Chapter 3 - Consequences and Concessions
The look on Ray’s face as she stared up adoringly at Prince Goro Tanaka was slicing my heart in two. From the moment I understood Ray’s situation, I knew that this day would come. That she would finally discover Vals that were so much more than we are and realize that she belongs with them and not us. Blake was the dreamer and I was the realist. This wasn’t anywhere near a surprise, but that didn’t mean that it wasn’t killing me to see. I had tried to keep my distance. To keep Ray from affecting me. But the harder I tried to build walls, the faster she seemed to bulldoze them. Now it was too late. I was too far in love with her. Blake was too. We needed her in our lives. So even if it was a pointless endeavor, we were going to fight for her.
I wasn’t just going to stand idly by and watch her leave us. It was no longer an option for me.
I was distracted from my thoughts about the Japanese Prince by a throat clearing to our left. I looked to find Prince Hernan Collins and Edison Greer standing not four feet from us with expectant looks on their faces. Every time I saw Hernan, the first thing that popped into my head is that he looks like Snape from the Harry Potter movies. Because both Hernan and Snape have a lot of power and are considered one of the scariest supernaturals in their territory, I would say that the comparison works for more than just looks. I did wonder how he was a blood relative to Queen Florence because they look nothing alike.
If I had to pick a celebrity look alike for Edison it would be Christopher Walken. But not because they looked that much alike, but because Walken always seems to be typecast as the older villain that is primed to stab you in the back. I still hadn’t confronted Edison about the fact that he ordered Jonas to get close to me so that he could spy on me. Jonas had done a wonderful job, and I had been starting to develop real feelings for him before I walked in on him and Jack doing it in the school auto-shop.
Yeah, not my finest moment.
“Pardon me, Prince Goro. I was hoping to have a private word with Delia before the next event started,” Hernan said politically and my stomach sank. I really hope that the twins were watching my back right now. The last time I had seen Hernan had been at the airfield, and to say that he had been unhappy would be a gross understatement.
Goro must have felt me tense by his side because he carefully studied my face before saying, “I can stay. If you don’t want to be alone with these men, I completely understand and would be more than happy to stay. No harm will come to you with me by your side.”
Okay, so maybe I had given Goro a little too much credit. I was more capable of protecting myself than he ever would be. And both Hernan and Edison knew this. They had both had front row seats to my fight with the Russians at the airfield. I did not need some relative stranger to fight my battles for me. Wanting the support of my clan in the form of the twins was not the same. They were here because they cared about me. Goro was offering to stay because he wanted something from me.
Considering that neither Hernan nor Edison blanched at Goro’s very blatant insult, I guessed that he was keeping them from hearing our side of the conversation. Handy Gift. I turned to face Goro and hoped that he would be man enough to really hear what I was going to say to him. “Thank you for the offer, but I hardly know you. I am going to take your advice and not rush into anything, including placing my trust in you. We are in the middle of a palace filled to the brim with supposedly honorable Royal Valkyrie. Hernan is too smart to try anything here and even if he does, I have the ability and willpower to ensure my own safety. It was nice talking to you, and congratulations again on your win against Ekon. You really are an impressive swordsman,” I said in a clipped voice that showcased that he had touched a nerve with his last comment.
Instead of getting upset at my words, Goro only gave me his small closed-lip smile and bowed deeply from his waist. “I hear that you are also an excellent swordswoman. I would love to spar sometime. Please don’t hesitate to call if you ever have any questions you would like answered, or just feel like talking. I rather enjoyed our conversation. I would love to do it again soon,” Goro said and held out a small ruby red business card to me. I studied his face for a moment but knew that he wasn’t lying. I returned his bow and then took the proffered card. Written in gold embossed script were Goro’s full name and a phone number.
Premier Valkyrie Royals have calling cards. Why not.
When I glanced up from the card I saw that Hernan was looking at Goro with poorly hidden contempt written all over his face. I let out a deep breath and pulled out my phone to check my text messages. I really wasn’t ready to face these sort of political games on my own and was hugely relieved to see texts from both Blake and Connor reassuring me that they were with me. If I needed them, all I would have to do is shift them back to the physical plane. They were my secret weapon and my security blanket.
“If you would follow me,” Hernan clipped out and together we walked with Edison to Hernan’s office. I had been in this room once before, but I was still struck by the amazing view and huge bookshelves. “How are you feeling after everything that happened with King Vasiliev?”
I turned away from the ceiling to floor windows and faced the head of intelligence for the Americas West and the leader of the most powerful Hunter clan in the kingdom. Time to put my game face on. If I showed any weakness, they would exploit it. “I am feeling rather trapped in my own home. Care to explain why you have posted Royal Guards outside of my house?” I said in a strong confident voice.
I don’t think that Hernan was expecting that kind of response because he clenched his fists and took a moment before answering. “You blatantly ignored several direct orders and then proceeded to execute a sovereign leader on my territory. At the time, you did not seem to be in complete control of your actions or your Gifts. The safety of this Kingdom is my utmost responsibility. The guards were there to both offer you protection and ensure that the rest of my people were in no danger from you. You have to realize that you cannot just display that kind of power and disrespect without facing the consequences,” Hernan said in a cold voice that slid down my spine and caused the little hairs on my neck to stand on end.
I had expected there to be consequences. I thought that Hernan and an army of Valkyries would have hauled me away as soon as I made myself visible at Tobias’ funeral. It had been Elijah, Derik, and Mathis that had explained to me that Queen Florence was putting most of the blame for what happened at the airfield on Hernan and Edison. Maybe that was why he was trying to come at me now. But I was fairly sure that if they were going to take action against me, they would have already done it.
“You are saying that because I stopped the Russians from killing more people and subsequently killed someone you had already sentenced to death, that I am now under twenty-four-seven surveillance?” I asked in an equally cold voice. If Hernan wanted to play it this way, I had no problem dropping the pleasantries and getting down to brass tacks.
Hernan’s eye twitched before he turned his back to me and rather dramatically threw an Energy Ball towards the far wall. The powerful ball hit the wall and blasted an impressive crater in the fancy wallpaper. Edison jumped and Shielded himself, but I forced myself not to react. I had bested Alexei when he tried to fry me with lighting. If Hernan turned his wrath on me, I would do the same to him.
After Hernan’s little outburst, the room remained in tense silence for an entire two minutes before Hernan finally turned to face me again, now more in control of his emotions. “My sincere apologies. As you can imagine, it has been a stressful couple of days but that is no excuse for my outburst,” Hernan stated in an overly formal tone.
“You are an intelligent and rational young woman, Delia. So for a moment please try to see things from our perspective. An unknown and extremely strong female Valkyrie just appears out of nowhere and within weeks of learning about her existence she publicly takes on a group of hostile, hated, and extremely well-trained Valkyries. She was able to best this group of Russians when an entire contingent of Hunters and Royal Guards had failed to do so. You may not have meant to, but you very loudly announced to the world that you are an extremely powerful threat. You, my darling girl, can no longer be ignored. Considering the circumstances, I thought my response was rather tempered. But just having you watched, unsuccessfully I might add, will not be enough moving forward. I like you, and I want to find a way to work with you, but the safety of my kingdom has to come first. We need to come to an understanding, or I will be forced to ask you to leave this kingdom.”
I was itching to pull out my phone and check my text messages because I was sure that the twins would have some idea of what I should do here. But I wasn’t ready to give away that I wasn’t alone in this room yet. I may need them as a secret weapon later on. I was going to have to do this one on my own. I took a deep breath and did exactly what Hernan asked. I tried to see things from his perspective. After a moment of consideration, I conceded that he was right. I did pose a threat. If I wanted to, I could attack from the void and wipe out a significant amount of Valkyries without ever really even putting myself in danger. But that bottom line is that I would never do that. I don’t even want the power and influence that I have now, let alone more.
My interactions with the Collins’ Royal Line were entirely too hostile. If I wanted to stay here with the guys then I was going to have to find some way to live peaceably with the ruling class. Hernan was right. We needed to come to an understanding. I turned around and slowly walked to the heavily padded wingback chair that was sitting in the corner and lowered myself into it. Then I rubbed my hands over my face for a moment before looking back at Hernan and Edison.
“I don’t want to be a threat. To be completely honest with you, I don’t like any of the attention that I have garnered over the last month. I just want to be left alone so that I can figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life and what it means to not be hiding amongst the humans anymore. I did not want to kill King Vasiliev or any of the other Russians. If you remember, I even tried everything I could think of to get them to just go home without fighting. But when I saw Tobias die, I snapped and did what I thought was best at the moment. I couldn’t just stand by and watch more people that I knew get hurt. It just isn’t who I am. I apologize that the situation didn’t pan out as you wanted, but I never asked to be kidnapped. I do not want to hurt anyone, but I will always defend myself and my clan with everything I am capable of,” I admitted and meant every word.
When I was speaking both Hernan and Edison also took seats, making the whole affair feel a lot less formal. “I understand and I know that you did try multiple times to deescalate the situation, but the problem was that you did not have all the facts. You are unaware of the complex history between us and the Russians and thus couldn’t fully understand the connotations of Alexei Vasiliev showing up on our soil in person. We are in charge for a reason, and you need to start listening to us. Please stop being so resistant to spending time with us that you hinder your education. There is a multitude of reasons why females are not members of small clans, the most important being that the Oakland Clan is not equipped to offer you appropriate protection. If you would have been under our protection, Alexei would have never kidnapped you in the first place, thus avoiding this whole situation.”
“I am not leaving the Oakland Clan,” I stated firmly because I wasn’t even going to entertain the thought. If Hernan wanted to keep things cordial between us, then he needed to stop trying to separate me from the guys. Hernan took a moment to look out of the huge windows and I could tell that he was holding onto his temper by the skin of his teeth. I had to remind myself that I was trying not to pick a fight here.
“Another reason why females are given the best of everything is that they will one day lead our people,” Hernan continued as if I hadn’t interrupted him. “They need to learn from our best tutors and trainers to be prepared for that eventuality.”
I was about to tell him that I had no desire to lead when he continued talking. “How about a compromise. I will pull the guards off of your house if you agree to continue your schooling here at the palace. I understand that you have stopped attending the pitiful human high school and are being tutored by Elijah and your grandfather. I can assure you that we have people that are significantly more qualified to educate you. Agree to lessons and I can tell the Queen that we are working with you instead of against you. Along the way, we might even find that we can trust each other.”
I tried really hard not to get completely offended by his superior tone and elitist attitude and think through this situation strategically. Hernan was right in his assumption that I was woefully clueless about the supernatural world and Valkyrie politics. But it wasn’t Elijah’s or Mathis’ fault. It was because huge traumatic events kept happening, leaving me with zero time to play catch up. Getting extra help in that area was not a bad idea, and it would give us an excuse to keep spying on the royals even after Regina’s Matching ended. There was no real reason not to do this as long as I maintained the ability to walk away from this when and if I wanted to.
Maybe, just maybe, this would be the first step in being able to just live out my life as a part of the Oakland Clan. Maybe this would give me a strong enough connection to a Royal Line that all of the others would back off. Maybe this could work in my favor.
“I would be willing to consider this with a couple of stipulations,” I replied and watched as Hernan leaned forward in his seat illustrating just how eager he was for this to happen. Someone really needed to give these guys some basic poker lessons.
“First, I am trying very hard to build some kind of relationship with my grandfather and my current lessons are how we are accomplishing that.” While this was true, I really just wanted to make sure that I had someone that I knew was on my side present at this so-called schooling. “I want Mathis to accompany me and participate in any of my tutorings so that he doesn’t feel like I am cutting him out.”
Hernan tilted his head to the side as if he was trying to figure out what my play was here, but after only a moment’s pause agreed to my first condition. “Second,” I stated with a lot more heat in my voice and turned to stare at Edison. “You will not order any more people to get close to me with the specific end goal of spying on me. I need to be sure that any friendships I form in the future are not based on lies.”
Edison’s face drained of color and he stumbled over his words as he tried to explain the Jonas situation. “D-Delia, I pro-promise that Jonas never posed any danger to you. I kn-know that he really cares about you and feels just awful about everything that happened. We were only ke-keeping tabs on you to make sure you were safe. I sw-w-wear.”
Wow. Edison was one of the most hot-headed, self-promoting, and pompous Valkyries that I knew. I must have made one really powerful impression on him if he was starting to stutter. Our goal of making me look so strong that people thought twice before attacking me certainly worked. Maybe a little too well. I tried to hide the rage and betrayal that I felt when I thought about Jonas because the last thing I needed was Edison to start physically cowering from me.
“I don’t care what your motives were. I only care that you never do such a thing again,” I stated clearly with as much calm as I could muster. “And you need to let Jonas go to Denver,” I added as an afterthought.
“What?” Edison asked while still refusing to meet my eyes directly.
“You told Jonas that if he spied on me that you would let him try out the clan in Denver. Clearly, he is desperate to get away from here and he did everything that you asked him to. If you don’t keep your word and let him leave, then how am I supposed to trust that you will keep your word to me?”
“Why do you care?” Hernan asked. I glanced his way to see that he was once again watching me like some sort of interesting science experiment.
I clenched my jaw for a moment and looked out the window as I answered, “Just because I feel betrayed and hurt doesn’t mean that Jonas doesn’t deserve to have the life that he wants. He is suffocating here. I don’t know if Denver will be any better for him, but he deserves the chance to try to find his happy ending.”
Hernan and Edison shared a long meaningful look with each other before Hernan said, “Okay. Jonas will be permitted to become an honorary member of the Denver Clan. Is there anything else you want to discuss before we move forward with finding a schedule that will work for all parties involved?”
“Only that I want to make something perfectly clear. My agreeing to learn from you is not a binding contract or something that I will allow you to use against me in the future. Each day that I show up will be my choice, and if I decide that this is not working out then I will be able to walk away. At any time, for any reason.”
“Now hold on a minute,” Hernan said while leaning back in his chair. I was pretty sure he was more interested in pushing me intellectually rather than actually mad about my request. Hernan loved to play power games. I had learned as much in this very office last week. “This is a serious request that I believe will be beneficial for both of us. What is keeping you from just walking away next week and leaving us in the exact same place we started?”
“Because right now, I agree with you. I need to show you that I am trustworthy and not some power-hungry homicidal maniac and you need to prove that I can rely on you to have my back. Coming here to learn about the Valkyrie world and stepping up my training is good for me. Just make sure that it continues to be a good thing for me and I will continue to show up,” I explained in a reasonable voice and Hernan started to nod his head.
“Agreed, but I will ask for one favor in return. We can say that this will help build that foundation of trust and cooperation that is so desperately needed,” Hernan replied, sounding more like his manipulative self.
“What is it you want?” I asked with clear trepidation.
“Information,” Hernan said and paused from dramatic effect. “The fact that the entire Oakland Clan has disappeared did not go unnoticed. Because of the magic of your Gift, my informants can’t tell me when you Cloaked them, but they all report that they are nowhere to be found. I do not believe that they would leave you behind, thus the only logical conclusion is that they are using the void to gather information. I understand and even support this. Information is power. I would just ask that if you learn anything that affects the safety of my kingdom, that you let me know. My overall goal is just to make sure everyone remains safe.”
“How about we agree on an even exchange of information. If you want me to share with you, you are going to have to also be open and honest with me,” I replied and Hernan smiled.
“Like our game of questions. I approve and look forward to exchanging secrets with you.”
“Have you discovered any more information on who ordered an attack on me last week?” I asked point-blank because that was still the most important question that needed to be answered.
“No, I have not. And not for a lack of trying. If you were to provide me with more details about the attack, I am sure I would be more successful in my future searches,” Hernan said as he pulled out a cigar from his suit pocket and lit it. I let out a sigh and rose to my feet. I didn’t really have the patience to continue to play this game with him.
“I am fairly certain I am supposed to be somewhere watching something and silently supporting Regina. Hernan, it was good to clear the air. Edison, please pass on my condolences to the rest of your clan. Tobias was a great man and will be sorely missed,” I said as Edison jumped to his feet and tipped his head to me. He wasn’t supposed to do that. You were only supposed to bow to the royalty of the territory you were currently in. Yet he was the second person to bow to me today.
“I will talk to our tutors and set up a schedule. We will start next week after Regina’s Matching has concluded,” Hernan said as he also gained his feet. I nodded to show that I understood and then walked out of his office and back towards the ballroom. As soon as I cleared his office door I pushed the twins clear of the void but kept them heavily Cloaked so that no one would be able to see them. Then I reached out and clasped one of their hands in each one of mine. Instantly the clan bond burned to life making me feel loved, supported, and protected.
“Shit Ray-Ray. You reduced the Clan Leader of the most powerful group of Hunters into a shaking mess just by standing in the same room as him,” Blake teased and I knew he was trying to lighten the mood. “That is like next-level bad-assery.”
“Are you sure getting tutored and trained here at the palace is a smart idea?” Connor growled completely ignoring his twin brother.
“No,” I admitted in a soft voice. “But they are right. If I were in their shoes I wouldn’t trust me either. Training with them is something that I can stomach. And I gave myself an out. I thought I did pretty good without being able to consult Elijah or Mathis.”
“You did great,” Connor was quick to reassure me. “Elijah, Derik, and Max have all checked in and are doing fine. Just focus on getting through this next event without drawing any more attention. We can leave afterward. This is the last event today because all of the princes need time to complete their tasks for the supernatural populace.” I wasn’t sure, but I thought I heard an undercurrent of something almost hostile in Connor’s voice.
“Okay,” I said as I walked into the ballroom. “Just stick close to me.”
“Always,” Connor promised in a low voice that sent a shiver down my spine. I gave each of their hands one last squeeze and then pushed them back into the void and sealed the entrance. I looked around only to find the ballroom was packed with people. The extensive amount of Royal Valkyries were all gathered near the front of the room while there was a long line of people that I didn’t recognize down the center of the room. As I scanned the room I spotted Ethan, a prince from the Americas Northeast that I was sort of friends with, and decided to go stand by him.
Ethan gave me a genuine smile and said, “It is good to see you. I heard about everything that happened. Are you okay?”
I was at least eighty percent sure that Ethan was asking about me because he really cared about the answer. In the week since I have met him, I have noticed that he isn’t really involved in politics like his mother and older brother are. He seemed content with his lot in life as a minor prince and didn’t really want any more power or prestige than he already had. I counted him as another one of the royals that I didn’t totally hate.
“I am doing better now, thank you for asking. How does this work?” I asked while waving a hand at the scene before us.
“All different kinds of supernaturals are asked to gather and they explain to the congregation what they would like help with. Then Regina asks if anyone is willing to give aid to her people and one of the princes will volunteer. Once all of the princes have a task, we disperse and go do what we said we would do. For example, a while ago a Brownie stated that her children have come down with Dragon Warts and I volunteered to go and Heal them.”
“Dragon Warts?” I couldn’t help but ask.
Ethan quietly chuckled at my disgusted tone and explained, “It really isn’t that serious. They must have come in contact with an artifact that used to belong to a dragon. They look like normal warts except that they are bigger and start to grow dragon scales. It will only take me a few minutes to heal, but Valkyries are one of the only ways to cure them. It is a common ask at these kinds of events.”
If it is so easy, then why couldn’t we just help out on a normal basis, I wondered as I thought about what Goro had told me earlier. I continued to think about what it would take to do this kind of aid on a regular basis as I watched person after person describe their problem and a prince stepped forward to help. There were multiple pleas for a healer, but only a few princes actually had the healing gift. I looked to my left, wanting to ask Ethan to help them anyway but knew that it wasn’t my place. I tried to take note of the people so that I could ask Max to help later. Ekon stepped forward to help a group of witches move really large boulders into a circle that they would use to channel power. Goro agreed to act as a mediator between two Shifter packs from up North that I had never heard of.
A prince that I had never seen before but looked to be Irish or Scottish with bright red hair stepped forward when a Shifter from the western part of the state asked for assistance in Tracking three wolves that had gone missing over the last five months. His description of how his packmates had just disappeared was eerily familiar to what happened with Logan and the missing Shifters around here. What if there was more than one moondust factory? What if even more Shifters were being held and drained of blood just so that someone could make a profit off of the drug? Who was in charge of looking into such a thing? Who would have the answers to these questions?
I knew that we had to be almost done when a slim girl no older than me reached the front of the line. She had pure white hair and limbs so skinny that I was surprised she was able to stand upright under her own body weight. After performing a graceful curtsey that I was more than a little jealous of, she said in a chime-like voice, “My name is Miku and I am a sky nymph in good standing with the Collins’ Royal Line. My friend Desi is in trouble. Please hear my plea. Please help her.”
“What exactly does your friend need help with?” Regina asked in a bored voice without even really looking at the creature standing before her.
“She is being held against her will at the club called Solace by vampires,” Miku said and the entire room seemed to take a collective breath. Her words definitely caught Regina’s attention.
“Are you saying that there are vampires within my Kingdom that are holding innocents against their will?” Regina asked with an excited edge to her voice.
Miku didn’t look as confident anymore and took a small step backward before saying, “No, Your Highness. You see, my friend is unique. She has what humans call autism and doesn’t understand what she is doing. It was my fault because I insisted that we go out because I wanted a normal night with my friend. Please help her, she didn’t mean to. She doesn’t understand.”
“You are not making any sense,” Regina clipped out. “What did your friend do and why is she being held by the vampires?”
“Well Desi got scared when the vampires cornered her and used her power on them. Now they won’t let her leave. They won’t even let me see her,” Miku said, sounding more and more unsure.
“What kind of fae is your friend? What kind of power did she use on the vampires?” Regina asked, now starting to sound angry.
Miku hesitated for a moment too long and Regina rose from her chair and took a step towards the frail-looking girl. “Desi is a Siren. When she got spooked, she enthralled the vampires with her song. Now they are too obsessed with her to let her leave,” Miku said in a rush and I heard a bevy of whispers flow through the hall. Regina looked shocked for a moment before letting out a nervous laugh and sitting back in her seat.
“What exactly do you think we can do? If anyone should be here asking for aid, it should be the vampires. Your friend has enthralled them and now is responsible for them. You know our laws.”
“But she doesn’t understand,” Miku started to plead. “She isn’t right in the head. She is like a child. I know that she doesn’t want to stay with the vampires and they are keeping her from me. Please, Your Highness. Please Royal Princes. Please help her.”
Regina looked over at the grouping of suitors and raised her eyebrows, silently asking if any of them would step up and offer aid to this young girl and her friend. None of them stepped forward and more than one of them started talking as if this situation was funny. A young woman being kept somewhere she didn’t want to be was not funny, and I was not amused at the Valkyries’ reactions. Once again, I felt my blood start to boil and the Cloak that I was maintaining to keep people from staring started to slip.
As Regina directed her guards to remove Miku, who was now in tears, I felt more and more eyes on me. I scanned the area and saw that Regina herself was glaring at me. If looks could kill, I would be in some serious trouble right now. I knew that she didn’t want me here, and I didn’t really want to stay here, so I decided to just remove myself from this situation. I pushed back into the void and sealed myself in with the twins.
I knew I didn’t understand everything that was going on with Miku and Desi, but I wasn’t going to let that stand in my way. I was going to find some way to help.