Check out this exclusive excerpt from Crucifix Point, a Blood Skies short story set in the time gap between Black Scars (Book 2) and Soulrazor (Book 3). The full story will be available this summer in the Blood Skies Omnibus Vol 1.
Shadows fell from the sky, drifts of ebon rain like ribbons of ashen night. Even at that distance the smell of burning bones was strong, and Cross had to cover his mouth with one hand so he wouldn’t gag. His spirit coiled around his body, agitated by the presence of tainted and foreign power. Her touch sent chills down his spine.
I wish she’d just calm down. I’m nervous enough without her freaking out like this.
The bitter wind sounded of hollow voices and distant wails, and the setting sun shone like tarnished gold. Brackish marshlands and clusters of dead trees stretched north of where they’d landed, right at the edge of a small valley filled with corpses.
The bone-pale gorge was littered with bodies impaled on rows of sharp stakes. A few of the cadavers were bundled together like sticks, cloth-wrapped and doused in some sort of sharp-smelling vehicular fuel, and the rows of corpse-addled spikes led down to a twisted edifice of black rock. The valley sat beneath a mass of stationary black clouds, a silent storm like a spill of oil in the sky.
“That’s creepy,” Kendrick said.
“Keep your composure, lover,” Tayanna said.
“Can we hurry this up?” Black asked impatiently.
Cross and his team – Danica, Kane, Tayanna and Kendrick – crouched low near the valley ridge. The icy cold cut like blades into their skin. Each member of the team wore an identical suit of black leather armor specifically enchanted to grant some measure of resistance against the necrotic poisons infecting the area.
The howling wind sounded like a choir of lost souls. Cross wiped snow dust from his eyes and opened his hand-held telescope to take a second look at the target area.
“Check on the masks,” Cross told Kane. “Kendrick, keep your eyes open. We’re not entirely sure what we’re up against here.”
I hate missions like this. It would be nice to have a clue what we’re walking into.
Over the past few weeks people had gone missing from caravans leaving the city-state of Dusk. At first everyone suspected Gorgoloth raiders from the Bone Hills, but scouts in the area reported no such activity west of Wolftown. More people vanished, this time from Southern Claw recon missions out of Seraph, and then Gol started disappearing from their grim bastion of Meldoar.
No alarms had been raised until people started to uncover the mummified bodies. The fact that they’d been wrapped was strange enough, but beneath the funerary shells were charred corpses covered with oozing blood runes. Elias Pike, commander of the garrison at Thornn, hired Cross and his team to find out what was going on.
“The masks are fine,” Kane said. “But your plan to just walk down there is just bat-shit crazy.”
“Is that your official assessment?” Danica asked. “We’ll be fine. We have to get close to figure out what’s going on.”
Kane didn’t like that answer. “Can’t you just…you know…”
“Use our spirits to scout ahead?” she answered. “No. Whatever it is that’s generating that poison storm interferes with our spirit’s ability to reconnoiter.”
“Right,” Kendrick smiled. “We’ll take your word on that.”
“Honey,” Tayanna said to the once-gladiator. “Stuff it.”
Cross shook his head. What a strange group they’d pulled together. Ever since he, Black and Kane had decided to form the team they’d found that the hardest part was finding quality people to fill the roster, people they could rely on and trust but who also had reason to pursue a mercenary lifestyle rather than be a part of the military.
The first person they’d recruited, Frye, had left the army due to an injury, but in his time away from the service he’d rehabilitated himself and become quite a sniper. Frye had proved to be a great asset to the team during their first few months of operation, but his luck ran out on a mission in Blackmarsh.
Tayanna and Kendrick had come onboard shortly before Frye was killed. Both were former members of the deadly monk-like order called the Raza, and the unlikely couple had actively pursued Cross when they’d heard about the team. Danica had been dubious about the strange couple at first, but they quickly proved their worth. Tayanna was a stick-thin woman with short red hair and a gaunt face, and her pale eyes glowed red when she channeled her spirit. The dark-haired Kendrick was so scarred from the Vuul attack which had left him orphaned as a boy that he barely looked human anymore; like his lover he was pale and thin, but he had thickly knotted muscles and deep and penetrating green eyes. Their reckless bravery and blade skills, coupled with Tayanna’s abilities as a Seer and healer, had served the team well, even if the two didn’t mix with Danica Black. She still didn’t trust either of them.
But you don’t really trust me, either, I think.
Cross sensed her and Tayanna’s spirits, aggressive male presences that filled the air and made it burn. His own spirit stayed close to his body, keeping her distance from the witch’s vitriolic phantoms, both of which constantly tensed and licked at one another like a pair of dangerous hounds. It was sometimes difficult for Cross to keep his own spirit reigned in, but he had little choice. She was nothing if not feisty.
Danica pulled her hair back. She’d let it grow longer since they’d decided to form the team nearly a year ago, and Cross liked it. He found himself staring at her more and more as of late.
Nothing good will come of that, he warned himself. This group has enough problems without you complicating things.
“Are we ready or not?” Danica asked.
She readied her Winchester .44 short-barreled rifle. Kane snickered, like he always did, but he knew better than to say anything – Danica had made clear she’d have no trouble introducing him to the business end of the rifle if he couldn’t keep his “Wild cowgirl” comments to himself. Danica also had a pair of katars at her waist and a Smith and Wesson Model 38 on her belt, and her spirit spun around her body like a rabid cyclone. Kane readied a Norinco Type 56 and adjusted the two short swords on his belt, while Cross checked his M4A1, the HK45 at his side and the Remington 870 strapped across his back. Both Tayanna and Kendrick used MP5As, but neither really cared for them, as they preferred their vampire-crafted swords and chained knives, prizes they’d taken off some Ebon Cities scouts.
“We’re ready,” Cross said.
“You’re ready,” Kane said. “I need a minute to wet myself here.”
“All right,” Cross said. “Ten meter spread. Don’t touch anything. We make our way down to that rock formation so we can figure out what the hell is going on.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Tayanna said.
“Like I said…batshit crazy,” Kane said.
“I’m going to shoot you,” Danica said to him.
“Ok, ok,” Cross said. “Masks on. Let’s go.”
Steven Montano is actually a coffee-powered zombie. Who knew, right? Check out bloodskies.com to find out more.