Chapter 2 - A Different Type of Royal
For five years, I have acted as Nahuel’s eyes and ears within the human realm. I have heard truly incredible and unbelievable things, but mostly the human-bound Valkyries are predictable in their actions. Currently, I am using the Look-Through to watch a Matching event in the Americas West Kingdom and something was off. I spend my days following these people around and listening to their most secret conversations. I even know the ones that had traveled far to be at this event because The Elementals have blessed me with the Gift of Teleportation, and am well acquainted with each of their homes. I know these people and I am positive that it is not normal how they are all talking about the same thing. Yes, the human-bound Valkyries love to gossip and create drama for the thrill of it, but this was different. Almost every single conversation that I overheard was about a single Valkyrie, a man named Ray. It was not in their nature to focus so long on someone other than themselves.
This Valkyrie must be of great importance to them. I need to discover more so that I can give Nahuel a full report. That way he can form a plan to protect us. To protect Awenasa.
Once I was installed in my designated seat that was strategically placed behind Regina’s, my sense of indignation returned, followed closely by anger. I was not an object of power that the Collinses could use against the other Royal families. I may not be as high in the pecking order as Regina and Florence, but that didn’t mean that she could talk to me like that. I had hidden away from all other Valkyries for the last three years to avoid this exact situation. I was not going to be reduced to what I had been as a child. I knew better now.
The more I replayed the Queen’s words and my subsequent reaction to them, the more my blood started to boil. I was angry at Florence, but I was also furious with myself for breaking at that moment. There had to be a way for me to be true to myself and maintain my independence while still being able to be a member of the Oakland Clan. Because if I continued down the path that Florence wanted me to, I would end up running away just to keep my sanity.
Something had to give.
Rationally I knew that right now was not the time nor the place to make a stand. The matches had started some time ago, and I glanced up to see two Valkyrie’s I didn’t recognize fighting with a huge amount of intensity. They were graceful and quick. Both excellent swordsmen but their fight failed to capture my attention. Instead, I looked down at my scarred palms and gently traced the rough skin while trying to control the power that was rippling within me. Valkyrie Gifts were directly linked to our emotions, thus making them harder to control when feeling something intense.
Right now, I was feeling intense anger. What I really needed was to jump up and participate in the fighting playing out before my eyes. A good fight was a good way to take the edge off when I was feeling over-emotional. But I had a suspicion that my joining in on the competition meant to showcase their worth to Regina would not be appreciated. So I remained sitting in my straight-backed chair while wearing this ridiculous dress and attempted again to reign in my wayward Gifts.
I wasn’t succeeding at this goal very well. I felt my power surge and all of a sudden my machete materialized in my dominant hand even though I hadn’t actively called for it. I quickly Cloaked the weapon and looked around to see if anyone had witnessed me draw on a weapon this close to the Royals. Both Mathis and Elijah had made it abundantly clear to me that I was not to materialize weapons against any of the Royals unless they attacked me first. They warned that because I had already killed one king, that everyone else would be extra wary around me.
Luckily, everyone around me had their attention fixed to the fight before us, and the only person I saw looking my way was Derik. Seeing his piercing gaze reminded me that I was supposed to have pushed them into the void so that they could gather information. Our plan had totally slipped my mind after everything that had happened with the Queen. I considered sending them to the void now but decided it would be suspicious if half of the Oakland Clan disappeared from sight in the middle of an event. Especially because everyone now knew about my Cloaking Gift. We needed our information gathering exposition to remain secret. Plus, everyone was here and watching the event. There would be no one for them to listen to. I would push them to the void as soon as the fighting was over.
My Gifts continued to push against my control in waves of power, each stronger than one before it. I tried to vent some of the excess energy I was feeling by switching the blade in my hand for different ones while keeping them all Cloaked, but it did little to help. Calling Weapons just didn’t use enough of my power. I was so distracted looking inward and trying to figure out what was going on with my Gifts, because this felt like more than just an outburst due to emotion, that I missed the end of the fight happening in the middle of the circle. It must have been an important fight because the surrounding crowd clapped louder than previously and everyone rose to their feet.
I quickly stood, almost tripping on the edge of the dress, and started clapping to blend in with everyone else. Two men that were both slick with sweat started towards the raised dais and knelt in the sand once they were within six feet of Regina’s throne-like chair. I wondered if it was over and these two were the winners. But why would there be two? Isn’t the whole idea of a competition for there to only be one winner in the end. One person proved that they were better than the rest.
I looked down at the two kneeling men and studied their features. One of them I recognized as King Eito Tanaka’s little brother Goro. King Eito was the only known Valkyrie with more than three Gifts before I made my rather drastic appearance a month ago. He was considered the most respected Valkyrie of our time and I had met him at Regina’s Ball. Unlike most of the other Royals that I had encountered, King Eito had left me with a great first impression of him and so I was inclined to like his brother too. Goro was an average height, but he had striking Asian features. With him decked out in his fighting gear and slick with sweat, he reminded me of some kind of Asian action movie star. You know the type. The ninja-like fighter that comes in with cool logic and saves the day.
The other Valkyrie standing next to Goro was someone I had never seen before. And believe me, I would have remembered if I had seen him before. He was tall. Like even taller than the twins and packed with just as much muscle. He had midnight black skin that was so dark that the whites of his eyes and his teeth looked almost unnaturally bright. He wore gleaming gold earrings that popped amazingly well from his dark skin and matched the tribal-like necklace that was secured around his neck. This guy screamed warrior and I wanted to just give him the trophy right here and now for just looking so intimidating.
After watching the two fighters touch their foreheads to the sand, Regina finally told them that they could rise and introduce themselves. While I was grateful to learn the warrior’s name, I was confused with why they were doing this. I knew for a fact that Regina and everyone else here knew exactly who these people were and where they were from. I was the only one here that didn’t fully understand what was going on around me.
“Prince Goro Tanaka, of the Kingdom of Japan. If you choose me as your king, I will defend the Americas West with my Weapons, protect you with my Shield, and provide strategic advantage through my Silence. My Gifts, body, and soul would be yours to command,” Goro said in a smooth formal voice, sounding oddly rehearsed. The weird part was that he wasn’t looking at Regina when he said those words. He was staring, rather intensely, right at me.
Regina noticed this and turned to glare in my direction for a moment before turning her back to me once more. This is why I didn’t want to sit here! I screamed in my head and felt the light Cloak that I had over myself to tamp down my allure start to slip. Instantly, I felt nearly every eye within the crowd land on me, only fueling my anger causing my allure to grow further.
This was so not my day.
Who was I kidding, this was so not my week.
The warrior took a step forward, completely focused on me, and said in a deep, booming, and heavily accented voice, “Prince Ekon Mostafa. Kingdom of Africa. If you choose me as your king, I will defend you with my Weapons, defeat any enemy with my Strength, and move any obstacle in your way with my Telekinesis. My Gifts, body, and soul would be yours to command, matumaini yangu.”
I was so drawn in by his unique voice that the tide of anger within me started to lessen. I looked into Ekon’s eyes and found myself believing every word that he said. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but suddenly I understood that these two powerful and royal Valkyries were not fighting for Regina’s recognition. They were fighting for mine.
I wasn’t the only one quickly coming to this conclusion. The fact that Ekon had said that he would defend me and not the Americas West Kingdom was a pretty big giveaway. Queen Florence gracefully rose from her seat to the right of Regina and stepped forward, effectively blocking Goro’s and Ekon’s view of me. I let out a huge gust of air and focused all of my willpower on wrapping the fabric of reality around my shoulders and Cloaking myself from view. This much attention was the very last thing I needed right now. I had no idea why my Gifts were acting up as much as they were in the last couple of weeks. I had never struggled to keep control like this before, even when I hit puberty and I experienced a power boost.
I was starting to get the sinking feeling that something was really wrong with my Gifts.
“Prince Goro. Prince Ekon. You have proven to be skilled fighters and are the two best swordsmen of your age. Today, you will fight to determine who between you truly is the best and bring honor and prestige to your kingdom. You fight for the honor to sit next to my daughter during her final banquet. You fight for Princess Regina Collins,” Queen Florence announced in a clear voice that rang through the outside amphitheater.
By this point, I had successfully wrapped a heavy Cloak around myself, something that should be as easy as breathing to me. When I scanned my surroundings, everyone was back to paying attention to the two princes that were now preparing to fight in the final duel. Each had a real blade in their hand, instead of the wooden weapons that each of the fighters had been utilizing up until this point. The stakes for this fight were obviously greater. I could only hope that they didn’t actually kill one another. I had seen enough blood and death this week.
At the toll of a low-sounding bell, Ekon charged forward and attempted to take Goro by surprise. But Goro was ready for this tactic and easily sidestepped out of the way and attacked Ekon from behind. Only Ekon’s quick reflexes allowed him to swipe behind him and parry Goro’s vicious strike. Then Ekon turned to face Goro and they started fighting with so much speed that they were little more than a blur of movement accompanied by the clanging sounds as their swords crashed into each other.
My first impression was that Ekon would easily win this fight. If I only used my Weapons Gift, I was fairly sure that I would fall to an opponent like Ekon. He was the definition of strength and from his form, I knew that he was highly trained in multiple different fighting styles. Not to mention that he had at least a hundred pounds on Goro. I kept waiting for him to side past Goro’s guard and finish this fight. However, for every move that Ekon made, Goro had an answer for. Throughout most of the fight, Ekon was on the offensive and Goro on the defensive but Goro didn’t seem to be frustrated by this fact. It was like Goro was playing a game and biding his time for the exact right time to strike. Like a cat that turned the hunt into a game, making the mouse think that he had a chance to survive.
This fight lasted significantly longer than any of the other rounds, and Ekon was slowly starting to show signs of fatigue. If I had to guess, Ekon usually bested his opponents far before he ever had to push himself physically. I studied Goro’s movements and saw that he danced around Ekon with the same purposeful moves as he had at the start of the fight. Goro was in better shape than Ekon and he knew it. This had been his strategy all along.
The moment that Ekon made a misstep, Goro stopped only deflecting blows and started pressing his advantage. The tables now turned, Ekon started to retreat because he was less skilled at defending. Thirty short seconds later, Goro lunged forward with an outward thrust of his katana, and Ekon tripped backward trying to avoid the tip of Goro’s blade. Ekon hit the ground hard and Goro calmly placed the edge of his sword against Ekon’s now exposed throat.
“I yield,” Ekon said in a defeated tone and Goro immediately stepped away from his opponent. The crowd erupted into applause and everyone quickly rose to give Goro a standing ovation. I also rose and clapped my hands. That was the most impressive fight I have ever witnessed, and Goro deserved the recognition.
Goro dematerialized his Weapon then turned and bowed deeply to someone to my left. I scanned the crowd until I saw King Eito standing tall with a small smile on his lips. Goro had just won what Derik said was the equivalent to the Valkyrie Olympics thus bringing honor and bragging rights to his home Kingdom of Japan. Goro then turned and bowed just as deeply in the direction of the dais where we were sitting. Regina tipped her head in recognition and held out a hand. Goro walked forward and kissed her knuckles in an old fashion Disney movie kind of way.
Goro and Regina started a low conversation that I couldn’t hear and from the corner of my eye, I saw Eito cross the sand ring and approach Florence. I knew that I should be trying to listen in because we were here to gather information, but I doubted that they would say anything interesting with this many people around. So instead, I searched the disbanding crowd trying to find the guys. I wanted to give them some warning before just pushing them back into the void. I was jolted out of my search when someone reached out and gently touched my elbow. I whipped my head around to find the Goro was standing right in front of me.
“Hello, Valkyrie Olsen,” Goro said in a slightly accented voice. “How are you recovering from the events that transpired between you and the Russian King?”
I was taken aback by his abrupt presence and his direct question and ended up giving him an unfiltered answer. “I don’t think I will ever fully recover.”
Goro gently squeezed the elbow that he was still holding and an extremely powerful clan bond zinged up my arm. Mathis had explained that the stronger the Valkyrie, the stronger the clan bond will feel. It was one reason why I had to be careful who touched me. They might get overwhelmed by the feelings of the strong clan bond and act irrationally. The clan bond I felt from Goro was significantly stronger than the guys and even the Collinses.
“Ishi no ue nimo san’nen,” Goro declared in a serious tone and I cock my head to the side. Does he think that I can understand Japanese? “It is an old proverb. Its direct meaning is three years on a stone, but it means that If you stay consistent and stick with it through hard times, eventually things will change. Teenagers are not meant to be executioners, and your troubled mind is an understandable and reasonable outcome. But I believe that you will make it through this troubling time and be stronger because of it. You just need to be patient enough not to act too quickly. Just like my fight with Prince Mostafa. It is better to wait and learn your opponent’s weaknesses so that you can utilize them before striking.”
Goro spoke with such quiet confidence that it took me a moment to fully comprehend what he was telling me. But I was fairly sure he was reemphasizing advice that his brother, King Eito, had told me at Regina’s ball. Be patient enough to fully understand your actions before you commit to a single path and remember to take pride in learning from your mistakes. “You are telling me not to align myself with any one royal family until I have more information and understand what is going on around me,” I stated bluntly, tired of talking in proverbs.
Goro’s lips tipped up in a small smile and his eyes twinkled in the mid-afternoon light. “Rumors of your intelligence were not overstated. If I were to say the same to Regina, she wouldn’t understand. Moreover, she wouldn’t put in the effort to try to understand,” Goro said and I glanced over his shoulder. We were standing not five feet away from Regina and Florence. I knew that the Valkyrie community respected the Tanaka Royal line, but it was very telling that Goro would insult Regina while she was within earshot.
Goro must have seen my confusion because he was quick to explain, “My Silence Gift not only allows me to steal the voices of those I choose but also ensures that no one can overhear a conversation that I do not wish them to.”
That piqued my interest because I knew very little about Silence, but now was not the time to have a conversation about how our Gifts worked. I had no doubt that if I went down that road, Goro would want to know about my Cloaking Gift. Too many people already knew that secret. I stepped away from Goro, pulling my arm out of his hold, and said, “This is Regina’s Matching. You just won a fight in her honor. Why are you over here talking to me when she is the reason why everyone is here. Shouldn’t you be jockeying for her hand in marriage?”
“Regina will marry Prince Christian Vera from Ecuador. That decision was made over three years ago. While I may have the power to change that particular union, I have no wish to do so. Queen Florence, along with a dozen others like her, proposed marriage between me and her daughter many years ago. I declined back then and do not regret that decision,” Goro said rather coldly. This was one reason why I hated the idea of arranged marriages. It shouldn’t be a transaction that can be discussed dispassionately. Marriage should be about love, trust, and loyalty.
“Why are you telling me this? If Regina’s engagement is already set in stone, then why show up here and fight?”
Goro clasped his hands behind his back and looked relaxed as he told me, “We come to all of these events because we are expected. A lot of business is conducted at the Matchings around the world and I compete because it keeps me ready. I win because it reminds everyone that we are the most influential and respected Royal line for a reason. I told you about the many proposals that I declined, not because I am trying to impress you but because I am trying to showcase how very special you are. Long ago my brother decided to allow me to choose who I would marry, knowing that I would only be happy in life if I was the one to decide what kind of life I would live. I have met every single female Valkyrie in the world, and not a single one compares to you.”
Goro said those last words while staring directly into my eyes and that lack of a buzz in my head told me that he was telling the truth. But something that my Truth Gift did not understand was nuance. “That would be because I am the only female with more than three Gifts,” I challenged without flinching.
“I have watched my entire life as people treated my brother differently because he was blessed with four Gifts, so I can understand this assumption. But it is wrong. I hold you above the princesses of this world because of what is in your heart,” Goro stated, further confusing me. I just met him. He didn’t know me enough to know my heart, yet he wasn’t lying.
“That doesn’t make sense. You don’t even know me,” I decided to say point-blank.
“No. I do not know you, but I do hope to remedy that fact. I may not have personal experience with you, but I do know that you have made quite an impact on those around you. Valkyries love to talk, and as I said before, my family is who our people turn to. We have heard stories of your loyalty, kindness, and beliefs about equality. I know that you sacrificed yourself for your clan member in that moondust factory. I know that you didn’t hesitate to help a group of young Shifters and protect our secrecy without demanding anything in return. I know that you continue to remain with a small clan out of loyalty and love when you could be living in a palace. I know that you still stand by Valkyrie Risberg even after what he was Compelled to do to you. From these things, I know that you have a strong and caring heart.”
The moment that Goro mentioned Derik, I felt a surge of hate burn through me. There is only one way that he would know about that attack. I maintained eye contact with the famous prince as I felt my Cloak start to once again slip. “Did you order that attack on me?” I demanded in a voice that resonated with power.
“No,” Goro instantly responded and it was the truth.
“Do you know who did?” I asked and once again was surprised by the surge of power behind my words. If I didn’t know better, I would say that I was Compelling Goro to answer me.
“No. We were only informed of the attack yesterday from Queen Deveroe. I would never harm you in such a way,” Goro stated in a slightly panicky voice and he was telling the truth. Sean had told Darron Deveroe what Derik was Compelled to do to me, even when I had asked him to keep it secret. This was why.
Goro no longer looked to be at ease and I took a deep breath before recloaking myself. “I apologize. As you can imagine, the attack is a sensitive subject and one of the main reasons I am here. We are trying to discover who Compelled Derik and why,” I admitted because I felt like he deserved at least this much from me. Goro was one of the first Royals to be completely upfront with me.
“I can assure you that it is also a priority for us. Once you discover the answers you seek, please allow me to assist you in demanding justice,” Goro said and he seemed to regain his easy confidence.
“Why are you so willing to help me?”
“As I said before, you are special Valkyrie Olsen and I want a chance to get to know you myself. I am not the only one either. So, once again I will advise you to take your time in forging your path into the future. I can only guess that whatever you choose will impact us all. I would love to continue this conversation, but unfortunately, we are out of time,” Goro said in a patient voice and I looked around us. He was right. The majority of the crowd was no longer on the sandy beach. Only two small groups besides us remained outside. One consisted of Florence, Regina, and Eito. The other was the Oakland Clan and they were standing a good fifty feet away from us.
Goro stepped to my side and held out his bent elbow for me to take. I glanced once more at the guys before taking his proffered arm and pushing my entire clan into the void. Once they figured out what was going on, I had no doubt that the twins would come to me. This is the longest we had been apart since the kidnapping, and I was starting to give in to my anxiety. I needed them at my back.
“What happens next?” I asked as Goro slowly led me off the beach and towards the back entrance of the palace.
“Officially, the next event is called Royal Aid. Members of the supernatural community from the Americas West are gathered and will present Regina with a problem that they feel they need Valkyrie assistance to solve. To demonstrate that her suitors are willing and able to help her people, each suitor will offer to answer an individual’s plea for help.”
“That actually sounds like a great thing to do,” I said, causing Goro to full out smile.
“See, this is what I mean. Most Royals think that this is the worst event and a complete waste of their time. They like to sit around for days afterward talking about the kind of compensation they would have received if this wasn’t a Matching Event. And they always jump at the tasks that they think they can accomplish the easiest and in the smallest amount of time. We need leaders like you, who understand that we are here to serve our people, not the other way around,” Goro said and my opinion of him rose several notches.
“What do you think of this event?” I asked, trying to learn more about the highly respected prince.
“I think that it should be unnecessary.”
After what he said before, this was not the answer I was expecting. I saw that we were about to enter the ballroom and pulled Goro to a stop. “What do you mean?” I asked and watched his face as he answered.
“I think that members of the supernatural community should be able to approach their Valkyries at any time, for any reason, especially when they need help. Obviously, not every problem can be solved but a lot of issues can be with just a little bit of effort. If Royals were more willing to help on a day-to-day basis there wouldn’t be this huge backlog of issues that needed Valkyrie attention. In a perfect world, all Valkyries would be so involved in their territory that they wouldn’t have any need for this event. Even if they held it, no one would show up,” Goro said with an underlying passion within his words.
It was then that I started to understand why the Tanaka Royal line was the most respected. And at that moment, I allowed myself to respect him too.