Gasping, Ragna covered her mouth.
Was this for real? Her father too? No, that couldn’t be. She shook her head. No, no. There had to be a logical explanation for everything.
“You have to believe me. That is all Skyfrost's plot. He set us up.”
“While the possibility exists, so far, the evidence points towards you three being traitors.” Graswald shook his head. He walked behind Ragna and placed his hand on her shoulder.
Did he feel betrayed, or did he pity her? She could not tell.
“As such, Drake Griffin is branded a traitor. Until everything clears up, or we find his whereabouts, you are to be treated as a suspect, as a prisoner, and as leverage to lure him out.” With his other hand, he took out his mobile phone, swiped through the screen, and showed it to Ragna. “It's one of the documents found in your apartment.”
It was undeniable – plans to capture Aura to use her for ransom to gain economic independence from Midgard. Her legs were shaking, and she sank into her chair.
It couldn’t be possible. There was no way her father would ever align with the titans who had taken her mother's life. That didn’t make sense. Drake Griffin was a hero who had fought and killed countless of them.
It had to be a conspiracy against her. Skyfrost had failed to kidnap Aura because of Sven, her father, and her. And now, he had set them up as scapegoats to save his skin. Those documents had to be fake. Every self-proclaimed hacker could forge digital papers. But how could she prove that?
Aura could give a testimony eventually. But Skyfrost might have ensured that her words won't help her. He was a shapeshifter and devious. The options he had at his disposal were endless. She couldn't rely on Aura, and there were more important matters she had to know.
"Can I please talk to Sven?" Ragna asked. "Or see him. Even a video is fine. Please, I want to know if he is okay.”
“Cadet Erikson?” Captain Fran asked. “Shouldn't it be clear? He blew himself up. There should still be pieces of his body littered in the princess’ chambers. I pity the cleaning crew.”
Whatever words Ragna had wanted to say, she lost the ability to voice them. She fell from her chair and remained frozen on the ground. Not a single thought would cross her mind. The hope she had clung to was gone in an instant.
“I gotta say, your mother Linde…,” Captain Fran said. “She was a great woman. You must be what’s left.”
“Daphne.” Captain Graswald looked at his colleague with fierce eyes. “That’s enough.” His gaze switched back to her. "I'm sorry, but Sven Erikson has passed away." His lips and hand trembled, and his voice was devoid of joy. “We will leave you alone.”
The three left the room and closed her cell. Now that Ragna was all alone, tears ran down her face and watered the ground. There were no words, no thoughts, no other movements, just tears flowing.
As the hours passed and the tears had dried out, thoughts would come to the forefront and fill the void inside her.
First, it was sadness at the loss of the man she had loved. The future and joy they would have shared, monsters had snatched away. Then questions appeared. Why did this tragedy have to befall her? Why had her father disappeared? In a moment of weakness, the thought her family was guilty and that they deserved this punishment crept into her mind; this was justice for a crime she was too stupid to understand.
No. It wasn't her fault. She was a victim, and she would not suffer because of these sorry excuses for human scum. No, not even that. They were the dirt beneath that. Just thinking about the fact that they could freely enjoy their lives made her want to vomit. They would regret their crimes. These assholes had ruined her life. They had forced Sven to take his own life and exile himself from the heavens. And they dared to harm Aura. She would ensure that they would pay.
And not just that. Ragna had decided. She would restore her honor, clear her family's name, bring Rory Skyfrost to justice, and she would reclaim the happiness they had snatched from her. Even if only a few coins from her treasure remained, she would regain what she had lost.
But how would she do that? She had to think and plan. There were three objectives. First, she had to get out of this jail. Second, she had to find evidence for Skyfrost’s crimes, and third, she had to find her father.
As far as she could tell, there was no way out of her cell. They had taken her weapons, and if she wanted to go to the toilet, a Valkyrie would accompany her. Walls surrounded her, and while she couldn’t see it, a camera was probably monitoring her.
Ragna heard a noise outside her cell and jumped off from her bed.
Footsteps? Was someone coming?
The white wall lost its saturation and transformed into a window. On the other side of the wall stood a man, waving at her.
Who was that? Wait, she remembered his face. It was the person from earlier, the one who had lurked in the background. Now that she had a better view of his looks, she could see that man had the face of a fox. It wasn't trapeze-like as she initially had assumed. Why was he here?
“Tryin’ to break out?” the man asked in a shrill voice.
Was the fox-guy stating his observations, mocking her, or both? It was better if she kept her guard up.
She remained silent, and the man grinned.
Truly a fox.
“You think of me as some fox guy, right?”
Ragna narrowed her eyes.
Can he read minds?
“I can’t read minds,” said the man. “People often get that impression of me, so I’m used to it.”
Ragna crossed her arms. “Actually, initially, I thought you were a squirrel.”
The man laughed.
Again, like a fox.
“Good observation. I am a squirrel guy and even keep a few as pets. Regardless of that, I’m here to discuss with you the current state of affairs.” The man stopped and bowed before Ragna. “But where are my manners? My name is Adam Saber.”
Ragna widened her eyes. “The ambassador?"
The man nodded and straightened his back. “The one and only. Though it seems my face didn’t clue you about my identity. Guess I’ve to step up my InstaNorse game. Anyway, the whole incident caused an international crisis. Relations between the kingdoms are going down the drain, and the world wants vengeance for Princess Aurelia. "If this blows up, it might be worse than the Baghdad crisis."
Ragna nodded. It made sense. Thanks to her personality, intelligence, good looks, charisma, lineage, political engagement, and philanthropic activities, Aura was the most beloved person in Midgard and perhaps in the entire world of Aes. If harm came to her, the masses would scream for blood against that injustice.
Still, that it could trigger a war like Baghdad almost did... It was hard to imagine that the assassination attempt on a princess could lead to war.
"There was no way I could stay uninvolved," the ambassador continued. "Believe me. It is in my best interest to solve this whole mess as swiftly as possible.”
But even so, this was outside her sphere of influence. She could try to expose the culprits. But what would happen with that information was up to the politicians and world leaders. Their finger hovered over the red button, not hers. She had no choice in that regard but to trust their competence that they make the right choice. It might sound egocentric, but she had to ignore the bigger picture and concentrate on the elements that affected her directly. She could influence those.
“Still, what are you doing here, Mr. Ambassador?”
“The truth is, I think you are innocent.”
“Really?” A smile of relief flashed across Ragna’s face but disappeared immediately.
What if he was trying to bait her?
“There were a few discrepancies regarding the evidence,” said Adam. “According to the documents found in your house, the princess should have been kidnapped as leverage for money. Yet, during the actual assault, you had endangered Aurelia Adler multiple times. It was nothing but sheer luck that the princess is still with us. The point is the traitor tried to kill the princess during that night. If you three were the traitors, then why did you immediately attempt to kill the hostage? There are other contradictions, like how Cadet Erikson and the assailant entered the chambers from opposite directions. But they don’t matter to you. I'm sure eventually others will notice this too. But who knows how long that will take? The testimony of the princess also matches your story.”
“Wait, so Aurelia did…” Ragna stopped herself. Her hand clenched her chest. “How is she doing? Is everything okay?”
“She woke up about an hour ago. She's in excellent condition. I don’t know how she did it, but for her, that poison was an inconvenience at best. It had basically the effect of sleeping pills.”
Thank Twice. Aura was well. I something had happened to her, she could never forgive herself. She would have ended her own life. Nothing else could have made up for that shame.
Adam scratched his temple and chuckled. “The princess must have one Hel of a metabolism."
“Then, can’t we just let Aurelia reveal the truth?”
Adam shook his head. “Officially, the princess is still ill. We don’t know who we can trust. There is also the problem that Aurelia never saw Skyfrost. According to her, a masked assailant attacked her. Sven Erikson either killed them or pushed them outside her chamber's windows. She then lost consciousness and could not confirm the events that followed. There is currently no proof if Skyfrost is innocent or guilty. So, the princess will stay as bait. Don’t worry. She won’t be at risk.”
Ah, of course. That made sense. Since the traitors knew they had failed, they would try to kill Aura again. And if they did, one would catch them in the act. Though would Aura be safe? She could only hope.
“The likelihood that you have been set up is quite high. I don’t know if the culprit is Rory Skyfrost. But my gut tells me, if that is the case, the Vice-captain is just another cog. The corruption likely goes high up. As such, I can only trust you. At the moment, you are the only person whose innocence we can be sure of and who can act. I would love to investigate the incident myself, but I’m already more involved than I should be. It would compromise my neutrality.”
Ragna couldn’t believe what she just had heard. A smile formed on her face.
Fate finally had turned in her favor. He was right. There were holes in the evidence. She just had to prove it.
“So, I ask again. Tryin’ to break out?”
“Then I got you one free ‘Get-out-of-jail-card’.”
Ragna tilted her head. “What do you mean?”
Adam snapped his fingers, and within the next moment, he stood inside the cell next to Ragna.
“My Fylgja ‘The Wanderer’ allows me to teleport anywhere in the world I’ve set up with a marker. I can teleport you to an empty cottage outside the jail. So, what exactly do you intend to do?”
Ragna sat in silence and stared at the ground. Finally, she raised her head. “I've to find my father. He probably knows something or is involved somehow. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have disappeared.”
"That is probably for the best. Vice-captain Griffin is another key to the whole mess." Adam smiled and gave her a large bag and a night-blue hood. “Here are your confiscated belongings. You don’t have to worry about the camera. I’ve hacked into the system so that it just shows a looped video of you moping around. Despite that, I doubt that it will take more than five minutes for them to notice your escape.” The expression on his face hardened, and the smile disappeared. He looked straight at her. “Are you ready to become a wanted woman and be hunted down like a criminal?”
"What other option do I have?" she asked. "If they find me guilty, my only hope to escape the chair is the ‘future initiative’. I won't become a slave to create new soldiers. And even if Aura can clear all my charges, then what? Go back to my empty apartment and wait for my father to return? Hope that someone will bring Skyfrost to justice? My family is gone, my career in ruins, the man who ruined my life walking free, and I can’t even see my best friend. Everything important to me is gone. If I want my life back, I’ve to fight for it."
“You could still let someone else do it. There are many who are stronger than you.”
“Valkyries protect justice and the innocent. How can I be a Valkyrie if I can’t even fight for myself?”
"I need you to say it out loud. Are you ready?"
Ragna exhaled. She looked firmly into Adam’s eyes and said with as much determination as possible. “Yes.”
Ragna put on the cloak, and Adam grabbed her shoulder. A white light engulfed the two, and the beige of the jail cell faded out. Brown widened its color into all three dimensions. Wood creaked under her boots.
“I’ve to go now,” said Adam. “Anything more than this, and the authorities would quickly realize that I have teleported you. This hut is close enough that one would believe you broke out with an unknown Fylgja."
“Thank you.” Ragna bowed her head. “I will not disappoint you.”
“I wish you the best of luck. You will need it.” Adam disappeared in a gulf of light and left Ragna alone.
She analyzed her new environment. As Adam had said, not a single object was in this room. She was in an empty hut. Staying here would be useless. She couldn't turn back either. So, where should she go?
InstaNorse – A social media platform that focuses on posting images.