“I’m not going to point out how stupid you are,” Kim said. “Instead, I wanna know. Why are you willing to sacrifice so much to be a Valkyrie? Why is this dream so important to you? If you want to see the world become better, then surely there would be more direct and efficient ways?”
“Valkyries inspire the masses. That’s the only way we can bring true change to the world. Progress forced upon humanity is nothing but a paint job that fosters resentment.”
“What a wonderful answer.” Kim chuckled and, as his bones cracked, bent his body at a ninety-degree angle. “Truly, magnificent. Enlightening.”
Altera took a step back. “I…Is that supposed to be flattery.”
“It’s just that…” Kim chuckled again. “You’ve revealed so much. The truth is, you’re selfish.”
Kim straightened his back, and his bones cracked a second time. “We human’s cannot not communicate. You said you want intrinsic progress to create change. But then, why didn’t you start with that? No. That’s just some retroactive justification your mind hatched to remain noble and selfless. Your intrinsic motivation is much clearer. As you said yourself, you want to inspire the masses.”
“I don’t see what’s so selfish about wanting that?”
“Oh, yes. It’s selfish. You don’t care about making a better world. All you want is to be seen as this beacon of hope. The masses shall look up to you and shower you with gratitude and love. That’s why your Fylgja gives you wings. You wanna fly high and bask in the light above everyone’s heads. The people shall look up to you. But sorry, dear. You’re flying too close to the sun, and it’s time for you to bur-”
“I want to continue and leave this place!” Altera spurted the words out of her mouth, not allowing him to finish his sentence.
She couldn’t let him speak another word. Kim was trying to get into her head. The longer she stayed, the more damage he would cause. This man was a vortex of madness waiting to drown others in his insanity. In her current state, if he messed with her mind, the damage he could do…She had to get out.
“You really think you can leave now?” Kim started to cackle. He held his abdomen as his body convulsed in his burst of laughter, and his voice vibrated through his metal mask. His pupils distorted, gawking at Altera’s motions. “You gotta enjoooy the show. Cause belieeeeve me, the real fun’s about to start.”
Altera gulped, and beads of sweat formed on her forehead.
“You’re willing to give up everything in your life without even a second thought. And for what? Glory, love, and fame from the faceless masses. But why? Why were you obsessed with becoming a Valkyrie? Isn’t the answer simple? You’ve nothing else in your life. If you failed your Bragi, what would remain of Altera Xion?”
“Pleeeaaaase.” Kim pointed with his finger at her. “Don’t answer. Any rebuttal would be paatheeetic deenial. There’s nothing.” Kim widened his arms. “You’re as empty as this world.”
Emptiness – the runes for this word formed themselves on the wall behind Altera, and the red filter vanished, turning the world white again.
“You’re a blank canvas and filled that emptiness with anything you could find. To escape the void.”
Altera's eyes dilated, and her pupils shrunk. Kim might have impaled her heart on a lance. Her body ceased to function; all her movements stopped.
And voices started to whisper to Altera’s mind. They crawled into her brain, spewing their poison. They told her she was worthless. She didn't deserve to live and was nothing but a waste of air. Her dreams were meaningless, for she would never achieve anything. Why should she bother? No one liked her; everyone hated her. She was a mere broken doll – useless and worthless. No one would ever love a train wreck like her. They would leave her, and she would be all alone. Wasn't it better that way? She didn't deserve happiness. Wouldn't the world be better if it didn't have to endure her existence? What was the point in living, anyway?
No. Altera shook her head. Don't...
If she continued to listen, everything would be over. She had to focus.
Kim swung his brush. Ink squirted out of it into all directions, but it didn’t touch anything. Before it landed, Kim twirled his weapon a second time. No liquid came out. Instead, the ink conglomerated to a single unity. It followed the movements of Kim’s brush, who waved it around like a conductor their baton. The liquid turned into a maelstrom, swirling around its master, ready to repaint the void, the canvas that was Altera.
“So, now let’s examine the painting you tried to create.” Kim’s voice boomed through the hall, his echo brimming in Altera’s ear. “We will see what is inside your little head, Altera Xion.”
Ink separated from the maelstrom. It turned into a black snake and coiled around Altera. She swung her partisan, but the snake escaped the attack and splattered against the wall. The liquid dropped on the ground. It leaked between Altera and continued to draw the line further until it had divided the world in two – left and right.
Altera’s face became pale as she saw the two halves.
Was this…? No, he couldn’t be alluding to this. Please no. That wasn’t fair. Geißel wouldn’t allow him to do that. No, it didn’t matter. Her brother wasn’t here. He had no reason to follow the orders of someone absent. This world was a canvas, and Kim could paint any painting he wanted. All of this was for him to manipulate.
“You adhere to the ideals of the Valkyries. You live day by day according to them, and every single thought of yours, you check against them. A computer that checks if the values are correct. True; false. If true, continue. If false, readjust. How admirable. Such dedication. Wow. You work and work, and struggle and continue. But it’s all fake.”
“Shut up!” Altera raised her voice.
“You never believed in any of this. You sim-“
“Shut…Up!” Altera beat her wings. She drew her weapon and charged at Kim. Her eyes burned with anger, ready to cremate her opponent, and on the wall, the rune for “fire” appeared. The overseer swung his brush. Ink flew into the air, transformed into needles, and rained down. Altera slowed down and started to dance around, trying to avoid the ink.
Kim laughed. Without restraint, he let himself loose, and his voice spread across the room, heightening to a pitch. “As ifff you can silence my art and freedom to expresssss myself. I’ll continue to display my craft, and you’ll pay the price. Reality itself will twist and turn and become a tool to create my artistic vision. I won’t stop, no matter how much pain there is. All the misery, and sorrow and anguish, I don’t care how much you will receive and how much you can endure. But that’s fine. Didn’t you say that you don’t care either? You may not believe in the Valkyrie’s values, but you know how they embody perfection.”
“Please! I’m begging you!”
Kim swung his brush again. Ink shot into the air and wrapped around Altera’s limbs. She grunted and fought as they dragged her to the ground.
“So, you decided to become a Valkyrie. You would become the perfect woman. An ideal of our society, we can only look up to. You were a lonely girl grasping for perfection because you knew it was the furthest thing from your existence.”
From the ground, the ink morphed into a girl crying in a fetal position.
"Just imagine little Altera, sitting in her room all alone, shunned by everyone. Nobody wished for the existence of such a freak. She hated this world, hated herself, and one day, she asked herself: "Why does everyone hate me?", "Why do I have to suffer?", "Why am I alive?" Wasn't that so?"
Kim walked closer to Altera, circling her as the ink girl imitated his words.
"But one day, you read about Valkyries. You swallowed their stories because they were everything you weren't. All your wishes could come true if you were one. You had a way out of your pathetic existence that wouldn't leave your parents crying. Finally, a shot at this thing we call happiness. You could escape the abyss that was your life."
Kim swung his weapon. The blade cut through the girl, and its head burst, the ink staining the ground.
“Please, stop!” Altera fought against the bindings. She forced herself to stand up and walk to Kim, but the ink dragged her back. As he continued to rant, Altera would try to escape her shackles without success.
“If you lived by the ideals, you would stop being little Altera. And even if you died trying, it would be worth it. Cause then, you would also stop being little Altera. You even made yourself believe that lie that you were acting out of the goodness of your heart.” Kim snorted. “Of course, eventually, you realized that the ideal of a Valkyrie wasn’t real. Valkyries were utopian entities that could only exist in theories. But did that deter you? Instead of facing reality, you continued to live your fantasy.”
“Shut up! P…Please.” Altera’s voice started to waver. Her shouts turned to cries as defeat started to manifest in her heart.
Kim laughed. “Don’t you know what we call that? De…luuu…sion…all. You continued to pursue something unobtainable because you couldn’t return to who you used to be. There’s no return for you and no path that leads towards the future. Yet, you continue to walk on a route that doesn’t exist. Because it’s much better than being Altera Xion. But the question is, what are you? Why do you hate yourself so much? Shall we reveal the answer?”
“No. Please. Please. Don’t.” Altera dropped to her knees. Tears ran down her face.
Why didn’t he stop? It was cruel, so incredibly cruel. Why was he like that? Why couldn’t he stop? Didn’t he see how much pain it brought to her?
But Kim didn’t stop. “Even as a small child you knew, something wasn’t right with you.”
And as he continued to speak, an invisible painter started to write on the walls: melancholy; depression; joyless; coldness; self-conscious; pathetic; worthless; abyss; darkness; suffocating; drowning; despair.
“The way you thought; the way you spoke. How you reacted; how you acted.”
Crazy; sick; unstable; disorder; flawed; frozen; low; ice; apathy; doubt; broken; hollow; death-seeking; suicide.
“An abnormality within the idyllic village of Auster.”
Hatred; pain; anguish; crying; hiding; sadness; endless; loneliness.
“Were it not for your talent and beauty, the world would’ve shunned you like a freakshow.”
Fear; lying; failing; unobtainable; dread; foolish; blank; fake; pretender; hypocrite; emptiness; nothingness; loveless; wingless; lifeless; hopeless.
More words appeared on the left side of the wall, and when there was no more room, the scribe continued to write on the ground. And each of these words drilled into Altera’s mind. They crawled and sipped into her consciousness, infecting and corrupting her thoughts.
“Please, please, please.” Altera looked at Kim, her eyes pleading. “Please, stop.” Her pupils dilated from the onslaughts of words on her mind. Her fingernails etched into her skull, scrubbing the thoughts away.
She couldn’t think about it. As long as she remained focused, she wouldn’t have to hear her thoughts. She couldn’t. No. Under no circumstances could she listen. If she did, then…
The temperature dropped. Ice crystals grew from the ground, multiplying in numbers between the letters. The once black ink and runes turned into a frozen gravure.
If she started her train of thoughts, she would be unable to escape. An endless spiral would drag her down and down and further until there was no light. She couldn’t go back to that place. Anything but that. It was cold and lonely. There was nothing good.
She hated, hated, hated it. She hated it so much. If she went back, it would be over. She couldn’t risk it. Not now. Not as long as she had her Bragi. She had to end this, or the torture would continue, and she would relapse.
Altera readied her partisan. Her eyes reflected her weapon, and in turn, its surface reflected the pink flesh as the blade pointed at the throat.