A/N: What can I say? I was in a dark mood.


The stone hit the crow's wing like a bullet still hot from a gun's barrel. The crow was used to such treatment, but this was different. The pain shot through its very bones and it felt a sickening wet warmth dripping off its wingtip. It looked down. The blood fell softly, like rain, to splash against the towering saguaros below.

An ache built up in the torn flesh, throbbing with each flap. The crow coasted, wheeling, looking for a safe place to rest. A thicket of foreboding cacti caught its keen eye. The crow swooped down to land upon the tallest of the spiked guardians. There it sat, exhausted, its injured wing dangling and bleeding. Bright red drops fell onto the saguaro, rolling in rivulets down the hard, ribbed trunk.

It was not the first stone to be thrown at the crow. The others, however, had missed, or simply bruised. The stonethrowers were not even content with protecting their own fields, but drove the bird off from rotting, fly-drenched carcasses, for the simple pleasure of seeing it soar away in fear.

This was not the first stone, but the best aimed. The crow tried to preen itself, noticing the painful lack of half a dozen feathers. As it worked its beak through the rest of its plumage, inadvertently spreading blood throughout its black form, a whiff of carrion came to its beak.

Slowly, agonizingly, the crow flew from cactus to cactus, stopping to rest at each one. Finally it came to the source of the tantalizing odor—a dead bull, starved from the look of its hipbones, and still fresh. Dozens of vultures surrounded it, fighting, flapping, screeching at each other.

The crow, unwilling to have to fight for its dinner, sulked among the thorns of a spreading ocotillo. It watched the vultures hungrily. Blood dripped red onto the red thorns, rolling gently down.

The vultures below paid no heed. They fought each other as they devoured the dead. Thrusting with bloody heads into the yielding flesh, swallowing strips of fetid meat whole. One worked steadily at the half-visible skull of the corpse, plucking out the soft, wet eyeballs and forcing its beak through the sockets, trying to taste the brain.

The crow watched them, their ragged forms, with fascinated disdain. They were nothing like itself—they were stupid, savage, voracious brutes. The crow was quick, clever, sleek. No one threw stones at simple vultures, simpler than dogs in their hunger. It was the crows they hated.

The crow spread its bloody wings to the blazing sun above, a great black form among the red thorns. Its shadow painted the bleak landscape with dusky gray. It was beautiful, and it was king.