Chapter 1:

The Top of the Ladder

The Crimson Maiden

Blood doesn’t make a noble; the shedding of blood leads to nobility.

This was the Yandaria household mantra. If the family needed something, father would make sacrifices to claim it. The neighbors had a nicer house than us, so my father spread some rumors and a few days later they had left the house and the town graveyard was just a little bit more crowded. If we needed food, father would sacrifice his integrity by going out at midnight and stealing from the bakery. He slept with the baker’s husband for good measure.

The important thing to note about the household mantra is that one needn’t sacrifice anything of worth in order to move up to the top of the ladder. In fact, the best social leaps are gained by sacrificing others.

I was Father’s favorite and the eldest of two siblings. In the Village of Forgotten Names, on the isle of SunBleached, no one was more appreciated than me.

Father may have had the control, but I had the charm. Cute boys all over the town were hoping they’d get paired with the Prince of Prosperity. That was my nickname, though nobody used my real name after a while. I was simply Prince. I was royalty to them. Top of my class and the most beautiful boy in the village. I worked hard to keep up appearances. Every morning I’d spend an hour combing my beautiful golden locks and another hour applying makeup. A little powder on the cheeks really brings out my bewitching smile.

I wasn’t born into a rich family. In fact, we were in the poorer section of the village at first. My mother always snuck in books from the village library’s forbidden section. I would sit in her lap and together we learned about the secrets of the world, the social world that is. Only the highest-class families are permitted to have female wives. Father must have made a deal with the soldiers policing our village before I was even born.

With father’s philosophy of sacrifice and mother’s love of learning, I became the perfect child. Knowledge was indeed power. Why bother building up muscle when I could simply pay someone to get rid of a problem. I suppose it’s fair to say not everyone in town loved us, but they feared us and most importantly they envied us.

Though I wasn’t one for exercise, I wasn’t without my hobbies. Blood and death were what interested me. After all, it is through the shedding blood that a household is lifted out of poverty and into prosperity.

I’d always order live fish so I could watch them squirm as I prepared them with my favorite knife. I always savored the fear in their eyes. It made me feel so important. Their life was being taken by me. Really, they should be honored. Any who are sacrificed in service to me should be very thankful indeed.

There was one blight on the family. My little sister, Justicia. Cuteness was about all she had going for her. She was chubby and lazy. Always wanting to play instead of study no matter how many times father beat her. When her legs were broken, I realized father was too harsh on the girl. I convinced him that punishing her was a duty that belongs to the elder brother. She always made the cutest little oomph sound when I kicked her stomach and she would wine like a BunBun when I cut her even just a little.

Justicia’s constant injuries allowed me to master another field, medicinal remedies. By learning how to heal, I also learned how to hurt. Sometimes I’d spend all night creating fun poisons to torment my enemies with. Their potent scent always made my heart race. If you think about it, the art of poisons is not much different than cooking. And just like cooking, it’s best when shared with others.

Killing the soldiers with my toxins would be too obvious and a total waste. Instead, I got them hooked on my poisons. The village was under new management by the end of the year. To think it wouldn’t have been possible without my darling little sister’s suffering.

I did not live a life free of guilt. I had a secret I kept hidden from father and mother. I enjoyed playtime. My sister and I would get up at four in the morning, a full two hours before the Cuckatrice’s call woke our parents, and go to the treehouse overlooking the graveyard. We would wrestle, play hide and seek, or some new game she just invented. Playtime was a way for me to unwind from hours of endless study and scheming. She’d always want to snuggle with me when were exhausted from playtime. Whenever Justicia was in my arms I felt…like a decent person rather than a great one. It was oddly refreshing.

By the time I was twelve, my family controlled the criminal underworld of the village. My mother was the diplomat, my father the mastermind, and I was the genocidal jack of all trades. Talent itself was my talent, and with more free time on my hand, I decided to practice swordplay with the meat cleaver. I always got so excited when father needed someone dealt with because I got a chance to cut through human meat! Since I studied anatomy so extensively, I was always sure to get sprayed with as much blood as possible.

I look even more beautiful when my long locks are wet with a deep crimson color.

Eventually our town became rich enough that we could export Heroes. At first, I thought they were lazy by design. Later I realized they just needed proper motivation. Turns out if you treat them like actual citizens instead of just numbers for labor, then they can become a powerful workforce.

We expanded the size of our village through hard labor. Our village chief wasn’t a WoodPrimordial so the only way to increase our reach was through effort. The Heroes were always properly fed on my watch and I made sure they were decently dressed too.

A village is only as strong as its weakest link. So either cut out the weak links or uplift them. As long as the Heroes weren’t talentless, I felt it prudent to invest in their comfort and confidence.

The Yandaria family lived like kings. In truth though, we were just kings of the world’s dumpster. True kings lived in castles! Having a room that doubles as a library where I could look down upon my entire kingdom from a veranda…that was my dream!

Winter was my favorite season of the year. I’d like to say it’s because of something poetic, but really, I just love the look of blood on the snow. This Winter was an unpleasant one, regrettably.

Early one morning I awoke to screams.

The village was under attack.

Father summoned all of us to the dining hall with his bejeweled PsyrenFrog. He turns to me first. “Prince, I need you to round up the Heroes and have them fight off the bandits.” Then he grabs Mother’s hand. “Go to the Town Hall and organize a total evacuation.” Lastly he turns to my little sister. “Go to your room and lock the door.”

With my orders given, I rushed to the Hero’s inn.

Thirty Heroes were sleeping on the floor with futons. I rang the wake-up bell and they all stood up immediately.

“Our village is under attack. Grab your weapons and fight off the intruders.”

The back doors suddenly swing open.

A young man with sparkly eyes and shimmering hair comes in. “Beautiful sunset this morning,” he says in a daze, approaching the nearest Hero.

The Hero steps up. “Citizen, you should evacuate, the village is under attack.”

“The flowers have a lovely bloom today,” says the young man with vacant eyes. He suddenly leaps onto the Hero and bites his neck.

Did someone drug the citizens? No, I don’t recognize the attire.

I take a sword from one of the gawking Heroes and cleave off the young man’s head. “Go kill anyone else who is sparkling like an Ignisia stone. Each kill will be rewarded with fifty Coin.”

Money always helps with motivation.

The Heroes rush off.

By breakfast, the situation had been dealt with. All fifteen intruders were killed. It was my idea to put the decapitated heads on display at the front of the village to warn off any further attacks. My little sister thought the heads looked sad so she made them each a flower crown. Father was beating her for her impudence, but I convinced him that it had a certain twisted beauty that would scare off even the bravest of bandits.

No villagers were killed, but thirteen of our people had been afflicted with some sort of sickness. They went comatose and none of my remedies would work. I fervently believed that just as there is a poison that can kill any creature, there is a cure that can murder any bacteria. Since Mother was among the afflicted, I had to discover a remedy swiftly.

The truth of the mater is our library was limited. Limited information meant limited social mobility.

The Yandaria family could not rule the entire criminal underworld of SunBleached island if we didn’t possess exclusive knowledge.

Father asked me to stay behind and keep the villagers safe, while he went off venturing for a cure.

Every night I had to stare into my little sister’s eyes and lie to her. “Mother is getting better. She’ll be back on her feet in no time.” Lying to my own blood sickens me.

Father awoke me from my bed. He noticed my little sister was sharing my bed, but didn’t voice his disapproval. He simply puffed his nose. “Get up, Prince. I’ve found a man that can cure our Yumeria.”

Anything Father sets his mind to he always achieves! That’s the Yandaria family way!

Father shakes the ElectroFlies in his lantern and opens the door, while I cover my sister with the blanket.

The woman cringes from the light and hisses.

“Everything alright?” asks Father.

“Yes, just prefer the dark.”

Her eyes are a pink color and her skin is pale. The woman’s finger nails shine like daggers. Long locks of shining silver hair go down to her well-dressed shoulders. Her lips are purple like the finest of poisons.

True Royalty.

I bow and she smiles.

“The place is rather decent for a peasant’s home,” says the woman with a smile. “Oh, where are my manners. My name is Clandestine, fourth princess of the Vop dynasty. Though perhaps third princess if all goes according to plan.”

A schemer just like me.

I bow again but do not approach. “My apologies, but I’ve never heard of a Vop.”

“Our dynasty is one that operates in the shadows. And our genealogy is one that spans eons.” She suddenly is jolted and grasps her chest. “My word, that rug is adorable!”

I smile. “My sister made it.”

Clandestine shivers with delight and picks up the rug. “Well your sister has a true eye for beauty. I simply must have it.”

Father gently takes it from her hand. “I’ll wash it properly and giftwrap it for you.”

“Peasants with style and respect. Such a delectable delight.” Clandestine pats my head. “Thank your little morsel for me.”

“I’ll send your regards to my sister.”

“Splendid, just splendid. Now take me to the afflicted.”

The journey to the medical ward takes five times as long because Father has to unravel a long velvet carpet for Clandestine to walk upon.

Regality should not come before practicality. How do these Vops get anything done if they move so sluggishly?

The two-block trek takes even longer because of Clandestine’s desire to stop and comment about how ugly the houses are here and go into extreme detail about the beauty of the homes in her kingdom. The dullness of the conversation shifts into wonder when she mentions that she lives in a castle.

A real castle! That’s so incredible. I’d do anything to live in a castle.

When we arrive at the medical ward Clandestine examines the comatose villagers.

“You know I think it’s our civic duty to come to the aid of the less fortunate. My elder sisters don’t agree. It’s regrettable. The way I see it, control without charity is just drab. It’s like a prison, you know. Charity adds color to the world.”

Father bows. “Your wisdom is beyond us. Now, do you think you can save them?”

“Darling, consider them saved already. I’m not supposed to gossip, but these dears were bitten by ZomBishis. They are dreadful creatures that only gossip and infect others so they have more to gossip with. I enjoy gossip of course, but it’s like an afternoon tea. One shouldn’t overindulge.”

I approach her with shaky hands. “I tried every cure I know. Is there some special herb that can cure it? It’s a blood disease, right?”

“It’s a DNA disease. DNA isn’t something peasants know about. DNA is like the blood within the blood. It’s the most important thing in the whole beautiful world!” Clandestine holds herself in a loving embrace. “As for a cure. Not even MerMaiden blood can stop a Zombishi. Only a high class Vop can. I’ll show you dears, but speak a word about this to anyone and this ugly little village will just be ashes in the wind.” She smiles as she pats my head.

I grab my knife from my pocket and cut into my palm. I clench my fist. “I swear upon the blood of the Yandaria family.”

“Oooh, so serious. It’s adorable.” Clandestine holds out her hands. “Watch a diva at work.”

Blood drips out from the afflicted and floats into the air, becoming absorbed in her fingertips.

Is this real? If I can’t gain this power, I need to take over someone who has it.

“It is the rich blend of royal blood that filters out the bad DNA in these unfortunate peasants.” She sends out the cleansed blood back into the victims. “They’ll be dancing by morning.”

Father lowers his head in deep respect. “We are truly grateful.”

“Oh, it’s my pleasure dear. You know, I really like your family. Yandaria is such a pretty name too! Maybe we can set up a partnership.”

“I would be honored.” Father grabs my head and makes us both bow.

“Great, bring me the little morsel. Oh, I mean sister, sorry. Table manners.”

My stomach twists.

I look up at her, standing firm. “Bring her for what? She’s not for sale.”

“Oh dear me. I’m not going to chop her up for meat or anything. But I can’t say what I need her for.”

I look to father in desperation.

He clears his throat. “I can give you any child in the village from any other family you want.”

“That’s cute, sweetie. But I want her. If we’re going to be partners you have to give me something you value. And what is more valuable than your own blood. You told me you only had one child, so it’s not like she’ll be missed. Just have her come to the graveyard in one hour. Don’t keep me waiting, dear.” The royal Vop collapses into a puddle of blood.

Father grabs my arm. “Bring our guest your sister. I’m going to run some tests to make sure our people are cured.”

“I can’t do that, Father.”

“You think I don’t know about you two sharing the same bed? I’ve known for years how fond of her you are. Prince, I know you think you need her, but you don’t. The shedding of blood leads us to nobility! Sacrifice makes us strong. This is for the family.”

“We don’t even know what she’s going to do to Justicia.”

“To reach the top of the ladder, you need to lubricate it with blood. We can’t get squeamish now when we’re so close to our dream.”

As always, Father’s wisdom holds true.

I lift up the covers to see my little sister.

How does she stay dry in a family drenched with blood?

I touch her cheek.

“Don’t expect me to ever admit how much you mean to me, Sprout.”

I…I can’t sacrifice you.

I open my drawers.

All these poisons are worthless. That Vop could just filter out any toxins I create. The Prince is a master of all crafts. I’ll go to the graveyard myself and slice that Vop to bloody bits.

I grab my sword.

Her fingernails are sharp. What if she can cut through my metal? I’ll need a surprise attack.

I place a smoke bomb in my pouch.

But what if she can see through smoke?

I look around the room and notice my little sister’s clothes strewn across the ground.

She never saw my little sister. And she’ll never see the blade coming.

I strip out of my clothes and slip into her dress.

So comfy. I feel more beautiful than ever!

I scoot into her frilly panties and open the window.

Such a lovely breeze! She’s lucky to get to wear these clothes all the time.

I hop out the window just in case father has come back home.

When I pass the church, a figure grabs me from behind.

Those rough hands. It’s Father.

“I knew you’d try something duplicitous. I followed you back. You should know better than to try and trick me.”

I pull out my dagger and cut his hands. “Let me go of I’ll cut deeper next time.”

He throws me to the ground. “I’ll strangle the girl myself for what she’s done to you!”

“Do that and I will kill you, Father. She’s important to me.” I hold out my knife.

Father exhales sharply. “I know. If you go to fight that Vop, you’ll die.” He seizes me in a hug. “I can’t lose you. The Yandaria Family will crumble without it’s prince.”

“I’m not going to die.” I fix my skirt. “No way will she realize I’m actually a boy.”

“I can’t stop you. Promise you’ll return.”

I cut my hand and clench the blood.

Father nods.

Clandestine is in the treehouse overlooking the graveyard. The treehouse my sister and I built together.

The Vop pops up when she sees me. “Oh, you’re just darling! Come here, I don’t bite, Sweetie pie.”

I step up to the ladder.

My hands are shaking. What if climbing this ladder is the last thing I do? Are the lofty aspirations of my family going to be what ends us? No. This is just another ladder. Each step brings us closer to our goal.

When I reach the top, I shyly approach Clandestine. “My dad said that you’re going to take me away? Are you gonna be my new mommy?”

“You’re the one who decorated these graves with all these lovely flowers. Not a single-color clashes. You have a legendary eye for beauty.” She reaches out to me with her long sharp fingernails. “I just want those eyes, dear.”

This is it. My one chance.

I whip out my dagger and plunge it into Clandestine’s throat.

The Vop’s blood gushes out as she screams. The pink liquid splatters on my sister’s white dress.

Pink is such a lovely color.

Clandestine’s pained gurgles suddenly morph into twisted laughter. “You have some fight in you, but that’s no way to treat a guest. You’re my host. You should be more welcoming.” The blood on my dress turns to chains and binds my arms and legs. “Oh, it’s been nearly a century since my last House-Warming. I thought this was the perfect body.” Her blood shoots out and attaches to the chains, pulling me in. “But dear, you’ve opened my eyes.”

I struggle to escape the chains but they only grip me tighter.

Clandestine’s blood drips from her fingertips and enters me. “House Warming is a sacred ceremony. The plan was for me to take you to my royal chambers, but because of this nasty wound we’re going to rush things a little. It won’t matter though, since you’re a virgin. It will just be a sloppy House Warming, that’s all.”

I only have one chance to save myself. I have to tell the truth and bring her my sister. But…then I’ll lose her. A big brother’s duty is to protect his little sister. Even if that means…giving up his life. If only I could take this accursed creature with me!

“Once the ceremony is complete, you’ll make a lovely new home for my soul.” Clandestine leans over me and her body liquidates into blood. Her royal essence gradually enters me.

My mind starts to slip.

I have to fight it! Yandaria’s don’t give up without a struggle! We bleed and shed blood to attain victory!

This Novel Contains Mature Content

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