Twenty Three - in which Noman shares his distaste for flyingMature

The warehouse really wasn't fit for human habitation anymore. Thanks to the unnatural storm that had raged around Marsten during the Incursion the river running through the city had flooded. A wide swath of buildings had been swept away or damaged. Those that still stood, like the warehouse, were unstable frameworks of rotting wood and mold. There was nothing here to loot, and even vagabonds and drifters knew better than to make a home in it.

Nevertheless, Noman had chosen it as a place to meet Mayrin. It was night again, the moon hanging high among the stars. The first indication she was approaching was the shadow demon he'd sent to the marker on Hobb Hill. It was meant to guide Mayrin to the warehouse, and now that it slithered its way through the shadows towards him he knew she would be close behind.

"Noman?" Her question was accompanied by the creak and groan of fatigued wood.

"In here," he responded. There was a flash of light as Mayrin muttered a spell. The shadows hissed in annoyance and withdrew to the edges of the darkness. The mage approached, a small glowing crystal held in one hand to illuminate her path. She looked at her surroundings dubiously.

"Is this... safe?"

Noman shrugged. "Probably not. But it is important. You're a mage - can't you feel it?"

"Feel...?" For a moment it seemed as if she didn't understand, but a look of dawning comprehension quickly spread across her features. "In the aether," she looked up and around, as if she could see the magical energy that permeated the area. "Something left a mark here. There was blood. What is this?"

"Part of the ritual that started the Incursion." Noman stepped closer to Mayrin, the shadow demons pressing closer despite the light from her crystal. "I wanted you to know what it took to breach that barrier. I killed men here." With a tilt of his head he indicated the shadow demons. "They ripped them apart, and I painted the runes in their blood. And it happened four more times. All that just to reach out and touch the Gods. I want you to know, Mayrin, so you'll understand that I won't do it again. If we can't get to Aelar without sacrifices then we aren't getting to him."

"Even if it means losing our greatest weapon against demons?"

"You mean magic." 

"More than that," Mayrin told him. "The Gods need Aelar on their side to win the war they're fighting. If they lose... well, we're not there yet. Like I said, we have some thoughts on how to get through Aelar's barrier. It may not even come to that."

"I hope it doesn't," Noman agreed.

"So you've decided?" Mayrin asked, expression hopeful. "You'll come with me and help the Exiled free Aelar?"

"Close, but not quite," Noman corrected her, lips stretching into a thin smile. "You'll be coming with me, and the Exiled will be helping my people free Aelar."

"Your people?" 

He began to pace around her, boots crunching brittle wood with each step. "Tell me, Mayrin. How were you planning on getting to the coast? On foot?"

"With any luck horses were going to be involved," she told him, a suspicious look forming as she tracked his progress around the warehouse. "What are you getting at?"

"Going overland takes time is what I'm getting at. And once we're at Praxis, I assume you have a ship ready to sail?"

Mayrin turned in place as Noman moved out of her line of sight. "Of course we do. The finest sailing vessel we could find."

"Even so, a long journey across open ocean is dangerous." He made a show of rubbing his stubbled chin thoughtfully. "No, there's a better way."

"Unless your powers as Airea's Champion include teleportation, I don't see how."

"We fly," he concluded. "Surely you've heard about Bainbridge's flying deathtraps. The Headwind if nothing else. It played an important role during the Incursion. I'm sure he wouldn't let anybody forget it."

"I had heard, yes... there's another?"

Noman frowned disapprovingly. "At least one, yes. It will get us to Praxis much more quickly than horses, and it has the added bonus of allowing us to take a couple of those steam powered armor suits with us."

"But you called it a deathtrap," Mayrin pointed out.

"Oh, yes," he nodded enthusiastically. Being able to share the misery of flight actually made him feel a little bit better about the whole thing. "You're going to hate it. I know I do. But the fact remains, it's the fastest thing available. And we can take it over the ocean as well. Bainbridge boasts it's faster than any sailing ship and doesn't have to rely on favorable winds. Walsh even claims the damned thing floats, but I'm not so sure I believe him. This is, by the way, non negotiable. If you want my help we're doing this my way."

It didn't take her any time at all to decide. "Well, my mission was to secure your assistance, not the terms of it. So as long as you're willing to help that's good enough for me. When do we leave?"

"It will be a few days. If you have any loose ends to tie up I suggest you see to them. Otherwise you can follow me back to Vanora's estate." He took a meaningful step towards the exit.

"I just need to gather what few things I brought," she told him. "Other than that, I can leave whenever you're ready."

"Good," he nodded. "This one will lead you to Vanora's estate when you're ready." He picked a shadow demon from the roiling mass of them and snapped his fingers. "Try not to get her lost in any dark back alleys," he told it with a grim smile. 

The End

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