Chapter 4 - Against Better Judgment
I have never felt this out of control before. I thought I knew what it was like to hit rock bottom when my brother turned into a murdering psychopath and went on a killing spree. But at least that time I knew that it had been Eino to do those horrible things, not me. I had used my hands to hold Ray down. I had used my teeth to bite into her sensitive skin. I had smashed her bones to pieces as she begged me to stop. Ray may have forgiven me, but I was far from forgiving myself.
To make things worse, I felt like I was at war with myself. Part of me knew that I needed to stay as far away from Ray as possible, that I was unworthy of her and I hated the thought that I might remind her of what I did to her. The other half was nearly obsessed with making sure she stays safe. I had this pathological need to keep her in my line of sight and protect her. Whoever had Compelled me was still out there, not to mention all of the other threats that literally anyone could pose to her.
It was like my entire life has narrowed down to one single, incredibly important task. Protect Ray.
“Uh-oh,” Blake said as soon as I made eye contact with him. “I know that determined look. Ray, this isn’t a situation that you want to get caught up in.”
“Why?” I asked a little tersely. “What makes this situation so dangerous. Why did everyone react like that?”
“Because that girl just said that Desi is a Siren,” Derik said out of nowhere and I turned to see that he was striding purposefully towards us. He must have been in the ballroom this entire time. “Sirens are not someone you want to go up against, Wonder Girl. They can enthrall you with a simple song and once that happens, all of your life goals and dreams just disappear. Replaced by an all-consuming need to please and serve the Siren that sang to you.”
I was half-listening to him and very interested to learn more about this, but I also didn’t want to lose Miku. I started walking in the direction that the guards had taken her, knowing that the guys would follow me. “Sirens can’t enthrall everyone that they encounter. If they did, I am sure I would have heard about them before now. So it stands to reason that as long as we are careful, we could potentially help. How do you un-enthrall someone who has fallen under the Siren’s spell?”
“I don’t know,” Derik admitted while walking a good two feet away from me. I had noticed over the last two days that he was going out of his way to ensure that he never got too close to me. We were going to need to have another heart-to-heart, but right now wasn’t the right time. “Sirens are rare and the Fae are notoriously tight-lipped.”
“Well then, let’s at least get some answers before declaring the situation hopeless. Miku sounded desperate and it sounds like Desi may not know what she did or what is going on right now.” We were now at the entrance of the palace but I didn’t see Miku anywhere. Could Sky Nymphs fly?
“There,” Connor said and pointed to a tree about fifty yards from the base of the stairs. Miku was curled into a ball at the base of the tree, crying into her hands. The sight of her looking so fragile and broken shook me, and I knew that I had to find a way to help.
I pushed all four of us out of the void so that we wouldn’t spook her and then approached the tree slowly. “Miku?” I questioned softly and she jerked her head up in surprise. Quicker than I would have thought possible considering her frail-looking legs, Miku was standing and looking at us like we murdered puppies for fun.
“What do you want? Come to rub it in my face? It isn’t enough that Desi could be lost to us forever? You also have to brag about how helpless I am to help my friend in the process?” Miku hissed out at us and the sky started to darken with large grey storm clouds. I glanced up at the previously blue sky and wondered if Sky Nymphs had the ability to control the weather. Hernan was right, I was woefully uneducated about the supernatural world.
“I actually came out here to see if I could help,” I said lamely and wondered if I should be more afraid of the frail-looking girl. I knew better than anyone that appearances could be misleading. I lifted my hands, palms upward, to convey that I didn’t mean her any harm.
The moment I said the word help, Miku’s entire posture changed and the clouds started to dissipate. So that would be a yes on controlling the weather front. We were dealing with some pretty high-level supernatural abilities here.
“Really?” Miku said with so much hope that it felt it in my bones. “You will help me get Desi back?”
“First we need more information,” Derik said in an uncharacteristically soft voice. “What do you mean when you say that the vampires won’t let her leave? Leave where? How many? How do you know?” It was then that I remembered that Derik was a police officer and was more qualified to lead us through this. I stepped back and let him take the lead.
“I dragged her out to Solace even though I knew that she wouldn’t really have any fun. Desi gets overwhelmed easily and doesn’t like to be around too many people at once. But we are in our twenties and I was sick of staying home and being bored, so I convinced her to come with me. I thought that if we went in the middle of the week that the club wouldn’t be full and she would be okay.” I was still caught up in the fact that this little stick of a woman was older than me. I really needed to remember not to make assumptions about people I knew nothing about. Fairies aged really slow. It was entirely possible that Miku would outlive me by hundreds of years.
“Everything was going fine until I left to go to the bathroom. Apparently, when she was alone, three local vampires approached Desi. When she didn’t react like they wanted her to, they became more aggressive in their advances and Desi got scared. I tried to calm her down, but when she gets like that it is nearly impossible to get through to her. When one of the vampires actually touched her, she reflexively used her power because she was scared. It isn’t her fault. She never has been able to fully control her power, that is why she was banished from the Winter Court. But it is my fault for taking her out,” Miku said in a rush, and by the end, the sky was once again darkening with instantly forming clouds.
“Why didn’t you end up enthralled to Desi as well?” Derik asked. I hadn’t even thought of that as a possibility.
Miku pulled an amulet from around her neck and showed us. It was a brass disk that was inlaid with a bright purple scroll. “I have an amulet that keeps me from being swayed by her power. I had it made when Desi and I moved in together. This way she can just be herself around me and not worry about the consequences. But it is coded specifically for me. It’s won’t protect anyone else.”
“Do you know how to undo what Desi has done?” Derik asked and Miku took a moment to consider the question.
“Time and space are the only real cure. If the enthralled can stay away from the Siren for three days, then the spell will be broken. But no being who has heard a Siren song will ever willingly remain separated from their Siren for any length of time. Usually, once a Siren claims enthralled, they will move in with her and tend to her every need. But Desi doesn’t want that. And even if she did, the other vampires won’t let her leave.”
“So if we can find a way to get Desi away from the vampires she has enthralled for three days, then they will leave her alone after that?” Derik clarified and Miku nodded her head. A plan started to form in my head and I was relieved to have some sort of hope to work off of. Derik pulled out his phone and started texting while the twins looked at me like a crazy person.
“Ray, if Desi goes off again, you could end up enthralled to her too,” Blake tried to reason with me, but I just shook my head.
“Just because there is some risk involved doesn’t mean that we can just walk away. They need our help. It sounds like the vampires wouldn’t be happy about this situation either. Maybe if we explain that Desi didn’t mean to do what she did, they will help us. It’s not ideal, but I can use the void to remove Desi from the situation, and hopefully, the vampires will agree to hold their nestmates until the three days are up,” I explained and Miku started nodding her head in agreement.
“Ray, have you ever even dealt with vampires before? Because they are not really the type that you can hold a rational conversation with. They have no soul. Thus their motivations and reactions are unpredictable. There is just too much that can go wrong here,” Connor tried to reason with me, but I had already made up my mind.
“Put yourself in Desi’s shoes. Wouldn’t you want someone to help you if they could?” I asked in a small voice, silently begging them to understand why I needed to do this. My father had held me and forced me to do things against my will for my entire childhood. I wouldn’t just stand by and let people suffer when I could help. I refused to be like the other selfish Royals that I condemned. To deny Miku and Desi help now would just be hypocritical on my part.
“You don’t have to come with me,” I forced myself to say because this had to be their choice. They would risk becoming enthralled if they joined me. I wouldn’t push them if they didn’t want to come.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Ray-Ray,” Blake said but his voice lacked his characteristic cheer. “Where you go, we go. We are just worried about you.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that, so I just stepped forward and wrapped my arms around his waist. Blake instantly hugged me back and even went as far as leaning down and kissing the top of my head. The simple touch sent a jolt of feeling through me and I squeezed his body even tighter. Blake slowly ran his hand down the length of my spine and I nearly moaned because it felt so good. My head was turned and I made eye contact with Connor only to find his stare was consumed with heat, instantly causing my stomach to erupt with butterflies.
As Blake continued to stroke my back, I couldn’t tear my eyes away from Connor. Or more appropriately, I didn’t want to. I didn’t know if I was strong enough to keep pushing the twins away. I had a deep connection with them that went beyond friendship. Maybe it was time to start accepting that.
“Elijah wants to stay to gather more information now that the official Matching events are over. People are starting to break into groups and discussing things that he wants to hear. He and Max are going to stay here. We will go to Solace and see if we can help, but we are not going to do anything rash,” Derik said in an authoritative tone, breaking the moment between me and the twins. I pulled out of Blake’s arms and nodded my head. I would continue to take Derik’s lead on this.
Miku let out a high-pitched squeal of pure happiness and then we all walked over to Derik’s Lincoln Navigator. I insisted that Miku take the front and climbed in the back with the twins. I was sitting next to Connor while Blake took a seat in the second row. When I started asking questions, Connor reached over to hold my hand. A spark of the heat I felt earlier lit up between us and I had to remind myself to focus on the current situation.
“I haven’t dealt with vampires since my father died. What is the dynamic between them and the local Valkyries like?” I asked and Derik was the one to answer.
“We don’t have any vamps nesting within Oakland city limits, so we don’t interact with any on a regular basis. Solace is in San Francisco and therefore within Collins’ territory, so they deal mostly with the Blade Clan or the Royal Guards. Marcello is in charge of the nest that runs the club and he isn’t going to be overly impressed with me or the boys. As the leader of more than twenty vamps, he has more power and influence than we do, even though we are Valkyries. Our only play here is for you to take the lead with him. As with everyone else in the supernatural world, he will listen to you because you are an extremely powerful female Valkyrie.”
I huffed out a breath and looked out the window while considering my options. All of the vampires that had dealings with my father were usually heavily involved in the criminal underground and were not people that I enjoyed being forced to spend time with. I needed more information, and it didn’t sound like Derik had the answers. I pulled out my cell phone and called someone that I probably should have checked in with long before now.
“Little Val!” Logan nearly shouted into the phone after only one ring. “Holy-Fuck, it is good to hear from you. The rumor mill is going crazy with stories about you. There is even this one going around that you beheaded the crazy Russian Valkyrie King with his own sword.”
“Hey Logan,” I replied in a more subdued voice. “It is good to talk to you too. And umm, well that one isn’t exactly a rumor.”
“What?” Logan whispered disbelieving into the phone and I could hear loud clanking sounds in the background.
“It was this whole thing. Long story short. I was kidnapped and it ended with five people dead, including one of the Blade Clan. But that isn’t why I called.”
Logan took a moment to process what I had just said before blowing out an audible breath. “What can I do for you?”
“The morning after we rescued you from the moondust factory, you said something about Solace and it sounded like you went there often. What can you tell me about it and about Marcello?” I asked, causing him to laugh humorlessly under his breath.
“Never a dull moment with you around is there, Little Val. Why are you interested in Solace? Vamps are no joke. Especially Marcello,” Logan said in a serious voice.
I decided to just tell him the truth. I knew that if he had any information that could help, Logan would tell me. “I am going to try to save a Siren that accidentally enthralled three of Marcello’s vampires.”
The line was silent for so long that I pulled the phone away from my face to make sure that the call hadn’t been disconnected. “Logan, are you there?”
“Yeah, I was just waiting for the punchline. Because there is no way that wasn’t a joke. You can’t be serious with this shit. Giving Sirens a wide berth is like one of the first things we learn as pups. Pops used to tell me this story of one that walked onto our pack lands and sang her little heart out. After that, seven different wolves just left their lives, families, and mates to follow her around like some kind of sick master.”
“Desi didn’t do it on purpose. She is confused and needs help. I am going to be careful. That is why I am calling. Going in with as much information as possible is the smart move here,” I tried to explain but Logan was quick to cut in.
“Not going in at all is the smart move. Come on Little Val, don’t do this,” Logan said with a vulnerable plea in his voice. I didn’t know how to respond to that. I didn’t want Logan to feel like I was ignoring his possibly very good advice, but I knew that I had to see this through. Instead of wasting time arguing with him, I just stayed silent. “Okay, okay, okay. I will answer your questions. You don’t have to go all silent treatment on me. Marcello is an okay guy for a fanger. Above all, he is a businessman who wants to protect his nest. Appeal to those sides of him. Now not to be too obvious, but one major thing you are going to have to do is wait for nightfall. They are vampires. Thus they don’t wake up until the sun sets.”
I felt a little stupid as I looked out the window and saw that we still had about an hour before the sunset. “Okay, what else,” I asked because I didn’t want to look stupid in front of a master vampire.
“Well, Marcello likes to both give and take favors. Right now the supernatural community is alight with gossip about you. If I were you, I would use that to your advantage. I would bet that Marcello will be willing to help you, but it is going to cost you. Just make sure that whatever he asks for, you are willing to give. Because reneging on a vampire is a very bad idea. Even for someone as magically talented as you. Marcello has some very strong friends in low places,” Logan said and I heard shouting in the background.
“Listen, Little Val, I am glad you reached out. I like knowing that you are okay. Let me know if there is anything else I can do to help, but I have to get back to work. My boss is going to kill me if this cement sets before we get everything leveled out,” Logan said in a rush and I only got in a small goodbye before the line went dead.
“Since when do you have a Shifter’s number on speed dial?” Derik bit out but I didn’t legitimize that sort of a question with an answer. The Royals weren’t the only ones that needed to start treating everyone as equals.
“Let’s stop and get some food. I haven’t eaten since breakfast and it won’t do us any good to go to the club before the sun goes down,” I said and then turned to look at Miku. “Why doesn’t Desi just walk away when the vampires go to the ground for the day?”
“I don’t know. But this happened yesterday and I waited for hours for her to come out of that club this morning before deciding to try to get help. They must be holding her against her will. Or at the very least behind a locked door. Desi isn’t the best at problem-solving real-world problems. Give her a 1000 piece puzzle and she will have it solved in no time, but leave her in a locked room and she will just sit tight until someone comes to get her.”
We stopped at a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant and had dinner while quizzing Miku about everything that happened the night before and more about what Desi was like. By the time we had paid the bill, the sun had just set and we drove the twenty minutes to Solace. It was still too early for the club to be open and the front door was locked. Instead of waiting for someone to hear us knocking, I just pushed us all into the void so that we could walk through the locked door. Miku didn’t even blink, as if she was totally used to magical stuff happening around her.
Once inside, I scanned the inside of the club that was decked out with a lot of leather booths and little platforms that I assumed people danced on. There was a massively long bar with a mirrored surface along the right wall and the entire left wall consisted of large mirrored panels, giving the room a funhouse feel. It took me a moment to spot with the dark lighting and dizzying reflections, but I finally saw a group of men sitting at a large u-shaped table in the back corner. I pointed and Derik nodded. One of those men was Marcello, meaning that all of them were most likely vampires.
I took a deep breath, checked in with the twins that they understood the plan that we had discussed at dinner, and then walked over to their table. I was banking on the fact that Marcello would have heard the same rumors that Logan had and would take me seriously. Especially if I just appeared right in front of him. I was going to keep the guys and Miku in the void as backup if I needed it. Not to mention that they were a hell-of-a-lot safer in the void. This was my idiotic idea, and I was going to do everything in my power to make sure it didn’t backfire on the guys.
I walked around the table and positioned myself so when I pushed free of the void I would be sitting across from Marcello. I took a moment to listen in to their conversation and quickly understood that they were already talking about Desi and the three vampires that she enthralled. Apparently, they had barricaded themselves in a room with Desi and weren’t letting anyone in. I decided this would be a great place to jump into the conversation and pushed free of the void.
Marcello and his two friends jumped at my sudden appearance and the one with jet black hair to Marcello’s left lunged at me. I didn’t completely blame him, so I just pushed back into the void so that the attacking vampire ghosted right through me. After he landed and saw that I was not within his grasp, the vampire jumped to his feet and started searching the empty club. I retook my seat and pushed back into the physical plane. But this time I put up a Shield that I knew they would be able to see.
“My apologies,” I stated in a calm and business-like voice. “I didn’t mean to spook your companions. But I was hoping to have a word with you, and since you were already talking about the subject I would like to discuss I thought it would be a perfect time to interrupt.”
The black-haired vampire apparently didn’t accept my apology because he swiped at my face with his hands that now looked a lot more like claws. His sharpened nails glanced off my impenetrable Shield like I knew they would while I maintained eye contact with Marcello. From the corner of my eye, I could see the other vampire sitting very still while he observed the situation. Other than the initial jump, Marcello didn’t react other than to turn to give me his undivided attention.
I gave him my best, I am just an innocent girl, smile and even included a little finger wave. Marcello leaned back in his seat and took a long drink from an opaque glass before saying, “Can I assume that we have the pleasure of meeting the famous Valkyrie Olsen?”
“At your service,” I said in a friendly voice.
“That isn’t exactly true, is it? Considering that you just appeared in my bar without my invitation or permission,” Marcello drawled but I didn’t get the impression that he was upset.
“Are you saying that I am unwelcome in your bar?” I asked in a slow careful voice. I had watched my father manipulate people for years, and knew how to play this sort of power game. At this point in time, Marcello assumed that I wasn’t someone that he wanted to upset or offend. Thus giving me the upper hand.
Marcello put down his glass and leaned forward until both of his elbows were resting on the table. “Valkyries are always welcome at Solace. Especially ones as beautiful as you are. Next time if you give me a little heads up, I will prepare a VIP section for you and make sure you have a night that you will never forget.”
“I have no doubt,” I said while forcing myself to repress a shiver. I know that Logan called this a supernatural safe haven, where all different types of species could come and mingle while being themselves, but I couldn’t imagine myself ever coming here just for fun. It was far too creepy for that. “But today, all I am looking for is a conversation and possibly a favor.”
“Hmm, well now that sounds interesting. Tell me, Valkyrie Olsen. What exactly would you like to converse about?” Marcello said, sounding much more sure of himself. He now knew that he had the upper hand because I wanted something from him.
“It is my understanding that a young Siren was spooked by several of your vampires and reacted badly to the situation. Now there is a problem because Desi has yet to return home and her friends and family are worried about her well-being. From what I overheard earlier, it sounds like you are holding her in a locked room against her will. Is that true, Marcello?” I asked and turned the tables once again.
Apparently, that was the wrong thing to say because Marcello slammed his fist against the table and started yelling at me. Only years of experience with my father’s outbursts allowed me to keep enough of my wits not to react to his outburst. “My vampires are not hurting that girl. She is the one that has enslaved them and now they are acting out of pure instinct. This is not my mess and I will not take responsibility for it.”
I kept quiet for a moment while Marcello regained his composure before saying, “I am perfectly aware of the situation and I am not here to lay blame at anyone’s feet. It is unproductive and won’t help anyone. Both of our time would be better served figuring out a solution to this situation. Because that girl is going home to her family tonight. I am here because I would prefer to make that happen in a way that will free your vampires as well.”
Sounding like a badass that knew exactly what I was doing was half the battle. If I could convince Marcello to take me seriously, this was going to go a lot easier for all of us. And from everything that I knew about Desi and Sirens, doing things calmly was going to be very important moving forward.
“Okay, Valkyrie Olsen. Let’s talk,” Marcello said and I let out a relieved breath.