The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
The Sign of the Dragon
August 15th, 11am
Maddy, Joe – the Buddhist temple, Miyanoshita
The others – Aidan Stanley’s house.
Maddy’s eyes are round as she stares at the apple Anzen has produced for her. It is the size of a small melon, perfectly round. Pulling herself together, she asks Mahmu to find her some more and turns to Joe.
“Apples are important for Chaos magic, they go back a long way. The Garden of Eden, the golden apples in Greek mythology, Snow White….” She tosses the apple thoughtfully. “Shiho’s wrong: it is important why they’re clearing non-Shintoey stuff out of Hakone. A hundred years is, like, a trillimillivanillisecond for an Ylid. They could easily make the volcano blow up again. Anyway, I reckon that’s where Yashimoto’s hiding – y’know, like the baddie in the James Bond thing?”
Joe, still grappling with the idea of apples as magical symbols, nods encouragingly. Maddy grins at him. “Righty-ho! I’ll try to show you some, uh, real magic, yeah? Let’s start with, like, a reading.” She stows the apple in her rucksack and pulls out a bundle of cards. “This is my special pack.” She spreads them out as she speaks. They seem to Joe to be a mixture of tarot and I-Ching, with the occasional Monopoly card thrown in. All of them are cut to the same size and backed with the same silvery paper. Joe picks one up, raising an eyebrow.
“Chaos magic’s all about, umm, directable belief,” Maddy explains, slightly flustered. “You can, like, use pretty much anything as your tool as long as you trust it. Why don’t you, like, pick three…?”
Joe hesitates a moment then nods. However Maddy is working her brand of magic – and he hasn’t worked that out yet – it seems to get results. He fans the cards out with practised ease, trails his fingers along their backs and quickly makes his selection.
“Pick a card. Any card,” he murmurs, and smiles. Maddy sits forward eagerly.
“Okay-dokay. Let’s see what future you’ve picked for us…”
She turns them over one at a time. Death, Earth and Get out of Jail Free. She and Joe stare at them for a long time.
“So, what do they mean?” Joe asks. “Earth is obvious enough given what you’ve said about Earth magic. Death is bad. What about ‘Get out of Jail’?”
Maddy frowns. “I don’t know. Maybe we’ll find out later.”
It is Greg who steps forward to greet Aidan Stanley.
“Anthony Marwood. Pleased to meet you, Doctor Stanley. The Yakuza have been systematically trying to evict all foreigners, and what they consider foreign influences, from this valley, and the Japanese government is behind them – and someone else, in turn, is behind the government. We suspect that the reason why they want to purge everything alien” – he stresses the word ever so slightly – “from the vicinity is related to your experiments. And we are here to find out why.”
“Which means you’re either some international anti-Yakuza squad or journalists,” Stanley says. He peers at Greg closely. “Haven’t I seen you before?”
“Probably on the television.” Turing pushes himself forward. “You’re right: we’re journalists.”
Stanley shrugs indifferently. “Thought so. Come on then.”
The inside of the house is a mess, the floor dirty, clothes draped over furniture, old cups and plates scattered around. A low table is piled with text books, papers and journals. More papers overflow from a small cupboard.
“So,” Stanley says, “you’re journalists or whatever. The Japs are obviously up to something and you’re trying to find out what, and you think I’m involved. How exactly am I involved?”
Nora takes out a notepad. “The Yakuza want your equipment for one thing. We’d have a better idea of how this all fits together if you tell us what you’ve been doing.”
“Sure, darling.” He grins at her. “You won’t understand a lot of it, and not just because you’re a woman. Because you’re not a scientist. You know that it’s possible to monitor the effects of earthquakes, give them a measurement on the Richter scale?”
Nora nods, her face impassive.
“Good. The next step was predicting when Earthquakes would occur. I was involved in that work in the eighties. And the step after that is what I’m doing now: working to prevent earthquakes. Earthquakes happen because of stresses building up in the tectonic plate, you know that?” He doesn’t wait for an answer. “Right. The question is whether the stresses can be relieved before they build up to such an extent that a quake happens. And the answer is a machine I’ve developed which can detect a build-up of stress and set off a minor tremor. Not enough to even register on the Richter scale, but enough to dissipate the stress lines so the major earthquake doesn’t happen.”
“The machine is here?” Flint queries.
“In the basement. It’s not exactly portable, you know. I was working in this area because of the high level of tectonic activity. So far I’ve done a lot of computer modelling, a lot of experiments in lab conditions. All that’s missing is the full-scale field test and I was planning to try that here, once I’m sure everything is ready. The trick is to regulate the amount of disturbance caused. Too little won’t have any effect and too much could well set off earthquake rather than preventing one.” He scratches his head. “I’m not surprised the Japs are interested in the technology, but they can bloody well wait for it like everyone else. When it’s fully tested I’ll put it out to market.” A brief grin. “If someone gets hold of the stuff too early and sets off an earthquake I’d be sued all the way to hell and back.”
“Can we see the machine?” Daniel asks.
Stanley stands up. “Sure. This way.”
It is huge. Not a single machine at all, but a series of linked computers and pieces of incomprehensible-looking equipment. Stanley talks them all through it. “This bit is the standard detection equipment, based on a design five years old. This computer is rigged to calculate how much stress is needed, this one keeps track of the stress levels and predicts the optimum time for a tremor. This probe is what’s inserted into the ground to actually cause the tremor. It’s radio-linked to the rest. Of course, the whole thing’s dependent on the power supply, the weather conditions… the non-presence of Japanese thugs. Seen enough?”
“For now,” Greg says. “Dr Stanley, may I ask you to keep in touch with us? Let us know if there’s any more trouble from the Yakuza?”
“Sure.” Stanley pauses on the steps back up to the ground level. “I expect they will be back. They were sort of insistent if you know what I mean. I don’t know who their boss is, but I don’t think he’ll take no for an answer.”
“At least you know what they want,” Greg says. He shoots a quick glance at Shiho. “I disagree that it doesn’t matter why the Yakuza want you out. If you understand why your opponent seeks the goals that he does, you can learn to anticipate his moves, and perhaps even to realise what his weaknesses might be. Yashimoto wants the foreigners out of Boiling Hell Valley for a reason, and we need to learn what that reason is.” He speaks politely but his eyes challenge her and she flushes slightly, angry.
“I don’t think it’s that easy to cleanse a person from evil,” Greg continues. “I doubt that it’s even possible, let alone simple. Perhaps you can absolve them, through forgiveness or some such means, of the stigma of what they have done, but if a person carries evil in his or her heart, it can never completely be expunged. In many ways, good and evil come down to innocence and experience, and once innocence has been lost, it can never be recovered; at best, it can be remembered for the purity of the state that it once was. Once evil, truly evil, you are forever tainted, and there is no going back.”
She raises her head and looks at him hard. “Really? So what evil is it in your life that you find it so hard to be cleansed from?”
Greg turns away without answering.
“Magic?” Maddy says. “Weeell…I reckon it’s the same thing as science when you start to get all quantummy – there’s all these, like, coincidence particles floating through the Universes an’ magic’s a way of attracting them to you an’, like, directing them to do what you want. The ritual stuff’s all about focussing, really; I just, like, make it up as I go along. Seems to work, though!”
She takes out a piece of paper and draws the sigil she inscribed all over Tokyo. Explaining, she says, “This is, like, a sigil, one of the ways of focussing stuff – kind of like a visual mantra, I s’pose. I’m gonna try to charge it up with our group’s orgone later on…but first we’ve got to speak to Anzen, yeah?”
Joe traces the lines of the sigil while Maddy talks to Anzen through Mahmu. “…it’d be, like, really really cool if all the monks could spend, y’know, just a teensy-weensy bit of time meditating on my sigil. You guys’ll be really good at that stuff, an’ it’ll really help us against our enemies.” Her voice drifts across the courtyard to him. Concentrating on the sigil he can sense a pattern to it. At first glance it looks like a random squiggle, but then he sees how the lines on one side are a reverse mirror image of the bottom part, and how the whole pattern loops around on itself, almost like a snake swallowing its own tail. A vague buzzing starts up in his ears and he shakes his head to clear them. The sigil shirts, struggling to break free of the page. Joe realises that his fingers are moving, tracing the pattern over and over again in the dust at his feet.
Earth magic. The words whisper in his mind with the dry voice of sand settling. He inscribes another sigil and watches it sink and disappear, swallowed whole into the ground.
“Joe? Uhhh, the Whitby thing? Well, it was Doctor Culver’s team – he’s who looked after me when I was in, like, the mental hospital, y’know. Anyway, this really nasty baddie Ylid called the Master tried to use a special magic ritual to retune Whitby Abbey, so he could, like, feed off its psychic aura. The SITU team managed to, uh, infect his ritual so the magic worked against him. So, like, I’m trying to do that with Buddhism against Yashi’s Shinto, see? With, um, a bit of chaosy stuff too, of course… Anyway, Anzen said he’ll teach us how to control earth magic. Are you coming?”
“Actually,” Mahmu adds in a lower voice, “he said he’d teach you the basic meditation techniques. He said it would take years for you to learn to control earth magic, and he thinks you are not that patient.” He smiles and gestures to follow Maddy to where Anzen is waiting.
Leaving the scientist’s house, Greg falls into step with Rob Turing and Daniel. “That Geisha girl you spoke to yesterday,” he says quietly, “what was her name? What did she look like?”
Rob grins. “Black hair, done up with combs, painted white face and red lips. Kimono. Looked the same as all the others really. Her name was Tami, so she said.”
“I was planning a trip back there this evening,” Daniel says. “Why don’t you tag along then? We’ll point her out to you.”
They turn a corner in the track and suddenly find themselves looking down into the valley below. A few houses cling to the almost sheer drop; from this height the paths are silvery lines, almost invisible and drifts of sulphur smoke form tiny, pure white clouds. Greg stares down, grim-faced. “It’s disturbing to look at, isn’t it?” he murmurs to Turing. “Makes you imagine that you could just fall into the abyss, and just keep falling forever.. and forever.. it’s what I imagine it might be like to be damned.” He steps forward and Turing gasps with fear, certain that Greg is going to throw himself over the edge. But Greg pulls back with an angry laugh and walks on.
The sound of chanting greets the group as they reach the temple. The monks have formed a single line around the perimeter of the building, with Anzen in the centre, Maddy and Joe sitting behind him. They wait until the chanting stops before they move.
“It’s a protection spell of some sort,” Joe explains, glancing at Maddy for confirmation. “It’s supposed to protect us against any magic our enemies might use, and to warn us of danger.” He’s still not quite sure whether or not to believe in it. But the power of suggestion is powerful indeed and if everyone believes a spell will work… “How did you get on with the scientist?” he asks, getting the conversation back to a safe, mundane level.
Greg brings them up to date. When he’s finished, Maddy produces her apples from her bulging rucksack. “I think Yashi might be inside Boiling Hell Valley,” she ventures, “like, trapped or, uh, suspended animation or something. Some of the Ylid can, like, download themselves into stone and crystal, yeah? Like the Watcher in the stone and the crystal skulls an’ stuff. Maybe the earthquakes an’ the ritual are him trying to free himself?” She peers thoughtfully at the others, twisting her wooden beads between thumb and fingers. “Anyway, I’m making Chaospheres. Each one’s gonna be a little seed of chaos…a sort of occult bomb, I s’pose.” Carefully, she chooses the best apple and hands it to Nora. “Anzen-san says we’ve got, like, opposite problems with the earth energy…so maybe we can, like, pick up vibes from each other, yeah? I can show you how to, uhhh, open yourself an’ you can teach me how to be a scary control-freak.” She blushes as Nora starts to frown. .”I mean that in, uh, a nice way. Aaaanyway, I want you to use the apple when you do the chanty Buddhist stuff. Try to, like, focus all the negative, angry vibes into it, yeah?” Another quick glance at Nora. “Yours should become, um, really powerful so don’t, y’know, eat it…” She finishes passing them out. “Use them as tools to meditate. Do the purifying thing Anzen showed us. Project all your nasty, random karma into them, all the bad ch’i. It’ll all come in handy later.”
“What for?” Flint wonders. Maddy doesn’t answer. She raises her apple to her lips then. remembering herself, jerks it away and stuffs it back into her bag.
“I see a number of avenues that need to be explored,” Greg says. “First of all, we should interview Nakamura and the other politicians. Can you take care of it, Nora? And, Flint, you’re an academic – can you track down that student, Matthew Davies. We need to contact Miyage too, tell him to send his men over. We’re going to need them.”
“I’ll give Nora a hand,” Daniel offers. “I’d like to get hold of the other politicians, too – Yashimoto’s people. They might let something slip.”
Greg nods. “Now, Maddy… By earth energy, are you talking about earth in the sense of one of the four classical elements, covering everything in the physical universe from plants and animals to the mineral and chthonic energy of the planet itself, or about something more limited and particular? And by belief energy, do you mean the sort of forces which operate transcendentally in the collective unconscious, or about something more specifically religious or spiritual in nature? More to the point, what can Yashimoto, or any other Ylid, hope to gain by converting the one sort of energy to the other? The reason that I’m asking is because it has occurred to me that the Ylid, being in the truest sense alien, might not be able to use energy which is truly of this Earth, or at least use it efficiently, unless they have converted it into another form. If that theory is correct, it might give us a means to try to turn their power against them, by turning it back. But you said something to the effect that all of the Ylid force-flow energy is chthonic, which runs counter to my reasoning here – in which case my other question remains unanswered: why transform the energy from the chthonic to belief energy?”
Maddy stares at him confused, having lost track of the speech somewhere around the second sentence. “Uh, earth means the stuff under your feet. Rock and mud and stuff. Belief energy is what you get when a lot of people believe in something. It doesn’t matter what it is. I don’t know what Yashimoto is doing, unless he’s trying to free himself.”
“Maybe the earth energy is holding him prisoner,” Joe suggests, “and he’s trying to convert it into belief energy to escape. Either that or use belief energy to break the earth power.”
Greg claps him on the shoulder. “Joe,” he intones in his best Alec Guinness accent. “You’ve just taken your first step into a larger world.”
A hour and a half and several favours promised finally gets Nora through to Nakamura. The ex-politician declares that he is holidaying in the north of Japan and agrees to a telephone interview. “But ten minutes only.”
“Fine,” Nora agrees. “Then let’s talk about your resignation. Wasn’t it a bit drastic?”
“Maybe, maybe not. It is done now.”
“But why take such a big risk in the first place?” she persists. “If you knew you could be sacked for it…”
“I didn’t know.” Nakamura’s voice is terse. “The mistake was made by my department. No one admitted responsibility and I did not have time to begin investigations of my own. No one is allowed into Japan without a passport, it is a law we enforce most rigidly. No exception is ever made. I do not know who made the exception in this case, or why. As I said, I was required to resign at once and so there was no time to make my own enquiries.”
“Ask him who he suspects,” Daniel mutters. Nora repeats the question.
There is silence. “The only person who can override the law in this instance is the prime minister himself,” Nakamura says reluctantly.
Flint has little trouble tracking down Matthew Davies, it is simply a matter of phoning Southampton University and chatting to an old colleague there.
“What exactly happened in Hakone? he asks.
“Nothing.” Davies sounds angry. “I was arrested for no reason, thrown out of the country, and now they say I can’t complete my course because they won’t let me back in to finish my year of work experience. It isn’t fair.”
Flint makes sympathetic noises. “Listen, there might be more going on here than meets the eye, and there might be a way of getting you back into the country. Did you see anything in Hakone? Anything unusual?”
“I don’t think so. I was camping in the area, that’s all. You know, doing a bit of walking and sightseeing. There were some fireworks going off in the valley one night so I stopped to watch. The next morning they arrested me. They said I’d been causing trouble and had to go back to Tokyo. When I refused, they put me on a train. And then, when I came back they caught me again and told me I’d have to leave the country.”
“By ‘they’ you mean the police, I take it?” Flint enquires. When Davies answers affirmatively he asks, “What about the fireworks?”
“They were great. Right in the middle of the valley. I don’t know how they set them up – you’re not supposed to be able to get there. I saw them from the footpath – stars and flowers and this huge golden dragon. It was a great show.”
“Ryutochi,” Greg intones, staring out across the mountains. “Earth Dragon. Maddy, when you were talking about chthonic-mungous, you weren’t kidding!” He stands there a moment then adds, “By the way, when you said that ‘It just needs returning,’ what were you talking about? What needs to be returned, and to whom, or what? And why?”
The girl’s brow furrows. “It’s a feeling I got, that the earth magic wasn’t quite set up right. Think of me as a radio and the magic is a signal coming in. The signal has to be on the right frequency for me to make sense of it.”
“So you need to retune yourself to the frequency of the magic, not the other way round?”
Maddy considers this. “You might be right!” she says with a big smile. “Hey, thanks.”
Leaving Greg, Maddy skips happily to her room and dials her mother’s number on her mobile phone. “Yeah, mum, it’s really cool here. Uhhh, no, we’re miles away from the nuclear thingy, don’t worry. Seeya whenever!”
Phoning home gives her a warm glow. It’s the first time she’s ever had a home to phone when she’s been on a mission. Knowing that there are people missing her somehow makes her feel happy.
Still smiling she phone SITU. “Hi! It’s Maddy!” she says the moment Blaize answers. “It’s like, really cool here, I’m doing lots of new magic. I think Yashi’s hiding in the volcano, though – is it true that Ylids are tied to the earth? Do they all have different elements? Y’know, Nefertiti’s ‘Fire’, the Watcher’s ‘Water’, the Norway Santa one’s ‘Air’ and, umm, Yashi could be ‘Earth’? D’you think that’s right? An’ what about the star-charts you’re being all mysterious about? Are the Ylids from Sirius? Are they the Nommo?”
She pauses for breath.
Blaize laughs. “All right, to take your questions in order. I don’t think it’s true that all Ylids are tied to the earth. It could be that some of them use a particular element – it’s a theory worth looking into. As for the star charts – I’m sorry, everything to do with them is classified. We don’t know where the Ylids are from, only that they’ve been here for a long, long time.”
A little disappointed, Maddy hangs up. She turns her attention to the Internet for a while, learning a lot of general information about Shinto – that it is based on a belief that spirits inhabit every ordinary object, that there is no moral code attached, that it is customary to make sacrifices of fruit and flowers. She’s about to go on to the yakuza when Daniel comes in.
“Hi,” he says.
She turns the computer off. “Hi. Uh, did you want anything?”
He shakes his head. “Not unless you count wanting to get to know you a bit. Tell me about Chaos magic. Can you really do that stuff?”
It feels that everyone in the world suddenly wants to know about magic. Maddy sighs. “Right, there’s all these, like, coincidence particles floating through the Universes an’ magic’s a way of attracting them to you…”
Scanning through the Japanese websites, Greg can’t find anything recent on Japanese involvement with space research. If Yashimoto is interested in that he must be keeping it very quiet. The Japanese budget for space research is very small, all of it channelled through joint projects in the USA. Nothing happening on mainland Japan itself.
He turns his attention to Osamu Maboroshi instead, finding that he has a history in big business, corporate law and an economics degree. He is married with two children. Many of the papers mention that his cabinet appointment is his first experience of governmental work, although none of them criticise the choice openly. Nakao has a similar history of business, law and finance.
Could Osamu be Yashimoto’s current persona, Greg wonders? Unlikely if he’s married, unless wife and family are also agents of his. But if Maddy’s theory is wrong and Yashimoto is active, he may well be one of the new ministers. It’s something to think about. Right now, he has to phone SITU.
“Blaize here,” Blaize says tersely.
Five minutes of arguing leaves Greg none the wiser about the star charts: Blaize won’ say a word on the subject.
“Well then,” Greg sighs, “do you realise that three out of the four missions which you have sent me on involve not just mountains, but cable cars? This doesn’t strike me as a coincidence. One time is happenstance. Twice is coincidence, and the third time is enemy action.”
Blaize considers the possibility. “There does seem to be a pattern,” he admits. “Maybe it’s something to do with their physiology. We’ll bear it in mind. The pattern doesn’t always fit, though. In Mexico an Ylid was discovered in an underground cave – and destroyed there, I’m glad to say. Good work, by the way.”
He hangs up quickly. Greg wonders whether it’s because he was afraid of more questions about the star charts.
“I need to speak to Miyage-san,” Turning says slowly and loudly. He repeats it in his best tourist Japanese.
When he finally hears the old priest’s voice he breathes a sigh of relief. “I’m phoning from Hakone,” he says. “We’re going to need the people you promised us. Some small problem with a Yakuza army heading our way, I believe. How soon can you get them here?”
“Tomorrow night,” he says without hesitation. “I will give the order. Are you all safe?”
“For now,” Rob assures him cheerfully. He brushes away images of paper planes dive-bombing him and goes to find the others.
“All I want is a five minute interview,” Nora says. She is beginning to lose patience.
The secretary’s voice remains flat, expressionless. “I am sorry but no government minister is available for comment at the moment. If you will leave your name and a contact number someone will talk to you later.”
Nora gives up. “Don’t bother. I’ll call back later.” She puts the phone down and turns to Daniel.
“Do you think they’re onto us?” he asks innocently.
Greg calls the group together for a meeting over a meal of rice and vegetables.
“I wonder if Jinnouchi and Nakao might still be looking to buy up old religious artifacts for the ritual we think Yashimoto is working toward?” he says. “If so, I’ll bet that we could devise some sort of Trojan horse for them. Some ancient relic, perhaps one they can take if they do drive us out of the temple here, or just one which we can insinuate into the black market where they’ll hear of it, which might be less suspicious.” He glances at Maddy and Joe. “Now, I admit that I know very little about how magic works, but I’ll bet that the right sort of spell, which would need to be nearly impossible to notice, if hidden in some aspect of that artifact, could be used to misdirect the energy of the spell, perhaps even turn it back on the operator. Can we do this, and if so, how soon?”
Maddy’s eyes light up at the idea. “Great! I want to do it! Can I?”
“If you can, I can certainly get it onto the black market,” Turing says. “I’m sure Anzen-san must have an artifact or two he’s not using at the moment. Mahmu, can you ask him?”
As he speaks, a tremor runs through the ground. Maddy looks startled. “The perimeter spell. I think it’s just been broken.”
A bell clangs once. They rush outside to find Anzen coming towards them. He gestures to them, leaving Mahmu to translate his words.
“The Yakuza have attacked the hotel in the village, and now they are coming here. He also says that the spell around the temple could only be broken by someone with powerful magic.”
August 15th, 8pm