The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
The Dolorous Stroke
Date: August 7th 1999
From: Geoff Blaize, Chief of Operations, SITU
To: Matt Culver, Adam Twitchin, Isobel Blyth, John Stone, Mickey Thomas, Andrew Weiser, Peter Ramsey, Mark Castellan, Sam Hain
Subject: Direct action against The Master
First of all, a few words of explanation. This is a larger team than usual – a deliberate move on our part given the danger of the situation you will be going into. Operatives Ramsey, Castellan and Hain are all new to this and so will have to rely on the rest of the group to explain anything that isn’t immediately clear. Following the mission in Whitby, the Master is aware of the identities of many of you which is why we have added new members to the team. It is hoped that their anonymity will achieve something here.
The Master, then, is an Ylid – one of a group of powerful, non-human beings that have been manipulating human history since it began. Put simply, they are the enemy and they must be dealt with before we see mankind destroyed. The fact that the Master is part of an organised group makes him all the more dangerous. However, he was seriously weakened during the Whitby investigation, many of his agents are dead and we believe we should try to deal the killing blow now before he can rebuild his power base.
We have traced the Master to his base at the Bavarian village of Bad Schlachendorf. High in the mountains to the south of Munich, the village has two main industries.
1) the crystal mine. Crystal souvenirs are a speciality of the area. Bad Schlachendorf is home to a mine that is still in operation as well as being a tourist site. Whether this has any link to the Master is uncertain. More important is the Mystery Play.
2) The Mystery Play has been a regular event since the Middle Ages and now draws in a huge crowd of tourists from all over Europe every summer. A retelling of part of the Grail myth, it tells how the knight Balin came to Castle Carbonek and laid the king low with the Dolorous Stroke. The land then becomes sick and it is only the coming of the pure Galahad which heals king and land alike. The play is accompanied by a grand carnival and a holiday atmosphere that goes on all week.
Your objectives are simple. Travel to Bad Schlachendorf as part of the crowd of holiday makers who will be there for the play. Conceal yourselves, find out where the Master is and what he’s doing, and find a way of destroying him, his works and / or his agents.
I appreciate that this will be difficult. We have not worked out any effective weapon against the Master so it will be up to you to find a way. Be warned that he holds considerable power in the area. The moment he becomes aware of your presence, your lives will be in danger. You are advised to take any steps necessary to protect yourselves, remembering that attack is often the best form of defence. However, as always, SITU has only limited powers to protect you should you be found guilty of any criminal act, so please bear that in mind.
The Dolorous Stroke
Culver lets out a long breath and rests his head in his hands. The skin across his temples feels taut, hot to the touch.
“How long have I got?” he asks.
“Six months, eight. It’s hard to say.” The doctor does his best to sound sympathetic but the words come out flat. “Until we can isolate the exact substance you were infected with we won’t have a way of tackling it, and even then…” he makes a hopeless gesture with his hands. “We’ll do our best, Matt, I can promise that.”
“Yeah, thanks.” Matt stands up, holding himself steady. He is paler than ever and his black leather clothes and nose stud makes him look like one of the vampires he was fighting only months ago. The vampire he could have become only months ago, he corrects himself with a shudder.
“By the way,” the doctor adds, “Blaize wants you to stop by his office while you’re here. He’s got another mission for you, I believe.”
Matt tries to summon up a glimmer of enthusiasm. Right now, he can’t feel anything past the tiredness that’s clogging his senses. “A mission, fine. Maybe I’ll die on this one and then you won’t have the trouble of finding a cure for me.” He lets the door swing shut behind him.
“Dad, all I’m saying is it’s time you settled down and started to enjoy your retirement.” Theo’s voice is a mixture of frustration and despair.
Adam Twitchin, professor, stares back stubbornly. “Retire now, when my country needs me most? That’s just what They would like, isn’t it?” He rolls himself another cigarette and lights it with a sigh of satisfaction. What does his son know about this, sat behind his safe little desk all day. He’s never been out in the field with people depending on him.
“Anyway, I’m not retired,” he adds. “I was sacked. Silenced, I should say. They didn’t like what I was finding out and so they tried to stop me.”
“Yes, Dad.” Theo avoids his gaze a moment then looks up with a strained smile. “Maybe you should try going on a course or two,” he suggests. “Or look into voluntary work if you get bored doing nothing.”
Twitchin feels the wad of papers in the pocket of his tweed jacket. “I don’t think so. Anyway, I’m going abroad soon – a holiday, you know.”
Isobel Blyth closes her Bible and stands up. “It’s such a comfort to know that God is always with us, isn’t it?” she says to the woman sat next to her. Her bobbed hair swings about her shoulders as she makes her way out of the church.
With everything that’s happened to her, she thinks wryly, she certainly needs the moral support of the presence of God. Edward hadn’t reacted to the Trismegistus books and last night he brought up the subject of insemination again.
“It’s what Henry would have wanted,” he said.
But was it? Isobel doesn’t know. She has visited five mediums in the past three months (better not tell the vicar that!) and none of them was able to contact the spirit of her dead husband. Oh, all of them said they could see him, and even put on the funny voices and things to prove it, but none of it had been real. Every time there were things they said – or that they didn’t say – and she knew, whoever they were talking to, it was not Henry.
And so, the question remains, what to do about Edward? Isobel places her Bible carefully on the back seat of the Mercedes and stares at it, frowning. She’s managed to put him off for now, but she wonders how long it will be before he asks again.
John Stone opens his eyes with a start. He blinks several times, his vision clearing. The face of his native American mentor and guide hovers over him.
“What did you see?” he asks.
“The white wolf.” Johnny grimaces at the memory. “He led me back to London. Side-step is still in a coma. I thought if I could get into his dreams…” He shakes his head. “It didn’t work. I couldn’t even tell if he was having any dreams or not.”
His mentor’s hand touches his shoulder. “Some things we can change,” he says. “Some things we must accept as they are.”
“And how do I know the difference?” John sits up slowly. With the fading touch of the wolf’s mind on his, he can almost smell the night around him. He runs a hand through his short blond hair, pushing it up into sticky spikes. When was the last time he washed, he wonders. And why should he suddenly care about it now?
“How do you tell the difference?” his mentor’s voice speaks softly out of the darkness. “You can’t. That’s what makes you keep on trying regardless.”
Mickey Thomas was planning a break-in when the mission briefing from SITU arrived. A man has to make a living, after all.
He takes the package through to the garden to read. He opens the brown envelope eagerly: maybe SITU have finally got a lead on the thing that killed Laura and took Holly. Sunlight floods the garden as he reads, giving gold lights to his brown hair, warming his pale skin. Drenching the lawn where his wife’s body had lain, leaking dark blood into the green grass.
Mickey swallows hard. The envelope tears under his grasp and the papers scatter. He gathers them up quickly.
Nothing about Laura or Holly. For a moment disappointment leaves a bitter taste in his mouth. But, a chance to take out the Master once and for all. That at least should be worth fighting for.
Andrew Weiser grins to himself as he reads the briefing. The Master again – good. His studies at the Norwegian university have been growing a bit dull lately. He can tell his tutor he’s going to study the Medieval Mystery play first hand.
He crosses to the window and looks out. His apartment overlooks one of the shopping streets. At the moment everything is quiet. Far too dull, Andrew thinks. Behind him, his dog pads into the room. He turns with a smile.
“Well, Jakop,” he says. “I’m going to have to leave you again for a while.”
Peter Ramsey is a typical student: too tall, too thin, too pale, definitely in need of a haircut. His grey eyes flick constantly between the books on his desk and his computer screen. As he works, he leans forward, his eyes almost glazing, his skin taking on a clammy, yellowish look. He licks his lips, turns over a few more pages and makes another note. A tie hangs in a loose knot around his neck and he pushes it out of the way irritably.
“Peter, are you all right?” The department secretary, standing in the doorway, has to ask three times before her hears her. He jerks his head up, brushing his too-long blonde hair out of his eyes.
“I’m fine. I’m working.” He takes no more notice of her. She watches him a moment more then, with a tut of exasperation, she tosses a plain, brown envelope onto the desk at his elbow.
When he finds it later that evening, he wonders how it got there.
Mark Castellan is a large man, intimidating-looking, which can be an advantage in his line of work.
“And you’re saying that after the fire the pipes burst, whole workroom flooded and everything was at ground level,” he says. “There was nothing on those shelves up there, for example?”
The manager licks his lips nervously. Mark snaps the insurance form shut. “I think we can come to an arrangement,” he says. “How about you review your claim to account for the stuff that wasn’t damaged and resubmit it?”
An easy day, he thinks to himself, leaving the premises. His cat greets him as he gets home. The house is quiet, comfortable. Mark slings his suit jacket over the back of a chair and sits down with a sigh. Today’s mail is piled up on the coffee table. A mixture of bills, advertising, and a brown envelope that could be anything.
The name on the passport says Sam Hain. The photograph shows a pale, round face, topped with spikes of mousy hair. Thick spectacles balance over large green eyes.
In the case at his feet, Sam has another two passports in different names – just in case. He doesn’t even look at the case, but smiles at the customs official with the innocence of a five-year-old child.
“Is everything in order?” he asks. “I’m off on holiday – Bavaria. There’s some play on and a carnival that sounds fun. Might get some time to tour the country while I’m there too. I suppose you people must really look forward to your holidays, stuck in this place, seeing people like me jetting off everywhere.”
His long, leather coat chooses that moment to lose another button. Sam stoops quickly to retrieve it and holds it up. “Have to get some cotton. I don’t suppose you sell it in the duty free shop?”
Finally giving way under the barrage of words, the official hands back the passport and waves him through.
Bad Schlachendorf, August 13th 1999
The coach is full. Families with children, young couples, old couples, SITU agents. Everyone leans automatically to the nearest window as they near the village.
“Doesn’t look very inviting, does it?” Sam mutters. Andrew, sitting beside him, doesn’t answer but continues looking out at the scene beyond the window.
The ground looks dry and yellow. A river, far too low in its bed, has turned a sluggish brown. Tree branches hang limp, shedding jaundiced leaves onto the coach as it passes. Here and there, a few sheep are grazing but there is no other sign of movement. Along the length of the coach, tourists make various noises of disappointment and concern.
“This year has been a drought,” the stewardess explains. “It is very bad. Everything is dying.” She smiles brightly. She appears to be reading a script that she only half understands. “Just like in the play, as you will see. The land becomes sick and Galahad must rescue us. It is only a story, of course, but the leaflets will say how it is still… relevant today. And now, welcome to Bad Schlachendorf. We hope you will have a good stay. Enjoy the play and the carnival, and tell your friends to come here next year.”
12pm, August 13th 1999