The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness

Daeth Y Nos Yn Gylfym

April 10th 9pm

Sean - in a coffin
The others - the hotel.

"This is all your fault," Heather accuses Dexter. "First you talk Sean into breaking into Owen's house and then leave him there. You should have known something like this would happen."

"Shut up." He glares at her guiltily. "We have twenty minute to get Mair on a train or plane to somewhere safe and ensure we get Sean back safely." He swings round. Donovan has picked up the phone. "What are you doing?"

"Dialing 1471," he says. "Bevan is probably stupid enough to... yes, here we go." He grabs a piece of paper. "Three, double two, one five seven. Do you recognise it, Mair?"

She shakes her head. "No. I'm afraid I don't."

"Probably a call box," Nate adds. "Good thinking, though." He seems surprised. "Well," he states, "it doesn't look as if Sean is coming back. Wherever he's to, he's probably making friends in that easy going, beguiling manner of his. I can only imagine that Owen and his cronies caught him and Richardson at the house, God knows what they've done with Sean, he probably got the same as the reporter and has been dumped somewhere, maybe Mike should report him as a missing person. Mair, we really do need copies of your keys so we can take a look around the house."

"Maybe we should try looking for Sean while we're at it," Dexter adds. "Now, unless anyone's got a better idea, this is what we're going to do..."

Five minutes later, Donovan is escorting a woman out of the hotel. She is clutching a blanket close around her face and keeps close behind the athlete. He hustles her quickly into the passenger seat of the hired car and runs round to the driver's side. The hair all over his body is prickling, right up to his eyebrows. He looks around nervously. He's not sure what's worse: being followed by aliens or druids. He can't see anyone watching, but he's sure they're there all right.

He swings into the car and starts the engine. "Ready?" he asks.

Heather pulls the blanket back from her face a fraction and nods.

The car roars off.

Judith gives them a count of twenty before dragging her two suitcases out of the hotel to Nate's car. She goes back in to find Nate sealing up Mair's spare key into a letter.

"I've told Rees what the situation is," he tells her, looking up. "Hopefully, he'll fancy taking some of his people to check out Owen's house himself. I'll just ask Mike to pass this on to him, then we can go."

Judith nods. "I'm going to as him to phone the police too. We know Bevan was involved in the owl incident. If the police know he's causing trouble again they might be able to get him out of our way for a while." She frowns. "That's if the police aren't all in Owen's pay as well. Is Mair ready?"

"As ready as she can be. She's frightened enough to do what we say for now, which is some help." He stands up. "Right, let's go."

Mair meekly agrees to change clothes with Judith, only speaking to agree with everything Nate says. Maybe she's used to obeying men, Judith thinks. She remembers her own domineering husband and shudders in sympathy. Leaving Dexter in the hotel to 'answer the phone' as he puts it, she and Nate borrow another of the hotel blankets and take Mair to the car. She stays between them the whole time and doesn't risk coming out of the blanket until the car is halfway down the road and Nate pronounces it safe.

"Mair," says Judith as the car heads to the station, "you said some strange things. Hywel turning Gwyneth into an owl; everything happening the same; the night coming fast. What did you mean?"

She turns to look behind her before she answers. For the moment, there is no one following them. "Do you know the story of Blodeuwydd?" she says. "Gwydion the sorcerer made a woman out of flowers to be a wife to the Welsh prince, Llew. Only she fell in love with someone else and she and her lover plotted to kill Llew. Because there was all sorts of magic protecting him it took them a year to get everything just right. Then they threw a spear at him. They almost killed him but Llew turned into an eagle instead and Gwydion found him and restored him. Then Llew killed Blodeuwydd's lover with a spear and Gwydion caught Blodeuwydd and turned her into an owl."

"And you think Hywel might try the same trick on Gwyneth?" Judith asks. "Has he done anything like it before?"

Mair manages a smile. "Turned people into owls? No - not literally. But he keeps talking about Gwydion's magic as if it's real. And now, Gwyneth's fallen in love and run off after he pushed her into marrying Bryn Morgan when she didn't really want to. The only thing they didn't do was to try to kill Bryn first. But..."

"But you still think Hywel will try to kill Barnard in revenge and turn Gwyneth into an owl - whatever that means," Nate finishes for her.

She casts him a grateful look. "The night came fast for them. And now it's happening again. Gwydion is the hero in the story, but his magic was always used for trickery and revenge, and it always turned out bad."

"What do you think he might do?" Judith asks.

She shrugs unhappily. "I don't know. But I know it won't be good."

Headlights break through the gloom behind them. Nate tightens his grip on the steering wheel. "Hold on, ladies," he says through clenched teeth. "This might get rough."

Bloody Wales, Sean thinks. He shifts from side to side, trying to get as much slack on the chain that is holding him as possible, and manoeuvres a hand into his back pocket. He breathes a sigh of relief when his fingers close around a short length of stiff wire. More fumbling behind him reveals the edge of a padlock, and then the lock itself. Sean has to twist his right wrist almost back on itself to get the wire into the lock but he manages it. He relaxes suddenly as the chain goes loose.

Head thumping from the effort he lies still a moment. Then, cautiously, he raises his hands to explore the solid lid above him. It gives slightly when he pushes it, leaking grey light. Sean pauses, listening, but there is no sound save the rasp of his own breathing. He tenses. One... two... The lid gives enough for him to see a dark line of rope securing it. He grins in relief and rolls onto his side to get to the knife that's hidden in his boot. Nobody knocks him out and gets away with it. Especially not a bunch of Welsh cultists. The knife comes free. He works the blade between the lid and base of the coffin. Sweat runs down into his eyes and he blinks it free. The first strands of rope fray and snap.

The sound of a door opening stops him.

"What's Owen going to do with him anyway?" someone asks.

Footsteps echo hollow. "God knows. Depends what he knows, I suppose. Bevan said he was speaking at the Cymdeithas meeting the other night."

"So he's in with that lot. Nothing to worry about. Here, where's his stuff? I'm going to have a look at it."

"Best not," the other man says. "You know what Owen said."

"Yeah, well Owen's not here. Come on, won't hurt to look."

Sean waits, silent. The footsteps pass right by the coffin and stop. The sound of a zip being opened.

Then a violent coughing. With a final burst of effort, Sean slices through the rest of the rope, flings back the lid and rolls out. Mustard gas stings his eyes.

Two men are one their knees, tears streaming down their faces. Sean kicks the nearest one in the head. The other makes frantic efforts to draw a knife. Before he can use it, Sean is on him, twisting it out of his hand, hitting him once in the throat and then full in the face. There is an unpleasant crunch of bone breaking and he goes limp.

Leaving them there, Sean snatches up his bag. A piece of paper flutters from the top. 'Someone's crying tonight,' it says. Sean laughs to himself. Who'd have thought a booby trap aimed at Dexter would prove so useful?

Nate slews the BMW around another corner, almost taking it into the hedge and straightening up at the last minute. The exhaust scrapes over large stones in the lane. He doesn't slow.

"I think we've lost them," Judith says, peering behind.

"Good. Keep down." He cuts across the corner of a field and comes out on another lane. There is no light save the yellow glare of the headlamps. At the end of the lane he seems to relax. "No sign of them. What's the quickest way to the station from here, Mair?"

"Slow down," Heather orders.

Donovan eases the car to a crawl. They pass a phone box at the side of the road, empty.

"Think," Heather murmurs. "Bevan's one of Owen's people, right? That means he must have been phoning from one of Owen's hide-outs. Only Mair didn't recognise the number so it can't be from their house, unless she's lying and I doubt it. What are the other options?"

"The eisteddfod?" Donovan suggests.

"Maybe, but it's going to be crowded this time of night. Hardly the place to hold someone hostage. So who else knows about Owen?"

"Seren and Dafydd Jones. The Welsh activist party. The Vicar."

They stare at each other.

"You know," Heather says, "I never did trust the vicar. Is there a phone at the church, do you think?"

Donovan throws the car into reverse.

Sean takes a moment to look around. He is in a small room, a cellar probably. A flight of wooden stairs lead up to a door higher up the wall. Besides the two unconscious men and the coffin - it really was a coffin - the room is bare, an open square lit by a single light bulb. Sean stares at the two men, wondering whether he ought to wake them up to question them. But it is Bevan he really wants. Bevan and Hywel Owen.

He pulls out a pair of handcuffs from his bag and uses them and the cut rope to secure the two men. Gagging them both tightly, he leaves them where they are and starts cautiously up the stairs.

The door opens at once.

"Why am I not surprised?" Sean wonders.

He is in the back vestry of the church.

A thick silence fills the place. Sean makes his way to the door and looks out. For a moment he can see nothing save the dark outline of trees in the lane outside. Then he hears someone talking outside.

He steps out into the lane just as a car comes screeching round the corner.

"Now listen to me," Dexter shouts. "I'm not sure you realise who you're dealing with here. Tell me, how much does Mr Owen love his wife?" Without giving Bevan chance to react, he goes on. "Because, you see, even now Mair's being delivered into the hands of another one of our agents, well away from here. Understand this, Mr Bevan, if Sean isn't returned to us fit and well within one hour, Mrs Mair Owen becomes the Late Mrs Mair Owen. Oh, and before you get any further ideas, if I don't call our agent every four hours, Mair will die; should I have to break any bad news about your lot's behaviour towards our team, Mair will suffer in kind. Go and do what you have to do, Mr Bevan, and -"

Bevan screams. The phone clatters against something hard and goes silent. Then Donovan's voice comes on the line. "Hello?"

Dexter gives a sigh of relief. "It's me. What the hell's going on?"

"We've got Bevan." Donovan almost sings the words. "And Sean's here too. I, uh..." he pauses, "I think he's saying hello to Heather at the moment. Anyway, we'll bring Bevan back to the hotel. See you in about ten minutes."

Nate sees Mair onto the train south. "There'll be someone to meet you at Weston," he tells her. "And my housekeeper's used to unexpected guests dropping in. She'll look after you."

Mair doesn't look convinced, but she smiles and nods. "You will make sure Gwyneth's all right, won't you?" she asks worriedly.

He squeezes her hands. "She'll be fine. Especially now we know you'll be safe. You go and sit down. We'll phone you as soon as there's news."

He watches the train pull out of the station then turns to Judith. "Well," he smiles. "We might as well get back to the hotel. Lets hope the others haven't messed things up while we've been away."

"Sean!" Judith exclaims, flinging her arms around him.

He looks taken aback, but does take the opportunity to return her kiss with a warmth that makes Nate scowl. She pulls away from him, looking flushed.

"Sorry. We were all so worried about you."

"I bet you were." His gaze flicks to Nate for one moment before he turns his attention back to Bevan. The Welshman's face is bruised, one eye blackening fast.

"You'll be sorry," Bevan says again, glaring around angrily. "You can't just go around assaulting and kidnapping people. It's illegal."

Sean laughs. "I wonder what the police will think of your recent activities. Or your boss. You've messed up badly, haven't you, Bevan? What's Hywel Owen going to say when he finds out?"

Bevan swallows hard but doesn't answer.

"We still have Mair as hostage," Dexter adds. "I'd suggest you start answering a few questions - unless you know for sure that Owen wants her dead."

"I didn't do nothin'" He points at Sean. "Hywel wanted him out of the way for a while, that's all. We weren't going to hurt him or anything."

"I'm sure you weren't," Dexter agrees calmly. "But we're not as patient as you. You have thirty seconds to start talking."

"When Hywel finds out what you've done you'll be sorry," he says, dabbing at his mouth. "You might think you're tough, but he'd flatten you in seconds. All of you."

Sean backhands him across the face.

"My guess is that Owen is using Gwyneth to get control of Teggie," Judith says. "Is that right? And if so, what's his long term aim? World domination, the supremacy of the Welsh nation? Introducing the Taffo as the main currency in Europe?" She laughs nervously.

Bevan glares at her with real hatred in his eyes. "Yes, go ahead and laugh. That's what you lot usually do. Always laughing at us behind our backs. But you haven't reckoned with Old Wales - the real power that's here. You don't know nothin' about that, and when Hywel catches up with you..."

"We'll all be in trouble," Sean finishes for him. "We know. But right now you're the one in trouble." He takes a knife out of his pocket and begins cleaning his thumbnail with it. "Her ladyship wants to know what Owen's planning."

Bevan watches the knife uneasily. "I don't know what he's planning - honest. He keeps saying it's something big, something that'll make everyone sit up and take note of us if it works." Sean brings the knife a fraction closer and he flinches away. "I'm telling you the truth. Our job is to make sure everything runs smooth, like. Whatever he's doing, he needs his daughter back for it, and it's got to happen by the lakeside with as many people watching as possible. And... and he said he needed the American back as well. When we asked him why he said it was because it was necessary and we'd find out same as everyone else. That's all I know."

"How is the vicar involved?" Heather asks him. "And what about Huw Lloyd's stone?"

"Hywel needs it for whatever it is he's planning. He reckons it channels magic through the ground or something. As for the vicar, he does what Hywel tells him, same as the rest of us. He took off earlier today. Go and look for him if you don't believe me." Backing away from Sean's knife, he manages to tip his chair over. He sprawls to the ground with a crash that brings Mike banging at the door.

"Everything's fine," Nate tells him smoothly, standing in the way so he can't see into the room. "Have you passed my messages on yet?"

"I have, and the police want to talk to you again. What exactly is going on here?" He brushes aside Nate's reassurances. "There's been trouble ever since you people arrived here, and don't try and tell me otherwise. We're easy-going here, have to be, but other guests are complaining and I can't put this hotel at risk for you."

Judith sighs and walks to the door. "We've found Bevan," she says. "The police think he's responsible for the business with the owl."

He looks at her in silence for a long moment. "Then I'd better call the police," he says.

The car arrives within minutes and Bevan is hauled off, still swearing that everyone is going to be very sorry when word of this gets out. When he's finally gone, Dexter sits back with a sigh.

"Well, that's done. What next?"

Donovan sits through the video of Teggie's appearance for the fifth time, then picks up the notebook he borrowed off Heather and reads back through the notes he made.

Huge, black shape... Lots of ripples in the lake... funny smell... long neck, smallish head, eyes oval, yellow or green. Big mouth and loads of teeth.

Or were the teeth just his imagination. He screws his eyes up, concentrating hard. Maybe he didn't see any teeth. But he definitely saw the head. No matter how many times he tells himself she must be some huge robot, he cannot convince himself of it. He saw her eyes, and her eyes were alive.

Everyone sleeps in one room that night, surrounded by Nate's camera equipment and lights. No one sleeps well. Judith whiles away her time flicking through a bridal magazine she found in her room. A few days ago she might have been annoyed to find it, but tonight she only wonders briefly whether it was Dexter or Sean who put it there, and then decides there's enough to worry about without adding that to the list.

The black PVC cat-suit that arrives for her in the morning almost changes her mind.

Nate unwraps an inflatable doll with a scowl on his face.

"Wouldn't try anything with her, fat boy," Sean counsels. "Get on top of her and you'd burst her."

"Did you send these?" Nate demands angrily.

Sean looks innocent. "Not my style. Though I have to admit it was worth it just to see the look on your face."

There was a phone call from the police during the night, Mike tells the group. Bevan is being held in police custody pending bail. "So there won't be any more trouble, will there?" Mike adds, looking at them hopefully.

Judith hides the cat-suit behind her back.

"Dexter," Nate says, "could I take a look at your phone please? You know I used to have one just like this. Where did you get it again?"

Dexter shrugs. "It's not important. We've got to decide what to do next. Heather, is there anything in the library about Huw Lloyd's powers. It'd be good to know what we're up against. Can you check it out?"

"I'll do it," Judith volunteers. "A morning in the library will be nice after all this excitement."

"I'd have thought it was more important to trace the car now we know where it crashed," Nate objects.

"Fine. You get on with that." Dexter looks round at the group. "Shall we meet up back here when we're done?"

Huw Lloyd's powers are vague, Judith finds out. Some stories have him turning himself, or other people, into animals. There is one mention of a strange mist and four of a druid's knife. The ceremonial dagger seemed to be used for sacrifices in the old days, though what exactly was sacrificed, and why, is never mentioned, save for a statement that 'spilled blood pleased the old gods.'

The stone crops up in several accounts. In some it is said to be so heavy that two men together could not lift it. In others, Huw Lloyd is described as carrying it under one arm. When he cast his spells, one book says, he stood on top of the stone so that the magic of the earth flowed right into him and gave him great power.

There is also a stone in the story of Blodeuwydd. When Llew caught up with Gronw, Blodeuwydd's lover, he claimed the right to cast a spear at him in revenge. Gronw agreed, but asked to set a stone between the two of them, thinking it would protect him. But Llew threw the spear so hard it went right through the stone and killed Gronw.

Judith sits back, frowning. Although there is nothing in any of the books to connect the two stones, she can't help thinking it odd. Maybe Huw Lloyd's stone and Gronw's stone are the same. She wouldn't be surprised - there's enough other connections in all this, after all.

She turns from the folklore books to the science section. The analysis of the slime Dexter found should be back soon, but she might be able to hurry things along a little. She finds a few general science encyclopedias and looks through them.

There are lots of animals that leave secretions behind them. What Dexter found could just be the result of simple algae. Somehow, Judith hopes it isn't. As for green, metallic tasting gases, after going through a complete list of chemical elements, she has to admit defeat. Whatever Owen used, it isn't listed in the book.

Dexter's phone rings outside the hospital.

"Give me my phone back, you thieving shyte!" Nate's voice shouts.

Grinning to himself, Dexter turns the phone off.

The smell of antiseptic hits him as he walks into the hospital and his shoes squeak on the tiled floor as he walks to the reception desk in the corner.

"Mark Richardson," he says. "He was brought in here last night. I'm a friend of his."

The girl looks at him blankly. "I'm sorry, sir, but Mr Richardson has checked out. His brother-in-law came for him just an hour ago."

"Brother-in-law?" Dexter echoes.

"Yes. A Welshman." Her eyes narrow a fraction. "What did you say your name was, again?"

Dexter sighs. "Never mind."

Donovan and Heather pause at the edge of the site set out for the bard crowning. There is a low perimeter rope there now, separating it off from the rest of the eisteddfod.

"Any clues?" Heather asks.

Donovan shakes his head, disappointed. There are no marks on the ground, it's simply an expanse of damp earth with grass growing up at intervals. No sign of a fire, or marks that may mean something was dragged away from here.

Heather gives up and wanders over to the information desk. "I was wondering about the bard ceremony," she says. "Why is it so important to have it on the lakeside?"

The man utters a few words of Welsh before looking at her. "It's not. Mr Owen wanted it there, that's all. Anything else?" He turns away from her without waiting for an answer. She wanders back over to join Donovan.

"I think I've got something," he says, pointing. "When Teggie appeared, she was just about there. Which puts her right in front of where they're having their ceremony."

Sean stares at Rees angrily. No, he thinks, he's a drunken plonker, not a druidic cultist. He can't possible have been that wrong about him.

"So you got our letter and you didn't follow up on it?" he says. "Why not?"

"Search the Owens' house? You must be joking." Rees laughs nervously. "Anyway, you're all right now, aren't you, and you got Bevan. We'd have got him for you if you hadn't caught him first."

"I'm sure you would have." Sean sits back slightly. "So, what about this other bloke I recognised. Seems that your organisation is full of Owen's informers."

"We'll get hold of him too," Rees promises. "And the names of any other who're involved."

Sean drains his glass and sets it down hard, grimacing at the bitter taste of the beer. He shouldn't be drinking this early in the morning, he thinks. Especially not the rubbish they serve here. "I want the information tonight," he says. "And in the meantime, I want you to keep a watch on what's going on. Find out where Owen is, and Bryn Morgan. Find out where Owen's daughter is if you can. Keep a watch on the farm, make sure there's no more trouble there. Watch Owen's house, and have someone at the church and the lakeside too. Oh, and find out the last firm recorded sightings of Teggie. Ones with witnesses."

"Anything else?" Rees asks. There is only a trace of sarcasm in his voice.

In the sports shop Nate selects three baseball bats and lays them on the counter. He pays for them while Donovan is poking through the camping equipment.

"Do you hire stuff out as well?" Donovan asks.

The girl assistant smiles and nods, her gaze taking in his tight lycra and the muscles beneath. "Are you thinking of hiring?"

"Maybe. A friend of mine hired some equipment here a while back, I think. Anthony Barnard."

"The one who vanished?" Her eyes cloud over. "I'm sorry."

"It's all right." He treats her to his widest grin just to show he means it. "Anthony always was a pretty lousy camper. I hope he returned everything in one piece."

She smiles ruefully and shakes her head. "I'm afraid not. It all vanished when he did - we never got it back."

The Owen's house is empty as far as Judith can make out. She daren't go too close. After snorkelling up and down the lake outside for half an hour she gives up and heads back to the hotel.

There is a letter waiting for her.

"Analysis of chemical found.

Most strange. This compound carried traces of DNA that were unknown to us. Further checking proved that similar structures have been found before - in fossils."

Nate and Donovan arrive back while she's still puzzling about it.

Heather walks confidently up to Bryn Morgan's house and knocks on the door. There is no answer. She lets out a pent-up breath. Of course he's not there. He's going to be out hunting for Gwyneth with his father-in-law. It'll be perfectly safe to take a look inside.

The back door has a glass pane which gives easily when she pushes in the right place. She reaches through and lets herself in.

The kitchen is a mess. Dishes and plates stacked up together, food dried onto them. It looks like the place hasn't been cleaned in months.

The rest of the house is just as bad. Dust is thick on the shelves, old newspapers are thrown carelessly into a pile by the open fire. Upstairs, the wardrobes are half empty and the quilt has been thrown back from the double bed. Heather stands on the bed and peers up at the top of the wardrobe. A clean, rectangular mark is clearly visible in the collected dust. Not daring to stay any longer, she lets herself out the way she came and heads back to the hotel to meet the others.

"Well, this is nice," Judith says brightly. "All of us together."

Sean grunts something she's glad she doesn't hear. She turns her attention back to the crash site. She can see why it took so long for the car to be found. Hidden in trees, down a steep bank where two lanes meet, the shadows make it impossible to see anything. The mini is lying on its side, a ring of police tape marking it out, otherwise untouched. She gazes around anxiously, sure that someone is watching them.

A quick rustling of branches makes her jump, but it is only Dexter. He comes back through the trees and tosses Nate's phone back to him. "I've phoned Seren," he announces. "She said they're fine. She can't think of anything else she can tell us but she knows where to get in touch if she needs to. So why did the car crash?"

Nate takes another photo. The silence under the trees is making him uneasy and he's glad of the weight of the hunting knife hidden under his belt. He crouches down to examine the ground. "There's no sign of any other car being involved."

"And no puncture marks in the metal," Sean adds. "If you ask me, this looks like an ordinary, straightforward crash. Nothing suspicious. Only question is, if the people were able to walk away from it, where did they go? Are there any tracks?"

They search the ground for a good half hour before Sean finds something. "Here," he calls from the trees. Heather comes over to see and he pulls her down beside him. "See?"

The others crowd around. Judith can't see anything even when Sean points them out. Heather stares over her shoulder. "I see them," she says. "But from the look of them, that's got to be more than two people."

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