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


Chapter One * Latest Chapter * E-mail Us


30.     THE DEATH OF MARS

    All that stood between David Morningstar and absolute power was John Blackthorn. He’d broken into the conceptual interior of the Ancient life-sustaining Harmony Spire when Ysilde nim Loret had opened it for Blackthorn to pass. He’d murdered the spirit of Aria Arcantrix as she programmed the controls of that repository of power; the princess’ bloody spirit-corpse lay over the crystal console even now. One more death would leave Morningstar in absolute command of the technologies and magics that sustained the red planet – would finally make him a god!

    “Isn’t this epic, General?” he asked his enemy. “Two legendary adversaries facing each other with magic blades of terrible power over the dead body of the woman they both wanted! A whole world in the balance, ready to be taken! Can you imagine the CGI budget required to get this on the big screen?”

    Blackthorn staggered to his feet, Sword of Light burning in his grip. The blade spat and hissed in the presence of the Sword of Darkness that was forged from twisted Spires-energy specifically to counter it.

    “Your cue for dialogue, General” Morningstar prompted “‘You’ll pay for what you’ve done, fiend!’ ‘You’ll never triumph while I live!’ Something glutinous about justice and freedom and the downfall of evil. C’mon, you do this kind of thing so very well. Make your last words classic Blackthorn!”

    Blackthorn put away the Sword of Light. He laughed.

    “What?” Morningstar had been ready for any desperate ploy of his adversary’s – except this.

    Blackthorn put his hand on his knees and guffawed.

    “Hey!” Morningstar objected. “I just killed Princess Aria. Twice. Your Mock-man’s next, and then everybody who ever helped you. I’m about to conquer the world. Stop laughing!”

    Blackthorn forced himself to straighten up. “Oh, David! You’re in the wrong movie, crap-for-brains!”

    Morningstar levelled his Sword of Darkness. “You better start explaining before I…”

    “What? Kill me? You’ve missed the point, Colonel. You always do. Didn’t you sneak in while Incantrus Veil was explaining that inside this command and control interface of the Harmony Spire it’s all about insight and will? And I said I had the will but not the insight?”

    “So?”

    “So I conjured up the girl who’s got the insight, and I set her loose in here.”

    “Yeah. Aria looked really great naked. Shame I had to slaughter her.”

    “What, you spilled the blood of a descendant of the Ancients right over the command console of the Harmony Spire those Ancients built? While she was actually programming it to do her bidding? And she let you? In a place where the physical stuff changes just on how we imagine it, and the…”

    Morningstar went pale. “And the things that really matter are all down to what we know and what we want,” he concluded. “Crap!”

    “Yes,” said Princess Aria. Her voice boomed out through the crystal depths of the Harmony Spire. “Now you’ve caught up, David.”

    Morningstar’s face crumpled into shock and horror. For a moment he looked like he was about to cry ‘foul’. “Damn it,” he spat at last. “Another time, then. Damn and blast!”

    He projected his will far away from the Harmony Spire, far away from the debacle his complicated treacheries had become. He ran away while he could, to fight another day.

    Aria couldn’t stop him, but Blackthorn added a hefty and well-placed mental boot to speed him on his way. It landed on the traitor’s ass with a satisfyingly physical weight.

    “Next time,” Blackthorn told the princess, “we do it the old-fashioned method, where I hit him a whole bunch with my sword.”

    The corpse of Aria twinkled away. Another dead princess appeared before Blackthorn. This one was the physical shell from outside the tower, the body that Morningstar had shot earlier. It was still being cradled by Oglok the Mock-man, flanked by Tybald tan Throg and Ysilde nim Loret.

    “Would you care to repair that flesh for me, please, John,” the princess asked. “Will and insight and all that. I’d like to get back home.”

    In here such magics were possible. The Spire was all about life and renewal. It had been made for them.

    “Will and insight, eh?” Blackthorn said. “Okay.”

    “What’s happening?” Ysilde asked, suddenly free of pain and fatigue. She struggled to sit up. “Where are we… oh! Oh my! Ohhhh….!”

    “Sis?” Tybald asked, puzzled why the maiden was suddenly radiant. “What’s…? General Blackthorn? What is this place?” He looked around him. “I should just shut up now and get the footnotes later, shouldn’t I?”

    “Tybald, Oglok, Blackthorn,” Ysilde sensed, “this Spire is dying. She’s been mortally wounded. And the Black Sorcerer is outside, ready to take her power. Ready to do to her what the First Men intended all along, to sacrifice her to maintain their energies. I can sense it! I can feel his spells wrapping her tight.”

    “The Black Sorcerer too?” Tybald despaired. “Well I guess the Sorcerer of Light and the Lord of Fatal Laughter took their shots.”

    “So powerful, that Black Sorcerer,” Ysilde shuddered. “And experienced. He knows what he’s doing. His magics are both strong and cunning. He can take her.”

    Oglok sensed it too. The Mock-man snarled that after all this he wasn’t letting a slimy First Man get his hands on Nemenquil!

    “I think we have a unanimous decision,” Blackthorn declared. “Although there’s one more vote to count.”

    He knelt beside the Mock-man and lifted Aria’s body into his arms. The plasma burns had carved out most of her chest but her face was still beautiful.

    “What’s he doing?” Tybald whispered to his sister.

    Ysilde shrugged. “He’s the Champion of Mars. He’s doing something… heroic.”

    Oglok mournfully agreed.

    “Hey, I’m allowed a little insight too, okay?,” Blackthorn grinned. “I may not know much, but I know this. There’s only one way to wake up a princess. And this is it…”

    He lowered his lips to Aria’s and kissed her. Knowledge and will combined with passion and love, in the heart of the dying Harmony Spire.

    Outside the tower, the Black Sorcerer’s absorption spells suddenly fell quiescent. There was no power available for them to leach.

    Aria’s eyes blinked open. Her chest heaved, fascinatingly restored. She raised a hand and cupped Blackthorn’s cheek as their lips joined.

    “I thought she and Blackthorn weren’t…” Tybald puzzled.

    “Shut up, Ty!” his sister hissed back.

    Oglok rumbled that he should have brought a packed lunch or something to keep him from starving while Blackthorn and Aria entertained each other.

    Blackthorn continued kissing Aria back to life. It was important to make sure he’d done a through job.

***

    Anton Yuei, the Black Sorcerer’s War-Chief, found the strength to stagger over and stand beside his master. Of all the minions that had surrounded the Harmony Spire at Uranius Tholos he alone still lived. The emissaries of the Lord of Fatal Laughter and Lord Ruin had fled.

    “All unfriendlies accounted for except Morningstar and Blackthorn,” Yuan reported.

    The Black Sorcerer’s teeth were locked together tight. His shaved head was beaded with cold sweat. The serpent-headed staff in his hands glowed with lurid crimson energies. Twisting tendrils snaked from it to surround the huge girth of the darkened Harmony Spire.

    “Those troublesome barbarians both entered the Spire,” the First Man sensed. “Trust them to do the impossible. Morningstar has been… removed. He is no longer an immediate concern. Blackthorn… is.”

    “You can tell what he’s up to in there?”

    “The tower is opaque to me. I sense, though, that he is… pleased. It disturbs me.”

    Yuen examined the arcane forced radiating from the Black Sorcerer’s staff. “You’ve set up the energy transfer magics again. By yourself. That means you can rip the power from this Spire and keep it all.”

    “I can. I shall not. The Black Sorcerer pacted with the other First Men to divide this energy. He does not break his word.”

    “Even when you could have absolute power?”

    “Absolute power shall be mine whatever. Just not this way, today.” The Sorcerer wiped a fleck of spittle from his chin. “Blackthorn can attempt to absorb this Spire’s energies for himself, but he will fail. I have bound this tower as I have bound countless others with magics subtle and terrible. When it falls its glories will fall with it – to the First Men of Mars!”

    He sensed the ebbing of energies as the Spire’s power turned inward.

    “Your attempts to take what is mine are futile, Blackthorn!” the Black Sorcerer screeched. “All power is mine! Mine! Mine!

***

    Aria pushed Blackthorn away reluctantly. The kiss ended. “We have to get on,” she said, blushing. “I think we’re scaring the unicorns.”

    Oglok grumped that they were also boring the pants off him – and he didn’t even wear pants.

    Blackthorn helped the Princess to her feet. Aria willed her self-repairing dress chain to make some essential restorations on her upper garments. Both of them moved to the crystal controls at the heart of the Harmony Spire.

    “You had a plan, General Blackthorn,” Aria suggested.

    “Yeah. But you didn’t want panicking unicorns.”

    “You had a plan to address the Harmony Spire situation,” the princess clarified tartly.

    “Oh, that. Yeah. So that old not-De’bias guy said Harmony Spires weren’t really designed to be means of travel. We only got from Scamander’s Spire to here because this one was calling for help.”

    “So I understand.”

    “But he said we could get a message back to Reith and Judan where we left them there in Tempe. So we’ve got permission for that, right?”

    “Yes. What are you scheming, John?”

    “Ty, Ysilde, get over here.”

    The son and daughter of Lord Throg of Promethei joined Blackthorn and Aria. Oglok wandered over as well.

    “We stand ready, General,” Tybald promised. “What do you require?”

    “Would you say we’ve done what we promised your father, Ty?” Blackthorn checked. “The deal was to see you and Ysilde safe home, but will it count if we just send you back in one piece? Will Lord Throg count that and join our alliance against the First Men?”

    “He must,” Ysilde insisted. “We will tell him what we have seen, what we have learned. Evil must be fought! The Sorcerers must fall!”

    “If he will not take up your cause then I will,” Tybald promised. “I may have to vanish from Promethei anyhow if the Sorcerer of Night discovers that I rejected his Kan-ship. But I believe Lord Throg will answer to your call, the first of many of the Noble Houses that will gather to your banner.”

    “We shall be your ambassadors,” Ysilde promised.

    “You say the word, we’re there,” Tybald vowed. “After this how could we not be? You’re the Champion of Mars. Even the Harmony Spires say so.”

    Blackthorn shook the young lord’s hand. “Well then, I guess you two had better pass that message on to Reith for us. We can’t use the Spires for transport, but we did get a one-time dispensation for a message to go through.” He caught Aria’s outraged look. “What? Insight’s what matters here. If I think the Spires work that way then they do. Right?”

    Aria rubbed her lips. “I think it’s best I don’t answer that, you impossible barbarian.”

    “Tell Reith it’s time to get out the word,” Blackthorn instructed Tybald and Ysilde. “What we talked about. Make sure everyone across Mars knows what the First Men are doing to the Harmony Spires, and how that’ll be the death of all of us. We’re not just fighting for freedom, we’re struggling for our very existence. Get Runners to the rebels, get messengers between the villages. Send word through the labour camps and prisons, through the slave-trains, through the merchant caravans. Have it whispered and written and sung all across this world.”

    “And tell them that John Blackthorn is their champion,” Aria insisted. “Tell them that I say so.”

    Ysilde realised something. Her eyes widened for a moment. She made a deep formal curtsey. “Yes, your highness,” she replied. “Word will be sent.”

    “The Black Sorcerer and his cronies are going to want this message killed,” the General knew. “So Oglok, Aria, and I are going to keep them distracted. Every First Man and all their minions will be coming after us.”

    Oglok growled something unintelligible. It might have been an obscene declaration of war; or perhaps he needed to buy a diary.

    Aria closed her eyes. “The Black Sorcerer is outside this Spire now, ready to catch her energies as she dies. He will not allow you to take her power, John.”

    “Don’t want it,” Blackthorn replied. “Do you, Aria? Like this?”

    The princess considered. “No, not like this. When the time comes… there will be a proper way.”

    Oglok snorted that he didn’t want to know what she and Blackthorn would be doing at that point to shift telluric energies about.

    “So the Black Sorcerer is making sure that the power goes to nobody but him,” Blackthorn summarised, “but that doesn’t mean the power has to go to anybody.”

    Aria realised at once what he meant. “The energies could release back into Mars. They could reinforce the other Harmony Spires. And the First Men wouldn’t get their power boost – and couldn’t try again until another generation’s Interface Sacrifice was born and raised.”

    Oglok pointed out that there was still a pretty powerful First Man waiting outside this particular Harmony Spire right now, and getting past him was going to be a bit of a problem.

    “Not necessarily, old buddy,” grinned Blackthorn. “Ty, Ysilde, it’s time for you to head to Reith. Aria, give ‘em a push. Take care, you kids. You’ve both come a long way.”

    “Goodbye,” Ysilde bade them. “And thank you. I set out to save Mars. Maybe I can still help to do it.”

    “And I set out to save her,” Tybald added, gesturing at his sister. “Just turns out it’ll mean overthrowing the First Men to get the job done properly.”

    Aria’s hands crackled with purple sparks. The magics arced into the crystal column. When the rainbow flashes faded, Tybald and Ysilde were gone.

    The princess looked to Blackthorn. “Emissaries scattered, Morningstar crawled off to lick his wounds, Incantrus Veil destroyed, Ty and Ysilde rescued, Sorcerer of Night denied. That just leaves dying Nemenquil and the Black Sorcerer.”

    The Earthman nodded. “Oglok, old pal… how’s your aim?”

***

    The Black Sorcerer jerked his gaunt face up to the darkened tower. “What’s he doing?” he demanded to no-one. “Where’s the power going? He can’t take it for himself, so…”

    “Basic operational doctrine,” Yuen realised. “If you can’t capture an asset, deny it to the enemy.”

    “He’s discharging the Spire!” the Black Sorcerer cried. “No! Stop it!”

    The half-mile high crystal column began to shiver to flinders. From top to bottom is cracked and broke apart, translucent living silicone transformed into mere rubble.

    The Harmony Spire toppled.

    Right onto the Black Sorcerer.

    “Watch out!” called War-Chief Yuen as millions of tons of arcane-resistant debris dropped down towards the distracted First Man. “Oh sh…!”

***

    “That should keep him busy for a while,” Blackthorn approved. “Nice shooting, Oglok.”

    The Mock-man grunted that it had been a genuine pleasure. He needed to drop more heavy objects on First Men.

    “And next?” Aria prompted the General.

    Blackthorn pointed west. “That way, fast. Find transport, start running, lead the First Men a merry dance to keep them looking the wrong way. They think it’s you me and the Mock-man rebelling against them. Let’s keep ‘em thinking it so they don’t realise it’s going to be the whole of Mars.”

    “And if you get your fool self killed, John Blackthorn?”

    “Then kiss me back to life, Princess Aria.”

    “In your dreams.”

    “If I’m lucky.”

    Oglok howled that he wanted to leave before he was forced to throw up over the remains of a Harmony Spire.

    The three rebels hurried away across the broken terrain, away from the debris-cloud of fallen crystal tower.

    Then Aria paused and looked back. “I thought her song would have ended now,” she puzzled. “Why can I still hear it?”

    “Maybe that’s another story?” Blackthorn told her. “Let’s go.”

    They raced off. Behind them the Martian dawn broke and chased the shadows away.

***

THE END
(at least until our next Blackthorn anthology is complete)

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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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