Olian found himself sweating profusely despite the constant chill from the stone. Perhaps it was some side effect of the stone's supernatural influence. More likely, he knew, it was because he was scared to death. The Ivory Tower loomed before him, lit from behind by the setting sun. Go to the top, Airea had said. He stood at the tower's gates and looked up at the top, nervously wiping moist palms on his robes. A passing Watchman gave him a friendly "Hello". Olian bobbed his head and smiled what he hoped was a friendly smile, though he feared it looked more like a grimace.
The courtyard was mostly deserted. He was thankful for that. Each passing Watchman sent a sharp jolt of panic through his bones. He imagined each of them secretly knew what he was up to, that they were just waiting until he was far enough into the Tower that he couldn't possibly escape. He avoided eye contact, keeping his head down. Past the courtyard was the Tower's entrance hall. Banners bearing the household crests of the Five Princes hung from the walls and ceiling, joined by the Watch's own coat of arms and the flag of Marsten herself. Olian hurried through it, thankful for the continued scarcity of Watchmen. He was almost to the stairs when a voice stopped him cold in his tracks.
"Olian?" The mage recognized Hatchet's voice immediately. "Hey, Olian!"
"Oh, Hatchet." Olian turned and gave the Watchman a wan smile. He rubbed his hands nervously on his robes again. "What can I do for you?"
"Nothing, really," Hatchet told him. "I was just here finishing some paperwork before I headed over to Her Ladyship's estate. Are you going?"
"Going..." Olian frowned. "To the estate?" he hazarded a guess.
"Yeah," Hatchet said. "You know, for the fireworks?"
"Ah, yes, the fireworks," Olian pretended he knew. "Perhaps. Right now I have work to do. If you'll excuse me," he apologized, backing away from Hatchet.
"Don't work too hard," Hatchet cautioned.
"Enjoy the fireworks," Olian said. He walked as calmly as possible towards the stairs, fighting the urge to run with every step. At last he reached them and began the long climb to the top of the tower. Most of the floors seemed uninhabited. Olian imagined all the Watchmen were either out to see the fireworks or providing security for the event. All, it seemed, but Lieutenant Mercer. Olian ran into the lieutenant as he passed through the second to last floor, where The Captain's office was. Mercer was exiting his own office, which was on the same floor, looking down at a bundle of papers.
Fate provides, a voice whispered in his ear. Olian swallowed, trying to moisten a suddenly dry throat. He reached into the folds of his robe and wrapped his fingers around Airea's stone. In his peripheral vision he could see the shadows start to move. "Lieutenant," Olian greeted Mercer.
Mercer's head snapped up and his eyes narrowed. He hadn't been expecting anybody else and Olian's sudden appearance caught him momentarily off guard. "Olian?" He asked. "Good gods, man, what are you doing here at this hour? The Captain's not here, if you were looking for him," he added.
"Yes, I expect he's at the fireworks show," Olian said tightly. His heart pounded in his chest, it's every beat echoing in his ears.
"The fireworks?" Mercer asked. "Gah!" He threw his head back in exasperation. "Damn it all, I almost forgot. We'll never make it to Her Ladyship's estate in time for the start of it now."
"I wouldn't worry," Olian said, somehow keeping his voice from breaking. "There's the roof after all, isn't there?" He gestured towards the ceiling with his free hand. "I'd wager it's the best seat in the city."
"You know, I think you're right," Mercer said. His expression changed to one of concern. "Are you all right, Olian? You look pale."
"Too much time spent in the shop staring at books, I imagine," Olian waved the observation away. "Some fresh air would likely do me good, eh?"
"Hmm, I'll say," Mercer nodded. "That's the problem with you magic types," he observed. "Too much time spent indoors reading, not enough time outside. You'd never catch a Watchman looking like death warmed over on account of lack of physical activity."
Mercer led the way to the last remaining flight of stairs. Olian trailed along behind, mentally urging to shadows to stay back and out of sight. The top of the Ivory Tower was more a parapet than a roof. If the Tower's history as a military installation was to be believed it would have served perfectly as a spot for lookouts to stand watch, or provided a perfect base of fire for archers to rain death down upon an encroaching enemy.
The last rays of sunlight were slipping below the horizon as the pair clambered out onto the roof. A chill breeze was blowing across the rooftops, carrying with it the scent of an impending thunderstorm. Mercer took a moment to get his bearings. "There," he leaned against the chest high ramparts and pointed at a a cluster of lights below. "That'll be Her Ladyship's estate. The fireworks should be over there somewhere."
"I'm sorry," Olian whispered into the cold wind, drawing the stone from his robes. He'd stayed near the doorway while Mercer went to the wall, and shadow demons were swarming around his feet. No longer confined to walls they seemed to billow around the roof like black gauze caught in a whirlwind. Olian wasn't certain if it was the breeze or the shadows that tugged at his robe, pulling it into a sort of personal pennant.
"What?" Mercer asked, looking back. He saw Olian holding the stone, aglow with green fire, and gasped. "Olian?" he asked. "What is this?" Even as he spoke his hand went the the grip of his sword, the only weapon he had on him. Olian knew it would do no good against the shadows.
"Kill him," Olian croaked, pointing to Mercer. The shadows surged forward and he turned his face away, unwilling to watch. It was over quickly - a strangled cry of defiance from Mercer, which turned to a sharp cry of pain for just a second, then nothing. He heard the Lieutenant's body slump to the ground, his sword clattering against the stone. "Guard the entry," Olian said in a quavering voice. "Make sure no one comes up."
Not content to smear blood around with his hands as Noman had done Olian had come prepared with a broad paintbrush in his satchel. He removed it and hesitantly began his work. Just once his eyes wandered to Mercer's face. The lieutenant's cold, dead eyes stared accusingly at him in the reflected light of the stone. He looked away quickly and didn't look back, working with his back to the dead Watchman.
"What does it do?" he asked the night. "Please... I have to know."
It will unify the other symbols, Airea's voice drifted into his mind. The sacrifices that were made will power them long after the symbols themselves have been cleansed. Their lifeblood will leave it's trace. Together they will undo something I once put so much effort into.
"What?" Olian asked. "What will they undo?" The final symbol was finished. He tossed the brush aside and stepped back, looking at his ghastly work.
They will open the way, sunder the barrier that we put in place to protect you. It was a foolish, naive notion... that by cutting ourselves off from the world we would spare you the horrors of those who dwelt beside us. Those who were jealous of all we had accomplished, who would undo our creation. But we underestimated their resolve. We failed to consider the gifts we had given you, as well. That without us you would find your own path... a path that led further away from US, and left you more vulnerable to THEM.
"Us?" Olian breathed. "You mean... the gods? You isolated yourselves from us to protect us from a greater danger? What danger? Who are 'they'?"
You call them demons, Airea said. But you have no idea what they truly are. All your world has seen are weak reflections of their true forms, things weak enough they could slip past us unnoticed. Step into the center of the runes, Olian.
Olian took two steps forward, stone held firmly in hand. He heard Airea speaking, but it was in no language he recognized. As she spoke the stone began to glow brighter and brighter, until it was too much for him to look at. As it's light grew Airea's words became louder, changing from a voice in his head to words clearly heard carried on the wind. They seemed to come from everywhere at once. The stones of the tower's roof began to vibrate.
As he looked out at the city to avoid looking at the stone he saw other parts of the city aglow with an eerie green light, tendrils of emerald energy snaking up from them amidst the brightly colored fireworks. The green tendrils flowed across the rooftops until they joined one another. The sights of Noman's murders, Olian guessed. Once they had all joined, the tendrils of light reached for the tower, curling up it's sides until it reached the top, Olian and the stone.
A rumble of thunder drew Olian's attention. He looked up and saw that there were dark, heavy clouds above the Tower where there had been none before. They turned in a circle, drawing up the energy from the stone. Lighting crackled from the clouds, dozens of bolts lashing out at Marsten. Olian felt his his entire body tingling, and realized his feet were no longer on the stone of the Tower's roof. "Airea?" he asked breathlessly.
There was an explosion of pain, agony coursed throughout his entire body, and the world went dark.