The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
The Beginning of Wisdom
Message received by all operatives in April 2000
After our tremendous successes of 1999, I think we can be justified in congratulating ourselves on having broken the power of the Ylids. With the destruction of Yashimoto and The Master, our two most capable adversaries, we have ensured that never again can these monstrous beings present a coordinated threat to the happiness of humanity. Of course, we must not be too complacent. A little pride in a task well done is no doubt appropriate, but we must bear in mind that there are still a number of Ylids left alive, and being spiteful creatures they will probably continue to attempt to make life difficult for SITU operatives. But we will gradually dispose of them: we are now, effectively, moving into what can be considered a mopping-up phase. Each of you can expect odd missions here and there as one Ylid or another decides to cause trouble: but now that we have the upper hand, you may be sure that none of them will do so more than once! In the meantime, enjoy some well-earned free time.
The miraculous return of State senator Gregory Wentworth takes the world by surprise. He offers no explanation for his absence and will not speak about the plane crash that is supposed to have claimed his life along with so many others. Neither will he comment on his relationship with the French stewardess who is his constant companion. Many newspapers carry pictures of them together, the grey-haired senator and the young blonde woman making a striking couple, but as far as real news goes, there is precious little. What could have happened to the senator? Did he stage his own disappearance to escape the scandal that dogs his steps? Speculation is rife.
Extract from the Yorkshire Times:
Miraculous escape as B&B goes up in flames
Guests and staff at the Valley Gardens Hotel were lucky to escape with their lives yesterday as the upper floor mysteriously burst into flame. Thankfully, everyone escaped unharmed, although Miss Goodchild, new proprietor of the hotel, was clearly shaken. “My rooms are on the top floor,” she told reporters. “If I hadn’t been in the kitchen preparing breakfast for the guests, I could have been trapped there.
A spokesman from the fire department said the blaze was caused by an electrical surge that caused small fires to break out in several places at once. Police are not treating the matter as suspicious.
Ned flexes his new thumbs thoughtfully. Is it his imagination or are they becoming furry? Maybe he ought to start shaving them. He laughs to himself, the sound echoing eerily around the empty apartment. He wishes Vera would get in touch. Or even Jake. If there was someone else here, maybe the feeling of being watched would go away…
His thumbs twitch spasmodically.
The wedding is well attended and, if no actual relations of the bride and groom are present, no one is rude enough to comment. In fact, most people there are SITU agents and know one another by sight if not from previous missions. Everyone agrees that Belle-Marie is stunning in her simple suit of ivory linen while Daniel looks relaxed and happy for once, the recent happenings in Japan clearly forgotten for the day. Even baby Rhiannon makes it through the entire ceremony without crying.
Geoff Blaize is first to offer congratulations outside the registry office. “Take a holiday,” he tells them. “This past set of missions has seen SITU gain a lot of ground. We can afford to spend some time looking at what we’ve gained. There’ll be no new missions for a while.
Sam Hain, psychic investigator, has had a good week. Not only has he located Mickey Thomas’s missing daughter, but he has exorcised a house, challenged a poltergeist (that was probably in his nervous client’s imagination), and investigated a strange case of ectoplasm that turned out to be rising damp in a basement. With each new case his local fame – and his expense account – goes up. He’s already bought a new car and he’s upgraded his office to include a new computer and a freezer full of chocolate fudge icecream.
Just as well these gullible idiots don’t really know what’s going on, he thinks, leafing through a file before tossing it in the bin. If they had been in Germany with him, if they knew the truth…
Come to think of it, he’s not sure he knows the truth either. He sighs and stands up. He hopes there’s another mission soon. He can’t wait to uncover a bit more of the big picture.
Ross Myers is pleased with the new premises. An underground establishment this time, with concealed entrances, making it a far less likely target. Blaize insisted on a few offices and changing rooms but apart from that Ross has had every wall knocked down to form one vast arena where agents clamber through obstacle courses, shoot quickly moving targets, climb ropes and compete at weight-lifting. It is everything it should be, and Ross is in charge. Life is good.
December 23rd, 2000
“I now declare this, the final day of the second International Conference into the Paranormal, open,” Eric declaims modestly.
A smattering of applause goes around the lecture theatre.
The last conference ended in near disaster when an experiment into psychic ability went wrong, leaving several people needing treatment for severe burns. This week, organised and partly funded by the SITU agent Eric Alnes, has proved altogether more peaceful – and a sociable time from SITU’s point of view. Geoff Blaize encouraged as many people as possible to attend so it has been a time for catching up with old acquaintances, for exchanging news and wondering what SITU will do next. There is some talk of the Trismegistus Club, too, especially when people see that Anita Rohinder is present. One of the worst affected by the botched experiment of the previous convention, she was long months in a coma – so long that no one expected her to recover.
“They say Alnes had a hand in her healing,” someone mutters.
Agent Mickey Thomas hears and turns his head reflexively. The little girl sitting on his lap tugs at his hand. “Daddy, they’re thinking that they’d have liked her to stay asleep. They don’t like her much.” Her voice carries and he shushes her quickly. Holly’s uncanny ability to read minds still unnerves him. It must have been that that drew the Master’s creature to her, he reflects. Just as well the Master never found out about her or Mickey may never have got her back. He tries to hide the thought from her. At least she enjoyed the conference, he thinks, trying out different experiments, playing at mind-reading. And there have been other children for her to play with. Belle-Marie and Daniel’s daughter, and – the surprise of the week – the baby boy that Isobel Blyth arrived with.
“My son,” she announced proudly, holding him up for inspection while Edward Lloyd, her guardian, fussed around her.
“Born by artificial insemination, obviously,” Lloyd added, not wanting to cast aspersions on Isobel’s character. “We have high hopes of him. High hopes indeed…” He fell silent, staring off into the distance. Isobel shrugged and brushes away any other questions.
“His name’s Arthur Henry. He’s two months old and he’s doing fine. That’s all you need to know.”
Isobel is in the lecture theatre now, listening with rapt concentration while Arthur Henry chews on a bit of red plastic. Sitting next to them is a middle-aged gentleman dressed in a tweed suit with a feathered cap and, incongruously, a pair of dark glasses.
“Can’t be too careful, my dear,” secret agent Twitch mutters, raising the shades a fraction and peering under them suspiciously. “All sorts of funny people around these days.”
Eric has handed the meeting over to a plump woman who introduces herself as Professor Harriet Joyce, an expert on Arthurian mythology and the grail.
“There are two possible explanations for the grail,” she begins without preamble. “The first is that the word is a mistranslation – ‘san gréal’ for ‘sang réal’ which means royal blood. The story has it that Christ survived the crucifixion and later fled to France with Mary Magdalene, his wife. It is from his bloodline that the Merovingian line of French Kings was descended. The grail as a vessel, therefore, does not exist; it is the bloodline that the Knights Templar were hiding.” She pauses to smile. “Be that as it may, it is my firmly held belief that the Holy Grail is a real vessel and does have real healing powers.” Her gaze strays to Anita Rohinder as she says this. “It is not for me to say where the Grail is hidden at the moment,” she continues. “Suffice that it is safe. As to its powers…”
She suddenly realizes that everybody has stopped listening to her.
A woman has walked into the lecture theatre – although ‘walk’ doesn’t come close to describing the grace of the action, nor the arrogant tilt of her head. She looks at everyone as if she owns them and walks as if she owns the whole planet. There is something about her so catlike that Ned Numenor, sitting in the back row, feels his artificial thumbs curl in on themselves. He glances quickly at his niece. Vera is tensed, eyes narrowed, looking as if she’s getting ready to challenge the newcomer to unarmed combat.
A ripple of conversation runs along the benches as a few people recognise her.
“Liza Petherton… model… Vogue and Cosmopolitan… say she went off the rails… boyfriend vanished…”
“She was on the French mission,” whispers Ross, who has spent some time going through old files. “No one knows what happened to her after that. She’s still officially with SITU.” A chill raises the hairs on his arms.
Others have felt it too. Edward Lloyd and Anita Rohinder are both watching Liza expectantly. Everything is quiet now, the sound of her stiletto heels the only sound in the room. No one even seems to be breathing.
Liza Petherton pauses centre stage and turns to face her audience. Her eyes are blue and cold as bits of ice. When she smiles, it is ugly, like a wound has opened up.
“You gave me your word,” she says slowly. She pauses slightly before each word, her voice resonating strangely. Harriet Joyce starts to edge away and stops, a worried expression on her face.
But Liza is not looking at her. She is staring into the audience. Her gaze seems to pick out SITU agents by turn and then comes to rest on Edward Lloyd. “You gave me your word. Help for help. And then you draw me here so what is mine can be stolen.”
A number of agents are shifting in their seats, Andrew, John Stone and Ross edging their hands to concealed weapons, Vera, TR and Greg tensing, ready for trouble. Behind them, Daniel is suddenly glad that Belle-Marie and Rhiannon aren’t here today. Matt watches Liza, frowning. There is something not right about her. Well, that is obvious, but it goes deeper than that, he feels. There is something else in the room with her, something foreign.
“I don’t like her, Daddy,” Holly whimpers.
Matt stands up. “Everyone, get out. Now!”
Liza winks at him and laughs.
The ceiling comes down.
Sudden chaos. People choking on white dust, blinded; trying to escape, trying to hide. Screaming. The first gunshot sounds – a crack like lightning in the enclosed space. Men burst in. They come through the door and the windows, swing down on ropes through the ruined ceiling. All of them the same, black-clad, ski masks. Smoke billows, and a gas that burns eyes and throats and makes it impossible to breathe. Ross glimpses a gun levelled at his chest and kicks it out of the way. His own gun is in his hand, but there is too much smoke, too many people, to risk shooting. He dives at one of the black-clad figures.
Mickey pushes Holly under the table. For a moment he thinks he sees a wolf gliding through the smoke and then Johnny Stone is by his side.
“We’ve got to get people out of here,” he gasps. More plaster falls and he brushes it aside. “Come on.”
Another shot. Greg shoves Eric flat and goes for one of the gunmen.
Sam Hain scrambles to the back of the room. This is definitely not what he had in mind for a quiet week in the country, he thinks. He raises his head and blinks owlishly through the dust. He can see Andrew grappling with two men a few rows forward. He seems to be holding his own. Twitch appears briefly, brandishing his umbrella madly before he trips and fall flat. Sam decides it’s the best option, all things considered, and curls up into a ball.
Matt and Vera find themselves face to face and pause, sizing each other up before two of the attackers rush them and they flatten them simultaneously. Ned watches his niece admiringly. Then he sees Edward Lloyd go down. He moves to intervene at the same moment as TR Warren. But before either of them can get there, another burst of gunfire rocks the lecture room. Isobel screams, a raw sound of grief and pain, and the attackers run.
Liza’s laughter shocks through the room. She is standing at the front, seemingly unaffected by the carnage around her. Her eyes are completely mad. Ross, standing, fires a shot at her. He’s sure he hits her, but she doesn’t move. The lectern where her hands are resting starts to smoulder.
“For your Lord will come like a thief in the night,” she sings. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and wisdom will triumph.” Light flares around her and she rises into the air, her hands outspread. She looks like an angel, or a goddess. Bullets fly but none seem to touch her. She ascends, until the cloud of dust and smoke hides her from view.
Gradually, the haze clears. The lecture theatre is a wreckage of broken tables, lumps of stone and plaster. People lie half buried: the lucky ones are already starting to drag themselves free.
Edward Lloyd is among the unlucky ones. Most of his chest has been blown away and he lies motionless in a steadily expanding pool of crimson. Isobel sits beside him, rocking herself, crying quietly. “The baby… They took the baby.”
“Not just the baby.” Eric hauls himself unsteadily to his feet and staggers to her. “We’d agreed to let Harriet show the Grail as the highlight of her presentation. It was behind the lectern. They took that too.”
The aftermath is unpleasant to say the least.
Five people besides Edward Lloyd are dead: an American couple there on holiday, a Dutch man and two students. Whether they were deliberately targeted or just unlucky is impossible to say. Many more are injured and need treatment for anything from shock and bruising to bullet wounds. Harriet Joyce was shot in the back trying to protect the Grail. She is alive but unlikely to leave intensive care for weeks.
Isobel, of course, is inconsolable and by the time the police have come in to take statements from everyone and by the time they and the paramedics have left everyone is too exhausted, too shocked for thought.
Blaize and Swahn arrive together late afternoon, spend an hour in furious discussion with Anita Rohinder and then call a meeting of all SITU operatives present.
The group file into the room in silence – fifteen of them in all.
“It’s bad,” Blaize says.
No one contradicts him. The only sound is Isobel’s quiet snuffling.
Blaize looks around at the assembled group. “We need to react to this fast, so no messing this time. Here’s what we know. Liza Petherton was being used by the Ylid Sophia. She is the Magdalene, the French Ylid. We engineered an alliance with her in August ninety-nine – our help in cloning her dead husband, Paul in return for her help in fighting the other Ylids. So far, the alliance has worked well. We hold the genetic material from her husband and while we had that she wouldn’t double-cross us.”
“Except that she did,” Swahn reminds him quietly.
Blaize scowls. “In any case, outright force of this sort is not the way Sophia works. We assume she must have forged an alliance with another group. Why she turned against us is a mystery.”
“She said something was stolen from her,” Matt puts in. “Any idea what that was?”
“No. All we have of hers is her husband’s genetic material. Admittedly we did steal it, theoretically at least, but she’s had over a year to deal with that. It seems she was reacting to something stolen more recently, but there’s no way of telling what it might be. Assuming she was working with another group, though, their motives are clearer. Isobel, what do you know about your son?”
Isobel’s head comes up. “He’s missing…”
“Apart from that,” Blaize says with precious little sympathy. “According to Rohinder, your guardian believed him to be the White Alchemist they were striving to achieve, the perfect human. That could make him a possible target of other groups. The fact that they took the Grail as well indicates they knew exactly what was going on here.”
“Meaning there is a leak in the Trismegistus Club,” Swahn interrupts. “That is none of our concern, but retrieving Isobel’s baby is. As is tackling Sophia. According to our sources a woman answering to Liza’s description boarded a plane for Paris earlier this afternoon. Greg, Vera, Ned, Daniel, Ross and Sam, you will track her down there. We have booked you on a flight leaving Heathrow at seven pm.” He hands a sheet of paper to each. “Here are your mission briefings. They were hastily put together but they should suffice. Eric, TR, Matt, Twitchin, Isobel, Mickey, Johnny and Andrew will begin the task of tracking down Isobel’s baby. Mickey, you’ll need to decide whether to keep Holly with you or not. We can make arrangements to have her looked after. The same goes for Rhiannon, Daniel.” More briefings are handed out. “Is everything clear?”
Operatives Greg Wentworth, Vera Goodchild, Ned Numenor, Daniel Masterton, Ross Myers, Sam Hain
Mission objective: To track the Ylid Sophia to Paris, determine where she is and why she turned against SITU, and take appropriate action against her.
Secondary objective: Sophia heads the Prieuré de Sion, the organisation behind the Templar movement and the modern-day Freemasons. You should find out all you can about them and, again, take appropriate action against them should the opportunity present itself.
Note: the term ‘appropriate action’ includes lethal force if necessary.
The existence of this Ylid came to light during the French mission of August 1999 (full notes are available on request.) Highly manipulative, with powers of mental control, she plays on people’s feelings of grief and inadequacy, quickly rooting out and exploiting the slightest weakness in her victims. Several of our agents were affected by her during the French mission. Those who escaped most lightly were those who took life least seriously, who had no suffered no great loss that she could latch onto. At the end of the mission, two of our agents, Liza Petherton and Louis Tregalier, stayed in France. Louis acted as our contact with the Ylid. It is now apparent that Liza was also working for her.
When crossed, Sophia is extremely dangerous. She has been known to kill her own agents.
Former super-model, she became an alcoholic after the mysterious disappearance of her fiancé near Stonehenge, and joined SITU when she ‘dried out’. She became increasingly unstable as the French mission progressed and she fell more and more under Sophia’s influence. How much of her own personality is left intact is uncertain: neither do we know what happened to her between the mission ending and her arrival in Oxford today.
Paul’s genetic material. When Sophia’s husband died, millennia ago, she preserved some of his genetic material in an hourglass made of diamond. Over the past centuries she has made numerous efforts to resurrect him. She controls the French arm of Harvest, the genetic engineering company, and has directed their research into fertility treatment and cloning to this end. It was our possession of the hourglass that forced Sophia to deal with us in the first place and it may be that you can use it again. Guard it carefully, and remember that Sophia is highly dangerous.
Dubhium / anti-dubhium serum – it is unlikely that these serums will be of any use. Sophia has had no contact with other Ylids since she set up in France. However, they will be made available to you should you need them.
Weapons – For your own safety, please do not try to smuggle weaponry into Paris. We have made arrangements with an agent there to supply you with what you need on arrival.
Good luck, and – happy Christmas.
December 23rd, 5pm