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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.
Ryann blinked at Fontaine. The fountain comment made much more sense. But also… “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that,” she said as the Bloods filtered throughout the room and grabbed the two humans. “I was busy throwing up in my mouth. Could you repeat that?”
“It’s fate, Ryann!” Fontaine said with such a happy, patronizing smile. “Lucas was supposed to make a warrior for me, one strong enough to give my faction a foothold against the cruel tyrants of this city. I thought he had failed, but here you are!” The way he looked at her didn’t seem like he was looking at a person. More a trophy, or a possession, or a pet. Ryann was tempted to go and knock his teeth out.
“When Lucas failed to control—”
“Ah!” Ryann held up her hand, cutting him off. “Stop talking. I… I’m not talking to you right now, I can’t handle this shit.” She looked at Hugo. “Victor, be useful. Who is this clown?”
Hugo gave her a shocked glance. “He’s one of the most powerful Bloods in the city, and the one who paid Lucas for Turning you in the first place,” he whispered. “Micky Fontaine is—”
“Micky??” Ryann burst out laughing. “His fucking name is Micky! Oh fuck, that’s too good!” She doubled over with laughter and held her aching sides. “Micky fucking Fontaine!”
Her laughter died in her throat when one of the Bloods stepped closer at a nod from Micky and lashed out against Hugo. A long, bony protrusion shot out of her arm and slashed straight through Hugo’s neck. His body dropped a split-second after his head.
Ryann looked down at her vampire buddy. It took a moment for her mind to process the realization that Hugo was dead. Anger bubbled up inside her gut and she could feel her claws growing and piercing her palms as she clenched her fists. She hadn’t known Hugo. She’d barely liked him.
She was still pissed.
“Hey, what the fuck??” she yelled at Micky. “He was on your fucking side, you ass!”
Micky rolled his eyes and wrinkled his nose at the blood stain extending from the stump of Hugo’s neck. “He was a lowly little pest. The deal to induct his Hunger into the Scarlet Song was made with Lucas Merlowe. Lucas Merlowe is dead, so I don’t need to weigh myself down with this riffraff…” He looked over to where two of his five goons had pulled the humans to their feet and were menacing them, growling right in their dazed and disoriented faces. “Hey! Stop that!” he ordered and they looked back at him, confused. “We don’t kill those two!”
“Why not?” the guy holding the older man snarled. “They’re just blood bags!”
Ryann sighed deeply. Murder had somehow become the morally superior option. She shook out her legs and arms. Let’s do this. Her shoulders rolled. Her neck popped once.
“They take care of the vermin scurrying around,” Micky said to his underling. “And Ryann apparently disapproves of eating humans. She’ll learn soon enough, but don’t want you to spook my new pet…”
Two Bloods were blocking Ryann from him. Another to her right was cleaning off her bone hand sword with a paper towel. Two or three on one.
Ryann grit her teeth and went straight for Micky. The Blood to her right barely reacted before Ryann was past her. She dashed towards the other two in her way, one a burly man, the other a little thinner, with sharp, black eyes he hadn’t taken off Ryann for a second. He was the first to react and intercept her.
Running into him was like slamming into a wall. He had to have some sort of ability that enhanced his strength, like Hugo had portrayed. The large guy tried to punch Ryann in the face right after. She twisted to the side and just about escaped the meaty fist. He glared at her, with his ponytail and receding hairline framed by the light.
Ryann punched the smaller one in the gut and the throat in quick succession. He barely budged, so she dragged her claws over his neck. His eyes opened in surprise as his veins were opened and blood sprayed and seeped out.
The brief moment of distraction was what Ryann was banking on as she kicked against his knee and made him go down with a cry. She grabbed his head and went to ram her knee into his face, but the large ponytail guy tackled her away.
She braced against the weight. He was taller and more muscular than her. Basically just a wall of muscle. But he wasn’t as strong as his smaller companion, who was pressing his hands to his neck wound and was holding his knee. That one was screaming bloody murder. Ryann twisted and tossed the big guy past her. He stumbled into bone-hands and stopped her just as she was about to slash down on Ryann. Her green, sunken eyes burned with anger.
Ryann dashed forward again and kicked the Blood on his knees in the head. He was tossed aside, and she lunged for Micky.
Micky, despite his three mooks being utterly useless, just smiled at her. Ryann felt a sharp strike to her chin. The force strained her powerful neck as it tried to catch the strength of the blow. Ryann’s mind was reeling. She hadn’t even seen him move!
Another punch immediately hit her clavicle, her jaw, then she got what felt like a kick to the stomach. Micky was moving in a blur of limbs, and all Ryann could do was tense up and resist the blows.
Despite the speed at which he moved, Micky’s strikes weren’t all that powerful. Ryann grunted as blow after blow bounced off her tensed muscles. And then, just as suddenly, Micky was three steps away. “Ryann…” he said with that slimy little smile of his. “You don’t understand yet. You’re one of us now. Blood.”
She dropped her arms and shook them out a bit. All the strikes that had hit them had done little more but give her a little sting. Micky’s three main goons were slowly circling around Ryann. The small guy grabbed the table and tossed it to the side as if it was made of plastic. If the neighbours weren’t awake by now, nothing would wake them.
“We are the superior species,” Micky went on and spread his arms out invitingly. “We are meant to rule over humans. We will create a world where the strong rule over the weak. And you will be a part of that.” He reached out his hand to Ryann.
Ryann frowned. “So like… just drink from anyone at any time?”
“Anyone you want!” Micky affirmed eagerly. “Of course you won’t have to hunt for your food. Since you’ll be mine, I will provide for you.”
Ryann nodded slowly. “Yeah, you know what, sounds like a thing.” She reached out and took his hand. It was wet and cold. Micky smiled at her. Ryann smiled back and growled. Her hand clenched painfully tight around Micky’s and she yanked him closer. His eyes went wide as Ryann’s leg hurled towards his head in a powerful kick.
But the fucker still had super speed. He barely dodged, and Ryann felt her leg graze the top of his head. He tried to dash away, and he nearly pulled her off balance. She let go and spun to face the attack that was no doubt coming already.
The small guy still hit her in the back so hard that she had to gasp for breath. Then bone-hands stabbed her through the calf, nailing her to the floor. She grit her teeth against the pain. Ryann tried to grab the woman, but she leaned out of reach, curled brown hair whipping long around her face. She snarled at Ryann.
Ryann growled back and grabbed bone-hands’ wrist. She pulled the spike out of her leg and kicked her in the face despite the pain. As the woman was tossed away, Ryann backed off a little. She was facing a corner. She was losing blood, and a lot of it. There was a window next to her… Maybe she should make a run for it?
“Ryann… You’ll understand,” Micky said with a soft smile. “And then you’ll love me.”
Ryann almost threw up and gagged loudly. “Fuck you, asshole, I’m gay!”
“Oh, don’t worry, I can change that,” he said with a straight face and a smile.
Ryann laughed out loud at that despite the pain. “Listen, dipshit,” she said, torn between a smirk and a hateful snarl, “you can’t change someone’s sexuality. And if it were possible, your slimy, clammy ass would not be the one to do it!”
That was the first time she’d seen Micky upset since Hugo had told her his name. It was very satisfying to watch his face contort in impotent rage. He took a step towards her. “You will—”
“What the fuck is this shit show?” The gravelly voice came muffled through the closed door before it flew off the hinges in splinters and slammed into bone-hands. Carver stepped over the threshold and looked around. He seemed to loom larger than when Ryann had first met him. His eyes immediately snapped to her. “You!” he growled. Full-on growled, a deep snarl from his chest.
“Hi!” Ryann waved at him. She kept her weight off her injured leg and kept watching for a good escape route. The Bloods holding the humans down exchanged a glance. Suddenly everyone seemed less confident.
“I told you to stay away from here!” Carver growled and stomped up to her. He stopped a few steps away and looked her over. “You’re hurt. Fucking great.” He ran his fingers through his dense hair. His hands were big. They looked strong, somehow, like they were capable of a real vise grip.
“Hey, you’re not my keeper or something!” Ryann growled at him.
“Do you two maybe wanna chat later?” another voice got involved. The person stepping through the door now looked like they were both sleep deprived and severely pissed. Dark circles under the eyes completed the chronic case of resting bitch face as they rolled up the sleeves of their open, red flannel.
Ryann quickly looked them over. Carver was a big, tough dude. That she got. She could understand why these clearly untrained Bloods were worried, especially since he had just kicked a door off its bloody hinges.
This person though… They were half a head shorter than Carver, and looked much more lean than muscular. Their heavily pierced ears were long and pointed, like an extreme case of Stahl’s ear, but somehow Ryann found that it looked deliberate. Which made no fucking sense. But she couldn’t shake the feeling.
She noticed a huge scar that began on her chest and pulled down the sternum to vanish under the black tank top. It darkly contrasted the light skin. Sternotomy, maybe? Ryann thought.
“Sure,” Carver growled. He turned towards the Bloods, and they all took a step back. “You good to fight, kid?”
“I dunno, are you, old man?” Ryann asked back with narrowed eyes.
Carver’s lips pulled into a little smile, and his companion snickered. “Damn, Carver,” she chuckled and ran her fingers through her dark russet mop of short hair. Her slightly lighter russet eyes sparkled gently. “She’s got you figured out.”
“Thanks, Logan,” Carver said dryly. “You’re a real help. So glad I went to get you.”
She showed her fangs in an affected little smile.
“Carver, Logan…” Micky smiled at them. “You don’t want to pick this fight. Ryann is mine—”
“Ew,” Logan said.
“Yeah, fuck that,” Carver said. “Let’s just kill them all.”
Ryann’s concerns about trusting these two strangers vanished pretty quickly.
“Always wanted to kick this guy’s ass,” Logan said evenly as long, pale claws sprouted from their fingers. “Let’s go.” Before Ryann’s eyes, they changed. Their hair seemed to get longer, and turned a crimson colour. The skin of their face seemed to pull tighter around the bones, making every edge sharper. Long, sharp teeth appeared as they snarled and pulled their lips back. Their face crinkled up more than it should, like that of a snarling beast rather than a human.
Ryann stared at them. “First off, what the fuck?” she said, pointing to their everything. “Second, can you teach me that?”
Logan chuckled. “Not that. But this…” She dragged her claws over her arms, leaving long, bloody gashes and covering them in blood. It dripped down, and, under Ryann’s confused look, hit the floor, where it burned, sizzled, and disintegrated the wood.
“Oh fuck, that’s cool!” Ryann blushed a little at her outburst.
Logan smirked and turned her attention back to Micky. “I’m gonna fucking kill you now,” she said very matter-of-factly.
He growled, dropping the diplomatic facade. “I’m gonna tear out your spine!” he snarled back. He shot forwards, his face a blur of anger.
Logan’s sclera turned pitch black. Their iris’ glowed red as they moved with a similar, terrifying speed. Their long claws slashed down and Micky ended up slamming into the kitchen counter next to them. Two tears in his suit bubbled and hissed as he screamed. The threads of it were turning grey, winding like dying worms as they became brittle and unravelled.
Logan’s claws gave her at least another half metre of reach. She had slashed through almost half of Micky’s arm and sliced the floor too. Ryann was suitably impressed, but her attention was pulled away when the big guy ran at her. She dodged by pivoting on her good leg and punched him square in the jaw. It was just a quick jab, but the Blood lost any and all coordination immediately. He stumbled, and Ryann grabbed him by the jacket and tripped him. He crashed into the wall behind her, and she followed up with a roundhouse kick to the back of the head.
Her injury slowed her down enough that she didn’t hit him in the head, but instead slammed into his back. Her leg throbbed and burned at the impact, but adrenaline and anger kept her going.
He shrugged off the hit and came at her again with glinting fangs. Ryann growled and slipped in right past his attacks. He was an amateur, clearly not trained. His punches were telegraphed so much that she could have dodged them in her sleep. She went on the offensive again quickly. His throat crunched under two consecutive strikes, and he choked.
Oddly, it didn’t seem to stop him. He snarled at her and prepared to lunge again.
Ryann growled back and kicked his leg as hard as she could, aiming for the nerves running along the back of it. That got a cry of pain, and the Blood stumbled back shakily. “Yeah, sucks, doesn’t it?” she growled at him, added another, bringing him to his knees, and followed up spinning in another roundhouse kick. She broke through his flimsy guard, and this time something broke as she drove her heel into his jaw. He fell like a corpse.
As he did, Ryann became a witness to Logan furiously swiping at Micky. Their claws slashed open the entire kitchen within seconds, leaving sizzling spots where their blood dissolved wood and anything else that got in their way. Micky seemed to be able to dodge them just about, but he was unable to retaliate. He finally got backed into a corner and grabbed a knife from a cutting board, which he flung with incredible speed.
Logan’s head snapped to the side, dodging it. The knife continued flying, across the room, where Carver kicked bone-hands in the stomach and somehow wrestled the small Blood down with ease. The knife stuck in the wall. Everything happened in a span of seconds. Ryann threw herself at bone-hands and blocked the swipe of her bone spike before it reached her or Carver.
The woman growled at Ryann. She snarled back and kicked her. Apparently none of these idiots were trained at all. Her kick slammed into the Blood’s side, and the woman gasped in pain. Then Ryann had to dodge claws from the Blood who had held the younger human. Her face was marred with scars, and her lips were pulled into a sneer. Her suit looked a bit ill-fitting on her, too large and like the shoulders were padded. Ryann stepped back to quickly get out of her reach, but her leg buckled under her suddenly, and renewed pain shot up from her calf. Ryann grit her teeth as bone-hands came at her.
Then the enemy Bloods looked up in horror. Bone-hands raised her arm to shield herself. Logan’s claws carved straight through it and across her throat.
Ryann was already lunging at the scarred Blood, so she got splattered with blood, and it tasted so delicious…
The Blood before Ryann tried to kick her. She took the hit, caught the leg under her arm, and toppled her opponent. Her opponent crashed down to the floor with a cry. Ryann stomped down, and the blood scent hit her more intensely. The hunger in her gut roared and throbbed like a second heartbeat. She grit her teeth and raised her foot from the dead vampire’s head.
Carver was having trouble with the strong Blood after all. He had his hands tightly around the small vampire’s neck and was squeezing and pressing him down against the table. His teeth were bared, exposing slightly pronounced canines, and his pale grey eyes caught the golden light from the lamp. Blows rained against his chest, but he only squeezed harder, lifted the Blood up, and slammed him back down on the table.
Logan was tackled by the last uninjured vampire. Blood trickled out of her eyes as she was being held down by the wrist. Something must have happened, because her claws and face had reverted to what they had been before. Ryann wanted to look around for Micky, but she saw the older man pick up the gun. She saw the young one toss him a magazine. The old one caught it and slid it in.
There was a table between him and Ryann. She vaulted over it and punched the man square in the nose. Pain shot up her leg and up her arm, and he went down, dropping the gun on the carpet. Ryann didn’t want him able to shoot any of them. At this rate, he’d probably go for her, Logan, or Carver, since they had the numbers.
The man on the floor stayed low, scrambling to tackle Ryann, but she was waiting for it, and he clearly still didn’t expect her to be a challenge. She used his momentum and stepped into his range to slam her knee into his face. She felt the shock of the impact through her bones once more and gripped her opponent by the back of the shirt, tossing him aside as he grabbed at her despite his bloodied nose. He really didn’t weigh that much.
He managed to get an arm around her leg and tried to topple her, but Ryann squared her feet and punched down straight at his head, once, twice, the muscles working in a practised manner, though she never would have fought like this in the ring. In any official MMA fight, there were rules. No strikes to the back of the head or the joints. No shots to the groin, no direct punches to the throat. There was sweat, frantic footwork, the cheer of a crowd and the smell of sweat.
Here, there were no cheers. Just grunting and sounds of exertion, cries of anger. That, and the smell of blood clogging up Ryann’s nose, making her lick her lips.
She didn’t know how it happened. Suddenly her punches had turned into slashes, and the scent of blood had become more pervasive, seeping into everything. Ryann grabbed her attacker by the overalls and pulled him up. He struggled, grasping and pulling at her wrists. She headbutted him hard, hitting his broken nose. He still struggled and this time grabbed at her face, like he was trying to blind her. His wild movements ripped the mask right off.
Ryann pulled her head back with a snarl to escape the grasping fingers aimed at her eyes, then slammed her forehead into the man’s face once, twice, until he slumped with a groan. His head lolled to the side. Ryann pulled him close and bit deep.
Her fangs pierced the leathery skin with ease, she tasted sweat and then… blood. It felt entirely different to the bags. The difference between cooled and fresh blood was like between raw and cooked food. This man’s blood tasted different by itself, less sweet, but she still eagerly gulped it down and filled her belly with its warmth. She could even taste hints of alcohol as the sweet, red substance ran over her tongue. Compared to the blood bags, this was like tasting an expensive cocktail, rather than cheap beer.
She drank so greedily that she forgot to breathe, as if she hadn’t eaten in days. When she pulled away, it was with a wild movement that sprayed red droplets from her fangs. Her fingers turned weak and opened at the blissful sensation, and she dropped the body at her feet.
Ryann was still licking her teeth when the dull thud brought her back to the moment. She stared at her blood-covered chest, feeling the liquid run down her chin and neck. Her mind was numb with the pleasant taste and smell as she tried to figure out what had just happened. Someone grabbed her shoulder, turning her around.
It was Logan. Blood was covering their face and running down over their cheeks.
They were yelling something, staring into her eyes, shaking her.
A shot rang out, cutting through the noise in Ryann’s head like the crack of a whip. She felt warmth at her legs and looked down. Her hoodie and pants were slowly colouring a dark, wet black colour. She put her hand on it and felt the warmth of it. She pulled it away, and her hand was red, not black.
Oh, so I do still bleed… Ryann had assumed so, but seeing it was somehow reassuring.
Her vision began to turn dark at the edges. Her last thought was that she should put pressure on the wound. Then she fell away into nothingness.
Delete Created with Sketch.
Carver slammed his opponent’s head against the edge of the table twice. Strength-enhanced Bloods were annoying. Their bones and muscles and tendons grew stronger by a measure whenever they activated their gift, and this asshole was using it as if his life depended on it.
Which it did, of course, but being killed by Carver was a more peaceful way to go than if the Scorching Dawn got a hold of him.
I’m not gonna stay here until he runs out, Carver decided. As members of the Scarlet Song, Micky’s Hunger was always sickeningly well sated. Always full on blood that they’d drained some poor bastard off the street for, if they didn’t have access to what they called ‘premium blood bags’. Waiting until this asshole ran out would take entirely too long for Carver’s liking.
The new Blood, Ryann, vaulted over the table past him and crashed into Amos Finch. She was an excellent fighter. Still had her flaws, but Carver was certainly impressed. He’d love to be able to train her, to see just how far she could hone her craft.
The Blood in his grip gasped. Carver was holding him at arm’s length, squeezing to cut off the blood to his brain. He had to endure the occasional kick and punch, as well as the Blood’s struggle to pull his arms away.
Slowly but surely Carver could tell the strength of the resistance decreasing. He let go with one hand and reached over to the knife stuck in the wall. He yanked it out, keeping his other hand securely on the struggling Blood’s neck. He flipped the long kitchen knife into an overhand grip.
“W-Wait!” the Blood wheezed. “We can make a deal! Stop!”
“Did you stop when your last victim begged you?” Carver growled.
He didn’t wait to plunge the knife through the Blood’s eye socket and into the brain. He ripped it back out so hard that a line of blood sprayed across his calm, dispassionate face. Killing killers was an old hobby, and one that had lost all of its vindicating satisfaction. Now it was just something that had to be done.
Carver cut the throat of the brain-damaged but alive Blood, rolled him over, and set the tip of the blade against the spine. A quick hit to the hilt with his palm cut severed the nerves between two vertebrae, just like he would do with an animal he’d hunted. He pulled the knife out and left the Blood to die.
“Ryann!” Logan suddenly yelled. “Jesus fuck! Snap out of it!”
She was shaking the new Blood. That one, in turn, looked dazed and confused. Her chin and neck were covered in blood, and she stared at Logan like she wasn’t sure where she was. Ryann, that was what Micky had called her.
Carver’s thoughts screeched to a halt at the name. He had thought she’d looked familiar, but…
Robert Finch had managed to grab the gun. He was on the floor, in pain, and his eyes were full of hatred as he pointed the gun at Ryann.
Carver lunged into action so quickly that his still healing leg flared up with pain. The knife flew from his hand with the first gunshot that splashed droplets of blood over the wall behind Ryann. The blade pierced into Robert’s shoulder, missing the mark. But it made him cry out, and then Carver was on him like a storm of vengeance and broke his hand by slamming his combat boot down on it and the gun.
“You little shit!” he snarled. Robert was almost as hateful and cruel as Amos. Carver suspected they had backing from some patron of the otherworld, likely a powerful Blood of one of the other four factions. They routinely captured, tortured, and killed supernatural creatures, seemingly for sport.
They had been on Carver’s kill list since they’d gone after two young werewolf twins and their family. Luckily, a very powerful pack leader had already taken the two in by the time Amos and his posse of sadists and emotionally broken “children” had shown up.
Now Carver saw recognition in Robert’s eyes. “Fuck you!” he spat. “You monsters killed Amos!”
“Good fucking riddance!” Carver said and stomped down on his hand again, shattering the bones. He ignored the pained scream. “You’re next. Or maybe I should just bite you…” There was no way Robert would survive the bite. Carver could smell the drugs and alcohol on him. His body was already messed up inside.
Robert paled at that. “I’ll kill you!” he whispered, and Carver could smell the fear wafting off of him.
“Just take his gun already!” Logan called out. “She’s losing a lot of blood!”
Carver looked down at the malevolently glinting weapon. He narrowed his eyes and kicked Robert in the face hard enough to knock a tooth loose and knock him out cold. “Don’t really wanna get cursed today,” he muttered with a look at the weapon, and kicked it away. It slid and landed under a wardrobe, hidden from sight.
He rushed over to Ryann, joining Logan. They were trying to stem the bleeding with their rolled-up shirt under Ryann’s back. “Can she heal herself?”
“If she was awake, sure! But the shock knocked her out!” Logan was already covered in Ryann’s blood from gently cradling her body to the ground. “Passive healing isn’t enough. We need to get her to the bar…”
“A new Blood? Yeah, that’ll go over well…” Carver muttered. “Okay, here’s what we do.” He ripped his shirt off, revealing his many scars. “We try to stop the bleeding as much as we can. You call Nemo and Kay, I get her to the car, and we take her to my place…”
“Fine. Micky ran, by the way,” Logan said as she pulled out her phone. “He might be waiting for us.”
“If he is,” Carver growled as blood seeped through the shirt he had pressed to Ryann’s chest, “I’ll tear his head off myself.”
He tried not to look at Ryann’s face as he pressed his shirt to her wound. He tried not to remember the last time he’d seen someone with the same face covered in blood and their skin pale and lifeless.
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