A bloody war has ended in a restored peace
And the shield of Martian magic guards the stars
Two centuries of spell and steel to ward all humanity
Two years ago, Lieutenant Commander Roslyn Chambers stood witness to the surrender of the last remnants of the Republic. Fueled by atrocity against Mage and mundane alike, the secessionists who waged war against the Protectorate of Mars are finally defeated.
Now, a special commission from the Mage-Queen of Mars takes Roslyn deep into the former Republic to hunt the architects of that atrocity. Mages who betrayed their own, the creators of Project Prometheus must be brought to justice.
But hidden from even the Republic, Prometheus has woven magic and technology together once more. Here, hidden from all prying eyes, they have created a monster…one that even a Protectorate forged by the spell must call black magic.
The Mountain deserved the capitals. If nothing else, Olympus Mons remained one of the largest mountains in the Solar System, its peak rising well above Mars’s magically terraformed atmosphere. Beyond that, though, its slopes were girdled with a city of millions of souls, the bureaucrats, administrators and leaders who managed both the Kingdom of Mars and the Protectorate of the Mage-Queen of Mars.
Over a hundred inhabited planets hailed to the Mage-Queen of Mars and the Mountain she ruled from. Those millions of administrators supported hundreds of thousands more who lived inside the Mountain itself, in hundreds of kilometers of rune-encrusted tunnels and century-old geothermal power generator equipment.
Mage-Lieutenant Commander Roslyn Chambers had never even entered the regular tunnels, let alone the more heavily secured chambers and caverns higher up the slopes where the Royal Family lived. But her ship was in orbit, undergoing a minor refit, and her long-standing relationship with the Prince-Regent had resulted in an invitation many officers of the Royal Martian Navy would kill for.
“Afternoon, Lieutenant Commander Chambers,” the red-armored Royal Guard reviewing the invite told her. “You’re expected, of course.”
The veteran Combat Mage, one of the elite who protected the Mage-Queen herself, grinned down at her from his exosuit battle armor. The armor’s helmet was slung over the man’s shoulder, a sign of the trust he was showing the black-uniformed blonde Mage.
“You wouldn’t have made it nearly this far if you weren’t,” he concluded. “He’s waiting for you, but be warned: he’s a tad distracted right now. This is a social invite.”
“I wasn’t sure,” Roslyn admitted. “Guard-Captain…Romanov, is it?”
“Denis Romanov, yes,” the dark-haired Guard confirmed. He was maybe ten years older than Roslyn’s own early twenties and attractive—in an intimidating way. “I head the Prince-Regent’s security. And like I said, Commander, he’s waiting for you. Just be ready for babies and kittens.”
That was all the warning Roslyn got before Romanov tapped a command. The armored hatch slid aside to reveal the mountainside office of the Prince-Regent of Mars, His Excellency Damien Montgomery.
Even after repeated encounters over the last six years and continued communication, Roslyn was still shocked by how short Montgomery was. She was far from a tall woman, but she towered over his hundred and fifty centimeters.
She had enough warning, as it turned out, to spot a black kitten barely bigger than her hand making a dash for the door. She couldn’t have caught it with her hands—but Roslyn Chambers was a fully trained Jump and Combat Mage of the Royal Martian Navy.
Catching a hundred-and-fifty-gram kitten with magic and lifting the animal to her shoulder was easy enough—and earned her a chuckle from the room’s main occupant.
An occupant who, she now realized, had been prevented from containing the kitten by the baby he was holding on his lap. The small, dark-haired man’s hands were covered in gloves to hide an old injury, but he was still able to keep an arm wrapped around his daughter.
“I’m not sure that getting kittens for babies who barely crawl is a great plan,” the second-in-line to the throne in the Mountain told Roslyn. “But I was overruled.”
“He’s getting used to it,” the other adult occupant of the room observed with a chuckle of her own.
Roslyn registered the baby on the other woman’s knee first—and then registered who the slimly gorgeous twenty-year-old redhead had to be.
“Your Majesty!” she gasped, dropping to one knee in front of Kiera Michelle Alexander, the Mage-Queen of Mars.
“This is a social occasion,” the Queen told her sharply. “Get the fuck up.”
The Mage obeyed swiftly, the kitten somehow managing to maintain its balance and purr into her ear.
“When a junior officer of the Mage-Queen’s Navy gets an invite to dinner with the Prince-Regent, she doesn’t assume it’s actually social,” she admitted.
“Told you,” Montgomery muttered. “You haven’t met my daughters, have you, Roslyn?”
“I’ve seen pictures,” Roslyn replied. She looked at the two chubby girls and wished she was good enough with babies to tell them apart. “Jessica and Samantha, yes?”
“Princesses Jessica and Samantha McLaughlin,” Alexander added, but a chuckle undermined any heat to her correction.
“Grab a chair, Roslyn,” Montgomery instructed. “Watch out; there is another kitten around here somewhere. Persephone was grooming Charon last I saw him—and you’ve met Nyx.”
The office held a massive desk against one wall, but there was a large open space for meetings and similar as well. That space had a section of transmuted transparent metal forming a wall, allowing them to look out over the city.
It had been the Mage-King’s office before. Now it was the Prince-Regent’s—and in another year, it would be the Mage-Queen’s office when she ascended the throne in her own right.
Roslyn pulled a chair onto the rug, realizing there were just the three adults in the room.
“No Admiral McLaughlin?” she asked.
“Grace is about three-quarters of the way back to Sherwood right now,” Montgomery told her. “She can only spend so much time here—she almost missed the girls’ birth, which seems like it would have created some interesting complaints later on!”
Grace McLaughlin was Montgomery’s partner and the mother of the twin girls. Roslyn had expected her for a social event—and not the Queen, which made her suspicious.
“So, there are guards at the door and we’re in one of the most secure offices in the Protectorate,” she said slowly. “I’m not seeing tea or dinner anywhere yet, and the only people in the room are the rulers of the Protectorate, a pair of babies and me.
“Why do I think this is not just a social invitation?”
“Told you,” Montgomery repeated, making a vague gesture toward the Queen. “I didn’t end up recruiting her for illegal special ops as a seventeen-year-old because she was stupid.”
That recruitment had allowed Roslyn to get into the Royal Martian Navy despite a teenage conviction for vandalism and grand theft auto. Helping out the Hands of the Mage-King—specially authorized troubleshooters like Montgomery had been then—covered for a lot of sins.
“There will be a dinner in about an hour, yes,” Alexander said quietly. “And it will be a purely social event with a number of other people, many of whom lack the clearances present in this room.
“Despite your junior rank, you’re one of the few people in the Protectorate fully cleared on the Rune Wrights,” the Queen noted. “That means we can tap you for the problem that has come up without having to brief someone else.”
Roslyn inhaled sharply, then forced herself to relax and pet the kitten still purring on her shoulder. She’d served as Flag Lieutenant to the Mage-Queen’s aunt, the current Crown Princess, Mage-Admiral Jane Alexander.
Like the Mage-Queen and Damien Montgomery, Jane Alexander was a Rune Wright: one of the rare Mages who could see magic as well as wield it. It gave them many unique gifts, but most important was the ability to create Runes of Power and augment their own strength far beyond any other Mage.
“I would prefer not to be pulled from Song of the Huntress,” Roslyn admitted. “But I am yours to command. That is my duty.”
She was the tactical officer on the destroyer Song of the Huntress. She’d held that role for two years, since being promoted to Lieutenant Commander after saving Jane Alexander’s life.
“We won’t be moving you from Huntress,” Montgomery told her. “We’ve made arrangements for Huntress to be assigned where we need you. Mage-Captain Daalman will be receiving her new orders tomorrow.”
“I see,” Rolsyn said. “What do you need of me?”
“First, we need to brief you on one of the bits of ugliness about the Republic we haven’t talked about,” Alexander said grimly. “We’ve been open about a lot of what was going on with Project Prometheus and Dr. Samuel Finley, but we’ve kept some secrets still.”
Roslyn stopped petting the kitten, earning her a disgruntled squeak as she looked down at the floor. The Republic had been a group of worlds that had seceded from the Protectorate to “escape from the domination of the Mages.”
Since the Mages were the key to interstellar travel, they’d needed a new solution. Their answer had been Project Prometheus: where thousands of Mages had been murdered and their brains used as the core for a pseudo-technological jump drive.
And Dr. Samuel Finley had been the architect of that project.
“Finley is dead, isn’t he?” she asked carefully. Nyx batted at her ear and she pulled the kitten back into her lap.
“Oh, he’s dead,” Damien said grimly. “I saw one of our ex-Republic agent allies put two through his skull myself. What we haven’t told anyone is that he was a Rune Wright.”
Roslyn nodded slowly. She still wasn’t petting the kitten, and with one final disgruntled mew, the animal jumped back onto the floor and set off in pursuit of her sibling.
“I see potential problems there, I suppose,” she allowed. “But he is dead, so…”
“We’ve been digging through the Republic’s files for two years,” Alexander noted. “But even a mere three years of a mostly functional governmental, military and research infrastructure produces a lot of files.
“We focused on Project Prometheus and some of the related research projects early on. But there were a few detached projects that we didn’t identify until recently.”
“The Martian Interstellar Security Service now believes that Finley was running a network of covert labs that the Republic wasn’t fully aware of,” Montgomery said. “He was basically defrauding the Republic to pay for it, so it was well concealed even in their files.”
“I didn’t meet him,” Roslyn said slowly, “but given what he publicly got up to for the Republic, that seems…dangerous.”
“We agree,” the Mage-Queen told her. “Song of the Huntress is being sent to the Sorprendidas System. It’s a Fringe star system that only saw stealth scouts from our side in the war. They weren’t really involved in anything, though Sorprendidan personnel served in the Republic Interstellar Navy.”
“MISS sent several agents to investigate the data we had on the lab,” Montgomery told her. “All of them have stopped reporting in. They wouldn’t have had Link access, so it’s possible they just lost access to their communication networks, but we…” He shook his head. “We’re assuming they’re KIA.
“Your job is to find them if you can, find whatever breadcrumbs they left behind if you can’t. Locate the lab, assess the threat level and neutralize it if the threat is unacceptable.”
“Damien wanted to read in all of Huntress’s senior officers,” Alexander noted. “MISS wanted to keep the whole thing under wraps—and the Rune Wright factor argues in their favor.
“You will be authorized to brief Captain Daalman if you feel it necessary, but you will also carry a Warrant of Our Voice,” the Mage-Queen said firmly. “If necessary, you will use that Voice to assume command of all Protectorate resources in the system to do what you deem fit.
“We do not believe the laboratory will present that much of a threat, but…we do know that at least two of Finley’s Mages are there. Those people are war criminals, Lieutenant Commander Chambers. They must be brought to justice.”
“And the irony inherent in that the worst criminals of the war are Mages is not lost on us,” Montgomery said, his tone grim. “It leaves us with no choice but to see them caught and punished, otherwise the promises we made to end the war become hollow at best.”
A Warrant. Roslyn shivered. A Warrant of the Mage-Queen’s Voice meant that Roslyn would speak with the Mage-Queen’s full authority for the duration and scope of her mission.
“That is…a lot,” she said quietly. “Are we sure this lab requires it?”
“No,” Montgomery allowed. “But four MISS agents are missing or dead. The system has turned into a black hole for our operatives—and we owe it to them to find out what’s going on.
“And we owe it to everyone Samuel Finley and his people killed to make sure that his assistants are brought to justice. That is your primary mission. But, given the potential threat inherent in a Rune Wright’s secret projects…we want you to be ready for anything.”
“I am an officer of the Royal Martian Navy,” Roslyn said. “I serve at Your Majesty’s will. I’m not sure I’m the best choice for this, but I will do what I can.”
“I think you’re a perfect choice for this,” Alexander told her. “You have Montgomery’s complete trust and mine. Find our missing people, Commander. And find the bastards who betrayed their blood for money and power.”
“As you wish, Your Majesty.”