“I can’t…” Ragna collapsed on the dance floor. Facing the ceiling, she lay on the ground, and her eyes stared at the water that floated above her. The suspension released, and the masses fell, splashing on her face. Ragna grimaced and spat out the water that had gotten into her mouth.
“Need some help?” Eric offered her his hand.
More water squirted out of her lips. Ragna took Eric’s hand and straightened her body into a sitting position as liquid dripped from her hair and glued her clothes to her body. With every drop, Ragna winced as her skin felt the dampness. She groaned as if she had to vomit, and with her fingers, counted to ten. The water disappeared. Every trace and drop was gone, and her body was dry again.
“The effect may not last too long,” said Eric. “But at least we won't have to clean up.”
Their eyes wandered over the contest hall. They had been training with their runes for hours, but the only evidence was the ice throne that Altera had erected in the center. She sat on it, and her legs dangled over its arms. Her fingers were pressing against a spinner. At first, its speed had been slow, but now, its rotation resembled a buzz saw. If one were to look at Altera’s expression, they wouldn’t be able to tell if she was relaxing absentmindedly or reaching the limits of her patience.
Not that the latter possibility was difficult to achieve. Despite showing a depressing level of apathy during her supervision, Altera expressed a high need for constant stimulation.
Had Altera undergone a personality shift? Did she hypnotize herself to be more outgoing? Yeah, during their time at the academy, she didn’t do a great job getting to know Altera better, but this was something else. People on cocaine could relax more than her.
“Don’t tease her,” Eric said. “Just be nice and let her be.”
“I wasn’t going to do anything.” Ragna pouted. “And I’m always nice. Why is everyone lately saying I’m not? Ain’t I the sweetest little thing?”
“You can be sweet for sure, but you also sting.”
What did he mean by that? She had been nice since she was young. Sure, she used to treat Altera differently when she was her supervisor. But that was in the past. It had been four days, but their relationship had improved. Nothing she had done was hurtful.
“You don’t even notice.” Eric chided her. “Look. You may not consider it a big deal, but not everyone’s as resistant as you. People can be fragile. A single word may cut deeper than a sword. And you talk a lot.”
Was her behavior harmful to others? But how? What had she done that could hurt other people? Being mean to those around you wasn’t what a Valkyrie should do.
“But I was serious. Something doesn’t seem right,” said Ragna. “I’m actually worried a bit.”
“We shouldn’t pry.” Eric crossed his arms. “You’re not a specialist, and Altera would probably want her thoughts to stay private. You’ll only be like those parents that immediately think their child has ADHD because they acted differently from how they expected them to do.”
“Fine.” Ragna looked at Eric. “Why aren’t you tired like me? You can even stand.”
Eric shrugged. “Guess my runes don’t consume much Mana.”
Ragna grumbled. “That’s so unfair. I can’t do what I want because my Mana runs out, and you can spam it for hours. Hel, I even have to wet other people before I can freeze them. I want to switch.”
“Be my guest. My runes are useless in combat.” Eric burrowed his hat in his head. “What am I going to do? I can’t buff you endlessly. Seriously, am I just gonna sit and watch?”
Ragna tapped her fingers against the wooden floor. “There’s probably something you can do. You were fine before, and now you’re stronger.”
“Before, I didn’t have to face gods. And who knows who our next opponent will be.” Eric said. “Imagine if we have to fight against a Captain or the Paladins. I would be fucked. I mean, look at our abilities. Altera has telekinesis and acceleration.” He spread out his fingers and counted every ability on them. “She can summon ice and these stakes. And let’s not forget that fuck-off partisan. Oh, and she can fly. And you.” He pointed at Ragna and counted again. “You can summon poison, water, and ice. And you have a sword.”
“Two swords.” Ragna lifted her skirt and showed him the seax she had hidden in her stockings.
“And what do I have? A knife; a gun without ammo, and she wouldn’t let me use it anyway.” He glared at Altera. She hadn’t moved a millimeter during their training and didn’t seem to notice anything. One might wonder if she was sleeping with open eyes. “And three non-combat runes. I can teleport, buff, and debuff. Like what does that say about me?”
Ragna tilted her head. “Whad’ya mean?”
“Didn’t you listen? These runes are a mirror of our personality. Does that mean Twice or fate only sees me as a supporting character?”
“Technically, we are.” Her eyes shifted towards Altera. “This is her Bragi. It’s her heroic tale, her journey. When everything’s over, the bards and poets will sing about her. The enemies she has defeated, the obstacles she has overcome, and the good she has done. They’ll sing about us too. We’re there, but we’ll be literal side-characters. The tales will sing how we’ve helped her reach her goal.”
“Great. I’m a sidekick.” Eric chuckled. “She’s Wonder Altera, and I’m Eric, the Archaeology-Boy.
“You can teleport. That’s nifty.”
“It would be if I didn’t have to set up the markers and wait till they activate. I need prep time for that. And even then, I can only zap around.”
“I don’t know. You could teleport your enemy high up and let them fall to their deaths. You could make Altera draw the rune. At least, that’s what I would do. Or you could combine it with Altera’s stakes. Draw the rune on them, and then teleport your opponent. They would be dead in seconds.”
“I’m glad you want to be a Valkyrie.” Eric pressed his palm against his forehead. “You would be a scary assassin.”
“No wonder I’ve poison.” Lowering her eyelids, the corner of Ragna’s mouth dropped. “What does that say about me?”
“You didn’t train with the poison even once,” Eric said.
“It doesn’t feel right.” Ragna held the paper with the Iwaz rune written on it in front of her eyes. “It’s not…”
“It’s not what?” Eric asked.
“I don’t believe in this whole honor in battle concept. You should use everything you have.”
“Then, what’s different here?”
Ragna stood up. She stomped on the ground, and a spike made of ice shot from the floor, showing that part of her Mana had recharged.
“If I impale you with this…” She pointed at the ice construct she had summoned. “It’s still in combat. But poison’s not.”
“I’m honestly surprised that you’ve no problem with killing,” Eric said. “I mean when Clockwork…”
Ragna’s eyes grew larger.
Huh? He’s right. She couldn’t have killed Clockwork even though she had every reason to. Yet, she spoke here about ending lives as some people would talk about their preferred brands. She had hesitated back then. But why? Was it because of what Altera had said? That even criminals deserved to live? It’s true, she couldn’t justify her position like how she did back at the academy, but Clockwork was about to sell them. If they didn’t kill him, their lives would be over. She had hesitated for some reason, but why? If she were in the same position tomorrow, she would kill him. Not because he was evil or a criminal, but to protect their own lives. What had changed?
“I don’t know,” she said. “The “me” back then, honestly, it feels like a different person. I don’t understand why I didn’t kill him. But I know it would still be in a fight. If I use poison, then he would die either before or afterwards. Valkyries should at least do that and grant a death by combat.”
“So, everything’s okay, as long as it’s in a fight?” Eric asked.
“I don’t disagree, but during the Great War, we used that same reasoning to use ABC weapons.”
“And we realized that went too far.”
Eric shook his head. “The Mana bomb was where they backtracked. Everything else is still fair game.”
“What’s your point?”
“I think it’s good that you have a line you won’t cross. But is that the right one? You got Iwaz because it fits your personality. It’s a part of you. Do you want to deny who you are?”
Ragna averted her eyes, and neither spoke a word.
Mana bomb – A special bomb created through breakthroughs in the field of void theory. Public information is disclosed. All that is known is that it is made of mana and that the devastating effects of its one-time usage during the Great War were a major reason to negotiate peace.