Without letting President Adler say a word, Ragna dragged him by his arm and pushed him on a couch. She grabbed a bottle, took an empty glass, and poured the blue liquid inside.
“Ragna.” The President took off his mask.
“Mind explaining why you are here?” Ragna took a sip and stared at the President.
Wrinkles and furrows marked his face and reflected twenty-five years of presidency, matching the greying hair. She couldn’t find a resemblance to Aura.
Once, when his parents had Captain Wylis over at dinner, he told her how all Captains guarded the First Lady at the hospital. After giving birth, the first comment, Ariel Adler gave was how the President had passed on his shamrock-green eyes. Was that another sacrifice, the Ash-Pest that had ravaged 20 years ago through Midgard and taken numerous lives – including Aura’s mother and nearly Aura herself – had demanded instead of the princess' life?
“I’m her father.” There was no inflation in the President’s voice. For him, this might be another press conference. “Isn’t it natural for a father to support her daughter?”
“You call that support?” Ragna’s fingers tightened around the glass, her tips pressing against it. “Is that some demented joke? You are her father. How can you do this to her?”
President Adler sighed and dropped his shoulders.
One said the President carried the world on his shoulders. But President Adler looked like he got tired. After years of responsibility, he had stopped caring and shrugged.
“Do you think there is anything you could tell me that I haven’t heard countless times?” he asked. “I will tell you the same thing I told the world. Aurelia was in pain. She was starving for warmth and affection. So, I gave her what she had wished for. She came to me, and I accepted.”
Ragna sneered. “Must have taken long to push that one in your brain.”
“As an outsider, it’s easy to impose your world onto others without ever being involved. You live in your far away, closed-off bubble and judge matters you know nothing about. That’s the height of arrogance.”
Ragna emptied her drink and refilled it. “So you’re trying to excuse your crimes? Some things are simply wrong. What you did to Aura for damn sure is.”
President Adler took a glass from the table behind him. He shook its content and took a sip. “Don’t you know? These are lies we teach our children because the world is too complicated for them. Like how justice exists. Or that we were born all equal, and if you try hard enough, you can achieve your dreams. Living a lie is often better than seeing the truth. Once you have children on your own, you will understand.”
Ragna’s eyes grew fierce, and her voice dropped an octave. “I'll be better than you.”
“That’s a low bar, for sure.” The President smiled and took another sip. “Do you know what the funny thing is?”
Ragna’s glass trembled.
This bastard had the gall to call this a joke?
“I have done far worse things and openly announced my crimes to Midgard. And what was the reaction? I was cheered and applauded. How many lives do you think did my overseas strategies cost?” He paused to chuckle a peal of sad laughter. One would think he had forgotten how to do it. “I’m going to ask you a question. Do you think killing is wrong?”
Was that a trick question? What was he trying to accomplish?
“Then, why do you want to become a Valkyrie? Why did you enter the academy? As a warrior of the Einherjar and a Valkyrie, you are going to kill. That’s a fact. So, since a soldier kills, and according to you, killing is wrong, being a soldier must be wrong. Or why would you want to become one?”
Again, the question of what she wanted to become. How should she know that? But that couldn’t deter her from the situation right in front of her.
“You know damn well that’s different. We have to kill because sometimes there’s no other choice. Or because it’s for the greater good or other reasons.”
She said these words, but what did they mean? Did she know what the greater good was? Was it the prosperity of Midgard, the safety of all humans, or the pursuit of justice? Was her mission for the greater good?
Ragna took another sip, and the President did as well.
“You are right. Often there are outer circumstances that justify such acts and make them less wrong. Seldom is evil born out of malice. Often it is the goodness in our hearts, our noble desires, and wishes that give birth to evil. Something like an absolute right and wrong doesn’t exist. Everything is relative, and that is the only absolute truth. What Aurelia and I did was not different. We were simply two broken people trying to heal.”
“Must have healed you real good to have your daughter kneeling between your legs.”
“It did. Aurelia, too. Her ears are quite sensitive, you know?”
Ragna sneered. “Why did you abandon Aura if everything's for her?”
“Mind if I have some?” He rocked his glass to show that it was empty. Ragna grabbed the bottle, drank out of it, and presented it to him. President Adler filled his glass and took another sip.
“Because I am the President of Midgard. The citizens demanded Aurelia’s fall, and I had to comply as anything else would have caused civil unrest and nation-wide discord. As the President, I was untouchable, but Aura wasn’t. So, the people directed their feelings of betrayal towards her. They wanted to see her fall, and so, we used her as a convenient scapegoat.”
“She’s your fucking daughter. How could you do this to her?”
“That’s something I can’t consider. I’m not just Aurelia's father. I am Reillius Adler, President of Midgard. A father would gladly sacrifice the world for the sake of his daughter. But I have to sacrifice my daughter for the sake of the world. And, so I did. For Midgard, I gave up on Aurelia.”
“How can you call yourself her father? You don’t deserve her.”
“You know nothing, Ragna Griffin.” For the first time, the President raised his voice. “In my life, I have acted as a father twice. Both times led to suffering. This whole mess started because I acted as her father.”
Ragna giggled and pressed her palm against her head. “This gotta be a joke. Why the fuck are you here?”
“As I said, I'm here as her father. This time I will ensure that there won’t be any further consequences. Aurelia wants to fall. So I will help her. She will be at her happiest once she reaches the depths of Hel. Happiness, shock, despair, and relief. All mingled together will break her in bliss. At that moment, once she has reached these two extremes, and there is nowhere else for her to go, this charade will be over. I will put an end to her suffering, and then, I will pay for my failures. As a president and as a father.”
“I see.” Ragna emptied her glass and put it on the table. “Talking to you was useless.”
Ragna stood up, and the President shrugged his shoulders.
“You start resembling your mother.“ With a smile on his face, he crossed his legs. “Well, if you want to save Aurelia, be my guest. You can try, but how far will you come?”
Ragna walked away.
She would save Aura, and the President would pay. That, she had ensured. The water she had summoned and mixed with his drink should have reached his system by now. Soon, it would start to freeze his organs.
On the stage, Eric approached Aura. She distanced herself from him, and the two encircled the other. Both of them holding a microphone in their hand, they started to sing. Aura’s melodic voice soothed like a wave; Eric’s baritone drummed like thunder. Two pitches that couldn’t differ more, together they merged into a holism of harmony. Eric took Aura in his arms; she swung around him and performed a revolution. Each of their steps puddled in liquid. Blood flooded the stage, falling like a waterfall, and around the dancers, it shot into the air. Geysers ascended and descended, matching Eric and Aura’s voices and movements. Their duet drenched the banquet hall in lust and sweat; the audience grunted, their instincts winning over; they screamed and danced to the song.
At the crossroad, I am, all alone.
Darkness is calling for thee
I walk further, my destiny unknown
From the depths of the sea
And dance on a path with no return
The waves are growing stronger
Splitting and ripping from what I yearn
beyond the rising water
Not black and white, wrong or right
Gaze upon a legacy of vice
Yet I fight for my eyes can’t see day and night
Beauty lusters in the dead ice
Walk with me a path with an uncertain fate
The path towards your treasure
Each step, our wings crack beneath the weight
Swallowed in the sea of pleasure
Until the right path crumbles down
An island within the endless void
And I relinquish my crown
You can’t return to a home destroyed
The righteous waltz in eternal stasis
Across silence and ash
Progress leads to darkness
Cold paints your flesh
I walk further; my destiny finally known
From the depths of the sea
Towards a golden empty throne
Sing with me a song of poison and glee
My wings will succumb
Conquer a world of greed and insanity
For a fake angel, I’ve become
Beautiful dragon, you will be
Aura was sitting on top of the piano. The spotlight searched over the banquet hall, but Ragna wouldn’t stand by. She climbed up the stage, and the searchlight changed its direction, spotlighting her instead.
Eric jumped on the couch. Rocking with his feet over the velvet, he spoke into the microphone and let his free hand circle the hall. “Looks like someone had decided to take destiny by its tail. Don’t we all love that when someone wants to overcome fate itself? Such an archetypical story that I can’t help but declare her the winner.”
Aura’s mimic froze.
“Hey, Aura.” Ragna’s voice dulled. She tried to smile, but her face wouldn’t change its expression.
Aura didn’t say a word and sat on her piano. Neither girl spoke, neither girl moved. Seconds passed until Aura opened her lips and broke the silence that loomed over the two friends.
“What are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same. Why are you here?” Ragna pointed at the banquet hall, at Eric and the audiences, their eyes glued at her and Aura. “You’re better than that.”
“Everything I do is with excellence.” Aura’s voice changed and let her pride and confidence sound through the hall. “I fell from grace. So, I will make sure that I fall deeper than anyone. For me, there is no mediocrity. But what about you? Why are you here?”
“Don’t tell me you had these feelings for me all along.” Aura laughed and gave Ragna an incredulous look. “Well, I had my suspicions about you. The way you looked at me or my stockings....”
“No, I,” Ragna tried to say again, but Aura cut her off a second time.
“But sadly, I can’t reciprocate. After all, I’m the princess of Midgard and way out of your league. Only the best suit me. How could I ever fall for a mediocre girl like you? We’re neither equal , and we'll never be. Be lucky that I allowed you to be my friend.”
Even the fake Aura looked down on her. What did she lack? Why was she worse than everyone else?
Aura grabbed Ragna’s hand and placed it on her left breast. “That being said, I will grant you your wish. Just for this night, you can fulfill whatever fantasy you have. Your dirtiest secrets and most depraved dreams; Live them out on me, and forget how pathetic you are. You can even kiss my feet. I’ve seen the way you look when I wave them around.”
Wouldn’t a night of bliss be great? She could let the pain and her failures go for one night, and if Aura died, she could try again. Her actions didn’t lead to consequences. She could kill and fornicate until she went mad with pleasure. Was it wrong to sin to feel happy when it didn’t cause harm? Was it still evil, then? No, she couldn’t think like that. Her mission took priority. She couldn’t put any joy above protecting her loved ones. How could she attain happiness without them?
“Sorry.” Ragna removed her hand. “I’m not here for that.”
Aura’s face darkened. “Then why are you here?”
“To save you.”
“To save me?” Aura jumped down the piano. Her hand swooshed over its wing, and she distanced herself from Ragna. “You think you can save me? From what?” She raised her voice. Her silver eyes gazed at Ragna. “What do you think can you accomplish? You’re pathetic. There’s nothing you can do. Look around you. What can you save? How would you save anything?”
“I...I don’t know.”
“You don’t know." Aura chuckled. "Of course, you don’t know. Since when did you ever know anything? Your stupid lizard brain can’t understand a thing. You’re a fool, Lindi.”
"There has to be a way.”
Aura facepalmed. “There. Is. No. Way. Don’t you get it? I have lost everything. I cannot return, and I cannot progress. I can only fall and fall until I have reached the bottom. The only joy I’ve left is to lavish in meaningless ecstasy. The knowledge that I will fall further than anyone else.” In the princess’ hand, a gun materialized. “That Midgard’s once-beloved princess will become a twisted shadow of her former self. To pervert my perfect image. That’s all that I can do, and that’s all that will make me happy.”
Aura raised her gun and disabled the lock.
“W...what are you doing?”
“O Ragna. You think you’re a hero? Let me show you how much you can save.”
Ragna’s body tensed. Water and ice formed bindings around Aura’s arms, and she rushed to her friend. But the shackles melted, freeing her. Aura moved the gun towards her head. She pressed the muzzle against her temple and pulled the trigger.
The scenery faded away, and Ragna stood in a white void room. Words flashed before her eyes. “Mission failed. Do you wish to continue? Yes. No.”
What...What just happened? Did...Did Aura...But why? Why? Did Aura lose hope? No, it didn’t matter. She would help Aura. Her friend would not die. She would save her and succeed in her mission. There was hope. She would continue, regardless of the obstacle. If Twice themselves appeared before her, she would move forward as long as her body breathed and beyond. This wasn’t a lost cause; there was a way. She couldn’t give up. Not yet, and never in her life.
Ragna chose ‘Yes’, and scan lines drew through the void. It started to flicker, and a wall of numbers rained in front of her.
“Infinite loop interrupted. Program terminated.” A voice spoke into her ears. “Starting victory sequence.”
The glitching and the numbers stopped, and Quin appeared. A blue hue clouded her figure, revealing the white behind her.
Was she staring at a hologram? What was going on?
“Congratulations. You have cleared the first level.” The Hologram-Quin clapped her hands.
Wait. She had cleared the first level? But how? Aura had killed herself. She failed to save her.
“You are probably wondering how that is possible since you just lost again,” said the Holo-Quin. “Truth be told, there is no way for you to solve the scenario. There will always be a new cause for Princess Aurelia’s death. A new assassin will arrive, and a new conspiracy unfold. At some point, your father will even be the mastermind, and you have to kill him, and then you have to go beyond until who knows where.”
She could never win? They had rigged the mission from the start?
“The point was to test your tenacity. How long would you keep going on? No matter what happened, you didn’t give up. Even in the face of despair and absolutism, you will continue to walk your path and see it come to an end. Congratulations, you have proven your determination.”
Quin disappeared, and the white room dissolved, transforming back into the first floor of Ymir’s Tower.
Ragna looked at the ground?
Was that correct? Did she deserve this? It didn't feel right. She shouldn't have cleared the level.