Chapter 22 - This Will Not Break Me
I was beyond furious, but I was also brimming with pride. I knew that the key to unleashing even more power was to combine Gifts from both sides of the rift. Our ancestors didn’t understand what they were doing when they agreed to separate our people from our rightful place in the human realm. They didn’t understand the heavy toll that the universe would demand to balance such a drastic move. They didn’t understand that they were cleaving us off from who were meant to be. Sierra was proof that we would be stronger when we annihilate our enemies and reclaim our rightful place as the ultimate power.
With her by my side, there wouldn’t be anyone that could stop us and we could finally right generations of wrong. And this usurping queen was doing all of the work for me. Sierra would never stand with these people after this.
“Kneel,” Florence demanded and I could see the sick enjoyment she was getting out of this situation.
“No! You leave my granddaughter alone! She is worth ten of you. If anyone should kneel it should be you to her. Not the other way around,” Mathis yelled as he tried to push his way through the throngs of guards to get to my side. It took several different guards to finally restrain him and I felt helpless as they bent his hands behind his back and pinned him to the ground. I wasn’t quite sure why he wasn’t protecting himself with his own Shield and was burning to defend him with one of my own. But I could feel that edge of my power looming not too far away and knew that if I used one of my other Gifts right now, I would lose my firm grip on the barrier between the void and here.
“Queen Collins, surely you can see that Valkyrie Olsen is not currently at peak health. I beg of you to allow her to show her deference and corroboration with your rule in another fashion. Corporal punishment is rarely used and usually only brought about in situations of repeated offense. I believe that requiring Valkyrie Olsen to complete a work detail would be more beneficial at this time as she is still learning the finer points of The Law,” Elijah said, and I could tell that he was desperately trying to reason my way out of being whipped in our very own backyard.
“Valkyrie Olsen,” Eli stated with a huge amount of venom in his voice, “has repeatedly disregarded orders given by high ranking royals and has demonstrated a gross disrespect for our culture and The Law. My sister is being magnanimous but agreeing to a simple whipping. If this were my Kingdom, the young lady would be taken into custody until she learned some manners.”
“My brother is right and my patience is running thin. Either kneel now or I will take you and your entire clan into custody,” Florence said and her voice rang out with sadistic confidence. I glanced over at the Deveroe Royals to see if there were going to step in here, as they had at the tribunal, but Queen Anne and Darron just looked back at me with steely gazes. Ethan was looking at me with fear but his older brother was harshly grabbing onto his arm. I could only guess that Darron was keeping Ethan from helping me for some reason.
Just as I decided that I would rather get this over with, hoping that Valerie and the other Hidden would go away once this particular show was over, I heard my uncle call out, “As a blood relative and leader of her familial clan, I have the right to step in as surrogate during corporal punishments. I claim that right now.”
Sean then calmly walked to my side and I glanced at him in surprise. I wasn’t even sure my uncle even really liked me and wouldn’t have guessed that he would volunteer to take my punishment in a million years. He reached out and placed his hand on my shoulder and the cool calming sensation of the familial bond settled my nerves and helped me stand strong. “That clause can only be enacted if a female Valkyrie is carrying a child, because of the propensity of our women to miscarry. Unless Valkyrie Olsen is declaring that she is pregnant, then your request to take her place is denied,” Regina said as she stepped up next to her mother.
Jesus Christ, the entire Collins family really wanted to see me on my knees and beaten. I reached up and squeezed Sean’s hand on my shoulder before raising my chin and falling to my knees. The Collinses were going to ensure that this happened and we were all just prolonging the inevitable. I had never been whipped before, but I had taken my share of beatings. I had survived them and I would survive this. At least this time I had the guys.
Florence, Eli, and Regina all grinned at my subjugation and I forced myself not to look away. I refused to feel humiliated. I was saving lives, including theirs and I let that fact burn through me and solidify my resolve. “Edison!” Florence called and the Blade Clan leader quickly stepped forward at his Queen’s call. “One of your hunters can call a whip, can he not?”
“Yes, Your Highness. Hunter Smith has that ability,” Edison replied and I could tell that he was actively avoiding looking at me while I was on my knees.
“Hunter Smith!” Florence called again in that same haughty tone. “I call upon you to enact the lawful punishment of Valkyrie Olsen as we bear witness. I believe ten lashes will do.”
Noland Smith stepped forward among the mass of uniformed royal guards and took a moment to meet my gaze before turning to the Queen. In that moment I didn’t see excitement or shame. I saw determination and conviction. “I am unwilling to fulfill this call of duty,” Noland said in a strong voice and a flurry of mutterings followed his declaration.
“Excuse me?” Florence asked as her attention shifted from me to the blonde Valkyrie.
“I, Hunter Noland Smith of the Blade Clan, refuse to whip this child. I believe that she has saved and is continuing to protect each and every one of us here. I will not reward that bravery and strength with lashes from my whip,” Noland said, leaving me feeling completely flabbergasted.
“Your refusal will result in an equal punishment,” Florence stated with incredulity lacing her voice. Noland acknowledged her declaration with a sharp nod of his head and then moved to kneel directly beside me. I turned my head to stare at him with disbelief and he just gave me this smug-looking side smile.
“What in God’s name are you doing?” I hissed under my breath. “This is going to happen whether you are the one holding the whip or not. There is no reason for you to get hurt too.”
“There is every reason,” Noland whispered back as Florence asked her Guards for someone who could materialize a whip. “Now you will not go through this alone. You have more people on your side than you think, Valkyrie Olsen.”
I was still staring at the crazy Hunter, trying to decipher what he was saying when I heard shuffling behind me and glanced back to see that Royal Guards were clearing space behind me and Noland. The guys had been standing behind me and now the twins were struggling against guards who were trying to remove them from me. How I wish that I could just push us all into the void and disappear. We could all just walk away and forget that any of this ever happened. Maybe we could go to where the Unicorns lived and make a life for ourselves, away from all the drama of politics and wars. We could make our own happily ever after.
But if I used the last remnants of my Gift to push us to another plane of existence, I would be leaving everyone here to Valerie and her hate-fueled revenge. I glanced at Noland who had just agreed to get whipped by my side and saw the twins’ dad standing behind him, looking like he wanted to tear someone’s head off. I saw Hernan furiously whispering with his sister and somehow knew that he was trying to get her to reconsider. I glimpsed Ethan pulling away from his brother and walking to Max’s side. I saw the hunters from the Northeast that had been protecting my back in an unassuming way since I was kidnapped last week.
These people didn’t deserve to die here. I could stand this momentary pain and hoped that the twins would forgive me for not fighting back harder. I made eye contact with Derik and pleaded with him to intervene before the twins did something that would get them hurt. The last thing we needed was to give Florance a reason to whip them too. Just like I knew he would, Derik understood and pulled the twins over to the far side of the gathering and I saw Max, Elijah, and Santiago join them.
A young man, maybe in his early twenties, that looked scared out of his mind was talking to Florence and Eli and I assumed that he was going to be the one whipping us. I watched as he called an intimidating-looking bullwhip that had a gleaming silver handle that was decorated with a grid pattern that had different sized dots within each of the squares. Then he walked behind us on stiff legs and I straightened my spine and refused to give anyone the satisfaction of seeing me afraid. I felt a clan bond burn into place and glanced down to see that Noland had reached out and was holding my hand. Startled, I looked up into his eyes and saw determination staring back at me. If he could do this, then so could I. I was so taken by Noland’s unexpected support that the first lash took me by surprise and I couldn’t help the surprised yelp that slipped past my lips as a line of fire lanced through my back.
Noland tightened his grip on my hand and I forced myself to look forward into Queen Florence’s eyes. I heard the next hit as the whip whistled through the air but didn’t feel the corresponding stab of pain. Noland grunted and I understood that he was alternating between us. The next hit landed across my shoulders and I could practically feel my skin split and gritted my teeth so hard that I could hear them creek so that I wouldn’t give Florance the satisfaction of hearing me call out.
I used the time between hits to recover and brace myself, but hearing the sounds of Noland getting hurt beside me and having the whole ordeal prolonged almost made the whole thing worse. But I would admit that I was drawing quite a bit of strength from his matching refusal to call out in pain and the clan bond burning between us. After the fifth hit, I felt pressure against the barrier to the void. For a moment, I panicked, thinking that the entire army of hidden was making another attempt to break through and not knowing if I was strong enough to hold them back this time. But this time felt different than before. It wasn’t like they were trying to break through. More like they were just pushing hard enough to remind me that they were there.
Valerie wanted to make sure I knew that she was witnessing my pain and humiliation.
I turned my gaze to the general direction that I felt the pressure and put all of the pain and frustration running through my system into the most heated glare I could muster. Valerie could go fuck herself. This wasn’t going to break me.
Eli Norwood must have not liked that I was no longer focusing on either the whipping or the royals because he walked over to the spot where I was looking and squatted down until his eyes met mine. Within their debts, I saw heat and enough excitement to make me recoil. He was getting off on this. Getting turned on while watching me getting whipped. That fact was so repellent to me that for a horrifying moment I forgot where I was and what was happening. When the next hit landed, sending a stream of fire from my left shoulder to right hip bone, a started scream escaped my lips. Eli’s corresponding smile was so demented that I knew that it would haunt my dreams for years to come.
Eli’s smile only grew as he stood and ran the heel of his palm down the seam of his pants. The amount of horrified revulsion I was feeling tripled as Nahuel’s words from earlier echoed in my mind. The King of the South keeps a menagerie of supernatural creatures that he takes great pleasure in dominating. Eli Norwood was making his desire to add me to his sick and twisted collection blatantly clear and that cold realization sparked a small ball of fury within me. Before I could really analyze what I was doing, I directed that ball of anger-driven power at the cruel king and let it fly. Almost as if it was in slow motion, I felt the solid wall of the barrier to the void bend to fully engulf Eli and in the next instant, he had disappeared from sight. I had just sent King Eli Norwood to the void that was full of vengeful Hidden that were looking for a fight.
Basically, I had just sent him to his death.
I was so shocked by this realization that I just knelt there on my knees and stared at the spot where Eli was most likely violently meeting his end. What should I do? Should I try to bring him back? But my power level was really low and now that I wasn’t filled with anger I wasn’t sure I could bring just him back. What if I tried and my hold on the barrier fell.
Before I could make a decision, the immense feeling of being watched that resulted from people being present in the void disappeared. Valerie and the army of Hidden had taken Eli and left. She could teleport. Eli was now beyond our reach. I looked up towards the other royals, expecting them to start demanding to know what happened to Eli, but none of them were paying Noland or me any attention. In fact, I hadn’t felt the sting of the whip either.
What was going on?
I had been distracted by Eli’s disappearance and had completely missed the arrival of yet another large group of Valkyries. Yells and shouting filled the air and as far as I could tell everyone was paying attention to the side entrance to the backyard. I was about to stand up so that I could see better when strong hands slid underneath my arms and pulled me up. Startled and not understanding what was going on, I snapped my gaze up and saw Blake standing before me. My beautiful Blake was here. Before I could say anything, Blake carefully bent and wrapped his arms under my butt and lifted me up while not touching my throbbing and painful back. Instantly, I lifted my arms to his neck and wrapped my legs around his waist.
Blake’s Shield appeared around us and I saw both Derik and Connor flanking us on either side with weapons drawn. I wasn’t completely sure what was happening right now, but I did know that I was safe. The guys had me now. They would keep me safe.
We were moving quickly and I found that I was so emotionally and physically drained that I was having trouble keeping my head up. I laid my head on Blake’s shoulder and watched as we made our way away from the mass of Valkyries and into the woods. At first, I was surprised that more of the Royal Guards didn’t try to stop us, but then I saw that the majority of them were circling around the Collinses as dozens of different Royals, all in formal wear, flooded into the backyard. I knew that I should probably be more worried about what was going on, but the only thing I could think about was Max and Elijah. Where were they? Were they okay?
“Max? Elijah?” I managed to say through stiff lips and noticed for the first time that I was badly shaking.
“Shush, Sweetheart. They are just getting the getaway car,” Blake was quick to reassure me and I gripped a handful of his hair at the nape of his neck. “I’ve got you. You’re safe now. Everything is going to be okay. We’ve got you Babygirl.”
My grip on Blake only increased and my body started to shake so much that lances of pain started to shoot down my back. I was so tired of being brave and strong. I knew that I was safe, that they guys would take care of everything now and I couldn’t suppress the whimper of pain that slipped through my lips.
“Fuck,” Connor grumbled and I felt Blake pick up the pace. “I am going to fucking murder that fucker.”
“Shush. I’ve got you. Max is waiting in the car and he will fix you right up. You did so good. Just a little more and we are home free,” Blake said and I felt his lips kiss the side of my head. I held onto those words and willed my muscles to relax, but the stress of the situation was just too much and they continued to shake. We breached the far end of the woods and I saw Blake’s stupidly big truck parked on the shoulder. I saw Elijah jump out of the front seat and hold the door open for us and Blake carefully slid into the seat while doing his best not to jostle my back. I was surprised to see Santiago in the driver’s seat but didn’t fixate on him instead, searching out Max’s gentle and calming eyes with my own.
Max was sitting in the backseat of the truck and I felt more than saw the rest of the guys climb into the back of the truck. Someone banged on the side of the truck twice and Santiago didn’t hesitate to hit the gas, taking us away from the clan house and all of the people there. I reached out for Max and he responded instantly, taking my hand in his own and gently rubbing his thumb back and forth over the sensitive skin on the backside of my hand.
“Ray, I am going to start to heal some of your wounds,” Max told me in a voice that was thick with emotion. “It is going to hurt but after I am done, you will feel better.”
I had been healed many times by Max in the last couple of months and understood how it worked by now. I laid my head back down on Blake’s shoulder and tried to concentrate on anything to distract me from the pain. From my vantage point, I had a close-up view of Blake’s jawline and I traced along his bone structure with my eyes as my back was engulfed with the fire-like pain of Max’s healing magic. I let out a grunt of pain before I bit the side of my cheek to keep myself from verbalizing my pain anymore. I knew that Max hated that his Gift hurt and I didn’t want him to feel guilty when he was helping me.
Blake tightened his grip on me and I buried my head in his neck, breathing in his scent to help get me through the pain. My wounds weren’t that severe and before long the burning faded and I relaxed into Blake as exhaustion threatened to take over. “What happened?” I questioned as my lids drew closed and I fought to stay awake.
“The moment that we realized that the Collinses had specifically banned any other visiting royals from coming to our clan house, Elijah knew that they were planning on doing something that Florence wouldn’t feel comfortable about doing in front of an international audience. He coordinated with Sean and contacted several different associates that he has made among the royals over the last week with a plea for assistance. The response was overwhelming and we were able to get you away in the corresponding chaos,” Max explained and I noticed that he was still stroking the back of my hand with his thumb.
“Sean tried to distract them with the whole taking your place thing so that we could buy enough time for the reinforcements to get to the house, but Regina surprised us with her ready knowledge of that particular outdated and rarely used law,” Blake added and I could hear his voice rumble through his chest.
“Why didn’t Queen Anne or Darron step forward to put a stop to things like they did at the tribunal?” I asked and noted that I sounded drunk because I was that tired.
“Her thoughts lead me to believe that she wanted Florence to cross a major line with you because she believed it would make you less willing to live here and thus more likely to move to the Northeast,” Elijah said and I glanced over Blake’s shoulder to see that he had opened the little square window in the back of the cab so that he could hear and talk to us.
“Bitch,” I murmured and heard Derik and Connor agree with me.
“What happened with the Hidden that came here to attack?” Derik asked, his head side to side with Elijah’s and framed by the square window opening. “It looked like they were trying to cross over to this plane of existence and you were stopping them.”
The mention of the Hidden sent a jolt of adrenaline through my system as I remembered what I had done to Eli Norwood. I sat up straight in Blake’s lap and exclaimed, “I did something really bad. And now I think it is too late to fix it, but I was being whipped and he was getting off on it. He actually touched himself. I mean who the fuck does that. That was not okay and I reacted out of instinct, wanting him as far away from me as possible. I didn’t actively think about doing it, it just sort of happened and now I don’t think we can take it back,” I said in a rush and would have kept talking if Blake didn’t reach up and cradle my cheek.
Blake brought his forehead to rest against mine and together we breathed the same breath. “Ray-Ray, Sweetheart. You are not making any sense. Slow down and start at the beginning. What happened? Who were you trying to get away from?”
“King Eli Norwood,” I stated flatly and couldn’t help the silver of revulsion that ran down my spine. Blake must have felt it because he gently ran his hand up and down my back, trying to calm me down and provide reassurance that I was safe. My shirt was torn open from the whipping and his bare palm on my newly healed skin felt really good.
“You’re saying that King Norwood got off on seeing you publically whipped and started touching himself in front of you?” Derik hissed in a low and dangerous whisper and my eyes were drawn to his. He was furious. I had seen Derik mad plenty of times before, but nothing quite like this. I bit my lip and forced myself not to flinch away from his anger.
“Yes,” I forced out past stiff lips. “And it really grossed me out and before I knew it, I had pushed him into the void with the army of Hidden. In the next instant, the Hidden had disappeared, leaving no one behind. If I had to guess, I would say that they took Eli and teleported away. He is either dead now or wishing he was if Louka can be trusted about how much my biological mother enjoys torturing people.”
“Good,” Derik growled and my eyes snapped back to his. I didn’t like Eli and he had acted beyond inappropriately, but I wasn’t so sure this was a good thing. I had just basically killed another powerful King. That was two in just as many weeks. Plus, I had a feeling that this might just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and war is going to break out for real between the human-bound and the Hidden.
“What is done is done,” Max said in an understanding and compassionate voice. “We can’t do anything about it now. We can’t do anything until you recover. It is going to be okay Ray. We are going to get through this together.” I clung to his words as exhaustion once again pulsed through me, the adrenaline having worn off and left me that much more tired. I basically melted back into Blake and barely noticed that the truck had stopped moving.
“Where are we?” I mumbled and hoped that someone heard me and understood what I was trying to say. I couldn’t even seem to open my eyes and lift my head to see for myself.
“Pack Master Lopez’s house,” Santiago said and I fought against sleep because that had not been what I had expected.
“What? Why? We can’t be here,” I said but still didn’t raise my head. “We can’t drag the wolves into our drama.”
“Shush Ray,” Blake cooed into my hair and I found the sound very comforting. If I could only rest. I would give all the money in my father’s accounts if I could just have a long period of time to rest and recover from all the shit that had been happening in my life lately. “Dad has been texting me and Con. All of the Royals are busy arguing amongst themselves. No one is seriously looking for you and those that are questioning your whereabouts seem to be honestly concerned for you. Arlo and Lawerance told us we could come here so that you can fully heal and sleep. We will be safe here until you are back on your feet.”
I still wasn’t sure that forcing the wolves in the middle of this was the best move for them, but I would admit that I feel safer around them than any of the royal Valkyries. I wanted to ask why Ransom and Noland seem to be working on our behalf and against the Collins’ Royal line when the Blade Hunter Clan was notorious for being in the Queen’s pocket, but I was simply too tired. I vaguely felt someone lifting me from Blake’s embrace and used my nose to figure out that I was now in Connor’s capable hands. The last thing I remember thinking was that he was walking and I loved the feel of being held by him before I finally succumbed to sleep and everything went dark.