TW: language, domestic abuse
Suzanne stepped out of the portal, wobbled to a nearby bench and sat down. A brightly colored, child’s beach bucket was shoved into her lap.
“You gonna hurl, you hurl into that.” Bobby Sunshine said before crossing his arms and staring at her as if daring her to follow-through.
Suzanne’s impulse was to roll her eyes and flip him the bird, but she was still too queasy, all she could do was close her eyes, grab the bucket and breathe.
“I’m fine, I’m not gonna hurl.” She told him. Teleporting was totally cool, but it made her want to puke. The key, she learned, was to pretend like it didn’t, but until she could pull that off, she’d have to put up with the teasing — and the bucket.
“Yeah, well you don’t look it. My shift’s almost over, and I swear to god if I have to stay late to clean up your puke… You may be our Lord’s consort, but your puke is as nasty as everyone else’s.”
One opened eye showed him grinning at her. She closed that eye and flipped him the bird. His cackling laugh made her smile. Suzanne liked Bobby, he reminded her of Big Tom from her neighborhood. Like Big Tom, Bobby was a tall, lanky, aging rocker type that treated her like a princess, (although now she pretty much was one).
Every time she saw him, she wanted to ask about his name, but that really wouldn’t fly. Clan names were personal, they had meaning, and like being in a gang, if you weren’t down, you didn’t get to know. She might have been a member of the Clan, but she certainly wasn’t down. If she was, she might have gotten a new name of her own.
Suzanne opened her eyes and shoved the bucket back at him. “I said I was fine.”
“Uh huh, whatever,” Bobby said, taking the bucket and still looking unconvinced. His bearded face scrunched in a frown. “What’re you doing here alone? Does he know you’re here?”
“Who do you think sent me?” She regretted the bite in her voice the minute the words were out of her mouth. It wasn’t Bobby’s fault. “I’m sorry, I just hate this fucking place.”
Bobby folded his long body onto the bench beside her and stared out of the small alcove into Clan Air’s section of The City. When he spoke, he pitched his voice low to minimize the echo. “Listen, the transition is hard, I know. But it’ll get easier.”
She scoffed, couldn’t help herself. When was it supposed to get easy? She’d already been a vampire for about as long as she’d been human — sixteen, going on seventeen years — and nothing was easy! When exactly was she supposed to start to feel like she belonged?
“You’re thinking like a human, it’s still your instinct, but it’s just the remnants of your humanity getting in the way — as my Master liked to say. It’ll go away. I can’t tell you when because it’s different for all of us, but I just know that it will. Hang in there, it’ll all start to make sense.”
Suzanne was afraid to look him in the eye. If she did, the “remnants of her humanity” would take over and she’d pour out all the fear and uncertainty she carried around without an outlet. “Why do you care?” She asked instead.
Bobby shrugged. “I like you. You got me all protective.”
She sighed but said nothing. He sat with her until hurling was completely off the table, and then she got up and walked though the alcove and into The City.
But Lord Lugan, her Master and husband — husband was the same as consort, right? — had sent her down here to buy a slave. Of course, he could send literally anyone but he chose her. What did she know about buying slaves? Not a damn thing. It would serve him right if she brought back a bad one, but Suzanne couldn’t do that. She would try to make a good choice because she needed to make him happy, even though her very existence made him want to pick on her — or worse.
The slave market was in the middle of The City — this wasn’t going to be a quick in-and-out, like a stop at the corner store. Suzanne bit the inside of her cheek and inched forward, joining the crowd, and trying not to let any of these things accidentally touch her. The place was a damn horror show. Fucking man-sized insects, and fuzzy things with oh fuck that’s a tentacle — she ducked down an alley with a repressed scream. Walking the streets of New York she felt like such a bad ass, but down here she was just a punk wishing for a bucket of bleach and a can of Raid.
A loud cheer came from somewhere nearby. Curiosity about whatever could be that exciting overruled her disgust and she set out again. Scooting through the crowd, when she got close enough to the source of the commotion she managed to duck through an opening to find herself near the front of a large circled off area.
“Place yer bets! Place yer bets! Big Poppa is back! You thought he was down, but he’s not out! He’s two and two! Can he make that three? Place yer bets!”
A half-man half-animal wearing a skirt was shouting and indicating something that could be human, except that it was a dark red color, extremely muscular and at least eight or nine feet tall. It walked around in circles, posing while the crowd cheered.
“Or will this challenging MoFo rip Big Poppa a new one? Can you dig it? Place yer bets!”
The challenger was a little shorter and not as muscular, with a huge pointed head and a mouth full of jagged teeth. When the crowd booed, it opened its mouth wider and let out a growl.
“Place yer bets!”
The animal-man continued to shout, walking around the crowd and shaking a large pouch. He was pretty damn hot from the waist up — ripped, with a perfect six-pack. Suzanne both wanted and didn’t want to know what he looked like under that skirt, but those furry legs and hoofed feet probably meant that it wasn’t pretty.
Her pocket buzzed and she started and yelped in surprise. A group of feathered somethings stared at her with beady black eyes as she fumbled in her pocket, embarrassed. Once her fingers closed around the disk, she remembered that there was no switch on the thing and chuckled, trying to play it off.
Other-kin (which now included her), liked to use magic for all sorts of things. The smooth stone disk, about the size of a quarter and maybe twice as thick, was a magical watch — it vibrated every 30 minutes. It wasn’t like watches didn’t work in The City; Lugan was just being a dick when he gave it to her. He’d given her two hours to get to The City, buy the slave, and get back. A half-hour just passed. She didn’t have time to watch some weird wrestling match — or whatever the fuck this was — which was disappointing because she had no idea that shit like this went on down here, and now really wanted to stay and watch. But she had to get moving.
She knew her body was reacting because she was hungry, not because she wanted to eat the meat. She was just always hungry, and it didn’t matter how many times she told Lugan, he refused to listen. He was over seven hundred years old, and could go weeks without feeding. To him, she was just being greedy: “You are young, and the blood intoxicates. It is not nourishment you crave, but the power of the blood.” Which sounded like so much bullshit to her. Vampire or human, hungry was hungry — it meant she needed to eat.
The restaurant was just a hole in the wall — literally. Creeping closer, she peeked in. All these places served blood — on tap, no less. Suzanne could feed until she was finally full, and Lugan would never know.
She pulled the pouch of “money” he had given her out of her purse and rifled through it. How much would it cost? How much would a slave cost? She had no idea on both counts. There could be enough here for one or both with possibly some left over. The smell, combined with her hunger and potential disobedience, made her antsy — could she take the chance? Her feet decided she would.
Her defiance had wilted by the time she sat down at the rough table.
A grey, stumpy, elephant-looking thing shuffled over and sniffed at her. “Blood.” It grunted. The sores on its face, made Suzanne gag, and almost change her mind. Almost.
She nodded her head and tried to be nonchalant. It’s gonna ask for money. It’s gonna ask for money. Please let me have enough. The waiter sniffed at her again before walking away and disappearing into a back room she hadn’t noticed before. It returned a short time later carrying a large metal goblet. “Two.” It grunted again after placing the goblet on the table. She had to gulp to keep from drooling.
Two what? Suzanne opened her pouch and dumped some of the contents on the counter. Fuck it.
The elephant-thing looked at her and then picked out two small crystals — diamonds? — and sniffed at her again before walking away. Funny thing, back in Brooklyn she would never let anyone know how much money she had on her. But this wasn’t Brooklyn and her money pouch was filled with glass, clay, and metal beads, pins (both safety and decorative), gem stones (cut and uncut), pebbles, and polished coins from the surface. How the hell was she supposed to know what it wanted?
Once the pouch was secured back in her purse, Suzanne picked up the goblet. It was warm. The blood was fresh, and she barely tasted it before it was all gone. She had to force herself to stop licking the inside and straining her tongue to reach the remains at the bottom. Having another was an easy decision — one more and then she’d be on her way.
She had three more. Suzanne was full by the third, but she had a fourth for insurance. The “price” had varied wildly each time: For the second glass, it wanted five coins and a safety pin. The third cost a larger crystal and a pebble. For the fourth it took two clay beads and four metal ones. It was hunger, but mostly uncertainty, that kept her mouth shut throughout. What was done was done; she just hoped she still had enough for the slave.
Suzanne was just leaving the restaurant when the disk in her pocket buzzed again. Shit! She only had an hour left. But the good thing was that the blood had calmed her nerves. Her surroundings were a little less disgusting, and she felt more at home in her skin. Feeling better, she picked up the pace — wanting to get this over with as soon as possible.
Whenever Suzanne thought of him, and what they had, she couldn’t help but feel cheated. Being a vampire was totally cool and she wouldn’t go back to being human, but she’d never asked for this life. One minute she’d snuck out of her parent’s house to get a smoke, and the next she was waking up a vampire. Not just any vampire either, but the bride of a king! She had seen all the movies: He had walked the earth for centuries until he found his perfect companion for eternity. What could possibly be more romantic than that?
Except that it was a lie.
When she woke up, the first thing he did after explaining things, and giving her a bit of blood, was smack her across the room. Turns out that her new husband was a mean, nasty, son of a bitch.
But why? Seriously, how do you pick someone to spend eternity by your side and then treat them like shit?
The answer finally came in the form of an old and faded photograph she’d found one day when she was avoiding Lugan and exploring a different section of their compound. If there was one thing that Suzanne had a lot of, it was free time, and the best way she could spend it, was away from him. It was an out-of-sight, out-of-mind thing. If he didn’t see her, or ask to see her, he didn’t beat on her. Simple.
The picture was of Lugan and a woman wearing old-fashioned clothes. He was in a suit, and she was in a high-collared white blouse with poufy sleeves and a dark skirt. She stood next to him with her hand on his left shoulder. Lugan was sitting on his throne staring at the camera — he looked so suave and handsome. Although Suzanne had never gone for black guys when she was human, even back then she would have agreed that he was good looking. But it was the woman that fascinated her — she was petite, with long dark hair, pale skin, and eyes almost too close together, which gave her an exotic look. It was uncanny how much she and the woman looked alike — they could be twins. Handwritten in fading ink on the back was: Lugan + Cassandra 1893. Asking Lugan about it earned her five broken fingers — he wasn’t talking.
Cassandra. Who was she?
Her Clan mates were happy to fill her in, especially since they knew why Lugan chose her. The ones eager to talk seemed amused that she would now be in on the joke.
Cassandra was Lugan’s ex-consort who’d been exiled for misconduct with a slave. (They said misconduct like she’d know what the hell they were talking about, and Suzanne had been too afraid to say otherwise. So much of her current life was spent pretending she knew something when she didn’t.)
The juicy, and scandalous part though, was that Lugan exiled her instead of killing her outright. It was hard for anyone who knew him to believe that he was capable of mercy, but it only went to prove how deeply and passionately in love he actually was. On anyone else in his position, that show of mercy would have been considered a weakness, but they allowed him that one flaw because he was not known to be sentimental.
He had never taken a consort before he met Cassandra and he even went so far as to dismiss the idea of love and to make fun of anyone who believed in it. Cassandra had changed that, had changed him. They’d been together for over two hundred years and so her disloyalty hit him hard. He was bitter and hated her for betraying him, and that, Suzanne found out, was where she came in.
Her resemblance to Cassandra wasn’t a coincidence. She had been chosen all right, but her happily ever after had a catch. She was a stand-in. Every time Lugan looked at her, he saw Cassandra. Every punch, every cruel word, every broken bone, was payback. Suzanne knew that he didn’t actually hate her, because he didn’t know who she was. But that was little comfort. Lugan liked to say that they were together until “death do them part”. Suzanne was very clear on whose death that would be.
“Young ones can be very useful. Heh heh heh.” The yellow-eyed, snaggletoothed, and pointy-eared monster said as it came to stand next to her. “Give you many years of service. Heh heh heh.”
“How much for the boy?” She asked, pointing at a skinny blonde boy of about nine or ten. The now smiling monster stepped into her personal space, causing her to step back.
“Good choice! Heh heh heh. He will be very strong. Heh heh heh.” It said, its moist, nasty breath forcing her to take another step back. “The price, a pittance really, is inconsequential for one such as yourself. Heh. Heh. Heh.” It said, closing the gap between them again.
Oh for fuck’s sake. That laugh was simultaneously creeping her out and getting on her nerves. She stepped back. The disk buzzed again. She did not have time for this! Pulling out her pouch, Suzanne poured some of its contents into her palm and then held it out. The monster grinned at her and then took the four largest cut red stones. It then turned and made a string of those “heh” sounds at another nearby who unlocked the cage.
“You will be needing a leash and collar. Heh heh heh.”
Suzanne stuck her palm out again and sighed. You gonna rip me off for that too? It took a few coins. Probably the only time down here when she didn’t overpay for something. If Lugan was going to send her on these little trips, he was going to have to teach her the money.
She followed his progress as he moved past the stalls. He stopped at one, picked up something and examined it. The entire city had a flea market vibe; everywhere Suzanne looked there was all kinds of junk for sale. Since she knew next to nothing about him, she was intrigued as to what he found interesting, and maneuvered closer trying to get a look.
For a reason that her Clan mates didn’t know, Lugan and Kai hated each other. All anyone knew was that their maker Aram, had hippy-dippy ideas about life that Kai bought into, and Lugan didn’t. Supposedly, Kai didn’t even feed off humans, and gave himself to Lucifer to punish himself for all the wild shit he had done back in the day. He was much older than Lugan and should be Clan Leader, but he’d turned his back on the Clan and didn’t contest when Lugan took over. From what she could tell, the Clan was set against him — he had abandoned them after all. But that didn’t mean that behind closed doors he wasn’t a source of fascination, and a little envy. Suzanne didn’t know what to make of him, and like most of the others she was curious.
She watched him a little longer, he eventually purchased something, but she was still too far away to see what it was. Finally, she forced her eyes away, she really had to get going, get this kid back to… fuck!
Suzanne had been so focused on Kai that she’d dropped the leash, and the kid had wandered away. Where are you, you little… There! Her eyes found him, he was now staring longingly at the meats hanging from a pole in a stall across the market, and Kai was a few feet away on a direct path toward him. No, no no! She couldn’t get the slave and not speak to Kai, and if she spoke to him…?
Nobody from the clan had actually spoken to Kai in ages. He was like a ghost, they gossiped about him, but it was done in secret after making doubly sure Lugan was nowhere around. This was bad, so fucking bad. What if she just said to hell with it and ran? Dammit! She’d been feeling all full of herself too. Braving this dirty, smelly place, sneaking some blood, actually getting the stupid slave… She’d even thought that since she’d done everything he asked, that maybe Lugan would be nice to her for a while!
She checked the distance again, maybe she could grab the kid and go? Fuck it. She took off across the marketplace. When she was within arms reach of the kid, Kai still hadn’t seemed to notice her. Yes! I’m gonna make it.
She grabbed the boy, picked up the leash and moved him bodily in the other direction. That was a mistake. The startled boy screamed and started to cry. Now they were causing a scene.
“Lord Kai,” Suzanne said with a bow, before panic made her mind go blank. It also dilated her pupils and dropped her fangs. Great. She still had no control of the response, and was unable to will her features back to normal. Her face was stuck that way until she calmed down. Embarrassed, she kept her eyes at his waist, until she realized what she was looking at and forced them to the floor at his feet. Tell him your name, stupid. “Um, sorry, uh, my name is…Suzanne.” And I’m an idiot, nice to meet you.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Suzanne.” He lightly touched her chin. “Don’t worry, you’ll eventually be able to control it.” She peeked up at him, and to her great relief, he seemed amused. She snatched that moment to study his face. He was so beautiful, but he looked tired. Exhausted really. It was all around his eyes.
The boy chose that moment to give a particularly loud wail, causing her to break her stare. She tugged on the leash. “I swear to god, if you don’t shut up!” She warned, distantly realizing that she sounded like her mother, which was disturbing given the circumstances.
“He’s hungry, you should feed him.” Kai said, looking at the child. She took that moment to examine his face again — why was he so tired? Slowly, he brought his eyes back to hers. Caught staring — again — she quickly switched focus.
“I’ll take one of those,” she told the lizard-thing vendor, while gesturing at a meat stick, and just like every other time, shoved over a handful of money. The creature promptly plucked out two coins and a blue glass bead with a delicate touch of claws. Suppressing a shudder, she snatched her hand back, dumped what was left in her money pouch and put it away. She handed the stick to the boy, and then wrapped her hand around the leash, making sure she wouldn’t drop it again.
“You are new to The City, and to handling slaves.”
Suzanne would have blushed if she could; although it didn’t matter, her stupid face had already betrayed her.
Kai gestured at the lizard-thing. “Their race is called Grist. For the record, you overpaid.” He held out his hand to the Grist vendor who sulkily dropped the two coins she had paid into it. He handed them to her. “The key to navigating the market is to know who you are dealing with and what they hold valuable. Grists prefer beads; he took those pesos to trade. Also, there are no set prices, the price of anything is determined by what you’re willing to part with.” He winked at her. “Learn to haggle.” Then he gestured to the boy who was happily munching on whatever kind of meat that was. “You have no idea how much you paid for him, do you?” She shook her head.
“Where is your Master? Why are you here alone?”
God, this was so embarrassing, she felt like a misbehaving teenager. “Lord Lugan is my Master…and um…I’m also his new consort, he sent me to buy the slave.” She tried to give a breezy chuckle; it came out sounding like a cough.
“I see.” He really looked at her then, making her even more uncomfortable. “Congratulations. How is Lugan?” Things had definitely turned frosty.
“Glad to hear it. Did he tell you specifically to purchase a child?”
“Um, no. He just told me to buy a slave. I just thought…” She shrugged, feeling his disapproval, but unsure how much of it was directed at her for being so stupid.
“Come.” He said, and turned and set off toward the slave market. It was a command; she had no choice but to follow.
“It’s no big deal.” Suzanne said, but his pace didn’t slow.
When they reached the pens, one of the monsters hurried over and bowed. Before it opened its mouth, Kai had stepped into its space and began talking in that laughing language. Coming from the monsters, that language was both creepy and annoying. Coming from Kai, it was terrifying. In an instant, he had turned into walking death. Spiders ran up and down her spine and she shivered, intent on him.
He never raised his voice, didn’t gesture or touch the monster, but it visibly cowered, and for every step Kai took, it took one backwards. Suzanne felt a little lightheaded when she realized that he was helping her out despite his circumstances with Lugan. He was doing this for her — she might have fallen in love, just a little, as a result. The monster bowed repeatedly and then took her slave and hurried off.
She wasn’t exactly sure when her face changed back.
When Kai spoke again, his demeanor was the same as when they first met, and his voice was casual. “I won’t even try to guess at my brother’s reasons for sending you here uninformed. Call this a wedding present from me to you. The Clan Leaders have their own arrangements with the goblins for slaves. Should Lugan send you again, you merely have to tell them who you are or who the slave is for. Unless he wants something specific, you’ll never have to choose, or pay for them yourself.”
It was all Suzanne could do not to hug him.
The goblin — she really did prefer “monster” — came back leading a female on a leash. The girl looked to be about the same age that Suzanne was when her life had changed.
“Mistakes are sometimes easy to make. Heh heh heh.” The goblin reached out to hand her something. “No hard feelings? Heh heh heh,” it said as it dropped the coins, and all four cut red stones, back into her palm.
“I’m so screwed. He gave me two hours. The rock buzzed four times.”
If Kai and Lugan were on speaking terms, telling Lugan that she was late because she ran into his brother, would be fine. But as it was, she’d pretty much made up her mind not to mention meeting Kai at all. Being late however, would cause him to ask questions.
When he saw the disk, Kai looked surprised at first and then a sly smile spread over his face when he held out his hand.
“Lugan knows modern timepieces are much more reliable.” He spat on the rock and rubbed it in while whispering something, and then he handed it back to her. She made a face but took it when his eyes insisted. “The spell is a simple one to confuse.” The rock buzzed again when she put it in her pocket.
“I don’t get it,” she said. It buzzed once more when they started walking again.
He shrugged. “Some magic is flimsy, other magic is strong. Sometimes it’s the caster’s fault, other times it’s just weak magic. If Lugan takes issue with your tardiness, simply show him the stone.”
It buzzed again.
The giggle that escaped her was very un-consort-like. “Thanks. Do you know a lot of magic?”
“I’ve picked up a few things.” He said, before gesturing in the general direction of Clan Air’s portal. “You can make it the rest of the way?”
“Sure,” she said, disappointed that their time together was over.
With one hand he covered his eyes and said something she didn’t understand.
“I have no idea what you just said.” She said, uncomfortable at having to admit it. Lugan and his cronies spoke the vampire language all the time, but he ignored her requests to learn. That was something for the in-crowd, not the likes of her.
“The shortened version, loosely translated is this: May glory find you and stain your lips with the blood of your enemies.”
She smiled, “Thank you. For everything.”
He smiled in return and she melted a little. “Be well, Suzanne, Consort to Clan Leader Lugan of Clan Air.” Then he bowed and walked away into the crowd.
The rock buzzed again.
Suzanne watched him until she could no longer see his dark head in the mass of bodies. There were very few moments that she treasured, especially in her new life. As she walked back to the portal, she went over and over this one, sealing it into her memory.
“Ooh look at you! I’m sure Lord Lugan will be pleased.” Bobby Sunshine beamed at her from his post, leaning against the portal entrance.
“I thought your shift was almost over?”
He shrugged. “Vampire time, girl. Vampire time. Let’s get you home.” He said with a wink.
The rock buzzed again.
She stepped into the portal making sure the slave was beside her; keenly aware of how much she did not want to go “home”. When the world shifted she remembered a long-forgotten conversation with her mother.
“All I want out of life is to be happy.”
“Who says you get to be happy? Girl, ain’t nobody promised happiness in life.”
The world settled with a jolt, and the slave vomited. Suzanne just managed to keep her stomach, her mother’s words stuck on repeat in her head.
“Ain’t nobody promised happiness in life.”
Bitter tears swelled and she hurriedly tried to blink them away.
The rock buzzed again.
© Susan-Alia Terry
Note: I wrote this story in 2017, it occurs between Coming Darkness and Dreaming in Shadow. While Suzanne is a minor character, she does appear briefly in Dreaming. Sharp-eyed readers will notice a fumble in continuity between these two stories. I decided to leave it in because it’s a minor thing, and because the details work respective to their own stories.