A "Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons" story
Doctor Fawn entered the room in R&D, clutching in his hand the small glass phial containing the antidote he had prepared in his laboratory, with the help of the auto-analyser. Harmony, seated on a stool, stood up upon his arrival, and watched as he came to a sudden stop in front of the tank in which Captain Scarlet was imprisoned. The doctor’s eyes were wide with astonishment and untold outrage. Up to this moment, he had not actually seen the tank, and the whole contraption that had been put in place to keep Scarlet in check; he had only received Harmony’s and Symphony’s reports of what they had seen themselves. Already, he had been angered by the whole concept; seeing it was a totally different thing. It didn’t take long for him to let go of his full anger and indignation at the scene presenting itself to him.
“What a barbaric set up!” he lashed out. “I can’t believe they would hold a human being against his will in such horrible conditions! We have to get him out of this thing, as quickly as possible.”
Harmony nodded, in total agreement with the physician. She watched as he carefully inspected the equipment - all the wires and cables connected to the tank, the electronics and the life-support device. He nodded his head in understanding – and Harmony reflected that he probably grasped most of it much better than she did herself.
He made a stop in front of the seat in which Captain Black was soundly sleeping and observed him for a moment, thoughtful.
“What about him?” he asked scornfully. “Has he shown any sign of waking up?”
Harmony shook her head. “No sign at all, and according to the monitored data, he’s not about to wake up any time soon.”
Fawn nodded his satisfaction. Black seemed as deeply asleep as everyone else he had seen on Cloudbase so far. So he considered it the safest course of action not to touch any of the equipment to which Black was linked. It was far better to leave him alone…
… for the time being, anyway.
Returning to his inspection of the tank, Fawn asked Harmony for the injection gun he had seen on a table nearby, upon entering the room; she quickly went to fetch it and handed it to him. He swiftly screwed his phial onto it, changed the needle for a new one he had brought along, and gently pressed the trigger, removing all the air from the needle. He looked at Harmony.
"Shall we proceed?" he asked.
"Do we have a choice?" she replied. "As you said yourself, we have to get him out of this tank. And hope that at the same time, it will serve to resolve the situation for the others.”
He nodded in agreement. "If waking Scarlet up is the way to stop that game… this would be the solution,” he said, indicating the gun. “I'm just hoping that we're not making a mistake that might cost many lives."
"Will that be enough?" Harmony asked, pointing at the phial, and looking with curiosity as Fawn turned to examine the tank apparatus again.
He nodded, as he introduced the needle into a valve on one of the transparent plastic tubes attached to the tank. He squeezed the trigger gently, slowly injecting the fluid into the tube. "This is highly concentrated," he explained to the young woman. "Yes, I think it should be enough to counteract the effects of this drugged bath. In fact, it will change the chemistry of the drug, and dissolve it completely from the tank. But… it will work slowly – as it has to, for Scarlet’s awakening to be as smooth as possible. I know he's supposed to be indestructible, but I don't want to be overconfident that his relative invulnerability will keep him safe from – emotional ailments. We're dealing with the psyche here. And Scarlet is still very much human in that respect, as much as you or me. Plus, we have to take into account what effect his brutal awakening might have on the others as well. I still remember Bromwell's threat." Once the phial was empty, he put the hypo-gun down on the table behind him and sighed. "Right. I guess we'll just have to wait and see now."
"How long will it take?"
"I don't know," Fawn admitted. "An hour… Less… The counter-effect will be gradual, but when it comes down to it, it might be up to Scarlet's unique metabolism and how it's fighting against the drug. I'm hoping, just like you, that it won't take too long."
A beeping sound from the comm.link interrupted him before he could continue; then the voice of Symphony was heard, with an edgy and urgent tone to it: "Doctor Fawn, you'd better come back here quickly!"
Fawn moved to the comm. and pressed the button. "What is it, Symphony?"
"Something is going on… The computer just started bleeping, and keeps giving alerts about one of the participants."
"Who…?" Fawn asked with a frown.
"Colonel White, Doctor," Symphony answered promptly. "I checked the data – his vitals are going down."
"Damn!" Fawn muttered under his breath. "He's in the Sickbay auxiliary Room of Sleep. I'm on my way to check him." He strode towards the exit, turning one last time to quickly give his last instructions to Harmony, pointing at Scarlet. "Stay here and watch him. Monitor every change, and inform me if anything happens. One way or the other. AND… keep an eye on Captain Black, in case!"
"You can count on me, Doctor."
Fawn was already out, before actually hearing Harmony's swift reply.
* * *
Although valiantly fending off the wolves' attacks, Odin's strength and determination finally failed him, and he fell under the number and the sheer savagery of the beasts; his thick, heavy clothing was barely enough to protect him against fangs and claws that shredded it to pieces then tore into his flesh, drawing blood, and sending the wolves into a renewed frenzy. Seeing their prey down in the snow seemed to give them courage to confront the sharp sword he was still holding, and to press their assault, nipping at any undefended part they could find, and keeping the man down.
The sword finally escaped from Odin’s hand when teeth viciously sank into his forearm, and he found himself defenceless; it was all he could do to try to protect his throat, head and chest with arms and legs against the relentless assaults. In a desperate last attempt to get back on his feet, he stumbled again into the snow – and stayed there, barely able offer any further resistance.
His fogging mind, tinted with red, faintly registered a black mass of fur coming right at him, snarling, sharp teeth bared in a huge, foaming mouth. He was vaguely conscious that it was his own death approaching – yet, he couldn’t even move; his eye closed tiredly.
The black wolf leapt, and was about to victoriously tear into the downed man’s neck when, all of a sudden, two arrows struck it in the flank. It yelped in pain and backed away, missing Odin’s body by an inch when it fell down on its paws. Another series of arrows rained on its companions, forcing them to back away as well from their prey.
From beyond the gorge, two riders came swiftly at them, roaring with such fury that the wolves quickly fled; that didn’t save one of them from being trampled under the hooves of the first horse, while its rider let go of a new arrow against another beast. The second rider, discarding his bow in favour of his spear, charged the black wolf who was limping away – the two arrows in his flanks had hurt it, but it obviously still had enough life in it to evade the spear and snap angrily at the rider.
“Lo, Hel’s offspring!” Tyr jumped off his horse, using his one good hand to steadily hold the spear aimed at the black wolf now facing him. “This time, vengeance shall be mine – I will repay you for the hand you took from me!”
“Do not waste time with the beast, Tyr,” Freyr called to his companion; he stopped his horse next to Odin and swiftly dismounted to check on the injured man. “Let it go. We have far more pressing business to attend to.”
“Aye, it may be so,” Tyr replied grimly. “But this assault on Aesgard’s liege will be Fenrir’s last sin, Lord Freyr. This I swear.”
He had not noticed another wolf, standing nearby, preparing itself to pounce at him; a new arrow, coming from the gorge, struck the beast in the chest, killing it instantly before it could reach its target. The animal falling dead at Tyr’s feet provided a moment’s inattention that the black wolf obviously thought it could use to its advantage. Fenrir leapt forward, fangs bared, ready to tear its opponent’s heart out. But Tyr was waiting for it, his feet well planted on the ground. He sidestepped and his iron fist thrust forward – right into the wide-open jaws of the wolf.
“Try to eat THAT hand, hellish beast!” Tyr snarled. His fist crushed teeth and jawbones, forcing a gurgling sound from Fenrir who fell to the ground, blood pouring from its huge jaws, offering its flank to the mercy of the spear that Tyr, disengaging his iron hand from between the broken jaws, finally plunged into the wolf’s heart with a howl of victory. There was barely a sound from Fenrir, as it finally died at its vanquisher’s feet.
At the same time disgusted and satisfied, Tyr let go of the spear and turned his back on the beast, seemingly not taking any interest in it now that it was dead. From out of the gorge, a third, slim rider appeared, riding a white horse, and Tyr went right to them. He bowed his head as he helped the rider down.
“My thanks to you, my queen,” he said as Freyja handed him her bow. “You saved my life, with this last arrow…”
“How is Lord Odin?” she asked, directing her steps towards the fallen man. “Have we arrived in time?”
“He still lives,” Freyr answered as both Tyr and Freyja lowered themselves to his level. “We did arrive in time, my lady.”
“’Twould seem you were right about Lord Vali, Queen Freyja,” Tyr remarked, looking around, obviously in search of the missing warrior. “He is nowhere to be seen… He has disappeared, leaving Lord Odin to his fate.”
“I remembered that Vali was not happy that Iduna had been betrothed to Hodur. I thought he might be part of some conspiracy against him – and even that he was an accomplice of Loki.” Freyja huffed her disgust. “I feared he might even turn his sword against Lord Odin himself, if he were to be alone with him.”
“He did far worse than that…” Tyr grumbled. “Delivering him to Fenrir’s brood… I could not think of a worse death.”
Freyr had carefully turned Odin on his back, and laid his own fur coat on him, in order to keep him warm. While doing that, he examined the injuries the older man had suffered. He didn't like what he saw and grunted. “He is seriously injured, Queen Freyja," he announced, looking up to the young woman. " ’Tis a miracle that we arrived when we did… Or the wolves would have killed him."
A moan coming from the injured man attracted Freyja’s attention and she knelt by his side. Gently, she lifted his head, cradling it on her knees, mindful to avoid the bleeding wound now cutting his cheek in two. He muttered something, that none of them could grasp clearly.
"“If we do not tend to his wounds soon, I do not think he will survive," Freyr continued.
“He must live,” Freyja said fiercely. “We cannot leave him to die.” She leaned over the injured man who, groaning again, was moving slightly. "Lord Odin, stay still. We will take care of you…"
Odin's one eyelid fluttered and opened tiredly; he looked at her concerned face with a haggard expression. His lips trembled as he attempted to force words out of them.
"D- Destiny…" His voice was but a murmur, and it was all he managed to say, with this first – and last – effort. It sent a twinge of pain to his head, his face contorting, and his eye closed again.
"What does he mean by that… ‘Destiny’?" Tyr asked with a deepening frown. He was interrupted by the sound of a horn, coming from the distance beyond the gorge they had just crossed, and all of them raised their heads.
"Heimdall!" Freyja cried with hope in her voice. "He must have found Thor and they are coming this way… Lord Tyr, go to them and bring them back here. We might still have a chance to save Lord Odin… But you must make haste, before it is too late!"
* * *
Running back to sickbay in a record time, Doctor Fawn went directly to the auxiliary Room of Sleep. He barely waited for the door to open to stride right in; squinting against the pulsating coloured lights, he looked around to find the bunk on which Colonel White was resting. The unnerving, throbbing lights made it difficult for him to see, so he savagely punched the button controlling the lights, killing the effect instantly, and selected a normal light to take its place. At this point, he reflected, we might as well stop the light effects. We have nothing to lose, anyway.
He went to White's bunk and checked on the data displayed on the control panel over the head of the bed. The readings Symphony had reported him from Bromwell's computer were repeated here, and seemed to indicate that White's condition was deteriorating quickly.
"Damn," Fawn repeated in echo of his earlier reaction. "Damn, damn, damn, damn!" He sat down on the bed, and made a quick physical assessment of the Spectrum commander, cursing all through it – against that blasted stupid game, against Bromwell, against the Mysterons… against the whole set up that was keeping all his colleagues – and friends – from waking up and coming back to the ‘normality’ of their already unusual lives.
“Come on now, Charles, you’re not going to do this to me, are you?” he muttered under his breath, checking the pulse in White’s wrist. It was far too fast for his taste and neither did he like the irregular way his heart was beating. Even White’s breathing had became laborious. So far, the symptoms didn’t look like anything that had happened to Anna Preston – but Fawn could read the signs. They were not good at all.
Fawn unzipped the colonel’s white tunic, and tore open his shirt, and started massaging his heart, hoping that whatever efforts he could make would be enough to actually make a difference.
“You’re not dying on me, do you hear?” Fawn reiterated, leaning over his commander and addressing him with as commanding a tone as he could muster. “I will not let you do that, Charles…”
A beeping sound made itself heard from the comm.link.
“I’m in the auxiliary Room of Sleep, Symphony,” Fawn answered without stopping his treatment. “I’m tending to Colonel White – what is it?”
“Something new on the computer’s data…”
Fawn nearly groaned, hearing the concern in the young woman’s voice. “What now?”
“Nearly all readings on the Spectrum senior staff are changing, Doctor. They all increased suddenly - nothing to indicate that they are dying or anything like that – it seems to indicate that they are… anxious – like if they were all going through some kind of upsetting or distressing experience…”
“Something is definitely up, all right,” muttered Fawn. “I do hope it’s not related to our attempt to wake Scarlet up – that it didn’t bring something bad down on all of them…”
“His data have risen the same as the others, sir. If slightly higher. Maybe that has nothing to do with what you did…”
“Then it might simply mean that the game is going into the next – and maybe final – stage. Keep monitoring – and inform me if that changes.”
“Harmony!” Fawn called forcefully.
“I heard Symphony’s report, Doctor Fawn,” the voice of the Chinese pilot said over the comm.
“No change in Scarlet yet?”
“No, Doctor. He is still unconscious. But the computer here gives me the same data about him as the one Symphony is monitoring: His subconscious seems to be experiencing some kind of traumatic event – and the scales keep rising.”
“Let’s just pray that he will wake before they reach the critical stage,” Fawn grumbled. “Keep checking on him.”
“Now, Charles,” Fawn said, addressing White again. “You’ve always been a fighter – you will NOT let a stupid computer game kill you. Whatever is happening in that blasted place, you will continue to fight – and you will live, damn it – to tell me what the hell’s happening over there!”
* * *
Blue’s back hit the ground roughly, expelling the air from his lungs; the viciousness of Scarlet’s attack was such that it had driven both men down. Scarlet had let go of his sword, obviously preferring to confront his opponent with his bare hands, and was kneeling astride him, keeping him down under his weight. Blue had trouble fighting him off; his friend was like a man possessed, his grip was like steel, and his fist was like a hammer, each of his punches connecting painfully.
At first, when he had seen him dump the sword, Blue had entertained the hope that Scarlet didn’t really want to kill him – perhaps hurting him badly enough to punish him for whatever he imagined he was guilty of; but seeing the mad way in which his friend was fighting, it seemed suddenly obvious to him that Scarlet wouldn’t need the sword at all to finish him off.
He was quite capable of killing him with his bare hands, if he wanted to.
Blue somehow found enough leverage to push Scarlet off, sending him flipping over his head; that obviously took the Englishman enough by surprise to compel him to let go; he fell roughly onto his back and Blue took the welcome opportunity to quickly scramble to his feet. He staggered away from his friend, who was already getting up too.
“I don’t want to fight you!” Blue said, gasping, presenting a calming hand towards Scarlet. “Please, I don’t want to hurt you!”
“It is too late, brother!” Scarlet growled, his eyes flashing with anger. “You already did hurt me! Now I want to do the same to you…”
“Paul, listen to me… This is not you talking… This is not you acting like this!”
“I do not have to listen to you!” Scarlet raged. “Come and fight like a man, coward!”
As if he had decided that Blue wasn't moving fast enough, he launched himself at him without any warning, and tackled with the force and the rage of a charging bull. Blue didn't have time to protect himself, and his stomach suffered the worst of the blow. Scarlet used the momentum to push him back, and Blue thought he would fall down again; instead, his back roughly came into contact with the trunk of the tree to which Rhapsody had been tied earlier. The impact sent a wave of pain throughout his body, and he heard an audible crack; something had given way – a rib, most likely. At least, it felt like it.
Scarlet pressed the attack and brutally pushed Blue’s head against the trunk behind. Blue saw stars, and gave a loud moan; he could barely stand up, and was threatening to slide down the bark of the tree. One last punch into his injured side finished weakening him. Then Scarlet grabbed him and threw him into the clearing where they had started the fight. Blue slid down the slight slope into a flip, and landed none too gently on ground covered with dead twigs of mistletoe and yew; it left scratches and splinters in his beaten body, forcing a grunt of pain from his lips. Moaning, he stayed there, sprawled on his side, scarcely able to move, stunned between consciousness and oblivion, and fighting to get his focus back.
Through a fog, he could see the victorious Scarlet, standing at the top of the slope, and looking intently at him.
Scarlet gave a snort of contempt, before slowly walking down, toward his fallen enemy. Passing by his fallen sword, he leaned down to pick it up.
"You are not as big and strong as you imagined you were, are you, my brother? And you thought you would be able to hurt me!” He walked threateningly toward Blue, a grim determination on his face, as he toyed with the sword. “Now it is time to end this charade… dear brother.”
* * *
Still monitoring the data from Bromwell’s computer in sickbay, Symphony Angel was suddenly interrupted in her task when she heard soft moaning coming from one of the three bunks behind her. She only needed a glance to realise it was Blue who had started agitating himself. She was off her seat and next to him in less than three seconds.
She could see his face, showered with sweat, and frowning as if making a violent effort; his jaws were tight and he was grunting, fighting against the restraints of his bed; Symphony thought it was a blessing that he was strapped down, or he would probably fall off the bed and hurt himself.
Was he in pain – or was he just trying to wake from that forced sleep of his? Symphony wasn’t able to say, but she didn’t like the readings she was seeing on the control panel over his head; they were going off the scale; far higher than those of Rhapsody, who also seemed to be agitating herself in her sleep. As for Burgundy – the creep’s data remained very steady… as steady as his rest.
“Doctor Fawn?” Symphony called. The comm.link had been kept open, so she knew that the doctor would hear her from the Room of Sleep. “Something is going on with Blue! The readings have changed again…”
“I can’t leave Colonel White’s side for now, Symphony. He’ll go into cardiac arrest if I can’t stabilise his condition. Is there any indication that the same is happening to Blue?”
“No…” The best she could, Symphony tried to read the information on the controls panel. “No… It’s like previously – but it’s like whatever he’s experiencing in that fantasy world has worsened, somehow. And he’s getting restless.”
“Harmony to Sickbay,” the voice of the Chinese Angel then said over the comm.link. She had obviously heard her colleague’s information.“The same is happening to Captain Scarlet here. He’s starting to agitate himself in the tank. More than earlier. Perhaps he’s breaking free?”
“Keep monitoring, you two!” Fawn instructed. “Symphony, you have training in first aid. If it should come to it, will you be able to attend to Blue?”
She hesitated. “I’ll do my best, Doctor…”
Do I have any choice? she added inwardly to herself.
She leaned toward Blue and stroked his damp brow, gently brushing aside the sweat-matted fringe of blond hair.
“Hang in there, Big Blue,” she whispered. “I’m staying here… Whatever is happening, you have to fight it… and come back to me, safe and sound!”
“You are deluding yourself, my dear…”
The calm and sinister voice, so close behind her, froze Symphony on the spot. She turned around – to gaze, with untold surprise, into the pale face of Technician Bromwell, very much alive, standing over her and looking at her with a very cold expression. The side of his head was covered with his own blood, but underneath that blood, the injury caused by the bullet he had put in his brain seemed to have disappeared completely. He had his gun in his hand, aimed at her, and his other hand was resting on the comm.link control. He had just turned it off, by the flick of a button.
She paled, understanding suddenly that Fawn had been wrong about Bromwell earlier… and that he was not what the doctor thought he was.
“You’re a Mysteron agent,” she whispered.
He smirked at her. “Of course I am. Did you think the Mysterons would really leave a simple human to direct this operation?”
With that, without any warning, he struck at her, hitting her violently over the head with the gun. She didn’t have time to react to avoid the blow, and fell down to the floor with a gasp, between the two bunks occupied by Blue and Rhapsody.
Bromwell looked down in contempt at her prone body. The side of her head was bleeding where he had struck her and she was either unconscious or dead – in any case, apparently unable to put up any opposition to him. He could always use the gun to make sure she would not, but the shot might attract unwanted attention – Fawn was still nearby after all, and he had shown already he was a force to contend with. Besides - it seemed like it would be a waste of time. He had more urgent things to attend to.
He put the gun aside and came to stand in front of his computer, before looking at Captain Blue, who was still agitating himself in his sleep.
“Dear Captain Blue,” he said with an evil smile, as he keyed a command into his computer, “I think it is about time for you to fully join the game now… ”
* * *
"That is enough!"
Up until now keeping away from the fight, and watching it unfolding with growing concern, Rhapsody thought it was now high time for her to intervene. Swiftly, she stepped in front of Scarlet, stopping his advance toward the barely-conscious Blue, and blocking his way.
He frowned deeply, and growled, "Step aside, woman!"
"No! Not until you hear me out!" Rhapsody defied him.
"No more talk!" yelled Scarlet. "I have had enough!" He pointed to Blue in an accusing way. "’Tis the second time today you take his defence, Nanna. If this is not proof enough that you are lovers…"
"Oh, please! How wrong can you be!" Rhapsody said, nearly rolling her eyes. "Don't tell me you give credence to what Gerda told you? You were right the first time – Loki put those accusations in her mouth – and then into yours! You would give credit to Loki's words?!"
"Loki has nothing to do with this. Vali exposed both of you!"
"Vali is Loki's spawn," Rhapsody replied, insistently. "Haven’t you worked that out yet?"
"Did you and Hodur NOT run away together?" Scarlet accused.
"We did not. You don’t know everything that happened. I was abducted by Loki! He came after us," Rhapsody said, pointing to Blue. "To stop you from falling into the trap Loki was laying for you!"
"A likely story," Scarlet mumbled. "But I do not believe a word of it! If it was true, Loki would be here! I do not see him! But I see the two of you!"
"For God's sake, don't you realise what this place is – the danger it represents to you?" Rhapsody persevered, gesturing around.
"Aye – and you think that scares me!?" Scarlet made a step forward toward Blue, attempting to go around Rhapsody to get to him. The young woman sidestepped to keep between the two of them.
"You won't listen to me at all, will you?"
“Neither to you and nor to him! Step aside, woman!" he said again, warningly. "The time to talk is done – now is the time to act!"
Rhapsody didn't like the murderous flash in his eyes. She was genuinely afraid he would hurt Blue. And the latter, as far as she was able to judge at the moment, was obviously having trouble regaining his focus. He would be defenceless against Scarlet.
She had to keep Scarlet – Balder – busy, until Blue was back on his feet, and could join her in trying to make Balder see sense. For now, she realised, she wasn’t making any progress at all.
Furthermore, she was upset – so very upset that he would entertain such thoughts about Blue and herself, and wouldn’t listen to her.
Of course, it isn’t Paul who’s having those thoughts – but Balder… Paul would never think such things.
With Balder, however… It’s another, different story…
And suddenly, she understood why her attempts to get to him were not working: she was trying to reason with him, as if she was trying to reason with Paul… as if she were trying to reach Paul that way. But Balder was nowhere near as rational as Paul was, far from it. That was a big mistake she was making and it was obvious now that she would never be able to reach through to her fiancé that way.
And that realisation made her suddenly change tactics; maybe she would be able to make Balder react to her – somehow – before he did something he – and Paul – might regret.
She gave him a violent shove that barely made him step back, but obviously surprised him.
"You’re a fine one, accusing me – us – of disloyalty towards you!" she snapped angrily. "Explain to me why you should care so much – considering how fickle you are yourself with women!”
He blanched, and stared at her with a strange expression on his face, obviously startled that she would speak to him in such a way. “What…”
“You heard me, you cretin!” Rhapsody lashed out again, pushing him once more, this time more forcefully, and this time able to make him back off a step. “You’re nothing but a philandering scumbag, who thinks of nothing but taking your pleasure with the first available girl, then moving on to the next bed!”
Whatever cold anger he felt towards her suddenly transformed at that moment; he stood over her, almost threateningly. “How dare you speak to me like that?” he spat with irritation. “Do you not know who I am, and what you are to me? I am Balder, Prince of Aesgard – and you are my wife! As such you owe me respect and loyalty!”
Oh, big mistake, buster…
“I’m showing you the same respect you’re showing me, Prince Balder!” Rhapsody snapped again, looking up defiantly at him.
“Oh, I see… Because of a few past escapades, you would repay me in kind with my own brother!? Is that the game you are playing?!”
“ ‘Few escapades’?” Rhapsody scoffed. “That’s a rather elegant way of describing it! I have a feeling that there were more than a few…”
“What I did in the past,” Scarlet growled, his eyes flashing, “is in the past… We were not even together at the time. And now, you should know my feelings for you.”
“They do not run deep, those feelings, if you think so little of me - thinking I would have an affair with your brother?! This is what I’m talking about – that insulting lack of respect you have for me, even to think I would do a thing like that! How many times do I have to tell you that there is nothing between your brother and I?”
Scarlet didn’t reply and contented himself with glaring at her, his jaws tight and his eyes flashing. She was still looking at him with defiance. It was all she could do to keep herself calm; already, she could feel her emotions threatening to overwhelm her.
“What’s the matter, nothing to say in your defence?” She pushed him again; he barely moved. “What will you do now? Send me to sleep in the stables, like you did with Gerda?” Tears were prickling her eyes, tears of rage and desperation – and of distress, as she didn’t know how long she would be able to keep it up before crumbling down in front of him. She gave another shove, and he still didn’t budge. “Or will you use that sword of yours and kill me after you kill Hodur?”
“Kill you?” By the look on his face, the very idea seemed to shock him. “How can you think I would be able to do that?” he protested. “You are my wife…”
“Whom you’re accusing of having betrayed you with your brother!” At this point, Rhapsody was pounding his chest with her closed fists. “And you are prepared to kill him.”
“Nanna, you should know that I would never hurt you…”
“It’s too late for that!” She barely realised now that she was using the same words he had earlier, while talking to Blue. She was continuing to punch his chest, angrily, the tears now showing on the brims of her eyes. “You’re hurting me more than you will ever imagine. Worst than if you ran me through with this sword!”
“Stop it…” he whispered.
“You are nothing but a barbarian,” she continued, not hearing him out, “a savage who regards me as just a possession…”
“That is not true…”
“… who is ready to kill his own brother just to remove an obstacle between himself and the object he thinks is his… Well, I have news for you, buster…”
“That is enough…”
“… You DO NOT own ME!”
“That’s enough, I said!”
The last shouted word was followed by a swift slap; on the brink of hysteria, Rhapsody never saw it arrive and so didn’t have time to evade it. It struck her on the right cheek; the surprise more than the force of the blow made her foot slip on the uneven and slippery ground. She fell back, and even as she did, Scarlet grabbed her by the wrist, reacting just in time before she fell to the ground. She slipped forward and he pulled her up, bringing her roughly against his chest, and he kept her there, forcefully.
Resting against him, not daring to look up into his fierce face, Rhapsody’s heart was beating like a hammer inside her chest. Well, if I wanted a reaction out of him, I just got it… she mused inwardly, nursing her cheek with her free hand. The slap had been violent, but hurt less than the fact that he had actually struck her. She was trying to play down the act, and somehow comfort herself that it didn’t mean anything at all. He could very well have used his sword, but he had not. Surely, that counted for something?
You’re deluding yourself, she finally admonished herself inwardly. This is definitely not Paul. Paul would never hit you. This harsh barbarian could NEVER be the man you love… You will not reach Paul through him…
The whisper she heard just over her head, brushing against her hair, made her heart miss a beat; she swiftly looked up to the man who was holding her so tightly; Scarlet was looking down at her with a lost, almost horrified, expression on his face; he was shaking his head, his brow furrowed, as if attempting to decipher what was happening to him.
“Paul?” Rhapsody murmured, not really hoping that it was really him this time.
He shook his head again; There was a guilty flicker in his blue eyes, as he raised his hand with uncertainty, and caressed the cheek where he had hit her.
“I’m sorry… I- I didn’t mean to… I don’t know what…”
The voice, at that brief moment, devoid of that lilting accent, was Paul’s; and hope flared in Rhapsody’s heart.
It died almost instantly.
A shadow suddenly came into view from behind Scarlet, leaping like a panther toward him, with a roar of anger, sword drawn and ready to strike; alerted to the presence, Scarlet had scarcely the time to push Rhapsody away from him, sending her sprawling onto the ground, and to parry the low blow that would surely have severed his right leg if he had not reacted in time. The violent impact struck sparks from the two swords as they locked together. Scarlet brought them up swiftly, to find the face of his opponent only a inch away from his own, distorted in complete rage. Rhapsody gasped in shock, identifying the clothes, but scarcely recognising the features of the man now clashing with Scarlet.
Blond, untidy, long hair fell on his neck and across his face, which was half covered with a short but unruly beard of the same colour; bushy eyebrows surmounted pale blue eyes ablaze with fury – but unmistakably familiar.
“Unhand the woman!” Blue roared into the face of Scarlet. “I swear to you, I will not let you hurt her again, my brother!”
A sinking feeling of despair hit Rhapsody as she noticed in Blue’s voice that same lilting accent she had heard from all those who were possessed by the game…
* * *
Locating Thor, Sif and Heimdall had been rather easy for Tyr, as they were on the same trail he had first followed earlier with Freyja and Freyr, while they were looking for Odin. Once he had joined with them, he only had to guide them back, riding to the spot where they had found the king of Aesgard.
As soon as they arrived, Thor jumped off his horse and strode purposefully towards the scene, eyes wide with something akin to horror at the sight of a wounded Odin lying on the ground, being tended by Freyja, while Freyr stood guard over them. He crouched near the young woman and made a quick assessment of his sire’s injuries.
They were bad.
He checked around, and noticed the bodies of the wolves surrounding them, a huge black beast lying not that far away, its skull crushed and its side pierced by a spear. He looked up to Freyja.
“Fenrir?” he murmured.
She nodded. “The foul beast led his pack against your liege,” she answered in a low tone. “If we had not arrived, they would have devoured him alive. ’Tis a miracle that he is still alive.”
“He will still die if we do not tend to him, however,” Freyr noted grimly.
“That is why you are here, Lord Thor,” Freyja added.
“Me?” Thor asked with surprise. “I am no physician, my lady… We would need Master Mimir to tend to him…”
Tyr stood over him, holding Thor’s hammer in both hands; he presented it to its owner. “You may not be a physician, but is it not true your weapon is imbued with the power to heal?”
“We realise you are more accustomed to use it to strike at your enemies,” Freyja added, as Thor took his hammer, with an unsure expression on his face. “But it is time today to use it differently… and show us if the legends are true.”
“They are.” Sif had knelt beside Thor, and her confident tone caused him to look in her direction. “I am sure they are.” She put a comforting and encouraging hand on his stooped shoulder; he noticed the sheer gentleness of her gesture, and it filled him with assurance.
He nodded in Odin’s direction, took his hammer by the handle and brought it closer to the wounded man.
“Take his hands, and put them on the hammer’s head,” he instructed Sif and Freyja. “And pray to all the gods that you know… that it will work…”
"It may be a pointless effort, my lords and ladies," Freyr then remarked quietly. He was standing just over Thor who raised an inquiring – and annoyed – eye to him. Freyr wasn't even looking down. His head was raised, and he was scrutinising their surroundings, his eyes narrowed with attention.
There was a low, but still audible curse from Heimdall, as in turn he discovered what was attracting Freyr's attention that much; he unsheathed his sword. Everyone looked around then.
From the side of the hills to the edge of the gorge, they could see shadows of men, standing in waiting, all looking in their direction. Dozens of them, all around, seemingly unbothered by the strong winds and snow that were lashing at them.
Just waiting patiently.
Slowly, Freyja rose to her feet, a grim expression on her face.
"We are surrounded," she stated coldly.
"It looks like we fell into a trap," Freyr commented.
"All of you, form a circle," Freyja ordered. "Around Odin. We must protect him, while Lord Thor tends to him." As the warriors obeyed her and unsheathed their swords and prepared their bows - except for Thor who, as instructed, stayed near Odin – the Vanaheim queen turned a determined expression toward the enemies that had trapped them.
"Prepare to do battle," she announced with grim determination.
* * *
“Adam! Stop it!”
Rhapsody’s protests fell on deaf ears as she watched, in complete dismay, the two men – best friends in life, almost brothers – trying to kill each other in front of her eyes.
She could scarcely believe the change which had operated within Blue; he was now totally possessed by the character he was meant to play in this lethal game. Nothing so far had led them to suspect – even imagine - that the events would evolve in that direction… although truthfully, Rhapsody told herself, it was an obvious conclusion for the Mysterons’ plan to succeed. Blue would never have willingly played their game and killed Scarlet as they wanted him to do. The only way for that to be achieved was indeed to suppress his real personality and to replace it with that of ‘Hodur’, the Viking prince he had now become, fighting with ferocity and rage, fully intent on destroying the enemy he was now facing.
As for Scarlet – if his real persona had emerged for a brief instant, when he had held her in his arms with a contrite and confused look on his features, it had now totally dissolved once again, and ‘Balder’ had reappeared almost instantly under Hodur’s attack.
Both men were exchanging savage blows with their swords, each delivered with fury and strength behind it, and parried with equal force and determination. No quarter was asked, and none given, and neither one of the opponents seemed willing to surrender or retreat. It would obviously be a fight that would end with the death of one of the two warriors.
“Stop it, you two! You will kill each other!” Rhapsody had risen to her feet, and was following the two warriors, as they moved around the clearing that served them as a battlefield. She had to find a way to end this fight, before one of them got hurt – or killed. Each blow made her heart pound with dreaded anticipation. It could only be a question of time before one of the two men would make a mistake that his opponent would use to his advantage.
“Adam!” she called again. It was as useless as when she had tried to call to Paul earlier, she realised. They were both ignoring her calls – but at the same time, she noticed, they were trying to keep away from her. They were obviously both ensuring that they did not accidentally hit her, during their fight.
This spurred into her a sudden and desperate move; the second she saw both opponents pushing each other away, she quickly stepped into the middle, disregarding the danger she could put herself in by acting that way, before they could rush to each other once again.
“Stop this madness!” she demanded forcefully, extending her hands toward each of them. “You are playing their game! They want you to kill each other!”
If there was but a faint hesitation in Scarlet’s eyes, there was none on Blue’s part; rushing forward, obviously deciding that nothing would stand in his way, he brutally pushed her out of his way; she fell roughly to the ground again. Scarlet only gave her a glance, and the hesitation disappeared from his eyes.
With a roar of anger, he precipitated himself once more on his opponent – it was impossible for Rhapsody to decide if he wanted to avenge the harsh way she had been treated or if he just wanted to get at Blue. Either way, the result was the same: he narrowly avoided the blade of Blue’s sword as it slashed over his head and, forgetful of his own weapon that he let drop at the last possible second, he violently tackled Blue and seized him with both arms around his midsection. They both tumbled down to the ground. The strategy worked and gave him the advantage.
“No…!” Eyes wide with horror, Rhapsody saw Scarlet, now kneeling over Blue, unsheathing his dagger; with his free hand, he was keeping Blue’s armed hand down under his knee, and was preparing to stab him in the chest. The blond man caught his wrist as he struck, and kept it away from its target.
Both men struggled for brief seconds, trying to break away. Rhapsody got to her feet again and swiftly approached, again with the intention of stopping the fight. That was when Blue finally jerked his knee up and caught Scarlet in the groin, making him flinch; then Blue let go of his sword to use his now free hand to get a good grip on Scarlet, and forced him to roll over. They both hit Rhapsody, who was too close to avoid them, and knocked her to the ground once more; her head hit a root, half-stunning her. For a brief instant, Scarlet looked in her direction, with obvious concern. It was his downfall.
Now sitting with all his weight on Scarlet’s stomach, Blue took advantage of his position and violently hit his opponent on his exposed temple with his free fist, not letting go of the hand that was still holding the dagger. The rage within Blue, his desire to destroy his adversary, was such that he didn’t hold back. It was with intense satisfaction that he heard the grunt of pain coming from Scarlet’s lips and saw him wince. With a cruel smile, Blue grabbed a rock lying on the ground nearby and raised it. Scarlet did try to avoid it, but he was just a second too late. The rock hit him just over the cheekbone; stunned, he fell back, finally letting go of his dagger.
Blue picked the weapon and looked at it intensely. A dagger was not enough to finish Balder off – it would only stop him temporarily. He glanced around, and his eyes fell on a piece of dead branch lying just within reach; one end of it was shaped like a jagged, sharp stake… A piece of yew wood – Balder’s only weakness against death itself…
Blue swiftly picked up the piece of wood. He was still pinning Scarlet down with his weight, gripping his throat and pushing his head back. His opponent, still stunned, was now at his mercy, defenceless against the killing blow. With a roar of victory, Blue raised his arm high in the air, the jagged point aimed at his enemy, ready to strike a forceful blow.
“ADAM! DON’T DO IT!”
Coming from nowhere – or so it seemed to Blue – Rhapsody, who had regained her senses just in time to see the tragedy about to unfold, suddenly appeared nearby, shouting with all the strength of her lungs. The stake went down like a flash… And suddenly stopped, a inch away from Scarlet’s throat.
Panting hard, Blue – Hodur - was looking down with blazing eyes at the helpless man sprawled underneath him. Balder – his brother… his enemy. The man he was fated to kill… The stake was pricking his neck and Hodur would need to give only a strong shove to thrust it into his throat and kill him – definitely. He blinked in annoyance, faced with his own hesitation.
What was he waiting for?
Don’t do it…
The voice was coming from inside his head now; a man’s voice this time – his own voice, calling to him, attempting to tell him something. He grunted, trying to ignore that voice, struggling to push it away into the recesses of his mind. His hand holding the stake was trembling, as if fighting with a life of its own to go down and finish the job started.
DON’T do it…
“Adam…” The whisper was not from inside – but nearby again. A female voice… He glanced briefly to his side. Standing there was the Valkyrie princess he was trying to protect… Nanna…
No… Nanna was not her name…
She knelt beside him, hesitant to touch him, almost afraid that even the slightest contact would break the spell that seemed to have frozen him. She could see he was battling with himself, a part of him – Hodur – wanting nothing more than to kill Balder, while the other – Adam – would not let him.
“Adam, do you hear me?” she said very quietly. “Do not play their game, Adam... Do not let them win…”
Them… Hodur repeated inwardly. The enemies of all humankind. Those who wanted to destroy them all, to destroy the world… and who were planning to start with Balder…
The Ice Giants…
No, not the Ice Giants… Those ‘others’…
A moan coming from Balder made him look down; he saw his brother slowly recovering, shaking his head from side to side. Hodur’s hand trembled again. He should kill him while he still had the chance.
No… you can’t kill him… He’s your… He’s your…
Paul… Oh no…
God… I came so close…
Hodur closed his eyes and exhaled sharply; his trembling hand suddenly let go of the stake, as if it were a branding iron, and it fell to the ground. He moved off from Balder and crawled on hands and knees to a small spring he could see three feet away from him. When he reached for the so-desired and needed water, his fingers only grazed an ice-covered surface. He grunted with annoyance and hit it once with his closed fist. The ice was thin enough, and he was able to take a handful of the water running underneath. It was very cold, and he drank from his hand, greedily, before splashing his face, in an attempt to regain his senses.
Crouched down over the spring, he looked down with glazed eyes at the image the disturbed and dark surface of the water was returning to him; bushy beard, unkempt hair, falling freely all around his face… Only his eyes were familiar, in the image of this stranger reflected in the troubled water. He frowned deeply, as the undulations he had caused slowly dissipated…
… And the image changed. He finally recognised his own face, looking back at him. No beard, shorter hair, surmounting a very pale, confused and almost sick-looking face.
Still crouching by the spring, Blue hugged himself with his arms, and shivered, thinking of what he had just experienced.
“Adam, are you all right?”
Rhapsody was next to him again, and was wrapping her arms around his shoulders; she could see the distress on his face – the face of the Adam she knew, who had apparently succeeded in fighting off the influence of the game to the point of regaining his whole persona. Why he had been able to do it, she could only imagine.
That would be something to think about later on…
“You’ve done it, Adam. You beat them…”
Blue shuddered, and shook his head; he looked like a man in shock. “I nearly didn’t, Dianne…” He swallowed hard. “Now I know how it is for them - the total freedom… the absence of any restraint… only the desire to give in to your most basic and instinctive needs… Then that hunger for battle and for blood… The berserker rage in me… It was so strong… I nearly killed him… I wanted so much to kill him.”
“You were not in control,” Rhapsody remarked. “You were not responsible.”
Blue shook his head again. “None of them are – I’ve only been able to fight this because I…” He stopped, unsure. “… I don’t know, maybe it was because I already had the knowledge that we were living in a fantasy world – that nothing was real, least of all the role I was playing.”
Rhapsody nodded in understanding. “They underestimated you. You’ve proved stronger than the game programming. You’ve won, Captain Blue.”
“Yeah…” he murmured. “But it’s only the program I beat, so it would seem. We are still stuck here.”
Rhapsody didn’t have time to provide an answer as, right at this moment, a fully conscious Scarlet appeared in her line of vision, standing behind them, a sword in each hand. Suddenly aware of his presence, Blue reacted too slowly, and couldn’t avoid the kick that pushed him off-balance. He fell on his back, nearly between Rhapsody’s arms, barely avoiding sprawling into the spring. When he tried to get back up, it was to be stopped by the tip of Scarlet’s sword – he had extended his right arm and was pointing it under Blue’s throat. Leaning on his forearms, the blond man looked up, to see the sheer cold determination in his friend’s eye.
He was obviously still Balder.
“You two are controlled by the Ice Giants,” Scarlet accused them sombrely.
“You’ve got it all wrong,” Rhapsody answered. She was kneeling beside Blue, keeping him half-risen, but like him, didn’t dare move a muscle.
“She’s right, Paul,” Blue said in turn. “We’re not. But you most certainly are. You, and everyone else. She and I… we’re the only people here who are not being controlled.”
Scarlet’s brow furrowed. “Why do you keep calling me that?” he grumbled.
“It’s your name, Paul,” Rhapsody said. “Try to remember… Please, you have to break free. Don’t you remember earlier? You called me ‘Dianne’. That’s my name.”
He grunted, dismissing the assertion with a shake of his dark head. “You are speaking nonsense…”
“No, we are speaking the truth,” Blue replied. He made an attempt to rise, but Scarlet defensively moved the tip of the sword closer to his throat, making him stop in his tracks.
His features grim, Scarlet threw the other sword onto the ground next to his downed opponent.
"You spared my life earlier when I was at your mercy. Now I am doing you the same courtesy. Pick up your sword and get up. We have a fight to finish."
"No," Blue answered, slightly shaking his head.
Scarlet took a step forward, pressing the tip of the sword even closer. "Pick up your sword and get on your feet," he seethed.
"No," Blue repeated in a firm voice. "I won't fight you. Dianne was right earlier, don't you see? We would be playing the Mysterons' game. I won't do that."
"I will kill you where you are if you don't defend yourself!"
"Then you will have to do it." Blue's tone was calm and resolved, as was the expression on his face, as he looked Scarlet squarely in the eyes. "Because I won't be picking up that sword and I won't be fighting you – and run the risk of killing you. If you want to kill me, go ahead. I won't do anything to stop you."
Scarlet seemed to ponder his words, but was still obviously reluctant to believe him. He took another step forward, and Blue felt the blade pricking his chin. Although apprehensive that his friend would thrust the sword forward and plunge it into his throat, Blue kept his head high, not lowering his gaze from Scarlet's, burning beads of salty sweat falling into his eyes.
Scarlet broke eye contact for a brief instant, to glance in Rhapsody's direction; she was looking at him expectantly, still not daring to move, her hand resting on Blue's shoulder. Her eyes were telling of her inner apprehension.
Suddenly making his decision, Scarlet swiftly removed the sword from Blue's throat and extended his free hand to him; he grabbed him by the arm and pulled him a little roughly to his feet, before the blond man could even sigh in relief.
"I must be as mad as the both of you to even listen to what you have to say," Scarlet grumbled in an irate tone, frowning deeply.
Blue finally let out a deep breath, and grinned, as Rhapsody, a now relaxed smile on her lips, was slowly getting to her feet and coming to stand by him, to look at Scarlet with an approving expression on her features.
"Thanks for not killing me," Blue said ruefully, squeezing Scarlet's hand, which was still holding his.
"Would I kill my own brother?" Scarlet's tone was abrupt, but there was obviously more feeling hiding behind it. He looked at Rhapsody, and then at Blue. He still had trouble keeping the doubts and resentment out of his mind. "Tell me about these 'Mysterons'," he asked, trying to hide his awkwardness, and not daring to look into Blue's eyes, for fear the blond man would detect something was wrong within him.
"Well, it's like this, you see… We are…"
Scarlet suddenly interrupted Blue, well before he was able to actually start his explanation; his eyes, hovering just over the taller man’s shoulder, had detected something behind him in the distance, a number of yards away – the silhouette of a man dressed in black, standing just atop the slope – bending a bow in their direction. Scarlet acted quickly and pushed Blue aside, stepping in front of him and Rhapsody and presented himself as a shield, his arms extended.
There was a whistling sound, and a dull thud as the released arrow struck Scarlet right in the chest; he grunted in pain and fell backward – right into Blue’s arms.
"Oh no…" Blue murmured. This can’t be happening… He heard Rhapsody's fearful gasp, as he held on to Scarlet, stopping his fall to the ground. He quickly scanned the area, from where the arrow seemed to come – and saw the dark man standing on the hill just in front of them, his bow in his hand.
"Loki," Scarlet murmured, clenching his teeth.
"Let's get to cover!" Blue ordered.
He and Rhapsody pulled Scarlet behind one of Yggdrasil’s huge roots, covered by thick bushes of mistletoe. Then, taking the wounded man under the arms, they gently lowered him down, causing him to wince and moan in pain. Still conscious, Scarlet was looking down at the arrow protruding from his chest, with some kind of astonishment in his eyes. He grabbed the arrow in his trembling hand, and snapped it in two, before anyone was able to stop it.
"Yew," he whispered in a low tone, looking at the piece he was now holding, "freshly cut from a tree…" His fingers opened tiredly and let go of the shaft that Blue took from his hand to examine. Scarlet leaned back, and blinked his eyes to clear them of the sweat falling from his brow, before looking up at Rhapsody who was gently putting his head on her knees. He could see her pale face staring down at him. "You were telling the truth earlier… about Loki…"
"Did you still have any doubt, you idiot?" Her words were harsher than her gentle tone, which was displaying a concern he had no trouble discerning.
"That's where he disappeared to after he left you here," Blue said, addressing Rhapsody. "He was making this arrow with a twig – while waiting for Paul to show up."
"It missed the heart," Rhapsody realised with some hope, carefully checking the injury.
"Yeah, but this stuff seems like poison to him," Blue retorted, noticing Scarlet’s pale features and his sweat-covered brow. He removed his fur cape to cover Scarlet with it, keeping clear of the piece of shaft still stuck in his chest. "How are you feeling?" he asked softly.
"Not… good," Scarlet answered tiredly. He was fighting to keep his eyes open and not succumb to the darkness threatening to surround him. Rhapsody took his hand into hers and brought it to her lips, to gently kiss the fingers.
"Fight it off, please," she told him with a catch in her voice. "We’ll help you…”
"Hang on," Blue said in turn, patting Scarlet’s shoulder encouragingly. He glanced around and saw one of the swords lying nearby; then his attention returned to the top of the slope where he had seen Black standing. There was no-one there at the moment; but quite probably, he was on the other side now – there were no traces in the snow indicating he had walked down in their direction.
A blaze of anger passed into Blue's eyes as a cold determination came to him, and he picked up the sword.
"Stay with him," he told Rhapsody, "and wait for me…"
"Where are you going?" Rhapsody asked.
"To get Black… Loki," he added for Scarlet's benefit. "If there is someone who can tell us how to escape from here, it's him. And I fully intend to make him tell us."
"And if he refuses?" Rhapsody asked.
There was a short silence from Blue, before he finally answered. "Then I'll make damn sure that if we are to die, he will die with us."
He was about to get up, when Scarlet swiftly caught his arm; his grip still had enough strength to hold down Blue, who turned an inquiring look toward him.
"Loki is a dangerous foe to face," Scarlet said, with urgency. "I am not worth being killed for…" He nodded toward Rhapsody. "Take her with you and escape… wherever you have to go. Do not risk your life needlessly."
"Let me decide if you are worth risking my life for or not," Blue retorted. "As it is – I strongly disagree with what you said. You might not be yourself right now, but you're still my best friend – and I know you would do the same for me, if the situation was reversed."
"Aye," Scarlet croaked, wincing against a tingle of pain. "Maybe I would. Maybe…"
Blue glanced in concern at Rhapsody; Scarlet's voice was growing weaker by the second. He could see in the young woman's face that she was wondering the same thing as he was: if Scarlet were to die from that arrow wound here, would he die for real this time, in the real world? And would the 'Prophecy' accomplish itself and all of them follow him in death?
"Beside," Blue added, seeking to give some encouragement to the fallen warrior, "even if I did follow your advice and take Dianne – Nanna – away from you… I don't think she would follow willingly." He smiled sadly. "I might be in even greater danger than facing Loki." He squeezed Scarlet's hand reassuringly, before getting to his feet. "Wait for me, both of you."
The next second, he was gone, rounding the enormous root behind which they were hiding. Scarlet turned an enquiring look toward Rhapsody.
"So… you still have feelings for me?" he asked.
She nodded her head, almost dejected by his question. "Of course I do. They've never changed. I can't believe you even doubted it for one second – and that you thought I could be interested in any other man than you."
"Aye…" he whispered, sadness passing into his eyes. "Then I must be as stupid as you implied earlier…" His teeth were chattering, and his eyes threatening to close again. "I am so cold…"
Rhapsody squeezed his hand. "Listen to me," she said urgently, "you will not give up on me, do you hear? I don't want you to fall asleep… You will stay with me… I know this is not the first time you died, but this time… this time might be different. You might not come back."
"I do know that…" he slurred tiredly.
"Then you will fight, okay? Fight as hard as you always do. Not only for me, but for everyone else. If you die, we might all die too. Do you understand?"
"I… understand." Scarlet blinked, trying to keep focus on the voice calling to him. "I will… try my best…”
But despite the promise of his words, Rhapsody could also hear – and see - that he was weakening very fast.
He was dying. And she wondered with deep concern and sorrow if he would hold long enough for Captain Blue to get to Captain Black – and find a way to get them all out of the game and to safety.
* * *
Her brows puckered with concern, Harmony Angel was watching as Captain Scarlet thrashed about inside of his watery prison, more and more violently as the seconds were passing by. The data on the computer screen had gone wild, but the vitals were still strong, if a little erratic, with breathing rate and heartbeat far higher than they should have been.
And then suddenly, the data changed, and the vitals started going down; The numbers on the screen went from green to red, either increasing or decreasing, while the heartbeat definitely slowed down. Harmony glanced at the tank, to see that Scarlet, while still fighting against his bonds, was growing increasingly weaker.
Something is definitely up, Harmony thought. Whether it was good or bad, she couldn’t say for sure, as she was quite unable to completely read the data on the computer. She needed to inform Fawn, and tell him about this. He might know what it meant…
“Harmony Angel to Doctor Fawn… There is development in R&D concerning
As she started making her report to Fawn, she failed to notice the door sliding silently open behind her – to let a quiet shadow slip inside the room and take cover behind a bank of computerised instruments…
* * *
Blue climbed the hill as fast as he could, sinking with each step almost knee-deep in snow. He could see no trace of Loki – Captain Black – as far as eyes could see. He suspected that his target could be hiding just the other side of the hill, lying in the snow, getting ready to stand and to bend his bow again – and to shoot straight at his upcoming pursuer. In other circumstances, that could have worried Blue, but he figured that, considering the thickness of the snow, Black would have to lose precious seconds to get his footing back, after standing up, and be able to shoot accurately – which would give Blue time enough to plunge down to safety, and avoid the shot.
He could also be lying in wait on the other side, until I show up, Blue reflected. And then I’ll be an easier target for him.
It was very carefully that he crawled the last yards leading to the top of the hill; but when he reached his destination, it was to discover that Black was not on the other side.
Not in reach, anyway…
The only sign that Black had been there was traces in the deep snow, first of a man, leading to larger ones, that seemed to have been left by a horse…
Raising his head in the direction they were heading, Blue could see the man on his mount, riding away, toward a nearby hill - and too far for him to reach him on foot.
Blue got to his feet and let out a frustrated cry. He couldn’t believe that his enemy had escaped him…
… And with him, the chance they might have of leaving this God-forsaken place was also gone.
Suddenly, from nearby, a voice, with a mocking sound to it, rose over the whistling wind.
"The plot thickens, don't you think?"
Blue turned on his heels; standing just a few yards from him was Burgundy, looking at him with a sardonic smile on his lips, his arms crossed on his chest. The man had obviously been lying in the snow, out of view, and had just waited for this moment to stand and show himself.
Upon seeing him, Blue saw red, and jumped at him with fury. Burgundy didn’t even make a move to escape, until Blue reached him.
"YOU… Bastard!" Blue took Burgundy by his collar and pulled him up with a single hand, nearly lifting him off his feet, his anger was giving him so much strength. He was unable to wipe the smirk off the man's face. "Where is Captain Black going?!" Blue shouted into Burgundy's face, holding him so tight his knuckles were completely white.
"Calm yourself, Captain," Burgundy advised in a remarkably calm tone, his voice devoid of the lilting accent common to all the other participants of the game. “And please, excuse Captain Black. He has been… called away on a mission.”
"I knew it!" Blue hissed, pushing Burgundy away from him. "You were playing it all along. You’re just like Rhapsody and me. You are yourself in these settings – you are not ‘Vali’."
"Did you ever doubt it?" Burgundy inquired. “Surely, Rhapsody must have told you about my involvement in her kidnapping?”
“She did, yes,” Blue continued, pointing an accusing finger at Burgundy. “And Black… he’s like us too, of course. He never was Loki. Always has been Captain Black, all along… Planning, scheming… following the plan of his masters – the plan of the Mysterons.”
“Of course,” Burgundy answered simply.
“And you came to participate in this game,” Blue realised, “just to give Black a helping hand.”
“Yes,” Burgundy admitted again. “In the guise of the warrior Vali… and as you probably know by now, Captain…”
Burgundy suddenly unsheathed the sword by his side and slashed the air in Blue’s direction; anticipating his move, Blue took a step back, avoiding the blade, and pushed it aside with his own sword.
“…‘Vali’ is destined to kill ‘Hodur’,” Burgundy continued, putting himself on guard, a thin smile appearing on his lips. “It will be my pleasure to fulfil this… ‘Prophecy’.”
Blue presented his sword, holding it with two hands, his face grim with determination. “You’ll find I am not as easy to kill as you imagine, Lieutenant,” he announced defiantly.
“Don’t over-estimate yourself, Captain,” Burgundy said with a chuckle. “As you probably know – I’m quite proficient with a sword. I’ve been practicing fencing a lot these last few years, when I was human – even with Rhapsody Angel – and Captain Scarlet, who are quite the experts themselves.” He smirked. “I do not believe I ever saw you in the fencing hall, Captain Blue…”
Blue put himself on guard, not even deigning to answer Burgundy’s taunting. From the corner of his eye, he could see Black, stopping on top of the other hill, and standing there, his back turned on them.
He was drawn out of his temporary distraction, when Burgundy came into attack…
and he had to parry, rather clumsily, the next strike against him.
He would need to keep his mind on the fight, if he wanted to survive it…
* * *
"What are they waiting for to attack?"
Standing in a circle around the wounded Odin, their weapons at the ready, Aesir and Vanir warriors were looking expectantly at the multitude of armed men surrounding them in a vast, but close ring from which they knew there was no escape. None of their foes had made a single move so far; they indeed seemed to be waiting… for what exactly, the defenders would not be able to say.
"We are at their mercy," Freyr said in answer to Heimdall's remark. "They can take all the time they want…”
"They just want for us to sweat then?" Sif said between her teeth.
Tyr spat on the ground meaningfully. "It is too cold to sweat," he remarked, with a near-chuckle. "I reckon they are simply waiting for a signal from their leader."
Freyr nodded his assent. "I think you are right. They are Svartalfheim men. Unable to think for themselves."
"Ice Giants' minions," Freyja noted. "Then the Ice Giants are behind this…"
"Of course they are, my queen…" Freyr said. "They used Vali to lead Lord Odin into a trap – they probably orchestrated the wolves’ attack."
"Are you saying that Vali was the instrument of the Ice Giants?" Heimdall asked with a growl. "That he himself led our liege here and left him to die?"
" 'Twould seem so, brave Heimdall. You know that it is not beneath the Ice Giants to use mere mortals to do their bidding," Freyja remarked. "He probably lied to Balder as well, concerning Hodur and Nanna… And we still don't know what happened to those two – or to Balder, for that matter."
"I smell Loki's doing in all this," spat Heimdall.
"And you would probably be right at that," Tyr remarked. "It would be like the villain to manipulate all of us like that… All for his masters’ benefit.”
At this point, Thor got to his feet, leaving Odin’s side, and stood between Freyr and Sif, holding his hammer firmly in his hands.
“How is Lord Odin?” Freyja asked him.
He shook his head grimly. “I did all I could for him,” he answered. “I believe I was able to buy him a little time – but whether he lives or dies now will depend on him.”
“And on them,” Sif added, nodding towards the line of warriors surrounding him.
“Them, as well,” Thor agreed. He addressed a faint smile to Sif. “ ’Twill be an honour, my lady, to fight beside you.” She answered only with a smile – a faint, but genuine smile that went right to his heart. He looked around and nodded to everyone, Vanir and Aesir alike, surrounding him. “To fight beside all of you,” he added quietly. “And to die by your side.”
“Aye,” Freyr added with a grim smile. “We will surely die, but we will take many of our enemies with us to the doors of Hel…”
There were approving murmurs all around.
Up on the hill surmounting the scene, they saw a lonely, dark figure appear on a horse; they tensed suddenly, realising that the leader of their foes had arrived. Now the attack against them was imminent.
Heimdall’s sharp gaze did not leave the lone rider for one instant. He watched as the rider stepped down from his mount to stand very casually beside it, looking in their direction. Heimdall narrowed his eyes at the newcomer. He thought he recognised…
His eyes grew wide.
“Loki…” he whispered under his breath.
And all of a sudden, pure rage took hold of him, and a roar emerged from his throat, as he lunged forward, holding his spear for the attack.
His unexpected action took everyone by surprise, and though many shouts called for him to come back, he didn’t hear them. He was running, directly towards the man standing on that hill…
Beyond the enemy line – which had started moving forward.
Behind him, the rest of the Aesir and Vanir readied themselves to dearly defend their lives.
* * *
Doctor Fawn blew a deep sigh as he checked once again the data displayed on the control panel over Colonel White’s head. The vitals had stabilised to a normal rate. He checked the pulse in his patient’s wrist just to make sure; it was beating regularly, if a little slower than usual. The breathing was easy and regular too.
“You must have an iron-cast heart, Charles,” he muttered, getting to his feet. “You’re out of danger – at least, for now,” he added inwardly. “If only I knew what’s going on in that game right now…”
He turned his attention to the comm.link, thinking that he could safely concentrate on other matters. He had to check on Scarlet now – the latest report from Harmony, a few minutes ago, was causing him some concern.
“Harmony, how is Captain Scarlet now?”
“He has calmed down considerably, Doctor,” the voice of the Chinese Angel announced. “All the readings are lower.”
“Vitals?” Fawn asked with a frown.
“For now – lower than when I previously called you. But still within normal range. Although only just.”
“I don’t like it,” Fawn muttered. “Colonel White is out of danger. I’m on my way to check on Scarlet, now.”
“Symphony?” Fawn called again.
There was no answer from the comm. Fawn’s brows furrowed. It had been some time since he had heard from Symphony. He went to the comm. controls to check on them.
“Symphony, do you hear me?”
There was still no answer; Fawn realised that the contact with the room where Symphony was standing guard over Rhapsody and Captain Blue – and Bromwell’s instruments – had been cut from the other end.
Why would Symphony do that? the doctor asked himself in wonder.
A thought suddenly came to his mind.
Oh no… And what if…? Bromwell? Could I have been wrong?
His mind raced. If he had made a mistake, then something might have happened to Symphony – and that would not be the only problem, he realised.
He pressed the comm.link button for a direct access to the R&D room where Harmony was watching Scarlet.
“Harmony, I might be delayed a bit,” he informed her.
“Something still wrong with Colonel White, Doctor?” Harmony asked with concern.
He hesitated, wondering if he should tell her. He decided against it. Someone might be monitoring their radio exchange. “I’ll explain later,” he answered briefly. “Just keep close to Scarlet, until I arrive.”
He barely waited for her answer and strode out of the Room of Sleep, directing his steps towards the sickbay reception desk – behind which he knew he would find something of which he might have need.
* * *
From his vantage point on the hill, Captain Black had a perfect view of all the dramas unfolding around him, and was still at a safe distance not to be implicated in any of the action.
On the North side of the hill, just under the shadow of the huge tree Yggdrasil, he could see Rhapsody Angel tending to a dying Captain Scarlet, while a short distance from there, Captain Blue and Lieutenant Burgundy were locked in a furious battle that could only end with death for one of them – it was a duel that, obviously, the more expert Burgundy was winning.
Towards the South, just before the gorge leading to the edge of Fenrir’s Forest, there were the Aesir and Vanir defenders, grouped around a fallen Odin, and besieged by Svartalfheim warriors.
Soon, it will all be over, he realised, and the Mysterons would have won this round – perhaps, a very important round, that could decide the outcome of the War of Nerves, if the Spectrum senior staff was wiped out, and Earth left without sufficient defence.
Somehow, that thought didn’t trigger any particular feelings within Captain Black – no satisfaction, or elation of any kind for a job well-done. If anything, the little part of himself that was still human, hidden in the far recesses of his mind, could only feel sorrow and despair over the doomed fate of old friends and colleagues. And also – a bit of selfish hope that his masters would perhaps – finally – permit him a little rest now – or even free him?
His conscience would never truly allow him to be free, even if they did let him go – which he knew would never happen, and somehow that was his punishment for all these unspeakable acts they forced him to do…
That flicker of a thought disappeared from his mind as quickly as it came, and Black turned cold, unfeeling eyes towards the scene unfolding not far from the opening of the gorge. As if he had given a mute message, the Svartalfheim men slowly started to move forward, towards the trapped men and women they were surrounding.
Black saw one of the defenders peel off from the defence line and charge forward towards the attackers, a spear in his hands. He narrowed his eyes, wondering which one it could be, that had seemingly decided to be the first to die…
It didn't really matter; they were all condemned anyway.
They would all die shortly.
* * *
For the nth time, Blue parried Burgundy’s new attack; it was obvious the man had not lied earlier, and that he really had a good knowledge of fencing – far better than Blue’s.
So far, Blue had succeeded in keeping clear of the sharp blade – but he was growing frustrated at not being able to hit his opponent, and his moves were clumsy and unexpected. That frustration was wearing him out, and causing him to make mistakes… He realised it, as soon as the tip of Burgundy’s sword cut through his shirt, grazing the flesh underneath, and drawing blood. Blue slashed his weapon up, forcing his opponent away and took a step back himself, carefully keeping clear of another attack.
“You are growing weaker, Captain Blue,” Burgundy taunted him. “Your earlier battle with Captain Scarlet has tired you out… and you’re moving too heavily – without any style.” He pointed his sword toward Blue. “I just need to be patient and I’ll have you. I have control of the fight, you see…”
“You think you have!” Blue growled, still keeping his distance and trying to gain some time to get his breath back. “That’s your mistake, Burgundy. You and Black never were in control of this game… My colleagues proved too… ‘unstable’ for you to control. Their actions – and reactions – were too unpredictable, right?” He blocked a new attack from Burgundy and tried one in turn, but his sword was easily pushed aside. He stepped back again.
“There were many imponderables, granted,” Burgundy sighed. “Despite Mister Bromwell’s claims that his plan was perfect. That’s why we had to take direct action… to guide your colleagues – and take full advantage of their unrestrained, basest… ‘human’ instincts.”
“Like putting in Scarlet’s – Balder’s - mind, those suspicions that led him to mistrust Rhapsody and me,” Blue spat. Furious at that thought, he attacked again, but Burgundy parried easily and pushed him off.
“Nice touch, wasn’t it?” Burgundy chuckled. “We had to give you a pivotal role in that… Wagnerian saga, Captain. Pitting you against your partner… It was I who pointed him in the right direction – leading him here to find Rhapsody and yourself in what would look to him like a ‘compromising situation’. Oh… Didn’t you know? It was you all along we wanted to follow Captain Black here. Never Scarlet.”
“I should have realised,” Blue said. “The note… It was signed ‘Black’. Not ‘Loki’. Balder would never have known who Black was. So it was addressed to me.”
“Exactly. It was a simple matter, you see, to prepare the ground. Pushing Scarlet and you to fight... We at least hoped that one of you would kill the other…” Burgundy sighed. “We even arranged for you to be possessed by… ‘Hodur’s persona’, so to speak, so you would fight more ferociously.”
“So you did…” Blue noted grimly. “But you failed! I didn’t kill Scarlet – and he didn’t kill me.”
“That’s why we had our back-up plan, Captain.” Burgundy lunged forward, wildly striking at his opponent. Surprised by the sudden fierceness of his attack, Blue could only parry, as best as he could, to avoid being cut in two. He quickly back-peddled in the snow, and finally managed to push Burgundy’s blade off, stopping the assault. He had the impression that his opponent had allowed him this small respite, when he heard him laugh.
Burgundy stepped back, looking at Blue, whose left hand had now let go of the handle of the sword; he was now keeping the blade down, as if his right arm was growing tired of holding it up. The Mysteronised agent smiled wickedly, seeing his victory so close.
“Soon, Captain Scarlet will die from that arrow wound Captain Black inflicted on him – and then, everyone else will die too. As we speak now, your entire senior staff is about to be slaughtered in an ambush… they have no hope of escaping. And I, Captain, will have the honour of killing you, as it was meant to be – exactly according to legend.”
As he said these words, he lunged forward anew, even more furiously than he had before. But this time, Blue was ready, as he had studied Burgundy’s previous attack carefully. He sidestepped, and leaned down to avoid the sharp blade, which slashed the air just over his head – he was sure he lost a lock of hair in the process. But he had no time to waste over that thought; the hand that had previously let go of the sword was now firmly holding his dagger, that he had taken from his belt and kept out of view from his opponent until now. Burgundy’s belly was now exposed, just within reach. Without any hesitation, Blue plunged the dagger into it with great force.
Burgundy gasped, as the blade sank deep into his flesh. His advance was automatically stopped, and he nearly leaned over Blue’s shoulder, as the latter fiercely pushed the knife up and twisted it. Burgundy’s sword fell harmlessly from his hands and planted itself in the snow behind Blue’s feet.
With disgust, Blue pushed Burgundy off him and the Mysteronised agent fell onto his back in the snow, like a cut tree. His eyes wide open with obvious surprise, he looked down at the knife handle, protruding from his belly - then up to the grim-looking Captain Blue, who was standing over him, his sword in his hand.
“H-how…?” Burgundy said with a croak. Blood started pouring from the corners of his mouth. He coughed. “I was supposed to win…”
“You changed the story, Burgundy,” Blue told him quietly, as he regained his breath. “You weren’t fighting a blind Hodur, powerless to fight and guilt-ridden because he had caused the death of his own brother. On the contrary – Hodur was now a man determined to get revenge upon those responsible for his brother’s fatal injury. The conclusion is therefore different.” He raised his sword, tip down toward the man’s chest. “Sorry – but I’m afraid you lose.” Without even blinking an eyelid, he stoically plunged the sword into Burgundy’s heart.
* * *
Lieutenant Burgundy sat up straight onto his bunk, suddenly gasping for air; Bromwell raised his head over the screen of his computer, looking at the man’s reaction with obvious disbelief. He saw Burgundy’s hands flying to his throat, his fingers twisted as he clutched desperately for much-needed air, and his eyes wide. Then, as suddenly as he had risen from the bunk, he fell down on his back, with a gurgling, agonising sound.
Bromwell quickly left his station and strode towards the bunk of his accomplice; he looked at him, noticed his wide-open mouth and glassy eyes, and knelt down, to check the pulse in his neck. There was none.
“No,” Bromwell murmured, shaking his head. “It can’t be possible…” He shook his accomplice, as if expecting to be able to wake him up. “It can’t be possible!” he shouted. “How can you let yourself be killed, you idiot?! It was you who was supposed to kill him – not the other way around!”
Bromwell got to his feet, and looked fiercely towards Blue, who, after agitating himself so much on his bunk over the past few minutes, seemed now to be resting quietly. “It looks it’ll be for me to do it, then,” he muttered, with a murderous glow in his eyes.
He took his gun from his belt and levelled it at Blue. At the same moment, he heard a groan, that made him stop. He watched as, from between Blue’s and Rhapsody’s bunks, Symphony Angel was stirring, and starting to come to. Still half-stunned, she raised herself into a sitting position, holding herself upright against the side of her fiancé’s bunk. There was blood pouring from the injury on the side of her head, and she obviously looked concussed, as she raised confused eyes in the Mysteronised agent’s direction. He smirked evilly.
“You’re just in time, Symphony Angel,” he said in an affable enough tone. “You will join your lover in death – in just a few seconds.” He cocked the hammer of his gun. “Don’t thank me… I’ll be more than happy to oblige…”
* * *
Captain Black was still standing on the hill, monitoring with attention the battle taking place below his feet. The first men from Svartalfheim had fallen against the defence of the Aesir warriors, who were fighting them off with swords, spears and arrows, with a desperation such that, temporarily, they seemed to have been given a slight advantage. The crazy man who had broken from their defence line earlier had disappeared into the waves of advancing warriors, and Black had not been able to find him again in all the confusion that followed.
Black was figuring out that the Spectrum senior staff turned Aesir warriors would not be able to repel their enemies' attacks for very much longer and that it would soon be finished.
That's when he sensed it.
A strong, mute signal, that announced Lieutenant Burgundy's death and made him turn suddenly on his heels. An improbable sight offered itself to his view.
He watched, as a victorious Captain Blue, his sword in his hand, was standing over his vanquished foe lying in the middle of blood-reddened snow.
Impossible! thought Black, as a first faint sign of emotion passed through his normally unaffected features. Burgundy had the advantage over his adversary – the odds were all in his favour – and he had been killed by the inexpert Blue!? How could that have happened?
He saw Blue turning his attention to him, and staring at him defiantly. Black's jaw tightened, as his hand reached for the bow and quiver of arrows hanging from the saddle of his horse. Blue was still at a good distance from him, and it would take time for him to run in this direction, if ever he would attempt to do so. But Black didn't have any intention of giving him that time; it didn't matter that Burgundy had failed. Since it had to come down to it, he would have to do the job himself.
He didn't even have the time to put the arrow into the string and bend the bow.
He felt a sudden, sharp pain tear into him, as he was brutally struck from behind; he gave but a faint grunt, and staggered on his feet under the violent impact. Eyes widened in shock, he looked down at himself…
And saw the point of a spear covered with blood – his blood – emerging from his mid-section.
With a grunting effort, he stumbled forward and gave a sharp pull, extracting himself from the weapon that had impaled him. His hands instinctively went to cover the large wound, but he could barely stop it from bleeding. He was still on his feet, although unsteadily standing, and managed to slowly turn around, finding the strength not to fall yet.
Just over the side of the hill, kneeling on one knee and supporting himself on one hand while the other was holding the spear that had struck him, Black discovered with surprise who had dealt him this terrible blow.
“Green,” he whispered.
Heimdall – Lieutenant Green – was looking up at him with hatred – and triumph – flashing in his eyes. He had somehow managed to get through the lines of enemy warriors, fighting his way up just to get to the loathed ‘Loki’. He was breathing with difficulty and his body was covered with multiple wounds, obviously sustained during his arduous passage – and he was obviously running on his last ounces of strength – but he had nevertheless accomplished with success what he had set himself to do.
“If we are to die,” Green said in a strained but satisfied voice, “you will die with us, villain.”
Black coughed and fell on his knees, wincing slightly at the pain in his belly.
No… it couldn’t end like this… He couldn’t be allowed to die here… It wasn’t the plan…
His masters still needed him… His work wasn’t done yet.
He had to escape. He had to be saved, and return to the real world, before he died in this fantasy world…
For if he was to die, it would also mean Spectrum’s victory…
No… All was not said…
“The game is not over yet,” he said in a defiant monotone, looking straight at Green. And it was as if he was not addressing only him – but the entire staff of Spectrum, presently fighting for their lives.
Green just had the time to see him evaporate into thin air, but was already too weak to even be surprised by this strange phenomenon; he fell forward, his draining strength now barely able to keep him up…
* * *
As she was still checking on Captain Scarlet’s condition, Harmony Angel turned in alarm when she heard a groan coming from behind; it was with much distress that she saw Captain Black stir in his seat, shaking his head from one side to the other. He’s awakening, she thought, instinctively backing off a step. This man was, after all, the most dangerous enemy Spectrum had ever had to meet – not counting his Mysteron masters. The man they feared the most – and the one they wanted the most.
Great. He’s here, on Cloudbase – probably thinking we’re all powerless against him – while he is unarmed and awakening…
It was an unhoped-for chance for Spectrum to capture him now – the main thing was to act quickly, while he was still defenceless and didn’t suspect a thing.
Harmony drew her weapon – the gun she had taken from Petrie earlier – and took a careful step toward Black. She stopped at what she considered a safe distance from him, and watched him cagily, gun levelled at him.
She was just thinking that she would have to contact Doctor Fawn again and inform him of the new development after she had secured Black, when Harmony felt something cold suddenly resting against the back of her neck. She froze instantly, as she heard the distinctive click of a gun hammer being drawn back.
“Drop the gun,” a voice – decidedly female - ordered her implacably. “Do it quickly – or I’ll shoot.”
Knowing better than to resist, Harmony let go of her gun, which clattered to the floor. The weapon resting against her neck was removed, and the person holding it pushed the Chinese pilot to one side. With one swift kick, the gun on the floor was sent sliding out of reach.
Harmony watched with anger and frustration as her assailant came to stand in front of her, the gun now levelled straight at her heart. Surprise flashed in the Angel’s eyes when she recognised the woman standing now in front of her – wearing the uniform of one of sickbay’s nurses.
“Anna Preston?” Harmony murmured with a deep frown. “I thought Doctor Fawn said you were…”
“Dead, Earthwoman?” Preston said with a brief smile. “Doctor Fawn was right. Anna Preston died in that game world where your colleagues are doomed to be destroyed, too. That’s why I am here now.”
“You are her Mysteron replacement,” Harmony said, with barely a nod.
“Very clever of you to have deduced that,” Preston said coldly. She saw Harmony eyeing the speakers, and guessed the idea that had surged in the Angel’s mind. “Don’t bother to call out – I closed the channel.”
A groan from Black made Preston give but a glance in his direction. “Stay where you are,” she advised Harmony. “You know I won’t hesitate to kill you.”
Keeping totally still under the threat of the gun, Harmony looked on as Captain Black’s eyelids fluttered and finally opened, after his long slumber. Automatically, his almost lifeless black eyes scanned the room, in a cold assessment. He took note of the Mysteronised Anna Preston’s presence, without a single sign of surprise – or any emotion whatsoever - passing on his features. Then his attention was drawn to Harmony and he stared intently at her. The Angel pilot could barely keep a shiver from running down her spine at the intensity of his gaze. He said nothing, however, and put his feet down on the floor, before standing up, slowly. If he felt any stiffness due to his sleep in the same position for so long, he didn’t show it at all.
“The mission has failed,” Anna Preston told him, and he hardly turned his head in her direction to acknowledge her words. “You barely escaped with your life. You must now flee.”
Captain Black slowly shook his head at the suggestion. “No,” he said, and that single word, spoken in that inhuman voice that Harmony had never heard before coming from him, but that others had described to her so often, was enough to freeze the blood in her veins. “The mission is not finished yet.”
Black scanned the room again, and Harmony saw his eyes stop; she followed the direction of his gaze, and discovered he was now looking intently at the tank that contained the still unconscious Captain Scarlet. Her eyes opened wide with horror, when she turned back to face Black, and could see nothing but cold determination in his pale, stone-like features.
“There is still a way for us to win,” Black declared in a detached tone.
He stepped forward, towards the tank.
* * *
From down in the valley, Captain Blue had seen Captain Black being struck down by the wounded warrior who had came up from behind him; but he was too far away to do anything about it. And if he had to be honest with himself, he had to admit that he wasn’t that unhappy about what had just happened to Black.
However, he was still concerned that if Black were to die, it might also mean that he would never be able to make him talk, in order to reveal how they could escape this fantasy world. So it was almost with desperation that he took a few tentative steps towards the top of the hill; as far as he could see, Captain Black wasn’t dead yet, so maybe he would be able to reach him before…
He then saw Black fall on his knees and vanish into thin air, and that made him stop right in his tracks.
He wondered if Captain Black had not, yet again, escaped them – inexplicably, like so many times before. But this time, his escape could very well mean he was leaving them all to their fate…
The cry behind Blue made him turn on his heel; he saw Rhapsody, still tending to Captain Scarlet, gesturing wildly in his direction. Right then, he forgot about Black – and ran back to his friends. When he arrived next to them, completely out of breath, Rhapsody raised despairing eyes to him.
"He's getting worse," she informed sadly. "And what he says…"
Blue noticed that Scarlet had his eyes closed and was feverish; he knelt beside him, and put an hand on his shoulder, shaking him gently.
"Paul?" he asked. "Can you hear me?"
Scarlet was shaking his head from side to side.
"Cold…" he whispered. "So cold… "
"Hang in there," Blue urged him. "You will get through… Like you always do."
"Can't breathe…" Scarlet murmured.
"Listen to me," Blue insisted. "You are not going to die from that arrow wound. You are not Balder! You are not vulnerable to yew… Never have been and never will be. You are Paul Metcalfe – Captain Scarlet – and you are trapped in a fantasy world where you believe you are Balder."
"It's all in your head," Rhapsody added quickly. "Nothing of what is happening in this world is real."
Scarlet shook his head, without opening his eyes. "I feel the cold… The cold… is real…"
"Yes, I know," Blue sighed. "Everything seems so real here – and if you believe it, and if you die here – you will die for real. You just have to convince yourself it's not real. You have to listen to us… Believe in us instead…"
"The cold is… real," Scarlet reiterated obstinately.
"Adam," Rhapsody suddenly cut in. She had noticed something that Blue obviously didn't. "Listen to his voice… The accent is gone. It's not Balder answering you."
Understanding dawned on Blue. "The cold is real," he repeated, remembering what Rhapsody had already told him about Scarlet's first attempt to break free of the game control, the previous night – how he was obviously himself for a few seconds, saying he was trapped – and cold. He leaned closer over his friend, and called in a stronger voice, "Paul! Can you hear me?"
Only a faint grunt answered him.
"Paul!" Blue tried again, even stronger this time. "Answer me! Do you hear me?"
Scarlet opened his eyes, like a man waking up badly. He blinked several times, looking into Blue's face with attention. "Adam…" he finally said in a whisper, fighting not to fall asleep.
"Attaboy, Paul!" Blue said with a grin. "You're getting back into control."
"Di-Dianne…" Scarlet continued, his eyes finding Rhapsody, leaning over him in concern.
She wiped his sweaty brow with her hand, very gently. "Keep fighting, Paul. We won't give up on you…"
"Paul," Blue continued. "Where are you? Can you tell us?"
"C-cloudbase," Scarlet slurred. "I'm so cold… Trapped…"
"Trapped? Where?" insisted Blue.
"Water… all around... Cold water…" Scarlet's eyelids were drooping drowsily. "I'm sleepy…"
"Can you break free?"
"Don't know… so sleepy…" Scarlet’s eyes closed again.
"They're somehow keeping him under sedation," Rhapsody realised. "With some kind of drug." There really wasn't any other explanation.
"Fight, dammit!" Blue encouraged his friend. "Fight it, whatever it is. Wake up, for Heaven's sake! Wake up into the real world, before it's too late or you'll die in here!"
"Don't know… if I can…"
"JUST DO IT!" Blue almost barked.
There was but a faint nod from Scarlet before his chin drooped down onto his chest. Then he sighed deeply, as if he was taking his last breath.
Before Rhapsody Angel or Captain Blue could realise what was happening, they saw his body shiver, and suddenly… vanish into thin air.
Like if he had never existed.
Just like Black before, Blue mused.
With eyes wide with shock, Rhapsody was now staring at her empty lap, where Scarlet's head had rested a second earlier. She looked up in concern to Blue. "Is he dead?" she asked with a quiver in her voice. "Or… is he back to the real world?"
“Damned if I could say for sure," Blue answered gloomily.
He was desperately hoping for the second alternative.
* * *
“Bromwell! Drop it!”
The door leading into the room slid open, and Technician Bromwell twisted around to see Doctor Fawn standing just in the doorway, aiming a Mysteron gun, strapped around his shoulders, straight at him.
“I think not, Doctor,” Bromwell said, his tone still very quiet, and his gun still levelled in Symphony’s direction. “I think you understand that one false move from you will mean the death of your precious Angel.”
Fawn grunted with irritation; he could see it was all too true. Bromwell would have plenty of time to press the trigger before Fawn would be able to shoot him with the Mysteron gun. It seemed like a good idea to begin with, when he had taken the weapon from the security locker, just behind the sickbay reception desk. Only he, the head nurse, the Spectrum senior staff and the security guards assigned to sickbay knew the numeric code to open the locker – a code that was changed regularly. So the enemy didn’t have access to it, when they had taken the base, and had not removed it from the locker. Most probably, they were not even aware of the gun’s existence.
“Nice of you to join us,” Bromwell continued. “But I’m afraid this new… ‘toy’ of yours will not be useful to you. You will not shoot me.”
“Are you so sure about that?” Fawn asked dryly. “You still think I would be unable to shoot you if I have to?”
“You wouldn’t risk Symphony Angel’s life, would you?”
“What would killing her give you, Bromwell?” Fawn asked coldly. “It’ll be one more death to your credit… Haven’t you killed enough?”
“Never enough,” Bromwell seethed. “The aim of this operation was to kill every person onboard Cloudbase… So don’t think I will not be ready to start with this meddling woman…”
“You kill her, I will definitely shoot you.”
Bromwell laughed. “I don’t think you’re able to. You were quite unable to shoot me earlier, Doctor,” he reminded him. “I had to do the job in your stead, putting a bullet in my head by my own hand, don’t you recall?”
“I thought you were human. Your… ‘suicide’ threw me off, I admit it. That was crazy enough to come from a deranged and naïve human being… You manipulated me.”
“Yes, I believe I succeeded in making it… realistically dramatic, didn’t I? I particularly liked the line about how the Mysterons would reward me…” Bromwell added with a grin. “But you were not that far wrong, mind you, Doctor. And your logic was without flaws. Stephen Bromwell was human when this operation started, weeks ago. He was human all the time, when, following his instructions, he set up the equipment, and prepared the ground for the fateful day when the Mysterons would strike. He certainly didn’t imagine that he would finally be killed, three days ago, in order for him to be replaced by… well… me. The operation was entering its critical phase – the Mysterons would certainly not leave an Earthman in charge of it. It was too risky. Earthmen are so… unpredictable.”
“Whose instructions was he following?” Fawn asked. “The Mysterons’? And how was he killed?”
“It doesn’t matter, Doctor,” Bromwell retorted. “You can’t act on that newfound knowledge anyway… And I’ve lost enough time as it is right now. It is time for the Mysterons to have their just rev…”
Bromwell didn’t have the time to finish his sentence; there was a swift gesture from Symphony, as in a last desperate resort, she grabbed the wires lying on the floor – one end of which were connected to the projectors over her fiancé’s and Rhapsody’s bunks. During the exchange between Fawn and Bromwell, she had noticed that the Mysteron was standing on them; when she pulled them up roughly, they entangled round his feet and threw him off-balance. The gun went off and the bullet lost itself in the projector over Blue’s face, sending white sparks of light falling everywhere like fireworks. Symphony buried her face in the bunk’s mattress and covered her head against the rain of sparks – and from under her arm, witnessed as Doctor Fawn triggered the Mysteron gun that sent a mortal flash of light – blue this time – towards Bromwell. The high voltage generated in the gun hit Bromwell squarely in the chest and sent him crashing roughly against his own console. His eyes wide open with what looked like an expression of total bewilderment, he then slowly slid to the floor, where he sprawled, his now lifeless features staring at the ceiling.
Doctor Fawn walked over to Symphony, and gave her a hand to get to her feet; she swayed, as a wave of nausea hit her, and he helped her to sit down, on the side of Blue’s bed. He quickly examined her injury.
“You might have a concussion,” he noted briefly.
“That makes two of them in one day,” she muttered darkly, wincing. “First in that fantasy world, and now…” Symphony glared viciously at Bromwell’s dead body. “I will really have to brush up on my fighting skills…”
“You’re been through a lot, and you are tired. Don’t be so hard on yourself.”
“Thanks for saving my life, Edward… I know how you feel about weapons, and how much it must have cost you to actually pull that trigger…”
“Yes, well… I didn’t have much choice, did I?” Fawn murmured, lowering his gaze. “It was you or him – and it was this Mysteron’s mistake to think I would hesitate one second to kill him, if it meant saving you – and the others.” He leaned his head to one side, looking at her. “I will have to check that more closely…”
“Later,” she said, waving his help aside. “We have other problems to attend to at the moment, don’t we?” She gestured towards the console. “I hope it wasn’t damaged by that electric shock? We might still need it…”
Fawn walked to the console and checked it out briefly. “No, it seems perfectly all right. Thank goodness.” He sighed. “Come on. We’d better contact Harmony. She hasn’t heard from us for some time, and she must be wondering if everything is all right.”
* * *
Captain Scarlet’s first reaction upon regaining consciousness was panic.
He had awakened with water – cold water – all around him. He was immersed in it, completely. Worse, he couldn’t even get to the surface; something was keeping him down, underneath the water – restraints he could feel on wrists and ankles, and around his waist. His first instinctive response was to fight against them, trying to break free to escape this watery grave – escape the death by drowning that somebody had obviously designed for him.
Then in the space of a few seconds, the panic had given place to surprise, when he realised that he wasn’t in danger of drowning. There was something in his mouth, strapped onto his face – something that permitted him to breathe freely underwater – a respirator.
Scarlet opened his eyelids slowly and let his eyes getting accustomed to the pressure of the water against them, while forcing himself to calm down. He felt weary, with almost no strength, and there was the residue of a strange numbness in all his muscles – he could barely feel his fingers or toes. He looked around himself, and his surprise – and anxiety – grew as his exact situation revealed itself to him.
The icy-cold water in which he was immersed had a strange blue tint, but was clear and he could see through it, and through the bubbles caused by his own respirator. He could see into a room which looked like a laboratory. His heartbeat increased when he realised he was a prisoner inside a glass tank; tentatively, he reached for the surface of his prison with his fingertips – the tank was large enough to contain him, but his movements were restricted, even if he had been free of the restraints holding him down. He couldn’t hear anything at all – even if there had been sounds surrounding him, his water-filled ears wouldn’t be able to pick them up.
He was completely isolated inside this tank.
Where am I? What is going on? Scarlet’s mind was trying to comprehend his situation, but he was still too confused to fully grasp exactly what could have occurred for him to find himself in this tank – and even less the full extent of what was happening to him. The last thing he could remember was a dream – such a very strange dream – that felt so real when he was living it – and yet seemed so improbable right now…
He felt, more than actually heard, a vibration, as something – someone – started tapping a steady beat against the surface of his prison; that seemed to be coming from the other side of the tank. He turned his head around, to see what it was – and froze instantly.
His heart rate increased again.
Beyond the blue-hued water, he could see the sinister features of Captain Black, looking unemotionally at him.
* * *
“He has awakened,” Anna Preston told Captain Black
“I can see that,” Black responded in his cold and ominous tone.
His eyes had locked with those of the prisoner inside the water-filled tank, who was staring at him through the glass, upon discovering him standing there. There was still that spark of defiance in those indomitable eyes, even as he found himself in such a precarious position, totally defenceless and with no obvious way of escape. Black couldn’t help but feel some admiration for his masters’ most relentless enemy. Today, they had the chance of getting rid of him – definitely.
“We have little time to spare,” Black declared. “Now that he has left the game, the others will do the same shortly.”
So Doctor Fawn was right, Harmony Angel reflected grimly. She was standing right next to Anna Preston, who was keeping her gun levelled at her. The young Chinese pilot had been able to do nothing else but watch helplessly, as Captain Black had approached the tank earlier, just as Captain Scarlet was finally regaining consciousness to find himself held prisoner in the water tank.
“We have but a few minutes to turn everything back again,” Black said, turning to Preston. “We must kill him before the others wake up.”
“And then they will all die during the game, like they were supposed to,” Preston said.
Black nodded. “The senior staff was already in a… delicate situation when I left the game. Killing Scarlet will secure their fate. Doctor Fawn will not have the time to save them – and the Mysterons will have won.”
Black walked around the tank slowly, followed both by the eyes of the prisoner inside and by those of Harmony, and came to a stop next to the cylinder of oxygen to which Scarlet’s respirator was linked. Methodically, he turned the first valve, regulating the flow of oxygen; Scarlet’s eyes became wide, as he understood what his enemy was up to. He began straining against his restraints, desperately. Water started splashing over the sides of the tank under his efforts.
“This will be too slow,” Preston pointed out. “And Scarlet being indestructible, he will revive from it, even if the others die.”
“Then we must find a way to kill him – permanently,” Black agreed, as his hand started turning the second valve on the oxygen cylinder.
Preston was looking around, searching for something she had seen earlier in the room – something she knew would be perfect to ensure Captain Scarlet’s final fate.
There. She found it.
The electric rod lying on the control console, only a few metres from her.
“I have exactly what we need,” Preston said with an evil grin, as Black was closing the second valve tightly. She grabbed Harmony by the arm and pushed her towards the console. “Start walking, you…”
Touching Harmony and keeping so close to her was a mistake Preston didn’t realise she had made before it was too late. As swift as a cobra, Harmony twisted around, and her open hand dealt a karate chop at Preston, while her other hand gripped the wrist holding the gun. The force of the Angel’s attack was enough to shatter Preston’s cheekbone, blinding her temporarily. Harmony slipped her foot between the woman’s feet and sent her down; Preston’s head hit the floor with violence, stunning her; the gun escaped from her hand and clattered away.
Barely three seconds had passed, and by that time Harmony had turned around again and made a step towards the console to take the electric rod herself; Captain Black suddenly appeared before her, and his hand clutched her wrist, just as she was lifting the weapon up; she gasped in surprise, as she gazed into his cold, emotionless face.
“Resourceful as always, Harmony Angel,” he said, and before she could react, his other hand snapped around her throat and held her like a vice. She gasped again, and struggled to escape him, but his clutch was too strong. He backed up toward the tank, still holding her, as effortlessly as a cat holding a mouse.
Beyond the face of her opponent, Harmony could see Scarlet, thrashing about inside the tank, so wildly that it was rocking on its supports, and that large amounts of water was spilling onto the floor. Surely, now that he couldn’t breathe through the respirator, he was suffocating – and trying frantically to escape that fate.
Black was barely taking any notice of the splashing sounds so close behind him; all his attention was on Harmony, whom he was holding so tightly, it was hurting her. His hand squeezed around her throat and she gave a faint whimper.
“All your efforts will serve nothing,” he intoned as she looked with terror into his dark eyes. “Tonight, all of Cloudbase personnel will die – starting with you.”
There was a sudden, more violent splashing sound behind, that made Black turn in surprise; with a last, desperate effort which called on reserves of strength he didn’t even know he had, Captain Scarlet had snapped his wrist and waist restraints to finally burst through the surface of the water. Holding himself against the side of the tank, he immediately removed the now ineffective respirator from his mouth and gasped in much wanted air, shivering against the cold, and his teeth chattering uncontrollably. He was pale, weak and barely able to move, but there was still the same spark of defiance in his bleary blue eyes, as he glared at Captain Black.
The latter’s jaw tightened dejectedly. “You have not won yet…” He let go of Harmony’s throat, and tried to take the electric rod from her hand. This was the opening she was waiting for, and she hit him with all of her strength with her free hand squarely on his temple. He blinked under the impact and pushed her away from him, before stepping back, almost by instinct – straight into Scarlet’s reach. The latter, despite his present state of weakness, swiftly grabbed him, wrapping his arms around Black’s neck to hold him in the strongest lock he could manage at the moment.
“As long as I live,” Scarlet gasped in a strained voice into Black’s ear, “I will never let you hurt anyone in front of my eyes ever again…”
As Black struggled to free himself from Scarlet’s tightening clutches, Harmony took a step forward to help her colleague – just as Anna Preston, who had got to her feet in the meantime, launched herself at her with fury. The violence of the attack pushed Harmony against the console behind her; her back bent painfully, as Preston held her down with her weight, trying to pry the electric rod from the Angel’s hand.
“Give me that, witch,” Preston seethed under her breath. “If I have to kill you to have it, I will…”
As Preston, like Black before, put her hand around Harmony’s throat, the latter propped herself against the console, to get some leverage and raised her right leg. She aimed a strong kick at Preston’s midsection, freeing herself, violently pushing her opponent away from her. Unbalanced by Harmony’s kick, the Mysteronised nurse fell back.
To Harmony’s horror, the force of her shove had sent Preston right into Captain Black; the latter’s struggles, in the meantime, seemed to have been successful in freeing himself from Scarlet’s hold and he was turning around to deal with the Spectrum officer when the full weight of Preston came crashing onto his back. The tank, already unbalanced by Scarlet’s efforts to free himself and then by the tussle between Scarlet and Black, slid to the other side of its support and finally tipped over.
Scarlet had seen the danger, seconds before it actually happened; he had at once let go of Black and was already leaning over the side to escape the tank when the latter started tipping; he didn’t know by what miracle the restraints holding his feet gave way at that moment – maybe the strain he had put on them while trying to free himself and the following struggle with Black had done the job – in any case, he just had the time to jump free of the tank as it finally fell off its support, pouring out an enormous quantity of liquid, and finally smashed down onto the floor, with a thunderous crash.
Scarlet roughly crashed to the floor, thankfully clear of the falling tank. His naked body was actually sliding on the slippery floor, and he felt shards from the broken glass hit his right leg; he gave a low grunt, as he was pushed away by the momentum of the wave of water escaping the now broken tank. Coughing and breathing hard, and dragging his wounded leg behind, he crept as far as he could from the glass debris and electric cables lying on the wet floor… to finally fall on his belly, exhausted by his efforts, ten feet away from where he had fallen.
Captain Black had miraculously stayed clear of the accident, managing to stay on his own two feet and jumping to the side to escape water and falling broken glass. The worst he had to suffer was to have his boots splashed with water. He backed away, and looked on as Anna Preston, propelled by the force of the earlier thrust, tumbled over the prop which previously supported the tank – and fell onto the water-covered floor, straight into the glass debris. She gave a loud shriek of pain as the biggest glass fragments cut deeply into her – and sliced into the soaked electrical cables lying underneath, sending a massive amount of voltage through her injured body. There was a sudden flash of white light and smoke – and a burning smell that made Harmony, who was witnessing everything, look away in disgust and horror.
The door slid open right at that instant, and Doctor Fawn, carrying the Mysteron gun, stopped at the entrance, shocked by the scene – and the stench. He watched with eyes wide with revulsion as Preston’s half-burned body gave a last, silent shudder before finally lying still on the floor.
Captain Black was hugging the wall at a safe distance, watching the grisly death of the Mysteronised woman with eyes that were still unemotional. He just raised his head upon Fawn’s arrival, and glared at the doctor, who had not seen him yet, through the thick smoke mounting from Preston’s body.
Black then looked at Harmony, whom he discovered staring straight at him.
Before the Chinese pilot could make a move, or even decide what her next action should be, she watched, with untold astonishment, as he literally started fading into thin air.
She was still staring in deep surprise at the spot where he had been standing, when the voice of Fawn rang loudly through the room:
“For goodness sake, what the Devil happened in here? Harmony, where are you?”
“Over here…” Harmony coughed through the smoke. “We’re over here…”
Shaking herself from her moment of shock, she moved around the tank, avoiding the many puddles of water, glass shards and wires, to walk towards Scarlet. Thank the stars, and his incredible luck, he had been out of reach of the electrical surge that had killed Preston. He was still lying on the floor, barely conscious and almost unable to move. She leaned down next to him, as Fawn carefully made his way towards them through the mess the room had became.
Scarlet coughed and stifled a groan, as pain from his injured leg assaulted him when Harmony gently turned him on his back; his eyes fluttered and he looked up, tiredly. He gave her a weak, but genuine, smile.
“Harmony,” he slurred. “Thank you, Angel… You… saved my life…”
“I think you saved mine,” Harmony answered with a brief smile, stroking his wet hair soothingly. “Now rest. You have been through a lot… You need to heal.” She was unable to say if he actually obeyed her, or if he simply passed out due to exhaustion, when she saw him nod weakly at her words and close his eyes, just as Fawn came to stand over them.
“How is he?” the doctor asked with concern.
“I believe he will be all right,” Harmony answered. “Now that he has escaped that awful tank…”
“That’s… Anna Preston,” Fawn said with a deep frown, looking in the direction of the dead, still smoking, body lying on the floor a few metres from them. “They Mysteronised her?” When she sadly nodded, he muttered under his breath, “Bastards. I knew there was trouble the minute I saw communication was cut to this room…”
“That’s why you came with the Mysteron gun?” Harmony asked.
He nodded. For now, there was little point telling her that something similar had happened in sickbay for. He would keep that for later. He glanced around, suspiciously, and noticed the empty seat that Captain Black had occupied recently. “And what about Black? Where is he?”
Harmony shivered, almost despite herself, finally raised her head toward Fawn. “Believe it or not, Doctor,” she said with a quiver in her voice, “but he vanished into thin air. Just like… a phantom.”
Fawn simply acknowledged the information with a brief nod. It wasn’t the first time he had heard report of that happening, in the case of Captain Black, and frankly, he couldn’t say he was that surprised…
In any case, he was far too busy right now to devote time to that new mystery. He had other things to do at this moment..
“Now,” he murmured moving to the control console, “let’s hope that everybody else onboard will be all right…”
* * *
As they could do nothing but worry about the fate of Captain Scarlet after his disappearance before their very eyes, Captain Blue and Rhapsody Angel came to the conclusion that the best course of action for them was to keep busy – while waiting for something to finally happen that would mean their escape from this fantasy world – or their doom that they’d be staying here and die shortly.
When Blue told Rhapsody what had happened to Captain Black earlier, and considering that he had disappeared in much the same way as Scarlet, they thought they should investigate the event. Finding the horse that Black had used to bring Rhapsody to this place, tied up not that far from there, they mounted it together and rode towards the hill where Black had vanished into thin air. They found there the warrior who had struck him down, lying face-down in the snow. They had no trouble recognising him as they approached his still body – the colour of his hand, still clutching the sword by his side, was eloquent enough. Rhapsody was down from the horse before Blue had properly stopped it, and she was already down on her knees by the warrior’s side by the time he dismounted.
“Green!” She carefully turned the warrior over onto his back and saw the closed eyes in the still, hairless face of Lieutenant Green. He moaned faintly and she sighed with relief, before probing his injuries. Blue came to stand by her side and she looked up at him. “He’s alive, but barely,” she explained. “He’s been badly hur…”
Rhapsody stopped suddenly when she saw the grim expression on Blue’s face, as he stared down the other side of the hill. It was only at that moment that she detected the clamour coming from there; almost afraid to discover what Blue could be watching so intently, she slowly turned her head around…
… And finally saw the multitude of ill-dressed barbarians, all armed with swords, spears and bows, doing battle down the hill, surrounding a very small group of warriors who was fighting off their assaults with a strength born out of desperation for a lost cause.
“Oh my God…” Rhapsody gasped, her eyes opened with horror. “Is that…?”
Blue nodded grimly. “I’m afraid it is,” he murmured, remembering Burgundy’s earlier words. “The last stand of Aesir and Vanir… where they all are destined to die.”
“Then… all is lost,” Rhapsody said sadly. She had spotted a cluster of barbarians, who were now climbing the hill in their direction. They had probably noticed their presence now – and fully intended to make them share the fate of the others.
Blue slowly unsheathed his sword, for the last upcoming battle. “At the very least,” he said, “we would not have gone down without a fight.”
There was a faint smile on Rhapsody’s lips. They had never stopped fighting until that moment – they would certainly not do it now. “Spoken like a true Viking,” she said, looking up to Blue.
He answered with a huff, and then took his position to defend the ground. Rhapsody was about to stand up with Green’s sword, when she heard the injured man moaning again. When she looked down to him, his eyes started fluttering. He stared up at her, tiredly.
“Seymour…” she started, and stopped – there wasn’t much that could be said in the circumstances.
“R-Rhapsody…” he whispered, much to the young woman’s surprise, his eyes beginning to close again. “D-Dianne… What is going on…” His voice slurred away and his eyelids closed.
Suddenly, he vanished into the air – much like Scarlet had done earlier. Rhapsody nearly jumped to her feet, her eyes riveted on the empty spot on the snow where his body had been lying. Just as the clamouring enemy warriors were reaching the top of the hill, getting closer to them, she turned shocked eyes to Blue – hardly daring to think what Green’s disappearance could mean.
“Adam… What does…”
“I don’t know!” Blue shouted over the uproar of the approaching warriors and raising his sword. “Prepare yourself!”
And just as Rhapsody turned around, sword in hand, to face the warriors who were now on them –
- They both thankfully vanished into nothingness.
* * *
“There are too many of them!” Tyr yelled to make himself heard over the battle cries and weapons clashes surrounding them. He used his sword to push yet another blade away from him and took a step back. “They will overcome us soon…”
That none of the Vanir and Aesir defenders had been killed so far was nothing short of a miracle from the gods, but none of the valiant warriors had any illusion of what their ultimate fate would be. Soon, they would fall under the sheer number of the enemies closing in on them.
Thor looked around in Tyr’s direction, maybe to reply to his comment but he didn’t have time, as suddenly, before his very eyes, he saw his ally fading away, just as he was pushing back the attack of a new assailant. Where he stood, there was now but empty space, nothing left to even indicate that Tyr had been there.
Before the astounded Thor was able to voice his surprise, he saw Freyr disappear in much the same way, along with Freyja. There was only himself left, and the Lady Sif, standing with him over the wounded and still unconscious Odin.
When Thor looked down at his liege, he then saw him too vanish – as if he had never existed.
What sorcery is this?
Now alone with Sif to repel the enemy’s assault, Thor smashed his hammer against a warrior who had come too close to her, and took her by the hand to make her back away with him. The warriors from Svartalfheim stopped their attack, and watched as the last Valkyrie and Aesir prince stood their ground, readying themselves. It was but a brief respite, that would be followed by the last assault.
Breathing hard, Thor turned to Sif and locked eyes with her. “I love you,” he said quickly between two breaths. “Do you feel the same for me?”
“Of course I do,” Sif answered as swiftly. There was a sad, but genuine smile on her lips, as she finally told him the words she knew he hoped he would hear from her. “I have loved you from the first moment I laid eyes on you.”
He nodded, with intense satisfaction obvious on his face, then turned around to fiercely face the warriors now very close to them. “Then let us die together, as one!” With that, he roared with fury, imitated by Sif and both charged the enemy. There was a violent crash of thunder in the sky…
- And they faded away, just like their allies had done before them, and everything surrounding them – Svartalfheim warriors, horses, trees, snow, even the landscape itself, and Yggdrasil last, started dissolving, as if it was but a water-colour picture being washed away by the rain…