The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness

The Blood In The Cup

4.01am 5th October 1998.

Another crack rang out around them and the operatives instinctively ducked.

'Run away!' shouted Rupert. Jo seized Sam by the arm and they both began to run straight at Alan Foster.

'Wait!' shrilled Amanda, 'we should try and take them all out, let Sam have a clear run!'

'Let's just get out of here now,' Phil said, quickly scooping up the film cartridges from the wrecked cameras. 'Fight them on the run. Stay here and one of us dies, remember. If we're with Sam then we can help her out. I'd be no good in a fight anyway, Lancelot or no!' Looking back at the guards he yelled, 'It's the terrorists and they've got guns!'

Jo and Sam were nearing Foster with Rupert and George spryly following.

Donald stood still, his eyes squeezed tightly closed, murmuring. Another shot was fired and to Arabella's horror it hit Donald in the arm, his eyes opened and for a moment he looked like a frightened child. But only a moment. He snapped his head to the side and followed Sam, quickly passing the others to catch up with her. Mentally shrugging her shoulders, Arabella flailed after the others, clutching at her head with her heavy satchel banging into her back as she ran. Another shot rang out and it briefly crossed her mind that they were already dead and this was hell, but the thought was swept away as Alan Foster suddenly attacked them.

Jo went shoulder first into him, knocking them both to the floor. Sam fled onwards, the precious object clutched beneath her jacket and the others followed. The knife flashed silently in the air, reflecting the search-light and then suddenly pointed downwards. There was a sharp yell and blood gushed from Jo's shoulder.

Jo grabbed the man's head and smashed in onto the floor several times and then seized the knife, throwing it away to the left. Arabella and Donald, now nursing his wounded arm, helped Jo to her feet and ran with her after the others. They quickly reached the perimeter fence where they were shielded from view by the trees and stood gasping for air like goldfish marooned on dry land.

'I think I got all of the film!' gasped Phil clutching his side.

'Golly, this is fun!' Rupert said gleefully.

'I've got to get this out of here!' Sam said breathlessly, indicating the grail.

'Yes,' said Jo, 'get it back to SITU. Who'll go with her?'

'I will,' said Donald examining his wound, 'I don't want to go to a hospital with this, they'll ask too many questions, I know someone who'll take care of it no questions asked. Then we'll go to SITU.'

'Are you OK, Jo?' Arabella asked.

Jo cautiously pushed her finger inside her shirt and under the flap of skin that had been sliced. She was soaked in blood, but grinned, 'It's only a flesh wound, the bleeding has stopped already.'

'Maybe you need stitches, you should still go to hospital.' Arabella said.

'We haven't got time for this,' George said, his voice suddenly military, 'Sam and Donald go now, take a car and go. Let us know when the grail is safely in SITU's hands. Jo and Arabella you go back to the hotel with Rupert and get cleaned up, the Police are going to want to talk to you. Phil and I will stay here and wait for them to arrive, start our cover story. Just so we've all got it straight, we were filming some atmosphere shots in the copse when we heard loud noises and turned round. Seeing that the spring and our equipment had been vandalised, we ran over and then we were fired on. That's all we need to say, OK?'

They all nodded.

'See you all later,' said Sam as she and Donald climbed over the fence.

'See you back at the hotel,' said Jo as she and Arabella and Rupert followed.

'Come on,' said Phil, 'we'd better get round the front before the Police arrive. We don't want to give them any reason to be suspicious.'

Rupert, Jo and Arabella stumbled through the chill night, a new onslaught of rain plastering their hair to their freezing scalps. Despite her wound Jo was smiling quite broadly, and so was Rupert, the fear of only a few moments ago melted away by victory.

'What a rush!' Jo murmured under her breath. Arabella secured her leather satchel around her thin shoulders and squeezed out her pony tail once more.

'Are you all right?' she repeated to her friend.

Jo nodded, 'It's ages since I've seen action like that.' she said, 'makes me remember why I was a military girl! My arm has gone a bit numb though. Perfectly natural I think.'

'What an evening!' said Rupert, 'I think I'll compose a ditty in honour of the nights events.' Jo rolled her eyes heavenwards as Rupert skipped ahead, singing at the top of his voice, but to Arabella, who was looking closely, there almost seemed to be a glint of affection in her eyes.

Rupert's voice was atonal in the extreme, but he made up for it with exuberance:

'Brave Sir Donald ran away,
Bravely ran away,
When danger reared its ugly head,
He bravely turned his tail and fled,
Brave Sir Donald turned about,
When gallantly he chickened out,
He beat a very brave retreat,
Bravely taking to his feet,
Brave is our so brave Sir Donald! Oh..!'

It only took five minutes for George and Phil to arrive outside the gates, but they were surprised by the silence there. They'd expected a greeting of clicking police radios, search lights, excited guards and perhaps even a few early-bird members of the press, detecting another juicy morsel in the grail saga.

They slowly made their way to the front of the securely locked gate and stood, looking around, not knowing what to do. The guard hut was empty and they couldn't see anyone nearby in the gloom, all of the lights were switched off and their torches had been discarded. After a few minutes George stamped his feet and harrumphed a little, blowing his warm breath into his hands. The adrenaline that had coursed around their bodies from their ghostly encounter and the fearful chase had subsided. Phil stood still and looked agitated by George's fidgeting.

'I'm going to ring the Police,' he said, 'perhaps the guards were ...held up... by Charles and Hugh..' This thought made them uneasy and they peered blindly into the darkness as Phil typed out the three digit number. A short call later and Phil hung up.

'They're on their way,' he said.

They stood for a few more minutes, apprehension growing in each man.

'Perhaps we could go back to the hotel?' Phil suggested, 'wait for them there?'

'It'll look better if we stay,' George said somewhat reluctantly. He took a few paces and paused suddenly as he thought he felt a twinge in his leg. He shook his head, dislodging the thought - his leg was cured, and anyway, being outside in this kind of weather whose muscles wouldn't play up?

A sudden rustling in the bushes lining the perimeter wall made the men turn with a little more haste than they ordinarily would. Shamed smiles crossed their faces as the wind chased on, shaking all of the bushes in its path.

Suddenly there it was again, louder this time. Phil and George stared at each other, almost frozen in horror again. They looked at the shaking shrub once more and slowly took a step towards it. There was another noise behind the rustling... footsteps...?

Sam and Donald slipped wordlessly onto the street, Sam's frozen and shredded bare feet making soft squelching noises on the slick paving stones.

'Nothing too flash,' Sam hissed as Donald lingered a little too long next to a black two seater.

They padded a little further down the road, Sam clutching her front and Donald clutching his arm wound which was beginning to ooze blood through his fingers and towards the floor. They grinned at each other.

'Some people are at home watching TV tonight,' said Sam. Donald laughed and then paused, leaning against a handy lamp-post. The colour had drained from his face.

'Are you all right?' Sam asked.

Donald nodded firmly, 'I've just never had an encounter like that before,' he said, his voice calm, 'it's really knocked it out of me. All that...Arthur stuff...,' he indicated his seeping arm, 'I think that this might have something to do with it as well...'

Sam grinned, 'Come on, I'll drive you to this quack you know! Let's take this one,' she indicated a smart, but low range blue Rover. Clutching the grail with one hand, she reached out with the other and the lock seemed to dissolve under her touch. The alarm let out a strange wavering squeak, but it wasn't that which made Donald and Sam start, it was the smooth brown hand that shot out and seized Sam's small hand, holding it vice-like...

Arabella, Rupert and Jo, drenched to the bone crept into the hotel, giggling as the ancient floor boards creaked under their tired feet. They slowly made their way upstairs and came to Rupert's room first. They piled inside.

'Excellent, excellent!' exclaimed Rupert as he handed out miniature whiskeys and brandies from his mini-bar, 'we really should do more of this chasing stuff. Terribly exciting stuff! It almost makes these adventures worth while!' He sank down on the neatly made bed and gulped back the whole small bottle, letting out a satisfied sigh, 'We've now done two of these exciting things in Glastonbury,' he said, 'I was wondering if maybe we could arrange another. How about an irate landowner chasing us off his land, or maybe a protective father, cross at George for interfering with his eighteen year old daughter. There are so many exciting possibilities for great chases!'

Jo knocked back a miniature brandy and cracked open another, 'I think you should let me recover from this one first!' she said, indicating her wound. Her clothes were beginning to steam and the damp flap of her shirt was sticking uncomfortable to the open gash.

Arabella clutched at her tiny bottle, taking occasional sips and coughing. She chewed irritably at one of her fingernails.

'Well chaps,' said Rupert, 'I suppose we'd better get ready to get out of Glastonbury, and pretty damn fast as well. If we play it correctly we can even have another thrilling chase!' His eyes lit up with school-boyish glee.

'On do be quiet about chases!' Arabella groaned, massaging her back, 'that satchel is heavier than you'd think. I might have bruised my spine!'

'Come on,' said Jo, 'I've a field first aid kit in my room, you can patch me up!'

'Yes, you go on, dears, I'll join in just one moment!' Rupert said.

Jo and Arabella limped from the room and pausing to make sure they were gone, Rupert quickly pulled out his stash from his secret hiding place. Expertly rolling a joint on the free Giddeon's bible from the bedside cabinet he quickly lit up and stretched out on his bed for a while.

He took a few long drags, enjoying the relaxation spreading through his body and smiled when he heard a muffled thumps from Jo's room next door. Jo and Arabella at their sex games again! he thought. After a few minutes he'd finished the joint and after looking wistfully at his stash and deciding to save some for another day, he re-hid it and then quickly washed the charred evidence of his smoke down the tiny porcelain sink. He briefly paused to straighten his ruffled hair in the tiny mirror and headed next door to Jo's room.

'Sorry chaps,' he said as he entered the room, turning away to close the solid oak door behind him. 'I was just taking my medication...' He broke off as his eyes adjusted to the darkness and the scene in the room became clearer. Jo was sprawled out on the bed, eyes closed, blood soaking onto the pale duvet. Arabella was crouched in an upright foetal position on the edge of the bed, her beloved satchel on the other side of the room, its contents spilled out. Behind her stood two men, and Rupert suddenly realised that they were Charles and Hugh. Something glinted dully at Arabella's right temple and with sickening realisation Rupert saw it was a gun.

'Do come in, old chap,' said the shorter one, who Rupert thought was Hugh. Something glimmered at his throat, a mystical pendant of some kind.

'I'm afraid I'm going to have to insist that you take a seat unless of course you want your little academic friend here to do a little research into trepanation,' Rupert slid reluctantly onto the stool infront of Jo's dressing table. 'And I'll also have to insist that you stay quiet old boy, we don't want to go disturbing the nice residents of this place at this time of the morning, especially with the noise of your colleague's cranium being blown to pieces. Do we understand each other?'

Rupert nodded.

The net curtain sailed inwards, blown by the open window and Charles and Hugh's route of entry became obvious.

'Excellent, then. To business! You've taken the grail and we want it. We're going to search you and your rooms and if it's not on you you'd better tell us which of your other little friends has it. The hitman...? The brigadier...? The journalist...? The thief...?' Suddenly his eyes lit up at Rupert's muted reaction, 'Ah, the thief has it! You know, I've always been very good at reading body language, I studied it briefly at Oxford doing my psychology bachelor's. But I digress.' suddenly his eyes took on a steely look. 'One of you had better tell us where the thief has taken it, or we'll have to start doling out some good old fashioned public school corporal punishment. Only much... much worse!' The other man holding the gun smashed it down on top of Arabella's head and she fell woosily forward, still conscious but definitely stunned. Rupert could just make out through the darkness that Jo had opened her eyes and was at least semi-awake. He glanced somewhat desperately around the room, if only Donald were here now...

Phil and George took another step forward. There was definitely another noise, a scraping, whispery noise that tore at their fear. Phil subconsciously pulled his phone out of his pocket and then looked down at his incredulously. Who was he going to call? Ghostbusters!? The thought was so surreal that he almost let out a hysterical giggle. But the foliage rocked violently again and George squeezed his eyes shut, praying that it was only the wind or a stray dog, anything that would relieve the dreadful fear that had only just left them, but was already building up and up again, until it was almost at a crescendo.

Suddenly at the peak of their fear, a tousled, wide eyed man leapt at them and seized Phil by the throat, throwing him against one of the gateposts. George gasped despite himself. Foster was back and he was even worse than before, already he was pressing the blade into Phil's delicate throat, drawing a ruby red bead of blood which swelled with the threat of running into a rivulet.

'Where is it?' raved Foster, prodding Phil with the knife, drool hanging from his chin, streaking the mud and filth that covered his face, madness obviously lending him strength. There were bruises forming on his forehead and a cut leaked dark blood into his left eye socket. 'Where's the grail, the master needs it! He is angry! WHERE IS IT?' His voice raised to a blood curdling scream and he lifted his arm way above his head as if to plunge it into Phil chest. George took an involuntary step forward. Where were the Police?

The hand quickly grabbed Sam's other one and pinned her to the car. With relief, Sam felt the grail stay put, lodged in her waistband. She threw out a thanks to the cosmos for tight jeans. Donald had also been forced against the car and was wincing through clenched teeth as his wounded arm as pinioned behind him. Sam wormed her face around sideways and was surprised to see Mr Chow was her captor.

'Where is it, little girl..?' he said in a threatening voice, strongly accented with Mandarin. Obviously he hadn't seen it on her and now assumed she had hid it somewhere.

'Somewhere you'll never find it!' she hissed at him and was rewarded with a sharp smack on the back of the head which bounced her forehead off the car. She saw stars which rapidly faded.

'Get in the car!' ordered Chow, pushing her into the drivers seat and she saw that Donald was being bundled into the back by a dark figure. Once in the driving seat Sam found that her left arm was bound with a long piece of plastic usually used for tying back garden plants. It was painfully tight and meant that Chow could drag her hand away at any moment. She saw that Donald had his arms and feet lashed with the same ties behind his back. He looked close to unconsciousness, but Sam still couldn't see the face of his assailant.

'Drive!' ordered Chow, digging a snub gun into her ribs. She glided away from the kerb and followed Chow's instructions until they soon found themselves heading out towards open countryside. After a while, she plucked up the courage to speak.

'Where are you taking us?' she croaked.

'Silence!' ordered Chow, 'just drive.'

'Yes, just drive, Sam,' purred an oh-so familiar voice from the back seat, 'you're very good at it. Ever thought of going professional?' The figure leaned forward and Sam's stomach lurched as she realised it was Amanda.

The journalist giggled with delight at Sam's reaction, 'Oh come now, you didn't think I was one of the good guys, did you?' Donald groaned and concern flashed across Sam's face.

Amanda leaned back and lifted up Donald's head, dropping it snugly onto her lap, 'Don't worry, I'll look after Superman back here,'

'He's wounded,' said Sam, 'he needs blood!'

'You'd better tell us what we want to know then, hadn't you?' said Chow, 'or the only blood transfusion he receives will be yours spattered all over the inside of this car!'

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