The book dropped out of Ragna’s hands. And as it landed on the floor, tears fell on it, wetting the brittle paper. She had tried to hold them back for so long, but now there was no way she could anymore.
Was this their legacy? All the murder, pain, and misery? It was inhumane what these people had to suffer through. And for what reason? For a god, the crusaders themselves had stopped to worship? And this was just one story. How many more existed scattered around the world? And no ear to listen to their screams, no eyes to see their pain?
The world she knew was built upon a sea of corpses, and their deaths enabled the luxury and treasures she had enjoyed. It wasn't that she didn't know about Midgard's past. But what could she do? Should she give away what she had? To whom? Should she feel guilt for what her ancestors had done? What would that change? Just what should she do? There wasn’t anything she could do about their deaths. Those who had suffered were long gone, and the murderers too. No matter what she did, there would never be justice for them. But if she did nothing, wouldn’t that be an excuse to remain ignorant? There had to be something. As a future Valkyrie, it would bring shame to that name if she stayed apathetic.
“I've no idea what the right answer is.” Ragna looked up. Altera sat next to her, crammed in her backpack, and brought forth a pack of handkerchiefs, presenting it on her metallic fingers.
“Thank you.” Ragna sniffed and took one out. She blew into it. With a second handkerchief, she wiped away the droplets at the corner of her eyes.
“This topic is probably too complex for either of us.” Altera bent over and picked up the diary from the ground. “Some will tell you that you are using excuses to enjoy your privileged life in luxury. Others will tell you that your guilt is nothing but the condensing compassion of a privileged Midgardian girl so that she can make herself feel better. Or even feel superior. Some will say that you are too lazy to give up your luxury. And some will say that your behavior is just another proof that we have become political babies who will cry about anything potentially offensive. I am not going to tell you that you should do this or that. Or that it is our responsibility. I can’t. And perhaps I don’t even have the right to tell you. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe there is no right or wrong and never will be. The only thing I can tell you is that you have to decide for yourself. Come to your own conclusions. Whether you find support or opposition, who knows? For all we know, even that might change.”
“What about you?” Ragna asked.
Altera shrugged. “I will continue on my path. Guide the people towards what I believe is the right path and hope that such injustice will never be repeated.”
Ragna looked at her. Her crimson eyes burned with their usual luster. No, perhaps even brighter than ever. There were no signs of fatigue on her. They had explored the temple for hours, and she was fit as ever. Was this difference between them and a Valkyrie? No, that was unlikely. Her father was always tired. He could even sleep on chairs without problems.
“Sometimes ah wish ah coods become a spyug an' jist fly awa'." Altera summoned an ice sculpture in the form of a swallow. The swallow levitated into the air and flew around them. "Lit aw responsibilities faa an' bide in happiness. Aiblins that’s wa mah Fylgja allows me tae fly?”
Altera let the swallow crash against the floor, and Ragna's jerked up when she saw the bird's grizzly demise.
“I feel sorry for that poor thing. But perhaps that is the solution.” Ragna stood up.
"What d'ya mean?"
“Honestly, I didn’t understand everything. You were talking really fast,” said Ragna. “But you mentioned wanting to fly away, right? Alfrun wrote the same words in her diary. And on the door, it was written that one couldn’t set foot outside this forest. Perhaps they meant it literally.”
They entered the temple’s pinnacle anew. Sun rays shone upon the altar, and from their view, the morning sky was clear to see. Altera spread her wings and flew into the open air. Her graceful figure transformed into a dark silhouette approaching the sun that watched over them like the eye of a god. She shrunk and shrunk, and Altera had disappeared from their view. Soon enough, she returned and landed in front of them.
“It works,” she said. “I was able to leave the area.”
“So, we can leave the forest as long as we don’t walk on the ground,” said Ragna.
“Are you going to carry us?” Eric asked. “Only she can fly, after all.”
Altera smiled. “I have another idea.” Ice materialized in front of them, creating a bridge towards the branch of the nearest tree. “If we use the ice, we can walk on the trees and leave the forest.”
“You’re a showoff.” Eric chuckled. He took Altera's hand and stepped on the bridge of ice.
Ragna followed suit. She left the temple behind her and turned around to look at the tomb one last time. There was nothing she could do for Alfrun. The past, she couldn’t change. It would remain horrible. And perhaps Clockwork was right, and she didn’t have the ability to create a better world. But as long as she breathed, she would fight to make even the slightest difference, to allow even one more smile to exist.
“So, now what? We still have to go to Hlessy,” Ragna said once they had left the barrier.
“I live in Hlessy,” said Eric. “I have a car parked not too far from here. If you want, I can drive you there. Might take a few hours, but I owe you at least that much. The treasure may be gone, but at least, we’re still alive.“