Guest Post – Excerpt from Crown of Ash
Josh’s Note: Steven Montano released Book 4 of his Blood Skies series, Crown of Ash, today. Below is an excerpt!
A behemoth city of pale rock and sea stone appeared in the wasteland of grey sand. Rickety bridges made from petrified sinew connected iron towers that looked shoved into the ground like wayward spears. Rings of blasted sandstone surrounded deep pits, and flags stitched from whale flesh flapped in the breeze. There were no streets, just sandy walkways that wound between rugged towers and houses thatched together with rope and metallic netting. Drifts of sand covered the buildings like metal snow. The Ebonsand Sea was just beyond the city, and it reflected the radiant light of the melting sun.
Large walrus-like beasts shuffled outside the city perimeter and left lines of acidic glue in their wake. More of the grey-skinned humanoids rode the slug-tailed creatures. Skiffs docked on rusting metal planks next to crashing ocean waves. A number of ATVs and dune-buggies drove in and out of a network of tunnels beneath the city.
Cold ocean air blew in from the dark sea. Kane tasted salt and engine oil.
The vehicle flew close to the ground. Something appeared over a dune just south of the city.
It was another skiff. It flew in low over the dune bank, and was also bound for the city. The vehicle was equipped with fewer guns and a wider deck than the vehicle Kane and the others rode, which meant there was more room for the dead and wounded on board.
There were at least two dozen of the grey-skinned humanoids. They bled green or were missing limbs, and had been flayed open or turned inside out. Their grisly wounds were crudely bandaged with wraps of linen. Some of the wounded thrashed about violently as they clawed at some imaginary threat. Others couldn’t stop screaming, or bled constantly from both eyes. Several others had decaying appendages turned to stumps of clay or ash.
The two crafts drew to within a hundred yards of each other. Kane heard dissonant whispers in the wind, a gritty chant made by gargling and guttural voices. It took him a moment to realize that what he heard was a chorus of the wounded. They all spoke jointly in a vagrant and sibilant tongue. Their eyes were blank as their mouths moved without their knowledge.
“What the hell…” Kane whispered.
“Anarchotech,” Jade said.
“Bless you,” Kane said as he looked at her. Her face was pale and her eyes were wide.
“And what the hell is ‘anarchotech’?” Ronan asked.
“It’s Ebon Cities experimental magic,” she explained. “They fuse chaotic energies with captured soul power to create a new type of energy. It’s unstable. And it’s incredibly debilitating towards living creatures.”
“Why don’t they use it all of the time, then?” Ronan said with a grim laugh. “And why haven’t we heard of it before?”
“They just started experimenting with it recently,” Jade explained as their skiff drew closer to the city. “It’s still in the early stages, I think. Most Southern Claw mages know about it, but they haven’t spread the word.” She shrugged. “I guess your military doesn’t want a panic on its hands. I understand it’s dangerous for the vampires, too…it’s just a lot more dangerous for living creatures.”
“So what does it do?” Kane asked.
“It destabilizes you,” Jade said. “Melds you with other possibilities, or something to that effect. No one knows just how powerful it is.” She looked back at the ship of the wounded.
“Hopefully we won’t find out.”
“It looks like someone already has,” Kane said.