“We have received reports that Vice-captain Skyfrost has begun to trail Ragna Griffin,” said Graswald.
Aura stretched her arms and cracked her neck.
Why did this take so long? They say one should convey a book in ten words. At some point, the government of Midgard must have heard that saying and thought, why not write a book to tell ten words? Her first act as future President would be to get rid of this mind-numbing bureaucracy and attitude.
“Anything else regarding the matter?” Albain Trutner asked.
The fair-haired man stroked his equally white beard. His carmine eye scanned the round table. He rested his hand on the handle of his throne, and the scarred frost white armor he wore clinked.
Seeing him loom over the other attendants, his descent from the Trutner Siblings became apparent. He was a mind that shaped the present by gazing upon the future. Always here, yet at the same time not.
What did he see when his eyes drifted into a far-away time? Just logically speaking, there were four scenarios when the Allfather saw into the future.
He either wanted his future visions to turn into reality, or he didn’t. And in both cases, he could succeed or fail. All possibilities had unpleasant implications.
The first and third options meant that the Allfather was the architect of humanity’s future. He decided the path one should walk on. For many, this thought was reassuring. The Allfather was an endless well of wisdom. But even so, it meant that humanity was not free.
In the first place, humanity was a slave to its genetic programming. Free will and thoughts were echos of the synapses’ chemical reactions, and there was little difference between predicting the weather and human behavior. For the Allfather, that prediction became a certainty. The future was his will. He may be benevolent, but humanity would depend upon him to thrive, and obtaining emancipation became impossible.
The second possibility meant that the Allfather, Midgard's supreme leader was incompetent. He saw the future and was still surprised. And the fourth implied his vision was inevitable, and a dreading fate awaited everyone.
Technically speaking, Godking Twice was the highest sovereignty within Midgard. But as they had to connect to the world’s core through Yggdrasil to keep the world from falling apart, their authority was in name only. Instead, the President handled the politics as the head of state and the Allfather as Twice’s protector and supreme leader of the Einherjar. In theory, the two were equal in power. But without question, the Allfather surpassed the President. The ability to see the future was horrifying indeed. Yet here, the Allfather was in Yggdrasil, guiding humanity and humanity subjugating itself.
If asked, the majority of Aes’ population would answer that Yggdrasil was an architectural masterpiece. One could not blame them for the assumption. It was easy to believe that a building of such importance was nothing but immaculate. In a way, that thinking was correct. Yggdrasil was immaculate. It was sterile and pure, but it was not grand: A narthex connected to a shut gate that rested on a platform floated in an unknown location. Yggdrasil was simplistic.
The narthex was just a single corridor. Blue circles saturated the walls and illuminated the hall. Liquid light in the same blue color ran across the facade, divided them into blocks, and flowed through the floor. Nine windows on each side allowed one to see the sky, all of them sleek and metallic.
The only hints at its true nature were a silver table and the abundance of Mana thanks to Godking Twice. It filled the atmosphere like air and surged through one’s body like a drug.
At the table, in front of the door, the Allfather sat on his throne. To his left sat the President; then Captain Donnerschlag; Nakk; Idris; Fran; Graswald; Wylis and rounding up, sitting next to the Allfather’s right, Head Captain Barrel.
Nakk raised her hand. It couldn't even reach the Allfather’s shoulder, and she withdrew it like a student too shy to answer the teacher's question.
“If you have something to say, then please say it.” Graswald’s eyes gazed towards Nakk’s. The female Captain looked at the table. “You're a Captain now, and your word is equal to ours.”
“Yes, Sir…Eh, I…mean Marcus…I wanted to ask...”
Nakk gulped and raised her brown eyes. Pushing strands of hair away from her face, she straightened her back and spoke up with a deep and louder voice.
“Is it a good idea to let Vice-captain Skyfrost handle her escape? They are…Is it okay if I say 'they'?” Nakk turned towards the man on her left. "Gerard? Can I use 'they' for Rory?"
Even sitting, the difference between the two was astonishing. Nakk wore the proper Midgardian military uniform. Above the belt, Gerard wore only a golden-winged helmet and an open cordovan long jacket that showed his body definition. Nakk was a flower standing next to a concrete wall. Her anxiety was understandable. She had never seen some of the faces here before. And some of those she had seen might as well be blanks for her.
“Donnerschlag.” Captain Fran glanced at her comrade. Gerard did not raise his head. Immersed in the book in his hand, he flipped a page and focused on it with a look of absolute concentration. A few seconds later, he turned two pages back.
“Forget it.” Captain Idris pulled his military-green bomber-jacket, putting the muscles on his dark arms on display. The smooth surface of his head reflected the blue light into her eyes, making it shine.
“Once he decides to do something, he forgets the world around him," Captain Idris said. "Even when he doesn’t decide to do something, he may forget everything else.”
Graswald sighed and swiped Gerard’s book away from his hand. Two seconds passed before Gerard became startled and looked around. The question forming in his head was visible for everyone: “Why did my book fly?”
“It is nice to see you explore new horizons, but everything has a time and a place,” said Captain Barrel.
His olive-colored face did not show any expression. Reading him was a fool’s errand, and one could say he was intangible. Looking at his short shaggy beard, loose hair, and fossil black robes, one would believe he was a relic who only existed to represent the past. But that couldn't be further from the truth.
Unlike the rest of the old generation, he managed to keep up with social media and establish an online presence. Even if the sales of his action figures and other merchandise were behind those of the younger generation, it was still impressive. Except for the Allfather, Viper Barrel was older than any individual at the table and were the captains to pose in bird-formations for the cameras – as the Paladins or the Knights did – he would be at the beak. But that wasn't surprising either.
Because next to the Allfather, Viper Barrel was the most powerful being in Midgard.
“This concerns your Vice-captain. Pay attention.” Fran massaged her temple. “Anyway, what does it matter? We are at a crisis point, not a social justice warrior meeting. Just use whatever pronoun. No one cares.”
Fran Daphne: another member of the old guard. Were it not for her tenacity to enforce law and order as the head of Midgard's police department, Captain Fran would have faded into obscurity. She was an immovable object against the unstoppable force of youth and social progress.
“Skyfrost cares.” Nakk turned her head towards Gerard. “T…’They’ doesn't assume Rory's gender...does it?”
“Uhh.” Gerard lowered his eyelids. He resembled a man standing before a valley of landmines. No matter the path he chose, the result would be problematic. “Rory's okay with 'they'…I think.”
“Good. Now that we don’t have to worry about misgendering our traitor, can we please deal with our traitor?”
“Rory would never betray us.” Gerard leaned forward and hammered his fist on the table. On the horizon, thunder roared through the sky.
“Your bias may be blinding you. Skyfrost is of Vaixian blood. The potential of betrayal has always been present.“ Captain Wylis crossed his arms. His eyes were sunken deep in his face, and dark rings surrounded them. “Even without that, Skyfrost was always dangerous, and you know that.”
If one were to play a game to guess the faces of the seven captains, Wylis' would be the one people most likely failed to recognize. Barrel kept up with the flow of progress; Donnerschlag and Graswald were the heroes of Midgard. Their names and faces were trademarks in every corner of the world. A month ago, Nakk used to be a Vice-captain. Not even her introverted nature could shield her from the required publicity of a Valkyrie. And like Graswald and Donnerschlag, she was young and had yet to celebrate her 30th birthday. As commissioner, Fran was a public figure – whether she liked it or not, and as Altera’s future Captain, people talked about her since the Peace Ceremony. Idris had his ‘Insanity Workout’ videos and instructions, and the Valkyries in his team used their power and reach as influencers to net him subscriptions. Plus, he was the principal of the military academy.
It might look shallow to dedicate that much attention to the Captain's public appearance. But it was because they already fought for what they believed was right, that one had to focus on convincing the world – especially in the modern age of social media. Because once war broke out, the world would side with those that they deemed just.
But how did one convince the public that one was just when there was no justice in war in the first place? Creating the image of Midgard's soldiers as Valkyries was the answer. And one aspect was being a constant in the world – a face one could identify. Most captains had understood that.
Except for Wylis. Even his Valkyries had their last public appearance twenty-five years ago – not counting Linde Sieg’s funeral. Wylis might as well not exist in the public consciousness. At least, if one had one asked two days ago.
“Cut the crap, Mistel.” Gerard hammered his fist for a second time. “Your Vice-captain was the one who had betrayed us. If you insult Rory, then let’s settle that outside.”
“You think I don’t know that?” Wylis took off his hornet glasses and stared at the closed gates behind the Allfather.
Only Albain Trutner and President Adler had permission to open them, and even for the President, it was a one-time affair. His inauguration twenty-five years ago was the only time he had gained permission to see the room concealed behind the gates: the throne of Godking Twice where the world tree connected them to the world's core – and kept the plateau – and the world – from falling.
“Drake, just what are you trying to do?” Wylis’ voice had become a murmur.
“We can’t say for sure that he has rebelled,” said Barrel. “What potential reasons would Vice-captain Griffin have to ally with Vaix? We should focus on that.”
“Greed.” For Fran, the matter was clear. “They don’t call him the dragon for nothing. His love for money is widely known, and the Kaiser could pay him more than he could ever earn here.”
“What do you think, Mistel?” Barrel tented his fingers. His mahogany eyes circled the table once until they stopped on Wylis’ hanging head.
“I can’t imagine that. Drake loved money and gold. That is true. But he never cared about getting richer. He already had amassed a huge treasure anyway.”
“Of which there is no trace either.” Fran wrinkled her nose.
“For Drake, it was more important to protect what he already had.”
"Again, all his money and gold are missing," said Fran.
Wylis shook his head "No, his greatest treasure had always been his family. His children were everything for him."
"And yet, he abandoned his daughter to rot in prison and turned his adoptive son into a suicide bomber. Father of the year material right there." Fran clapped into her hands. "Since we are at it, let's give Drumpfstein the human rights award. He would be happy to stuff that trophy right into a little boy's-"
"I think we get your point," Barrel raised his hand and clenched it. "Has anyone any other input."
"I wouldn't underestimate the lengths a man could go for the sake of love." The President looked grim. "Drake's a widower. His life's a sad one. There's so much he's already lost."
Ah right, her father was Drake's friend. The two bonded over their shared grief. How much did he experience that drive himself? And when he spoke of love, did he think of her mother, her, or perhaps did he think of...
"It is a strong force, equal to the drive for justice, and gave birth to endless heroes and legends," said the Allfather. He scratched his eyepatch as his single eye gazed into the distance. "But once a man's love is lost, it may become grief and fear and transform the bravest hero into a heel. How many monsters had we slain for such tragedy."
Aura raised her brow.
It seldom happened that the Allfather alluded to his former bride. She was sure he would be content to let that anecdote of his past rot in the annals of history. Rumors say, when the pirate Blackbeard kidnapped his bride on their wedding day around 40 years ago, the Allfather searched for years and left behind a path of blood. Whether that was true or not, the Allfather refused to find another spouse ever since, which worked out in her favor. Marrying the Allfather would have solidified her political success, but becoming the wife of a man at least ten times her age?
Not that she wouldn't have done it, but Graswald being close to her age group would make the marriage easier.
“Then perhaps because of Linde?” Graswald said to himself, more than to anyone at the table. Aura looked at him for a second before she turned her attention towards the other attendees.
“Why don’t we just attack Vaix?” Gerard asked. “Problem solved. They declared war on us with that attack."
“Vaix has an alibi.” Idris stroke his chinstrap. “The entire high command has celebrated the peace ceremony in the capital. According to them, the culprits have been dishonorably discharged soldiers, as well as radicals of the Judas group. The Judas group even released a testimony and admitted their crimes via video message. Of course, that story is about as true as Billy Five’s face, but for now, Vaix is innocent.”
Gerard looked at the table and murmured the name of the radical group.
“Those extremists with the pointy hats you recently had pummeled,” said Graswald.
“Ah.” Gerard grinned. “The funny-hat-guys.”
“Yes. The funny-hat-guys.” Graswald's eyes became empty. His face lost its color and hardened. It was the light of someone who long had realized that there was no hope and accepted the despair as a part of life.
The Judas group...hmh.
Aura tipped her finger against her arm.
A group that had named itself after Judas Iscariot, the only Paladin who didn't abandon Kaiser Wilhelm at the end of the Great War and remained with him until his suicide. They wished to bring back the old Vaixian empire that started the Great War and finish what Kaiser Wilhelm couldn't finish. Xeno-, gyno-, and homophobia didn't even begin to describe their attitude. Even if Vaix was willing to start a second world war, they wouldn't have teamed up with the Judas Group. The current Kaiser would never cross that line, and the radicals would never accept the current Kaiser as their leader.
“Is that everything?” The Allfather stood up from his throne. “Then, I hereby dismiss this crisis point. Graswald and Donnerschlag. I want you two to stay. The rest can leave.”
Nakk looked at Gerard, and Gerard shrugged in confusion.
It would have been one thing if the Allfather had singled out Gerard to scold him for another of his reckless and costly actions – like the time he had set fire to a power plant because he tried to increase the energy output.
But the Captains knew, since the Allfather had called Graswald too, it had to be another matter. The five captains left the room, leaving Gerard, Graswald, the Allfather, and President Adler at the table.
And one more. Time for the grand twist.
“I swear, I didn’t do anything.” Gerard raised his hands like a man desiring not to be shot by the police. “This time.”
“Relax,” said Graswald. “We are here for other reasons.”
“You're right.” Aura's voice echoed through the narthex. The Captains turned around, and before their eyes, she revealed her figure.
“Princess…” Gerard’s eyes widened. “B…but how?”
Cosry Drumpfstein - A former children's tv show host, sitcom star, film mogul, and owner of casino and hotel chains. His career came to an abrupt end when allegations of decade-long sexual assault of minors came to the surface. At the age 93, he is currently serving a twenty-year long prison sentence.
Billy Fives – A former A-list actor who died in 990AR. From 970AR on, he became mostly known for the increasing number of plastic surgeries done on him.