Chapter 07 – high speed, high-death: the rainbow train

Chapter 07 – high speed, high-death: the rainbow train

A loud noise brought an end to Ragna’s sleep. Yawning, she rubbed her eyes.

What’s going on?

Stretching her back, she inspected the source of the noise. A man clad head-to-toe in tight, dark leather, towering over her like a dragon, his fingers pushing buttons on the stove. Black barbarian hair decorated his pointy face like a lion’s mane.

It took her a second until she realized who that person was.

“Daddy?”

In front of her was her father, cooking breakfast. Ragna looked at the scene of her father playing with the stove’s button until her eyes widened, and she ran towards him.

“What are you doing?” She pushed him from the stove away. “Mom forbid you to ever cook again. It took months till Sven’s hair grew back to its original length.”

Ragna hit her father’s head with a wooden spoon and put a pink apron on. She snickered. The cloth soft fabric tickled her skin.

“I’m sorry.” Drake lowered his head as if Ragna was a mother who had scolded her child.

“As you should.” Ragna swung her spoon like a ruler. “Now, what do you want for breakfast? How about scrambled eggs.” She bit her fingernail. “Or maybe…”

“Scrambled eggs sounds good.”

Next to her father sat the receptionist, wearing a loose red shirt with frills on the arms, like that of a Flamenco dancer.

“No.” Ragna puffed and hit him with her spoon. “This is quality father-daughter-bonding-time. Super old men are not allowed.”

Sulking, the receptionist danced away to his reception desk. As he should – a receptionist belonged to the reception desk and a father to his daughter.

“I’m sorry,” her father said a second time. “I should bring food to the table. Yet I have to depend on you. I’m a total failure.”

“My stomach and our insurance require me to cook.” Again, Ragna tapped her father’s head with the wooden spoon of doom.

He sat on the chair, the receptionist had left free and sighed. “You’re just like your mother.”

Ragna smiled. She leaned behind her father and hugged him. Shadows covered his eyes, and her arms wrapped around her father’s chest.

“Isn’t it natural for a daughter to become like her mother?” Her lips whispered into his ears. “Mom was an amazing woman. She was strong, beautiful, and intelligent. And married to an equally amazing, if slightly stupid husband.”

Her arm’s embrace tightened. Tears ran down her cheeks, wetting her father’s broad shoulders.

“She was everything I want to be. Even if she is gone, I have to become a Valkyrie like her. I promise I will fight for our happy ending as she did. We will get our lives back. And we will make those who made us suffer pay. I promise. I promise.”

Her hand ran through her father’s body. Like smoke, he dispersed. She was alone.

Ragna cracked her neck and put on her uniform. No matter what happened, she would move on. She was on a mission – neither god-sent nor for her kingdom. But one for her family, for their happiness, and for justice itself.

She opened the door and entered the world outside the room.

The waves ascended from the ocean. Rising and falling, they played an eternal rhythm of sound and water. Against the grey bark of a single tree that had emerged from the depths of the ocean, the sea stirred.

What was beyond the surface, in the abyss that the light could never reach?

Ragna stared at the tree. It was a drill that pierced the heavens. She floated in the water, yet her body was dry. Not a drop touched her as if a hydrophobic membrane covered her. The tree’s branches, she couldn’t see them. Each of them was a window into another world. Some were familiar. Others, eldritch locations beyond her capability to understand. One branch connected to this world through a door. Spider webs – and the void– covered the portal that led to a world, she neither could nor should enter.

He said it didn’t matter. That door didn’t relate to her story. It only existed for the sake of this universe’s principles: to prevent self-immolation through reactionary instability by mingling a cross point between opposite realities. Ragna just accepted his words. She couldn’t hope to understand them in the first place.

Sven was here. He had just arrived. It felt like ages when they had last seen each other. Sven pulled her out of the water into his warm embrace. All strength in her body vanished. Her fingers caressed his blank face.

So wonderfully cold.

She closed her eyes, and he kissed her eyelid. Once, twice, a third time. Gently, with just enough force. His lips moved to the other one. Ragna opened her jacket. Layers of his body dropped into the ocean, revealing a white foundation underneath. He let go of her and moved forward.

Should she follow?

In the distance sang a voice in a sirenic melody. It called her to the rocks. The sea crashed against them, and their edges cut through the water like a knife.

Should she follow?

“Which way is it?”

A voice echoed in her mind like thunder, and her instincts trusted it. She did not need to think about this: It was her ally.

“Is one right and the other wrong? That is for you to decide. Will one lead to ruin? Will one lead to happiness? The answer is yours. If you seek salvation in a false dichotomy, so be it. But move forward.”

The water trembled, and the blue transformed into a shadow, large enough to swallow her whole. But it never would. From the sea emerged the shadow. Leaving behind a trail of cascades, it flew to the horizon. Before Ragna could grasp his form, it had vanished from her eyes. But she knew the words were its. “Salvation, damnation, absolution, retribution, none and all. Choose the path your heart desires. Do not rest on the crossroads. Progress towards which you seek.”

Blue armor; white wings; red lips; pink poison; black scales; ashen horns; golden eyes; white determination; pink allure; blue innocence; red vengeance; black ideals; ashen malice; and golden avarice.

What should she do?

The morning sun brought warmth to her face, and wiggling around, Ragna opened her eyes.

“What the…”

Moans and heavy breathing – as well as her back feeling the rough texture of her mattress – interrupted her sunbath.

What was Altera doing? It sounded as if she had brought company or was having fun by herself. Should she check? It would be rude to watch and a severe brisk of privacy. But she had to make sure that everything was okay. Altera didn’t seem to be the type for one-night-stands, and it would be stupid if she hooked up with a stranger when they wanted to stay incognito.

But if Altera did, she had to check that it wouldn’t endanger her mission. So, in conclusion, for their safety, it was her duty to peek. Common sense itself dictated it. And it was Altera’s fault for doing it in their room. She could have barricaded herself in the bathroom or done it outside. In this motel, no one would have cared. Yes, she was justified. 

Ragna’s eyes wandered around. An ice construct had grown from the ceiling that resembled the Perbo-rune. Altera had frozen her feet to the construct and extended her wings. Wearing a black tank top and shorts in the same color, Altera lifted her body and was doing crunches.

Now that she thought about it, what was Altera’s Flyga? She could sprout wings and fly, but how did it connect to the ice? Was it based on a mythological ice creature? 

It seemed that Altera had finished her crunches. The ice on her feet melted, and she descended to the ground. Had Ragna a glass in her hand, she would have dropped it.

That was unfair. How could she compete with her? Were Altera a regular beauty, Ragna would be superior. Her skills she could improve, her intelligence, feign. So, these two attributes didn’t matter. In beauty, they would have been equal, and in personality and social skills, she trumped Altera by a landslide. But not like this. Altera’s looks bordered on the supernatural. If one told her she was a changeling, she would believe it.

Ragna closed her eyes and turned around. Altera had been conscious about either of them undressing in front of the other. She didn’t know what Alter’s issue was, but the last thing she needed was that Altera noticed how she had checked her out.

Whenever Altera used to have that stick so far up her ass, Ragna would imagine her in underwear to undermine her authority. Her guts told her that the trick wouldn’t be as effective anymore.

֎

By the time the girls had checked out, the old man still hadn’t bothered to look at them even once. The newest issue of the ‘Veil Times’ seemed more important to him. However, that allowed Altera and Ragna to see if there was news about Ragna’s prison break. As it turned out, that was not the case. Most likely, the government wouldn’t want to admit that their soldiers had allied with the enemy and attacked the presidential family.

The old man threw the bill in front of them. When they saw the price of 200 Wert, one thought had – despite their vast differences – manifested in both of their minds. The feeble hope to never rest in this mockery of sacred hospitality again.

֎

“My whole body hurts.”

Ragna stretched her body. Everything cracked. Her neck sounded like she had broken a bone in two.

Uhh…That’s going to end in a lumbago.

“I wouldn’t have thought I would miss my bed.” Ragna yawned. She took a sip out of her coffee cup and grimaced.

Well, what could one expect from a train station drink?

“How spoiled are you?” Altera asked without looking at Ragna. Her eyes wandered through the station, observing her surroundings. Even though it was in the city’s outskirts, many people waited for the Bifrost to arrive.

Altera sounded matter-of-fact-y, but there was a quantum of scorn and envy in her voice. “The real world won’t pamper you twenty-four-seven. So, don’t be a child.”

“I wouldn’t be so tired if you weren’t so loud. How long did you work out?”

“No idea.” Altera shrugged her shoulders. “I woke up around four and didn’t look at the time when I had finished.”

Seriously? At four? That’s less than two hours. She wasn’t human. There was no way Altera had a human body. Either that or her brain was hotwired.

“How are you even alive?”

Altera turned around, her back facing Ragna. “I’m just like that. There are times I don’t need to sleep at all.”

Oookaayy. That sounded creepier than it should be. Better to change the topic then.

“How come you don’t have a six-pack with all that work out?”

Altera faced her again. “I’m doing a combination of cardio work-out and Barre. That, plus the nutrition plan my instructors had given me, allows me to gain strength without muscle definition.”

“Was that your idea?”

“My instructor thought it would hinder my career if I looked muscular.”

Ah, that was right. Whether Valkyries should have a six-pack and muscles divided public opinion. Valkyries were idols and thus, had to conform to society’s beauty ideals, find niches of alternative beauty, or resemble and behave like pop-cultural stereotypes. Especially the current generation of Captains contained a vast assortment of clichés. 

Still, it was a small price to pay as one in exchange could fight for the sake of Veil’s citizens and defeat evil. Though sometimes when some of the more popular female Valkyries appeared on television, she couldn’t look into a mirror for days. The desire that everyone was blind, crept occasionally into her mind.  

“Wait a minute,” said Altera and raised her voice. “How did you know about my stomach? Did you peep?”

Ragna clicked her tongue.

Why did she have to mention it?

“It’s just a work-out. That’s a normal thing to do, and it is normal to look. What do you think would happen? That I get off of that?”

“It’s not normal. What’s wrong with you?”

One day, a shrink should look inside Altera’s head.

“I don’t want to hear that from someone who can’t look at a half-naked person.” Ragna took another sip, and Altera blushed.

“M…My actions were logical. It’s you who has no shame. Stripping before another person.”

“Yeah…” Ragna sneered. “Don’t think I didn’t notice that you were staring at me.”

“What has that to do with anything? It’s only natural. Like looking at a train wreck.”

“You’re calling me the train wreck?”

֎

The two bickered until the Bifrost arrived. Neither of them had noticed the man in the black suit sitting at the bench. He reached inside his vest, took out a phone, and dialed a number.

“We have located Cadet Griffin. As you predicted, she is taking the Bifrost. Shall we arrest her?”

“No,” said the voice on the other end of the line. “Enter the train and keep an eye on her. Are the others already boarding? As long as they stay on the train, don’t take any action until I arrive. Am I clear?”

“Yes.”

֎

Seeing the Bifrost’s white seats again, Ragna reminisced about the first time she had taken the train.

They were traveling to the Eren Archipelago. Her father had insisted on wearing that ugly flower shirt. He grinned like a child because he had made a cheap purchase instead of shopping in the archipelago, as they had planned. Even tried to make them wear matching outfits. Her mother refused to be seen with such an affront against fashion and threatened him: either the shirt would go, or she would.

Her parents were always like that. Her father would try to spend as little money as possible, but her mother would always make sure his thriftiness didn’t venture into the realm of idiocy. Though with the shirts, maybe her father wanted to show their bond as a family but couldn’t communicate his intentions well. He always had needed her to convey his thoughts.

Ragna looked outside the window. The sky was as blue as ever, and no clouds disrupted the monotone color, while the trees under the bridge the train was speeding through, resembled cabbage fields.

Thinking back, that was his worst trait. Not that her mother was a pariah of virtue. She was selfish, two-tongued, and if she was determined, more stubborn than a horde of bulls. Still, she could not wish for better parents.

“Say, Ragna.”

Ragna turned her head. Altera rocked in her seat. In her hand, she had summoned an ice disk. She pressed her fingers against its center, and it spun.

This was the fifth time she had attempted a conversation. She didn’t like to stay still either and had indulged Altera, but this was too much. How energetic was she? As her mentor, Altera had been the opposite.

“When you are with the princess, how is she? What kind of stuff are you doing?”

“We were usually just goofing around.” Ragna shrugged her shoulders and played with her twintails’ tips. “Nothing that interesting, just the usual talk about silly stuff. Music, diets, healthcare, shows, sweets, fashion, love. Why? Have you never talked to her?”

The pressure on Altera’s spinner increased and its rotation became faster.

“She trusts you, right?” Ragna asked.

Altera glanced at the train’s display and sighed. It seemed she had tried to kill time with small talk again.

“I met her when I was deployed as her bodyguard. It was part of the Valkyrie program, and even then, just as an escort to a nearby city. I don’t know why, but afterwards, she wanted to exchange numbers. Even though I was just a cadet. From then on, she insisted on me being her guardian for unimportant events. We usually talk about politics, science, or philosophy. I didn’t notice any difference from her public appearance. In my eyes, only the word goddess could fit her. Imagine my shock after that letter. I wonder, did I ever see her true self?”

“Yeah.” Ragna snickered. “I saw your face. It was cute.”

“Would you stop that? I’m serious.”

“Aura isn’t different”. Ragna crossed her legs. “Her personality is real. But there’s more to her. She also has flaws like everyone. You can admire her, but if you want to be her friend, you have to stop that. Admiring someone and understanding them, that’s two totally different things. And if you don’t know someone, you can’t be their friend.”

The difference between admiration and understanding…did that contribute to her bad relationship with Altera? Before she had talked to her, she would have worshipped the ground, Altera walked on. Couldn’t she handle that Altera too was human and had flaws too?

Altera stared at Ragna.

“Do I have something on my face?” Ragna asked.

She shook her head. “No, it’s just, that was surprisingly deep.”

“I’m a woman with depths,” said Ragna. “But anyway. There’s nothing wrong with your talk. The princess and I don’t usually talk about the big topics. Not because they aren’t interesting, but because we usually end up arguing. Our interests are mostly the same, but for politics and ideals, we are not. After I had entered the academy, the differences grew. I still don’t understand how she can see any good in our enemies.”

“So, your vision is different from Aurelia’s”

“No, we fight for the same thing.”

“And that would be?”

“For a better world. I don’t want to see children grow up without parents, because they were sent to fight a battle everyone pretends doesn’t exist. If we all want peace, why do they keep killing soldiers? Do their lives not count? Are we less worth less than other people?”

Altera didn’t say a word.

“Why did you ask?” Ragna crossed her arms. “Are you telling me that my dream is wrong?”

Altera shook her head. “Of course not. Who could say such a thing? Your dream is noble without doubt, and it’s worth fighting for. I don’t want you to give up on that. But how do you expect to achieve it?”

“By eliminating Vaix. If they are gone, then we don’t have to fight.” 

Lowering her eyebrows, Altera asked. “Have you ever fought against Vaix?”

Ragna tilted her head, but Altera continued before she could open her mouth. “I’m not talking about simulations. Actual battles. Have you ever killed someone or even met someone from Vaix?”

“I…”

“Then, you are just parroting what the adults are saying.”

“I have every reason to hate these assholes. They have killed many people I love.”

“And I have killed the loved ones of those in Vaix.” The light in Altera’s gaze seemed to disappear as if a layer of ice was covering it.

“But they deserve it. They are nothing but monsters.”

“Do you want to know about my first kill?” Altera asked, sunken in her seat. Ragna didn’t say a word, signalling her to continue.

Altera looked at the roof and brushed her hair with her hand. “It was a little boy. Perhaps 13 years old. We had to escort a mine owner through a forest. The boy was part of a bandit tribe that kept attacking him and his company. The fight had escalated. We were still inexperienced, so we had killed them in the heat of combat. Turns out, the miner used slave labor in his mines. And the so-called bandits were friends and families of the slaves.”

“You brought that man to justice, right?”

A quiet laugh deprived of all strength and joy escaped Altera’s lips. “That man is one of the biggest providers of Orichalcum. Without him, Veil would – compared to the other kingdoms – be at a serious disadvantage. So, the higher-ups let him do whatever he wanted. Look, I don’t know whether the people of Vaix are good or evil. But whatever they are, we are equally like them.”

Ragna covered her mouth.

That couldn’t be true. Did she fight for the wrong side? No. Even Altera could not deny Vaix’s crimes. They were monsters. That was for sure. However, if Veil was equally evil, then for what did she fight? Even if she fought for justice, it would benefit the fight of two monsters. What did it matter who won? No. Her life was not made up of lies. Altera was wrong. That was cynicism that – fighting at the battlefront – had nurtured inside her. In the end, she was a proud agent of Veil. 

“Then why do you want to become a Valkyrie?” Ragna asked.

“To make the world better.” In front of her chest, Altera clenched her fist. “There is good in everyone. Nowadays, it is easy to get lost. To justify evil. Even if it is for the greater good. I want to be a guiding angel who lights the path to righteousness.”

“And what is this right way?”

“Everyone has their own definition. And that’s okay. Even if they are foreign to me, I will guide everyone to a path that leads to harmony.”

Altera stood up and grabbed her bag. From her choker and wristbands expanded her armor and covered her clothes and skin. Before Ragna could say a word, Altera ordered her with a hand movement to be quiet.

“Let’s move to another wagon. I have a bad feeling.”

Ragna followed suit, and her eyes wandered through the wagon. Everything seemed normal. The other passengers were involved in their little worlds.

The door to the next wagon slid open, and five agents in black suits entered. One of them pulled a golden badge in the form of an eagle out of his vest.

“Federal agency of Veil. Ragna Griffin, you are under arrest.”

As the nearby passengers began to whisper and take out their phones, the girls turned back and greeted another badge of federal agents.

“Looks like running away isn’t an option for now,” said Altera. “You take these guys. I will solve the problem behind us.”

Ragna tapped her wisteria-colored glove.

“Don’t use your weapon.” Altera summoned a ball of ice, big enough to cover her torso. She moved her arm and the sphere flew right into the agents, treating them as human-sized bowling pins.

“Yeah, yeah.” Ragna dashed forward and decked her fist into the first agent’s chin. He pummelled against the metal roof and dropped to the ground, stranded in the bewitched land of dreams and concussions.

How convenient that they all stand so close to each other. This will be over in seconds.

She pushed her elbow into the next agent’s face and sent him flying. The third agent evaded his comrade’s falling body, but that allowed Ragna to dive her head into her opponent’s. The next one pulled an electric taser from her jacket. Ragna rammed her knee into her stomach. The agent groaned, and holding her abdomen, she went down. Ragna looked around. Behind the wagon’s glass door, she saw the next group of agents arriving and behind them another.

“How many are there? When did the IBV border the train?”

“Guess we have no choice,” said Altera. A palisade erupted from the ground, encircled the girls, and separated them from the rest of the wagon.

“What are you doing?” Ragna asked. Shots clank against the thorn wall.

Without answering, Altera widened her arms to a prayer. Between her palms, ice transmuted to a block. Layer by layer, it grew until it was wider than Altera’s body. She pressed her palms against the block, and with the speed of a bullet, it shot through the roof.

Ragna took a step back, her body jerking at the loud crash.

How did she do that? Ice wasn’t supposed to destroy metal.

“Let’s go. We should be able to disrupt them with that.”

Altera jumped through the new hole. Ragna nodded and followed her. The moment her feet had left the opening behind, ice froze it shut. A second layer of thorns followed as reinforcement and grew over the layer.

“What now?” Ragna grimaced. The wind’s whip splashes lashed at her face. She slammed her saber into the roof, tightening her grip.

The train sped on a metal bridge. Air was around them, and a sea of trees under them. If she fell, she would end up as a mush of flesh and bones. Altera, seemingly unbothered by the prospect of a messy demise, sat down.

“They won’t be able to get on the top of the train,” she said. A set of wings grew from her back, and ice covered her feet. It connected with the train’s metal roof, turning her feet and the metal into one solid mass. “We should be safe.”

Her wings began to beat. In increasing rhythm, they created a headwind that kept the wing splashing against her, as well as the ice that slowly crept over her legs, at bay. “I’ve no idea where we are, but once we see buildings, we get off.”

֎

A shrill sound swooshed through the air. Their eyes spotted a brown falcon, jetting towards them. The falcon screamed again, and a second later, it was gone. Instead, a tall person in a green-gray armor had appeared. His face was androgynous, the short hair blue like azure, and his eye red like rust.

“Skyfrost.” Ragna clenched her jaw, baring her teeth.

“We meet again.” Skyfrost went through his bangs and pushed them away, revealing a black pupil. His eyes focused on Altera, and Skyfrost grinned. He raised his arms and clapped. “Xion, what an unpleasant surprise. Could it be that you- “

Forced to draw a dagger, Skyfrost blocked Ragna’s saber.

“That was rude, kitty-cat,” he said. “Did daddy forget to teach you manners too?”

Skyfrost moved his leg. Ragna jumped into the air, and Skyfrost’s right earring glowed. He performed a backflip and increased the distance between them.

What’s he doing? No time to think about that. Once the manipulator activates, it’s over for him.

Ragna’s hand hovered above her glove.

The air became hotter, and Ragna’s skin heated up. Flames manifested on the platform. They formed a circle and erupted into the sky.

Fuck. The fire was faster than the manipulator. It would burn her before she could use her device. She had to get out of range.

Ragna tried to move her body.

The flames froze before they could catch her. They transformed into pillars of ice, and the gravity manipulator activated.

Now she was safe and could go full out. She would have to thank Altera for that.

Ragna mirrored Skyfrost’s previous acrobatics and kicked the pillars with all the force she could muster up. Cracks formed on them, and lumps of ice shot at Skyfrost. His earring glowed anew. Fire manifested on the Bifrost’s roof and expanded until it was a barrier wide enough to cover Skyfrost. The lumps flew into its rhombus shape and melted.

She landed on the roof, and now that Altera wouldn’t have to worry about Ragna’s safety, charged towards their opponent.

Skyfrost’s hand circled the rhombus and the fire reshaped into a spear. He grabbed it with his bare hands, and without flinching, blocked the thrusts of Altera’s partisan. Ice began to cover the tip of the flaming spear. Skyfrost summoned new flames that devoured the ice. In response, Altera widened her wings and flew into the sky. She attacked him, Skyfrost blocked. The two weapons connected. Their elements tried to engulf the other. Flames razed through the ice, and ice covered the flames. Again, and again.

Ragna’s eyes switched back and forth between the two combatants. There was no opening that allowed her to strike Skyfrost without the gravitational shift affecting Altera. She had to wait. Hopefully, the timer wouldn’t run out.

Skyfrost chuckled. “Truly, our elements are equal. But as much as I enjoy this dance of ice and fire, do not mistake…” The fire dispersed, and Skyfrost rammed his shoulder into the future Valkyrie. Altera lost her momentum. She crashed on the roof and bounced off it.

“That doesn’t make you my equal.”

“Altera.”

“Relax. She can fly after all,” said Skyfrost. “However, I doubt that she will be able to catch up. But then again, if you are so worried, you should have attacked alongside her.”

Ragna ran forward.

Skyfrost was right. Altera could find a way back. She shouldn’t worry about her and concentrate on defeating Skyfrost. As long as gravity was under her control, she could win.

A circle of flames surrounded Skyfrost and erupted into the sky, creating another pillar. Ragna smirked.

Now she had him.

The gravitational field that surrounded Ragna drew closer to the circle. The red of the flames changed into blue, and the lack of gravity contorted them to a sphere.

“What?”

In a reflex, Skyfrost jumped out of the circle. The flames extinguished. Ragna increased the gravitational pull, and Skyfrost’s jump came to a halt in midair.

“Gotcha.” Ragna decked him with her fist, and Skyfrost flew across the train. Black liquid covered his arms. They transform into scythes, and he rammed them into the roof. Sparks flew, his flight decelerated. His arms tore into the metal. And at the train’s edge, Skyfrost came to a halt. The heels of his boots rested over the air.

“Don’t think your parlor trick will work a second time.” Skyfrost ground his teeth. “Let’s see what you will do now. Burn to ashes.”

The train’s roof heated up, and Ragna looked around.

What was his intention? He saw that she could extinguish his fire.

But then, her eyes widened. Flames burst from all directions, blazing through the metal like whiplashes. The winds that blew at the train’s top transformed into sundowners and fed the fire with oxygen. Within seconds, it turned into a conflagration.

“Are you insane?”

Skyfrost straightened his body. Out of the inferno, he emerged laughing like a madman.

“Try to escape now,” he said and spurted towards her. “This roof will be your tomb.”

Ragna gulped.

There was no way she could extinguish all of this. Not without floating away like an air balloon.

Skyfrost closed the distance and raised his scythe arm. Ragna dodged. She blocked the second arm’s strike with her saber, and Skyfrost swung his first arm. Ragna jumped, and the other scythe attacked, not allowing her to coordinate.

Fuck.

Ragna backflipped and landed within the center of the inferno. Her eyes widened as she realized her mistake.

The flames turned under the changed pressure of her boots into a sphere and combusted. As fast as possible, Ragna jumped from the train. She increased the gravity under her feet and landed on the train’s façade, standing sideways.

“Why does the fire not harm him?” Ragna asked herself. “Was that because of his Flyga?”

If that was the case, then the flames would disappear once she had knocked him out, and he was unconscious.

Skyfrost followed her. His arms transformed into two kusarigama – scythes attached to a metal chain. He burrowed one of them inside the roof’s coating and swung on his chain arm like a monkey on a liana. He rotated his second arm and threw the scythe at her. Ragna leaped to her left and escaped the metal blade.

Fuck. Skyfrost knew that she would jump sideways. As long as the timer didn’t run out, she could move on the side as itf would on the ground. But manipulating anything besides the gravity under her feet could throw her off into her death.

“Just as I thought. High tech, low life.” Skyfrost smirked.

As Ragna stood up. Skyfrost retracted the scythe-chain and transformed his arm into a sickle. He extended the remaining chain and ran sideways as well. Skyfrost swung his arm, and Ragna blocked with her saber. The two blades clashed. Ragna let go of the resistance and ducked, ramming her head into the Vice-captain’s stomach. Skyfrost lost his footing and dangled from the chain. Aiming for his defenseless head, Ragna swung her saber. He extended it, descended further, and her swing vibrated against the chain links. As quick as she could, Ragna changed the direction of her blade and thrust it into Skyfrost’s direction, trying to impale his scalp.

Again, he evaded the attack. Ragna ran downwards, following him. The chain contracted and pulled the Vice-captain up. He swung his blade arm.

Fuck.

Ragna tried to evade the attack, but the blade bit into her shoulder. She cried in pain, and Skyfrost smirked.

“That’s it. One move and I will turn my arm into a Morgenstern and rip you apart. I must admit, your little toy gave you a bit of an advantage. But you still were no match for me. I’ve won. Do you have anything to say before I end you?”

“Just one thing,” said Ragna.

“Huh?” Skyfrost tilted his head.

A smile escaped her face. Focusing as much of the gravitational force as possible on her fist, she punched him in the stomach. Skyfrost crashed against the train’s window, shattered it, and landed inside the train. At the same moment, his arms transformed back into their original form.

“I hope this hurts.” Immediately, she focused the gravity on her boots. Breathing heavily, Ragna looked up. The fire was gone.

So, it was bait to remove her from the roof, after all.

She had to hurry. The manipulator was about to hit its limit.

Ragna ran upwards, and once she had reached the top, the countdown sprang from the glove. Ragna rammed her saber into the metal ground, tightened her grip, and pressed her free hand against the open wound. Just in time. There was nothing she could do anymore. Not that it mattered. She had defeated him.

A loud noise emerged as if she were on a construction site. A drill’s head poked out of the metal. The head disappeared, and out of the hole it had drilled, flew an insect.

“No”, Ragna cried.

The insect transformed, and Skyfrost appeared before her.

֎

Altera beat her wings as hard as she could and slammed her partisan into the train. Sparks flew. The winds blew their heat into her face, as the force of the impact pushed the weapon further back. Ripping a hole into the metal coating, Altera held onto her partisan. The winds whipped into her face, trying their best to throw her from the train.

She had to get to the top. The longer she was down here, the likelier it was that Skyfrost would kill Ragna. Together their chances were already slim, but her alone?

Altera ground her teeth and tightened her grip. It was a miracle that she was able to hold onto the train. On its rear end, she dangled like a flag in the wind.

Squinting her left eyes, she looked up. Her actions had disfigured the Bifrost’s rainbow painting with an ugly black line.

Once this was all over, she would have to answer for the property damage and possible allegations of hate crime. This might be her punishment because she hadn’t noticed that Skyfrost and the IBV had tailed them.

From the train’s center to the rear end, that’s quite a distance. She risked falling further back if she rushed this. Ragna had to hold out until then. Was she able to? She could only hope.

A black stake-like thorn sprout above her head. She grabbed it with her left hand. With her other hand, Altera shook and pulled her weapon until it grew loose. Drawing it out of the train, she slammed it next to the thorn. Another one grew above her. She let go, held onto her weapon, and reached for the second thorn. Thanks to the winds and the speed of the train, she couldn’t fly. Not without solid ground.

Step by step Altera progressed further until she had reached the train’s top.

Altera grabbed the thorn and rammed her partisan into the roof. Holding onto her weapon, she jumped. Just as Skyfrost had kicked Ragna away, Altera’s body glowed. Spreading her wings, she dashed towards her comrade and grabbed her before she could fall off the train as well. Ice grew over Altera’s feet, connected them to the ground, and Ragna held onto her.

“Are you okay?” Altera asked. “You are bleeding.”

“I’m fine. It’s just a scratch.”

“Don’t joke about this.” Altera swiped over Ragna’s wound, and ice covered it, stopping the bleeding. “I will give it a proper treatment once we are in the clear.”

Ragna nodded, wincing at the cold sensation.

“What a beautiful picture. You are a match made in Hel. So why don’t you go there?” Skyfrost smirked and pointed the dagger at Ragna. “They say the riches Drake Griffin hoarded are of immeasurable value. Clearly, you must be what is left. Even he would not bother to take you with him. But fear not, in the underworld, Wert has no value. So, do not lament your worthlessness. And you.” He looked at Altera. “What would your brother say?”

The dagger in his hand glowed, and Skyfrost threw it at Altera. Unable to block, it ate into Altera’s arm. She grimaced.

“I will admit, despite everything, what sickens me the most is that you are weak.” The smile on Skyfrost’s face disappeared. Crouching, the Vice-Captain took another step forward, and with no joy in his voice, bitterness and hatred willed their words. “You want to be Valkyries? How pathetic. You would bring nothing but shame to its sacred name. We Valkyrie’s are the idols of this new world.”

“I don’t want to hear that from you.”

How could Skyfrost dare to speak of Valkyries, when this bastard had betrayed Veil? Did he get some sick joy out of this? To pretend, he was one until the end?

Skyfrost narrowed his eyes. His fingers began to stroke Ragna’s chin. “You have spunk.”

He burrowed them into her skin, pressing against the bone of Ragna’s skull. She screeched.

“I hate that”, said Skyfrost. “You’re weak, so incredibly weak. It is disgusting, and you deserve nothing but misery. Even the technology you misused does not deserve to be used by you. Such a powerful marvel of science, and yet you were still pathetic. For a frog to fly, a crane has to eat it first. But no crane should lower itself to devour a pathetic creature like you. If you have anyone to hate, hate your own weakness that ended your pitiful journey here and now.”

Skyfrost let go. As he saw the scathing gleam in Ragna’s eyes, the Vice-Captain straightened and took a step backwards. “Once the train stops, the IBV will take you into custody, and you will forever remain criminals. But I am not a monster, you know? I have a heart.”

As if he wanted to prove his claim, Skyfrost pressed his fingers against his chest, forming a heart shape with them.

“If you truly care about the pride and honor of a Valkyrie, then I will grant you redemption. Put an end to this miserable charade you call life.”

“What?“

Skyfrost had to be insane. Did he believe that? He raised his arms as if he were to perform a theatric play. “Yes. Put an end to your life, so that the name of Valkyrie can never be dirtied by your exist- “

The train took a sharp turn. Skyfrost tried to grab anything that could secure his hold. To no avail. It slung Skyfrost away, catapulted him into the sky until he was a glimmer in the horizon, and the echoes of his screams had subsided.

“That…” Ragna failed to form a sentence. She was too bamboozled to say anything.

“Still. Skyfrost is right”, said Altera. “We have to find another way. Buckle up.”

“What do you…?”

Altera widened her wings and pulled the partisan out. She beat her wings, and with Ragna in her arms, jumped off.

Was she crazy?

Altera flew away from the train. Then, she stopped. Her breath increased, and her wingbeats grew more frequent.

“What’s wrong?”

“It can’t be. The dagger…” Altera’s words became heavy as if she had a fever. She looked for a place to roost. Her flight grew steeper, and her wings disappeared.

Leave a Reply