This is the first preview for BLACK SCARS, the sequel to BLOOD SKIES. Longer, darker, and chock-full of vampires doing all sorts of unkind things, BLACK SCARS follows Eric Cross on a mission to locate a mysterious figure called the Woman in the Ice before a deadly demon-like creature awakens.
This excerpt is from Chapter 5: Ruins.
BLACK SCARS will be released as an eBook in October, with a paperback version to follow shortly thereafter.
They reached the ridge, which was a tightly clustered and jagged rock formation. Sizable clefts in the razor-sharp stones formed questionable paths that led to the other side. The insides of the paths looked like they’d been sheared clean by some enormous blade. Rather than pass through right away, the group rested. Dillon went on ahead to check out the ruins, which were barely visible about a mile or so off, at the edge of a thinning field of silver-blue mist.
Dillon wasn’t gone long.
“There’s no way to get into that place without being seen.” He drew a rough map of Shul Ganneth in the snow. He explained that the exterior wall was a massive dome that bore a single continuous crack down its western side. From what Dillon had seen, it was the only easy way to get in.
“There are some doors on the far end near some separate ruins, but there’s no way to open them. There isn’t even a handle.” He scratched some squares inside of the circle he’d made to represent the dome. “These are buildings. They’re all over the inside of the dome. If I can get close enough to that crack without being seen, I can slip off and hide in the ruins. I might need a distraction in order to pull it off.”
“Can you scale the dome wall?” Black asked. “Maybe come in at the top, where the crack starts?”
“Only if you and Vos have some pretty incredible climbing gear stashed away somewhere that I don’t know about. I wouldn’t wish that climb on anyone. The stone is smooth and old and unstable. I barely even trust walking in there… that place looks ready to collapse.”
“Fine,” Vos said. “Straight in, then. The way I like it.”
“Good to know,” Cross said sarcastically. “So are we ready?”
They moved through mist made orange by the dusk sun. A hard wind drove across the plain, and it carried snow dust and white grit that made it difficult to see more than a few hundred yards. They kept to a path clear of snow, a stretch of pale hard stone broken with age. The path twisted and curved through ripped ice. Cross felt a cold that gnawed down to his bones.
And then, Shul Ganneth.
It seemed to sneak up on them from out of the icy fog. It was squat and troglodytic, a broken shell like a preposterously gargantuan egg. Its outer walls were smooth dark stone coated in a layer of pale ice. The structure was much larger than Cross had expected.
The fog receded from the dark round walls as the group drew close. Its crumbling carapace looked like a vast stone crab left to freeze.
Fields of eight-foot-high wooden stakes bordered the stone path that led to the city. The pale wooden poles were sharp and old, covered in dirty ice and dark stains. Cross tasted torment in the air, the whispered rants of a hundred long faded spirits whose physical bodies had died in great pain. Those spirits were long gone, but their suffering had been such that their voices left a spectral imprint on the air.
The group marched slowly through the path of stakes. They saw no bones or bodies. The dome of Shul Ganneth towered before them. It protruded from the bitter and frozen earth like a scab.
Black and Vos led Lucan on the back of Cross’ horse. Kane and Ekko were tethered to the camel’s saddle, which Cross held at the rear of the party. Black rode on Dillon’s bay, and while it was clear that neither she nor the animal were terribly comfortable with the arrangement, they made a good show of it.
Cross didn’t send his spirit out until they neared the entrance to the ruins, in part because he feared lost souls in the area, but also because doing so would alert Cradden Black, a warlock, and allow him to determine their strength of number and presence earlier than they’d like. Even if Cradden’s gang was already watching them – which was likely – it would be difficult for Cradden to read the strength of Cross’ spirit if she was reined in, at least until they got closer.
The vampire prisoner floated behind them, drawn by the power of Danica’s implement. It was a floating flare that snarled into the darkness, a moving undead torch.
They passed into the crack in the ruined dome wall. It was a welcome relief to be in out of the wind, but the air inside of Shul Ganneth was so still and cold it was almost paralyzing. Cross watched his breath crystallize and felt his lungs burn.
The vampire’s light gave them a fleeting view of the ruins inside of the dome, which was good, because the light from outside seemed incapable of penetrating the unnaturally dense shadows. They walked in darkness as thick as oil. White firelight bounced off of jagged and broken structures made of crumbling limestone rimed with frost. The buildings were uneven and covered in sharp crenellations and dangerous edges. Doorways had tilted sideways and steps looked like blades.
The ground was dry and covered with rubble and bones so soft that they collapsed into pale dust under the group’s feet. The air smelled cold and dirty. Streets led off to nowhere. The structures seemed to float in out of the darkness, which was so deep it could have stretched for miles.
They walked through a sea of night, an ink stain addled with debris.
Less than a minute after they’d entered the city, Dillon slipped from his hidden position next to the camel and vanished into the shadows.
Cross’ chest was tight. There were eyes on them, and something more: a presence, vast and ugly and overwhelming. It was foreign, not borne of that place, but at the same time deeply rooted to it. It was an intruder that had melded with the ruins themselves — something vast, and dark, and very old.
Cross drew his HK45, and brought his spirit to bear. Her spectral skin smoothed over him like a warm tide. She spat at the presence Cross had sensed. She was so miniscule compared to it, a firefly that flew through a dark sky.
Shadows fell over them like black dust. Decayed facades and crumbling steps and massive doorways leered at them from the edge of the black air like bitter faces.
“Damn,” Kane muttered. His words echoed like a clap of thunder. “Sorry.” His second word carried even louder than the first, an avalanche in the dark.
Cross looked back at him, and raised a finger to his lips.
A light appeared ahead of them: a lantern in the murk. Danica Black spurred the horse forward. They rode past rows of broken stone fence and statues of half-eaten lupine warriors. Clumps of petrified clay littered the ground. A layer of frost that had turned gray with age covered everything. Cross smelled sage and animal musk.
Up ahead, the lantern bearer waited. He was a stocky and unshaved warrior with leather armor and a chain coat. He wore a double-barrel shotgun small enough to be fired one-handed on his hip. He nodded towards an alcove behind him. It took Cross’ eyes a moment to make out the structure in the muted light – it was a temple that melted out of the shadows. The building was cylindrical and appeared to be very tall, with crumbling columns and spiky protrusions that covered its shell like quills.