Chapter 04 – The fallen griffin
When Ragna woke up, the first thing her eyes saw was a white wall.
What had happened?
She pressed her hand against her forehead. It felt like someone had stomped their boot into her skull. Not just her head, her whole body felt like a jackhammer had galvanized it. Her memory was foggy.
There was Aura. Skyfrost had betrayed them. And Sven…No…
She shook her head. He just disappeared into light. There was no way he would explode. Right? There was no body. Right.
She never saw him die. He could be still alive, and she could find him. But first, she had to find out where she was.
She was lying in a surprisingly soft bed tucked into a corner. In the center of the room was – between two chairs – a black metal table. Through the window, sunrays gave her warmth.
In any other situation, she would have dozed off, watching the clear blue sky. It seemed to be midday. So, at least half a day had passed. Outside was a grey field.
Inspecting the wall in front of her revealed a creak that ran through its middle. Ragna stood up. She walked towards the door, and nothing happened.
Ragna sighed. It would be too easy if this was an automatic door. She pushed against it with her hand, and when that didn’t work, rammed it with her shoulders. The door wouldn’t budge. She hammered at the wall, screaming to let her out. Even pressing her fingers into the creak would not force the door open.
Was she in a prison cell? Had the enemy captured her?
Her eyes wandered through the room and stopped at the chairs. While the table was too big for her, she could grab the chair.
Let’s see how sturdy that door is.
Before she could turn her plan into motion, Ragna heard a click. The wall opened like a slide door, and three people walked inside. The first was an older woman with a raven-black perm, wearing a brown fur coat. Furrows, folds, and creases drew through her square face like tree rings. Her sharp and weary grey eyes felt like the excerpts of a history book. Still, it couldn’t hide the beauty age had been unable to snatch away.
The second person had a slender face. Perhaps her head and eyes were blurry from the impact of the explosion. Whenever Ragna looked at them, she had trouble discerning whether they were a man or a woman. One second, she was certain to see a masculine face, but in the next, a young woman glimmered in the light.
The person had long, blond eyelashes, hair every woman would kill for, and aquamarine eyes that created the image of a delicate beauty. Yet, their black suit expressed professionalism and strength. From a visual perspective, they were another personification of the Valkyrie’s ideals. Despite the situation she was in, Ragna felt a modicum of admiration and envy rise inside her.
The last person wore a black suit as well. His hair was wild, spikey, and reddish-brown. With his trapeze-like face, he looked like a Rockstar or rugby player. It also reminded her of a squirrel.
“I’m glad you are fine”, said the androgynous visitor in a deep voice that made it clear, he was a man. It was a sweet, sweet voice that vibrated in her brain. Were it not for her current predicament, she would have trusted him immediately.
“Please take a seat.”
He pointed towards a chair. Ragna followed his orders, and the female visitor took the seat opposite of her.
“Where am I?” She asked. “Am I in Vaix?”
“What the hel are you talking about?” The eyes of the woman narrowed. Ragna could feel the mixture of bewilderment and disgust she had, piercing through her heart with the precision of needles. “You are in Veil.”
Hearing her words, the mist of fatigue and numbness vanished. As if a bird had defogged her brain, the faces in front of Ragna gained familiarity. Instead of a random amalgamation of attributes, her mind recognized the familiar patterns of expressions and linked them to the matching figures in her memory.
How could she have not recognized the captains of her kingdom? How hard did that explosion hit her head? But wait…If they were captains and she in Veil, then why was she in a prison cell?
“What is going on?”
She had to remain cool. There had to be an explanation. Perhaps the hospital was too full because of the number of injured. And they brought her to the nearest medical station. Yeah, that made sense. And Captain Fran and Graswald just wanted her recollection of the assault. Together with…
Ragna stared at the third person. He leaned against a wall and observed his fingernails, seemingly not caring about the events in front of him. Whoever that was, it wasn’t someone she had met before. That face didn’t match anyone she knew.
“You are in jail for treason”, said Captain Graswald.
Compared to the disgust of Captain Fran or the lack of interest of the squirrel man, Ragna could not read any state of mind from his expression. His tone likewise lacked discernable emotions. Instead of accusing, it felt Captain Graswald gave his boss a status update of the past events. Compared to the other two, his soft face at least gave the illusion of comfort.
“Together with other collaborators, you allied yourself with the kingdom of Vaix and allowed them entry into Gimli. Then during the afterparty, you led them to the princess’ chambers, poisoned Princess Aurelia Adler in the chaos, and tried to kidnap her.
Ragna’s eyes widened.
Treason? Was that a joke? No, the atmosphere was too tense for him to be making jokes. This was serious.
“I tried to protect the princess.” Ragna slammed her hands against the table and leaned forward.
“The report of Vice-Captain Skyfrost says something different.”
Again, her eyes widened. “How can that be? I thought he was dead.”
“So, you confess.” Captain Fran said.
She had dug her own grave. Why had she worded it like that? How stupid could she be? Now they would never believe her.
“Skyfrost saw you and Cadet Erikson kidnapping the princess”, said Graswald. “And then you set off an explosion. If it wasn’t for his Lügenschmied, Skyfrost would be dead.”
“He tried to kill us.”
“Well, obviously he did. You tried to kidnap the princess.” Captain Fran stood up and looked down on Ragna, towering over her.
“We? Skyfrost tried to kidnap Aura. He is the traitor. You have to believe me. We tried to bring her to safety. Ask Aurelia, Sven, or my father.”
Of course. Ragna’s eyes grew brighter. Her father would clear everything up. They just had to call him, and she would be out.
“We were under orders from the head of security, Drake Griffin.”
“Funny that you mention them.” Captain Fran said.
The cold gaze of hers made it clear that she didn’t believe a word, wasn’t even trying to. In her mind, Ragna was guilty, and nothing could change that.
“The princess is in no state of answering right now. She was injected with a lethal drug”, said Graswald. “It is a miracle that she had survived. Vice-captain Griffin is missing since the assault. We found several documents in his apartment that prove his allegiance with Vaix.”
Gasping, Ragna covered her mouth.
Was this for real? Her father too? No, that couldn’t be. She shook her head. No, no. There had to be a logical explanation for everything. But at least, Aura was alive.
“You have to believe me. That is all Skyfrost’s plot. We were set up.”
“While the possibility exists, so far, all evidence points towards you three being traitors.”
Graswald shook his head. He walked behind Ragna and placed his hand on her shoulder.
Did he feel betrayed, or did he pity her? She could not tell.
“As such, Drake Griffin is branded a traitor, and you are held here until everything clears up. Until we find his whereabouts, you are treated as a traitor. I’m sorry.” With his other hand, he took out his mobile phone, swiped through the screen, and showed it to Ragna. “This is one of the documents found in your apartment.”
This was undeniable – plans to capture Aura and to use her for ransom to gain economic independence from Veil. Her legs were shaking, and she sank into her chair.
This couldn’t be possible. There was no way her father would ever align with the titans who had taken her mother’s life. That didn’t make sense. He had fought against them countless times. Drake Griffin was a hero who had killed many of them.
This had to be a conspiracy against her. Skyfrost had failed to kidnap Aura because of Sven, father, and her. And now, he had set them up as scapegoats to save his skin. Those documents had to be fake. Every self-proclaimed hacker could forge digital documents. But how could she prove that?
Ragna’s eyes began to shine. “Ask Sven. He can show you the truth.”
“Cadet Erikson?” Captain Fran asked. “He is dead. Blew himself up. There should still be pieces of his body littered in the princess’ chambers. I pity the cleaning crew.”
Whatever words Ragna had wanted to say, she lost the ability to voice them. She fell from her chair, and she remained frozen on the ground. Not a single thought would cross her mind. The hope she had clung to was gone in an instant and left behind a carnivorous void.
“Daphne.” Captain Graswald looked at his colleague with fierce eyes. “That’s enough.”
His gaze switched back to Ragna. His lips and hand trembled, and his voice was devoid of joy. “We will leave you alone.”
The three left the room and closed her cell. She was all alone, and at that moment, tears ran down her face and watered the ground. There were no words, no thoughts, no other movements, just tears flowing and trying to fill the emptiness in her mind and heart.
The hours passed, and the tears had dried out. In their stead, thoughts came to the forefront. First, it was sadness at the loss of the man she had loved. The future and joy, they would have shared snatched away.
But once sorrow had shrunk the void, questions appeared. Why this tragedy had to befall her? Why had her father disappeared? In a moment of weakness, the thought her family was guilty, crept into her mind, and that they deserved this punishment; this was justice for a crime she was too stupid to understand.
But such feelings were not for long.
This was not her fault. She was a victim, and she would not suffer because of these sorry excuses for human scum. No, not even that. They were the dirt beneath that. Just thinking about the fact that they could freely enjoy their lives, made her want to vomit. They would regret their crimes.
Thus, her emotions turned into hatred. Hatred at those who had ruined her life. Those who had forced the man she loved to take his own life and exile himself from the heavens. And those who had dared to harm her dearest friend. An intense loathing burned inside her; A desire to avenge the fallen and to punish those evil monsters.
Eventually, hatred turned into determination; to restore her honor; to clear her family’s name; to bring Rory Skyfrost to justice; and more than anything: to reclaim the happiness they had snatched from her. Even if only a few coins from her treasure remained, she would regain what she had lost.
With her emotions gaining focus, her mind began to plot.
She had three objectives. First, she had to get out of this dammed jail. Second, she had to find evidence for Skyfrost’s crimes, and third, she had to find her father.
As far as she could tell, there was no way out of her cell. They had taken her weapons, and if she wanted to go to the toilet, a Valkyrie would accompany her. Walls surrounded her, and while she couldn’t see it, it would be stupid to think that somewhere nearby, a camera wasn’t monitoring her.
Ragna heard a noise outside her cell and jumped off from her bed.
Footsteps? Was someone coming?
The white wall lost its saturation and transformed into a window. On the other side of the wall stood a man, waving at her.
Who was that weirdo? Wait, she remembered that face. It was the person from earlier; The one who had lurked in the background. Now that she had a better view of his looks, she could see that man had the face of a fox. It wasn’t trapeze-like as she initially had assumed.
“Tryin’ to break out?” The man asked in a shrill voice.
Ragna wasn’t sure if he was stating his observations, mocking her, or both. It was better if she kept her guard up.
She remained silent, and the man grinned.
Truly a fox.
“You think of me as some fox guy, right?”
Ragna narrowed her eyes.
Can he read minds?
“I can’t read minds”, said the man. “People often get that impression of me, so I’m used to it.”
Ragna crossed her arms. “Actually, I thought you were a squirrel.”
The man laughed.
Again, like a fox.
“Good observation. I am a squirrel guy and even keep a few as pets. Regardless of that, I’m here to discuss with you the current state of affairs.” The man stopped and bowed before Ragna. “But where are my manners? My name is Adam Saber.”
“From the House of Saber?” Ragna widened her eyes. “What’s the ambassador doing here?”
The man nodded and straightened his back. “The one and only. Though it seems, my face didn’t clue you about my identity. Guess I’ve to step up my InstaNorse game. Anyway, the whole incident caused an international crisis. There was no way I could stay uninvolved. Believe me. It is in my best interest to solve this whole mess as swiftly as possible.”
“Still, what are you doing here?”
“The truth is, I think you are innocent.”
“Really?” A smile of relief flashed across Ragna’s face but disappeared immediately.
What if he was trying to bait her?
“There were a few discrepancies regarding the evidence”, said Adam. “According to the documents found in your house, the princess should have been kidnapped as leverage. Yet, during the actual assault, poison was injected into her, and on top of that, she was caught up in an explosion that could have easily killed her. It was nothing but sheer luck that the princess is still with us. The point is, the traitor tried to kill the princess during that night. If you three were the traitors, then why did you immediately try to kill the hostage?
There are other contradictions, but they don’t matter for you. I am sure eventually, others will notice this too. But who knows how long that will take? The testimony of the princess also matches your story.”
“Wait, so Aura did…” Ragna stopped herself. Her hand clenched her chest. “How is she doing? Is everything okay?”
“She woke up about an hour ago. She is fine. More than fine. I don’t know how she did it, but for her, that poison was an inconvenience at best. It had basically the effect of sleeping pills.”
Thank Twice. Aura was well. If anything had happened to her, she could never forgive herself. She would have ended her own life. Nothing else could have made up for that shame.
Adam scratched his temple and chuckled. “The princess must’ve one hel of a metabolism.”
“Then, can’t we just let Aurelia tell the truth?”
Adam shook his head. “Officially, the princess is still ill. We don’t know who we can trust. There is also the problem that Aurelia never saw Skyfrost. According to her, a masked assailant attacked her. Sven Erikson either killed them or pushed them outside her chamber’s windows. She then lost consciousness and could not confirm anything regarding your confrontation with Skyfrost. There is currently no proof if Skyfrost is innocent or guilty. So, the princess will stay as bait. Don’t worry. She won’t be at risk.”
Ah, of course. That made sense. Since the traitors knew they had failed, they would try to kill Aura again. And if they did, one would catch them in the act. Though would Aura be safe? She could only hope.
“The likelihood that you have been set up is quite high. I don’t know if the culprit is Rory Skyfrost, but my gut tells me, if that is the case, the Vice-Captain is just another cog. The corruption likely goes high up. As such, I can only trust you. At the moment, you are the only person whose innocence, we can be sure of, and who can act. I would love to investigate the incident myself, but I’m already more involved than I should be.”
Ragna couldn’t believe what she just had heard. A smile formed on her face.
Fate finally had turned in her favor. He was right. There were holes in the evidence. She just had to prove it.
“So, I ask again. Tryin’ to break out?”
“Then I got you one free ‘Get-out-of-jail-card’.”
Ragna tilted her head. “What do you mean?”
Adam snapped his fingers, and within the next moment, he stood inside the cell next to Ragna.
“My Flyga ‘The Wanderer’ allows me to teleport anywhere in the world, as long as I’ve set up a marker at that place. I can teleport you to an empty cottage outside the jail. So, what exactly do you intend to do?”
Ragna sat in silence and stared at the ground. Finally, she raised her head. “I have to find my father. He probably knows something or is involved somehow. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have disappeared.”
Adam agreed with a smile and gave her a large bag and a night-blue hood. “That is probably for the best. Here are your confiscated belongings. You don’t have to worry about the camera. I’ve hacked into the system. It just shows a looped video of you moping around. Despite that, I doubt that it will take more than five minutes for them to notice your escape.”
The expression of his face hardened, and the smile disappeared. He looked straight at her. “Are you ready to become a wanted woman and be hunted down like a criminal?”
Ragna exhaled. She looked firmly into Adam’s eyes and said with as much determination as possible. “Yes.”
Ragna put on the cloak, and Adam grabbed her shoulder. A white light engulfed the two, and the beige of the jail cell faded out. Brown widened its color into all three dimensions. Wood creaked under her boots. As Adam had said, not a single object was in this room.
“I’ve to go now”, said Adam. “Anything more than this, and the authorities would quickly realize that I have teleported you. This hut is close enough that one would believe you broke out with an unknown Flyga.”
“Thank you.” Ragna bowed her head. “I will not disappoint you.”
“I wish you the best of luck. You will need it.” Pronouncing the ‘will’ as hard as possible, Adam disappeared in a gulf of light and left Ragna alone.
Now, where to go?