Night came to Marsten, and with it came a growing sense of dread. Olian felt it in the pit of his stomach, gnawing at his insides, making his palms sweat. He tried his best to ignore the feeling by putting his faith in the many wards that protected his shop. The demons couldn't get in, not without going through those wards. And theywere out there, the demons, waiting and watching for an opportunity. Waiting for him to make a mistake. He could hear them, scratching at the walls. It was maddening, but he wouldn't let himself be distracted. They wanted him to be distracted.
He gripped the edges of the old tome he was reading even tighter. Among Old Moby's treasure trove of arcane knowledge had been a number of scriptures dealing with demons; their summoning and binding. None of the books were wholly dedicated to the subject, of course, but many volumes had a section here, a chapter there... all in all, it was enough. Enough to teach Olian all he needed to know to protect himself. All he needed to do was put it together. So he read, scribbling notes on stray sheets of paper whenever he happened upon the right sort of information.
But the scratching wasn't the only noise. Ever since Lucan had left there had been whispered voices racing around his mind. As he peered at the brittle pages, trying to decipher the lessons they had to teach him, the whispers had become steadily louder. He tried his best to push them to the edges of his mind, brush them aside as he usually brushed aside mental distractions, but they persisted. They're coming, the whispers said. The wards are failing. Any moment now, and they'll be in... they're coming...
Frustrated and unable to concentrate Olian stood and paced across the room. He knows who you are, the voices whispered, He's coming for you. The Summoner is coming...
"Oh be silent!" Olian growled. "Be quiet! Be GONE!" He bellowed the last word at the ceiling with all the force his lungs could muster, throwing his hands out to the sides in anger. Silence rang like a bell in the wake of his outburst, as if all sound had been sucked out of the shop. The sudden, eerie quiet was shocking. He stood there in the preternatural silence, afraid to move lest his robe rustle or his sandal squeak, and break the delicate atmosphere. The longer he stood there the sillier he felt. It was stress, he told himself. Lack of sleep, as Lucan had said. Auditory hallucinations were common when you were sleep deprived, he remembered that much from his days as an apprentice. Maybe... yes, maybe it would be better if he took a nap.
He took one soft, short step forward. The floorboard creaked beneath his weight, and that was all. With that one noise a floodgate of tension was released, and Olian began to laugh. He didn't stop until he'd reached he's bed. Climbing under the covers, he promptly fell asleep. As he lay there, snoring gently, a silent shadow slithered across the wall and into one corner of the room, where it hissed softly to itself....
Across the city, Noman wandered the darkening streets having spend the way looking through the various markets and bazaars that were to be found. It hadn't been particularly interesting or eventful, but it has kept his mind occupied and away from other thoughts. Now, as the sun set beyond the horizon, he found himself drawn back to the events of the previous night. Back to the Barrel, and to Daine.
Business at the establishment seemed steady, despite the boarded up windows. Noman stood across the street, between two buildings, and watched as people went in and drunkards stumbled out. Every time the door swung open he caught a glimpse inside, and he searched the interior for any sign of Daine. At last he saw her, shuttling drinks to their destination through the boisterous crowd.
A soft, subtle hiss from behind drew Noman's attention. He knew without turning around what it was. The only question was whether it was here to reprise it's role as pet, or if it had gone feral. He didn't acknowledge it's presence immediately, merely slipping a hand into his coat pocket and closing his fingers around the stone. The Shadow chittered and clicked behind him, and soon the sounds of one grew to the sound of many. Their gathering complete, one swam forward and began swirling around Noman's legs. He looked down and watched it through narrowed eyes. The creature seemed placid enough, and as the others swarmed around him he knew nothing had changed. He felt he should have been relieved. Instead, he was almost disappointed.
He drew in a deep breath and let it out again. "So," He asked the darkness, "Back to butchering them for their own good, then?" As he spoke he turned away from the Barrel, ready to go elsewhere.
So melodramatic tonight, the voice returned, it's tone carrying laughter into Noman's ear. And last night as well... Noman grunted in reply, refusing to be drawn into a conversation about it. But no, it answered him, not tonight.
"Let me guess," Noman volunteered, "Tonight I get to burn down an orphanage?"
A tempting thought, the voice answered darkly. Noman winced and made a mental note to avoid sarcastic remarks that might give the voice ideas. He hunched his shoulders and dug his hands into his pockets and glowered at the darkness.
"What, then?" He asked.
Tonight you pay a visit to royalty, the voice told him. There are many things going on in this city, Noman, mundane and arcane alike. And you... you are not the only tool being wielded. There are those who would interfere with my plans. You are going to stop them.
"I suppose I'd better," he said contemplatively. "If I'm you're tool," and he said the word in a way that made it sound decidedly abhorrent, "the best way to interfere is to remove me."
Such a high opinion of yourself, the voice commented, sounding amused.
"I thought I was your champion," Noman sneered, remembering once again the words that had echoed through his mind earlier. And if he concentrated he could make out a woman in flowing black robes, with bright green eyes. When the voice remained silent on that point he sighed. "So who am I to kill, then? Another god's champion? Have the Old Gods finally woken up and started putting their pieces on the board?"
What they are doesn't matter. All that matters is that you deal with them.
"Of course," Noman muttered. "Fine. How am I supposed to find him, her, them, or it?"
The Shadows will show you the way. And Noman... be sure to let some of them live.
"What's this then?" Noman wondered aloud. "Mercy?"
It is what I desire, the voice told him. It's tone made it clear there would be no further argument or discussion.
The shadows led Noman through the city, across the river Marsa and then North. It was an area that Noman had not yet stalked, and he passed through it carefully. After what seemed like half the night they reached their destination - a complex of several buildings surrounded by a ten foot wall. Evaluating it from afar he came to the conclusion that, despite the ivy and vines that grew over most of it, this was a wall that was meant to protect those beyond it. It was no mere decoration, and here in the middle of the city Noman found that interesting.
He stayed away from the main gate, which was well lit by torches and diligently manned by armed guards. He circled the entire thing, taking in the estate and the buildings that surrounded it. Finding a secluded spot he stood contemplating the challenge before him. None of the nearby buildings were close enough to jump from. Not if he wanted to survive the jump, anyway. Whoever was in charge had also made sure there were no trees near enough to use. He could try climbing, he supposed, but that just seemed like too much trouble. Luckily there were a number of smaller side gates that could prove useful, all guarded by a single bored looking soldier who stood on the inside of the wall.
He chose the side gate that looked like it was the most out of the way and gathered the Shadows around himself. Clad in shards of the night itself Noman advanced on the gate, one hand gripping the stone in his pocket. To the guard, it appeared as if Noman had suddenly materialized just on the other side of the wrought iron bars.
"Gah!" the guard jerked, startled at this stranger's sudden appearance. "Who're you, then? Where'd you come from?" He demanded, clearly annoyed. "Don't you know sneaking up on Watchmen like that is a good way to get yourself killed?"
"I don't think I have anything to worry about," Noman told the man grimly, letting his eyes move from the guard's face to the shadows and disembodied green eyes floating just behind him. The rifle swing down from the man's shoulder, but he was focussed on Noman, not the threat from behind. There was a swell of hissing and clicking, followed by the sickeningly wet sound of flesh tearing and the guard's last gurgling cry of surprise. His body slumped against the gate and Noman stuck his hands through the bars, gently lowering it to the ground.
He unlocked the gate with the dead man's key and stashed the body in what he hoped was an out of the way area, behind some decorative bushes. It wouldn't do anything to hide the spatters of blood around the gate, but those could be overlooked by a casual glance the way a dead body couldn't. "Where to next?" He asked, and a trio of shadows flitted off towards the estate's main building. Noman followed, keeping an eye out for guards or guard dogs. They encountered neither, arriving at the servant's entrance without distractions. Noman forced the door open, surprised by how weak and brittle the frame seemed beneath his shoulder. There was a sharp crack and splinters of wood fell to the floor. He paused, listening for any indication that he'd been heard.
It was when he tried sending a shadow ahead to make sure the way was clear that things got interesting. As it crossed the threshold there was a flash of bright blue light. With a shriek of surprise the shadow burst into a flame and fell writhing to the ground. Noman took a reflexive step backwards, wide eyes watching as the burning shadow seemed to shrivel before him, evaporating away into nothing. The rest of the shadows backed away even further, scurrying for the darkest corners they could find.
"Well..." he mused, noting how there was now a glowing line of runes around the doorframe. "That's not good." He pulled the stone from his pocket and used his free hand to reach slowly towards the doorway. The tips of his fingers started to sting, and then started to burn as he got closer to the threshold. At the point where the shadow had burst into flames a blue web of translucent energy burst into view, stretching from one side of the doorframe to the other like the cracks in a pane of glass, with his fingers as the center. When he tried pushing his finger forward further it seemed to meet physical resistance. There was a hissing noise, and his finger began turning red. He pulled his hand back and examined it closely. No permanent damage that he could tell, though that finger was incredibly tender...
The web of blue energy remained visible. He looked at it for a second, then looked to the stone in his hand. "Sure," he said. "All right then. Fuck it." With the slightest of smiles he squeezed the stone as hard as he could, and then he punched it towards the doorway...