The drawings sat on the desk, across the room from where Olian now sat. He'd spent hours looking at them up close. Now, he felt, some distance was needed. It hadn't yet ushered in any great and sudden understanding, but it was probably saving what was left of his eyesight. It was just so frustrating. Half of them looked like the sorts of things you'd see in modern magical inscriptions, things like summoning circles and wards. Less than half actually meant anything that he could tell, and the vast majority just looked like they'd been scribbled by a madman. Which, he had to admit, was a distinct possibility.

There were piles of books all over the place now. Taken from their neat and orderly shelves they'd been arranged on the floor in no particular order as Olian had found them useful, or not, in deciphering the symbols. They had to mean something. You didn't go around writing strange things in other people's blood unless they meant something. Oh, how he would give a small fortune to know the man who's work this was. To get inside his head, and understand what sort of sense this was supposed to make. It was morbid, he knew. And that bothered him only sightly.

Speaking of that madman; he hadn't been caught yet. That meant there could yet be more murders, more arcane and mysterious symbols scrawled in blood. More pieces to the puzzle. To say he was looking forward to it... well, he was, sort of. And he felt appropriately guilty about wishing some stranger dead so he could get a little more insight into this mystery. But if he was ever going to figure these things out he would need those other puzzle pieces.

Olian shifted in his chair. Night had fallen, and as the last rays of sunlight has sunk beneath the horizon that horrid feeling had returned. As if someone was standing just behind him, watching everything he did. It felt worse than last night, though he'd convinced himself he was just imagining it. And then there were the sounds... scratching noises, barely audible. Like rough fabric being dragged across a wooden table. He couldn't figure out where it was coming from, and every time he thought it was gone for good it would happen again. Now he was almost anticipating it, waiting for it to happen again so he could relax just briefly before the next issuance.

He groaned and rubbed his face. This was getting him nowhere, except halfway to insanity. Walking over to the desk he stared down at the symbols. So many of them looked so familiar, and yet so alien at the same time. He kept thinking that if he stared at them just long enough, or squinted just so, he might suddenly be able to make some sense of them. His vision blurred instead.

Perhaps, he thought, it was time to call in some assistance. He wasn't the only mage in Marsten, after all. Just the only mage that contracted with the Watch. It wasn't like the old days, he thought. When he was an apprentice there had been an actual guild. There'd been meetings and discussions, information had been shared, issues had been argued. Now everybody kept mostly to themselves. Oh, they got together once a year, but it was mostly to grouse about how nobody appreciated magic anymore, curse this newfangled 'technology' stuff, and drink lots of beer in salute of the good old days. 

Every one of them still had a crystal, the same as the ones used by the Watch to communicate with one another. There was good reason for that - the old  guild (long before Olian's time) had created the things specially for the Watch. He supposed, if he was bored enough, he could activate it and listen in. As it was it usually lived in the bottom of one of his desk draws. It took him a minute to find, and when he finally had it in hand it took him a minute to remember exactly what words he needed to say to activate the damn thing. It made him feel old, and that just made him more irritable.

"Lucan!" He snapped when the stone glowed to life at last. "Lucan, pick up your damn stone!" After some silence, an irritated replay came.

"Olian? Gods above man, do you have any idea what time it is? What the hell do you want, you bastard?"

"Wake you from a nap, Lucan?" Olian said, and smiled.

Lucan retorted, "Wasn't any nap and you know it. Any decent person would be sound asleep in bed at this hour." As if to underscore the point, Olian heard his fellow mage yawn mightily. "Meh. Now answer the question."

His fun over, Olian sighed. "I need some help, Lucan. I've bumped up against a problem I can't solve."

"Hum," Lucan drew the word out. "Must be interesting, if it's got you up at this hour. What kind of problem? I didn't think anybody in the city was doing any more theoretical spellcraft these days."

"Well, somebody is. It's not me, though." Olian looked over at the sketched symbols and shuddered as that scratching noise sent a shiver between his shoulder blades. "Old Moby was big into the research of magical languages and underlying symbology, wasn't he?" Lucan said he had been. "You still have his books?" Lucan said he did. "Separate them out for me, will you? I'll head over and pick them up."

The End

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