The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Like a Thief in the Night
2.30am 29th December 2000
Andrew, Mickey, John, – Diamond Row
Matt, Isobel, Eric, TR – the house
Twitch – Stonehenge
Twitch blinks sleepily at the revolver in his hands. “Oh… my, a gun. Personally I prefer the Beretta .25 to the Walther PKK my dear – lighter and more reliable don’t you think?”
The girl frowns impatiently. She’s carrying a bag – full of weaponry, Twitch guesses. “The druids say we have to hurry.”
The druids. Twitch looks around for them but doesn’t see them. The camp, however, is in uproar, people scrambling out of sleeping bags and tents everywhere. “OK my dear,” Twitch says, “I’ll be right with you… just grab my boots…”
He ducks back into his sleeping bag. The moment the girl has moved on, he pulls out his mobile phone. “Agent Twitchin to base…. come in base… operation…er…er…er Moonbeam situation red… status critical…. over and out.”
“Neat trick Andrew,” Mickey says, giving his friend a long, hard look. “You will have to show me how you did that later.” He scoops the baby up quickly. “John, Andrew, grab Tanith’s body, Blaize will piss his pants when he sees that.” He grins and grabs Tanith’s head by the hair so it dangles, Medusa-like.
While Andrew grabs Tanith’s body, John looks at the baby worriedly. He already knows what condition he is in – alive, but his spirit is somewhere else. He is breathing normally, though, and appears healthy. Sleeping like a baby, as the saying goes. “We better get out of here,” John says. He nods at Jack and Chrissie Adair. “Reckon we should take the two sci-fi freaks? They may know something about this situation.”
“No time.” Lights have come on in a house opposite. Andrew hefts Tanith’s body over his shoulder and starts to run.
John and Mickey look at each other. “Come on,” they both say together.
As they reach the car, Mickey’s mobile rings. He listens for a few seconds, frowning. “Twitch is in trouble,” he says. He opens the boot of the car and slings Tanith’s head in. “We can’t go chasing after him with the baby in tow. We’ll have to go via the house.”
Matt, hearing Maurice’s voice, stiffens slightly, mentally noting the position of hidden torches around the small room. Then, determinedly, he relaxes again.
“Heh,” he says humourlessly, “I suppose this is where I say ‘I’ve been expecting you’ and you rip my throat out. Are you going to kill me straightaway or do we have time for foreplay?” He turns to face the vampire and picks up the syringe and glass with which he offered Darius some of his own blood – only, then, it wasn’t full of garlic, of course. Slowly, he inserts the needle into his arm.
“Why now?” he asks. “You must’ve known I was here; why wait so long to come and finish me off?” He looks at him quizzically. Maurice doesn’t answer: he is watching the blood slowly ooze into the glass. He licks his lips once. “And why throw your lot in with another Ylid?” Matt asks him. “You don’t even like Sophia, and I doubt you’re a great fan of the Watcher’s either. I could see you with Nefertiti, though…” He shrugs.
The glass is half full – or half empty, if you’re a pessimist, Matt thinks to himself. He wonders which he ought to be in the present situation. The light switch is just by his left shoulder, and in his right hand he has the long-needled syringe. A Maglite is on the chest of drawers two paces away. On the other hand, he knows how fast Maurice can move. He watches the vampire thoughtfully. “Anyway. It’s academic now. Is there anything I can do or say, or is revenge all you want?” He takes a quick breath. “Okay, then, why don’t we just-”
He flings the glass of garlic-infused blood into Maurice’s face.
Maurice hisses, leaping back. Matt wrenches the syringe from his arm, slams on the light and flings himself at the Maglite with a yell. Maurice grabs his wrist just before he reaches it.
Downstairs, Eric is reading a volume of poetry by Ashbless when he hears Matt shout. He and TR leap up together.
Trouble. Eric freezes, just for a second; TR is already pounding up the stairs. Matt’s door is locked, barred from the inside, he reckons as he hammers on it.
“Use this,” Eric gasps, pushing a fire axe into his hands. The blade bites through the flimsy wood.
The noise of the door panels splintering makes Maurice raise his head.
“Too late,” he hisses. “You’re already dead.”
Matt doesn’t answer, too busy trying to keep Maurice’s fingernails and teeth away from his throat. He wonders, fleetingly, if Eric Alnes will be able to bring him back from the undead. With a gasp of effort, he shoves Maurice aside. The vampire rolls twice and comes into a crouch, wiping his eyes.
The door shatters.
“Maurice,” TR sighs. “Don’t you have anything better to do? We’re very busy right now.” He flicks on his flashlight, aiming the powerful beam at Maurice’s face. At the same moment, Eric steps into the room, holding a silver crucifix in one hand and a spray bottle in the other. A jet of water hisses out.
The effect is instantaneous. Where the water spays across Maurice’s skin, the skin begins to burn. Maurice howls in pain and rolls backwards, clawing at himself. Matt leaps for him. “Fucker!” he snarls. He raises the syringe high and stabs down hard. He feels the shock as the needle puncture the vampire’s heart.
Maurice shudders. A gush of blood bursts from his mouth and he is still.
Special Agent Catweezle Moonbeam can almost hear the Bond theme playing as he emerges from his sleeping bag. Pausing by a camp fire to smear soot over his face, he strikes a couple of poses for effect and trots off after the others. The main action appears to be happening on the road side of the camp. Twitch can see the blue lights of police cars and ambulances.
A shot makes him jump. Only blanks, the girl said. He aims his revolver at a plastic water tank and pulls the trigger. There is a dull thud and then the unmistakeable sound of trickling water.
Driving through the narrow streets of Avebury, Mickey phones SITU. “We have Arthur,” he says. “Also Tanith’s headless body, and her bodiless head. We’d appreciate it if you could collect both the car and the body, and when you come to collect it, bring me a replacement car.” He grins. “What the hell – make it a Jag, top of the range. I do hate to scrimp with other peoples money.”
“At least we know that Ylids can be killed if you believe you can do it,” Andrew says, taking the phone to give Blaize a full report of what’s happened. “Uh, Blaize, you shouldn’t let people find out that a woman was decapitated and burned. It would be bad for the cause… Right. Got to go, we’re at the house.” Andrew peers out of the window as Mickey slows the car. “Looks like people are still up.”
Isobel snatches Arthur up with a cry of joy. “What’s happened? Is he all right?”
“His spirit is elsewhere,” John tells her.
“And that’s not our only problem,” Mickey adds. He quickly fills the group in on what’s been happening. Matt, in his turn, brings out Maurice’s body.
“SITU can take it along with Tanith’s,” TR suggests. “Excuse me a moment, I have to make a phone call.”
He’s half expecting Jane Tate not to answer, half expecting that she was just one of Tanith’s disguises, and he sags in relief when he hears her voice. “I was worried about you,” he says, in explanation for phoning so late. “Some of my friends were just attacked and I wanted to make sure you were all right.”
“Attacked?” She is alarmed. “What happened? Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” he assures her. “I’ll call you back in the morning.” He puts the phone down. “Right,” he says, rejoining the others. “Twitch is in trouble. Who wants to come and help rescue him?”
More shots echo. Taking a quick swig from his hipflask for luck, Twitch edges his way closer. Most people are armed, he notices. Those who don’t have guns are waving sticks and branches. He catches sight of Cath and Richard, both wielding what look like automatic rifles, at the front of one group. They are not the ones in charge, though. In the middle of the field of battle, the group of druids stand. None of them are armed, and, in fact, none of them seem to be taking any notice of the impending battle. They are standing in a circle, facing inwards, and they are chanting. As Twitch watches, coils of white smoke begin to rise from the grass at their feet, although he cannot smell burning.
One of the druids suddenly throws his head back. “I am Merlin!” The shout rings across the grass, making everything pause for a moment. “What has started here cannot be stopped. Our gods will come!”
“Pardon?” Twitch mutters.
No one is taking any notice of him. People press forward, closing in on the line of police cars. A voice comes over a loudspeaker.
“This is the police. You are under arrest. Lay down your weapons and give yourselves up now.”
The air is turning white with mist. Then Twitch hears another, unmistakeable shout.
“The child’s spirit is beyond us,” Eric murmurs, looking at Arthur as he lies in Isobel’s arms.
Isobel bends her head over her son. She is close to tears – tears of frustration that though she has him back, he is still lost to her. She wonders whether Blaize might be able to organise a doctor, but knows that there is no doctor who can help. Silently, she prays, begging for help, willing do to anything to see her son well again.
“This might be something for John to do alone,” Eric says. He smiles at her. “But if not, the obvious person to help is Isabelle Kingston. You stay with Arthur here, and try to get some sleep. I’ll go and talk to her.”
He already knows what they’ll have to do. Enter the spirit world, find the child’s spirit and restore it to him. The part of him that is the Grail shivers with excitement at the thought.
“I can’t get him,” TR says, trying Twitch’s number for the third time. Andrew stops the car just off the road where it is partly hidden by bushes.
“Keep trying. We’ve got to get him out of there.” He glances back at Mickey and John. “All set?”
Both are carrying an assortment of weaponry, including holy water and silver knives just in case. Mickey gets out of the car and looks around. “I can’t see anyone. What do we do? Head into the camp?”
But John is standing and staring. Mickey grabs his arm. “What is it?”
“Can’t you see it?”
‘It’ is a silver haze, shot through with black. A web, snaring the spirits of all it touches. Spreading slowly towards them.
Something strange is happening on the battlefield. People have stopped shooting. Police officers who were crouched behind riot shields have left them and are walking forward, taking up position alongside the cultists. No one speaks. Cath and Richard stand blank-faced with the rest of them, weapons hanging down. Waiting.
A dull throbbing starts up in Twitch’s brain.
Kill. Kill. Kill.
He has to shake his head hard to remember what he’s supposed to be doing. The camp, he thinks with an effort. He has to go back and search the Druids’ belongings while they are busy. He looks around him, surprised to find that he is already half way back to the camp. He didn’t remember starting to walk.
Must be the brandy confusing him. Now, what was he doing?
An annoying little tune is playing in his pocket. It takes him a while to realise it’s his phone.
“Hello?” he mumbles.
“Twitch,” TR says. “Thank God. Where are you?”
Twitch looks around vacantly. “In the camp. I’ve got a gun, you know. An’ I know how to use it.”
John’s voice suddenly comes on. “Twitch, you’ve got to get out of there. We’ll meet you by the weapons van. Can you remember where that is?”
“Of course I can.” Twitch is mortally offended. He turns the phone off. Who wants to look at weapons vans? He’s got some proper spying to do. And, with a bit of luck, he’ll get to shoot someone, too. He starts off at a clumsy jog towards the Druids’ area of the camp.
He’s disappointed to find that Druids are quite ordinary people. There are sleeping bags – albeit with stars and moons on them – and even a portaloo. Twitch examines it for clues and finds none. The pounding in his head has eased for now. He sighs gratefully. A quick look around and then he’ll get back to the battle and start shooting people. No more ‘poor old Twitch’ then, they’ll have to start taking him seriously. Oh yes.
He stumbles over a lump in the groundsheet of one of the tents and kneels to investigate. His hands trace round the outline of a large knife. No, too large for a knife, he thinks – more like a sword. He ought to tell Andrew about that. Or maybe he’ll just shoot Andrew: that’ll surprise him. Chuckling at the thought, Twitch moves on. A box reveals nothing. A bag is full of druidic robes, again decorated with patterns of stars. On the chest of one is a representation of the Earth with silver rays coming off it and something like a huge, silver eagle flying past. Twitch stuffs it back into the bag, then stiffens, head up.
Footsteps. They stop and the front flap of the tent is pulled up. A young man looks in. His face is expressionless, and in his right hand he is holding a gun.
“No sign of him,” John says. “Damn, we should have moved quicker.” His wolf senses are alert, seeing strands of silver web over everything. Mickey blinks a few times.
“I’m getting the feeling I should be killing people.”
Andrew grins at him. John holds them both back. TR seems to be the only one unaffected. “The druids have cast some sort of enchantment,” John says quickly. “The closer you get to them, the stronger it will be.” He takes a pair of talismans from around his neck. “Here, wear these for protection. We’d better find Twitch fast. If he’s been affected…”
A shot rings out.
At the house, Matt turns his computer off and phones SITU. It’s four in the morning, yet Blaize answers within five rings.
“Blaize here.” He sounds exhausted.
“Blaize? Hi, it’s Matt. Are you okay? You sound pretty close to the bone.” He avoids his usual sarcasm and gets straight to the point. “I’ve been busy with Maurice, one of the Master’s vampire servants. They’re dying, now he’s gone, and bloody pissed off about it. Maurice is dead now, by the way. We’ve sent his body back to you along with Tanith’s. I’ve been trying to stay abreast of the other groups but the picture just seems to be more and more crowded, the more I look at it. Too many factions: the Watcher, Nefertiti, Sophia, Paul Abadie, Tanith… and the bloody Trismegistus Club. They’ve really stitched you up, eh? Where do our, ah, servitor bosses stand on this? Sounds like you know a little more than the ‘good versus evil’ bollocks you fobbed me off with last time. What are they, Blaize? What are SITU?”
“Servitors?” Blaize says startled. “How did..?” He sighs. “You’ve been talking to the other groups, of course. All right. The Servitors were once the servants of the Ylids. In fact, from what I understand, the Ylids created them specifically as servants. When they left Earth, they left them to die. But some of the Servitors survived and in recent times they pledged themselves to find the remaining Ylids and destroy them. It is not just a question of revenge. They saw how the Ylids have used mankind, treating us as cattle, feeding off us and we didn’t even know they were there. The Servitors consider they were spared in order to serve as our protectors against them.” He pauses. “I don’t expect you to believe me.”
“I do,” Matt says. “Or at least, I believe that you believe it. I’m going to have to think about this. I’ll get back to you.”
“I’m sure you will. But you’ll have to do it in Paris. Swahn has turned up there. I’m flying out later this morning.”
Twitch fires without thinking. The young man looks at him, startled – the first expression he has shown – and slowly folds, one hand clutched to his chest. Blood seeps between his fingers.
“Wow!” Twitch breaths.
The next moment he hears TR’s voice. He ducks out of the tent. “I’m over here. Look – I just killed someone!” He waves the gun excitedly.
TR grabs it off him. “Very good. Well done. Now, come on, we have to leave.”
“Can’t we come back later?” Twitch asks plaintively as TR hauls him over to join the others.
Isobel Blyth is dreaming of Henry.
“Why did you die?” she asks him. “I need you here with me. What’s going to happen?”
He puts a hand out to her, not quite touching her.
“I cannot tell you what will happen. But I can tell you this – Arthur is our son. Human, not Ylid.”
“Where is he?” Isobel asks. “They’ve taken his spirit.”
Henry smiles. “He is where he has always been. Across the lake in Avalon.”
Isobel sees a vision of a wide, silver lake with cliffs on one side. A boat is waiting by the shore and, far in the distance are green hills. She turns to see John standing there as well, a huge, white wolf by his side.
“We have to cross the lake,” she says. She’s not sure whether he hears her or not.
“Matt Culver here. Again. You really have some bloody gall, don’t you, Rohinder?” Matt says. He pauses, allowing the Trismegistus Club leader to digest his words.
“You cynically double-cross Swahn, use SITU, manipulate Isobel – a widow – and betray an Ylid in the full knowledge that she’d vent her wrath on innocents. All in the name of a nebulous ‘Greater Good’… Tell me one thing, Rohinder: why? Why, of the forty-odd Ylids dotted around the globe, have you abandoned all morals to fight the Watcher? What’s so special about him?”
“Special?” Rohinder’s voice rises in surprise. “He’s here. He’s threatening us. He’s always been the one. He’s done this before, raising Arthur up as king and betraying him at Camlan. He’s done it again and again, and all in the name of power. But this time, Arthur is ours, and when he dies the power will be ours, not the Watcher’s.” She laughs. “Sorry, Matt. We work to a higher morality to yours. I don’t expect you to understand. Arthur will die – it was ordained before his birth – and when he does, we will be there.”
Her outburst silences Matt for several seconds. He has to swallow to free his voice and continue. “I can’t speak for Blaize or even the rest of my team, but I, personally, consider any alliance with the Trismegistus Club severed. Your organisation stinks.” He pauses once again before speaking into the ‘phone: “Rohinder,” he says, quoting a well-known quiz show, “you are the weakest link. Goodbye.” He hangs up.
John wakes. Memories of a dream come back. A lake and an island, guarded by a serpent that stretches all around the shore. And in the middle of the island is a castle, and in the middle of the castle a small boy sits…
John grins to himself. He has found Arthur.
“Reports are still coming in on the worsening situation at Stonehenge. Large numbers of police and emergency teams have, apparently, joined the New Age group who have been camped there for the past week. No explanation has been given, but with several people dead already, fears are growing that this could turn into mass suicide, or mass murder. Army forces are moving in to deal with the situation. In the meantime, the public are asked to keep away from the site.”
The news reporter pauses then continues. “In Avebury itself, a crisis on a small scale involving a kidnapping of a mother and her child. The woman, Tania Morgan, was staying with friends who say they woke to find their house on fire in the early hours of the morning. As they left the house, they were knocked unconscious, and when they woke, they found Miss Morgan and her baby missing.
“The couple are undergoing treatment for shock and are unavailable for comment. Police say the fire was started deliberately and are appealing for witnesses.”
TR turns the television off. “I remember a mass suicide in California back in 1997,” he says. “Thirty-nine people who thought they were preparing themselves for the arrival of a space ship.”
Eric looks at him, and then at Isabelle Kingston, who has joined the group at the house. “Do you think that’s what the Watcher is planning here? To sacrifice the New Agers and police as part of his larger ritual?” He frowns in thought. “Is there some way we can turn this on its head, and wield the tool that we have been provided here to do the opposite of what the Watcher intends. Instead of a sacrifice, invoke a communion. Instead of using the White Alchemist as a weapon, as the Tri Club intend, to focus all that energy in a benevolent way?”
Her eyes widen a fraction. “It might be possible. Ley lines are converging on Stonehenge. They could provide pathways for the energy that will be created, spreading it right back across the country. In fact, it may be the best way to counter the Watcher’s ritual – take command of the energy and disperse it.”
“But first we have to find Arthur’s spirit,” Isobel points out. She looks at Twitch sharply. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
Twitch mumbles and shuffles uneasily. He is still wearing his disguise, though TR wouldn’t let him have the gun back. He’s still not entirely sure what happened last night, only that he made it back to the house somehow.
They all look up as John comes into the room. “Looks like it’s going the way of our Whitby mission,” he says by way of greeting. “We are gonna have to enter a different realm to recover Arthur and possibly face our enemy. Anybody got any ideas where we can start..?”
“We were discussing it,” Isobel tells him. “Isabelle Kingston is going to take me into the spirit world. And anyone else who wants to come.”
“You don’t want me along.” TR shakes his head and leans back in his chair, crossing his arms against his chest. “Back when I was in college in Arizona working on the campus paper, a couple of the guys thought it would be fun to do a story about Native American rituals – the kind where you smoke peyote and go on a spirit journey. When we drove out to the reservation, the shaman took one look at me and told me not to bother with the ritual. My presence would only mess up the good vibrations or whatever. So my friends did the ritual while I went off and sought enlightenment at the tribal casino instead.” He smiles and shrugs. “I won 50 bucks playing blackjack, so it wasn’t a total loss. But I really don’t think I belong on your little adventure to Fantasyland. I’ll stay here and keep watch in case anyone attacks from the outside.”
He’s expecting people to argue, but Isabelle nods. “That is wise. We must restore Arthur’s soul to him. But the Watcher must not start his ritual killing until we have succeeded. You must make sure of that.”
“What about you, Holly?” Mickey asks.
The little girl smiles. “I want to look for Arthur, of course. I couldn’t find him before because he was in a different world. I can find him in the spirit world.”
“I can give you talismans and protections,” John murmurs. He casts a quick glance at TR. “For those who are staying behind, too. The Watcher’s people have cast an enchantment over Stonehenge so anyone who goes in unprotected will be drawn in. Something very old is coming to fruition here, a feeling of urgency, that this is the last chance… There is something approaching from a long way off…” He grins and shrugs apologetically. “I’m afraid I have no idea what.”
December 30th, 10am
The house, Avebury
JOHN: You were surprised TR wasn’t affected by the Druids’ spell. Twitch was the worst affected but he seems fine now.