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The Gift of Blood (Crimson Tears: Book One)

The Gift of Blood Book Cover by Lexa @rocket_bird

Author’s Note

CW: This book contains gore, brief mentions of self-harm, and brief mentions of homophobia.

Chapter 1

Ryann Ly hated the dark. She frowned as she glared about the pitch-black cemetery. It wasn’t a specific thing she hated. She had no fear of monsters in the dark or anything else tangible like that. It was just the darkness itself, the not-seeing and not-knowing that tore at the edges of her mind with anxiety.

It hadn’t really bothered her for a long time now. Despite the lingering worry and nervousness, Ryann could confidently say she wasn’t scared of the dark. There had been no room for that kind of fear since she’d run from the orphanage she had been staying at after her grandparents had passed away.

Unlike with her parents, their passing had been peaceful. First her grandmother had died of a weak heart, then, a year later, Ryann’s grandfather had followed her. They hadn’t been sick or in pain, and yet their deaths stuck more firmly in Ryann’s mind than those of her parents. She had been too young to really remember her parents’ faces after the accident.

Being alone without any relatives had taught her to deal with her fears. The dark didn’t go away because she was scared. She had only herself to protect her.

Ironically, her failure to do just that was why she was skulking around a cemetery at two in the morning, getting her shoes dirty. It wasn’t so bad, really. Ryann liked going out on night runs, and this was basically just a run with an extra stop.

That stop was a fucking cemetery.

The one where she had been murdered. Good times.

A car blared past Ryann, loud enough for her to flinch and give the driver the finger. The passing lights ruined her night vision and generally blinded her. Fucking asshole.

She wasn’t usually very irritable, but dying is a stressful process, so she allowed herself the indulgence of some anger.

Slowly, her eyes got used to the dark again. The street came back into focus, as did the cemetery’s wall. Ryann quickly judged the height, rolled her shoulders, and ran at it. She could see every crease and crack in the stone despite the sparse light from the nearby street lamps, and practically dashed up the wall before her fingers latched on to the upper edge.

Her body still felt weak after her long hospital stay, but being ‘weaker’ still made her ‘very fucking strong’. Just not as strong as she liked.

She pulled herself up, rolled over the top, and slipped down the other side. Her legs caught her fall a bit shakily. Strength may not be a problem, but balance was. Every now and then her muscle memory failed her and her landing was a little rougher than she liked.

She stumbled, catching herself in a roll and coming to rest behind a large gravestone. Ryann groaned softly. She had fallen awkwardly on her neck and had bumped her shoulder on the cold stone.

Great job. Very dignified, she thought dryly. She pushed the thought aside. You got in, that’s enough, she told herself. She would have taken the front gate, but the number of people standing around it worried her. She didn’t want to be caught sneaking into a cemetery. Especially not this one.

She froze when the beam of a flashlight passed over the ground near her and over her hiding place. Footsteps approached, and she waited patiently, keeping track of the person with her hearing. They passed right by her hiding spot without noticing her.

Of course there were people here now. Where had they been a week ago?

Slowly, Ryann rose to her feet, using the darkness she hated so much to hide herself. One step after another, she began to creep after the passing night guard.

Her vision swam into shades of grey and black. She blinked to try and stop it blurring, then narrowed her eyes. Her nostrils flared gently at the scent in the air. It was warm. Wet blood, faint but there. Sweat. And fear. Wet, clammy fear, sweet and salty in the air.

That hint of fear was what really got her. It stirred something in her that she couldn’t quite place. Ryann’s breath escaped in a soft, heated exhale. She didn’t notice she was licking her lips until it was done. A clicking sound emanated from her throat in hungry anticipation. Her feet carried her after the man with swift, quiet steps.

She didn’t mean to do anything. She just wanted to know who these people were. She just… She wanted to know why he smelled like blood and why it smelled so good. Good enough to overshadow the smell of stale booze.

Her teeth ached and she licked them once with a deep rumble in her chest. Like a growl, or a purr. That was what snapped Ryann out of her trance briefly, and she ducked behind another gravestone with a quickened heart, just as the night guard turned around. The beam of his flashlight crossed where she’d just been a second earlier. Then, after a moment in which the fear scent was palpable, he continued on his path with a nervous mutter.

Pull yourself together, Ryann chided herself as she let her head rest back against the headstone. You literally just ate!

She really didn’t want to get seen by this man. It wasn’t because of the baton at his side or the gun at his hip that didn’t look like anything a regular night guard should have. He wasn’t particularly tall or bulky either.

At six feet tall, packed with muscle, Ryann didn’t really have to worry about any of that. She was a professional fighter. She knew how to handle herself.

At least in the world of the living. Right now, with the scent of blood clouding her mind so pleasantly, she just had no idea what she was dealing with.

She didn’t know if these people actually were people.

The night guard’s little handheld radio, clipped to his jacket, buzzed. He lifted it to his lips. “Jacob here,” he said. There was a sigh, then he repeated, “Jacob here, over.” He took off his hat and ran a hand through his sweaty hair while listening through his earpiece.

“Yeah, yeah… Fine, I’ll try and check in more often, over,” the man said, then spat as soon as he let go of the button. “Thinks she’s so high and mighty,” he muttered. Then, to his device, “No, nothing. No signs of movement of any kind, over.” A pause, waiting, listening. “If anyone shows up, I plan to shoot first and ask questions never, over.” One more pause. “Fine, whatever.” He dropped the ‘over’, and the radio, which fell to his chest. “Fucking bitch.”

The white beam of his flashlight cut through the darkness one more time, illuminating hard-trodden paths of earth, narrow and winding between looming headstones, and the glistening spots of mud left by the recent rain.

He didn’t notice Ryann standing right behind him.

She shuddered gently as the scent of blood became so much stronger. It came from somewhere under his jacket. Her mouth opened slowly, hungrily, as the man shifted a little and Ryann saw the vein pulse at his neck.

Stop it!

Ryann forced her gaze down to the open jacket pocket and the thin wallet she could see peeking out precariously. She snatched it away and stepped back just as quietly as she’d approached.

Jacob went on his way none the wiser. Ryann was not a small person by any measure, but she was quiet and swift on her feet from many, many fights. Both in and outside the ring.

She hid herself behind one of the large, old tombstones that gave Lakeview Cemetery its gothic aesthetic. The cold of the stone behind her seeped through her dark sweater. Her body felt hot like after a match. Her teeth still ached, and she knew if she’d waited a moment more, she would have torn into Jacob.

She rubbed her face and ran her hand over her hair, tied up into a ponytail that showed off her unkempt undercut. Her heart beat rapidly, and it wasn’t stopping. A deep growl forced itself out of Ryann’s throat. She couldn’t keep the sound back no matter how hard she tried.

Her stomach burned with need. She wanted more blood. She pressed one arm into her gut. Her other hand was clenched around the edge of the stone step she was sitting on. A tingle ran down her spine to the tips of her fingers. Her fingernails felt like they were on fire, then they abruptly extended into black claws that scraped over the rock and left little marks.

The smell of blood was so pervasive, even as Jacob moved away. Her mind had latched on to it, and she could smell even the faintest trace. Her mouth watered at the scent. She licked her lips, involuntarily, a mere reflex. Her tongue ran over the sharp fangs in her upper row and tested their point with the tip of it. They would easily pierce the skin of any man and tear through his flesh.

She hadn’t been around a lot of people in the last few weeks. This was the closest human contact she’d had. His blood smelled so much better than the cold contents of a blood bag.

Her mind was conjuring images. Ideas. She could sneak right back up to him. He wouldn’t even notice. She had been so close before, close enough to breathe on his neck. She could have reached over and slashed his throat with her claws. Or simply have bitten down and enjoyed her meal as he struggled.

Ryann ripped the black cloth mask from her face. It fell to the ground, wet from her heated breaths, and she sucked in a lungful of the rain-cold air. She clenched her fist and purposefully drove her claws into her palm. The pain was a sharp sting that cut through the pleasant thoughts of catching and draining living prey. It wasn’t much, just a pinprick of clarity through the fog of blood and hunger in her head. But it was enough. She latched on to it and hunched over, hugging herself as her own blood and pain brought her back to the moment.

“Stay in control,” she whispered aloud to herself. Her deep voice was laced with that deep, hungry click from the back of her throat. “You can do this. Stay calm. Stay in control.” She lifted her head. The headstones and tombs around her were outlined in slight contrasts of her vampiric night vision. She started counting them. A little exercise to calm herself that had carried her through much of anger management.

Slowly, her rapidly beating heart slowed. The pain in her gut receded, and all that was left was the sting in her hand. She was in control. Of course she was. Ryann breathed deep and leaned back against the cold stone. She looked at her hand and the puncture wounds there. They stopped bleeding almost immediately, and she could feel her palm warm up.

A shake of her head helped clear her thoughts a bit. She rubbed her face and hissed as she nicked herself with one of her claws. She glared at them. They refused to recede again. Fucking bullshit, Ryann thought grumpily. Being a vamp should come with a fucking manual. Or, you know, maybe don’t make people into vampires against their will!

She shoved the thought aside and busied herself with the wallet she had stolen. It was crumpled up in her clenched hand. Oh. Whoops. Ryann felt a little embarrassed at herself. She flipped it open and had a look.

Jacob hadn’t had much on him. Enough cash for a coffee, which Ryann gladly took. An ID identifying him as Jacob Prye. (She had to tilt it and crane her neck to catch some light on the bent piece of plastic.) A silver shield pin. Ryann turned it over in her hand, narrowing her eyes in curiosity. She knew the emblem on it from her research the nights before. (Searching “How to be a vampire” had not come up with any conclusive results.)

Jacob was a member of the Argent Institute. “Bringing the scientific method to the horrors of the obscure and occult,” their website touted. A website that was seventeen years out of date. Most of the reviews described them as rather snobby and unhelpful. Then again, every single review had sounded like a joke with vague allusions to something strange going on.

It concerned Ryann a bit. If these people were here, armed, no less, they knew something about vampires. So they knew things about her. She really wasn’t eager to test if garlic was poisonous to her…

A shot rang out through the night. It tore into Ryann’s contemplations and made her drop the shield pin with a little hiss of surprise. She instinctively pressed herself close to the stone behind her as two more shots rang out. Then the cemetery fell quiet again.

Ryann slowly raised her head over the tombstone, looking around, heart beating fast with nerves now. She really didn’t want to get shot, even though she wasn’t sure if it could still hurt her. She hadn’t been a vampire long enough to get shot yet.

There was no torchlight to indicate where Jacob was, but Ryann remembered the rough direction. Her night vision got fuzzy in the distance, so she couldn’t see him.

Another shot rang through the night, and Ryann spotted the flash of muzzle fire almost fifty metres away, where her night vision became hazy. It made her monochrome world turn white with a sudden bloom of light before it all turned dark once more.

She briefly thought about how unfair it was that vampires didn’t get thermal vision. She would really love that right now, instead of monochrome night vision.

The muzzle flashed with another shot, far in the distance.

Ryann stared at the spot. There was no way Jacob could have moved that distance in so short a time.

She stayed frozen, crouching on the cold ground. A sudden, cold shiver ran down her back. Maybe there was another trigger happy asshole like Jacob Prye about. That had to be it. After all, Ryann was a vampire, and she couldn’t move that fast. Though she was a little shaky on her feet sometimes, thanks to the prolonged hospital stay before her murder.

A far more unnerving thought was that perhaps vampires weren’t the only things out there in the dark. And some of those things were strong and fast.

No. Chances were it was just Jacob letting his nerves get to him, and one of his friends had gotten jumpy at the four shots. That had to be it. Two people shooting, one close, one in the distance.

And yet despite all those nagging little worries, monsters, guns… Ryann couldn’t deny how curious she was. Before she really thought about it more, she had dropped Jacob’s stuff and went sniffing, trying to follow the scent trail.

She pulled her hood up, picked up her black cloth mask in passing, and ensured it was firmly placed on her face. It was probably sufficient to hide her face.

Ryann usually carried a mask with her. It had been a rule in her family to not spread your own illnesses around, and she had never seen a reason to get out of the habit. And right now it provided her a degree of much wanted anonymity.

She stopped dead in her tracks when the wind changed and hit her with a cloud of blood scent so potent it made her choke as her whole body reacted to it with visceral excitement. She fought it down, trying to ignore the pleased purr in her throat. After a moment, she managed it and breathed deep, slowly, just getting used to the feeling.

Mixed into the blood scent was a bestial smell. Like a large animal, and the smell of rot. Ryann walked a few more steps. She stopped at a dark stain soaking the earth. A large splash of dark liquid covered the tombstone next to it, and both smelled so enticingly…

Next to the puddle lay the shreds of a ripped jacket. No signs of Jacob Prye.


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