The group reached Red Manor out of breath but no fewer in number. The demons hadn't chased them beyond the Tower's main gates. Noman found that incredibly suspicious but kept his thoughts to himself. For now it was enough to be thankful that the swarm of shadows hadn't overwhelmed and killed them all.
"Are you the lot from the tower?" a Watchman asked as they entered the Manor's courtyard. Galin, acting as the leader of the small band, said they were. "Is Lieutenant Mercer with you?"
"No," Galin said.
"Is he missing?" Hatchet asked.
"Afraid so," the Watchman said grimly. "Nobody's seen him. We're afraid he was in the Tower when... you know, that happened." He tilted his head towards the now ominous sight of the Ivory Tower. "Anyway, take yourselves over there," he pointed towards one side of the courtyard. "They're putting together squads to clear out the areas around the Tower, evacuating a buffer zone for when the army attacks."
Noman shook his head and pressed his lips together in annoyance. "Who's in charge here?" he demanded.
"Who're you?" the Watchman demanded, looking over Noman with scrutinizing eyes.
"He's with me," Hatchet interjected quickly, earing a sour look from Galin. Thankfully the other Watchman didn't give anything away.
"Let's go then," Galin told the rest of the group, waving them towards the side of the courtyard.
"We need to talk to the Captain as quickly as possible," Hatchet said. "It's important," he added.
"He'll be in the library talking with the Princes," the Watchman said, indicating the Red Manor's main building with a toss of his head. "Better be good though, they're pretty deep into it. If that's everything?" he asked.
"Thanks," Hatchet said with a nod. "And be careful."
"You do the same," the man replied.
"Come on," Hatchet told Noman, starting towards the library.
"Hatchet!" Byrd called, jogging over to the pair while holding a protective hand over his middle. "Just a minute now. What are you two planning?"
"We don't have time for this," Noman insisted.
"To be honest with you," Hatchet answered his partner, "I haven't a gods damned clue what we're going to do. But we've got to do something."
The inside of the Manor was swarming with Watchmen dressed in the more elaborate costumes meant for a Prince's personal guard. It seemed that only some of the Princes were represented. Hatchet was surprised to see Konrad's men roaming the halls, but noticeably absent were Hammon's men and those of Her Ladyship.
"If the assault fails we'll have no choice but to evacuate the entire city," Prince Vincent was saying as Hatchet and Noman entered the library. "The Watch needs to be prepared to make that happen. In fact, I suggest you start immediately. Get the people outside the city and ready to move at the very least - if the assault succeeds we can bring them back in, and if it fails they'll be ready to move that much more quickly." He glanced at Noron, who nodded in agreement.
"We're already evacuating the districts surrounding the Ivory Tower," The Captain said. "We'll just continue to go in stages from there. We've never had to do something on this scale before... the entire city? It will take take time."
"And how much time do we have?" Hatchet identified the speaker as Lieutenant Tarbor, the man in charge of Red Manor.
"I've ordered the assault to begin as soon as the army-" Noron started to answer, but was cut short. Prince Konrad, resting in a chair nearby with bandages on his torso and a scowl on his face, had been content to simply listen until something warranted his input. Now he tried to rise from the chair he was in a little too quickly, accusing finger pointing across the room.
"YOU!" he bellowed, and all eyes turned towards Noman. "Guards, kill him!" Konrad ordered.
"Wait!" Hatchet threw his hands in the air. For his part, Noman simply stood and glowered back at Konrad.
"Hold," The Captain ordered, and the guards obeyed.
"No!' Konrad objected. "He tried to kill me!"
"It's all right, Konrad," a woman to the Prince's left assured him. She stepped forward and put a soothing hand on his shoulder, favoring Noman with a small smile. "I thought you didn't care anymore," she said.
"Esme," Noman greeted her. "I don't, really. But I figure if I have to die then I may as well go out giving the bitch a black eye for all she's done to me."
"Close enough," Esme said.
"Hatchet," The Captain asked, "Just what's going on here? Explain him," he ordered, meaning Noman.
"Noman's not responsible for the Tower," he said.
"That much is true," Esme added.
"According to Noman, Airea's found a new champion." Hatchet said. "Whoever it is has attacked the Tower. Noman says he can help us stop them."
"You can't possibly trust him," Konrad spat indignantly. "Esme," he protested, "How many of us are dead because of him?"
"Enough," The Captain snapped. Konrad might have said more, but Esme spoke quietly in his ear and the two held a whispered conversation between themselves. He addressed Noman directly, "You can control the demons?"
"Not anymore," Noman admitted. "Not like when I had the stone. But they've obeyed me for so long I think I might still have some effect on them."
"What can you tell us about them?" The Captain inquired.
"They're Airea's pet monsters, lesser shades she took control of after I dealt with a more powerful demon. They like the dark, it's where they're most powerful. If you meet one in total darkness there's not much you can do to hurt it aside from magic or cold iron. They're like smoke, but they can still hurt you if they want to. Get them out into the light, though, and they take more solid form. In daylight or strong torchlight they're almost like normal animals. You can kill them with a normal sword then, if you're fast enough. That's why you have to call off your attack," he insisted.
"We have to deal with the situation before the demons gain a foothold in the city," Noron argued. "If we wait-"
"If you wait," Noman cut him off, "Your people will actually have a chance at surviving. If they attack now they'll all die. The Tower is lost to the shadows. Theyhave their foothold."
"If nothing else it will buy us time to evacuate the city," Vincent said when Noman had finished. "And if it succeeds we'll have won this war as soon as it started."
"You said they're vulnerable to light," Noron commented. "We'll have plenty of torches in with the attack. It will level the field and allow us to take back the Tower. The attack will proceed."
"We'll go with you," Esme volunteered.
"We?" Noman asked in surprise. "We who?"
"There are more members of the Society than were at Konrad's meeting the night you attacked," Esme revealed. "I'm a mage, I can help provide light for the attack and the Society can add manpower. We have the blessing of our goddess," she assured him.
"Oh, yes," Noman said sarcastically, "Just what we need. Another damned god getting involved. No, this won't end up going horribly wrong in the least."
"The implications of the gods taking sides in a fight like this is troubling," Konrad agreed. "But what else can we do? Another Incursion is taking form at the Tower. Itmust be stopped."
"Agreed," The Captain nodded. "Attack whenever you're ready, we'll keep evacuating the city in stages."
Hatchet frowned. Esme mentioning that she was a mage had gotten him thinking about Marsten's own Mages Guild. Where were they? Sarrus or at the very least Olian should have been there. "Olian," Hatchet said suddenly.
"We haven't heard anything from any of the mages," The Captain said, mistaking his interjection for a question. "I wish I knew what the hells they were playing at. The one time we seriously need them and they vanish."
"No, I mean I saw Olian earlier," Hatchet clarified. "He was at the Tower, going in as I was about to leave."
"Then he's as good as dead now," Noman said grimly. "A single mage wouldn't be able to stand against all those demons, let alone Airea's new champion."
"Damnit," The Captain fumed. "He was our best chance at understanding what those symbols meant."
"Wait... what?" Noman asked. "What does that mean?" Even as he asked the question he could almost hear Airea's laughter. The sound made goosbumps rise on his arms.
"Olian is, or was, the Watch's mage on retainer. Every symbol you drew he copied down and analysed. We were hoping he would figure out what their purpose was so we could counter it."
How very accommodating of them... don't you think?
"You sneaky bitch," Noman breathed.
"What?" The Captain asked, raising an eyebrow.
"It's him," Noman said more clearly. "Olian. He's her new champion."