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Ragna rattled with her fist. She kicked him and screamed, but the thug's grip didn’t loosen. Instead, the pressure on her bones increased. If she didn’t act quickly, he’s going to crush her hand.

“Aaah.“ The man winced with each hit he took. Yet, he didn’t waver. “Gotta say, after everything Cy did to ya', your kicks and punches have quite the oomph. Broke yer chains, too. You ain’t half bad for a girly girl. Coulda win a tournament or two. Though ‘gainst me it’s no good.” His fingers ground against her bone, and a toothy grin flashed across the man's face. But don’t worry. Cy wants you livin’. But he’d understand if I say I had to defend myself.”

Letting go of her hand, he pulled Ragna towards him and quickly pressed his thick arm against her throat. Ragna groaned, gasping for air. On her temple, she felt the heated metal of the gun burning a mark on her skin. She gulped as he applied more pressure and rubbed traces of its powder against her skull.

“If you two make anything funny…” His blood-shot eyes skimmed over the corridor.

“W…Wait-” Altera tried to say, but the thug cut her off.

“Yer attack did me good. See how my hand’s shivering? It might go off. You want me to go all Gavin on her? I don’t wanna either, but if yer voice pisses me off any more…"

Altera gnashed, but suddenly, Ragna cackled like a child. And whatever tension and rage everyone felt dispersed for something new.

֎

What's going on? Pete wondered. Why she laughin'? That can't be good.

“It’s fine,” she said and lowered her eyelids. “There's no escape for me, but maybe that's not so bad. After all, I'm the daughter of two Valkyries, a Griffin, and smokin’ hot. Someone with DNA as amazing as mine is more than suitable for the 'Future Initiative'.”

Her companions were shocked. Pete looked at her, his face displaying a mixture of confusion, suspicion, and horror.

“A beautiful house, a beautiful husband, and beautiful children. I'll live in eternal luxury.” Ragna continued. Her face displayed a broken smile, and the luster in her eyes shone brighter than gold. “That's a beautiful life, and I get to serve my fatherland forever and ever. Creating the next generation of warriors, is there a better dream for any woman? I'll be responsible for the prosperity and victory of our kingdom.”

“Are you crazy?” Altera shouted.

Ragna shook her head. “What better way is there to restore the honor I’ve lost? To pay for my sins with body and soul, to give pleasure and life to those that will crush our enemies.”

She looked at him, and with the voice of an innocent child, she spoke. “But can I ask you a favor?”

“A favor?” Pete laughed in disbelief. “You crazy? What ya think this gun’s shootin’? Rainbow and kitties?”

“It’s not that.” Ragna shook her head again and pouted. “You don’t need my friends. My bounty's high enough that you will attain riches you couldn’t even imagine. Compared to that, whatever Wert they would bring is nothing. Only I am vaal-uuua-ble, right?“

“R…right…”

Not letting go of the gun’s trigger, Pete looked at Ragna.

“So, can you let them go, please? I mean, if you deliver me, you don’t need any more money.”

“So, I can shoot ‘em, right?”

Ragna jiggled with her body. “You could do that, buuut, why don’t you let them go? And in exchange…If I’m honest, that wasn’t the real reason. There’s actually something I want to experience before.”

“Huh?”

Ignoring the gun pressed against her temple, Ragna stared him in the eyes.

“Yes. I want to serve my kingdom with everything I have. But I have no say in that matter. So just this one time, I want to choose.”

“Choose?” Pete was confused, but when he saw how Ragna raised her skirt and opened her jacket, he understood.

It wasn't that Pete would be stupid enough to believe that Ragna thought the 'Future Initiative' was better than death. Who in their right mind would want to become a baby factory? Perhaps she was the kind of person who would sacrifice her life without a second thought for her friends. Or she was lying to herself to deny the horrors. Or Cy had driven her insane, and facing this hopeless situation, the remaining fragments of her mind had broken. Why else would she resort to this gambit? She couldn't think he was that gullible, or did she see through his bravado? Ragna knew they needed her.

Was it because he wanted to respect her selflessness? Was it because her reasoning made sense? Did he pity the girl because of the horrors that awaited her? Was he fooling himself to find an option that ended with no causalities? To finally end this charade, he had to maintain?

Was it because of the lack of entertainment during the last few weeks? The goods were for the customers only. Cy was strict about that. "Don’t get high on your own supply," he always said. And Cy would never allow anyone to touch Eris – not that it had ever crossed his mind. He respected her and Cy too much for that.

Whatever the reason, when he saw the slitted beauty lustering in her eyes, a desire overcame him. Anger and repulsiveness that he could not keep her, that he would have to give her away. A new logic ate into his mind, throwing all previous rationality away. He lowered his gun and let go of his hold. Ragna turned around. Her eyes gazed into him – into his mind, body, and soul.

“They would aaaall waaaste me.” Her voice turned into a singsong, soothing like a wave, like an infant child. “Only youuu get my true vaal-uue. Do you?” And with each word, her red lips gleamed like a string and spoke their new rationality into his brain.

Only he knew her value. Why should the government keep her? They would waste her. If he let Cyrus have her, he would waste her. Give her away for money, and Midgard would misuse her. Was he the only one who knew her value? Then it was only his right to keep her. He understood her. Not the government. And Cyrus, would he really stop? No. Cyrus would not rest until the world burned. There was no end to his crusade. If he wanted to leave this life behind, he needed Ragna. Wasn’t that romantic?

If he gave Ragna away, what was there for him to live for? How could he continue in this empty and cruel world without her? He needed her to live on. Yes, that was true. He would promise if he lost Ragna, he would end his life. So why should he give her away? Only he knew her value. So, she belonged to him. Ragna was his, and his alone. No one would get her. His treasure. His precious. Only he knew her value. She couldn’t leave him, had no right to. He would show her, prove to her that she was his possession.

In the end, he accepted.

What would have happened if they ran away? Would he have hidden her from the world and protected her? That sounded like a good idea. It didn’t matter where, just somewhere, where they could spend eternity. Even a cave would suffice. Would that have been a happy ending?

Pete would never find out. The moment their lips had connected, he did not just feel her. There was also metal and something warm and liquid. A strange sensation came from his throat. First pain, then strange grunts and noises – his own perhaps – and then nothing.

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To gavin someone – To accidentally shoot someone in the face. An idiom made popular after the action-comedy ‘Pulp Cops’ came out. During an interrogation scene, the eponymous cops threatened a suspect named Gavin with a gun to his head and accidentally fired it.

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