The days passed by in a blur, speeding towards the opening of Her Ladyship's technology fair. Noman remained incarcerated in the Tower's underground cells, guarded around the clock. His judgement had been deferred until Konrad was well enough to attend the proceedings. Everybody knew it would end in a public execution, it was just a matter of when. Not a single attack had taken place since his capture, and there was a distinct lack of demons.
Hatchet continued his day shift patrols and found himself with the added responsibility of overseeing the security of the technology fair in particular. He didn't mind, really. Anara was always there with him, as sure a partner as Byrd had ever been. And as for Byrd, the injured watchmen was coming along well if the healers at the infirmary were to be believed. His wounds were stitching themselves together quickly, thanks in no small part to the healing wards that had been laid on him when he'd first come to the infirmary. It wouldn't be long now before Byrd could return to active duty.
The Captain, though he occasionally consulted with Her Ladyship about last minute details of the technology fair, fell back into his normal routine of looking over reports and gazing at Marsten through his office window. As far as he was concerned things were going well. Crime was up slightly, but that was to be expected thanks to the influx of people who wanted to see the technology fair. It was nothing his people couldn't handle, especially with the extra manpower he'd gotten from Her Ladyship's personal guard.
Olian continued to toil alone in his workshop, ostensibly trying to decipher the runes Noman had drawn in his victim's blood, but in truth finding out as much as possible about Noman's strange green stone. More and more he caught sight of a shadow moving at the edge of his vision, but every time he looked there was nothing there. And the whispers... the whispers were maddening. He did his best to tune them out, to ignore them, but they were always there, tugging at his concentration. He managed to make regular reports to Sarrus, though after the first few meetings he took to simply writing them down and sending them via courier. If the head of the mage's guild noticed the increasingly erratic writing he didn't say anything.
It was the day before the technology fair. Olian sat at his desk, mumbling arcane words over Noman's stone in an attempt to probe it's depths. As he did so he heard a voice whisper in his ear, soft, subtle. He was used to it by now, but this time it seemed different. Maybe he'd been working too hard, going on too little sleep, but he realized in sudden horror that the words passing through his lips were the same words that were being whispered into the back of his mind. Before he could gain control of himself the last harshly whispered word was out. The stone flashed brilliantly, bathing Olian's workshop in emerald light that forced him to close his eyes.
When he opened them the light was subdued, but the stone was glowing more than he'd ever seen in. The walls and ceiling of his workshop seemed to move, disorienting him. Disorientation gave way to cold horror as he realized it wasn't the walls that were moving. Strangely shaped shadows slithered over every surface, and a myriad of malevolent green eyes snapped open to focus on him.
A familiar voice whispered in his hear. Now it was definitely different. No longer was it a barely heard noise at the edge of consciousness, easily ignored. Now it was as if the speaker stood at his elbow, lips brushing his ear. He jerked and looked around, but found only more shadows. He jumped from the stool on which he'd perched, realization slamming home. "Demons," he croaked. "Oh no... no-no-no. The Summoner is captured. He couldn't possibly..."
He didn't need to, the voice said, and laughed melodically. You did it for me, Olian. You summoned them, just like I needed you to.
"Who?" Olian demanded, jerking away from the invisible speaker once again. "Who's there? What do you want?"
I want you, Olian, the voice said seductively. I need you.
Olian took a step backward, wide eyes trying to watch all of the slithering shadow demons at once. "You put the words in my mouth," Olian protested. "You've killed me!"
Only if you refuse my offer, the voice told him. All you have to do is pick up the stone, Olian. Do that and they cannot harm you. Do that and you'll be my servant, my champion. Shadows began flowing together in front of Olian, piling one into another until they formed a large shapeless blob of darkness. That blob started to take shape as he watched, smoothing out into the general shape of a woman. Two emerald green eyes opened in it's head, boring into his own eyes. It felt like they were burning a hole in his soul, but the mage couldn't look away.
Tell me, Olian, the voice asked, the shadow woman raising a hand towards him, Do you want to serve a goddess...?
No one had visited Noman during his time in the Tower's magical prison. He hadn't expected any, really, and so he'd occupied himself mostly by drawing things in the dust and dirt. He'd tried napping the time away, but he just couldn't seem to fall asleep. It was sort of nice to have nothing to do for once. There were no burdens put on him, there were no demands that he had to meet. He knew he was probably going to die, of course, but even that only filled him with relief. It felt like something that was long past due.
He lay on the cot that was his cell's only real furnishing, staring at the ceiling, thinking of days gone by. His eyes caught a flicker of movement by the door. At first he thought it was just a flicker of the torchlight. Then it happened again, and he realized it was moving too steadily for that. It didn't match the erratic motion of the fire's light. He turned to look and saw a blob of shadow sink into the greater darkness of the cell. He quickly rolled up into a sitting position, eyes focusing on the far side of his prison. Had it been a trick of the light, or of his imagination? "Solitary confinement must finally be getting to me," he muttered after several minutes of staring that got him nothing but eyestrain.
Voices in the hallway outside drew his attention. "Stand at the back of the cell," a voice ordered. With little reason to do otherwise Noman complied. The door swung open to reveal a guard with a torch in one hand. He glowered at Noman for a second. "You've got a visitor," the guard told him, sticking the torch in a holder inside the cell. The man stepped aside, and Noman was surprised to see Esme in the hallway beyond.
"Thank you," she told the guard as she entered the cell. The guard nodded and closed the door after her. Alone with Noman, Esme smiled. "Hello, Noman."
"Esme," Noman replied. "I... didn't expect to see you again."
"I tried to tell you before, Noman. I'm not your enemy. If anything I pity you."
"You can keep your gods damned pity," Noman spat. "So you're here to... what?" he crossed to his cot and sitting heavily. "To gloat?" he guessed. "To rub in the fact that you're still a 'champion' and I'm going to get the axe? Or are you here to get me out, eh?" He laughed at the thought that she might be here to free him, and his laughter seemed to cause her unease.
"None of those," Esme told him. "I'm here to tell you to prepare, Noman."
"I can prepare for death all on my own, thanks," he said. "Don't you worry about me or my immortal soul. I'm ready to meet my end, and as for my soul... well, I don't think I've got enough left to worry about. So why don't you go tell your puppet master-"
"Noman!" Esme said sharply, a look of concern rather than anger darkening her face. "Please, I'm here to warn you. Airea's done something, Noman. Something terrible."
"I've washed my hands of it," Noman growled. "I don't care anymore. You're a pawn of the gods, right? You handle it."
"You think the gods have forgotten you?" Esme asked. She shook her head. "You're wrong. Airea certainly hasn't forgotten you. You still bear her gifts, or haven't you noticed? Whatever's coming, you have a part in it. That much I know. Saliea told me. She wanted me to warn you and to tell you that this time you have a chance to redeem yourself. All you have to do is take it."
"No." Noman said forcefully. "I'm done with the gods and their games. I don't care what they pretend to offer, I'm not taking their bribe. Fuck that, and fuck them. I'm done!" he shouted, drawing the concern of the guards outside. The door swung open, one of them peeking inside.
"Everything all right in here?" the guard asked suspiciously, looking from Esme to Noman.
"Yes," Esme said. "Everything's fine. I think I'm ready to leave," she sighed. At the door she looked back over his shoulder. "Just remember, Noman," she told him. "You always have a choice. Make sure you do the right thing with it."