Chapter 20 - Battle Lines
She was a magnificent creature of fire and pain who was just now coming into her own. She was letting these weak sniveling people dampen her fire. I had no choice but to take her away from their weakness and foster the anger inside of her because her anger was breathtaking. Under my careful tutelage, she will thrive and bloom into all that she was meant to be. She will be a terrifying queen to behold and the world will bow at her feet.
--Alexei Vasiliev, King of the Kingdom of Russia
Alexei was so intent on watching me during the rest of the plane ride that I had decided to heavily cloak myself for the duration of the trip. At first, the crazy king went damn near insane with worry when I disappeared, but when his struggles caused him to bump into my Shield he came to the conclusion that I hadn’t just decided to commit suicide by falling from an airplane. After a few minutes, he calmed down and tried to engage me back into a conversation with him, but I was done talking to him. I just wanted to get home, hug the guys, burn this ridiculous dress that I was still in, and sleep for a full twenty-four hours straight.
I worried about the guys. I worried about Amy. And I ran my conversation with Jack through my head so many times that it no longer made one lick of sense to me. Eventually, the plane started to descend and I resumed my death grip on my knife still lodged in the couch. I don’t think I like flying.
When we landed, I finally looked out the window and was taken aback by what I saw. It looked like damn near the entire Blade Clan along with multiple people I recognized from the Collins’ Royal Guard Clan were lined up in attack formation behind at least a dozen large black SUVs. I scanned the faces until I found the twins wearing matching expressions of anger and determination next to a pissed-off-looking Derik. My guys were standing next to Hernan Collins and Edison Greer.
The tight vice around my heart eased at the sight of the rest of the guys and I was even thankful for the ridiculously large rescue party. Alexei Vasiliev and the rest of our kidnappers were no longer going to be my problem. I was more than happy to let the Royals deal with this mess. When the plane came to a complete stop I sat up in my seat and looked around expectanly, thinking that either the rescue party would try to board or we would start to walk off the plane but nothing happened. I turned around to look at Elijah only to see that he had the satellite phone pressed up to his ear and he was murmuring but I couldn’t make out what he was saying.
I finally focused back on Alexei only to find that he had his gaze locked on the three men that were still pressed to the wall of the plane near the entrance. I had totally forgotten about them and felt a little bad that I had left them that way for the past three hours. However, right now they didn’t seem to be too bothered by it. They were doing a fair share of their own murmuring in Russian and I didn’t like the glint in Alexei’s eye. They were up to something. Suddenly, I wished Felix was here so that he could use his Communication Gift to let me know what they were saying.
I was just about to say something to Max when movement out of one of the small portal windows caught my eye. The guys, Sean, and about ten other Valkyries were approaching the plane in what I could only assume was some sort of tactical formation. Personally, I didn’t know what the big deal was, all of the bad guys were in my Shields. Did they really need nearly fifteen people to take them into custody? For that matter, I wonder if they would, or could, do to Alexei and his men. I mean Alexei was a king in his own right. Could the Collins’ Royal line hold him for kidnapping us? He did return us and we weren’t hurt. What was going to happen here?
I knelt on the couch and pressed a palm to the window as I watched the progression of Valkyries in black run up to the plane. Elijah moved up to the front and released the large lever on the wall and a door sized panel folded out from the plane. Elijah shuffled back until he was standing protectively in front of me and then the narrow plane was filling with people.
Max moved to stand by this brother, blocking my ability to really see what was happening, so I decided to stand too. When all of the shuffling and movement stopped, I was completely surrounded by Elijah, Max, Connor, Blake, Derik, and Sean. All of them were taller than me, so the only thing I could see were them around me. I reached out and took a hold of each of the twins’ hands and released a breath I hadn’t even known I had been holding.
We stood like that for a full minute before I heard Hernan speak, “Jesus Christ, Elijah. I know that you are feeling a little overprotective of her right now, but we need to talk to her. I will not do so with you standing in the way.” Elijah hesitated for a moment but then he and Max each took a half step away from each other, clearing a narrow opening so that I could see Hernan and Edison standing slightly in front of Alexei who was still sitting in the comfortable chair and surrounded by my Shield.
“Delia, I am so happy to see you returned to us. Did King Vasiliev harm you in any way?” Hernan asked and I could hear what sounded like real concern in his voice.
Staring at the intimidating head of intelligence, I remembered that he was my top suspect of who could have ordered someone to Compel Derik to attack me. I had been harmed in a big way because of that. Significantly more than this latest piece of drama.
“Do you honestly care about my wellbeing?” I asked in a cold voice that even surprised me a little.
Hernan cocked his head to the side and pursed his lips before answering, “Of course I do. You are under the protection of the Collins’ Royal Line. What has Vasiliev been saying to make you question such a thing?”
Alexei started chuckling under his breath but I ignored him. This was too important of an answer to be distracted. “I came to a great deal of harm a couple of days ago. Suspiciously, that harm happened only after I denied your request to become your apprentice. Tell me, Prince Collins, did you order for me to be hurt in such a way?”
My words nearly electrified the tightly packed space and all of the guys stiffened with tension as we waited for his response. I didn’t care if there was a small army surrounding us right now. If Hernan had ordered Derik to be Compelled, if he was the reason one of the people I trusted most in their world had beat me and nearly raped me, he was going to pay.
From the corner of my eye, I saw Alexei lean forward in his seat, no longer laughing and looking at Hernan with murder clear on his features. I felt a body press forward at my back and knew that Derik was just on edge as I was. I prepared to push me, him, and Hernan back into the void if he indicated that he was responsible. Together we would exact our revenge.
“I heard reports that an attack had taken place, but have been unable to retrieve any details on the specifics of what happened to you. When you did not come to us to report a crime and showed up to the Ball without saying anything, I had assumed that the reports had been rumors. Tell me what happened to you Delia, and I will make sure the person responsible feels your pain magnified tenfold,” Hernan said in a calming voice and I gripped the twins’ hands harder. He hadn’t answered the question.
“Did you order the attack on Ray?” Elijah demanded and I was surprised that he dared talk to royalty in such a way.
“No, I did not,” Hernan said, sounding offended that we would even ask.
He was telling the truth. Hernan had not given the order to have Derik attack me. “Do you know who did?” Elijah continued and I blinked. I hadn’t thought about that possible loophole.
“I do not. I do not even know what happened,” Hernan said stiffly, like if he was trying really hard to keep his temper in control. Once again he was telling the truth. I turned my eyes to Edison and silently demanded that he answer the same questions.
Edison paled at my stare and was quick to say, “I did not order any attack on you. I do not know who did. I only know that Jonas said you looked hurt when he went to visit you and you told him that you had been attacked.”
I relaxed my hold on the twins and stepped back slightly so that I was pressed up against Deirk’s chest. Silently I promised him that we wouldn’t give up. We would continue to look until we found who had done this to us.
I was so lost in going down the list of who else might have ordered the attack that I don’t know how much time passed in a tense silence but I did hear Hernan break it. “There will be time later to continue to discuss this. Right now I need to know if King Vasiliev laid his hands on you in any way.”
My gaze shifted to Alexei and saw that he was sitting with his jaw clenched and his hands clenched into fists. “No,” I told Hernan. “No one has touched me since the moment I woke up. What happens now?”
Hernan looked at me in surprise but I wasn’t going to apologize for my ignorance. All of this was new to me. How was I supposed to know what was going to happen next? “We will take King and Prince Vasiliev along with their companions into custody and there will be a tribunal. He and his men came uninvited into Americas West Territory and kidnapped you. I have no doubt that they will be sentenced to death.”
I couldn’t hide the shock I felt at his words and words were coming out of my mouth before I really thought them through. “Seriously? You are going to kill all of them? For attempted kidnapping? Isn’t that going a little overboard? It’s not like they actually hurt anyone.”
“Delia, they drugged you and brought you against your will on an airplane that was destined for a foreign country. Queen Florence will not stand for such actions. You are under our protection and we take that responsibility very seriously.”
“Won’t you start a war with Russia if you just go and execute their King?” I asked, still finding this path of action to be a gross overreaction.
“These western Kingdoms have been looking for an excuse to go to war with Mother Russia for decades. They want a reason to plunder what we have because they are too prideful to trade with us like they do the rest of the world,” Alexei sneered from his seat, drawing my attention to him once more. Hernan spared Alexei a glance but did not rebut his accusations. I waited a beat for someone to say that they were kidding and all of this was some kind of sick joke, but that never happened. I was so over my head in this situation. I didn’t want anything to do with wars and executions.
“I killed one of their clan,” I said in a heated voice. “Are you going to put me on trial too?”
Both Hernan and Edison looked surprised by this and I felt the twins and Derik tense at my sides. Hernan glanced around the small space, looking for a body, before returning his piercing green eyes to mine. “Delia, you were forcibly kidnapped. Any actions of yours were clearly in self-defense. We wouldn’t dream of punishing you for defending yourself.”
Double standards and political bullshit. What in the world was I supposed to do. While I was willing to go after Hernan if he had forced Derik to attack me, I wasn’t willing to take on his small army just for a crazy man that had tried to kidnap me. I may not like it or agree with it, but I wasn’t in charge. The Collins’ Royal line were the leaders of this Kingdom and I wasn’t going to be able to stop this from happening.
Did I really have the right to do so even if I could? All of this was so new to me. Yes, it felt barbaric to me, but for all I knew there were good reasons for how the royals decided to run their territory.
This was out of my hands and I had to accept that. I needed to forget about crazy Alexei and focus on my own problems. I definitely had enough of them without worrying about my kidnapper’s fate. It took me a moment to come to this conclusion, and my eyes never left Hernan’s. I wonder what he gleaned from their depths. Right now I was too exhausted to really care about maintaining my poker face. I dropped the Shields around all four of my kidnappers and watched as a small triumphant smile played across Hernan’s lips.
I stood, glued to my spot, as Valkyries dressed in black tactical gear surged forward to take the Russian men into custody. From what I could see they handcuffed their hands behind their back and none too gently pushed them from the plane. Now it was just the guys, Sean, and Hernan on the plane as Edison had gone with the group leading the prisoners.
“Ray needs to rest before going to any tribunals,” Elijah stated flatly and I couldn’t have agreed more. I needed to shower, burn this dress, and sleep.
Hernan dismissed Elijah and spoke directly to me. “The tribunal will take place tonight and --” His words were cut off by an awful screeching sound that reminded me of metal crashing into metal. I jerked my head to the side so that I could see out the small window and couldn’t believe what I saw. The large black SUVs were flying through the air, crushing large groups of Valkyries to the ground and trapping them under their Shields that they had formed for self-protection. Balls of energy flew from both Alexei’s and Dimitri’s hands, some bouncing off of Shields and others finding their targets.
There was another screech of tearing metal and I formed a Shield around me and the guys just as the door to the pilot’s section of the plane blew outwards, knocking Hernan to the ground. Two burly and angry Valkyries ran from the cockpit and flew down the stairs to join the fight, completely ignoring us at the back of the plane. I looked back out the window to see fighting Valkyries, different sized swords drawn and clashing together. The Vasiliev brothers were using their own Shields in bursts to deflect Energy balls being thrown by Noland and Edison and then throwing their own right back.
It was utter chaos and I did little more than watch with a slack jaw as the group of six Russian men took on nearly thirty Valkyries that made up the rescue party. Then as I watched as Alexei threw an Energy Ball directly at Tobias Eldridge and Tobias failed to materialize a Shield in time. The ball hit him square in the chest and the older man flew back violently, hitting one of the turned-over SUVs and slumping into the ground.
“No!” I heard myself scream as I pressed a palm to the small window.
I hadn’t always understood Tobias’s motives, but the older man had been kind to me. He didn’t deserve to die. I pushed all six of the Russian men into the void and sealed the entrance, ensuring that no more harm would come to the men that I was just starting to get to know. I hiccupped a sob and ran from the plane, down the steep steps, stumbling on the long skirt of the stupid ball gown, and sank down on the hot asphalt next to Tobias’s unmoving form. I used my palm to gently swipe his hair from his sweaty forehead and looked into his vacant eyes.
It was too late. He was dead.
Another sob was torn from my chest and I felt a wall of bodies surrounding me once more. It was possible that I was grossly overreacting to the death of a man that I barely knew, but it had been an extremely long couple of days. I was at the end of my emotional rope. Something had to give.
My hands shook as I reached up and gently pressed Tobias’s eyelids closed and then leaned down to place a kiss on his forehead. I remained bowed over his body and allowed my anger and pain to flood through me, drowning out my disbelief and fear.
When I had a grip on my emotions, I stood and my katana materialized in my hand without me even having to call for it. I scanned our surroundings to see that most everyone looked confused and didn’t know if it was safe or not to lower their guard. Their enemy had disappeared into thin air and they didn’t know if they would pop back into existence or not. Hernan came rushing off the plane and I focused my anger on him.
“This is your fault!” I yelled at him and his steps faltered before he regained his composure. “How in the world did you expect to put those men on trial and then execute them if you can’t even get them into the transport cars without them breaking free? What did you think was going to happen when you tell a man like Alexei Vasiliev that you are going to sentence him and his family to death? What was the point?”
“King Vasilev must be held responsible for -” Hernan started but I interrupted him.
“Held responsible for what? Taking me for an airplane ride? I am not yours to protect! I had control of that situation within moments of waking up and he returned me and my clan members. None of us were harmed. Now, because of your actions, people are dead. People that trust and follow you are dead. All because you wanted to make some sort of political point.” I realized I was still yelling and took a moment to catch my breath.
My anger grew and I felt my power ripple inside of me. My kukri materialized in my other hand and a Shield flickered in and out of existence around me and the guys.
I was losing control.
Hernan took a step back and his own Shield formed protectively around him. The scariest man in the kingdom was backing away in fear from me. I had to do something or I was going to completely lose it and I had no idea what that would look like. I started pushing the Shield surrounding our clan out, making it larger and larger so that the Valkyries standing around watching me with wary expressions had to back up. When I was done, I had formed a large ring with only me, the guys, and Sean in the middle. I then pushed myself back into the void so that I could locate where Alexei was. He was standing surprisingly close to me, just to the left of Blake, and gave a little start when I made eye contact with him. I didn’t wait to mince words with him, just walked to the center of the ring and held out my hand, silently asking him to join me.
Alexei followed quickly and before he could say anything I pushed us both back to the physical plane, leaving the rest of his clan within the void while we figured this mess out. Several gasps sounded when we reappeared and the guys tried to rush forward to once again form a circle of protection around me. But that wasn’t what this situation needed.
I summoned another Shield around them, forcing them to stand to the side and watch. I hated doing it and deserved the angry looks that Connor and Derik gave me, but it was more important to ensure they stayed safe. I wasn’t going to let Alexei even the chance to target one of them with his Energy balls.
I looked at Alexei with hard eyes and accused, “You killed my friend.”
His eyes were lit up with excitement and I knew that he didn’t feel one ounce of remorse for his actions. “Consider us even then,” Alexei said, reminding me that I had killed Leonid in cold blood.
“This will not end well,” I told him and his crazy smile appeared on his face.
“Return with me to Mother Russia, and all will be well.”
“Delia is not going anywhere with you,” Hernan yelled from outside of the Shield and I leveled him with a glare. It wasn’t his decision where I went and he better start understanding that.
Alexei started chuckling and said, “I don’t think she is going anywhere with you either, my friend.”
“You need to get back on that plane, return to your precious Russia, and never step foot in any of the Americas again,” I demanded in a quiet voice that was laced with steel.
“Not without you, my dear,” Alexei rebutted and his smile only grew. He wasn’t taking this situation seriously at all.
“Jesus Christ! Why can’t you all get it through your thick skulls? I. Do. Not. Want. To. Be. A. Queen. I am too young to even think about getting married. I do not have aspirations to lead. I do not want to rule over people. I don’t want to go anywhere with anyone. And I am powerful enough to get what I want. So you all need to leave me the hell alone!” I was yelling again and my power was responding to my unbridled anger. The people around me flickered in and out of existence as my Cloaking Gift tried to reach out and push everyone in view into the void. That was the last thing I wanted because then the fighting would just start up again.
Alexei’s smile faltered and I took a deep breath and held it, trying to get a grip on my power. After about ten seconds I let it out slowly and tried again. “You have two choices here, Alexei. You can either get back on your plane and return to Russia. Alive to fight another day. Or you can choose to be stubborn and I will leave you and your men in the void where you will slowly starve to death. Your choice.”
Alexei brought his fingers up to his mouth and started stroking his bottom lip as he considered my words. “King Vasiliev is not permitted to leave this territory. He must stand for a tribunal and pay for his crimes,” Hernan called just inches away from my Shield.
I turned to face him and pushed my allure out towards him until his eyes dazed over slightly and he swayed on his feet. “You already tried that,” I growled and his eyes refocused on me. “You failed miserably and now people are dead. That is on you. Now shut up and let me clean up your mess.”
When I turned back to Alexei, he had lost the thoughtful look and once again was looking at me with a crazy smile on his lips. “So much fire! My dear, you are simply perfection. These weak, spineless, aristocrats are below you. Come back with me and I will give you everything your heart could ever desire,” Alexei said and I wanted to roll my eyes at him. Had he not heard a word I was saying? Why did everyone think that I wanted these things? I didn’t want anything other than to be left alone.
All of a sudden, I understood why my mother’s ancestors had retreated into the void and became The Hidden.
“Choose,” I demanded, done with this stupid game.
“Fight me for it,” Alexei challenged back and I looked at him in confusion. Fight him for what? “I have seen the Truth, Cloaking, and Shield. I want to see how beautiful you are when you are wielding a weapon. Spar with me. No other Gifts than Weapons allowed. First to draw blood wins. If you win then I will retreat peacefully and never bother you again. If I win, you come and spend one week with me. See what my kingdom has to offer before you decide it isn’t what you want.”
He really was crazy. I didn’t need to fight him. I was already in control of this situation. And no way in hell was I getting back on that plane and willingly leaving the guys.
Not. Going. To. Happen.
I let out a deep breath and turned to walk back towards the guys, something within me needing to be closer to them. I would just leave Alexei in the void and let him cool off for a day. I am sure he would be much more willing to leave when he realized how nothing existed in the void. It was a barren prison without any hope for escape.
“If you do not fight me, I will push this button and send out a standing kill order for every single one of your so-called clan members. Even if I die, the order will stand and the people you care about will spend a lifetime being targeted. Never knowing when the next attack will take place. Sooner or later, my brethren will succeed and their deaths will be on your shoulders,” Alexei called stopping me cold.
I slowly turned to see that he had his phone out with his thumb hovering over the send button. I froze and thought about what I could possibly do to stop him. I could shift the phone back to the void, but I had no idea if cell service worked from the void and was unwilling to chance it. The other members of his team were still in the void. I could send him back, but what if the phone sent the message when it hit the ground. It was too big of a risk.
I was vaguely aware of shouting from behind me and knew that the guys didn’t want me to engage this madman, but what choice did I have. Enough people were already coming after the guys simply because they had decided to take me in as family. I couldn’t sign their death warrants. I wouldn’t.
I squared my shoulders and held out my two empty palms towards him. I summoned two matching katanas and silently challenged him with my eyes. If he really wanted a fight, I would give it to him. The power within me surged as my anger spiked and suddenly there were three layers to the Shield that was around the guys. Alexei grinned his crazy smile at me, pocketed his phone, and summoned his own large, long sword. The damn thing looked like it weighed at least fifteen pounds and I was a little worried about its long reach. He might be stronger, but I was faster. It was going to have to be enough.
We both started walking towards each other and he was the first to strike, lifting the huge weapon above his head and swinging down in a brutal downstroke. I brought both of my katanas together and parried his strike, causing my bones to rattle with the strength of his hit. Alexei moved to step further into me, barring down onto my unsteady stance but I spun away from him and flicked my wrist towards his head, forcing him to pull back and block my blade before it made contact with his face.
We continued on like that for two full minutes, him using a lot of brute power and me dancing around his strikes and forcing him to defend just as much as he advanced. His crazy smile fell from his lips as sweat started to drip down his forehead and his breathing picked up. I wanted to use a partial Shield or Cloak my weapon, but the rules of this specific game stipulated that I only use my Weapons Gift.
I knew that I had a wider range of weapons than most Valkyries and decided to try to use that fact to my advantage. I came at him with a sweeping strike that was further away from his body than what I would normally use if I was trying to make contact with his skin. Alexei lunged to block, opening his body up to maintain balance. Just as he stepped forward, I spun myself into his body until I was inside his guard and quickly dropped my other katana which would have been too long, and sank my medium-sized tanto point knife deep into his upper thigh.
Alexei bellowed in pain and staggered away from me. I let him go and took a couple of steps backward myself and tried to calm my own breathing. “First blood,” I called in a heated voice. “I win. You and your clan go back to Russia and I better not ever see your face again.”
Alexei’s eyes reflected pure rage. He never thought that I could beat him in a fair fight. That will teach him to underestimate me. Alexei thrived on attention, so I did something that I knew he would find the most disrespectful, and I turned my back on him while he was still armed and walked with my head high towards the guys.
It wasn’t until I heard Max’s terrified shout that I considered that I might have just made a fatal mistake.