BLACKTHORN: SPIRES OF MARS|
The online serial novel
by I.A. Watson
Chapter One * Latest Chapter * E-mail Us
21. THE LAST TESTIMONY OF LARS OLSSEN
“What is going on?” screamed Boss Wennister. “What the f--- is happening here!”
The main support of his fortress-dome collapsed, opening a structural rift through which the blizzard outside could pour. More of his household guards were taken down with laser crossfire.
A dark-haired sorceress hurled twisted lilac energies at the capo, searing away the last expensive personal wardings that protected him. “We’d like to talk to Mr Olssen please,” she explained. “Could you possibly indicate where we might find him?”
The crime-czar’s frantic gaze strayed from the woman to the vast Mock-man that loomed over her and the warrior with the glowing sword at her flank. “Blackthorn!” he recognised. He’d been warned – but he’d never expected his stronghold to be breached and destroyed in under an hour.
“Sure,” agreed Reith, clothed in Princess Aria’s illusion magics to look like the General. “I’m here for freedom and puppies and stuff. Too bad for you.”
Oglok slapped away Wennister’s bolt-pistol and caught the capo by the throat. He roared an enquiry into his captive’s face, opening jaws wide enough to take off the gangster’s whole head.
“Down there!” screeched Wennister, gesturing wildly. “The panel with the holo-aquarium. Codephrase: Nuachis Derby. Acckkk!”
Reith slipped past the choking criminal and tried the secret panel. It slid open to reveal a hidden chamber – and a cowering man inside.
“Olssen,” the Runner boss recognised. “We want a chat with you ‘bout Lady Ysilde nim Loret and a guy named Morningstar.”
Oglok lost interest in Boss Wennister. He shook him like a rat then hurled him across the hallway. The Mock-man and Aria hurried after Reith into the shelter of the secure room and sealed themselves away from the general melée.
Wennister looked up to see Boss Kemp staring down at him.
“Well well, Nicholai,” Kemp said mildly. “This is a bit different from our usual conversations, isn’t it? I’m thinking we need to renegotiate some of our former agreements.”
“Osmius,” Wennister gasped. “We can work something out…”
“Yeah,” agreed Kemp. He shot the fallen crime-lord half a dozen times in his chest. He wanted the head untouched for identification purposes. “Let’s both agree you’re dead.”
“The attack will be well underway by now,” Tybald tan Throg judged. He paced the room of the little rent-by-hour chamber that Reith had provided to conceal Ysilde nim Loret in, fretting because he was missing the action while babysitting his sister.
“I imagine that whatever preparations that Boss fellow made for General Blackthorn, he didn’t expect an army of attacking gangsters as well,” Ysilde agreed. She was a little regretful herself of having to miss the adventure.
“I’d put a lot of money on it,” the lordling’s son grinned. “Ah well. Keeping you safe’s important too. That’s the whole point of my setting out from home. And if this Olssen person can give us some clue to what rituals the Sorcerer of Night did to you or what this Colonel Morningstar wants out of all this, we can free you from Erebus’ geas and get you safe home at last.”
Ysilde shivered. She was more nervous than she’d expected. “It’s horrible to think that if I die my spirit will be sucked back to that terrible black artefact that the Silent Sisters keep, and that they’d be able to drag it out of that to… do things with. When that big kraken thing broke up Tortugos and it looked like nothing could stop it from slaughtering us all… all I could think of was what would become of me after it tore me to shreds.”
“That wasn’t all you thought of, sis. You got your people out and clear too. Whatever else scared you, you did your duty to the folks who looked to you. Mama would be proud of that. Father too. I know I am.”
“I want you to be proud of me, Ty. It means a lot to me, what you think – and that you chased after me and found me. I’m so sorry that things didn’t turn out the way you expected. Please remember that. I’m sorry and I love you.”
“Whatever do you mean, Ysilde? We’re going to set you free. You saw how Aria looked when Reith passed on that message about the Hall of Tatters? I thought the Hall of Tatters was just some old fairy tale. She seemed to think that would be a great next stop in figuring out what’s wrong with you.”
“The Hall of Tatters is a nursery tale.”
“Maybe there’s a place named after the old legends? Anyway, with information from this Olssen and maybe whatever…”
Ysilde shot him. It wasn’t a lethal blast, of course. She knew how to change the settings on a pulse-pistol to deliver a stun charge. It still hurt her almost as much as the neural charge must have hurt Tybald as he slammed to the floor.
“I really am terribly, terribly sorry,” she promised her brother. “I’ll make it up to you. I’ll save the world.”
She kissed him on the cheek, gathered her cloak, and slipped out of the door.
“Zonohabi the Collector!” screamed Nors Olssen. He cringed away from Oglok the Mock-man. “Zonohabi! Zonohabi of Daedalia!”
“Who?” asked Aria.
“Minor noble in one of the minor corners of Daedalia,” Edar Reith supplied. “Pays fealty to the Black Sorcerer, keeps himself to himself, something of a scholar. Obsessed about Old Daedal, the kingdom that was before the Black Sorcerer scorched it to melted fragments all those years ago.”
“I know about the fall of the City of Joy,” Aria said coldly. I was there.
“Yeah, well Zonohabi was nuts over it. Bought up all the Daedalian artefacts he could afford – nothing active of course, the Black Sorcerer claimed those – but pots, books, tapestries, fragments of that amazing glassware they had. As noble overlords go he was fairly harmless.”
“You’re speaking of him in the past tense.”
“He died around three months back,” Reith reported. “There was a break-in at his tower. A robbery.” He eyed Olssen speculatively.
“I was only a middle-man!” the fixer swore. “It was that barbarian, that Morningstar that gave the order. The finance came through House Teledrene. I just placed the contract.”
“What was the contact?” Reith demanded.
“Extract some antique diaries and papers from the old man. Morningstar gave me a specific list but it was easier to put Lord Zonohabi down and raid everything.”
“So your thugs just bust in and slaughtered a lord?”
“Everybody was all worked up after the battle of Cryse. There were rebels running round everywhere. Nobody was paying attention to what went on in some forgotten corner of Daedalia.”
“How did Morningstar get this list in the first place?” Aria enquired.
“Zonohabi corresponded a lot. One of his contacts was the goddess-ruler of Secunda Prevura. He’d sent her descriptions of some old journals to see if she could…”
“I know all about the Eternal Light of Secunda Prevura,” said the sorceress who’d helped Blackthorn cast her down. “And I know she dated Morningstar for a while, poor idiot. So David stole her researches then hired you to steal Zonohabi’s collection. And then he traced Ysilde through her family tree and stole her. Why?”
“I dunno!” promised Olssen. He flinched at Oglok. “Don’t let him eat me!”
“Apart from Ysilde and Zonohabi, what else did Morningstar have you do?” Reith asked the fixer.
“Nothing major, I swear. A mission into Aonia to steal some sacred inscribed bowl from an obscure temple. Bribing a Cimmerian official of Lord Ruin’s for details on some of the old Deadfields campaign. A snatch-and-grab on a novice due to enter the Silent Sisterhood. I’ve no idea what became of her. A survey team to some tiny little island stub in the middle of Amazonis.”
Aria’s eyebrows furrowed. “Albus?” she asked.
“You’ve heard of it? It’s just melted black rock, barely a hundred paces wide.”
“It was once a Harmony Spire,” the princess revealed. Discovering the destruction of one of the beautiful life-preserving Ancient artefacts had felt like a personal wound.
Oglok growled that the interrogation here was taking too long. And it was too easy.
“What does Morningstar intend for the maiden Ysilde?” Reith demanded of Olssen.
“I’ve no idea. Really. I asked him, just yesterday!”
“Yesterday!” Aria echoed. “So David is here! In Phoenix Landing?”
“Sure. But when I asked about the Promethian girl he just said ‘Tell them to ask Incantrus Veil’ and laughed like it was a the biggest joke in… ukkk!” The fixer shuddered. A trail of blood trickled from his lips.
“What’s this?” demanded Reith, alert and alarmed. “Poison? Suicide? A phrase-triggered destruct adhesion?”
Aria’s arcane senses began to scream. “A trap!” she cried. “Boss Wennister wasn’t the trap. This was. Incantrus Veil!”
Olssen stopped struggling. His chest caved in and thousands of blind white maggots wriggled from his body. They seemed to be endless, welling out and multiplying as they came.”
“Necro-worms!” the princess identified. “Spilling out of a shadow-door implanted inside him!” She glanced around. Outside the security room there was screaming and gunfire again. “Not one Shadow-door. Dozens. All connected to some place where there are billions of these creatures!”
The maggots seethed over each other, devouring even their own kind, growing. Across the whole compound squirming masses of them fell on the warring gangsters, consuming them, growing more and more, filling the whole dome with their hungry wriggling mass.
The shadow-doors had been placed to cover every exit. The trap was complete.
David was waiting for Ysilde where the voice in her head had told her he would be. She arrived at Phoenix Landing’s skimmer port, a weathered grey installation that could service and hangar airships and grav-vessels for a hefty docking fee. At this time of year the port was mostly closed down because of the sleet blizzards but Morningstar’s red personal flyer was serviced and ready for take-off.
“Hello there, darling,” the Earthman called to Ysilde. “Did you miss me, honey?”
She hurried to him for a kiss and an embrace. “More than you could know, my love! I took off the tracking amulet as soon as I could get to a place where the Sorcerer of Night’s creatures wouldn’t kill anybody. I knew you’d come!”
“You got that right, sweetheart. So how did you survive stodgy old Blackthorn and his flea-ridden Mock-man?”
“Oh David, you shouldn’t talk about him like that. I know he betrayed you before, but I think he might have changed. I’ve seen him do really heroic stuff, really brave and caring things…”
“Yeah, yeah, he’s absolutely neat, for sure,” grimaced Morningstar. “Has he worked out what you’re going to do, yet?”
“I think Princess Aria might be close. She was asking the right questions.” The maiden bit her lip. “I didn’t like deceiving them.”
Morningstar guided her into his two-seater vehicle. “Deceiving’s all part of the fun, baby. You’ll see before we’re done.”
“The First Men won’t like being tricked.”
“That’s the idea. But by the time they work it out they won’t be able to do anything about it. Now strap in. We need to be away from this place before… anything happens.”
Morningstar eased up the grav-engines. A row of red warning lights lit up the dashboard.
“What is it?” Ysilde wondered.
There was a rending sound of sheared steel dropping to the runway. The lightflyer died.
“I think that big warning bulb on the right means ‘Sword of Light has carved our engine in two’,” Blackthorn suggested. He knocked on the canopy of Morningstar’s disabled craft. “Hello, Colonel.”
Ysilde saw David’s face change. “Blackthorn! What have you done, you idiot?”
“I’ve just had another big piece of the mystery slot into place,” the General suggested. “How long have you been betraying us with Morningstar, Ysilde?”
The maiden’s face paled. “I… I didn’t… that is… I never meant it as betrayal.”
“If we hadn’t happened upon your brother when we did in Hesperia he’d be dead,” Blackthorn said. “Another minute would have been too late. He’d have been killed trying to save his sister – who’d been carried off by arrangements with Morningstar’s raiders. Killed just like the guards in your caravan.”
Ysilde didn’t know what to say. She looked to Morningstar.
“Don’t blame us, General,” the rogue Earthman answered for her. “We’re in love.”
“Is that why the instructions you gave the raiders specified that there should be casualties when Ysilde was carried off, and that she witness them?”
The maiden looked up. “What?”
“The Colonel didn’t mention that he’d looked up your family tree to find a suitable pawn to barter to the Sorcerer of Night?” Blackthorn went on ruthlessly. “Or that he approached a desperate noble family in Isidis to fund your kidnap through that Tyrrhennan slaver who traded in human misery? Or that he warned the Silent Sisters we were coming to save you so we’d be caught by Lord Erebus? Or that he’s a devious murderous bastard who’s long overdue for a Hallows blade in the heart?”
“David, tell him that’s not true!” Ysilde insisted. “Tell him what we’re really doing. He’ll understand. Blackthorn wants to save Mars too!”
Morningstar was careful not to make any move that could be construed as an attack. He knew Blackthorn’s sense of honour would keep him alive for a while yet if he avoided conflict. “You know, I really can’t be bothered lying to you any more, sweetheart,” the Colonel told the maiden. “No point still playing nice when the girl’s already knocked up. And you would have been if you’d survived the bit you have to be all pure for. But since you’re metaphorically up the spout anyway, well and truly primed with that Interlock Incantation, the planet’s designated Interface Sacrifice for this generation, I really don’t need to keep on pretending you’re not a dumb bimbo who fell for it all hook line and sinker.”
Ysilde’s heart froze and splintered. “But you said…” She blinked back sudden tears. “I have been… what you said,” she agreed. “But no more.”
Morningstar snorted. “You got that right, honey. Not since General Megahero here carved up our escape flight out of here. Now the trap that’s killing Aria and the Mock-man and every other living thing in Phoenix Landing’s going to get us too.”
Blackthorn snarled. “What have you done now?”
“Shadow-door inside that pointless Olssen, triggered when he talked about Incantrus Veil. Opens right onto the spawning lair of necro-worm maggots deep under Utopia. When they get out into the light they go into a feeding frenzy. The more light – say from a magic sword – the faster they multiply. Eat everything in their path, growing and multiplying as they go, for about two hours before they die off. Enough to strip Phoenix Landing bare and have time to look around for desert. And you just stopped me getting dim-bulb Lady Ysilde out of here.”
“How do you stop them?”
“I don’t. And I picked those things for Veil to link to via the shadow-doors because they’ll actually enjoy your plasma fireballs and lightshows – an all-you-can-eat buffet. A bit like Oglok and Aria, trapped in that capo’s dome with them. I suppose you could go and die heroically failing to rescue them if you start running now.”
“Ysilde, out of the grav-car. Morningstar, for all the crimes you’ve committed, I sentence you to immediate…”
“Ah, but you don’t know if I’ve got another shadow-door in me, triggered at death to swarm out even more of those hordes. Maybe it’s been set so…”
Blackthorn punched Morningstar in the mouth. The Colonel’s head slammed into the side of the canopy, leaving a radius of cracks.
Ysilde scrambled from the vehicle. Blackthorn roughly hauled her over his shoulder and raced away. As soon as he had range he raised his Sword of Light and detonated the red flier with a huge fireball.
“Shadow-door that,” the General snarled as he pounded back into the city towards the Wennister compound.
“Ouch,” said David Morningstar, rubbing his jaw. “I think I annoyed him. Good job I had that shadow-door contingency to get me out of there before he decided to ruin my no-claims bonus. I think that particular light-flier is pretty much a write-off.”
“Where is the Sacrifice?” demanded the Sorcerer of Night, standing atop his Dais of Webs in his Palace of Whispers. “Bring her to me!”
Incantrus Veil bowed low. “It shall be as you command… master.”
CONTINUED in Chapter 22: Truth and Consequences
Updates Monday and Thursday!
in which Blackthorn faces Morningstar's death trap and Ysilde faces Morningstar.
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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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