Chapter 9 - The Fourth Gatekeeper
I had made assumptions and now everything was a complete mess. When Pala had pointed out the man she had seen the day before, I just assumed that he was the Traveler. Then when I saw other human-bound Valkyries in the Look-Through I had assumed that he was the one that brought them there. Only a Gatekeeper had the power to move other people to different realms. I had been so angry by the idea that the fourth Gatekeeper hadn’t really died as a child like I had been told my entire life because I assumed that this was yet another elaborate betrayal by Louka and the Northerners.
It turned out that all of these assumptions were false.
When I had brought the man back to Awenasa and demanded that Linden bind his Traveling abilities so that he couldn’t run from me, Linden had laughed in my face. She had laughed because the man was not a Traveler and most definitely not a Gatekeeper. He also refused to tell me who was responsible for bringing him to the Look-Through. I returned to the place where we had found them, but I could not find the people that had accompanied this Elijah. With nowhere else to turn I Teleported to the Northern City and sought advice from an old friend. Apparently, only four children had died all those years ago - not five. And the only baby not accounted for had been a girl.
The missing Gatekeeper was a woman and right now she was moments to doing what generations of human-bound Valkyries had failed to do. She was about to enter Awenasa and I was ready for her.
I decided to make sure that I could really do this before telling the guys about it. I couldn’t bear to get their hopes up again if this wasn’t what I thought it was. I figured that if I really could move to another plane of existence then I could pull them through behind me as I did with the void. So after taking a fortifying breath I pushed forward into the unknown.
The first thing I noticed was that I was no longer outside in the cold night air of the dry desert. Instead, I was standing inside of a medium-sized room with a roaring fire providing flickering light in the corner. The second thing I noticed is that I was basically on top of Elijah because I was standing so close to him. My Tracking Gift had done its job and led me directly to him. I felt a huge smile spread across my face as I saw that he looked unharmed and relatively unstressed too. I was just about to throw my arms around him when movement from the corner of my eye caught my attention.
I had been distracted by Elijah’s beautiful face for a moment too long and I missed the other people within the room, one of which was a middle-aged woman who threw something at my feet before I could react to stop her. Even though I knew it was going to be too late, I reacted on reflex and threw a throwing star in her direction. The star hit its target and speared the woman’s hand to the wall behind her at the same moment that I heard glass breaking near my feet. I looked down to see a black mist rise from the broken glass and felt a slight tingling under my skin.
I wasn’t exactly sure what had just happened, but I was positive that they had acted first. The plan was that we would only fight in retaliation, and I had wanted to keep things civil. But the black mist felt horrifyingly familiar and thoughts of the silver cuff with black crystals that Derik had been Compelled to lock onto my wrist to take away my Gifts filled my thoughts. The rising panic only swelled when I tried to push both me and Elijah back through the barrier I had just discovered to take us back to the void.
Nothing happened. Just like before, my Gifts had been stolen from me.
This time was not going to be like last time. This time I was not going to wait for them to strike while I was vulnerable.
I stepped in front of Elijah and tried calling a blade out of habit. To my surprise, my katana instantly materialized in my right hand. I pushed my surprise away and moved to lunge at the man that I recognized from Hernan’s office. He had been the one to take Elijah from us and I had a feeling he was the leader of the Hidden. Before I could do more than plant my feet in a sturdy fighting stance, strong arms banded around me, forcing my arms down and pinning them against my sides.
Out of pure reflex, a Shield burst out of my chest pushing my attacker off of me. I felt the zing of power and knew that whoever had tried to restrain me was a Valkyrie. I spun around, ready to attack whoever was behind me but froze in my tracks when I saw that it had been Elijah. Elijah had been the one to keep me from striking their leader. There was no one else behind me, so it was the only explanation.
“Ray, calm down. Everything is okay. No one is going to hurt you, but I need you to calm down so that we can explain,” Elijah said in his steady authoritative voice. I had planned on being calm. Or at least I was going to do my best to endeavor to be calm if they hadn’t harmed Elijah. But then they had gone and somehow turned off my Cloaking Gift with a black mist and trapped me here without any way to either escape or bring the guys here for backup.
The big question was, why did it sound like Elijah had been on board with that plan?
I trusted Elijah a hell of a lot more than I trusted any of the Hidden so I quickly side-stepped so that I had a wall at my back and I could see everyone in the room while keeping the Shield around me. “Elijah? What is going on?” I questioned, my voice betraying exactly how confused I was.
“This is Nahuel,” Elijah said and gestured to the wild-looking man with long black hair and deeply tanned skin that had been in Hernan’s office. “He is a sort of leader here and I think that you need to hear what he has to say.”
I didn’t like that this Nahuel was letting Elijah do all of his talking for him while he just stared at me with eyes that were tinged with untamed power. The woman that had thrown the glass containing the black mist moved her unpinned hand and I threw another star into the wall inches from her face to convey that she needed to stay perfectly still. I wasn’t just going to stand here and let them strip me of more of my Gifts.
“Do not hurt her,” Nahuel demanded in a low strong voice that completely filled the space.
“Stop trying to throw potions at me with the express intention of weakening me,” I replied in an equally stubborn voice.
“Linden wishes you no harm,” a smooth yet rich female voice said and I flicked my gaze to the darkened corner to see a woman I had completely missed before now. She slowly rose to her feet and took a step in Linden’s direction and I instantly put Shields around her, Linden, and Nahuel. I really didn’t trust them in a room with a whole table covered with jars filled with different colored mists. I inched forward to take a better look at the lines of jars while Nahuel reached out and touched the inside of the Shield that was holding him prisoner. Because I had formed it around someone I perceived as an enemy, the Shield shocked him and fed me a jolt of his life source. It was the most powerful jolt I had ever felt.
“Ray, they are not going to hurt you,” Elijah repeated but I already knew this to be true because the girl wasn’t lying when she said that Linden didn’t want to harm me. But I was still confused and upset that they had done something to my Cloaking Gift.
“What is it that they are going to do with me?” I questioned and turned my gaze on Nahuel. The feral energy emanating from him was hard to ignore for long. It was like it was impossible not to be drawn in by him.
“We just want to talk,” Nahuel said in the same low voice that reverberated through my bones.
“Kidnapping my clan leader and paralyzing my Gift the moment I show up is one hell of a way to start a conversation,” I say with venom.
“I need you to stay and listen to everything I need to tell you. If I did not bind your ability to Travel, you would disappear before I was ready to let you go,” Nahuel said as if that excused everything he had done. It was very interesting that he called my Cloaking Gift the ability to travel, and I wanted to question him more on that in light of the fact that we were somewhere that didn’t look or feel anything like the desert. But that was going to have to wait. I wasn’t going to be drawn into their game until I knew all of the rules.
“It should be my choice to stay and listen or to leave. Reverse whatever you did and then we’ll talk,” I snapped because this was starting to feel like a mix of what had happened with Derik’s attack and the Russian Kidnapping. As much as I tried to fight it, fear was slowly inching up my spine, increasing my heartbeat, and making my palms sweat.
“No.” Was all that Nahuel said and that simple word sparked a huge reaction in me. He didn’t get to just tell me no. That wasn’t how this was going to go down. As my rage and panic continued to grow, so did the power of my Gifts.
I felt a surge of power stronger than any I had before ripple through my body and my longsword materialized in my left hand a moment before words were almost ripped out of my throat that vibrated with power. "How do I regain use of my Cloaking Gift?"
“The spell has a time limit. You will regain use of your Traveler abilities in exactly twenty-four hours. There is nothing that can reverse the effects of the spell before then,” Nahuel said in a monotone and looked really surprised that the words had just left his lips. I was starting to think that I had the ability to force people to tell me the truth.
I took a moment to digest what he had said and the possible implications of my growing Truth abilities. I looked over at Elijah who seemed distracted. Maybe he was reading everyone’s mind and was trying to fully understand what was going on right now. That’s when it occurred to me that without my Cloaking Gift, my thoughts would be unprotected from Elijah’s Telepathy Gift. So he wasn’t just reading Nahuel’s mind, but also my own.
I narrowed my eyes at him and he had the dignity to look a little ashamed as he told me, “Just hear them out, Ray. They swore to me that you wouldn’t come to any harm and I believe they have answers for you.” I searched his eyes trying to understand why it felt like he was on their side right now, but he gave nothing away.
I turned back to Nahuel and mentally prepared myself for whatever life-altering news he was about to give me before giving him a little nod to let him know that I was ready to listen. He took a minute to start talking, only increasing my frustration with this situation. They had gone through all of the trouble to trap me here, and now he was stalling. Must be something really bad if he didn’t know how to start.
As the silence continued to grow, I flicked my gaze to the woman in the corner. She was short but had the same tan skin and dark brown hair as Nahuel. Her hair was pulled into dozens of small braids with feathers and beads tied in, reminding me of paintings I had seen of Native American People. She had the same vibrant green eyes that all Valkyries had, but hers were threaded through with strips of pale green, giving them a softer look than most. When she noticed me studying her, she gave me a kind, encouraging smile that I didn’t return.
I could tell that she was just about to break the growing silence when Nahuel started to talk. “Release Linden and allow her to be treated. She only spelled you because I ordered her to. She has nothing to do with this,” Nahuel requested.
After a moment of hesitation, I let out a deep breath and walked over to the woman that still had her hand speared to the wall. She looked at me with wide, fear-filled eyes making me feel a little bad about hurting her. Then I remembered that she had the ability to take away my Gifts and I hardened my heart towards her. She was not someone that I could afford to underestimate. When I was close enough I dropped the Shield around her but leveled her with an intense glare. Then slowly I reached out with my Weapons Gift and dematerialized the throwing star that was embedded in her hand. When she pulled her hand free of the wall, I reached for a cloth that I saw on her table that looked clean enough and wrapped it around her hand without taking my eyes off of her.
After the wound was bound, Linden gently tugged on her hand as if she was asking for me to release her without using words. I squeezed her hand more firmly in my grip and met her eyes as I said, “If you ever throw a potion or a spell at me again without my express permission, I will do more than slice your hand open.”
Nahuel didn’t like my threat and I heard an actual growl leave his throat, but I refused to be intimidated right now. I stepped away from Linden and then formed a Shield around her that wouldn’t shock her from the inside. Then I slowly pushed the Shield in the direction of the door so that she wouldn’t have any chance of grabbing any of the mysterious potion jars. Once she was out of the door, I turned and focused all of my attention on Nahuel. After all of this drama, he better have something really important to tell me.
Once again Nahuel let the silence grow tense before starting to talk and when he did talk, there was an almost tangible feeling behind every one of his words. I tried to stay detached from his story, but it was impossible not to get drawn in. Impossible not to see the horrific implications that it hinted at.
“Generations ago there was a great war in the human plane. So great that many supernatural creatures fought on both sides and they came very close to exposing themselves to the humans. Each side believed that they were right and neither was willing to lay down arms. Destruction and disaster were nye and no one knew how to fix it. One of the leaders on our side had the ability to Travel and they used this to their advantage even though they had significantly smaller numbers. My ancestors were able to take shelter in the Doba and launch strategic attacks from the Look-Through.”
“Doba? Look-Through? Travel?” I asked because I wasn’t going to be able to follow along if he kept using terminology that didn’t mean anything to me.
Instead of looking annoyed that I had interrupted his story, he seemed pleased that I was taking this serious enough to ask questions. “You keep calling it something else, but you are a Traveler because you have the ability to Travel between the different realms. When we first met you were in the Look-Through. We call it that because nothing exists in the Look-Through but you can see and hear everything that happens on the Human Plane from there. This realm is called Doba, named by our ancestors and is roughly translated to mean peace. This is a realm of peace and it is my responsibility to keep it that way,” Nahuel said, determination and purpose ringing through his voice during that last part.
So I had been right about there being more than two planes of existence. I had so very many questions, and if I could get over my rage about how he has handled this situation maybe I would get a chance to ask them.
When I didn’t ask any further questions right away, Nahuel continued his story. “A powerful oracle reached out to the leaders of both sides of the war and told them that she saw a horrible future where the humans would hunt all supernatural creatures to extinction if the war continued. The human-bound Valkyries ignored her warnings but our ancestors knew better. After a great discussion with the oracle’s coven, our ancestors made a deal. They would retreat and live in the Doba ensuring the end of the war if the witches completed a powerful enchantment that would ensure that our people would always have the ability to return to the Human Realm if they one day wished.
“When their ritual was completed, four Valkyries received extra Gifts, including the ability to Travel and the Gifts that they did have grew in power. Every fifty years, four new Valkyries are born within the Doba with the ability to Travel. We call them the Gatekeepers,” Nahuel said while giving me a significant look. I had a sinking feeling I understood where he was going with this. I had the ability to ‘Travel’ and my Gifts were significantly stronger than normal. And Hernan had been fairly confident that my mother had been one of the Hidden, meaning that I could have been born here instead of the human plane.
“Since then my people have remained here in the Doba and lived a peaceful existence. However, as the children of my generation grew into their Gifts there were only three of us that had the abilities of a Gatekeeper. We grew to believe that the fourth Gatekeeper had died as a baby and that we would have to hold up the burden of our people with one less than our ancestors. I no longer believe that to be true. You have the ability to Travel and can bring others with you. You have very strong Gifts,” Nahuel said as he raised his hand to hover an inch above the surface of the Shield that was still encasing him. “You are the fourth Gatekeeper.”
His last words weren’t a complete surprise, but I did feel the weight of them. With the title came a whole contingent of responsibilities and expectations that Nahuel clearly wanted me to accept. But a fancy story and some answers to things I desperately wanted to further understand didn’t turn me into something that I’m not. No matter what this intimidating man said, I was still just me. Just a girl who was trying to understand the world around her and survive long enough to find my path. And I wouldn’t let anyone but me dictate the direction of that path.
“Okay,” I told him to let him know that I understood what he was saying. “Now that you have told me, please return me and Elijah to our people in the Human Plane,” I said in a flat tone, not allowing him to see the emotions that were starting to storm inside of me.
“What?” Nahuel asked, sounding completely taken by surprise.
“I listened to what you had to tell me. Now you need to let Elijah and me leave. We have people waiting for us,” I said with conviction.
“No,” Nahuel said and his face crumpled, showing his obvious anger. I am guessing that he was hoping that I would have a different response to the whole ‘you are a powerful Gatekeeper’ revelation. He properly thought that I would be thrilled by the news. But just like all of the other Valkyries in power, he didn’t seem to understand that I didn’t want to lead. “You belong here with me.”
That red hot ember of anger sparked and the all too familiar rage started to burn inside of me at his words. Why did everyone I meet think that they had some sort of right to me? I did not belong with the Collins’ Royal Clan, or to my newly discovered family, or to the Russians, or to whoever was cruel enough to force Derik to attack me. I did not belong to this virtual stranger or in this unknown place.
The only person I belonged to is myself.
As my anger grew so did my Valkyrie power. I felt Elijah take a step towards me and could only assume it was because of my out-of-control allure because they took away my ability to regulate it. I took a step away from him and felt another surge of power. Three layers appeared on the Shields that were surrounding Nahuel and the woman in the corner and twin spears, of all things, materialized in each of my hands.
“Ray, take a deep breath,” Elijah said in an overly calm voice. Like if he was trying not to spook a wild animal. “I don’t think he meant it in that way. I am sure if we all calm down we can come to some sort of solution that we all agree to.”
I turned on my clan leader and felt sort of betrayed. Why did it sound like he was on Nahuel’s side? Why did it feel like he wanted us to stay here? I looked deep into Elijah’s eyes and had absolutely no idea what he was thinking. Why did he feel so far away from me right now?
"What do you want to see happen here?” I asked and felt each word was laced with my supercharged Truth Gift.
“I want you to stop running from any hint of responsibility and start taking this seriously. You cannot keep hiding behind our clan because we simply are not strong enough to hold up the weight. You need to make a decision about what you are going to do, and I think this might be the right answer for you. But you will never know if you keep closing your eyes and pretending that you can live a simple life away from power. You are the most powerful person I have ever met. It is time that you grow up and start acting like it,” Elijah said in a weird monotone but every single word was true.
I was completely stunned. I felt like he had just slapped me. That is what Elijah really thought of me. That I was behaving like a petulant child who refused to rise to the challenges afforded to me.
The blood was rapidly draining from Elijah’s face and I knew that he would have never said that willingly. He was too kind for that. But it still hurt to know that is what he truly thought of me. I was distracted from going back over his words and internalizing them when the woman in the corner asked, “How old are you?”
The question was so completely random that I looked over into her eyes and answered without thinking, my mind still processing what Elijah had said. “Seventeen.”
“Why didn’t you tell me you were transitioning?” Nahuel said almost angrily, recapturing my full attention.
I had no idea what he was talking about and didn’t much like his tone of voice. He was the one that had kidnapped Elijah and then trapped me here. He had zero right to assume that I would be willing to tell him anything. I didn’t care if I was this fourth Gatekeeper, Nahuel didn’t have any authority over me and I was getting really tired of his attitude towards me. The fire of anger and power that had dimmed with Elijah’s words roared back to life and I took a menacing step towards Nahuel.
“Excuse me?” I hissed out and felt the spears in my hands morph into katanas.
“If she didn’t know she was a Gatekeeper, then I doubt that she knows about her transition,” the woman in the corner said with a stern voice but I kept my attention fully focused on Nahuel. “Stop being a jerk Nah and help her!”
I didn’t want his help. What I wanted was to get away from here. Elijah may be right. Maybe I did run away from things, but right now I was worried that I was going to cut off another person’s head because I really wasn’t in control of the power inside of me right now. I was just about to turn and walk away from this situation when Nahuel asked in a slightly desperate voice, “What are your other Gifts?”
I raised my chin in a challenge and glared at him. “Why? So that you can use more colored mist on me and take them away from me?”
“No, that is not what is happening right now. Right now you are experiencing huge power surges and your Gifts are starting to escape your control. I bet it has been happening a lot lately. More and more frequently,” Nahuel said with a sense of urgency and I narrowed my eyes at him. How could he know that? Had Elijah told him that?
“What is happening to you is completely normal for a Gatekeeper. When we turn eighteen we gain full access to our heightened Gifts. About a month before your eighteenth birthday you will experience large waves of power that are directly connected to emotion. It is called the transition and a transitioning Gatekeeper is very volatile. If I had known you were transitioning, I would have never blocked your Traveling abilities. Not having access to that Gift right now is only boosting your other Gifts. I need to know what your other Gifts are so that I can help you safely through this.”
He wasn’t lying, but I was having a harder and harder time concentrating on him instead of the rising temperature of my blood. It felt like I had something living inside of me that was demanding to get out. A particularly strong wave of power rolled through me and I heard screams coming from outside. Nahuel looked even more worried and tried to go towards the screams, but only managed to run into the Shield holding him prisoner and a zap of incredibly potent power shot through me.
“Weapons, Shield, Tracking, Truth, and Cloaking or what you call Traveling,” Elijah said in a rush and I felt another stab of betrayal. If they used that information to strip me of even more of my Gifts, Elijah and I were going to have a problem.
“What is happening outside?” Nahuel demanded. Elijah was the only person not encased within a Shield right now and he walked to the window.
“At least ten people are being held within Shields,” Elijah said with a hint of worry in his voice. “I have never seen her make that many before.”
“Ray!” Nahuel yelled and I snapped my attention to him. “Listen to me. All of that power within you needs to be used. If you don’t use it, your Gifts will use it for you without the guidance of your control. You need to use your Gifts, and you need to use them now. Let me out of this and I will take you to a place where you can do this without hurting anyone. You have Truth, so you know I am not lying to you. I will not hurt you, I just want to help you. Let me help you.”
It was hard to concentrate with everything that was going on, but Nahuel was right about one thing. He was telling the truth. I looked to Elijah because I still trusted him to direct me in the best direction and he nodded his head in approval. It took some effort because my Gifts wanted to be used, not turned off but I finally managed to drop all of the Shields that I had formed. Within the next blink of an eye, I was no longer in the room with the fireplace and table covered in potions. Instead, I was outside in some kind of forest and completely surrounded by trees.
I looked around and saw that Elijah and Nahuel were with me. “There is no one else here,” Nahuel said as if this was a good thing, but I wasn’t so sure. Did he take us here so that he could hurt us? “Your Gifts have to be used. I saw you throw a star earlier. Do that now. Throw your stars at the trees. Do it over and over again. Do it until you feel that excess energy drain away.”
I still didn’t trust him, but the heat was once again rising in my blood and before I really knew what I was doing I was throwing stars and knives with everything I had inside of me. I threw with my right hand and with my left. Over and over again I threw at every tree in sight and even screamed out all of the anger and frustration that has been building inside of me over the last week. I completely lost myself in the action of calling and throwing more and more stars and knives. I have no idea how long I pelted the unsuspecting trees with my Weapons but eventually, I fell to my knees in exhaustion.
I was breathing heavily and my skin was covered in a slick layer of sweat that cooled my heated skin. When I finally looked up from my spot, I saw both Elijah and Nahuel standing a good ten feet behind me. Both looked at me with understanding and concern that I didn’t quite comprehend. I looked out towards the forest and saw that every single tree within sight was completely covered in my blades. At the sight of the hundreds of glinting silver weapons wedged deeply in the unsuspecting bark, I felt a ball of guilt form within me.
I really was losing control.