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Chapter 01 – Ragna Griffin

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“Vaix soldiers have been located at ‘Twilight Bridge’. We suspect they’ve employed a new weapon. Eliminate all enemy units immediately.”

“Rodger.”

Ragna shut off the communicator. She starred into the night sky and a smirk hushed over her face. Like a halo graced the moon the city of Veil with its radiance. In the distance echoed sirens and the deafening sound of artillery fire. Her target. She inhaled the air and coughed. With her hand, she waved away the bad air and washed away the tears in her eyes. The stench of fire and smoke was real. That was disgusting. But they really improved.

“Let’s go”, she said to herself and ran through the inferno that was once a highway. Wrecked cars and destroyed tanks decorated the asphalt, serving as food for the wildfire. It embraced the highway and painted the night sky in embers. A red carpet pointed to the skyscraper-saturated skyline of Veil, welcomed her and told the city whose grand moment this would be.

Washing away the sweat pearls from her forehead, Ragna complimented the scorching heat. Her skin felt dry. But that wouldn’t stop her. It was time for the hero to arrive at the scene.

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It didn’t take long for her eyes to catch the first line of enemies. Ragna hid behind a wrecked car that miraculously was not on fire and peeked around the corner. Three men patrolled the streets, all armed with an automatic rifle, wearing the same uniform. A long double-breasted trench coat, a black belt, white trousers, and black trench boots gave the uniform an imperial design that a white-beaked hat rounded up. And of course, the cross star plastered on the uniform. An infant could tell these were enemies – the soldiers of Vaix. Despite patrolling, they seemed lax. Paying no attention to their surroundings.

Were those the soldiers of Vaix, who valued heartless efficiency and discipline above all? Still, they would notice if one of their comrades would die. Better to keep a low profile then.

Ragna looked around. Her eyes stopped at the fence that divided the highway into two. It only reached her knees, but that should be tall enough to crawl without them noticing. From her position, she would need about five seconds to make it to the other side. She peaked again. All soldiers were facing in her direction. She would need a distraction. And as if Twice had decided to bless Ragna, an explosion detonated in the distant horizon, catching the attention of the soldiers.

This was her chance. Ragna dashed towards the fence, the sounds of war drowning her steps, and jumped over. Her knees crashed against the asphalt and Ragna pressed her teeth to keep her voice shut.

Damn that hurt. Ragna rubbed her swollen kneecaps and crouched. She crawled alongside the fence, smirking. That was easy. One shouldn’t expect anything less from a future Valkyrie.

But Ragna’s smile would not hold up for long. Twice had decided to revoke their blessing. Ragna heard a motor rotating up in the air. Her thoughts came to a halt and she looked up.

Copters? Was that a bad joke? She prayed they wouldn’t find her.

At that moment, the searchlight of the helicopters shone upon her as she crawled through the asphalt.

Fuck. Ragna pushed the button on the back of her fingerless glove. A blue circle lightened from the glove and covered the girl like a second skin. She jumped forwards, dodging the first wave of artillery fire. They grazed the end of her jet-black pigtails. But then the bullets slowed down, losing their momentum, and Ragna brushed them away with a slap. Ragna looked up. A mechanical beast loomed in the night sky. Only its silhouette was visible, as it spread in front of the glimmering moon. A black shark that had fixated on its prey, on the verge of an assault. Yellow sparks flew around its body and it fired.

Ragna ran. Her only hope was that the bullets ran out faster than the timer on her device did. Each of her steps followed a trail of bullets, missing every time. Once they reached Ragna, the bullets slowed down. She left their vicinity and they dropped on the ground.

Ragna ran through the blazing highway, ignoring heat and smoke. The bullet fire continued to follow her. Only when it and the rotating motor subsided, and the sound of a crash followed, did Ragna stop. She looked up, catching her breath. The helicopter burst into pieces, falling as a revolting firework. If she had to guess, it focused too much on her and didn’t notice an anti-air rocket or something like that. Not that it mattered. One more enemy gone. Ragna blew a raspberry to the fragments and continued to run.

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A new line of enemies appeared at the rims of her field of vision. Ragna slowed down. She looked at her left glove and tapped it once. Above the back of her hand appeared a blue hologram. The number ‘1:50’ – counting down by the second. Less than two minutes. Should she play it safe and ambush them or save time and go full out? Given the information at her disposal, both options were reasonable. Each offered different advantages. That wasn’t the problem. It was what she didn’t know. The outer factors outside her sphere of perception. They would turn a sound conclusion into a false assumption. It didn’t matter on the battlefield. Reason or insanity. Whatever led to success. And if one failed, no one would care for the excuses. 

A cry for help disrupted her thoughts. Ragna stopped and concentrated her eyes on the enemies. Amidst them, she made out a girl. Around five years old. Vaix soldiers had formed a half-circle around her. Cornered against a barricade of tanks, the girl had nowhere to run. A soldier broke out of the circle and crept towards her. Slugging, the stomp of his boots echoing like war drums, he drove the girl further against the metallic dead-end. The girl’s cries drowning them, Ragna couldn’t hear the words the man whispered, but the devious smile painted on his unsightly and the wobbly visage destroyed every shred of ambiguity.

Disgusting. She grimaced. To abuse warfare for a demented pretense of control. Monsters hiding as humans. Yeah, they had revoked their right to live.

“A hero it is then”, she said to herself and stormed off. The gravitation that bound her towards the earth loosened up. With her saber drawn out, Ragna jumped high forward above the heads of the soldiers, until her feet hovered over the deviant approaching the girl. Gravity pushed against her body and brought her down, like an anchor in the sea. Unable to escape, the soldier starred at the black sole that crushed his skull to the ground. It echoed a sickening crunch. Blood, bones and visceral mass spilled out under her boot.

Before the next soldier could react, Ragna had slashed him across the chest with her sword. He fell to the ground and Ragna rammed her shoulder into the third soldier. She grabbed his gun and as the soldier was flying, Ragna jumped over his body and propelled herself against him. The soldier crashed into the asphalt and Ragna rotated her body in the sky. Facing downwards, she aimed her pistol at the fourth soldier and shot three times. The soldier sunk to the ground and the next aimed at her. Ragna threw her sword in midair. For most humans, these acrobatics bordered on superhuman feats. But with gravity on her side – and once one got used to adjusting the gravitational forces on the fly – it became child’s play. The weapon pierced his head and the soldier fell. Ragna landed on the ground.

The sixth and last soldier, not realizing the futility of his actions, emptied his rifle. The bullets stopped just before her, and Ragna slapped them away. Despite being out of ammo, the soldier didn’t stop shooting. Only empty clicking came out, yet the soldier did not stop. He did not run. Spoke no word. The soldier just stood in front of Ragna and fired an empty machine gun. Over and over again, as if his brain computed one single action that it had to repeat until his body would give out.

“Is he malfunctioning?” Ragna pulled out her saber from the head of his fallen comrade and flicked away the blood.

“You know, this is starting to get really sad”, she said to him and aimed her gun. “Time to end your misery.”

She pulled the trigger, and the last soldier fell.

“That was some really shoddy work.” Ragna tried to rub off whatever mess had gotten under her heels. A rusty red had sullied the black of her boots.

“Well doesn’t matter now. Where is the girl?”

Ragna looked around. Her eyes caught the glimpse of a shadow running into the woods.

“Hey wait.” Without thinking, Ragna rushed to the forest and followed the girl’s trail. The flames twisted through the trees and bushes. Transforming the soils into ashes, they extended their blazing arms and cast the dancing shadows of their victims – like emaciated demons. Toxic smoke erupted from their carcasses, turning the scene into a painting of vibrant orange and smoldering black. Through this painting spurted the girl’s silhouette. The fire’s illumination enlarged her. A black titan and the black-clad Ragna, trailing her. Ragna covered her face with a mouth-mask, turning her appearance from that of a warrior to something akin to an assassin. The heat scorched her skin, taking away all moisture, drying her up.

Ragna pressed on. In her mind was only the little girl. Neither lost any speed. Even the girl, despite being younger and untrained, did not lose her head start. It seemed she got faster. Eventually, Ragna saw an opening within the fire and the orange and black subsided for the gray of asphalt. 

She was on the highway again. Ragna took a moment to catch her breath and kneeled. Now that she had left the forest, the accumulated pain, damage and heat struck her at once. She had no mirror, but she could imagine that people would mistake her for a victim of the Ash Pest. Her skin felt crisp like chicken wings.

Didn’t matter. Where was the girl? A glance showed no one was here. It was as if the girl never had existed in the first place. What the hel was she? Come to think of, why would she be here in this warzone in the first place? It wasn’t like the soldiers had entered the city itself. They were on a highway. It was the middle of the night and no civilians were there. Not a single corpse either. If the girl had intended to run, why did she stay until the very end? There were multiple openings during her fight with the soldiers. It didn’t make sense at all.

As to answer her question, the ground began to shake. In small intervals, the highway quaked and the echoes of massive steps drummed in her ears. Whatever was coming, it was massive.

“It can’t be?” Ragna tried to maintain her balance. She looked to her left. Out of the inferno came forth a mechanical monstrosity. It moved its six pillar-like legs, one after another and the ground trembled with each step anew. Wide enough to cover the entire highway and tall enough to reach the leaves of the forest. This cyclopean bastard of a spider and a tiger towered over the street as if it were the guard dog to the gates of Hel. Without mistake stood before her the weapon, she ought to eliminate.

“What a lucky coincidence.” Ragna sneered. Going off the rails and following the girl just had to lead to the end boss. “Still, how can this guy get even uglier than the last one?”

The weapon didn’t say a word. Why should it? The only response this abomination of a machine had was to raise its sickly green tiger head. Monsters had no need for words. Existences with neither conscious nor sentience. Their purpose was to die. Humans kill them and attain the designation of hero. They died for the hero’s glory. Her glory.

Its single eye gleamed in red light. The tiger gave a mechanical roar and out of its mouth, it fired a rocket. Ragna swung her sword. Sparks buzzed and the shrill sound of two metals grating against each other clinked in her ears. She cut the rocket right in the middle and divided it like Baha the Christian Sea. The halves flew beside her and exploded in the faraway distance.

“Well, at least you are better than your predecessor.”

Ragna looked at the counter above her glove. A fat zero flashed before her eyes. Ragna smirked. Time for some action. She pressed the button and ran towards the machine. It beeped and roared. Lights gleamed and missiles lunched out of it. Identifying Ragna as her target, they changed their trajectory and bombarded her with their numbers. Ragna forced herself to halt and squatted. She had never calculated the exact numbers but from her assessment, those missiles could force themselves through the gravitation field. If she moved, they would recalibrate and hit her. She had to wait. Don’t panic. Don’t listen to your reflexes. Her eyes reflected the cylindrical heads that had obscured her surroundings. Now.

Ragna jumped. She skipped over them and landed on the tiger’s head. The projectiles hit the street. In an ear-numbing explosion, they transformed the highway into a mosaic of craters and asphalt. Debris spewed around like asteroids.

The machine had registered the weight on its head. Like a wild bull, it shook and shook, trying to get rid of Ragna. But against the gravitational pull of her glove, it was an insect facing a dragon. Ragna didn’t move. Rather would the machine’s frantic movements make its head fall off. She jumped down from the head to its lower back, where it had installed the missile launcher. Black needle-like stakes sprouted out of the machine, trying to protect the object as well as to impale her on their sharp edges.

In Ragna’s vicinity, their speed dropped to a standstill and she grabbed one of the spikes, looped around them until her feet touched the solid form of the stakes. Using it as a springboard, she jumped and landed behind the missile launcher. Ragna focused her saber and increasing the gravitational pull on its blade, she hit the device. The missile launcher crackled electric sparks and its fragments crashed into the ground.

She pointed her sword tip at the machine’s back. Time to bring an end to this revolting Roomba. She heard a clicking sound and the back opened. A young woman emerged out of the hole. Long teal-white hair – decorated with night-blue metallic laurels – flattered in the winds like the tides of the sea against the shore. Her eyes, a thin and sharp layer of frost surrounding roses.

“Huh?” Ragna widened her eyes. “Why are you here?”

The woman didn’t answer. White feathery wings grew out of her back, turning her already angelic figure into a diviner appearance. Even her armor evoked the imagery of metallic, disjointed stockings, opera gloves, and a corset. As if she had chosen them to accommodate her black miniskirt. Fire and moonlight gleamed on its silver reflection. At first, it seemed she had chosen style over functionality. But the truth was, it was an appearance that functioned for the battlefield, as well for a gala. Charming the flashlights, animating the masses to fight, and defeating the enemies. Beauty and strength. The embodiment of a Valkyrie – both the idea and the mythological being.

“Are you mocking me?”

This very resemblance sickened Ragna. It was as if the woman allowed a normal being to gaze at perfection, so she could remind them of their flaws. This was not a messenger sent to guide and help humanity. She was nothing but an arrogant deity looking down on mortals, seeing them as her private playthings and means for amusement.

Ragna looked at the blue ring above her glove. A number was glowing in its center, counting down from 5:00. She grumbled. Five minutes until she could use the gravity manipulator again. Nothing she could do about it. She simply had to defeat that vile woman without it. And beat her to a bloody pulp.

Grinding her teeth, Ragna swung her sword towards the woman. The angel beat her wings and flew into the sky. Just enough that one could mistake the distance as reachable. But not for Ragna. She would reach and defeat her. Ragna attack with her saber. The woman danced around her in elegance and ease. Whenever Ragna missed, the Valkyrie would fly around her and boob Ragna’s head. If this fight had an audience, one would forgive them if they mistook the unfolding scene as part of a slapstick cartoon. Ragna shouted in frustration and tried to punch the woman in the face. Again, she missed.

The woman widened the distance and flew further into the sky. Had she grown bored of the little play or had she noticed that the timer was running out? Whatever it was, with a faint grin, she looked down on Ragna. Not enough to notice it right away, but present enough for her to register it subconsciously and feel the mockery without understanding the reason. Around the Valkyrie’s hand, a mass of ice begun to manifest and take the form of a javelin. Without a second of hesitation, she threw the ice weapon and thrust it into Ragna. Before she could react, it pierced through her heart.

Ragna gasped for air, tried to form words. Blood escaped her mouth and sternum, dripping on the machine. The cold spread through her. Her blood and nerves – every cell of her body stopped its function and froze.

She fell and before her eyes, Ragna could read the words “Mission failed”. Her surroundings, the woman and the machine dispersed into blue light.

A white void room remained.

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