Tythel stared up at the old Magus tower of Dawnchester as it loomed over the city’s skyline. In times past, the Magus tower would have glowed from the light of the lumwell beneath it, as bright as a full moon. In these days, however, the light was dim and seemed to curve back on itself in places, the gradual unlight corruption slowly claiming it. Before too much longer, Tythel reckoned, it would instead be constantly dimming the air around it in the day and only visible as a pillar of darkness in the night.
The tower stood almost fifty feet tall, and near the top, four smaller towers were held out from the main body on walkways that left them suspended in the air. Karjon had not taught Tythel the finer, or even the broader, points of structural engineering, but even without that background the candelabra design of the tower seemed to defy what could be accomplished with just stone and wood.
“We should burn it on our way out,” Armin muttered beside her. He’d barely said two words since the meeting, just grunts to acknowledge he was in for the plan. It was a relief to hear him speak, although Tythel was surprised the words were so vicious.
“Wouldn’t that risk catching the city on fire?” Tythel asked.
Armin shook his head. “The tower should contain the flames. I don’t mean raze it to the ground, just torch the inside. Maybe it’ll take them a while to use it again.”
“If we can do it on our way out, we will,” Tythel promised.
“Good.” Armin said, lapsing back into silence.
Haradeth approached. “We can’t go in the front door if we want to avoid detection,” he said. “Two imperiplate soldiers guarding it. I don’t like the idea of going up against them without Nicandros’ tools, and even if we did have them, it wouldn’t be quiet.”
“There’s no back door,” Ossman whispered, glancing to Eupheme for confirmation. She nodded. “How are we supposed to get in if not through the front door?”
Everyone glanced at Eupheme, who shook her head. “I can’t Step near that much light, even corrupted like that. Part of why Magus towers leak power from the Lumwell the way they do – it keeps people like me out.”
Haradeth frowned, then looked at Lorathor.
“I can do it, but I’m not sure I can carry that much weight as I do,” Lorathor said, then glanced at Tythel. “Can you grow those talons on command?”
“Then Tythel and I will scale the tower,” he explained, “with ropes for the rest of you to climb. In the dark, we should be barely noticeable.”
“Should,” Ossman said. “It’s still glowing in the dark.”
“Barely,” Lorathor countered. “Besides, people rarely look for climbers. It’s not in human nature to assume that someone’s going to scale fifty feet of stone without a rope to catch them. There will be guards at the top ready for grappling hooks, but they won’t be heavily armed.”
Ossman just grunted as Haradeth began to hand Lorathor and Tythel rope. “Get up there fast and quiet,” The demigod said, “We’ll be ready.”
“Then we’ll see you at the top,” Tythel said, and her and Lorathor slunk off.
If the tower had glowed as brightly as it did in ages past, this would have been impossible. Tythel and Lorathor would have been spotted by the guards above before they got even close to the side. In this modern, unlight-tainted glow, they were just a pair of shadows on the grass.
When they got to the tower, Lorathor kicked off his shoes, revealing feet that bore more in common with hands than they did with the usual appendages. When he pressed his fingers and toes to the wall, the tips flattened out like a gecko’s. “I’ll wait for you at the top,” Lorathor whispered, putting the the coils of rope over his shoulders and beginning to climb.
Tythel followed, her talons sliding between cracks in the mortar. She couldn’t match his speed, even though the ropes weighed her down less than they did the slim Sylvani.
Halfway up, Tythel found herself needing to rest all her weight on just one hand for a moment so she could cross under a lip as the tower flared out. Lorathor had dealt with this lip by just clinging to the bottom of it, but Tythel had needed to free herself so she could swing her arm around to reach across the distance. When she did, the stone under her hand cracked, and a shard of it broke free. For a sickening instant, Tythel was not supported by anything, and she was certain she would fall. Her free hand found purchase in the stone right before gravity could reassert itself, and Tythel scrambled onto the side of the tower. She sat there a minute, her heart pounding, and heard the guards come around to investigate the disturbance.
“Looks like a bit more of the tower fell off,” one of them said.
“Damn thing,” the other responded. “It’s going to collapse, I’m telling you. One day we’ll be standing watch and one of the side towers is going to come collapsing down.”
“It’s stood for a hundred years,” the first protested. “I doubt a few shards are going to lead to a collapse.”
“You say that now,” the other warned, “but I’m telling you, the tower was built for the old light, not the Holy Luminescence.”
There was a pause. “Sounds like you’re saying our gods don’t know what they’re doing,” the first one said in a dangerous tone.
The concerned guard sputtered. “Of course I’m not saying that! I’m just commenting on how inferior the old ways were, that they can’t adapt to the Holy Luminescence.”
One of the stones under Tythel’s talons began to crack. If she moved now, it was certain to fall. If the guards didn’t move soon, it would definitely fall as well, and take Tythel with it. Go away, she silently implored them.
“Good,” the first one said. “I know you keep the Faith. I just worry your mouth is going to give the wrong impression.”
“Thanks for the reminder,” the concerned one grumbled.
“Look, Reghan, I promised mom that I’d look out for you. If that means scaring the piss down your leg sometimes, I’m going to do it.”
“You’re all heart,” the other sighed. “Let’s get back to our post before we get accused of lollygagging. You know how the commander hates lollygagging.”
They turned and stomped away. Tythel moved as they did, counting on the sound of the imperiplate’s footsteps to cover the sound of the latest shard of stone hitting the ground.
The rest of the climb went without incident. Lorathor was waiting for her near the top, a finger pressed to his lips to keep her quiet.
Tythel nodded, listening carefully as she did. Four sets of footsteps were moving on top of the tower, and none of them were heavy enough to indicate imperiplate. Of course, Tythel thought, why would they need heavily armored soldiers on top of a tower? She freed one hand to hold up four fingers to Lorathor, and then pointed roughly to where she thought they would be.
Lorathor scurried around the tower to place himself directly in line to come up behind one of the soldiers, and Tythel nodded to him. Lorathor held up three fingers, and began a countdown.
As soon as he hit one, Tythel pushed herself up to the top of the tower with a single surge of her arms. The guard she’d been directly under was facing towards her, and she closed her hands around his neck before he could make a sound. She didn’t bother trying anything fancy, just squeezed tightly to crush his throat shut under her grip. Lorathor’s guard took a knife to the neck, and he died clutching at the wound.
The other two guards were starting to turn around. Lorathor and Tythel rushed them. Lorathor reached into his pocket and pulled out a knife, sending it spinning into one of the guard’s throats. Tythel’s target had time to let out a surprised yelp before she slammed into him and knocked him to the roof beneath them. She clamped a hand over his mouth and rapped his head against the concrete. It didn’t kill him, he was just unconscious, but it worked well enough for Tythel’s purposes.
Lorathor disagreed. As Tythel went to begin to secure the ropes, the Sylvani wandered over to the unconscious guard and slit his throat with a quick flash of the knife. Tythel shuddered at how cooly he had done it, but now was not the time or place to protest another dead body.
The initial threat dealt with, they lowered the ropes and began to listen for other dangers as their friends started to climb.