Changing HandsMature

Olian woke with a start, his heart racing. He remembered a nightmare, but the details slipped from his grasp even as his mind tried desperately to hold on to them. He was left with a twitchy fight or flight feeling that made him supremely uncomfortable, a need to escape even though he didn't know what he was escaping from. He shuddered at the feeling and groaned, rubbing his face with both hands. What a way to start the morning. Although, nightmare aside, he had to admit he did feel better than before he'd gone to sleep.


"Tea," he said to himself. With that objective in mind he threw on his robes and shuffled to the kitchen. Minutes later he wandered out into the rest of his shop, steaming cup in hand. He surveyed the chaotic stacks of books and unorganized piles of notes, wondering where he should start. There had been some promising material in something with a rather grandiose and impenetrably worded title, he recalled. Though he couldn't recall the title he did remember it had a purple cover, so he set about rummaging through things until he found a book that matched. 

"Ah," he said at last. "Disquisitionum Cultes Di Malificarum Daemonicus. You'd think they made a game out of naming these things," he chuckled.  He'd barely sat down to open the text when an insistent pounding began to rattle his door. He threw an annoyed look in the direction of the door and considered not answering. But whoever it was persisted, pounding vigorously a second time. 

"Olian!" A familiar voice tinged with worry and impatience shouted from behind the door. "Olian! Open the door!"

"Lucan?" Olian asked, mostly to himself. "For gods' sake. Hold on, man!" he bellowed, pulling himself to his feet. His hand hesitated at the handle. The hallucination of the morning before wasn't forgotten and he wasn't particularly keen on repeating the experience. Still, if he didn't open the door Lucan sounded like he might try to break it in, wards or no, so he took a breath and grasped the latch.

"What is it, Lucan?" He demanded, squinting into the sunlight. He found it was a good excuse to avert his eyes from the doorway. If he was hallucinating again at least he couldn't see it. 

"Oh, so you are alive," Lucan said irritatedly. "What were you thinking, ignoring the Watch when they came to get you? You had me worried that damn Summoner had paid you a visit like you were talking about."

"I... um. What?" Olian asked. "The Watch came to get me? When?" He stepped aside so Lucan to enter and saw that his fellow mage was not alone. Ganner and Gilead had come with him, and Olian felt his stomach drop at the sight of the blood that stained Ganner's robes. "What's going on?" he demanded as the three entered his shop, "What's happened?"

"The Summoner tried to kill Prince Konrad," Lucan informed him. 

"And me, thanks to my unlucky proximity at the time," Ganner added. 

"Which is why the Watch sent a man to get you," Gilead explained. "They sent someone to wake all of us, the whole guild. When you didn't answer your door we worried you'd also been a target. Glad to see that's not the case."

"I don't remember anybody knocking on the door," Olian told them. "I must have slept right through it. But the Summoner... you fought him? You won?"


"Fought his demons, anyway," Ganner said. "And I wouldn't say 'won'. More like survived. If he'd summoned more we would have been in real trouble. As it was he disappeared right after the fight started. I've no idea where he went or why he didn't stick around to finish the job. That's why we need you."

With a sigh Olian downed the rest of his tea and went to get more. It was going to be one of those days. "What could I do that the rest of you couldn't?" he asked as he poured another cup.

"The Captain said you were working on a way to detect the Summoner's magic, when it was used and hopefully where," Lucan said. "Have you made any progress?"

"To be honest I haven't really started yet," Olian told them. "It was only yesterday, and I still have yet to decipher the runes the Summoner leaves behind at the crime scenes. All I know so far is that they look like a series of incomplete rituals, though why they're incomplete or what they would do if they were completed I have no idea."

"Olian, this is critical," Gilead insisted. 

"You think I don't know that?" Olian snapped. "Of course it's critical, it's a bloody Summoner! And he could be after me next!" He steadied himself by taking a drink of tea. Gilead looked embarrassed and looked at Lucan for support. 

"Olian," Lucan said calmly, "he's attacking Princes now. And you're right, he could come for any of us next. We need to stop him as soon as possible. You've been studying his actions. If anybody has any clues as to what his motivations are, or what his next action might be, it's you."

"Yes, yes," Olian sighed. "Very well. This attack on Konrad is out of the ordinary. You said you fought his demons. Did they leave corpses behind?"

"They did," Ganner said. "For a little while. Then their bodies just sort of... oozed away. Now they're just stains on the floor." 

"Well, I'd better have a look anyway. What about runes? Did he leave any of those behind?"

"Nothing obvious," Ganner said.

"He was up to something," Olian said, idly rubbing his forehead as he thought. "He didn't kill Konrad?"

"Not quite, thank the gods," Lucan said. "It took some doing, but he'll live."

"So he attacks the Prince in his own estate," Olian said, "But leaves his creatures to finish the job while he goes and does something else? Hmm. Yes, I'd better have a look."

Konrad's estate was still under heavy guard when the three mages arrived. Olian imagined it would probably remain so until the Summoner was caught, or until Konrad was no longer an arm's length away from death. Perhaps both. The streets around the estate were also starting to fill with people. Word of Konrad's near death had spread, and the people of his district were gathering either out of curiosity or a desire for well wishing. They gave way as the four mages entered through the main gate.

"I'll warn you," Lucan cautioned Olian as they stood at the top of the stairs, "It's not pretty down there. The bodies are gone, but I've kept them from cleaning up the rest for now." Olian assured the others he would be fine, and they headed down.

"Gods," Olian gasped when they entered the room. Blood was spattered across the floor and walls, haphazard puddles marking where men's life had left their bodies. The blood was dried black, and it was almost indistinguishable from the stains that were all that remained of demon corpses. But there was a difference - where demons had died the stains had a strange sheen to them, like oil. 

He pulled a small wooden box from a pouch at his side and flipped the lid open. With his free hand he pulled a dagger from his belt. Kneeling beside one of the oily former-demon spots Olian began scraping residue from the stone with his knife and carefully depositing it in the box. He paused to study some of it up close, squinting at the tip of his knife. A glimmer of light caught his eye. He frowned, eyes focusing beyond the knife. He found himself looking at the large table that dominated the room, overturned chairs surrounding it. He frowned and tilted his head to one side, wondering what could have caught the light from over there.

He was just about to look away when it happened again, a flicker of green light from the shadowed underside of the table. "Strange," he muttered. No light should have reached far enough under the table to cause such a reflection.

"Find something?" Lucan inquired. Olian looked back to see him standing by the entrance to the room. Ganner and Gilead had gone but Lucan was there, watching curiously. 

"Probably just my imagination," Olian told him, and worried that it really was his mind playing tricks again. He wiped the last of the post-demon goo onto the inside edge of the box and closed the lid. With a groan he rose to his feet and walked over to the table, which he knelt beside so he could look beneath it. A glimmer of green light flashed in the darkness almost immediately. Olian got a strange feeling of eagerness from it, like a puppy happily greeting the arrival of it's master. Ignoring how strange it must look to Lucan, Olian got down on hands and knees and crawled under the table. There on the floor by one of the table's thick legs, nestled in a crack where two floor stones adjoined, was a fist sized stone. As Olian watched it began to glow with a faint green light. 

His eyes widened. "Whaaaat?" he asked under his breath, eyes widening. 

Olian... a voice whispered from the back of his mind. Pick up the stone, Olian...

Eyes fixed on the glowing stone, Olian reached out with one hand. He let it hover above the stone, finger tingling at the unnatural cold that radiated from it. It seemed like he'd only blinked, and it was in his hand. 

"Olian?" Lucan asked from across the room. "What is it? What did you find?" Footfalls echoed through the room as Lucan approached. Olian quickly stuffed the stone into a pocket hidden within the folds of his robes.

"Bah," he grumbled, backing out from under the table and standing up. "Nothing. Just my eyes playing tricks on me. I'd hoped to find a demon corpse intact, and for a moment I thought..." he shook his head. "It was nothing."

"Ah, too bad," Lucan said. "It would have been fascinating to dissect one."  

Despite his eagerness to leave with the stone, Olian dutifully scoured the room for anything else unusual. He found nothing, and told Lucan as much. They moved through the rest of the estate's rooms checking for hidden wards or signs of magic, and found nothing there as well. By the time they were finished Olian had to resist the urge to bolt from the estate and run back to his shop. He bid Lucan farewell as evenly as possible and left, forcing himself to keep his pace to a brisk walk on the way back to his shop. 

Finally alone, door locked and curtains drawn, Olian pulled the stone from his robes. He'd scarcely had time to look it over when a voice from his desk made him jump. 

"Olian? Olian, it's Hatchet. Gods, tell me you've got your crystal with you..."

Surprised, Olian pulled his desk drawer open and mumbled the words that would activate his communication crystal. "I'm here, Hatchet. What do you need? I'm rather busy right now."

"We did it, Olian," the reply came back. "We've got him."

"What?" Olian asked. "Who?"

"The Summoner!" Hatchet exclaimed. "Look, we need you over at Ivory Tower right bloody now. We're going to question him, and I want you there for it."

"Ah. Right," Olian said, feeling as if he'd been thrown off balance. "Yes, of course. I'll... I'll be there shortly." With one last thoughtful look at the green stone, Olian secreted it in his robes again and was out the door.

The End

107 comments about this story Feed