A/N: OMFG I SUCK. Please read the second a/n at the end of this chap my friends.
The parking lot was empty. I pulled the vehicle to a stop in shadow, away from the lamps that would have allowed pedestrians to see inside. I figured Adrian would be only moments away, and I was right. He came speeding across the lot and up to the car only seconds after I'd put it into park.
I threw the door open and scrambled out while Adrian did the same, and to my surprise he wrapped his arms around me as soon as he reached me.
Sighing in relief, he breathed into my ear, "You're okay, you're okay. God, I was worried."
For an instant I allowed myself to sink into him, inhaling the taste of sweat and fear and liquor. The sound of coughing interrupted us, and I whipped around to see Valin gagging up blood again. Adrian went straight for the back of the car, opening the door to get at Gemma.
"She's starting to come to," Adrian said. He took a glance at Valin, still slumped over in the front seat. "Help me get her to my car, and then you can explain this. Has she been out long? Looks like she was hit. It can't be normal to be unconscious longer than a few moments from a blow to the head, she's probably in bad shape. We need to call an ambulance…" He sounded hesitant on the last point, glancing at Valin before returning his attention to Gemma.
I moved to the other side of the car and the two of us maneuvered her out and onto her feet. She mumbled something incoherent, groggily opening her eyes and reeling a bit when we tried to walk her the three or four steps to Adrian's vehicle. He supported her while I opened the door and together we managed to shuffle her inside and get her laying down in something like the shock position—as close as we could get on the limited surface of the back seat.
As soon as we closed the door on her, Adrian turned on me, and I immediately began to speak.
"Gemma and I decided to walk home. We were in the process of being mugged—well, I was almost—ugh. Valin showed up. I was almost shot, he…he stopped the bullet. He killed the men who attacked us. He was shot three times and stabbed once in the process. I hotwired that car and now we're here." I could not deny the urge in me to attend to Valin. Adrian was looking over to the fallen monster and back to me as if this were impossible, so I took a breath and continued with the necessary elaboration. "Valin is—Adrian, just look at him, he's not human. I don't know what he is."
Adrian obliged me and leaned forward to look in the car. Although he was hunched over and his face was not visible, I could tell his appearance had worsened since the alleyway. I thought I caught a glimpse of flat, shining scales on his arm, near his wrist, but they disappeared as I tried to focus on them. Adrian wouldn't have needed to see his face to know that I was telling the truth, however. The look of his skin and the black blood that covered him was enough.
"Jesus Christ, Alex," he said, stepping backward until he bumped into his SUV.
I opened the passenger side door of the stolen car. Relief flooded me as Valin stirred, and I leaned in to help him sit upright. "Can you speak?" I asked quietly. "Can you tell me what you need me to do?"
His face had changed again, slightly. His features were sharper, his eyes were slanted. They opened as slits, just barely enough for me to see them move to look at me before they slid closed again. He took in a breath, and seemed about to say something when Adrian grabbed hold of me and yanked me away from the car.
"We've got to kill it!" He barked. "Look at that thing, it's a monster! Did you know this all along? What in the fuck is going on here, this is fucking—"
"You don't understand—I can't kill him, Adrian. I have a deal with him, I'd forfeit my life if I did. He saved me once before and… I'll have to explain it all later, but for now I have to help him."
"Was there anything in this deal that said you have to protect that thing? If I try to finish it off, are you obligated to stop me?"
There was no hesitation. I met him steadily. "I am not obligated to, but I will try to stop you regardless."
"Listen to me, Adrian, as my friend. Whatever quarrel that creature and I might have with each other…it's our own. For now, he has saved my life. For now, he's my friend. I have to help him."
"That's stupidity, Alex."
"You don't shoot a wolf just for being a wolf. I won't kill him just because he is…whatever he is."
"Are you fucking nuts? You don't shoot a wolf… Jesus. You don't shoot the fucking thing because it's a wolf, you shoot it because it's crawled into your bed to rip your throat out."
I turned my back on him. His reaction was understandable. In fact, his reaction was the right one, I knew. It didn't matter. I'd made my choice. "Take Gemma to the hospital. I'll take care of Valin."
"And if he ends up killing you?"
I laughed, but it sounded empty even to my own ears. "You're free to give your I-told-you-so at my funeral."
Adrian grabbed me from behind, turning me back to face him. "I'm not leaving you alone with that…creature. Leave him here, come with me to the hospital. You can tell whatever story you want to the police. I'll back it up. It's not killing him, just leaving him here."
"I appreciate the concern, but I've made up my mind. Please, take Gemma to the hospital. I've got to do this."
"I hope you know what you're doing," he said, taking his hands away from my shoulders. He got back into his vehicle and paused for a moment to look at me out the window, begging me with his eyes to get in the car. I shook my head, and he drove off.
Finally I was able to return to Valin, and I realized I was nervous. Not worried, not scared, just…nervous. I wasn't sure what was causing it, which was odd for me. I had trained myself to know my emotions so well that the few times they flared up without my understanding or consent left me feeling extremely vulnerable.
The door was still open, and I leaned in overtop of him. Blood stained his pale lips dark, and it dripped onto his arm from the corner of his mouth. Everything else about him was perfectly still. I took a deep breath, and spoke into his ear. "Valin?"
It was as if the sound of my voice breathed life into him, however fragile and fleeting the effect seemed to be. His muscles tensed, his eyes flickered open. His lips pulled back to reveal bloody teeth in a macabre grin, and he whispered something that was either unintelligible or in a foreign language. His tongue darted out to lap a slow-moving droplet of ebony blood from his lower lip. I spoke his name again, and his hand came up in a series of short jerks to reach for my face.
My instincts flared up, and I pulled away from him before he could touch me. While he looked into my eyes, there seemed to be no recognition—nothing of my Valin was there, for the moment. All too well I could see the empty eyes of insanity, or perhaps of a predator.
My Valin. Mine. Even in my growing fear I could have laughed at the thought.
He reached for me again, and I backed quickly out of the car. Alex, you fucking moron, I thought, as the monster before me shuffled his right leg out of the car, and then his left. His movements became fluid and in a quick motion he was standing as I backed away further. He began stalking toward me, slightly crouched and with his arms drawn up in a fighting stance. Instead of the knife-hands of a martial artist, however, he had far more terrifying weapons—claws.
He was still grinning.
He took another step toward me, faster than his previous ones, and it was all I need to set me off. My leg pushed sideways off the pavement, I pivoted sharply, and before I heard him take another step I was bolting away across the empty parking lot faster than I thought I was capable.
Changing direction would have slowed me down, so I kept running straight toward the chain link fence at the back of the lot. Trees grew up on the other side, obscuring what lay beyond, but it didn't matter. The fence rushed up on me before I could think of a better plan, and with the momentum I had and because the fence wasn't too high, I vaulted right up to the top and scrambled over. I half-fell to the other side, tearing the leg of my jeans and the front of my shirt and landing on my hands and knees with a dull thump.
I stood shakily but quickly regained my feet, and pushed through the foliage only to find myself in someone's backyard. I immediately started running again, toward the gate that led to the front of the house, but before I could take more than two strides something smashed into my back and I was sent sprawling onto the grass. Winded, I tried to roll over, but I was pinned beneath the weight of the creature on top of me. My mouth opened futilely to gasp for air, but my lungs refused to inflate. When I did take one short, choking breath I was halfway smothered with my face pressed into the ground. The animal inside of me welled up a scream, but all that came out was a short squawk as I exhaled what little air was still in my lungs.
I thrashed wildly, and, still weakened from his injuries, Valin was partially displaced from my back. I dragged my legs along the ground and clawed forward with my arms and as soon as I was free of him I flipped onto my back, drew my leg back and nailed him in the shoulder as hard as I could with my foot.
He was jarred, but it was only for an instant. Before I could pull my foot back again he grasped it with one clawed hand and hauled me kicking and flailing back toward him, still bearing his teeth at me in a maniacal grin all the while. With three short, wrenching movements he was on top of me, and one last, desperate thing took light in my mind.
I screamed it into his face.
"We have a deal!"
He froze instantly. I hadn't realized my eyes had been shut until I opened them, and looked straight into his gilded eyes. Before I could register what had happened, they were black again, and my eyes darted around his face to find that his skin was humanlike and opaque. He stared at me now in familiarity, rather than with…whatever had possessed him only a moment before. Slowly his arms gave way to his weight, and he settled down on me, pushing the air from my lungs once again.
It took all of my strength to roll him off of me and onto his back. I inhaled deeply with relief, looking over to the monster that lay unconscious again at my side.
I was foolish, but not fatally so. I staggered to my feet and back to the fence, though I didn't think my exhausted arms would haul me over it again. My phone was still in the car, and I needed to call Adrian for help.
I needed to call Adrian to drive back and save me from the monster he had tried to warn me against helping. Had I known conclusively how to kill Valin, I might have done it then. I did not. Moreover I was afraid of the consequences of breaking our deal. Something about the blood I had taken from him had seemed…concrete. I had no idea if he felt the same when he'd sealed our previous deals, but it seemed to me there had to be some third-party enforcement, were it a higher authority or simply magic of some manner.
While I stood momentarily sizing up the backyard fence, Valin apparently awoke.
I heard shuffling behind me, and whirled around to see him struggling to get to his feet.
Feeling strangely devoid of panic, I turned to climb the fence. I hadn't hiked myself up but one step when he grasped me from behind and pried me away from the cold metal.
"Alex." He sounded uncertain, weak.
I writhed a bit in his arms, and he pulled me back through the trees and twisted to set me down on the ground.
He swayed on his feet as he spoke. "It's done," he said. "It's passed." He staggered, then half-fell, half-sat down beside me. And then, "I'm back."
"I really don't feel comfortable being alone with you right now," I said calmly. "I feel very cold, and I think I'm in shock. I think you were going to eat me, weren't you?"
"I couldn't have. You made a deal for my life. I can no longer do you physical harm." It was hard to tell through the strain in his voice, or the crackling that came from the blood in his throat, but I thought he sounded relieved. "I confess I do not know what happens to deal-breakers. I do not know if the deals are impossible to break, or if, because the deal was for my life, I would have died the instant I hurt you."
"But, had I not made that deal, you would have killed me and eaten me."
He lay down in the grass, breathing heavily. He tried to say something, but instead he just coughed, rolled over, and spat up more blood.
"Valin?" My voice was utterly flat, at first, but when he didn't respond I snapped out of my temporary calm. Before I had thought I was not fatally foolish, but somewhere in the part of my mind that had not been touched by the creature before me, I knew I had been wrong. Had I not been just callous enough to bargain for my help in saving his life, I would be dead by Valin's hands, and no matter how true I knew that to be I could not repress nor deny the worry that welled up in me at the thought of his death. I was divided between absolute contempt for myself and the desire to tend to his wounds, and the latter part of me won.
I crawled over to him, and found that he was still awake. "Can you speak?" I asked.
He closed his eyes, took in a breath and croaked out, "With difficulty."
"If I do nothing, will you die?"
"I will die," he breathed, "if you do nothing."
I licked my lips slowly, and leaned closer to meet his gaze as he opened his eyes again. "Well," I said, "I don't know if you have any honor at all, Valin, or if you do I don't know if it is reserved for the likes of me. But I have honor. And I will help you, if you tell me what to do, because while I truly believe you to be my enemy you have named me your friend. Even to a deceiver such as myself that means something, however trivial it may be. So remember this, Valin. It should mean something that you named me friend, even though you are a monster." I sighed, "Now tell me how to help you."
"There is a hotel on the other side of the parking lot," he rasped. "Go get us a room. We'll need the bathtub."
"I'm covered in blood. My clothes are torn. I look like a fucking rape victim."
"Well, if I don't bleed to death, I will take care of whatever the hotel staff things of you, darling."
"Is that it?"
"No. Find a drug store and get supplies—bandages, a knife, forceps, whatever else you think of. I just need you to remove the bullets and I will heal on my own." He paused, as if considering something. "I am susceptible to lead." Another pause. "I should not have told you that."
I couldn't tell—and, more importantly, didn't care—if it was an act or not. I made a mental note and asked again, "Is that everything?"
There was a silent moment before he said quietly, "Yes. I can make it to the hotel myself, while you get the supplies."
I got up and walked to the fence, and with great difficulty I managed to climb over it. "I don't know why I'm doing this for you," I said as I planted my feet on the other side.
No response. I knelt down to peer through the trees.
He was already gone.
Hey boys and girls. So here's the long and short of it:
The reason this hasn't been updated in forever and ever is because really, I started writing this the summer after gr. 10 and I'm now almost done my 2nd year of university. The writing style, the tone, the whole idea of the story is massively inconsistent. Like, it sucks. I mean I think there's some good stuff in here, the characters I know are solid, but the plot and stuff needs a MASSIVE overhaul. At some point during the writing of this, I kind of forgot where it was going. I mean I knew the end and I knew the beginning and I knew a couple things that would happen in the middle but I guess the point of the whole story sort of fell away somewhere... I gave you this little update just for kicks, I wrote it quick and it was just kind of a fun thing.
The good news is that I'm going to be doing this rewrite. I'm hashing out a thoroughly-planned storyline right now. It's going to be the same characters but the plot is going to be significantly altered. It'll be faster-paced and with more "events" so to speak. I've got a solid idea of where it's going. I've come to realize in the basically 4 years since I did the thinking on this story that writing a good novel doesn't mean you sit down and spew out whatever you like on a computer screen because it'd be fun to write. I mean, that's fine to do, and it's fun, but it doesn't produce the quality of storytelling that I'm capable of so...yeah.
As for the bad news... I'm going to re-write this so thoroughly it's going to be pretty much a totally different story. And I'm going to give it an honest go to make it publishing quality, which it currently (obviously) is not. And why would I make something publishing quality? So it can be published. Which means I can't post it online, because publishers don't want things that have already been out there on the internet for the world to see for free. I know being published is difficult, but I'm going to give it the good old college try and see where it takes me. If it gets published, well, maybe you'll see The Deceiver in a bookstore near you!
On the other hand, if it gets rejected left, right and center, I'll probably come back here and post it for kicks.
Thank you guys so much for reading this and giving me awesome, thoughtful reviews about it and encouraging me to keep writing. If you've ever written so much as one little sentence and sent it in, I'm talking to you. I know how frustrated I get when a writer whose stories I've been following goes AWOL, and I really wish I could post it and get your feedback while I'm doing the re-write but my Dad's a lawyer and I've talked to him about it and he was pretty much like...if you post that, fuck your getting published, it's not happening. :(
If you kept reading this far, you must be a real friend! So I have a favor to ask: even though you might not see the new version, throw out some suggestions of things you think were good enough to keep. I don't really need to know what to lose because I already know what I'm ditching (pretty well everything except the characters, and even some of those are changing), but I do need to know what you thought was really good or worked well so I can keep it because right now I'm looking at this pile of BS and thinking wow, this sucks. Sucky sucky sucks. So tell me if there was a scene/piece of dialogue/description/story element that stuck out in your mind (if you can remember that far back to when you read it!) and PM/Message it to me. No need for a quote or for you to go find it, just be like "Where you described ____" or "When ____ and _____ talked about _____".
If you do that for me, I would be really grateful (and pleasantly surprised).
Thanks ladies and gents, you guys are fabulous.