The top floor of the Ivory Tower was a surreal sight. Nothing but charred splinters remained where doors had once stood. Furniture, wall hangings, rugs; everything else had been reduced to ash. The very stone of the walls was warped and tortured, twisted and melted like nothing he had ever seen. Putting his hand on a wall that seemed to sag and run like warm wax he found that it was perfectly smooth, like glass. He passed through it warily, expecting - as he had on previous floors - another demon like Heshraveth to challenge him. But there were no more demons, no more obstacles to bar his way, and so he ascended the stairs to the roof.
The door at the top was unlocked. He pushed it open as another bolt of lightning arced out from the heavens to slam into the Tower. Though he winced at it's sudden brightness and the deafening roar that accompanied it, he kept his eyes open long enough to see it strike the roof. Olian stood there, at the center of a rune that glowed with all the green malice of Airea's anchor. He held the stone in one hand, a short blade in the other.
The wind whipped at his coat as he stepped out onto the roof, invisible hands trying to pull him from the Tower. The sky above had darkened significantly, and he realized it was more from the growing size of the portal than from the expansion of the storm clouds. "Olian!" he shouted.
The mage's head was lifted up towards the rift, his mouth moving with words Noman couldn't understand. More energy lashed out from the edges of the portal above, striking the edges of the Tower. Noman felt the hair on his arms and neck rise. There was a charge in the air, an energy that increased with every lightning strike. "Olian!" he shouted again, this time striding forward towards the mage. The Shadows flew alongside him, able to float along like smoke in the dying light. They spread out as he moved, circling the entire roof of the Tower in one giant ring.
Noman's boot tread on part of the rune. Magical energy enveloped his leg. He felt it spreading up his entire body, tendrils of it crawling ups his abdomen. The painful pins and needles feeling that it's touch evoked only served to sharpen his resolve.
Slowly, Olian lowered his head and turned to face Noman. The mage's faced was, for the most part, unchanged. The only major difference were his eyes, blood red as if every vessel in them had burst at once. "Noman," he said in a hoarse, raspy voice. It had the same quality as Heshraveth's - full of echoes and strange intonations. And then, with a ragged grin, he added, "You're too late. Dorean is coming..."
The exoframes raced towards the Ivory Tower as fast as they could. What few demons they encountered didn't pose much of an obstacle. Most were simply outrun, some were outright trampled by the steam powered legs of the frames, and those few demons large enough to force them to stop were quickly dispatched. It seemed too easy. As they rounded a corner and came within sight of the Tower Hatchet found out why.
The side gate they were headed for was framed by a public square. A group of demons had gathered there to oppose the advance of the exoframes. It was an ugly, motley assortment. Several of the creatures were easily as big as the exoframes. They snarled and bellowed as Hatchet and his people came into view, roaring their hatred. But they didn't attack, not yet. "Woah!" Hatchet ordered, raising one of his exoframe's arms to signal a stop. He quickly deposited Volker on the cobblestones. The others followed suit, and he sized up the opposition. There was one demon in particular that stood out. It was humanoid, more so than the others. In fact, it would have looked like nothing more than a man wearing a robe with the hood up had it not been for the strange writing shapes pressing against the fabric.
"Hatchet, the Tower," Volker said urgently. The Watchman looked up and saw that the rift was much larger now. The storm clouds had spread to cover most of the city, and there was something strange about the top of the Tower itself... it looked as if it were enveloped in smoke.
"What is it?" Hatchet asked, "What's going on?"
"I don't know, but I have a bad feeling about it. We need to get up there Hatchet. Now."
"I think they might have something to say about that," he replied, looking back at the gathered demons. "What are they waiting for?"
"Whatever's happening at the top of the Tower," Volker said. "They don't need to do anything but keep us from getting up there until it's done. Then it doesn't matter."
"So it's our move," Hatchet nodded. "Get back on. Anara, grab Lucan!" Hatchet quickly explained the plan to the assembled exoframes and Watchmen. When they were ready, the exoframes formed a wedge ahead of Hatchet and Anara, unarmored Watchmen forming behind. Then they charged.
"He's not here yet," Noman said. "Just like the last time," he addressed the Shadows. "Get him!"
The circling swarm of Shadows descended on Olian as Noman charged forward. They wrapped themselves around the possessed mage in a tight black cocoon, and for a moment Noman believed it might just be that easy.
An explosion of green energy erupted from Olian, scattering the Shadows and slamming into Noman. The jarring impact lifted him from his feet and tossed him across the roof. He landed hard on the floor and slid across the stone until hitting the wall. He quickly pulled himself to his feet, using the wall for leverage. As he rose he happened to glance over the wall, down at the city below. He saw the exoframes charging into a mass of demons far blow him... help was close. He turned from the wall and saw Olian wielding the stone against Shadows that circled him like vultures, swooping down to attack before being driven away.
Noman charged across the rooftop again, hoping to catch Olian as he was distracted. Something betrayed his movement, and just as he was close enough to slash at the mage with his sword Olian whirled around. A blast of green energy lashed out from the stone to stroke him. Searing pain arced through Noman's body, and he was flung once again across the roof. He rolled to a stop and groaned. Every inch of him hurt, and for a moment all he could do was gasp.
He rolled over and pulled himself up despite the pain. The Shadows were fleeing now, forced away by an increasing number of lightning bolts from the sky above and Olian's stone. "One more time," Noman gasped, and sprinted towards Olian. The mage turned on him with a wicked smile. A last minute jump took Noman clear of the energy blast, sending him tumbling to one side. He recovered his feet as Olian struck again.
This time the energy blast didn't didn't fling him away. It held him, and as Olian raised his arm Noman found himself pulled off of his feet to float in the air. Pain nearly blinded him, and he found himself looking up into the portal above. There, in the darkness beyond, he saw something stir. A thousand gaping maws rimmed with razor sharp teeth, and millions of baleful red eyes, all focused on him.
"This world belongs to the Dark Maw now," the creature that used to be Olian howled. "Watch as everything you have known comes to an end!"
He tore his eyes from the terrifying sight beyond the portal and looked beyond. There, in the sky nearby, was a raven. It soared overhead, heedless of Shadows and lightning strikes.
Remember, Noman. You are my champion. The stone is yours.
Noman forced his head down so he could stare down at Olian. "I don't think so," he forced the words out through clenched teeth. He felt muscle tear as he jerked one arm forward against the forces that held it at his side. His fingers curved into claws as he reached for the stone. "I like this place the way it is."
The stone tore itself from Olian's grasp as the mage shouted in outraged surprise. Noman's fingers closed around the familiar contours of the stone's rough surface, but the nimbus of energy around him stayed. He struck out at Olian, green tendrils of energy lashing towards the mage.
Olian raised the knife he held and an invisible shield sprang up to cast aside Noman's attack. "You have the gifts of your god," Olian said, "I have mine!" He shouted a string of alien syllables and a bolt of dark magical energy hurtled towards Noman.
The exoframes slammed into the demon's ranks, the power of the charge tossing some clear into the air. Their momentum took them into the heart of the miniature horde before the demons managed to slow them down. Asmova found his forward progress stopped by one of the demons as large as his exoframe, a hulking beast with four legs and two arms. Those huge arms wrapped themselves around the inventor's frame and squeezed, aiming to crush the life out of him. While his frame's arms were trapped, it's legs were not, and Asmova used them to launch himself up and forward, carrying the demon along for the ride. He came slamming down to earth, demon sandwiched between his frame and the ground.
The shock of impact was enough to loosen the beast's grip, and he pulled himself free. "Go, go, go!" he shouted for the others to run past him, then turned to slam one iron fist into the demon's face.
From his position at the rear of the wedge Hatchet saw similar scenes play out with each frame in front of him, each peeling off from the charge to make sure a demon didn't slow down the rest. At last it was just Hatchet and Anara. They pushed through the last of the demons, running full tilt for the gate...
The ground in front of Hatchet's frame exploded upward. His steam powered legs, unable to stop quickly enough, slammed into the mouth of earth that hadn't been there seconds ago. His frame pitched forward to slam into the ground. He saw Volker jump free, hitting the ground and rolling as Anara's frame jumped over the mage. When she landed she skidded to a stop and turned to face him. "Hatchet?"
"Go!" he ordered, pushing himself up from the ground and turning. He found himself facing the robed demon that had been at the head of the demonic mob. His hand found a lever on the controls and pulled; a rough iron blade snapped out from one arm. He heard Anara's frame running towards the Tower. The demon he faced saw her go and moved to follow, but Hatchet put himself between them.
He raised the blade in the air and lunged at the demon. It dodged back gracefully, one hand waving at him as it retreated. A blast of magical energy slammed into his frame... and washed over it with barely an effect as Her Ladyship's protective crest flared to life. "Bet you weren't expecting that," Hatchet taunted, though he'd scarcely expected it himself. The effect had evidently caught the demon off guard, and he pushed forward to press his advantage against it.
Volker held tight to Anara's frame as she reached the wall with the gate in it. She paused for just a second, crouched low, and jumped clear over the wall to land with a bone shaking thud on the other side. "Everybody in one piece?" she asked after her two passengers.
"Just fine, thanks," Volker nodded. "Lucan?"
"I'm still here," the elder mage acknowledge.
"Great, hold on," she told them.
"Wait," Volker interrupted. "Going up through the Tower will take too long."
"How else are you going to get to the top?" Anara demanded.
"Magic," Volker said. "Lucan, think we can take her with us?"
"Not if we want to be any good when we get up there," he replied.
"Right then. Sorry," Volker apologized to Anara.
"Don't be. Good luck up there, I'll try to follow as best as I can." She watched as the two mages clasped their forearms together and began to speak in low words. As they did so they began to float off the ground, rising rapidly towards the top of the tower.