Do you want to serve a goddess?
In that instant Olian felt his resolve break. It didn't matter that this being, goddess or demon, had toyed with his mind for days on end; he realized now that it had been her, weakening him little by little so he would be easier to manipulate. It didn't matter that she'd used him to summon the countless demons that now swarmed through his workshop, breaking a core tenant of magic use and forfeiting his life should he ever be caught.
All that mattered was the power in her voice, oozing from every word, every syllable laden with promises of power and glory and fame. It promised his name would be remembered through history. He might have resisted. A part of him wanted desperately to do just that; but it was a small part, overwhelmed by a mind that was too tired, too worn down from constantly resisting her influence.
In that moment he failed himself. He gave in and, willingly surrendering himself, picked up the stone. A cold chill spread from where the stone touched his flesh, claiming first his arm and then his chest before touching every part of his body. He gasped at the feeling. Where before he'd heard urgent whispers there was now a mute feeling of approval, a warmth that served to ward off the worst of the chill from the stone.
"Are you really Airea?" Olian asked the shadowy visage of a woman. A ripple ran through the slick black surface, new details emerging in their wake. A mouth split the smooth surface of the face, a nose growing above it, muscles became more defined and cheekbones rose. Thin strands erupted from the head, flowing down the back to become hair. After a few seconds Olian could believe he was looking at a real woman, albeit one that had been covered in tar. It smiled at him, a cold smile that held no mirth.
Are you afraid? she asked, though the shadow woman's mouth never moved. Olian's eyes moved to the shadow demons that crawled across his walls. It was enough of an answer for her. You needn't fear them, she told him.
"They're demons," Olian said. "Evil creatures. You... you control them?"
They serve me, Airea said. Which is not quite the same. Noman called them pets... I think that's apt. While you hold the stone they serve you as they would serve me.
Olian eyed his desk, awash with moving shadows. "Get off my desk," he told them, and could have wished for more confidence is his voice. The slight waver in it would not have been construed as commanding, but they obliged, melting down the desk's legs and onto the floor. "Heh," he let out a puff of air in relief that it had worked. "But... why?" he looked back at Airea's avatar. "Why do you need them?"
Airea's avatar slid forward. Olian noticed that for all the detail in it's face and torso, it still had no legs. He stepped back, away from the hovering thing, and it circled around him. Even gods need an army from time to time, she said, a menacing edge to her words. And things are not as they once were. For now I need servants to make my will manifest. But enough of that. Noman left his work unfinished. You will complete what he started.
"Yes, the symbols!" Olian's eyes widened. It hadn't occurred to him before, but it was obvious now. If anybody could tell him what the symbols meant it was Airea! Another thought crossed his mind, and his excitement faded. "But that means... will I need to murder...?" he blanched at the thought.
Just once, she said. Tomorrow they showcase their technology, their blind advancement that moves them further from salvation. At sundown go to the top of the Ivory Tower.
Then? Then, Olian, we usher in a new world.
The technology fair began with as much pomp and circumstance as Her Ladyship could muster. There was a speech about how technology was the wave of the future and magic the dusty past best left forgotten. There were many banners and colored pennants, doves for effect, and fireworks were promised for later in the night. Displays had been set up in all of the designated squares and side streets and the crowds turned loose. The entirety of the Watch was on hand for this first day. The Captain was determined that nothing should go wrong; it would reflect poorly not only on himself and Her Ladyship, but on Marsten as a whole, and that was something he would not allow.
What he did allow was a little time to take a first hand look at all of the various inventions on display. There were a great many, driven by clockwork and steam alike, ranging from small toys to Bainbridge's colossal airship. The Headwind couldn't be comfortably fit in any of the city's squares, of course, so the field where she (and Bainbridge insisted that Heady was a she) had landed was designated as a display area. Crowds were allowed to gather at designated times to watch her take off, circle for a little while, and land again. It was the simplest of operations according to Walsh, but it drove the crowd wild. Every designated show time was packed full. Many spectators came back multiple times, and one lucky crowd actually had a handful of their number picked by Bainbridge himself to take a ride into the sky and back. The Captain was not at all embarrassed to admit that he'd pulled rank and gotten himself a ride as well. All in all it was by far one of the more popular displays of the day.
Among the other popular inventions was Heinrich Frod's steam powered carriage, which he drove up and down Stallman Street dozens of times to the crowd's delight. Just across the square from Heinrich, however, was Karl Asmova. Asmova's invention drew just as large a crowd, for it involved a six foot tall mechanical frame he would strap himself into. He termed it an exoskeleton, or exo-frame, after insects who wore their bones on the outside. The frame was open in front, he only had to step up into the footrests and buckle into a harness. Once there he could reach out and grab hold of a pair of handles set into the suit's forearms. There were located controls that, once manipulated, set great gears in motion. Power was provided by a nearby boiler, connected to the suit via an umbilical that allowed steam to reach it. The contraption moved with surprising grace, and The Captain couldn't begin to count the number of gears he saw moving about every time Asmova manipulated the controls. It was, Asmova explained, intended to assist men in moving heavy loads, perhaps around construction sites.
Another invention The Captain found interesting was a clockwork autoscribe, a device which consisted of numerous keys upon which various numbers, letters, and bits of punctuation had been painted. When you pushed down on a key it would, with a loud clacking noise, transcribe the painted number onto a sheet of paper that was fed in through the top of the machine.
Some of the inventions were of far more practical value. One example was an inventor who had shown up to show off his new hotter burning coal, only to end up explaining the design of his more robust high pressure boiler to every other inventor who saw it.
It was a day full of wonder, and by the end of the it The Captain had to admit that it certainly looked as if technology was on the verge of rendering magic all but obsolete. It would be a future of clockwork and steam for certain.