Dancing Crow: Prologue

May 7, 2003

Some say blood runs thicker than water, and family means everything; I’d sooner gut my entire damn bloodline than buy into that shit. 

Blood is good for two things. Spilling, and guzzling right on down. 

She was dead. Harlow was dead. She was limp in the arms of the fucker that ripped her throat out. I stared Jasper down. He wasn’t covered in her blood, nah. He’d drank her until she’d stopped moving. Right before she died, she said six words. They echoed in my mind over and over as I stared into my brother’s eyes. “Stay strong, Ares. I love you.”

Everything was frozen for just a moment. I glared at my brother as if seeing him for the first time. Jasper’s shoulder-length hair was dyed a blood red, and he wore a stupid black T-shirt that said ‘I Bite’ on the front with bright red lettering. It was skin tight, which allowed him to show his football-player-like build every time he moved any muscle. He was an egotistical bastard. That crooked smile of his, one very similar to what plastered upon my own face from time to time, haunted every ticking second that passed right now. 

Power hummed through my veins as my deep red eyes shifted to a pure black. I was overcome with sheer rage, lost in it, so far gone that I couldn’t think straight any longer. Metallic clanking rang out as from the ground of this wretched courtroom burst crimson chains adorned with spines. Onlooking vampires let out screams of fear, but it was too late for them. 

This place had pristine wooden flooring and walls of a deep azure, neither area of which remained their typical color for long. The chandelier above shook as my power burst out, commanding the chains to wrap around any vampire in sight. I clenched my fist, ensuring any victim in range was wrapped up so that the spines embedded into their flesh, ripping it and causing a significant amount of bleeding and damage. That’s when I struck. 

My sharp teeth sank into my first target. Warm blood flowed down my throat as I tore off a chunk of flesh, chewing it lovingly like a human would to a fresh, rare steak. No one could react fast enough, and before they could make any counter, I’d downed four in that fashion, feeling the raw power only grow faster and faster.

Royal vampires gain power from what they drink. Well, I’ve been a fucking cannibal for more than a few months now. Time to show them what brutality really means. 

Despite this, I was a big fucking failure. Jasper somehow got away in the process of me losing my mind. Why couldn’t I have kept it under control for one second? I could have avenged Harlow! But damn it, he was gone. My mother, however, was not. Corpses of her followers littered the floor as I whipped around to stare her down, just for a second. 

Raven hair fell into her face, her gaut features lit up with a combination of wonder and curiosity. Her dress, the color of dusk, was absent of blood despite the fact that I’d splattered her men all over this courtroom. I knew the truth. She was a tyrant, and the entire reason she ordered the death of Harlow was because she believed I was showing far too much mercy to the humans. Blood slaves, she and my brother called them. Livestock. Disgusting.

She looked upon me, her son, as if she was meeting me for the first time. I could tell she was very impressed with my power, as I’d never shown it off before. She drummed her claws upon the table as I lunged at her, effortlessly backhanding me into the wall and forcing me to crumble to the ground. Her calm, albeit annoyed, voice rang out. “I thought better of you, Ares. Your brother has grown into someone that doesn’t sympathize with livestock. I didn’t believe you were cannibalizing your own kind at first, but now I do. What a pity that I have to sentence my son to dea–” she began, but she was cut off. 

She didn’t notice as my chains writhed like snakes, lunging and wrapping around her body. They encircled her neck, one part of them jerking one way, one part jerking the other. 

SNAP!

 My mother fell limp like a ragdoll. That was… almost too easy. But I didn’t think much of it at the time. High on adrenaline and sheer agony, I wasn’t the most reasonable of pissed off vampires. 

I needed to get the fuck out of here, but first… Harlow. I darted over to her, taking her limp corpse into my arms and sniffling. Hot tears crawled down my cheeks as her deep grey eyes, normally full of life and wonder, gazed up at me with no spark in them. Her obsidian hair spilled over my lap, and her copper skin was dulled, no life within it at all. Her heart was entirely still. There was nothing I could do. 

I didn’t want to leave her there, a corpse in rags, to rot on the floor of this wretched courtroom, where she’d been sentenced to death simply because I was trying to figure out a way to get her away from this wretched kingdom. 

But I knew what she’d want me to do, and so I stood up, rolled my shoulders back, and turned toward the window. My horrible brother was to be back very soon. Bunching up my muscles, I burst through the glass window of the castle-like structure, tumbling down and landing in a crouching position. I had to leave her corpse behind.

Melting into the shadows, I gathered my composure…watched… and waited. I was going to make this kingdom’s life hell. 

***

Two years passed, and my body count was ever-on-the-rise. 

Leaning against a smoke-stained medieval building, I sank my fangs into the arm of a vampire slave owner I’d just slaughtered, eating it like one would devour a chicken leg. This was good. I’d not eaten this frequently before, but tonight I was in a damn frenzy. Gods, this bloodshed was so addicting. My attention was grabbed by a whimpering from the shadows. Giving an annoyed snarl, I glanced right on over, my bloody crimson gleam falling upon a person in rags. 

I could scent his fear; he was a human blood slave, most likely owned by the vampire I’d ripped to shreds moments before. His ribs jutted out, and there were closed lash marks all over his rag-covered body, fresh. Likely from just yesterday. His matted brown hair was caked with blood and dirt. His scent was that of garbage. Pretty typical of how ‘misbehaved’ slaves were treated here. The abalastor of his skin only showed in patches between the stains of many other things covering him. 

I shook my head and approached, my nostrils flaring to scent for any possible onlookers. Finding none, I kneeled before him, causing him to shudder and whimper. His voice, dripping with fear and agitation, gasped out, “Please make it fast. I beg of you. Have mercy.”

I merely grinned, flashing my serrated teeth in a crooked smile toward him. Likely not helping the situation, but I couldn’t help it. I was elated, covered in the blood of his ‘master’. Rather than rip the poor widdle human to shreds, however, I shook my head and held out a clawed hand. “Mercy? Fuck that. You need way more than that right now.” 

He stared at my hand in worry, at which point the scent of more vampires on their way hit my senses. The human wasn’t budging, and I didn’t have time for his bullshit. And so, I snatched him right up, taking him into my arms and darting off into the shadows. He yelped and buried his face into his hands, breaking into sobs as I rushed through the streets. 

There were no streetlights, as my kind were nocturnal monsters. I heard that human cities lit everything up though. There were cars roaring along on the roads, and those did have lights. Extra precaution. I had to avoid their line of sight, and soon arrived at an old, abandoned hut. I slammed the door open, rushing over to an old but comfortable couch and placing him right down on it. 

Emerging from the shadows of this small place were three humans, each armed with a gleaming, silver knife. They were prepared–silver was poisonous to vampires. It messed with our biology, and could even kill royals like me. I straightened up, shooting the humans a wide grin. 

One of them was a woman with curly charcoal hair, several bits of which fell into her deep sepia cheeks. Next to her was another woman, one with brown eyes shimmering behind glasses and short-cut blonde hair that framed the ashen flesh of her shoulders. Finally, the third of the trio was a man with hair cut short and slightly spiked up, with skin at a medium-tanned color. His eyes were a light, disapproving green. All three were in simple black clothing, very far from the malnourished slaves and with fading scars upon their flesh. 

The woman with the curled hair lunged for me first, and I made no move as her arms wrapped around me tightly. Her voice held a relieved tone as it rang out strongly, “Ares. Thank goodness you’re alright, we were worried! What’s the matter with you making us wait like that! A half hour more and we woulda gone after you!”

I rolled my eyes at Maya’s words, shaking my head. “Listen, it takes a lot more to fuck over a badass like me, alright?” 

“You’re a royal, but merely a teenager. You kids think you’re invincible,” Danny muttered, once again using my age against me now. I just snorted at him and then glanced over to the blonde woman, waiting on a lecture from her as well. 

Snow just shook her head at me in disapproval. “Dan is right, you know,” she agreed softly, making her way toward the slave I’d just rescued. For possibly the third time in a minute, I rolled my eyes. I stepped away, watching them tend to his wounds and trying to learn something again. I was a killer, not a medic.

Maya, Dan, and Snow were the first slaves I’d ever rescued two years ago. I hadn’t the faintest idea what I was doing. I killed their masters, and they’d been in much better shape than a few others I’d run into. I was only eighteen right now–at some point in my twenties or thirties, I’d stop aging entirely. My lifespan, unlike theirs, was much longer. 

Anyway, they had their faculties enough to realize I was trying to help them. I brought them to this building and told them about my real feelings toward this wretched place. How humans deserved to be free and treated way better, and how I was gonna kill as many vampires I could get my claws on here, and in the same vein, rescue as many humans as I could. 

The trio decided that they were going to help little ol’ me. They were adults in their late twenties and had a decade above me in terms of life experience. They also liked to remind me of that damn fact. All the time.They were like annoying ass parents and that’d not changed over these two years at all. Something about owing me their life or some shit, but much more annoying. 

The new slave I rescued was no doubt confused, but at least he was being calmed down by Snow. Meanwhile, I collapsed into a ruddy loveseat, glaring up as Maya approached me with her hands on her hips. She wasn’t afraid of me–none of them were. I could snap their necks in an instant if I wanted, and they knew I never would. 

“So tough guy, I get that you’re a rebel, but what has you taking so long, huh? Are you running into more trouble? Maybe it’s time for us to leave. I know you want to save every single person here, but maybe you can find allies beyond this place. We were snatched from the outside world. I promise there’s some out there that will hear you out,” she said pointedly. 

I bared my fangs at her, prompting her to bare her teeth right back. She snapped, “Oh don’t you start you pompous prince. I don’t want to see those fangs, and I don’t want your attitude. Do you hear me? Are you hungry?” 

“No,” I lied, and she scoffed.

“Bullshit,” she muttered. She turned away, heading to our fridge and pulling out some bagged blood. They took turns harvesting it so that I could survive with them, much as I insisted I got plenty of food from the vampires I slaughtered. They knew the truth, though. My kind only got nutrition from humans, and my little habit of cannibalism wasn’t sustainable as a true food source. 

I pouted, sulking from the fact that I couldn’t bring more tonight. Seeing my expression upon arriving with the blood, Maya furrowed her brow. “Boy, are you being angsty again? Fix that face of yours, do you hear me?!” I avoided her stare, finally letting out a long sigh. 

“Damn it Maya, I wanted to save more of ‘em! I couldn’t, got overwhelmed tonight. The Kingdom is growing stronger and stronger. But we can’t leave yet! There’s so much to do!” I exclaimed. 

Dan walked up next to Maya, staring me down with a harsh gaze. He was the oldest of the group, and had been a businessman prior to his capture. “I stand by what I said before. You teenagers think you know everything. This is a difficult decision, Ares, but there’s little else you can do. I suggest we begin making plans to leave.”

“DOWN WITH THE TRAITOR!” screeched a voice from outside, causing me to widen my eyes. I shot out of my chair, darting around Maya and allowing my jaw to drop. 

Surrounding our hut were several noble guards, displaying the sigils of my kingdom, Arachnida. They were no doubt out for blood. Dan was right–but I’d waited too late. “Go,” I said softly. I was prepared to go down so they could get the fuck out of here. We were on the edge of the Kingdom and always had a plan for their escape should it ever come to this. 

Maya gasped from behind me. “But Ares, you–”

“I said GO. Help Snow in rehabilitating the new guy, when you get to a city, of course. Do NOT wait for me. I’ll see you again. I promise. Ok?” I snapped at her. She shoved in my face how adult she was, well, now was the time to act like one. 

Not waiting to see what the hell they decided to do, I turned to the door and burst from it. Giving a lopsided grin, I shot them the finger and shouted, “You want me, come get me bastards. I’ll make sure you fuckers are GUTTED, you hear me?!” 

From the ground burst out chains writhing about like hungered serpents. Tonight was a night for bloodshed. Though I felt tears streaming down my cheeks despite that. I could take ‘em. But the sinking feeling that this was my last time seeing the family I made here over the past two years shattered my heart. No time to worry about that now, though. It was time to prove my point. 

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