"I only want what's best for you."
"Let go of my arm."
"Why? Do you think I'd break it? I would never hurt you, Valkyrie. This? This isn't pain." He squeezed, and she grimaced. "This is nothing compared to the agony I feel in my heart. A bruise, a broken bone is paltry."
"Caelan, let go of me right now."
"Why?" he asked, a sneer on his lips. "So you can run away from me? So you can leave me, and fall into the arms of another? Who is he, Valkyrie?"
"There's no one else, you psycho."
"Stop lying to me!"
Valkyrie twisted her arm and yanked it from his grip and Caelan caught her across the jaw with his fist. She was halfway to the ground when his hand closed around her throat and suddenly he was slamming her against the wall on the far side of the road.
"Who is he?" he snarled. "Who are you with? Give me his name!"
She clutched at his hand, but couldn't prise it off, and her head was pounding and lights danced before her eyes.
Suddenly the grip was released, and Valkyrie slumped to a sitting position. A moment passed, and then a hand stroked her face tenderly.
"I'm sorry," Caelan said. "I'm sorry, Valkyrie. I didn't mean to strike you. I would never hurt you, you know that. But sometimes... sometimes you just have to listen to me, and do what I say. Now, if you tell me there is no one else, then I believe you. Of course I do. Because I love you. Do you understand me?"
She nodded. He smiled, took her hands, and raised her slowly to her feet.
"Are you all right?" he asked gently.
"I'm OK," she said.
"I love you," he smiled.
She snapped her palms and the s.p.a.ce between them rippled and Caelan flew backwards. He managed to land in a crouch, and leaped at her, but she sent the shadows to intercept, pulling him from the air and driving him head first into the ground. He got to his hands and knees, dazed, and Valkyrie ran up, went to kick, but he batted her foot away and his fist crunched into her belly. She doubled over with a cry of pain that turned into a strangled wheeze.
"Why do you do this?" he raged. "Why do you defy me? I love you, Valkyrie! Do you know what that means?"
She dropped to her knees.
"I love you," he said in her ear. "We're meant for each other. Can't you understand that? I've tried to be patient. I've tried so hard. But you just don't get it. You continue to fight."
His hand closed around her jaw, and lifted her face to him.
"You think it's easy for me?" he asked, tears in his eyes. "You think it's easy to give my love? I've tried, in the past. Girls, women, so many, they each stole my heart. But each time it ended I lost a piece of myself."
Her hand went to her pocket, fumbled with the phone.
"But you," Caelan said, "you're different. The others, they couldn't keep the monster away. As much as I loved them, our love just wasn't strong enough to keep them alive. Sooner or later, the monster would emerge. That's when Dusk found me." He sneered. "He said I was endangering everyone with the things I did. He tried to stop me, but he couldn't kill me. He was living by the code. We don't kill our own kind. The vampire he had with him, he was even worse than Dusk. He talked about living in darkness, in solitude, keeping away from the mortals. One day I'd had enough of his lectures, and I slit his throat and took his head. And because of that, I was exiled, cast out to an existence of loneliness. Until I found you. We're meant for each other. And if you can't understand that, I'll have to make you."
Moonlight made the sweat on his brow glisten. He opened his mouth, his fangs growing.
Caelan snarled, and turned. Fletcher stood there.
"Get away from my ex-girlfriend, you moany little whinge-bag."
Caelan took a breath, like he was in pain, and straightened up. His voice was low, guttural. "I was hoping I'd get the chance to kill you."
"You won't be killing anyone, you sad little emo git."
"You've stood in the way of our love for long enough."
"Just listening to you makes me want to top myself, you self-pitying Paranormal Romance reject."
Caelan glared. "Stop insulting me."
"Why? If you cry, will your mascara run?"
"You're just making me angrier. And I really should have taken my serum tonight."
Caelan's fingers dug into his shirt, into his flesh, and he ripped it off, revealing the bone-white skin beneath. A suddenly clawed hand went to his face, tore it from his head, taking the hair with it. The vampire shook off the ragged remains of its human form, its black eyes gleaming as it advanced.
Fletcher licked his lips nervously and backed off. Valkyrie did her best to sit up, watching the muscles move beneath the vampire's pale skin. A creature made for killing. She wanted to shout out, to warn Fletcher, to tell him to go and get Skulduggery, but all she managed was a moan.
Fletcher teleported, reappearing a moment later with a baseball bat in his hands. He teleported behind the vampire, swung, but the vampire was too quick, and twisted out of the way. Fletcher barely had time to vanish before a claw lashed through him.
Fletcher appeared, regarding the vampire warily. The vampire snarled. They circled each other. Fletcher teleported again, appearing behind his foe, then teleported to the other side as those claws came for him again. He swung for the head, but the bat was knocked from his hands. Fletcher stumbled, the vampire lunged, found nothing but empty s.p.a.ce.
It wasn't working. The vampire was just too fast.
Fletcher picked up the fallen bat. He held it in a tight grip, brought it up over his shoulder, settled into his stance, like he was expecting the vampire to oblige him by charging across the ten metres that separated them. Then he swung, solid and vicious, and for a heartbeat he was beside the vampire, the bat crashing into that snarling face, and then he was back out of range, the bat recoiling after the impact. The vampire roared, and Fletcher smiled.
He swung again, teleported behind the vampire just at the point of impact and then teleported away. Again and again he did it, and the vampire twisted and slashed and snapped, but Fletcher was only in range for the length of an eyeblink before he was gone again. The vampire stumbled to one knee. The bat cracked against the vampire's ribs. The bat cracked against the vampire's back. The bat cracked against the vampire's head, and it splintered.
Fletcher was gone for a moment, and returned with an axe. He swung, teleported, and the axe blade dug into the vampire's shoulder. But when Fletcher teleported away he took the vampire with him. He cursed when he realised what he'd done, tried to release the axe but the vampire's hand closed around Fletcher's arm and Fletcher screamed as nails perforated his flesh. Fletcher was sent rolling across the ground, clutching his arm and screaming. The vampire reached up, dislodged the axe and threw it away.
Fletcher scrambled up, fell, scrambled up again, running on to the pier to get some distance between them, to get some time to focus and teleport. It wasn't going to happen. Valkyrie could see that. The pain was too intense. The panic had set in. The vampire moved after him.
Fletcher tripped and fell, tried to crawl on, leaving a trail of blood. The vampire hissed and snarled, but followed slowly, the way a cat would follow an injured mouse. It kicked Fletcher over on to his back, looked down at him, claws flexing. It dropped to its knees, straddling him. It wasn't going to bite him. It wasn't going to give him the chance of living as a monster. It was going to rip him open, from chest to throat. Its claws lifted.
Valkyrie dived at it, hooked her arm around its neck, hauling it off Fletcher and bringing it to the ground. They rolled and it struggled, but she held on, still rolling, and suddenly there was nothing beneath them and they were falling.
They hit the water. Valkyrie's leg banged against the rocks and she screamed through gritted teeth. The vampire thrashed but she held it down in the darkness beneath the surface. It managed to shake her off and she swam backwards against the current. The waves brought the vampire in towards the rocks and it grabbed them, started to haul itself out. For one terrifying moment, Valkyrie thought the salt water hadn't worked. But then the vampire's movements grew weaker, and its hands went to its throat. It turned its head to her, black eyes open wide, mouth gagging gently. Then it stopped.
Valkyrie swam over, pulled herself on to the rocks, moaning in pain. She reached the rusted ladder set into the side of the pier and climbed slowly. Fletcher lay on his back, his breathing shallow and quick. He looked at her as she crawled over.
"With one exception," he managed to say, "you've got terrible taste in men."
She lay beside him, too tired and sore to answer.
"You're going to have to take me off speed dial," he said. "I don't want to waste time being mad with you, but you're still not my favourite person in the world right now. I'm not going to be jumping back here every time you get yourself in trouble."
"I know," she said. "Fletch? Thank you."
He nodded, and grimaced. "I am really bleeding a lot here. You might want to hang on. I think we're in need of some medical assistance."
Valkyrie moved her hand till she found his. "I was an idiot for the way I treated you," she said.
"At last," he said, "something we can both agree on."
And they vanished.
They Walk Among Us.
enny lowered his camera as Valkyrie Cain disappeared into thin air. His hands were shaking. He didn't know who the kid with the stupid hair was, but he'd find out. And that monster...
This was bigger than he'd ever dared imagine. He stood up on shaking legs, and decided, then and there, that Valkyrie was the name he was going to use for her in the article. It was a good name. Certainly a name that deserved to be spoken aloud alongside Skulduggery Pleasant. But as far as the book was concerned...
He could see it now. A story like this was too big for a mere newspaper article. Much too big. He'd use the article to alert the world, but the full story needed something grander to contain it. It needed a book and an accompanying TV special. He already had a provisional title picked out: "They Walk Among Us: The Sorcerers In Our Midst". A world-changing expose on the secret magical subculture that exists in every country around the planet.
He decided now that it would be in the book where he would focus on Valkyrie Cain. She was the perfect figure for the audience to identify with, to root for. A normal girl, thrust into a life of danger and excitement, taken under the wing of an honest-to-goodness living skeleton. It was like Peter Parker being bitten by that radioactive spider a a normal kid given extraordinary powers. It was beautiful. It was perfect. It would make him a household name and a billionaire, all in one go.
But it would be in the TV special, not the book and not the article, where Kenny would reveal to the world that badass sorcerer Valkyrie Cain had really been mild-mannered teenager Stephanie Edgley all along.
Because if there was one thing the public was going to love more than a superhero, it was a superhero unmasked a live on air.
Also by Landy Derek.
Playing with Fire.
The Faceless Ones.