Chapter 23 - Home
I was sitting in my old childhood room within the Americas West Palace, thinking of all of the things that had not gone to plan this week. I pulled out my phone and flipped through the photos that Carlson had forwarded to me a couple of days ago. Image after image of the Oakland Clan’s enforcer totally brutalizing the young female Valkyrie that everyone was talking about flashed before my eyes and I struggled to understand. This had happened the day before Regina’s ball, yet Deila Ray Olsen had radiated nothing but power and confidence that night. So much so, that I spent the entire event literally itching to tear her down a notch and put her in her place.
She was supposed to be ruined right now. Vulnerable and ripe for the taking. Instead, she was chopping the head off of the most hated Valkyrie in the world, thus staking a claim of power and respect that none of us knew how to contend with.
Deila Ray Olsen was proving to be much more of a problem than I had originally planned for. I am going to have to step up my game. She will be a valuable piece on my chessboard as I take over my sister’s beloved Kingdom.
-- Eli Norwood, King of the Americas South Kingdom
I looked up from Blake’s embrace and saw that Elijah, Derik, and Mathis had followed me out to the front room. As I scanned their faces I realized that I couldn’t even contemplate the idea of leaving them. Yes, I still felt that I was unworthy of all of their love and compassion but I wasn’t hiding that fact. I was being completely honest with them and had showcased every dark and violent part of my soul to these men.
They had witnessed one of my darkest moments and they were still here.
That was huge, and I wasn’t enough of an egotist to believe that I knew what was best for them. The Oakland Clan and my grandfather knew better than I did what continuing to associate with me was going to cost them. And even after being Compelled and kidnapped, they had repeatedly told me that they weren’t leaving my side. They were no longer telling me that I was meant for a more important clan. Right here, at this moment, they were declaring that they wanted to continue forward into the unknown as a team.
I would be a fool to refuse to be a part of that. To be a part of this.
So I was going to fully embrace them back. They were my clan. My family. My own set of people that would do everything in their power to have my back. And I would do the same for them. Everyone kept telling me that I was inconceivably powerful, and my power level was only growing. I was going to use every ounce of that power to protect my new clan.
With my new resolve burning in my belly, I knew that it was time to face what I had done the day before. I am sure that Mathis or Elijah might have some inkling about what was going to happen to us next, but I still needed a breather from the intense conversations. I decided to instead focus on gathering information. While we were here in the void, we could listen in to any conversation that we wanted to and no one would ever be the wiser.
And the best part was, that we didn’t even have to go anywhere. There were a half dozen important Valkyries sitting outside of the rent house right now. I intertwined my hands with Blake’s and then pulled him out of the duplex so that we could do some snooping. And I didn’t feel bad about it at all because they were staking out my house.
I glanced back over my shoulder to see that everyone was following my lead, meaning that we had plenty of people to listen in to every conversation. I searched the street and saw Ransom and Noland from the Blade Clan were standing outside of their black SUV. Noland was looking at the house while Ransom had his attention trained on a car that was just now pulling up. I followed his gaze to see a sleek town car pull up to the curb on the opposite side of the street. I looked a little closer and saw that Darron Deveroe, the eldest prince of the Americas Northeast, was in the driver’s seat.
I continued to walk closer to the curb so that I could look inside the other cars lining the street. Within the SUV that was front and center, I saw a couple of Valkyries that were only vaguely familiar to me but I was pretty sure they were members of the Royal Guard Clan. In an identical SUV parked behind that one sat Hernan Collins and Edison Greer and they looked to be engaged in a heated debate. I was about to get closer so that I could hear what they were saying when movement caught my attention and I saw Sean get out of his rental car and start walking towards Darron’s town car.
I was way more curious about what my uncle had to say to the head of intelligence for the Northeast Kingdom and pulled Blake to follow Sean. I assumed one of the other guys would let me know what Hernan and Edison were discussing later.
The void was a funny thing. Even though we would just ghost through anything in the physical realm, including the car that Sean was now getting into, we couldn’t hear them unless we were also in the car. In my head, it was because the sound waves from their voices were in the physical realm and would bounce off the barriers of the car doors and windows. But I had no idea if that was really why we had to stand within the car to hear them, I just knew that we did.
I didn’t hesitate to walk through the back seat area of the town car, but I could tell that Blake was still uneasy about traveling in the void. I gave his hand a squeeze to reassure him, before pulling him to my side. As soon as we were inside the incorporeal shell of the car, Sean’s voice filled the air.
“...so good of you to come out here at this early hour.”
“I saw the video footage of Delia’s fight with King Alexei. Of course, I came. What information can you give me? Where are Delia and the rest of the Oakland Clan now?” Darron asked in a brusque voice.
Sean pointed to the empty lot where the duplex usually sat. “Ray must have pushed the entire house along with the Oakland Clan and my father into the plane of existence that she calls the void. It is more than just invisible. It is no longer there.”
“What is being done to cover this up? We can’t just have houses disappearing into thin air in the middle of human neighborhoods. This has the possibility to reveal the supernatural world.” At Darron’s words, my stomach sank. I hadn’t even considered that possibility. Valkyries were in charge of making sure that our world always stayed unknown to the humans. They took this responsibility very seriously and never hesitated to kill anyone that dared risk exposure.
“The Collins’ Royal Line called in a team of Vampires. They are making the rounds and altering the human’s memory. The very absence of news crews and a crowd suggests that there is something inherent about Ray’s gift that maintains secrecy. Unless you know exactly where a house should have been, even Valkyries have a hard time remembering that a house is supposed to stand there. I do not believe there is a high risk of exposure here.”
I let out an audible breath at that. I was also happy that Sean seemed to be doing everything in his power to defend my actions. Maybe he really had stayed behind to help us out from this side of things.
“Alright,” Darron acquiesced and then changed the subject. “Why in the world did you allow your niece to become a formal honorary member of the Oakland Clan? You were supposed to get her to return with you to the Americas Northeast so that she would reside in our Kingdom. But now she has a formal tie to this one.”
Sean pursed his lips and looked out at the empty lot while I clenched my jaw. Blake must have seen my anger because he wrapped his arm around my shoulders, giving me support as we discovered my uncle’s real motives.
“As I am sure you have caught on by now, one does not just tell Ray to do anything. And you know as well as I do that the Collinses aren’t going to let her go without a fight. Allowing a female to join a first generation, powerless clan should have been impossible. How was I supposed to see that political move coming? Our best hope is for us to convince Ray to return to Boston to meet the rest of her family. Once she has some distance from the Oakland Clan, I am sure she will be more open to a marriage with Prince Ethan. We need to tread carefully here because that girl has a stubborn streak a mile wide. It needs to be her idea to form a relationship with your brother. If we try to push it on her for political reasons, she will refuse on principle alone.”
The spike of anger that I had been feeling was starting to morph into hurt and betrayal. I thought that Sean really wanted to get to know me. That he was excited to discover that he had more family. But he was just like the rest of them. He only wanted to have a relationship with me to further his own agenda.
“I think we need to do something to turn her against the Collins’ Royal line. From the looks of it, she would kill Kaiden before aligning herself with him but I have reports that Hernan has offered Delia an internship position. That would allow the Americas West Kingdom to keep her without an official marriage, which she is vocally opposed to. I don’t even want to think about how powerful Hernan would become if he had access to her Cloaking Gift. Our Kingdom’s deepest secrets would be his for the taking,” Darron said and I felt bone tired.
How in the world was I supposed to live in this web of politics and power games? Where did the guys fit into all of this?
“Please tell me you had nothing to do with the attack on Ray earlier this week. Because if you did, there is absolutely no way I will let her get anywhere near you or your family,” Sean declared with fire behind his words, taking me by surprise. If I was just something he could trade to his own kingdom’s Royals, then why would he care about the attack?
“Mmmm yes,” Darron said in a voice that gave nothing away. “I have heard reports that Delia was attacked but no one can tell me the details. What happened?” He wasn’t lying when he said that no one would tell him the details, but that didn’t mean that he wasn’t the one to order the attack. If he was, he would already know the details and wouldn’t need anyone to tell him.
This was the moment of truth. Would my uncle go against my express wishes and tell his royal prince what had happened or would he choose to stick to the plan we had laid out to discover who had Compelled Derik.
“Tell me what you know of this attack,” Sean said with power radiating through his voice sending shivers of fear down my spine. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing. Sean just Compelled the most powerful prince of his home kingdom to answer his question. I had no idea that he had the balls to even attempt something like that.
“I know nothing of the attack except that Delia has been using her Truth Gift to try to discover who orchestrated it. Thus, she must not know who attacked her,” Darron said in a dead voice as the words were forced from his mouth.
Wow. Maybe Sean was on my side after all. He was clearly willing to get into a whole lot of trouble to figure out who had ordered me to be hurt in such a way.
Sean let out a deep breath and then started talking as the prince regained his composure. “I am deeply sorry, my Highness. But I had to ensure that Ray would be safe with you. Someone unknown to us, Compelled Derik Risberg to beat up and rape my niece. We can only conclude that they were trying to do what you just suggested - something drastic to turn Ray against living here in the Americas West. I know that I was severely out of line by forcing you to answer, but I had to be sure.”
Darron looked ten shades of angry and I couldn’t blame him. Compulsion was a nasty Gift and even though he had done so to get answers for me, I hated that Sean had just used it on someone against their will. “I can understand your actions but cannot condone them. If you ever Compel me or any of my family again I will sentence you to death for treason. Consider this your one and only warning,” Darron said with icy fury.
“Are you telling me that Delia is trapped inside of a house with her rapist right now?” Darron continued a moment later and I was shocked by the level of worry that I heard in his voice.
“I don’t think Ray could ever be held somewhere against her will. Just look at how it worked out for King Alexei when he tried. No, my niece is in control of this situation and had no trouble understanding that Valkyrie Risberg was not responsible for the attack. Luckily the rest of the Oakland Clan was able to intervene before she was violated in that way. Now they are doing everything in their power to find out who is responsible.”
Darron remained quiet for a moment while he considered what Sean had told him. I was still feeling unsure about my uncle’s motives. From this conversation, it seemed that he was both helping me and working to uproot me from my new home.
“I will have my agents look into the attack discreetly. Whoever is behind it needs to pay for what they have done. Please inform Delia that she can count on me, and the entire Northeast Kingdom to offer any aid that she requires. We are fully willing and able to shelter her from the Collins’ Royal Line if Queen Florence decides that she is unhappy with Delia’s actions against King Alexei. I have moved a specialized Hunter team into a place located between this location and the Oakland Clan house. They are tasked with ensuring no further kidnap attempts are made on Delia, and they can extract her from any situation within minutes. All she needs to do is give us the go-ahead,” Darron said in a formal tone.
Sean took this as the dismissal that it was and after giving a formal response he left the car. I was too stunned to move. I mean how in the world was I supposed to feel about all of this? Sean had just proved that he cared about my safety, but he had disclosed what had happened to me when I had asked him to keep it secret. And what was I supposed to do about the group of Valkyries that Darron said were here to act as some sort of bodyguards? What assurances did I have that they wouldn’t try to scoop me up and bring me to the Northeast Kingdom? Because clearly, that is what both Darron and Sean wanted.
While I was contemplating all of the possible implications of the conversation we had overheard, Darron started his car and drove away. The ghost of the car traveled through us, causing Blake to jump and start cussing.
“Holy fucking shit Ray-Ray. I don’t think I will ever get used to that. It is just too fucking weird.” I looked up at my giant friend and gave him a small smile. I think he was overreacting to pull me out of my head. I scanned the area but didn’t see Sean. He must be back in his own car. Each of the guys and Mathis were preoccupied listening to different conversations and I decided that I needed a minute to myself. So much had happened over the last couple of days and I just needed a moment to myself.
I told Blake where I was going and then went back into the house to take a shower. I stood under the stream of hot water and just allowed my mind to go blank. I didn’t think about how it felt to slice off another person’s head. I refused to let myself dwell on who had Compelled Derik to attack me. I purposefully didn’t remember how I had completely broken down in this same shower just hours before. I ignored what was going to happen tomorrow. The only thing I allowed myself to embrace was how it had felt to be hugged by the twins.
The guys were my life raft and I was going to cling to them as I rode out this particular storm.
I stayed in the shower until the water started to run cold. Then I snuck into my room where Jack and Amy were still asleep and changed into my most comfortable pajamas. I checked my watch and saw that it was a little after five A.M. Hopefully I would be able to get a few more hours of rest after the guys and I came up with a game plan for the day.
When I went back downstairs, I found Max in the kitchen fixing me a large breakfast burrito. Well, he was fixing enough for us all to eat but the moment he saw me, he placed one on a plate and slid it over to me. I ignored the food for a moment and walked around the kitchen counter to hug Max just because I needed one from him. Max dropped everything he was doing and wrapped me in his arms.
After a good while where we just stood there in each other’s arms, Max asked me, “How are you feeling?”
“Better,” I admitted and pulled away so that I could start eating. I couldn’t even remember the last time I had eaten. “I think that I just hit an emotional breaking point earlier and didn’t have the wherewithal to cope with what I had done. My father Compelled me to take a life on a few occasions, but I feel disconnected from those memories because I wasn’t acting on my own accord. When I pushed Leonid out of the plane, I didn’t have to see the aftermath. He just disappeared. It was different with Alexei. I looked into his eyes when I took his life. Felt his warm blood against my skin. Heard the thump when his head hit the ground.”
I had to swallow down bile as I remembered the moment Alexei’s head finally separated from his body. Maybe this wasn’t the best subject to be thinking about as I tried to eat. Max reached across the counter and placed his hand over mine and the clan bond flared to life under his palm. He didn’t say anything because really, what could someone say to something like this, but it felt good just knowing that he was here for me.
Our moment was broken when the front door slammed shut and seconds later Derik came into the room followed by the twins. They were quick to grab food and we all moved into the dining room to eat. It didn’t take long for Elijah and Mathis to join us. For a while, we all ate in silence and I could almost pretend that our lives weren’t currently at a precarious crossroads.
Derik was the first to break into the companionable silence with his normal ‘give it to you straight’ attitude. “The Royals are not happy that their Royal Guards and Hunters lost control of the situation with Alexei. Queen Florence is especially upset that you were the one to step up and take care of business. She wanted the prestige of legally sentencing King Alexei to death because eighty percent of the world’s Valkyrie ruling class absolutely loathe the Russians. Now she is afraid that all of the power and respect she would have gained will go to you. Lucky for us, she is blaming the whole thing on Hernan and Edison.”
I just sat there and blinked at Derik. I had killed a man and Queen Florence was jealous? I didn’t understand. The more I learned about the ruling class of the Valkyries, the more I started to see how similar they were to my father. It seemed all they cared about was making themselves feel powerful at the cost of other people.
“What does this mean for us? What is going to happen next?” I asked, still struggling to understand how the Valkyries were responding to what I had done.
Derik shared a significant look with Elijah before Elijah took over the conversation. “It would seem that we overshot our goal of making you look powerful and intimidating to the Royals. Very quickly you have gone from someone with new and exciting Gifts that they wanted to integrate into their clans, to a possible threat. Right now, we do not think any formal action is going to be taken against you, but I would advise that you lay low for a while. Try to avoid making any more large demonstrations of your power for the rest of Regina’s Matching. Instead, we will try to lay low and gather information on what the Collins’ Royal Line is planning on doing next. We also still need to discover who Compelled Derik and the motives behind that attack.”
Easier said than done. The only time I had tried to call attention to myself was at the ball. All of the other times, I just reacted according to the situation and ended up making a scene.
“The Deveroe Royal Line wants me to return with Sean and Mathis to Boston. They believe that once I am in their Kingdom and away from you guys that I will be willing to marry Ethan. Sean is working with Darron to ensure this outcome,” I said in a monotone while looking directly at Mathis. I simply didn’t have the energy to express the feelings that Sean’s actions were causing, but I needed to know if Mathis was in on it too.
“He what?” Connor growled and I knew that they felt just as betrayed as I did.
“Now hold on,” Mathis declared before the rest of the guys could express their outrage. “Slow down for a moment and think about this situation from our point of view. All Kingdoms have a certain reputation based on how their Royals act. The Russians are cruel. The Africans are poor. The Europeans are stuck in their traditions. The Australian’s are too relaxed and considered a joke. We all are fully aware of the reputation the Americas West Kingdom holds. Queen Florence and her children are spoiled know-it-alls that are not capable of maintaining control of their people. This entire kingdom is held together by Hernan Collins and the Hunter Clans.
“You have seen for yourself the despicable way they have interacted with Ray. For goodness sake, the prince actually tried to kill her. Sean and I do not want Ray to be forced into a future within the Collins’ Royal Line. We do not believe that she will thrive here. Out of all of the American Kingdoms, the Northeast would be the best fit for Ray. And I am selfish enough to want her to stay in this country and not live abroad,” Mathis explained in a confident voice.
“What about what I want?” I asked him in a small voice. “I have told you over and over again that I do not want to be a princess. That I am too young to even consider accepting a marriage proposal. I don’t want that life. I want to stay here with the Oakland Clan.”
I was expecting to see expectation, disappointment, or exasperation within Mathis’ eyes, but when I met his gaze I only saw understanding and compassion. He had been telling the truth when he said that he didn’t believe this was the best place for me. While I was happy there was an explanation behind Sean’s actions, I didn’t like even the idea of leaving the guys.
“I hear you, dear child. And I am starting to see that you are right. You must forge your own path in this world. I still believe that leadership is in your future, but you need to be the one to decide what form it will take. But do you really believe you can do that here, under the thumb of the Collins’ Royal line?” Mathis asked in a kind voice and I felt the sting of tears burn my eyes.
I looked away from him and took several deep breaths. I couldn’t answer that question right now. I was too exhausted. “What is the next thing we have to do? Because I could really use some more sleep,” I admitted and the guys were quick to agree.
“They are holding a formal funeral for Tobias tonight at sunset,” Elijah told me in a gentle voice. “We don’t need to do anything till then. We can use the day to rest and recuperate.”
A spike of grief pierced my heart as I thought about the kind old man. I wished that I would have spent the time to get to know him a little better.
I closed my eyes and concentrated all of my will to pull the house from the void. Jack and Amy would be waking up soon and I couldn’t have them discovering the void. I did leave the house heavily Cloaked, so those watching outside wouldn’t know that we were back in this plane of existence. After I was finished, I walked upstairs with the Three Musketeers and we all piled into the bed in Jack’s room so that we didn’t disturb Jack and Amy. Not a single one of them questioned that we all needed each other’s company and contact at this moment.
I absolutely loved it.
I laid my head on Max’s chest and reached out to hold Connor’s hand. Blake was snuggled up to my other side and feelings of support, protection, and love flooded through our connection. I may be absolutely devastated about everything that had happened this last week, but I was comforted by the fact that I didn’t have to go through it alone. I was no longer the invisible street rat that was kicked out of every family. I was finally home.
A/N: And this my dear readers concludes the end of book two of the Valkyrie Saga. I hope you understand why I decided to end it here.