Time To LeaveMature

The evacuation of Marsten proceeded at a breakneck pace as the army moved against the Ivory Tower. Squads of Watchmen went block by block shouting evacuation orders in the streets and pounding on doors to make sure everyone got the word. Citizens were allowed to take only what they could carry with them, and were allowed scant minutes to gather it. Luckily word of the evacuation was spreading faster than the Watch itself. The further they went from the Tower the more empty homes they found. Evey once in a while they encountered a soul too stubborn or scared to leave, shopkeepers who refused to abandon their wares or families who would not surrender their homes. The Watch spared as much time as they dared trying to convince them otherwise, but could not tarry long. There were others who needed their help.

Everyone in the Red Manor's library waited tensely for news as the attack began. Observers equipped with communication crystals had been placed on the roof of the Temple and atop Hobb Hill. Should the attack result in victory or defeat they would relay word back to Red Manor as soon as the the outcome was clear. 

As the others fretted and paced and talked amongst themselves Noman found a quiet, shadowed corner. He leaned against the wall, silently watching until it was clear everybody was ignoring him. "What are you doing, Airea?" he asked for the second time that night, carefully keeping the words under his breath. He knew she would hear him, and the way she'd spoken to him moments before made him believe she would respond now. He wasn't disappointed.

Changing the world, the goddess told him. 

"More like destroying it," Noman countered. "Somebody must have really pissed you off. What was it, Airea? What did they do?"

Tch, Airea made a derisive noise, How quickly you forget.

"You've only got yourself to blame for any holes in my memory," Noman snarled. "You fuck around with my head and then have the gall to chide me on forgetting something?"

One step forward, two steps back, she reminded him. 

"Right," he grumbled, "Technology. People turning away from the gods who abandoned them. Is that what this is about? You're jealous of what we've accomplished without you so you're unleashing a damned Incursion? Are you that fucking petty?"

Airea laughed. Petty? she asked. We created your world. We created YOU. That was no petty task, Noman. You have no idea what it meant to us, or what we've sacrificed.  Is it too much to expect your devotion in return?

"You don't deserve our devotion," Noman replied harshly. "The things you've done... you're no better than the demons I've destroyed for you. Is that why you made me forget, Airea? Because I realized I was just removing your competition?"

Oh, you have no idea what sets me apart from a demon, the goddess said, her tone dangerous. Don't think yourself qualified to judge the nature of a god, she continued. Everything I've done was for you, your world... my creations. You couldn't possibly understand my designs.

"You could try explaining it to me," he said. "In fact, why don't you tell me this: why do I still have your 'gifts'? The shadow in the Tower should have taken my arm off, yet now it's mostly healed. In case you hadn't noticed, I quit. I've chosen my side Airea, and it's not yours anymore. So why aren't I dead yet?"

Saliea's meddling may have taken you out of my direct control, but she could only do so much without risking greater conflict with me. As much as she disapproves of my actions, we're still sisters. I still have plans for you, Noman. You remain my champion, whether you want it or not. And I would be careful how hastily you declare what side you're on. You have no idea what game you're playing, let alone what the rules are or who's on which side.

"You can take your plans for me and shove them," Noman said defiantly. 

No... I don't think I shall.

"And what about Olian?" Noman asked. "Isn't he your shiny new toy? You don't need me anymore."

Now who's jealous?  Airea teased. Olian is but a means to an end. A tool. For now he is what I need to fulfill my plans. You will have your part to play later.

"And what if I kill him?" Noman asked. "How does that fit? One of your pawns killing another doesn't sound like a good idea no matter what game you're playing. And I will kill him, Airea. Just to spite you."

Is that so? Well... we'll see about that, won't we? 

"Gods damnit." An invective from across the room drew Noman's attention. He focussed on the speaker and found The Captain had a communication crystal in hand a disappointed look on his face. He guessed the reason.

"I told you it wasn't going to go well," Noman spoke. "If he's summoning demons there may be thousands of them in there by now."

"They made it through the courtyard and into the Tower," The Captain told everyone. "But now they're making a fighting retreat with significantly fewer men." 

"Esme and her people?" Konrad asked. The Captain could only shake his head. The information he had was scant, the fates of individual people would remain unknown for now.

"We need to leave," Noron said heavily. "If the army was unable to take the Tower then the city is lost."

"Is the evacuation finished?" Vincent asked.

"Not entirely," The Captain replied. "My men are moving as fast as they can, but Noron is right, you need to leave." Vincent looked like he wanted to argue, but held his tongue and just nodded. 

"So what's our next step?" Lieutenant Tarbor asked. 

"Get to the nearest city," Noman answered, though the question hadn't been directed at him. "Tell them you have an Incursion starting and send runners to every other city you can reach. Gather your army, your mages, Paladins and any Orders that still exist. Wait as long as you dare for as many of them as possible to reach you, then attack with plenty of daylight. If your lucky you can force your way through the city and to the Tower. Once there we kill Olian and end the Incursion."

"You're in for a rude awakening," Konrad told Noman somberly. Everyone was looking at Airea's former champion, a mixture of expressions of their faces. 

"You sound like you've done this before," The Captain commented.

"I told you," Noman reminded him, "My home was destroyed by an Incursion. I joined the Iron Order, and I learned how to stop it from happening again. This is what we need to do." 

"Unfortunately," Konrad continued, "Times have changed since then. Paladins are only found in Osterin these days, the last bastion of the old religion, and they're too far away to be of any help. The Orders are all disbanded, turned mercenary, or don't bear any resemblance to their founding."

"Mages are a bit on the scarce side as well," The Captain added. "And what's this 'we' kill Olian? The only reason I haven't had you arrested or executed is because you might have information we can use. I haven't forgotten the men you killed, Noman."

"Neither have I," Noman said. "You wanted information, I've been giving it to you. And if you want Olian dead I'll be there to kill him for you." 

"Why?" Konrad asked suspiciously. "So you can take his place?"

"We can argue about this later," Noron interjected. "Right now we have to get out. Redhurst is closest. They won't be happy to see so many refugees, but I have plenty of friends there, nobles and merchants both. I'll make sure we're welcome. Captain, will the Watch stay to finish evacuating the city?"

"If you can spare some of what's left of the army it would go much faster," The Captain said. Noron said they could. "Then take your personal guards and the citizens who are waiting outside the city, head for Redhurst, we'll follow with the leftovers." 

The End

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