Horror Fiction – Guest post by Steven Montano
They were nearly to the crypt. Cross fell back to survey the area ahead with his readied spirit. Edged whispers and muffled static moans echoed in the back of his mind, and the skin on his arms and neck bristled at the touch of the electric cold. Snow was the one capable of following the lines of life or death to track their prey, but Cross would be the first to know if there was anything magical waiting for them in the immediate area, whether it was a weapon or some sort of trap. He walked on edge through dank waters that soaked his heavy boots. Cross didn’t want to think about what sort of filth floated in the warm and briny fluids.
Snow floated behind Cross and Kray took up the rear, where he watched for any sign of trouble from behind. Up front, Morg and Stone entered the crypt, confident that Cross would warn them of danger, while Graves stayed at the middle and kept everyone in sight. Cross’s skin was icy with anticipation.
He finally came to dry land, which was soft and thick with mud and collapsing soil. The earth was black, and it seemed to have once been part of a larger mass that had been swallowed up by the swamp and the Wormwood. A lair of smooth black stones was just underneath the surface of the soil. Ancient bones, cracked with age, lay nestled between the rocks. The land sloped steeply upwards, but the ground grew more solid as it rose towards the apex of the hill where the mausoleum waited, slumped and sinking into dark ground. There seemed to be a black cloud just inside the crypt. Shadows oozed and leaked from the stone like dark steam.
Cross felt something as it pulled at his thoughts, a hint of danger that swirled around his mind like a nagging fly. He looked around – everything was spinning, like he’d been thrown into the center of an out-of-control merry-go-round – and the whispers, which were normally so subtle and distant, filled his head with such force that they clouded his eyes and made his gums ache.
He glanced back at Snow. Her eyes were solid white because she was using her magic, but they suddenly went wide with shock. Kray seemed to notice something wrong, as well, and he spun and looked at the line of trees and the deeper waters of the murky lake, which seemed suddenly bigger and deeper than it had just moments before.
“Ambush!” Cross yelled, but not in time. Shadows erupted out of the water and the trees.
Horrid figures came at them, all ebon flesh and wild hair, leathery bodies covered in pores and cracks. Stark white eyes and claws shone in the dim light, and long serpentine tongues lapped against razor fangs. White veins bulged from dark skin, leaking phosphorescent goo.
They weren’t vampires, but Chul, denizens of the Wormwood, corrupted souls made into shadowy and murderous zombies.
Smoking claws lashed out at Snow, but Kray leapt in the way and pushed her floating body onto the isle. With a single stroke of his blade he decapitated a Chul, splattering black blood everywhere.
Cries cut through the trees in a unified squelch of skin and sound, a high-pitched animal call like a chorus of metal. Cross saw at least a dozen Chul emerge from the darkness. His spirit, whom he’d held at the edge of his thoughts, coalesced into a mass of electric liquid that swam across his arms and fingertips, and with a fluid motion he released her. Daggers of ice-blue light exploded out of his hands like chill meteors. Tendrils of frost laced his fingers and burned the flesh beneath his smoking gauntlets. Orbs of electric cold burrowed their way into zombie bodies, perforated them with razor shards of ice and filled them with gouts of cold blue flame. Black torsos exploded into chunks of dripping matter.