Chapter 13 - Compelled Compliance
My Sam was such a spirited competitive boy. He always got to training early and did extra laps or reps after everyone else had called it a day. He took pride in being the best but he always used his elevated status to help those around him. He would pick the weakest boy to train with, not to make himself look good, but to teach that boy so that as a group they were stronger. When clan duties took me out of town or kept me from being home, he always put Sean before his own plans and stepped up in my stead. My Sam was the real deal. An honorable and respected Valkyrie, a loving son, and a doting brother.
And then he was used as a stud horse to breed the next blue ribbon thoroughbred.
It was not okay and I would exact my revenge. With or without my granddaughter.
Once again I woke up with three guys in my bed and someone taking time to evaluate the situation from the doorway. I looked over and was relieved to see that this time it was Elijah instead of Jack, but then reconsidered that standpoint when I saw that he had a camera out and was taking photos of us. I glanced over and saw that this time I was laying on Max’s chest with Connor at my back. I couldn’t find Blake and sat up to find that both he and Derik were sleeping on the floor. Blake had started out in the bed with us but Derik had refused, claiming that he would feel better taking the floor. Blake must have fallen out of the bed at some point. We would have to invest in a wider bed because I really did sleep better with them next to me.
I blinked back over at Elijah who was fully dressed and looked as awake and aware as ever. “There is a contingent of Shifters here to see you, and then we need to get going to the palace. Today is the second to last day of Regina’s Matching and I am sure we will be expected,” Elijah said and my stomach sank. I was so not ready to answer all of the questions that people had about the Hidden. While I knew that a part of me wanted justice for my father and his clan, I also felt this responsibility to protect them. What in the world was I supposed to tell the Royals?
I rubbed the sleep away from my eyes and headed into the bathroom to take a quick shower. When I got back Max, Connor, and Derik were gone and Blake had moved into the bed and now had a pillow over his head. I totally understood that urge and left him to get some more sleep while I figured out what was so important to have Lawerance Lopez at our door first thing in the morning.
When I reached the kitchen, I saw that Lawerance, his father Arlo, Luna, and a man in his late twenties or early thirties that I had never seen before were sitting at the dining room table. Lawerance was quick to stand when he saw me enter the room and the conversation abruptly cut off. I hated how tense Lawerance and some of the other Shifters were around me, and really wished I knew a way to put them at ease.
Thankfully Elijah took over and quickly set a plate of food for both of us across from Lawerance and Arlo. I took the seat and when no one spoke right away, I decided to take advantage of this moment and eat. Having enough time for regular meals has become rarer and rarer these days. I really hope that everything cools down once Regina’s Matching is done and most of the foreign royals went home. We ate in companionable silence for about five minutes before Lawerance finally put down his fork and cleared his throat.
“Valkyrie Olsen, this is Tony Cortez,” Lawerance said while pointing to the Shifter that I didn’t know. He was on the small side and looked like he spent a lot of time in the California sun and I guessed that he worked outside. When Lawerance introduced him, he stood from his chair and actually bowed to me and I furrowed my brow. What was up with everyone bowing to me? I knew that they thought they were being respectful, but all it did was make me feel uncomfortable.
I nodded my head at Tony, praying that would be enough for him to regain his seat, and then refocused on Lawerance when Tony didn’t say anything. “Tony is a member of our pack and had the good fortune of meeting his mate yesterday,” Lawerance said and I was quick to smile over at Tony. As far as I understood it, finding your mate was a huge deal and those two individuals would feel a huge pull towards one another. Almost like they were compelled to be near each other but in a good way.
“That is amazing! Congratulations Tony. What is her name?” I questioned and wondered why she wasn’t here right now. Usually mates were very close for the first year or so and very rarely would they willingly be separated from each other.
Tony’s face morphed into a smile as he said, “Thank you, Valkyrie Olsen. Her name is Renata and she is the most beautiful woman I have ever laid eyes on.”
Awe. How cute. “Please call me Ray,” I said with a genuine smile. “This is wonderful news, how did you meet?”
“That is what we are here to talk to you about,” Lawerance answered before Tony could say anything else. “Tony was running an errand for my father when he ran into Renata at the palace. Right now she lives in Mexico and came here as a part of the Mexican Royal group for Regina’s Matching.”
Lawerance stopped talking after that and looked at me expectantly, clearly thinking that I was supposed to draw some sort of conclusion from that statement. But I was completely lost. I had no idea what they were saying or why they were here telling me about a Shifter I just met finding his mate. When Lawerance remained quiet, I looked at Derik who was leaning against the doorway to the hall. I had no doubt that he would explain what was going on without trying to be political with me.
“The only reason that a Shifter would come with a group of royal Valkyries to another kingdom is if that Shifter was under some sort of contract of servitude to the royals,” Derik told me in his upfront, explain it to me straight, voice. “They are here to ask you to intercede on Renata’s behalf. They think that you can either barter or buy her contract from the Mexican Prince. This is a huge ask because everyone at the Matching is falling over themselves trying to find some way to gain leverage over you, but you never seem to want anything. If you show that you want this Shifter, you will be giving a great deal of bargaining power to the Mexicans.”
Hmm, well this was unexpected. I absolutely loathed the fact that the Valkyries treated other supernatural creatures and humans as less than we were. And the fact that it was commonplace to actually sell or give people to the royals as payment was absolutely horrific. I would do everything in my power to stop this even if I didn’t owe Lawerance a debt. But the fact was that I did owe him for saving Amy and I had no problem doing this for the Oakland Shifters, even if it does end up costing me.
“Okay,” I said and saw the immediate shock on the Shifter’s faces. “I am going to the palace today. I will talk to this Mexican Prince and make sure Renata is able to stay here with Tony. What is his name and is there anything else I need to know?”
Lawerance took a moment to share a look with Arlo before he said with a little uncertainty, “Umm, his name is Prince Mateo Romero. And no, I think that is all you need to know.”
I could feel that there was more to this story, but they were holding back on me for some reason. I knew that I made Lawerance uncomfortable and was just going to drop it and hope that he would find me more approachable if I was able to pull this off. The doorbell rang and Elijah got up to see who was at the door as Connor walked into the kitchen to grab some food. My attention was starting to drift to who might be here when Tony spoke up and in a rush said, “Renata has a little brother back in Mexico that was also conscripted to work for the Royal Valkyries. If it would be at all possible, we would love to welcome him into our pack with Renata because their parents died and he is fully dependent on Renata. It would break her heart to have to leave him in Mexico.”
I turned and gave Tony my full attention, trying to process everything that he had just said. “Why do both her and her brother work for the Mexican Prince?”
I could tell that Lawerance was not happy that Tony had spoken up, but Arlo and Luna were leaning forward, clearly interested in engaging in this conversation. “Renata’s pack master was forced to give up two pups to the royal line when an epidemic ran through their lands and they needed Valkyrie Healers to save more than half of the wolves. Renata was one of the young that was handed over. Years later, when her mom got sick, their family needed money to pay for the cancer treatments. There aren’t a lot of places for the Shifters in Mexico to go for money, so her brother, Santiago, started working for the royals and asked for an advance. He still has three years of service on his contract.”
“Is that something that happens normally? Valkyries taking advantage of situations to get cheap labor and acting like lone sharks?” I asked with clear disgust in my voice.
Arlo had just started talking to answer my question when Eiliah came back into the room followed by three Valkyries that I knew were part of the Royal Guard Clan. “Sorry to interrupt,” Elijah said, sounding more aggravated than I have ever heard from him before. “These guards are insisting that Ray and I be escorted to the palace to have an immediate audience with Queen Florence. I tried to explain that we were in the middle of a meeting, but they are quite insistent that we leave now.”
I studied Elijah’s face for a moment, but he was dead serious. I took a steadying breath and used my napkin to wipe my mouth. I knew this was coming. There was just too much interest and intrigue around the Hidden and the Collins’ Royal Line loved to flex their power. I stood and walked over to Tony and squeezed his shoulder before saying, “I will do what I can. I know that this has to be a super stressful time for you and Renata. I will keep in contact with Lawerance via text to let you know when the meeting is taking place and what is happening.”
Apparently, the guards didn’t like that I was taking up their precious time to finish my conversation because one stepped just a little too close for comfort and sternly directed me to follow him to the cars. I looked back over to Derik to see that he was super tense. He didn’t like this one bit, but I knew that I had to face the music sooner or later. The rest of the Oakland Clan was quick to follow us to the cars but the guards refused to leave my side and only Elijah and Derik would fit in the same SUV forcing the Three Musketeers to follow in Blake’s truck.
All three of the guards were on high alert and one of them studied me with a determined intensity, making the hair on the back of my neck start to stand on end. When I finally snapped and asked him to stop staring at me, he said that he had been directed not to take his eyes off of me so that I couldn’t disappear on him. I knew that trying to explain that wasn’t how it worked would be a waste of time and instead just Cloaked heavily. He freaked out when I disappeared from sight and ended up grabbing my arm to reassure himself that I was still there. I really didn’t want to be touched by this guy, so I uncloaked and rode the rest of the way to the palace with my Shield out to protect me from his grabby hands.
When we arrived at the palace we didn’t enter through the main entrance, but rather the guards took us through a side entrance and into a large room that I had never seen before. Derik and the Three Musketeers tried to follow Elijah and me into the room but were immediately blocked at the door. Apparently, Queen Florence didn’t want to hear from anyone that hadn’t traveled to the Doba directly. Considering that I didn’t want any of my guys anywhere near the Queen, I was actually okay with this.
Inside the room, there was a large polished table along one end with tall wing-back chairs that were all facing the room. Within those chairs was Queen Florence, Hernan, Regina, Kaiden, Eli, and Eli’s son, Yates, and they all had their serious business faces on. Behind them was a row of other well-dressed Valkyries, some of whom I knew had Telepathy and Empathy as Gifts. I had thought that Hernan and Florence might question me in Hernan’s office, not a full-blown firing squad of intimidating and powerful people. Maybe I was underestimating just how much the royals wanted answers concerning the Hidden.
As soon as I realized that there were powerful Telepaths and Empaths in the room, I quickly Cloaked Elijah’s mind and double-checked that there was no way for them to read my mind either. A throat cleared and seconds later Queen Florence demanded in a cold authoritative voice, “Valkyrie Olsen, this is a tribunal and the use of Gifts is strictly prohibited. Remove the protection you have over yourself and Valkyrie Nilsen. We have the right to hear every thought and emotion that you have within this room.”
My stomach sank as the meaning of her words fully sank in. She wanted to know my personal thoughts and feelings about the Hidden. Or at least I assumed this was about the Hidden, but now I wasn’t so sure. If I dropped my Cloak, she could grill me about literally anything and I was expected to stand here and answer all of her questions. What would happen if I refused?
I looked over to Elijah and furrowed my brow, but the Queen must have been in an inpatient mood because she was quick to reprimand me again, “This is an official tribunal and I have given you a direct order. If you continue to refuse to comply with the laws that govern the Americas West I will have you arrested and held under Compulsion for the duration of a sentence that I see fit.”
I was too shocked to say anything. I mean, could she really do that? Just because I wouldn’t let them read my thoughts?
“The official rules and regulations of a formal tribunal are only applied in severe criminal cases,” Elijah said with a voice that was respectful but had a core of steel. “Valkyrie Olsen has not broken any laws.”
“Valkyrie Olsen abundantly and very publicly disregarded direct orders from both me and Prince Hernan Collins. Such disrespect and disobedience will no longer be tolerated from Valkyrie Olsen and she must stand before us and answer for her actions,” King Eli Norwood said in a cold voice and a shiver of fear ran down my spine. I did not like this.
“Drop your Cloak and adhere to the rules of this tribunal,” Queen Florence hissed out in a voice so full of hate that I almost felt her words pull me back to when my father used to talk to me. After a quick glance at Elijah to see that he was also not happy but that he wasn’t going to fight this, I took a quick moment to consider my options. It wasn’t just me anymore. Yes, I probably could disappear before they were able to Compel me to stay, but what about the guys? Oakland was their home. Therefore it was my home, and I would do almost anything to stay - but this request would be like jumping off a cliff when I couldn’t see what lay below. I had no idea where they would take this and I had important secrets to protect. Secrets that protected people’s lives.
Moreover, I really didn’t want to stand in this room filled with powerful and vindictive Valkyries and render myself vulnerable. Doing such a thing was against everything that I had worked for since my father was murdered. So much had happened since then and I wasn’t the same girl that was conditioned to blindly follow orders.
Just as I was firming up my resolve to refuse and take the brunt of the consequences, a Valkyrie I hadn’t seen before stepped away from the line and towards me. Instinctually, I looked his way and he hit me with his Compulsion Gift before I had time to shift to the void in an attempt to escape his power. ”Drop your protective Cloak and refrain from using it again within this room,” his voice said and a sickenly familiar fog rolled over my mind.
Instantly, I uncloaked both Elijah’s and my minds, leaving us completely open for the telepaths and the empaths to read.
Fear was the first emotion to hit me like a mack truck but it was quickly followed by anger. How dare they Compel me. I was more than a bone and skin robot to do their bidding. I was a person. I was a freaking strong person and would beat them at their own game.
It had taken me a long time to figure out how to Cloak my mind and the majority of my childhood, my father would sift through any and all thoughts that drifted through my mind until I felt like he completely owned and controlled me. I was no stranger to this game and knew a few tricks to hopefully keep my deepest secrets from these leeches. The Telepaths would be able to read my thoughts, so I was going to have to think about unrelated things so loudly that they couldn’t differentiate my real thoughts on this subject. The Empaths would be able to feel my emotions, so I was going to have feel so much that it overwhelmed them to the point that they couldn’t discern my real feelings about the Hidden.
I took a deep breath to give myself at least a little more mental fortitude and then did something I really didn’t want to do. I dove deep and allowed memories of my childhood to overtake my thoughts and feelings. They were all-encompassing and extremely potent, and I could only pray that they were strong enough to protect me. As I was wrapping my worst memories around the core of who I was four of the Valkyries that I didn’t know and Elijah visibly flinched.
There was a beat of silence as the people with mentally driven Gifts acclimated and I could have sworn that I saw Regina and Queen Florence wearing matching menacing and taunting smiles. Then a slightly overweight, older Valkyrie approached me and didn’t hesitate to reach out and take a hold of my wrist. A clan bond ignited, but at this moment I found it anything but comforting. Both Telepathy and Empathy were heightened with touch. This guy clearly wanted to make sure he didn’t miss anything.
Time to turn up the heat.
I mentally tumbled back through time, crushing all of the walls and locks that I had tried to use to distance myself from these feelings, and dove into the memories of my past. I allowed myself to feel the shame, anger, and helplessness that became an everyday occurrence for me as my own father Compelled me to sit in a certain position without moving a muscle, fight until I passed out from excretion, or become his personal lie detector. I filled my heart with all of the poisoning hate that I felt towards my father but was never allowed to outwardly show.
On the outside, I remained stoic, but on the inside, I was rapidly turning into a ball of strong negative emotions and thoughts because they were the most potent weapon I had at my disposal. It was nearly too much. Too many hateful feelings to ever fully recover from, and I knew I needed to vent before I literally exploded as my transitioning power tried to compensate for what I was putting myself through. Before I reached the breaking point that I was flirting with way too often these days, I mentally screamed an incoherent shout of pain and misery that not even I fully understood while remaining physically silent and glaring at the panel of Royals.
The older man dramatically flinched away from me as two others dropped to their knees and started to cradle their heads as they whimpered in a weak reflection of my inner turmoil. Hernan rose to his feet and actually looked concerned for me, but was halted when King Eli coldly directed for the questioning to begin.
“What is she thinking?” Queen Florence asked with an almost covetous lilt to her voice.
The older man that was no longer touching me took another small shuffle to the side to further distance himself from the crazy going on inside of my head and then grunted out, “She isn’t thinking anything. She is screaming.”
King Eli leaned forward in his chair like if this was the best and most interesting T.V. show he has ever seen and asked, “Screaming what?”
“No words. Just screaming. Like a hysterical woman,” the man said and I abruptly stopped mentally yelling and turned to face this complete stranger. I narrowed my eyes at him and thought very clearly, hysterical? I will show you hysterical?
Just before I closed my eyes I saw him pale and take another, larger step away from me as his face morphed into a mask of fear. Then I forced myself to surround myself with memories of my twelve-year-old self.
Samuel always forgot that I was a living person that actually needed food to survive, so I was painfully skinny and drastically shivering in the cool Colorado night air. I was paralyzed with a sick dread, knowing what was going to happen next but completely unable to do anything to stop it. A month before this I had actively started planning my own suicide, but Samuel had listened to my thoughts and Compelled me to never do such a thing. Even that choice was out of my control.
The announcer’s voice crackled to life on the speaker system, calling out the next fight and identifying me as one of the competitors. Instances like this were some of the only times I was called by my actual name instead of being referred to as a thing, making it so that I actually got sick to my stomach any time someone said, Delia. Samuel knelt in front of me and I stared at the ground with every inch of willpower within my small pre-teen soul, hoping and praying that he wasn’t going to make me do what he had the last time.
“You will fight with exactly half of your strength and ability until either you or your competitor is dead,” Samuel’s sickly sweet voice demanded as the power of Compulsion reached into my limbs and unapologetically took over control.
Just the memory of my father’s easily said words that forced me to become a murderer was enough to internally cripple me with fear, dread, and profound shame. When I had cut Alexei’s head off with his own sword not even a week ago, I had only felt a shadow of what I felt that day almost six years ago. I wasn’t sure if I was entirely in control of this emotional rollercoaster anymore and couldn’t stop the memories from dragging me under as I opened my eyes to see a very different atmosphere within the tribunal room. Gone was the intimidating formal wall of powerful Valkyries that demanded an air of fear and respect. The insanity within my own head was enough to break through their front of strength and now they were scrambling to regroup.
The people I had identified as empaths were now huddled on the floor in the fetal position as they howled their own interpretations of my remembered pain, regret, and shame. The older telepath was as far away from me as the room would allow and was encased in his Shield as if he was desperate to protect himself from my memories in any way he was able. Elijah was visibly clenching his jaw but stood steadfast at my side as he intertwined his fingers in mine giving me not only the reassurance of a clan bond but also the strength of his support. He understood what I was doing and what it was costing me to do it and was trying to help in any way that he could.
Now that I had opened the door into my past memories, they were actively pulling at me and for a moment I wasn’t sure that I was strong enough to stand against them. I was starting to believe that this was a very bad idea and in an attempt to protect the information I learned about Nahuel and the souls living in Awenasa, I was exposing too much of myself to people that would gladly use it against me. The shock of the depth of my emotions was starting to wear off and I was teetering on the edge of not only losing control of this situation but also giving up the high ground. If I let my unresolved issues with my past consume me, I would be completely exposed and vulnerable to the likes of Queen Florence and King Eli.
I had survived my past. I had pushed through everything my father had put me through and finally, I had some semblance of real life. I had people that loved and supported me. I had survived my past and I would survive the memory of it too.
I lifted my chin and embraced the next ripple of raw energy within me as my transitioning Gifts almost screamed out in their need to be used. I didn’t really know if it was possible, but I mentally directed every inch of that awaiting and eager energy into my allure. In my mind I saw it as a physical ripple of condensed energy that moved through the room like a shockwave, leaving a heightened sense of just what I was capable of in its wake. I had been hoping to gain some respect so that people stopped attacking me. I don’t think I got it quite right and must have used my Truth Gift instead of my allure because the resulting sequence of events was not what I was expecting.
What I wanted was for everyone to start taking me seriously and stop pushing me into corners like this where I was forced to respond to protect myself. What I got was each and every person within the room talking at once. And they all used that eerie monotone that I was coming to recognize meant that I was forcing someone to tell me the Truth. But I hadn’t asked a specific question, so they were forced to simply speak a truth. But it wasn’t like they took turns and everyone in the room started talking at once. For a few moments, it sounded like I was surrounded by a cacophony of white noise that slowly tapered off until it was so silent that I would swear people weren’t even breathing.
What I wouldn’t give to have been able to hear and understand each and every person’s Truth. Dozens of secrets were just laid bare to me, and I hadn’t been prepared enough to take advantage of the situation.
I was the only person in the room not affected by the wave of Truth Gift, and as I glanced around the room I saw that each person was visibly shaken by the experience. Even Florence and Regina looked pale and unsure about what just happened or how to proceed. For a moment, I locked eyes with Kaiden and I saw bone-deep fury etched in his model-like features. The young and vain prince was not happy that my Truth abilities had far surpassed his own. King Eli was the first to snap from his reaction and quickly stood, causing his chair to screech backward against the marble flooring. The sound reverberated through the large chamber and everyone in the room turned their attention from me to him.
Eli was just opening his mouth to most likely condemn what I had just done and order the guards to arrest me when the door to the tribunal room flung open so hard and fast that it actually bounced back from the wall. Like some sort of perverted live sporting event, all eyes within the room bounced from Eli to Prince Goro who was standing in the doorway. However, Goro was not alone, and as he stepped into the room he was followed by an impressive number of royals including his brother, King Eito Tanaka, Queen Anne, and both princes from the Northeast, Darron and Ethan Deveroe. I even saw Prince Ekon’s distinctive and massive bulk looming somewhere in the middle of the mass of new people.
“What is the meaning of this?” King Eito said in a deceptively calm voice. At first, I figured he was talking to me because I had been the one to release a huge amount of power in a wave of Truth moments before but Eito had his gaze trained on Eli, who was still standing.
“This is a legitimate tribunal that you have absolutely no authority to enter, let alone speak,” Eli hissed out, his anger about the entire situation clearly getting the better of him.
“You are not a ruling entity of this territory and gave up all rights to speak for the Americas West when you signed the marriage contract with Selena Norwood that made you King of the Americas South,” Goro said in a confident voice as he stepped up by his elder brother’s side. Eito might be more well known than his younger brother, but Goro was just as strong of a force to be reckoned with. I could only be grateful that at the moment they seemed to be on my side.
“My brother is here on my behest,” Queen Florence said, but it lacked her usual confidence.
“Our sources lead us to believe that it was King Eli that demanded this tribunal take place after Valkyrie Olsen refused to play his puppet during their visit to the desert,” Queen Anne said in a steely voice that illustrated her obvious anger. “Valkyrie Olsen is not linked to any clan and thus is not under the direct rule of any royal line. If she wishes to go to the desert and come back without answering any of your questions, it is within her right to do so. You know as well as I do that what you are trying to do here crosses a line, Flori. You are just upset that this young woman is upstaging your own daughter during the most important event of her young life. But that is not Valkyrie Olsen’s fault. It is time for this entire family to get over their own petty notions of respect and start leading.”
Wow. That was... just wow. I think I want to become Queen Anne Deveroe when I grow up. I mean, I might even have a little bit of a girl crush on her right now. She was freaking fierce! When Darron turned to look at me and Elijah stifled a laugh with a poorly concealed cough, I realized that my mind was still uncloaked and that they just heard those highly inappropriate and private thoughts. See, this is why I hate telepathy.
“Come on Valkyrie Olsen, you do not belong here,” King Eito said in a gentle voice while holding out a hand towards me. I wanted to believe that both the Tanaka and Deveroe royal lines were coming to my defense out of the kindness of their hearts, but I knew better. This, just as every other interaction I have had with the royals, was a power play. Queen Anne wanted me to marry Ethan and move to the Americas Northeast while King Eito wanted me to marry his brother and move to Japan. But neither had demanded anything specific in return, and I really wanted out of this room. I was just going to have to deal with the consequences of this at a later date because right now they were the lesser of two evils.
Without letting go of Elijah’s hand, I walked towards the group of royals that had come to my rescue and saw that many of them were looking at me with more apprehension than they had before. Even Queen Anne took a small step away from me when I got closer and I couldn’t help but furrow my brow in confusion. Why would they work this hard to help me out if they were afraid of me?
“Don’t take it personally,” I heard someone say in an understanding voice and looked over to see Ethan had stepped up to walk at my side as we moved through the crowd. “My mother is a strong Empath and you are an exceptional broadcaster. She felt your pain even from rooms away. That is how we knew you were in trouble. Originally we thought this was going to take place in the ballroom and were all there to run interference before it ever got to this point. I am sorry that we were late.”
He was completely sincere, and I decided that I might just have to reevaluate my judgment that everyone was here for a power move. Ethan might just have come to my rescue because he is a genuinely good person who cared I was being put in such a situation.