“One pumpkin spice latte and a Velvet cake, please.” Rory kicked her legs in the air as they didn’t reach the end of the chair.
“For me, just an espresso.” Gerard returned the menu.
The waiter nodded and left, but not before giving Rory a second look full of disdain and suspicion.
Gerard clenched his fist.
“Forget it,” said Rory. “I’m used to it.”
“Don’t you think that’s a problem?” Gerard asked. “And it’s never been so bad. You can’t walk five meters without people whispering.”
“What do you expect?” Rory shrugged her shoulders. “Vaix ain’t exactly popular right now, and people think I poisoned Princess Aurelia.”
“Even though the Princess gave a public statement.”
“People are idiots. They believe whatever they wanna believe.” Rory looked around. Members of the IBM and the Einherjar strolled through the café, chatting and eating during their lunch break. Occasionally, they would glance at them. “And right now, they wanna hate Vaix.”
Gerard shook his head. “That’s not right.”
“Can you blame them after what happened with the Verne? Even I believe that Vaix was responsible.”
“The situation with Princess Aurelia was already bad. But now it’s gotten worse. We’re at the brink of war.”
“And it won’t stop here.” Rory nodded. “People wanna go to war. Vaix is its usual self. Avalon, Kemet Raa, and Utgard are opportunists, and Midgard and Eren want to retaliate.”
It was a disaster. The Verne terrorist attack had traumatized Midgard. Not only did Midgard and Eren block their sea routes, but a worldwide hunt to find the perpetrators had started as well – or rather, an initiative to prove Vaix’s guilt and bring them to justice. Security became tighter, and volunteers flooded the Military Academy or the Einherjar. The people wanted to go to war, and they wanted to hate Vaix.
The waiter returned and put the plates on the table.
“Could you please put the bill on my employer’s tab?” Gerard asked.
“Of course, Mr. Donnerschlag,” said the waiter and left.
Gerard pointed at her body. "When will you turn back?"
“Dunno. I can’t control it. When I feel like it, I’ll transform back.”
Rory pressed the camera button on her phone and activated the selfie function. Her face had gotten rounder, and her cobalt hair had grown to pigtails. How old was she when she used to look like that? Maybe she was seven or eight? Despite what the other Valkyries believed, she couldn’t transform into other humans. At most, she could age or de-age her appearance and change her sex. Being able to imitate other people would help her with her assassination and infiltration tasks, but she had never felt the urge to look like or be someone else. Why would she? Being herself was all she needed, and she could modify her body for all her needs. Though, being able to revert the aging or de-aging process at a faster rate would help.
“Can we for once eat at a public café?” Rory took a fork and broke off a piece of her cake.
“And dealing with all the paparazzi? They would see me with you and think you’re my daughter. Or worse, my lover.”
“Doesn’t sound so bad, daddy.”
Rory took a bite, and Gerard’s body jerked.
“This is why you’re always in trouble. And I’ve to bus out your ass. Yeah, people are racist, but you need to be nicer. Like when was the last time you called mom?”
“That doesn’t matter.” Rory blew her nose. “Can’t we talk about something else?”
The two siblings looked at each other.
“Fine. Why did you kill Oxram?” Gerard asked.
Rory shrugged. “It was the easiest way. And he deserved it.”
“That doesn’t matter,” Gerard grumbled. “You should've arrested him. We need to know who his customers are.”
“That wouldn’t work. If we had arrested Oxram, everyone and their grandma would find out. And then, all that would happen is that we find him hanging himself in his prison cell because he suddenly became suicidal.” Rory sneered and crossed her arms. “With how rich his customers are, they would buy a way to save their skin. But no one knows I killed Oxram. I heard him talking, his buyers will come tonight, and then bam. We catch them right in the act. And no money in the world could buy them out from being pedophile slave owners.”
“If you say so.”
“Anyway,” said Rory. “How much debt do I still have?”
Gerard slid his phone to Skyfrost, and her jaw dropped.
Still, so much? It would take a year for her to repay this amount.
“That’s so unfair,” Rory growled. “I didn’t even damage the Bifröst. It was that damn Altera.”
“You started the fight. President Adler had to spin it in a way that wouldn’t destroy Altera Xion’s reputation.”
“Oh, please. That girl betrayed Midgard when she sided with Ragna Griffin. They should take the money from her account.”
“She doesn’t exactly have the money, and she’s dead.”
“You actually believe that crap?”
“Mr. Possible confirmed that she was on the MS Verne when it sank. And it’s been one and a half months since we heard anything from her or Ragna Griffin.”
"Bullshit. The two are hiding somewhere. And what’s up with Mr. Possible anyway? He’s missing for how long? I tell you, something's going on."
“Maybe. But for now, you’ve to clear your debt.”
“Shouldn’t we do more important stuff? We’re on the brink of war, and I’ve to pay for some stupid train. We should be helping our kingdom.”
“Your kingdom doesn’t matter when you owe someone money, I guess. There’s a new job, by the way.”
Rory groaned. “What do I’ve to do now?”
Through the village of Auster blew the stench of salt, oil, dried meat, and fish. Villagers and horses rushed over the streets back and forth from the coast to the village center. Seeing them, one would believe the entire village was in a hurry. Noises and shouts filled the morning. Flocks of birds flew over the roofs, migrating to the continent of Obelisk.
The wind breezed through the streets, and Rory rubbed his forearms. “We’re in the middle of September, but it feels like Winter. What’s wrong with this place?”
“I told you to bring an extra jacket,” said Gerard. “We’re close to Minanaught.”
“Oh, shut up. You walk around shirtless with an open jacket. Why aren't you freezing to death?”
Gerard laughed. “My Fylgja keeps me warm. I can use it on you.”
He raised his finger, and Rory’s arm transformed into a scythe, its metal blade reflecting the autumn sun that couldn’t provide the village with warmth – and Gerard’s belt area. Forty-eight hours had passed since she had transformed into a child. By now, her body had reverted to its adult appearance.
“Touch me, and I’ll turn you into a eunuch.”
“Don’t be so cranky. What’s the worst that could happen?”
“I could die, you damn gorilla.”
While she couldn’t rule out that Gerard would mismanage the output of his Fylgja, the possibility was low. But the first time he used his Fylgja to warm her, she got an erection. That was the only time she had prayed to Twice and the most humiliating day in her life. No one had noticed, but the notion that her brother gave her an erection would mess with any twelve-years old’s head.
And she would not get a boner in this village. Regardless of the humiliation, if the villagers noticed a person with the “appearance of a girl” having a penis, they would try to remove this “irregularity” from the world, and she would have to kill them all. It wouldn’t be their fault. These villages hand’t progress since the last two thousand years. Should one blame the blind for the inability to understand colors?
“Did you have your coffee yet? Gerard asked. “You’re crankier than usual.”
“I can’t deal with this.” Rory pressed his fingers against his nostrils and ground his teeth. “How can these primitives deal with this?”
But she would kill them neither for their ignorance nor for their hostility. The act of depriving her of her freedom and pursuit of happiness warranted a death sentence. Two kinds of people inhabited this world: those that accepted her and those that didn’t. He wouldn’t let a collective dedicate her life, and she would never listen to their words. Her body radiated beauty and wasn’t proof of a defect. Why should she have to change herself? If society had a problem with his body, then society should change. She was free to be whatever she wanted to be.
“Don’t call them that.” Gerard nudged his elbow into his sister’s ribs. “You should be happy that you got this job.”
Rory looked around as he and Gerard walked the streets. A few workers would glance at them and return to their work while rolling their eyes.
If the rules of this world couldn’t accept him and denied his existence, then it meant they had lost all power over her. She was free. She could decide which rules to follow and which to ignore. Her kingdom brought her tears of pain and joy, but if she had to thank her irrational beautiful kingdom for something, it would be that it removed her shackles and provided her the power to grasp for freedom.
“That’s peanuts what I’m getting from this.”
“And once you’re done, your debt will be a few peanuts lower."
Rory grumbled. “Must have taken you a long time to come up with that one.”
“What’s your problem?” Gerard raised his hand, about to smack Rory in the head. “Seriously, I’m gonna call mom.”
Rory grumbled a second time. “Fine. Let’s get this over. Where’s the damn mead hall?”
Rory looked around. Frost lay atop the houses and started to melt as the sun shone on them, the water dropping from the wood onto the streets.
“I think it's that one.” Gerard pointed at a brick house in the distance. It eclipsed any other building in the village in size, decoration, or material. Two guards crouched in front of the entrance door, holding their hands over a campfire. They didn’t change their posture when Rory and Gerard arrived in front of them and continued to look at the fire.
Rory hawked, and the guards didn’t look up.
“Excuse me?” Gerard walked towards them. His figure cast a shadow over the men and the fire and robbed them of the scraps of sunlight they could enjoy. The men looked up. They inspected his muscles, picked up their spears, and jumped up.
“W...What can we do for you?” one of them asked, and the two straightened their bodies.
“Hello, nice to meet you.” Gerard smiled. “I’m Captain Gerard Donnerschlag, and this is my Vice-captain Rory Skyfrost. We’re here to discuss matters of utmost importance with your mayor.”
Rory dug her fingers in her palms and suppressed her snicker.
“The mayor is busy preparing for “the longest night”. He wishes not to be interrupted in the foreseeable future.”
Ah, that’s why the villagers seemed to be in a rush. The winter solstice wouldn’t be happening until the middle of December, but given the village’s size and lack of support from the government, they had to prepare months ahead. When a night would last 24 hours for about a month, a village had to take precautions. Beasts and bandits would roam the streets, and temperatures would drop to inhuman levels.
“Tell him that this concerns his daughter,” said Gerard.
The men’s faces became blue.
“D...Did she marry?” one asked.
“I don’t think that concerns you.” Rory stepped forward. “Now, get the mayor here, or you won’t live long enough to think about marrying.”
The guards nodded. Without saying a word, they slammed the door open and rushed inside.
Rory rolled her eyes. She was about to enter the mead hall when Gerard blocked the entrance with his arm.
“Did you have to scare them?” Gerard asked.
“You’re too nice.” Rory crossed her arms, stationed herself next to the fire, and let her back absorb the heat. She narrowed her eyes and looked at the entrance to the mead hall.
How strange. These guards spoke with a high-midgardian accent and didn’t display the typical southern gibberish.
Ten minutes later, the guards returned.
“The mayor awaits you in his office,” one of them said. “Second floor, third room to your left.”
Rory and Gerard nodded and entered the mead hall.
Inside, a table occupied the space, stretching from the door to the other end.
Gerard whistled. “I would love to drink here. Just imagine the entire table full of beer and mead.”
“Zip it. You only have one cheat day left for the year.”
“Oh, come on,” Gerard grumbled. “There are no phones or children around.”
Another sacrifice her brother had to make for being Midgard’s hero. Children imitated his behavior, and if they saw him drinking and partying all the time, they would do the same. At least, the PR-department of the Eninherjar reasoned his prohibition that way.
Rory didn’t reply and looked around. Behind every seat stood a wooden statue of a hero from the past watching over the banquet.
“Hey, sis,” Gerard said. “Which of these are the Trutner siblings again?”
“Seriously?” Rory looked at her brother like at a dog running against its reflection in the mirror. “They’re right here…”
Wait a minute. Where were the Trutner siblings?
She circled the statues with her eyes. The three siblings weren't among the figures. But it included the first President of Midgard, Leif Eriksson, so the line-up didn’t mock or ignore Midgardian history, and it resembled the one in Gimli. Except for the Trutner siblings, the mead hall used the same heroes. In their stead, it honored three other individuals: Pirate King Platine de Vasseur, First Kaiser Baha, and a fiddler whose face a shroud concealed.
Kaiser Baha wasn't unusual. Despite opinions about Vaix, he remained popular. Baha separating the Christian Sea to escape the Pharaoh’s tyranny alongside his followers and reaching the continent of Vanden was an inspiring tale. Midgard's consensus was that Vaix had tarnished his legacy and that Baha would be rolling in his grave. The other two were unusual. Why would anyone honor Platine de Vasseur? When he declared that his treasure was for anyone to grab who could find it, he had created the great age of piracy and plunged the world into chaos. And who the Hel was that fiddler?
“Let’s go.” Rory gave the statues one last look and gesticulated with her head towards the staircase that led to the second floor.
The two walked up and passed a room where two men tried to lift a hammer from the ground. They stopped in front of the third door.
Gerard knocked, and a woman opened it. She wore a black suit and had dyed her hair auburn. Furrows drew through her face like scars, and under her left eye, she had a mole. Still, one look sufficed to see that in front of them stood a former beauty that would have mesmerized the hearts of many.
“Please, come in,” said the woman and bowed. “Welcome to the mayor’s office. I'm his wife, Kelly Xion.