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The online serial novel
by I.A. Watson

Chapter One * Latest Chapter * E-mail Us


    Tybald tan Throg crouched in the cold lightless space and wondered where they had taken his sister and what was happening to her. Ysilde nim Loret was the Interface Sacrifice that would open up one of Mars’ legendary Harmony Spires so its energies could be drained to empower tyrants. It wasn’t clear if she would survive the ordeal.

    The young nobleman who’d set out to save her – his early lone tracking through the Deadfields of Hesperia seemed so long ago to him now – was imprisoned in some arcane shadow-chamber between worlds, in the domain mastered by the undead spell-nexus creature Incantrus Veil. The darkness-hooded Veil could manipulate necromantic portals that linked distant parts of Mars to allow near-instant travel. He had also proved adept at using the same links to shift spells from one person to another, which was how he intended to subvert the draining of the Harmony Spire to a candidate of his choosing.

    Everyone wanted to use Ysilde. Colonel David Morningstar had beguiled her with romantic dreams and set her up as the Interface Sacrifice. The Sorcerer of Night had completed the Interlock Incantation upon her so that she alone might open up a Harmony Spire. The other First Men waited for her to prise open the indestructible crystal tower so they could steal the power they needed to maintain their stranglehold on the red planet.

    Ysilde had betrayed Tybald, deceived her kin at the cost of lives, unwisely given away her location allowing Morningstar to kill General Blackthorn and his allies. She had been a fool.

    Yet she had also stood against a wight lord to protect panicked victims under her care on the besieged island of Tortugos, and she had surrendered to Morningstar when he held Tybald hostage. She was the young lordling’s sister and he had set out to rescue her.

     And I will.

    Tybald crawled in the darkness. His prison had no walls but it had definite edges, defined if irregular ridges where the floor simply ended and his arm plunged down to its full length without encountering anything. There was no echo to suggest scale when he shouted. It seemed he squatted on a tiny platform amidst endless dark nothingness.

    The Incantrus must have had a way to take Ysilde from this oubliette though. Tybald knew that shadow-doors could be sealed. He wasn’t clear on whether they could be as easily or precisely reopened. Was it possible that somewhere in this blind darkness a portal of escape hung waiting to be discovered?

    The young man groped round the perimeter of his prison floor. He had no way of knowing whether he came within mere inches of his escape, or even of when he’d completed a full circuit of his cell. Perhaps his hand had even passed through the shadow-door unknowingly, out into light he could not see because his head was still in darkness?

     Think this through, Tybald told himself. You were dropped through a shadow-door once and climbed back out. What did you learn of it?

    That shadow-doors always linked two points? Aria had spoken of a spell of the Black Sorcerer’s that made a kind of storage space into which large objects could be bundled for transportation, but even that led to an exit.

     If I step off this floor I may be lost forever in the necromantic detritus between worlds, Tybald considered. Or I may be spat out of the corridor between the shadow-doors.

    The fear of jumping in the dark, of falling forever, was strong in the lord’s son. But if I am lost forever here then I cannot be a hostage for Ysilde’s compliance.

    The thought steeled him.

    Tybald jumped into the void.


    …And tumbled onto cold hard stone. The lord’ son crawled away from the black rectangle of the shadow-door and looked around the candle-filled gloom.

    The Sorcerer of Night stared back at him. His Brides of Night stared too.

    “Holiness,” Tybald said, scrambling into a formal one-knee bow, “I bring you loyal greetings from Promethei and all due honour to your glorious personage.”

    The Sorcerer recognised him. “Lord Throg’s son. You were with Blackthorn.”

    “Yes, holiness. And now I come to bring you warning of dire treachery.” Tybald thought fast. “Incantrus Veil seeks to betray you when you perform the Interface Sacrifice!”

    The First Man’s hand paused as it twisted into the gesture for a Sigil of Soul-Rending. “You know of the Interface Sacrifice?”

    “My sister explained it, while we were prisoners of the Incantrus and Colonel Morningstar. You want her as this generation’s means of tearing open a Harmony Spire and plundering its energies to empower the First Men. But Veil has learned how to shadow-door your loyalty geas into someone else. He no longer has to serve you. And he can also shadow-door the transfer magics that channel the Spire’s powers to you and the other Sorcerers to instead go to David Morningstar!”

    The Brides of Night shifted uncomfortably, sensing their lord’s unease.

    “I’ve risked much to bring this information to you, holiness,” Tybald declared. “Even getting close to General Blackthorn. You must believe me. Morningstar’s set the whole thing up, releasing Veil, getting you to choose Ysilde, everything. He’s very close to supplanting the First Men and becoming the supreme power of Mars.”

    The Sorcerer of Night did not reply. He glided back to his Dais of Whispers and stood atop its cobwebbed magnificence. He closed his eyes, concentrating.

    Tybald remained on his knees. Any one of the creatures in this room could slaughter him in less than a heartbeat. If he was very lucky that would be the worst they would do.

    Night’s midnight eyes flicked open again. “You are correct, Tybald tan Throg tan Yanis tan Tybris tan Karn. The Incantrus named Veil is no longer subject to my restraint.”

    The lordling shuddered. For all Veil’s dark presence, the Incantrus diminished to nothing before the cold wrath of Lord Erebus!

    The Sorcerer of Night rose. “Veil is at Uranius Tholos as my emissary,” he whispered. “By adamantine pact I am unable to go there nor to send any other servitor while the Spire truce holds.” His cold eyes turned on Tybald. “But you could go.”

    The young man nodded. “I will, holiness. I’ll stop them, if I can. If…”

    “You seek to barter with the Sorcerer of Night?”

    “It’s my sister, holiness. She’s sixteen. What will happen to her if she opens the Spire as the Interface Sacrifice?”

    “It varies,” Night replied disinterestedly. “Madness, mutation, death. The Harmony Spires do not like to be disturbed. There are… reprisals. Sometimes there is something to be salvaged from what remains of the girl, should any care to attempt it.”

    “Why do you do it?” Tybald dared to ask. “All of Mars depends upon those Spires, but you First Men demolish them to empower yourselves. You’re bringing us all to certain destruction sooner or later.”

    The Sorcerer of Night looked distant. “When that time comes we shall all make the glorious transition into death. Fatal Laughter thinks to drag all to chaos. Ruin expects to be the sole survivor. Night has plans for escape. Only I shall prevail, ruling in dark glory over a world made perfect in oblivion.”

    All of the First Men were mad. Tybald saw that now. If they had not been at first, the prolonged use of their stolen powers had dragged them to insanity. They differed only in the form of their lunacy.

     Blackthorn and Aria have it right. These men must be stopped.

    “I’ll stop Veil for you if I may,” Tybald told Lord Erebus, “but I want your word that you’ll protect my sister as best you can, and restore her if it’s possible. And not as some undead, but as she was before she got dragged into this.”

    “Do not seek to palter with the Sorcerer of Night!” the archmage boomed. “You will serve me, Tybald tan Throg, because otherwise I will reduce your kingdom to rubble and ruin, make of it another Deadfields. I shall cast down your father and all his works. Your subjects will fall to my minions, slowly and terribly, until all are caught in eternal nightmare. Lady Ysilde is no longer your concern. Now you strive to please your master to save your nation and everyone you have ever known.”

     A wave of fear washed over the lord’s son as he realised that the Sorcerer did not make idle threats.

    “Okay, I’ll do it!” he promised, clinging to his courage like a drowning man to a fraying rope. “Tell me what to do!”

     Blackthorn’s dead. Aria, Oglok, Reith, everybody who’s ever tried to stop these First Men, Tybald thought. Now it’s up to me to bring them down.


    “Cheer up, sweetheart,” Morningstar told Ysilde nim Loret. “Your starring role will be coming up soon.”

    “I shall find a way to avenge myself upon you, David Morningstar,” the maiden promised the grinning Earthman.

    “Like I’ve not heard that before from my ex-es! Just hold your outrage in for a bit longer while the ceremony’s done and then at least you’ll still have a brother. Try anything Blackthornish and he’s zombie-fodder.”

    Ysilde glowered at the Colonel. Morningstar blew her a kiss and went over to flirt with Bloodmistress Sovereign.

    “I can see what he gets out of this deal,” the maiden hissed at Incantrus Veil, “but what’s in it for you? Why aren’t you just channelling all that power into yourself?”

    The grey-hooded undead twisted round to regard the Interface Sacrifice. “A perceptive enquiry at last,” he noted, somewhat grudgingly. “Your suitor does his research well. He has apprehended that, as a construct stitched from the souls of a dozen sundered mages, I do not have the appropriate animus to channel those energies. The best I can do is to place them in an ally and receive a suitable commission for my efforts.”

    “And you trust Morningstar? I’ve heard all about what happened to the other people who worked with him – the merchant and the fixer and the raiders who kidnapped me. I’m not the only one he’s lead on with clever words and then betrayed.”

    “Should Morningstar prove false to me I have prepared… contingencies,” the Incantrus promised. “Even with all that power I expect the new Emperor of Mars to be… tractable to my requests.”

    “So you’re plotting against him, he’s plotting against the First Men, all of you are conspiring to steal Mars’ future.” And no-one is left to stop you!

    “Mars has no future. You mortals should have died out with your birth-planet all those centuries ago. The mysteries of Mars and of all the worlds beyond belong to me.”

    Ysilde tried to think of a good response. She was sure that Aria would have found one. All the captive maiden could do was hold on to her fraying courage in the face of looming absolute defeat.

    The emissaries returned to where Veil guarded her. “Okay, we’ve done the technical stuff,” Sovereign reported. “You need to release that soul-lien that Erebus has got on her now.”

    Veil produced a silver talisman from the darkness of his robes. He held it up and it crumbled to dust. Ysilde felt a constraint inside her snap. That particular damning spell upon her was broken.

    “We are satisfied,” the Motley Loon conceded sourly. “The Interlock Incantation has been properly and fairly imprinted. The Lord of Fatal Laughter approves it.” He reached out with a sickly-yellow glass wand and touched it to Ysilde’s forehead.

    Sovereign went next. “Seems okay to me too. At least that’s what Lord Ruin’s gizmos of doom tell me. So I guess you’re good to go, honey.” She brushed a lurid red crystal stick between the maiden’s eyebrows.

    General Yuei received a data-pad report from the Sensorine at his side. “Scans indicate the correct arcane configurations,” he confirmed. He reached to Ysilde with a dark purple tube. “You are cleared for go.”

    Ysilde nim Loret shuddered as she felt the interface magics quicken inside her. Her skin tingled as her aura was enhanced to resemble that of the Queens of Old Mars. She looked at her fingers as if expecting to see someone else.

    A noise attracted her attention, a haunting threnody of sorrow and pain. The Harmony Spire was singing to her.

    “It knows…” she realised.

    “Head over there and touch it, sugar-lips,” Morningstar instructed her. “Then your part’s done and you can take the rest of the evening off.”

    Ysilde glanced at the Sensorines. The white-eyed women were preparing a straight-jacket for her after she’d opened the Harmony Spire; they understood what it was likely to do.

    “Fulfil your task,” commanded Incantrus Veil, and the compulsions laid upon the maiden span her around and walked her towards the crystal tower. Resistance was not an option.

    The door of Veil’s shadow coach slammed open. Tybald tan Throg leaped out. “Hold up!” he called. “I said stop it!”

    Morningstar glanced at Veil. “Boy, is he determined. Points for trying hard, junior, but the grown-ups are busy here.”

    The lord’s son dodged round a pair of slow war-bots and approached the emissaries. “You can’t go on. Not yet. I object!”

    “And who are you to object, lad?” demanded General Yuen.

    Tybald held out the silver amulet that resembled the gold and black one that the Black Sorcerer’s agent wore on his chest. “I am the Sorcerer of Night’s designated Kan, his champion and prime ambassador!” the young man proclaimed. “And Lord Erebus does not consent to this operation!”

    “What?” Morningstar asked, blinking. “He’s what?”

    “That… does seem to be a Kan badge of authority,” Bloodmistress Sovereign admitted. “But he’s got a pulse.”

    The Motley Loon’s eyes darted suspiciously between the others. His tattered robes squirmed though there was no wind. “There’s more goes on here than meets the eye! What’s afoot?”

    “ Tybald?” Ysilde whispered, mouth open.

    The lord’s son pointed at his sister. “You all just checked your Interface Sacrifice to see that the transfer spells to channel power to your masters were properly in place. Check again now.”

    Incantrus Veil stirred. “This is ridiculous. You cannot be Night’s agent. I am his puissant Incantrus, and…”

    “You’re a traitor who’s diverted the transfer magics onto this Morningstar scum!” Tybald accused. “The Sorcerer of Night is not amused!”

    “Everyone stand!” ordered General Yuen. This was spiralling out of control. “We need to get to the root of this.”

    Morningstar was ahead of him. “Or,” he suggested, “we could just grab little Ysilde and toss her at the Harmony Spire. Like this!” He seized up the surprised maiden and hurled her against the crystal wall of the half-mile high tower.

    As she touched the rainbow surface it shattered like ice. The maiden half-tumbled through into the shimmering energies within. She stiffened and shuddered as the Interface was established.

    Morningstar laughed as he transformed into a god.


CONTINUED in Chapter 27: The Heart of Mars
in which we follow Blackthorn, Oglok, and Aria inside a Harmony Tower.

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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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