Chapter 02 – Millenium Peace

Chapter 02 – Millenium Peace

“Fuck this.”

That wasn’t supposed to be part of the scenario.

Ragna removed the VR-glasses from her face and threw them on the ground. They slid across the floor and hit the wall. The door opened.

“Don’t do that. The equipment is expensive.”

Ragna turned around. Her supervisor, third-year cadet Altera Xion, closed the door and walked towards her, her heels clicking on the glass floor. And with every click, her chest ached, and her heart sprang. Ragna felt up her sternum. Her mind had recognized that there was nothing, that it had been virtual. But her body remembered the sensation it had experienced when Altera had thrown a javelin into her heart.

“The test was a failure.” Altera folded her arms. “I can’t recommend you for the program.” 

“Failure?” Ragna grimaced. “Why the fuck were you in that damn tin can? Explain that.”

Altera’s stoic expression remained. “The battlefield is unpredictable. We cannot see the future. Enemies can surprise you; allies betray you. We have to prepare for everything.”

“Admit it. You just wanted me to fail.”

“My script simulates a possible scenario,” said Altera. “It was realistic, and you failed to adjust.”

“Realistic, my ass.” Ragna tapped her temple. “It had so many plot holes. Like, why was that girl on the highway.”

“And yet you followed her.” Even though her mimic didn’t change, Altera’s voice got lower. “That was one of the very few good things you did. I will be blunt. Even if you had completed the mission, you would have failed the exam.”

“Are you serious?” Ragna looked at her aghast, and when Altera did not show a reaction, she facepalmed. “I can’t believe this, you are serious.”

“The way you fought against the soldiers was unacceptable.” Altera shook her head. “Had I been your commanding officer, I would have tried you as a war criminal.”

“Don’t tell me you had sympathy for them?” Ragna snorted, tilting her head. ”They were monsters.”

“They were humans, with human rights.”

Ragna cackled. “You’re joking. They were going to rape a little girl. I don’t know in what messed up world you live, but in the real world that makes them monsters.”

“That you call them that, doesn’t make them less human.” Altera walked across the glass floor, the metallic soles of her heels clicking on it with every step. “Everyone has a right to live. Be it a little girl, enemies, or criminals. And as Valkyries, we protect them all.”

Was Altera serious? She was defending a bunch of rapists. What came next? She was going to tell her that their planet Aes was flat? No. It didn’t matter. She was wrong.

“We protect those that are worth protecting. And if you think these criminals are equal to an innocent girl, then you should check that bird brain of yours. We aren’t equal. We were born all different, and I can tell you for damn sure that the choices we make, make us different. We should reward people who do good, and punish those who do evil.”

“And you think you have the right to judge?”

“We all do. We are humans. We judge other humans. We have to live with the consequences of our choices. And I will never allow a monster to be treated like an innocent.”

Altera shook her head.

“Wake up,” Ragna said with as much emphasis as possible. “The moment someone decides to harm another person, they become monsters. They stop being human and lose all rights to live. If we want to protect others, then we have to kill them. Especially if they enjoy doing it.”

“You enjoyed killing them.” Without even looking at Ragna, Altera picked up the VR-glasses from the ground and blew away the dust from their frames.

“It’s okay to enjoy a good fight. And if you are able to deliver justice even better.”

Altera sighed. “You’re just a child, then.”

“Come again?”

Ragna stomped towards Altera and reached towards the collar of her jacket. Altera grabbed Ragna’s wrist and glared down on her.

Before any of them could do anything, the door opened again. Immediately, Altera let go of Ragna. The two women turned around, and Ragna’s face lightened up.

“Both of you, that’s enough.” Sven ran between Altera and Ragna, separating them.

“Cadet Erikson,” said Altera. “This room is restricted to the examiners and examinees only. Why are you here?”

“I was going to congratulate Ragna when I saw you two going at each other’s throat, literally. What the Hel?”

Altera folded her arms.”We just had an argument that got a little heated.”

“A little heated?” Sven looked at them as if Altera had told him an amputated arm was just a scratch. 

“Your relationship with Cadet Griffin clouds your judgement, but don’t worry. It was over anyway, right?” Altera’s eyes shifted towards Ragna. Begrudgingly, she nodded. As much as she wanted to punch Altera’s pretty face, it was for the best if Sven didn’t get involved. If it involved her, he tended to blow things out of proportions.

Sven raised his brow. He stared at them for a few seconds until he spoke. “If you say so.”

His expression relaxed, and his shoulders dropped.  

“When it comes to her,” said Altera and pointed at Ragna. “You tend to blow matters out of proportion. And as for entering this room without permission, today is our big day. I will make an exception and let it slide.”

Ragna rolled her eyes.

Of course, she would try to change the topic.

“Don’t worry,” said Sven. “You can always trust my judgment.”

“Still. We both have been chosen to become Valkyries. From now on, you are part of the military’s higher echelons. You have to pay attention to your public appearance and status. And your relationships are a big part of that. If you really need a spouse, take one who actually benefits your rank.”

Sven’s rugged face turned red and began to resemble his hair color. “W…We aren’t like that. I…I mean we’re living together, but not together-together. We are just friends.”

Ragna clicked her tongue.

“In that case…” Altera’s red eyes glared at Ragna. “You won’t have to worry about her being your partner.”

“Really?” Ragna let out a fake sigh and shook her head. “You of all people lecturing about relationships? Dried up as you are?”

Altera flicked her long teal-white hair. That was another reason the other students believed Twice had blessed Altera and why, like dogs, they drooled after the academy’s shooting star. White hair and red eyes were rare traits. Even smaller was the number of people who had both. 

Altera exited the room and slammed the door shut.

“Wow, she must be really mad. How did you get under her skin so bad-” Sven tried to ask, but Ragna jumped at him and wrapped her arms around his neck, and he swallowed his words. His body and expression arched up at the sudden body contact. His face turned red, and he stuttered. “W…what was that for?”

“Just felt like it.” Ragna shrugged her shoulders and stared right in Sven’s mahogany eyes. His face became redder, but then he smiled and returned the gesture.

Arm in arm, they stayed like that for a minute.

“Eh…” Sven tried to say again. “May…Maybe we should let…ehm…go…?” His eyes bounced everywhere, trying to look anywhere but Ragna’s face or her body. “It’s getting a bit…waaa…rm?”

Ragna tilted her head. “You think so? I like it here. We should stay like this…hmm…let’s say for the rest of the day.”

Sven froze, his mouth was open.

Sven’s face was priceless. Nothing of his roughness was left. So unbelievably cute. One could see how his entire system had shut down. Like, Sven.exe had stopped working.

“We…We…can’t…parade…Drake…lunch…today…”

Ah, right. They were supposed to watch the parade and meet her father.

Ragna let go of Sven and slipped through his arms. “But weren’t we supposed to meet in an hour?”

“I wanted to see you now,” said Sven, and Ragna gulped.

Why was he so earnest? She was totally defenseless. How could she respond to that? Should she kiss him? Yeah, that would be great…But no, first, he had to confess…She had to think of something…

Ragna’s lips formed to a smirk. “And for that, you came here, even though you were not supposed to. You’ve become such a baaad boooy.”

“I know, right.” Sven giggled and grinned like a mischievous child. His face oozed the utmost pride and excitement. It resembled hers when she was 15 and had thrown a house party while her father was away for the weekend after he had forbidden her from doing so.

Perhaps Sven wanted to compensate for his previous blunder and tried to act as cool as possible, but then his brain realized what was going on, and he pouted. “Wait, you’re making fun of me.”

Ragna stuck her tongue out. “Anyway, just let me shower really quick, and we can go, okay?”   

“I will wait for you at the entrance,” said Sven and stretched his arms. His tight shirt didn’t even pretend to hide his well-trained body.

Ragna leaned forward. Standing on her toes, she drew a line on his cheek with her finger. Her lips formed a devious smile, and she whispered into Sven’s ear. “You know, I will allow you to peek.”

Ragna chuckled, and Sven’s face had reached maximum redness, turning him into a fine cherry.

“Just kidding,” she said before Sven could come back to reality – let alone say a word – and left the room.

Ragna closed the door. She pressed her palms against her sternum and smiled.

Sven was always so kind. Having the remaining two years at the academy without him as her senior would be tough. Well, it would be amazing if he became a Valkyrie. Then only she would be left. Once she graduated, she would rise through the ranks of the military, reach the rank of Valkyrie, and then the whole family would be Valkyries.

֎

“First, she decided to hold the exam on a holiday. Like, has that girl no life?” Ragna puffed and clung herself to Sven’s arm. “And then, she designed the scenario to make me fail. It wasn’t even a good one.”

“I mean yeah, holding the exam today was a bit…,” said Sven. “But everything she did was within the parameters of the exam. But really, lately, you’re only talking about her.”

“I wouldn’t be if she were not my supervisor. Why couldn’t I get you?”

“No use in getting angry now. She is graduating anyway. But I think you are overreacting.”

“If I had been accepted for the program I could receive the extra training to boost my career. How can you even be friends with that stuck-up Miss Perfect?”

Sven chuckled. “She has a sweeter side. Once you get to know her better, you can see it too.”

“Yeah, hard pass. I would rather become a criminal than her friend.”

“It’s your choice, but let’s watch the parade.”

“Fiiiine.” Ragna moved to the raised platform, leaving Sven on the lower part of the street and rested her head on his shoulder.

Stags marched on the streets: mechanical marvels that towered over the audience. Their silver bodies gleamed in the sun, fragmented the light into its fundamental colors, and in the same instance, reflected them as rainbows.

Ragna sighed.

This was ridiculous. They celebrated peace, and at the same time, they sent soldiers on the battlefield in missions. How many soldiers had died during this peace? Why didn’t anyone honor them? You wanted to enjoy this fucking pretend-peace? Then remember for fuck’s sake who you had to thank. Once she became a Valkyrie, she would make sure the world remembered every single name.

Each stag mounted a rider singing a hymn. Musicians and low-ranking soldiers followed them. They accompanied the singer’s voices with sound, loud, and solemnity. Drums and trumpets harmonized to the tact of their stomps and drilled hype into the spectators’ ears. Dancers danced to the music in scantily clad and pompous white costumes.

But for that she had to defeat Altera. As honor-bound as Altera was, she would accept her challenge to a fight. A recording of the test should exist. If she analyzed her moves, she could develop a counter-strategy and. Then, Altera had to acknowledge her.

How ironic, when she first had heard that Altera was going to be her supervisor, she could have jumped in the air. Receiving supervision from the academy’s superstar was a dream come true – and in her first year even. But dreams didn’t always translate into reality. A robot could have cared more for her than Altera did.

Ragna looked at Sven. His face was glowing, and his eyes jumped from one spot to another.

It was hard to believe that he was a twenty-three year old man about to become a Valkyrie. Right now, he resembled the young boy he used to be twelve years ago. But wasn’t that what was so great about him? He had suffered so much, and yet that young child inside him lived on.

“Do you like this?” she asked Sven, trying to remove any traces of bias or prejudice from her voice.

“It’s just amazing. I mean all these talented people together, all these colors and effects. It’s easy to forget, but humans can be awesome.” Sven turned to her. Tears had built in the corners of his eyes. “Sorry, I’m rambling. You didn’t have to come with me. We could have gone somewhere else.”

“If you like it, then I like it,” said Ragna and tightened her hold. “Anything is fun if you are with me.”

Immediately, Sven averted his face and concentrated on the parade.

He was fast, but not fast enough. She saw how red his face had gotten again. Teasing him was fun. But she should start to enjoy the parade for Sven’s sake.

Doves and corvids flew from all corners of the city. Thousands of birds beat their wings and turned the sky into a transient black-and-white mosaic. With every passing second mutated the image until it went through enough permutations that the resemblance to the original had stopped.

She had to admit the parade looked pretty. Being able to coordinate the birds required effort.

“See,” said Sven. “First you hate it, then you will like it. Remember when your parents brought me in, how often we fought?”

Ragna grinned. “I remember that I always won. You were so small and scrawny back then. And every time you cried and ran to mom and daddy.”

“I didn’t cry.” Sven’s protest was as convincing as the existence of a flying dodo. He moved his palm horizontally from his forehead and stopped when it floated far above Ragna’s head. “And now I’m tall and strong.”

Ragna chuckled and let go of her hold. She skipped towards the ice vendor a few feet behind them and performed a pirouette. “Since you are so tall and adult, you can buy a few scoops for smol little Ragna, right?”

Without wasting a second, Ragna had made her order. Usually, Sven would protest. But at this moment, he just stood frozen and watched after the movements of Ragna’s figure. The parade might captivate everyone else but in Sven’s eyes was the smile of a sweet imp.

֎

“The ceremony will start with a speech of Princess Aurelia,” said Ragna’s father. “After that is the initiation ritual of Cadet Xion. I wonder what she’ll have to do to become a Valkyrie.”

“I hope Altera fails.” Ragna munched on a slice of her pizza, and with her other hand, shielded her eyes from the sun. It was the middle of July, and temperatures were at an all-time high. As such, they had decided to eat outside the pizzeria ‘Slice and the City’.

“Look,” her father said. “I know you don’t like her but wishing that she fails goes too far. Her entire career is at stake. If she fails, she might as well become a prostitute.” 

“Don’t insult prostitutes.” Ragna glared at her father. “There’s nothing wrong with being one.” She sighed. “But fine. I hope she succeeds, but that it will be really difficult.” 

Her father was right. Altera was still an agent of Veil, and if she succeeded, she would dedicate her life to fight for Veil and the good people of the world. She couldn’t deny her that. To wish to rob humanity of another protector and hero, was the epitome of selfishness. Even she had to support Altera’s initiation ritual, her Bragi.

“You don’t have to wish for that,” said her father. “If she wants to be a Valkyrie, she’ll have to earn that rank. I had to travel around Aes for six months until I became one.”  

Ragna didn’t say a word and looked around. Tourists and citizens strolled through the shopping street, enjoyed their sweets, and listened to jazz players who tried to earn a living. The parade had moved on to the remote parts of the city, and at the city center, it was business as usual. The semester for the academies was also almost over as well, so students spent their time outside.

It was a beautiful day, she enjoyed a nice lunch with her loved ones and had a grand future ahead of her. If it weren’t for Altera, her life would be perfect. But, a wise man once said that “Not perfect is good.”. So, some trouble should be fine. Once Altera graduated, she wouldn’t have to see her face again anyway.

“Be happy for her,” said Sven. “It rarely happens that someone becomes a Valkyrie, and never before they graduate from the academy. She’s skipping all the military ranks basically.”

“That’s true,” her father agreed. “She is one of a kind.”

“Thank Twice for that,” said Ragna and poked Sven’s arm. “But what about you? This is your big day too.”

“I will start after the ceremony is over. I’m not a big fan of the limelight, but yeah…Tonight, I guess I will start my journey to become a Valkyrie.” 

“Anyway, Ragna, you are part of Princess Aurelia’s guard,” said her father. “I had to pull some favors and needed Aurelia’s approval, but after her speech is over, you will accompany her everywhere. It will give your future career a boost, as long as you don’t mess up. So, don’t do anything stupid, and listen to the other guards. They all outrank you.”

“Awesome.”

Being Aura’s bodyguard for the peace ceremony would look great on her resumé. Once they went out to party The name Ragna Griffin would be trending in no time. Career, family, and fame – the only direction her life could go was up. Though, she shouldn’t forget, more important than her career was protecting Aura’s life.

Ragna bit into another slice and grinned like a child in front of their Yule presents. “I can’t wait to see her again.”

“Take this seriously. A cadet would never be allowed near the princess. If you screw this up, we will be in deep shit.” Her father sighed and pressed his hand against his face. Straightening his posture, he looked at Sven who reached out for a slice of pizza, only to see that Ragna had eaten his share. “You are outside her chambers with the other guards. Consider this your first test. The princess’s your priority, but keep an eye on Ragna too.”

“I can protect myself,” said Ragna. “I’m not a child anymore.”

Her father smiled. His eyes shone like gold.

As a child, Ragna had wished she had inherited her father’s beautiful eyes. But when her mother had died, she began to appreciate her blue eyes. They were an eternal memento that existed as long as she kept walking, and perhaps beyond. Though there were a few moments where she wished she had at least one eye from each of her parents, those were fleeting and disappeared as quickly as they came to her mind.

“I know,” said her father. “No matter how strong you are, you will always be my precious daughter. Aurelia may be the princess of Veil, but for me, there is only one princess.”

Covering her smile, Ragna stared at the plate in front of her.

Her father scratched his temple and continued. “To be honest, my biggest wish is to see you two share a beautiful future. And perhaps to be called grandpa one day.”

“Seriously, you’re gonna give me diabetes.” Ragna groaned, still concealing her grin, whereas Sven began to resemble a strawberry. Her father stroked his three O’clock and laughed at the shyness and innocence of the modern man.

“Anyway, since this is a big event, I think we need new clothes. I mean, what would others think?”

Her father’s laughter and joy faded. But his smile remained. “Sure. I mean, your military uniform should be fine.” His golden eyes narrowed and pierced right into Ragna’s soul, ignoring all defenses. “But if you wanna spend money on unnecessary clothes, be my guest. How much money should I lend to you? The interest rate would be…”

“I think I’m fine,” said Ragna. Her face turned as blue as the vision of a man who had taken too many wood-enhancer-pills.

She should have expected that. Asking money from him was a bad idea. When she was twelve, she and Sven had learned this lesson the hard way. When it came to his possessions, her father stopped being human. The ‘dragon hoard’, her father’s comrades used to call their house and the riches inside.

A few hopeless suitors would call her dragon princess – or damsel. But those who desired her only for her beauty or her father’s money got to meet Sven’s fist. Not that she had needed him, but it was convenient not to deal with every suitor herself. Most of them were annoying, but some were nice, and most importantly, they weren’t entitled – and had enough self-awareness to know that dating, sex, and marrying were different concepts. If she felt there was chemistry, she went out with them. Sadly, it didn’t give him the push or the backbone to confess to her.

֎

“Help, thief!” a voice screamed.

All three turned their heads around. A black-clad figure racing down the street. Ragna jumped from her chair, activated the gravity manipulator, and chased after the mugger.

“Shouldn’t we run after her?” Sven asked.

“She can take care of herself.” Drake waved his hand, and the waitress promptly arrived at their table. “One glass mead, please. König Bils.”

The waitress wrote the order on her tablet. Sven declined with a gesture of his hand before she could ask if he wanted a drink and left.

“Yet you still don’t allow any boyfriends in the house,” said Sven.

“That’s different.” Drake hammered with his fist on the table. Sven jerked up, and all the plates and glasses jumped several centimeters up. Luckily, none of them broke when they touched the table again.

It was probably for the best if he didn’t tell Drake about Ragna’s past boyfriends, then.

“Are you going to be okay?” Drake asked. His face had gotten somber.

Sven swiped his hands over his face. The levity he previously had was gone as well. “I am.”

“Tonight will change everything. You really don’t have to do this. You can stay at home, and I can handle everything.”

Sven shook his head. “I have to do this. This is my fight as well, since the moment you have taken me in.”

“And what are you fighting for?”

Sven looked past Drake. His eyes stared at the street Ragna took to chase the mugger. Neither he nor Drake spoke a word. Several seconds passed until Sven’s focus switched back to Drake. “I want to spend the rest of my life with you and Ragna. I want us all to be happy. And I know she will probably hate me for this.”

“Eventually she will understand.”

Sven’s eyes looked away from him. Staring at his empty plate, he folded his hands. “I don’t think she should be a Valkyrie.”

“Oh, she will definitely hate you for this.” Drake laughed.

Sven ignored his comment and spoke further. “Do you know what I like about Ragna?”

“Just to let you know, if the answer isn’t “everything”, I will disown you.”

“She is sometimes mean, she likes to tease you, or play pranks, but then you see how much she wants to protect other people, or create a better world, and how much she hates it when others are hurt. And she never gives up. It’s like she’s the love child of a titan and a Valkyrie. Hel and Valhalla in one. I don’t know how she does it.”

“Does what?”

“Fighting for these big things. I could never do that. They are too abstract for me. I want to focus on the small things.”

The waitress served the mug from the table, and Drake took a sip of his mead. Sven looked up for a moment. “She still believes in good and evil and wants to fight for truth and justice. But she doesn’t know how cruel the world can be. She won’t make it as a Valkyrie.”

“And so, you want to fight?” Drake took another sip. “So, that she doesn’t have to?”

The two sat in silence, neither said a word. Only the occasional sip from Drake’s mead disturbed the quiet.

“By the way,” said Drake after a while and raised his eyebrow. “Which of her parents was the titan?”

Sven’s face became deadpan. “The one who let me experience the concept of being a corporate slave.”

“Well, I think you learned a valuable lesson about taking credits and paying back your debts.”

“We were twelve,” Sven cried. “We used the money for games and clothes.”

֎

The guests had gathered at the ivory banquet hall of Castle Gimli. While they ate from the buffet and drank the finest champagne, the socialites, celebrities, moguls, politicians, and influencers began to chit-chat. They talked about business, celebrities, philosophy, news, scandals, and what other topic was convenient for either profound or shallow discussions. Some preferred to remain in their familiar circles, while others sought out the opportunity to meet new faces and make new connections. And the cameras rolled, catching and broadcasting every passing second of the event.

Starting with the kingdom’s founders – the three Trutner siblings – statues of past heroes stood on the hall’s two sides. Next to the statue of Willow Trutner, Ragna checked her outfit.

Even though she was a mere guard, she wished she could look fancy for this evening. The guests might mistake her for décor. In a play, she would be a spear-carrier.

But protecting the princess took priority. For Aura’s sake, she would become furniture. Some of the greatest heroes remained forever anonymous. And it wasn’t like she hated her clothes. She was killing this outfit. Dark boots and a black and white military uniform – skirt, shirt, garter belt, and jacket. She was also sure that the photographer of ‘Viking Brilliance’ had shot her.

If they featured her next to the effigy of Willow Trutner, that would be amazing and open a few doors into stardom. At least a small modeling career should be possible with the fame ‘Viking Brilliance’ could bring her. Afterall, Valkyries weren’t just warriors. They were idols and superstars. But just being famous was not enough. It was great that the public would love you, but fame for fame itself was a waste of all the effort one had put into becoming famous. It was important what one would do with all the fame. She wouldn’t sit idly by. Once she became a Valkyrie, she would use all she had to create a better world without Vaix. She would fight so that other people wouldn’t have to live and suffer because what was dear to them was gone. As long as she didn’t slip into vengeance, there could be true peace. Too many upperclassmen had made that mistake and paid with more than just their lives.

Ragna glanced at the statue.    

If Willow Trutner were here, she would be proud that another young woman will fulfill her dreams. She was the greatest woman in history, and in her opinion, the inspiration behind the Valkyrie’s myths and ideals. Bravery. Honor. Beauty. Compassion. Rules of conduct in combat. Selflessness. Just to name a few qualities.

Ragna’s face focused on the raised platform with the podium, where Aura was going to hold her speech. Behind the podium were seven chairs. Most Valkyries did not come. It was a shame, but Veil’s protectors couldn’t relax even tonight. Even those that attended were on duty to protect President Reillius Adler who sat on the first seat. She could see three Captains with three Vice-Captains. That amounted to six Valkyries – including her father and…Rory Skyfrost.

Ragna grumbled.

Why did they allow Skyfrost to attend? Was this a PR stunt? Did Veil want to show how accepting and open-minded it was? Allowing aliens inside the residence of the President and letting one sit right behind Aura, went too far. She could understand if Skyfrost was a credit to his people. But he was scum.

The side doors opened. All activity ended, and the guests focused on the ethereal woman who walked towards the podium. A tea-green cocktail dress wrapped her figure. Platinum hair reached her back and followed her every step like a curtain. Not one strand of her elaborately styled braids was out of place, and a necklace worth a village hung from her neck.

She projected the amalgamation of a modern, yet both regal and tribal young woman. With her slim body, her elvish face, and sharp silver eyes, it was easy to see why President Adler’s daughter had captivated the hearts of an entire kingdom. Despite Adler’s long and successful presidency, it was the princess everyone would follow until the depths of Hel. Standing before the masses for the entire world to hear, her melodic voice began to speak.

“Good evening. Before I start, I would like to thank everyone for attending this event. Both those present before my eyes and all the viewers online. You have all sacrificed your time to listen to my speech. I cannot express just how much that means to me. So, please accept this humble gesture. Thank you, everyone.”

The princess paused to curtsy, and the guests applauded.

“Today a thousand years have passed since mankind has risen from the ashes of the Great War. And that is a cause to celebrate because in our eons-long history, has there ever been peace? The old sages from the past said if we stop mankind’s progress, war and violence will stop. Some might say this peace is thanks to them.

“But that is not true. Take away the bombs and drones, and we use guns. Without guns, men grab swords. Destroy our swords, and we use sticks and stones. If they disappear, then we resort to our fists. Amputate us, and we will use our words and thoughts. And if you take those away, then what is left?

“It is in our nature as humans to cause violence. We were cursed since the very beginning when we were nothing but infants in our cradle. Yet this very humanity has accomplished the seemingly impossible: to achieve a thousand-year-long peace. We had dreamed of exploring the seas, and thus we sailed across the planet. We had dreamed of the sky, the very domain of the birds and gods. And now look at us, we conquered it.

“Because that is also the nature of mankind, to grasp the impossible. As long as we progress and improve, we will continue to achieve what is impossible. All of us – all the people and all the nations: let us together become a world that will thrive forever.

“But this is not a mission I force upon you. Today is a day of celebration. As such, I am announcing my engagement to Captain Marcus Graswald. I want to thank everyone for listening, and please enjoy the rest of the night.”

At first, the guest stood in silence and gasped. Veil’s most desired bachelor had stopped being single. But the numbness of surprise and broken hearts waned under the sounds of thundering applause. Captain Graswald stood up, the princess curtsied, and together the two walked away hand-in-hand. Altera came to the forefront, Aura returned, led her to the Captains, and disappeared from everyone’s sight. 

Ragna stood like a frozen statue, perfectly mimicking Willow Trutner next to her. It took a few moments until her brain had processed the news of Aura’s announcement.

Just when had she and Captain Graswald gotten close? Not that they wouldn’t make an awesome couple. Aura was a princess, and Captain Graswald a Valkyrie. But what the Hel had happened in the one year she had spent at the academy? Right now, it didn’t matter.

With the end of the speech, Ragna’s task begun. She nodded towards Sven – who stood next to her – and looked out for Aura.

Where could she be? One would think spotting her would be easy. No mortal could outshine her – except maybe Altera. But Aura had always been a master at hide-and-seek. If she wanted to be alone, no one would find her.

“Huh?”

The room had turned black, and a warm pressure obscured her eyes. Ragna turned her head left and right.

What was happening? Should she attack?

“Are you hungry?” a female voice asked.

Ragna’s body relaxed. “Where did you come from? You just left with Captain Graswald.”

Aura removed her hands from Ragna’s face, giving her her eyesight back. She chuckled and wrapped her arms around Ragna. “Royalty is supposed to have secrets. But now, let’s go.”

Ragna smiled, inflating her voice. “Of course, your majesty. Your wish is my command.”

“After Altera’s initiation, nothing interesting will happen.” Aura released Ragna from her embrace and pointed towards the banquet.

“Let’s get something to eat, and then we go to my chambers, okay?”

Ragna hesitated.

“Don’t worry. No one will pay attention to us.”

The princess winked.

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