Staring out of the mosaic of holes, that once was the wall of her bedroom, Aura sighed.

How long would it take to finish the repairs? Workers had removed most of the debris, but the wall was still open. Replacing the broken furniture and decoration was going to be a hassle. Some of these pieces were one of a kind.

Perhaps this was one last strike at her from Cadet Erikson? Would he have been so petty? Based on the information Ragna and his academy file had provided, there was a ninety percent chance that he would have attempted a last-ditch effort to achieve even a sliver of victory. As long as it involved Ragna. For her sake, he would betray Midgard without a second thought. But why would he see a reason? What would he gain from such actions, and why would he believe that it would help Ragna? First, she had to make sure a reason existed, then she could extrapolate on Cadet Erikson’s actions. Jumping to conclusions wouldn’t solve the case. For all she knew, Cadet Erikson was innocent.

In her hands, she held one of the few pieces that had survived the attack – a set of twin swords that usually decorated the wall. She inspected one of the blades and weighted it in her hand. Throwing it into the air, the sword spun, and Aura caught it without having to look.

Accusing the man Ragna loved for reasons she could never discern, to what degree would that upset Ragna? People tended to take offense when one said negative things about people, they had a positive connection with. It made sense to feel insulted, if she had directed the words at the person themselves, but why for others?

“Don’t talk behind others’ backs,” the teachers, maids and servants drilled into her head. Yet, they gossiped and bad mouthed at every opportunity.

“Monster.”; “I bet she’s a changeling.”; “The President should lock her up.”; “She’s not human.”; “Why can’t you be like her?”

Had they thought she wouldn’t hear? Memories from the past resurfaced. Words the people in her life had uttered. Some in her absence, others hadn’t even bothered to make sure she wasn’t around. Did they think their insults didn’t sting? Of course, they didn’t care about her feelings.

With her sword, she slashed through the air. Light fell through the open hole. It landed on her sword; the metal reflected the beam at her work desk. Aura changed the blade’s angle, dispersing the light into a rainbow, and where it hit, a reflection of herself appeared. She walked towards the illusionary princess. With the exception for her silver hair, the fake woman was an exact replica of herself.

“You look beautiful,” she said, yet her voice didn’t express an ounce of happiness. If Aura could, she would cry. But for 14 years, not a single tear had she wept. As much as she didn’t want to admit it, there was a reason, the castle’s staff used to avoid her, whisper about her, and fear her. She touched the illusion’s face, but instead of feeling soft skin, her fingers slipped through.

What did she expect? In the end, this was not real. It was a mere fata morgana. But perhaps, that wasn’t so bad? If it was fake, she could never grow content with it. Her heart – as much as it was capable of – would continue to yearn.

Aura tilted her blade, the rainbow and reflection disappeared, and the light fell on the remains of the photo the assassin had smashed. It was a shame. She had been fond of that picture. It was one of the few with all four of them as children. She wondered, why the assassin destroyed the picture. If she had tried to kill her, it would be a waste of time to focus on this picture frame.

Wait…Why did she think that the assassin was a woman? In general, that person’s behavior was strange. Did the woman have a grudge against her? No. That seemed unlikely. Why would she hate her? Yet, the assassin’s behavior was full of malice that seemed personal.

It might sound arrogant to think like that, but everyone loved her. And she prided herself in predicting human behavior. A good balance of PR, honest work and charisma had disconnected her from the dark sides of the kingdom’s business and at the same time strengthened her association with all the positive work Midgard was doing.

The xenophobes and supremacists were the problem. A fanatic could loathe and try to attack Midgard’s ruling family. They would dismiss her potential death as collateral damage. That was a possibility for sure.

For proper peace between Midgard and Vaix to flourish, xenophobes and fanatics were a problem she had to resolve. One could not underestimate the danger they posed. And they tended to gravitate towards positions in government and the military. They gained influence, power, training, ways to conglomerate and corrupt the young. It was easy to say every xenophobe was a monster. But many protected the kingdom with their lives and helped the community. It was wrong to abandon them. There had to be a way to rehabilitate people like Ragna.

“I had an inkling that you were here.”

Aura turned around. Marcus had entered the room. She remained silent.

“I know you are here,” said Marcus and Aura still didn’t answer. “I can smell you. You reek of alcohol.”

Aura waited a few seconds and materialized. “Hello. Darling. How did you get past the guards?"

"I seduced them with my soothing charisma and my impeccable skills."

Aura remained silent. She would not dignify him with words.

"I posed for a few selfies," Marcus said eventually.

"I hope you look fat on all of them." She raised her shoulder up to her nose. “I just showered. Even I only smell traces of orange. Your nose is really finetuned.”

“What are you doing here?” Marcus removed his green parka and put it over her shoulders.

“Thank you," said Aura. “I was just wondering about the attack. Regardless of whether Vice-captain Griffin is innocent, for the assailant to get into my quarters unnoticed, she had to get hold of information, the Griffin’s could not possess.” Aura turned away from the opening and put the twin swords back on the wall. “Why are you here anyway?”

“I’m here to tell you, we’ve received permission to enter the Well.”

That was good news. The Well were the archives of Midgard. A creation of all three Trutner siblings that held every piece of information about the kingdom from the day of its inception to the future the Allfathers had seen. All its sins and virtues were hidden there. Though while the Trutner siblings never wanted for the truth to disappear, they never intended it to see the light of the day either. As such, gaining permission to enter the Well was a convoluted process. Not even the Allfather was always allowed. But even so, while the truth may never come out, it continued to exist in the Well.

As they had permission to access all information related to the Griffin, Sieg, and Erikson families, it should help them to get a better picture of the conspiracy.

“Hopefully, we’ll learn more about her father.” The two left the chamber. “By the way, what’s your opinion on Ragna as a person.”

“Ragna Griffin…,” Marcus said. “We’ve only talked once during her interrogation. As such, my contact with her was limited, and my insights mostly based on second-hand information. But it’s undeniable that she’s the daughter of Linde. She resembles her a lot.”

“That’s great to hear. Ms. Griffin was always so nice. She made the best brownies.”

“Off the clock maybe. But on duty…She was known as Midgard’s blood hound. Raa’s Students; The Erenian Separatist Army; The Red Fairies; The Om-Shinjitsu-Sect; and countless other enemies of Midgard: She hunted them down until no one was left. Days, weeks, months, even years. She wouldn’t rest until every threat to her motherland was eliminated. If they were not following Midgard, then they were dead to her. Linde Sieg’s a zealot.”

“You must be lying.” Aura increased the effects of her illusion. Marcus could not see even the slightest reaction of her. The idea that he was telling the truth was disturbing. It meant that she had been unable to detect any signs. Not only did Ms. Griffin fool her, but the influence she could have had on Ragna eclipsed her assumptions.

“Why?” Marcus asked. “Because you didn’t notice? I’ll give you some advice. Both as your fiancée and as your friend. Don’t underestimate adults. Our world is different from that of you children.”

“I’m already an adult,” said Aura and the illusion cast a smile. “If you want to deny that, then it means you’re marrying a child…you paedophile.”

“Barely.” As usual, Marcus expressed zero emotions. His face might as well be a blank canvas, and his voice, that of a robot. “The adult world is full of lies, deceit and cruelty. You only have begun to adapt to this new environment. But we adults, we’ve years of experience.”

She didn’t need to hear this lecture from him. She had tons of experience. Her childhood stopped the moment she assumed the role of the Princess. For years, she had studied the adults, their expectations, their wishes and lies. She knew how they behaved and how one could predict their actions and manipulate them to her favor. And her observations had led her to one major conclusion: The world would never accept her as a person, but as a goddess, that was a different topic.

“But to answer your initial question.” Graswald continued. “If Ragna Griffin stays naïve as she is and her extremist views grow worse, then I can understand the Allfather’s words. I could see her cause a calamity that shakes Aes to the core. And she would probably be gushing how she made a better world.”


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