Congratulations! We’re all proud of you. Don’t worry about your mission. You can do it. They chose you to become a Valkyrie cause they trust you. You’ll do a great job. If you’re near Utgard, give us a call. Our house’s always open. Quin would be happy to see you again.
Altera pressed the return button. The message disappeared from her screen. She scrolled down her contact list past her family members and Ragna, to whom she had given her number if she needed help from her supervisor.
By now, Ragna must have blocked or deleted her contact. Could one blame her? She was her supervisor and supposed to lead her to success. That Ragna hadn't passed meant she had failed to teach her properly. Ragna didn't possess the right mentality to become a Valkyrie, and it should have been her duty to change that. But she didn't, and she couldn't in good conscious let Ragna into the Valkyrie Program.
When did it start to go wrong?
In Altera’s mind flashed a thousand moments from the past year. One thousand questions Ragna had asked, an equal amount of actions she had taken, and how she had reacted as her supervisor. Which one was the catalyst that had spelled disaster? Maybe it wasn’t something simple as that. How easy would life be if a single issue existed, and if one could fix that, everything would go smoothly? Maybe for other people, that was the case. But not for her. A combination of a thousand factors led to her failure. If she had seen all the signs, she might have averted it. But of course, she didn’t.
If she could turn back time, could she fix how she had taught Ragna? Knowing her luck, she would repeat all her mistakes. How often had she wished to travel back in time with her hindsight knowledge? Until a year ago, a small part of her wanted this scenario to turn into reality. Instead, she got the ability to grow wings.
"I'm such a failure."
Altera’s voice muffled in her pillow. She tapped the one number in her contact list that was neither her family nor Ragna. Her finger hovered over the green call button.
Should she call her? She had given no message or answer today, even though she should know that today was a special day. But what if she didn’t know because of all the other obligations she had? She might be busy. If she called her, would that anger her because she had more important things to do? Or she would come across as needy. Maybe she didn’t want to talk to her because she had said something stupid or insulting, and now she was angry? A message wouldn’t help either, and it would come across as needy as well. But what could she have done or said?
Again, moments from past interactions flashed inside her mind. Altera removed her finger from the screen and threw her phone away. It slid across her bed and stopped at its edge. She let her head sink into her pillow. Her body started to shiver. If she hadn’t shaved the hair on her arms, they would stand up.
No one could see the strands, but what if they did a close inspection tonight? If they saw she had an inadequate appearance, would they make her fail automatically before she even undertook the journey to accomplish her Bragi? It was said that those who fail their Bragi will forever remain in history as failures. And after such a shame, having any decent career was impossible. Knowing her luck…
What if she had already failed because Ragna didn’t pass? Could this have been a secret test to see if she were fit to be a Valkyrie? Sven had contacts to some of the Captains. He could tell them of her blunder. Why wouldn’t he? She made her girlfriend – or whatever Ragna was to him – fail and then behaved like a moron. Why did she suck so much? If she had been friends with Sven, maybe that wouldn’t be an issue. They worked together so many times during the past three years. Wouldn’t they have become friends by now? Yet, he had never once asked to exchange numbers.
Altera’s hand reached for the heater installed next to her bed. When her finger touched the metal, she withdrew it. It was scalding, and the heat was at the highest possible level.
Should she lean against the metal until she was warm? Better not, it wouldn’t work much, and she would burn her skin.
Altera grabbed her two duvets and wrapped herself in them until she resembled a human burrito. Yet, her body didn’t stop shivering.
Why was it still so cold? How could she succeed in her Bragi if she was like that? Why was everything conspiring against her? Was this a ploy of Twice? Had god chosen her as a new chew toy to play around with for their amusement? They would inflict as much misery on this stupid little puppet as possible, just to see what would happen next. Of course, they were not dumb. They didn’t do it overtly, like making her slip on a banana peel every day or burning down your house. Twice acted in subtle ways. They would pull a few strings that seemed innocent on their own, but eventually, these strings would cause their disaster. The single beat of a butterfly’s wings could lead to a hurricane on the other side of the world.
Altera clung her arms to her body, hugging herself.
Twice was benevolent, and even if they weren’t, why would they notice an insignificant worm like her? It was convenient to believe there was a single cause for all her problems, that it was outside her control. It wasn’t her fault. Some sadistic cosmic entity had decided to mess with her life. She didn’t have to blame herself. Only cowards and weaklings thought like that. If she failed, it would be because of her shortcomings. All the bad things in her life were on her. Great…
Altera lay in her bed burrito, and as the thoughts ceased to creep into her mind, the hours passed. Altera didn’t move or think. The heat spread across her body. Eventually, the alarm on her phone rang, telling her to go.
Why did she have to leave? Couldn’t she stay here? The outside world was cold. They would laugh at her, make fun of her…No. Today was a great day. Everyone was happy, and she was part of the celebration. She might suck at everything else, but being a Valkyrie – though she technically wasn't one – was the one aspect of her life, she excelled.
Altera unwrapped her burrito and stood up. She walked over her floor towards the fridge, which was ten meters away from her. Her feet stepped on a blank paper – one of many that lay scattered across the floor.
Should she clean her room? No. What was the point anyway? And her drawings and paintings were on her work desk, so no issue there.
Altera opened the fridge. Nothing was inside, and her stomach grumbled.
Did she eat today? Maybe she could buy something from the supermarket across the street? No, better not. It sounded like a hassle. She could eat out. No, there was no time. What about the peace ceremony? That should have a buffet. She could eat there. And if not, she could buy something tomorrow. Her hunger should be strong enough that she had to bother.
Had she prayed to Twice today? The church was on her way to Castle Gimli.
Altera closed the door, and from the desk above the mini-fridge, a small flask fell. Her eyes wandered towards the container. Pills had spilled out, and Altera gulped.
Was that the right decision? She could only hope so. But how else could she go through her Bragi? The journey to becoming a Valkyrie wasn’t an occurrence that allowed her any handicaps. She had to be at the top of her game.
Altera picked the container. She closed its lid and threw it in the trash can.
From within the audience, Altera stepped forward. She climbed up the ivory staircase to the podium. The guests’ eyes followed her every move. The hype Aura had created still intoxicated them, but amongst the whispers and discussion about Princess Aurelia, she heard praise for her. The audience wondered about her white hair or ogled her appearance.
Why didn’t they concentrate on other topics, or even better, why didn’t she do the initiation ritual when everyone was gone, like Sven? No. If she thought like that, she would never succeed as a Valkyrie. They appeared on social media, movies, and television. Many Valkyries who couldn’t handle the publicity had met a dead-end career.
Princess Aurelia awaited her at the end of the staircase. Light radiated her, and she reached out her hand like a goddess welcoming a soul into the heavens. Altera offered her hand in return. Aurelia whispered into her ears. Altera nodded, and the princess led her to the Captains.
From this moment on, her heroic journey, her Bragi, began. Whether it led to success and the life of a Valkyrie or failure and a life of shame, she alone had the power to decide that.