The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
The Beginning of Wisdom
December 27th 10am
Swahn looks at the group hopelessly.
“It all went wrong when you betrayed Sophia’s trust by letting the Trismegistus Club have some of Paul’s essence,” Greg returns. His voice is grave but not accusing. “And without even so much as notifying her that you’d done that.”
He fixes the overwrought Swahn with his most steely gaze. “We know it was you – you were at the Roseway Hotel on the evening in question. Andre, you must have known that Sophia would learn what you had done, and that she would retaliate. Now, Marie-Claude is in her power, held against the return of her son. What did the Trismegistus Club have to offer that was so compelling that you did this terrible thing?”
Swahn looks down at his hands. “Information. We were getting nowhere with Sophia. She’d agreed to an alliance with us because we had Paul’s essence, but it wasn’t working. She rarely spoke to us and told us nothing we didn’t know already, and our – ah – bosses were becoming more impatient by the minute. When Lloyd told me he could help, I believed him. I had no reason not to trust him.” He sighs.
“Suppose you tell us the full story, from the beginning,” Daniel suggests, with just a trace of sarcasm to his voice.
Swahn nods. “You’re right. Edward Lloyd approached me over a year ago, not long after we’d made our tentative alliance with Sophia. He wanted an ally against the Watcher and felt that if Sophia could be persuaded to join forces with us it would be of benefit to us all. He agreed to contact her and persuade her of our good intentions – but in return for his help, he wanted a sample of Paul’s essence to study.
“I didn’t agree at first. I knew Blaize would never agree to it and I wasn’t prepared to go against the wishes of the organisation. Blaize and I haven’t always seen eye to eye, but this was too important, I felt. But we needed Sophia…” He draws a deep breath. “You might as well know everything. Thousands of years ago, the Ylids created a race of servants known as Servitors. At some point in their history, the Ylids decided to abandon Earth and left the Servitors to die. Paul and Sophia tried to help them. When the other Ylids found out, they murdered Paul, but Sophia saved some of his genetic material and chose to stay behind on Earth until she could find a way to bring him back to life.” Swahn glances round with an embarrassed smile. “That probably doesn’t make sense, does it?”
“You bet it doesn’t,” Sam bursts out. “Nothing does. Why the hell couldn’t you deal with the Trismegistus Club behind SITU’s back? Why did you have to betray your agents? And what the hell do you intend doing about it now? With all the fires that have been started recently, I was beginning to suspect the traitor was Blaize! But it looks like this Tanith is responsible, on behalf of Paul and the Prieure no doubt… Who is Tanith, anyway?”
“A servant of the Watcher,” Swahn says. “He is the Ylid who holds sway in Britain. Tanith is now dead – one of our agents killed her.” He smiles thinly. “I’ve been keeping track of events. She was holding Isobel’s baby, Arthur, who is now back with his mother in body if not in soul.”
“Getting back to the point,” Ned says drily, “what the hell are Servitors? Do they look human? Are you human, Swahn?”
Swahn nods. “Prick me, do I not bleed, and all that. I’ve never seen a Servitor so I don’t know what they look like. I do know they regard themselves as mankind’s champions against the Ylids. Only a few of them survived after the Ylids left Earth, and they were thousands of years in suspended animation or something. They woke up last century, saw what the few remaining Ylids were doing to people and set about putting things right. That is why they were so desperate to talk to Sophia. She helped them once, she might do again.” His smile fades. “Or she might blame them for her husband’s death and kill them all. That is what they are afraid of.”
He pauses. “I think he’s telling the truth,” Vera comments. “This is too far-fetched for him to have invented it.” She looks at Swahn as if she’d like to break his neck.
“What’s happened has happened,” Sam says quickly. “What matters now is what we’re going to do next.”
Greg nods agreement. “Andre can tell us the rest of what he knows for a start. Was it Abadie rather than Sophia who funded Harvest? The Tri Club forged your alliance, you say. Sophia must have told you something.”
“Sophia never mentioned Abadie by name,” Swahn says. “She spoke of her servant in Paris who handled the running of the Prieure de Zion and of Harvest. She only involved herself directly in Harvest when she wanted something from them – for example, using their labs in Toulouse.”
Greg frowns. “So what is the connection between Harvest and the Trismegistus Club?”
“That I don’t know – or even if there is a connection. One of our previous investigations showed that the Watcher was taking an active interest in Harvest so I wouldn’t blame the Tri Club for keeping tabs on the organisation.”
Swahn seems to expect a response of some sort. Greg just grunts. “All right. What about Abadie? Is he Baphomet, the force behind the Templars, or is that another Ylid?”
Swahn shrugs helplessly. “Once again, I don’t know. I’d guess Baphomet is a creation of Sophia and Paul Abadie’s, just because France is too small for any more Ylids. As Sophia styles herself as the Magdalene, it’s likely Paul took the persona of Baphomet. But this is all guesswork.”
“Blaize thinks Abadie is allied with the Watcher,” Greg says. “What do you think?”
Swahn is silent for a moment, thinking. “It appears that Abadie is an earlier attempt of Sophia’s to recreate her husband,” he says slowly. “If that is the case, if she has used him all these years, if she has now signed him away as a slave to some unknown entity…” he glances up. “That is what the scroll said, wasn’t it, Louis? – If all that is true, I can see him turning against Sophia, turning maybe to a new ally who offers him both power and freedom.”
“The Watcher,” Vera mutters.
Greg gets up. “I’m going to call Blaize. I want him over here so we can all talk face to face. And then we have work to do. Andre, I suggest you stay here. I don’t want Sophia finding out you’re here – there have been enough deaths already.”
“Louis,” says Daniel, “I’d like a word with you, if I may.”
By the look on the Frenchman’s face, he knows what’s coming. “You think I should not have taken revenge as I did,” he says. “I did to them what they have done to me. That is all.”
“Yes, and in doing so you’ve thoroughly pissed off the Prieure, Paul Abadie and maybe Sophia as well. It hasn’t exactly helped.”
Louis shrugs. “I wasn’t trying to help. I was letting them see how it felt. If it has made them angry, then I am glad.”
“You won’t be when they come after you,” Daniel says darkly.
Sam wanders in. “Look on the bright side. At least Louis’ pyrotechnics have narrowed down our choices. There’s only the Opera House and the Sacre Coeur left. I’ve had an idea, Louis. We should go back to your flat. You don’t know that everything was destroyed.”
Louis shakes his head. He doesn’t feel like going anywhere, least of all to view the ashes of his home.
“It can’t hurt to look,” Sam says hopefully. Louis throws up his hands.
“All right. If it will make you happy, we’ll look.”
After phoning Blaize, who agrees to come out to Paris on the first flight available, Greg goes back to talk to Swahn again.
“Blaize is coming,” he says.
Swahn nods. “It’s no more than I’d expect.” He looks up. “You want something else, don’t you?”
Greg puts a set of papers down on the table. “I want you to sign this. I drafted it myself, which makes it legally binding as far as you’re concerned. It’s to give us full access to all SITU information, including the whereabouts of all secret information, and the right to examine it all.”
Swahn looks at it dubiously. “I’m not sure I have the authority to grant you access. After what’s happened, I’m not even sure I’m part of SITU any more.” But he picks up a pen and scrawls his name quickly. “There, for what it’s worth, you have my permission. Blaize always was in favour of bringing our secrets out into the open. You can argue it out with him when he gets here.”
The area around Louis’ apartment is cordoned off but the police allow Louis and Sam through when Louis produces identification. Much of the work of searching the rubble has already been done and the police show Louis several items in sealed plastic bags. Louis recognises some of them – the charred remains of a Egyptian figurine, a lump of metal, melted and twisted out of shape. Before the fire, it was a silver armband, one of Louis’ father’s finds. Worthless now. He hands it back to the policeman.
“Is there anything else?” he asks.
“We’re still searching.” The policeman regards him sympathetically. “At least you were insured, eh?”
How do you explain that no amount of insurance can cover the treasures that were lost – and no amount of money can replace them. Louis wants to turn away, to leave this scene behind him, to concentrate his thoughts not on salvaging what little he can, but on revenge.
Sam, though, is happily sifting through the ashes and rubble. Louis feels obliged to help him, to prevent him causing any further damage if nothing else, he thinks morosely. The two men work side by side, Sam pausing every so often to clean his glasses with increasingly sooty fingers. It’s a wonder he can see anything through them at all, Louis thinks.
Yet, looking through the lenses, made from crystal taken from an Ylid’s lair, Sam sees more than most. While the police teams work methodically, covering the ground as painstakingly as archaeologists, Sam darts this way and that, thrusting his hands beneath piles of ash, pulling out items with unerring accuracy. Even so, it is a full hour before he makes a real find.
“Louis,” he calls softly.
He is carrying two things, both charred and smoke-blackened, but both immediately recognisable to Louis, whose heart gives a lurch of excitement.
One of the objects is the leather-bound book that contains his father’s last writings. The other, the smaller one, is a portrait of the Magdalene. Of Sophia.
“This is the address the police gave me,” Daniel says. “It doesn’t look much, does it?” He ducks into the deserted shop, reaches for the light switch and finds it broken. Greg switches on his flashlight instead.
They are in a single room, which is empty. The concrete floor is marked with footprints and chalk lines. Electric cables hang from the ceiling. By the look of it, the place has been deserted for months.
Greg steps forward carefully. The beam of his flashlight skims the floor. “The police said there was a struggle,” he says, his voice echoing. “It looks like they were right.” Looking, they see scuff marks as if someone was dragged from one side of the room to the other, and then, within a circle of white chalk, a few brown stains.
“Blood?” Daniel asks. Greg nods, stooping to examine it. Perez’s, he supposes, though there’s no way of telling. He steps over it carefully and walks to the far wall. The bare bricks are filthy with the remains of white wallpaper clinging to them in places. Greg pulls a piece off and lets it fall.
“Do you think the police noticed this?” Daniel calls to him softly. He is looking at another scrap of wallpaper. It’s no bigger that the palm of his hand and curled in at the edges. If he hadn’t been scouring every surface for clues, he may well have missed what was drawn on it. A face, sketched in roughly and divided down the middle with a jagged line. The two men stand and stare at it for a long moment. Daniel reaches out and taps the wall with his knuckles. “How do you tell if these things are hollow?” he begins. He stops.
When his hand knocked the drawing, he felt the wall shudder. There is a slow grinding of machinery. Then, slowly, creaking and jolting, the whole section of wall slides back. Greg points his flashlight through into a narrow passageway, leading down.
“Shall we?” Daniel asks. As he speaks, the wall slides back into place.
Sam is back in his university room studying a large-scale map of the Paris sewer system. If they’re going go explore them they’ll need flashlights, he thinks, like in the X-files. Galoshes and waders too – it’s going to be wet as well as dark. Wasn’t there a boat involved somewhere in the Phantom of the Opera story? And lots of swooping down from the flies and carrying off women. Sam pictures the Phantom trying to carry off Vera and grins to himself.
The main problem, Sam thinks, is that Paul Abadie will have the advantage. He’s been using the sewers probably for centuries. He probably designed parts of them. So they’ll have to be very certain of what they’re doing before they go blundering in. He wonders whether he can set up a speaker system somehow and play lots of special effects of police sirens and running feet to confuse the Phantom. Then he realises how much electricity cable it will take and dismisses the idea as impractical.
He scrawls a note on the side of the map. Torches. Galoshes. Explosives? No guns. Sam underlines the word ‘no’ several times. He doesn’t want to be caught in a tunnel with bullets ricocheting everywhere. He thinks for a moment then adds bullet-proof vests. It won’t hurt to take precautions.
Vera is furious when Greg tells her about the old shop.
“You mean you could have gone into the sewers, you could have found Abadie, and you walked away?”
“We could have got locked in wherever the passage led,” Daniel points out. “We don’t know it goes into the sewers. All we know is that the wall closes up automatically, and there may not be a way to open it from the other side.”
“What we need is a way to contact Sophia,” Greg muses. “How about sky-writing? ABADIE STOLE YOUR SON – it isn’t much longer than Surrender Dorothy. By the way, Sam, why did you think there would be a baby-sacrifice at the Sacre Coeur today? If you’re right, we’ll have to put a stop to that.”
“Today’s the day of the ceremony,” Daniel says. “We’ve got to be there, obviously, though not all of us. Sam’s idea of going into the sewers is as good as anything, especially now we may have a way in through that shop – can you check it on the map, Sam? – if the shop doesn’t lead there, we may find it tricky getting in now someone has blown up all the bloody churches.” He shoots a quick glare at Louis. Again, we need to split up if we’re doing it.”
“Some of us at the ceremony and some in the sewers,” Ned says smoothly. “I’ll volunteer for the ceremony. It begins at eight o’clock tonight, and there are a few other notables attending as well as Plantard. The head of the Parisian police, for one.” He glances at his watch. “We have plenty of time to get ready for it, if anyone has any bright ideas.”
“We could bug the Sacre Coeur,” Sam says. He looks at Louis. “Or,” he suggests sarcastically, “we could load the place with explosives and blow it to Kingdom Come.”
Greg finishes his phone conversation with the lawyer he’s hired to defend Michael and rings the Paris gendarmerie.
“Jean Lacasse please,” he says. He introduces himself briefly to Lacasse and gets straight to the point. “I believe we may be able to exchange information. I’ve had word that the arson attack on the Tour Magdala in Rennes-le-Chateau was carried out by a Templar criminal group. A woman called Tanith was involved. The contact address was the deserted shop where Perez was shot. I can also tell you that the woman, Tanith, was the brains behind the Oxford massacre. I believe you’re still looking for Liza Petherton in relation to that?”
Lacasse is silent for a few seconds. Then he says, “There have been shootings of this type before. I feel that my superiors in the police force do not want these things investigated, that they want them to happen. I believe a certain group wants to silence people from time to time, or wants them out of the way. They are not afraid of capture because the police never investigate for long. Whoever these people are they have money, and they have power. I would very much like to find them.”
“I need names and addresses,” Greg says. Lacasse sighs.
“Alas, I have neither. What I can offer you is manpower – I have a team of officers who would be most happy to assist you in arresting these criminals. And I can issue you with entry warrants for any premises, should you need them. In fact, Senator…” he pauses, then continues more quietly, “I am prepared to give you police identities. This should aid your investigations, yes? As for your friend, Mr Williamson, I believe all charges against him should be dropped soon. I have put in a report that he was merely a witness to the murder, not a party to it. I cannot promise that my superiors will accept it, but I will do my best for him.”
Do you have any information on the end of the world as heralded by giant snakes and the spilling of blood in the Dreaming?
Daniel reads the message twice. Giant snakes and spilling blood. He hopes Belle-Marie isn’t in any danger. Which is a stupid thing to wish, he knows. With the Ylid activity that’s going on at the moment, everyone is in danger.
Sam is a rat. Or at least, that’s what he is trying to be. Lying on his bed, his eyes closed behind their crystal spectacles, he lets his mind wander.
Only a few years ago he’d have said all this was rubbish. But not after the Master’s caves. His psychic powers worked for him then – worked even though Sam had no idea they existed. Now he does know, and he’s trying to make them do what he wants.
To be a rat.
Sam has the vague impression of something scurrying across a cellar. Then, he is the one who is scurrying. Walls rear up high on every side of him. His nose twitches, catching the odour of sewage. Sam the rat decides it is a good smell. His thin, black body disappears through a hole in the wall.
“This is personal,” Greg says. “My fiancée has been kidnapped. That makes it a family matter.”
“All right.” The man at the other end of the phone sounds nervous. Which is nothing new – he always sounds nervous when Greg talks to him. “All I can give you is a name,” he says. “The Zionists. It’s an underground group operating out of Paris. They have no fixed base and the leaders change so regularly it’s hard to tell who’s in and who isn’t. They’re supposed to be related to the Freemasons, if that’s any help. They’re a small group, but very professional, leave no trace of themselves. I’ve only heard of them because I’ve got the right contacts. I’ve had no dealings with them myself, nor do I want to have. If they knew I was telling you this, they’d probably kill me.”
It’s not much to go on, but Greg thinks of the secret passageway leading from the shop. Maybe the Zionists are literally an underground movement. Maybe their real headquarters is below the city. “Supposing I was going up against them,” he says aloud. “What preparations should I make?”
His contact laughs harshly. “Write a will.”
Water drips. The rat scuttles on past it. His nose is twitching again. He smells something else through the sewage: the smell of humans. Normally, it would be enough to make him turn tail and run but something compels him on, deeper and deeper into the sewer network….
Until, at last, the sewers are no longer sewers at all but a series of arched passageways, one leading into another and finally ending at a vast, underground lake. The rat stops, quivering.
A blonde-haired woman sits on a stone bench, cradling a baby in her arms. It is neither Sophia nor Liza. Sitting close by, reading by the light of a flickering oil lamp, is a man. His face is hidden until he looks up. The rat gives a squeak of terror.
One half of the man’s face is hideous, twisted and deformed so that every feature is pulled out of shape. The other half is covered by a mask.
Paul Abadie smiles. “Look, Marie-Claude,” he says to the woman. “We have a guest.”
Angry voices come from Greg’s room. Blaize has arrived.
“You told them about the Servitors?” he shouts.
“You told them first,” Swahn shoots back. “I was trying to help.”
“It’s your so-called help that has got us into this mess in the first place.”
“Gentlemen,” Ned says, stepping in. “Much as we’d like to stay and hear this, I for one have a ceremony to attend, and I believe a little trip to the sewers is in order. Maybe you can tell us what the hell is going on, and we can save the shouting till later.”
Vera strolls in at that moment. “I can’t wake Sam,” she says. “Not even when I slapped him really hard.”
Deep in the sewers, the rat twists and fights, caught in the grip of one, elegant, long-fingered hand.
Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all, Sam thinks.
6pm December 28th
Sam – the sewers
The others – the university.