Vampire Down (Blood Skies, Book 7), page 1
Also by Steven Montano
Crown of Ash
The Witch’s Eye
Chain of Shadows
THE SKULLBORN TRILOGY
City of Scars
Path of Bones
The Black Tower*
Blood Angel Rising*
Tales of a Blood Earth
Tales of a Blood Earth 2
Red Water, Black Sky*
* Coming Soon
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Copyright © 2014 Steven Montano
All rights reserved. Released by Darker Sunset Press
Cover art by Barry Currey
To my readers. Your support and dedication means more than you know.
Thank you to Liberty for believing in me, and for pushing me to write what I want to write, always.
Thank you Danielle and the Shadow Warriors for your enthusiastic support.
Thank you to Jen, Alan, Bruce, Joe and Candice. You guys are the cream of the crop.
Thank you Barry for continuing to turn my not-so-bright ideas into some pretty awesome covers.
And thank you Valerie, Richard, Ethan and Mark for putting up with us while we figure out what the hell is going on.
Pools of liquid fire burn black in the night. Swirls of silver vapor glaze against the atmosphere.
He can’t believe this is how it ends.
The ship is coming. It looms like a cold star, and its shadow scorches the land with cold. Its sheer enormity is almost too much to conceive: this vast bulk, this sliver of living darkness as it cracks through the shell of the horizon. Its sails bleed, and rows of spines like hooked claws tear at the sky. Dark shapes move across the deck, massive things which are ill-defined, lumbering sharp creatures wearing folds of darkness like cloaks. Their growls echo through the stale wind as the craft moves through the bloody dawn, a mass of creaking metal and unearthly engines, low and rumbling like a glacier breaking.
He watches as the vessel passes in front of the sun and shrouds the world in its poisoned shadow, a zone of utter cold like the heart of an ice storm. The broken stones around him glaze with frost the moment the darkness falls. His already frozen body goes rigid.
Smoke blows in the gelid wind, an onslaught of dagger clouds. He feels himself ready to lift off the crust of the world and fall into the void above.
The ruins of battle surround him. Bodies and shrapnel lie strewn everywhere in the bladed city. Blood and metal form a grisly diorama across the steaming cold earth.
He hears voices in the wind. They’ll always be with him, something he can’t escape even now, voices of the lost, voices of the damned. Once he’d hated them, resented them for what they’d done, but that time has passed. Now they’re just as doomed as he is.
Shadows melt in a haze perimeter around his blade. Pale dripping energy like frozen milk seeps from the maw of the creature waiting for him, staining the earth with its foul spittle.
Darkness buckles like spills of oil. Lightning stains the face of the sun in forks of blood light. Ochre bursts of explosive pressure spread as armored wings lance like veins across the heavens.
The city stands within the shell of a blood red mountain. Smoke pours from the burning innards of the temple, where the last few people he ever cared about lay amidst shards of rock and blood. Fumes from the fires plume through the air.
This is all somehow familiar.
The blade weighs heavy in his hands as he approaches the pale creature. He feels dragged down, rooted to the spot by gravity and darkness. He wants to release, to trigger that fulcrum and vault his body forward, but he has to wait. Laced patterns of shadow and blood hold him rigid. He smells the power of another world, hears it howling in the wind, and the calls of that dismal unearthly force echo in what’s left of his mind.
The ship draws close. Its moorings drag through the blistering sky, soiled chains covered with grease and gore. The vessel emerges from a tear in the night, an oily wound seeping dark fluid like a mockery of rain. Smoke follows in its wake, cracked and thick, razor exhaust from a place of solid shadow.
He watches the breach, and knows all is lost. He hears the screams of the others echo through the stale wind.
One step, and then another. The creature is waiting for him, its rippling form and many razored limbs slicing the air in anticipation.
So close, he thinks, so close. He is hollow, left cold and empty. His breath is gone, his tears long since dried. He gave everything, and now there’s nothing left.
I’m here, he says, and his eyes roam again to the ship, that edged juggernaut of shadows and blades, a hulk of smoking steel and freezing vapors. Souls spill from its aft end and paint a jagged ribbon across the ice-blood sky. Its mast rattles from within its bone and wire cage, and even from the ground he sees the cold crescent eyes of its captains watching him.
He sees through the rip, to the vast bulwark of darkness on the other side. Shapes writhe there, free-roaming lupine forms swimming in the mire of their own existence. The darkness bulges, a rippling pool pushed by fangs and teeth. They’re close to breaking through. Rancid breath soils the air with hunger. They’ve eyed this world for so very long.
The ground threatens to give away beneath him. Smoke falls from the sundered heavens.
He looks at the bodies of the fallen there at the creature’s feet. Some were his friends, others his allies. None of them really knew him. He was always alone even when he hadn’t realized it, even when he’d had her close. She’d brought him to life, even after he’d lost her.
She’s gone now. They’re all gone, but I’m here. There’s nothing left but me, and I know I’m not enough.
He feels her hair brush against his face, her lips on his skin. He melts into her eyes.
Something cold wraps around him and pulls him away from the memories.
I Love You.
He glances up at the shadow vessel one last time, then grips his sword and steps forward to do battle with the architect of this disaster.
He doesn’t have much time.
The boy in the flames: caged by walls of scorching yellow light. He screams as they pull him naked from the wreckage. Killed, and then born again.
That was before. Now he’s something else, a creature formed from the remains of another, with only vague recollection of what he’d once been. The lich surgeons tore the ruined flesh from his bones and reforged his body with shadowed steel, replaced his soul with cold fire and his blood with necrotic fuel.
Now he is Reaver, Revenant First Class of the Ebon Kingdoms, New Fang Territories.
He is a hunter of the living.
Necrotic gases and dark organic fluids pump through his corpse. His bones are fused with metal, his muscles laced with small engines and virulent undead parasites which spark power to his limbs. His cold alien eyes aren’t the ones he was born with. Undead tendons stretch as he flexes arms scaled with bone spurs and jags of steel. A face-plate covers his mouth and nose and forms an iron cowl beneath his cobalt eyes, and the armor fused to his body smokes with soul-infused magic.
Shadowclaws close up formation around him, elite killers Turned in the blood-crusted halls of New Krul, where vampire carcinogens allow them to retain their skills when they’re brought over to undeath. All of them were mercenaries, soldiers or killers whose particular skill sets are now useful to the Ebon Kingdoms.
Reaver smells their night-greased armor and tastes the caustic fog generated by their presence. They watch him with iron eyes as they crouch low on the blanched earth. Deep in the cold hills at his back waits a silent host of vampire foot soldiers and Razorwings concealed in the shadows of blasted ravines and edged shallows.
The sky tips, a myopic stain. The ground is crusted red and white with blood and salt. Black clouds the shape of tumors hang frosted in the gelid sky. Icy wind scours the dried lake below and whips raw crystal and rime into a dry and gritty fog.
Their target is there, hidden beneath the frost boils: a warlock’s redoubt, a shelter for refugees and weapons.
Reaver watches, and waits. He has vague recollection of a time when the fires of impatience burned in his soul. Flashes of memory come to him now and again, glimpses of blurred moments from his life. The necrotheurges will need to purge him – Reaver can’t allow the vestiges of his human identity to interfere with his duties.
He senses humans. They’ve lost most of their technology since the fall of the Southern Claw, their ships and tanks and transports. Even magic, humankind’s greatest weapon and the only way they’ve kept their existence from being scraped away, is now dangerous for them to use, as the theurges have devised a way to track arcane activity. With reduced resources for producing the thaumaturgic gauntlets necessary to channel spirits and few safe places to practice their magic, warlocks have grown more and more scarce.
It will only be a matter of time before the Ebon Kingdoms burns the humans out.
Reaver listens. His senses have been supernaturally enhanced by the New Krul theurges, heightened to the point where he can make out heartbeats from hundreds of yards away and see almost perfectly in the dark. Something shifts in the cold and bitter air, a movement deep below the surface. He senses warm blood and the stench of fear.
For nearly three days he and his soldiers have waited unmoving in the tundra’s frigid grip. The undead need no rest. They keep the Razorwings complacent through their unexplained bond so the creatures won’t stir and give away their position.
The ice shifts. Whorls of wraith-blown dust blow through the area. Cold anger burns in the wind, the touch of a probing spirit as it scouts for signs of trouble.
The warlock is there. For that brief moment as the mage searches for danger his defenses are down.
Reaver signals, and the attack begins.
A hail of mortar shells fall. Razorwings unfurl and twist into the air, their broad fan-wings glittering like charcoal stars. Spatters of blood and ice burst into clouds of frozen dust.
He hears cries of panic, smells piss and burning skin. Reaver holds a mailed fist high and extends his iron fingers, signaling a second strike. The scream of caustic missiles is deafening. Trails of blood smoke cut across the sky like a claw wound. The atmosphere turns leaden with the stench of fuel and fire.
This time the cries of panic are so loud Reaver doesn’t need his supernatural senses to hear them. Dozens of voices call out in the moments before the second volley hits, then are swiftly silenced.
The undead wait and watch for further signs of movement. The frozen plains are silent. Reaver looks around the white wastes, the shattered hills and shallow valleys, the ice dunes and glacial wells. Something about it is familiar, and gives him pause. He remembers a woman’s face, her body lifeless in his arms. He can’t be sure if that came before the transformation, or after.
He shrugs the thought away. He has to go to the necrotheurges, and soon. These memories only confuse him, make him less than he is. He focuses, allows the voice of the vampire collective to sweep through what’s left of his shattered mind.
Reaver leads the vampires to the ruins of the human’s safe house beneath the ice. A tunnel runs for about twenty yards, just deep enough for the warlock’s safeguards to make any thaumaturgic pattern sweeps ineffective. If not for the informant, Lord Drake never would have found out about the hideout.
The revenant commander comes to the scorched rim of what is now little more than a blood-stained pit. The first salvo broke through the frost shield, a ten-yard thick block of knotted ice; the second volley smashed straight down into the chamber below, blasting several dozen people apart and cracking the reinforced walls beneath a barrage of thermal pressure and plasma-leaden gas.
Blood and blast stains mar walls smoking with the stench of burned skin and scorched innards. The ground crisps beneath his cold iron boots as he leads his soldiers inside with his bone rifle held before him. Reaver’s false eyes pulse and flash with schematic read-outs; the text is comprised of strange vampire glyphs he understands without being able to read, shattered fragments of data. Spirit-imprinted recordings play through his mind, remnants of psychic patterns pulled from the residual ghosts which still cling to the area even though their hosts are dead. He sees re-created images, the past painted like a moving mural, a phantom play.
Reaver sees soldiers, warlocks and civilians, dozens of them, all occupying that same chamber he stands in now; they were there as recently as a few days ago. Many had moved on, but smatterings of their conversations still echo through the room, plans laid, places they’d go. Distant metallic chimes, subtle exhalations as the images and sounds are uploaded from the black iron fuses in his brain to the soul-driven theuric engines in New Krul.
They push deeper into the complex. The incendiaries have done considerable damage to the entrance chamber and the surrounding halls. Necrotic gases fill the icy tunnels, caustic green smoke which dissolves the frost-colored lead corridors and ice-rimed ceilings.
His Shadowclaws are right on him, fangs hidden beneath iron cowls, black and red armor emanating poison vapors and frost smoke. Rifles and sabers are out, pulsing with thaumaturgic light.
He hears motion, something stirring in the twisted dark. Reaver holds his fist up, signaling the stop. The motion isn’t necessary, something he does out of habit – they’re all mentally attenuated to one another, their thoughts and commands linked by the vampire whispers which constantly slice through their undead brains. Even when Reaver doesn’t hear them they’re there, a cold presence clawing at the edge of his thoughts.
The air is frozen. They move down cold and jagged passages lit only by the dull pulse of jade lamps sputtering with electric chemicals. The air is rancid due to the toxins released by the vampire volleys; if anything has escaped the actual blasts they’re unlikely to have survived the fallout.
The place is a maze. Networks of passages connect barracks and weapons storage rooms lined with maps and ancient drawings, arcane schematics scrawled on the walls in dark ink. Everything lies beneath a layer of frost. The men they killed upstairs were the only humans who’ve occupied this hideout for some time, as the other living quarters were evacuated at least seventy-two hours earlier.
Their intel is old. Lord Drake had hoped for a more successful strike, for a number of freshly poisoned bodies to be shipped back to the processing plants for reanimation and information extraction. The incinerated corpses upstairs wouldn’t do.
How had they known?
It might have been a matter of inconvenient timing: the humans could have moved people out of this bunker not because of any advanced warning but because they shift survivors often and always keep people on the move to avoid detection. Refugees who aren’t dug in with the Coalition or Meldoar have been forced to adopt a refugee existence, living in scattered underground camps or in hills and forests far removed from the ruins of their fallen cities, which are now garrisoned with undead sentrie
Lord Drake desperately hopes to capture one of the resistance leaders. The informant told them that the most important one – the White Mother’s heir apparent – had been in that bunker, and recently. Lady Morganna has charged Drake to find her, and Drake has in turn landed that task squarely on Reaver’s shoulders. He intends to succeed.
Halo echoes reconstructed by the passage of spirits play out in his mind as his squad navigates the labyrinth of halls. The sensations are weaker so deep in the glacial complex.
The poison vapors thin and slowly dissipate. Intel in no way indicated the complex would run so deep. Reaver slows his pace, moves deliberate though the dripping dark. The air is thick with vehicular fumes and frost smoke. There’s no sound save for the creak of ice under their feet and the slithering whispers of the vampire collective.
They come upon a crossroads of corridors which lead to stout iron doors secured with bands of rimed metal. Hex diagrams scrawled on the wall indicate defensive patterns, thaumaturgic security measures set to dissuade intrusion.
Reaver reaches to his belt for a small disc-shaped stone riddled with sharp protrusions. Two clicks on the organic shell and the body comes to life with glittering blood light, shifting numeric patterns which click and whir like tiny saw blades. Arcane pressure builds up inside the device, a rising hum of energies.
He releases, and the weapon lands on the ground and shoots forward like it’s spring-wound. Scuttling claws scrape cold against the floor as the undead lockpick scurries forth, a beetle carapace surrounding a mass of smoking organic matter. Lights and key-codes pulse green and orange. Reaver moves back, and his Shadowclaws follow suit.
Other author's books:
- Blood SkiesBlack Scars bs-2Blood Skies (blood skies)Black Scars (Blood Skies, Book 2)SoulrazorPath of Bones
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