Chapter 1 - Found
I was missing something. Something big. And I was pretty sure it had something to do with the girl that I could never manage to fully concentrate on. Since the beginning of the school year, my gut was telling me that someone powerful was walking these crowded halls, but my senses kept telling me that I was crazy. It was like I had a song stuck in my head, but I couldn’t remember the words and it was driving me crazy. Then I started to notice her out of the corner of my eye, but if I looked directly at her she would disappear. God, she was beautiful. A part of my brain was screaming at me to take her away from this place and protect her from all harm. However, the other more logical part told me that safe and honest people didn’t hide from their appointed Valkyrie. My mystery woman could be dangerous. I had to protect my family and my territory. I was going to have to tell the twins about her.
The awful screech of the bus doors opening tore through my dream and my muscle memory took over as I rolled from my lofted bed and landed softly on the balls of my feet. I easily called a dagger to each hand and prepared to defend my home. This bus might not seem like much to a normal person but to me, it was my safe place. And no one was going to mess with it or me
“Jesus Ray, how is it you can sleep through your alarm but the moment I step foot in your beloved sanctuary and you look ready to single-handedly win in a zombie apocalypse?” The moment I hear Jack’s smooth voice, I straighten and pretend to place my knives into the sheaths I always wear via a shoulder holster. However, they are already occupied with my prop knives and I just release whatever magic it is that keeps my weapons in the physical realm. It may be tedious to always hide who I am and what I can do, but that was the one rule in the supernatural world - never let the humans find out we exist.
“What have I told you about knocking, Jack Percival Huntsville?” I grumble at him as I stretch and try to get my bearings. The sun was up and the air was only slightly chilly. Probably about fifty degrees, which was about as cold as it got here in the Bay area. I looked at my watch and the time did wonders to push the sleep out of my system. I had slept too long.
“Yeah well, I remembered that you have a calc test today, even if you didn’t. And if you don’t move your sweet ass, we are going to miss the bus,” Jack told me as he slid into a chair at my kitchen table. I was about to curse when the bundle of energy that was Jack’s little sister came barreling through the bus door. Amy was going through a growth spurt and Jack was having trouble finding clothes that would fit her for more than a couple of weeks at a time. She was fourteen years old, rail-thin, with wispy blonde hair and the cutest spread of freckles across her cheeks. If she kept growing she was going to be taller than me by the end of the month.
“Hey Ray, do you have it?” Amy asked me in an excited voice that reminded me of innocence and laughter. Amy and Jack had it rough, but this girl never let life get her down. Not when a cinnamon roll was on the menu.
“That’s all you see me as, isn’t it. Your sugar dealer!” I teased her and ducked behind the old sheet I had draped across the back corner of the bus to give me some semblance of privacy. I changed out of my sleep pants and pulled on a pair of jeans that would need to be washed sooner rather than later. Then I rifled through my drawers looking for a clean shirt. Yup, I am definitely moving laundry to the top of the to-do list for this weekend. I finally found a grey v-neck that was more slim-fitting than my normal wardrobe, but it was going to have to work for today. I grabbed some socks and walked over to sit by Jack because I had left my boots under the table last night.
I glanced up after wrestling my left foot into my boot and saw Amy’s puppy dog face. God this girl was going to be a heartbreaker. I shook my head at her antics and reached behind Jack to get my bookbag. Jack was going through his own kind of growth spurt. He had been slowly transforming his body from gangly street kid to badass punk that people would think twice before messing with him. He worked part-time in the old scrapyard doing hard labor and I knew that if he were able to afford more protein in his diet, he would have a whole lot more muscle to show for it. But even though he was still on the lean side, I knew that Jack was the kind of strong that would find a way to fight his way to the top of any situation. He was a survivor, just like me.
When I pulled my bag onto my lap, I felt Jack’s fingertips push a stray lock of my hair behind my ear and I looked up into his baby blues. He cupped my jaw with his palm and ran this thumb along my cheek. “You look like shit, Ray,” Jack told me as he stared into my tired eyes. “How late were you working last night?”
I took a moment and leaned into his touch. Jack was one of the only people that I let see me, let alone get close enough to actually touch me. And human contact was something everyone needed, even a freak like me, so I soaked every moment of it that I could. “I had the closing shift last night,” I said in explanation before pulling out the white paper pastry bag from my backpack and handing it over to Amy. She gave her signature squeal of delight and wasted no time ripping the bag open and taking a huge bite of the frosting-covered giant cinnamon roll. The restaurant that I worked for, Polly’s, made the best in town and they sold like literal hotcakes. But I always tried to save one for Amy because I was on a personal mission to put some meat on her bones. Plus, the look of bliss on her face was the perfect way to start out a day.
Jack leaned over and looked into my bag, searching for another white bag for him. Unfortunately, I was only able to sneak one of the sugary rolls of goodness away last night because Polly’s had been swamped. I gave Jack a wide-eyed look and mouthed sorry before returning my focus to getting my other boot on. Jack just shrugged one shoulder and reached over to pull a chunk out of Amy’s treat.
“Hey!” she yelled and jumped out of her seat, running off the bus to protect the rest of her cinnamon roll from her older brother. Jack stole a bit of her treat every morning that I didn’t have more to share, so I knew that Amy always waited to share with her brother before taking off. I glanced down at my dollar store wristwatch and saw that we only had three minutes to get to the bus stop.
“Bananas!” I exclaimed as I gathered the books that were spread on the table and shoved them into my bag and followed Amy off my bus. Jack laughed as he trailed after me and once we got to the bus stop where a dozen of us kids unfortunate enough to live in this sorry excuse for a trailer park also gathered, he took my bag from me and handed me my beloved flannel shirt. I would have felt off all day without my extra layer to wear as armor. I smiled up at Jack as a thank-you and shrugged the old thing on.
“The least I could do,” Jack replied and I raised my eyebrows in question. Jack wasn’t usually one to dwell on the past unless something happened. Probably had another blowout with his deadbeat druggie mom. “I barely survived Skyline before you showed up. After three years of getting my ass thoroughly kicked I knew that I would never be able to keep Amy safe there. But now we have you, and neither of us has been touched all year. The least I could do is make sure you make it to the bus stop on time.” Jack was a good head taller than me and I tilted my head to try to look him in the eye to see what was bothering him today, but he refused to look at me.
“Well, I would like to see those trust fund bullies try anything on you now. Now you got moves, Percival,” I said and reached over to squeeze his rock-hard bicep. Over the last couple of months, I had been training with Jack and showing him some basic self-defense moves. Combining that with his hours working in the scrap yard meant that Jack would never be the target of a simple high school bully again. The trouble was that we only had four more months of high school left and then we had to survive in the real world. And the real world had a lot more than a couple of bullies to contend with.
“Yeah, I am a regular John Cena,” Jack joked as the bus pulled up and we started to file on. I hated this part. The moment where my uncomplicated time with my friend came to an end and my survival instincts kicked in. I have been in the foster care system for four years and I have learned one very important truth, the best way to stay safe is to not draw attention to yourself. Even if you are the biggest and badest kid in the sandbox, if you flaunt that fact then there will always be someone who will challenge you. It just wasn’t worth the drama and pain to fight to be recognized in this world. It was much easier and safer to be just some anonymous person in the background.
If they ever made a movie about my life, I would be cast as an extra whose only purpose was to make other people feel like their lives were full. I was the unfortunate orphan that no one ever wanted to spend time thinking about. I was the polite waitress that you forgot about the moment you walked out of the restaurant. I was the slightly dirty kid in school that you didn’t want to be friends with and compared your life to when you were having a bad day to make yourself feel better. And all of this was okay with me because my entire goal in life was to remain part of the scenery long enough to graduate from high school, age out of the foster care system, and hopefully get some sort of scholarship to college. Any college would do. I wasn’t picky, I just wanted to find a way out of the hole that society had put me in without doing anything extreme.
And doing something extreme was something that I was capable of because I wasn’t exactly human. But losing my patience with my lot in life and doing something rash would draw the attention of the supernatural world. And that was the absolute last thing I wanted. I had spent my childhood within the magical underbelly of this country and I would do almost anything to never return to that kind of life, including keeping myself hidden.
My father said we were Valkyries, but when I was old enough to read I did some research and the abilities I have were never mentioned in any Norse mythology books I found. The first thing to stick out to me was that my father was most definitely a man. All the Norse lore described Valkyries as women who would scour the world looking for warriors to train for Ragnarok, something that equates to the end of the world. But the only person that I had ever trained was Jack and he was alive. Also, I didn’t particularly look Norwegian. I was muscular with broad shoulders and curves and pronounced muscles that most girls my age would be embarrassed about. I had thick brown hair that glinted red in the right light and vibrant green eyes. I when I say green I mean green like the color of spearmint gum packages. Other than my father, I had never seen anyone with my shade of green eyes before. Which was a very good thing, because my unique eye color was a trademark characteristic of a Valkyrie. And it was one of my personal goals to never run into another of my kind.
The best part of being a Valkyrie was the Gifts. I could call any number of bladed weapons with just a thought, I could shield myself or others with an indestructible magical barrier, I could tell when people were lying, and I could cloak myself. The last one was my favorite and it made fading into the background a whole hell of a lot easier. As I climbed onto the over-crowded school bus I pushed against the fabric of reality and draped it around my shoulders. It had taken years for me to fully master the balance of cloaking myself enough to avoid attention yet not enough to become completely invisible. Invisible people didn’t graduate high school. Invisible people couldn’t get jobs. Invisible street kids died slow and lonely deaths from hunger and exposure.
Jack had long since stopped questioning why he was less able to focus on me when we were around other people. But after the dozens of fights I had stopped, Jack knew that I was always there for him, whether he could see me or not. Today I was visible enough that other kids didn’t try to sit on me, but no one tried to talk to me even as they traded small talk with Jack and Amy. Part of me yearned to be a part of the conversations. To care about things like looking nice for your crush, or debating who they would vote for if they were eighteen in the upcoming election. But it just wasn’t worth it. Four more months and I would age out of the system and be legally free to live anywhere I wanted. Four more months and I would be able to get out and start my real life.
For now, I would stay hidden. Besides, it wasn’t like I was completely alone. I had let Jack and Amy into my life and now they were my family. They were enough.
When we got off the bus I followed Jack to the cafeteria. The best part of the title-nine was that kids who qualified got two square meals a day. Jack and I definitely qualified and today we got stale waffle sticks and runny syrup, but it was miles better than trying to concentrate on schoolwork over hunger pains. Now that I was almost levitating on carbs and sugar, I decided to head to homeroom a little early and try to get some last-minute studying done for my calculus test.
Homeroom was a sorry excuse for a class where the teacher didn’t do anything but take attendance. I took my customary back corner seat and pulled out my calc book and did my best to tune out the popular group of students that had shown up as a group. They were your cliche beautiful and well-dressed athletes that included the football captain and his bleach blonde cheerleader girlfriend. Surprisingly, this group of ‘it’ people did not act like typical movie popular cliques. During my six months here at Skyline High I had not once witnessed these kids go out of their way to belittle or bully any of their peers. Yes the football captain was more brawn than brains and the head cheerleader was so sweet it was enough to rot your teeth, but they were generally pretty nice people.
One of the guys that always seemed to be at the center of their group never wore a letter jacket or jersey on game day, so I didn’t think that he was an athlete. Not that he didn’t have the build for it. He kept his hair in a military buzz cut and always wore baggy jeans and a t-shirt that was at least one size too big so it was hard to judge his body type. He had deep brown eyes that reminded me of chocolate, and those eyes always seemed to search the back corner of the classroom where I sat. I knew that he couldn’t see me, no one really could when I was cloaked to this degree. But it was like he knew I was here even when his eyes told him otherwise. This made him dangerous and someone that I needed to take extra effort to avoid. Also, he was the valedictorian and I needed that spot for scholarships. So even though I had never talked to him and he had no clue that I even existed, Max Nilsen was my biggest rival in this school.
The fifteen minutes of homeroom passed in a blur of derivatives and imaginary numbers then I spent the next hour trying to be interested in our class’s interpretation of Hamlet. Afterward, I sat for my calculus exam and walked to history confident that I did well. I scanned the overcrowded hallways and sank deeper into the fabric of reality until I was completely through to what I called the void. It looked, smelled, and felt exactly like our world. I could even see and hear everything that was going on around me, but it was like I was a ghost that couldn’t interact with the physical plane of existence. While in the void I was able to simply walk through the throngs of people packed in the hallway without any trouble. It took me a while to get used to literally walking through people, but with enough practice, it became relatively normal.
The history teacher was out today and we had a sub, which meant that we were watching the first forty minutes of Pearl Harbor for the third time this year. I pulled out my battered copy of Hamlet and completed the English homework before putting my stuff away and looking around the classroom. Absolutely no one was paying attention to the movie. Students had even moved around their desks to form small groups. It was times like this when I felt the most alone. It wasn’t even that I was unpopular or that kids teased me for living in a broken-down school bus. It was that only two people in this school even knew that I existed. Somehow that fact was easier to handle when I was alone.
My eyes traveled over my oblivious classmates until I saw something in the corner that had me chuckling. Only at a school like Skyline would students get away with making out in the middle of history class. I recognized the guy from a prep rally that we had a couple of weeks ago for some sort of big swim meet. He was hard to forget. Standing at nearly six-five with broad shoulders that were packed with muscle he was the poster boy for trouble. If it weren’t for the prep rally I would have assumed that he was left tackle on the football team rather than a swim champion.
Connor Berg was so tall that he was actually sitting on top of a desk while the girl stood between his knees with her hands twined in his hair. The girl was Maddison Cleary. And even though she wasn’t on the cheerleading team, she was your typical mean girl and liked to think that she ruled the school. And from what I saw, she kinda did. I tried to stay away from Maddison and the girls that followed her around like she was the second coming of Christ. I had a hot temper and the shit that came out of this girl’s mouth always seemed to trigger it. And as someone who was trying to stay under the radar, making a scene every time the queen of the dumb blonds opened her mouth was not in my best interest.
I am a little embarrassed to admit that I spent the rest of class with my eyes glued to the show that Connor and Maddison were putting on. I wasn’t some innocent who had never seen people make out, but I had never been kissed before. It was kinda hard to find someone to fool around with when you kept yourself hidden in the fabric of reality ninety percent of the time. Must be something about today, because I was finding myself envying Maddison fucking Cleary and that just wasn’t me. She was the last person I ever wanted to be.
When the bell rang I bolted from the history classroom feeling completely disgusted with myself. Skyline was so large that it had two cafeterias, but Jack and I always met at the south one because they gave out larger portions. It was also considered to be the loser cafeteria, so we fit in better over here than on the north side of campus anyway. Jack’s fourth-period class was shop, which is a lot closer than my history classroom so he always beats me to the cafeteria and saves a spot for me in line. Today was macaroni and cheese day with a side of mashed potatoes and a bread roll. It was like this district didn’t know what a vegetable was. I was going to need to grab some salads for us for dinner to counteract all of the carbs this school was providing.
Jack and I slid our free meal cards and then headed over to our normal table in the corner of the room. Really it was only half a table because a bunch of kids smashed into it during some epic fight last year and the school never bothered fixing it up. But considering that to everyone else it would look like Jack was eating alone, I figured sitting at the broken table was a small price to pay for being left alone.
As soon as I put my tray down, Jack bent down and threw me over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Then he started spinning and I was thankful that he had a firm grip on my legs or I would have gone flying into some unsuspecting sophomores. I knew this game. Jack would continue to spin until he either fell over or I started laughing. He did this when he knew that I was having a bad day. Just like that, I was able to let my loneliness and feelings of resentment go as I spun around on the shoulder of my best friend. I wasn’t alone. Not anymore. I had Jack and I had Amy. That was more than enough for me.
It only took a few moments for me to let out a peal of laughter that satisfied Jack enough to get him to slow down. Once he stopped we were both a little unsteady on our feet and together we crashed into our seats and leaned against each other. I even pulled away from the void a little more so that he would have something solid to lean against as we caught our breath. I knew that he was going to start asking what had gotten me in a funk, but before he could say anything two bodies sat down across from us. I was still feeling like I was going to throw up from my impromptu carnival ride so I closed my eyes and leaned against Jack’s steady shoulder. No one in this school mattered to me, so as long as these people didn’t want to hurt Jack, I couldn’t care less about them.
“Hello,” a deep baritone of a voice said. I waited a moment for Jack to respond but when he didn’t say anything I pulled back and looked up into his face while raising an eyebrow. Was he really going to blow these guys off without saying anything to them?
“I am pretty sure the rich, popular, and talented Berg twins didn’t come over here to break their seventeen-year no talking policy with me, Ray. I think they are here for you,” Jack told me with a coldness to his voice that I hadn’t heard before. He didn’t like whoever was on the other side of the table, but somehow I knew that it was more than that. Jack didn’t like plenty of people, but he has never sounded like that before.
I didn’t let my eyes stray from Jack’s as I replied, “well if they are too good for you, then they are most definitely too good for me.” The slight tip of Jack’s lips told me that I had said the right thing. For some reason, he needed me to pick him over these people. That wasn’t going to be a problem. I would pick Jack every time.
“Seriously, you haven’t bothered to check in with us after entering our territory and now you are going to try to ignore us like a two-year-old? Do you have any idea who you are messing with right now?” hissed a second voice that was slightly different than the first. I was all for disappearing back into the void until this situation blew over until I heard the word territory. That is what supernatural people called their homes. At the very mention of the word territory, my eyes snapped to the other side of the table and I was shocked to find the man that I had been basically perving on all of last period.
Connor Berg sat side-by-side with someone who was clearly related to him. Same dark hair. Same height. Same broad shoulders, although the second man was slightly less muscular than Connor and had taken more care with his hair. Berg twins. Jack had called them the Berg twins. So the second man must be Blake Berg, Skyline’s very own man-slut. I had overheard dozens of conversations about what Blake had done to the female population of this school. Seriously the champion swimmer and ultimate player were saying words like territory like if I had done something to offend them. What the fuck?
It was the middle of the day, so Vampires were out. Shifters claimed territory, but they only cared about other shifters, which I was most definitely not. Fae not only didn’t go to human schools, but they weren’t organized enough to claim and defend a territory within this realm. Witches were basically just humans that played with magic. As I ran through the options I scanned their bodies for any identifying marks or tattoos that might clue me into what kind of situation I had found myself in and before I knew it I was staring into Blake Berg’s eyes.
“No fucking way,” Blake muttered under his breath at the same time that his brother said, “that’s impossible.” Movement in my peripheral caught my attention and I saw Max Nilsen was standing about ten feet away, clearing watching this interaction go down. The moment that we made eye contact he took a step forward like if he was going to come to me. This was starting to get fucking weird, it was time to bug out and get some information. I reached for the void and realized that I hadn’t been cloaking myself properly. I had pulled back from the void to spend time with Jack and now the most sought-after kids in this god-forsaken school had actually seen me. Fuck!
I pushed myself completely into the void and sealed the entrance so that I was completely separate from the physical realm. The moment that I entered into the void both Connor and Blake jumped to their feet and started looking around with frantic energy. “Where the fuck did she go?” Connor demanded to know and Jack just leaned back on the wall and looked down at his fingernails.
“Don’t have any idea what you are talking about,” Jack drawled in a bored voice. God bless best friends. However, Connor didn’t seem to like Jack’s response as much as I did and he lunged forward to grab Jack. Oh hell no! In a flash, I had a Shield around Jack and Connor’s hand glanced off the side. The moment that he touched my Shield, I felt a surge of energy run through my system that had my stomach dropping to the floor. The only reason why I would feel anything when someone else touched my Shield was if that someone was a Valkyrie.
Oh my God. The Valkyries have found me.