A "Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons" story
At first, Blue had the impression that he was falling; but it was very brief, and he suddenly felt something solid underneath his feet, as if he had literally landed somewhere. A spell of vertigo hit him, at the realisation that he wasn’t lying down anymore but standing, and he swayed a little; his vision was still a blur, and he had to steady himself against a nearby wall so he would not fall. The wall was cold to the touch and rough – like a stone.
His eyes cleared and he found himself staring down into one of the stony corridors inside the Walhall Palace, crudely lit by torches, the flames casting shadows against the walls on which they were hanging. He still felt a little dazed, even strangely euphoric, but otherwise, he was fine. At least physically. He looked himself over; he was back in the garments he’d been wearing as a Viking prince.
Strange… why have I ended up standing here instead of Hodur’s chamber? he reflected inwardly.
And what was he to do now, with the knowledge he had recently acquired?
Before he could even decide on his next move, he heard animated voices, coming from behind, and footsteps approaching. He turned on his heels and saw, at the far end of the corridor, a group of warriors walking in his direction. They were talking in a lively manner, although in hushed tones. Amongst them, Blue recognised Green – in his persona of Heimdall, the captain of the guard – who suddenly noticed him and increased his pace. Blue went to him.
“My Lord Hodur…” Stopping in front of Blue, Green bowed slightly to him, before looking up in concern into his blue eyes. “So you have heard the news too?”
“What news?” Blue asked, with an inquiring frown.
“There has been an attack in Lord Balder’s room,” Green announced.
“An attack?” Blue automatically tensed. The thought that something might have happened with Rhapsody quickly went through his mind. “Who…? The Lady Nanna…?”
“Nay. The guards who arrived there first found the Lady Nanna and the servant maid Gerda in the room – with Lord Balder injured. They thought at first the Valkyrie was responsible, as she was holding a dagger – and Gerda accused her. But ’twould seem that it was the servant maid herself that attacked your brother – and Lady Nanna as well.”
“Balder was injured? Is he all right?” Blue asked in concern.
“He is, of course, and like his usual self, he asked to be left alone.” Green grunted, not noticing the questioning look on Blue’s features. “The servant girl has been apprehended, and taken to the dungeon,” he continued with obvious disgust in his tone. “Lord Balder wants her to be interrogated tomorrow. He seems to think that this idea to assault him and the Lady Nanna was not her own.”
“She might have been pushed to do this?” a perplexed Blue said pensively.
“That is what Lord Balder seems to think. But it was probably a fit of jealously on her part, my Lord. You know she was a favourite of your brother… She might not have taken kindly to being replaced by the Valkyrie.”
“Maybe…” Blue murmured. “And maybe not. In the meantime, see that she is not harmed.”
Green tilted his head to the side with perplexity. “Aye, my prince. It will be done. The servant maid has to be able to answer the interrogation tomorrow. She has a lot to answer for.”
Blue didn’t comment. He just didn’t want for any harm to come to ‘Gerda’ – and not only for the reasons ‘Heimdall’ seemed to imply. Then he would have to see what this new development was all about. If indeed she had been pushed to attack Scarlet, then he would have to discover by whom…
He had a good idea of his suspect, though.
“Is Balder still in his room?” he asked of Green.
“Aye – alone, aside from the Lady Nanna who stayed with him.” Green sighed deeply, shaking his head. “Your brother takes his gift far too much for granted, my prince. He might come to regret it, one day…”
“Yes… he might,” Blue agreed with a nod, his earlier suspicions about ‘Balder’ slowly turning into certainty in view of what Green was now telling him. “I shall go see if he’s all right then.”
“You know he will be, my Lord.” Green thumped Blue’s shoulder in a friendly manner. “But I am sure he will appreciate your visit.”
After a brief smile acknowledging Green’s comment, Blue left, walking with long strides in the direction of Balder’s chamber.
* * *
Seated on the side of the bed, watching over the unconscious warrior prince lying on top of it, and wiping away the beads of sweat forming on his pale brow, Rhapsody Angel couldn’t help the uncertainty and worry growing inside her, and she was pondering on what was happening around her. She wasn’t even sure of the identity of that man lying there, wounded, looking so much like the man she loved. He had called to her with Paul’s voice, said her name, and appealed for her help… Still, he had been acting so uncharacteristically unlike himself up until the moment he had fallen onto the bed, that she had trouble even conceiving it could be him.
She had no logical explanation for what was going on – aside from thinking she might be going thoroughly mad.
Rhapsody suddenly tensed when she heard a faint knock at the door. She was on her feet instantly, her hand reaching for the first weapon she could find at her disposal – the dagger from Balder’s belt, which he had left on a table nearby. She cautiously approached the door.
“Who is it?”
“Don’t worry, Rhapsody. It’s me, Blue.”
She blew a sigh of relief. Blue, he had said. Not ‘Hodur’, as the others were calling him. He was still, apparently, the man she knew him to be. And apparently, he also knew her for who she truly was.
She hurriedly pulled back the bolt and let the newcomer in, closing the door as soon as he cleared it. She locked it again, watching Blue as he turned to her. He was still dressed in the ancient, fur-like clothing, like all the others were, but his face and hair were as they were supposed to be. He gave her a concerned look, and took her by the shoulders, reassuringly.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, thanks,” she said, presenting a brave façade.
“How about him?” Blue continued, walking toward the bed, to look down at Scarlet. “How is he?”
“Unconscious. Or sleeping, I couldn’t tell,” Rhapsody answered, following close behind Blue. “He’s been – we’ve been attacked. And he was stabbed – ”
“I know. I heard. Green told me.”
“Heimdall, actually,” Blue corrected. “He’s the captain of the palace guard…”
“Adam… I don’t understand what…”
“Has he been like this for long?” Blue interrupted. He knelt beside the sleeping Scarlet and took his hand, checking his pulse. It was beating steadily, if a little too fast.
“Two – three hours, I think,” Rhapsody answered. She watched him, as Blue gently examined the wound on the Viking’s torso. Blue grunted and nodded with some satisfaction. To Rhapsody’s eyes, he didn’t seem very surprised to find what he did. And what she already knew.
“He’s healing,” she said, stating the obvious.
“So I see,” Blue agreed.
“Like Paul would,” Rhapsody added, insistently.
Blue’s answer was punctuated with a brief nod. Rhapsody stared at him with perplexity. “Aren’t you in the least bit surprised?” she asked, almost suspicious.
“No… to tell you the truth, I am not really surprised,” Blue admitted. “I already suspected it would be the case, after what I’ve heard so far… and what I knew of ‘Balder’. The one of legend, I mean.”
Rhapsody sighed again and approached, leaning down to his level.
“Adam, what’s going on?” she asked with urgency, for the second time freely using Blue’s first name. “This strange place… These clothes… All these people who look like members of Spectrum but don’t act like them… This ‘Balder’… At first, I thought he wasn’t Paul, but…”
“You saw he shares the same regenerative powers,” Blue remarked. “The dagger wound is almost closed…”
“Yes, I saw that,” Rhapsody admitted. “And then something else… Adam… He is Paul, isn’t he?”
Blue nodded carefully. “Yes,” he murmured. “Yes, he is.”
“I thought as much. He called my name earlier…”
“I thought it was delirium – when he was struggling against the fever from his wound. He called for help… using my name. He called me Dianne. His voice was Paul’s… so I knew then he was Paul. My Paul. Not that… barbarous Viking prince. So I imagine it means that all the others are the people we know too…”
“So subconsciously he remembers?” Blue reflected. “So the Mysterons were wrong, then?”
“The Mysterons?” Rhapsody almost shrieked, turning pale all of a sudden.
“It might be because of his unique metabolism,” Blue continued, barely hearing her. “This is almost un-hoped for. Did he say anything else?”
“Yes… He was trapped, he couldn’t move… He said something about ‘Ragnarok’…”
“Ragnarok?” Blue repeated with obvious surprise. “He mentioned Ragnarok?”
“He said we had to stop it… Adam, what does it mean –”
“He knows about Ragnarok,” Blue pondered, stroking his chin. “I wonder –”
“Adam, would you please tell me what’s going on?” Rhapsody demanded jerkily. “What happened to Spectrum? To Paul, the colonel, the Angels and…”
“All of Cloudbase,” Blue corrected suddenly.
“Dianne – all of Cloudbase has been affected. Except, apparently, you and me. It’s the work of the Mysterons…”
Rhapsody grew tense, when Blue turned to her; her face became hard, realising he knew something he wasn’t telling her yet. “Captain Blue,” she said, a note of warning in her voice, “if you happen to have any idea of what’s going on, you’d better say it right away or – ”
“Please, Dianne.” Sensing she was about to lose her cool, Blue took her hands, wanting to calm her down. It did the trick, and he could see in her eyes that she was relaxing – if only a little. “Yes, I know what’s going on,” he confirmed. “I just found out. From the mouth of the one who is behind this…”
“Captain Black?” she offered tentatively. She shook her head, grunting. “Or ‘Loki’ – as he is called here, I believe…”
“No… It wasn’t Captain Black – either the real one or under his persona of Loki, in this world.” Blue sighed. “I’ve been to Cloudbase. I’ve talked with Technician Bromwell…”
“The man in charge of the Room of Sleep electronic maintenance?” Rhapsody said with perplexity. “But…”
“He’s a Mysteron agent now. He’s behind all this. He’s the one who did this to us.”
“Wait a minute, Adam…” Rhapsody shook her head in confusion. “You’ve been to Cloudbase… But you just said that Cloudbase –”
“I know what I said.” Giving Scarlet a last probing look, Blue got up, compelling Rhapsody to do the same. He looked deep into her concerned eyes. “Now I’ll explain it all to you,” he said, trying to keep his voice as calm as he could. “I might not have the time to explain all the details before Scarlet wakes up – although he looks as if he’ll be out for a good amount of time yet. I don’t know all of it, in any case, so I want you to listen carefully… The fate of everyone onboard Cloudbase may depend on our actions – yours and mine…” He gave a deep sigh. “You’ll have trouble believing all this, I assure you…”
* * *
“I can’t believe any of this.”
It took Blue almost an hour to tell Rhapsody about his meeting with Bromwell on Cloudbase and what he knew of their present situation. The young woman had shown her incredulity – almost thinking her companion was going mad. Yet, she couldn’t think of any better explanation for what was going on.
Her mind almost refusing to absorb and accept the truth, she had a need to sit down at the end of the bed – and had done so heavily, like someone who was so terribly tired; which she was in any case. When Blue had finished his tale completely, he found the Angel holding her head pensively, trying to take it in. He gave her a few minutes, while walking around the room. He checked on Scarlet again, still lying on the bed. He was apparently sleeping very soundly now, his breathing deep and regular, the colour back in his face. The wounds had disappeared completely by now, leaving only unblemished flesh, stained with dried blood. Satisfied that Scarlet would be okay, Blue went to stand next to the window. The wind coming down from the valley was cool and refreshing.
“I need a very stiff drink.” The voice behind made him turn. Rhapsody had let out a deep sigh, and was rubbing her brow. “But I guess getting completely drunk would not improve anything, would it?”
He offered a bashful, very thin smile. “It would certainly be comforting,” he admitted good-naturedly. “If nothing else… I’d advise against the ale, though. It’s positively awful.”
“The smell certainly is.” Rhapsody looked around in wonder. “So all of this – it’s only an illusion? How can this be possible?”
“I don’t know if it’s an illusion, in the sense we give to the word,” Blue muttered. “Or a dream. Or a subconscious world. Or another plane of existence - it’s real, as real as the Mysterons were able to make it.” He breathed deeply. “Even the air that we breathe. So pure. So vivid. Even these walls,” he said, slapping his hand on the stony surface of the window frame and turning to walk towards Rhapsody. “This furniture, these clothes we’re wearing… Even the meals – and the drinks…” he added with a new smile. He nodded towards Scarlet. “- And those thoughts they forced into the minds of our friends. They really believe who they are to be real.” He looked grimly at Rhapsody. “And that ‘reality’ could be as deadly as the one we know. We could all die here if we don’t do something about it.”
“I’m still not sure I can accept this, Adam,” Rhapsody replied.
“You have to believe it, Dianne.” He knelt in front of her. “You know as well as I do that the Mysterons have powers we can’t begin to understand. Surely, if it is possible to trap a whole group in a fantasy world like this one, then they can do it.” He lowered his voice. “And we have no other choice but to play along with their sick game. And we have to do this together, if we are to succeed.”
“I know, Adam. But it still seems so unbelievable…” Rhapsody’s hesitation only lasted one more second. She breathed out deeply. “But you know you can count on me to do my very best.”
“I never doubted it for a second,” he said with a faint smile.
“So – all we have to do to beat the Mysterons this time and come back to our own reality is to stop this ‘Ragnarok’ thing?” she asked.
Blue gave an approving nod. “The ‘Twilight of the Gods’, according to the Vikings. Armageddon. The end of all things.” He stood up and gestured toward the sleeping ‘Balder’. “The end of their world, where all of them are going to die.”
“And if their fantasy identities die in this world, their real bodies will die on Cloudbase,” Rhapsody said, remembering Blue’s earlier explanation.
“Even Paul,” Blue agreed. “If his subconscious dies I suppose even his indestructible body would have to follow, wouldn’t it?”
“Or so the Mysterons would hope,” Rhapsody reflected.
“I don’t think Bromwell was bluffing, Rhapsody. Or, at the very least, I don’t want to assume he was.”
“That’s understandable,” Rhapsody agreed. “I don’t want to either, it would be far too risky. Explain something to me though: if ‘Balder’ is as indestructible as Paul is – how could he be a victim of the Ragnarok too?”
Blue nodded, walking around pensively. “All this is based on Norse mythology,” he said, rubbing his chin. “Balder, Odin, Aesgard, the Valkyries… Ragnarok. This is all part of an enormous farce mounted by the Mysterons… They’ve created this world for the sole purpose of this threat…”
“I know a little of Viking legends from my classical studies,” Rhapsody remarked. “But I admit I can’t really call them to mind at the moment – and this is getting a little too complicated. This is not accurate, is it?”
“You might have noticed, this world is more or less like an ‘Earthly version’ of Aesgard,” Blue answered. “My grandfather told me a few of those sagas, when I was very young. And I read about them afterwards, so I did recognise the settings – and the ‘characters’ of this play. Although I don’t remember that the Valkyries had ever been enemies of Odin… The war between Vanirs and Aesirs is also part of more obscure myths… So I don’t know that subject very well…”
“You seem to know a little bit more than I do, though,” Rhapsody retorted with a faint smile.
Blue sighed, and came to sit right next to her, on the side of the bed. “Yeah, now I remember. But when I woke up earlier, it was all pretty confused… My mind wasn’t working properly. Probably because I was concussed during our… forced landing on Cloudbase. But everything is clearer now, thankfully. So I’ll be able to follow our situation more easily – and relate it to what happened in the sagas of the Norse gods.”
“Speaking of which… none of them seem to be ‘gods’,” Rhapsody remarked.
“They’re all obviously normal humans – except for Balder’s exceptional powers of recovery.”
“Which were part of the legend too, weren’t they?” Rhapsody noted.
“Yes, you’re right. For some reason, Balder was supposed to be invulnerable,” Blue agreed. “He was the only one of the Aesgard gods with that condition…”
Rhapsody nodded her understanding. “…Which would be why Paul found himself in that role.”
“Yes, he would be the obvious choice, wouldn’t he?” Blue scratched his head. “And I’m afraid there’s more. I think that Balder’s relative invulnerability plays an important part in the myth of Ragnarok itself…”
“In what way?” Rhapsody asked.
Blue grunted his frustration. “I’m not sure you’ll like to hear it… But according to the Norse legends, it might very well be Balder’s death that will bring about Ragnarok.”
Rhapsody stared blankly at him. “But if he’s invulnerable…”
“Practically invulnerable,” Blue interrupted her. “That’s my answer to your earlier question, Rhapsody: there is something – one weakness that can kill him.”
“It’s certainly not electricity,” Rhapsody remarked with dry humour.
Blue shook his head. “No – it’s yew – or mistletoe, depending on the versions of the story. Balder was killed with a weapon carved from it – quite accidentally, as it turned out. During a very silly game created by the gods – who were throwing all kind of objects at him, just to test his invulnerability.” He rubbed his chin, thoughtfully, while Rhapsody turned a concerned look on the still-sleeping Scarlet. “From then on, the Aesir gods realised their mortality… If the most invincible amongst them had been killed by something as simple and insignificant as mistletoe, then what chance did they have against Death? The forces of evil – led by the Ice Giants – also realised then that the Aesirs were vulnerable… and started making plans to attack and destroy them.”
“…And then came Ragnarok,” Rhapsody realised.
“Yeah, in a nutshell, that’s what happened.”
“Do you reckon it might also happen in this version?” Rhapsody asked in a worried tone.
Blue shook his head. “I would think unlikely that these very mortal Aesirs would be silly enough to take the risk of playing that stupid game with Balder…”
“I don’t know,” Rhapsody retorted doubtfully. “You have seen how they behave, haven’t you? They do seem a little… reckless, at times.”
“They do indeed,” Blue agreed, pensively. “But I don’t think I am.”
Rhapsody raised a brow. “What do you mean exactly?”
Blue hesitated a second. “According to legend,” he said finally, looking directly at Rhapsody, “the one who accidentally killed Balder with that fatal blow… was his own brother, Hodur.”
Rhapsody kept silent, letting the information sink in. Blue was observing her reaction; it was one of complete and unreserved denial. “Surely, the Mysterons don’t really expect that you would actually do that!”
“I don’t know what they expect,” Blue muttered darkly. “I do suspect that they sent me here with an ulterior motive – and that this motive… could very well be that they’re counting on me to recreate the events of the Norse legends, leading to the coming of Ragnarok.”
“Well, I believe they are deeply mistaken!” Rhapsody scoffed loudly.
“Well, I would say the same,” Blue answered with a thin smile. “I would not play that part of their game willingly, of that you can be sure. In fact, I will do everything in my power to avoid being put in the situation where they would expect me to actually kill Paul – or rather ‘Balder’. But I will have to be wary of Loki.”
“Captain Black,” Rhapsody uttered, with a brief nod. “Yes, well… This seems to be a very sensible precaution.”
“Especially when you know that, according to legends, Hodur was tricked by Loki into killing Balder,” Blue specified.
“Oh.” Rhapsody reflected upon that new revelation. “Even without taking that into consideration, I wouldn’t turn my back on him at any time,” she remarked coldly. “And I suspect that he might already have started causing trouble in order to bring Ragnarok forward.”
“The ‘servant girl’ Gerda, who attacked us?”
“Anna Preston,” Blue informed her.
“Yes, well… I thought I recognised her…” Rhapsody muttered in a bleak tone, thinking back to what the woman had been to ‘Balder’ in this fantasy world. She shook herself. Now was not the time to let herself be distracted by embittered thoughts. She nodded in Scarlet’s direction. “Anyway… he seemed to think that someone put her up to it.”
“Loki?” Blue asked, raising a brow.
“Well, he didn’t name him in that particular instance – but he did mention his name when he clashed with the woman earlier – and chased her away. I heard it all through the door.”
“Mmm…” Blue shook his head, pensively scrutinising the young woman. “This can’t be a very agreeable experience for you, can it, Dianne?”
“Because he’s acting like a boor?” Rhapsody said. “Well, I do realise now that he’s not really behaving like himself – nor is anybody else, for that matter.” She paused a few seconds. “But it is still a very unpleasant situation, I have to admit.”
“I thought as much,” Blue said, gently stroking her cheek. “You are acting very bravely, Rhapsody Angel. We’ll get through this. And every last one of them will come back to his normal self, you’ll see.”
Rhapsody acknowledged the encouraging words with a nod, before giving another scrutinising look towards Scarlet, over her shoulder. “Maybe he can help us?” she suggested.
Blue hesitated. “Bromwell told me that none of them would remember the real world as it is,” he noted. “And try as I might, none of them would believe me if I attempted to explain the truth. Yet,” he added in a more buoyant tone, ”you told me that after being injured, Paul called your name… that he seemed to be himself during his delirium…”
“Just before passing out, yes,” Rhapsody confirmed. “He also seemed to be aware of his situation… He said he was trapped…”
“And that he couldn’t move,” Blue said, repeating what Rhapsody had already told him.
“Is it possible that he might be impervious to – whatever the Mysterons’ve done to the others?” Rhapsody asked in a hopeful tone. “Or more specifically, that he’s coming out of it?”
They heard a groan coming from the object of their mutual attention; turning fully around, they saw Scarlet move. They exchanged an expectant glance, before getting to their feet and coming to stand beside the waking man.
“Maybe we’re about to find out,” Blue said wishfully.
They stood over Scarlet for a moment, watching as he slowly recovered his senses. He drew a deep breath, then opened his eyes, looking around with some confusion. Then he looked up to the two people he could see hovering above him. He frowned deeply.
“What are you doing here, brother?”
Blue just had the time to repress a frustrated sigh. Scarlet still had the same lilting, deep-throated accent he had shared with all the others since their conversion into ‘Viking warriors’ - he didn’t have that English-accented voice that Blue knew so very well.
He was still ‘Balder’.
“I heard what happened to you,” Blue answered, in a noncommittal tone. “Are you all right?”
“You should know the answer,” Scarlet replied, trying to push himself into a seated position. “As always, the same.” Blue gave him a hand, and pulled him up. Scarlet grimaced and reached for his belly.
“Still a little stiff, I see,” Blue commented.
“Please, Hodur, you can save the brotherly concern,” Scarlet grumbled. “You know it will be completely healed before long.” He looked down at the stained and torn shirt with disgust. “Still, another ruined tunic,” he muttered.
That made Blue smile despite himself. Now that was a typical Paul reaction.
“Since you look on your way to recovery, I’d better leave, then.”
“Aye. Do that,” Scarlet replied, raising a hand in dismissal. “Do you not have a wife waiting for you in your chamber? You have been waiting months to be reunited with her… You should not waste your time with me, and go to her instead.”
Blue nodded slowly, looking on as Scarlet supported himself on one elbow, rubbing his injured belly with his free hand. So, it appeared that ‘Balder’ knew about this previous union between Hodur and Iduna. Not that Blue was that surprised – he had suspected that he would know as much, from the hints he had already dropped earlier…
Blue turned around, motioning to Rhapsody to follow him to the door. She unlocked and opened it, and he went out, stopping just after the doorway to address her. “I think you’d better stay with him,” he whispered. “Keep your eye on him – he doesn’t seem quite all right…”
“No, he doesn’t,” Rhapsody agreed with a brief nod. She offered a faint smile. “I think I’ll be able to fight off his advances too.” He smiled back in answer, before her face took on a more serious expression. “And I’ll try to learn more about… him… and this Ragnarok that we should stop.”
“Any information we might find would be useful,” Blue agreed. “I’ll find out what I can from Karen…. Excuse me, Iduna.” He sighed. “That’ll take some getting used to. We’ll meet again later.”
“Tomorrow, more than likely,” Rhapsody observed.
“Right. Tomorrow. If you ever need any kind of help… Call for me.”
She shook her head. “It is quite late at night now – I don’t expect there will be any more ‘action’ tonight.”
“Wishful thinking,” Blue muttered. “I can do with a little rest. Tomorrow then.” He nodded his goodbyes, and Rhapsody nodded back in answer, before closing the door, and taking good care to lock it. Despite what she had just said to Blue, she didn’t want to run the risk of another attempted attack that night. Behind him, she heard Scarlet stir.
“You do not have to do what he asked of you.”
She turned on her heels. Scarlet had changed his position to a more comfortable one, and with a brusque gesture, was tearing the soiled shirt before pulling it over his head and throwing it onto the floor. He then grimaced, holding his aching belly. He tiredly waved towards the door. “My brother, Hodur… He told you to stay here, did he not? To make sure that I will be all right…” She slowly walked back to the bed, curiosity plain on her face, as he continued, quietly: “But you do not have to stay if you do not want to. Know that I am already grateful that you did defend me when I was down… and that you watched over me while I was unconscious. You are free to go if you choose to. We can… talk about us later.”
“I don’t want to leave, Lord Balder,” Rhapsody answered evenly. “I’ll be staying, if you don’t mind.”
He raised an inquiring brow. “And why should I mind?”
She watched as he raised his hand for the mug of water on the low table nearby, but found himself unable to reach it. She handed it to him. He gave a grateful nod, and drank greedily.
“He’s not really your brother, is he?” Rhapsody asked curiously.
“So now you are interested in me,” Scarlet noted in a mocking tone. “While a few hours ago you wanted nothing to do with me…”
“Don’t confuse curiosity with… ‘interest’, Lord Balder,” Rhapsody replied, raising a brow. “It’s not the same thing.”
“Aye. Just curiosity it is, then, Lady Nanna.” He nodded toward the closed door. “You have guessed well. But then again, you must have noticed that there is little resemblance between us, nay? We are not real brothers. We are blood brothers – Hodur, Thor and me. We have been chosen by Lord Odin as his heirs – we are the champion princes of Aesgard. But surely, you must already know that?”
“Doesn’t that cause any kind of conflict between you?”
“Conflict?” Scarlet repeated, frowning. “Nay… We are as close as brothers can be – although sometimes we fight, and argue, and we might feel like we would want to kill each other – we would give our life for the others. When the time does come – and may Hymir grant that it will be a long time from now – after Odin’s passing, the three of us will share the duties of the Throne of Aesgard.”
“How do you know Lord Hodur asked me to make sure you’ll be all right?” Rhapsody asked, watching him closely as he drank the rest of the water to the last drop.
Scarlet put down the beaker. “I know how he is – he is constantly watching out for me… Although it is not always necessary… for obvious reasons.” He scoffed loudly, but there was a fondness in his words that didn’t escape Rhapsody. She knelt next to the recuperating warrior. He frowned at her. “Why are you still here?” he muttered. “Are you not afraid of me anymore?”
“I never was afraid of you,” Rhapsody defended herself. “And as I said, Lord Balder, I am curious…” She looked down at his bare chest. There was no sign of injury on his flesh. “I heard about your… healing capacities.”
“You have never witnessed anything like this before, is that it?”
That would be a far stretch of the truth, Rhapsody mused inwardly, thinking back to the frequent times when she had actually observed Paul’s retrometabolism. Even when he was shaving in the morning, and nicked himself, it was always astounding to see the cut disappear in mere seconds.
This Paul would certainly need a shave, she added to herself.
“How did this happen to you?”
He grunted. “Do you not know the tale?”
She shook her head. “No. The… stories I heard about that aren’t clear.”
Scarlet sighed, rising to his feet. “It was… a gift from the Ice Giants.” There was derision in his tone when he said that, Rhapsody noticed. He gave a sigh and added, more evenly: “That much I know. I wish I could tell you more about it…” He went to the table, picked up the jug of ale, and drank from it heartily, before putting it down loudly. “That is better,” he gasped. “I was thirsty…” He looked over to Rhapsody, who was watching him with attention, waiting for the rest of his story. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “One day, I went hunting in the mountains with Loki, and… we encountered the Ice Giants.” He frowned. “I cannot recall most of what happened,” he admitted, taking a few steps towards Rhapsody, the jug in his hand. “I do remember losing track of Loki, and I went searching for him. Then a huge blizzard surrounded me, apparently coming from nowhere. Surely the work of the Ice Giants… You know they do evil magic, and use it to torment us ‘poor mortals’.” His tone was again bitter, but it was very brief, before it returned to normal, and he continued. “I was struggling against the wind and snow, trying to find my way back to Aesgard. But I was lost. And then I fell… a great distance… into a ravine, maybe, I could not say. That is the last thing I remember. I must have had a bad fall, because from then, it’s a total blank. When I came to, the blizzard was finished. I was lying on my back, in pain and unable to move, and Hodur was leaning over me. He took me back to Aesgard and then we discovered… this new ability of mine.” He grunted. “My back was broken. I should have died of my many wounds… but I did not. And I recovered. Completely. And ever since that day – I have been able to recover from any wound that befalls me.”
“And you say it was because of the Ice Giants that you now have that gift?” Rhapsody said in puzzlement. “But… you didn’t really see them?”
Scarlet laughed. “Lady Nanna, no-one can claim he has ever seen the Ice Giants – and if I ever did see them, I cannot recall any of it. They have caused my memory to fail me, obviously.” He paused a second, looking at her, and seeing the doubt on her features. “Who else could perform such a miracle?” he questioned, as if it was an obvious observation. “Loki and I were on their land. We must have encountered them. A raging blizzard, suddenly rising from nowhere, is the sign that they are walking the Earth; you should know that, Lady Nanna. And we were right in the middle of that terrible storm. We must have crossed their direct path.”
Rhapsody nodded slowly, not committing herself with a spoken answer. “So you say you encountered the Ice Giants…” she said pensively.
“Aye. Loki and I,” Scarlet answered, standing only a few feet from her. “We may be the only humans alive to have done so and live to talk about it. Although we can hardly say we are actually talking about it,” he added in an undertone. “So all there is to know about the Ice Giants still remains a mystery.”
So similar to what happened in real life, Rhapsody mused. Those Ice Giants – they might be the representation of the Mysterons in this fantasy world. Ever-present in these people’s lives, threatening – and yet of an unknown nature… And the way they interacted with Balder’s life, ‘giving’ him these healing capacities… He didn’t remember anything of his encounter with them. Much like Captain Scarlet with the Mysterons. She wondered about the fact that they might have forced his body – and mind – to do something he might not be aware of, like the Mysterons had done with Paul. Perhaps Hodur would know. But as Blue was his old self, and not really Hodur, there was little chance he would actually know what it was that Hodur experienced when he found Balder after his encounter with the Ice Giants.
And then there was Loki, who had the face of Conrad Turner – Captain Black – in this fantasy world. He must know what had happened, even if ‘Balder’ didn’t have a clue. But something in what Scarlet had just said made Rhapsody wonder if ‘Loki’ would indeed say anything on the subject.
“You mean Loki doesn’t talk about this experience you both had?”
Scarlet shrugged. “He claims that, like me, he does not remember anything about it.”
“ ‘Claims’… you don’t believe him.”
“A word of advice, Lady Nanna – if you are wise and cautious, you will not always believe what Loki says. Or rather: you will never believe what he tells you. Odin keeps him around for reasons of his own – but we have learned, to our cost, that Loki is not to be trusted.”
Rhapsody narrowed her eyes, pensively. Here again was a similarity with the real world – just like those Adam had already told her about earlier. But this one had a twist, however: while Conrad Turner had been a trusted man in the past – before becoming the unwilling agent of the Mysterons in recent years – it appeared that it wasn't quite that way with Loki. Although he still lived amongst the Aesirs, they had always regarded him with suspicion and mistrust, and it was highly possible that, just like the Loki of the Norse legends, he was plotting their downfall, a pawn of the Ice Giants, just as Black was for the Mysterons.
Or perhaps he was their accomplice…
“So since that fateful day, you can survive anything,” Rhapsody pondered, addressing Scarlet.
“So far I have,” Scarlet replied thoughtfully. “Though why the Ice Giants would give me that wonderful gift is a mystery. That surely was not what they intended. According to Lord Odin – it could only be an accident.”
“An accident, right,” Rhapsody mused, watching as he took another gulp from the jug. When he finished, he looked curiously at her.
“You mean to say, Lady Nanna, that you REALLY never heard this story before this night?”
“No, Lord Balder, I didn’t know about it.” Not THIS version, anyway, she added inwardly.
“How odd. I would have thought it would have travelled to the land of Vanaheim. Do you Vanir not know the enemies you meet on the field of battle?”
Rhapsody simply shrugged, and raised a brow, watching as he emptied the last of the ale, and then wiped his mouth again, grunting with obvious satisfaction. Not really as sophisticated as Paul… She wondered if he had gained the same resistance to alcohol as Paul had. It certainly looked as if that horrible drink he had swallowed was not having any effect on him right now…
“Your thirst too seems to have benefited from your encounter with the Ice Giants,” she remarked, narrowing her eyes.
He laughed with good humour. “Even Thor whose drinking capacity is renowned all over Aesgard cannot now defeat me,” he declared with no concealed pride. “As for my appetite…”
“I bet,” Rhapsody said in an aloof tone. “Your appetite for women too, I reckon…”
Scarlet looked closely at her. “Do I detect jealousy in the Lady Nanna’s fierce words?” he asked mockingly.
“The Lady Nanna isn’t keen on men who have the habit of forcing themselves upon women,” Rhapsody replied in an even colder tone.
He scoffed derisively and shrugged. “Why would Balder do that when he can have all the women he wants in Aesgard? I just have to choose amongst those waiting in line in front of my door, each hoping that she will be the lucky one.”
She took a sharp intake of breath. Now that was a remark she would never had expected from Paul; but coming from Balder – well she had to admit she wasn't really that surprised. “I am not of Aesgard, Lord Balder,” she remarked dryly enough.
“Nay. You are a fierce Valkyrie of the Vanir…"
No, I'm not, she answered inwardly. But she kept herself from saying it out loud.
"… But the agreement, my lady…"
“…Was not of my doing,” Rhapsody cut abruptly. “I didn’t agree to be your…” She searched for the right word to describe what he was thinking her to be, but found it a little too harsh for her liking. “… betrothed,” she finally said, instead choosing the expression himself had used earlier. “Neither Odin nor Freyja consulted with me when they came to this agreement.”
She kept on her guard when he approached more closely. He seemed to notice her edginess and carefully sat down at the foot of the bed, at some distance, looking at her.
“Vanaheim was vanquished, Lady Nanna,” he replied. “It is the spoil of the victor to choose the better part of the accord…” He gave an understanding nod. “As I said earlier, you were ordered by the duty tying you to your ruler. ’Tis the same for me, fair lady.” He reached to delicately stroke her forearm with the tips of his fingers, but this simple light touch was enough to make her shiver.
Or was it what he had just said?
“Indeed, the ‘spoil of the victor’ as you said, Lord Balder,” Rhapsody answered, shooting to her feet, and standing in front of him. “And you so… ‘enthusiastically’ leapt into this duty of yours... And that would make it right in your eyes? One would think that the noble Balder would not stoop so low as to…” She was interrupted by his loud laughing and stared down at him with a murderous look. “What are you laughing at?” she asked furiously.
“You, Lady Nanna,” he answered, repressing his laugh. “Or rather, I am laughing at what you just said. ’Tis quite amusing. ‘The noble Balder’? Where did you hear that from? Does it come from my brother Hodur, while he was trying to plead my cause to you, as I imagine he tried when he brought you back to Aesgard?” He chuckled, seeing her discomfited, yet still angry, face. “I have been called many things, my lady, but I do not recall ever having been called ‘noble’.”
Rhapsody lowered her eyes, a little embarrassed. “Please, stop calling me that.”
“Why ever not? You are what you are, Lady Nanna.” Taking advantage of the fact that she had lowered her defences, he grabbed her by the hand and pulled her down to him. Taken by surprise, she nearly lost her footing, but he caught her in his arms. “Does it make you feel uncomfortable? If so, then I will call you ‘my lady’ for the rest of my life, fair Nanna, if you would but let me…” He smirked at his own joke. “… If that would give me some advantage over you.”
Rhapsody was keeping him at a distance, as he looked into her face; almost despite her best judgment, she lost herself in those blue eyes gazing deep into her. She was fighting hard not to quiver, as she felt herself softening. “The only thing that’s making me uncomfortable,” she said, trying to render her tone as firm as she could, “is the way you are now holding me.”
He raised an amused brow. “Is that so? Then maybe I should always keep you like that… my lady.”
She could feel the strength in his arms, as if they wouldn’t let her go. But strangely, she also had the impression that it would now take only one word from her for them to open up and free her – despite what he had just said.
How easy it would be to just let go and abandon herself to his embrace. It was Paul, after all, even though he didn’t remember.
Maybe if she could make him remember…
“Lord Balder,” Rhapsody said tentatively, “do you recall… anything that you said to me earlier? After you had been injured and you lay in your bed?"
"If I told you you were the most beautiful woman on Earth, then I meant every word of it," he answered, leaning to kiss her neck.
She had to fight hard not to giggle, and pushed him back, keeping him at bay again. She didn't try to escape from his arms, though. "Can't you be serious for one minute?" she asked with a falsely irritated frown.
"But I am serious, my lady," he replied with a twinkle in his eyes and a mocking smirk on his lips.
Rhapsody nearly rolled her eyes. Now he’s sweet-talking me… Just like Paul would, only he would be more subtle than that…
"Does the name ‘Dianne’ mean anything to you?” she tried again.
He gave a frown, thinking. “That is a Roman name, is it not? A woman’s name?” She nodded in agreement. “I do not recall anyone by that name,” he said, with a shake of his dark hair. “As I do not recall any other woman I may have known during my life…”
“You’re going to say it is only me that is important to you now?” she asked doubtfully.
"Aye, woman… That is the absolute truth…" And he leaned for another attempt to kiss her. His lips did succeed in reaching her neck this time.
He really has a one-track mind, Rhapsody reflected. She kept back a frustrated sigh. Clearly, he didn't remember anything at all, and at the moment, didn't even seem to want to listen to anything she was telling him. "Stop that, please," she said in annoyance, trying to push him back again. "You are worse than a vampire!"
"You do not like it?" she heard him ask with an obvious hint of amusement in his tone. "I only seek to give you pleasure, Lady Nanna…"
"Maybe it would be more… pleasant for me, if you would concentrate a little," she growled.
"I am concentrating…" was the answer the struggling and annoyed Rhapsody heard through what sounded like a mouthful.
"Not on that!" With a boost of strength, she shoved him away again and found herself, panting, looking straight into his smiling blue eyes. She had the definite feeling that she would not have been able to push him off, if he had not decided to let her. He was still keeping his hands around her, holding her almost at arm’s length. She raised her index finger. "Now try to keep up with me," she demanded, trying to sound patient.
"Why is this habit of asking so many questions so important to you?" he asked with a frown. "Do you not find it boring? Especially at such a time of night?"
"What do you dream about when you heal, Lord Balder?" she asked instead, ignoring his remark.
Scarlet grunted. "And yet again another question…" He shrugged dismissively. "I do not remember much of my dreams, fair lady… Most of the time."
"And this time?" she insisted.
"I dreamt of you."
Rhapsody sighed, more than a little annoyed. "You are just saying that because you're trying to seduce me into bed," she noted.
He smirked. "Aye. And as hard as I try, my lady, you deny me - but this is the absolute truth."
"Is it, really?" she said, raising a doubting brow.
"Aye. ’Tis true," he repeated with a brief nod. "I saw you in my dreams. All dressed in white garments… gold trimming upon them… Your beautiful red hair against the background of the Bifrost…"
“The Rainbow Bridge?” Rhapsody said, more as a reflection then a question.
“Aye… the symbol of Aesgard’s power… Except it was adorned with another arcane emblem…” Scarlet frowned deeply, as if trying to recall an elusive memory. “A scythe… of two golden blades – with no handle…”
Rhapsody froze. “And… did you see anything else – in your dream?”
Scarlet sighed, giving in to the young woman’s inquisitiveness. “Behind the Bifrost were the mountains of the Ice Giants – with the highest peak, Jotunheim, touching the clouds above…” He frowned. “I remember seeing the outline of a huge tree at the top… its highest branches forming a palace in the sky…”
Rhapsody was stunned by his words. Unbeknown to him, Scarlet had described the Spectrum emblem. And that palace in the clouds – could it be an elusive memory of Cloudbase?!
To Rhapsody, it looked like an indication that, deep in the recesses of Scarlet’s mind, was the memory of Spectrum – of the real world. She was convinced of it.
He DOES remember – unconsciously, maybe, but the memory is there. It is not completely drowned by those pictures, and false memories of ‘Aesgard’ forced into his mind. It’s simply hidden – waiting to be uncovered..
And if she had to believe what she had witnessed earlier when he was lying on his bed, healing from his wound, Captain Scarlet’s psyche was desperately fighting to get free – and to regain control over his own mind.
I have to find a way to get through to him – to fight off this ‘Balder’ persona, and help him be himself once more.
“Is there anything else you saw?”
Scarlet could see the trouble in the young woman’s eyes, and probably thought it was an indication of her inner confusion. She was confused, indeed, but he was far from imagining what his words had stirred in her. He shook his head over the new question.
“Nay… Not a thing more,” he answered. “All was quickly engulfed in a blizzard. A deep blizzard, which concealed everything from my eyes.” He looked deep into Rhapsody’s eyes, as if searching for a clue to what she could be thinking of. He was only able to see the disappointment in her features. “Does this mean anything to you?” he asked her with obvious consideration in his tone. “Because to me, my lady, ’tis but a dream. A strange dream, I will grant you, but a dream nevertheless…”
“Do you believe that dreams are the door to other realities, Balder?” Rhapsody asked. “To other truths, that are trying desperately to reveal themselves to us?”
“Aye. Dreams may hold the key to the future.”
“Or to the past… Lord Balder.”
“You are speaking in riddles, woman,” Scarlet grumbled. “I do not understand what you are saying.”
“And if I were to tell you that we’ve known each other before, Balder?” Rhapsody asked tentatively, looking carefully at his features, for any positive reaction he might have to her words. “That we have already met – in another reality?”
“Are you saying that we met in our dreams?” Laughing, he suddenly threw himself back, unbalancing her and bringing her with him. Before she could react, she found herself stretched on her back on the bed, with Scarlet lying by her side, almost on top of her, leaning on one elbow and his other arm surrounding her. He was smiling mischievously. “Now, ’tis a language I understand, Nanna… and like very much...” he said in a low tone, leaning down to kiss her.
Oh no… we’re back at this again! Rhapsody rested her hand against his chest, stopping him in mid-movement.
“Release me this instant,” she ordered briskly.
“I am not holding you,” he answered, his voice very calm, and pushed himself up slightly, as if to demonstrate she would be able to escape him easily. “You are free to go whenever you want, fair lady. The question now would be… Do you really want to go?”
“You are still being presumptuous… Why doesn’t it surprise me?” Yet, despite the harshness of her words, Rhapsody’s voice was less sharp than she wanted it to appear. Scarlet seemed to notice it, as he tilted his head to the side, looking at her probingly.
“Just one kiss, then, Nanna…” he gently asked of her, in an almost begging tone. “One willing kiss. This, at least, you could offer me – will you not?”
Rhapsody hesitated. Even if she tried to tell him about this ‘other reality’ she had mentioned, would he believe her? It was doubtful. He would think her a madwoman – and maybe would turn away from her. Thus annihilating her chances of ever getting through to him and making him see the truth.
On the other hand, if she were to let him know about the two of them, about what they were to each other…
Tentatively, she reached for his rugged, stubbly face. He was Paul, after all – and she was in love with Paul; no matter how she would try to deny it, she would be drawn to him, whatever his appearance.
His hair may be too long, he might be in desperate need of a shave, and his manners may be those of Conan the Barbarian – but there’s definitely a charm within him that I can’t deny...
In fairy tales, a simple kiss would often work to free the hero from the spell he is under. What harm could there be in trying?
When he leaned down to kiss her again, this time she didn’t stop him. The kiss was surprisingly gentle, very tender at the beginning at least, and became more demanding as her lips – and body – willingly responded to it. Probably, Scarlet was feeling her mellowing to him; she was aware of that, but there was little she could do to resist this stirring feeling inside of her.
When he finally broke the kiss, very slowly and with obvious reluctance, he looked down into her face, his blue eyes scrutinising her soft features, trying to decipher the emotions they were hiding. He grunted with regret, as he was unable to perceive what her emotions were, and shook his head. “If it would make any difference, Lady Nanna, I would beg for your forgiveness for my earlier behaviour towards you. For I believe I cannot content myself with only one kiss from you now…”
Scarlet had barely finished his sentence when Rhapsody’s head shot upwards and her lips met his in a fierce kiss, just as her arms surrounded him in a strong embrace and brought him close to her. If at first the impetuosity of her gesture surprised him, he quickly got over it, and almost instantly responded to both kiss and embrace with an intensity that matched those of the woman he was now holding so tenderly in his arms.
As for Rhapsody, the thought that only one kiss would not be enough to break the spell had just entered her mind.
It might just take much more than that…
* * *
Blue felt so very tired when he pushed the door leading to his room – Hodur’s room, to be precise, he mused inwardly. Even though it had been some hours now since he had ‘taken up the role’, he still had considerable trouble considering himself as this Viking prince, heir of Odin, that everyone around him thought he was. Well, of course, everyone else also thought they were someone else… And he knew he would have very little chance of getting help from them in this mission. He would have to rely only on himself and on Rhapsody if they were to have an even chance to succeed. Hoping they wouldn’t get themselves killed in the process – before Ragnarok happened. Somehow, and it was the voice of experience telling him this, he wasn’t counting on the Mysterons playing a fair game.
Maybe Rhapsody will be able to get through to Scarlet? he pondered. Maybe he’ll see the truth? And maybe I can do the same with Karen?
He didn’t hold out much hope of that, though. Not after what he had witnessed so far, of how the people he knew so very well were now acting in this fake reality.
Right now, after what he had just learnt from Bromwell, and all the events of the preceding day, he thought he needed a good night’s sleep – at least what remains of the night, he recalled. He had no way of knowing exactly what hour it might be. He thought it was probably the middle of the night – around two or three in the morning. It was no wonder he felt so tired.
Must be close to twenty-four hours since I was ‘introduced’ into this crazy game, he thought with bad humour. We will need to act fast now, before we start losing people… But we won’t be much good if we can’t get a few hours of sleep.
It was surprising to consider that sleep deprivation, like all other feelings, felt so terribly ‘real’ in this world…
He entered the chamber, taking great care not to make a sound. There was still some light in the room. He fully expected Symphony – ‘Iduna’ – to have been asleep for several hours. He didn’t know in what circumstances exactly he had left her, when he had been recalled to the reality of Cloudbase. But if he didn’t miss his guess, and if he had any knowledge of how 3D games worked, judging from those he already played in the past – they had a FX-Room at the family home in Boston – he had been but a ‘player’ temporarily removed from the game, while the program continued running. So he was willing to bet Symphony had probably never noticed his disappearance.
And it was probably better that way.
It was only when he closed the heavy door behind him and locked it – not wanting to become a possible victim of an assassination attempt like Scarlet had been – that he instinctively became aware of an impending danger. He ducked. Just in time to avoid a flying earthenware jug that came crashing against the door, just where his head had previously been.
Okay… I made a mistake, then…
“Traitor!” came a furious imprecation. Blue looked up. Symphony was standing next to the bed, holding in one hand a large metal plate, and with the other reaching for a goblet of water that was standing on the table. Her golden eyes were blazing with fury as she threw the plate in Blue’s direction. It missed its target when he sidestepped, and the plate made a loud crashing sound when it hit the wall behind.
“You, lying, traitorous lecher!” she yelled at him. “Where were you, at this hour of the night? Out to see another woman?!”
“W-what?” the stunned Blue replied. “Are you crazy?”
“Who is it?” Symphony continued, this time throwing the goblet. The projectile missed again, but Blue was splashed with the water it contained. “How could you do this to me, leave me after we had made love, and go to see another?!”
“Made love…?” Well, the Mysterons sure picked a Hell of a time to pull me out of the game earlier…
“I will kill that wench!” Symphony shouted again, staring at him with a murderous look. “Tell me who she is!”
“Oh, for pity’s sake, calm yourself!” Blue shouted back. “I didn’t go to see another woman!”
“Liar! Where else would you go, in the middle of the night?” A distraught Blue saw the young woman grab the small, narrow dagger lying on the table – the one she had threatened him with earlier. She moved forward, her furious eyes on the man she was approaching menacingly. “You reek of a woman’s perfume,” she said between her teeth. “You betrayed me when you said you would not!”
“Iduna, please, hear me out…”
It was all Blue could do to evade her expert throws at him, and avoid being gutted by the sharp blade - even using the metal plate he had picked up as a makeshift shield to protect himself. Somehow, he found himself absurdly wondering if his Karen was as adept in the use of a knife as this enraged Valkyrie seemed to be. He reckoned that ‘Iduna’ could even give some pointers to the skilled Captain Scarlet in that particular field. She was liable to either hurt him or hurt herself, if he didn’t stop her soon.
Sure enough, the sharp blade got closer to the point of nicking his bare forearm. “That’s enough!” Blue growled, his hard-tried patience now completely disappearing. It was time to put an end to this ridiculous fight. He threw away the plate, grabbed both Symphony’s wrists in a strong grip and pushed her back. They tumbled over the bed and to the other side of it and they fell heavily onto the floor. Blue was pinning the still struggling Valkyrie with his full weight; she was still holding the knife. He had little choice but to twist her wrist to force her to let go. She gave an outraged cry.
“You Ase dog! I will kill you for this!”
“Will you calm down!” he barked into her face. “I have not betrayed you! I went to Balder’s room. The perfume you’re smelling is Nanna’s…”
“My sister!” Symphony lashed out in fury, obviously misunderstanding the meaning of what he was telling her. “How could you!?”
Blue nearly rolled his eyes. “Oh please, do you have the wrong idea! I went there because there’s been an attack…”
“Nanna?” Symphony stopped struggling instantly. The tone of her voice changed; it was now filled with concern. “Was she hurt?”
“She wasn’t hurt,” Blue answered, blowing a deep sigh of relief, upon realizing that he was finally getting through to her. “It’s Balder who was attacked.”
“Balder?” Symphony’s beautiful face transformed into a frown. “Was it Nanna who attacked him?”
Blue shook his head. “No, it wasn’t Nanna. Why would you think that?”
“I told you she was not that keen to be with him…”
“Well, she wasn’t responsible. It was a servant girl, Gerda, who was apparently acting out of jealousy.” Blue sat up, allowing Symphony to do the same. He kept a wary eye on her. “Now, can I trust you not to gut me?” He fully expected to see her redden, maybe she would even beg for his forgiveness, for having misjudged him, but it didn’t happen. With renewed dignity, she sat on the floor next to him, brushing herself to remove the patches of dust covering her and rearranging her hair, before turning a curious stare at him. He fought hard not to smile at her affected pride. Truly, his Karen was at the moment the true image of savage nobility.
“Was Balder hurt?” she asked him, as if the fight they had just engaged in had little or no importance – which for her, he presumed, really was the case.
“Yes, he was… stabbed by a dagger… But he’s getting better.”
“Yes, of course,” Symphony mused. “After all, he is Aesgard’s invulnerable warrior. The injury he may have received would heal itself, would it not?”
Blue stared at her in silence. So she knew about that. He wasn’t that surprised. If the legendary reputation of Balder had not made its way by itself throughout the kingdom of Vanaheim, it was quite possible that ‘Hodur’ would have told his wife.
“Yes, it is healing,” he said after a pause. “Fortunately. Your… sister is keeping watch over him at the moment.”
“Is she, now?” Symphony asked with a faint smile. “’Twould seem you were right, then, husband: things will turn out well between them. I should not have worried needlessly.”
He raised a curious brow. “I told you that?”
“Aye. Numerous times, my lord.” Symphony shrugged, as if it wasn’t an important subject anymore. Or at least, one that was settled. “You said that girl Gerda was apparently acting out of jealousy. I reckon she was one of Balder’s favourites and was not pleased that my sister would take her place in her lord’s bed… not to mention his heart.”
Blue shook his head. “It seems that there’s a little more than that. At least according to Balder. She might have been… ‘encouraged’ to do this. Your sister was also supposed to be a victim of this attempt. Gerda tried to pin the blame on her.” He hesitated a little, eyeing Symphony carefully. “Iduna,” he started tentatively, “do you have any idea WHO might want this alliance between Aesgard and Vanaheim not to work?”
Symphony scoffed. “NOT the Vanir, I would think,” she said vehemently, as if defending her people from what might sound like an accusation. “Granted, the Valkyries might be irritated to be duty-bound in a matrimonial union with Aesir princes, but they know it could only be in the best interests of Vanaheim…”
“So no candidate within your people.”
“Not that I can think of. But I can think of someone within your people.”
“Loki,” Blue said with a thoughtful nod.
“Aye. If we can count Loki as being one of yours… With his obvious lineage with the Ice Giants, it surprises me that Odin would tolerate him within the Walhall itself. I understand he saved Odin’s life, long years ago?”
“That’s… what I heard,” Blue answered, hesitantly, not wanting to go into a story he had no idea about. “How do you know about… Loki’s link to the Ice Giants?”
“’Tis the stories told in Vanaheim, Lord Hodur. Everybody knows about it – how Loki is an Ice Giant’s offspring – how he has inherited their shrewdness, scheming and malevolence – how he keeps spreading strife among your people.” Symphony shook her head. “Many amongst the Vanir clan thought the alliance with Aesgard would not be a good thing – simply because of Loki’s presence within your ranks.”
Blue exhaled loudly. Everything seemed to point at ‘Loki’. Not that it was such a surprise.
“If Loki is behind this, if he’s trying to break this alliance,” Blue said thoughtfully, “it might be because if it fails, it would benefit the…” he stopped himself just before saying ‘Mysterons’.
“Aye, it would benefit the Ice Giants,” Symphony concurred. “They are the common enemy, of both Vanir and Aesir. They have wanted us all dead since – since the world began. An alliance between us is a threat to them, and they know it. It is our only chance to defeat them.”
“That’s why this alliance is important,” Blue mused. “So we can join our forces against the Ice Giants when the day comes to face them, at Ragnar…” Before he could finish the sentence, Symphony swiftly covered his lips with her hand. He found himself looking back in perplexity into her now concerned face.
“Never pronounce the terrible word, my lord,” she murmured, shaking her head. “It can only bring misfortune to all of us.”
He gently removed her hand from his mouth. “Is it forbidden amongst the Vanir people?”
“It is a tacit acknowledgment, husband. I would have thought it was the same in Aesgard.” She gave a sigh. “You might want to interrogate that servant girl, to find if she was really working for Loki – or anyone else – when she attacked Balder.”
“Yes… I will have to do just that,” Blue answered. He finally got up from his place and sat on the side of the bed, giving a deep sigh. “In the morning. After I have had a good night’s sleep.”
Symphony caught him by the hand, and he looked down at her, as she rose onto her knees. “You know you can count on my help, if ever you need it, my lord,” she told him with a faint smile. “I know ways to make the woman talk.”
Blue almost grimaced. The brutal personae displayed by his friends in this savage world was rather upsetting. They talked about death, torture and gore as if it was for them the most natural thing in the world. He couldn’t really get used to it. He preferred not to comment, and simply acknowledged Symphony’s offer. Yes, her help could be useful, he mused. But not that kind of help… She could be a precious ally in this mission Rhapsody and I are undertaking.
Now, as far as telling her everything that was going on – that was another question. Did he dare to take her into his confidence – to try to make her see the truth?
He squeezed her hand in his and she came to sit by his side. He hesitated, looking uneasily into her eyes.
“Iduna, there is something that I’d like to tell you… The reason why I… left the room earlier. You see, it’s not at all what you think…”
She looked down at his hand, which was holding hers so tenderly, and squeezed it back. “There is no need for explanation, my lord,” she replied, interrupting him. “I think I understand.”
“You do?” he asked, raising a questioning brow.
“You probably simply needed a walk… I should not have been that suspicious of you. I should have more trust in you.”
“Well, yes… you should. But… about the walk… It’s not quite like that…”
“You heard about the attack in Balder’s chamber, and you went to check. I do understand. There is nothing more natural.” Symphony saw the frustrated look on Blue’s face and reached to stroke his cheek. “Is it how it happened?” she asked.
“Something like that,” he admitted, hesitantly. “Iduna…”
“I am glad that Balder is not seriously harmed. And that my sister is now with him. Perhaps their love will grow like ours did?” She looked up into his blue eyes. He smiled thinly.
“I’m sure if you can keep yourself from wanting to gut me every other day, we’ll be able to get along with each other very well,” he said mockingly. “Iduna, please… there is something important, I have to tell you…”
“Forgive me, husband,” she said in an apologetic tone. “I could not see straight anymore… But, when you said that other woman’s name while in my arms earlier…”
“What other woman’s name?” Blue interrupted suddenly. “When did I mention it?”
“Earlier tonight - It probably was the cider, my lord – ” It certainly was, Blue admitted to himself. Never since he had drunk that Mysteronised champagne, a couple of years ago, had he ever drunk anything with that kind of kick.
“What name, Iduna?” he insisted.
“You called me ‘Karen’,” Symphony said with a sigh. She felt him flinch, and she held his hand possessively. “I felt like she had been important to you…”
She still is, Blue thought inwardly, looking with fondness at the
Valkyrie who was staring at him with barely concealed concern – and
jealousy. “You don’t have to worry,” he
told her with a faint smile. “This is
exactly what I was trying to tell you.
You see, you…”
“I could not help feeling jealous,” Symphony interrupted again, as if she didn’t want to hear what he had to say. “Was she a long lost love of yours, husband?”
“Please, will you listen to me?” Blue’s patience was waning. “Iduna…”
“I do not know what this Karen means to you now, but I promise you, I…”
“Karen, be quiet!” Lacking any other solution, Blue found himself forced to take Symphony’s wrists to attract her full attention and shout into her face. She shut up instantly, forced into silence. Blue exhaled loudly, trying to regain his calm. “I’m sorry, but I have to tell you this. You are Karen.”
She stared into his face, and then chuckled, uneasily. “What?”
“You ARE Karen,” Blue repeated. “That is your real name. Don’t you remember?”
Symphony looked at him with confusion plain on her face. “Husband… I do not understand what you mean.”
“You have to remember,” Blue continued insistently. “Karen, please… Spectrum, Cloudbase… the real world…”
“The real world?” She offered a bashful, very forced smile. “Lord Hodur, you are talking nonsense. You probably drank too much cider and ale tonight… The two do not mix well, apparently.”
“I barely drank any of the damned stuff!” Blue scoffed loudly, his hands tightening around Symphony’s wrists, without him even noticing it. “You have to believe me… You have to hear me out…”
Symphony frowned deeply; she struggled to free her hands. “Husband, you are hurting me…”
Suddenly realising how tight his hold on her was, Blue released her. She pulled herself free, and started rubbing her sore wrists, looking at him with concerned eyes. “Please, my lord, the joke has gone on long enough… I do not know any Spectrum, or… Cloudbase. I do not know who Karen is. But it is not me, I can assure you.”
“I… I am sorry, but… I have to make you realise that…”
She put her hand on his lips, like she had done earlier. “Please, Hodur… that is enough. Stop all of this. You sound as if you have gone mad… And frankly, you are starting to frighten me.”
Blue kept silent, only staring at her with a distressed expression. How can I tell her… without indeed sounding like I really am crazy – at least from her point of view? I am the one who is out of place in this setting – not her, not any of the others.
He could see there was little point in him trying to explain the truth to her. She would not believe – would not even listen to him. She was too deeply involved with the scenario presented by the game, its influence was too strong – she would not be drawn away from it. Not willingly.
Not right now, anyway… Maybe later?
There’s no need to alarm her anymore for now. It would only drive her away from me…
Blue delicately took her hand off his mouth, and lowered his gaze, unwilling to look her in the eyes. “I’m… sorry, if I frightened you,” he murmured. “I…”
“No need to say any more,” Symphony replied, cutting him off. “You have not been quite the same since you returned from the Icy Mountains. Neither has Nanna, as a matter of fact. We all noticed. And we all suspect that this may be because of the influence of the Ice Giants.” She tenderly stroked his cheek and forced him to raise his eyes, so he could look at her. She smiled sadly. “They must have done this to you, and erased both your memory and that of Nanna so you would not tell what you both had learned. ’Twould be their way of working… Maybe in time it will come back?”
“And what were we supposed to learn?” Blue asked with a frown. “Why did Nanna go to the land of the Ice Giants, to begin with?”
“Why, she was in search of Yggdrasil, of course,” Symphony answered. “Maybe she had completed the quest when you found her.”
“Yggdrasil?” Blue’s frown deepened. “Iduna, I don’t understand… What…”
A loud banging at the door interrupted him, and he raised his head suddenly in that direction, instantly alert. He heard Green’s voice – still with that lilting ‘Viking’ accent – calling him from the other side:
“My Lord Hodur! Quickly, open the door! It is urgent!”
Blue jumped to his feet, as the banging and the calls continued. He picked up the blade which was lying on the floor – just in case – and, in long strides, crossed the distance separating him from the door, Symphony in tow. Unlocking the door, he opened it just a crack; enough to see the dark face of Green, standing on the other side, with, behind him, three Vikings warriors who were looking around expectantly, their swords unsheathed. Green seemed sombre, even a little apprehensive when he addressed Blue next, after a brief bow:
“My lord, I am sorry to disturb you at such a time of night… But I thought it better to at least alert you, since your brother Balder must still be recuperating.”
“Alert me of what?” Blue asked with a concerned frown.
“The servant maid Gerda has escaped from her cell,” Green announced dully.
“What?” Blue murmured, opening the door fully. “How? When?”
“We noticed her disappearance just now,” Green answered. “We found her guard wounded and unconscious, and the cell she was detained in empty. Warriors have followed her tracks into the Walhall gardens. She must still be there.” He shook his head. “She cannot leave the palace, my prince. She will not run free long.”
“I don’t want her to be hurt,” Blue ordered sternly. He didn’t want Anna Preston to suffer because of what might happen to her alter ego in this world. He was fully aware that the woman was not responsible for what ‘Gerda’ might be doing. “I want her captured alive, and without any harm, Heimdall. Is that clear?”
“Aye, my prince. The warriors have already been instructed about that. I know the woman can give us useful information.”
Right, there’s that too, Blue mused. “Put guards in front of Lord Balder’s room,” he instructed. “In case she should try to go back there.”
“Already done, my lord,” Green answered. “She will not get to him this time.”
“Perfect, then. I’m joining the search,” Blue announced.
“And I am going too,” Symphony declared. And to Blue, who turned towards her to argue, she added: “I am not staying here alone while that mad woman is on the loose in the palace. She obviously has a grievance against Valkyries, or so it would seem?”
“I doubt she’d go after you,” Blue sighed. “But okay… I mean, all right, Iduna, you can join the hunt. Remember, though: she’s not to be harmed.”
“Aye, my lord,” she said, offering a mocking smile. “She will not be. One would believe that you are trying to protect the wretch.”
Indeed I am, Blue reflected as both he and Symphony left the room and joined the guards waiting in the corridor. They followed, as Green led them all towards the garden.
* * *
Hiding in thick bushes, in the darkness of the Walhall gardens, Gerda looked apprehensively up at the walkway, just overhead, where she could see a patrol of Viking warriors quickly passing by, spears at the ready. It was the third squad of the kind she had barely eluded in the past few minutes. Every warrior in this wing of the palace was obviously looking for her.
As soon as the patrol disappeared from her view, Gerda left her hiding place, reflecting that it wasn’t safe to stay put too long in the same place, and darted towards the farthest and deepest end of the garden, following a beaten path between bushes and trees. Branches heavy with leaves lashed at her, thorns and thistles tore into her flesh, stinging her painfully and drawing blood. But she barely stopped her run. She couldn’t afford to stay anywhere for very long, for fear of being discovered.
A hooting owl startled her and she turned around, like a chased animal fearful that the hunter was right behind her. She stumbled, missed her step and fell on the path. Panting, she crawled a short distance before getting back to her feet and running again. She felt as if she had been running ever since she had made a show of seducing her guard, and stabbed him with his own knife in order to flee her cell. She barely had time to take a breather.
When she reached the terrace overlooking the valley, at the end of the path, she suddenly realised that she could not go any further. She leaned on the parapet, breathing hard, her heart beating fast, wondering what she could do now. It would only take moments before she was found, and taken back into her cell, and then…
“You are trapped.”
The deep voice coming from behind her made her turn on her heels, gasping. Lurking in the shadows, she could see the silhouette of a man. She could feel, more than really see, the cold eyes set on her. Already, she had recognised the very distinctive voice, slow and almost cavernous, before he stepped out of the shadows and approached her where she was able to see him distinctly.
“My lord Loki,” she gasped. She fell on her knees, right at his feet; he stood there, like a statue, looking down at her with an icy stare, while she desperately grabbed his legs. She started sobbing: “I failed, my lord…”
“You failed only by half, woman,” came Loki’s answer, in the very distinctive voice of Captain Black. “You didn’t succeed in killing Balder – but that is not a surprise in itself.”
“How do you kill a man who cannot die?” she replied, her eyes flashing with hate and loathing.
“There are ways… Do not worry, he will pay in the end.” Black tilted his head to the side, still looking down at her. “But you did warn him about the consequences of his acts…”
“He did not believe me…” she moaned.
“Yet, you planted the seed of doubt in his mind. Your words will come back to haunt him eventually. Sooner than he realises.” He leaned down and took the woman by the arms, helping her to her feet. “Your only crime, your only failure, was to be discovered.”
“I know,” she whispered.
“You know what will happen to you when the warriors find you again? They will have no pity.”
A flash of fear passed in Gerda’s eyes, at those ominous words. ‘Loki’ was slowly but surely pushing her toward the parapet behind her.
“My lord Loki… I will never tell them anything concerning you,” she said in a tentative tone.
“You would endure torture to protect me?” There was doubt in the deep voice. She nodded her head briskly. He seemed to consider her answer, just as the lowest part of her back came into contact with the cold stone parapet. She gasped in surprise and looked behind her nervously, to stare down with horror into the empty space of the cliff plunging very deep down into the rocks below, lit by the rays of the full moon. “The sentiment does you credit, woman…” Gerda turned her attention back to Loki, hope returning to her. But the coldness on his features made her shiver; his hold on her arms became stronger. “…But I’m afraid that is a risk that I cannot take. I am sorry.”
Before Gerda could come back from her surprise and react properly, Loki gave her a forceful shove, pushing her over the parapet. She gasped, suddenly feeling nothing to hold her anymore, and then screamed in complete terror when she suddenly realised she was falling to her death. The cry was brief…
Loki stood on the terrace, looking down into empty space, towards the spot where he knew Gerda had probably landed. No emotion was apparent on his face; his features seemed to be etched in stone and his eyes as cold as before. He heard hurried footsteps approaching, probably attracted by the sound of the earlier scream.
He tensed suddenly, and raised his head attentively, as a voice, an even darker reflection of his own, suddenly boomed inside of his mind, and addressed him:
“Captain Black… the scene is in motion… You will now proceed to the next phase of the plan.”
“The Mysterons’ orders will be carried out…” he intoned unemotionally.
Captain Black turned around and briskly left the terrace, not wanting to be discovered at the scene of the crime…
* * *
In Cloudbase sickbay, Doctor Fawn, wracked with worry over the fate of the Cloudbase personnel he knew were under the sinister influence of ‘the game’ created by the Mysterons, had demanded – as nicely as possible, considering his situation – permission to check on them.
Almost contrary to all his expectations, Bromwell had agreed to his demand – but restricted Fawn to visiting only those people who were in sickbay. Although he would have wanted to check everyone on base, despite the huge amount of work it represented, Fawn realised that he already had received far more than he had hoped for, and didn’t insist. Rochester had then taken him from the room where Blue and Rhapsody were resting and had followed him as he did his round, as he would do with his patients in a normal situation. The doctor was even allowed to enter the Auxiliary Room of Sleep where Colonel White, Lieutenant Green and Captains Ochre, Magenta and Grey were resting. He was satisfied that they all seemed in good health, despite the fact that they were plunged into a very deep sleep from which it didn’t seem that they would wake up any time soon. Lieutenant Green and Captain Ochre’s heartbeats seemed to have increased a little over the normal rate, but not to the point where it would be worrying.
He wondered what could be going on with them.
Then he went to the Nurses’ station. He watched Nurse Barlow, his senior nurse, who was slumped across her desk, also deeply asleep, not surprisingly, but her breathing was regular and her heartbeat steady, and so Fawn didn’t worry about her. Still followed by Rochester, he entered the nurses’ dormitory, where he knew all the nurses had been gathered together. He found them, all accounted for, sleeping on their beds. Sighing, he checked on them all, making sure they were all right. Rochester stood patiently by the door, watching him vigilantly. So far, since the beginning of Fawn’s round, he had not uttered a single word.
As he went from one nurse to the other and reassured himself of their good health, Fawn couldn’t help but ponder that so far, he had not found a single clue to where Captain Scarlet – or Captain Black – were being held. He was convinced that they probably were very close by – probably in a wing of sickbay that he had not visited; he doubted very much that Bromwell would have left them – especially Scarlet – out of his immediate reach.
He had just finished checking on the last of his nurses when he suddenly heard a gasping sound behind him. He turned around, and saw that one of the sleeping women was convulsing on her bed. He went to her side, suddenly alarmed. Rochester quietly left his station by the door and approached too.
Fawn stood over the bed, and watched, with growing horror, as Nurse Anna Preston writhed and gasped on her bed. She had suddenly awakened, and her eyes were wide open, staring at him with a pleading expression, as she tried desperately to catch her breath. Her hands flew to her throat, which was inexplicably compressing. Her face was turning red.
She was literally choking.
Horrified, Fawn knelt by her side. “Anna, please, Anna, calm down…” he urged her. “You have to calm down. Take it slowly… Please, Anna…”
“Can’t breath…” she gasped in a strangled, nearly inaudible tone. “Can’t…”
“Anna, listen to me, please…” Fawn tore open her shirt, in a hope that it would help her breathing, and tried to help her into a sitting position. She was panicking, and her arms flailed, as if attempting to grasp the air that refused to enter her lungs. “Anna, please, you have to calm down…”
“Doctor Fawn… Can’t…” Preston caught hold of Fawn’s arm, desperate to receive his help. She was suffocating. Her eyes went wider still. “Cap… Captain… Black…”
“Black?” Fawn muttered, frowning. “Anna, hang on…”
Anna Preston tried to inhale deeply, but unfortunately, her efforts were for nothing and her throat gave a strangled sound. Fawn fell her hand slipping from his arm and letting go. Her eyes rolled under the eyelids and she went rigid, before falling numbly onto her pillow. Fawn froze for a second.
“Anna…” he called in disbelief, checking her now set face and closed eyes for any sign of life. He shook her, but she didn’t move. “Anna!” She wasn’t breathing anymore. He checked her pulse at the neck; there wasn’t any. “My God, Anna…” he whispered.
“She’s dead, Doctor.”
Fawn tensed, and briskly turned his head in the direction of the still open door. Bromwell was standing there, watching him, his expression so very cold and inhuman. Heart pounding with revulsion, and inhaling deeply in an attempt to suppress his righteous desire to lash out, Fawn slowly got to his feet; he could do very little to stop his legs shaking.
“You knew it would happen,” he accused Bromwell, giving him a murderous look. “You knew she would die, and that’s why you permitted me to check on them…”
Bromwell tilted his head to the side.
“You needed a demonstration, Doctor,” he answered quietly. “A proof that the Mysterons were not bluffing earlier. Now you have been witness that we told you the truth…” He gestured negligently in the direction of Anna Preston’s dead body. “Now you know… that when your colleagues die in the Aesgard world, they also die for real. And if Captain Blue fails in his mission, they will also all die.” He nodded his head slowly. “They are all doomed, Doctor…”
“You disgust me…” Fawn growled between his teeth. He felt Rochester grabbing him by the arm and didn’t even resist when the Mysteron agent pushed him toward the door.
“Take the doctor into his office,” Bromwell instructed his accomplice. “And lock him up, until such time as we decide his fate. In the meantime, we have work to do. The second phase of the Mysterons’ plan has just begun. And it will end with the death of all personnel on Cloudbase…”