; weapons, tools, additional crafting goods, crafting supplies, you name it. I even found a section that had lesser enchanted goods, like food wrapping that helped to preserve freshness or reinforced glass bottles for storing potions in a clear container.
Manning the counter was Mr. Garcia, who now sported a fourth tail. I guess he had managed to rank up while I was away. I unsummoned my helmet and gave him a small wave to get his attention. After a few moments, I could tell that he recognized me as his fox eyes widened slightly, so I waited for a brief lull in the traffic and approached.
“Vic! It’s so good to see you!”
“It’s good to see you too, Mr. Garcia. I can see you worked out how to talk. Congratulations. I thought you could only use telepathy?”
He shook his head, then used a forepaw to gesture to the elaborate collar on his neck.
“Only using telepathy is bad for business. An enchanter over at the guild worked out something to help. This collar translates my thoughts into sound, letting me speak without using the telepathy skill.”
“That’s rather interesting. Can you buy stuff like this now?”
He let out a small whine, followed by a soft growl. Obviously, the answer irked him.
“…not YET. The higher-end craftspeople have been remiss to sell their more impressive goods in a general store. But someday, hopefully, we can form some more deals. For now, you need to talk enchanters directly if you want something specific made.”
Curious about the specifics, I tried to identify the collar, but something strange happened. My identify seemed to… slide off. It didn’t even trigger; the skill just didn’t seem to register the collar as a target. Confused, I tried to identify Mr. Garcia next, and sure enough, the same thing happened. Did the skill break? As a third test, I identified the countertop.
Magic-Infused Oak Countertop
So, the problem wasn’t on my end, meaning it must have something to do with Mr. Garcia. After seeing my face, the monster fox let out a rhythmic keening noise. It took me a second to realize he was laughing at me.
“Identify not working, Ms. Gale?”
“What’s up with that?!? How’d you manage to block identify from working?”
Once more, he gestured to the collar. It was part of the enchantment, then.
“Before you go asking more questions, you should talk to Cindy. She has some stuff for you. I’m pretty sure she’s up in your apartment right now. She has Mondays off.”
Huh. I had no idea that today was a Monday. I guess when you have nowhere to be, what day of the week it was didn’t matter anymore.
There was a couple of adventurers making their way to the counter, so I decided to leave Mr. Garcia alone for now. I would have to visit them later. I wanted to check up on their kids and see how far Michael had taken his alchemy work.
Waving goodbye, I headed towards the stairs but was rather confused when I found that the second floor of the building was also a part of the Garcia’s store. The goods on the second level were of far higher quality, many taken from dungeons, and they had high prices to match. Some of them were even a bit too pricy for me to buy, though the money left over from the Temple of the Orb Weaver Queen was nothing to laugh at.
Tucked around the back I found a stairway going even higher, and I left the store area. Magically, all of the clamorous noise from below me faded away into nothing. The building itself likely had enchantments on it to make it nicer. On this level, there were two doors instead of the previous one. The left-hand door was open and was full of strange tubes, plants, and glassware. Mr. Garcia must have had the builders put Michael’s alchemy lab right across from their apartment. If he was there, I would have stopped in to say hello, but he was out right now.
I continued up the stairs to the fourth floor, where my apartment should be. Hesitatingly, I tried the door, but it was locked tight. My old key didn’t work anymore, so I knocked on the door, trying to get someone’s attention so that they could let me in.
After a moment, I heard the lock turn, and the door opened. Standing before me was Cindy wearing a resplendent evening gown. She seemed to exude some kind of aura and managed to look both completely exhausted, and elegant, all at the same time.
“Victoria. It’s good that you’re home.”
She paused in the doorway like she was trying to find the words. Was something wrong?
“Cindy! Why are you all dressed up? You look tired. Is everything okay?”
“Oh, everything is fine… fair warning, though. Taylor’s parents are visiting.”
Oh, dear. That probably wasn’t anything good.