“Relax. That goody-two-shoes can fly after all,” said Skyfrost. “However, I doubt that she will be able to catch up. But then again, if you are so worried, you should have attacked alongside her.”
Ragna ran forward.
Skyfrost was right. Altera could find a way back. She shouldn’t worry about her and concentrate on defeating Skyfrost. As long as gravity was under her control, she could win.
A circle of flames surrounded Skyfrost and erupted into the sky, creating another pillar. Ragna smirked.
Now she had him.
The gravitational field that surrounded Ragna drew closer to the circle. The flames' red changed into blue, and the lack of gravity contorted them to a sphere.
In a reflex, Skyfrost jumped out of the circle. The flames extinguished. Ragna increased the gravitational pull, and Skyfrost’s jump came to a halt in midair.
“Gotcha.” Ragna decked him with her fist, and Skyfrost flew across the train. Jade black liquid covered his arms. They transform into scythes, and he rammed them into the roof. Sparks flew, his flight decelerated. His arms tore into the metal. And at the train’s edge, Skyfrost came to a halt. The heels of his boots rested over the air.
“Don’t think your parlor trick will work a second time.” Skyfrost ground his teeth. “Let’s see what you will do now. Burn to ashes.”
The train’s roof heated up, and Ragna looked around.
What was his intention? He saw that she could extinguish his fire.
But then, her eyes widened. Flames burst from all directions, blazing through the metal like whiplashes. The winds that blew at the train’s top transformed into sundowners and fed the fire with oxygen. Within seconds, it turned into a conflagration.
“Are you insane?”
Skyfrost straightened his body. Out of the inferno, he emerged laughing like a madman.
“Try to escape now,” he said and spurted towards her. “This roof will be your tomb.”
There was no way she could extinguish all of this. Not without floating away like an air balloon.
Skyfrost closed the distance and raised his scythe arm. Ragna dodged. She blocked the second arm’s strike with her saber, and Skyfrost swung his first arm. Ragna jumped, and the other scythe attacked, not allowing her to coordinate.
Ragna backflipped and landed within the center of the inferno. Her eyes widened as she realized her mistake.
The flames turned under the changed pressure of her boots into a sphere and combusted. As fast as possible, Ragna jumped from the train. She increased the gravity under her feet and landed on the train’s façade, standing sideways.
“Why does the fire not harm him?” Ragna asked herself. “Was that because of his Fylgja?”
If that were the case, then the flames would disappear once she had knocked him out and he was unconscious.
Skyfrost followed her. His arms transformed into two kusarigama – scythes attached to a metal chain. He burrowed one of them inside the roof's coating and swung on his chain arm like a monkey on a liana. He rotated his second arm and threw the scythe at her. Ragna leaped to her left and escaped the metal blade.
Fuck. Skyfrost knew that she would jump sideways. As long as the timer didn’t run out, she could move on the side as on the ground. But manipulating anything besides the gravity under her feet could throw her off into her death.
“Just as I thought. High tech, low life.” Skyfrost smirked.
As Ragna stood up, Skyfrost retracted the scythe-chain and transformed his arm into a sickle. He extended the remaining chain and ran sideways as well. Skyfrost swung his arm, and Ragna blocked with her saber. The two blades clashed. Ragna let go of the resistance and ducked, ramming her head into the Vice-captain’s stomach. Skyfrost lost his footing and dangled from the chain. Aiming for his defenseless head, Ragna swung her saber. He extended it, descended further, and her swing vibrated against the chain links. As quickly as she could, Ragna changed the course of her blade and thrust it into Skyfrost’s direction, trying to impale his scalp.
Again, he evaded the attack. Ragna ran downwards, following him. The chain contracted, pulled the Vice-captain up, and he swung his blade arm.
Ragna tried to evade the attack, but the blade bit into her shoulder. She cried in pain, and Skyfrost smirked.
“That’s it. Move, and I will turn my arm into a Morgenstern and rip you apart. I must admit your little toy gave you a bit of an advantage. But you still were no match for me. I’ve won. Do you have anything to say before I end you?”
“Just one thing,” said Ragna.
“Huh?” Skyfrost tilted his head.
A smile escaped Ragna's face. Focusing as much of the gravitational force as possible on her fist, she punched him in the stomach. Skyfrost crashed against the train’s window, shattered it, and landed inside the train. At the same moment, his arms transformed back into their original form.
“I hope this hurts.” Immediately, she focused the gravity on her boots. Breathing heavily, Ragna looked up. The fire was gone.
So, it was bait to remove her from the roof, after all.
She had to hurry. The manipulator was about to hit its limit.
Ragna ran upwards, and once she had reached the top, the countdown sprang from the glove. Ragna rammed her saber into the metal ground, tightened her grip, and pressed her free hand against the open wound. Just in time. There was nothing she could do anymore. Not that it mattered. She had defeated him.
A loud noise emerged; a drill’s head poked out of the metal. The head disappeared, and out of the hole it had drilled flew an insect.
"No," Ragna shouted.
The insect transformed, and Skyfrost appeared before her.
As Altera bounced off the roof, she beat her wings as hard as she could and slammed her partisan into the train's facade. Sparks flew. The winds blew their heat into her face as the force of the impact pushed the weapon further back. Ripping a hole into the metal coating, Altera held onto her partisan. The winds whipped into her face, trying their best to throw her from the train.
She had to get to the top. The longer she was down here, the likelier it was that Skyfrost would kill Ragna. Together their chances were already slim, but her alone?
Altera ground her teeth and tightened her grip. It was a miracle that she was able to hold onto the train. On its rear end, she dangled like a flag in the wind.
Squinting her left eyes, she looked up. Her actions had disfigured the Bifrost’s rainbow painting with an ugly black line.
From the train’s center to the rear end was quite a distance. Altera risked falling further back if she rushed this. Ragna had to hold out until then, and thanks to the winds and the train's speed, she couldn’t fly. Not without solid ground.
A lead black stake-like thorn sprout above her head. She grabbed it with her left hand. With her other hand, Altera shook and pulled her weapon until it grew loose. Drawing it out of the train, she slammed it next to the thorn. Another one appeared above her. She let go, held onto her weapon, and reached for the second thorn. Step by step, Altera progressed further until she had reached the train’s top.
Altera grabbed the thorn and rammed her partisan into the roof. Holding onto her weapon, she jumped. Just as Skyfrost had kicked Ragna away, Altera’s body glowed. Spreading her wings, she dashed towards her comrade and grabbed her before she could fall off the train as well. Ice grew over her and Ragna's feet, connected them to the ground.
“Are you okay?” Altera asked. “You are bleeding.”
“I’m fine. It’s just a scratch.”
“Don’t joke about this.” Altera swiped over Ragna’s wound, and ice covered it, stopping the bleeding. “I will give it a proper treatment once we are in the clear.”
Ragna nodded, wincing at the cold sensation.
“What a beautiful picture. You are a match made in Hel. So why don’t you go there?” Skyfrost smirked and pointed the dagger at Ragna. “I always was curious. Who did you want to bang? Your father or that simp of a brother? Or was it your uncle? No wonder Drake didn't bother taking you with him. You're just a girl whose head's filled with incest."
Ragna glared at him. She would have tried to attack him again if the ice didn't bind her.
"But fear not, in the underworld, Wert has no value. So, do not lament your worthlessness." The dagger in his hand glowed, and Skyfrost threw it at Ragna. In a reflex, Altera held her arm before Ragna, and it ate into her flesh. She grimaced.
“I will admit, despite everything, what sickens me the most is that you are weak.” The smile on Skyfrost’s face disappeared. Crouching, the Vice-captain took another step forward, and with no joy in his voice, bitterness and hatred willed their words. “You want to be Valkyries? How pathetic. You would bring nothing but shame to its sacred name. We Valkyries are the idols of this new world.”
“I don’t want to hear that from you.”
How could Skyfrost dare to speak of Valkyries when this bastard had betrayed Midgard? Did he get some sick joy out of this? To pretend he was one until the end?
Skyfrost narrowed his eyes. His fingers began to stroke Ragna’s chin. “You have spunk.”
He burrowed them into her skin, pressing against the bone of Ragna’s skull. She screeched.
“I hate that,” said Skyfrost. “You’re weak, so incredibly weak. It's disgusting, and you deserve nothing but misery. Even the technology you misused does not deserve to be used by you. Such a powerful marvel of science, and yet you were still pathetic. For a frog to fly, a crane has to eat it first. But no crane should lower itself to devour a pathetic creature like you. If you have anyone to hate, hate your own weakness that ended your pitiful journey here and now.”
Skyfrost let go. Ragna’s eyes gleamed at him. The Vice-captain straightened and took a step backwards. “Once the train stops, the IBM will take you into custody, and you'll forever remain criminals. But I'm not a monster, you know? I have a heart.” Skyfrost pressed his fingers against his chest, forming a heart shape with them. “If you truly care about the pride and honor of a Valkyrie, then I will grant you redemption. Put an end to this miserable charade you call life.”
Skyfrost had to be insane. Did he believe that? He raised his arms. “Yes. Put an end to your life, so that the name of Valkyrie can never be dirtied by your exist- “
The train took a sharp turn. Skyfrost tried to grab anything that could secure his hold. To no avail. It slung Skyfrost away, catapulted him into the sky until he was a glimmer in the horizon, and the echoes of his screams had subsided.
“That…” Ragna failed to form a sentence.
“Still. Skyfrost is right”, said Altera. “We have to find another way. Buckle up.”
“What do you…?”
The ice that held them to the ground disappeared. Altera widened her wings and pulled the partisan out. She beat her wings, and with Ragna in her arms, jumped off.
Was she crazy?
Altera flew away from the train. Then, she stopped. Her breath increased, and her wingbeats grew more frequent.
“It can’t be. The dagger…” Altera’s words became heavy. Skyfrost had poisoned her. She looked for a place to roost. Her flight grew steeper, and her wings disappeared.