Chapter 4 - Family Rights
Jesus Christ, that child was powerful. You could just sense the reservations of power within her and I hadn’t needed the familial bond to tell me that we were indeed related. Only someone like my son could have fathered a female who was so powerful. Sam was the best thing that I ever did in this life and clearly, he had done well to train his daughter as I had trained him. That child was pure poetry with a blade in her hand, just as her father had been. Not to mention that she was somehow able to keep us within completely separate Shields that she could manipulate. It was a brilliant way to use a basic defensive Gift in an offensive way.
I don’t know what happened between the child and my Samuel to turn her against him, but I know that what she had told us about his criminal and abusive ways couldn’t be true. Teenagers lie all the time. That’s just what they did. The most important thing is that a part of my Sam lives on in his daughter. It was my duty not only to finally get to the bottom of what happened to my son but also to make sure that his daughter lives the life that he would have wanted for her.
I walked into the Oakland Police department, pushed free of the void, and asked the officer manning the front desk if I could speak to officer Risberg. She picked up a landline phone and relayed my request. Within moments Derik emerged from the back offices while giving me the stink eye.
He told me to follow him and then led the way into a small office that looked unoccupied. Derik closed the door, stalked towards me, and surprised me by grabbing my backpack with my valuables off my shoulder. I lamented that nothing was easy when dealing with Derik and pushed us both back into the void so that Mathis couldn’t track us. At least I hoped that he couldn’t track us in the void.
“I thought that Elijah talked you out of running away,” Derik snarled as he looked through my bag.
“I’m not running.”
“Then what the fuck is this?” Derik asked and pulled my wad of cash from the front pocket.
“Two Valkyrie’s claiming to be my grandfather and uncle ambushed me at my bus and I didn’t want to leave my valuables behind while I came to get some information,” I explained and Derik eyed me skeptically.
“Why would your own family steal from you?”
“My father robbed me blind any chance he got,” I replied in a flat tone.
“Can’t you just hide it in the void?” Derik pushed and I wondered which twin had told him that I keep my stash in the void.
“Valkyrie Gifts run in families. What if one of them also can access the void?” I countered.
“Okay, fine,” Derik grumbled and handed me back the backpack. “What kind of information?”
“What does it feel like when a person you are related to touches you?” I asked and Derik looked surprised at the direction of this conversation.
“Umm, similar to the clan bond but instead of feeling warm, it feels cool. Most of the time it has a calming effect and a lot of fathers use it to settle young Val’s when they are just coming into their Gifts and are prone to overreactions. Why don’t you know this? You said that you were raised by your father. You would have felt it anytime he touched you,” Derik replied.
I took a moment to think that one through before answering, “I don’t remember my father ever actually touching me. He Compelled me, read my thoughts, trained me to fight with weapons, and controlled every single thing that I did, but he never touched me. At the time I was just glad that he never beat me with his bare hands,” I murmured and looked up to see a frown marring Derik’s handsome face.
“So did you feel the familial bond with the men that showed up at your bus?”
I nodded and then asked, “I remember one of you telling me that Valkyries are considered adults at the age of fifteen. That’s when they can start trying to find a new clan to join, is that true?”
“Yes,” Derik replied. “But nowadays it is rare for kids to leave so young. Usually, they finish high school first and then start to try out different clans around the age of 18. Some clans that are looking to grow even go to high schools to recruit.”
“What about females? And what is The Matching?” I asked and he reached up to scratch his beard as he thought about how to answer that question.
“Females don’t just pick a clan to join and link with. They always marry other royals and as far as I know that marriage is usually arranged because of political or strength reasons. Sometimes one country will make some kind of treaty or trade deal and a marriage to a royal female will be a part of it, while other times a princess will choose who to marry because a certain male has strong Gifts that they are hoping will be introduced into their royal genetic line. In general, Valkyries don’t marry for love. Most of us can’t marry because we can never disclose what we are to a human and there just aren’t enough female Valkyries to go around. And for the royals, it seems to have evolved into a huge power game of who can make the strongest alliances and produce the most powerful offspring.
“The Matching is a tradition that occurs on a princess’ eighteenth birthday. It’s supposed to be a chance for the female to meet all eligible princes of the same relative age. The men woo her and compete to show off their strengths. They demonstrate how they are able to protect and defend not only her but also her kingdom. From what I understand, these days the decision of who a princess will marry is made long before the Matching ever takes place and it is just a formality that all of the royalty goes through to honor tradition and make their female feel extra special,” Derik said in his classic give-it-to-you straight mentality.
I understood what he was saying, but right now I think I was too overwhelmed to really comprehend everything that he was implying and how it could relate to me and my future.
I must have started to stare off into space because Derik waved a hand in front of my face before asking, “Why do you want to know this stuff? And what does it have to do with your family finding you?”
“They seem convinced that I have no choice but to return with them to Boston. They also mentioned something about getting me tested at a training center and organizing my Matching ceremonies,” I said in a distracted way, but my words definitely caught Derik’s attention.
“Shit,” he murmured before straightening his posture and retrieving his phone from his back pocket. He fired off some quick text messages and I was interested to know if you could send text messages from the void. I had never had a phone to try it out before a week ago.
Derik then walked over and grabbed my upper arm so that he could lead me back through the door. When his hand ghosted through it, he didn’t even hesitate just to walk through the door as if he was just as used to traveling through the void as I was. He led me right to the passenger side door of his police cruiser and I pushed us free of the void enough that he could open that door for me. I slid into the car and watched as he almost ran to the driver's side, got in, and gunned it out of the parking lot.
“I am almost scared to ask, but where are we going, and why are we in such a hurry?” I finally asked into the silence of the car.
Derik took his eyes off the road to glance at me for a moment before answering, “Ray, you are so different from anything we have ever encountered in our society that there aren’t any rules defining what is supposed to happen with you. That is why you were able to tell the Collins’ Royal Bloodline no when they wanted to install you within the palace and they have no legal ground to stand on to force the issue. Family is different. A fundamental part of how our society works is that your familial clan is honor-bound to offer protection and support until you fully link with another clan because Valkyries suffer to such a degree when we don’t live in groups. This system ensures that young boys always have a clan to return to if things don’t work out with the clan they are trying to join. Family has a certain level of authority until their son has fully linked to another clan.
“Because there are no rules where you are concerned and everyone will think that your choice to be introduced into our society through a small powerless clan like ours is outrageously inappropriate, it is possible that your grandfather and uncle will find a way to whisk you away to the Americas Northeast Kingdom. If you don’t want that to happen, then we need to get to the clan house and form some sort of plan with Elijah sooner rather than later. People don’t give Elijah much credit because he is an introverted bookish type, but he is a brilliant strategist who might have a way out of this mess.” Derik paused for a moment like he was waiting for me to respond but honestly, I didn’t know what to say.
“So the real question is,” Derik hedged with a significant inflection, “do you want to go to Boston and get to know your family or do you want us to try to figure out a way for you to remain here?”
“I don’t know if I can properly express how much I despised and feared my father, let alone describe the amount of shame and guilt that I still feel when I think about how I am related to that man,” I said in a quiet voice while looking down at my hands. “Why in the world would I ever want to get to know that family that produced such a monster?”
Derik was quiet for so long that I figured that he had considered my last statement to be a rhetorical question. However, when we were only a couple blocks from the clan house he spoke up and said, “I had an older brother. Eino was only two years older than me and we were raised exactly the same way within a loving clan, with a doting father, and a grandfather who taught us traditions and respect. Eino had a dark side that grew larger and scarier the older we got. When he was nineteen he up and murdered the entire clan that he was attempting to join. He just decided one day that he didn’t like them and killed eight people including one child. He ran afterward and it took the Blade Clan three weeks to find him even with the wake of human bodies that he was leaving behind. Once they finally did bring him in, the royals had him executed within twenty-four hours.”
Derik paused to swallow down the emotion that had become evident in his voice by the end of that awful story and I reached over and touched his hand to silently give my support. “I am telling you this because I want you to know that not all monsters come from bad families. I am not telling you that you have to love them or even like them. Or that they are good people. I just hope that you remain open to the idea that they might be decent people that are not inherently monsters.”
I took a deep breath, held it in for a few moments, and then let it out slowly. That was a heavy story. Now I felt like Derik and I had some sort of messed up connection because we were both related to serial killers. He did have a point and even though he could be kind of an asshole, Derik had yet to lead me wrong.
“Okay, I will keep an open mind. But know that I will not allow anyone to force me to do anything I don’t want to do. Family or not,” I told him in a serious voice.
“I would expect nothing less,” Derik claimed under his breath. Then we both got out of the police cruiser and walked into the Oakland Clan house. The front door opened directly into the large living space. Our entrance got the attention of both the twins and their father, all of whom were sitting on the oversized couch watching some sort of football game.
“Ray-Ray,” Blake called and jumped from his seat and came running at me. Both the twins were at least six, five with dark brooding looks and broad shoulders with a muscular frame that screamed intimidating and dangerous. Blake, however, was a softy at heart who had adapted a happy and simplistic outlook on life because he was tired of having all of his expectations torn to shreds.
Before I knew it, I was completely enveloped in a classic Blake-like hug and I had to remind him that I needed my lungs to breathe. Even with the tight squeeze, I felt the stirrings of butterflies in my stomach. Blake and I had chemistry and it wasn’t a good thing. Last night before we found out that their father was missing, Blake and I had had a moment on the beach where we almost kissed. It would have been my first kiss, but we were interrupted by Connor. Then Blake and Connor had an awful argument that shed some light on why I shouldn’t allow myself to become romantically involved with Blake.
We still needed to clear the air about that, but now wasn’t the time.
I heard movement around me and assumed that the rest of the guys had come into the living room to greet us. “Blake, let her go. We need to talk and come up with a plan on what to do next,” Derik stated and Blake’s arms became even more restricting around me. It was like he was afraid that if he let me go I would simply disappear on him. Considering that was a legit possibility, I didn’t hold it against him.
“What do you mean? I thought that you guys had come to some sort of resolution with the Blade Clan,” Connor asked in his gruff voice from my left.
I pushed against Blake’s chest and untangled myself from his arms when he reluctantly let me go and said, “Oh, we are past that crisis and onto the next one.”
“What are you talking about?” Max asked as my eyes landed on a pale red stain on the white carpet. That must be where I was standing when Kaiden had tried to kill me just hours ago. Someone needed to tell these guys about OxiClean. Oh, and tell whatever God is out there pulling strings that I could really use a break between life-changing events in my life.
“A little while ago, my grandfather and uncle showed up and they want me to pack up and leave with them for Boston tomorrow morning,” I told them directly.
“Please tell me that this isn’t you coming to say goodbye,” Blake pleaded in a slightly panicked voice and he took a step towards me.
“Please,” I scoffed. “Does that sound like me at all?” I wanted to reach out and physically reassure Blake because the look of panic in his eyes hadn’t gone away but then thought better of it. I needed to be careful when it came to him. I couldn’t let my hormones get the best of me again.
“How’d it go? Meeting your family?” Max asked carefully.
“Well let’s see, they came barging into my bus without announcing themselves with Weapons drawn so there was a flight. Then Sean Compelled me to drop my katana. As you can imagine, I didn’t react well to that and ended up holding a knife to his throat while they finally explained who they were. Then they started asking questions about my father and really didn’t like the answers I gave them. When Mathis ordered me to pack and leave with them I told them no and that I wanted them to leave. They refused, so I entrapped them in Shields and threw them off my bus. I left them like that and went to go see Derik,” I summed up and saw differing levels of disbelief and exasperation on the guy's faces.
“Drama really does seem to follow you around,” Derik murmured, and I gave him a hard glare. It wasn’t like I went around looking for trouble. Up until I had met them two weeks ago, my life had been relatively uneventful.
“What do you mean you left them like that? And how did they find you on your bus in the first place? Officially you are still living with your foster mom in Eastmont.” Elijah questioned and I noticed that Ransom was lurking behind our little group and furiously texting on his phone.
“Well, Mathis is a Tracker. They said something about hearing rumors of me yesterday and taking the first flight out here. Once he was in range, Mathis would just be able to Track me to my location. In fact, I assume they will show up here sooner or later for the same reason. And I mean that I left then encased in my Shields and never dropped them. I don’t know how far my range is but I assume that shortly after I got on the bus the Shields dropped. I am hoping that they can’t Track me when I am Cloaked. However, I haven’t been cloaking the entire time I have been here,” I explained.
There was a pause in the conversation as everyone wrapped their head around what I had just told them and then Elijah asked, “What do you want to see happen next, Ray?”
I hesitated for a moment and met Derik’s gaze before answering, “I don’t know them and I certainly don’t trust them right now. Because of that, I won’t just leave with them, but I am willing to talk to them and see what kind of people they are. All I really want to do is finish high school and age out of the foster care system before making any life-changing decisions about my future. But if Mathis or Sean are anything like my father, I don’t want anything to do with them. If they force the issue, I will run before I live that kind of life again.”
Elijah was looking at me, but I could tell that he was focused on something else for a good minute before he finally nodded and gave me a tentative smile. “Okay, we will try our best to make sure that happens while giving you time to get to know them. We are going to play this polite and political. Keep all emotions and tempers calm. Max and Ray, you can help me with dinner because we will be expecting more than I had originally thought, Connor and Blake set the table, and Derik you coordinate with Ransom about what actions the Blade Clan are going to take.”
Ransom startled a little at being called out and I reminded myself that because Elijah was a telepath, he was the best person to monitor all parties involved. Derik clenched his jaw but moved to the other side of the room to have a conversation with the twin’s dad. He was a Hunter within the Blade Clan and clearly feeding information directly back to his clan leader.
As we moved into the kitchen I said, “Umm, I have absolutely no idea how to cook, but I am fantastic at setting tables. Can I trade places with Blake?”
“Sure thing,” Elijah told me in a kind voice and Blake gave me a slightly hurt look. I didn’t need to be a telepath or an empath to understand what he was feeling right now. He had said in his text message that he wanted to talk about what had happened on the beach last night, but too much was going on right now and I just couldn’t deal with that too.
I followed Connor over to the large dining room table and was a little startled when he placed his palms in the middle of the table and pushed the halves apart. Then he reached into a nearby closet and pulled out a large and heavy-looking leaf that matched the dark oak table. If I had to guess I would say that the leaf alone was over forty pounds, but Connor held it easily in one hand and had no trouble maneuvering it into the gap within the table. I hadn’t seen Connor use his Strength Gift very often and I was perfectly happy to lean against the wall and watch him work.
Once he was done, he glanced up and made eye contact with me and I asked the question that had been burning within me since I had woken up this morning. “Are you okay? After last night?”
Connor tucked his bottom lip into his teeth and let out a sigh. “Most of the time, I don’t feel like it really even happened to me. I can remember the feeling of the bullet ripping through my chest and what it felt like to simply start to shut down no matter how much I willed myself to fight, but I also feel disconnected from those memories. Like if they happened to someone else.”
Connor then moved around the now enlarged table and walked up to me until we were chest to chest and I had to look up into his face. “I do know that I am extremely grateful to be alive and I don’t even know how to start paying you back for what you did.”
He then reached up and gently stroked my cheek with the backs of his fingertips as if I was the most precious and fragile thing he would ever handle in this world. “Your being alive is all the payment I need,” I said in a slightly breathy voice because being this close to him was starting to affect me. Damn teenage hormones. Stupid stomach butterflies.
Connor gave me his signature side smile and shook his head in disbelief. “What in the world did we do to deserve someone like you?” he asked in a whisper before sidestepping me and pulling dishes from a beautiful hutch to my right. I personally thought it was the other way around and it was me that lucky to have run into them. I didn’t want to imagine where I would be right now if Kaiden had been the Valkyrie that had uncovered my existence.
Together, Connor and I worked to set the table for twelve people and we were just finishing up when the doorbell rang. I looked over into the kitchen and Elijah gave me a nod to confirm that it was indeed Mathis and Sean at the door. I resisted the urge to push back into the safety of the void. I felt grossly unprepared for this second meeting with my flesh and blood. Other than telling us to remain calm and political, Elijah hadn’t explained what his plan was. A pit opened up in my stomach and I could practically feel my heart start to beat faster.
Elijah rinsed his hands off in the sink and then walked towards the door to greet Mathis and Sean. I remained where I was at the far side of the open plan living/dining/kitchen space and I noticed that each of the guys and even Ransom moved to stand between me and the door without blocking my view. Usually, I would be slightly offended that they felt the need to protect me when I was perfectly capable of protecting myself, but right now I was grateful for the barriers between me and my supposed family.
“Hello, please come in. We have been expecting you,” Elijah said warmly after opening the door and stepping aside. From the open doorway, I saw both Sean and Mathis standing with straight backs and pleasantly polite smiles on their faces. Completely opposite from how they had entered my home. These were men that could use charm and charisma like a finely tuned weapon.
“Hello, I am Sean Olsen, Clan Leader of Clan Olsen and this is my father Mathis Olsen,” Sean said as they stepped through the door.
“It is a pleasure to meet you. I am Elijah Nilsen, Clan Leader of the Oakland Clan and these are my clan members Derik Risberg, Connor Berg, Blake Berg, and my brother Max Nilsen. This is Hunter Ransom Berg of the Blade Clan,” Elijah replied while pointing everyone out. “We were just getting ready to sit down for diner. Would you care to join us?”
Sean scanned the room, paused to look carefully at Ransom, and ended by meeting my gaze. Within his eyes, I could only decipher concern and wariness, which was a welcome relief from the greed and hunger that I was used to seeing when other Valkyrie looked at me. Maybe Derik was right and I was judging them too harshly.
“Thank you for welcoming us into your home and more importantly, we want to extend our deepest gratitude for extending your aid and protection to our kin. Dinner sounds amazing,” Sean replied to Elijah with a practiced political air. If I had to guess, I would say that he was used to dealing with tricky situations.
Mathis moved into the room and approached each of the guys, shaking their hands and introducing himself again with an easy smile on his face. All traces of aggression and dominance that he had displaced during our first encounter had disappeared and he seemed like a kind old man. I found it interesting that both Sean and Mathis seemed to understand that Ransom was the most powerful Valkyrie in the room, and both acted with slightly more decorum when dealing with him.
It was also intriguing that everyone was pretending that I wasn’t even in the room, even though I was the reason why we were gathering in the first place. Not that I was complaining. I hated being the center of attention.
After everyone had been well and truly introduced, Elijah started handing out drinks, some kind of whiskey cocktail for the adults, and soda for us kids and placed trays of meats, cheeses, olives, and crackers out as appetizers. Derik, Elijah, and Ransom were talking to Mathis when Sean made his way through the Three Musketeers and found his way to me.
“Well, Delia it is so good to see that you have such lovely young men as friends,” Sean said and I nervously fingered the glass of soda in my hand. I had spent the majority of the last four years staying invisible to ninety percent of the people around me. I had no idea how to make small talk. When I just looked at Sean with slightly wide eyes he continued on, “My boy Finn is at the age where he and his friends are complete terrors and would bust through a dinner party like this leaving broken furniture, food remains, and several bruises behind.”
“You have a son?” I questioned in a hopeful voice. A warm feeling started building in my chest at the idea of having a little cousin running around somewhere in this world.
Sean’s entire face lit up and I knew right then that he had to be different from my father. Samuel had never once looked as proud and full of love as that when he thought of me. Come to think of it, I had never seen my father ever look like that.
“Yes, I have two boys. Finn is six and little Owen just turned two. Finn started the first grade this year and his Telepathy Gift is just starting to really develop and he is struggling a little with all of the other kids around. But luckily kids that age mostly just say what they are thinking anyway. We mostly just have to be careful when he is around his human friends’ parents. Owen is completely fascinated with cars and spends a lot of time with one of his older cousins that is into racing remote control cars.”
Sean’s smile was contagious and I found myself tentatively smiling back at him as I pictured two mini versions of him. “They are going to be so thrilled when they hear that they have a long lost cousin, and I know that they are going to be so excited to meet you,” Sean told me and I felt my smile start to fall and a pit in my stomach started to suck out all of the happiness the thoughts of kids had brought.
I wasn’t the kind of person that got to have a happy family. The universe had to find some way to balance the scales after everything that my own father had forced me to do. I had always figured that is why I had ended up in the worst foster homes. I didn’t deserve to meet Sean’s sweet and innocent little boys. I would end up corrupting them just like my father had corrupted me.
The walls started closing in on me and my heart started to race. My eyes darted around the crowded room and I felt an almost urgent need to pull the fabric of reality around me and cloak myself. As I started to push back into the void, Sean stepped forward and reached out towards me. “Delia are you okay? Did I say something wrong?”
I wasn’t fully sealed in the void so Sean’s hand made contact with my elbow even though I should be all but invisible to him with this level of cloaking. The moment he touched me I felt the calming sensation of the cool familial bond. I was able to pull my focus away from family and think only about taking deeper and more even breaths.
“I don’t think that Ray is ready to talk about meeting more of your family,” Max explained in a calm, reasonable voice that also helped to slow my racing heart. Max’s eyes were glued to the spot that Sean’s hand rested on my elbow. I reached out with my other hand and latched onto Max’s hand like if it were a lifeline. The clan bond combined with the feelings still coursing through me at Sean’s touch and together they were enough to wash away my self-hatred and guilt.
“Okay, we can work our way up to that,” Sean agreed while maintaining contact with my skin. I took several more deep even breaths and then slowly pulled the cloak away from myself and returned fully to the physical plane. Sean’s eyes were filled with compassion, patience, and worry. He didn’t waiver as I regained the rest of my wits. I hated to admit it to myself, but he had actually just helped pull me back from the edge of a panic attack.
“I have never seen a Gift of Invisibility like that before,” Sean stated in an awed whisper breaking the spell between us.
I pulled away from his touch and looked down at the ground. I was starting to get used to the Royals and Blade Clan Valkyries looking at me like an object that they couldn’t wait to own because I was a girl and had five Gifts, but I didn’t think I could stand my own flesh and blood looking at me like that again. Samuel had only ever been interested in using me to further his own sick power games and I refuse to ever be reduced to that again.
The real question was, what did Sean see when he looked at me? What did my long-lost family want with me?