Illumination 4.1: A New Very Old Tower

Seth slouched into the Council chamber, yawning widely. Even though he was almost late, the room wasn’t very full. In the wake of the dawn, everybody had things to do: walls to repair, shopping to do, picnics to have. He’d normally have better things to do himself, but he was trying to think in the long term.

Natalie narrowed her eyes at him as he strolled past. He flicked her in the forehead before vaulting onto the raised floor of the central table. Many of the comfy chairs up there were empty, too, everybody was that busy. So Seth dropped into one and put his feet up on the table.

The Tanist, sitting at the head of the table, cleared her throat. Seth put his hands in his pocket and looked at the ceiling.

“Seth, get your goddamned feet off the table,” growled the Tanist.

Seth smiled at the ceiling and swung his feet off. It obviously made her feel so good to boss him around. Natalie always accused him of not caring, but he was a kind soul, really.

The Tanist raised her voice. “All right. Everybody’s met Elian by now, right? He’s… taken the place of Kentigern.”

There was a shifting and muttering from the gathered Guardians. It sounded like more than just the Tanist was uncomfortable with the change.

In the false, cheery voice of a kindergarten teacher, she continued, “Well, there will be an adjustment period for all of us, but Elian has already spotted some interesting information. He reported a few hours ago that one of the other towers activated.” She dropped the saccharine tone. “I’m pretty sure that isn’t a coincidence, not after the last night.”

Natalie, still on the main floor, said, “What does that mean? I thought some of the towers have always been semi-active?”

Elian said, “It’s the difference between sleepwalking and waking up.”

One of the Councillors at the table said, “Is it, ah, as damaged as you— er, Kent—”

“Is it still crazy, you mean?” interrupted Elian. “I don’t really know. It isn’t talking to me or even using the shared network much. I detected its activity because it’s started managing portals.”

A murmur passed through the room. “Portals to Earth?” asked the Tanist.

“Oh yes,” said Elian. “I’m kind of worried that it’s going to hijack a latchkey signal and somebody who thought they were coming home will end up there instead. I have ideas on what to do about that, though.”

Jake, at the other end of the big table, said, “Can we intercept their signals, then?”

“Uh, theoretically. If there’s anybody sending them. But you can understand that I’m not real eager to have an unknown running around in here again.”

The Tanist said, “Can you tell if somebody is actually using the portals, or if it’s opening them at random?”

“It’s connecting to our emergence points. Which I’d kind of like to do something about, because I’m possessive like that. But I have to figure out how to encrypt a psychomechanical radio signal first. It’s a little like solving a Rubik’s cube blindfolded.”

“That’s possible,” observed Seth to the ceiling.

“Yes, I know,” said Elian. “But it’s a little harder when you were born yesterday.”

People at the table shifted uncomfortably. “Yes,” said the Tanist. “Well. Savannah, what can you tell us about the tower in question?”

Seth sat up. Savannah was in her late twenties, tall and skinny with bright blue eyes and the weathered skin of a Prowler. She was pretty, too, with long chestnut hair that looked like it’d been recently brushed out of a ponytail.

“We call it Tower Di. It’s about 312 degrees along radial 4.4.” She pointed in what was presumably that direction. “I’ve been there a few times. I’ve even been inside. It was definitely hibernating. The core was barely lit up and the main structure was heavily damaged. Let’s see.” She considered. “It isn’t the closest tower to us, although it’s the closest one in that direction.”

“Close enough that the cambion could have gotten there?” asked Jake.

Savannah shrugged. “If it moved fast and didn’t mind interesting terrain, sure. I don’t know how it could reactivate the tower though.”

Jake said, “There’s a lot we apparently don’t know about cambions. And we know the invader was headed in that direction, so we have to assume that’s what it did. I just wish we knew why.”

The Tanist asked, “Elian, how many portals is Tower Di opening? Maybe we can work out how many enemies are moving back and forth.”

Elian said doubtfully, “It’s pretty early to start drawing those conclusions but I’ll see if I can figure anything out.”

Another Councillor said, “But why would they want a tower?”

“Why do we want a tower?” Seth said. “I mean, other than providing ourselves with a perfect secret hideout and an awesome transportation network.”

“That’s a pretty big advantage, wouldn’t you say?” said the Tanist. “Especially if they use it to attack us again.”

Seth raised his eyebrows at the Tanist. “It looks to me like they invaded us just to get an agent to the other tower. The attack on Kentigern was just taking advantage of an opportunity. For all we know, they just want to set up their own Guardian organization and get away from our despotic rules.”

Flatly, the Tanist said, “That seems extremely unlikely. We know how Echthroi work. They want to destroy their focus, which is clearly us. No, they’ll be attacking us again. We need to lock down the emergence points and the latchkeys, and we need to be prepared for an attack from overland.”

Savannah said, “Would you like us to go investigate Tower Di again? We can find out how it’s changed, and if it’s manufacturing again.”

“No, not yet. I don’t want them to know what we know, and I want you guys to stay safe. Let’s see what Elian can do first. If he isn’t as flexible as Kentigern, we’ll come up with scouting plans.” A crowded silence followed her words.

Seth leaned back in his chair again, putting his hands behind his head. “No pressure, Elian.”

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