Steven Montano: Blood Skies

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Steven Montano Blood Skies
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    Blood Skies
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    sf_postapocalyptic / на английском языке
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Steven Montano

Blood Skies

He sees the city. It stands beyond fields of broken sand and salt estuaries, at the edge of a frozen sea, opposite a forlorn tower of black metal and razor protrusions. It is a city of the living.

It looks unnatural, like it doesn’t belong. The city teeters at the edge of a frozen marsh. Transparent frost limes the outer city walls, and strange insects like cursive figures lie petrified in ice that has been colored dark with dirt and rust. A frozen sun illuminates the white-gray fields.

He feels as if he has never seen it before. Cold and bitter wind curls off the surface of the frozen sea, and it carries the smells of corrosive salt, alien fish, undine fog and arcane steam. The sky is striated in alternating layers of dark and light, a cross-section like aerial soil, and the horizon is simultaneously too far away and too close. The debris-filled sky is two dimensional, like a flat screen.

Nothing seems to belong. The world has been cleaved, and then fused back together by a blind hand. There is a sense of wrongness, a heavy and catastrophic air, a feel of the temporary. He feels and sees it, can almost taste it, even though he isn’t really there.

Is this a dream? A vision? Does it matter?

He sees into the heart of Thornn and gazes at its angled towers and iron catwalks, at its crenellated domes and flying bunkers. There are fields of half-built ships that will someday sail through the air. He sees the farm fields, bound in by razor wire and protected by automaton gun turrets made of ancient steel; they swivel on grinding gears fueled by sorcery. Low in the sky are dirigibles piloted by lightweight Gol aeronauts — they are un-people, dwarf and misshapen, bound by the shared knowledge that they have been changed but forever unaware of what was done to them. In a way, the Gol are representatives of the entire world.

Things were different before The Black, and everyone knows it. But no one knows how.

He soars over the rooftops, cognizant of the fact that he is flying, but unable to feel the experience. He is an intangible: he sees and feels and smells the world as if through a ghostly lens. He is a spiritual camera, a robot essence with no form; a medium.

He feels her with him. He is never alone, and he is glad for it. She presses against him, her ethereal skin laced to his like a warm and sticky sheet. Her thoughts penetrate him, and her breath holds him like warm vapor. He wears her like armor, like skin. Her form corrodes, reforms, comes together once more in a shimmering rain that trails him like a spectral wake.

He passes through twisted streets, over narrow lanes and between crooked houses. It is architecture fused together by need. The city is ancient and medieval, but it has been laced with things he knows are modern: streetlights powered by batteries, falafel vendors, percussive music created by programmable machines. Thick clouds of industrial smoke from tall brick chimneys fill the sky. Tall windows spill yellow light as the pale sun descends, and the glare of reflection that spills across the land slowly begins to ebb. He hears voices and wagon wheels, horses and steam whistles. He feels currents of powerful magic, the crackle of arcane energies that provide the city with warmth. He smells warm bread and hot cider, alcohol and smoked meat. He hears laughter, a baby crying, and the clang of steel as it is hammered into armor or stakes.

There are crosses everywhere, all over the city. They hang over doorways, are imprinted on buildings, and have been drawn on the road in hexed chalk and blessed inks. The crosses are made of iron and bronze, hammered and hand-painted, tall and thin or fat and squat. Some more resemble ankhs, while some look like blades. None of them do any good, and everyone knows it, but the crosses aren’t there for practical purpose. They are symbols of the ongoing conflict.

The nearest Bonespire stands at the far end of a vast network of fields made of ice and salt, past broken channels of sluggish dirt-filled water and shattered stone. From the walls of Thornn, the Bonespire is little more than a black sliver, a malevolent needle surrounded by a nimbus of roaming shadow. It is only one of many, but it is from there that most of the attacks against the city of Thornn are launched.

He wants to dream of a world where none of this has happened, of a place without The Black. He wants to dream of a place where his shattered memories of a peaceful childhood are untarnished, of a sky than doesn’t darken, of a world that doesn’t smell of rot. He wants to dream of a place where he can lay down and go to sleep without the fear of never waking up.

He doesn’t know why, instead, he dreams of this place, this world that he already knows, the world that he wants to escape but wakes up to, inevitably, every day.

All he wants is to dream of something different. He wants to dream of a place where he is not afraid.



Year 3 A.B. (After the Black)

Black noise hung in the air like a fog. Whispers slithered along the walls in a dismal chant, a dirge that saturated the church.

The halls seemed miles long, like dark tunnels of charcoal shadow. Dim beams of murky light cut through cracks in the mortar and the splintered wooden planks over the windows. The rooms were filled with frost and dust. The church was one of the last of its kind, a holdover from the world before The Black.

Knight tried desperately to take the sight of it all in before he died.

He stared into one of the angel’s faces. Blood ran down her cheek, split along her nose and fell in twin rivulets of red rain to the floor. The statue’s wings had been shattered in the battle.

The altar was at Knight’s back, where it propped him up as he sat on the floor. He was barely able to feel anything below his waist.

The world outside the church was white. Harsh wind howled through the shattered windows, carrying the smell of death and the moans of undead. The air was cold and dry. Motes of dust dangled in the air like drunken moths. Thick pools of blood covered the floor. Shell casings, broken blades and chunks of flesh were everywhere.

Knight tried to move. He had only slightly more feeling in his arms than in his legs. There was a stabbing pain between his shoulder blades, like a massive splinter had been embedded into the meat of his back. Blood trickled down the holes in his arms and chest.

No, he thought. Not yet. Not yet.

Knight lifted his head far enough to see the far doors. The pews in the church had been shattered and were covered by black vampire corpses that still oozed blood. There were human bodies as well, smothered beneath the smoking ebon husks of the undead. Screams still echoed in his ears, which also still rang from the thunderous rapport of the Gatling gun that sat smoking and empty on top of the altar.

The vampires had rained down nail shot and chemical bombs before they’d charged the doors. Smoke still swirled and clung to the cracked walls. Dead winter wastes waited beyond the smoke, a vast plain of ice and glacial drifts and graveyard cities interred in tombs of snow.

The stench of smoking meat filled Knight’s nostrils and clogged his throat. He gagged and struggled to pull himself upright, slipped in his own blood and fell forward onto the Gatling gun. Knight sensed the looming twisted angels on the wall behind him, a fresco of black figures entwined in a vaguely profane dance of limbs and wings and shadow.

There were voices outside. Knight saw the air blacken from their breath.

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