The Great Tower of Saint Simon loomed over the city of Carcosse, an expanse of dull grey stone that pointed towards the heavens like an accusing finger. The shadow of the tower lay heavy on the city, and this was not some mere abstraction, for the long shadow of the tower at the city's center was something to be avoided. It was dark, a heavy clinging darkness that blotted out sight, and it was cold, a cold that struck the marrow, and gave people strange chills if they stayed in it too long. Older inhabitants of Carcosse swore the shadow hadn't always been so uncanny, that once it had merely simply felt wrong to stand in, and yet when pressed, they admitted they were repeating stories their parents had told them. "And yet it was not so bad, when we were children," they would hastily add, and as none of their listeners could, as a rule, contradict that, the listeners would merely nod, and glance worriedly at the Tower.
For most, the strange nature of the Tower had simply become part of the city, the area around the Tower having become, over time, a virtually abandoned ring of crumbling buildings, what few permanent inhabitants there were being a bunch of the desperate poor, outcasts with no where else to go, who spent their time moving as quickly as they could, in hopes of staying out of the shadow. And though many pilgrims came to Carcosse, for wisdom, for council, for the strange absolution the Knights of the Tower offered, none went to the Tower, only to small chapels at the outskirt of its shadow. Only the Stylites went to the tower, in small little knots that walked in straight lines towards its grey expanse and paid no heed to the other inhabitants of Carcosse, and only the Stylites knew what lay within it, from the great heights above, to the deep basements below. And even the Stylites did not enter the room at the top of the tower, where the one they knew as Grandmaster Radiance stayed.
Grandmaster Radiance stayed in this room, and he did not leave it. He could not do this, in fact, for his form had long become motionless, his arms and legs rigid as stone. If any had entered the room--which they could not, and would not--they would have seen a mummified corpse, grasping a large silver plate that it seemed to stare at intently. Grandmaster Radiance could have told these confused souls that it was not the plate he stared at, but what the plate allowed him to see, for it was the charms placed on it that allowed him to communicate with his underlings in the order.
"And so you allowed the Dark Lord to see you for what you are?" he snapped to the one he was talking to at this very moment, with a voice that was not in truth a voice.
"I had little choice, Grandmaster," replied the Stylite known as Nitre in a wheedling voice. "He had the Sword of Night! It sliced through my defenses like a knife through butter! I was fortunate to escape in the condition I am in now!"
"Doubtless we must all be thankful for your stirling heroism," muttered Radiance.
"A medal would be nice," said Nitre in a tone of agreement.
Radiance gave a snarl. He did not like Nitre, who had come to the Order centuries ago older than they liked their recruits, where he had been caught using the "gifts" his Nightish taint had granted him for theft and burglary. He had, in time, been beaten and moulded into a proper shape for a Stylite, but it had taken a while, and he had never quite become as he should. And yet Nitre remained active in a manner that most Stylites of his age found difficult, heading out when most could only stay in the Tower and add their voiceless voices to the spells necessary for the Stylites' survival.
Which is why he had been sent to Montalban--in truth, there'd been no choice.
"Well, perhaps a medal is a bit much," said Nitre, "but come... aside from this... little setback, we are doing quite well, I'd say. Really, if you must get upset, get upset with the Prince. The man's collapsing much faster than we thought he would..."
"The Prince remains useful for the moment," said Radiance. "And easy to discard if that should prove necessary. As seems likely." The Grandmaster felt a sudden urge to nod that he suppressed, reminding himself that after all these centuries, surely he would be used to not being able to move his head. "He is making his way up north. Follow after him, and make sure his... activities can be put to good use."
"Of course, Grandmaster," replied Nitre pleasantly. "I am eager to be of service. As always."
Radiance sat in silence for a moment. Times like this made the pain of his existance, all the more acute. Born damned, the touch of Douma Dalkiel heavy upon him, he had managed in time to find a way to serve the Holy Light, and even to make others like him pledge such service--but the cost had been heavy, and there were always a few such as Nitre who seemed not to realize their state, no matter how much it was drummed into them. And then there was the other...
A shadow covered the plate. "So," came the familiar voice, "the Cthoniques begin to realize things."
If Radiance had still been capable of shivering, he would have been. "We knew this would happen eventually," he stated to his... senior partner in all this.
"But not so soon," hissed the voice. "Do not underestimate that family. They have long been a thorn in my side..."
"I know, oh, Eternal and Unequaled Splendor," said Radiance. "But we do have... measures in place to take care of them after all. And whatever they may suspect, surely they do not suspect you, Undying One."
"Most likely not," said the voice, after a moment of silence. "Very well. Move the next pieces into place. And let us see what happens. The feeding proceeds well, after all, and that is... our primary goal here. Take care, disciple." The plate cleared, as the ponderous presence of the ancient evil of the King of the South drew back.
Grandmaster Radiance felt a wave of relief. As always happened after one of their chats, he was left wondering if the ancient sorcerer had discerned his true purpose in all this. Whether he had or not, he knew that the thing didn't trust him, and was likely planning to betray his supposed "disciple" at the first opportunity. But the Stylites would stay on the path their master had chosen for them. For a chance to send the Undying One to death...
That would be a sweet thing indeed.