The Mage-King of Mars is dead
Chaos rocks Olympus Mons
A new monarch must rise – but she does not stand alone!
As the celebration of the victory at Legatus cools, a shuttle accident claims the lives of the Mage-King of Mars and his heir. The Crown and the Mountain fall to the Mage-King’s daughter, sixteen-year-old Kiera Alexander. She recalls Damien Montgomery, her father’s First Hand, to stand as her Lord Regent.
The pair are unprepared to govern but are thrust into the heart of Protectorate politics as the Mage-King had left behind everything from an unfinished war to an incomplete new Constitution.
Even as they get a handle on the list Kiera’s father left them, Damien is grimly certain of one thing: when it comes to the deaths of Kings, he doesn’t believe in accidents.
Desmond Michael Alexander the Third, Mage-King of Mars, took a certain degree of satisfaction in the awareness of both his power and his limits. He was the third person to ever sit the throne in Olympus Mons that controlled the most powerful magical amplifier known to mankind. He was the oldest living Rune Wright, the eldest of that strange breed of Mage who could not only wield magic but see it.
A century of life had taught him that knowledge of his limits was more important than knowledge of his power. The Protectorate of the Mage-King of Mars—his Protectorate—was embroiled in an ugly war against a breakaway state, which limited the reach of his word and his power. He could not command the Republic of Faith and Reason to lay down their arms. He could not simply order the Councilors who represented his worlds to fall into line and support him.
The Republic’s atrocities were being met with a newly forged fleet. The Council’s support was being bought with a newly written Constitution.
There were days, though, that he thought all of the tasks that came with the Crown and the Mountain paled in comparison to negotiations with his teenage daughter.
“Yes, Kiera, I will pass your regards on to Damien,” he said patiently, glancing around the shuttle and daring the Royal Guards around him to say anything. Each of those Mage soldiers was clad in a two-meter-tall combat exosuit. If they were laughing at their monarch in beleaguered father mode, they didn’t show it.
His son was less concealed. Desmond Michael Alexander the Fourth, the Crown Prince of Mars, was grinning at his father. But the young man—who was arguably closer to a clone than a biological son, sharing over eighty percent of his father’s DNA—was at least silent.
“I don’t understand why I couldn’t come up with you,” Kiera’s image told him grumpily. “You took Des with you!”
“And that’s why you couldn’t come,” Desmond said calmly, checking his wrist-comp. The shuttle was leaving Olympus Mons’ defense perimeter as they spoke. The destroyers Glorious Shield of Freedom and Virtuous Beacon of Liberty were already in position along his route.
This was Mars, but even here, the Mage-King’s safety could never be taken for granted.
“There are half a dozen reporters on this shuttle,” he continued. “Another hundred waiting for us at the research station. Activating the first Link on the Protectorate network is a big deal, a big enough deal to require the Crown Prince as well as me.
“But an Alexander must sit the throne of Olympus Mons,” Desmond reminded his daughter. “If two of us are going to be somewhere, that means the other must be at home.”
“So, I get to be the spare, as usual?” the sixteen-year-old demanded.
Negotiating with the Council was much less fraught. That was only going to shape the next two hundred years of the Protectorate’s future. Talking with his daughter could shape her happiness for months…which was of at least equal weight, to a father’s mind.
“I pray to all that is sacred that you are never ‘the spare,’” he told her. “For that to ever matter, both Des and I would be gone. But we are the Royal Family of Mars, Kiera. A hundred and ten worlds look to us, even if ten of them are currently glaring.”
And, hopefully, one of those hostile worlds was occupied. The Republic had developed the Link to provide themselves with a relatively portable instantaneous interstellar communicator. Without the same technology, the Protectorate had relied on Runic Transceiver Arrays, massive artifacts of rune magic that took years to build and could only transfer a Mage’s voice.
There were three RTAs in Sol, an achievement of magic and science that boggled the mind since it was almost impossible to build two. One of the Core Worlds had managed to build two, but only Sol, the home system of the Rune Wrights, had managed to build three.
But the RTAs were magic…so there was no RTA at Legatus, the besieged capital of the Republic of Faith and Reason. There were Links, however, and one had been sanitized and reset to connect only to the one here in Martian orbit.
The connection would allow Desmond to have a live conversation with his First Hand and Desmond’s sister, the Admiral, for the first time since the Royal Martian Navy had sortied from Ardennes.
“But I want to see Damien. And Aunt Jane,” Kiera told him. “Couldn’t we have brought the Link here?”
“We could have,” Desmond agreed. “But I don’t trust a Republic-built device in my Mountain, Kiera. Once we have built our own versions, we’ll have one in the Mountain. Probably several.
“For now, though, we can only use sanitized versions of their equipment. I am confident in our encryption and security to make certain that we are not overheard. I am not confident that the Republic can’t use any of our commandeered Links as targeting beacons.”
That silenced Kiera for a moment.
“I’m not afraid for your safety in the Mountain,” he told her. “I’m not even really afraid for my safety or Des’s in orbit of Mars, or we wouldn’t be here.”
A blip on the wrist-mounted computer told him that the two destroyers had handed off security for the shuttle to one of the orbital battle stations. The final leg of their journey would be under the guns of the battleship Gauntlet of Honor.
At no point in the journey was the shuttle in range of less than several hundred antimissile turrets and multiple trained RMN Mages with their hands on military-grade amplifiers. No external threat could approach the shuttle.
Something still niggled at Desmond’s senses and he shook his head roughly.
“Duty requires many things that are far from pleasant,” he reminded his daughter. “That we can only safely gather in the Mountain itself is one of those things. An Alexander must sit the throne, which means an Alexander must always survive.”
“I’ve seen the maintenance schedule for that shuttle, Dad,” Kiera pointed out. “You’ll be fine. You need to get off the planet more.”
He snorted. It wasn’t even for his safety, really. So long as an Alexander sat the throne in Olympus Mons, Sol was invulnerable. But no other Mage could use the Olympus Amplifier. There was something wrong with it…but it was also far more powerful than any amplifier humanity had built since.
The Eugenicists, the mad conspiracy that had given birth to modern Mages, had used the Olympus Amplifier as a test site to make certain they were making progress. In the hands of the first Alexander, it had destroyed them.
“An Alexander must sit the throne at Olympus Mons,” he repeated.
“We both know that’s not the exact truth,” Kiera replied, a sign that the teenager had more discretion than he gave her credit for. A Rune Wright had to sit the throne.
But they’d only ever identified two Rune Wrights who weren’t Alexanders. One was dead…and the man who’d killed him was the other non-Alexander Rune Wright. And also one of the two people Desmond was flying out to speak to.
Damien Montgomery. The First Hand of Mars and the most powerful non-Alexander Mage Desmond knew about.
He was also the friend of the family that Kiera was upset she wasn’t going to get to talk to.
* * *
In a world that relied on Mages for interstellar travel above all else, it was certainly possible for Desmond to have teleported himself and Des to the research station trailing Deimos’s orbit. Unfortunately, few Mages could have teleported themselves that far, let alone brought friends.
Desmond could have moved the entire shuttle, but without an amplifier, it would have wiped him out for hours—and he made a point of not doing magic most Mages couldn’t. It wasn’t exactly secret that the Mage-King of Mars and his family and Hands were far beyond ordinary Mages, but it was in everyone’s interests for the full scale of the advantage to remain secret.
So, he was aboard a shuttle, passing from security zone to security zone, surrounded by armed bodyguards. He should have been as safe there as on Olympus Mons itself, but the itch at the back of his neck wasn’t going away.
Leaning back in his chair, he sighed and reached for his power.
There was more to being a Rune Wright than the ability to carve Runes of Power on oneself and become the most powerful Mage alive. It came with the ability to see magic in play, to intuitively understand it in a way no regular Mage ever could.
A Mage could be taught spells and iterate on what they already knew, but it was difficult to create something new without that ability to study the flow of power.
And the spell Desmond was weaving now required that ability to see it. The King saw his son register what his father was doing and tense in his chair, the prince wide-eyed as he watched threads of magic flow through the air to the beat of an invisible conductor.
A hundred threads of magic took shape around the Mage-King of Mars, flickering out across the shuttle as they scanned for threats. The future couldn’t be predicted with magic, not really, but probabilities could be assessed by a complicated enough spell.
And this spell was as complicated as it came. Desmond Michael Alexander had been trained as a Rune Wright decades before. He’d trained with his Sight for longer than most of his subjects had been alive.
Even as he was sending tendrils of magic through the shuttle, other tendrils were forming runes in the air, invisibly writing the complex magical code that underpinned greater magic.
His Guards were clear. He’d expected that. There were fewer than three hundred Royal Guards, each of them an experienced Combat Mage from the Marines or Navy chosen for their skill and loyalty.
Next, his magic wove through the reporters in the second section of the shuttle. Nothing. None of them were armed and only two were Mages. No threat there.
The shuttle’s crew were busy preparing for landing. They were coming up on the research station quickly, at which point they were presumably safe.
He was about to pull the spell back and write off everything to nerves when something flashed a warning. Desmond yanked on that tendril, hauling his awareness to the warning, and paused, studying the shuttle’s fuel tanks through the magic.
Security should have prevented any explosive being sneaked aboard the ship, and the armored and shielded antimatter tanks would keep them safe from anything short of a nuclear weapon.
Wait. There were access valves, pulling antimatter out of the tanks to feed it to the engines. They were safed and quiet while the engines were offline, but the thrusters would come online in moments to bring them into the station safely.
It wasn’t a bomb. It was a power tool, a cutting arc designed to open up these very conduits for maintenance.
He found it as the engines came online and some sensor activated. Even as Desmond tried to unleash his power through the remote viewing spell, it was already too late.
There was a sensor in the tool to stop it cutting an active conduit. That sensor had been disabled with every other safety feature, and a beam of plasma sliced the piping open, disrupting the magnetic fields for a critical fraction of a second. A flash of antimatter exploded from the pipe with enough force to shake the shuttle—and there was nothing to stop the reaction reaching the main fuel tank.
Desmond didn’t even have time to pull his attention back to his son before the matter-antimatter explosion obliterated the shuttle.