Chapter 18 - Allies
No freaking way. This was not okay. I had planned and plotted and manipulated for years. I even lowered myself to have a fucking disgusting relationship with that pompous asshole, because that was what needed to be done to win. And I had won. My prize was to live out my days with Mariana by my side while Nahuel suffered the lonely, pitiful life they wanted to doom me to. I won. It was only fair that I got that prize. So it was not okay that now he found his pair. That the missing fourth Gatekeeper had returned and would keep Nahuel from experiencing the misery that he deserved. It wasn’t fair.
“Don’t look so defeated, my boy. You are looking at this the wrong way. All we need to do is get her on our side and we will be even stronger than we had planned for when we attack. If you play this right, you can have both Mariana and Sierra. You will be the first generation to have three of the four Gatekeepers fighting for the Northern City,” Valerie said and I sat up in my chair.
She was right. The reappearance of Sierra, or whatever she was calling herself now, didn’t automatically mean that Nahuel would get her. I had won the game and now it was time for me to kick his ass in the bonus round too.
--Louka Le Roux, Gatekeeper of the Northern City
After Logan left, I turned my attention to Lawerance because I knew that he was stepping up and taking more and more responsibilities as he learned how to be Pack Master, so I figured he would tell me what this was all about. Maybe they wanted to invite me to something too. Lawerance eyed me for a moment and I saw a shadow of the fear and doubt that he used to look at me with creep into his expression. This wasn’t about an invitation.
“We are here to formally petition for Renata to be allowed to spend her nights at Tony’s house. Because they have just formed their mate bond, it is important that they spend time physically in the same location every day. Without that contact, both of them will grow sick and be less able to complete daily tasks in their weakened state,” Lawerance said in a stilted cadence.
Umm, what? I took a moment to run his words back through my head, but I still had no idea what Lawerance was talking about. Why in the world wouldn’t Ranata be living with Tony? Where else would she be living? And why did it sound like they were asking me for permission of where this girl could live?
“I promise to work extra hard and cover any duties that you would assign to my sister during the nights, so you will not be inconvenienced by allowing them to safely and completely cement their mate bond,” Santiago said with a heavy Mexican accent. This only confused me more and once again turned to Derik and silently asked him to explain what on earth was going on right now.
Derik hit me with a guarded look and I could see that he was hesitant to answer this one. “When you negotiated with Prince Romero, he agreed to sign over Renata’s and Santiago’s work contracts to you. Legally, they now - work for you,” Derik said with a clear hesitation, as if he was first going to say something else but decided to reword himself last minute. I didn’t like that. I thought I could always depend on Derik when I needed the honest truth.
But I didn’t really need him to spell it out for me anymore. I was finally getting the gist. Prince Romero hadn’t released these two from their contracts, rather he had gifted them to me as if they were property instead of people. I looked down at the thick leather folder sitting on the desk in front of me and flipped it open. Inside was a handwritten note declaring that both contracts had been signed over to my name in good faith and that the rather huge balance of funds would be transferred into an account of my choosing when the Romero Royal Line received the signed corresponding paperwork outlining my agreement to reserve and announce my first dance for Prince Mateo Romero. Behind that note were two very official-looking legal documents that each had a bloody fingerprint stamping the bottom edge. If I had to guess, I would say that these contracts were spellbound through blood.
The room was so silent that it actually sounded deafening and I was having trouble processing this newest awful expectation of protocol. I sat back in my seat and kept my eyes trained on the black folder as I wrestled with my emotions and surging power levels. I was an eighteen-year-old high school dropout foster kid. How in the world was I now in the possession of documents that basically made me a slave owner? This is so messed up.
I finally looked up and was going to demand to know exactly how to dissolve these contracts so that I could give Renata and Santiago their freedom when Elijah took three large steps to my side and laid a hand on my shoulder. He then leaned over and whispered in my ear that he needed me to take us to the void so that we could have a private conversation. I looked up at his face to see that he was deadly serious and pushed us back into the void and sealed the entrance. The chair I was sitting in didn’t exist here, so I stood and took a step back from Elijah.
“This is not okay. You need to tell me how to fix this. How do I break these contracts because there is no way in hell that I am going to keep people like my father used to keep me,” I hissed out and felt my power expand under my skin.
“It isn’t that simple,” Elijah said in his patient, teacher’s voice. “Both Renata and Santiago have been living under those contracts for basically their entire lives. They don’t know anything else. From the time they were little, the Romero Royal line fed them and clothed them. They educated them and gave them a place to live. They paid for all of the things they would need and they told them exactly what to do and when to do it. Yes, I agree that what was done is not okay, but if you just dissolve these work agreements they will be lost. There is safety and security in working under a royal contract. And right now both of them are thinking that you don’t approve of them and are going to toss them to the street like trash because they aren’t good enough. You know what that feels like too. Don’t do that to them.”
“What exactly am I supposed to do here?” I asked, now feeling completely deflated.
Elijah stepped forward and lightly grasped both of my shoulders before saying, “Give them their freedom gradually. Let them work so that they feel like they are building something here. Neither of them has ever handled money before. If you just dump all of that cash on them, they are going to burn through it or get scammed in a heartbeat. I know that this isn’t what you thought you were agreeing to yesterday, but now these two are your responsibility. We will help, just don’t do anything that we can’t undo. Let’s move slowly with this.”
I looked into Elijah’s eyes and swam through my own issues with controlling situations and really tried to understand the different perspectives that he was trying to show me. It was hard and I had to swallow a good portion of my righteous indignation, but I finally saw where he was coming from. I still didn’t like the idea of having those contracts under my name, but I was willing to try to do right by these two Shifters. I also knew that Elijah was telling the truth when he said that the guys would help. Together I believed that we could do this.
I glanced over at the Shifters to see that Renata and Santiago really did look worried and Lawerance had retreated behind his blank poker face, but his eyes looked hard. I really hadn’t handled this situation very well. I tilted my head to the side to stretch my neck and let out a large gust of air. It was time to try to fix this.
I brought us back to the physical plane and both Renata and Santiago jumped in their seats. Tony was holding Renata’s hand so tight that the knuckles were turning white and she had actual tears forming in her eyes. Those tears did not make me feel good. I reclaimed my seat and leaned forward towards the Shifters as I gave them my full attention.
After clearing my throat I asked Renata, “What do you want to do for work?” The moment the question left my lips, her shoulders relaxed and she released this relieved half sob, half-laugh.
“I took care of most of Prince Romero’s personal things. I cleaned, prepared his wardrobe, and kept his schedule. I am also a fair hand in the kitchen,” she told me in heavily accented English and I was really thankful we didn’t have to deal with a language barrier on top of everything else.
“Okay,” I said in a soft voice I hoped would help her feel more comfortable. “But what do you actually want to do for work. Like if you could choose to do anything in the world, what would you want to spend your days doing?”
Renata turned to look at Tony and after they shared a fraught look Tony nodded his head and Renata returned her gaze towards me. “I- I love working with children. If I could choose any kind of work, I would be a teacher. A teacher to small children,” she said with a great deal of hesitation. I smiled encouragingly and then turned to look at Santiago.
He narrowed his eyes at me but eventually followed his older sister’s lead. “I like cars. I like to drive them and I like to fix them.” My heart twinged at that because thinking about mechanic work made me think of Jack. I pushed that thought away and tapped some of the keys on the desktop computer on the desk to wake it up.
As I started searching for information that I was looking for I said, “Okay, well I am pretty sure in the state of California that you have to have a college degree to be a teacher. So I think that Renata should look into the colleges that are within driving distance of here and sign up to start taking classes. Once you have picked out a college and have a schedule, we can sit down and figure out a work schedule so that you can help me out on a part-time basis.” I glanced up to look Renata in the eye before telling her, “You grew up around all of this royal Valkyrie stuff while I am brand new to this. Maybe you could be like a sort of advisor? I could ask you questions about the correct protocols and what you think about the different people I have to interact with. Would you be okay with that?”
Renata just stared at me with wide eyes and didn’t say anything in response. I glanced to her right to see that Tony looked just as shocked as his new mate did. But when I looked over to Elijah and Derik, they were both sporting small, supportive smiles and I knew that they approved. By the time I refocused on the Shifters, something must have snapped Renata out of her shock because she was quick to say, “Yes, Valkyrie Olsen. I am okay with that.”
“Please, call me Ray. And of course, you can live with your mate. Santiago can live with you guys too, or I can make sure he gets an apartment if he feels more comfortable with that. I just have one thing I need you to agree to.” Both Renata and Tony looked like they were willing to give me their kidneys at the moment and I started to understand just how much trust they were putting in me.
“Anything, Valkyrie Olsen,” Renata said and I internally sighed at her refusal to call me by my first name.
“I am being completely honest with you when I say that I have no idea what I am doing. I am literally learning as I go along because we don’t seem to have any downtime for me to learn all of the things people keep telling me they are going to teach me. If I am about to do something that you think is wrong, please tell me. I don’t care if you sound rude or you think it is inappropriate, I would rather know. And that includes if you need or want something from me or any one of my clan. If something comes up, please talk to us about it. Can you agree to do that for us?” I asked and really hoped that she would listen to what I was saying. I knew how hard it was to speak up after being silenced for so long, but this wasn’t going to work if we couldn’t be honest with each other.
“Yes, Valkyrie Olsen,” Renata said without hesitating this time. “I can do that for you.”
I smiled at her and then turned to Santiago. “What grade are you in school?” I asked.
“Umm, I don’t know,” He admitted without looking ashamed. “I have never gone to school. I think either tenth or eleventh grade. But I have been educated. I am not stupid.”
“I can tell,” I reassured him. “Are you okay going to school with the rest of the Oakland Pack until you graduate? In the U.S. it is important to have a high school diploma. They have a really good auto-mechanic program at the school and I am sure we can find somewhere for you to learn even more after school.”
Santiago eyed me carefully before saying, “If I go to school, who will be here to help you?”
The fact that he was already worried about making sure that I was going to be okay without him warmed my heart. It was a little presumptuous, but it made me feel like this could actually work out. “I have my entire clan,” I reassured him.
“Can I be your driver?” he pushed.
“I do not have a driver’s license,” I admitted and he didn’t look surprised. “I always took the bus and never even considered the possibility that I could afford a car, so I never bothered learning how to drive either.” Now that did surprise him.
“You don’t know how to drive?” he asked with a lot of skepticism and then caught an elbow to the side from Tony. Santiago coughed into his fist and then said with more confidence, “I think I should be your driver.”
“Okay, if you agree to go to school, then I agree to make you my driver,” I said and he grinned at me. Renata reached up with her free hand and Santiago quickly took it with his and together Tony, Renata, and Santiago stood in front of me as a united family that was hopeful about their future. I swallowed down the knot of emotion that was recurring much too often for my comfort and we said our goodbyes. All three of them bowed low before exiting the room, but I stopped Lawerance before he could follow them out.
As soon as the door closed, my smile dropped and I glared at Lawerance. “You knew that I had no idea this is what you were asking of me yesterday. You let me walk into this situation completely unaware and uneducated. Why?” I demanded allowing some of my anger to color my words.
“I didn’t think you would agree to it if you knew exactly how big of an ask it was,” Lawrence told me point-blank. “The Oakland Pack is prepared to support their wages and cost of living. We just needed them to relocate and frankly, you are a significantly better option than any of the Collinses. But I would have gone to them if you had said no. Mates are not something we turn our backs on.”
I turned the open folder around so that Lawerance could read how much money Prince Romero was going to provide. “I negotiated this for them. As far as I am concerned it already belongs to them for all of the years of work they have put in. I am going to open accounts in their name and when they are ready, I will be giving them all of it. As for the wages and cost of living, I have money. We will set something up. No one is going to work for me and not get paid,” I said in the same blunt fashion that Lawerance had used with me.
He was still looking at the numbers on the paper when I continued, “Don’t pull that on me again. If I can, I will try to help in any way that I can because I like to help people. But it is not safe for me to keep going into situations without knowing the whole story.”
When Lawerance finally looked up from the folder, clear and unadulterated bewilderment was plastered all over his face. I figured it was his turn to feel like a fish out of water and took just a little enjoyment from his struggle. “I am counting on you to not let me screw this up with them. They deserve a fresh start, let’s work together to give them that,” I told him and he finally looked at me like he was seeing the real me. He nodded his head, bowed just as deep as the other Shifters had, and then left the room.
I leaned back in my chair and ran my hands through my hair. “That was handled perfectly, Wonder Girl,” Derik said as he walked behind me and started rubbing my shoulders with his magic hands.
“What do all of the other people in the living room want?” I asked and closed my eyes and forced myself not to moan out loud.
“Prince Ekon Mostafa and his father the King of Africa want to ask you to accompany him to the party tonight. The one that marks the official end of Regina’s Matching,” Elijah said and my eyes snapped open. “Jonas wants to thank you for securing his move to Denver. Murphy Canterbury, the guy in white, is Marcello’s human assistant and he wants to update you on the situation with the vampires that Connor Compelled and officially thank you for your assistance.”
“Is this party something that I actually have to attend?” I asked and admitted to myself that I sounded a little bit like a toddler whining about not wanting to do something because it wasn’t going to be any fun. But I really didn’t want to go. I was completely fed up with everything connected to Regina’s Matching.
“No,” Derik instantly said and I relaxed back into my chair. “It actually would send the wrong message if you did go after what the Collins’ Royal line pulled yesterday. We really need to talk about what to do about them. We are not powerful enough to stand up to them alone. We either need to leave this kingdom or get some powerful allies.”
I immediately turned in my chair and grabbed his hand. “You would leave Oakland with me?” I asked because I was starting to feel that being able to stay here and not turn into someone I hated was becoming more and more impossible.
“Of course we would,” Elijah said and I saw the corresponding agreement in Derik’s eyes. “None of us are particularly attached to this place and we are such a small and new clan that our leaving wouldn’t leave any lasting ripples. It is more important that we stay together and remain safe than stay here.”
“Where would we go?” I asked in a small voice but Derik just shook his head.
“I don’t know Wonder Girl. But we still have time to figure that out. This isn’t a right-now thing. Just something that we need to start considering and be prepared to do.”
“And in the meantime, gathering as many allies as possible is our smartest move,” Elijah said and I turned away from Derik to look at him. “Africa may not be the richest or most influential kingdom, but they are a formidable people. Most of them look and fight very similar to Ekon. They are a kingdom of warriors with strong traditional values. Or at least that is what I have been able to dig up as I researched them. But we won’t know for sure what kind of people they are unless we spend some time with them. Deal with Murphy and Jonas first. We will put together some food and you can invite Ekon and his father to stay so that we can talk with them for a while.”
“Okay,” I agreed, liking the fact that we had a game plan going into a situation instead of just reacting to it. “I don’t really want to have a whole thing with Jonas. I am just going to walk him out to his bike and let him say what he needs to. Can you bring Murphy in here and ask Ekon if they can stay for breakfast?” Derik squeezed my hand in agreement and support and then I walked back out to the living room.
I saw that all of the Shifters had left except for Santiago and he was standing next to Connor by the door and they had their heads bent towards each other while their lips moved. The moment that I walked into the room, all of our guests nearly jumped to their feet once again making me feel awkward and the center of attention. Ekon bowed his head to me and smiled tentatively at me, and I returned the gesture. He seemed like a good guy. But after that small moment, I focused on Jonas, and all traces of happiness drained from my face. I clenched my jaw as a flash of fury pulsed through me and two matching machete’s materialized in my hands even though I hadn’t actively called for them.
Jonas paled and flinched backward and from the corner of my eye, I saw both Ekon and his father take a step towards me. As if they were both willing to take my side and fight against whatever I was perceiving as a threat right now. I was overreacting. I knew that I was overreacting but I was still raw from leaving Jack and Amy and I could feel myself getting closer to that transition of power that Nahuel had warned me about. Max appeared in front of me and cradled my head in his palms and a clan bond flooded my veins, helping me push back the fury and regain control. I closed my eyes and counted to ten before releasing my hold of the blades causing them to disappear.
I reached up and grabbed one of Max’s hands and pulled it from my face but didn’t let it go. I looked at Jonas and used my head to indicate that he should follow me outside and then I pulled Max with me through the front door. I didn’t want to do this alone. I was afraid I would seriously hurt Jonas if I did. I needed Max to anchor me. I needed him to help me get through this.
I strode towards Jonas’ familiar bike and tried not to remember how it had felt to be wrapped around him as he drove me down the coast to see the elephant seals. I blanked my face the best that I could and turned to face the first boy I had ever kissed. Jonas still was hunched in on himself even though I was cloaking Max’s and my minds. He wasn’t suffering because of other people’s emotions. Right now, he was suffering because of his own.
Jonas didn’t speak at first, and we all just stood there radiating out tension as he gathered enough courage to say whatever he had come here to say. Movement to our left caught my attention and I turned to see Ransom and Noland from the Blade clan standing next to their black SUV. They had been shadowing my every move since I had been kidnapped by the Russians and I vaguely wondered if they would be on my side or Jonas’ in this situation.
“Thank you,” Jonas finally said in a low voice that was filled with barely restrained emotion. “Thank you for talking to Edison and getting him to honor his agreement to allow me to go to Denver. I know that I didn’t deserve that from you and I just wanted to tell you how much you mean to me.”
“Don’t,” I demanded in a hard-edged voice. “I don’t want to hear that. Somewhere deep down I may wish you a long and happy life, but right now I don’t want to hear your bullshit. Right now, I want you to leave and I don’t want you to contact me for a long, long time. Too much stuff has happened and I just don’t have the wherewithal to deal with you. So just don’t.” By the end, I sounded more defeated than angry.
For a moment I thought that Jonas was going to ignore my request and say what he wanted anyway, but then his shoulders fell even more and he nodded his head. “If you ever need anything, all you have to do is ask,” was the last thing he said before he pulled on his helmet and drove away as the rumble of the bike filled the air. I watched him disappear down the street and found myself staring at Ransom and Noland. The twins’ father looked stoic but Noland looked visibly upset. And for some reason I got the feeling that he wasn’t upset at me, but for me. I raised my hand in a tentative wave, and Noland gave me a reassuring smile and waved back. Just seeing them reminded me of Tobias and my heart hurt.
Max and I walked back into the overcrowded living room and once again I felt like I was standing in the middle of a spotlight. Ekon and his father both had mugs of coffee in their hands and Santiago looked angry for some reason. I didn’t see the guy in the white suit anymore and assumed that he was next up on the list and was already in the library waiting to talk to me. I squeezed Max’s hand one last time and walked back down the hallway to find that while Elijah, Derik, and Murphy were all standing in the library. No one was actually saying anything. I wondered if either of them had past experiences or dealings with the San Francisco vampire nest.
When I entered the room, Murphy turned towards me and reached out a hand in greeting but his features remained oddly blank. “Greeting, Valkyrie Olsen. My Name is Murphy Canterbury and I am here on Marcello’s behalf,” he said and his voice was also oddly blank. His whole facade gave me the creeps way more than his vampire employer ever did. “Marcello would have waited until nightfall to talk to you himself, but he thought that you would appreciate an update sooner rather than later.”
I returned his greeting and asked, “How are the three vampires that were Compelled to sleep? Have they woken up? Do they seem to be still under the influence of the siren song?”
“They woke up right before dawn this morning. While they were starving and needing immediate nourishment, their minds were their own. Marcello is deeply thankful for this fact and wishes to show his profound gratitude. Please accept this gift, freely given and presented to you now on his behalf,” Murphy said with a strange formality while holding out a small velvet box and a large padded envelope. This felt like yet another situation where I was being thrown into the deep end without understanding what dangerous creatures were living in the waters. I shared a look with both Elijah and Derik but neither of them did anything to indicate that I shouldn’t reach out and accept the items from the extremely weird man wearing all white.
When I finally found the courage to take the box and envelope from him, Murphy didn’t wait around for me to open it or say anything in response. He just said a very formal and stilted goodbye and walked out of the office. “What in the world was that about?” I asked and Derik walked over to pull the box from my hand.
“Who knows. Vamps are dead people that are reanimated by magic. Creepy and weird is just part of their nature. You would have to be insane to work for one as a human,” Derik muttered as he opened up the box.
“How is it okay that Murphy knows about the supernatural world if he is a human?” I asked, my mind thinking about Jack.
“Because they are under constant vampire enthrallment. Believe me, when I say that it is not a pleasant option. Murphy is more of a walking blood bag these days than an actual human being,” Derik told me and then turned the box around so that I could see what was inside. It was a silver coin that was stained with a dark red, almost black substance.
“What is it?” I asked, not wanting to touch the coin.
Elijah came over, gently took the box from Derik, and inspected it before saying, “It is a Roman scudo coin covered in vampiric blood. Marcello’s blood. Basically, it is a physical representation of a debt owed. You can use this to call upon Marcello’s help at a later date of your choosing and he is honor-bound to help you to the best of his capabilities. This is a rare and powerful thing. It could be very beneficial for us in the future.”
Okay, it was a little gross but having someone owe me a favor was something I could live with. I flipped over the envelope to see that it had a thick wax seal that made the whole thing feel really official and I carefully pried the flap open. Within were a handwritten note and two small baggies filled with a familiar-looking red crystalline-like substance. I handed the dime bags of moondust to Derik and read the letter.
I hope this letter finds you and your clan in good health and opportune circumstances. Please use the coin and come to me for aid if you find yourself in need. This piece of information I give to repay the freely given assistance you provided my nest without asking anything in return. The world would be a simpler place if more acted as you did. Over the last several months two of my vampires have gone missing and I dispatched people to discover what became of them. They found a small moondust factory, smaller than the one you and your clan found and they were not only draining a local Shifter but also my Vampires. I could not let this stand and continued my investigation. After a great deal of time, money, and favors I discovered this.
King Eli Norwood is behind all of the moondust manufacturing.
-Let me know about the VIP night at Solace,
I reread the fancy script three times and then turned the letter over to Elijah and pulled the small drug packages from Derik’s hands. One was almost identical to the one I had pulled off of the muggers in the alley and was stamped with a silhouette of a wolf howling at the moon. The other had a stylized fang with a single drop of blood dripping from the sharpened tooth. The implication from Marcello’s letter was clear. They were now making the drug from more than just the kidnapped wolves.
But why in the world would the King of the Americas South be kidnapping supernaturals and turning their blood into a drug that was largely being distributed to the humans? Was he doing this in his own kingdom as well as this one? What would he gain from this? Were the Collinses also involved in this? Were the royals of this kingdom praying on the supernatural community they were supposed to protect for their own gain?
That thought turned my stomach and caused my ever-growing power to ripple.