Chapter 10 - Nahuel Firebird
This was completely unacceptable. How in the world did I end up in the middle of the Nevada desert at the whims of a seventeen-year-old girl? Unacceptable. Someone needed to put that child in her place and get her under control because this was borderline embarrassing. I didn’t expect much out of my useless sister, but I had thought Hernan was more capable than this. But instead of taking control of this situation and pulling that silly girl under his thumb, he actually was just following her around as if that was a normal thing to do.
This was not normal or even remotely okay. We were fucking royals. The Collins’ Royal Clan and our father would be turning over in his grave right now if he could see what Hernan and Florence had been reduced to. What this silly little Valkyrie female was reducing them to.
Everything that I had seen since returning home for my nieces Matching has only confirmed my belief that the Americas West is being grossly mismanaged. It is time for a new ruler. It is time for them to have their rightful King.
-King Eli Norwood
I finally got my breathing under control and straightened my shoulders before dematerializing my weapons and walking over to where Nahuel and Elijah were standing. I was bone tired and just wanted to take Elijah back to the guys. I knew that they had to be nearly out of their mind with worry and keeping them waiting was cruel. We needed to go back to them. Yes, I will admit that I needed to talk more with Nahuel because obviously there were answers to questions I didn’t even know to ask here but first, we needed to return to our clan.
I looked up into Nahuel’s eyes and noted that they were a deeper green than mine. He looked a little less intense than he had before and I saw deep understanding within his gaze. If he was a Gatekeeper too, then he would have lived through the same power surges that I was experiencing. So maybe he really did understand, but we were not the same. He knew what was happening to him and didn’t have different factions of people attacking from all sides.
We were not the same.
“Please return us to the Look-Through. I left members of my clan there because I didn’t want to bring them somewhere until I had some sort of idea about what I was doing. They can’t just stay there. Like you said before, it is nothing but a vast emptiness. Return us to our clan, bring us all to the Human-Plane and once we have had a chance to recover, I will return so that we can continue our conversation,” I said in a reasonable voice while using his terminology.
Nahuel seemed a lot less intimidating at this moment and he looked anywhere but at my eyes as he said, “I can’t.”
I clenched my jaw and did everything in my power to push down the fire within me that wanted to reignite at his words. Nahuel must have seen my struggle because he was quick to explain. “I didn’t say that I wouldn’t. I said that I couldn’t. The oracle that created the enchantment put a safeguard in place to ensure that there would always be a clear leader that could pull rank if need be. Gatekeepers can shift any number of people to other planes of existence, but they can only shift other Gatekeepers that have a weaker Traveling Gift than they do. For example, I can shift Mariana, another Gatekeeper of our generation, but she cannot shift me because I am stronger than she is. When you were in the Look-Through earlier, I tried to shift you to the Doba so that we could talk. I failed. So even if I wanted to, I cannot bring you back to the Look-Through because your Traveling Gift is stronger than mine.”
I just looked at him and felt hollow. I was getting really tired of people telling me that I was more powerful than normal. I had actually been a little bit relieved when Nahuel said that there were four Gatekeepers. That meant that there were three other people that were like me. I had thought that just maybe I didn’t have to be unique anymore. I didn’t have to be the outcast. But now he was ripping that brief hope away from me.
He was putting me on top of the chain of power, just like everyone else. And apparently, Elijah thought that I needed to stop hiding from my destiny and embrace the responsibility everyone wanted to shove at me.
I didn’t know what to say or where to go from here. I understood what he was saying, or at least I was getting the gist of what he was saying but understanding didn’t solve anything. The twins and Max were still in the void, and I could only imagine how much they were freaking out right now. We had to do something.
“Then bring the members of my clan here,” I suggested and really hoped that he would agree to this. I needed the support of the guys right now.
“No,” Nahuel said with finality. “My ancestors have protected Awenasa from all human-bound Valkyries for generations. I will not be the one to fail my people.”
“You brought Elijah here,” I tried, already knowing that I wasn’t going to convince this man. He seemed to be driven by a deep sense of duty and there was no way he was going to betray that duty for me.
“That was a mistake and I take full responsibility for it. But two that you travel with have been hunting my people since they were younger than you. Under no circumstances will I endanger my people more than I already have.
“Send me back,” Elijah said and my eyes snapped to his. “Send me and any others in the Look-Through to the Human Plane and I will explain what is going on. I will tell them that we are safe and that Ray has to stay here for twenty-four hours. They can go and get some rest and come back for us tomorrow. Then you can bring me back here so that Ray doesn’t have to face this alone.”
It was a solution, but it was a solution that left me here alone and without the ability to leave for an entire day. There was nothing keeping Nahuel from just leaving Elijah in the human plane and then he would have the hostage that he had really wanted from the start. But I guess that was only fair. This wasn’t Elijah’s mess. Elijah wasn’t this long-lost Gatekeeper with out-of-control powers. Nope, that was all me and I needed to stop hiding my head in the sand and figuring out what I was going to do. Elijah was right about that too.
“I will bring you and only you back in twenty minutes,” Nahuel said and I was a little relieved to know that he wasn’t lying. As of right now, he really was going to bring Elijah back. Elijah looked at me and I nodded my head. If Nahuel really was unwilling to bring the guys here, then this was the best option. In the next moment, Elijah was gone, leaving me alone with Nahuel and a whole lot of damaged trees. I walked up to the closest tree and ran my fingers along the damaged bark, randomly wondering if Max would be able to heal trees the way that he does people.
“It gets better,” I heard from behind me and I turned to face Nahuel. “After you fully transition, you will regain full control of your Gifts and things will settle down.”
“I don’t turn eighteen for a couple more months,” I admitted, dreading how bad this was going to get before that day. Maybe I needed to lock myself away in the void where there wasn’t anyone that I could hurt with my out-of-control Gifts and extreme mood swings.
“That can’t be right,” Nahuel said with a furrowed brow. “From what I saw, I would say you are just a few days from fully transitioning. A week at most.” I let out a deep breath and took a seat at the base of one of the badly damaged trees. Of course, this stranger that I have known for less than an hour would know more about me than I did. There was all this mystery surrounding my birth, and I had no idea if he was right or wrong, but I really didn’t have the energy to argue with him right now. I never really celebrated my birthday anyway. What did I care if I had the wrong date?
“What are your Gifts?” I asked to change subjects. “You know about mine. Fair is fair. What can you do other than Travel?”
Nahuel walked over to a tree across from me and mirrored my sitting position before saying, “Other than Traveling, I can call Blades, summon and control Fire, Teleport, and I can Dream Walk.”
I just blinked at him in surprise for a moment before responding. The only Gift of his that was recorded in Max’s book of Gifts was Weapons. I wonder why their Gifts were so different from ours. Or should I say theirs? What side was I on in this case?
“Fire?” I questioned because at this point my brain was on overload and that was the first thing that slipped out of my mouth. Nahuel studied me with his intense gaze for a few seconds before slowly raising his upturned palm. Without any warning, a single flame, like the ones that you see from a candlestick appeared about two inches from his palm. Nahuel let it flicker as a normal flame for a moment and then it morphed until it formed a perfect circle of fire that encircled his hand. Then Nahuel reached his hand out in between us and the circle of fire slowly grew until it was at least six feet in diameter and floating a foot off the ground.
I was completely mesmerized and watched in awe as he made the circle of fire split into three strands that all started braiding around each other while maintaining the perfect circle. Nahuel raised his other hand and another small ball of fire left from his left palm and floated to the center of the braided circle. The inside ball started to flatten until it was a thin disk stretching towards the larger circle with dancing oranges, yellows, and reds.
“When I was transitioning,” Nahuel said in a near whisper so as not to break the atmosphere of awe that his fire was maintaining, “I burned down almost three acres of land when I got mad at my father. I can’t even remember what we were arguing about, but I remember the uncontrollable heat that consumed me from the inside out. I am sorry about today. I acted rashly and I am ashamed of how I dealt with everything.”
I looked over at him and noticed that he didn’t look quite so fierce sitting against a tree and making fire art out of thin air. He looked thoughtful with visible signs of regret lingering in the set of shoulders and how he couldn’t quite meet my eyes. “Why were you so angry when you discovered the fourth Gatekeeper? When you were telling your story earlier, it sounded like you mourned the loss of the baby that died. If you really wanted that missing piece, wouldn’t you be happy when you found it?” I asked while specifically avoiding calling myself the fourth Gatekeeper.
Nahuel’s eyes focused on the swirling circles of fire and I could see the flames reflected in his eyes. “You didn’t really get to see it because I Teleported us directly out of Linden’s den but the village here is called Awenasa. To me it is home and I would do absolutely anything to keep it safe, but it isn’t the only town within the Doba. Not long after our ancestors decided to live here full time, a divide formed among our people. There were those that wanted to forget the war and move into the future with a fresh start while others were too plagued with pain and fury to move on. The divide grew until the two groups decided to split up. Those who wanted to focus on building a peaceful and loving community stayed here and created Awenasa, while the others moved way up by the great lakes and created a home they call the Northern City.
“Before they split up, the two groups made a formal agreement that once the Gatekeepers of each generation came of age, two of them would reside in each town to ensure the balance of power. Since then, the Gatekeepers have always worked in pairs. One set living here in Awenasa and the other pair in the Northern City.” Nahuel paused his story to take a deep breath and the circling fires fizzled out, dropping the barrier between us.
“The two other Gatekeepers of our generation are Mariana and Louka. Mariana grew up here with me while Louka was born in the Northern City. When we were teenagers and it was obvious that there was only going to be three of us, Louka came to Mariana and me and suggested that we try to lead as one unified group of three. By that point, Mariana and I had started a relationship based on childhood friendship and future hopes. But we decided that our hearts were big enough to let another in and that our people would be stronger because of our unity. So we started building something together. We worked as a team with our Gatekeeper duties and over the years we fell in love. Or at least, I loved each of them deeply and committed every part of my heart and soul to the relationship.
“But Mariana and Louka decided that they loved each other more than they loved me. That they would be happier without me interfering with their relationship and they moved to the Northern City a little over a year ago. They weren’t respectful or kind in the way they went about completely crushing my heart and since then they have made it very clear that they believe themselves to be against me and Awenasa. You see, they still harbor all of that hurt and fury that their ancestors refused to let go and they want revenge. They think that the human-bound Valkyries have stolen something from them and they want it back.
“So when I found a Traveler that could shift multiple people to the Look-Through I jumped to the conclusion that the Northerners had somehow hidden him from me for all of these years so that they could have the power of three Gatekeepers while I protected Awenasa by myself. I felt an instant bond between myself and Elijah and made assumptions. Like I said before, I acted rashly and based out of anger and I am extremely ashamed.”
Wow. There was a lot of information in that story and I was going to have to find a moment to analyze the majority of it later. But right now I was feeling raw because of my own spent emotions and Nahuel’s exposed ones. That hadn’t been an easy story to tell, but he had told me because I had asked for an answer. I had been wrong before, this whole situation was nothing like when the Russians kidnapped me. Alexei wanted to possess me and saw me as an object that he could simply take and hold on to. Nahuel was different. He may have seen this fourth Gatekeeper as someone that he was entitled to before he saw that I was a real person, but now he clearly knew better.
“For the last four years, I have been living amongst the humans, afraid of one day running into a Valkyrie because my father was enough of an indescribable monster that I truly believed all others would be just like him. When I was finally discovered, everyone I met, except the Oakland Clan, thought that they had some sort of right to me. All of a sudden my life turned into one long string of power games and I have been struggling just to keep my head above water,” I told Nahuel because I believed that his truth deserved one in return. He had explained his reaction and now it was my turn.
I swallowed the knot that formed in my throat at even the thought of talking about this, but forced myself not to look away from his eyes as I said, “Powerful Valkyries are not happy that I am not playing by their rules and last week someone we have yet to identify Compelled one of the only people I trust to take away my Gifts, beat me up, call me horrible names, and rape me.”
I saw my words have an almost physical impact on Nahuel as he sucked in a breath and looked completely shocked. In the next moment, he surged forward until he was on his hands and knees with his face mear inches away from mine. The wild energy around him grew until it was a physical force surrounding him in angry waves and I reacted on pure instinct, calling a Shield to form a protective barrier around me. If I wasn’t absolutely positive this man was a Valkyrie, I would assume that he was a Shifter because I could swear that I could hear a low growl emanating from deep within his chest.
“My clan got there to save me from the worst of it,” I said quickly because I was fairly positive that this was some sort of protective instinct and that he didn’t really mean me any harm. “The very next night, royal Valkyries from Russia kidnapped me, Elijah, and Max because they wanted me as their queen. That day ended in a lot of bloodshed, mostly at my own hands. Today you kidnapped Elijah, took away my Cloaking gift, and are not letting me leave. I understand that you may have some sort of expectations on how I am supposed to react in this situation, but I am too overwhelmed to really care at this point. You unknowingly stepped all over too many of my triggers and I am going to need you to give me a little time to recover before dumping any more life-changing news on me.”
The feral edge to Nahuel only grew the more I talked and I had to remind myself that I was completely safe within my Shield. After I was done talking, he slowly reached out until his palm was hovering just above the slight curve of my Shield and I nearly retracted my protective barrier so that he wouldn’t hurt himself. When he started talking, his voice once again reverberated with a caged intensity that I felt down in my very soul.
“I will never harm you. I swear by the Earth Warrior and my honor that you are safe with me,” Nahuel pledged and his words resonated deep inside of me. As I looked into his clear green eyes, I didn’t need my Truth Gift to know that he was being completely honest with me. I dropped my Shield and Nahuel slowly brought his hand up until he was cupping my cheek. As soon as his calloused fingers touched my skin, the strongest clan bond I have ever felt burst into life between us, and the incredible feeling of safety, love, and belonging nearly consumed me. A breath I didn’t even know I was holding rushed through my slightly parted lips and my heart pounded heavily in my chest.
Nahuel used his thumb to gently rub the side of my jaw as he studied me carefully while I tried to understand what exactly was happening in this moment of intense connection. After what felt like an eternity but was more likely under a minute, Nahuel blinked a couple of times and suddenly we weren’t in the forest anymore. Now, instead of sitting at the base of a tree, I was propped up on a couch while Nahuel knelt beside me. He allowed his thumb to travel down the side of my jawline one last time before pulling away from me. He stood up and I swallowed hard. I had no idea what had just transpired between us, but whatever it was it was freaking intense.
Nahuel stood gracefully to his feet and turned his back to me while I took a moment to look around. We were in what looked like a small cabin built out of tree logs. Unlike Linden’s den, the fireplace was cold and empty and all of the flat surfaces were covered with a thick layer of dust. I took an experimental breath and noticed that the air was slightly stale but smelled of pine and earth.
I was just about to ask where we were when Nahuel turned back to me and said, “I cannot reverse what I have done to you this day, but I am now even more sorrowful knowing just a hint of what you are going through. As I said before, there is no way to reverse the spell binding your Traveling abilities, but I can assure you that you will be treated with the utmost respect and kindness while you remain here. Elijah’s twenty minutes are just about up. You two can stay here for the night and rest. If you feel up to it in the morning, we can continue to talk.”
In the next blink of an eye, Elijah was standing before us seeming just as surprised to be in this cabin as I was. Nahuel didn’t take his eyes off of me and I could tell that he wanted to say more, but he was forcing himself to remain quiet. He was granting my wish and giving me some time and space to recover before broaching any more life-changing information. I was both grateful and disappointed when he turned and walked out of the cabin without saying another word. The room felt cold and empty without his wild energy filling up the space.
I shook myself out of the daze that Nahuel left me in and looked over at Elijah who was looking at the door that Nahuel had just disappeared through. “Everything okay with the guys?” I asked bringing his attention back to me.
“Yes and no,” Elijah admitted and it was like I could physically feel the hole within my heart that was growing wider the longer that I was away from them. “They were hugely relieved to see me unharmed and know that you were okay, but they were understandably unhappy to be kept away from this place while we remain here for twenty-four hours. The twins both demanded that I bring them back with me so that they could keep you safe and wouldn’t accept that I didn’t have that ability. Their reaction was mild to Prince Hernan’s and King Eli’s. They were both livid when I explained that they were not permitted to visit the Hidden village and that their leader did not wish to speak with them.”
“Let me guess, they ordered you to do something on their behalf,” I said with a sarcastic tone to my voice.
“Yes,” Elijah admitted with a heaviness to his voice. “They want me to convince Nahuel to have a meeting with them. If we can’t make that happen, or maybe even if we can, they want all of the details that we can gather. Numbers, types of Gifts, number of females, ages, technology, magical abilities, etc.”
“Nahuel told me that there is a whole other grouping of Hidden that have the same mindset about us on the human plane. They are still angry about the war and want revenge or something like that, but that the people here are content with their lives. They don’t want to return to the human plane. From the way both you and Nahuel described it, I can see why they would want to stay here. I don’t think it would be right for us to do or say anything to jeopardize these peoples’ safety until we know about everything that is going on here,” I told Elijah, being completely serious.
I didn’t think we should automatically side with Hernan and what Nahuel called the human-bound Valkyries just because that is where we lived. I think we needed to slow down and not do anything until we got a feel for what was really going on with our own eyes. Just like Prince Goro had advised me to do.
Elijah nodded his head in agreement and I noted how exhausted he looked. I could only imagine how he was feeling after the day that he had. Out of everyone within the Oakland Clan, I was the least close to Elijah and I think that was largely because he was always fully committed to the role of clan leader. But in reality, he was only five years older than I was and had been right at my side for everything I had lived through in the last couple of weeks. I curled my feet underneath me and patted the sofa next to me, indicating that he should sit and relax a little. He hesitated for only a moment and sat down close enough that my knees brushed his thighs.
He then reached out and took my hand in his before saying, “What I said earlier was said out of context and it sounded a lot harsher than what I believe. I one hundred percent did not mean that we didn’t want you to be a part of our clan. Because every single one of us wants you. I know that to be a fact and I hope that you know that too.”
I squeezed his hands to reassure him and said, “I know. And I am sorry for forcing you to tell me the truth about something that you weren’t ready to tell me. I didn’t even know that I could do that. It just sort of happened.”
Elijah nodded his head and looked distracted as he took in the rest of the cabin that Nahuel had given us for the rest of the night. I knew that my mind should be racing with everything that I learned today and the possible implications of being one of the four Gatekeepers but in reality, I was too tired to even start contemplating that right now.
“What happened after he took you from the palace?” I asked because I was still surprised how at ease Elijah seemed with this whole situation. From the very start, it felt like he might be okay with the things that Nahuel had done without our permission.
Elijah refocused on me and took a moment to think over what he wanted to say before starting. “He brought me right to Linden’s den, just as he did you, and demanded that she bind my Traveling abilities. She took one look at me and knew right away that Nahuel had the wrong person, but he took some convincing. Then he disappeared for a while and I was left to explore. I can’t wait to show you the village tomorrow. It is a truly incredible place. Something that I thought only existed in fairy tales or daydreams. The people here are open and kind even with their thoughts. You would be surprised how many people may seem interested, nice, and supportive on the outside and are plotting your demise in their heads.”
I didn’t actually think that I would be surprised by this. I knew that most people, humans and supernaturals alike, were selfish as a rule. “After a couple of hours, Nahuel returned and he tried asking me questions about you. I refused to tell him anything about you but after talking to him and listening to his thoughts I began to understand what was going on here. I don’t think he is like King Vasiliev or even the other royal princes that have been clambering to gain your attention. Nahuel is dedicated to his people and this way of life and he truly believes that you were supposed to be a part of it. I also think he is holding back answers about your parents and what happened to the Rebec Clan. He was thinking about them after he came back, but it was too jumbled for me to get a real idea of what happened,” Elijah said, sounding like a researcher that was intrigued by a new species that he could study.
“I think he has answers too,” I admitted and then let out a huge yawn. “But I told him that I was on information overload and needed some time to process before he dumped the next big revelation on me.”
At my yawn, Elijah got up and started investigating the rest of the cabin. “There are three rooms with beds in them, a bathroom, and a nice little kitchen. Everything is nice but it feels like this place has stayed empty for quite a bit of time,” Elijah said as he continued to search the cabin.
“I doubt they get too many visitors,” I said but considered that I might be wrong on this point. Maybe they got people coming from the Northern City all the time.
“I guess you are right about that,” Elijah said as he returned to the room with his arms filled with pillows and blankets. Somehow without even asking me, he knew that I would rather stay here on the couch than sleep in some stranger’s bed. Because this really didn’t feel like a guest cabin. This felt like it was someone’s home and they just hadn’t been here in a really long time.
Elijah handed me a pillow and then covered me with two layers of blankets before settling in at the end of the couch near my feet. He gathered my feet in his lap and absent-mindedly cupped the bottom of my feet with his palms. “You used an incredible amount of energy today. Get some rest. I will stay up and keep watch,” Elijah said in an almost distracted tone.
“You had a long day too,” I tried to argue but could feel myself already slipping towards sleep.
“Yes, but I can literally read your mind and know for a fact that you are more tired than me. Get some rest. We will tackle tomorrow once the sun rises,” Elijah said before he started humming a low melody. The combination of the clan bond emanating from Elijah’s hands and the calming sound lulled me to sleep in a matter of minutes.