“J…Just give us a minute, please.” One of the guards turned around and shouted for the wall to open. The second, it was wide enough for the guards to slip through, they ran. One might believe a Reaper was on their trail.
Why were they afraid? Ragna’s eyes wandered to Altera.
Her wings fluttered against the summer’s wind like new. As Altera once had told her, as long as 50 % of her wings’ mass remained intact, she could use Mana to regenerate them.
Ragna rubbed her eyes and pinched herself.
Altera said ‘brother’, right?
She wasn’t dreaming, and fatigue hadn’t numbed her sense or awareness of reality. Altera had called Utgard’s chieftain 'brother'. The guards didn’t act like Altera’s words were jokes. So, she was the sister of Utgard’s chieftain. That’s like thinking the Trutner Siblings were criminals, or Aura wasn’t human, and instead, a zombie risen from the dead after that disease had killed President Adler’s family.
“You see, this is the kind of stuff one would like to know beforehand,” said Eric. “Do you wanna elaborate on that?”
Altera turned her head. Her eyes seethed in a fire that waited to burn the world to death, telling Eric that right now, she didn’t see in him a human being but an insect pestering her. “Want me to report your gun?”
Eric and Ragna shuddered.
Altera always possessed a temper, but this was next level. If Midgardian society had worshipped her out of reverence, love, or lust, their reasons would now have shifted to fear and submission – and still lust if the degenerates on the internet wishing for beauties to step on them were any indication.
Now that she thought about it, Altera wasn’t thrilled when her father’s message revealed he had taken refuge in Utgard. Could her relation to the chieftain be the reason? Xion sounded Utgardian. Though, Altera didn’t look like that. Her accent was from the southern villages in Midgard, and she had access to Midgard’s runes. If she were from Utgard, she would be using Avalon’s runes. Perhaps Altera was of mixed heritage. That was a possibility. Could she have ended up using runes from Avalon, or even a mix of Avalonian and Midgardian runes?
It didn’t matter. Altera had her reasons for her behavior, and they could solve whatever tension existed between them once the mission was over. Just a little bit, and she would find her father and learn the truth.
It felt like a dream. She had reached the end of her journey and arrived in Utgard – the Outer Kingdom. Her father, the truth, the key to get her “treasure” back, Altera’s objective to become a full-fledged Valkyrie. All were in their grasp.
The door opened, and the guards returned.
“Excuse us for the wait. You may enter now, Your Highness.” They gesticulated at the door and bowed. “And please forgive us for not noticing Your Grace immediately.”
“I will permit it.” Not bothering to look at them, Altera waltzed past the guard. Eric and Ragna passed through the wall, and as they gazed upon the ‘Outer Kingdom’, a barren steppe welcomed them.
No signs of civilization, as far as they could see. The asphalt and lampposts didn’t reach further than two meters beyond the wall. Instead, grass extended past the horizon.
“Not exactly…” Ragna squinted to see if she could discern the silhouettes of buildings on the horizon. Relying on the moonlight increased the task’s difficulty. Their first impression of Utgard: not the greatest so far.
“A bit more natural than I had expected,” said Eric. “I thought the city would start at the borders. So, how far until we reach civilization?” Eric had a point. Utgard was a city-state, so they should have already encountered civilization. It didn’t make sense that the asphalt had stopped. Why would they have built it if it led to nowhere? Glast had a nature-loving culture. They wouldn't destroy the environment for no reason.
“We are already in the city.” Altera stomped with the ball of her foot on the ground and pointed at their shadows. “Look.”
What did she mean? The lamppost had enlarged them to crosses. Nothing unusual…wait…something wasn’t right. The shadows…they were expanding. No…not just that.
The shadows connected, merging into a single silhouette. And the darkness raised from the ground.
“What’s going on?” Ragna tried to grab anything that could secure her hold.
The shadow’s movement accelerated and shot like a geyser into the sky. There, it stretched further, fell like a curtain, and enclosed the landscape in a black dome.
“Utgard’s the ‘Outer Kingdom’,” said Altera, raising her voice to a solemn speech. “And this is the reason. It doesn’t exist in Aes. Existing outside the confines of the physical plane, it has carved a mark in the outer realm. Using shadows as a medium, Mana pours from the metaphysical world into ours and overlays the two worlds that should stay separated for a brief moment. And at that moment, we shift to the other side. Behold, only few have been granted permission to witness such a spectacle. This is the dark side of the world, the Mana realm.”
The shadows had dispersed, and from the steppe, nothing had remained. In its stead, the three laid their eyes upon countless buildings. Skyscrapers, as far as they could see, all shone in a silver metal coating. One would believe their architects had made them of Orichalcum. Techno music blasted out of every direction, and on the streets danced people. Drinking, partying, smoking, and other activities their intoxication enticed.
“And this is Utgard. The outer kingdom. The city of Mana.”
“What’s going on?” Ragna asked a second time.
Where should she look first?
Neon lights flashed from the bars and clubs and turned the black night into a rainbow of drinks, words, colors, and scantily dressed women. The crowds put their hands up in the air, singing and shouting.
Next to her, an elderly woman waved around sticks with fried scorpions for ten Wertel, fried tarantula for thirty Wertel, and fried rapidequines genitals for two Wert. The scent of chicken wings flew into her nose, and only millimeters separated her mouth from the fried delicacy. Drool formed in her mouth. Her stomach rumbled.
Should she buy one? It looked…delicious.
A young man around her age blundered to the granny. His body rocked with every second, unable to stay still or find steady feet. He babbled and hollered how funny the horse cock looked like and paid for one with his card. His friends shouted and cheered, pulling out their phones. The guy grinned and giggled. He took the fried member, deepthroated it, and swallowed it in one go.
Ragna whistled. Holy shit. That took practice. And while being wasted.
The woman seemed to think so too. She gave the young man her thumb-up of approval and posed with him. The man took out his phone and took a selfie with her. He whispered into her ear. The woman laughed out loud. In the shutter-sound of more selfies, she faced the guy and stuck her tongue in his mouth.
Ragna grimaced and turned around. Better to move on.
The flatscreens scattered around the street turned on, showing the roof of the highest skyscraper. The roof’s platform raised, and forth came a man wearing a black priest’s garb.
He raised his arm, and his voice boomed through the streets. “Greetings one and all. The moon’s clear and our mission clearer. To enjoy every night in this era. Some might hesitate in light of the tragedy that had unfolded this very day. For some, the idea of being happy is paramount to sin for many souls are denied such privilege. However, it is such tragedy that underlines the importance of our nights all the more. In the face of tragedy we shall not succumb. We have to rise and show that nothing will drain our drive for bliss. When someone asks, “Can we be happy?”, answer, “Why start now?”. So therefore, let’s party here till night gives out.”
In perfect synchronicity, his sermon transformed into song for the music, as the screens focused on his face and displayed it for everyone to see. The people didn’t stay still and danced to his preaching. And as the music continued, he repeated his techno sermon in an endless loop.
“We gathered here to follow our whims, to let loose, to feed the wolves. For in our souls are two wolves, and we chose which to feed. Luscious, darkness, calling, prowling, mindless, aimless. The dark wolf in our hearts desires freedom. We desire the freedom to do. So, let us curb reasons to the ground. Let us abandon logic.”
“I’ve heard about the parties here,” Ragna’s eyes ping-ponged from one spot to another. “But this is...It’s fucking awesome. I could live here.”
Eric nodded, looking at a cocktail bar offering three “Monkey Glands” for the price of two.
“Pay attention,” Altera grumbled. “We aren’t here to party.”
“Don’t be like that, Alta.”
The three turned around. The elderly woman had left to sell her curiosities to other drunks, and the drunk guys moved their bodies like tube men under the suspension roof of a pub.
Instead, a pink-haired girl with olive skin ogled them with puppy dog eyes. She had cut her hair to a neat bob, missed Ragna’s height by two or three centimeters, and two piercings decorated her left eyebrow. Dressed in fishnets and a vibrant tank top, shorts, and boots that fitted the unofficial dress code of the party mile, she bobbed and humped without moving at her spot.
“Yahoo.” The girl waved her hands in the air without a care in the world.
“They already sent their dogs.” Altera scoffed.
“Woof.” The girl positioned herself on her hind legs. With a grin, she extended her hands like a dog wishing to be a good boy and pulled her tongue. “Woof, woof. I’m my master’s fluffiest chihuahua. I like patsies and scrubbies.”
Ragna inspected the girl. Should she pet her? Or give her any treats? Did she have anything in her bag? She had bought some cookies from Eren, right?”
“Don’t,” Eric whispered into her ears. “It’s rude to touch other people’s pets without asking.”
“Ehm, who are you?” Ragna asked.
The girl jumped, performed a pirouette, and faced Eric and Ragna. “I’m the spicy-sweet Nephthys Mukhtar. I’m here on the chieftain’s behalf.”
Wait? What? Did she call herself spicy-sweet? Who did that?
“I’m almost afraid to ask,” Eric said. “But that means…?”
“I’m your escort.” Nephthys widened her grin and placed her hands vertically at the corners of her mouth, performing a double peace-sign. “Yay.”
Was this girl for real? She was a fruit loop.
Ragna giggled, and Nephthys took her hand. “Just come with me, and please hold your hands. It’s easy to get lost here.”
Ragna reached for Altera but hesitated. After their fight earlier, it might be better to give her some space. Some eric-sized space to be exact. She took Eric’s hand who, in turn, squirmed when Altera squeezed it, and her frown became a glare.
Shit, she was pissed. She made the right decision. Holding hands with Altera…there wasn’t anything strange. No, not at all. Yet…
The four walked through the party mile. The music blasted, and the priest’s sermon continued to play.
“Only the ignorant believe in its value. The superman has seen the truth. False ideals to imprison himself, to make sense of the chaos. Our lineage originates from the void, the primordial chaos. Out of fear, the ignorant man built order into this void and called the void cosmos. Such arrogance to defy the very nature of the world. But as we stumbled upon the truth and the world beyond, we transform and with us, society.”
“No one had said it before, so I'll just do it.” Without caring for their pace, Nephthys continued. “Welcome to Utgard. I will be your guide.”
“Just what is this?” Ragna asked. “In Midgard you only see this many people on special events.”
“We are here at Rice Road. One of Utgard’s biggest party miles. Every night students, tourists, and party lovers flock together to party hard. Awesome, isn’t it?”
Hel, yeah. Were she not on a mission, she would have partied right away. Perhaps it was the blasphemous amount of painkillers, but – the atmosphere, the people, the music – everything invited her to let go of her everyday self and enjoy life.
“Though it’s emptier than usual because the Verne sank. By the way. Please check your back pockets. People here are rather grabby, and I’m not just talking about your wallets.”
No matter where or what party, the audacity of drunk men would never change.
“Guess, I’m going to shoulder throw some drunks tonight,” she said.
“Right,” said Eric. “You did against Grendel too. Where did you learn this?”
“Did I never tell you? I did MMA since seventh grade.”
“I thought you did swimming.”
“That too. I was playing for both teams.”
“It began with the one superman who saw beyond the lies of the ignorant man. He saw Wahrwelt, and it transformed him, and he reached true enlightenment. He became free of the desires of the fake world. But there lied not the end of his journey. Fully transformed, he set out on this very Rice Road to transform his brethren and sisters. And as we all turn into a superman, as we all gather the true understanding and awaken from this face reality, the ignorant man, the foolish man, loses power and becomes the last man.”
“If you have any questions about Utgard, shoot. I can answer them all,” Nephthys said.
“What's up with that priest?” Ragna asked.
“That’s Amakusa Shiro. He’s the Master of Ceremonies. Preaches the word of Ymir every night. Isn’t he cool?”