The quickest way out of the Market and to my apartment took me through The Fangs, a neighborhood of entirely legitimate business enterprises run by Seattle’s two vampire perils. The Mist and Mind vampires ran a collection of pleasure houses. The Shadow’s Den owned all the nightclubs. Smaller perils of vampires had long ago pledged fealty to one of these two factions, and they operated the other businesses in The Fangs, under the careful purview of their king or queen.
When people were looking for a good time, they came to The Fangs. If they were lucky, they made it out with their minds intact, their bodies whole.
It was a common mistake. Many who came to Seattle assumed that the Market, which operated under the auspices of the Oceanic Pact, was a safe zone. As if anything within the Twilight Veil was safe.
The Oceanic Pact, the most sacrosanct of contracts, codified over a century ago, outlined the structure within which Seattle’s factions jockeyed for power and influence. One of the chief benefits of the Pact was Market Freedom. None of Seattle’s factions brought their grievances to Market. This relative safety ensured a brisk and steady trade that kept Seattle flush with supplies.
It was this relative safety that led some to relax their guard. While the Pact forbade outright murder, when vampires were involved, there were many options worse than death. Mist and Mind vampires could mesmerize their prey, drain them willingly, and leave them addicted to the euphoria that came from their bite. They were considered the “nice” vampires.
The Shadow’s Den members were not so nice.
And yet, Seattle was lucky these two big players–the Night Queen of Mist and Mind, and Pierce Yang, King of the Shadow’s Den, had carved up the vampire territory this way because the alternative was worse. The alternative was why Slayers existed in the first place.
The alternative was swarms of rogue vamps wreaking havoc in Seattle. Rogues draining their victims to death and turning more rogues. This was an outcome that even the Night Queen and the Vampire King agreed was bad for business, and jeopardized their feeding grounds.
Rogues were something that aligned the Mist and Mind and the Shadow Den together with the Slayers, which made for odd bedfellows.
But I wasn’t a Slayer yet.
The Fangs wasn’t an easy area to navigate. Go one way, you could end up traipsing into the Pleasure District, a high end neighborhood with bistros, salons, and the Queen’s own mansion deep in the heart of the district.
Go another way, and you hit the Dens. The Dens were sketchy, and people with higher risk tolerance levels might go there to gamble and otherwise procure less savory experiences.
If I hadn’t been in such a hurry, so excited by the arrival of the Slayers’ pigeon, so stupidly distracted, I would have circled around The Fangs and taken the long way home. I was halfway into Dens territory before I realized my mistake. Not an auspicious start to my career as a Slayer.
I kicked harder, building up speed on my skateboard. I just needed to get through the Dens as fast as I could to avoid an unpleasant encounter.
I wasn’t worried by the Mist and Mind vampires, but one in particular had taken an alarming interest in me and I wasn’t in the mood for–
“Oh look, a lost little lamb.”
I skidded my skateboard to a stop, just in time to avoid crashing into three nattily dressed vampires who materialized out of the darkness in front of me. The vamps spread out and surrounded me, each one of them dressed in slim dark suits with red accents. Fair haired and pale skinned, they had the kind of generic good looks you find on glossy fashion slicks, but their prettiness was just a thin veneer. If you looked carefully, you would note the hollowed cheeks and darkened eyes. These vamps weren’t just cruising–they were hungry.
The uniform marked them as thugs from the Shadow’s Den who’d sworn fealty to the King of the Vampires, Pierce Yang. This was bad. I was a good fighter, and that was helpful against one vampire. Three vampires posed a serious problem.
I wasn’t an idiot. I knew Market Freedom would keep me alive, but there was a lot of room between not quite dead, and dead.
I made a quick scan up and down the narrow alleys in all directions as the vamps circled me. I didn’t see anyone around with the bright orange armbands that denoted their Slayer patrol status. That meant I was on my own. Just me, my skateboard, and my little bit of breaker magic.
I watched the group warily, trying to discern which one was the leader. The tallest of the three drew my eye, but that was more because of his reach. His arms were so long that the sleeves of his jacket sat high above his wrists. Just behind Stretch was a vampire who wore his platinum hair shaved close, the lack of contrast between his hair, eyebrows, and white skin unnervingly ghostly. To the left of Ghost was the shortest of the three, his blocky shoulders filling out his black jacket with a little more heft. Over his left eye, he wore a patch, which told me that he had that before being turned because the thing about vampirism was it healed most things short of a beheading but some pre-existing issues persisted.
My eyes narrowed slightly as I pulled lightly on my magic, scanning for weaknesses. I paid special attention to Patch and his pre-existing conditions.
The vamps danced around me, weaving back and forth, making it harder to keep track of them. All vampires were a problem for a human like me, but some of the Shadow’s Den members had the ability to transform and fly, which made them even more disturbing.
Pierce Yang didn’t bestow his gift of flight on all of his vampires, but it was a fair bet that the leader of this little peril was one of Pierce’s favored. I needed to figure out which one he was, so I could stay focused on the biggest threat.
Outnumbered three to one, there were only a few ways to handle this and come out with my skin intact. I chose the cocky route.
I kicked my board up and swung it across my back for safekeeping. In a pinch it would also protect my blind side. I flipped back the tails of my duster and planted my hands on my hips. Sweeping back the duster revealed the twin hammers riding on my hips, Thor and Loki, with polished heads of cold steel and fire-hardened handles turned and sharpened into ten-inch stakes, perfect for dispatching unruly vamps.
Below my hammers, silver-chased daggers rested in sheaths on both thighs. At my back, tucked into my vest and out of sight, more knives, short and perfectly weighted for throwing. I might not be a Slayer yet, but I knew how to kit myself out like one.
“Evening, boys. What business do you have with the Slayers tonight?”
The vamps laughed, an ugly, grating sound.
Stretch growled. “The lamb thinks she’s a Slayer. Don’t see no ink. Don’t see no bandana.”
I crossed off Stretch as the leader. Too talkative. Too brash. Down to Ghost or Patch, then. I put my money on Ghost, with Stretch and the third guy shooting him quick glances before turning their hungry gaze back on me.
“You think every Slayer needs to wear their ink where you can see it? How have vamps as stupid as you survived this long?”
That jab earned me a deadly glare from Ghost. He didn’t like being cut down in front of his subordinates. Of course, only the glare was deadly. They weren’t planning on killing me. Not under the Pact. No, they were going to enslave me and turn me into cattle. Anything short of killing me inside the bounds of Market was fair game–a truly devious contract worthy of fae approval. It hardly mattered that vampire enslavement turned you into a mindless zombie, the Pact only concerned itself with true deaths. The only exception was for humans, because we were all outmatched so we could stand our ground or save a life. A human life. Today I aimed to save my own.
Ghost took a step towards me, pushing aside Stretch roughly. When he spoke his voice was a hoarse whisper. “You might dress like a Slayer but you smell like a blood donor. You’re coming with me tonight.”
That was definitely over the line. At least, it was over the Slayers’ line. If a Slayer on patrol were present, they would be instantly adjusting Ghost’s attitude. But despite my attempts to stall, no convenient patrols had come within earshot of my little drama. While Ghost talked, the other two vamps moved to cut off my escape.
I dropped my weight into my knees, getting ready to move in any direction. “Do the math guys, this is not going to end well for you.”
The vamps laughed again, and in the midst of that laugh, Ghost lunged for me, blurring into a pale smear of color.
I already had my weight leaned towards Stretch. As the leader of their small peril, I knew they’d give Ghost the first strike, so I only needed to decide which of the other two to eliminate first. When Ghost disappeared I pushed off and launched myself at Stretch, vampire of long limbs and weak knees.
Both of my hammers came out. Heads out, sharpened stake side down–I didn’t need to attract the attention of Pierce Yang for killing his goons unless I had to. Against vampires, I could go all out with my hammers and see if that discouraged them first.
Stretch had half a moment to register a look of utter surprise as I came straight at him. He probably wasn’t used to being the center of attention. I like to make people feel important. Thor likes to make an impression, too, and he did as the twenty ounce stainless steel head whipped through the thick night air and connected with the side of Stretch’s wonky left knee.
As the hammer slammed home I sparked the active aspect of my breaker magic. The tracings of light that illuminated Stretch tugged at my mind like an itch. I followed the sensation to the point where the green lines faded to pale white inside the vampire’s knee. In my mind the taut knee ligaments were like aged, brittle rubber bands. I pushed with my mind and Broke them.
Bone splintered with a crack that echoed off the brick facades of the vamp clubs. In my magic sight, the bright white point of his knee ligament shone like a tiny supernova as the tissue ripped in half. Stretch’s knee caved inwards at a forty-five degree angle and the vampire gave a scream of surprise and pain as he went down and landed on the destroyed knee.
Even I winced. Which was silly, because the knee would heal within moments of him feeding. Too bad for Stretch it would always return to its original gimpy nature.
In the next moment a wave of…wrongness…rolled across me, the recoil from using my active magic. I’d Broken something, altering the world in a small way. Like dropping a pebble into water, the shockwaves of my magic spread out, then returned, collapsing into me. It felt like chewing tin foil and running my hands through broken glass. I shook it off, the sensation fading as quickly as it had appeared. I’d done this before, trained exactly for this situation. I could do this.
At the instant Stretch hit the asphalt, a rush of rotten air blew past me, whipping the tails of my duster. I’d just dodged Ghost as I’d taken out Stretch. Damn, why wasn’t my uncle here to witness my combat maneuvers?
I spun on the ball of my foot, both hammers up. Patch stared stupidly at me, his one good eye wide and round. Probably not used to their cattle fighting back. Time to teach him a lesson, then. It would take Ghost another second to turn around at the speed he was going. I thrust Loki in a straight jab, aiming for Patch’s solar plexus.
Or at least, I tried. A cold hand grabbed my back leg and yanked me back. My balance disrupted, I windmilled and crashed to the asphalt. Patch grabbed me by the wrist, his bony fingers crushing my tendons. Loki fell to the ground.
From the ground, Stretch had me by the ankle, his face twisted in pain as his knee snapped back into place. Patch pulled in the other direction until my shoulder felt like it was going to pop. I bit down on a scream. Seriously, where were the patrols tonight?
Ghost walked back to me, looking at me like a roast on a spit. “There, now, that’s better, isn’t it? This is the Twilight, where the strongest survive. Sorry, lamb, you just weren’t the strongest tonight.”
The vamp’s mouth hinged open, huge, too wide for a human mouth. His fangs extended, curved tips glistening with saliva. I pulled and twisted, but the hands holding me were like ice cold iron. My heart hammered against my chest and bile threatened to climb up my throat. I tried to scream but all that came out was a high, thready whisper. With my free hand I drew one of my knives. Ghost’s hand lazily slapped my wrist, sending my blade clattering to the concrete.
Ghost placed his cold hands on my face and shoulder and exposed my neck. I bucked, wrenching my body, trying anything to get them off of me. He hissed in anger and his hands clenched. Patch growled, a feral, animal sound, and pulled harder on my arm. A burning star of pain exploded in my shoulder as Ghost’s fingers dug into the joint and I nearly passed out.
He bent down to feed. I closed my eyes and silently begged my family, my mother, and my uncle for forgiveness. I’d failed them.
The vamp’s fangs stopped within an inch of my neck, the scent of his foul breath cascading over me. I sensed a very large, very male presence above me, someone who hadn’t been there the instant before. The agony in my shoulder relaxed as my arm and leg were released and I dropped to the ground. I caught the barest scent of pine, woodsmoke and coffee. It was familiar, alluring, and problematic. Oh no.
Goddess. Relief warred with dread in my gut. I didn’t want to be a blood slave to the Den but I also didn’t want to owe my rescuer.
“Roxy, really? The Den? And after I invited you to dinner at Delightful Distractions.”
I rolled over and tried my best not to wince. The vamps pulled back, except for the one currently being lifted off his feet by the neck. The strong hand wrapped around Ghost’s neck belonged to Tyee Wilder, the lazy vampire princeling who “managed” the Mist and Mind pleasure houses. He was also a royal pain in my ass. He was also saving my ass right now, which only irritated me more.
Tyee filled out his indigo wool blazer to the perfect amount of the stretch, his tailor clearly an artist. His broad chest was swathed in a silky expanse of silver cloth, the perfect foil for the inky waves of his shoulder length hair. With his arm outstretched, holding up the offending vampire, the t-shirt had come untucked, exposing a tantalizing slice of smooth, dark abdomen just above his belt buckle. He was handsome, witty, and charming and had taken an inexplicable interest in me.
I took a moment to steady my breathing and calm my racing heart. With his enhanced senses, Tyee knew how close I’d come to being culled, but I’d be cursed if I’d show weakness in front of the prince. After I got myself collected I forced my eyes up to Tyee’s face, not that it was any less distracting than his belly. “I had to decline your invite since it wasn’t clear if I was dinner.”
His fine brow arched. “Drinks, perhaps?”
Tyee dropped the vamp. I braced myself, but Ghost merely goggled, looking back and forth between me and Tyee before scrambling away from us. Stretch and Patch followed and in a moment they disappeared into the darkness.
Nearly culled by Shadow’s Den vampires, only to become indebted to a vampire of Mist and Mind. Could my day get any worse? “No, Tyee. Same problem.”
Tyee bent and picked up my hammer and handed it to me. He held the hammer with two fingers, like he was holding a dirty dish rag. I snatched it out of his hand.
His smile was infuriatingly alluring, with a ridiculous and unfair flash of dimple. “Yes, of course. Allow me to clarify, ma bichette, I’d like to offer you drinks, on the house, of course, as well as my much sought after company. I’m told my company is quite entertaining. We can celebrate your…victory.”
His pet name for me, “doe” made me wince. Maybe he meant it in a playful way, a reference to my long legs and dark eyes but instead it reminded me that vampires were predators and humans were prey.
He leaned close. “I am more than happy to show you all that Delightful Distractions has to offer.”
I put a hand on his chest and pushed him away. It made me perversely happy to have an excuse to touch him. “Just like last time, and the time before that, I must regretfully decline the invitation. No thank you, Tyee.”
Tyee backed away and laid a hand over his chest, his eyes sad. “Alas. Until next time then, ma bichette.”
A cloud of dark mist swallowed him. Before he disappeared he gave me a wink, and then he was gone.