The warehouse was ablaze with light. Torches had been lit and placed at regular intervals throughout the interior, chasing shadows to the far corners. Watchmen guarded every entrance while others surveyed the crime scene within. Lieutenant Mercer himself was there, a testament to how much the incident had stirred the Watch's interest.
Hatchet leaned against a wooden crate, dutifully answering questions along with Anara. They'd just finished describing how they had followed the creature into the warehouse and found the bodies. Anara had just gotten to their encounter with the creature. As she spoke, Hatchet kept one hand on his rifle. The butt was resting on the floor by his boot, his hand gripping the top of the barrel . While he didn't expect any trouble with so many other Watchmen around he wasn't about to take any chances. Expect the unexpected, as the motto went.
"And then the damn thing crawled right up the wall," Anara was saying. "Hatch took a shot at it, but it jumped to a stack of crates and disappeared."
Mercer looked skeptical, but didn't openly question the word of a Watchman. Instead he looked to her partner. He'd been quiet through most of their little meeting, allowing Anara to do the explaining. "What about you, Hatchet? Anything to add?"
"That thing's bad news, sir," he said somberly. "We need to round up all the mages we've got on retainer and go hunt it down. Sooner the better."
Mercer nodded, agreeing with the sentiment if not to the request. "What I don't get," he said thoughtfully, "Is why it didn't take down the two of you. If it killed these four men, what's two more?"
"Rifles, probably." Hatchet used his free hand to scratch at the stubble on his chin. "These guys just had swords. We've got boomsticks. Getting shot at might've been enough to scare it away."
"It sure backpedaled pretty damn quick when I got that first shot off," Anara mused.
"It's as good a thought as any," Mercer said. "Maybe that gives us an edge. And then there's that..." he looked across the warehouse to where a cluster of people were gathered. It was the real reason he was here, instead of getting a report of the incident back at the Ivory Tower. When the reinforcements Hatchet and Anara had called up arrived they'd set about finding torches to light the place with the intent of doing a thorough search. If the monster had still been in the building, they planned on finding it. Instead, they'd found one of the corpses surrounded by strange symbols. Knowing magical runes when he saw them the most senior Watchman had ordered the place cordoned off and called in a report. "You think whatever it was you saw could have drawn that?"
"I wasn't looking too closely at the legs," Anara shrugged. "But it looked more animal like to me. I'd say probably not."
"Which means there was somebody else here. An accomplice, or a handler?"
Hatchet's eyebrows raised at Mercer's suggestion. "Easiest way for a demon to get into the world is for a mage to summon it, right?" he asked rhetorically. The other two looked uncomfortable at the suggestion. Nobody wanted to think too hard about the possibility that they were dealing with a demon. The Watch hadn't had to do that in generations, and Mercer at least felt they would be ill prepared to handle one now.
"Let's hope that's not the case," he said. "Carry on," he told them. "If you think there's anything else that needs to be brought to my attention, anything you may have forgotten, be sure to let me know." With a parting salute, he headed towards the symbols and the group of Watchmen that were going over them. Most were simply copying the symbols onto parchment - one symbol per sheet, so there was no danger of any interacting with each other. Despite the fact that the originals were drawn in blood, you never knew what runes would do when you copied them down in plain old ink.
Directing these efforts was a man who didn't wear the uniform of the Watch. He wore instead the traditional and immediately identifiable robes of a mage, deep blue and ash gray with a seemingly random assortment of arcane symbols embroidered in gold thread. The man was middle aged and bald, though not by choice. He'd once mentioned something along of the lines of "this is what happens when your mind wanders during a casting", and left it at that. His eyebrows seemed determined to make up for this catastrophe, however. Set over pale blue eyes they were thick, black, and might be mistaken for furry caterpillars at a glance. On the bridge of his nose perched what Mercer understood to be glasses, round crystal lenses held in a metal frame. They were, if he recalled correctly, to help correct for the nearsightedness mages and scholars tended to develop. While not a particularly new invention they still had yet to catch on amongst the general population.
"Olian," Mercer greeted the mage a he walked up beside him.
"Evening, lieutenant," Olian replied distractedly. He stood staring down at the runes, hands held loosely behind his back. He was one of the small number of mages the Watch kept on retainer these days. Before Olian they'd hired his mentor. And his mentor's mentor before that. It was, by this point, almost traditional. Usually he was called in as a consultant when they ran into a case that involved magic. Occasionally he was asked to help with some of the more important or high profile crimes, things that justified the cost of putting him to work. This particular case seemed to count as both. Recently he'd lowered his rates, claiming that he was bored and working with the Watch was always interesting. In reality Mercer suspected that Olian was having trouble finding regular work to pay the bills. He didn't mind, of course, and neither did the Captain.
"What've we got?"
"Hard to say," the mage shrugged. "It's definitely an arcane magical language, but it's not one I've seen before. Its got things in common with a couple of dialects I'm familiar with, so it could be related to those. An offshoot, maybe. Of course, some of the newer cults like to get cute and mash a few dialects together to form something new. Usually they like to claim they've derived some ancient base language from it. Load of nonsense. Most of the time it's just a bunch of gibberish. Every now and again they get really unlucky and it actually works as a magical language. Of course, it usually doesn't work quite they way they thought it would. Heh." His eyes narrowed behind his glasses as he focused on a particular symbol.
"So which one is it?" Mercer wanted to know. "Is it real, or gibberish?"
"Like I said," Olian reiterated, sounding slightly annoyed, "It's hard to say. I'll need to do some research. Maybe some experiments. Right now any guesses would be about as half-assed as I could get without making stuff up." He shrugged again. "I'll let you know as soon as I find anything out. In the meantime, though, it's definitely not active. And there doesn't seem to be any lingering magic to indicate it did something before I got here."
"Could it have a trigger of some sort?" Mercer asked, giving the assortment of runes a sidelong glance. "A delayed activation, maybe?"
"Nah," Olian dismissed the notion with a wave of his hand. "If it were delayed, or if it was waiting for a specific trigger, it would still be active. At least on a low level. Trust me, this circle of runes is as dead and useless as something you'd let your kid scribble into the dirt with a stick. Hypothetically speaking, of course."
"Hyper-what-now?" Mercer raised an eyebrow at the unfamiliar phrase.
"Means you don't have a kid," Olian explained. "Anyway, unless you need me for anything else...?" He took an obvious step towards the door. Knowing Olian, he was eager to collect the drawings and sit down to start studying.
"Yeah," Mercer said heavily. "One more thing. The two Watchmen who found this? They say there was a demon."
Olian started to chuckle softly. "Heh, that's a good one. You almost... oh. You're not joking. Really? A demon?" Mercer quickly explained what Hatchet and Anara had told him - how the creature had climbed up the wall and blended with the shadows. How it had glowing green eyes, and hissed. And how, according to Anara, you couldn't look straight at it without your eyes hurting. She'd only seen it for a second during the lightning flash, but it had been enough. "Huh," Olian grunted curiously when the Lieutenant had finished.
"I was hoping for something more helpful than 'huh'," Mercer prompted. "You think its possible? Could it actually be a demon?"
"Anything's possible," Olian muttered. His eyes were moving from side to side in their sockets, though his pupils looked unfocused. It was as if he were reading a book no one else could see. "Huh," he said again after a moment. When his eyes focused again he turned his gaze on Mercer. "If it's not a full fledged demon it might be one of the shades they like to use as underlings. They don't usually show up without something bigger than themselves to give orders, though." He frowned, but shook his head. "I'll do some research. Been a long time since I've looked up anything to do with demons. You and your men keep a weather eye out, Lieutenant Mercer," he cautioned.
"Don't worry about us, Olian. The Watch can handle itself, no matter what we're up against. You just let us know what that might be."
Olian bobbed his head, looking distracted again, and gestured at the Watchmen who'd been copying down the symbols. "You boys have that ready yet?" Like a children in a classroom the Watchmen gathered around the mage and handed in their parchment. When he had them all he wrapped them in waxed paper and put that in an oiled leather carrying pouch. It would take an act of the gods to get them wet.
"Olian," Mercer called as the mage headed for the door.
"Eh?" He paused at the doorway, looking back into the warehouse as the rain started trying to soak one sleeve of his robes. Try as it might, though, that sleeve didn't seem to get any wetter.
"Want an escort back?"
"It'll take more than a mystery beast and a thunderstorm to scare me," he boasted. "Mage, remember?" He grinned. "Whatever that thing is, if it shows it's face, or snout, or whatever around me it'll know better next time. Provided there's enough of it left to try again."
Mercer smiled and shook his head, watching the mage walk out into the storm. Within seconds the darkness had swallowed him, and he had disappeared from sight. Mercer watched the night for a second, then turned his attention back to his men.