A loud noise brought an end to Ragna’s sleep. Yawning, she rubbed her eyes.
What's going on?
Stretching her back, she inspected the source of the noise: a man clad head-to-toe in tight, dark leather, towering over her like a dragon, his finger pushing buttons on the stove. Ink black barbarian hair decorated his pointy face like a lion's mane.
It took her a second until she realized who that person was.
In front of her was her father, cooking breakfast. He was playing with the stove's button until her eyes widened, and she ran towards him.
“What are you doing?” She pushed him from the stove away. “Mom forbid you to cook ever again. It took months till Sven’s hair grew back to its original length.”
Ragna hit her father’s head with a wooden spoon and put a pink apron on. She snickered. The cloth's soft fabric tickled her skin.
"I'm sorry." Drake lowered his head.
“As you should.” Ragna swung her spoon like a ruler. “Now, what do you want for breakfast? How about scrambled eggs." She bit her fingernail. "Or maybe…?”
“Scrambled eggs sound good.”
Next to her father sat the receptionist, wearing a loose cinnabar shirt with frills on the arms, like a Flamenco dancer.
“No.” Ragna puffed and hit him with her spoon. “This is quality father-daughter-bonding-time. Super old men are not allowed.”
Sulking, the receptionist danced away to his reception desk. As he should – a receptionist belonged to the reception desk and a father to his daughter.
"I'm sorry," her father said a second time. "I should bring food to the table. Yet I have to depend on you. I'm a total failure."
“My stomach and our insurance require me to cook.” Again, Ragna tapped her father’s head with the wooden spoon of doom.
He sat on the chair the receptionist had left free and sighed. "You're just like your mother."
Ragna smiled. She leaned behind her father and hugged him. Shadows covered his eyes, and her arms wrapped around her father’s chest.
“Isn’t it natural for a daughter to become like her mother?” Her lips whispered into his ears. “Mom was an amazing woman. She was strong, beautiful, and intelligent. And married to an equally amazing, if slightly stupid husband.”
Her arm's embrace tightened. Tears ran down her cheeks, wetting her father’s broad shoulders.
“She's everything I want to be. Even if she's gone, I've to become a Valkyrie like her. I promise I will fight for our happy ending as she did. We will get our lives back. And we will make those who made us suffer pay. I promise. I promise.”
Her hand ran through her father’s body. Like smoke, he dispersed. She was alone.
Ragna cracked her neck and put on her clothes. No matter what happened, she would move on. She was on a mission – neither god-sent nor for her kingdom. But one for her family, for their happiness, and for justice itself.
She opened the door and entered the world outside the room.
The waves ascended from the ocean. Rising and falling, they played an eternal rhythm of sound and water. Against the grey bark of a single tree that had emerged from the ocean's depths, the sea stirred.
What was beyond the surface, in the abyss that the light could never reach?
Ragna stared at the tree. It was a drill that pierced the heavens. She floated in the water, yet her body was dry. Not a drop touched her. The tree’s branches, she couldn't see them. Each of them was a window into another world. Some were familiar. Others, eldritch locations beyond her capability to understand. One branch connected to this world through a door. Spider webs – and the Void– covered the portal that led to a world she neither could nor should enter.
The voice that vibrated through the sky into Ragna's mind said it didn’t matter. That door didn't relate to her story. It only existed for the sake of this universe’s principles: to prevent self-immolation because of reactionary instability by mingling a cross point between opposite realities.
Ragna just accepted his words. She couldn't hope to understand them in the first place.
Sven was here. He had just arrived. It felt like ages when they had last seen each other. Sven pulled her out of the water into his warm embrace. All strength in her body vanished. Her fingers caressed his blank face.
So wonderfully cold.
She closed her eyes, and he kissed her eyelid. Once, twice, a third time. Gently, with just enough force. His lips moved to the other one. Ragna opened her jacket. Layers of his body dropped into the ocean, revealing a white foundation underneath. He let go of her and moved forward.
Should she follow?
In the distance sang a voice in a sirenic melody. It called her to the rocks. The sea crashed against them, and their edges cut through the water like a knife.
Should she follow?
“Which way is it?” That voice echoed in her mind like thunder, and her instincts trusted it. She did not need to think about this: It was her ally.
“Is one right and the other wrong? That is for you to decide. Will one lead to ruin? Will one lead to happiness? The answer is yours. If you seek salvation in a false dichotomy, so be it. But move forward.”
The water trembled, and the blue transformed into a shadow, large enough to swallow her whole. But it never would. From the sea emerged the shadow. Leaving behind a trail of cascades, it flew to the horizon. Before Ragna could grasp his form, it had vanished from her eyes. But she knew the words were its. “Salvation, damnation, absolution, retribution, none and all. Choose the path your heart desires. Do not rest on the crossroads. Progress towards the which you seek.”
Lapis armor; pearl horns; quartz ice; ruby lips; rhodolite poison; turquoise water; onyx wings; alexandrite eyes.
Blue innocence; alabaster determination; ashen dreams; scarlet protection; pink allure; black ideals; green malice; and golden avarice.
Words were drifting in her mind as she herself did in the ocean.
What did they mean, and what should she do?
The morning sun brought warmth to her face, and wiggling around, Ragna opened her eyes.
Moans, heavy breathing, and her back feeling her mattress's rough texture interrupted her sunbath.
What was Altera doing? Should she check?
It would be rude to watch and a brisk of privacy, but curiosity got the better of Ragna, and her eyes wandered around.
If Altera wished for privacy, she would have barricaded herself in the bathroom.
An ice construct had grown from the ceiling that resembled the Perbo-rune. Altera had frozen her feet to the formation and extended her wings. Wearing a crow black tank top and shorts in the same color, Altera lifted her body and was doing crunches. On her right shoulder, she wore a black six-pointed cross overlaid on top of the scheme of a flower – three petals up, three petals down.
Was that a tattoo? If she remembered correctly, Altera had a second one on the back of her left hand: two wings spread from a lance that impaled a rhombus.
Altera didn’t seem to the be type to wear tattoos, but it looked she has a rebellious side as well. Or perhaps she had a lot to learn about her. Now that she thought about it, what was Altera's Fylgja? She could sprout wings and fly, but how did it connect to the ice? Was it based on a mythological ice creature? Then again, what did she know about Fylgja?
Every child in Midgard was born with a guardian spirit that fused with one's soul. Besides generating Mana, those spirits allowed one to use Fylgja: an ability that manifested a person's self through manipulating Mana. Supposedly every citizen in Midgard had the potential to use these superpowers. But only about one percent of the population would ever find the trigger to activate them, and it was one of the requirements to become a Valkyrie.
When would she find hers? Statistically, children of parents who had discovered their Fylgja had an increased likelihood to find theirs. But no luck so far.
It seemed that Altera had finished her crunches. The ice on her feet melted, and she descended to the ground. Had Ragna a glass in her hand, she would have dropped it.
That was unfair. How could anyone compete with that? Altera wasn't a regular beauty. Her looks bordered on the supernatural. If one told her she was a changeling, she would believe it.
Ragna closed her eyes and turned around. Altera had been conscious about either of them undressing in front of the other. She didn't know what Alter's issue was, but the last thing she needed was that Altera noticed how she had checked her out.
Whenever Altera used to have that stick so far up her ass, Ragna would imagine her in underwear to undermine her authority. Her guts told her that the trick wouldn't work anymore.
By the time the girls had checked out, the receptionist still hadn’t bothered to look at them even once. The newest issue of the ‘Midgard Times’ seemed more important to him. However, that allowed Altera and Ragna to see if there was news about Ragna’s prison break. As it turned out, that was not the case. Most likely, the government wouldn’t want to admit that their soldiers had allied with the enemy and attacked the presidential family.
The receptionist threw the bill in front of them. When they saw the price of 200 Wert, one thought had – despite their vast differences – manifested in both of their minds. The feeble hope to never rest in this mockery of sacred hospitality again.
“My whole body hurts.”
Ragna stretched her body. Everything cracked. Her neck sounded like she had broken a bone in two.
Uhh…That’s going to hunt her.
"I wouldn't have thought I would miss my bed." Ragna yawned. She took a sip out of her coffee cup and grimaced.
God, it tastes like cigarette butts.
“The real world won't pamper you,” Altera said without looking at Ragna. Her eyes wandered through the station, observing her surroundings. Even though it was in the city’s outskirts, many people waited for the Bifrost to arrive. “So, don't make a fuss and get over it.”
"I wouldn't be so tired if you weren't so loud. How long did you work out?"
"No idea." Altera shrugged her shoulders. "I woke up around four and didn't look at the time when I had finished."
Seriously? At four? That's less than two hours of sleep. She wasn't human. There was no way Altera had a human body. Either that or her brain was in shambles.
"How are you even alive?”
Altera turned around, her back facing Ragna. "I'm just like that. There are times I don't need to sleep at all."
Oookaayy. That sounded creepier than it should be. Better to change the topic then.
"How come you don't have a six-pack with all that work out?"
Altera faced her again. "I'm doing a combination of cardio work-out and Barre. That, plus the nutrition plan my instructors had given me, allows me to gain strength without muscle definition."
"Was that your idea?"
"My instructor thought it would hinder my career if I looked muscular."
Ah, that was right. Whether Valkyries should have a six-pack and muscles divided public opinion. Valkyries were idols and thus, had to conform to society's beauty ideals, find niches of alternative beauty, or become pop-cultural stereotypes. Especially the current generation of Captains contained a vast assortment of clichés.
Still, it was a small price to pay as one in exchange could fight for the sake of Midgard's citizens and defeat evil. Though, whenever some of the more popular female Valkyries appeared on television, she occasionally couldn't look into a mirror for days. The desire that everyone was blind would creep into her mind.
"Wait a minute," said Altera and raised her voice. "How did you know about my abs? Did you peep?"
Ragna clicked her tongue.
Why did she have to mention it?
"It's just a work-out. That's a normal thing to do, and it is normal to look. What do you think would happen? That I get off of that?"
"It's not normal." Altera's face became red. "What's wrong with you?"
One day, a shrink should look inside Altera's head.
“I don’t want to hear that from someone who can’t look at a half-naked person.” Ragna took another sip.
“M…My actions were logical. It’s you who has no shame. Stripping before another person.”
“Yeah…” Ragna sneered. “Don’t think I didn’t notice that you were staring at me.”
“What has that to do with anything? It’s only natural. Like looking at a train wreck.”
“You’re calling me the train wreck?”
And thus, the two bickered until the Bifrost arrived.
Changeling – A infant who was kidnapped by fairies and replaced with a fairy child. A common motive in literature and fairy tales.
Barre – A workout form used by models and female Valkyries that combines Pilates, yoga, and ballet. It supposedly allows to build strength without gaining a visible muscle definition. Its effectiveness is often debated.