The dark blanket of the sky was speckled with bright glowing stars; everything seemed so crisp and perfect. It was all so quiet. The calmness tinted the pure night air, enough to make the feeling of it euphoric. But it seemed to be cut in an instant by a steady and yet sharp jet engine that echoed out through the air, riding high with the soft thermals.
A white flash of metal, indicating the craft itself, passed through the sky; its graceful form soared over the continuous green groves of the land below. The jet in question was one of Spectrum’s Angel Interceptors, a sleek aircraft that the organisation was greatly proud of.
Inside was Rhapsody Angel, one of the best pilots they had to offer. She was just finishing up with a routine patrol of the Southern European countries, and as it was, nothing was out of the ordinary. But Rhapsody was never one to lose her concentration on the fact that anything could happen and she had to be ready. In the war of nerves with the Mysterons, you couldn’t underestimate anyone or anything.
On this patrol, like many others, it was just the usual waiting for anything to happen, a game she was most willing to play. As it was for the sake of humanity.
She sighed immensely, gently rapping her fingers against her steering column as she guided her interceptor on the last of leg of her patrol before making her way back to Cloudbase. She had nothing to report. Nothing that would prove to be suspicious, or have any bad consequences, and so forth. She had made her last check in with Cloudbase barely ten minutes ago, reporting her position while crossing over the border of Latvia.
She held back a yawn. She was tired and not afraid to admit it; she had worked a long day, doing her shifts and even filling in for Symphony when she had a slight accident while trying to compete with Scarlet and Blue on the tracks in the gym. It was the American Angel’s own fault, trying to show off in front of the men. She had no chance against them, especially Scarlet; he was definitely the track specialist and Blue wasn’t too far off. She ended up with a sprained ankle, from what Rhapsody heard about it.
She smirked lightly, still focusing on the dark sky. You really do have to try and be a show off some days, don’t you, Karen? she thought.
By the grid reference on her onboard computer, which she took note of now and again for her position, she was nearing the border between Estonia and Russia. She had crossed over vast green lands that were shrouded in shadow and now was flying over sparkling waters, illuminated by a beautiful full moon. Its silvery shine lit up the trees in the background and the shape of an island that was not too far off up ahead to the right of her.
She could tell by the area that it was pretty isolated; the high mountains that loomed down just seemed to cut it away from civilisation.
She was crossing over Lake Peipus at that moment, a quite large area of gleaming waters that harboured the small island, which she didn't know anything about. The lake itself was large and spread out to take up a small part of the borderline; it just seemed so perfect and untouched. Rhapsody stared at the little land mass, she swore she could see some sort of yellowish light lit up below through the thicket of trees and rock faces.
Very interesting, she thought to herself. It didn’t seem anything to be much out of the ordinary. She didn’t want to think anything of it; nothing that needed to be reported, frankly, it could be just her tired eyesight.
The island came into full close view, and for an instant, she could have sworn she’d seen something glinting sharply at her. She frowned. It was very odd indeed. Then she heard a slight noise outside, which she could have mistaken to be anything, but it was curious as she kept a close eye on the mass below.
Suddenly her tracker went mad; signalling something was heading for her. She gripped the column and turned her head to look out the side window, in time to see something rush at her craft with great speed. For once, she could have jumped out of her seat. The dark object rushed past her, giving her no time to manoeuvre before she felt the back end of her Interceptor take a great impact.
She was jolted forward in her seat. She gasped and tried to work the steering column, but nothing, it wouldn’t work. Most of the system functions had been totally cut off.
Her heart lurched when she felt the interceptor finally tip down, the water beginning to rush up to meet her. She was sure only the radio and minor systems worked now. She had to quickly make a call to Cloudbase.
"S.I.R, I've been hit. Ejecting now. Most of my systems are dead, but hopefully the beacon will activate so you can pinpoint my position." She spoke quickly but clearly.
She nodded gratefully at the beacon that thankfully whirred to life as she ejected herself, the glass blowing back, sending her into the dead of the night.
The cold wind met her as she shot up, watching her craft speedily plunge to the water below, crashing with a thunderous collision against the surface. The water rose up around the craft, pulling it down until the large interceptor was completely submerged; a small explosion soon followed.
She prayed that the beacon had not been entirely destroyed.
Her parachute unfolded as she began to slowly descend down over the lake, which still rippled from the impact of her interceptor, now gone into the depths.
She gripped on tight to the seat as her chair came in for landing on the water. It took a small dip in and bobbed up and down, the large white parachute landing over Rhapsody’s head. She began pulling it off her, just as she felt the water pull down on the seat and the whole thing suddenly tip back. She let out a shocked yelp as her head came in contact with the freezing water. The helmet she wore was proving too heavy and immersed her head below the surface.
She pulled it away, accidentally letting it slip from her hands. It disappeared into the dark water, making her swear aloud.
She struggled out of her seat belt as the heavy metal seat began to sink like a rock in the water. She managed to un-strap but went head over heels and dipped into the icy water, going under into the extreme darkness. She kicked away, trying not to get tangled in the thick parachute lines attached to the chair. She pushed up from the sinking material and surfaced.
She sucked in air with a sharp huff, shaking the water off her face, softly treading water. She wasn’t going to stick around in the cold lake, she needed to get to safety and the island was her only option at that moment. She began to swim with numb and tired arms and legs, working with what they had left in them.
She was glad when she finally reached the island edge, her hand grabbing out to the bank as she began to glide in the now shallow water. She kicked out and climbed up onto the soft mud clad embankment, she managed a deep sigh before coughing hard, her body shivering from the coldness of the water drenching her, and from meeting the chilling air that shifted in the breeze.
This wasn’t a good night for her, she was sure of that. She didn’t enjoy the fact that she was now pretty much stranded on an island for the night, soaked from her unwanted dip in the cold water.
And now, there she was, sitting on the muddy bank, trying to regain her breath and keep warm. Her arms were wrapped close to her form, head back against a tree trunk.
I can’t just sit here and freeze to death, she thought to herself. There has to be somewhere I can go…
She had remembered the strange light that lit up from under the dense woodland area. It wasn’t just the moonlight, but something else. Could there be people there? She had to find out.
She paused for a moment, dipping her hand into the pocket on her trouser leg, retrieving a small disc-like shape with a white centralised button in the middle. This was her Spectrum Personal Tracker, or an SPT for short. It was used in cases of dire need of help when out of radio contact; each disc issued to each Spectrum officer was imprinted with its own unique signal, so any Spectrum facility would know instantly who had activated their tracker.
She activated it, knowing that the beacon on Angel Two was only so much use. They would need to find her directly.
She placed it back where it came from, and looked about at the mist; it was going to be a hell of a job finding anything through the eerie white haze that drifted around through the dark groves of the trees.
Rhapsody stood up and brushed down her now sticky uniform, slopped in mud and algae from the water. She tiredly used her hand to push back her hair that had unceremoniously been thrown out of place in an erratic mess and had stuck to her face with the cold drenching she had obtained just moments before.
She began to trudge precariously through the soft muddy patches near the water’s edge, trying not to slip and end up back in the cold icy waters. Not something she really wanted.
She climbed onto more sturdy land, much more dry and rocky, walking through the cloudy mist that hid everything behind the murky shroud. She was cold, tired and slightly dubious about her surroundings. She was nervous, not knowing what she would find, but she had hope, that was for sure.
She pushed through into the woodland stretch, stepping warily through the darkness, hearing the wildlife scurry around her, and high pitched calls that made her head snap in every direction.
You’re just being silly, Dianne, she told herself. Keep your wits but don’t drive yourself crazy. She sighed, which came out shakily and she continued on, unaware that a pair of gleaming yellow eyes were watching her from the darkness, hidden by the leaves and branches of the tall drooping trees.
She followed the landscape, moulded in with the shrubbery, mud and rocks; she searched for any signs of life, or in a way, looking for that glimmering yellowish light that propelled into the night sky.
She pushed a few branches aside as she looked through a gap between two trees that were mounted on a much higher bank, just on the edge of a small rock face. She smiled when she could see some sort of building hidden on another part of the island, obscured by trees. It was quite a walk, she could tell, but it would be worth it.
Rhapsody turned, and on doing so, she stopped. She heard rustling ahead of her to the far left, in a bustling area of woodland. She held her breath slightly, stepping from the perch of the bank as she moved along the line of trees. She had the impression that eyes were watching her, even though she couldn’t see them. She sucked on her bottom lip lightly, her eyes not taking off the soft rustling that moved along behind the ample, bulky branches.
She thought nothing of it; the wind had picked up slightly and the rest of the trees were moving together, but she seemed to pick out a distant feeling that there was someone out there.
She shrugged and moved from where she was and began to follow a path around to get to this building she had seen, minding to drift off to the right hand side.
She batted branches out of her way as she came out into a clearing, following down a dry and dusty mud path. The eyes were still watching her movements as she walked on.
A twig snapped. She turned around quickly. Nothing. She swore her heart had skipped a beat and cursed herself for getting jumpy at everything and anything.
She took in a deep breath, turned and began to walk again, but slowly, so that she could hear anything beyond her own footsteps. She began to feel a presence to her right side in the dispersed mingle of the large mass of greenery, the rustling between the crisp and sharp looking bushes. She stopped, staring at it, feeling eyes staring back at her but she couldn’t see any. The unseen stare prickled on her skin like electricity. She could then spy movement, which she dreaded deeply.
She tilted her head, watching the motions closely. She focussed on something, like a shadowy form moving behind in the thick darkness.
She couldn’t exactly make out what it was, and deep down she didn’t want to know what or who it was. From what she could see, the shape was not exactly human; it may have been on two legs, but not human. She sidestepped in the opposite direction and began to move on; her pace had increased.
As Rhapsody felt herself beginning to break into a run, she knew that the thing following her was catching up with her. The sounds bursting from the camouflage of the trees indicated that. She ground to a halt just as she came out of the small section of open woodland area, lit up by the basking moonlight. She barely turned her head from the skies before she felt whatever it was leap towards her. Yellow eyes were fixed on the paled face. She began to run, almost caught by a swiping claw.
It’s a monster! she thought. She hadn’t got much of a glimpse but it was some sort of creature with gleaming eyes like piercing lights. It moved like a human did and was just as quick to catch her as she felt it hit her hard against her back. She struck the dirt hard, winded by the sudden blow. She tried to crawl away but claws grabbed at her, catching her right arm and pulling her up. She pushed away snappily, resulting in the claws cutting up her arm as the creature stumbled back. She cried out but kept running, straight through into the woods once more.
Weaving through the trees, Rhapsody yet again tried to escape but the creature had the advantage of her. It leapt directly in front of her, abruptly. It let out a deafening howl and growled deeply at her as she backed away, not knowing what else to do. The beast lashed out at her with lightning speed, she didn’t have much chance to back off as she felt her left cheek caught slightly. She cried out in pain and turned away her face, holding the injury. The creature went down in a pouncing position watching her trying to gather up the strength to run again. That was when it drove its weight full force into her, sending her back down to the woodland floor.
Its bulky mass pinned her down; there was no chance of her moving now. It snarled at her, letting its claw dig into her left shoulder, dragging down. She screamed in horror and from the severe pain inflicted on her. She tried desperately to get the beast off her. She couldn’t, she felt herself become weaker.
The beast’s snarl became louder and its teeth bared at her. She stared up through pained eyes at the creature as it lifted a paw up, claws sharp and ready to finish her.
This is it… she thought, anguish billowing inside her.
The creature was ready for the kill but stopped in mid-attack as a gunshot could be heard ringing out through the air, echoing viciously. The clawed paw passed over Rhapsody as the beast ceased its actions and instead used its energy to make an escape, disappearing into the trees, followed by another shot with blew part of the bark off one of the tree trunks, which it passed.
Rhapsody lay there, blood trickling from her right arm and cheek and much more devastatingly from her left shoulder with the deep invidious gash from the claw mark that had dug in ruggedly.
Her breath was shaky as she looked in the direction of the gunshots. She could see, through the woodland, a man holding a rifle pressed down at his side. He passed through into the small copse she was in. His face was clouded in darkness from the way the moonlight caught him from behind. She could hear him speak, but it was distorted and fading out, as was her vision.
She tried to focus but the world around her was spinning and feeling like it was pressing against her skull. Blackness framed the images she saw and soon she could see nothing. With this, she passed out.
“I think this is the place.”
In the clear blue sky of the early morning, Spectrum Helicopter S61 made a swoop over Lake Peipus, getting as low as one hundred metres over the water. At the helm, Captain Scarlet was searching the surface, apprehensively looking for any sign of an aircraft’s recent crash. Behind him, in one of the two passenger seats, Lieutenant Green was checking the small screen built into the back of the pilot seat. He made some quick calculations, pressed down a series of numeric keys and peered over Scarlet’s shoulder at the craft’s navigation screen, looking at the more complex radar screen; a green dot started blinking on it, and Green nodded his satisfaction.
“Affirmative,” he answered to Scarlet’s remark, pointing to the dot. “We’re roughly at the position where Angel Two’s beacon signal was activated. We still can receive it, although faintly.”
“It’s underwater, then,” Scarlet noted grimly.
“It would seem so, Captain… Look there!”
Green pointed to a spot on the lake surface, where the sun was shining on a plain, white object, floating not far below them. Scarlet turned the helicopter around and brought it lower still over the surface, so they would have a good look at what the object was. Both men both turned pale when they recognised it.
It was the wrecked part of the tail from an Angel interceptor; very recognisable with its large “A” printed on the side.
“Oh, Lord… It did crash,” Scarlet murmured under his breath.
It wasn’t difficult for Green to hear the concern in his superior’s tone. He, too, had been worried about the whereabouts of Rhapsody Angel, since Spectrum had last contact with her – and her craft – the preceding night. There had been no news from her since then, even though he had tried himself to raise her. When Colonel White decided to dispatch different teams in search of the missing pilot and her craft, Lieutenant Green had volunteered to join in the search. He was very grateful that the Colonel had paired him with Captain Scarlet, and had sent both of them to Rhapsody’s last known position.
“I’m sure Rhapsody’s all right, sir,” Green noted, confidently. “Remember, her last radio message said that she was ejecting.”
Scarlet slowly nodded. “Yes, I know. She must have landed safely, then, and reached a shelter for the remainder of the night. Still, I would be more at ease if she had reached us, in one way or the other. The fact that she didn’t has me worrying about her.”
“Her SPT could have been damaged by a drop in the water,” offered Green.
“Mmm… Yes that’s possible,” Scarlet admitted. “You’re right, I may be worrying too much. She must be all right. I forget that she’s one resourceful lady.”
“That she is, Captain,” Green agreed, with a large smile.
Scarlet smiled in turn, hearing the all-too-obvious fondness in the junior officer’s voice. “You like her a lot, don’t you, Lieutenant?”
“Sir?” Green felt his cheeks flush, suddenly hot.
Scarlet laughed slightly at the lieutenant’s sudden discomfort.
“Come on, Green. I know all about it… I know you have a soft spot for all our Angel pilots.”
A smile returned to the lieutenant’s face, and broadened even more. “Yes, sir,” he said carefully, nodding. “All of them.”
A beeping sound coming from the navigation screen drew both men’s attention. Green nearly leaned over Scarlet’s shoulder, staring at a new, white light that had appeared on the radar. Then he reminded himself about his own screen and sat back on his seat. He pressed down a series of keys.
“Lieutenant?” Scarlet asked expectantly. “That’s a SPT signal, isn’t it?”
“Yes, sir,” Green confirmed, after reading the data on his screen. “Quite faint. Even the nearest Spectrum facility must not be receiving it… We must be the only ones, and that’s because we’re nearly on top of it.”
“You must have been right, then. The water must have damaged it. Where’s it coming from?”
Green was already busy pinpointing the location. He pointed his finger in a direction to the left of the helicopter, straight toward an island in the middle of the lake.
“That island? You’re sure?”
Scarlet nodded quietly. Of course, if she had fallen into the waters, considering how cold it must have been, Rhapsody would have swum straight to the nearest piece of land. Considering that the helicopter was presently flying over the spot where she had ejected, that island was certainly nearer than the coast. He turned the helicopter around once more and headed toward it.
Within five minutes, they were flying over the small deep wood-covered island. While Green was searching through it with a pair of strong Spectrum issued binoculars, Scarlet made a call to Cloudbase, to inform Colonel White of the finding of the wreckage from the Angel craft, and that they had received a faint signal coming from Rhapsody’s SPT. While apparently relieved to hear this report, White informed Scarlet of his intention of instructing the other teams to continue their searches on their present locations – just in case Rhapsody had been somehow separated from her tracker. That last eventuality wasn’t reassuring at all, but Scarlet couldn’t do less than agree with his commander, that indeed it was safer to proceed this way.
The helicopter had made a survey over a small beach on the side nearest to the spot where the Angel craft had crashed. Rhapsody could have accessed the island from there, but so far, neither Scarlet nor Green could see any trace of her.
“She must have gone deeper into the woods,” Scarlet suggested. Normally, he was fairly sure she would not have done that. It would have been more reasonable for her to stay near an uncovered position, in order to get in plain view the minute a rescue craft would come to fetch her. That was standard procedure in case of a crash. But he didn’t know in what circumstances the interceptor had crashed, and what exactly could have been Rhapsody’s ordeal during and after that.
Scarlet was about to fly the helicopter lower above the beach, when the radio suddenly sputtered and came into life, conveying a voice neither him nor Green was familiar with, and speaking with a strong, Russian accent:
“Intruding craft, you are flying over private property. Identify yourself and state your business, please.”
Scarlet flipped down a small lever. “This is Spectrum Helicopter S61. We’re part of a rescue party in search of one of our aircraft that crashed near this island. We’re looking for our missing pilot. Can you be of any help to us?”
There was a short pause; then the radio made itself heard again, but this time it was a different voice, one which sounded slightly German. There was a cheerful tone to that voice, which presented itself as a good omen for the two Spectrum officers. “Indeed, we can help you! We found your pilot last night. She’s here with us.”
Scarlet blew out a sigh of relief. “Is she all right?”
“She has been badly shaken from a rather traumatic experience, but she will be okay.”
“A traumatic experience?” Green murmured with concern behind Scarlet. “Whatever does he mean?”
“The crash, possibly,” Scarlet replied, although not entirely sure of his answer. He addressed the man over the radio again: “Can I speak to her, sir?”
“I’m sorry, she’s sleeping at the moment,” came the answer with a regretful tone. “But please, you can land and come see her. I’m sure she’ll be pleased to see you.”
“I’m sure of that too,” Scarlet answered with a large grin. “Where can we land?”
“There’s a small lagoon, not far North of your position. There’s a dock there, with our boats, you’ll be able to land your helicopter near it.”
Green was already using his binoculars to check the position given by their contact. He quickly found the lagoon, with the dock and the boats moored to it. “I see it,” he announced to Scarlet, nodding. “There’s plenty of place for the ’copter.”
“All right, then,” Scarlet told their contact. “We’ll be landing within five minutes. Thank you, sir.”
“We’ll be waiting for you on the dock.”
With that, the communication was cut. Scarlet looked over his shoulder at Green, whose smile of relief was as large as his. He pushed the controls forward and the helicopter veered toward the lagoon.
Captain Scarlet and Lieutenant Green stepped out of the helicopter. Landing it on the calm waters of the lagoon had been easy enough. Scarlet found a rope, which he used to safely moor the craft close to the dock. Leaving it there, he walked with Green toward the two men standing at the end of the dock, waiting patiently for them. Seeing the two officers approach, one of them, tall and thin, and in about his fifties, presented his right hand along with a broad smile.
“I’m Doctor Xander Stein,” he presented himself, shaking hands with Scarlet, then with Green. “This is my assistant, Syrn. Welcome to my humble home, gentlemen.”
“Captain Scarlet and Lieutenant Green, from Spectrum,” Scarlet announced officially. He was scrutinising the two men. Contrary to the smiling Stein, Syrn was keeping a set face, his mouth tracing a thin straight line, and his eyes not even fluttering for one moment. He looked as if he had been carved in stone.
“Will you please follow us to the house, gentlemen?” Stein gestured behind him, toward a natural footpath, bordered by trees of different kinds, and going deeper inland. The house was barely visible from where they were all standing, but Scarlet could see part of its white walls, with large windows. He nodded in agreement to the doctor’s invitation, and walked up front with him, with Green right behind them and the silent Syrn bringing up the rear.
“I must thank you, doctor, for having taken care of Rhapsody Angel,” Scarlet told Stein as they moved between the trees toward the house. “We were getting worried about her. Spectrum had not heard from her since that crash, last night…”
“I’m afraid it would have been rather difficult for her to contact you,” Stein explained quietly. “What, with all that awful ordeal she’s been through…”
“You said she was sleeping?” Scarlet asked with curiosity. “Is she all right?”
“Yes, she’s all right, Captain,” Stein reassured him. “She’s just resting, now. Regaining her strength.”
They were drawing nearer to the house. Humble home, Stein had said. Both Scarlet and Green were rather impressed. The house was bigger than Cloudbase’s Control Tower, set higher on the side of a cliff which was covered with bushes. There were more windows than walls, opening to a large courtyard, surrounded by a high stone wall surmounted by pikes. Entering the courtyard, the Spectrum officers found themselves in a rather strange setting.
There were a large number of cages on each side of the alley they were marching down, much like those found in a zoo. Scarlet and Green stared at them with obvious curiosity. Apparently, the majority of the cages were empty, but some of them were occupied. There were foxes in the first one they looked into, and a couple of dingoes in another one. A male wolf snapped at them, when he felt they came too close to the cage he was sharing with a couple of females. A lone jackal didn’t so much as raise its head when they passed by.
“Pardon me, Doctor,” Green then said, addressing Stein. “You said you were a doctor…?”
“I’m a doctor of zoology, Lieutenant,” Stein explained, gesturing toward the cages. “I specialise in canine species. I’m presently in the middle of very important research concerning these animals – many aspects of their different behaviours and activities, instincts, survival skills and healing capacities…”
“Healing capacities?” Scarlet interrupted, pricking up his ears to catch this last remark.
“You’d be surprised, Captain, how easily some beasts in the most wild of habitats can heal from their wounds.”
“Survival instinct, maybe?” Green offered.
“In some cases, Lieutenant, there’s more than that. I can assure you. But I think it also plays a vital role in this.”
Next to the last cage, right at the foot of a stair leading to the house’s front door, was standing a tall, strong man, in his forties, wearing some kind of a grey uniform, and carrying a bucket. He was staring at the group of men coming his way. When they stopped in front of him, Stein presented him to the two Spectrum officers.
“Gentlemen, this is Edgar. He works here as a sort of zookeeper… taking care of the animals’ welfare. He’s the man who found Rhapsody last night, in the woods.”
“Our thanks to you, Edgar,” Scarlet said extending his hand to the man. The latter looked down at the hand, and, after a short hesitation, put the bucket down, and squeezed it vigorously, nodding.
“And how is our guest now, Edgar?” Stein asked him with a soft voice.
“She’s been resting, doctor,” the man answered with a thick, heavily Estonian accent. “Jaak took care of her wounds and says she now should be all right.” He looked at the two Spectrum officers. “She’s been waiting for you, sirs.”
Scarlet nodded in answer. For a fleeting moment, Edgar seemed to hesitate, as if he wanted to add something. Then he turned his eyes away, and took back his bucket. “If you’ll excuse me, I still have work to do. The animals didn’t receive their breakfast yet.”
“Please, Edgar,” Stein said in agreement. “Go tend to them.”
Edgar went his way, followed by the curious stare of Captain Scarlet. Something was obviously bothering the zookeeper; he wondered what it was. He dismissed the thought from his mind and climbed the stairs with Stein, toward the house.
“What was that about Rhapsody having been injured, doctor?” he asked with concern. “You told us she was all right…”
“Ah… Yes, she is. Now. But last night, when Edgar found her, she wasn’t so well.”
“What was wrong? Was she hurt when her plane crashed?”
“No, Captain. She came out unscathed from that crash. She had an… unpleasant encounter during the night.”
“One of our beasts had escaped from its cage.” Those were Syrn’s first words, spoken with the heavy Russian accent that Scarlet and Green had heard before over the radio. Upon his intervention, Stein nodded quietly.
“Edgar had tracked it into the wood, in order to capture it and bring it back. Rhapsody had the misfortune of encountering it first. She was attacked.”
“What kind of animal?” Scarlet asked, frowning.
“One of our male wolves.”
“The one we saw in that cage over there?” Green asked, the sight of the more than obviously vicious animal still vivid in his mind.
“No, it was another one,” Stein quickly answered.
“So that was the traumatic experience you were talking about earlier,” Scarlet noted.
“Exactly, Captain. Rhapsody had been quite shaken by that attack. I’m guessing she would never have expected an encounter like that, after that dive she took in the lake! The wolf wounded her… But Edgar arrived in time before it could do her more harm, and scared it off. He brought the young woman here, and we’ve been tending to her ever since.”
“Then we’ll have to thank Mister Edgar more properly,” Scarlet said, looking over his shoulder in direction of the man he saw was now opening one of the cages. “It looks like he saved Rhapsody’s life.”
“I’m afraid to say that it’s quite possible, Captain.” They had entered the house. Stein guided them inside a hall, brightly lit by a large domed skylight set two storeys above. Stein then took them up another flight of stairs, opened the door to a room and invited the two officers to enter. He exchanged a couple of whispered words with Syrn, who nodded quietly and left, marching down the stairs they had just climbed. Stein entered the room in turn, and closed the door behind him.
A young man, who didn’t seem to be twenty years old yet, was standing next to a bed, where Rhapsody Angel was lying, under some blankets, her eyes closed. She had a large dressing over her left cheek, and her right arm, resting on the blanket, was bandaged from the wrist up to her elbow. Quietly, both Scarlet and Green drew closer, and the young man stepped aside to let them get by him. Scarlet removed his cap, just as Rhapsody’s eyes fluttered and opened.
“P-Paul?” Her voice was weak, and her eyes seemed tired. Scarlet smiled faintly, seeing her coming back to life, and tried to somehow hide the true feeling of worry he felt at seeing her there.
“Hi, Rhapsody,” he said softly. “You gave us quite a scare, you know?”
“I know I gave myself a scare,” she murmured with a heavy sigh. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“I’m not alone.” Scarlet moved one step, allowing Green to walk forward. The young Black lieutenant addressed an encouraging smile to the female pilot.
“Hi, Rhapsody. I heard you played Little Red Riding Hood last night…”
“That’s not funny, Seymour.” Nevertheless, Rhapsody found the strength to chuckle over the pun. Her voice was still weak, the two officers noted. And she was so pale. She gave a tired sigh. “I feel terrible,” she slurred, as she was obviously trying her best to keep her eyes open. “All I want to do is sleep…”
Scarlet addressed an inquiring glance to Stein, who shook his head. “We had to give her some painkillers,” he explained. “She’s still under it, I’m afraid.” He nodded toward the young man standing right behind Scarlet. “Jaak over there has been taking good care of her, ever since she’s been here.”
“I made sure she was all right, sir,” the young man then said to Scarlet.
“You’re a relative of Edgar, Jaak?” Scarlet asked, noting the young man’s resemblance to the zookeeper.
“He’s my father, sir.”
Scarlet nodded; he turned back to Rhapsody, whose eyes were threatening to close, despite her best efforts to stay awake. He took her hand in a reassuring and encouraging gesture. It didn’t go unnoticed by the young man behind him, whose eyes narrowed when he saw it.
“Can you tell us what happened, Angel?”
The young woman nodded faintly and gave another sigh. “It’s mostly a blur at the moment, but… When the interceptor crashed, I ejected and I fell into the waters. I swam to this island and… I don’t know, that thing attacked me…”
“Thing? You mean the wolf?”
“Wolf?” Rhapsody repeated, with an unsure tone. “I- I’m not sure… Yes… I suppose… I suppose it could have been a wolf… It was growling and… and I heard it howling before that…”
“Why did your interceptor crash? Can you tell us?”
“I can’t quite remember…”
Rhapsody’s eyes seemed to grow heavier by the second; Stein stepped forward, to address Scarlet. “Captain, this young woman is completely exhausted, and needs her rest. I suggest you let her have it for now. Your answers can wait until later.”
Scarlet’s eyes, filled with concern, were not leaving the young woman. Seeing something, his brow furrowed. He reached for her, and gently pushed aside the collar of her gown, to reveal another bandage underneath, heavily covering her left shoulder. There were still some brownish traces staining it, drawing four long, parallel marks. Those wounds, looking like scratches from very sharp claws, were apparently very deep.
“Can she travel right now?” Scarlet asked. His concern was to take the young woman to a real doctor – to Doctor Fawn, on Cloudbase, where she would receive proper medical attention. The answer he received from Stein didn’t please him at all.
“I have to advise against it, Captain,” he replied, his voice still smooth, but with a very firm tone to it. “As I said, she needs her rest. And moving her at the moment could cause her to reopen the stitches we had put in her wounds.”
“Stitches?” Lieutenant Green repeated, frowning. “You did that? I thought you were a zoologist…”
“I’m also a veterinarian, and I used to treat humans, some years ago,” Stein explained with a reassuring tone. “So you see, I’m quite able to do such a task. And in the medical field, Jaak is a great assistant. He seems to have a gift, for treating wounds, and taking care of sickness. I think he’ll make a very good doctor.”
“Let her rest here, Captain,” Jaak insisted in turn. “It can only do her good. You don’t want to cause her any discomfort by transporting her by helicopter, do you?”
“All right,” Scarlet said, giving in. “We’ll wait until tomorrow. You think you’ll be strong enough by then, Rhapsody?”
She nodded faintly, her eyes now closed. She sighed heavily and settled in comfortably on her pillow. Scarlet gave a sympathetic smile and squeezed her hand reassuringly.
“Okay, sleep tight. We’ll see you later.”
He didn’t receive any answer; nor did he believe he would. He motioned to Green, and they quietly went through the door, both Stein and Jaak following them. The doctor quietly closed the door behind him and turned to Scarlet.
“Tomorrow, Captain?” he asked him, obviously bothered by the notion. “Don’t you think that’s rather hasty? You don’t seem to realise but…”
“Tomorrow, doctor,” Scarlet cut in rather abruptly, “we’ll see how Rhapsody is and I’ll make a decision. But we won’t be waiting more than two days, at the longest. No offence, but I want her to see our own doctor. I think you can understand that.”
“Oh!” A hesitant Stein pondered this for a short moment, before nodding finally and answering with an understanding smile. To Scarlet, this smile didn’t seem very genuine; he couldn’t say why, but he had a feeling something was afoot with this doctor. At the very least, he was sure Stein was not agreeing with him at all. “Of course, I understand, Captain,” Stein said quietly. “It’s only normal… In the meantime, you and the lieutenant will accept our hospitality? We have plenty of room… I can see no point for you to go back to one of your bases until tomorrow.”
Scarlet could see the worried glitter passing in Jaak’s eyes, as the doctor was stating those words. Apparently, the young man wasn’t too keen about this. Scarlet was wondering why exactly. He nodded to Stein’s proposition. In any case, he had no intention whatsoever of leaving Rhapsody on her own on this island.
“Thank you for your hospitality, doctor.”
“Oh, that too is quite normal, Captain,” Stein answered with another of his smiles. “We’ll see tomorrow, then. And I hope Rhapsody will feel better by then, for you to be on your way.”
Scarlet was unsure why he felt as if he couldn’t trust the doctor entirely. He moved toward the stairs, Green behind him, to go back to the ground floor. Stein was about to follow, when Jaak caught him by his arm and stopped him in his tracks.
“Two days, doctor?” he whispered in a very hushed, concerned voice. “Would that be enough to know if…”
“Don’t you worry about a thing, my boy,” Stein answered back, ever so quietly. “If necessary, we’ll find a way to delay our friends’ departure.”
“I don’t like this,” Jaak mumbled. “This is Spectrum we’re dealing with.”
“And that’s troubling you?” Stein asked matter-of-factly. “For me, it doesn’t change a thing.” He encouragingly patted the young man’s back, before going downstairs to join the two Spectrum officers waiting for him. Jaak hesitated a few seconds, giving a concerned glance toward the close door behind which Rhapsody was resting. Then he followed Stein.
Scarlet and Green were waiting at the bottom of the stairs. Stein descended with Jaak slowly following suit, looking thoughtful. The red-clad captain had noted the slight delay before they followed, since they had stopped for a quiet word.
They knew something important that he didn’t, which made him even more curious about the place and the whole situation. Stein had been most insistent about Rhapsody staying there, enough to make Scarlet think deeply.
“So, what now?” Green asked in a low tone, for only Scarlet to hear.
“Well, I want to do a little investigating. I just have this feeling…” He matched Green’s tone, then he raised his voice to attract Stein’s attention. “Doctor, would you mind if the lieutenant and myself take a look around your abode?”
Stein smiled and leaned against the banister of the staircase. “Not at all. I’ll have Jaak take you around,” He turned to look up at the boy who stopped halfway on the stairs. He frowned at the doctor, not looking at an inquisitive Captain Scarlet. There was a lot of tension behind that choice of Stein’s, but the doctor gave Jaak a pushing glance and the boy couldn’t help but give in.
“All right, Doctor,” Jaak answered, almost spitting out the words reluctantly.
“That’s a good lad,” Stein said perkily. He turned, just as Syrn returned through the main doors. “Ah, Syrn. Just the man I was about to send for. Could you look after the young Fräulein for a while? Jaak is taking these officers around on a bit of a tour and I have much work to be done.”
Syrn nodded quickly. “Yes, Doctor.” He passed the officers, giving them quite a strange look, which Scarlet took into account. The Russian man turned away as he climbed the stairs, not giving a backward glance.
Jaak came down the last few steps and sluggishly walked over to the two Spectrum officers. “Where to first, sirs?”
“We would like to see that little zoo just outside,” Scarlet said.
“Follow me, please,” Jaak’s words couldn’t have been drier if he tried.
Scarlet and Green followed the younger man out, under the careful eyes of Stein who rubbed his chin, thinking deeply. He came around from his distant thoughts as he saw Edgar appear through the door, putting down a bucket tiredly to wipe the sweat from his forehead. He approached the doctor; a hand in his pocket.
“What are those Spectrum men doing?” Edgar asked infatuated.
“They wanted a look about, no harm,” Stein said confidently.
“You told them about… well, the situation with the Angel pilot.” Stein puzzled over the Estonian man’s words. Edgar dropped his tone. “You know, that situation.”
“Of course not, that doesn’t need to be divulged,” Stein turned and returned upstairs, briefly looking over his shoulder and speaking lowly to Edgar. “Nothing will go wrong, trust me.”
“Can I?” Edgar mumbled, going back to attend to his bucket.
It was quite a cool night. The air prickled with a chill if you actually took it into account. But it didn’t really matter, as it was quite humid in the mansion, and the balcony window to the guestroom where Scarlet and Green were staying was slightly ajar, with the gentle breeze brushing the thin curtains.
Fine cracks of moonlight softly sat in the room, drawing a shallow light over the carpet and up the wall touching the ceiling, just above Scarlet’s bed.
Both men had fallen asleep in due time. They had borrowed pyjamas, and robes lay on chairs next to their beds.
Scarlet stirred just so slightly, just to turn over in his sleep, pulling the pillow against his head. He was however disturbed by a sharp cry in the night. The sound of a howl.
His eyes opened slowly and quickly adjusted to the darkness of the room, only lit by the light breaking the crack of the curtains. He blinked and looked around, listening out again. Another howl caught his attention and he sat up slowly, the covers drifting off him.
Probably one of the wolves from Stein’s little zoo, he thought.
He tiredly swung his legs from the bed, getting up and stretching his tense muscles. He padded barefoot to the balcony, opening the glass door fully and slipping through, only disturbing the curtains slightly, making the moonlight twitch and spread for a second, spreading lighting onto a sleeping Green’s face.
Scarlet stood out on the balcony and leaned his arm on the cold iron railing. He stared out into the clear night. A full moon bathed the mansion in a rich aura of calmness, even with the wolf whining below and the distant sounds of echoing barks and howls.
A shadow moved across the lit yard, catching the Spectrum captain’s attention. He turned and leaned over further to catch a glimpse of a figure moving by the cages, making the wolves go slightly crazy, padding at the bars and whining desperately.
He felt the need to investigate. Who could it have been? He moved back through the room as quietly as possible, took his robe of the chair and wrapped it around him, also retrieving a pair of slippers from underneath the bed.
Opening a slightly creaky door, he slipped out. Green stirred on this and opened his eyes, looking around for a moment, his mind still in a slumbering blur, before realising he was alone.
Scarlet stepped carefully down the stairs. There were no lights on in the main hall and an eerie feeling kept creeping his way. Every shadow seemed to haunt him, like something was hiding beneath the darkness with eyes that watched him with a taunting manner.
The front door was open a fraction. Whoever had gone out had forgot to shut the door and an icy chill crept into the house. Moonlight illuminated the room from the skylight above, his only guide through the crisp darkness around him.
Scarlet pulled the door open, spilling in the soft irradiating moonlight and stepping out into the night. The courtyard was scarily dark but not hidden from the rays of the crystal white light from the dark star-patched sky.
He stopped abruptly when he saw the figure he had spotted before move out of the shadows far ahead of him, now no longer close to the zoo. The figure stood in the light of the moon, shaking its head. Long hair whipped back behind the person.
“Dianne…” Scarlet whispered, obviously confused about why the Angel was out.
She basked in the light of the moon, stretching her arms back, taking in a deep lungful of the pure night air. She began to walk on out, heading in the direction of the woods.
“Rhapsody!” He called out to her, but as soon as her codename slipped from his mouth she broke into a run, like she hadn’t heard him at all. He walked out briskly to the dead centre of the yard and saw her figure disappear into the thick trees.
Where is she going? he thought. And at this hour!
He sighed, needing to know, and decided to follow. He barely took a step forward when a hand touched his shoulder. He swung around, ready for anyone after him. He sighed almost angrily when a jumpy Green instinctively leapt back, not wanting to be punched.
“Whoa, easy!” he said, putting his hands out defensively. “It’s just me.”
“I can see that, Lieutenant,” Scarlet replied, rubbing down a tired face then looking back at the dark man. “What are you doing out here?”
“When I saw you weren’t in bed, I got kind of worried,” Green said, keeping his voice down. “I came to look for you.”
“Thanks for the concern,” Scarlet looked back towards the woods. “I came out because I saw someone down here. It was Rhapsody, she’s run off towards the woods.”
“Why on Earth would she go back out there?” Green said with perplexity.
“I don’t know,” Scarlet answered, a lot brimming in his mind. “But one thing is for sure, there is something out there and she could well be attacked again.”
“Let’s get after her then,” Green suggested, worried about the Angel.
Scarlet sighed, and turned around. “I was, ‘til you scared the living daylights out of me.”
“Sorry,” Green murmured, embarrassed, trailing after Scarlet who had picked up the pace.
They entered the borderline of the woods, leading into the thickness of plant life. Scarlet couldn’t grasp the reason for Rhapsody’s running out into the dead of the night into a dangerous woodland area. In fact, he was surprised she even had the strength to run, with the brutal outcome of the attack she had sustained. He wasn’t sure if Stein might have overstressed the extent of her injuries; but then again, he saw she wasn’t in the best shape for himself.
Twigs cracked under their feet as they pushed through the dense trees, with the long branches reaching out towards them, as if they were long sharp fingers that would coil and dig into them. A simple brush of the hand pushed them out of the way, as the two men went deeper into the woods.
A few of the branches that Scarlet had pushed away nearly snapped back at Green’s face, without him noticing it. The younger man could tell that his superior was oblivious to his actions, as concerned as he was about Rhapsody.
A swift shadow seeped off Green’s back; his keen eye quickly caught it and he turned, to find only the wind rustling the leaves and a glimpse of the moonlight shifting through the limbs of the trees.
Green frowned and turned back to continue following Scarlet who had pushed on without him; he had to jog to catch up with him again. The edginess wasn’t going to leave the lieutenant; he knew anything could happen to them, just as it had to Rhapsody the night before.
Scarlet pushed away through the last strewn blanket of branches, sighing deeply when coming out into a clearing with no Rhapsody in sight. The branches swung back and whipped across Green’s chest; he let out a groan.
“Can you please not do that, sir?” he demanded, brushing off the dew and grime from his robe.
“Sorry…” Scarlet apologised absently, searching for any signs of Rhapsody. He spotted what were evidently fresh tracks. Small feet had imbedded their mark on the soft earth.
He knelt down to inspect them more closely, Green leaning over his shoulder.
“Have you found something, Captain?” he asked, hopeful.
“Yes, I think I have.” Scarlet showed him but did not touch in case he disturbed the trail. “Rhapsody has been here recently, she can’t be too far away.”
The shifting of branches to their far right raised both their heads from the ground; they saw the leaves sway from the obvious touch of someone hidden behind the darkness and thicket of shrubs.
Green moved towards the area slowly, trying to make out something through the darkness, deep down hoping it was Rhapsody. Scarlet rose slowly, watching for movement.
“Rhapsody?” Green called softly through the grove.
At first he heard nothing, then a low rumbling, a throaty one, which soon lifted into a deep growl. Green’s eyes widened when a pair of yellow eyes met his own. He barely had time to step back as a mass of fur struck him through the trees, throwing him down.
“Seymour!” Scarlet yelled, watching his friend hit the dirt with the great beast looming over him. Large paws picked the young man from the ground, razor sharp claws biting into his chest, making him cry out in pain.
The monstrous creature bellowed in a roar of anger and threw its victim against the trees. Then it charged at him and began to maul the man who tried his best to fight it off, but was failing to, as he was struck many times in the arms and chest.
Scarlet, during this dilemma, quickly scrabbled on the ground for a few big rocks. He knew there was no way he would be able to fight this creature with only his fists; the monster would tear him up and he and Green would be easy prey.
He hurled a heavy rock at the creature, hitting it in the lower back. The beast went rigid and sprang up, crying out. Again Scarlet threw another, hitting it roughly on the shoulder. That unbalanced the creature for a moment, but it wasn’t for long as it growled and swung around.
The Spectrum captain came eye to eye with the beast. The strong yellow eyes glistened in the moonlight, filled with a hunger-driven rage. Blood coated its claw ends and the mouth dripped with drool, seeping thickly from the corners. With a bitter howl, the monster threw itself at Scarlet, who dodged quickly, the tree behind him being slashed deep into the bark.
The creature turned to where he’d gone and howled more aggressively; it lurched towards him, taking a close ranged swipe at Scarlet, who was caught on the left side of his neck. He cried out, taking cover in the trees, clutching at the injury.
Blood dripped between his fingers, but he ignored the pain; he needed to save Green. Anyway, his retrometabolism would heal it quickly, without a trace that it ever happened.
He saw a broken branch resting next to his leg; he took his now bloody hand away from his neck and wrapped his fingers around the branch, lifting it against him. He needed some sort of weapon to fend off this monster.
Raising his eyes, Scarlet saw the creature just in front of him. It howled once again and took out half the bark and branches just above his head, with a single blow, the wood splintering around him. He took the time now to build up and swing the branch, smashing the creature in the side of the head, sending it backwards.
It wasn’t down for long before it leapt back up, leaning on its front paws and watching Scarlet, a rasping growl emanating towards him. It watched the man’s movements, slipping out back into the clearing, back against the shrubbery, the growling deep within its throat picking up more and more.
Finding the right opportunity, the beast leapt at Scarlet, jaw ready to snap down on his arm. But it met the thick branch instead, pushing back against the soil, still sinking its sharp teeth into the wood. It whipped its head from side to side, trying to break Scarlet’s hold on the weapon but the captain held his ground, even though he was having trouble staying upright against the strength behind the creature’s movements.
He pushed against the branch to try and force the creature to back away from him but all that achieved was make it strain its back legs against the earth and snap its mouth down over the branch, breaking the end off and slipping over. Scarlet backed off with now half of a splintered branch in hand.
He got a better look at the beast. A large bulky form with matted fur plastered to its body, long razor-like teeth and sharp yellow eyes that could pierce your body. Something akin to a wolflike creature, but much more than that. It threw the broken end of the branch off to the side and began to stalk towards Scarlet, straightening up to stand on two legs.
It roared out, ready to strike again at Scarlet, who bravely stood confronting the monster with the broken branch in hand. A gunshot screeched overhead, the ears pricking up on the beast, then flattened as it knew what had happened; another shot rang out as a figure came into sight in the clearing – Edgar.
The beast reacted immediately and rammed straight into Scarlet as it made an escape, sending him sprawling stunned on the ground. A shot rang after it as Edgar approached the fallen captain.
“Are you alright?” the Estonian man asked.
“Yes…what about Green?” Scarlet sat up slowly with the other man helping him.
“Oh…” Edgar looked back, his face paling greatly as he saw the other officer, badly injured and slumped against a tree. He ran up to him and checked his pulse. “He’s still alive but in a bad way.”
“What were you doing out here?” Scarlet asked, bewildered, kneeling next to him.
“I thought something was wrong. I was on my night duty, cleaning up the storage shed when I heard your voice. I saw you and the young man leaving to the woods and suspected you might get in a fix with the monster being about.”
A high pitched howling suddenly caught Scarlet’s ear, as he was staring down in concern at his wounded companion. He lifted his head, looking around in uncertainty. Did that sound come from the creature that just attacked him and Green? He could only wonder. The cry was coming from nearby, still very close from their position. What if it were to come back, to attack again?
Then another thought crossed Scarlet’s mind, and he paled suddenly.
“Rhapsody,” he whispered under his breath.
He cursed himself, not having considered this before. She was out there in these dark woods, alone, with no weapon, as far as he could tell. And that creature – that beast – was roaming in the vicinity. Rhapsody already had been wounded – she could be unable to fend off the creature’s attacks if she was to encounter it. No, Scarlet had to find her, in order to take her back to the mansion, where she would be safe from harm. He rose to his feet.
“Edgar, stay with Lieutenant Green, please. I’ll come back as soon as possible.”
“Are you crazy, Captain?” the older man replied, his perplexity obvious in his voice. “You’re leaving your friend here, and…”
“Rhapsody is in the woods. I have to find her.”
“Rhapsody…” Edgar’s protests died on his lips. He stared at Scarlet for a short instant, than nodded his understanding. He took a pistol from his belt and handed it to the Spectrum captain. “Here, you may need protection, if you should encounter…” He stopped in the middle of his sentence, as if unwilling to say more. Captain Scarlet looked at him inquisitively. He had already mention the ‘monster’. So it was obvious he knew more about it.
“What is this… thing, Edgar?”
“No time for this now, Captain. Go find Rhapsody.” Edgar nodded toward Green, then took the walkie-talkie hanging from his belt. “The lieutenant needs medical attention. I’m calling the mansion for help. It may take them a little while to reach us. If you’re not too long…”
Scarlet nodded, looking down at the nearly unconscious Green, softly moaning in pain. “Take good care of him.”
Then he left hurriedly and entered the woods, following the path he had previously seen Rhapsody take a few minutes earlier, before the beast’s attack.
He was lucky the moon was providing enough light for him to follow clues left around by Rhapsody’s passage. Still, he could see the prints from small bare feet, like those he had followed earlier. Branches and small twigs had been broken on the two sides of the narrow path. Soon, he lost the prints, as the soil became harder, covered with a mingle of rocks and grass. Scarlet was despairing. He thought he would lose Rhapsody’s trail.
Then he stopped, as he heard a faint sound. He pricked up his ears and listened carefully. It sounded like somebody was breathing hard, almost gasping for air… It was coming from fairly close by. Scarlet moved on in the direction of the sound, and entered deeper into the darkness of the woods, apprehensive of what he would find.
Pushing aside scrubs and bushes, and not really concerning himself about the thorns that came lashing at him and cutting his flesh, Scarlet discovered a small clearing, bathed by the silver light of the moon, and in the middle of which was a small pond of calm water. The serenade of frogs and crickets was almost undisturbed by the captain’s sudden appearance. He himself was on the lookout for that other sound he had heard earlier, and that had brought him here. He was still hearing it, clearer, stronger… Really close this time.
Then he saw the moving mass sprawled next to the pond. The moonlight drew its contours, and Scarlet recognised the outlines of an human being, naked, leaning over the pond and reaching out for water with a shaky hand. The mass of bright red hair instantly told Scarlet that he had found the object of his search. He blew a deep sigh of relief and came out to her.
She didn’t react at first; she was drinking water from her open palm, as if completely parched and in dire need of it. She then splashed her face, the cold water trickling down on her bare skin, now appearing very pale under the moonlight. She was still breathing hard and shivering. She hadn’t a single piece of clothing on, except for the bandage on her arm and the dressing on her shoulder. Scarlet wondered how she had lost the gown he had previously seen her in. This consideration being second in his mind, he was just concerned that she would catch cold. He removed his robe, draped her in it. The minute he touched her, she made a move to draw back; exactly like a disturbed wild animal would do. She was rolling frightened eyes at him. Scarlet’s grip tightened on her arms, as if he was suddenly afraid she would try to flee from him once more.
“Hey, hey! Please, calm down,” he said to her with a soothing voice. “It’s me, Dianne. It’s Paul. You don’t have to be afraid…”
The sound of his worried voice now seemed to reach Rhapsody. She lifted her head; first, he saw the blank expression in her eyes. Then they flickered back to life, into a troubled expression, as they seemed to recognise him. But she still was obviously confused.
He nodded quietly. The voice was that of someone obviously lost. Rhapsody kept staring at him, bewildered. He helped her into a sitting position. Still shivering, she looked around, the confusion growing in her.
“What… what am I doing here?” she murmured.
“You mean you don’t know?” Scarlet asked gently.
“No, I… I just felt so thirsty… And so hot and so trapped, at the same time. I… How did I come here?”
Scarlet sighed. “I saw you outside the mansion… In the garden. I called to you, but you didn’t answer me… You just flew to the woods.”
“The woods?” Rhapsody murmured, shuddering.
Scarlet nodded. “I followed you through here… I was so worried about you. Dianne, are you okay?”
“I don’t know. I feel… feverish.” Rhapsody looked down at herself, and saw that she was naked under the robe he had given her. She drew it around her, furrowing her brow deeply. “Where… where are my clothes?”
“That’s what I was about to ask you,” Scarlet said softly.
“Oh, God…” Rhapsody cried in a desperate voice, “I don’t even remember how I got here, in those dreadful woods, and why I’m completely naked…”
“It’s all right,” Scarlet interrupted her soothingly. “Take it easy… Everything is okay, now.” He drew her close to him, and wrapped his arms around her, in a comforting and protective way. She clung to him. He could feel her shivering, and thought he heard her sobbing with despair. “I’m here. I will not let anything happen to you…” he reassured her.
“I know you won’t,” she answered, her voice shaking. “I’m just so confused… Paul, I’d wish I understood…”
“Don’t worry, it’ll come back to you later.”
Rhapsody detached herself from Scarlet, but kept relatively close to him, to look at his face, with trembling eyes. At that moment, lit by the clear moonlight, she noted something; partially hidden under the bloodied collar of his pyjama top, there were marks on the left side of his neck, right at the top of his shoulder. She reached out her hand, and gently pushed the collar away to reveal the marks fully. They were three ugly-looking scars, covered with a thick crust of already dried blood.
“Where… where did you get these?”
“These?” He shrugged carelessly. “That’s nothing, Angel. They’re already starting to heal. Soon they will only be a bad memory.”
“A bad memory of what?” she insisted. “Paul, what is it you’re not telling me?”
Scarlet hesitated. Seeing the insistence in her eyes, he sighed and gave in. “While we were in search for you in these woods, we were attacked…”
“We?” Rhapsody interrupted. “Who’s ‘we’?”
“Green followed me. I guess he was as worried about you as I was.” Scarlet shook his head, grimly. “He was hurt pretty badly. He took the full force of the attack. While I…” he gestured toward the rapidly healing wounds on his neck, “… I was lucky.”
Rhapsody blanched, upon hearing that Green had been wounded. She swallowed hard. “How… How is he?”
“I’m not sure,” Scarlet sighed. “It looked really bad. I left him with Edgar. He was about to call the mansion for help.”
“YOU left him like that?”
“I had to find you. I was so worried you would come across… that thing that attacked us.”
“Thing?” Rhapsody murmured. “What kind of thing?”
“I don’t know what it was,” Scarlet answered with a gloomy tone. “It was… some kind of beast.”
He saw the young woman becoming pale. “Beast?” she repeated, obviously unsettled.
Scarlet nodded. “A creature of some sort… Such savagery… It was incredible. Never saw anything like that before. It looked like…” His brow furrowed, as if he was looking for the right expression. “I know this will sound weird and you’ll say I’m crazy but…”
“What did it look like, Paul?”
“It looked like… some kind of werewolf.”
End of Part 1
To be continued in Part 2
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