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Shielded

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Chapter 2 - Spying

What I was seeing was impossible. But while I might be able to explain away the eyes, there was no way to fake a Valkyrie shield. And the fucking thing just zapped me, so I knew that it was the real deal. But where was she? You had to maintain contact with someone to shield them and Huntsville was alone. Alone and seriously pissed off. What part did this loser play in this? Why would a female Valkyrie protect this sorry excuse for a human? What if she was sleeping with him? Even the thought of that had my Strength acting up and the strap of my backpack snapped as I pulled on it. I had no idea what was going on, but I was going to fuck some shit up if a female Val would really choose a human over her own kind.

--Connor


The second that Connor touched my Shield it was like time froze in both the real world and in the void. I hadn’t seen or heard from a Valkyrie in four years, and those had been the best four years of my life. And considering I almost starved to death and ran away from three foster homes in that time, that was saying something. The very last thing I wanted to do was have a territory dispute with three Valkyrie over Skyline High. It just wasn’t worth it. But I was so close to freedom and my life was pretty bearable right now. Maybe I could make a deal with these guys and they would let me stay here just until I graduated.

But before I made any decisions I needed information. And the void was the best place to gather information. I literally occupied the same space as these guys and they would never know. It was the ultimate spy tool. Right now Jack was looking at the three guys like they had gone insane and the Valkyries were all staring at my Shield as if they had seen a ghost. I didn’t understand, my father said that Shield was the second most common Gift and almost all Valkyrie had them. They were completely invisible to humans, but anyone of supernatural blood could see them. So why were they looking at mine like they had never seen one before?

“How is this possible?” Blake asked no one in particular and I wanted to agree with him. How was it possible that I didn’t notice that there are three Valkyries in my school? But then I looked again and noticed that they all had brown eyes. My father told me that all Valkyries had green eyes like mine, not that I had ever met another one to confirm that statement. However, my father hadn’t been lying when he told me that tidbit of information.

“Better question, where did she go?” Connor said in a voice that was so similar to Blake’s that it sent a shiver down my spine. “If that shield is up that means she has to be touching him, but I don’t see her anywhere.” Max walked over from behind the other two and actually looked behind Jack, like if I was playing hide-and-go-seek from them or something. Were these guys serious? Did they really not know about the void? And what did they mean by the touching thing? I hadn’t really tested my range, but I could shield anyone I wanted whether I was touching them or not.

“Jack, where did your friend go?” Max asked in a much more polite tone than Connor had moments before.

“First, tell me what you want with her,” Jack replied while standing up to his full height. The twins were still taller than him, but he matched Max’s height. I could tell from how he planted his feet that Jack was expecting a fight. What did he know that I didn’t?

“We just want to talk to her. Welcome her to our school,” Blake said and Jack let out a low chuckle. He clearly wasn’t buying what these guys were trying to sell.

“She is not new. She has been here all year. Pretty sure she even has classes with each of you. So if you want my help, you are going to have to explain why you are interested in her all of sudden.” No one said anything as the Valkyries digested that I had been right under their noses for over six months. The tension in the air grew so thick I could almost taste it here in the void. I double-checked the Shield around Jack just to be safe. I knew first hand what a pissed-off Valkyrie could do.

“Are you the reason she was so upset earlier?” Jack asked with a distinct edge in his voice. Having someone get angry on my behalf felt pretty good. However, at the confused looks that Blake and Max traded, Jack figured out that they had no idea what he was talking about. It was only a coincidence that Connor’s expeditionist show had contributed to my bad mood before lunch. “Listen, Ray is not one of the girls that you can play with for a few weeks and then drop like yesterday’s trash. She has other shit she is dealing with and doesn’t need your kind of drama in her life. Leave her alone,” Jack said like a fucking boss and stared down Blake for a moment before grabbing my forgotten bag and heading down the hall.

“Did Huntsville really just tell us that a female Val has been going to our school this entire year and we had no idea?” Connor asked and I wondered why he was making such a big deal that I was a girl. What did he have against girls?

“We would have been notified if one of the royals were spending time in our territory,” Blake said while rubbing the back of his neck like if he was trying to relieve stress or something.

“The girl we saw was not royalty,” Conner growled and I had to agree. I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as Valkyrie Royalty, but I was the furthest thing from being one. I was literally homeless six months ago.

“Maybe she was really a he. Like some kind of transgender,” Blake threw out there and I felt pretty insulted. I mean I knew I didn’t look like the beach body blonde that they seemed to be attached to, but I was a far cry from looking like a dude.

“Either way, we need to find this Ray and get some answers,” Max said while scanning the cafeteria like he was expecting me to just appear out of thin air. He was definitely the brains of this operation.

“Huntsville walked away with the shield still intact. The Val is wherever he is right now. We need to call Elijah.” The other two seemed to agree with Connor and together they walked into an empty classroom and huddled around a cell phone that was calling someone on speakerphone. How considerate of them to allow me to listen to both sides of this conversation.

“Shouldn’t you be in class?” the voice on the line said. Not even a hello - must be a family member. Maybe one of their dads?

“We have a problem,” Conner stated into the phone but it was Max that explained the situation.

“We discovered that an unknown Val has been attending our school since the beginning of the school year. When we confronted her she disappeared right in front of our eyes. But we know that she is a Valkyrie because when Connor went after her friend, she shielded him. We still were unable to see her even when the shield was up. We don’t know where she is now.” That was a pretty concise summary of the situation and by the way they were talking, it didn’t seem like they knew about cloaking or the void.

“I must be hearing you wrong. I thought I heard you say she,” the disembodied voice said with extra emphasis on the pronoun. These guys really were hung up on the fact that I was a girl. Personally, I was more concerned with the fact that my worst nightmare of being discovered by the Valkyrie was playing out instead of what gender I was born with.

Max paused for a moment before replying, “you heard correctly. We are fairly certain that we are dealing with a female Valkyrie that somehow stayed under our radar for the better part of the school year.” The man on the phone didn’t respond and I started getting the feeling that I was missing something. Some big piece of information that would explain why my being a girl was such a big deal.

“Any idea how she disappeared into thin air?” Blake asked and I could tell he couldn’t stand the silence anymore.

“Nothing concrete. Only a hunch from an old story my grandfather once told me. He used to tell me stories of a powerful Valkyrie with a Gift that allowed them to turn themselves or others around them invisible. However, that was the only time I ever heard of such a thing and I always thought it was just the exaggeration of an old man as he told stories.”

Well, this was interesting. I always thought that I had been a sneaky little kid keeping my developing Gift a secret from my father so that he wouldn’t be able to stop me from escaping. But was it possible that the Valkyrie didn’t know about Cloaking? That would be very good if it was true. It would mean that I would always be able to escape to the void without anyone being able to follow me.

“What should we do?” Max asked, pulling my attention back to their conversation.

“Keep looking. Her power has to drain eventually. If you find her, see if she is willing to come to the house to talk. Get information on her and report back to the house after school.” After that, the line went dead and I looked over to see that the call had been disconnected. Well, at least it seemed like this guy was going to ask for a meeting and not just kidnap me. That was a good sign and more than I had been expecting when it came to Valkyrie.

“Let’s go find Huntsville. If he is still shielded then we know where she is even if we can’t see her. If he isn’t, then we can make him give us some information. It’s clear that he knows her.” The more that Connor talked the less I liked him. If he so much as looked at Jack wrong, I was going to kick his ass. I didn’t care if he was the size of a left tackle.

“Don’t be an idiot Con,” Blake said in an annoyed tone. “Jack is one of her protected. It would cross half a dozen lines to do anything to him. Plus we are trying to gain her trust. Jack just became the most untouchable person in this school. We better get the word out.” After that nice little speech, all three of them pulled out their phones and started texting. I walked over to Blake and looked down at his screen to see that he was sending a group message that literally said Jack Huntsville now untouchable. Any harm that comes to him will be returned threefold.

Holy shit. These three really did run the school. If it was really that easy to stop the harassment and bullying, then why did they allow it in the first place? After sending a couple more identical messages the Three Musketeers walked down the hall to the office and Max asked if he could use Mrs. Bill’s computer and the old broad actually let him. Once Max was behind the desk he started searching the student registry for “Ray” and “Rey” but only found a couple of Raymond’s that were clearly not me. Now I was kinda thankful that the state had registered me under my given name.

When he couldn’t find anything on me, Max pulled up Jack’s schedule and printed a copy. How was it that he was allowed to just waltz up to the administration office and access student information? As a group, the Three Musketeers started walking over to the west wing of campus where Jack had his English class. Because I was curious what they would do next, I dropped the shield around Jack and watched as they peered through the small rectangle of glass within the classroom door. All three of their shoulders dropped in unison and they looked so deflated that I actually felt a little bad for hiding from them. Which was completely ridiculous. Hiding had kept me safe for years now. I would be stupid to forget that now.

“What now?” Blake asked.

“I think she is in my AP chemistry class during eighth period,” Max said and I was impressed that he knew that. “I was thinking we could look through the yearbook photos and see if we can find out her full name. Annabell told me she had received all of the photos from the photography company last week. If we don’t find anything before eighth period then I will go to class and see if she shows up.”

“Sounds like a plan. Where is the delectable Annabell during sixth?” Max rolled his eyes and turned to walk down the stairs to the first floor. I didn’t know who Annabell was, but all three of them clearly knew who Max was talking about. When the three of them walked past the gym, Maddison ran over in shorts so short that they were practically underwear.

“Fuck, I can’t deal with her right now,” Connor declared and I looked up at him to see that he was frowning. Not the reaction I would want if I had been lip-locked with a guy just hours before. “Blake, you deal with her.”

Now I was confused. Why would Blake deal with his brother’s girlfriend or fuckbuddy or whatever Maddison Clearly was? But Blake just nodded and turned to intercept Maddison. I was too curious to walk away so I waited in the hall to see how this was going to play out. I mean I couldn’t afford cable, so this was the closest I was getting to witnessing drama. Of all of the things I was expecting to happen, Blake reached out to grab Maddison’s hand and then dragging her to a doorway to make out, hadn’t made it on the list. So here I was once again watching Maddison put on a slightly pornographic performance but with the other Berg twin this time. I would be upset on Connor’s behalf but clearly, he knew that this was going on. It was also clear that Blake wasn’t going to stop this train at first base, and I really didn’t want to get that familiar with Maddison Cleary. I stiffly turned away and made my way down the hall in the direction the other two guys had gone.

I looked into classrooms along the way, searching for Max and Connor until I found them in the yearbook room. When I walked through the door I saw Max was on one of the computers while a cute redhead I have never seen before sat next to him. Connor was in the room too, but he was staring out of the window, clearly lost in thought. The redhead giggled and played with her hair in the universal I am into you but I want you to make the first move signal. Was there a single girl in this school that wasn’t fawning over these three?

After ten minutes of watching the same flirtatious show, I figured that they weren’t going to spill any secrets while Annabell was with Max and I knew that they weren’t going to find my photo. I had kept myself completely invisible on photo day exactly for this reason. With the three musketeers busy, I decided to go and let Jack know that I was okay and get my bag back. I took a different route back up the second floor and slipped into Jack’s class just as the teacher was assigning homework for them to work on. Perfect.

I walked back through the door and pushed free of the void before knocking on the door and telling the teacher that Jack was wanted at the office. Jack saw me and gave me a little relieved smile before packing up his belongings and meeting me out in the hallway. Jack didn’t hesitate to pull me into a hug and I felt some of the tension that had gathered in my shoulders release. God, I really hope that I don’t have to leave my one and only friend.

“Sorry I disappeared on you. I just needed to get away from that awkward situation,” I said into Jack’s shirt and I felt a laugh rumble through his chest.

“I figured as much.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” I asked as I pulled away so that I could see his face. I had the distinct feeling that he was making fun of me right now.

“Ray I have seen you take out an armed drug dealer with your bare hands, but at even a hint of social interaction you run away like your life depends on it,” Jack said and I felt a little insulted. I wasn’t afraid of the Three Musketeers, I just wanted to be smart about my next move. Okay, I was lying to myself, I was a little afraid of the Three Musketeers. But it was more like I was afraid of what they represented because I was older now. I could and would defend myself now. I wasn’t going to let anyone, Valkyrie or not, hurt me.

“I interact socially with you every day,” I said to prove a point.

“Yeah, after weeks of dodging me. You wouldn’t even have a conversation with me until you knew for sure that I was safe.” He paused as a student walked down the hallway and then pulled me over to the alcove with the water fountain before continuing.

“Listen Ray, protecting yourself is not a bad thing and after what I can only assume was an awful childhood, I don’t blame you for being closed off. But hiding away from the world is no way to live. You are not some fragile doll that will crack the second that something bad happens to you. You are stronger than that.”

“So what, you are telling me to just start hanging out with the most popular people in this school?” I asked with a sarcastic edge to my voice. I was surprised that Jack of all people was telling me this. From the look on his face earlier I figured that he hated the Three Musketeers.

“Do I think that your first foray into high school social life should be with the Berg twins, not really. But, I have known those guys almost my entire life. And while they can be a little intense, I have never seen them be cruel. All I am saying is that you are an amazing person, Ray. It is time that you let someone other than me and Amy see that.” Well, fuck this is turning into a downright emotional day. I leaned into Jack’s chest again and gave him another hug because it is one of my favorite things to do and we only had a moment before the bell rings and the hall is flooded with students.

“I may be late tonight,” I tell Jack and then allow the flow of people to drag me away from my best friend before pushing myself back into the void. I understand where Jack is coming from, but there is no way in hell I am getting anywhere near a bunch of Valkyrie until I have more information.

When I get back to the yearbook room I find that Blake joined them. He and Connor are sitting at the computer clicking through photos while Max is kissing Annabell by the classroom door. I almost walked straight through the lip-locked couple and I had to suppress a little shiver of revulsion. No wonder these guys didn’t notice me. They were too busy entertaining the female population of this school. For some reason, I really didn’t want to watch Max with Annabell so I moved to stand behind the double mint twins and watched as they searched through hundreds of photos.

A minute later Annabell left and Max locked the classroom door before sitting back down at the computer he was at earlier. The boys worked in silence and I took the time to think over what Jack had said to me. Yes, I kept myself hidden but I did it out of necessity, not fear. I mean people sucked. They constantly used and abused eachother. I had been used and abused enough for several lifetimes. I just wanted to survive until my eighteenth birthday and gain my freedom. Was that really so much to ask for?

“What are you doing?” Blake demanded and jolted me out of my thoughts. He was staring at Max with an exasperated look on his handsome face. I looked over and saw Max was scanning the room like if he was looking for something.

“If I had the ability to become invisible and some unknown guys confronted me, I would totally follow them around to see what their next move was going to be. I noticed Ray in some of my classes out of the corner of my eye. But when I looked directly at the spot that I had thought I saw her, nothing would be there. I think the invisibility isn’t complete. So I am keeping an eye out to see if I can see her with my peripheral vision.” Well damn. This guy is smart. I was kinda impressed. At least I knew how they finally caught on to my being at the school.

At his explanation, all three of them started looking around the room so hard it looked like their eyes were going to pop out of their heads. It was so ridiculous that I started laughing so hard that actual tears ran down my cheeks. I almost stepped from the void just so that I could say boo and scare the shit out of them. But before I acted on that silly notion, Connor said something that had me sobering up real fast.

“What are we going to do when we find her?”

“What do you mean, what will we do? We are going to get to know her. Help her in any way that we can. Make sure she is safe,” Blake said in such a nonchalant voice that it took my breath away. The easy way that he spoke of safety wasn’t fair.

Connor scoffed at Blake’s words and turned to face his brother. “Do you really think it will be that easy? That out of the blue, a female Val just shows up and is willing to accept help from our clan. She isn’t going to pick us to stay with. You know that. So stop daydreaming about a fantasy future that is never going to happen.” Both Blake and Max looked completely dejected by his words, and I was even more confused. Why did it sound like these men who had the world at their fingertips wanted me in their lives?

The rest of the period passed in a blur of confusing thoughts and hundreds of school photographs. This school really was huge. Even with them only looking at the girls, they had close to fifteen hundred photos to go through. After the bell rang Max left to go to AP chem and I decided to join him. The entire class he looked at my empty seat from different angles and I had to give the guy credit for being persistent. But the question remained of why I was so important to these guys. If they didn’t want to hurt me, then why were they so hell-bent on finding me.

After school, the three of them met up by the main doors and watched Jack get on the bus that would take him to the scrap yard for his shift. Blake wanted to go and ask him some more questions, but Max convinced them to head home so that they could regroup with someone named Elijah. These boys didn’t take the bus and instead, they walked to the student parking lot and climbed into an impressive black truck equipped with a lift kit and seriously intimidating tires. This truck screamed compensating for something.

I had to open the void and push my feet out to climb into the bed of the truck. However, I was still cloaked so even if they did look back here, their minds should tell them that the bed of the truck was empty. Blake drove like a crazy person and I severely regretted not having a seatbelt as I hung on for dear life to the side of the truck. Ten minutes of terror later and they pulled up to a large house on an even bigger lot that boasted a couple of palm trees and a perfectly manicured lawn. The housing market in the Bay area was like a runaway train. This type of house was reserved for the uber-rich. Why the hell were these guys going to a school like Skyline if they had these kinds of resources?

The three musketeers piled out of the truck and made a beeline for the front door, but I didn’t follow them. Following these guys at school was one thing, but spying on them in their own home was a line I wasn’t ready to cross. My bus was my sanctuary. I would feel violated if someone came in without my permission just to watch me. So instead I carefully climbed out of the bed of the want-to-be monster truck and walked over to one of the palm trees. I kept the void unsealed so that my body would be able to lean against the tree and I settled in to watch. I didn’t know what I was looking for, but I figured I would know when I saw it.

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