Steven Montano: Black Scars

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Steven Montano Black Scars
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    Black Scars
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Black Scars: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Steven Montano

Black Scars

It swims in a sea of night.

Oceans of dark ooze seal the Sleeper in a liquid grave. Frozen white stones like arctic stars drift in the dark ichors, light by which the Sleeper’s glazed eyes regard its midnight prison. It smells bile and decay and the oily musk of the earth’s innards. Its lungs long ago filled with caustic sludge.

Distant sounds play in the green and black world, muffled explosions and music. The Sleeper tries to shift its body in the gelatinous prison, but the dank and primordial jelly holds firm. Slime has congealed in its mouth and throat.

It has been forgotten and abandoned in this organic oubliette.

The creature is made of darkness. Its skin is black and smooth. It has pronounced bones that seem ready to break free where they press against its manta-ray flesh. Its face is vaguely human-like, with shallow cheekbones that grant it a near skeletal visage. A ring of jagged horns protrudes from its forehead, and its eyes are angular and cat-like. A tiny mouth is filled with razor-sharp teeth. The creature’s lean frame is broad-shouldered and tall, but as gaunt as a wraith.

The Sleeper drifts through the murk. Days pass before it moves an inch. It has been encased in arcane mucus since before The Black. It was entombed elsewhere, in another world, now forgotten. It was powerful once, and feared. Some even called it a God. Its gelled prison, buried deep underground, shifted during a conflagration that killed millions and permanently scarred worlds.

In the years since The Black, the caustic prison has moved. It has melted its way closer to the surface, a cliff wall that hangs over a deep cleft of ice and ash.

No one knows of the prison’s existence. If they did, measures would doubtlessly have been taken to secure it.

A drop of vile green liquid burns out through the cliff wall. The hole that it creates is tiny, a pinprick, but it is enough. Somehow, the ebon Sleeper notes its proximity to the surface. It senses that a breach has been made. Even stuck in that numbing quagmire, the Sleeper’s mind remains active, and alert.

It reaches out with painful effort. Shifting against the dark jelly is like swimming through concrete. Long black talons curl through green skin and break it apart. Calcified liquid snaps as the Sleeper bites down slowly and painfully.

Its muscles are stiff from decades of motionlessness. Its eyes blink and bleed — they have been frozen open in a sea of dreaming murk.

Deep in the bowels of the earth, an inhuman scream carries into the green darkness.

Rocks and debris loosen from the cliff wall and tumble into the white abyss. Overhead, the bruise-blue sky is utterly still. The icy air is heavy with frost.

The cliff face is jagged and uneven. It is littered with stones, petrified moss and deep roots that have frozen like pipes.

A black fist pushes through the hole. It is the size of a melon, and its claws are as long as knives. Thick jade sludge hisses as it meets the open air, and it drips into the depths of the frozen canyon, where it burns a hole through the fog. The clawed hand reaches down and rips into the stone. More rock comes loose, crushed beneath a grip that is strong enough to crack bones.

The liquid prison explodes outward like a geyser. Gray and green filth stream into the open air in a vitriolic rush. Hot steam dissolves the rock beneath the hole and widens the gap. A waterfall of effluvia flows into the frozen sky.

The Sleeper moves in a rush of shadow. Its dark skin turns nearly insubstantial when it touches the open air. Iron-hard claws turn to smoke. The creature transforms into a dark dream that ascends skyward in a laggard wave of ebon breath. It leaves a scarred hole in the cliff face beneath it as it floats to the zenith of the cold rift.

When it reaches the land at the top of the canyon, the Sleeper collapses.

Something must have gone wrong — there was no reason it should have escaped. This place…this place is not where it was buried. The air is different here. It isn’t just the cold.

Something feels…wrong, and out of step. Different, like the way a dream feels different from being awake.

This is not the same world it went to sleep in.

Confused and frightened, the Sleeper shifts rapidly to the Shadowmere. It slips between worlds, to dark shadows that abut the physical reality humans call home, and immediately it is taken aback.

The shadows are filled with spirits. The Sleeper has never seen so many outside of its native realm. Have they followed it? Have they come to claim it, to take it back, to bind it once again?

It recalls centuries of agony. It remembers cages of flame and ropes of iron.

It turns back to its humanoid form. Spiny ridges protrude from the shadow flesh of its back, and saber-like claws extend and melt into one another until its appendages resemble black swords. Its skin becomes the color of a glittering razorblade eve.

It lashes out. It slices its way out through the realm of shadows, that place where the spirits hide.

It takes them by surprise. They are weak, lost and adrift from their mortal anchors. They have not come for the Sleeper at all. They are nothing compared to the undead that had long ago imprisoned it.

The jailor had been powerful, an avatar of a greater power; these pathetic beings are more like lost children. Their living anchors have been crushed in some military action, and now these spirits are like lost pups, drifting, aimless, angry and afraid.

It rips through that host of lost souls with the efficiency of an assassin. It skewers them with smoking blades and eyes of liquid fire. It tears them apart, and their remains fall to the depths of the dank void that surrounds the shattered melding of worlds.

It casts dead spirits into an oblivion from which even they cannot escape. Their shapeless forms plummet like gossamer strands of spider silk as the Sleeper wanders through the briny dark. Its meteoric blade is merciless as it slaughters the dead.

All around it, souls fall like dark rain. The Sleeper grows drunk on fear and slaughter. It went to sleep in one world and woke in another: a place confused, an amalgam of shattered realities.

Finally, it stops. Fine ebon dust and tendrils of melting shadow cover its body. It melts away, out of the Shadowmere, back into the physical world where it fades into a shimmering haze of ebon smoke.

To a human eye, the Sleeper would appear as a dark blotch, a grisly stain like day-old blood. Sunlight cuts right through its form. It is a walking shadow, a dark cloud of diamond dust.

It must rest again, but only for a short time. Now that it is free, it must re-gather its strength.

For reasons it doesn’t understand, its eyes wander east, past the pale badlands and to a place filled with ice and bitter cold. It sees a structure hidden in the wastes, filled with ancient secrets.

It doesn’t know why it has awakened, but it has a profound sense of purpose. A dream is caught in its undead mind like a whisper, a faintly forgotten echo.

The Sleeper bears a notion, a sense of a direction.

It needs to destroy something, some important presence. It needs to slay an enemy. And that enemy is to the east.





Year 23 A.B. (After the Black)

The sky was the color of bones.

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