“Finally, it’s quiet.” Aura sighed. She kicked her heels away and sank into a lavishly decorated bed that could comfort an entire family.
“People want to celebrate, I guess.”
Ragna's eyes followed Aura's movements, and she sat next to the princess. She took a bite from the caviar on the silver platter they had taken from the banquet and looked around. Two doors connected the chamber to the east and west halls of the floor. Aura's periwinkle room was the same as ever. The number of books on her shelf had increased since last year.
How many were there?
From her position, Ragna tried to read some of the titles: ‘The fall of Camelot’, ‘The art of Realpolitik’, ‘Persuasive Psychology’, ‘Basics of human behavioral science’, ‘Myths of Aes’, ‘History of Aes', and ‘Advanced Void Theory II’.
Through windows as big as walls, the Juliet roses in Aura’s room basked in the night light. On her desk were a tablet and a picture frame. Unless Aura had replaced the photo, it should have been the one when the four of them played in that field of lilies in the royal garden. Didn't her mother shoot it? How long ago had that been?
Above the desk, twin swords decorated the walls like a trophy that had resigned itself to a life of dust catching.
“Still, did they have to applaud that loud? My ears are sensitive, you know?” Aura rubbed her long dagger-like ears – a parting gift of a vicious illness she once had.
“You liar.” Ragna chuckled and let her fingers sider over Aura's ears. A warm sensation spread through her fingertips, but Aura showed no reaction. Ragna pouted.
When they were younger, they had been Aura's one weak point. Apparently, she had overcome that.
“But it’s nice to see you again," said Aura. "How long has it been? Almost a year, right?”
"Being a princess must be hard. You don't even have time for face-time."
"I had to beg Gras...Marcus to accept your father's proposal." Aura straightened up and leaned towards Ragna. She blew air into Ragna’s neck. Ragna startled at the warm sensation, and Aura giggled.
“I’m still responsible for you.” Ragna grabbed the champagne bottle and rocked it. The liquid swayed back and forth, signaling that half of its content was gone. “How much did you drink already?”
“Don’t worry. Nothing I can’t handle.” Aura took a glass of champagne from the silver tablet and emptied it in one breath. She snapped her fingers, and Dead11’s ‘Pendulum’ played in a low volume.
“I swear, the last days were the worst. Made me want to pull my hair out. Politicians and generals can be such a pain in the ass.” With a sudden movement, the princess let herself fall into Ragna’s lap. Unable to deny her request, Ragna let her rest, and the princess continued to speak. “Peace is fragile and complex. Even a mistletoe could break everything. Instead of holding it together, letting everything fall apart seems so appealing. Thousand years of conflict…Makes you wish to annihilate the other side."
Aura reached for the bottle and refilled her glass with champagne. She returned the bottle to the platter and emptied her drink again.
Should she talk and tell her opinion? No, it was better to let Aura finish her soliloquy.
"Honestly, we haven't started a war yet because we want to be labeled as the good guys. I mean, who doesn't? Everyone wants to be a hero who defeats villains. And because of social media, even more so. We wish and have to be on the side of light and justice. But that's difficult, so we just call the others evil and automatically become hero. Everyone is just waiting for that one moment that allows us to strike with these labels.”
“Well, Vaix are the bad guys. It would be just exposing the truth. If they didn't exist, wouldn't the world be better? Wouldn't there be peace?”
Ensuring that she didn't disturb Aura, Ragna stretched out her legs and took another bite from the food plate's appetizers. She offered the plate to Aura. The princess, being content to peek inside her empty glass, declined.
“That’s like saying killing all the poor people would solve poverty and overpopulation. Removing Vaix would hinder humanity itself. All the possibilities, all the brilliance, they too are part of humanity’s glamour.”
Ragna lowered her eyelids. The plate in her hand was shaking. “And they also bring pain and misery. Friends from the academy fell in missions against them. My mother and Sven’s parents would be sitting behind you today."
"Yeah, that's true. But Vaix also did many good things. Look at your gravity glove."
"My mother had stolen that from an enemy. Not sure if that counts."
"Okay. How about animal rights?"
"So, it's okay if you do bad things as long as you also do good things? If you do bad things, then you're evil. You can't just put that on a scale and make it equal. It wouldn't be just. What do you want to say to all their victims? That they should forgive and forget? Why is it always the victims that have to be better? If I had to choose between this "potential" and their smiles…” Ragna stopped and shook her head. “Fuck. We haven’t seen each other for almost a year, and I waste this time arguing.”
“If it’s you, I don’t care what we do.” Aura smiled. Without moving an inch, her arm reached towards the plate. She picked a fishball and held it in front of Ragna, who devoured it. “And conflict's important. So, we move forward, engage with other ideas, and gain new perspectives. Do you want everyone to be the same?"
Ragna shook her head, and Aura continued. "If there's conflict, then it means we're diverse. Our job is to reduce unnecessary suffering and pain.”
Ragna returned a smile, too, and studied the black, square overhead lights that lit up the princess’ chamber in bright blue.
She didn’t understand how Aura’s words could be true. But talking to her was enough.
"So, you have decided to become President?" Ragna asked.
"That's years from now. And I would still have to win the election before I could rule over the kingdom."
"I will support you, but..." Ragna sighed. "Promise me, whatever you do, do it because you want to. Not because you think you have to."
Aura stood up and grabbed Ragna's hand. "I promise," she said without looking at her.
"I just want you to be happy."
"You can't say that." Aura let go. Imitating a young maiden who had found her first love, she moved her hands towards her cheeks, giggling and shaking. "I might fall for you."
"Curses." Ragna inflated her voice. She pulled the tips of her pigtails over her lips, transforming it into a mustache, and raised her arm like a third-class drama actor. "My nefarious plans have been exposed. Now I have no choice but to take you as my wife."
"Lindi, Lindi...To steal an engaged woman...What have you become?"
"We shall rule the world with an iron fist. The peasants will beg, the rich will fear, and all the dandies in the world will beg even more."
Aura burst into laughter, and Ragna soon joined her.
“By the way." Ragna wiped away the tears from her eyes. "You and Captain Graswald? How did that happen?”
“Why not? We look good together, and the people love it. The tabloids were shipping us for years. The most popular Captain and Midgard’s beloved princess. Doesn’t that sound like a match made in Valhalla?”
Ragna shrugged her shoulders.
Better if she kept her opinions to herself. It was her choice, and in the end, people fell in love for all kinds of reasons.
"During the last few years we couldn't go together, but tonight, we've time," Aura said. "I’ve reserved a table at the Nix. Let’s bring Eliza and Altera too. It’s her big day.”
Wait, did she mention Altera?
Suddenly, Aura lifted her head and frantically looked through the room.
“Something wrong?” Ragna asked.
Aura tried to speak, but a booming noise disrupted her words, and the chamber rumbled. Books fell from their shelves, and fissures drew through the windows.
Ragna jumped in front of the princess. Ready to draw her saber, she knocked on the door.
She knocked again and shouted, but the guards didn’t answer.
That wasn’t good. First, the explosion, and now the guards. What should she do? Was Sven all right? Should she open the door? Alternatively, should she stay or run in the other direction?
Ragna looked at the princess.
Did an assassin infiltrate the castle? Should they risk running into a trap or sitting here like sitting ducks?
Cursing her indecisiveness, Ragna knocked a third time. The alarm bells rang, giving her an answer, and Ragna turned around.
“We need to go.” She took Aura’s hand. Outside the room, the sound of metal slashing through flesh vibrated, and screams erupted.
Had someone invaded the castle?
Ragna pressed her glove, but nothing happened.
Why didn't it work? Was it malfunctioning? No, that couldn't be the case. Then, could it be that the invader had somehow disabled her device? If they could control gravity, then it meant that she couldn't activate her manipulator. Dammit. Without it, fighting would put Aura's life in danger. She had to bring her to safety.
Ragna ran, distancing herself from the door, and drew her sword. Through the gaping hole, a hooded figure came forth. A sable black bird-like domino mask covered their face, and a long sword dragged behind them. A white hood concealed all but a grin. The figure stopped and looked around. They moved to Aura’s work desk, picked the photo up, and studied it.
Was the assassin interested in Aura’s life, or did she display arrogance? Whatever.
She ran with the princess to the door on the other side of the chambers.
“Ragna, wait.” Aura shouted to her, but Ragna didn’t listen. A voice inside her – stronger than an instinct – warned her she could not defeat this opponent. Perhaps her subconsciousness had noticed the Mana, all the magical energy oozing from the assailant, but she felt that voice told the truth.
She wasn’t in a movie. Here, the underdog died. She had no chance of winning. If she fought, the enemy would strike them down. To survive, they had to run. If she had her gravity manipulator with her, they might survive a confrontation, but without it, there was no chance.
The assassin turned around, smashed the photo against the desk, and walked further towards them.
Ragna grabbed the bottle of champagne from the bed and threw it at the assailant. They raised their sword and slashed through it. Shards and liquid splattered across the chamber, and Ragna threw the silver platter at the intruder. They cut that too. The two halves dropped to the ground, and the assassin advanced further.
Ragna kicked the second door open, but the moment she tried to step out, the assassin jumped, dashed on the walls, and landed in front of the doorstep. Not waiting for a reaction, they slammed their elbow into Ragna’s ribs and catapulted her across the room.
She gobbed saliva and groaned. Holding her ribs, Ragna tried to crawl towards the princess. She had to protect Aura. No matter what. She had to hurry.
Hurry, hurry, you damn body.
Why didn’t she move? Was something holding her down? She had to do something.
Reach Aura. Protect her. Save her. She couldn’t die. Not her. Please, Twice, let this damn body move. Please save Aura.
A hiss turned the attention of the assassin away. The princess struggled on the ground. Anyone who would watch the scene would realize there was nothing she could do. Princess Aurelia’s life was about to end.
The assassin gave the princess one last glance and raised their sword until its point was high in the air. There was neither hesitation nor haste. It was a movement to savor every moment of Aura’s demise. The assassin smiled and let their sword fall.
A spherical light hurtled towards the assassin. They turned around and stopped the weapon in midair. The sphere grew and buzzed. Its glow brightened to the point that it blinded. Its sound increased in speed like an alarm, and it went off, taking all colors from its surroundings.
Ragna’s eyesight returned, and she could see again. The weight that had pressed against her was gone. She ran to the princess and took her hand.
Ragna looked around. The explosion had destroyed the chambers. The walls and windows had turned into patterns of holes and exposed construction. And one gap – massive enough to fit an entire bus – led into the castle's depths. No trace of the assailant remained. The explosion had either blown them to smithereens or pushed them out of the hole.
“Are you two okay?”
Ragna looked up. Sven’s figure stood before them. “Sorry for being late.”
She hugged him, and Sven froze. His arms distanced from Ragna.
“Cadet Erikson, what is going on?” Aura asked.
Sven escaped Ragna’s embrace and clenched his fist. “Soldiers from Vaix are attacking the president.”
So, the assassin belonged to Vaix.
As much as Vaix had confirmed her suspicions, the danger on Aura's life destroyed any validation Ragna could have felt.
Aura’s body stiffened. “W…What about fa …what about the President?”
“He’s safe.” Sven held Aura by her shoulders, like a child that was in shock. “Drake's with him, and he has sent me. Many of our own ranks have betrayed us. We have to go. ”
“Sorry, but that won’t happen.” A voice came from the hallway.
Sven grabbed Aura and Ragna and jumped behind a pile of debris, large enough to cover the three of them. Icicles swooshed, missing them by an ant’s breath, and crashed into the floor. Sven launched a white orb from his hand. Another icicle wave raced towards them, collided with it, and detonated in a blast.
The fall of Camelot – A semi-historical book chronicling the life of Camelot’s first and last ruler, King Arthur. The book serves as a basis for the upcoming TV show ‘Morgan’ which tells the events of King Arthur’s rule from the view of his sister Morgan. Production has come to a halt over disputes whether Leonardo Jonny Hanks Jr. or Natalie Lawrence shall play the role of King Arthur.
The art of Realpolitik – A book by Otto Tzu about strategies to maintain good relationships with allies and enemies while continuing to increase one’s own resources. It is seen as mandatory for every politician acting on an international level to read the book. The success of politicians to follow or understand its advice varies.
Void Theory – A field of science dedicated to the exploration of the void and void energy.
Cry On – A psycho-thriller set in a fictional world called earth about a psychopomp searching for the meaning of life.
Dead11 – A DJ hailing who mainly plays Drum’n’Base and Dup-step. His debut album ‘Utopiosphere’ became an instant hit. He is famous for always wearing a hoodie and a mask. So, no one knows his real identity. The name is pronounced ‘Dead Elf’
Pendulum – Dead11’s newest song. It is currently ranked number one in the Drum’n’Base charts.
Nix – A famous night club in Midgard renowned for its sexual open-mindedness. DJs who manage to land a gig at the Nix are guaranteed a promising career and popularity boost.