A sharp bang causes Mark to almost lose his footing. The elevator abruptly stops as the emergency brakes kick in. The elevator fell a total of perhaps 2 feet.
The crowd of laughing gremlins above suddenly gasps. After a silent second they scurry in a panic into whatever dark crevices and holes they came from.
Mark is standing on top of the elevator in an elevator shaft somewhere between the 68th and 69th floor of a 70 story building. The door to 68 is blocked by the elevator. The door to 69 is about level with the elevator’s roof; Mark could walk through it if it were open. The door to 70 is one floor above. There are levers and gears and pneumatics on the doors that are activated when the elevator stops at a floor.
There are two sets of maintenance ladders. The counterweight cable for the elevator runs down one side of the shaft; it still seems to be intact, and there’s probably an emergency brake keeping the counterweight from dropping to the bottom. Rails for the car to travel on run on either side of the shaft.
The floors are numbered on the walls. The walls are cinderblock, though the mortar between blocks has a reddish tint to it. There’s some electrical wiring running along the walls, but otherwise the shaft is pretty empty. Where the gremlins came from, or went, is something of a mystery.
Mark finds the locking mechanism and opens the doors to floor 69.
The hallway is dim. It is an normal office building corridor, except that floors and walls are better quality than usual and the doorknobs, hinges, and other fixturings are fairly high ornate—and seem to shed a slight, purplish, otherworldly glow in the low light. Faint moaning and distant shrieks seem to be coming from everywhere and nowhere, almost as if it’s coming from inside one’s own mind. As Mark listens, he begins to make out details of the specific kinds of woe and torment necessary to elicit each type and flavor of painful outcry…better not to dwell on it.
There’s a door next to the elevator labeled “Stairs”.
The building has a fairly state of the art automatic sprinkler system. The sprinkler heads have the same faint purple glow as the doorknobs and hinges. There is a fire hose on the other end of hallway.
Up the stairs Mark goes.
Mark reaches the 70th floor. There’s a door here. The stairs continue to the roof. A pale purple light comes from above. The fire hose on the 70th floor is about halfway down the hallway.
Mark keeps going up.
The top of the stairway brings Mark to the roof access door. The door is shut, but purple-tinted light leaks in around the edges. As Mark reaches for the door handle, tiny sparks like lightning jump from it to his hand. The sparks tingle in a decidedly unpleasant manner.
Mark finds the door unlocked and opens it.
The roof is lit in glaring, flashing white-purple arclight. A capricious wind swirls Mark’s trenchcoat. The stars are bright in a cloudless sky, bright with unnatural color. Gargoyle silhouettes crouch on the verges of the roof. Purple electric arcs scatter across the open roof, clinging and ricocheting from all the pipes and vents. The buzzing drone of a poorly tuned transformer station echoes through the night.
An umbrella rolls by, buffeted by the wind. For some reason, it brings Rabbi Lehr to mind.
Mark’s door faces a wide skylight at the center of the broad roof. To the left of the skylight is the spidery truss of a local radio affiliate’s broadcast tower. To the right the Weaver building’s water tower, a high roofed barrel on thick wooden stilts.
In the center, a man is suspended six feet above the skylight. Flashing, rippling ropes of white-purple lightning curl and loop from the man to the towers to the skylight and back, spilling across the roof and breeding twisting, dancing purple tendrils. Even with the Spirit Sign inactive, the ambient evil causes it to heat and faintly glow.
The man is stripped to the waist, covered with what seem to be burn scars. His hair is wild, his eyes red and wilder. Bloodshot veins have covered his entire face.
“Welcome, Darkness in the Wind’s Eye,” he shouts, over the din of the occult electricity. “I’ve been expecting you. Is your America ready to experience the chaos which is devouring the rest of the world? You’ll have a front row seat!”
He seems to have a lot to say, and only one person to say it to.
I bet I will, Mark thinks. Sounds like my luck.
Mark stalls a bit, while looking around the roof. “Somehow, I doubt the rest of the world is covered in random bolts of pastel lightning. What is it you’re trying to do here, anyway?” Mark looks for loose pieces of metal, wood, etc. that might be lying about, conductive or non-conductive, though the difference may or may not be important. He looks for something that might do for a giant spear or crowbar, or for rope.
There are a few metal vent pipes sticking up here and there from the roof that are about man-high and a few inches in diameter. No loose pieces of wood; maybe Mark could tear some boards from the little hut thing at the top of the stairs that had the roof access door in it. There is some cabling around; wires attached to a few auxiliary radio antennas. Pieces from the radio tower would make good giant crowbars if you could break some off.
“Surely even you have heard, American, of the upheavals in the world? The wars and massacres raging in what you call Europe and the Far East? Well, your days of peace and security are over. It will be the same here as in Warsaw. Nanking will be repeated in cities across your United States. City dweller versus country bumpkins. Irish versus Italians. Africans vs Caucasians. North versus South. Rich versus poor. There are so many fault lines in your nation. Just the right pressure and one of them will crack, shattering your society into tiny fractious pieces.
“And it starts with the Military Base in your municipality, American. I destroy that, and out of fear the social order unravels until a strong, ruthless dictator seizes control. It is as inevitable as an avalanche.
“Besides, I made a deal. This man agreed to give me his body, and in return I take revenge on the soldier boy who stole his girl. I’ll just take thousands more with him, and mission accomplished. You can watch from this very roof.”
Crumbs. Options, options … don’t want to grab a guy wrapped in lightning. Need to stop him from building up power, I think. What to do …
Mark activates the Sign of Light. The arcs of the Spirit Sign spin and align. Red and grey tendrils
reach out toward the hovering man. The tendrils tunnel into his eyes, turning them red and gray.
“Really. Temporarily depriving this body of sight. Is that the best you can do? I don’t even use sight to perceive your world. Mortal magic is so disappointing.
“Let me show you what real power can do.”
The building shakes, with a muffled cracking sound from far below. Mark feels the roof lift underneath him, maybe about ten feet. Some of the gargoyles crack and tumble from their perch.
Mark’s footing on the roof seems kind of unstable, almost as if he were on a ship at sea, or standing on a moving railroad car.
“Go look, over the south side of the building. This is definitely worth seeing. You can come right back and try more of your human magic on me if you wish. I’m not going anywhere. At least, I’m not leaving the roof. He he. Hehehehehehehehe.”
Don’t, Mark says to himself. Don’t play his game. You don’t need to … ah, nuts. Mark’s curiosity pulls him to the South side of the roof.
Mark takes note of the rooftop. It is large and flat, about 50 yards to a side. The skylight, 10 by 10 yards, is centered, and the man is hovering about 20 feet over it. The roof access is about 10 yards from the south side of the skylight. There are a couple other roof access doors at random points on the roof. The radio tower is 10 yards from the west side of the skylight, 10 yards wide a the base, and its top is lost in the gloom. The water tower is 10 yards to from the east side. Its wooden stilts raise the tank 30 feet, and the tank itself is another 30 feet tall and 30 feet around.
Mark cautiously moves across the unstable rooftop to the south side. There is a waist-high lip around the edge. Every ten feet, a stone gargoyle is perched, each one different and more hideous than the last. They seem completely lifeless; clawed, snouted, snarling art-deco statues cantilevering precariously over the foggy void below. A few have cracked off, falling into space when the roof began to shake. Mark finds a spot where two adjacent gargoyles are missing, leaving gaps of 15 feet between him and the nearest gargoyles.
Mark looks out over the edge. The street level is buried in fog. All seems normal otherwise, except—
At first glance, the southeast and southwest sub-towers seem to be planted in the middle of the street. At second glance, the towers seem to have torn away from the building, and remain connected only by a twisted lattice of I-beams, concrete pillars, pipes, electrical cables and other misplaced architecture.
As Mark watches, the southeast sub-tower begins to move, and the roof pitches slightly in that direction. The sub-tower ponderously lifts. Then it moves southward, gradually stretching its webbed connection to the main building, cutting a wake through the mist below. The tower bulldozes into a four-story building across the street, scattering glass and brick and raising a billowing cloud of dust. The noise is muffled and dampened by distance. The tower settles into the ruins. Mark feels the roof begin to shift southward.
“Well? You can’t say that that isn’t awe-inspiring. Surely you can see that humanity is no match for my kind of power. Now, I will simply ride my mount to the military base and crush it, leaving behind a trail of destruction the width of a city block. Can you imagine the fear, that something like this could even happen? And how people will react when I effortlessly pulverize their strongest military facility? Their blasted optimism will melt like unbaked brick in the rain, replaced by a rising tide of terror. I will drink the panic like a fine ale, and use its power to root myself permanently in America, like my brothers did in Europe and Asia. Though what took them a decade of secret maneuvering, I will accomplish in a single night!
“And you get to watch it all happen! Your despair and helplessness is my appetizer for the feast to come. Come now. Give it to me. I’m hungry.”
The spirit’s getting restless. Mark lets it run for a bit.
Mark runs to the roof access and leaps to the top of the roof access hut. He broad jumps toward the water tower and lands on the roof. He runs to the water tower and leaps to one of the support crossbeams and from there to the catwalk circling the bottom of tank of the water tower.
The floating man watches with a minor air of incredulity.
Mark, inspired by his mystic spirit, shouts “Cease your deviltry at once! Your foul plans must come to an end!”
Mark shifts the Spirit Sign to the Sign of Motion. Spectral hands reach out to grab the floating man. They pull him, slowly, in the direction of the water tower.
“I see the impending doom of your culture has broken your mind, and now you think you’re an ape. It’s a little disappointing, to tell the truth. I hoped to see raw, rational terror. And now you tug at this body with such insignificant magic power. Do you think it makes the slightest difference whether I am at the center of the roof, or off to one side, or in the lunch room on the 47th floor, or hovering a thousand feet above? It makes no difference. Aside from style, of course. Sometimes style is everything.”
“What happened to Merlin?” he laments, seemingly off on a self-pity jag as he floats slowly toward the water tower. The Sign strains to move the floating man, at the limits of its limited power, able to work at all only because the man is floating in the first place. “Or Coyote Claw? Or Dee? Or Elphaba? Or Yaga? There used to be power on this doomed rock. Perhaps I’ll have to make it more interesting all by myself. Falling asleep during the apocalypse is very bad form.”
The puplish glow seems to flicker for a bit, and seems now to curl more and jet less. Streams still arc from him to the various features of the roof, but the floating man seems kind of distracted and self-absorbed.
Mark stands on the catwalk circling the base of the water tower tank, 30 feet above the roof, 30 feet below the top of the tank, facing the skylight in the center of the skyscraper’s rooftop. The floating man is drifting slowly across the skylight toward the water tower, refusing to allow his minor, inconsequential momentum to distract him from whatever deviltry he seems to be thinking up. He crosses the frame of the skylight, which puts him about 30’ from the base of the water tower, 45 feet diagonally down from where Mark is standing.
Mark glances at the top of the water tank. It’s dark and there is a glare coming from the floating man, so it’s kind of hard to see. There’s some kind of roof overhanging the tank to keep the weather and birds out. If it’s like other rooftop water towers Mark has seen, it’s a short, conical roof that could either be tin or wood. It’s probably bolted or nailed on, and probably about as strong as a house roof.
Mark waits as the Sign draws the floating man closer and almost down to the rooftop. He still seems distracted, the loops of power are cascading around him in ever more intricate patterns.
Mark leaps over the railing and falls hard on the floating man. The floating man looks up just as Mark is about to hit. His expression turns mildly exasperated.
Mark impacts the swirling energy and feels the blinding pain of raw arcane power tear through each nerve He stumbles and falls to the roof. The floating man hasn’t even moved.
“Worthless power and criminal ignorance,” says the floating man, audible dimly through the dizziness. His voice is growling with cold anger. "You have completely spoiled my triumphant entrance. Faust would have known better than to do that. Erik Weisz would have known better. Even Utnapishtim would have—
“Oh, now look what you made me do! You made me remember Utnapishtim! I hate Utnapishtim! I told Abaddon it was a bad idea, but would he listen? We had nearly your whole world, and then…
“Stand up when I’m talking to you!” The floating man reaches down and picks up Mark’s limp body by the shirt. He slams it against one of the water tower supports. In his other hand appears a ten foot long spear seemingly made of lightning. With a casual thrust, he impales Mark with it, pinning him to the support post. It hurts, but not like a knife wound, and doesn’t seem to do any actual damage. Mark is stuck to the pole though.
Mark fights his way out of the grogginess, barely gaining full consciousness.
The floating man leans in to Marks face. “You stay here! You pay attention! You slowly go mad with terror!” The rotting smell is nauseating.
Now_! comes the companion spirit’s quiet voice. _He’s right where we want him!
Mark unsteadily looks up at this foul being in human form. “I guess cough my plan worked hack wheeze imperfectly.” He struggles to look him … it … in the eye. “For your information, thunder demon, I’m no magician.”
The floating man gets that annoyed look again during Mark’s speech. He opens his mouth to retort.
Mark reaches up over his head to grab the tank support. He plants a foot on the support below him. And he heaves with the last of his strength.
The post snaps behind Mark’s back. Fire burns through Mark’s gut as the lightning spear slides through. The floating man looks up. “What? Breaking things is no…” Then his eyes widen.
The water tower begins to twist and topple, directly down over its broken support. The walls of the tank buckle, and the bottom splits. Tens of thousands of gallons of water thunder down through the broken seams.
“How can it be,” marvels the floating man, between instants, “that water covers most of your world, that you yourselves are mostly water, that water continually falls out of the sky, a_nd yet you still keep giant barrels of MORE WATER on the top of tall buildings for no reason whatever?!_”
The water crashes down onto the two of you.
The floating man’s screams, echoing from the sky itself, can be heard over the cascading water and the furious thunder. The spear has vanished. The rooftop lurches, beginning to tilt.
Mark is swept by the flow of water across the rooftop, downhill, at an alarming speed.
Mark grabs out at a passing pipe and snags it. He looks up in time to see a very large chunk of wood from the water tower hurtling toward him. It hits, hard. Mark loses his grip and all but the last shred of consciousness.
Lightning explodes where the floating man was. Meteors of crackling energy burst in every direction.
The debris and the water wash Mark down the swiftly tilting rooftop and through a gap between gargoyles into empty space. He blacks out.
Meanwhile, on the ground:
“I don’t get it,” says Arthur. “That man, whoever he is, needs our help! We can’t leave him alone with a class 5 demon!” Arthur’s armor is scratched up, and he’s bleeding from a few minor cuts.
“We are helping,” Cassie replies without concern. She continues to walk down the street and tucks a curl back into place.
“We are a block away from the building!” He gestures back in the direction of the skyscraper. From the deep mist come thunderous sounds of bending metal and cracking stone. “Who knows what he’s going through back there!”
“I’m sure I don’t,” says Cassie. “But we need to be here.”
The rumbling intensifies, changing in quality to the thunder of an urban avalanche. Arthur looks back in alarm.
“Look out,” says Cassie. She pushes Arthur so he stumbles a few steps.
From the sky comes a plummeting figure. It hits where Arthur had been standing. As it hits, faint green dragonscale afterimages flash on the pavement.
It is the mysterious trenchcoated figure, limp and unmoving.
“Is he dead?”
“He’s alive, but he won’t be for long unless you protect him.” The sounds of avalanche grows louder.
Arthur holds out his arm, and a shining shield forms on it. “Protect him from what?”
Cassie points back toward the building. “That.”
Arthur looks. His eyes widen. “Oh.”
A tsunami of stone, concrete and steel crashes down on the three Gatekeepers.