Helluva story, ain't it?
VAELA DENARR (SHE/THEY) & MICAH IANNANDREA (THEY/THEM)
The Gift of Blood (Crimson Tears: Book One)
The Gift of Blood Book Cover by Lexa @rocket_bird
CW: This book contains gore, brief mentions of self-harm, and brief mentions of homophobia.
week 3 - approx. 4300 words
Chapter 2 CONT
Ryann didn’t want to think about ‘shoot first, ask questions never’ Jacob, or ‘I totally didn’t send you into danger under false pretenses’ Rowan anymore. Rowan had disappeared up those steps, and Ryann was alone.
She looked around again to busy herself with anything but the thoughts of how fucked these people apparently were. She shuddered a little at the sight of the pale stone tablet covered in her blood.
She didn’t want to look at that. Instead, she pulled out The Stalwart Hunter’s Almanac and opened it. Curiosity got the better of her after all, and she needed a moment to clear her head.
The first thing she found was a note scribbled onto the first page. Most of it was hard to make out as it had been scribbled over a bunch of times. But one word was scratched deep into the oily, yellowed page. ‘Thelosian,’ it read.
Ryann couldn’t put a meaning to the word until she turned the page. The writing was unfamiliar to her. It didn’t rely on the Latin alphabet or in fact any system of writing she recognized. Every letter, if they were letters, looked like a flickering flame. Maybe the first page notes referred to ways of deciphering it? Ryann kept flipping through it. Every page was like a tightly packed ball of fire. A few looked like rock walls but with similar ways of how the lines intersected. It was tasteful, pretty, an impressive display of artistry and care, and it made Ryann’s head hurt.
She thought there weren’t any pictures in the book until she adjusted how she sat, and tilted the book. As if some of the symbols faded into the background, an image of a bat creature with a long snout and open mandibles emerged from the lines until Ryann could see it clear as a woodcut. “Huh… Hey, Brucey,” she muttered to herself. Somehow she had rested just on the right page.
Bruce looked a bit more buff in the book. Maybe the specimen that had hunted her had a harder time feeding these days than when the book had been written.
A sudden chill ran down her back. Looking around, Ryann found that the shadows seemed a little darker. Not like the lights had dimmed, but like they just didn’t illuminate as much as they did before. It freaked her out and she quickly shut the book and put it away, ready to throw down, should anything spooky rear its ugly head. (She didn’t mean Bruce. He was a cutie.)
But when she looked up, the dark shadows had receded. Ryann watched the corners of the room a bit longer. Then she sighed and rubbed her face. Had she just imagined that? Had the stress become too much? I need to get some fucking sleep, she decided. But first…
She looked over to where Rowan had disappeared to. It did seem like she was taking her time.
“Okay, now or never,” Ryann muttered as she came to a decision. She was going to take what she’d come here for. And some extra, as a reward.
She got off the table and walked around the lights and the puddles of blood and ash. She stopped at the plastic boxes lining the wall of the tent near the stone slab.
It still smelled like blood. Her blood.
She wanted to gag, but she just felt a little more hungry, and she hated it. A deep, distressed growl wrested itself from her throat. She shook her head to get the scent out and focused on the boxes.
With any luck, they’d contain evidence found at the scene of this crime. Ryann didn’t want anything linking back to her. That had been her objective from the start, right after finding some trace of where to look for the bastards who had done this to her.
She unclipped the lid of the first box.
They contained indeed evidence. First thing that caught her eye was a medical wristband crusted with blood, inside a little plastic bag. Ryann pocketed it. That probably had her name on it. If anyone had bothered to clean it off, they would already know who she was.
There were a bunch of singed clothes and cracked and melted flip phones. Ryann assumed they had been on bodies when they’d burned. She found a bunch of melted jewellery that corroborated that idea. Some of it still had pale, fleshy bits attached.
She didn’t touch those.
The next box contained more burned clothes and a bloody knife that looked like it belonged in a museum. Ryann’s teeth ground together as more anger bubbled up inside her like lava in a volcano. She took a deep breath to calm herself and pushed the box aside, having looked through all its contents.
Rowan still hadn’t come back. Ryann couldn’t spot a radio rig anywhere in the tent, and she hadn’t seen a radio on Rowan, so she assumed the van outside was probably outfitted with that. It also was soundproof enough that Ryann didn’t hear Rowan trying to fuck her over, which she just assumed was a given to happen.
She found an evidence-packaged set of handcuffs in the last box. Ryann didn’t know why they had used ropes for her and cuffs for the other girl. But as she laid eyes on them, she recalled a foggy memory of deep black hair whipping as the other girl had tossed and turned and taken out a few teeth, all the while screaming obscenities that made Ryann chuckle now. She really hoped that girl was okay. She couldn’t recall what had happened to her after they’d managed to get loose.
She remembered being grabbed and tossed at the girl, right as they undid her handcuffs. She had gone for the other vampires… and Ryann had had just enough control of her senses to go for the guy who had slapped her.
After that, her memories picked back up with her running through the streets, feet cold and bare. She had been freezing in her hospital gown, clutching a single bag of blood.
That reminded her, where was… There! Half hidden under a blanket was the portable refrigerator that had contained a number of blood bags. Ryann remembered it because she had thought about how it looked like the one they had in the hospital.
She would have to check its contents later. For now she continued to search through the evidence.
She almost called out in joy as she found her phone. Somehow the sleek, black thing had survived the entire ordeal with barely a scratch. But it was out of charge. Ryann also pocketed an ID she found with a wallet. That would probably provide some sort of clue for where to start her hunt.
A noise from the direction of the mobile transport startled her. She tensed, ready to take off running, but Rowan didn’t enter through the tent flap.
Still, with all the boxes thoroughly rooted through, Ryann hurried to the portable refrigerator. It still held a large number of blood bags. And, surprisingly, it was still running. Ryann blinked and looked at the extension cord that ran outside of the tent. Somewhere nearby had to have electricity. The fridge by itself would have only lasted up to ten hours, and outside the fridge, the bags would only last thirty minutes. She had gotten incredibly lucky.
Ryann closed it tight, unplugged it, slung it over her shoulder and pulled the straps tight for when she needed to run. She adjusted the smaller bag around her shoulder as well. She’d decided to take the book as payment.
Once I’m done with it, I might give it back, she mused. Maybe. We’ll see.
Ryann had stolen before. Many, many times. A lot while she had been homeless. She’d never done it for fun, only out of necessity from people who could afford to give. And being tossed into a dark world of monsters made her feel like she needed an encyclopedia more than a bunch of people who already knew and kept their secrets for themselves at the expense of people like her.
She slipped out of the tent with a quick look up into the sky. No sign of Bruce, thank fuck. She really didn’t want to get chased with luggage. She quickly made her way to the wall, as far from the gate and the watchers there as she could.
The gate was closed, as it had been earlier that night.
The wall didn’t pose much of an issue, even though the ground was lower on this side. She found a suitably large tombstone to climb up, close to the wall. Once she’d found a foothold, she focused on the wall’s upper edge and jumped. It was harder to pull herself up with her extra luggage, but she managed it. Her night vision, affected by the orange glow of street lamps, returned to colour.
Just then, a black car pulled up a couple hundred metres down the wall, right at the gate.
Ryann heard shouts. She decided not to stick around. She carefully picked her landing spot and jumped down. A thick bush broke her fall. After a quick peek to confirm that nobody had spotted her, she adjusted the fridge on her back.
She casually walked out onto the street. Her footsteps quickened when she crossed into the full light of the street lamps. Nobody spotted her as she slipped into a street between two buildings. She even peeked back around the corner to make sure, her shoulder pressed against the cold brick.
All in all, not the worst night she’d had this week. She hadn’t been stabbed this time.
Ryann went back on her way. As she walked, she tried to stick to back alleys as much as possible. Once, she heard a car speed by. When that happened, she stopped and waited until it had faded into the distance. Just in case.
She pulled out the stolen ID as she waited beneath a flimsy lamp on the wall of this particular, narrow alleyway. It wasn’t much, but to her eyes it was more than enough.
A bald man stared back from the card. His face was rough and bony, and he had a very distinctive spiky tribal tattoo on his bald head. That, and a scowl plastered onto his face.
‘Hugo Vaughn’, the name read. And his address was on it as well. Maybe not his real address, but there might be a trail to follow. Clues as to where he lived. There was no real way of knowing if he was still alive, other than going to check up on his place. Ryann didn’t know how many there had been in total. She thought she’d heard more voices. But when they had bled her, stabbed her, Turned her… there had been eight people around her. She’d counted those. She’d screamed at them in anger as she had struggled against her bonds.
Ryann stared at the face again before pocketing the ID once more and getting a blood bag out of the freezer. Her belly rumbled hungrily. Her hands shook as she unscrewed the cap on the bag. Hugo Vaughn. She remembered his face with perfect clarity. He had been at the hospital. He’d injected something into her IV drip that had knocked her out cold. She had thought he looked strange, and had asked him his name. The tattoo had been hidden under the green medical cap. But she remembered him.
Blood rushed cold and sweet down Ryann’s throat. Her stomach burned and slowly her body relaxed. A deep, clicking growl emanated from her throat when she pulled away the bag and licked her lips.
There had been seven ash piles around the stone slab in Rowan’s tent. And as Ryann clenched her hand around the empty blood bag, she was damn sure she was going to make it eight.
Chapter 2.5 - Supplemental
Argent Institute, Toronto Branch; eight hours after the death of Jacob Prye
Rowan Caller tried her best not to fall asleep in the armchair she was sitting in. She dug her fingernails into her thigh, hidden from the gaze of the Head of the Institute before her. She sat in his office, inside the walls of the ice cold Argent Institute that had to be heated with a fire in the hearth even during the summer.
“Let’s go over it one more time,” Julius Auguste Argent said in his diplomatic, neutral tone that almost bordered on friendly.
Rowan nodded quietly and then recounted the events of the night for the third time that night. The gunshots. Kate. The stolen almanac. Jacob’s death.
She was so tired she was seeing things. The light around the room seemed strange, like the shadows were too deep even in the middle of the night. On the heavy oaken desk before her, an antique lamp with an emerald shade just barely cast enough light to illuminate the silver shield pin on Julius’ lapel and the silver shield cufflinks. His fingers remained interlocked, hands folded, showing off the occult tattoos on his knuckles. He tilted his head at Rowan’s description of Kate, and his sharp jawline, impeccably shaved at all times, dipped into the light.
Rowan’s eyes wandered across the room as she spoke, and latched on to the almost numbing darkness. It hid bookshelves, obscured the display case with several supposedly occult items and the skeleton in the corner carved with blackened runes. It even hit the snarling face of the taxidermied white wolf head that usually stared down at visitors lifeless and angry from above the hearth.
There were two armchairs before the desk, and Rowan was sitting furthest from the fire. The other was occupied by a sunken lump of a human. Rowan had at first taken him for a bunch of pillows. Old, wrinkly, bony hands rested on the golden head of a cane between thin knees. The brown tweed suit enveloping the man looked too large to fit his frame. It bunched around his body. His hat remained pulled deep into his face, leaving Rowan to just make out the hands, the glint of a collar chain, and wrinkly, bronze skin around a too thin neck.
“A patron of the Institute,” Julius had said with that diplomatic, perfect smile of his. “Nobody to concern yourself with.”
Rowan talked for a while. Whenever she stopped to collect herself or take a breath, the slow click of Julius’ mouse wheel was the only sound, as he scrolled through the report that had been sent to him.
“Thank you.” Julius’ voice ripped Rowan out of her half sleep. She didn’t remember finishing her story. He lifted his chin on his interlocked fingers. When had he stopped scrolling…? “Go home, Rowan. Get some sleep. And take a few days off. You’ve certainly had an… exciting night.” He smiled and, for whatever reason, Rowan wondered if she had told him anything he hadn’t fully expected.
She got up stiffly and nodded.
“Goodnight, Rowan,” Julius said, smile firmly and gently in place on his lips.
Rowan went to pass between the chairs. As she did, the man sitting there shifted. Light just barely illuminated his chin and lower face as he nodded at Rowan with a smile of his own.
His bony, thin hand wrapped around her forearm to stop her. It was frigid on her skin, and her heartbeat belatedly went through the roof, startled.
She couldn’t move.
A panic had suddenly gripped her, chasing away the exhaustion momentarily. But Rowan didn’t flinch. She didn’t shy away or pull her arm from the grasp. She just looked at the man’s face, or where his face was, and froze. There was a brief moment of utter silence in which Rowan thought she could hear a sound, a light, wet smack. Like someone licking their lips.
“Thank you very much for your testimony,” the man said with his faint accent. “It has proven… enlightening.” He chuckled at that as if it was the funniest joke he had heard in a while. It was a throaty, cackling sound, rough and thoroughly unpleasant. Then he let her go, moving the hand back to his cane slowly. She couldn’t help but think it looked warped somehow. Malformed.
The panic left and made room for exhaustion again. She couldn’t even recall when she’d left the head office and closed the door behind her.
She was just tired. Her mind was playing tricks. And yet, when she thought back, deeply unsettled, she couldn’t help but think about the man. How his skin had been cold like ice. And how, for just a moment in the thin-lipped smile he flashed her, Rowan had thought that his teeth looked just a little too long and pointed…
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