In writing Ria’s Blood Debt, I got pretty far in with a draft I really, really liked before I realized it just wasn’t going to work with the wider-series storyline. I even put the draft away from six months, hoping that I’d eventually come back and think up an ending.
In the end, I just had to accept that this plot just wasn’t going to work. But I still really like it, so I’m sharing it here.
This version of the story was more of a buddy-cop tale. In it, Tucker kidnaps Ria after calling in her blood debt, and the two of them have just one night to get all of the items needed for a cure. Along the way, they wind up in a forest outside of New York City. And of course, bad things happen.
Check it out below. I hope you enjoy it. And who knows? Maybe one day it’ll find it’s home in another story.
It takes about fifteen minutes of searching before we find the right combination of old car and abandoned block. We end up in a rusty old Volkswagen, and we get a pleasant surprise when Tucker starts the engine.
“Are you kidding me?” I say as I slap the heating vents. “There’s no fucking heat in this rust-bucket? Goddammit I’m never doing another mission without my car.”
“I’ll keep that in mind the next time I call in a blood debt,” Tucker says as he pulls off the street and starts making his way to the FDR drive.
“Not funny,” I say. “So which of the bloody three are we hitting up first? Gorgon, fae, or orc?”
“Orc first, while we’ve still got the strength to deal with it.”
“It really doesn’t help when you say things like that. Okay, where do we find orcs?”
“The woods, mostly. They tend to feed on wild animals, livestock, and the occasional lost camper.”
Great, I get to romp around the woods at night in the snow. This is going great.
“I’m taking us to a campground outside of the city. I’ve heard rumors of an orc enclave out there.” Tucker turns his attention back to the drive while I turn on the radio.
We catch an anchor talking about the fire on the lower east side. Apparently, everyone in the buildings above were evacuated in time, so at least I don’t have to worry about whether or not we burned innocent people alive.
“You care too much,” Tucker says.
“Your heart started beating fast when you heard that everyone was evacuated.”
“You can HEAR my heart?”
“Let’s just say that when you’re a vampire, you pay attention to your food sources.”
“We need to work on your conversation skills.”
“My point is, you care about the safety of those outside of your circle.”
“Is that a problem?”
“Yes. It’s a weakness that your enemies can exploit. Your bleeding heart is going to get you or someone you actually love killed.”
“Let me guess, that’s why you don’t care about anyone or anything other than yourself, right?”
“Damn straight. Fewer attack points.”
“And how is that working out for you right now? Maybe you wouldn’t have gotten stabbed if someone had been around to warn you.”
“Or maybe, if I cared about someone, Ducart would have killed them first.”
“Or maybe—and I’m just spit-balling here—Ducart wouldn’t be after you if you hadn’t TAKEN HIS EYE.”
“We can go in circles all night, but don’t forget I’ve got more life experience than you. I think I know what I’m talking about.”
“Funny, that’s what human adults say to justify shitty behavior. I guess you’re more human than you think.”
As we approach Harlem, I spot a big pharmacy just off the highway. “Take the exit,” I say.
“Because if we’re going to be stealing blood from things, we’re going to need a way to get the blood out of them and a way to keep the blood stored until we’re ready to put them together. That pharmacy should have needles and vials.”
“I don’t need any needles. I’ve got two right here.”
“Yeah, about that; how about we do this in a way that doesn’t leave anyone dead?”
“Weren’t you just mad at me for not killing Ducart earlier?”
“Fine; if we come across an orc, gorgon or fae that happens to know and hate you, I give you full permission to kill them. Now give me thirty bucks. Needles aren’t going to pay for themselves.”
Tucker pulls off the highway, and a few red lights later we’re in the parking lot of the pharmacy. Tucker gets to work rooting around in his pockets while I examine myself in the mirror. My chin is a little red from where the bouncer got me, but other than that I don’t have any obvious wounds.
My clothes, on the other hand, tell a different story. My leather jacket is covered in blood. Note to self, stand a safe-enough distance before shotgunning vampires next time.
I pull the jacket off, leaving me in just my black hoodie. Then I remove the mask as Tucker hands me the cash.
“Stay in here,” I say. “I won’t be long.”
“Don’t go calling your parents,” he warns. “I’ll know.”
“Yeah, yeah, I got it.”
I step out into the snow, pull the hoodie over my head and try very hard to walk in a straight line as I head toward the entrance of the pharmacy. Tucker’s threats aside, I seriously consider calling my parents. I can barely see straight, and we’ve probably got a pissed-off vampire with holes for an eye and a chest coming after us. This would be a shitty time on my best night. And tonight is totally not my best night.
I get to the entrance of the pharmacy and pull my hoodie down, exposing my face. It’s a risk, making myself visible to security cameras. But I’m hoping that no one will come to Harlem looking for clues to an arson case downtown. I’m also hoping that the sight of a black girl in a pharmacy in Harlem isn’t that strange of a sight yet.
The clock on the wall shows 1:30, and the pharmacy is a ghost town. Aside from one bored woman at the check-out machine and man pushing a mop around, I’m the only one in here. Works for me.
I find medical syringes and fluid vials in aisle four with blessedly little struggle. Hooray for the little victories. I also take the chance to pick up a fanny pack and a Swiss Army knife. Hey, you can never be too prepared.
Gear in tow, I make my way to the check-out and pile my spoils at the register. The cashier, a black woman with short-cut hair who looks to be just a bit older than me, eyes the syringes and vials and then me.
“Uh, I’m a scientist,” I say, my face feeling hot.
She arches her eyebrow. “Uh, huh. And I’m betting your swollen chin is from your latest experiment.”
I consider saying something, but think better of it. I’m trying to stay off the radar, and the last thing I need is for a cashier to call in any tips about the weird girl who bought all of the medical supplies in the middle of the night.
“Whatever. Have a good night.” I pay and get my items. I make my way to the exit, and I hear her voice as I walk through the door.
“Whatever you’re doing, it’s not too late to get out.”
That draws a chuckle from me. Lady, it’s far too late.
The drive out of New York takes about forty-five minutes from Harlem, so it’s almost 2 in the morning by the time we pull off a dark service road onto a parking lot in front of a large waterfront banquet hall of some sort.
“We’re here,” Tucker says as he opens the car door and steps out into the night. I bristle as the wind enters the car, stealing away what little warmth remained. I rub my arms to keep warm, and then I exit the vehicle.
“Where exactly is here?” I ask, taking in the hall ahead of us. “A country club?”
The banquet hall is two stories of gray stone and brick, with two big staircases running up the to the second floor. Large, square windows line the top level of the building, and several of them are showing dim light from inside. If this is a party space, everyone’s wrapped up for the night.
“Bear Mountain Inn,” Tucker says. “You should give the place a visit in the daytime, I hear it’s lovely. Unfortunately, that’s not where we’re going. ”
He points to the woods beyond the Inn. “There. That’s our target.”
I rub my arms again. “You sure there’s no chance orcs hang out indoors?”
“Believe me, if they did, you’ve have heard of it.”
He starts toward the woods. I swear, wishing I’d at least thought to bring a winter coat. Next time I get kidnapped, I’m totally going to plan for the elements.
If it’s dark by the lodge, it’s DARK in the woods. The trees block out virtually all of the moonlight, leaving the forest floor almost pitch black.
“I can’t see,” I say. “I’m going to fall on my face and die and you won’t have any help finding an orc.”
“You know, sometimes I forget how terrible human eyesight is.”
“Whatever, tell me you’ve got a phone or that lighter or something?”
“Great. I’m — whoa!”
My foot catches on a tree root and I go down. Thankfully, Tucker grabs a hold of my arm before I can introduce my teeth to the snow.
“How about I hang onto you while we’re here?” He suggests.
“Good idea.” I don’t like the idea of holding hands with a vampire, but I like the idea of cracking my head open even less.
We keep marching, deeper and deeper into the woods. By this point, I’ve got no idea where we are, no idea what we’re looking for, and no clue how long it’s going to take to find it. And did I mention that I’m freezing? Because this snow won’t stop coming down.
“How much better is vampire eyesight?” I ask, making conversation to take my mind off the cold.
“Hmmm,” Tucker says. “You know, I’ve been a vampire for so long that I don’t actually know how to compare it.”
“Well, I can’t see anything. What can you see?”
“Almost everything. I can see each individual tree. I can see the birds sleeping in nests above. I can see deer grazing a few yards away. Some things are slightly shadowed, but nothing’s hidden.”
“I bet that’s useful.”
“Goes both ways. Bright rooms make my eyes hurt.”
“Got it, so the key to killing you is to hit you in the eyes with a flashlight.”
“And the key to killing you is to break that flashlight and make sure we’re in a forest.”
“How about we call it a draw for now?”
“Works for me.”
I keep shivering. Tucker pulls off his jacket. “Here,” he says, handing it to me.
“You don’t have to do that,” I say. But I still accept it because holy shit I’m cold.
“The cold doesn’t bother you when you’re dead.”
“Touche.” I slip the jacket on. “How long have you been a vampire?”
“Almost a century.”
A pause. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
That catches me by surprise. “Okay…well, how will we know when we’ve found an orc?”
“That’s not helpful. What do they look like?”
“Yep. Tall, pure muscle, bad attitudes. They’re not my favorite.”
“And what exactly is the plan to take down a walking tank? We can barely walk in a straight line.”
“Orcs have a weak spot under the left armpit. They go down a like a sack of bricks if you can hit them there.”
“Shut up,” Tucker says, cutting me off.
I scowl. “Excuse me?”
He puts a finger to my mouth. I’m about to break his hand, but his next words chill my skin worse than the snow.
“I hear something.”
I stop, mid-step. I scan the forest, but in the dark I can’t see anything. I strain my ears, but the only sound I can pick up is the wind as it whips through.
“Do you see it?” I whisper.
“I think so… I think it’s in the trees.”
“That’s a good sign, right? Orcs are too big to hang out in trees, aren’t they?”
“I’m not sure. I’m going to check it out.”
“What? Are you kidding me? I can’t see shit!”
He lets go of my hand. I reach out to grab his arm, but he’s already gone. Suddenly I’m alone in the woods. At night. In the snow.
I listen for his footsteps, hoping they can give away his location, but I don’t hear anything other than the wind. Either he’s moving very softly or he’s turned into a bat. Either way, I don’t have any idea where he went.
A wolf howls in the distance. Great, just great; there’s wolves in this forest. Just what I needed. My hand drifts to the knife at my belt. I don’t know what’s out there, but if anything comes for me, I’m going to paint the snow red.
There’s a crunch in the snow in front of me, and I crouch into a fighting stance. “Calm down,” Tucker says. “It’s just me. I scanned the tree-tops. It was just an owl.”
That gets me to relax. “Well, that’s good to hear.”
“Not quite. We still need to find an orc before you freeze to—”
A deep, full-throated, and really-fucking loud bellow comes from behind us. And it’s close. Really close.
I don’t bother turning around. “Tucker, what’s behind me?”
Tucker’s voice is so weak, it’s almost lost in the wind. “That would be the orc.”
“How big is he?”
“Big. Really, really, really big.”
“Anything else I should know?”
“Well, he appears to be holding half a wolf in each hand. And he’s coming at us.”
“What do we do now?” I ask, my eyes searching the night for any sign of the orc. But, of course, I can’t see anything. Not the trees, not the forest, and not the big-ass monster that’s apparently barreling straight for us.
God I’ve had better days.
Tucker yanks my arm, pulling me to the side. I nearly fall into the snow, but his hands are there to steady me. He pulls me close and wraps his arms around me. I want to kick him in the face and knee him in the groin, but he puts a finger to my lips.
“Don’t make a sound,” He whispers. “He can’t find us if he can’t hear us.”
I feel behind Tucker and my hand touches bark. A tree. So we’re hiding. Let’s hope the orc’s not good at Hide-and-Eat.
The wind continues whistling all around me and snow continues pelting my face. But I stay quiet as the orcs first footfalls reach my ears.
They’re not loud. Cushioned by the snow, the orc’s footsteps are intense hisses. It’s almost as if the snow is melting beneath its feet. So that’s hot feet, bad hearing, and the ability to rip wolves in half. I’m learning so much about orcs tonight.
The hisses land in a steady rhythm, becoming louder and louder as the orc draws closer to us. I try to peer around the tree, but Tucker puts both hands on my shoulder and pulls me closer. I get a whiff of his cologne and I almost decide I’d rather take my chances with the orc.
The hisses grow louder. One sounds from the other side of the tree. I try to keep my breathing steady. Despite the cold, a bead of sweat runs down my spine. If the orc comes after us, we’re going to have to fight. And not only am I weak and dizzy, I also can’t see.
I have no idea how we’re going to pull this off.
A series of howls from back where the orc came from, followed by the beat of paws on snow. There’s a growl, followed by several snarls. I guess the wolves didn’t take kindly to having one of their own ripped apart.
“What’s happening?” I whisper to Tucker. And before he can answer a pained scream pierces the night. Another growl, this one much louder, and then an agonizing canine yelp and the crack of bones tearing.
I feel Tucker pivot slightly, and then return. “When I count to three, we’re going to run back toward the inn. Do you understand?”
I nod. “Okay,” he says. “One…two…three!”
Tucker pulls on my arm and we start running. We make it about seven steps before another roar greets us from behind. The hisses start again, this time coming faster.
“I’m gonna guess he knows we’re here!” I say. I’m answered by another yelp of agony. And then a huge crash to my left that causes the tree nearest to me to crash and sprays snow everywhere. I almost eat it, but Tucker picks me up and keeps me going.
“What the hell was that?” I ask.
“Half a wolf!”
“He’s THROWING wolves at us?”
“I didn’t make up the rules for how orcs hunt!”
“Why’s he even after us? Eat one of the fucking wolves!”
“Ask him that when he catches us! Now move!”
We keep running. I’m doing my damnedest not fall and Tucker’s working overtime to right me every time I stumble. The first bits of light begin to leak through the trees as we get closer to the inn. I’m tempted to look back and see if I can glimpse the orc with my own eyes, but decide that’s a terrible idea. Last thing I need is to get hit with a flying wolf chunk while engaging in magical rubbernecking.
The light grows brighter, and I can finally see ahead of me. Which is enough for me. At least now I won’t suffer death by clumsiness.
“So what’s the plan?” I yell as the orc roars behind me. The poor people in the inn are going to have a terrible sleep.
“You’ve still got the syringe on you, right?”
“I’ll draw his attention, you stab him in the armpit.”
“How the hell am I supposed to do that?”
“You’re smart enough to figure it out!”
Mercifully, we tear out the forest edge, bathing us in the dim light from the hotel. I can see our car ahead when a wolf chunk slams into the ground, spraying us with snow and sending me flying. I land in a heap and shake my head out just in time to get my first look at the orc.
Shit, he’s big.
So imagine if you had one pro basketball player standing on the shoulders of another pro basketball player. They’d still be about a foot shorter than an orc. This thing is massive, with huge, tree-trunk arms, and a serious under-bite that reveals two cuspids, each the size of my hand. And, oh yeah, the snow is actually melting under its feet.
And it’s charging for me at full steam.
How the shit am I supposed to stop that?
I barely have time to think “oh, shit,” before Tucker tackles the orc to the ground. That might be the clearest example of vampire strength I’ve seen, because Tucker looks like an infant trying to tackle their parent compared to the orc.
The orc swings a meaty fist that just barely misses taking Tucker’s head off, and the vampire responds by driving a knee into its stomach and slamming a fist to its face.
The orc stumbles just a bit before wrapping a hand around Tucker’s waist and lifting him off the ground. He then wraps a second hand around Tucker’s legs.
Shit, he’s going to try to rip him in half.
I can’t believe I’m doing this, but I’m racing to save Tucker. Before the orc can get to the tasty vampire insides, I’ve drawn my knife and jammed it into the orc’s legs. The orc roars in pain, sweeping a hand toward me that comes within a hair of sending me to the moon.
But the hand he’s trying to crush me with is a hand he doesn’t have on the vampire.
Tucker takes advantage, biting down on the orc’s hand and drawing a scream. The orc drops Tucker and shakes his hand, and Tucker pounces, leaping on the orc’s chest and burying his fangs into his neck.
That’s my chance. While the orc is scrabbling at Tucker, I pull out the syringe, and, in a feat that would make my father proud, leap up the side of the orc and jam it into his armpit. The orc screams in pain and Tucker and scramble out of the way as it stumbles to its knees and collapses face-first in the snow.
“You weren’t kidding,” I say as Tucker and I stare at the downed orc, our chests heaving with exhaustion. “The armpit really is a weak spot.”
Tucker steps over the orc and examines the syringe. He pulls on the plunger, filling it with orc blood before looking to me. “Nice shot.”
“Thanks,” I say. “Let’s never do that again.”