As the sky rained the wrath of the gods down upon the city of Marsten Sarrus looked to the eye of the storm, and knew from the sickly green glow which enveloped the Ivory Tower that Olian was to blame. He frowned deeply, brow knitting together in a pile of wrinkles. He'd miscalculated.
Olian was supposed to come to him before this happened. He was supposed to share his understanding of the stone so they would know how to stop the creatures it summoned, counter any negative effects it might have. He'd thought Olian would need prompting before he was ready to do something like this. He'd had an argument all laid out, ready to convince his fellow mage that the only way to reinforce the importance of the Mages Guild was to use the stone to summon a demon they could control. Have it wreak havoc for a time, then step in and stop it.
But this... this was all wrong. If Olian was in control - and Sarrus thought that was a pretty big if - then he was up to something he shouldn't be. Summoning a demon or two to use as a puppet was one thing. Opening a portal like the one taking shape above the Ivory Tower was something else entirely, and it was terribly dangerous. It had to be stopped. To that end the Mages Guild of Marsten had gathered in the shadow of the corrupted Ivory Tower.
"Don't be ridiculous," Elias wheezed. "If Olian is behind this, he..." the elderly mage paused to take a breath, "he certainly isn't in control. If... if he's opened a portal, he may even... be possessed." He shook his head. "We can't deal with a threat of that... magnitude."
"I agree," Volker said. He was pacing back and forth, warily eying the Tower. "This is suicidal, Sarrus."
"Suicidal or not, we have to do something!" Sarrus argued. "We have to stop this before it gets out of hand!"
"Oh, I think we're past that point," Volker said.
"Look," Sarrus implored his fellow mages, "If anybody can do this - if anybody should do this - it's us." He looked around at the others faces. They looked uncertain, nervous. A few, like Lucan, looked grimly resigned. "This is our chance," he continued. "If we do this we'll show the entire world that they still need us, that they still need magic and mages to practice it. And it may be their last chance, because if we can't stop it here what hope to they have?"
"I don't disagree with Volker," Lucan spoke up. "This is suicide. But I agree with you that we need to try. To hells what the rest of the world thinks of us or magic, if Olian is up there its our duty to deal with him. He's one of us. And if there's any chance we can save him..."
"The world isn't ready for another Incursion," Ganner added. "The gods are watching us, testing us. If we falter now they may not save us this time. If we do this we'll have Saliea on our side. Besides, would you rather die knowing you might save the world, or live knowing you could have save the many thousands who will die before this Incursion is dealt with?"
"Gods you're depressing," Dasker shook his head. "Fine. Lets go die heroes."
"No," Gilead protested. "Elias isn't in any shape for this sort of thing. I won't have him going to his death in that Tower."
Elias waved a hand at Gilead in protest. "I can speak for myself," he huffed. He drew himself up as straight as he could stand. "If you insist on... this lunacy-"
"No one expects you to go," Sarrus interrupted gently. "In fact, I insist you don't. You know more than any of us about any number of things. If we fail they'll need that knowledge to help them survive. They'll need all the help they can get."
Elias looked like he was going to protest, but looking at the others he saw that they agreed. "Hmm," he made an unhappy noise. "Very well. But don't... don't any of you dare get yourselves... killed. I have a book on... necromancy, and I swear I'll... I'll raise you just to berate you."
"Go with him, Gilead," Lucan said. "See him safely out of the city."
Gilead looked pained, torn between his desire to keep the elderly mage safe and not wanting to abandon his fellows. "You'll need all the help you can get," he protested half heartedly.
"Then go with them," Volker interjected. "I'll see to it Elias makes it out of the city."
"Stay safe," Gilead told Elias, and the two men gripped each other's forearms for a moment.
"Don't die," Elias wheezed.
"Right then," Dasker said, voice full of false cheer. "Let's go save the world, eh?"
The hallway burned like the inside of a crucible. Sarrus winced. His eyes were watering in the intense heat, but he ignored the discomfort of his body and concentrated on the incantation. The last syllable passed his lips and another demon burst into flames, shrieking and writhing upon the floor.
He tensed, searching the hallway for other threats as he tried to steady his breathing. Though he saw none he didn't let himself relax. "I think that's the last of them, for now," he guessed. He spared a glance to his right. Lucan stood on the other side of the corridor, smoke still rising from a burnt patch on his robes. He caught Sarrus' gaze and nodded in agreement.
"How is he?" Lucan asked, looking back down the hallway. Gilead stood protectively over Dasker while Ganner, eyes closed, muttered a constant string of incantations. Dasker had been caught off guard by a demon and, worse, had miscast the incantation meant to kill it. Not only had the demon clawed a wicked gash in the mage's side, the spell misfired and the uncontrolled release of magical energy had thrown him against the wall with tremendous force. Luckily the misfire had still been focused on the demon, so only it - and not Dasker or his fellow mages - had disintegrated in a blinding flash of crackling blue energy.
"Not sure," Gilead admitted tersely. His focus was on the door that led behind them. They'd had to fight their way through shadow demons to reach that door and pass through it, but somehow there always seemed to be more coming through.
"Can you move him?" Sarrus demanded.
"Don't know," Gilead replied.
"Well we'd better find out, and quickly," Sarrus said. "We can't stay here."
"Ganner?" Lucan risked interrupting his fellow mage. Ganner responded by frowning deeply and holding up a hand. The other he kept on Dasker's chest. His eyes were closed, his full concentration devoted to finishing the incantation.
"If he can't be moved we have to leave him," Sarrus told them.
"No," Gilead glared at Sarrus.
With a heavy sigh Ganner opened his eyes. He looked up at Lucan and Sarrus, his face full of worry. "I don't... I don't know if it was enough," he said, wiping sweat from his face. "He won't die right away, but he's in a bad way. Moving him might just make things worse."
"Staying here will make things worse," Sarrus growled.
"He's right," Lucan agreed. "We need to do something. Maybe we should fall back."
"What?" Sarrus demanded. "No! We're close! Just a little bit further, and we'll reach Olian!"
"And then what?" Gilead demanded. "Sarrus, we're exhausted. It's taken everything we have just to make it this far. And if we do reach Olian, what then? We'll be too worn out to do anything but spit at him!"
"The demons are thinning out," Ganner said. "It might be we've destroyed all he could manage to summon so far. We can't run now. This might be our only chance."
"Or they could be gathering for another ambush," Gilead pointed out. While the demons fought like simple animals they'd shown an unnerving grasp of tactics. The creatures had offered token resistance against the mages as they'd pushed their way into the tower, allowing them to get well inside before suddenly attacking in droves. The mages had been caught off guard. Attacked from every direction by seemingly endless numbers of shadows they'd almost been overwhelmed. Somehow they'd held their own, pushing to the entrance of the third floor. If they could get through one more they'd reach the top, and Olian.
"We've come too far to give up now," Sarrus pushed. "You made your choice," he told Gilead, "Reach the top or die trying." He looked over at Lucan. "I intend to carry it through."
"All right," Lucan agreed. "Forward then."
"And Dasker?" Gilead demanded. Sarrus and Lucan looked to Ganner, who rubbed at his face and groaned. He regarded the unconscious Dasker. As he did another group of demons swept into the hallway, hissing angrily. Sarrus and Lucan called out their incantations and the demons began erupting with magical fire. The temperature of the hallway, which had begun to slowly cool, flared up again. As the last demon turned to ash Sarrus felt his legs wobble. His eyes blurred, focusing again only after he'd squeezed them shut for a second.
"We'll need an answer sooner rather than later," Lucan said, sounding winded.
"No," Ganner shook his head. "I... no. He can't move. He wouldn't survive."
"Then we move on without him," Sarrus decided.
"I won't leave him," Gilead declared.
"Gil," Ganner stood and put a hand on his fellow mage's shoulder, "You can't. They'd just kill you, too."
"Sarrus is right," Gilead said. "We all made our choice. This is mine. I'll try and keep anything from getting behind you. Keep the way open if you have to come back."
The two mages looked each other in the eye, knowing they didn't have time to argue about it. "Saliea protect you," Ganner said, squeezing Gilead's shoulder. "I expect you to be here when we get back."
"And I expect you to come back to get me," Gilead replied.
"Good luck, lad," Sarrus said with a nod. "Let's go!"
Sarrus, Lucan, and Ganner pressed onward and upward. Each wave of demons seemed to be smaller, yet each encounter seemed harder to deal with. They were left more tired and drained the closer they got to Olian, and by the time their goal was in sight even Sarrus was starting to wonder if they would have what it took to defeat him.
The final stair loomed ahead of them. A fine grey powder floated lazily through the air, all that was left of the latest wave of shadow demons. "When we get up there," Sarrus told them, one hand braced against a wall so he could stand upright without much effort, "We have to end it quickly." He looked at Lucan in particular, who also looked like he could barely stand. "I know you want to save him... but its just not worth the risk."
Lucan nodded grimly. In their exhausted state it would be all they could do to defeat Olian. The finesse required to subdue him without killing him might just take more effort than they had left in them. "All right," Ganner prompted, once again wiping his face with the sleeve of his robe. "Ready?"
The other two nodded, but stopped just as they'd started to move towards the stairway. The echo of footfalls reached their ears, the heavy thumping echoing in the suddenly eerie silence of the Tower. Someone was coming down from the roof. They stood, wavering slightly from side to side, and watched as a figure wreathed in green light came into view.
He had been human once, this figure. Now he was a demon's puppet, eyes aglow with the same eerie green fire that radiated from the stone. Flesh hung in taters from innumerable wounds, grey and withered, the shreds of a Watch uniform adorning his gaunt frame. He held a sword in one hand, tip pointed towards the ground. His lips, the pale colorless hue of death, pulled back in a predatory grin.
"Abomination," Ganner hissed.
"Lieutenant Mercer?" Lucan gasped.
"Gentlemen," Mercer's corpse rasped, and there was an eerie echo to the word, as if two voices were speaking as one.
Sarrus stepped forward, raised his hands, and shouted the last syllable of an incantation he'd been muttering under his breath. A burst of blue energy arced from the mage to ground itself on the thing that had once been Lieutenant Mercer. It was flung backward off of it's feet, landing in a heap at the foot of the stairs. For a moment it lay there, small wisps of smoke rising from it. Then it stood, snarled, and charged.