That wasn’t supposed to be part of the scenario.
Ragna removed the VR-glasses from her face and threw them on the ground. They slid across the floor and hit the wall. The door opened.
“Don’t do that. The equipment is expensive.”
Ragna turned around. Her supervisor, third-year cadet Altera Xion, closed the door and walked towards her, her heels clicking on the glass floor. With every click, her chest ached, and her heart sprang. Ragna felt up her sternum. Her mind had recognized that the wound had been virtual. But her body remembered the sensation it had experienced when Altera had thrown a javelin into her heart.
“The test was a failure.” Altera folded her arms. "I can't recommend you for the program."
“Failure?” Ragna grimaced. “Why the fuck were you in that damn tin can? Explain that.”
"I asked the IT-Team to create a copy of me that sided with the kingdom of Vaix." Altera’s stoic expression remained. “The battlefield is unpredictable. We cannot see the future. Enemies can surprise you; allies betray you. We have to prepare for everything.”
"Admit it. You just wanted me to fail."
"My script simulates a possible scenario in case Vaix invades us,” said Altera. “It was realistic, and you failed to adjust.”
“Realistic, my ass.” Ragna tapped her temple. “It had so many plot holes. Like, why was that girl on the highway?”
“And yet you followed her.” Even though her mimic didn’t change, Altera’s voice got lower. “That was one of the very few good things you did. I will be blunt. Even if you had completed the mission, you would have failed the exam.”
"Are you serious?" Ragna looked at her aghast, and when Altera did not show a reaction, she facepalmed. “I can’t believe this. You're serious.”
“The way you fought against the soldiers was unacceptable.” Altera shook her head. "Had I been your commanding officer, I would have tried you as a war criminal.”
“Don’t tell me you had sympathy for them?” Ragna snorted, tilting her head. ”They were monsters.”
“They were humans with human rights.”
Ragna cackled. “You’re joking. They were going to rape a little girl. I don’t know what messed up reality you live in, but in the real world, that makes them monsters.”
“That you call them that doesn’t make them less human.” Altera walked across the glass floor, the metallic soles of her heels clicking on it with every step. “Everyone has a right to live. Be it a little girl, enemies, or criminals. And as those who live to become Valkyries, we protect them all.”
Was Altera serious? She was defending a bunch of rapists. What came next? She was going to tell her that their planet Aes was flat? No. It didn’t matter. She was wrong.
"We protect those that are worth protecting. And if you think these criminals are equal to an innocent girl, then you should check that bird brain of yours. We aren't equal. We were born all different, and I can tell you for damn sure our choices make us different. We should reward people who do good and punish those who do evil."
"And you think you have the right to judge?"
"We all do. We're humans. We judge other humans. We gotta live with the consequences of our choices. And I'll never allow a monster to be treated like an innocent."
Altera shook her head.
“Wake up,” Ragna said with as much emphasis as possible. “The moment someone decides to harm another person, they become monsters. They stop being human and lose all rights to live. If we want to protect others, then we have to kill them. Especially if they enjoy doing it.”
“You enjoyed killing them.” Without even looking at Ragna, Altera picked up the VR-glasses from the ground and blew away the dust from their frames.
“It’s okay to enjoy a good fight. And if you can deliver justice even better.”
Altera sighed. “You’re just a child, then.”
Ragna stomped towards Altera and reached towards the collar of her jacket. Altera grabbed Ragna’s wrist and glared down on her.
Before any of them could do anything, the door opened again. Immediately, Altera let go of Ragna. The two women turned around, and Ragna’s face lightened up.
“Both of you, that’s enough.” Sven ran between Altera and Ragna, separating them.
“Cadet Erikson,” said Altera. “This room is restricted to the examiners and examinees only. Why are you here?"
"I was going to congratulate Ragna when I saw you two going at each other's throat, literally. What the Hel?"
Altera folded her arms."We just had an argument that got a little heated."
"A little heated?" Sven looked at them as if Altera had told him an amputated arm was just a scratch.
"Your relationship with Cadet Griffin clouds your judgment, but don't worry. It was over anyway, right?" Altera's eyes shifted towards Ragna. Begrudgingly, she nodded.
As much as she wanted to punch Altera's pretty face, it was for the best if Sven didn't get involved. If it concerned her, he tended to blow things out of proportion.
Sven raised his brow. He stared at them for a few seconds until he spoke. "If you say so." His expression relaxed, and his shoulders dropped.
"When it comes to her," said Altera and pointed at Ragna. "You tend to blow matters out of proportion. And as for entering this room without permission, today is our big day. I will make an exception and let it slide.”
Ragna rolled her eyes.
Of course, she would try to change the topic.
“Don’t worry,” said Sven. “You can always trust my judgment.”
“Still. We both have been chosen to become Valkyries. You're from now own part of the military's higher echelons. Pay attention to your public appearance and status. And your relationships are a big part of that. If you must need a spouse, take one who benefits your rank.”
Sven’s rugged face turned salmon and began to resemble his hair color. “W…We aren’t like that. I…I mean we’re living together, but not together-together. We're just friends.”
Ragna clicked her tongue.
“In that case…” Altera’s carmine eyes glared at Ragna. “You won’t have to worry about her being your partner.”
“Really?” Ragna let out a fake sigh and shook her head. “You of all people lecturing about relationships? Dried up as you are?”
Altera flicked her long teal-white hair. That was another reason the other students believed Godking Twice had blessed Altera and why, like dogs, they drooled after the academy’s shooting star. White hair and red eyes were rare traits. Even smaller was the number of people who had both.
Altera exited the room and slammed the door shut.
“Wow, she must be mad. How did you get under her skin so bad-” Sven tried to ask, but Ragna jumped at him and wrapped her arms around his neck, and he swallowed his words. His body and expression arched up at the sudden body contact. His face turned red, and he stuttered. “W…what was that for?”
“Just felt like it.” Ragna shrugged her shoulders and stared right in Sven’s mahogany eyes. His face became redder, but then he smiled and returned the gesture.
Arm in arm, they stayed like that for a minute.
“Eh…” Sven tried to say again. “May…Maybe we should let…ehm…go…?” His eyes bounced everywhere, trying to look anywhere but Ragna’s face or her body. “It’s getting a bit…waaa…rm?”
Ragna tilted her head. “You think so? I like it here. We should stay like this…hmm…let’s say for the rest of the day.”
Sven froze, and his mouth was open.
Sven’s face was priceless. His roughness had disappeared. So unbelievably cute. One could see how his entire system had shut down. Like, Sven.exe had stopped working.
Ah, right. They were supposed to watch the peace parade and meet her father.
Ragna let go of Sven and slipped through his arms. “But weren’t we supposed to meet in an hour?”
“I wanted to see you now,” said Sven, and Ragna gulped.
Why was he so earnest? She was defenseless. How could she respond to that? Should she kiss him? Yeah, that would be great...No, he had to confess first…She had to think of something…
Ragna’s lips formed into a smirk. “And for that, you came here, even though you were not supposed to. You’ve become such a baaad boooy.”
“I know, right.” Sven giggled and grinned like a child. His face oozed pride, mischievousness, and excitement.
Perhaps Sven wanted to compensate for his previous blunder and tried to act as cool as possible, but then his brain realized what was going on, and he pouted. “Wait, you’re making fun of me.”
Ragna stuck her tongue out. “Anyway, just let me shower really quick, and we can go, okay?”
“I'll wait for you at the entrance,” said Sven and stretched his arms. His tight shirt didn’t even pretend to hide his well-trained body.
Ragna leaned forward. Standing on her toes, she drew a line on his cheek with her finger. Her lips formed a devious smile, and she whispered into Sven’s ear. “You know, I will allow you to peek.”
Ragna chuckled, and Sven’s face had reached maximum redness, turning him into a cherry.
“Just kidding,” she said before Sven could come back to reality – let alone say a word – and left the room.
Ragna closed the door. She pressed her palms against her sternum and smiled.
Sven was always so kind. Spending the remaining two years at the academy without him as her senior would be tough. Well, it would be awesome if he became a Valkyrie. And after him, it would be her turn. After graduation, she would rise through the ranks of the military and reach the position of Valkyrie. The whole family would be Valkyries.
“First, she decided to hold the exam during a holiday. Like, has that girl no life?" Ragna puffed and clung herself to Sven's arm. "And then, she designed the scenario to make me fail. It wasn't even a good one.”
“I mean, yeah, holding the exam today was a bit…,” said Sven. “But everything she did was within the parameters of the exam. But really, lately, you’re only talking about her.”
“I wouldn’t be if she were not my supervisor. Why couldn’t I get you?”
“No use in getting angry now. She's graduating anyway. But I think you are overreacting.”
“Now, I can't get into the Valkyrie program. If I had passed the exam, I could receive the extra training to boost my career. Becoming a Valkyrie without being in the program will be tough."
"It's not impossible. Drake never entered the military academy."
"It would be easier if she didn't exist. How can you even be friends with that stuck-up Miss Perfect?”
Sven chuckled. “She has a sweeter side. Once you get to know her better, you can see it too.”
“Yeah, hard pass. I would rather become a criminal than her friend."
"It's your choice, but let’s watch the parade.”
“Fiiiine.” Ragna moved to the raised platform, leaving Sven on the lower part of the street, and rested her head on his shoulder.
Stags marched on the streets: mechanical marvels that towered over the audience. Their silver bodies gleamed in the sun, fragmented the light into its base colors, and in the same instance, reflected them as rainbows.
How ridiculous. The kingdoms celebrated a thousand years of peace between them while they sent soldiers to the battlefield on missions. How many soldiers had died during this peace? Why didn’t anyone honor them? You wanted to enjoy this fucking pretend-peace? Then remember, for fuck’s sake, whom you had to thank. Once she became a Valkyrie, she would make sure the world remembered every single name.
Each stag mounted a rider singing a hymn. Musicians and low-ranking soldiers followed them. They accompanied the singer's voices with sound, loud, and solemnity. Drums and trumpets harmonized to the tact of their stomps and drilled hype into the spectators' ears. Dancers danced to the music in scantily clad and pompous white costumes.
But for that, she had to defeat Altera. As honor-bound as Altera was, she would accept her challenge to a fight. A recording of the test should exist. If she analyzed her moves, she could develop a counter-strategy and. Then, Altera had to acknowledge her.
How ironic, when she first had heard that Altera was going to be her supervisor, she could have jumped in the air. Receiving supervision from the academy’s superstar was a dream come true – and in her first year even. But dreams didn’t always translate into reality. A robot could have cared more for her than Altera did.
Ragna looked at Sven. His face was glowing, and his eyes jumped from one spot to another.
It was hard to believe that he was a twenty-three-year-old man about to become a Valkyrie. Right now, he resembled the young boy he used to be twelve years ago when Drake adopted him. But wasn’t that great about him? He had suffered so much, and yet that young child inside him continued to live.
“Do you like this?” she asked Sven, trying to remove any traces of bias or prejudice from her voice.
“It’s just amazing. I mean all these talented people together, all these colors and effects. It’s easy to forget, but humans can be awesome.” Sven turned to her. Tears had built in the corners of his eyes. “Sorry, I’m rambling. You didn’t have to come with me. We could have gone somewhere else.”
“If you like it, then I like it,” said Ragna and tightened her hold. “Anything is fun if you are with me.”
Immediately, Sven averted his face and concentrated on the parade.
He was fast, but not fast enough. His face had gotten red again. Teasing him was fun. But she should start to enjoy the parade for Sven’s sake.
Doves and corvids flew from all corners of Midgard. Thousands of birds beat their wings and turned the sky into a transient black-and-white mosaic. With every passing second mutated the image until it went through enough permutations that the resemblance to the original had stopped.
Yeah, okay. The parade looked pretty and coordinating the birds required effort.
“See,” said Sven. “First you hate it, then you will like it. Remember when your parents brought me in, how often we fought?”
Ragna grinned. “I remember that I always won. You were so small and scrawny back then. And every time you cried and ran to mom and daddy.”
“I didn’t cry.” Sven’s protest was as convincing as the existence of a flying dodo. He moved his palm horizontally from his forehead and stopped when it floated far above Ragna’s head. “And now I’m tall and strong.”
Ragna chuckled and let go of her hold. She skipped towards the ice vendor a few feet behind them and performed a pirouette. “Since you are so tall and adult, you can buy a few scoops for smol little Ragna, right?”
Without wasting a second, Ragna had made her order.
Aes – The name of the planet. Confirmed not to be flat and is pronounced ‘A-ie-ss’.
Dodo – A flightless bird from the Eren Archipelago that was hunted to extinction around 400 BR. Modern science was able to bring it back 800 years later and after 100 more years, introduced the bird back into its original habitat without damaging the natural ecosystems.