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When Altera was about to grab her weapon, Ragna jumped onto the stage and attacked her.

Altera stopped. Her armor spread out over her body and blocked the attack.

Aura fled alongside Eric, and the audience evacuated as well. They were alone.

“Please don’t do this.” Her wings manifested. Altera flew backwards and landed on the piano, looking down on Ragna. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

Ragna didn’t answer and swung her blade anew. She wouldn’t waste another second with this stupid argument.

Altera sighed. “I wish it hadn’t come to this.” She spread her wings and dashed into the air. “But I have to show you just how weak you are.”

Between her arms, Altera manifested a clump of ice. She formed it into a javelin and threw it at Ragna.

A water sphere appeared between the combatants, and steam emitted out of it. The construct moved towards the weapon and caught it within its body. The javelin melted, its body adding to the sphere’s volume.

New ice appeared around Altera. She formed them to swans, and the birds flew at Ragna. The sphere chased after them, but they evaded the water.

Ragna stomped on the ground, and ice covered the floor. Stakes shot out of it, impaling the birds. Their bodies cracked, and crumps of ice fell on the ground.

Altera widened her wings, drew her partisan, and flew at her opponent. Ragna jumped on the stakes. Using them like springboards, she elevated herself into the sky.

Ragna raised her leg and kicked the partisan out of Altera’s hand.

Altera flinched from the pain. The weapon froze. It spun through the air, landing several meters away and shattered to pieces. In the same breath, Ragna grabbed Altera’s arm and threw the future Valkyrie over her shoulder.

She crashed into the stage, Ragna landed on the floor and attacked with her saber.

Now she can’t use her weapon.

Altera got up before Ragna could hit her and evaded the sword. She widened her wings, but Ragna swung her seax, leaving her no chance to fly.

Ragna attacked with her saber again and threw a kick at her. Barely could Altera avoid the moves, her feet becoming sloppier with each second, and Ragna increased her onslaught's intensity.

Thorn stakes rose from the ground, and ice started to freeze over them. Whenever Ragna made a step, Altera would use her runes to cut off that part of the stage, restricting Ragna’s movements.

Ragna increased her focus on the attacks, but in the end, she slipped on the ice.

Altera’s eyes widened, she dashed towards Ragna, but it was too late. The thorns impaled Ragna’s head.

The scenery faded away. Everything was gone, and Ragna stood in a white void room.

Words started to glow in blue light within the void. “Mission failed. Do you wish to continue? Yes. No.”

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

Ragna screamed into the void; ice and water shot from her body and disappeared into the nothingness. She grabbed her arm and slowed down her breath.

Getting angry wouldn’t help her. If she couldn’t keep a cool head, she would lose to Altera again. Still, if Altera could find a solution to defeat her in close quarters, then what should she do? Should she pay attention to every speck of ice and every stake Altera summoned? That was impossible. She had to find another solution, and she would. Altera won twice, but that didn’t mean anything. That wasn’t the end.

She was strong enough to win, good enough to beat Altera, and deserved to stand alongside her. And she would prove it. She just had to try harder, and then she would overcome this obstacle. There was hope.

Ragna chose ‘Yes’, and the room transformed into the banquet hall of Castle Gimli.

֎

She endured the opening ceremony and attacked Altera at the first opening she could find. The fight repeated, but when the partisan shattered and Altera crashed on the stage, Ragna didn’t use her swords. An amorphous body of water appeared above Ragna. She pointed with her at Altera, and the construct started to fly towards her. Altera dashed into the banquet’s hall center. The water chased her.

Altera flew in a slalom between the chandeliers, but the water trailed after her, performing the same maneuvers.

“How tenacious.” Altera dived towards the floor. The water followed, and Altera changed directions. She flattened her wings as far she could and flew between two tables. Spikes grew under her, racing into the water, but the construct evaded them all. Once she passed the objects, Altera shot into the sky and flew a side-loop. She performed another one and looked behind her. The water still followed her.

Altera growled. “How annoying.”

She changed her course anew and flew in a zigzag. Her flight transformed into lightning bolts, growing and jetting in all directions: from left to up to back and right. If one had colored her trail, it would have painted the entire banquet hall. Yet, the water construct kept up.

Wherever Altera would fly, she wouldn’t get rid of the water.

Altera ground her teeth. “That’s enough!”

She stopped, and a white flash bomb of ice released from her body. Ice covered the entire banquet.

The scenery faded away. Everything was gone, and Ragna stood in a white void room.

Words started to glow in blue light within the void. “Mission failed. Do you wish to continue? Yes. No.”

Ragna chose “Yes”, and the room transformed into the banquet hall of Castle Gimli.

She would defeat, defeat, defeat Altera. No matter how often she had to try. A hundred million times, she would fight. She would fight and win. She would succeed in her mission.

֎

Ragna attacked Altera the moment she presented an opening. Even if she lost now or the next time, she had infinite tries. With every attempt, she improved, and she would find that one venue that would lead her to victory. She just had to use her virtues and skills to her advantage, and she would overcome this obstacle. Everything – she would overcome everything.

Ragna couldn’t be more mistaken.

She battled Altera one, two, three, ten, a hundred, and many more times. And each attempt ended the same way. Altera loomed over Ragna’s corpse. No matter how often she tried, no matter what ideas her head concocted during combat, Altera would defeat her.

Like a future fate had declared unavoidable: Altera shall win, and Ragna shall lose.

It wasn’t like Ragna didn’t learn from her mistakes. Every loss taught her a new lesson and made her adapt her strategy. But whenever Ragna took a step forward, Altera would find a way to kill her. Flechettes punctured her throat; the piano crushed her bones; hypothermia stopped her heart; weapons ended her life. Beheaded, impaled, dissected, frozen, shattered, shot, and galvanized.

One death after another, Ragna would suffer, and for every attempt, she had to listen: To Altera crying and despairing over her death, apologizing how she didn’t intend to kill her; to Altera telling her how she wasn’t fit to be a Valkyrie, how Ragna was too weak, how Ragna didn’t think like one, how she couldn’t succeed her journey, how there was no hope; and to Eric’s opening speech. Over and over again, they forced her to listen; countless times, she saw the white void, the words that confronted her with her failure, and every time she chose ‘Yes’.

֎

Eric started the ceremony and held his speech. Ragna growled and fletched her teeth.

Why won’t he shut up?

If she strangled him, would he stop? Whatever. She would win this time and then wouldn’t have to hear the ceremony ever again. Yes. This strategy would work. After countless tries, she came up with a good plan to crush Altera. It would be her victory.

When Altera was about to grab her weapon, Ragna jumped onto the stage and attacked her. Altera stopped. Her armor spread out over her body and blocked the attack.

Aura fled alongside Eric, and the audience evacuated as well. They were alone.

“Please don’t do this.” Her wings manifested. Altera flew backwards and landed on the piano, looking down on Ragna. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

Ragna didn’t answer and swung her blade anew.

Altera sighed. “I wish it hadn’t come to this.” She spread her wings and dashed into the air. “But I've to show you just how weak you are.”

Between her arms, Altera manifested a clump of ice. She formed it into a javelin and threw it at Ragna.

A water sphere appeared between the combatants, and steam emitted out of it. The construct moved towards the weapon and caught it within its body. The javelin melted, its body adding to the sphere’s volume.

New ice appeared around Altera. She formed them to swans, and the birds flew at Ragna. The sphere chased after them, but they evaded the water.

Ragna’s eyes followed their trail. She stomped on the ground, and ice covered the floor. Stakes shot out, impaling the birds. Their bodies cracked, and crumps of ice fell on the ground.

Altera widened her wings, drew her partisan, and flew at her opponent. Ragna jumped on the stakes. Using them like springboards, she elevated herself into the sky.

Ragna raised her leg and kicked the partisan out of Altera’s hand.

Altera flinched from the pain. The weapon froze. It spun through the air, landing several meters away and shattered to pieces. In the same breath, Ragna grabbed Altera’s arm and threw the future Valkyrie over her shoulder.

She crashed into the stage, and Ragna landed on the floor, summoning a body of water. The construct raced at Altera, and she spread her wings. She flew, the water following her.

Above Altera’s head, another construct formed. Ragna ground her teeth. She hammered her fist against her skull until cracks formed within the bone, and blood ran down her face. Her eyes turned to golden slits. A fire raced through her brain; her brain cells were burning out, and her synapses short-circuiting. Splitting her focus and controlling two constructs would overclock her mind. But if she wanted to win, she had to continue.

The water above Altera froze to ice and dropped on her. Altera activated her rune and dashed away. The block crashed, and stakes shot from the ground. Altera zigzagged around them.

Ice spears appeared from the piano’s wing, their tips heading towards Altera’s upper body, and more spikes from the ceiling.

Altera landed on the only safe space available: the ground. But the floor froze, and beneath her feet, Ragna summoned new stakes. Altera jumped up and slipped on the ice. More shot out of the spot, racing at her.

Ice javelins appeared next to Altera and flew at the constructs. They pierced through them, and the spikes crumbled to powder.

Ragna charged at Altera and swung her saber.

Her wings widened, and she sped up, evading Ragna’s sword. Icicles grew from the ceiling. Their edges sharpened, and they fell at Altera. She flew around them in a slalom, summoned an arc of javelins, and propelled them at Ragna.

Ragna jumped on the piano. The projectiles splintered on the stage, and Altera produced a second batch. Ragna summoned a puddle of water, suspending above Altera’s head. She jumped from the piano, and Altera’s javelins pierced through it. Ragna released the body of water, but Altera dashed outside its range. The water poured down and soaked her wings.

Ragna smiled. Altera’s wings froze to ice. Unable to beat them, she lost the ability to fly and wrecked on the ground. Her wings splintered into a thousand shards.

“You…you…” Altera got up on her feet. “You broke my wings.”

She cocked her head. Her arms fell like a puppet that had lost its strings. “You…you…broke them. My wings are…broken. They're broken.”

She took a step forward and another. Her body had lost all fluidity. Performing mechanical responses, it rocked like a pendulum clock from left to right and right to left. She smiled, distorted yet pure. Altera’s eyes gleamed without luster.

Ragna gulped.

One said that eyes were mirrors to the soul. If that was true, then Altera's mirror had shattered.

“My wings are gone…I am a Valkyrie…without wings…broken…Valkyries have wings…“

“Altera...?”

In front of Ragna stood not a human being. Altera was malfunctioning, a machine unable to compute what had happened.

“I don’t have wings…Valkyries…Valkyries have wings…I’m…I’m not…not…not…not a Valkyrie…be… because my wings…broken…my life is over.”

Altera began to laugh. She held onto her left arm. Her body jerked to each stanza of her laughter, and her voice’s pitch increased in several octaves. Her laugh bathed in despair and madness, yet in Ragna’s ears rang nothing but pure bliss. If she had to describe it, Altera had stopped caring about appearance and revealed her raw emotions.

Ragna's body turned to stone. Whether she could move, she didn’t know. Her mind had forgotten those functions.

A red glimmer spread across Altera’s face.

“Aaaaahh…Raaagnaa…” Altera’s voice slowed down and transformed into a singsong. Each syllable oozed in ecstasy, and she chuckled. “Now you’ve done it. Looook, what you have turned me into. I will never be a Valkyrie, you know?”

Shards floated around Altera and started to fill the banquet hall. Thousands, if not millions of frozen fragments waited to impale everyone who had not escaped yet.

“You have to take responsibility.”

֎

The scenery faded away, and Ragna was left in a white void room. Words flashed before her eyes. “Mission failed. Do you wish to continue? Yes. No.”

Ragna hammered against the void and screamed her heart out.

Why? Why couldn’t she defeat Altera? She destroyed her weapons and disabled her Fylgja. And yet, she still died. The tower gifted her an endless supply of Mana, but Altera eclipsed her. What else could she do? Should she cut off Altera’s body parts one by one until she removed her runes? No, it wouldn’t work. She couldn’t cut through her Orichalcum armor. She had tried every move she could use, every possible fighting strategy and plan. It all failed.

Ragna stood up and chose ‘Yes’.

She had to accept that she couldn’t defeat Altera in battle.

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YAK Edge

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