Content Warning: small details of blood
“Not from around here, are you?”
My jaw tensed up, sparing the asker a glance as he sipped on his crimson. It should’ve been a simple, harmless question— but I knew better than to take it at its face value. “What makes you say that?” I threw in a coy smile as I flicked my brown waves forward artfully like I do for every potential tipper. I kept my hand steady as I wiped another beer glass clean, not letting it disrupt my rhythm. And here I thought I was finally making it after running for a while, only for someone to start catching breadcrumbs.
He stared for a moment, a smirk playing on the corner of his lips, where I was surprised a hint of his fang wasn’t showing yet. I’d rubbed shoulders with foul kin before, but those like him in this town have proven fouler. “The accent,” he settled on an answer, still sheathing any potential advance, “you sound a little far from home.”
And I was, whether I liked it or not. “And what if I’ve decided to call this place home?” Truthfully, I didn’t like where this was going— following through with a blunter response could’ve saved me so much trouble, regardless of his motives. But now I had to play his game.
He stifled a chuckle. “Doubtful. A woman as magical,” he devilishly enunciated this word, and I felt my fingers gripping a little tightly on the glass, “as you could never call this place home.”
Fucking bloodsuckers and their twisted words. But how the fuck could he have known? I was careful— so fucking careful when I’d snuck into town. And now some fanged bastard decides to sit by the bar one night to torment me with this. “Oh, all out,” he noticed as his glass was crystal clear, then slid it across the counter.
I caught it just at the edge, holding back the urge to crush it into a million pieces. “What do you want?” my words were hushed, but dripping with contempt.
“A refill, please, Ms Bartender.”
I flicked the tap, letting the pungent gush of red spill into the glass. “You know what I mean,” I shot back as I slid the glass back over, which he caught with perfect precision without a drop spilled.
His face lightened, straightening himself up on the bar seat. “There’s no need to be alarmed, Ms Kilian.” My nails dug into my hand, realising the worst fear was already here. “If it makes you feel any better, only a small number of us actually know about a little rogue witch taking refuge in our city. After all, we are masters of intrigue— it’s in our nature to know about every little detail that goes on here,” he flashed a fanged grin proudly.
I knew it was a mistake coming here. But where else could I have gone? I was running out of cash and I had to stop somewhere, to try and ‘survive’ for a few weeks before I probably had to run again. It was a wonder how I managed to actually get work on short notice— granted, not a lot of plain humans fancied the idea of serving bloodsuckers their fill in a bar while taking under-the-table money. Didn’t change that I was just running from one jaw of death into another. “Not to mention, the stench of residue on you. A fledgling wouldn’t be able to catch it, but my nose has been primed for centuries.” My hand instinctively went to my head of hair, then quickly went to tuck a lock behind my ear to play it off. “But don’t worry,” he continues, “I’m not here to do anything… unsettling.” Funnily enough, death seemed like the easiest thing that could’ve happened at this next juncture. But no, I couldn’t let them win.
“So what do you want?” I repeated, impatiently gritting my teeth.
He casually takes another sip, making a pleased sound in his throat as he savoured— and not just the drink. “I have a proposition, Ms Kilian” he was clearly enjoying drawing this all out, probably proud of himself for setting up such a show in the quiet of a Thursday night. “I come from a line of work that sources for… live refreshment.”
“Blood slaves?” I spat.
“We prefer the term ‘subjugate’.”
“You can change the term all you want— it doesn’t change the fact that you herd people for their blood,” there was a spark within, remembering the horror stories my mentors once told me.
“Times have changed, Ms Kilian. Our line of work takes a much different approach from what you might’ve heard from a bygone era,” his composure remained. “It’s true— there was a time when most of us believed the most ideal world state was to enslave a part of humanity for the sake of our own feeding. But we quickly realised slaves don’t make for good meals— something about the suffering makes the blood… staler,” there was disgust in that last word.
“You’re denouncing slavery on the count of… awful tasting blood from slaves? Yeah, that’s definitely helping your case.”
“And yet, it was the main reason our kind stopped. It’s the reality, Ms Kilian— as important as the preservation of humanity is to keeping our kind alive, the only way to reason with too many of us is to target the essentials themselves,” his words danced around the point. “But I digress,” he reaches into his grey suit jacket, pulling out a small name card to leave on the counter. “We take pride in our line of work to find subjugates for vampires, specifically the more ‘well-off’ ones. But it is a far cry from slavery: airtight contracts that serve a mutual purpose, some lasting as little as as a few months, others several years even. But the compensation is more than generous, just for providing a few drops a day. And you’re still free to live a life even under the contract.”
It was a mixed bag, if I had to be honest. It was one thing to sell your blood for a one-off, and a completely different arrangement to have it regularly harvested for money. But still, it didn’t hurt to find out more. “And how generous could you possibly be to compensate someone to bleed for you full-time?”
“Very,” he seemed pleased that I was nibbling. “More than enough for you to fly away, start a new life, and still have enough leftover to do it all over again. Especially for one as magical-”
“Witch. Just call me for what I am,” I harshly cut him off.
He was taken aback. “Fine. Witch blood, such as yours, is as rare as they come. You’re a proud lot— witches rarely stoop to even so much as break bread with us, even when there’s so much in it for them. You’d be a delicacy, to say the least. Lords and ladies would be lining up to bid on you if they knew,” I could see him eyeing my jugular now, perhaps imagining that sort of life for himself— having me bound to him to have a filling treat every night. “But money’s probably not the biggest concern now for you, is it?” his smirk grows, and it was infuriating that I was still listening as attentively as ever.
“Your Wardens have probably been hunting a trail for a week, and maybe give it another and they’d arrive in our lovely city to find you. As per the Truce, we’d choose to not get involved in witchly affairs, and no one would so much as bat an eye if they got their hands on you. But with this,” he slides the card further down the bar towards me, “you would have protection— no witch in their right mind would ever challenge a higher vampire for their subjugate, even if they were the most wanted criminal. Dabbling along political lines is hardly worth the trouble, isn’t it?”
It was fetid, how perfectly structured his proposition was. But I expected nothing less of his kin. He read out my dilemma to the letter, and so sinisterly delivered the solution, all on a silver platter. And the worst part, of course, was that I was actually considering. “Now,” he drains his glass, then sets it gently on my side of the counter, “there’s absolutely no need t rush this decision— I don’t expect you to. It’s a lot to think about for such a meagre proposition.” He stood up, pushing the barstool underneath the counter as I realised I was still looking down on him. “Regardless, you know where to find me,” he taps on the card, then with a sleight of hand drops a note of cash under it. “Just show my card to the receptionist, and they’ll know what to do.”
I waited till he was out of sight from the bar window, then let go of the beer glass— surprised there wasn’t so much as a crack. I pocketed the twenty he’d left, then picked up the card. Riz Lavar
“Welcome to The Scarlet Link, ma’am. Do you have an appointment, or are you new to sign up?”
Her cheery voice and intoxicating perfume was definitely off-putting, but I guess I wouldn’t have expected anything different out of a corporation made by bloodsuckers, for bloodsuckers. I’d always been rather disappointed by the reality they’d chosen for themselves—- mighty and macabre beings, yet thriving in the most sanitised and cold echelons of society. It was their nature, to gravitate to something soulless, sure, but imagine all that lost potential with being creatures of the night.
“Hi,” I briefly said as I flashed Riz’s card, hoping he was to live up to his word.
“Ah,” she understood immediately, then went to push a button on the telephone by her desk. “Mr Lavar, your guest is here.”
“Send her right up, please.”
“First elevator to your right, miss. Eleventh floor— should be the first office you see,” she directed with a hand.
Riz’s office was cold, but not in the way I needed a jacket. Everything felt… minimal— the desk, chairs, and cabinets all seemed to have come from the same, greyish brand, with every item arranged too neatly. The only items framed up were documents— accolades from some ancient era, perhaps— and not a single photograph or even speck of colour.
“So where are the piles of contracts you promised I’d get?” I shot straight into business as I took a seat without him even asking.
“Oh, there were piles coming into my office when I had let the crème de la crème know that a witch might be willing,” he opens up a drawer, fishing out a brown folder that he sets on the table, “but I was instructed by a person very high up to make sure this landed in your hands first. And truthfully? I think this is the only one that matters.”
“I thought this was about having options— being able to choose who I’d be willing to ‘sell’ myself to?”
“Trust me,” Riz gestures to the file, “none of them will come close to being this good. I haven’t seen a more generous contract in my time working here.”
I eyed it for a moment, then picked it up. I carefully flipped open the page, where it started with the employer’s information. “Lady Daressa,” I whispered under my breath, a slight tinge of relief soothing me. The idea of being subservient to a man just didn’t leave a good taste in my mouth, and I’m glad I at least got the better end of a coin flip. She didn’t seem too ancient— pushing up to two centuries if my math was correct. “And what’s so special about her?” I asked, eyes still trying to haphazardly scan the information in front of me as her name was faintly ringing a bell.
“Lady Daressa sits on the Elder Council— the board that governs practically most of vampire society,” he narrated, and I could hear a sense of pride in that tone.
Ah, so that’s where the name was from. Vampire politics was never a big topic in witch circles, but you still kept your ear to hear of pertinent movements— like how the humans would catch a hint of different world leaders changing hands from time to time. “Someone important like her must have a lot of subjugates already—- am I gonna have to live with them or something?” the idea of rooming or even sharing a house with another person that sold themselves as a service… it was an odd idea.
“Actually,” he smiles, “you’d be her very first.”
I stared back, frowning. “A so-called powerful vampire and she’s never had a subjugate? Suspicious much?”
“To be fair, she only recently got elected to the Council. If it helps, she’s very pro-human. She was one of the few that vehemently condemned the proposals for blood farming.”
“And yet she still wants a subjugate?” I couldn’t help but see the hypocrisy.
“Like I said, it’s nowhere close to being locked up and harvested,” he gestured to the contract, “go further into the contract— you’ll get to the part that describes what she expects of you as a subjugate.”
I flipped through the pages of legalese outlining my rights if I signed, and I had to admit— from just a brief scan some of these agreements seemed generous. There were limits on feeding, safeguards against potential abuse, all the things you’d expect of a solid contract. But with every black-and-white piece of paper comes the potential to squeeze yourself between words— leaving things ‘open to interpretation’ when I might just get violated. A lawyer would’ve been really nice here, but I guess that was the furthest possibility with my current financial state.
“This contract was written for a man?” I half-blurted out when I read a specific line.
“I’m sorry?” Riz squinted.
I placed the contract on the table, turning it to face him with a finger on the line. “Appearance: Subjugate’s hair must be cropped. Over the ears, out of the eyes, and off the neck,” I read it out to him, and suddenly I started considering the possibility of it applying to me. I shuddered.
“Ah,” he leans back in his seat, unbothered.
“What? Is it a typo?” There was a part of me that had to know.
His lips became a thin line. “No,” he simply said. “Let’s just say that,” he eventually continued after a brief pause, “Lady Daressa is a very… particular woman. She wants a lot of things in a certain way. Some see it as quirks, but they’re typically harmless things. We’d like to think this is just one of those little things. Regardless, she’s a very upstanding woman, I assure you. She will take care of you, you have my word.”
What use was a vampire’s word, anyway? I found myself touching my hair absentmindedly— those scattered waves that were practically starting to devolve into frizz ever since I wasn’t able to care for them while running. Having to get rid of all of this just to appease some hoity-toity vampire and get paid? It didn’t sit right.
He flips the contract towards the last page, then turns it to point at the bottom line. “To help convince you.” My mouth went agape. Well, fuck. I don’t think I’d ever seen a larger number with a dollar sign beside it, all in print. And this could’ve all been for me. “The four-year contract may be daunting, but that’s a number that’s paid monthly. At the end of the term, you’ll have more than enough to restart your life. Not to mention, you would’ve also made a very powerful ally amongst the vampires.”
It was always bittersweet with these bloodsuckers. They promise the sweetest honey, but it’s only once you’ve swallowed it that the foulest aftertaste is left lingered in the mouth. The prospect of having all the means to restart my life in a few years was so tempting, but what was going to be left of me after those four years? I would have to change myself, be a slave to some bloodsucker. Would there even be a life for me with all the money I needed?
“Listen,” Riz interrupted my pondering, “it’s a big contract, and it asks a lot of you. I don’t expect you to sign it immediately. Bring it home with you, and take your time to read it. Knowing your novel case, the offer should stay for a considerable amount of time— I don’t expect any willing witches to pop up on our radar anytime soon. When you feel like you’re ready, just give me a call. We offer a complimentary extraction service as well if you’d like a ride back to our office with your belongings,” he gestures around him. “Once the contract’s signed, we’ll get you prepped up for Lady Daressa in the Processing Department. Then you’ll be set for four years of comfortable living.”
He says those words so easily, like I was signing a lease for a cosy home. There were still so many uncertainties running around my head about this, and a few pertinent parts that were still gnawing. But he was right— there was no way I would sign this immediately. It only made sense to read this contract front to back, at least twice. God only knows what twisted clause they might have secretly baked in to trap me into eternal servitude.
“Thank you,” I picked up the contract as I left the seat, “I’ll call you if there’s anything.” He only flashed his fanged grin— knowing darn well it was more of a ‘when’ than an ‘if’.
Sleep wasn’t coming as I tossed around in that stiff single bed. Then again, insomnia had only been the closest friend the past weeks knowing there were Wardens around any corner, on my trail. I stared up at the blotchy ceiling, thanking a few lucky stars that seemed to want to still look out for me. Getting a room in a crowded city had been a miracle— it didn’t even matter how dingy the place was. With how the vampires controlled most of real estate here, the humans here were typically forced into the darker corners. But dark was comfortable, and a little familiar I guess— away from the glare, out of sight. The last thing I needed was attention drawn to me, though that seemed to have been taking a turn recently.
I turned to the window for the umpteenth time, carefully watching the pendant I’d hung by the sill. The first enchantment my coven had taught me was the ‘safety radar’— a simple incantation on a personal belonging that would alert me if anything within a set radius intended to harm me. You’d think one of the first few spells I’d learn was something flashier, like how the Cynderas learned to wield fire, or perhaps even invisibility like the Brodeurs did. But no— our coven didn’t have that luxury living in the shadows. The first thing we ever learned was to protect our own hide— to know where the enemy was, so that we could run. You can’t fight what you can’t sense, and if you can’t fight at all— just flee. Live another day, for there is no honour in a futile death. But would there even be another day to live? For as much as I can remember, surviving was all we ever did— even more so now just for me. Will there be a day I could actually become somebody?
My gaze fell to the contract by the nightstand, it’s very presence just mocking me. That was a ticket out: one I could take at any time right now if I just had it in me. The moment I got home that day I scrutinised it— over and over again. And I hated that every time I read it, it seemed fairer and fairer. Maybe it was desperation taking root, but there was reason in there. Generous compensation for two feeding sessions a day, and a small commitment to my health. And that stupid line about my appearance.
I shook myself out of bed, clearly not going to get any rest in the next hour or so. I flicked the bathroom switch on, letting that dim, orange light cast against the cracked walls. The mirror was round and small, but enough to see the breadth of my mane. It had been too long since I could give my waves proper, tender care. Hair oils were a luxury I couldn’t exactly take with me, and now my former glory was devolving into disrepair. The ends of my hair that cascaded below my collarbones were frizzy now, and soon enough it was going to be the case for most of my hair if I didn’t find a way to salvage much of it. Well, if I didn’t sign the contract, that was.
I carefully bundled up my hair behind me, curious. I bit my tongue when I saw my ears being so exposed, pretending to have it ‘over the ears’, as stipulated. That was not a flattering image at all— seeing myself without any waves adorning the sides of my face so bountifully. Then again, it wasn’t like my frizz was going to be any prettier in my current predicament. But at least it looked marginally pretty now, right? A slight suggestion that that effort I had put in was still there. Ugh, for fuck’s sake. Why was this the biggest thing I could think of? I was on the cusp of selling my blood, my body, my life, and all I was worrying about was how I would look?
My neck immediately craned to the pendant. Was it the wind? No. Never the wind. Not a single time in these past weeks has it shaken to the wind here. But I stayed rooted for a moment more— watching. Praying. Just let it be the wind for once.
“Fuck.” I snatched it from the windowsill, then hurriedly opened a makeshift map of the surrounding area I had fashioned. Holding the pendant aloft, with its silver circle dangling above the sheet, I incanted. It twirled in the air for a moment, still moving to its whims. Then like a magnet, I felt it pull. Thud. It landed on a row of rectangles, outlining the building complex I’d seen before. Three blocks out. “No, no.”
I peeped out the window, looking far towards the street where they should be turning the corner any moment now. And just my luck, those figures with their dark uniforms dotted the street. But they stopped there for a moment, turning to the closest row of houses before making their way to the door. I heaved a small sigh, taking in what little relief there was in knowing they didn’t know exactly where I was— only that they were sweeping, and that they would eventually reach me. I had time.
Thankfully there wasn’t much to pack— only a few essential tools and reagents required for my own sorcery, and some clothes I’d bought from a thrift store when I’d arrived. By the time I was done I should have enough time to make it out while they were still a block away, and then perhaps make my way deeper into the city, where I’d just have to figure things out as I went. Ugh, I knew they’d come to this filthy city eventually— I just didn’t think they’d resort to it so soon. Would’ve been nice to have another week or so to get some more cash before I had to go, but alas.
I swept the last bits of stuff into my duffel bag, then I remembered the file. I turned and it was still there— still on that nightstand, mocking me. Tempting me. I was down to a few more minutes before I really had to bail, and I found myself frozen. This could all end so soon, so easily. I just had to pick up the phone. No, why mven considering this? A freedom spent running is still better, I keep telling myself. But for how long more? How much more was I going to have to repeat this song and rhyme: of just spending sleepless nights, watching my pendant like a hawk for the slightest of disturbances, only to be ready to pack up and go, doomed to repeat it all over again until I had somehow scrounged up enough to really flee.
I hated this feeling. Hated how uncertain I felt. Hated how I was picking up the phone, and dialling the number. The beeps only rang for a few seconds, but it felt like forever as I kept my careful gaze over the street. And then he picked up.
“Ms Kilian, so nice of you to-”
“How quickly can you get me out of here?” I interrupted.
Silence filled for just a second, and it was enough to deafen. “In a second’s notice,” Riz assured.
“Baker Street, alley between the laundromat and the pizza place. Exactly two minutes from now,” I said, eyes fervently looking out the window for those figures.
I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when I’d reached the street. A limo to pick me up? A bike to speed away? Or perhaps one of them was just going to pick me up and whisk me away with their infernal strength. Just as it reached the two minute mark, a black sedan pulled up right in front of me, and I guess my question was answered. The door to the passenger seats opened, and there Riz was, clad in a similar grey suit that he’d always worn, on the opposite side of the passenger seat, gesturing me to enter.
I threw my duffel bag in before slipping in, slamming the door shut before it sped off past the street lights. “Didn’t think you’d be here yourself,” I said with some surprise.
“You’re a valuable client, Ms Kilian,” he flashes his usual grin. “Lady Daressa has high hopes, which I intend to achieve— and that means being here personally.” And there he went again, singing his adoration for this woman above him that seemed so important. At this point I wasn’t even sure if it was him trying to convince me of her eminence, or if it was truly awe he had for her. “Were they close?” his tone surprisingly dropped, now to one of concern. Something I’d never heard from him before.
“Three blocks out,” I whispered, clutching the pendant that was now around my neck. “I didn’t think they’d be in the city already, let alone this close.”
“Unlucky,” he added, still keeping that pity in his voice that somehow sounded so genuine. “As much as your safety is my utmost priority, I sincerely hope this call wasn’t an escape card you’d use only to reject us.”
I sighed. It was pointed, but fair. A car ride deeper into the city would definitely have been the best hitch to gain ground, but I knew it wouldn’t have stuck just pretending. I unzipped my bag to take out the contract, then handed it to him. I could’ve sworn I saw his eyes light up for just a moment before he took the file, swiftly flicking to that last page. And shamefully, there it was— my initials signed in my own blood above that line.
“Ms Kilian,” Riz turns to me as the car came to a halt, and I realised the office building was just outside now, “I promise: you will not regret this decision.”
Even in the dead of the night the office seemed to be alive, but then again vampires were nocturnal— surely graveyard hours were their actual office hours. Riz was leading me through the fourth floor, where the Processing Department was. Processing. They really did know how to make us feel like objects, sliding through a manufacturing line. My bag was left in the holding area while the processing was to be done, and I would’ve worried about the safety of my belongings if it wasn’t for a quick incantation on the zipper to keep it indefinitely sealed.
The first stop was a lab, where they’d taken a sample of my blood for testing. “To make sure you’re not poisoning your benefactor,” Riz had joked, though I understood the safety of it. Although, I really wasn’t in the position to be making more enemies, especially out of the vampire who was to be funding me. Afterwards he took me to a tailor, where my measurements were taken. “I’m sure you’ll be needing new clothes. Lady Daressa will sponsor them of course, don’t worry. She’ll make sure you have a well-stocked wardrobe,” Riz assured. Being provided well-fitting clothes— that was going to be refreshing at least, rather than just stumbling through dollar stores and thrift shops finding something that looked alright for my tall figure.
“Not to make the prison uniform I’m to wear at her house?” I took a stab, trying to make myself feel better.
“If a prison uniform includes the most comfortable wear to make you feel like yourself, then yes,” Riz played along as the tailor finished up the sizing process.
“What’s after this?” I changed the subject, though secretly I’d wanted this phase to be as long as I could— delaying whatever time I could before I actually had to face the woman I was to serve.
“Well, it’s gonna take some time for us to process your measurements for new clothes,” he looked down at his tablet, where I would guess there was a rough schedule of how I was to proceed through Processing, “so you could go take a shower while that’s happening. There’s a bathroom at the end of the level with furbished individual showers.”
“Okay.” A shower seemed like a really welcome thought now— just being able to stand under all that running water while I gathered myself. The perfect distraction.
“Oh, wait,” he interrupted as I was about to leave, still looking down at his tablet. “On second thought,” he looked back at me, “there was one thing you should do before the shower.”
“Haircut.” My heart sank, and now my mind was flooded just remembering that one important clause that was silently eating at me for so long. Shelving it had served its purpose when I was packing to run. And now it was time to face the music— to actually follow through on this contract. To say goodbye to a large part of me. “The barber’s just two doors down,” he simply gestured.
“Barber?” That did not sound promising at all. I was about to get my hair hacked off by some barber?
“Barber, stylist, same thing. Sort of. A place to get your haircut, basically. Ruby runs the shop we have here, and she prefers calling herself a barber anyway,” Riz shrugs nonchalantly. “Once the haircut’s done then you can get a good shower— clean up all the loose hair since you’re going short anyway,” he mentioned passingly, and it sent a somersault in my stomach. “By then we should have some fresh clothes for you to put on, then you’ll be all ready to head to Lady Daressa’s estate.”
He makes it sound so quick and easy, but it wasn’t like he was the one getting processed. A barber— for fuck’s sake. I guess that was better than just taking a pair of scissors and trying to do it myself, seeing as I didn’t really have any other choice here. Knowing it was a woman that was doing maybe made me feel marginally better, but it still didn’t change the drastic cut that was to come. “You can head on over whenever you’re ready,” Riz eventually prompts me, and I realised I’d been standing in front of the tailor’s mirror for too long.
I awkwardly stepped away, then headed out for the corridor. True enough it was two doors down, and I was surprised I didn’t catch the swirling barber pole when I’d first entered the floor. There was a single glass door and a large window on the side to peep into, where I could see only one workstation. Everything about it seemed to match the vibe of the building— from the greyish walls and floor to pastel coloured waiting chairs. Towards the back of the shop was a counter where a casually-dressed woman in a black apron sat behind, slouched against her chair. She had earphones plugged in, and was clearly absorbed by what was on her phone with her earphones to not notice me staring from the outside.
Her blonde braid was long and artfully draped across her right shoulder. As her head turned ever so slightly, I realised the extremity of it— how a large section of her left side was buzzed so close to the skin. A bold style, though I guess not so surprising from a woman that would proclaim herself a barber, wanting to wear something so bold on her head.
I blew out a sigh, trying my darndest to compose myself. Whatever I was feeling, it didn’t change that I had to walk in eventually. The contract was signed, and I was to face this Lady Daressa— to look perfect for her. I mean, truly, it was such a small clause in a big contract. And I loathed myself for making this feel harder than it needed to be. Ah, for fuck’s sake: here goes nothing.
The little bell on the door rang as I walked in, and Ruby immediately cocked her head up to look at me, tapping her phone screen to pause whatever was playing. “Hello, did you have an appointment?” she takes out an earbud to regard me, a poorly-hidden tone of annoyance in that voice.
“Uhm… I think so? I’m doing my Processing right now,” I do my best to avoid the h-word, despite the elephant in the room.
“Let me check,” she picks up the tablet that was beside her, then scrolls through while still looking unbothered. Then her finger stops. “Oh, right, the one for Lady Daressa!” She half-exclaimed, the life in her suddenly effervescing. “Come, come, have a seat!” she steps forward in an instant, turning the chair to face me.
I forced out the closest thing to a smile as I stepped forward, doing everything I could to at least make this seem like it was something I wanted. Even if it was the furthest thing. I had made this decision— there was no need to make it any harder for anyone. Least of all this woman (vampire, certainly) who was to butcher my hair in just a moment. I carefully stepped on the footrest, then slowly sank myself into that gargantuan chair. For once I actually felt like I was in a chair that was made for my splendour— a small comfort for being so tall I guess.
Ruby turned the chair for me to face the mirror, and there all of me was. Her figure was hidden behind mine, and she had to lower the chair with a few kachunks to make sure she could tend to my larger figure. “Now, what do we have in store for Lady Daressa’s special girl?” she muses to herself as she picks the tablet back up, scrolling through my file. A small part of me wanted to say those lines I’d memorised from the contract that were unwittingly, anxiously etched into me— at least attempt to own it. But the sharp whistle she let out only meant she’d beat me to it. “Oh, darling, we’ve got a shearing on our hands!” she turned to me in the mirror, her excitement knowing no bounds. “You sure you knew about this before you signed?” she feigned concern.
“Yes,” I replied briefly, wanting nothing more than to have this be over as quickly as possible. I’d already gone through the mental gymnastics of settling on this— the last thing I needed was to have someone prancing around my fragile decision.
“I see,” she says before putting the tablet aside, probably catching onto my lack of enthusiasm, “then let’s just get started, shall we?” Yes please, I wanted to say to hurry her up, but I only found myself keeping my lips sealed. She picked up the white cape adorned with neat, blue pinstripes from the wall hook, shaking it out into its full breadth.
Ruby flung the cape over me, letting it drape most of my figure save for my worn black sneakers. She pulled the ends back over my shoulders, then left them there to hang as my mass of hair was still in the way. She started bundling up my hair a little haphazardly, holding it together with a hand while the other reached for one of the hair clips that was attached to her apron. She opened the jaws of the clip, but then paused as she was about to put it in my hair.
“Actually…” she said as she immediately replaced the clip back where it was. Suddenly her hand holding onto my hair tightened as her fingers slid up closer to my scalp, tugging a little asI relented. She reached forward towards the counter beside the mirror, where all her tools were. “Why don’t we just do the easy part right now,” she remarked to my confusion as she returned behind me, hand still gripping that makeshift ponytail. And just then, out of the corner of the mirror I saw her other hand raising the tool she had collected— and everything was made clear.
My hands instinctively gripped onto the large armrests, digging my nails in as I registered those blades sawing through my tresses. As much as I wanted this to be over quick, I knew I wasn’t truly ready to face the result so soon. I gritted as I felt the tension against my head loosening. The droning of the clippers went on, and I knew my fate was already sealed. Bear with it, I kept telling myself. It’s going to be over soon.
The awful clashing of blades and hair soon ended, and that only meant its work was done. My locks spilled forward onto my face now that the tension was released, where my waves were just barely touching my chin. I heard the clippers shut off, though my hands were still trembling at the sudden shock of everything that just transpired. Right behind me, Ruby held that foot or so of damaged waves that I’d been bearing for a while, where she dangled it like a trophy to me. Then just let go of it.
I bit down on my tongue, hard. I watched as my wavy tresses splayed onto the grey floor with the softest thud— all those years of caring for it until recently, and now I’ll never get the chance to repair them after having to neglect them. I couldn’t stare at it for long— instead choosing to just look at myself in the mirror, where only this shaggy mess of waves was left to adorn the circumference of my face. There was a glamour to it, if I wanted to be completely optimistic: I wouldn’t put aside the possibility of carrying a wavy bob well, especially since it’s less hassle. But it was a luxury I wasn’t going to be able to keep now that I was in this chair. It was just going to be shorter. Much, much, shorter. Just don’t cry, my heart reminded as it bled.
“Feels better already, doesn’t it? Cutting off all that frizz and deadweight— now you don’t have to worry about it anymore,” Ruby remarked as she ran a hand through what was left of my hair.
Her words cut so deep, and I found myself biting my cheeks down as well. I wanted to say something so bad— to shout about how it wasn’t like I had a choice in much of this, not being able to do anything about my own hair while trying to stay alive. Years of my pride falling from glory, and now so quickly dismissed as ‘deadweight’ as it was chucked aside. “Mm,” was all I hummed, not exactly in agreement, but just to make some sort of sound. I wasn’t in the right mind to say anything, lest I feared a waterfall was imminent.
Ruby stepped forward to place the clippers on the counter, then tore off a long piece of tissue from a roll. When she took her place behind me, she wrapped it around my neck, making sure it was snug before securing it at the back. “Gonna need this to make sure that hair doesn’t fall through, especially since we’re cutting it real short, aren’t we?” she mentioned, probably realising the odd stare I was making at such a step. She then finally wrapped the ends of the cape together behind me, fastening the clasps of the collar together as I was now fully trapped.
“So, Lady Daressa wants all this nicely cropped, yeah? What was it again… ‘over the ears, out of the eyes, and off the neck’, wasn’t it?” she seemed to be asking rhetorically as she ran a comb through my hair, clearly struggling to get through a few frizzes as the tension tugged uncomfortably. “Alright, I’ll buzz the sides and back down to a #2. Then for the top…” she stopped for a moment, raising a few of those stubborn, bouncy waves with the teeth of her comb. “We could make this quick and just buzz it down to a #4 with the clippers too. Simple n’ short all over.”
I pouted at those words with widened eyes, holding the urge to lose it. Clippers? On top? Fuck no. I knew this was going to be really short, but to have it close to being bald? That was never part of the agreement. “Or…” she continued, and a drop of relief fell into that well of despair, “we could go through a bit of trouble and do a short scissor crop on top, I guess.”
“Yeah, scissors,” I squeaked out barely with a nod.
“Fine then,” her disappointment was evident, but it was the last thing I could care about. For such a big haircut, Ruby seemed to be so unbothered about the way it was going to turn out— as if all she wanted to do was cut off a buckload to meet those ‘requirements’ before moving on with her day. “I’ll still be cutting it really short so that it’s properly out of your eyes. Last thing I want is Lady Daressa having my head cos her special girl’s hair isn’t up to standard.” Special girl. Patronising, but it really was what I was— the ‘special’, foolish witch that managed to find herself being bound to some vampire.
“Do the sides need to be with clippers too?” I found a bit of strength to negotiate, still holding it together to make sure I didn’t crack.
“Yes, no other way about that. The clippers are the only way it’ll be short enough that it doesn’t touch the ears, especially with your stubborn hair,” Ruby gestures with a finger around my ear. Stubborn hair. Of course she wouldn’t be able to tolerate waves that were just a little out of her norm. “Trust me, it’ll look nice. Think of it as an undercut. Very edgy,” she tried to convince me.
“Fine,” was all I could get out, struggling through another bout of emotions rising up. I’d negotiated enough, and I was just resigned at this point. Whatever would get me out of the chair and away from here the soonest.
She started running her comb through the top sections, pinning down each set of waves rather randomly with her clips while the sides were left to hang freely. It was true what she said, though— now that most of the damage from the longer layers were cut off, the shorter waves that were left behind were much more defined. It was still a little haphazard, but the twirls were still there, like when they used to be in much greater glory. Too bad it was all going to be gone in a few minutes.
Ruby reached forward again to pick up her clippers that were left on the counter. This time she rummaged through the tools in one of the drawers, settling on a small guard that she fixed onto the head of the clippers before flicking them back on. Pop. Bzzzzz.
Even the second time around, I couldn’t help but jump a little hearing them come to life. And just like before, she never gave much time to prepare— she simply tilted my head to the left as she took her position on the right side. With her free hand she held my waves aside, meanwhile the clippers were placed on the base of my cheekbones. The blades reverberated through my skull, yet the vibrations were warm against my skin. My hands clasped hard on the armrests, though my face remained tense. There was no use in crying. Everything was already decided— I had decided, and this was my gambit. And without further ado, those clippers were brought up into my mass of hair.
The sound of the clippers clashing against hair was violent, and I couldn’t help but squint just feeling those blades chewing through my locks so easily. She brought the clippers high up towards my temples, stopping just shy of where the top section was separated. She then flicked the clippers away, and in her free hand held the shorn chunk of my brunette waves. Ruby didn’t hold them for any bit of sentiment— within a split second she had tossed them forward onto the cape before holding up another section of hair that was still attached to my side. I held back a wince watching her being so careless with my hair, but the greater terror was what remained. The path she had mowed on my head was short— so fucking short. The tiniest of fuzz was left behind that stood up without a hint of curl.
“So what’s so special about you?” Ruby asked as she made another pass with the clippers.
“What?” I wasn’t expecting much talk from her, but I guess it’d serve as a little distraction while trying not to focus on her tossing away my shorn hair with every swipe of those clippers.
“No need to be coy— I know Lady Daressa doesn’t just take anyone. There’s gotta be something about you. What is it? You some distant ancestor of royalty?” she continued probing as her hands operated like clockwork to shrink my mane.
So she didn’t know. Did she not read my file in full? Wouldn’t be surprised about that with how carefree she seemed. Or maybe it only showed the important parts to her, like how much hair she was to butcher off. Strange that she didn’t catch onto the residue that’d been clinging onto my hair for so long. Whatever it was, the less she knew the better. “Just lucky, I guess,” I bullshitted. Though to be fair, it wasn’t exactly a lie— you could say I was ‘lucky’ enough to be offered such a deal given my precarious circumstances. I wonder if any of the others made it far enough to actually start anew.
“You bet your ass you’re lucky— Lady fucking Daressa? Mother of Darkness,” she cussed, invoking the equivalent of her Jesus Christ or whatever matron goddess these bloodsuckers worshipped. “That contract must have a shit ton of cash on it, huh?” she asked as she folded my ear down to run the clippers across my temple.
Not enough, I wanted to say as I watched those curls tumble onto my shoulder, still having so much trouble getting over what I was losing for some numbers on a paper for a new life. “It’s generous,” I kept my words brief, and it almost felt like I was trying to convince myself as her finger let go of my ear. It perked up, standing amidst the rough stubble that was nowhere close to touching it. Over the ears.
“Generous enough to lose this mop, I see,” Ruby remarked as the right side was now curtly free of my waves. “Head down,” she instructed as she pushed my head down, digging my chin into my chest. I felt her moving the hair on my back aside now like she did before, then the clippers took their place at the base of my neck. They were then pushed right up into the nape, eager to continue its massacre.
This probably would’ve been the best time for the waterworks to come— when I was just staring down at those poor severed locks while Ruby was focused working on the back. But no matter how much I wanted that bit of release, not even a tear wanted to come out now. Everything was just turning numb. “Hmm… I think Lady Daressa’s onto something here,” I heard Ruby muse as the clippers did their ruthless work. “‘Off the neck’… what a perfect request-” I stifled a gasp when I felt it— that cold skin just brushing across the naked skin below my shorn nape. “A deliciously exposed neck to feed on any time she wants without obstacle.”
And maybe it started to make a little sense now. The best slave would be the one that’s always prepared to provide for their master— and the best subjugate would be one whose neck was always primed for feeding. Still didn’t change how unnecessarily extreme all of this was. “Now you’ll get to show off that pretty neck all the time— you’d better thank Lady Daressa for making you do this.”
By the time she pulled my head back my flush was thankfully gone, though I was still reeling from that unexpected winter on my neck. And if being fed on was what I imagine it to be, it was probably going to be a norm to get used to, being manhandled by such icy fingers. She tilted my head to the right now, then continued on her path to shearing me like a sheep on that side that still held my lively hair.
The cape and floor was just a mess of brown waves now, but even when stripped off my head they still looked so beautiful. One day when all of this is over, when I was far away from righteous wardens or opportunist bloodsuckers, I would regrow all of this and appreciate them like never before. It was a promise— an oath.
The loud humming of the clippers soon stopped to my relief, and I felt like a small weight in my chest was released, finally able to let out a breath for once. I wanted to think that the hardest part was over— the part where my hair was being lopped off so easily with that terrible device. Ruby placed them back on its hook, then returned to my side to start undoing the clips atop my head.
The layers closer to my scalp were definitely not as damaged, and with how full and thick it still was it definitely gave off the illusion that I still had that wavy bob, even if it was all over the place. She picked up a spray bottle from the counter, then started misting my hair as the comb raked it straight backwards uniformly. I had to hold back from shuddering just feeling the drops of water trickling down my buzzed sides, all while Ruby tried to tame what was left of my hair. She was definitely not experienced with anything even slightly curly.
It was a ghastly sight— seeing my hair forcefully straightened by the water while my sides were all so exposed. Once it was sufficiently damp to her liking, she set the spray bottle back down, then picked up the scissors for the first time. Ruby started towards the back of the crown, where she combed up a significant section before holding the section with her forefingers. I barely had time to register that miniscule distance between her fingers and my scalp before those scissors went SNIP SNIP.
Wet locks fell onto the back of my shoulder with a thud. Before I could even catch a glimpse of how short the length left behind was, Ruby immediately combed up another section, poised to continue without delay. Comb, snip snip. Comb, snip snip. Her pattern was fixed, and with each snip another sizeable tuft that poked out of her fingers was made victim to the steel blades. It was a crude method— the way she was forcefully straightening out my curls to reduce the length rather than cutting them as the waves were. But what else was I to expect out of the barber from the Processing department? It was no high end salon— just a chop shop to get contract requirements met before shipping them off.
Damp clumps of hair were raining so quickly around me, and I was doing everything I could to ignore the fact that it seemed to be just a little longer than the dry locks that were buzzed off a moment ago. Ruby worked fast here, and I was left to watch that bob being dwindled at an alarming rate with every click of the shears. The final length was starting to be more visible as she was reaching the front of my crown, and I just wanted to combust as that wave of realisation was hitting me.
Suddenly she swiveled the chair ninety degrees to face the side, and a part of me was thankful to be spared from that harrowing image in that mirror. Ruby was directly facing me now, bending down slightly as she combed down the front layers of my face that would’ve made my bangs— still putting in so much effort into ‘straightening’ out the wavy texture. Oh god, bangs. Did she even know how wavy bangs should look like? Not that it’d matter to her, and by now I think I should’ve just not cared anymore. It was a butchering, and I was to just sit quietly and suck it up.
I felt the shears insert themselves above my eyebrows, ready to meet the requirements. SNIP, SNIP, SNIP. I shut my eyes, not wanting to experience that horror of my vision gradually clearing up. SNIP SNIP SNIP. It tickled as it all went sliding down my face, but I kept myself rock-hard. SNIP SNIP SNIP.
Ruby swiveled me back to face the mirror, and I took it as the cue to open my eyes. I bit my lip, holding the urge to show my shock. While the sides were brutally short, the locks on top seemed to only marginally little longer. It was a frighteningly short crop— it would’ve been generous to call it a pixie. The front though surprised me the most. She’d left it a little longer than the rest of the top, and while they were probably snipped just above the brows, it curled up about a couple centimetres which added some flattering texture. The bangs were cute, but it really was the only consolation amidst the shortest tufts of hair that were on my head.
But Ruby’s crooked lips seemed to spell more calamity. With her forefinger and thumb, she grabbed onto a piece of the bangs that graced my forehead. Carefully, she pulled it down, extending the wave out into a straight lock of hair. “Hmm, too long,” she simply said as the ends grazed my brows, and my heart shattered. Before I could even consider protesting, she was combing up the bangs, then holding it with her forefingers like she did for the rest of the crown. SNIP SNIP SNIP.
I was in a shellshock, watching that ounce of goodness I could appreciate of my hair being taken from me as those short locks zipped right down. When she combed it back down to inspect it, a smile was scrawled over her face when she realised it was too short to curl, and was deftly out of my eyes. “That’s better. ‘Over the eyebrows’, wasn’t it?” she ruffled through those short locks. “Wait, or was it just ‘out of the eyes’?” she paused, and I could feel myself just losing it realising she took it further than what it needed to be. “Meh, same thing, isn’t it?” she simply shrugged, “over the eyebrows is still out of the eyes. A little shorter, but it’ll save you a trip maybe.”
As if she had to remind me that I was to keep it so short for so long. Without the bangs it looked coarse, and you would really have to look closer to even figure out that my natural hair texture was wavy with how straight and short it seemed on top. And without all that hair around my head, my face just felt overwhelming now. Every single feature from my green eyes to my lips just seemed to pop out so unexpectedly now, and it was jarring seeing myself look so foreign yet still eerily familiar.
She soon picked up the hairdryer, then flicked it on to blast through my crop. Her fingers could barely grab onto my locks as she dried, and with the way she directed it it seemed like she was forcing the short tufts to stand up all spiky. With how short my hair was, it felt like she was using it to dust off the loose clippings rather than actually drying. She shut the hairdryer off when it was to her satisfaction, looking proud of herself as she micromanaged the few spikes on my head to stay off my forehead. “You’ve got a pretty face,” Ruby complimented, though it sounded like a ‘you’re lucky for that’ more than a genuine comment. “Want me to show you the back?”
“Okay,” I meekly replied, still surprised I was holding on.
She picked up the hand mirror from the counter, then flashed it behind my head. I turned a little from side to side, learning nothing more than the fact that the back was as short as the sides. I was going to have to get used to seeing my neck so exposed. I was to walk around looking like the perfect snack for this Lady Daressa from this day on. “You’re free of that mop you came in with. Now you’re looking ready to serve the Lady herself,” Ruby had to rub in one last bit of salt. Though by this time the insults just stopped hurting. I was bruised enough by the course of the haircut that nothing could really sully me further. I’d been brought down to the lowest I’d been in a while, but it was what I had to accept. For a better life.
The cape was soon being undone, along with that neck tissue that did its purpose. She let the ends of the cape hang for a moment, then got out a neck brush. She briskly dusted my sides and back, then all over my head as if to mock that lack of hair while those bristles tickled uncomfortably. In a swift motion, Ruby whisked the cape off, flicking it so nonchalantly to the side as my years of growth tumbled to the floor. I was left with that image of me in the mirror with my tank top, looking more naked than ever with so much skin from the neck up showing. Curiously, my hand reached up, tempted to acquaint myself with this different version of me I was to accept so quickly.
A soft whimper left my throat, having to internalise what was left of me. Everything was stark fuzz, where it was drastically shorter on the sides, and the top was just barely enough for me to even hang onto. It was still so surreal, losing so much of myself in one night. I stared down onto the floor, biting my lip to see that grand mass of hair that littered the floor, messily forming a horseshoe ring around the chair. Maybe I could’ve kept a piece— to remind myself of who I truly was while I had to-
“Shower’s at the end of the corridor,” Ruby mentioned dismissively as she started sweeping up the lost locks. “Gonna be quick showers for you now, huh?” she teased cruelly, and I could only make a brief face to respond.
I carefully got out of the chair, giddy with how abnormally light everything felt for once. I spared her a brief “thanks” before heading for the door, just wanting to get away from all this as she swept up my legacy so nonchalantly. I marched straight for the showers, wanting nothing more than to drown in it.
I’d spent a little longer in the shower than I needed to, doing what I could to force out something. But only a few stray tears could come out then, and I was just left with that awful sourness in my heart lingering. There was a teal off-the-shoulder dress waiting for me outside the shower along with my belongings, and I assumed that was to be what I was presented to Lady Daressa in. It was uncomfortable having so much of my shoulders up exposed, even though it made sense that that was the part of me to be marketed to my master.
The car ride after was a blur, just watching the flashing lights of the cityscape run by. Riz had tried to chat me up a little at the start— attempting yet failing to compliment how I looked as I only glared back at his comments. He then shifted the topic, doing his best to talk up Lady Daressa and what was to come for me. But he soon caught on to the numbness as I gave one-worders after another, preferring to just sit in quiet after a harrowing night. Every once in a while I’d reach up to run my fingers through my hair, only to be harshly reminded that it was all gone— probably all dumped in the garbage by now. There was this nagging temptation that kept haunting me to keep stealing a glance at any reflective surface— whether it was the sideview mirror or even the faint reflection of the window glass. I keep hoping I’d look in there, to see that my hair was still the way it was, only to be shot back down by that image of me in a painfully short crop, courtesy of Ruby.
“Here we are,” Riz eventually announced as the car came to a halt. I peeked outside to regard the street, where the night lamps lit up the rows of large estates that filled the landscape. Every house seemed to be grander than the next, all with their own well-maintained lawn. This seemed like quite the affluent neighbourhood, if I could even call it that. I was snapped out when the car door was opened, where Riz was already outside my door with my baggage in hand, ushering me out of the seat.
I carefully stepped out, still feeling off-balance without that familiar weight hanging on me. Riz spoke a few words to the driver before closing the door, then gesturing to where the house was. As numb as I was, I had to admit there was a charm to Lady Daressa’s estate— for one thing, it actually almost resembled a gothic castle. Finally, a vampire that actually lived up to the scary stories they told us as kids.
We walked up the stairs towards the gargantuan front door, where Riz bent down to press the intercom beside it. “State your business,” a silvery voice echoed after the buzz. “Riz Lavar, my lady,” was all he said in return. There was a pause after he let go of the button, and then the door in front of us creaked open without missing a beat. “After you, Ms Kilian,” he gestured, and I took the first step into my enclosure for the foreseeable future.
The inside was as magnificent as the outside— the floor and walls were made of polished oak, though the furnishing still seemed rather bare with only a few regal-looking tables and chairs. At the opposite end of the atrium held a stairwell that branched up to two different wings of the house, and just above the foot of the stairs was a large chandelier that lit the house scarcely.
“Come, Lady Daressa’s office is up on the left,” Riz urged after closing the door behind him, leading the way up the stairs. I had to break into a brisk walk just to keep up with him, almost like he was speeding to get to her office. We walked down the corridor of that second floor for a moment before stopping at one of the double doors. “Wait here,” he instructed with a finger, gesturing to the spot I was standing on. He knocked on the wood, then entered by himself, leaving one of the doors open while I was concealed behind the other.
“My lady,” I heard him greet, “it is my utmost honour to serve you.”
“Riz,” that silvery voice echoed through once more. Even with just one word I could feel the gravity in her tone.
“Would you like me to bring her in, my lady?” he cut straight to business.
“You go on and put her belongings in her room in the East Wing, then you may take your leave. I’ll follow up with you on the commission sometime soon. For now, I’d like to speak with her personally.” I felt the shudders tremoring through me, realising the fate of my future was right there, in that room. Finally, I was to meet her— this eminence that everyone held in high esteem.
“As you wish, my lady,” Riz uttered before he returned to the hallway, with pure awe written across his face. “I wish you all the best, Ms Kilian,” he gestured, inviting me in. This was it— it was time to face the woman I was to go through all this trouble for. The woman I was to serve to have my promised freedom. I took one last deep breath, then stepped inside.
The office was better lit than most of the house, though with a ceiling lamp in the shape of a lily that wasn’t as grand as a chandelier. Towards the end of the room was a large desk, neatly organised with files and stationery, though only a fountain pen was being used to scribble onto a parchment by her. I carefully made my way into the centre of that carpeted floor, taking my place just behind the empty chair right in front of her desk. I almost jumped hearing Riz close the door behind me, and that was when she looked up.
Her eyebrows raised at the sight of me, perhaps realising she had to cock her head up a bit more than what she expected to fully regard me. “M-my lady,” I bowed, suddenly unsure about my decorum in her presence.
“Please,” she interrupted, though not in an unpleasant way, “you can call me Vereen. And there’s no need to bow— you are my subjugate, not a servant.”
“Isn’t it the same thing?” I frowned, looking right at her now. And suddenly I was beginning to understand what everyone was talking about. Her rich brown skin was smooth, giving off an ethereal sheen similar to the pallor of other bloodsuckers. But hers wasn’t as ghastly— it felt almost holy. Her hazel eyes looked on with a calculated gaze, though not harsh enough to feel like I was being searched. And her hair— my goodness, she held such luscious, black curls that adorned her face perfectly in a bob.
“There’s a strict line I draw between subjugation and service— one that you will learn in due time under my care. Please, have a seat,” she instructed with an elegant wave of a hand. I obeyed, slowly lowering myself into the grand, cushioned chair to face her, though she still had to look up a tad bit. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Tamara.”
Hearing my own name felt disorienting after having Riz regard me by my family name for so long, but there was a softness in the way she spoke it. “Same to you, Lad- Vereen,” I corrected myself, the name rolling off my tongue a little awkwardly. She gave an encouraging smile, and I wondered if it was genuine or if my guard was just lowering so quickly around her.
Vereen stood up, revealing her silk burgundy suit that fit her lithe figure like a glove. She glided around the table, standing right by my side as I was now the one forced to look up to her. Her eyes still had the same curiousness from when I walked in— ever omniscient, yet never glaring. “Do you mind if I examine you, Tamara?” she asked. My brows furrowed for a split second, still unfamiliar with how… polite, she seemed. “Go ahead,” I consented, secretly worried she was to delve uncomfortably.
“Thank you. I promise I’ll be gentle,” she said before standing directly behind me. Her hands rested on my shoulders, and I had to stifle a gasp feeling those chilly fingers on skin so bare thanks to my dress. I was expecting her to pull down on it— to reveal every part of me to her for her inspection. Instead, those fingers found either sides of my biceps, softly pressing into the muscle like I was a specimen. “Strong,” she whispered as her hands slid down the length of my arm, careful not to let her sharp, lilac-polished nails ever scratch a piece of skin. “How tall are you? Six foot?”
“Five eleven,” I corrected, though that inch was always a toss-up. Some people didn’t exactly like a tower of a woman.
“You are majestic, Tamara— has anyone ever told you that?”
The compliment came out of nowhere, especially since it was a word that I’d never quite heard used to describe a person, let alone a woman like me. “No,” I replied, “but thank you.” I kept my replies measured, still wary about wading these shark waters that appeared too tamed to be true. I was half-expecting her to still invade me in some way— to perhaps grope my bosom or some other delicate part to remind me of my place. But none of that came.
Her hands soon found their way back onto my shoulders, then up my clavicle. Towards my miserably bare neck. This was it— the reason why I was here. To offer my blood up to her willingly, to satisfy that infernal thirst, all for that chance of restarting my life. I kept my eyelids shut, bracing myself for those fangs that I was to surrender to for the next few years. I knew they were going to hurt, but how much? No one ever really survives a fang bite, unless you were kept alive specifically to be fed on. And witches would rather die than serve the monsters my ancestors created. I dreaded the bite. But it never came.
Her hands moved further up instead, towards my… head? I felt those gentle fingers rubbing across my excruciatingly short sides, slowly inching up to the tufts of hair that were still left on top of my head. “That girl in Processing— Ruby— she cut your hair, didn’t she?” Vereen asked out of the blue, still caressing my cropped crown.
“Y-yeah,” I replied, perplexed at the relevance.
“That explains,” she sighed softly, to my confusion. “Your hair, it’s so… brutish. Like it wasn’t shown any love or care at all. I knew Ruby wasn’t the best, but I didn’t think she’d go overboard and butcher your hair like this. If I’d known much earlier I’d’ve made sure she didn’t get your hands on your hair like this.” Her figure appeared in front of me, though her hands were still skimming across my head. Naturally I thought I’d cringe, feeling her lavishing in that shamefully short pelt of hair. Yet oddly enough, I didn’t hate the way her fingers felt on my scalp. “But you have magnificent features. No matter how dreadful your hair might be, nothing could sully your face, Tamara. You carry quite the gamine charm, my dear” she smiled softly, and my heart somehow eased hearing those words.
“And don’t worry, you won’t ever have to go back to Ruby. From now on you’ll have someone who’ll treat your hair with respect when you’re going to get it trimmed, okay?” She offered, holding my chin in her hand now to let me look up at her soft smile.
“Okay,” I cooed, unsure how to respond to this… apology? I guess there was some comfort in knowing she felt bad about the ordeal I had to go through, but it still didn’t change that her requirements still stand. Pretty or no, it was still going to be just a short head of hair to be maintained while I was under her.
“Good,” Vereen said before she returned to her desk, perhaps satisfied with her ‘assessment’ of me. “Now, why don’t we go over some housekeeping matters,” she cut to business as she lowered her figure gracefully into the chair to look up to me once more. “The contract stipulates two fixed feeding sessions per day, and I intend to keep it that way. One will be at midnight, and the other will be at noon. Feeding sessions will only take place in the feeding room.”
“You’re not just gonna feed whenever you feel like it?” I found myself asking.
“Oh, no no,” she shook her head vehemently, causing her tight curls to rock back and forth with her. “That would be absolutely vile. Feeding is… intimate, to me, unlike how most others view it. Fixed hours also makes sure you’ve more than enough time to prepare, rather than just prancing on you whenever I feel like it.”
“I see,” I airily replied. There was a comfort in knowing I wasn’t just going to be violated according to her whims, and that I just had to make sure I was mentally ready for it twice a day at fixed intervals. Maybe this deal wasn’t so terrible.
“I’m sure as far as you can see, I do not have any household servants— I do all the necessary housework on my own, but we shall be splitting that a little now. The East Wing will be your responsibility, and I trust that you will keep it neat and orderly. You will have to do your own laundry as well— the laundry room’s right beside the kitchen on the ground floor. Oh yes, and speaking of kitchen,” she looks up from her parchment, “do you cook, Tamara?”
“Uhm, well, I can.” It’s been so long since I’ve actually been in a kitchen to do my own cooking comfortably.
“Splendid. I’ll make sure to keep the pantry stocked up. The kitchen’s been quiet ever since I moved in, and at least now someone’s going to inhabit it. I trust you should be able to take care of making your own meals, yes?”
“Okay,” I agreed, a little overwhelmed. I expected to come into Lady Daressa’s household as some prisoner of sorts, to be cooped up and kept healthy just for her feeding pleasure. Now, it almost seemed like she was making me her housemate— delegating responsibilities around the house, but at the same time giving me a stake here.
“I mean, you don’t have to cook every day. Go ahead and order in from time to time. But the kitchen’s yours, basically. And that means you keep it clean as well, understood?”
“Understood.” I found it weird that there was even a kitchen in a vampire’s estate, but I guess there were some gourmets amidst the bloodsuckers. They never needed ‘human’ food to live, as far as I was aware— just blood. But I guess some still miss the culinary delights we enjoy.
“And… that should be all the groundwork settled,” she concluded before setting the parchment down on her desk, then stood up. “Come along, Tamara, why don’t I give you a tour of the house?”
The house was as grand as I expected it to be with its tinges of a bygone era, even though according to Vereen it was only very recently built specifically for her. She apparently only took a seat in the Elder Council after a former member had passed on tragically, and she was still getting used to having her own estate while also taking the time to slowly furnish it. While the ground floor was the ‘common area’ that would hold guests and whatnot, the second level was split into the West and East Wing— the former belonging to her, and the latter to be mine.
“You should have more than enough space for yourself: your own room, a bathroom, and even a spare room for you to practise your witchcraft, if it pleases you,” she introduced the various doors in the East Wing. That last part was definitely a surprise— I never thought I’d even be encouraged to practise my own craft, given vampires’ general disdain for our sorcery. Not that I had any ill-intentions with it, though I was very sure Lady Daressa was more than powerful to ensure I was cut down before I could even so much as think of stabbing her in the back.
“This is your room,” she announced as she opened the door, and I was instantly starstruck. Never in my life had I seen such a gigantic bedroom, with its own large four-poster bed adorned with crisp linen sheets. My duffel bag was already there at the foot of the bed, dropped off by Riz before he took his leave. There was a window towards the back wall, though the blinds were pulled down deftly to only allow a thin line of light to seep through and cast onto the marble floor. A large dresser was just opposite the bed— a barren vanity that I guess I was to start filling up when I had the chance. “It’s not much, but I’m sure you’ll be comfortable enough to make it your own in due time,” Vereen humbly said.
“It’s nice,” I complimented, understating how in awe I was. I was immediately drawn to the wardrobe that was against one of the white walls, opening them to reveal an empty rack save for a few gowns that were tucked near the side.
“Ah, yes, those are your feeding gowns,” Vereen enlightened me as she stepped closer. “You are to take care of them, and make sure you’re dressed in it during every feeding session, is that understood?” she instructed.
“Perfect. Now, why don’t I leave you be while you get comfortable. Our first feeding session is,” she picks out her pocket watch to check the time, “in about four hours. Take the time to get settled in, unpack and whatnot, get yourself acquainted with the house, then make sure you’re in the feeding room all dressed up. I will see you then.”
The last few hours of settling in had been calm— mainly just unpacking whatever little I had in my duffel while acclimating myself to such a large room. To think all of this was now ‘mine’ for the foreseeable future. The feeding room was just two doors down from my own room, and I started heading there just about ten minutes before noon so I could see what it was all about. For something so suspiciously named, I was worried it might look like some intricate lair filled with all sorts of infernal devices to feed on me in some twisted way. But as I opened the door, I realised my fears were rather unfounded.
The walls were a dark, serene shade of blue— almost like looking up at the night sky without its blanket of stars. It was actually smaller than my room, and was practically bare save for a stool and a chair right behind it in the middle of the room. I stepped forward to take a closer look, examining the regal red of the two seats with golden tassels. I carefully took a seat on the stool, where it was probably going to be where I nestled myself while Vereen was to feed on me from the chair. For something as simple as feeding, Vereen seemed to want a rather particular set-up. The satin gown I was to wear fit like a glove, and I wouldn’t mind actually sleeping in something so comfortable. If it wasn’t stained with blood after this, that is.
The door creaked open eventually, revealing Vereen’s lithe figure, now clad in a silver gown that was of an identical design to mine. In her hand she carried a wide, gold bowl, with what I could assume was a towel inside. She glided towards me, her graceful movement still so amazing to watch. “Comfortable?” she asked as she set the bowl beside me.
“Yeah,” I meekly replied, twiddling my thumbs as she took her seat behind me.
“Goodness me, your heart is racing,” she called me out, placing a hand on my shoulder. It was hard to hide it from a vampire I guess— I bet she could even sense the trepidation inside me from the moment she entered. “Are you… afraid?”
“A little bit,” I confessed, unsure if I should face her.
“It’s your first time being fed on, I’m assuming?” she asked. I nodded. “Come here,” she instructed gently as I felt her hands on my shoulder. She slowly pulled me into her, letting my back rest in her chest as I tried to steady my breaths.
“How much will it hurt?” I had to ask, wanting to at least prepare myself somehow.
“There’ll be a very brief shock when I first plunge,” Vereen began narrating, “but after that, it won’t hurt a single bit— in fact, it might even feel good.” That last part was not at all what I was expecting to hear. “You see, when vampires bite, they can choose whether they want it to hurt or not. And I promise you that you’ll always feel nothing but bliss when I feed. Okay?”
I loosened up a bit as her hands found either side of my arms, lightly stroking to calm me. I wanted to believe her, but I also had my doubts given my position. Anyone wanting to take a bite of you would say anything they wanted to get you to adhere, and I found it hard to believe those sharp fangs of hers digging into me wouldn’t cause excruciating pain. But it wasn’t as if I had much of a choice to protest. This was to be my station for the next four years, and I could only hope I’d get used to the pain. “Okay,” I resignedly said.
“Good,” she affirmed. “Here, hold onto me,” she offered out her right hand, and I carefully interlocked my fingers around that chilly palm. “If it hurts, you just squeeze as hard as you want. Are you ready?”
“Yes, Vereen,” I whispered. Her other hand went straight for my head, tilting it tenderly to my left to let the right side of my neck be open bare for her. I closed my eyes, feeling her curls tickling across the back of my neck as her head dove in.
Gasp. There was a hot flash as those fangs sank into my skin so smoothly, and I instinctively gripped hard. But as I started to feel that crimson trickling out of my neck, everything felt calm. Not a single ounce of pain. Instead, there was a wave of pleasure that was washing so slowly over me— a feeling I hadn’t been blessed with in so long.
Before I could even drown myself in such bliss, her fangs escaped my flesh. The ecstasy lingered for just a moment, then faded gradually back into normalcy. I cocked my head ever so slightly to try and look at Vereen. Her hands delicately dabbed the towel against her lips, revealing her lips to be clean as ever as if she hadn’t even fed. She then raised her left hand to her fangs, making an incision at the base of the palm.
“Here,” she lowered her oozing hand to my lips, “drink. It’ll help you heal.” Absentmindedly, my lips found her icy skin, tilting my head back as I felt her blood trickle down my throat. It was… sweet, with an aftertaste that was just slightly bitter. I only took a few gulps before she retracted her hand, licking the wound to seal it up.
And for the next minute or so, I just surrendered myself to her touch— basking in that sensation of being so secure in Vereen’s arms. She carefully pushed my head back into the crook of her neck, petting that short crop of mine so longingly. “It’s okay, Tamara,” she coaxed me.
“You’re home now. You’re safe with me.”
snip snip. snip snip.
The sound of the scissors were still unnerving to me after that torturous night in Ruby’s chair, but tonight they were in in a gentler pair of hands, where they felt softer and almost calming. Vereen skated around the circumference of my head as she worked, carefully picking out the little waves of hair that were finally showing after about a couple months of growth to trim them so delicately. While she had hinted that it was to be someone else to be doing my hair— someone who’d actually treat it with the respect that it deserved— I wasn’t quite prepared for it to actually be Vereen herself. Lo and behold, and a quiet Saturday night, she had peeked into my room to ask if I was free, and she’d taken me to her chambers where she’d already set up a chair and the relevant tools.
“Did you do this in your past life? I mean, when you were human, that is,” I asked as the smallest tufts of hair rained down onto that large, white cape she wrapped around me. You could say we’d gotten closer over the past few weeks, and in such a moment with her that felt rather intimate, I thought I’d try to eke out a question or two.
“Nope. I was a farmhand till early adulthood, when there were… unexpected complications from higher forces,” she answered, still dodging a lot about how she was actually Turned to who she was. But it didn’t miff me that much— it seemed to be a rather tender topic for her that I didn’t want to force. “This I learned from a dear friend when we were travelling the world sometime in mid-vampirehood.”
“What was their name?”
“Anaïs. Anaïs Fontaine. She has her own shop now in a quaint little town not too far from here. It was always her dream to live such a life— to be the hairdresser of the town that would make everyone look pretty. She was always such an artist about life, and she loves seeing people as canvases to work her craft,” Vereen depicted, a proudness in her tone I’d rarely heard before. As far as I had learned, few things could really impress the Lady Daressa.
“You two sound close. Do you still visit her?” I continued unfolding the thread of her life, enjoying that I was getting more out of her.
“Certainly! I get my hair trimmed by her every once in a while. Only an artist like her could make my hair look so magnificent,” she ran a finger through those magnificent curls of hers I’d envied since the first day I’d met her. “Come to think of it,” she tilted my head up for a moment to look at my head of hair from side to side. “Why don’t I take you to go see her the next time you’re due for a trim?”
“You don’t wanna cut my hair?” I asked a little pointedly, though primarily to get a reaction out of her.
“Oh, my dear, don’t put words into my mouth like that,” she pouted before going back to snipping away. “I just thought it’d be nice for you to meet a true artist. I was but her student, and there’s only so much you can get out of me. But of course, I completely understand if you’d just like me to do your hair. We can keep it personal.”
“No no, it’s okay, I wouldn’t mind,” I bailed out of the bluff. “It would be nice to meet her.”
“And I think she’d really like you too.”
Vereen bent down in front of me now, carefully combing down that last section down my forehead. It’d grown a fair bit since that traumatic spikiness that Ruby had left behind, and I could feel Vereen gingerly unfurling the waves that were back in some of its glory. She carefully angled the scissors to follow the texture, then made the most precise snips right across my forehead.
snip snip, snip snip
Tiny pieces of my hair tumbled down past my face, but not once did I feel the need to wince. It was going to turn out well— I could feel it in my bones. And as the last few clicks of the shears were made, Vereen ruffled out those bangs across my forehead, a wide grin spread across her face. “I think I didn’t do too badly,” she remarked as she carefully ran her fingers through the rest of my cropped hair, relief washing over me realising there was still an ample amount for her to really ruffle it. “Would you like to see it?”
I nodded with an ‘mhm’, feeling like a little child that was about to receive a gift. She handed me the ornate hand mirror, which I got a hand out from under the cape to accept. I raised it up to my face, and naturally a smile sparked onto my lips.
It was still a short crop— there was no changing that. But it looked much fuller all over, where the waves were actually defined instead of those miserable tufts that hugged my scalp from that first huge butchering. The sides were still short enough that they were nowhere near my ears, but Vereen had used a scissor-over comb technique instead of resorting to the clippers to cut it so short. And not only that, she gave it a subtle taper that made it look really classy as it led upwards into the soft, bountiful waves. And the bangs— oh, I was just in love seeing those wispy strands gracing my forehead so flatteringly.
“Do you like it?” she coyly asked, though I was sure she could tell enough from that look on my face.
“I do,” I confessed, getting my other hand out so I could get the full idea of it. “Oh, wow, that feels good,” I expressed, having those short bits on the side tickling my hand, though not as starkly as the first time. I slowly moved on up to the top part, where there was plenty for me to still ruffle and play around with, all while it still stayed off my eyes and ears. Just like she wanted. “I’m sure Anaïs would be proud,” I looked up to Vereen.
“Oh, please,” Vereen opted for the modesty card, though I was sure she’d be blushing if she could. “Once you let her do your hair, I’m sure you’d think mine was drab.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” I said, still looking at every angle of me from that hand mirror. It wasn’t the same me that was on the run just a few months ago— but for once it actually felt like me. Ruby may have been the one to push me down that chasm the first time, but it was rough. Nothing about that brutish crop was remotely familiar, and it was to be expected from someone who didn’t seem to treat their role with a passion.
But this time with Vereen, it was different. This was a cut done with love. And as I glanced back at that reflection of Vereen behind me, cleaning up her tools by her dresser, I knew one thing was certain: I was home.