The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Like a Thief in the Night
9pm 26th December
TR, Matt, Twitch, Isobel, Eric – Diamond Row
Mickey, John – Outside Avebury
Andrew – the Stonehenge campsite.
Twitch puts a hand on Matt’s arm. “Hang on, Matt. Firstly, how come it’s the old git here who is scaling the garden walls and not faking the dodgy ticker. And secondly, child snatching is a serious matter. We can’t just go charging in and grab it. What if we get it and it’s not Isobel’s kid – the coppers will be everywhere in about half a nano-second. We wouldn’t have a chance, and half the young ‘uns are… um… packing, I think they call it. It would bugger everything up.”
Matt nods, glancing from the baby to Twitch, his mouth suddenly dry. It’s a baby, sure, but who’s the woman? Isn’t Liza Petherton in Paris? He peers into the kitchen again, catches TR’s eye and points up. That done, he ducks out of sight.
“Any way in on this side?” he whispers to Twitch, who has crouched down behind the dustbins, armed with one of the metal lids. One back door, he notes, leading into the kitchen. French doors into the conservatory. Two windows at ground floor level. Two more higher up, with no easy way to get to either.
Staring up into the bedroom window, they can still see the blonde woman. It is not Liza – they can tell that much at once. Her face is too pale, too narrow, her eyes too small. Her attention appears to be fixed on the baby until, all of a sudden, she stops singing, tosses the baby into the air, catches it again on one arm and moves out of sight.
Twitch carries on staring. “What we need to do,” he murmurs, “is to force them out of the house somehow so Isobel can identify young whatshisface. Then we can see about a rescue.”
Matt shakes his head. “Too risky. If that is Tanith in the house, we don’t want her to know we’ve found her. Come on. Let’s get back to the others.”
Reluctantly, Twitch follows. Matt catches a brief muttering of, “Might’ve known no one would listen to an old fool like me.”
“Hello? Hello!” TR shouts, turning away from the window. “This is an emergency! We need paramedics or an ambulance immediately. Yes, I know it’s Christmas and you are short-staffed, but this can’t wait! It’s an emergency! A man is having a heart attack here. I don’t care if you don’t have paramedics. Look, just send someone! All right. All right, thank you. Yes, send the ambulance to…” Calming slightly he turns to the man who’s hovering near by. “What is the address here? Twenty-seven Diamond Row.”
“It’s all right, son,” Eric calls out weakly from the doorway. “It’s not a heart attack, there’s no need for an ambulance.” The couple in the house don’t look convinced, and no wonder, TR thinks. Eric looks as if he can barely stand. He is paper-white, one hand clutching at the front of his shirt.
TR takes the opportunity to pause in his ‘phone call.’
“I’m a doctor myself,” Eric protests feebly. “I know. This isn’t a heart attack.” He sinks down onto the doorstep. Just let me sit here a moment.”
TR puts the phone down and lets out a convincingly shaky sigh of relief. “I’d better get him to hospital just in case. Where is the nearest one? And thank you, Mr..?”
“Adair. Jack Adair. It’s no problem, honest. Chrissie and I were just watching television. A quiet evening, just the two of us, you know. Are you sure your father will be all right now?”
Eric has his eyes shut. Images flit through his mind. A flash of something gold, and then the thought of crystals. The Grail could be right here, he thinks. Leaning on Isobel, just for the sake of appearances, he reaches out with his consciousness again.
I am not merely a man who chose the grail. I am nothing less than Percival who was. And I have come from communion with the Archangel Michael.
The thoughts sustain him, giving strength to his mind as he pushes out farther and farther. He hears a woman singing, close by but some voice in his mind warns him not to stay and listen. He forms the image of the Grail in his mind. Golden, wooden, spun from clay or carved in crystal, the outward form matters little. The Grail is the source of all healing. When he has the Grail in his hands, Michael told him, he will call to the Maiden and she will hear him and come.
The outward form matters little.
Then, at last, he understands.
His eyes snap open. He gets to his feet. “I’m feeling better now,” he says. “Let’s leave these good people in peace.”
“…So far so good,” Mickey says. “Let’s get them away from here, shall we?”
“Yeah, good idea,” John agrees. “Let’s get these two out of here.” He’s already heading back to his car for his stash of ropes and handcuffs.
It takes only a few minutes to secure the men and force them into John’s car. While John sits with a gun trained on them, Mickey takes the driver’s seat and starts the car. The fleeting thought crosses his mind that he should have planned what to do after grabbing the men, and he takes out his mobile phone.
“It’s me,” he says, before Blaize has had a chance to say two words. “We need a safe house. Any ideas?” He waits a while then grins. “Okay, we’re on our way.”
This was not unexpected, Andrew thinks, watching the scene in the Stonehenge campsite. The new arrivals are probably the people from South Wales, the ones who are into the druidic tradition. In his mind, Andrew is catapulted back to the fight at the pyramids. It’s going to happen all over again.
For now, though, he remains where he is. The vans stop in the middle of the camp. Two men get out of the first one – both are wearing scarves looped across their faces so all Andrew can see is their eyes. More people climb out of the other vans – thirteen in all. They form a rough circle around the vans, then one of them – the leader, Andrew supposes – steps forward to clasp hands with Richard and Cath. Both of them appear nervous, excited as they greet him. He speaks with them for a while then turns away abruptly. People run to obey him as he shouts orders, clearing a space in the middle of the camp, bringing bundles of wood to light a fire, jumping back when they’re finished. Some of them even bow.
“I was wrong about the Grail.” Eric is so afire with excitement that Isobel thinks he really is going to have a heart attack. He smiles at her. “I was wrong. It’s not a physical vessel, it’s a spiritual one. It is manifested in physical form, but it’s the spiritual vessel that matters. The physical is just a home for the spiritual concept.”
“Is he making sense?” Twitch asks.
TR shakes his head. “Not to me. Eric, maybe we should go back to the hotel. We need to plan how to rescue Arthur.”
“You don’t understand,” Eric insists. His eyes are full of starlight. “You don’t understand. I have the grail.” He touches his chest. “It is here. Within me. And here.”
He holds out his hands. TR feels a faint warmth. Isobel and Matt both catch sight of something gold, glinting like a ring on the old doctor’s finger.
“And the glory of the Lord shone round about him,” Eric whispers. “The Grail has a new form. Don’t you see? It is here. It is me.”
“Barking mad,” Twitch says decisively. But Eric turns to Matt.
“Find Darius,” he commands. His voice is charged with power. “Tell him I know how to heal him.”
“Here we go.” Mickey pulls up outside a cottage.
They get their captives inside quickly. Mickey drags one of them through to the small kitchen, handcuffs him to a water pipe and returns to the other one.
“Right,” he says. “Let’s start with Isobel’s baby. Did you kidnap him?”
The prisoner stares back sullenly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Mickey kicks him in the stomach.
He gives no warning, and the man is totally unprepared. He doubles over, gasping for breath. Mickey hits him again, this time in the face, sending him flying halfway across the room.
“Where is the baby?”
“I don’t know-”
“Wait,” John says, putting out a hand to stop Mickey before he can take another swing. He kneels down besides the man and wipes the blood from his face. “Let’s start with something you might actually know. Who are you?”
The man spits blood, glances quickly at Mickey and answers. “Aaron. My name’s Aaron. What do you want? I haven’t got any money.”
He is frightened, John thinks. Frightened and guilty – an animal in a trap. John smiles. “Aaron. All right. Why were you following me?”
Mickey kicks him again. He yelps in pain. “I was paid. A woman. She told us to follow you if you left Avebury. We weren’t going to do anything to you, just tell her where you went.” He looks towards the kitchen door. John can sense his anxiety.
“We’ll talk to your friend later,” Mickey grunts. “How many more of you are there?” He grabs Aaron’s hair and twists his head back. Aaron moans in pain. “Six, seven. I don’t know.” Mickey tears a handful of his hair out and he screams. “I don’t know how many. She’s been asking around, hiring people for odd jobs. That’s all I know.”
It isn’t, John thinks. Firmly, he removes Mickey’s hand from Aaron’s hair. “I think we can come to some agreement here,” he says. “Tell us everything you know and we’ll let you go. You won’t even need to tell anyone we caught you. This woman… what was her name?”
“She called herself Morgan. I don’t think it was her real name.”
“I don’t think he knows any more,” John says, releasing him. “Let’s go get the other one.”
“They all appear to be settling down for the night,” Andrew tells TR, whispering into the radio. “The people who’ve just arrived are definitely the druid leaders. They’ve been talking to practically everyone in the camp, organising them into groups – military units, by the look of it, though I doubt most of the people here have ever held a weapon before. This could get nasty; hundreds of untrained people wielding guns.”
TR turns the radio off and looks around the room. Mickey and John haven’t got back yet and he wonders where they are, but he assumes they can take care of themselves. TR sighs. “We need to find more information on Tanith,” he says. “I’m assuming the woman Matt and Twitch saw at the house was Tanith?”
“It was,” Eric agrees. “I could feel her. She’s diseased, like a wound. Far beyond healing.” He looks as if he’s about to say something else but sighs and falls silent.
“She’s working for the Watcher,” Matt says. “Like the Druids. From what I know of previous missions, when the SITU team snatched the Grail from her, the building they were in went up in flames. Which means she could well be the burned woman that TR met. But how did the Grail get from Liza to her?” He shakes his head. “Everything’s impossibly tangled. The French group’s tracked down Liza Petherton in Paris; she’s given them a little more background. Then there’s the genetic stuff which SITU has finally admitted is missing. And a possible traitor.”
“It’s interesting that we’ve been likened to Arthurian characters,” Isobel offers. “I wonder who the rest of us are supposed to be.
TR grins. Twitch shakes his head in disgust. “Apart from the Arthurian names, St Michael’s guidance from beyond the veil was singularly unhelpful, if you ask me. Stating the bloody obvious, more like it.” He scratches his head. “I wonder if the female in the boat was Mary Magdalene rather than the Grail Maiden. And if Tanith is the burned woman, there’s an interesting Jean d’Arc reference there.” He breaks off. “It’s all a load of bollocks anyway,” he mutters, flushing. “I’m only here now because of Benni and Sidestep and … Margaret. And what else is there to do anyway?”
Matt passes him a brandy. “Let’s look at what we know,” he suggests briskly. “Isobel and Liza attend the Bradshaw Clinic at the same time, both with the intention of becoming pregnant by deceased partners. There’s a mysterious ‘S’ authorising things behind the scenes – might be ‘Sophia’, ‘SITU’, ‘Swahn’, whatever – and some of Paul’s ‘genetic essence’ goes missing from SITU headquarters.” He sips the brandy slowly. “Bradshaw is funded by Sophia. Both women are successfully impregnated – perhaps the semen is swapped around, we don’t know – and Isobel, at least, gives birth to a healthy son. We don’t know what happens to Liza’s baby. We do know that Sophia made a pact, millennia ago, whereby she promised to give up her firstborn son in return for… well, in return for something.”
He frowns. “Anyway, Sophia sits in her Tower with a baby she calls Paul. She’s happy. Someone – presumably in SITU – lures her to the Oxford Psychic Conference with the promise of massed ‘psychic force’. She goes for a look-see, through Liza. Her baby, Paul, is unprotected. SITU agents arrive, take the kiddie and burn her Tower. Not surprisingly, she’s pissed off.” He swirls the amber-coloured fluid and downs another mouthful. “I’m assuming this happens around the time she trashes the Conference and takes Arthur Henry. But why? Did she think he was her baby, or is she planning to bargain for the return of Paul?” He shrugs. “Has anyone here actually met Tanith – besides TR, I mean?”
They all shake their heads.
“She’s powerful,” Eric says quietly. “She has great power to hurt – as I have power to heal now. I have a feeling we will all meet her soon.”
No one looks particularly happy at the thought. Matt finishes his brandy and sets the glass down. “Finally, although I’m still unsure of how he connects with all this, it doesn’t look like Jesus was Sophia’s firstborn after all. That honour apparently goes to another Paul, a disfigured freak in a mask who runs the Prieure de Sion, in Paris. Looks like she gave birth to the Man in the Iron Mask, or maybe the Phantom of the Opera…” He smiles tiredly. “That’s the story so far. Over in France, they’re receiving packages of snakes and spiders courtesy of the Trismegistus Club – one supposedly sent by Isobel’s dead husband. Sick joke.”
Isobel starts. “They’re sending packages from Henry? Why?”
“The question is,” TR puts in, “what do we do now? We have the Grail – or at least Eric does.” He glances at the old doctor for confirmation. “Tanith still has Arthur Henry. How do we get him back?”
“Safely,” Isobel says pleadingly. “I want him back, but I want him to be safe. Promise you won’t do anything rash.”
“I was planning on sending in the experts to snatch him,” Matt says. “That will have to wait for now.” He yawns. “Tell Mickey and John I can let them have gloves, and syringes of sedatives. If that’s all for now, I’m going to barricade myself in my room.”
Eric looks up. “There are so many questions,” he says. “Could the Grail Maiden be an angel herself? Was that the Archangel Michael, who referred to himself as the guardian, and, if so, who was Gabriel, and who was Mary – Sophia herself? Wouldn’t Sophia match up more with the Holy Ghost? And if not, who or what is that? For that matter, who is God? And what, truly, is an angel? Or a devil?” He heaves a sigh. “How can we learn, in a meaningful way?”
The same questions, over and over again. Aaron passed out long ago. The other one, Vaughan, is a mess of blood, at least three fingers broken.
“We were hired to follow you. The woman’s name was Morgan. They’re planning something at Stonehenge.” And then. “There was something about a space ship.”
“A space ship?” Mickey grips the man’s throat.
He nods and swallows convulsively. “It’s why some of the New-Agers are here. They said a space ship is going to land at Stonehenge on New Year’s Eve. It’s just talk.”
Vaughan doesn’t believe it himself, John sees. He bents closer. “So what has this got to do with a kidnapped baby. Think.”
“I…” Blood runs from Vaughan’s mouth. He shakes his head. “All I know is they’re supposed to be staging a ritual at the henge, and they’re expecting a space ship to turn up.”
John stands up. “He’s telling the truth. That’s all they know.”
Mickey looks almost disappointed. Giving the nearest one a kick for good measure he goes to the door and opens it.
“They’re all yours,” he tells the SITU agents who are waiting outside.
Matt is going through his usual nightly ritual. Putting up the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign, blocking door and window with as much furniture he can drag across them. Positioning halogen torches around the room, one under his pillow, a Zippo lighter and can of lighter fuel on the floor by the bed (the bedside table being in the pile of furniture against the door.) Downing a handful of garlic tablets. Knowing all the time that it makes no difference.
“I’d like to take a look at the weapons cache at the Stonehenge camp,” John says over breakfast. “One option is to try to steal the weaponry. But I’m not sure it’s a good idea. Don’t we want the ritual to at least begin – and that means the New-Agers will need the guns to keep the police back. And, if that’s the case, the cops aren’t on their side for once.”
“I think we should grab what weapons we can,” Mickey responds enthusiastically. He calms down slightly when he sees the others looking at him. “All right. We’ll go and take a look first. Does anyone else want to check out that lake John saw in the middle of the stones?”
John frowns in thought. “The Lake, the grey maiden waiting in the boat, all at Stonehenge. Does this mean that the ritual will reunite her with Arthur, the child, her Lord? Is she the grail maiden?”
“More likely the lady of the lake, or one of the three ladies who bore Arthur across to Avalon,” Eric says. “I wonder if that’s where Isobel’s Arthur was taken. And I wonder if Arthur equals Paul somehow.” He looks at John. “I agree with you. I’m not sure we want to sabotage the arms dump yet. Maybe you could work out the best way of doing it.” He glances up as Matt and Twitchin come in together. “Talking of Paul, what’s stopping SITU offering what remains of Paul’s essence back to Sophia? And do they know who took the missing portion yet? Maybe you could ask Blaize about Andre Swahn when you phone him, Matt.”
Eric has a phone call of his own to make. “Tell me about Aiwass,” he says to Isabelle Kingston.
He hears surprise in her voice, and something more. A sense of loss. She is silent a long moment.
“Aiwass was my guide,” she says at last. “My mentor, if you like. He gave me access to the spirit realms, acted as a mediator between myself and those I sought. It is dangerous – far too dangerous – for a human being to enter the spirit realms alone. Without a guide, we would be lost at once. All I could do was stand at the threshold of their world. Aiwass came to me there. I told him what I wanted and what spirits I wanted to talk to, and he brought them to me. Without him, all I can do is stand at the threshold and watch. I can sense the spirits beyond, but they do not speak to me.” She sighs. “Is that all you wanted to know?”
“No.” Speaking carefully, Eric says, “I believe it will be possible to reunite the Grail maiden with the Grail. Could you come to Avebury to perform the ritual you mentioned?”
“You’ve found the Grail?”
“In a manner of speaking. Can you come?”
“I can,” she says, “but the ritual itself will take some preparation. Will tomorrow morning be all right?”
Eric is disappointed. He closes his eyes briefly. “It’ll have to be. Thank you.”
Twitch turns Matt’s computer off with a satisfied smile and turns to Matt.
“You okay, Twitch?” Matt asks. “I didn’t mean to piss you off the other day, I guess I was just… worried. Oh, and I never suspected your son was a vampire; I was checking him out for the Mark of Nefertiti.” He grins suddenly. “Ever miss having normal conversations?”
At least Twitch has a family, he reflects. He barely thinks about his own childhood any more. It worries him sometimes that he worries so little about it.
“Maybe we should send someone to Viscount de Montfort’s funeral,” Twitch suggests. “I can’t go, because Theo will be there, but it may give us an opportunity to see who turns up… You know, give us a few clues, get some video camera photos or something.”
Matt nods. “I saw his obituary in the paper. It didn’t say when the funeral was being held. It’ll be something to check. Although, I’d guess the church will be swarming with SITU agents as it is.”
The archangel Michael. Named in the Bible as the angel who threw the devil down from heaven. The protector of Israel in the book of Daniel.
There is even a religious cult dedicated to the archangel, Isobel finds, and a prayer for protection.
“Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle; be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; may God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, o Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell the Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world, for the ruin of souls. Amen.”
In the Bible, worship of angels is forbidden. They are described as messengers of God and very often protect God’s people from harm. The Book of Hebrews says, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?”
There are only two archangels named in the Bible: Gabriel and Michael. The name ‘Michael’ in Hebrew means ‘one who is as God’ which has led to the angel being confused with the son of God himself. The archangel also has vague connections with Mary – there are a number of churches called ‘St Mary and Archangel Michael.’ There are various stories of Michael acting as a protector of God’s people, including one famous example from 4th century Egypt:
In Phrygia, not far from the city of Hierapolis, in a place called Kherotopa, there was a church dedicated to the Archangel Michael. Near the church there flowed a healing spring. The church was built through the efforts of a resident of the city of Laodicea, in thanks to God and to the Archangel Michael for the healing of his mute daughter with waters from the spring; the maiden received healing at the spring, and began to speak. Following this miracle, the father, his daughter and his entire family were baptized. Thereafter, through the father’s efforts, a church dedicated to the Archangel Michael was erected. Both Christians and pagans began coming to the spring for healing. Many of the pagans renounced their idol-worship and turned to faith in Christ. A person named Archippus served for over 60 years as a sacristan at that church. Through his preaching of Christ and by the example of his God-pleasing life, the pious man brought many pagans to faith in Christ. Pagans who hated Christians in general especially hated Archippus, who never left the church and who served as an example to all who served Christ. They decided to destroy the church and at the same time to do harm to Archippus. To this end, they diverted two mountain streams into one watercourse directed toward the church. St. Archippus fervently prayed to the Archangel Michael, asking him to turn away their misfortune. By those prayers, Archangel Michael appeared near the church, and, striking the rock with his staff, opened a wide fissure in the mountain and ordered the torrent to flow into it. Thus, the church remained unharmed. At the sight of such a wonderful miracle, the pagans fled in terror. St. Archippus and the Christians assembled in the church praised God, and offered thanks unto Holy Archangel Michael for his assistance. The site of the miracle became known as Chonae, which means “fissure” or “plunging.”
The message is clear – Michael is the protector, using the power of God to defend his people.
Whatever the power of God is, Isobel thinks.
“Delivery for Miss Holly Catweazle.”
Holly squeals in delight. The ‘package’ is a huge cuddly pink rabbit, as tall as Mickey.
Twitch blushes slightly. “Well, thought the kid could do with an extra Christmas present. It was good of her… you know… trying to cheer me up an’ all. Merry Christmas, Holly.”
“Merry Christmas Granddad.” She slips her hand into his. “Can we go to Stonehenge now?”
They make their way to the camp with Mickey and John.
“The new guys are making their presence felt,” Andrew tells them over the radio. “They’re staging some sort of demonstration, but I think it’s only to keep the police occupied. I’d like to know what was in the vans they brought with them, too. No one’s gone near them.”
When they reach the camp, they find most of the people clustered around the newcomers. Twitch recognises Cath, minus Richard, not far away, and makes his way over.
“Good morning,” she greets him.
He doffs his cap at her. “Slept a bit heavily last night, missed all the excitement, you know. I take it the druids are here?”
“They certainly are.” Cath grins at him. “It’s quite exciting. They’re going to stage a proper ritual at Stonehenge, something that hasn’t been done for at least eight hundred years, they say. They’re talking about ley lines and bringing back Merlin or something. They’ve got somebody to play the part of Merlin, apparently – he’ll be coming on the thirty-first itself. The rest of them have come early to make sure we’re all geared up and ready.”
Twitch smiles encouragingly. “Geared up, meaning ready to keep the police away, or ready to take part in the ritual?”
“The police mainly.” She brushes her hair back. “All we have to do as far as the ritual is concerned is to watch. The druids will handle the rest.”
“What about the space ship?” Holly pipes up.
Cath looks puzzled for a moment, then laughs. “Oh, you’ve been talking to the sci-fi contingent. Some of them think Stonehenge was an alien landing site and that the aliens are planning a return visit this year. A load of rubbish, of course.”
“Of course,” Twitch agrees amiably, and can’t resist adding. “As opposed to sensible theories about druids and King Arthur and magic.”
Leaving Twitch chatting to the various campers, Mickey and John make their way over to the weapons vans. A couple of younger men are lounging about by one of them. John grins at them as they approach.
“The new bosses want us to check things out.”
“Sure.” They move aside at once. There is no hint of a trap: from what John can tell, they assume anyone in the camp must be a friend and can therefore be trusted. He opens up the nearest van and peers in.
Some of the guns are missing. Yesterday the van was full. Now it is half empty. Mickey jumps inside and examines a couple of the rifles. All of them standard makes, the sort of thing you can pick up anywhere if you have the right contacts. With this amount of stuff, they must have been preparing this for the past year at least, he reckons.
“How many of these have been given out?” he asks.
“About thirty, I guess. I’m not sure. Why?”
“No reason. We have to be ready to move these at a moment’s notice? The van’s have full tanks, I take it?”
“Petrol in the tanks and keys in the ignition. Ready to go when we have the word.”
Leaving the vans, Mickey takes out his radio.
“You hear all that, Andrew?” he hisses.
“I heard.” Watching through his binoculars, he can see the vans clearly. The two New-Agers shut the doors on the one Mickey was in and go back to lounging on the grass. Further away, Twitch and Holly are involved in some animated discussion with another group. They appear to be enjoying themselves. The druid group has cleared a space in the middle of the camp – or rather, it seems, people have cleared a space around them, not wanting to get too close. Andrew shivers slightly. This is going to be a long, cold day, he thinks.
“Hello, Blaize, it’s Matt Culver again. No rest for the wicked, it seems. I’m assuming this line is secure?” Quickly, he goes through the details of what he’s heard – the Magdalene’s Tower in France burning, and her child stolen, apparently by SITU agents. “Do you know anything about this?” he asks. “Honestly, I mean.”
“Honestly, no. I’ve been looking into it since Louis gave me an update from France. If some traitor within SITU was planning to steal Sophia’s child there would have had to be plans drawn up. It was all orchestrated very carefully. There would have had to be a fairly large team of people involved. Frankly, I don’t think anything like that could have happened without me knowing. Add to that the fact that I know the whereabouts of all SITU agents at the present time. If any of them had stolen the child, there’d have been sign of it by now. My guess is that some third party did this and laid the blame on SITU.”
Matt murmurs agreement. “It’s looking like SITU’s right hand doesn’t know what the left’s doing, doesn’t it? Is it Swahn? He got pretty stressed over the Whitby thing: he was popping pills and muttering about internal politics at the happy SITU home…”
“Swahn… He’s been liasing with the Tri Club lately. I don’t think he’s into baby stealing.”
“No, but what do you know about him?” Matt persists. “How far do you trust him?”
“We haven’t always seen eye to eye, if that’s what you mean. Andre has a tendency to get impatient. He likes things to be done his own way. He’s got no love for the Ylids but I don’t think he’d deliberately provoke one. But he’s been in SITU almost as long as I have and knows as much as anyone.” He pauses. “Don’t tell anyone I told you this, but his own son died in an accident a long time ago. That’s why he wouldn’t take Sophia’s baby – he knows what it’s like to lose a child.”
Matt digests this news in silence. He runs a hand through his hair and sighs. “Anyway, it sounds like the Watcher’s the one behind the planned Stonehenge ritual – and, if sodding Maurice is to be believed, he’s got the Grail. Any idea what he’s trying to achieve? The Tri Club must know; aren’t they your buddies these days?”
“They say there’s a number of things he could be trying to achieve, from making a grab at all the available power in this country to taking possession of the Grail Maiden. To be honest, I’ve not talked to Rohinder lately. Swahn’s been handling that side of things, as I said. I’ve had enough on my hands keeping track of what’s been going on.”
“Right. One other thing. Eric suggests it might be prudent to return what remains of Paul’s essence to Sophia. It could help to calm her down.”
Matt hangs up, frowning. Next step, talk to the Tri Club, he thinks.
Leaving Twitch to ‘mingle’ at Stonehenge, John and Mickey collect Holly and get back to Avebury in time for John to accompany TR and Jane Tate to the Red Lion.
The pub is closed for the afternoon and Tom is in a chatty mood. “What happened,” he says, “is that over the years, people removed the stones from their proper places, using them for building materials in some cases. Sometimes they just moved them because they were in the way. Now, in the thirties various people decided the stones should be returned to their proper places. The whole thing was headed by some bloke from south Wales, if I remember rightly.”
“Do you have a photo?” TR cuts in eagerly.
Tom shakes his head. “Nah, they didn’t take any of themselves. Anyway, my great uncle decided he’d help. Some people’s houses had to be demolished to recover the stones, but there was compensation for them, so they didn’t mind too much. Most people decided it was worth the hassle to have the stones put back. ‘Specially my great uncle. He was thinking about using the top floor of the pub for hotel rooms, you see, and he reckoned that if the stones were put back right people’d want to come and see them, and they’d need somewhere to stay. Good for business. It didn’t happen quite like that, of course. He died in the war, poor bugger, and the pub was passed onto his nephew – my father.”
Jane Tate opens a box. Between lumps of packing material she finds jagged pieces of stone and flint. She holds one up. “This would be a dagger,” she says. “It’s got to date back to the Stone Age.” She lays it aside carefully and carries on searching.
There are lots of pieces of stone. Some of them probably relate to the stone circle, or are fashioned into basic tools. Others are probably nothing special, tossed into the boxes with the rest of the finds, ‘just in case.’ John picks up a slim gold armband, so small it has to come from a child. John holds it in both hands…
…And drops it with a startled gasp. The image he got was one of absolute fear. A girl, no more than four years old, held down against a flat stone while a knife sliced across her throat.
Tom looks at him curiously. “There should be some photographs around of the things as we found them,” he says. He roots behind boxes and pulls out an old file. “Here we go.”
There’s not much to see. Old photos, badly exposed and brown at the edges, showing holes with vague objects lying at the bottom of them. TR leafs through them. “It’s a shame there are none of the people who organised this,” he comments.
“I know. According to my father, they were funny about photographs, wouldn’t even have their pictures taken for the local paper. He thought they’d probably signed a deal with someone else. They paid a lot of the compensation themselves so they must have had someone pretty big behind them.” He waves at the photos in TR’s hand. “Borrow them if you like. I doubt anyone else is going to be wanting them. The same goes for any old bones you want to examine. They’re stacked according to age, I believe. The oldest are several thousand years old, the most recent are around eight hundred years old. Something like that, anyway. Help yourself. Just make sure the Lion gets a mention in your paper when you write it.”
TR nods. John bends to open another box. This one turns out to be full of bits of stone and old bones. He glances up at Tom. “I was talking to a couple yesterday,” he says on impulse. “John and Chrissie Adair, I think it was. I don’t suppose you know them?”
Tom grins. “Sure I do. They’re two of my best customers. Big sci-fi fans, both of them. Always convinced the world is about to end. They belong to all sorts of clubs and things, I think. They both seem to go off on conventions a lot.”
“Really?” John says. “I take it they don’t have children then.”
“No. I don’t think they can.” He shrugs, dismissing the subject. “That’s something else they don’t talk about.”
John picks up some of the bones and freezes. Children, young men and women dying in terror. The bones stink of sacrifice. A ritual repeated over and over again, part of some plan that is slowly unfolding. Something very old and very powerful has been here, John thinks. He glances around and pockets the bones quickly.
“Rohinder, it’s Culver,” Matt says. “Level with me. Why does your organisation focus on the Watcher as enemy? What’s he planning to do at Stonehenge – and what have you got up your sleeve to stop him?”
“Matt, hold on a minute.” Matt hears her talking to someone in the background then she comes back onto the line. “Right. You were asking about the Watcher? We were hoping you’d find out what he was planning at Stonehenge. We really have no idea.”
Matt sighs loudly. “Look, I know your relationship with SITU isn’t an equal one, but try to be honest with me. The ley-lines are converging and my group doesn’t have much time. I know you created the White Alchemist as a weapon. I want to know how you intended to use him – and whether we can.”
“You can’t.” Strange, for a moment Matt was sure he heard her laugh. “If the White Alchemist can be used as a weapon – and I’m not sure it’s possible at all – we will have to be there to do it. You wouldn’t know what to do.”
“You could tell us.”
She really does laugh then. “Nothing doing, Matt. You might decide to try it and cause no end of problems. Unless you come up with a better idea, I’ll see you at Stonehenge.”
Matt glares at the phone in his impatience. “What is going to happen at Stonehenge? What are you expecting?”
“Some ritual,” she answers. “We’re not sure of the exact nature and purpose of it. But this is something the Watcher has been planning for centuries, and it’s going to take a lot of power. Which is where the sacrifice comes in. Child sacrifice is supposed to be the most powerful form of all. What we don’t know is what he’ll do with that power, whether he’ll channel it into himself or use it for some other purpose.”
Matt can sense she’s not going to tell him anything more. “All right,” he says. “Thanks. Incidentally, if the snakes and spiders are from you, it’s all in rather poor taste.”
“Roseway Hotel. How may I help you?”
“I’m phoning from the police department,” Eric says. He’s not quite sure about the lie, but it’s the best he can think of. I want you to check back through your records to January the fourteenth and tell me who was staying at the hotel that night.”
The girl sounds surprised, but she complies quickly. Eric can hear the sound of pages turning.
“We had eight people in that night. Mr and Mrs Peterson, Mr and Mrs Lewis, Mr Hanfield, Miss Jackson, Mr Swahn and Mr Freyling. Does that help?”
“It does. Thank you.” Eric puts the phone down slowly.
The team meet up back at the hotel, eagerly looking at the items TR has brought from the Red Lion.
“I’ve got some photographs,” TR says. “The quality is not great, but they do show the artifacts in – ah – situ, so to speak.” He passes them around. “There’s certainly a history of repeated ritual sacrifices in this area. I wonder if the Watcher was behind all of them?” He stands up. “Anyway, if you’ll excuse me, Jane Tate is waiting for me in the lobby. Have a good evening, everyone.”
In the short time of daylight that is left, Matt pops out to the local shop and buys a few odds and ends. Returning to his room he removes the Ezili fetish from his neck, and carefully copies the network of heart-shaped memes in lines of salt on the carpet. Lighting a rose-scented candle at each of the four points of the compass, he douses the area liberally with CKOne, and pops open the bottle of champagne, slurping the foam from its neck.
It’s a long time since he last attempted an Ezili ritual and he struggles to remember the chants he learned. Finally he gives up trying and cries, “Papa Legba, open the way!” and invites the lwa into him.
“Mistress Ezili,” he murmurs respectfully, “Matthew your baby boy begs the wisdom of you and your family. What is happening here? Does Legba know? Or le Baron? Can the good spirits fight the bad?”
The good spirits always fight the bad, that is the way of the world. The answer comes to him in the silence. This is what they want, Matthew…
Matt sees a flash of blood, a severed head rolling between stones. And then three cards, charged with power. A child cries as they are torn in half.
TR sits back, turning his wine glass between his fingers. Across the table, Jane Tate smiles shyly at him. Her cheeks are flushed with candlelight. TR raises his glass to her.
“To us,” he says.
TR finishes the last mouthful of wine and sighs. “So, what do you think of Avebury?”
“Ever the romantic,” she laughs. “Well, the finds were certainly interesting. Frankly, I’m surprised they haven’t come to light before. You’d have thought whoever organised the effort here would have wanted them. Although, I suppose if they just wanted them moved out of the way it makes sense. It’s interesting to think that the system of sacrifices didn’t just happen at Stonehenge. The whole area must have been one huge temple at one time.” She pauses and looks at him seriously. “TR, if you’re involved with something here, I’d really like to help.”
TR returns her gaze. He can trust her, he feels. He smiles suddenly, realising she’s looking at him with an interest that goes beyond the purely academic. He stands up and offers her his hand. “Shall we discuss it back at the hotel?” he suggests.
Eric, waking from a dream about the Grail Maiden, hears him in the corridor outside his room later that night. He is whistling – an old American song.
“I found my love in Avalon, beside the bay. I left my love in Avalon and sailed away.”
Isabelle Kingston arrives early the next morning. She looks around at the assembled group uneasily.
“From what I understand,” she says after a long discussion with Eric, “the Grail consists of two parts – the spiritual and the physical. Eric has found the spiritual element. Now, it will be possible to channel that power directly into Eric. In effect he will become the new embodiment of the Grail. And once we have a new Grail, the Grail Maiden will come.” She pauses to light a set of candles, passing them out for the others to place around the room. “The only problem is,” she says, “No person has ever become a channel for the Grail’s power before. I don’t know what the effect will be. Eric, are you ready?”
He nods firmly. He has felt the power of the Grail: it holds no fear for him. He reaches out to take Isabelle’s hands in his own. She throws back her head and begins to chant.
The candle light dims sharply then flares again. Isabelle’s eyes are blank, white. Then, amazingly, her face changes, becoming the face of a young girl. Still holding Eric’s hands, she turns her head to look at the group.
“Igraine,” she murmurs, looking at Isobel. “Mother of the King. Merlin, truth-seeker…” Her gaze lingers on Matt and passes TR.
“I think I’ll settle for being Indiana Jones,” TR says with a grin. “After all, he found the Holy Grail, too.”
Isabelle shakes her head. “You think you have no part in this, Thomas the unbeliever. You may be surprised.” Her gaze is so direct, that TR finds himself shifting position uncomfortably. Finally, she turns and gazes directly at Eric. “This is a heavy burden you are choosing, Percival. Are you sure you can bear it?”
Eric’s shoulders straighten. He nods.
All the candles go out at once. Isabelle lets out a cry and falls sideways. Eric sits motionless.
“Eric,” Isobel gasps.
Blood is welling in the palms of his hands.
Twitch wakes up stiff and uncomfortable in the Stonehenge campsite, wondering how he got there before he remembers he accepted the offer of a sleeping bag for the night. From a nice young lady, if he remembers rightly. Then he realises what woke him. People are shouting.
From his vantage point, Andrew sees a flurry of movement. The group of druids have gathered around a fire. The leader is shouting something – Andrew’s too far away to hear what.
Twitch hears it though.
“Power has left this place,” the Druid screams. “Power has been stolen.” He throws a handful of powder onto the fire making it burn eerily green. “There are traitors here. Here in the camp, and there.” He swings round, pointing directly at the place on the hillside where Andrew is hiding.
9am 28th December.
Andrew, Twitch – Stonehenge
The others – the hotel
JOHN: “This is a battle that must be fought in two worlds,” the Wolf tells you. “Make sure you are prepared. It won’t be long now.”
Twitch seems a lot more cheerful. Isobel, though worried about her baby, is calm enough, busying herself with research.
TR: You don’t hear the voice again.