The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness

Daeth Y Nos Yn Gylfym

April 11th, 11am

Outside Bala

"Lets go," Sean snaps, and starts to move. Nate and Dexter follow at once, Dexter veering off to one side and following a parallel path.

Heather is about to follow when Donovan stops her. "Hold on, I've got a better idea." He sprints back to the car and reappears while the two women are still wondering whether to stay or follow the others. He has a map in his hand.

"Right," he says, unfolding it on the ground. "We are..."

"Here." Heather points at the place. "Here's the place where the roads meet. There's a river curving off that way."

"And a footpath marked here," Donovan finishes triumphantly. "It doesn't quite pass this place, but if you knew it was there it would take... no more than twenty minutes to reach it."

Judith traces the marked line with a fingertip. "Is this right? It seems to be going back to Bala in this direction."

Donovan grins and nods. "Which means they must have gone the other way." He folds the map roughly and shoves it into the top of his leggings. "What do we do now?" he asks. "Call the others back?"

"What, just when they're enjoying themselves?" Judith stands up carefully, brushing dirt from her skirt. "Donovan, can you catch up with them? Make sure they don't get into trouble. Heather, you and I are going back to Bala to phone mountain rescue."

"Strange," Heather muses, looking over the wrecked car for a third time. "The back wheel has blown here, see, but the car couldn't have been travelling fast at the time. In any case, it's come straight down the bank. There are no skid marks. My guess is they got a puncture and pushed the car off the road to hide it."

"And then went off in the direction of the footpath," Judith adds, pleased. "It's easy to work out when you take the time to look. And then something must have happened to stop them getting help. Maybe one of them was hurt or something and couldn't walk fast."

Heather has left the car and is studying the ground into the trees. It is hard to make out how many different sets of footprints there are. Most of them are scuffed and blurred one into the other. "At least six people," she decides, straightening up and looking at Judith. Funny, her Ladyship looks far less of a snob with dirt on her knees and her shoes all scuffed. She smiles. "Come on," she says. "Lets get going."

Nate is having a bad day. They were doing fine, he reflects, and then this overbearing, arrogant American had to walk in and take over everything. Why SITU ever thought he'd be an asset to the group... What he'd like to do most is to trip him up just for the pleasure of seeing him fall flat on his face in the mud. The image of Sean covered in mud makes him grin for a moment before his black mood reasserts itself.

A minute or so later Donovan overtakes him, jogging on ahead despite Sean's furious whisper to get back. Nate puts on a spurt of speed to catch up with him.

"I know where we're going," Donovan tells him. "There's a footpath about half a mile further on, we seem to be heading for that. Once we're on it we go north, I think. I'll go on ahead. I've got less chance of being noticed by myself."

Looking at his bright yellow lycra, Nate doubts it, but he doesn't argue. He drops back and joins Dexter off the path. Together the two of them move along, shadowing Sean.

"At least a couple of us should have the chance to get away if anything happens," Dexter whispers. He draws a large knife and tests the point with his thumb as he speaks.

Nate grunts agreement, hoping silently that if anything happens he will be one of the 'couple'.

Sean pays little attention to what the others are doing past a quick anger that they aren't following orders. His orders, obviously. He's the one with the experience: if they had any sense they'd obey without question and be grateful someone knew what to do. Because, when they catch the runaways, there will be trouble. A natural blonde could work out that Owen and his mates have just beaten them to the hiding place. Someone is gonna get shot...

"Yes, it's a marked footpath," Judith repeats impatiently. "Going north from Bala. It's on the map. No, I don't know where the people are stranded. Maybe you should follow the path and look for them." She puts the phone down with a sigh and turns to Heather. "Honestly, for people who are supposed to be mountain rescue they're very unhelpful. If we knew where Anthony and Gwyneth were we could go and fetch them ourselves, couldn't we?"

Heather tuts in sympathy. "Well, there's no point waiting around here. Shall we go and see if Paul's mini sub has arrived yet? Oh, and we can drop in at the post office on the way." She has been thinking. When she saw the rectangular mark on the top of Bryn Morgan's wardrobe she was worried that it might be a case for a knife or gun. But thinking about it, it was too large for either. More likely it was a small suitcase.

The post office, when they reach it, is closed. A few angry would-be customers wait outside.

"No warning or nothing," one of them complains. "We just get here and find the place shut and no word why or when Bryn will be back. It's not like him."

"Could it be something to do with his wife?" Judith asks.

The woman shrugs, uncaring. "Could be, I suppose. There's been no word of her, mind."

"That's that, then," Heather says, walking away. "Bryn Morgan's run off, Hywel's chasing his daughter, and Teggie... with a bit of luck Teggie will be in the lake waiting for us."

If Teggie isn't exactly waiting at the lakeside, hopping about with excitement, Paul from the diving school is. As soon as he sees Heather he waves and runs over. He's less enthusiastic to see Judith but he greets her politely.

"Shall we go?" he asks them. "There's room in the sub for three people as long as we don't mind getting up close.

The first half hour passes uneventfully, Paul explaining how the sub works and taking it in low curves across the length of the lake, slowly working into deeper water. "Funny there aren't more fish here," he comments after a while. "We don't start allowing fishing here till next month so I'd have thought numbers would have built up a bit. I... hold on."

The sub rocks suddenly, mud from the bottom of the lake swirling up around it. Heather and Judith grab onto the sides and hold fast as the whole thing spins half over. There is a sudden jolt as they hit something solid. Or rather - Judith realises - as something solid hits them. She manages to turn a scream into a startled yelp. Outside the sub something moves. A dark mass swings toward them. There is just enough time to glimpse something that may or may not be the end of an enormous tail. Then the lights go out.

Donovan turns around and stops. For a moment he was sure he'd seen someone else walking beside Sean. Something else, rather. A short little man in a green suit, swinging a gnarled walking stick. He blinks and the apparition vanishes.

Dexter sees him staring and grins at him. "Did you see the naked men?" he asks him in a low voice. "I saw them dancing around outside the hotel last night. They all had glowing eyes. Oh, and they were chatting to Sean."

Donovan laughs nervously. But still, he finds himself watching Sean more than he's watching the path ahead. He rearranges his features into a scowl. Just like the aliens to come and distract him now, but it's not going to work. They might have made him lose at the Olympics, but they're not going to stop him saving a girl's life.

After more than two hours of walking, they are still following the footpath that was marked on Donovan's map. Trampled down grass and broken branches are clear evidence that a group of people have come along this way recently.

Sean is still moving ahead silently, head down. He has a small crossbow in his hands and carries it with a bolt in place. Dexter looks fierce, his hand resting on the hilt of his knife as he walks. Nate prefers the good honest weight of the baseball bat slung over his shoulder. You know where you are with a bat, he thinks. You swing it, it hits someone, they fall over.

Only Donovan is unarmed and relatively unconcerned. If there's trouble, he's sure they'll be able to take care of it. To keep his mind off the alien entities who are forever trying to distract him, he tries to remember the strange smell he noticed when Teggie appeared. Dexter's green slime didn't smell of anything much that he remembered, but what about that green metallic stuff that knocked Sean out? Could it be the same stuff? After a few silent moments wondering he has to admit he doesn't know. He slows and takes out the map, studying their position before joining Nate and Dexter.

"According to this, there's a sharp rise coming up soon and the area opens out," he whispers. There're a couple of caves marked in the area too. It could make a good hide-out. You think I ought to tell Sean?"

Nate glances across at him. The American seems completely absorbed in his own private game of hunting. He shrugs. "I don't suppose it'll make any difference."

A single gunshot splits the air ahead of them.

Shaking, giggling in reaction, the two women climb out of the sub. Paul stands back and surveys the damage morosely. One side of the sub is dented in. It looks as if it has been kicked.

"My friend's going to kill me," Paul moans.

"Send us the bill," Heather advises. "Judith, are you sure you're all right?"

Judith runs a hand through her hair. "Yes, yes, fine." She still looks shaken. She lets out a loud breath. "So that was Teggie," she says. "I must admit I could do with a drink after that."

They start to walk, leaving Paul pacing around the damaged sub. The eisteddfod ground is busy with people. At the edge of the lake a group has gathered to watch some children's performance. A girl in a flower-embroidered dress stands by while a boy mimes throwing a spear.

"Blodeuwydd," Heather mutters. She stops, clutching at Judith's arm. "Look over there."

The flat patch of ground set aside for the crowning ceremony is no longer empty. In the middle of it a long, grey stone casts its shadow all the way to the lakeside.

Sean is running before the echo of the gunshot has died away. Nate glances at the other two and breaks into a run behind him.

Just up ahead a man is crouching behind the stump of a tree, his back to them. One arm is wrapped firmly around the waist of a woman who looks far too plain, too ordinary, to be caught up in any of this. In the other hand he holds a gun.

"Owen," Nate breathes.

Sean has already levelled his crossbow. The bolt takes the man in the small of the back, slamming him into the tree and pinning him there. His arm tightens around Gwyneth Morgan for a moment then slides away limp. She screams.

"Sean, wait," Dexter cries out too late. Deep laughter echoes through the trees. Gwyneth falls to her knees beside the dead man.

"Anthony," she moans. The crossbow falls from Sean's hand.

"Anthony." Gwyneth's voice rises in pitch. She swings around, her face expressionless with shock. "Who are you?"

The trees part further along the path and a group of men step out. One of the is Hywel Owen. Gwyneth stares up at him. Tears are starting to stain her cheeks.

"He's dead," she says. Her voice is completely flat. "He's dead. Why?"

Dexter crouches down beside the tree stump. Sean's aim was good: the bolt has gone right through the man's chest and on so deep into the tree it takes him three attempts to free it. Laying the man back carefully he checks for a pulse and finds none.

Gwyneth wipes her eyes. "Why?" she repeats. "We only wanted to be together. Was that so wrong?"

Her father lays a hand on her shoulder. "It had to happen. The night comes quick when it chooses to fall. Right from the beginning it has happened. He dies and you... you become what you were meant to be."

The sound of a helicopter stirs the leaves overhead. Nate starts towards Owen, his bat raised. Dexter leaves Barnard on the ground and steps forward.

"We want to hear everything," he declares angrily. "We've been threatened, scared witless..." he swallows hard. "We deserve to know what's going on."

Owen ignores them all. He makes no signal, but the men who were with him close in around them, easing themselves between the group and Owen and his daughter.

"What do you want now?" Owen asks Gwyneth.

She looks at Sean and utters one word. "Revenge."

"Then we follow the path that's set. We've wasted enough time." He takes her hand.

Before anyone can move, the air is filled with a humming that blots out everything else. Probably, it only lasts for a few seconds. When it ends, Owen and the girl are gone. Only Barnard's body turning cold on the ground, Owen's men closing in, a helicopter growing ever louder overhead. And the far-off hoot of a solitary owl, answered by an eagle's cry, fading southwards.

"They're getting ready for the bard's ceremony," a woman tells Heather excitedly, when she can be persuaded to speak English. "Apparently Mr Owen has found his daughter and she's all right. They're going to do the ceremony as soon as they get back, to celebrate. Isn't it marvellous?"

"Marvellous," Judith echoes dully. Movement to one side catches her attention and she turns her head. "What's happening over there?"

"Oh, it's the final part of the play. A re-enactment of one of the druid sacrifices. A bit scary, I think, but after we've done Blodeuwydd I suppose anything goes. It's all in fun, of course, nothing serious. Good of him to volunteer, don't you think?"

Eyes glazed, but walking freely, Mark Richardson of the Daily Telegraph crosses the grass and sits down with his back to the stone. A pair of men in white robes loop rope about him. He doesn't seem to notice them.

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