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BLACKTHORN: SPIRES OF MARS
The online serial novel
by I.A. Watson


Chapter One * Latest Chapter * E-mail Us


17.     DEPTHS OF THE KRAKEN

    Captain Neremus Korzan went from elation to horror.

    From the quarterdeck of his fast corsair Siren of Ammon he was chasing off the last of the Sorcerer of Night’s translucent Ghost Fleet, revelling in finally putting the scare on the undead terrors of the Amazonis Sea. It was a heady moment. The other freebooter captains who had followed him were ranged out in an irregular V formation, keeping the spectral armada running.

    Then the lookout called down, frantically pointing back to the floating free city of Tortugos. Korzan saw the whole flotsam-tangled mass of the island shift. It was more than the sudden fifteen foot waves. The centre of the wooden isle splintered out and a massive suckered tentacle rose through and above it.

    “What the devil…” the Captain gasped. He winced as the five hundred foot appendage flailed round then slammed down on Tortugos. He could hear the salvaged ships that made up its lashed mass splintering.

    The Amazonis was home to monsters. Korzan had seen hundred-foot waterworms tear an Arcadian merchantman to pieces. He’d once watched – from a long distance – as even one of those great predators had been caught in the tentacles of some massive squid. Neither compared to the size of the kraken that rose under Tortugos and wrapped its arms around the stricken island.

    “Turn round,” Korzan decided. He found his voice again and shouted. “All hands! Turn her about. We’re going back!”

    “Back into that?” his mate gasped, staring at the mottled green feelers rising up to tip the besieged free city.

    “There’s thousands still on that wreck, Mr Lanzer. Women and children. Our women and children, for that. They were looking for us to go back and evacuate them before the Sorcerer of Night began his reprisals. We’re just a wee touch late!”

    The sailors looked uncertainly at the vast bulk that bubbled from the waters. The heavy waves reached the Siren and set her tossing.

    “I said move, you dogs!” Korzan shouted. “Go to Tortugos and ye’ll face a massive sea-beast that’ll like tear you to pieces. Don’t go and ye’ll face me! ” He glared until the crew began to jump to stations to bring the cutter around. “Signal the other captains. Tell ‘em we’re going in.”

    “What if they won’t follow?”

    “Tell ‘em I’m going in, and they should follow if they dare.”

***

    Ysilde pulled herself off the deck where she’d been slammed when the island had pitched. Fragments of wreckage showered down on the volunteers who’d agreed to man the emergency hospital at the Bosun’s Arms.

    The maiden saw the impossibly-huge tentacle loom above and come slamming down into the habitation below. People started screaming and running blindly with nowhere to go.

    My people! Ysilde thought. I was set to care for them.

    “This way!” she shouted over the chaos. “Don’t panic. Get everybody off the upper decks, down into cover. As near to the wharves as you can without being seen, so we can evacuate if the ships come. Grab what you need to survive and nothing else. Make sure the children are with you. Hurry – but calm!”     

    The maiden wondered who it was that gave such orders. She was a stranger to that silly girl who’d conspired with her suitor to a pretend-kidnap in distant Promethei that had gone so fatally wrong.

    The glass at the end of the bar-room shattered. A trio of tentacles monsters, shaped like the kraken but the size of a man, crawled inside in search of victims.

    Tybald tan Throg rolled through the door and fired a pair of laser-pistols at the invaders. “Everybody down! And quiet. These things are attracted to noise!” He looked over and saw Ysilde shepherding the injured. “Hi sis!”

    “Hi, big brother. Busy night.”

    They exchanged wild manic grins. Tybald hurled one of the pistols across. “Pulls to the left,” he warned.

    The maiden checked the charge and nodded. “Got it.”

    The marauding kraken-kin were distracted by the sound of the alarum bells. Oglok had ordered all the quarter-bells to be sounded at once. The cacophony confused the tentacled hunters for a while.

    More of the kraken’s arms grabbed the island. Tortugos tipped to twenty-five degrees. Outer wharves and fishing spas snapped off and fell into the sloshing seas.

    “I really think the Sorcerer of Night is cheating now!” Blackthorn complained. He had limped back up to the observation platform to get an overview of the giant monster’s attack and was not encouraged.

    Aria was behind him, her unbound black hair rat-tailed in the driving rain and crashing spume. “This one’s not undead. Even if the Sword of Light was powered you’d have to stab its brain to kill it. And that wouldn’t be easy. That kraken’s as big as the island!”

    Tortugos jerked again, spilling everybody the other way. Some of the higher watch-towers toppled down. Half-dismantled prize boats at mooring were splintered to driftwood.

    Blackthorn clung to the crumbling structure of the former fo’csle and peered to sea. “Korzan’s coming back in. We need to keep the monster busy so he can evacuate who he can. No – that’s not realistic. We have to beat this thing.”

    “I’m fascinated to know how you intend that,” the princess admitted.

    Blackthorn thought fast. “Why is it here? The Sorcerer of Night sent it, obviously, as a last resort, but why did it come? Why did it obey?”

    “It can’t be obedience wetware,” Aria considered. “That’s not Erebus’ style. But there was that geas of compliance he used on the Incantrus. Something like that, knotted in the kraken’s mind somewhere…”

    “What happens if we destroy that spell? Does the monster go home?”

    More thick tentacles slammed down, shattering homes and bringing down the sail-masts that steadied the floating island in position.

    “I have no idea,” admitted the princess.

    Blackthorn whistled for Oglok to join them. The Mock-man spat out a mouthful of kraken-kin and limbered up to the General’s vantage point. He growled that the kraken’s flesh was too much like broccoli for his taste.

    “Aria needs to find a spell-nexus that’s controlling the kraken,” Blackthorn briefed the beastling. “It’s probably deep inside that thing’s head so it’ll be hard to find. I’m setting you on doing the tunnelling, buddy. Scoop and tear your way inside the monster. Head whatever direction Aria senses the magics. When you find them introduce them to a plasma grenade.”

    “Wait – you want me to crawl through a kraken’s innards as a Mock-man tears passage through them!” Aria shuddered.

    “Princess, people are dying!”

    “Yes. I’ll do it. But then I will make you pay for this, John Blackthorn!”

    Oglok grabbed Aria by the waist, hefted her easily, and swung by his other arm across the tangled mast-forest to get a good leap at the kraken’s bulk. Blackthorn unclasped his zip-wire and followed after as best he could.

    The Mock-man ignored Aria’s angry shrieks and hurled himself at the titanic monster. He bounced off a tentacle and somersaulted onto a ridge near the swollen dome that presumably was its head; at least it had the most eyes. Oglok burst open one of the great swollen orbs and clawed through its aqueous humour to spill out the vitreous humour beyond.

    “Don’t!” the princess shrieked, cringing. She released a searing hex-spray that burned a passage into the kraken, cauterising the ruptured eye so she wouldn’t be dragged through the slime.

    Oglok dropped her and went in to expand the tunnel with claws and teeth.

    Aria forced her senses to reach out for necromantic magics. “That way!” she told the savage Mock-man. “Tear a disgusting hole in that direction.”

    Movement in the gore-tunnel behind distracted her. A kraken-kin slopped down to investigate the intrusion then was shivered to death on Blackthorn’s kinetic blade. “Keep moving,” the General said. “I’ll guards the rear.”

    “Make. You. Pay,” promised the princess. “Oglok, left. And down a bit.”

    The tunnel shifted axis. The creature was moving. Its ululating roar thundered through its flesh. A sound of splintering timbers warned that Tortugos would not last much longer.

    It seemed an eternity before the Mock-man broke through into another squishy cell of gelatinous goo. There, coiling upon itself in a sinister symmetry was a black spherical mass of slithering tendrils around a thick cluster of ganglia.

    “That’s it,” Aria warned. “Be careful. I think it knows we’re here.”

    The black mass whipped out cheesewire-thin strands to slice at them.

    By now the Mock-man didn’t care how gashed bloody he became. His enhanced senses and his hatred of magic combined to tip him to berserker fury. Oglok leaped straight for the nexus and ripped it to shreds. The necromantic tangle stood no chance.

    A new thought came to Blackthorn. “Princess, the Sorcerer of Night placed his magic here to control the kraken. Presumably those ganglia are important?”

    “Severing them would harm the creature, I suppose,” Aria allowed.

    “What if we tried to communicate with it? Could you use those ganglia and your magics to link me to the kraken?”

    Aria winced. “It’s no more stupid or disgusting than anything else I’ve done today. But I’m not kissing you to establish a link this time, John Blackthorn.”

    “Shame. That’s the very best way to save the world.”

    Oglok growled that he was finally going to vomit.

    Aria carefully established arcane contact with the ganglia then included Blackthorn in the link. It hurt.

    The kraken noticed them.

    “Hey there,” Blackthorn said to it. “You’re free.”

    There was a long pause. Is this mike on? Blackthorn wondered absurdly.

    A sense of surprise, of relief, and then of elation washed over Blackthorn and Aria.

    “It knows,” the princess gasped. “It’s happy!”

    “The man who did this to you isn’t here,” Blackthorn tried. “You’ve no reason to harm the people of this place. That’s what your enslaving master wanted.”

    Another wait, then a sense of understanding and relenting. Blackthorn and Aria knew that the attack on Tortugos was over.

    “Thank you,” Blackthorn told the creature. “Will you leave in peace now? And don’t let the First Men catch you again.”

    The kraken assented. It was tired of battle. It did not want to be anyone’s slave. It would go to the depths and sleep.

    “That’s remarkable, John,” Aria admitted. “I’d never have thought…”

    Oglok roared that the First Men were the true monsters.

    “You got that right, chum,” Blackthorn agreed. “Speaking of…” he turned back to the kraken.

    “Blackthorn – no!” Aria cried.

    “Listen,” the Earthman said to the great beast, “I’m putting together an alliance…”

***

    It was morning again. The citizens of the free port were counting their dead and repairing their homes. Great swathes of the floating island had broken free and needed lashing back together. Other parts were mere crushed debris that would eventually be cut loose. Tortugos was a city that constantly edited itself.

    Captain Korzan stood atop the highest remaining platform, roaring instructions and occasional obscenities at the clean-up crews.

    Tybald helped his sister up the rope ladder to join Blackthorn, Oglok, and Aria. “I had to drag her away from her woman,” the lord’s son reported. “She wouldn’t come until she’d told them what to be getting on with!”

    “I was given charge of them,” Ysilde objected. She blushed. “I was only trying to do what’s right.”

    “As is your duty,” approved Aria. “Well done, Lady Ysilde.”

    Tybald looked out over the busy scene. Most of the corsair boats were harboured again, some tied up to others double-birthed since most of the wharves had suffered. “I thought this place was evacuating, Captain Korzan? It looks like you’re redecorating.”

    The pirate shrugged. “Aye well, lad, we did intend to be somewhere else before the wrath of the First Man fell on us. It'd have been a hard passage this late in the year, with overladen boats crammed with refugees. Hard to find somewhere to land ‘em all too where they wouldn’t get run off by the locals or drafted into some sorcerer’s army. Then another option opened up.”

    Tybald looked at the cold Amazonis waters. “It looks like the city is moving. Not drifting with the currents or winds. Moving under power.” He glanced over at the wrecked topsails and crushed turbine house to confirm that neither means of stabilising the island could possibly be repaired that quickly.

    “Tortugos is protected,” Blackthorn announced. “By treaty. And its being moved so it’s not as easy to find.”

    Tybald and his sister exchanged confused looks.

    “We have a new ally,” admitted Princess Aria. “Blackthorn decided we needed a kraken on-team.”

    “It’ll protect us from the Ghost Fleet,” Captain Korzan declared. “We protect it from being enslaved again by the Sorcerer’s minions.”

    “And… it’s towing Tortugos?” Ysilde asked, wide-eyed.

    “We have another base now,” Blackthorn pointed out. “The corsairs of Tortugos can be anywhere across Amazonis, fast, undetectable, unstoppable. They can harry a Black Sorcerer science expedition one day and be across on the Windward Islands the next chasing off Silent Sister sacrifice-hunters. They already spy on the fleets. Now they’ll hook in with Reith’s Runners.”

    “You’re recruited the kraken and the pirates!” Tybald exclaimed.

    “Technically they’re not pirates if they’re licensed,” Aria pointed out. “If they’re granted Letters of Marque then they’re privateers.”

    “But they’re not licensed.”

    “They are now,” insisted the Princess of Mars.

***

CONTINUED in Chapter 18: Hunting Olssen
in which we give our regular cast and episode off and catch up with other characters' investigations half a world away.

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Original concepts, characters, and situations copyright © 2012 reserved by Ian Watson. Key characters and concepts from the Blackthorn works of Van Allen Plexico copyright © 2012 by him. The right of Ian Watson to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the UK Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved.

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