Monthly Archives: June 2015

Cassandra 23 Episode 4: Another Country – August 26th to 27th, 2000

From: SECTION 7, SURVIELLANCE

TO: SECTION 9, RECORDS

SUBJECT: TRANSCRIPT OF audio recording FINISHED BY SUBJECT SAVAGE DATED 11-09-00.

NOTE: This appears to be the rough draft of an article subject savage is writing. Recommend immediate “D” notice coverage and selective editing of subject savage’s long term memory.

The Cassandra Files

Another Country

The Past is another country, they do things differently there … “

The last light of that hot August day had already faded from the sky by the time the car carrying Sergeant Jones and I reached the outskirts of Brichester. It felt strange to be bound for that place not on a matter of national security but rather to celebrate the birthday of our long – time companion, C23’s very own Heather Scott. Despite the innocuous reason for our visit I could not bring myself to relax, for the past few nights had brought me strange and disturbing dreams and I couldn’t help associating the streets of this Gloucestershire town with deadly peril and macabre horror.

A slight detour delayed our arrival at the ( CLASSIFIED ) Street safehouse but, a little tardy, we eventually pulled up outside. On crossing the threshold we quickly discovered that the other partygoers were already there – mostly familiar faces but there were a few newcomers. Heather and Mr J. were acting as hosts and re-introduced us to Gabriel Olding with whom we’d worked on the Midsummer Affair and two new faces, a slightly mysterious “government” man named Jack Cole and a young psychic who went by the name of Thessally. I wasn’t sure how these people knew Heather but everything was soon to become clear.

It appeared that we had been summoned under false pretences because, although it was indeed Heather’s birthday, Mr J. had merely used that as a cover to assemble a C23 team to investigate a string of murders that had occurred over the past few weeks.

The ever-efficient J. slipped effortlessly into his Intelligence Mandarin persona, outlining the facts of the case as they were known up to this point. Apparently, over the last month or so there had been a series of mysterious deaths, all of which achieved notoriety due to their bizarre nature. According to the press reports which we were provided with, all three victims had suffered a massive loss of blood at (or near) the time of death and all three victims had twin puncture marks on their bodies. The newspapers had drawn the obvious conclusion and labelled the deaths, the Vampire Murders. While I have seen and heard of many strange and terrible creatures since I joined Cassandra 23 I had never encountered any reference to actual vampires so I resolved to keep an open, but sceptical, mind.

As well as the strange nature of the deaths there was another factor that linked all three victims. It appeared that they were all associated in some way with a local publishing house called the Westgate Press, which catered to the tastes of the area’s “Goth” community. This in itself got the attention of the press, due to the link in the popular mind with the theme of vampirism and Goth culture generally. It also seemed a good place to start the investigation as, even if the other members of the Westgate Press were not involved, they’d known the victims and might well have details that could be of use.

Jeff & Anna, two of the Goth murder victims - Player Handout

Jeff & Anna, two of the Goth murder victims – Player Handout

This was obviously Mr. J’s intention so he arranged to move Heather Scott’s birthday party from the plush surroundings of Taylor’s to the local Goth club , “Sanctorum”, apparently the main gathering place of the Westgate Press circle. I was quite relieved to hear this as the sight of Mr. J. dressed not in suit and tie but rather in dark Gothic apparel had quite unbalanced my worldview. I was, however, alarmed at the prospect of venturing into this potential den of vice, iniquity and death, not least because I suspected that Sergeant Jones and I would stick out like sore thumbs. Fortunately our other companions, even the staid zoologist Olding and the government man, Cole, seemed, chameleon-like, to have comfortably assumed a guise that would pass muster in the dim surroundings we were likely to find ourselves in. The voluminous wardrobes of the safehouse provided a few items of clothing for Jones and I that would permit us to blend in a little.

That dealt with we ventured out into the night heading for the “Sanctorum”. Heather warned us that the club closed shortly before midnight so, late as we already were, we would have to hurry our investigations along. As we scurried through the darkened streets and thoroughfares of the fear – shadowed city I thought I felt the presence of a hundred unseen watchers, lurking amid the blackened boughs of the night-touched trees which seemed to me to be swaying eerily in the still night air. Despite the danger that might well await us I was glad to see the recessed entrance of the mysterious nightclub.

An Unsafe Sanctuary

The Sanctorum consisted in the main of a large, dimly lit room with a well-lit bar at one end and a slightly sunken dance floor, overlooked by clusters of tables formed into separate areas by low fence-like wooden partitions. On arrival Mr J. made his apologies and moved off, obviously he didn’t wish to compromise the team by associating with us. Heather then led us to a side table, pointing out to us the various members of the Westgate circle who were already present.

Although we were somewhat isolated from the other patrons it was impossible to make any detailed plans as the club’s music pounded out its insistent beat, furthermore I was a little intimidated by the pressure exerted by the eyes of dozens of curious ( or perhaps hostile ) strangers. Unable to effectively communicate we abandoned our perch at the side of the dance floor and moved back to the bar where, further from the music, it was possible to talk with relative ease.

After long minutes of hesitation we decided that we’d have to approach our suspects directly. I felt that Thessaly, Olding and Jack Cole would be better at that than Jones or I but, having learnt from bitter experience, I told them to make sure they had a believable story ready to deal with any awkward questions. It later occurred to me that we probably should have adopted a cover story that covered all of us, thus making it less suspicious when we got together to share information.

While the other C23 agents went out into the dim recesses of the club Sergeant Jones proved once again that, difficult though he found social situations, he had an eye for detail second to none. He told me that, while inspecting the club goers, he had seen the sinister figure of Sebastian Lux, seated on the table next to us as we discussed our plans. The courageous soldier had approached this eldritch sorcerer and attempted to learn what he was doing here and tried to discover whether he knew anything of the murders but was unable to pry any details from the recalcitrant ex – Cult leader.

While I stood at one corner of the bar, discussing the situation with Agent Scott, a strange figure approached me. He was a lean, fit man around thirty, dressed in casual evening clothes. In other circumstances, I wouldn’t have given a second thought to his presence but in this dim cavern, crowded with a collection of strange figures, made grotesque in the subdued light, he stood out as much as Jones or I. He was reluctant to introduce himself properly but as we got into conversation it quickly became apparent that he was here for similar reasons to my own, namely to investigate the circumstances surrounding the strange ‘vampire’ deaths. I quickly surmised, from his manner and from his ready dismissal of any supernatural origin for the attacks, that my unknown interlocutor was actually an undercover policeman. Unfortunately it appeared that he knew little more than I did about the events surrounding these crimes. I thus gained little from our conversation save the impression that the police were wedded to their story of Adder bites, which, as it turned out, was not as far from the truth as it seemed.

Moments after the plainclothesman departed I was approached by an individual who would have stood out anywhere. Dressed in a mix of PVC and other strange fabrics the odd lighting made her vivid make-up even more arresting1. This could only be Tarantella, a transvestite performance artist and a member of the Westgate Press circle. Although I’d never met anyone quite like this I decided that the best way to approach her would be in the guise of a reporter, interested in her work, but also in the mysterious deaths surrounding the Westgate group.

Initially Tarantella was suspicious of me, having seen my meeting with the not–so-undercover policeman but it was easy to prompt her into conversation, particularly when it related to her and the other members of the Westgate circle. I didn’t need the keen senses of a journalist to realise that Tarantella held those others in utter contempt, not having a good word to say for Scales, his wife, Li Chaos or the three people who had died. I was trying to discover what she thought of the mystery surrounding those deaths when we were interrupted by a smartly dressed man, handsome, tall and powerfully built. Turning straight to Tarantella he inquired if she was being bothered, if she needed any help. I detected in his manner a concern deeper than that which one might expect of a friend, a concern both insistent and urgent. Having ascertained that his companion was safe he turned and introduced himself as Thomas (a name familiar from the briefing dossier as a confidant of Serpentine). He asked me why I was interested in Tarantella and I sold him my reporter story and asked what he thought about the deaths. It was clear from his reaction that the murderers had shaken him, not because of their innate tragedy but because they were creeping closer to Tarantella, whom Thomas believed was next. Further questioning didn’t reveal much except that he was even less convinced by the possible supernatural aspects of the murders than the policeman had been – indeed he rejected the mystical elements of the deaths with fanatic venom.

Tarantella and Thomas drifted away into the darkness and I glanced down at my watch, alarmed that we had so little time before the club was due to close. Prompted by Heather I gathered up the others and tried to find out what they’d discovered. Thessaly and Gabriel had talked to the owner of the Westgate Press, Ian Scales, who had spent most of the evening sitting at a table just beyond the bar, overlooking the dance floor. Mr Scales seemed an unlikely impresario, dressed in a tie, white shirt and smart waistcoat he looked like he’d be more at home on a trading floor than in the dark confines of a Goth club.

Nonetheless Gabriel and our young psychic had approached Mr. Scales, masquerading as promoters of a Goth club in Oxford who were interested in setting one up in Brichester.

The entrepreneur was apparently brusque in his dealings with the two C23 agents, informing them that the ‘Sanctorum’ was hardly the place to deal with such things, they should come and meet him at his home Tomorrow lunchtime. The ex-intelligence man also approached Scales but had received a very frosty answer but it appeared that no had questioned the other pivotal member of the Westgate circle, the lead singer of Chaos Energy, Li Chaos. This didn’t surprise me, Chaos was as intimidating as Tarantella, if in a different way – but I was sure that we should at least make an effort to learn what he knew. I therefore asked Jack if he would talk to him and see what he could discover.

Cole returned a few moments later, having learned very little from the taciturn Westgate Press impresario. I was a little surprised that a skilled intelligence operative should be so easily foiled but he told me that he wasn’t used to being thrown into such situations ‘cold’. Apparently he would normally have been given a detailed cover story and a full background rundown on those who he was dealing with.

While I was pondering whether to make an approach to Li Chaos or Ian Scales myself I overheard Tarantella talking and I caught a mention of that dread book, the Necronomicon. The merest reference to that dark and terrible Thomase, filled as it is with secrets drawn by madmen from the shadowed corners of the cold and terrible void, was enough to make me break out in a cold sweat. If any of the Westgate circle were meddling with that awful work then we were clearly treading in waters deeper than we knew. I had to discover so I approached the exotic figure of Tarantella and ‘her’ ever-present shadow, Thomas, who was still by her side.

I tried another approach with the gender-bending poet, appealing to ‘her’ professional vanity by showing interest in producing an in-depth piece on her work. I made every effort to learn what Tarantella knew of the Necronomicon, that blasphemous recording of the dread whispers of the mad Arab, Abdul Al-Hazrad. ‘She’ seemed fascinated by it, claiming to have read large sections and drawn to have drawn inspiration from its grim pages. Such a blasé attitude made me sure that there was more to Tarantella than met the eye, difficult though that was to believe, and I was sure ‘she’ knew more than ‘she’ was telling.

Thomas intervened in our conversation, obviously prompted by his desire to protect ‘her’ from danger. He scoffed at the supernatural connotations implied by the presence of the Necronomicon in this affair but did mention that, apropos of the occult, the local area, and particularly a place called Hailes Abbey, had connections with the Templars, that perennial well-spring of occult groups and secret societies.

The background music drowned out some of what he said and I was also distracted because, while we spoke, Tarantella seemed to be ‘sniffing’ me or taking my scent. I found this unusual but didn’t let it phase me, in my current role as a well-travelled reporter I couldn’t let it break my concentration. In the light of later comments by Jones I should have been more alarmed than I was. As Tarantella and her ever-present shadow made to move away I asked if it would be possible to meet tomorrow to do a more in-depth interview. ‘She’ told me that couldn’t be done but, if I wanted, my friends and I could accompany her to the ‘after-club party’. I thanked her and said that we’d almost certainly be there.

Unfortunately it was fast approaching closing time and C23’s efforts had been, at best, disjointed. I tried to make good some of my earlier mistakes by approaching Ian Scales and his wife Alyssa. I found the entrepreneur much as I expected, cool and brusque, but he did agree to let me tag along with a group he was meeting at 12:30 Tomorrow afternoon (I later learned that this was, in fact, Gabriel and Thesally). I tried to learn what I could from Alyssa but she seemed much as Tarantella had described, distant and cold.

As closing time approached I asked Jones to gather the others so we could discuss what we learned. As the reliable soldier moved off I saw the sinister sorcerer, Sebastian Lux, standing alone. Although I realised the risk I decided to approach him to see what I could discover – we engaged in some verbal sparing from which I learned little save a feeling that Lux wasn’t directly involved in this particular set of nefarious acts.

We gathered together again on the pavement a short distance from ‘Sanctorum’s’ entrance and shared information. It appeared that Thessally, Gabriel and Jack had managed to get more information from Scales than I and had opened a fairly ‘friendly’ dialogue with him. They didn’t learn much about the murders, save that the Westgate Press proprietor didn’t seem worried by the deaths that seemed to be creeping closer to him and that he shared the same low opinion of his associates as they apparently had of him. It was at this point that I learned that it was their meeting with Mr. Scales that I was tagging along for.

Thessaly also revealed that while she moved through the ‘Sanctuary’ crowd she had made use of her psychic senses. These had given her a disquieting feeling about all the denizens of that strange and darkened haven but, most particularly, made her extremely wary of Thomas, who she believed was under the control of some supernatural presence and thus possibly possessed by some evil spirit. I pointed out that, as it was Tarantella who knew of the Necronomicon, maybe she had used some black sorcery on Thomas but, whatever the case, the others generally felt that we shouldn’t accept the invitation to go back with the two of them to the party.

That decided we then split into two groups, one would go back to (CLASSIDIED) Street to research the hints and clues we already had while the others would investigate the two crime scenes located near the ‘Sanctorum’. Thessaly, Heather and I made our way back to the safehouse while the others disappeared into the chill night.

Murder Scenes and Mysterious Tales

Ensconced in the cosy confines of the (CLASSIDIED) Street safehouse, Thessaly and I made use of the information sources that were immediately to hand – researching the leads that we had. We started with an examination of the available information on the web relating to the members and associates of the Westgate Press circle, browsing through websites devoted to the Press itself, Tarantella and Li Chaos’ band, Chaos Energy. These sources of information provided us with tantalising hints but little more, we learned that Tarantella’s was related to an old gentry family from Cornwall who had a history of interest in the occult, a fact which may or may not have been relevant. The Westgate Press site gave us further information about the entrepreneur head of the organisation, Mr. Scales and also revealed some interesting facts, notably that Scales had a background in pure and applied mathematics at a very high level, with particular reference to theoretical multi-dimensional science. This all echoed the career of the insane physicist, Alec West, whom we had dealt with before. Curiously Scales had also used his mathematic skills to debunk many fake occultists and stage magicians. Available information on Li Chaos mostly surrounded his band the Chaos Energy, interesting though this was it didn’t seem relevant to our investigation.

Having started by zeroing in on the outré members of the Westgate Press we then widened our search, looking for local references to anything unusual or out of the ordinary. As we should have expected, this turned up a plethora of recent stories on subjects ranging from a ghost train to wild machete attacks. Thessaly and I slowly ploughed through this mass of information and eventually selected a few stories that seemed to be of relevance. There were a number that concerned a local historical sight, Hailes Abbey, which grabbed my attention, mainly because I remember Thomas telling me that the Abbey had been a major Templar site.

One of them detailed the disappearance (and later re-appearance) of a pair of German tourists from the site of the abbey under mysterious circumstances. Another concerned the nearby railway, which, although it had been disused for years, was apparently graced by the apparition of a ghost train that still thundered down spectral tracks. These continual references to Hailes Abbey intrigued me; I have learned that such repetition is rarely coincidence so Thessaly and I proceeded to direct our research towards discovering more about the ancient monastic ruin.

Many strange stories clung to the Abbey, none more so than the explanation of its final ruin, which involved a huge explosion, either caused by a meteoric strike or staged as a ruse to allow the monks to hide their treasures from Henry VIII’s dissolution.

As we pondered the Abbey’s mysteries we heard the door of the safehouse open, heralding the return of Sergeant Jones and the other investigators, with a strange and macabre tale to tell.

After leaving us at ‘the Sanctorum’ the three agents made their way to the second and third murder scenes, located nearby, within the confines of the terror-haunted city’s heart. The second murder, that of Anna, the girlfriend of Li Chaos and, previously, of Jeff, the first victim, had occurred at a disused burial ground in the centre of Brichester. A short walk brought our intrepid trio to the spot where they began a minute examination of the ground, hoping to find something that the police might have missed. Their keen eyes quickly picked out an incongruity among the long grass and the rows of headstones. When they investigated further they discovered a number of curious items, diamond shaped with a certain pearlescent lustre that Gabriel identified as having come from some reptile or serpent, clearly of gigantic size and from a species unknown to the learned cryptozoologist. Making use of sample bags that Dr Olding had shown the forethought to bring, they collected these strange objects for further examination.

Crime Scene Photo from the Player Handouts: Amanda played the body!

Crime Scene Photo from the Player Handouts: Amanda played the body!

Having swept the second murder site for clues the trio moved off through the Gloucestershire night toward the site of the most recent atrocity, a local recreation ground called Mercy Park. It was within the confines of this ‘green lung’ that Giles Hampshire died. Of the three victims he was clearly the most suspicious for he had links with both Sebastian Lux’s Church of the Inner Light and some of the Templar front organisations that we had encountered during the Midsummer Affair. A thorough examination of the site was hampered by Sergeant Jones’ reluctance to be seen diving into the bushes with two other men in an area known to be frequented by homosexuals. Fortunately Olding and Cole were not so concerned and together they looked over the scene. Another frenetic search revealed more of the curious scales that had appeared at the previous site.

There were also signs of a brutal struggle which had apparently terminated when a giant ‘man’, over seven feet tall, smashed Hampshire’s head onto the iron railings of the park with enough force to crush his skull and bend the railings backwards. It was clear that our ‘prey’ had considerable physical prowess.

With the second and third sites investigated, Olding, Jones and Cole made their way back to (CLASSIFIED) Street, starting to show weariness as the effects of the late hour began to take hold.

On their return we shared information and made our plans for the following day. The first order of business would be for Gabriel to make a thorough and scientific examination of the curious scale that had been found and then we would all make our way to the site of the first murder, Crickley Hill. If we started early enough there should be enough time to investigate the murder scene and make our rendezvous with the evasive Mr. Scales. Having decided what the course of action would be each of us retired to our makeshift beds, all save Dr. Olding, who we left pouring over the plethora of strange newstories that our searches earlier that evening had revealed2.

A High Hill and a Low Deceit

My sleep that night was troubled with dreams in which I heard strange songs and snippets of words which came to me through the grey veil of sleep. Most strongly of all I felt a strong urge to keep everyone together, and not to allow anyone to be “on the outside looking in” as the words I heard apparently warned. When I awoke these half-remembered fantasies of sleep seemed a distant distraction. Nonetheless I felt it wise to ensure that the ‘team’ was not divided that day and that therefore, when Thessaly, Olding and I went to see Scales the rest of the group should definitely tag along.

The creeping horror of the previous evening had allowed me little sleep but the effect on my fellow agents appeared to be the opposite, for they slumbered past the appointed moment of awakening. Reluctantly I awoke my dreaming comrades and we gathered in the dinning room of the safehouse to discuss our next step.

As already agreed the first step was for Gabriel to apply the penetrating eye of scientific analysis to the mysterious scales that he and his colleagues had discovered last evening. While he was doing that, the rest of us were reviewing the information we’d acquired, in particular a more thorough review of the mass of odd news stories that we’d encountered seemed to be in order.

Leaving the others to their research for a few moments I decided to make a further attempt to contact ‘Tarantella’. His/her knowledge of the dark and horror tainted pages of the Necronomicon was disturbing and I had a strange feeling that she had some deeper involvement in this matter than we had divined up to that point. The only point of contact we had was an e-mail address so I sent a message speeding through the copper lanes and silicon streets of the ‘web, asking for a further meeting.

Meanwhile Gabriel’s research had born fruit; the objects that he’d gathered the previous evening were definitely some form of snake scale but from a species totally unknown to the erudite expert. The scales had a number of strange properties, chemically speaking, most significantly they were extremely alkaline, so much so that even touching them would cause serious burns on a person’s skin. All of this, plus the marks that were seen at the murder scenes spoke of a creature which stood utterly outside the reach of modern science, an alien paraform or an antediluvian remnant of some ancient age. The plot became more convoluted and macabre when Jones mentioned that he, like myself, had noticed Tarantella sniffing me and others during the meeting at the Sanctorum. He had realised at the time that sniffing one’s prey is a facet of the behaviour of snakes but hadn’t wanted to share his suspicions with us until there was some corroborating evidence. All of this made the mysterious poet a very serious suspect but we decided to examine the last murder scene and interview the evasive Scales before we followed up our suspicions.

By now time was pressing if we wished to make our rendezvous with the elusive entrepreneur, scheduled for half past twelve that afternoon. Agent Scott had already warned us that Scale’s house was located in the countryside some distance outside Brichester so we would have to allow sufficient time to get there after visiting the murder scene high on Crickley Hill.

Leaving (Classified) Street behind us we weaved our way through the Saturday morning traffic before heading up the steep, tree-clad roads that surround the city, on our way to the local beauty spot of Crickley Hill. In the bright August sun the streets of Brichester seemed quiet and inoffensive, making it difficult to believe the strange experiences of the night before and the pall of murder and death which was hanging in the summer sky.

The C23 convoy turned up the steep and bumpy lane to the Crickley Hill viewpoint where we parked the cars and debarked onto the compacted dirt and stones of the carpark. A few steps took us to the steep side of the hilltop with the view of the ‘Golden Valley’ of Brichester and Gloucester laid out below us, bright and safe. Surely, I felt, such a clear and perfect day could harbour no dark secrets or terrible tales.

Following the description from the police report we made our way through the sun-dappled woodland that covered the crown of the hill towards the first murder scene. Sergeant Jones apparently knew more of this area than the rest of his comrades because he took off in an odd direction into the maze of trees and bushes while the rest of us blundered around trying to follow the police report’s guidance.

Eventually, after considerable confusion and a good deal of misdirection, we arrived at a hollow in the hillside, located deep in the wood. To our surprise we found that the elusive Jones had actually managed to locate the site before the rest of us.

Alan takes Goth to a whole new level as the corpse.

Alan takes Goth to a whole new level as the corpse.

Sun dappled trees threw dark morning shadows across the scene but the hollow itself was free from vegetation, save for a small copse in its centre, close to what appeared to be an “old” fire pit. Thessaly opted not to enter the hollow, apparently the location was filled with darkly resonant emotions that disturbed the young psychic. She watched from the lip of the hollow while the rest of us descended to inspect the murder scene. Not surprisingly given the time that had elapsed since the murder there were no obvious clues for us to follow but a close examination of the ground by Gabriel provided another disturbing revelation. Nestled amongst the browns and greys of the leaf mould he found a number of the strange reptile scales that had been present at the other crime scenes – with his usual thoroughness the cryptozoologist gathered the scales for later analysis. As we poked around in the leaf mould Jack Cole’s tracking skills came into play. He followed a series of odd marks and indentations on the ground to an area where the leaf mould had been disturbed. Searching the disturbed area thoroughly the ex-intelligence agent discovered a further curiosity, a shiny penny but not from our modern decimal era rather, according to the date, from 1919, over eighty years ago. I suppose it was possible that the coin had been mislaid by some keen coin collector but I (and others) couldn’t help imagining a more outré explanation for the coin’s presence. Wasn’t it possible that we were dealing with some form of time traveller who spread mayhem and terror through our twenty first-century world and then retreated to the distant era of the 1910s or 1920s? Given some of the things that I’d read in Professor Phiness’ journal I was unwilling to rule any possibility out.

Disturbed, but still unenlightened, by what we had discovered but pressed for time it was decided that we would immediately make our way to Mr. Scales’ house, as, even if we left straight away, we would probably still be late. As we walked back to the cars in crisp morning sunlight Thessaly approached me and told me of the psychic impressions which had struck her at the hollow. It appeared she had seen images of terror, violence and death, surrounding strange robe clad figures and others armed with guns. As she continued her description of what she had seen a strange sense of familiarity crept over me.

Suddenly I knew why! Her psychic senses were picking up reverberations from the confrontation between Cassandra 23 and Lux’s Church of the Inner Light in January. Clearly the intense nature of that encounter had swamped any subtler shades of emotion that might have lingered from the later “vampire” attack.

As the other agents drove off I waited for Sergeant Jones to return. I must admit that, at that moment, I had my suspicions about the good Sergeant. He had, after all, disappeared into thin air earlier and was now taking an inordinate amount of time to return to the car. Did he have some secret rendezvous with his hidden masters? Although I had my suspicions they were mostly allayed when Jones returned, panting and out of breath. Apparently he had attempted to take a “shortcut” back to the car and had become lost amid the green paths of the Crickley hillside – for some reason this had a truer ring than any more sinister explanation.

An Imbalance of Scales

Due to our delayed start and the many tasks we’d been forced to undertake we were going to be late for our appointment with the head of the Westgate Press. I hoped he would be more reasonable about it than he had appeared the previous evening. Scale’s country home was located some miles beyond Brichester and reasonably close to Hailles Abbey. Our initial plan had been for Thessaly and Gabriel to meet with Scales (with me tagging along), while the others inspected the nearby Hailles Abbey and the associated church. I always have reservations when we split the team and, in this case, I pressured the others to come with us (remembering the strange insights from my dreams). Unfortunately this last minute change of plans rather threw the pre-arranged cover story into disarray, forcing us to think on our feet (not one of C23’s strong points).

Arriving late we crowded into Ian Scales’ country home where the entrepreneur had thoughtfully laid on a barbecue lunch and buffet for us. I must admit to having been very suspicious of Mr. Scales but there seemed no immediate harm in accepting his hospitality. My suspicions were confirmed when the publisher, dressed in a dapper waistcoat and smart trousers, brushed aside our cover story and blithely informed us that he knew we were government agents. He told us that if we laid our cards on the table (so to speak) he could provide us with information that might be of use. Disturbed at this turn of events I turned to my oldest comrade, Sergeant Jones, and told him that, in order to coax information from our “host” we should tell him the truth. Jones was vehemently opposed to such a course of action, he preferred to pose as an RAF intelligence/security officer, although I pointed out that such a cover would hardly work for all of us. After a long “discussion” I persuaded the Sergeant to follow my plan although he warned me that, if Scales learned of C23 he would have to kill the publisher at some point. ac1

I have always shied away from such acts of horror but there was something sinister about Scales … who knew what other horrors lurked beneath his cold exterior? In any case I was sure that, if he turned out to be innocent, I would be able to dissuade Jones from any drastic action. Having sorted that out we presented Scales with our credentials.

Assured of our identity the publisher explained to us what he knew about the murders surrounding the Westgate Press and also filled us in on the other strange occurrences that he was aware of. Scales believed that the attacks on the Westgate Press were actually directed against him, being carried out in order to intimidate him into abandoning a certain item he had acquired, a copy of that darkest of all books, the Necronomicon! Once again that accursed book appeared in this matter, a fact I found all the more alarming when the publisher explained to us his interest in the work.

Apparently Scales had originally been drawn to that terrible work because he had heard that some of his Westgate Press artists had been using it for inspiration and, while doing so, had greatly increased the popularity of their work. Intrigued Scales had obtained a copy and perused it. Although he claimed to find the actual contents of the book unintelligible the publisher apparently believed that there was some hidden code or subliminal message incorporated into the structure of the text that made it so compelling. Employing his own wide mathematical knowledge and the formidable computing power that he had at his disposal he analysed the structure of the text and identified what he believed to be the key passages and sentence structures. When inserted into otherwise innocuous pieces these created a compelling, almost addictive need on the part of the reader for further exposure to such works. The publisher explained with perverse pride that he had at once seen the opportunity to make a fortune by incorporating these passages into his Press’s publications, creating a vast pool of readers unable to put the Westgate Press books down and ever thirsty for more.

Although I was sure he didn’t deserve it I gave Scales the benefit of the doubt and inquired whether he had investigated, or even considered, the effect of these passages on the minds of certain impressionable people who might read them. His reply was chilling – as far as he was concerned, any damage done to the readers was their own problem, he didn’t care what happened to them as long as they continued to buy his books and fill his pockets. Such a monstrous attitude marked him out as an evil on the par with Lux or the Fungi and I, in breach of my own normally non-violent attitudes, had no compunction in agreeing to Jones’ request to despatch the monster after he had provided what assistance he could.

Having given us the background to the affair Scales got to the heart of the matter. He took us up to his attic and showed us the place where he had been stored Al Hazrad’s foul work. In the gloom we could see nothing save a pair of solid roof joists which had been cleanly cut through in some strange manner. There were few clues to go by, for Scales had installed a sophisticated burglar alarm system that should have prevented anyone from entering the attic from bellow without being detected. It was possible that the intruder came in by removing some of the roof tiles but to do so without detection and to single handedly remove the Necronomicon and the lead-lined box which held it seemed difficult to believe.

The mystery was further deepened by the fact that the joists had not been cut through by any conventional means, instead some form of heat-based cutting tool was employed, like on oxy-acetalyne torch but one which left no noticeable collateral damage.

On top of this Mr. Scales told us that the book itself had been behaving strangely, “phasing” in and out of reality. He could detect no reason for this but it was this strange behaviour that led him to place it in its lead lined sarcophagi.

Having given us the background the ruthless entrepreneur laid out his proposal to us, he was sure that the person responsible for stealing the book was the same one who had carried out the murders. If we recovered the Necronomicon for him then Scales we would also find the murderer.

The thought of making any kind of deal with this loathsome madman chilled me to the marrow but he had information that could put an end to these terrible murders, information which we might not be able to acquire through other means. I talked the matter over with Jones and the others and we decided to accede to his demands, although I had already resolved that Mr. Scales was not long for this world.

Smugly satisfied that things had gone according to his carefully laid out plan, Scales then told us the rest of his story. He claimed that the force that had stolen the Necronomicon and was responsible for the murders within the Westgate circle was somehow linked with the medieval ruins of nearby Hailes Abbey. He confirmed that this mystery was also connected with the earlier disappearance of the two German tourists. When we asked him to elucidate further he became evasive, only willing to say that it was too difficult to explain and that we would have to see for ourselves. None of us were very satisfied with this explanation but, partly due to the impending threat of further murders but more because of Scales’ suave, yet friendly, manner, we went along with our devious host.

Strange Times

That decided Scales and his wife Alyssa drove us through the sunlit Gloucestershire countryside to the nearby Abbey – as we approached it the road passed over the deserted railway where the “ghost train” of local legend had been recently sighted. The summer light played tricks on my eyes and I could have sworn that I saw two long steel lines receding down the disused cutting, before I could look again we had passed over the bridge and were pulling into the car park at the edge of the ruined monastery.

His latent hostility seemingly a thing of the past Mr. Scales adopted a jovial demeanour as he turned tour guide, showing us areas of interest in and around the Abbey. As we gazed out over the ruins of the medieval place of worship Scales explained its history and told us about its more recent past. This included details of an excavation only a few short months before which had uncovered a hidden chamber containing a treasure trove of books dating from the time before the Abbey’s destruction. The mathematician turned businessman informed us that many of these books dealt with abstract mathematics, which, he believed, could have been the cause of the destruction, suffered by this place of contemplation and worship. Scales apparently felt that the monks had attempted (in a flawed way) to open a dimensional rift in the Abbey’s grounds, failed and caused the devastating explosion that ripped through the building.

AC2

By now our tour had led us to the great grass covered quadrangle that had formerly been the heart of the Abbey’s cloisters. It was here that the German tourists had disappeared and later reappeared. He informed us that this was the heart of the unusual phenomena that had been detected around the site. According to the research carried out by the archaeology team that had recently excavated the site there was an inexplicable radiation field centred on the Cloisters that, according to their readings, did not extend a centimetre beyond their boundaries! They were at a loss to explain it but Scales believed that this curious effect was some hold over from the doom-shrouded experiments carried out by the monks centuries ago.

Although I could detect nothing out of the ordinary in the plain square of grass that dominated the cloister area there was clearly a malign presence at work. Thessaly, far more closely attuned to the spiritual realities that stood behind the façade of the staid “real” world, was overcome by a feeling of dread and peril and fainted from the onslaught of terrible images. Unaware of the horrors assailing her Gabriel rushed over, bringing her to the rest of us in the centre of the cloister. Thessaly managed to scream out a strangled warning but it was too late, we had fallen into Scale’s trap! All I saw was a sudden demoniac smile cross his lips as he flicked a switch on a controller that he had been carrying – then everything changed.

AC3

All around us the world suddenly began to twist into unrecognisable shapes, I could tell that Scales was saying something but his words were twisted and lengthened almost beyond recognition as time seemed to draw out around us and then suddenly snap back to a single compressed point. For an endless moment we were caught between worlds, in the terrible void between then and now and in that moment, both eternal and ephemeral, I thought I caught the briefest glimpse of some horror whose very nature defied the ability of my waking mind to describe.

After an Aeon long moment trapped in eternity we snapped back into the “real” and collapsed, our minds shocked and stunned by what we had experienced.

Slowly we regained consciousness and our initial assessment of the situation seemed promising, for all around were the sun-bleached ruins of Hailes Abbey, as they had been moments before.

Our confidence was quickly shattered as we stared at the entranceway to the ruined abbey, where, only a minute ago a brick and glass visitors’ centre had stood. Now all that could be seen was a sturdily built wooden structure with a refreshments hut next door, watched over by a uniformed old man who had not been there last time we looked. Our senses swimming we looked around at the other visitors in the Abbey grounds, who had been clad in smart nylon trousers, shell suits and the occasional T-shirt. Now these fellow travellers were clad in a bizarre assortment of garments – tweed suits, plus fours, panamas, straw botas and smart bowlers, the women dressed uniformly in dresses and skirts, all with feet contained in smart leather boots and shoes without a trainer or Nike logo in sight. In a flash of revelation each of us realised what had occurred – the brand new 1919-penny we’d found on Crickley Hill pointed to the truth, we had travelled in time!

As the reality of our situation sunk in I finally remembered the last words that Scales had said before hurling us into this strange world. “Follow the tracks north and look for Howard”, a cryptic message to be sure but the only lifeline that we had to cling to. It seemed clear, given what we’d learned of the area earlier, that the tracks must mean the railway tracks where the ‘ghost train’ had been seen. In this year, at this time, that train was no longer spectral, but rather a thing more rooted in this reality than the bewildered members of Cassandra 23. Now driven by a desire to discover what Scales had done and to see if there was anyway to return to the our time we had no choice but to follow the madman’s directions and head north to seek out the mysterious ‘Howard’.

Ignoring the strange looks of passers by we made our way out onto the highway, now a dusty track rather than a tarmac covered thoroughfare. As we headed towards the railway we were passed by a number of cars, Austins and Model-T Fords, which rattled by, swerving alarmingly as they passed. Eventually we reached the railway tracks, gleaming brightly under the summer sun, running both north and south. Looking around we saw a rough path running parallel to the railway as it headed north. With some trepidation I followed as the other agents began to forge along the overgrown path. Time and again my gaze was drawn to that iron road, cutting its way straight through the countryside like the marks of some monstrous creature, leaving a gleaming trail of steel behind it.

In my mind’s eye I wasn’t seeing the rail line, instead I was picturing the last silver trail which I’d set foot on – the blood-soaked Faerie trod of that strange Midsummer evening. Fear began to creep up my back and I edged away from those bright ribbons of steel, gazing at the trees that overhung the tracks, looking for some movement or twitch not explained by the light wind.

We must have made a strange sight as we made our way through the Gloucestershire countryside of yesteryear, an eclectic group of strangely clad individuals, poorly equipped for a day amongst the hedgerows. Our unpreparedness for such an undertaking slowed our progress, which meant that we missed the train we saw standing at the first station along the route, apparently on its way back to Brichester. Despondent, fearing that we had missed not only the train but our last chance to return to our own time, we made our way to a nearby hostelry, following an attractive young lady and a well-dressed, tall, gaunt gentleman who had clearly also missed their connection.

We sat down to discuss our situation. As we were doing so I couldn’t help glancing over towards our two fellow travellers, who had also stopped nearby. I was sure that I had seen that man somewhere, his face was familiar although I couldn’t think from where. Ultimately my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to approach them and pass the time of day. If nothing else I hoped that they would know when the next train would be leaving the station and where it would be going.AC4

I politely introduced myself to the two travellers and asked that they forgive our outlandish garb, explaining that my friends and I had been to a fancy dress party. The gentleman, dressed in a smart linen suit topped with a white Panama hat, spoke with a refined New England accent, introducing his companion as a Miss Evangeline and himself as one Howard Lovecraft! I was flabbergasted, for this clearly was not only the Howard that Scales had spoken of but also none other than the famed writer of macabre tales, H.P. Lovecraft.

I asked him where he and his companion were going. It seemed that Howard had inherited a property from his Uncle Theophilus, who died recently. He had met Miss Evangeline on the boat from America and had struck up a friendship, thus when he arrived in Britain Lovecraft invited the young lady to be his first houseguest at the house he had inherited. I introduced the other C23 agents to Howard and Evangeline and was relieved when the aspiring writer asked if we would like to accompany him back to his new property and spend a pleasant evening tucked away from the August night. With no other avenues to follow we accepted with alacrity and accompanied the two Americans back to the station.

The Disoriented Express

We settled down into the comfortable, but not plush, surroundings of the second class compartment, with Evangeline and Howard sharing a seat while the rest of our party shared two other tables. Initially I sat down opposite the two Americans and engaged Lovecraft and his companion in conversation, hoping to learn what he had that the sinister Mr. Scales could possibly want. I found talking to Evangeline and Howard refreshing after the brusque conversational style of the twenty first century. Even given the situation which my companions and I found ourselves in I would have found the experience a pleasant one were it not for the infernal chatter of steel wheels on track and the distant bellow of steam and soot screeching from the engine at the front of the train. Trying to set that aside I politely questioned Howard and Evangeline about their plans.AC5

Apparently Howard had other matters to deal with in addition to his uncle’s house – in particular a certain book that his uncle had entrusted to him, requesting that he pass it on to a lawyer named Trelawney who was to collect it that very evening. Reaching into his travel bag the erudite American pulled out the object in question. Not for the first time in the course of this macabre affair I suffered a terrible shock, for the tome that Lovecraft set on the table could be nothing other than the terrible book that Scales wanted recovered, the dread Necronomicon. It looked innocuous enough as it sat on the polished carriage table, despite its strange contoured binding and the ancient occult symbol that had been embossed onto its cover. A shiver ran down my spine when Lovecraft opened that awful book and a strange, sickly sweet scent assailed my senses. The parchment leaves of the book were cracked with age and marked by the passage of time and the touch of fire. At some point during its history someone had tried to destroy that repository of darkness, they had clearly failed for the closely packed gothic type was still clearly legible and the twisted woodcuts which adorned its stained pages had lost none of their original horror. The young author seemed fascinated by that tome, drawn to the secrets hidden within its fear-touched pages.

In my already disturbed state I could hardly bring myself to look at those blasphemous parchments but even my briefest glances showed annotations in bright green ink, such as might be made by a modern marker pen. Unbelievably this must be the book that Scales had possessed and lost, coming by some unfathomable route into the possession of Lovecraft, eighty years before. I gathered that Howard was somewhat unwilling to give up so a fascinating source of inspiration but that he would carry out his uncle’s last wishes. By now the mere presence of the Necronomicon and the repetitive rattle of the rails was becoming too unsettling for me to bear so, making my excuses to Howard and Evangeline, who were both concerned, I left my seat to go to one of the carriage windows for fresh air.

Leaning out of the carriage window I allowed the rushing wind to mask the awful symphony of wheels on rails, which seemed to be whispering a unholy litany of madness onto the afternoon air. I stared fixedly out over the fresh greens and browns of the English countryside rather than be mesmerised by those silver rails stretching away into infinity.

While I regained my composure Thessaly and Gabriel took up the conversation with our new travelling companions. Both seemed interested by Thessaly’s skills at palmistry, although Howard maintained a sceptical point of view concerning such “supernatural mummery”. Having won their confidence Gabriel persuaded Howard to let him look at the Necronomicon and the cryptozoologist transcribed a number of key portions from that devilish book – sections that would prove useful in the hours to come. Jack Cole managed to garnish sympathy from Evangeline when he told her that he had served in the Great War and suffered from head wounds and shell-shock, helping explain some of his strange behaviour. Only Jones remained aloof from this intercourse, I later learned that he didn’t want to get attached to someone that he might have to kill, an attitude which seemed professional but not totally commendable.

Eventually fatigue caught up with us and we spent the rest of that journey in quiet contemplation, with Gabriel feverishly scribbling notes into his journal.

Regrettably it appeared that the train would not be able to take us into Brichester itself, instead disgorging us onto the platform of a quiet country stop, some miles from the nearest major habitation. From there we had to walk through the country lanes to Winchcombe where Howard told us he had arranged for two charabangs to pick us up and take us to his house in the city. For a short while I found myself glad to be in the 1920s, for our journey through the narrow lanes was undisturbed by the lunatic roar of the motor car, which would surely have been present in the time we had so recently left. After a short, but tiring, walk we arrived in Winchcombe where we stopped at a local pub to get some refreshments while we waited for the cars.

A House of Horrors

Refreshed by a variety of beverages Evangeline, the C23 agents and our would-be host then made our way out to the cars, one driven by Theophilus’ man servant Bates, the other by a hired driver. Although it was a tight fit we managed to squeeze into the cramped confines of the charabangs and gritted our teeth as they made their bone-jarring way back to the bright lights of Brichester.

Eventually we drew up outside a white-painted urban villa, apparently three stories tall with a cellar and a gabled attic, and Bates, the late Colonel’s genial batman, gathered our luggage, such as it was. Howard politely refused Bates’ offer to take the bag containing the Necronomicon.

Entering Lovecraft’s new home really made me really feel that I had stepped back in time, for it was decked out in the warm, slightly cluttered manner that I had expected of a 1920s townhouse. Howard led us into the front room/study, a comfortable chamber with glass-paned bookcases, a well-stuffed sofa and a fine house organ. Conspicuously lacking were the modern conveniences that we take for granted, a hand-wound gramophone taking the place of hi-fi system and a sheaf of music replacing the ever-present television.

We settled into the comfortable surroundings of Howard’s front room and made small talk while Bates, the efficient manservant that Lovecraft had inherited with the property, went about his duties. Glancing around at the possessions, which lined the walls of the study, we asked the young writer about his Uncle and his journeys, hoping to learn how the Necronomicon had come into Theophilus’ possession. Our host regaled us with tales of his relative’s travels, informing us that his uncle had been a keen antiquarian as well as a world traveller and he had gathered an impressive collection of works concerning folklore and occult from every corner of the globe. Apparently the old man had kept extensive journals which detailed his journeys but, regrettably, they had been misplaced when his possessions had been moved from Egypt back to Brichester a few months before his death.

At that point Bates returned, informing us that tea would be served in the dining room. One by one we filed out of the front room into the hall and then to the dining room, just next door. In the hall I noticed a solid and serviceable cavalry sabre standing in the umbrella rack – I asked the reason for this incongruous sight and Bates informed me that the sabre belonged to “the old master”. At the time I admired Bates phlegmatic approach to the death of his former master, giving no show of outward emotion – later I would come to see the reason for such detached coldness.

Before we could enter the dining room a series of scratches and thumps could be heard coming from upstairs. At first Howard dismissed them as rats in the wall but they persisted and grew louder. Unable to restrain their curiosity, Jones, Jack and Gabriel went up to the first floor landing to investigate but could see nothing to explain the strange noises. I asked Bates whether the house had a history of such strange occurrences but the smiling manservant denied any knowledge of such things. Still curious, but unable to penetrate the mystery at that point, we proceeded to the dining room.

We seated ourselves around the Howard’s fine wooden dining table, trying not to mark his freshly laundered tablecloth. Moments later Howard’s other servant, a dusky young Egyptian maiden apparently called Rose, came in carrying a heavily laden tray, crammed with cups, saucers and the impedimenta of evening tea. She seemed to be stumbling and shaking under the weight of her burden but I took this to be a combination of being overburdened and nervous in the presence of her new “master” and so many strangers. Later the dreams that I’d had before embarking on this mission came back to me, speaking of shaking while under the influence of possession, but for the moment I foolishly dismissed the young maid’s behaviour. Over excellent cups of tea and a fine repast of cream, jam and scones we continued our pleasant conversation with Howard and his houseguest.

Evangeline gave a sympathetic ear to our (imaginary) tales of woe and Howard was a pleasant host, if a little opinionated about certain things. We learned that he was writing a series of tales and poems with a certain macabre, not to say horrific, cast, partly inspired by the little he’d been able to glean from the Necronomicon. Surprisingly though the young American scoffed at such things, evidently a sceptic through and through. I tried to hint that there were perhaps things under heaven and earth that science had not, and could not, explain, but our host was having none of it. For him all such suggestions smelt of quackery and superstition.

During this polite repartee Sergeant Jones had been trying to get my attention and was becoming more insistent, almost to the point of being rude to our hosts. Rather than disturb Lovecraft and his friend I asked his forgiveness and went outside into the hall to talk to the sturdy soldier. Apparently Jones hadn’t dismissed Rose’s strange behaviour as quickly as I; he had also noticed an interesting fact, that we never saw Rose and Bates together. I wasn’t sure what to make of this but, as I thought back on the matter, I realised that the observant soldier was correct. I therefore agreed that Jones should try to keep an eye on the two servants in order to penetrate this mystery.

Returning to the dinning room I finished my tea and scones and Howard suggested that we retire to the front room where he would read us some poetry that he had recently completed. Leaving Jones to keep any eye on the servants the rest of the Cassandra 23 cell accompanied the two Americans into the front room.

We settled down into the comfortable armchairs and sofas and sat back while Lovecraft recited one of his short pieces of macabre poetry. I must say it was a strange experience to sit there listening to a recitation of Lovecraft’s poetry coming from his own lips. Once he had finished his evocative and haunting piece Howard reached into his valise to show us a passage in the Necronomicon that he planned to use as the inspiration for his next work. There was a moment of shocked silence when the writer discovered that his treasured possession, the book which he was duty bound to pass on to the mysterious lawyer Trelawney at nine that evening, was missing. A cool, quiet anger spread across our host’s face as he turned to his assembled guests and asked us if we knew where the book might be – he didn’t want to believe that anyone could have stolen it but he couldn’t see any other explanation.

We immediately reassured our distressed host that we had nothing to do with the book’s disappearance but that we would help him scour the house until we found it. Lovecraft was not totally reassured and he reluctantly warned us that, if the book had not been discovered by 9:30 he would have to contact the police. We set out to search the urban villa for the missing tome (and, coincidentally, looking to locate and question Bates and Rose). We were too were keen to recover the book, as it might be hold the only way to return to our own world and time.

While the others investigated the guestroom and the staff bedrooms I went with Gabriel to search the small library which was located on the house’s first floor. It seemed that Theophilus had an eclectic but extensive range of books, organised in haphazard fashion. Looking at those rows and rows of leather bound spines I despaired, trying to locate another leather bound tome among that multitude would be like finding a needle in a haystack. I shouldn’t have given in so quickly for the keen eyes of my companion spotted an incongruity among the massed ranks of literature, a larger work that seemed somehow out of place. Taking the book from the shelf it was obvious from its weight that it couldn’t be real. Opening it revealed that it was nothing more than a shell, a secret hiding place which had been used to conceal a small hidebound notebook. A glance at the flyleaf revealed that we had stumbled across the old soldier’s missing journal, which might throw some light on his mysterious death. We wasted no time in telling the others what we had discovered and, after getting permission from Howard, Thessaly and I began a detailed examination of the neat little journal and the elegantly written notes within.

As we suspected it took up at the point when Theophilus arrived in the busy harbour of Alexandria aboard HMS Vigilant. There followed a detailed (and atmospheric) account of his travels amid the crowded bazaars and back streets of Alexandria and Cairo culminating in his purchase of a number of rare books from a curious bookseller, including a copy of Dee’s Necronomicon. After he made the purchase a note of paranoia began to creep into the old soldier’s journal, he apparently felt he was being watched and, on his journey home, suffered a number of minor thefts and searches of his belongings. Nothing more untoward seemed to have occurred until the time of the last journal entry, June 1st 1922, when the old man seemed in a state of terrified panic. His last madness-touched scribblings were difficult to decipher but it seemed that he believed he was being hunted by some Serpent-like beast that could assume the form of anyone it consumed. It appeared that Howard’s uncle believed that a sigil of protection, the fabled Elder Sign, could provide some defence against the horror that stalked him. The last entry was cryptic but, as we soon realised, of great significance;

“Their habitation is one with your locked and guarded threshold,

their hand is at your throat yet you see them not!”

The time I’ve spent working for Cassandra 23 has, in part, inured me to such horrors but it is impossible to be unmoved when one learns of another good man or woman who has succumbed to the alien and heartless evil that seems to lurk around us all, just beyond sight, amid the shadows of our modern Babylon. However, in his last moments the Colonel had at least let us know that the Elder Sign, if we could produce one, would provide some succour against the horror that had finished him and now (it seemed) stalked us. More than ever it became imperative to find the Necronomicon!

I grew restless and ultimately decided to leave Thessaly pouring over the journal and join in the search for the missing book. Frustration then caused me to break two of my cardinal rules, firstly I went off alone to search and secondly, needing something to steady my nerves, I took Theophilus’ trusty sabre from the umbrella rack by the door.

I could hear the other members of C23 searching the upstairs rooms so I decided to double check the areas they had already searched, beginning with the cellar. I am not, by nature, a brave man, and my nerves were stretched taut as I went down into that cool, subterranean room. By the weak light of a naked light bulb I searched through the bric-a-brac that Howard’s Uncle had accumulated during his travels. Unfortunately, although there were many items of interest I could not find the missing book. Dejected, I slowly climbed back up the narrow stairs into the kitchen, which I then proceeded to search. That too proved fruitless and I was preparing to move back into the main body of the house when someone came through the kitchen door.

I sighed with relief when I saw Jack Cole’s familiar face appear, relief that turned to a splintered second of utmost horror as Jack’s friendly features seemed to split in two. Replacing my comrade’s stalwart visage was an alien monstrosity of seemingly snake-like origin, a diamond shaped head covered in dark, shining scales and two awful eyes, pools of hypnotic gold bisected by slashes of stygian black. I had no time to react as this ophidian terror opened its awful maw, revealing a pair of savage fangs that dripped pearls of viscous poison onto the kitchen floor. With lightning speed the terror struck, burying those awful fangs in the pliable flesh of my throat.

Poisoned Dreams

My own recollections of the next half hour are dark and terrible, for as the poison coursed through my veins, paralysing me, it awoke an ancient race memory of a time before human history began when the forebears of modern man were nothing more than slaves, serving dark serpentine masters. All I can now recall are scattered images, perilously high towers made of some unknown rock, columns of human slaves labouring at the behest of ophidian overlords … dark and terrible temples lit by spectral illumination emanating from great iron braziers, throwing dancing pools of light onto megalithic altars dedicated to horrific deities of decay and corruption. I can still hear those sibilant, blasphemous chants echoing in the corners of my mind, paeans of praise dedicated to powers whose names I must not dwell on … some things are surely best forgotten.

Eventually I began to pry myself free of those terrifying remnants of race memory, back to the “present”. The poison was still doing its work and I had no control over my muscles, indeed I could not even open my eyes. I could, however, begin to hear what was happening around me and what I heard struck me with terror. A three-cornered conversation was going on nearby involving Jones, Thessaly and the horror that wore Jack Cole’s form. Apparently the others were going to search the house again for the book and for whatever had attacked me leaving “Jack Cole” to watch over my helpless body. I cannot express the horror I felt at that suggestion, knowing now what Theophilus’ journal referred to and realising that the Serpent Man, that terrible remnant of an antediluvian age, would almost certainly ‘consume’ me if it were given the opportunity. Beads of sweat appeared on my brow as I heard “Jack’s” footsteps coming closer but I could do nothing to save myself. You can well imagine my relief when I heard Sergeant Jones stop the monster, requesting that the two of them go to examine something in the cellar. I later learned that a combination of Thessaly psychic sensitivity and Sergeant Jones’ sharp eyes had detected something amiss with “Jack” and thus they steered him away at the last moment.

At this point I should probably explain (as far as I am able) how ‘Jack Cole’ came to be consumed by our Serpent Man foe. Apparently, while Thessaly and I were rapidly reading Theophilus’ journal, Sergeant Jones and Jack decided to search the upstairs rooms. Brave as ever Jones led the way with Cole following cautiously behind, unfortunately for the ‘retired’ spy he didn’t pay attention as the dusky young maid servant Rose came up behind him and, in a moment, subdued him with her terrible venom. By the time Jones turned back to see what was going on Jack was lying supine on the stairs with Rose standing over his body, looking shocked and concerned.

Apparently a brief conference between Gabriel and the Sergeant followed, the result of which was that, following the recommendation of Dr. Olding, Jack was left in the tender care of young Rose! Suffice to say the ophidian killer wasted no time in consuming the helpless C23 agent and then proceeded to join the searchers masquerading as her/his most recent victim and the events already recorded above unfolded.

When we left the narrative of that terrible evening Sergeant Jones had just steered the now suspicious figure of ‘Jack’ away from my sickbed and escorted him downstairs. Persuading our former comrade that the next place to search should be the cellar Jones enticed him into that subterranean chamber. The Sergeant then pushed our disguised foe down the cellar stairs and, with lightning speed, drew his pistol and sent a fusillade of lead into ‘Jack’ as he lay on the cold flagstones of the cellar floor. The stalwart soldier was horrified to see the creature get to its feet while his bullets bounced off its human façade. At a loss Jones turned and slammed the door, blocking it with Lovecraft’s solid and heavy ‘ice box’. Although this was in no way a final solution to the serpent problem it did at least buy us some time.

Which was just as well for, at that moment a hard confident rap at the door could be heard, the arrival of the lawyer, Trelawney. AC7

Although I didn’t seem him until later it would probably be best to describe this newcomer as he arrived on the stage. Trelawney was a very tall, powerfully built man, lean but not thin, with a shock of black hair and a neatly trimmed moustache and beard. He spoke with a clipped, upper class British accent and there was an air of authority around him, coming across as a Guards Officer rather than a quiet solicitor. Unsurprisingly the lawyer was disturbed to discover that Howard was unable to hand over the Necronomicon to him.

Naturally the distressed Lovecraft did his best to explain to his new guest that there were mysterious circumstances surrounding the book’s disappearance and that his other guests (the C23 agents) were busy searching for the aforementioned document even as they spoke. His attempts to persuade Trelawney of his rectitude and good character were doubtless not helped when the lawyer entered Lovecraft’s kitchen and discovered the ‘ice box’ rammed up against the cellar door and Sergeant Jones liberally spreading oil over the floor.

It was clear that, unless the book were returned, the lawyer would feel compelled not only to cut Howard out of the will but also to call the police and have this group of clearly insane individuals arrested.

With Jones occupied in the kitchen, me incapacitated, Jack Cole dead and Thessaly busy reading Theophilus’ journal only Gabriel was left to search for the missing tome. Fortunately the scientist’s keen eye for detail eventually uncovered the Necronomicon, hidden away on the top of a cupboard in Bates’ room.

With the Necronomicon in his hands Trelawney proceeded to read the will, which left all of the Colonel’s remaining property (save the book) to his American relative. Having carried out his appointed task the sceptical lawyer prepared to depart, taking the book, and our last hope of returning to our own time, with him.

By this time the Serpent Man’s poison had begun to wear off and, although I still felt sick and unsteady on my feet I managed to stumble downstairs. Thessaly, seeing my distressed condition led me into Howard’s lounge where I sunk into a comfortable armchair while Evangeline and Howard looked on. The two young Americans were concerned to see me in such a haggard state and Evangeline in particular was very solicitous, insisting that I rest while she fetched me a glass of water.

While I slowly recovered from my ordeal Gabriel was doing what he could to persuade Trelawney to allow us access to the Necronomicon. The lawyer was alarmed by our increasingly desperate pleas for access and was becoming more and more determined not to allow us to take the tome from him. It was at this point I stumbled into the dining room where Gabriel and the lawyer were locked in discussion – given the seriousness of the situation I felt I had to make my own plea to this upright legal stalwart. I pointed out to him that all we really wanted to do was transcribe a number of key passages from that black book and that we would then return it to him. Although he was obviously distrustful of us Trelawney agreed, which I later learned was just as well, for Sergeant Jones was on the verge of taking more . . . extreme action to recover the book.

A Sign of the Times

Given my obviously distressed state, and Thessaly’s reluctance to even touch that reservoir of madness, Gabriel had to undertake the task of transcribing the ritual we would need to create the Elder Sign. In order to do so we would require a suitable material to carve the protective sigil on to – normally a soft stone would be used but no such item could be found. Ultimately we had to settle for a bar of soap, hardly the most appropriate option but there was little choice in the matter.

The carving of the image had to be carried out under the stars, perhaps to give some connection to the Elder Gods whose sign it was. Now Gabriel came into his own, employing his well-honed surgical skills in a fashion his tutors at medical school could never have imagined. Under the light of the August stars his hands moved deftly, making precise incisions in the soft and yielding soap and, slowly but surely, an accurate representation of that eldritch sign appeared in the milky white surface. I watched in horrified wonder as this work progressed because I knew that the cryptozoologist was putting his heart and soul into his work. Even the Elder Gods demand a price for their protection and that price is the stuff of soul, which Gabriel willingly gave up to protect us all.

Yet even with that mystic symbol carved the matter was only half done, for the ritual laid out in the time-stained pages of the Necronomicon required a circle of four to gather under the night sky and chant out an ancient litany first recorded amid the mad howling of the desert winds over a millennia ago. In order to gather the required number of participants we needed to approach either Howard or Trelawney. It was obvious that the sceptical lawyer would have no part of such mummery but I hoped that the young writer, dismissive as he was of such mumbo-jumbo, would be agree to help. Fortunately, given what had already happened, Howard agreed to help, setting aside his doubts for a short while.

I still wonder whether any of Lovecraft’s staid neighbours witnessed that strange ritual from the safety of their warm homes and what they made of the long, loud imprecations which shouted into the dim and empty vaults of that summer sky.

I shall not fully detail that fearful ritual here; for fear that even an incomplete report might affect the sanity of those who read it. Suffice to say that, as it ended, we felt a cold wind that seemed to blow through the passages of our souls and knew, with certainty, that the sigil we had created would provide protection from the horrors that awaited us.

Armed with that enchanted protection it seemed the time had come to finally confront the Serpent Man and face him on his own ground. I had barely recovered from my last encounter with that serpentine foe so the task fell to Sergeant Jones and Dr. Olding. Although Jones was confident that he could overcome his foe I admired Gabriel’s bravery for, as a cloistered academic, he had few skills of relevance in a physical confrontation. Nonetheless it was the cryptozoologist who led the way as the two C23 agents descended into the cellar where our Ophidian foe was trapped.

Guns and Rosy

Moments after the two men descended into the cellar’s half light the quiet was split by the deafening report of a pistol, fired rapidly at close quarters, followed by a long scream of agony. I then heard Jones shout for a medic and rushed down the stairs, into the restricted confines of the cellar itself.

I cautiously peered around the door and saw the blood soaked form of Dr. Olding, lying on the cold stone steps. I reached down and, with the assistance of Miss Evangeline and Thessaly dragged the critically wounded man up onto the tiles of the kitchen floor.

The kitchen was the only room DC had not decorated completely in period, and was supposed to be off limits. Naturally the players flocked there and two of the best scenes were in that room!

The kitchen was the only room DC had not decorated completely in period, and was supposed to be off limits. Naturally the players flocked there and two of the best scenes were in that room!

A single glance told me that he was on the verge of death and that the blood flow must be stopped immediately. I raced back to the hall and recovered Gabriel’s first aid kit, rushed back and begun to apply bandages to my stricken comrades. I must also acknowledge the invaluable help of Thessaly and Evangeline who, seeing that Gabriel was going into shock, wrapped him in a cocoon of warm blankets. I was chilled to the marrow by Gabriel screams, screams that under happier circumstances could well have been mistaken for laughter by an uninformed observer.

Once I was sure that Gabriel was beyond immediate danger I went back to see what had happened in the cellar. Glancing downwards I saw the powerful form of Sergeant Jones moving in the darkness and the true serpentine form of the creature that had been Rose, Bates and then Jack Cole dissolving into the cold floor.

Later discussions with Gabriel and the Sergeant have allowed me to recreate that final intense confrontation with our monstrous foe – a confrontation that almost ended in disaster as soon as it began. We had all forgotten that the creature had looted Jack’s body when it consumed him and had acquired his C23 arsenal, so, when Gabriel set foot on the cellar stairs the inhuman time traveller cut him down with a hail of lead. The terrible thing turned to deal with Jones but it had bargained without the Sergeant’s nearly superhuman reflexes, in a moment his guns were shot out of his hands and he was sent stumbling backwards, retreating from the Elder Sign that the grim-faced C23 agent brandished. With no other line of retreat the creature was forced into the loathsome hidden lair it had constructed behind a false wall in the cellar.

Unfazed by the awful, pervasive stench of death and decay that came from that dark abode Jones continued to advance, forcing the horror into the utmost recesses of its hidden chamber. Finally, with nowhere else to retreat to, the creature could no longer avoid the Elder Sign that Jones brandished and, on its merest touch, that awful survival of the distant and terrible past was unmade. The magic, which had kept it alive over countless centuries, was undone in the blinking of an eye.

An inspection of the creature’s liar helped fill in the blanks that had puzzled us. Amid the squalor of the Serpent Man’s abode we found personal belongings that had once belonged to Bates and Rose, clearly the creature had consumed both of them weeks before and had then used them to stalk and kill Theophilus. This dark chamber also threw light on another matter, the one that had drawn us to the fear-shadowed environs of Brichester in the first place, for, along with the servant’s belongings we also found fragments of a costume that could only have been Tarantella’s. Clearly the Serpent Man had been making a two-pronged attempt to gain the Necronomicon, stalking Theophilus and his nephew in the 1920s and pursuing the ruthless Scales at the turn of the Third Millennia. This was, of course, its undoing, for if the creature had restricted its activities to the 20’s it wouldn’t have drawn the attention of C23 and the events of the past days would never have occurred.

A Terrible Gatekeeper

Although the terrible ophidian monstrosity had been defeated and its plans foiled we were still faced with the problem of returning to our own time. At this point Gabriel informed us that he had stumbled over a time-travel ritual when he scanned the Necronomicon earlier in the day. Unfortunately, in order to perform it we would need the book itself. We therefore had to persuade the stern countenanced lawyer, Trelawney, to give us the book so we could return to our own time. I did everything in my power to persuade that upright man of law to hand us back the Necronomicon but nothing I or others said would make him change his mind. He acknowledged that some very strange events had occurred that evening but informed us that he was duty bound to pass the book on as Theophilus’ will required.

I saw then that we had no choice, we had to lay our cards on the table, telling Trelawney, Lovecraft and Evangeline of our true situation in the hopes that they would not only believe us but would agree to give us Dee’s black tome. Thus it was that I embarked on what Howard and Trelawney must have regarded as the rantings of a madman. I told them that we were travellers from the future and that we must have the book in order to return to our own time. It was obvious that they were not convinced so we produced what evidence we could to back our claims.

I showed our host and his two guests an assortment of modern items, digital watches, fibre tip pens, an APS camera, every variety of early twenty first century technology that we had on our persons. This demonstration seemed to sway Howard but Trelawney remained adamantly sceptical – he could, however, see that we believed it and he eventually agreed to humour us and allow us access to the book. Sure of himself he merely requested that if our little ritual failed (which he was sure it would) we would then surrender ourselves for psychiatric testing. Sadly Trelawney and Evangeline insisted on one further caveat, namely that, in order to protect the Necronomicon, they should take part in the ritual.

We tried to dissuade them from such a rash course of action but they were immoveable, either they participated or there would be no ritual. We had no choice but to agree but I comforted myself that, when the ritual succeeded, we could give them a copy of the relevant passages and they would quickly be able to return to their own time, where they belonged.

That settled we all gathered in a circle, eyes closed, holding hands as I led the chant. Almost immediately a chill ran up and down the spine and we were assailed by a terrible sense of vertigo, as though we had been removed from the claustrophobic surroundings of Howard’s cellar and catapulted into some empty void far beyond the confines of our mundane world. In some way the feeling was similar to that which we’d experienced when Scales’ machine had hurled us back through time earlier that day (earlier that day . . . it seemed like centuries had passed!!!). For an endless moment I felt as though my soul was being stretched impossibly thin, drawn out across all the moments between the past and the future, then I felt it, a presence so alien it is almost impossible to describe, compelling and majestically horrific. Unable to help myself I pried my eyes open and gazed into the very face of infinity . . . I know what I saw was an illusion, a veil created by my mind to mask the utter alienness of that which confronted us, but I will describe that phantasm nonetheless. It appeared to me to be an agglomeration of spheres, of myriad sizes but all glowing with an ethereal light filled with beauty and madness. It seemed oblivious to our presence but then the globes shifted and reformed and the black protoplasm that linked them shifted in time – although it had no features that Man could discern I was sure it had noticed us.

Then this primeval power ‘spoke’ – I describe it as speech but it was nothing that human ears could decipher, rather there was a vibration that we all felt in the marrow of our bones, a resonance that sang in our blood and a photonic symphony that played across our eyes – thus did It make Itself known. I gathered that it was Yog-Sothoth, the Gate and the Key, guardian and master of time and it stood at the portal of Eternity, intelligent beyond measure yet mindlessly dedicated to its task of guardianship of the streams of time.

It seemed to me that this primal force questioned us, probing our knowledge of the cosmos as it truly was, unconstrained by the meagre efforts of Man to codify it. Between us we managed to answer some of its ‘questions’ but no human mind could know all that it required and remain sane. By some fluke of blind chance we possessed enough knowledge to satisfy this monstrous Outer God but we could feel its displeasure echoing through every cell and over every synapse. It was clear that the Gate of Time was closed to us and we should never try that portal again.

As the all-encompassing presence of Yog-Sothoth withdrew we felt the Four Dimensional world of normal reality assert itself around us. As our eyes cleared, we found ourselves standing in a cellar which in most respects resembled Lovecraft’s save for polystyrene packing materials scattered here and there, a sheet of bubble wrap emerging from a packing case and the naked light bulb hanging from a white plastic flex. We had returned!

Naturally Trelawney and Evangeline were shocked by their experience but Gabriel, Thessaly and I comforted them as best we could. Jones had already raced ahead, seeking to secure the area.

That’s not Evil . . . It’s Capitalism

Emerging from the cellar we found ourselves in a kitchen very like the one we had vacated seemingly only moments before but as we took a more detailed look around the differences were obvious, the electric cooker, the fridge/freezer and the microwave. We were in the 2000 AD reflection of Lovecraft’s 1920s abode. Reassured we began to relax, elated at having defeated the Serpent Man’s plot and on having returned to our own time relatively unscathed. I felt very sorry for our two inadvertent companions who, given the ban imposed by that dread Gatekeeper, were stranded in our time, separated by the world of their birth by an unbridgeable gulf of almost eighty years.

Wearily we stumbled down the hall into what had been Lovecraft’s comfortable front room and received a final, terrible shock – there waiting for us, still neatly dressed in his dapper waistcoat, was Mr. Andrew Scales!

Jones did not hesitate, he leapt towards the insane scientist, hoping to gun him down with the weapon concealed in his prosthetic hand. It was a futile gesture, the madman flicked a switch on a remote control and we were all frozen in time, unable to act. Having demonstrated his power Scales offered us a simple choice, hand over the Necronomicon so he could continue to exploit it, or have him publish everything he knew about Cassandra 23 and our activities. Gabriel could contain himself no longer, he shouted out to Scales, “ That’s totally evil you twisted lunatic”, unfazed the publisher merely smiled, “No my friend, that’s not evil, it’s capitalism!”

Unable to physically assault Scales we still had the Necronomicon in our possession and, as team leader, the decision on what to do fell to me. I thought back on all we had been through to get that dread tome, of the terrible fate of Jack and the temporal marooning of Evangeline and Trelawney. I thought of all the murders committed by “Tarantella” as she closed in on Scales and the horror he planned to spread to countless thousands of other young minds – there could be only one answer, to quote the Iron Duke, “Publish and be damned.”

(As ever, I must apologise to my C23 comrades if I have forgotten or belittled their efforts or work. This account is a purely personal one, written from memory, and surely not free from unintended errors or inaccuracies.)

Afterword:

The C23 team left the Lovecraft Residence immediately, leaving Scales laughing and sneering about how much he would make when he published his account of C23 as a popular paperback and blew their cover. To their relief he never did, as he never left the house, dying seconds after they closed the door in a horrible and mysterious manner…

Ian Scales was found dead the next morning by a hired cleaner. His body was punctured with several bizarre deep wounds, and coated in a strange blue slime which defied analysis. Dr Ignatius Drake of the Parapsychology Division of C23 conducted the ‘clear up’ operation on behalf of Mr. J, but Scale’s untimely death was finally explained and fully understood only after the sixth C23 mission, Remembrance of Things Past

1. Pronouns are always an issue here.Alex Rothwell used her, which is correct.

2 Surveillance indicates that some details of this account may be inaccurate, possible loss of cognitive function due to incipient insanity.

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Cassandra 23 Part 3: A Midsummer Night’s Dreaming – June 21st, 2000

From: SECTION 7, SURVEILLANCE
TO: SECTION 9, RECORDS

SUBJECT: TRANSCRIPT OF audio recording FINISHED BY SUBJECT SAVAGE DATED 24-06-00.

NOTE: As with previous transcript from subject savage there are periods where the subject apparently lapsed into unconsciousness. Those portions have been transcribed as accurately as possible, allowing for the occasionally nonsensical nature of recording. As per standard operating procedure these portions have been excised from the recording before it was returned to subject savage.  alexms

(Internal memo: refer attached transcript to psychological evaluation unit.)

Under a cloudless summer sky I found myself speeding through the sun-browned English countryside, alongside me the formidable figure of Flight Sergeant Jones sat behind the wheel of our smart new pool car. Once again we were answering Cassandra 23’s call, heading for that den of hidden horror, Brichester.

Even by the standards of C23 our briefing for the mission had been perfunctory, basically nothing more than a summons to meet up with the ever capable Mr. J. While I’d never found much useful in the audio briefings of previous missions it seemed odd to be embarking on a task for our nameless masters without the vague whispers, hints and suggestions that those tapes provided.

The start of this mission was different for other reasons as well. Firstly we had been instructed to arrive for the briefing later than usual and this time we would meet the other team members at the safehouse rather than in the slightly tarnished glory of the Queens Hotel and would be given our instructions from there. Jones felt sure that the reason for the change in locale was due to the security breach which occurred at the Queens during the “Matter of Time and Space” mission – furthermore such a formal setting apparently made the bluff soldier ill at ease.

With half that midsummer afternoon gone we pulled up to the brightly painted exterior of the house in XXXXXXXXX Street, its innocuous exterior expertly masking the cutting edge intelligence centre located within.

A familiar figure greeted us as we entered the safehouse – the veteran agent Heather Scott would once again be acting as an advisor to the C23 group. Despite my lingering suspicions about her it was good to see that we’d have at least one professional along with us, for we would have to do without the services of Carl Fox. Apparently he was required to monitor a crucial Anglo-German meeting and couldn’t be spared for other duties.groupms

Only a matter of minutes after we arrived a knock on the door signaled the entrance of the rest of our team. This time we were to number seven (hopefully a lucky number), myself, Jones, an erudite gentleman occultist by the name of Charles Mortimer, a trench-coated detective codenamed Hammer (Brian Lowe), a pilot called James Mason (codename BIGGLES), Luke Hurl, a computer expert and Dr. Gabriel Olding, a cryptozoologist. An eclectic collection to be sure, but possessed of a wide range of skills.

With introductions made Heather suggested that we adjourn to a nearby hostelry for beverages, as it would be some time before the briefing centre would be ready. This change of approach was pleasing, not only due to the prospect of a cooling drink to alleviate the effects of the searing summer sun but because there seemed to be a more relaxed approach than we had encountered in earlier missions.

On the way to the pub in question (the Landsdowne) our youthful computer expert, Luke, quizzed me on the nature of C23 operations. He seemed a frail sort so I skirted around some of the more horrifying aspects of the work. I was relieved to learn that, although he himself hadn’t had many encounters with the supernatural, his mother was a well-known medium and psychic and he therefore had an open mind on the subject. The detective was tight-lipped about his background but Mason, the pilot, regaled us with stories of mid air encounters with giant insects, stories that Dr. Olding scoffed at, but which struck an alarming chord with me.

There wasn’t time to fully ponder these things for we arrived at the Landsdowne and quickly sought refuge in the pub’s cool interior. While drinks were obtained I took a glance around, looking over the assembled patrons who seemed transfixed by the flickering images cast by the televisions set high on the wall. My glance then fell on a lean, casually dressed figure, sporting a battered Panama and dressed more for the Bahamas than Britain. For a moment the unusual clothing distracted me but then I realised . . . it was the inimitable Mr J.

I went over to greet our government liaison and introduced the new operatives – he suggested we go outside to continue our discussions in private. Before leaving the bar I quizzed Mr J. on his unusual apparel. It seemed that he had only just returned from a trip to the Seychelles, although I couldn’t discover if it had been business or pleasure.  gabms

Seated around a long, scarred wooden bench we listened as Mr J. outlined to us the mission. Apparently one of his local contacts, a slightly suspicious character who styled himself the Comte San Graal, had disappeared. Normally this would be treated as a simple missing persons case but, as usual, it wasn’t that straightforward. Apparently San Graal told J. that he had been threatened by a “witch” who promised she would harm him if he didn’t return certain items to her. When he failed to turn up to a meeting, Mr J. asked Heather to go and check out San Graal’s apartment. She found no sign of the missing man but it appeared that his apartment had been thoroughly searched and a curious object had been placed there – a straw doll. No one knew the significance of this but there was speculation that it might be connected with Voodoo practices – certainly worth checking out. J. told us to wait while he went to get the full briefing notes from the case in his car.

We waited while the secretive Intelligence Mandarin went off, sipping our drinks and talking amongst ourselves. An animated conversation went on between James and Olding the cryptozoologist, who was utterly dismissive of the tales of flying giant insects and raised questions about the pilot’s sanity. I felt sure that the scientist’s scepticism would not survive the night ahead but I decided to let the borders of his world remained rigid and narrow until reality showed him the full extent of his ignorance.

Minutes past but still Mr. J. did not return and I began to become alarmed. I asked Jones and ‘Hammer’ to go and look for our erstwhile briefing officer and waited anxiously for their report. Once again time passed and no one returned. At last I resolved to go myself and asked Agent Scott to accompany me, only to be met by the Sergeant coming the other way. Apparently he and Hammer had found Mr. J’s car but there was no sign of the man himself. Worried by all this I hurried down the back alley that ran along the side of the Landsdowne and found Hammer attempting to open Mr J’s car with a set of lockpicks. He was holding a corn doll in his hands; similar to the one which was found at San Graal’s – apparently he and Jones had found it under the car. I came over to the detective and together we opened the boot, finding Mr. J’s security briefcase and a car tool kit. We took the briefcase and I picked up the tools, I suspected they could be useful in the hours that lay ahead.

When we returned to the others we explained what had happened and it was decided that we should adjourn to the safehouse. We could discuss our plans without fear of eavesdropping and would be able to open the briefcase without arousing suspicion.

As we made our way back to XXXXXXXXX Street I felt that familiar dread coming over me, once again we were plunging into deep waters with little idea of what we faced or how to defeat it. It was with some relief that we regained the security of the safehouse – while we’d been in the streets I had the feeling that a hundred eyes were watching my every move.

The first item of business was to inspect Mr. J’s case – before we attempted to open it we decided that it would be wise to check that there were no alarms or traps protecting the contents. Luke and I put our heads together and looked over the case, checking for trembler switches, induction triggers or anything else that looked out of place. After a thorough inspection lasting almost five minutes we could find nothing and asked Hammer and Jones to force the case open. There was a collective exhalation of held breath when the case was safely forced open. papers

Inside we found the mission’s briefing, a number of papers referring to an incident off the New England coast involving a nuclear attack submarine, and a strange piece of jewellery. Upon closer examination this turned out to be a tiara but one of exquisite workmanship and curious design, vaguely middle eastern but with hints of other, stranger influences. This “crown” held an almost hypnotic fascination but we eventually dragged our attention away from it to the other items in the case.

The briefing paper gave more detail about San Graal, letting us know that his real name was Raymond Langton and providing us with his address. There was also a section addressed specifically for me, which I perused later. We also found a number of papers relating to the event off the New England coast. This document, which referred to an encounter with unidentified, aquatic creatures that damaged a Los Angeles class submarine, struck a chord. Surely this must refer to the monstrous race known as Deep Ones who Professor Phiness wrote of in his journal – could those sinister creatures be involved in the disappearances of Mr J. and San Graal? It seemed unlikely but impossible to dismiss completely. There was also a copy of the local newspaper in the case, out of which fell a flyer for a Pagan Gathering to be held at the College later that evening – once again, it could be unconnected, but I didn’t think so.

After some discussion we decided to split into two groups, one would go to search San Graal’s flat while the other would avail themselves of the facilities of the safehouse, checking through the extensive library and accessing the near infinite information resources of the world wide web. The selection of the groups was relatively straightforward, there were only three of us who had any skills in research so we’d have to work through the archives while the others searched the missing man’s flat.

Mortimer and I dredged through the racks of books that made up the library of the house in XXXXXXXXX Street – initially we both drew a blank as volumes on witchcraft, voodoo and the occult provided us with no information which we could use. Frustrated, Mortimer began flicking through the other books and stumbled across a curious reference to a Robert De Langton in a book on the folklore of Gloucestershire. Surmising that this may be an ancestor of the man we search for he read on.

It appeared that Robert de Langton had returned from the crusades with a mysterious and alluring foreign wife, reputedly of faerie blood, whom he called Prudence. His dutiful wife brought with her a curious dowry, an ornately carved sandalwood box, and the only request she ever made of her husband was that he never attempt to open the box and see what was inside. For seven years husband and wife lived happily until, one night, under the influence of alcohol, he decided to see what was in the box. Opening it he found a spectacular crown, a jar of rare oils and a statue. His curiosity satisfied he went to sleep. The following morning his beautiful wife, Prudence, was waiting for him when he awoke. She told him that she knew he had broken his vow and looked into the box and that, having done so, she would leave and he would never see him again. Surprisingly the story seemed to end happily for Robert re-married, had children and lived to a ripe old age.

Mortimer, hoping to find out more about Langton, went back to the library shelves, searching for more books concerning local legends. He quickly turned up another piece of information that might be useful. The occultist turned up a legend concerning a faerie gathering at a place called Riddlers Mound on Midsummer’s Night. The legend was buried in a piece concerning other tumuli in the Cheltenham area. Although there was no direct mention of Langton the connection with faerie drew it to the keen eyed researcher’s attention.

While we checked through the massed ranks of books in the library of 19 XXXXXXXXX Street the young computer wizard, Luke, was surfing the net, looking for anything relating to the Comte San Graal, Langton or the mysterious happenings off the New England coast. He uncovered a great deal of information relating to the missing man but, while doing so, also gained the interest of the unfriendly men from a foreign Intelligence Agency who attempted to trace his signal. Fortunately for all concerned the straight arrows of the Information Espionage section were no match for young Luke’s formidable computer skills. Having evaded the attentions of America’s bloodhounds Luke came down to inform Mortimer and I what he had discovered – at virtually the same moment Sergeant Jones returned with the others, bearing the fruit of their search of the Comte San Graal’s home.

Now that the team was back together we collated the information we had gathered, to see if we could piece together what was behind the disappearances. Sergeant Jones and his team filled us in on what they had discovered.  computer

The search of the missing man’s room revealed a number of items of interest, among them a copy of his family tree going back over 700 years to the de Langton of local legend. They also discovered among his personal effects a number of letters addressed to an R. Fitzhubert, of the Chivalric Order of the Hermetic Order of the Veiled Temple, requesting that he be allowed membership of their order and that his title be recognised. The Knights of the Veiled Temple turned down his initial request politely but, as the disgruntled ‘Comte’ bombarded them with more missives, took an increasingly curt approach. Finally, perhaps in desperation, Langton attempted to blackmail Fitzhubert with pictures of his sexual pecadillos but, although the Hermeticist offered to pay for the pictures he still refused to let Robert join his exclusive order. Mortimer mentioned that the Hermetic Knights of the Veiled Temple were almost certainly a noble order dedicated to the preservation of Templar lore and might have links with a centuries old secret society who claim to have preserved the true bloodline of the Nazarene.

The fact that Langton resorted to blackmail became far less surprising when we made a detailed inspection of his diary, which Jones and the others also found when they searched his rooms. It seems that blackmail was Langton’s profession and that he was extorting money from dozens of people. This, however, was the least of the revelations that were forthcoming from the erstwhile nobleman’s diary. Most disturbing of all was a number of reference to a girl called Prudence who, it seems, was the witch who had be threatening ‘San Graal’. The reference to Prudence indicated a girl of Near Eastern extraction who had made references to Langton’s crusader ancestor, as if she had known him! It appeared that this witch wanted Langton to return a tiara he had recently purchased. She stated that he had stolen it from her and it must be returned.

Surely this wasn’t the Prudence the legend referred to, a princess of the Fey from a fable appearing in the mundane surroundings of Brichester. Before I joined Cassandra 23 I would have dismissed such thoughts as ludicrous flights of fancy, now I wasn’t so sure. A slightly less far-fetched surmise was that the tiara mentioned was the one that we had discovered in Mr J’s briefcase.

A number of curious objects were also turned up during the search, including a lump of what appeared to be Iron Pyrites (Fools Gold) and an account of the doings of Raymond’s ancestor during the Crusades. This tale filled out the details that were missing from the Gloucestershire folk fable, which Mortimer had stumbled upon. This more complete tale had many references that chilled my blood as I read it – the city that it alluded to, . . . Irem of the Pillars? And the King and Queen who had a thousand children, was this a reference to the Dark Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young, dread Shub Niggurath, a suspicion heightened by the mention of the Garden of the Goat later in the text. I hoped that all of this was mere coincidence but, in my heart, I knew it wasn’t so.

Once again a visage of horror and madness peered through the façade of drab normality that we take to be the real world.

They also found a card giving the telephone number of Madame Arcana, the mystic who Langton had contacted earlier. After a little discussion we decided to make an appointment to meet Madame Arcana, possibly she could throw some light on the matter. Hammer spoke with the strange mystic and managed to arrange a meeting for ten that night.map101

That dealt with it was time to follow up our other leads. We decided to split into two groups with the cryptozoologist and Luke the computer expert accompanying me to the Pagan Fair that we learned of earlier. We hope it would allow us to get in contact with the local pagan community and contact Prudence and, if not, it would surely tell us more about the fables of Faerie than we knew at that point. While we did that, Sergeant Jones, Hammer, Mortimer, the intrepid pilot and Agent Scott were to interview Fitzhubert and then investigate the flat of the witch, Prudence, whom we assumed would be at the Pagan Fair at that point. Once both teams had carried out their investigations we planned to rendezvous at Madame Arcana’s.

As Jones and his team sped off I led the others towards the college for our rendezvous with the local Pagan community. On arrival we were further inconvenienced by the Anglo-German summit that had already interfered with our earlier plans. It seemed that, one way or another, most of the Pagans who were to attend that evening’s function had been sucked into the Anglo-German encounter, mostly as spectators. That being the case it was a virtually empty function room that awaited us when we arrived. As the three of us waited the arrival of the guest speaker, Dr. Daniel Hawthorne, we discussed the Midsummer Affair up to that point. The young Crytozoologist was still sceptical and was not persuaded by Luke’s tales of mysticism or my own attempts to make him see that ” there are more things in heaven and earth Horatio …”.

We were in the midst of these discussions when a few pagans arrived, followed shortly thereafter by Dr. Hawthorne. Hawthorne was an unprepossessing academic but brimful of excitable energy – he moved in a quick jerky fashion and conducted his lecture in a verbose but enthralling manner, each salient point further highlighted by expansive gestures of hand and body. He first recounted the tale of Thomas Goodenough, an upright Quaker who claimed to have had an encounter with the Fair Folk while travelling on Riddlers Mound to the west of the town (as it was then). He spoke of strange travellers, armed with bow and sword who wore blank masks while they moved along a strange silver path, apparently far from the familiar surrounds of his Gloucestershire home.

Although he suffered no harm from the encounter he did state that the Fey pursued him, intent on harm, after he disturbed one of their revels. Goodenough’s tale ends with him escaping the Faeries but finding himself back on Riddlers Mound, amid deep snow, in the depths of winter! He had apparently lost six months while he spent that night among the Fair Folk.

Dr. Hawthorne proceeded to deconstruct Goodenough’s experience, claiming that it represented a journey into a common internal reality that we all possess, a collective psyche if you will. He claimed that the experiences in Faerie, or the Dreaming as he referred to it, actually dealt with important issues from our own mental landscape, represented by symbols and archetypes.

The good Doctor proceeded to outline his theorem and it was very persuasive, save for two important factors – firstly my own personal experiences had already taught me that creatures, worlds and perhaps whole realities do exist beyond the ability of our normal scientific method to perceive them. Even more persuasively, I could see two Faeries; nearly identical to those described by Goodenough, approaching the function room!

I looked around at the others in the room, had they also seen it or was my mind finally giving way under this onslaught of creeping terror. Fortunately my two companions saw me looking first at them and then past, out of the window – following my glance they too looked and saw those embodiments of chaos through the glass. Luke, Gabriel and I tensed, and received strange looks from the local pagans and from Hawthorne, apparently they could see nothing!!! For a moment I considered fleeing, my courage slipping away as I watched those two eldritch creatures approach . . . but it was already too late, I could not evade them even if I took to heel immediately. Screwing up my courage I remained in my seat and listened as Hawthorne continued his lecture and our two otherworldly visitors entered the room. kevms

The two Faeries (for clearly that is what they were) moved about the room, moving chairs, books, bags and other small objects. Their actions must have had an effect in the real world for Hawthorne and the Pagans noticed the items moving but paid no heed to the cause dismissing it as the wind. Our two ‘guests’ were now becoming more active, approaching the Cassandra 23 agents and alternatively threatening them with their eldritch weapons and cavorting invitingly in front of us. One of them, obviously female, attempted to beguile us with her fair charms and, even with her features hidden by a blank mask, her invitations proved difficult for us to resist. I cannot speak for the others but, for myself, I managed to keep my mind of our surreal intruders by focusing on Hawthorne’s lecture.

The learned Doctor proceeded to tell us more of the symbolic nature of the Dreaming and, in particular, of the Faerie Trods, which Goodenough appeared to have stumbled on. Apparently the best way to open a path to Arcadia (the Realm of the Fey) is to possess three Faerie treasures which act as keys to open the way – obviously the three treasures that the Langton legend referred to, of which we already possessed one! Furthermore a gift for the Guardian of the Trod would be proper, gold was apparently common but we were told to bear in mind that, in the Dreaming, appearance is reality.

That, of course, meant that the Fool’s Gold that Langton possessed would, in effect, be true Gold to the Guardian – yet another key.

The Doctor’s lecture seemed to be drawing to a close and yet the Faerie interlopers were still close at hand. The silver bright sword of the Faerie Lord offering the threat of pain and death, the voluptuous form of the Faerie Lady, seductively persuasive, attempting to entice us into her clutches. We had no desire to be left alone with those two so we attempted to delay the departure of the lecturer by asking him to expand on certain aspects of his presentation. I was particularly interested to know what might occur if one fought a Faerie and how one might defend oneself from the Fair Folk if that should become necessary. Emphasising that he was speaking metaphorically Hawthorne explained that any encounter with enraged Faeries on the trod could well be fatal and that one of the few defences against them was a knot. It seems that if you were being pursued by Faeries you should drop one behind you and they would have to halt and untie it before they could continue their pursuit. The good Doctor also stated that turning all one’s clothes inside out would render one immune to their attacks. He emphasised that to be attacked by the Faeries twice was to invite certain death, metaphorically speaking.

With a final flourish the two Faeries departed, leaving those of us who were aware of their presence, stunned. Hawthorne, sensing that we had finally lost interest, began to wrap up his lecture, finishing by reminding us that, if we were interested in pursuing the matter further that Cheltenham possessed its very own Faerie trod, the aforementioned Riddlers Mound, site of Goodenough’s strange experience.

Gabriel, Luke and I filed out of the function room and gathered together to discuss what had occurred. The formerly sceptical cryptozoologist was, not surprisingly, most shaken by the encounter with the Otherworld but even I, with two previous missions for C23 ‘under my belt’ hadn’t been prepared for such a surreal episode. The sight of those plainly inhuman creatures moving in and around Hawthorne and his pagan audience completely unnoticed in the bright light of a summer evening was unsettling in the extreme.

While we were recovering from our brush with the Fey we received a call from Sergeant Jones – apparently he and his team had been to Fitzhubert’s and were now moving on to Prudence’s residence. Unfortunately they’d failed to take down the address and so had to call on our collective memory to assist. After passing on the information we informed them that we’d meet them close to Madame Arcana’s.

Walking through Cheltenham’s streets amid the gathering gloom of dusk I couldn’t help noticing that Gabriel, our former sceptic, had become alarmingly paranoid, jumping at every shadow. I understood exactly how he felt, for I well remembered the shock of my first encounter with the veiled horror of the world, on that high Borneo plateau. It can be difficult to accept that the certainties that you’ve relied on for years are really nothing but dust and ashes.

When we met up with Jones and the others they filled us in on how their part of the mission had gone. Unfortunately, as is often the case with Sergeant Jones, his briefing was perfunctory to say the least and therefore my own account of those matters must be sketchy at best.

Apparently Jones and his men decided to interview Fitzhubert first and made their way to his residence. The Cassandra 23 agents decided amongst themselves that Hammer, our resident detective, would be the man to interview the nobleman. The others were apparently relying on the techniques that Hammer had learnt while interviewing suspects. Although I don’t have the full details it seems that their meeting with the secretary of the Chivalric Order was far from successful – plainly the suspects that Hammer had dealt with in the past lacked the icy demeanour so common to Britain’s upper class. According to Heather Scott’s report the other agents were not a great deal of help and the Men from C23 were sent away with their tails between their legs.

Having failed to discover much at Fitzhubert’s the agents moved on to Prudence’s, secure in the knowledge that she would be away, at the Pagan Fair (not true, of course, but they weren’t to know that). On arrival at the ‘ witch’s haven’ Jones and the others decided to come up with a plausible story before entering, in case Prudence’s roommate was present – they finally settled on masquerading as policeman investigating Prudence’s ‘disappearance’. Once again Hammer took the lead, bluffing his way past the flatmate with his tale of missing persons and managed to get her to agree to let him search Prudence’s room. While Hammer disappeared into the darkness of the second floor the others waited further down the street, only to be spurred into action by Hammer’s sudden cry for help. Jones, stirred from lethargy by the possibility of combat, rushed up the stairs to find a terrible tableau unfolding before him. Hammer was locked in struggle with some beast out of nightmare, possessed of a gaunt, coal black frame and a hideous, ungodly strength. nightd

Without hesitation Sergeant Jones reached for his trusty TOY and sent round after round thudding into the dark hellish body of Prudence’s guardian. Although it continued to rend and tear at the pinioned detective the bullets tore bloody paths through its unnatural flesh, slowly its muscles slackened and the finally the horror fell to the floor.

The horrified C23 agents rushed over to Hammer to inspect his wounds, at first glance they appeared terrifying, perhaps even fatal but, when Heather ran her practiced eye over the scene she proclaimed them little more than flesh wounds.

With the guardian defeated the investigators moved into the room and began to search. The C23 operatives searched the room with their customary skill and, within a few short moments, they discovered a mysterious statuette beneath the bed. This could be nothing other than another of the Faerie’s Three Treasures. The key to unlocking the Trod and rescuing Mr J. and Langton was now much closer. All we needed to discover now was the jar of rare oil.

The two groups met up outside one of Cheltenham’s charming eating establishments; it must have been around ten o’clock as the street was filling with participants of the Anglo-German conference. We shared our information, informing the others of our encounter with the Fey while they told us what they had learned from their search of Prudence’s domicile. We didn’t have a great deal of time to ponder the implications because we were already late for our appointment with the mystic Madame Arcana. door

After a short journey we found ourselves outside the imposing door of Arcana’s suburban villa, we were ushered in by one of the fortune teller’s acolytes who led us into a darkened room with a central table surrounded by low chairs and seats. We all took our places around the table and explained that we wished to contact the spirit of the long departed and much lamented nobleman, Robert De Langton. Our hope was that, if this women could genuinely reach the shades of the past that we could learn from him the what he knew about Prudence and the Faeries and if he could tell us something that would help us free our imprisoned friend.

Unfortunately it seemed that in order to contact the spirits of the dead Madame Arcana needed two things, firstly we had to cross her palm with cupro-nickel (money) before she could perform and secondly, she would need a sprig of yew from the grave of the man in question. That of course meant that we’d have to go to the burial place of Langton’s ancestor in the nearby village of Prestbury.

With grim determination to see this thing through to the end the crack investigators of C23 set off for Prestbury. We sped through the night beneath a bloated, midsummer moon, through the car’s windows we could see only the placid suburban landscape of Gloucestershire could be seen, the prim and proper faces of the houses offering a bland reassurance of normality in this night turned so strange and fearful. After a short journey the C23 convoy pulled into Prestbury. Although we looked no different than the other groups of Saturday night revelers whom we encountered on the village’s lamplit streets I still felt conspicuous, almost as though the insanity which surrounded us somehow marked us out to the oblivious innocents whom we passed. arcana1

In order to get to the village’s church we had to turn down a small alleyway, poorly lit and narrow. Before joining the ranks of C23 I would have been unworried by such a passage but now I found myself jumping at shadows, continually casting glances behind me to see if we had acquired any unwanted attention.

At the end of the alley we arrived at our objective, Prestbury church. The local streetlights threw weak pools of light across the church’s boundary walls, creating deeper shades of black where shadows darkened the night. While Mortimer and I hung back the bolder members of our group pressed on into the graveyard, looking for the last resting-place of the fallen Templar, Robert De Langton. I could see little from where I was hidden, masked by the foliage of a verdant churchyard tree but it was difficult to miss the signs of damage that this hallowed ground had suffered, broken grave stones and other markers scattered here and their. Despite the importance of our mission I was worried by the everyday proprieties, what would anyone think of an eclectic group such as ours, strangely dressed and loitering in the shadows, amid these scenes of vandalism and destruction. My reverie was disturbed by the others, who come hurrying back. Apparently they had found the sprig of Yew from De Langton’s grave but, while they were engaged in this, an apparition had appeared.

I do not have the full details but apparently this spectre was clad in the accoutrements of a monk or Abbott, possibly of the late twelfth century. Was this the spirit of Langton, aroused by the attention being paid to his final resting-place and being drawn back to the mortal world to defend his last resting-place?

Actually I needed no encouragement to leave that place and joining the others left the grave of De Langton and the restless spirit of the Templar far behind.

In order to open the Trod we needed to have all three keys in our possession by midnight and time was, as always, marching on. We therefore made our way back to Madame Arcana’s as quickly as we possibly could.

Once again we were ushered into the study where the ancient mystic waited, enshrouded in gloom. We handed her the sprig of Yew but she seemed more anxious to test the mystic properties of our money and wouldn’t even attempt to contact the restless dead without it.arcana2

In a surprisingly clear voice the old woman instructed us to join hands and focus on our objectives. Although some present were perhaps sceptical, notably Sergeant Jones, we all followed her instructions and then waited while she called on the spirit of Robert De Langton to come forth. We were also required to give forth a chant to build the spiritual energy necessary for Madame Arcana to push through the barrier between the worlds.

ghost1

The players could not actually see the ghost as the room was too dark, except in the flash of the camera…

For a moment there was silence but then Hammer struck up “We wish you a Merry Christmas”. The inappropriateness of it took me aback but, as no one else had thought of any other tune the world was gifted the incongruous sight of hardened agents of her Majesty’s Government sitting in a circle, holding hands and singing a song of festive cheer amid the warm air of that strange Midsummer’s night. As the energy in the room built to a peak I could feel a presence enter the room. Opening my eyes I gazed into the stygian blackness and could make out, faintly outlined in white, the spectral from of Robert De Langton, called by Madame Arcana from beyond the grave. The spectre’s voice chilled me as he inquired why we had called him from his final restingplace.

For a few moments there was silence – even Jones and I, who had seen much that was unusual during our time in C23, were taken aback by the sound of this voice from beyond the wall of death itself. Finally I stirred myself and told the spirit that we sought his assistance, that we required knowledge from him of his past. Perhaps not surprisingly the long dead servant of the Temple was not inclined to accede to such an impertinent request from complete strangers. Hoping that this grim shadow still had some feeling for his own blood I spoke out, telling the Templar that we were trying to save a companion of ours and a relative of his from the grasp of the Fey, and their Princess, his dear Prudence.

In all the seance shots the room was actually pitch black, these are cleaned up flash photos...

In all the seance shots the room was actually pitch black, these are cleaned up flash photos…

The mention of his old paramour stirred the shade’s cold heart to fury and he willingly told us the whereabouts of his third treasure, the jar of fine oils. Apparently it had been buried beneath the Queen’s mound, one of the three such features mentioned by in the book Mortimer found at the library. We thanked the apparition for his assistance and watched him slowly fade away, disappearing from sight as he reached the corner of the room. With time pressing upon us we gave Madame Arcana her well-deserved payment and our thanks and departed.

By now even the last rays of the lingering Midsummer sun had disappeared and the city around us assumed a more sinister aspect as dark shadows spread across every doorway and turned each sheltered alleyway into a darkened tunnel, cold and sinister. Cocooned in the warmth of Jones’ car I felt safely insulated from the darkness beyond the window glass but I knew that feeling of safety could not last for soon we would arrive at the hiding place of Langton’s last treasure.

Sure enough, a few short minutes later we drew up under the pale light of a streetlamp close to the place where the Templar had told us he had buried the jar of rare oils.

One by one we filed out of the C23 cars and onto the street, Heather, who knew the area best, directed us to our objective, a small park located in the city’s urban heart.

At this point Sergeant Jones came to the fore, energised by the possibility of action. The beam of his powerful torch cut through the darkness, caressing the terrain with a finger of white light and causing strange shadows to jolt and dance at the edge of the illumination. Following Jones we made our way through the neat flower beds of the park onto a wide green swath of grass, over to one side Heather pointed out a small mound crowned by a dark cluster of trees – this had to be our objective.

While the others made their way up to the mound Hammer and I hung back. I don’t know what motivated the detective’s caution but I was finding that mundane cluster of trees disturbing. Was it an accident the way their roots seemed to reach down and block my fellow agents while they probed the hidden heart of that ancient mound and were those high branches really moving in such a light wind, or did some other force animate them. I could not say and do not want to know.

Moments dragged by as C23’s finest continued their search, the distant howling of dogs adding to the tension . . . finally one of the agents gave a cry; he had found what we sought. With straining muscles the treasure was prised free of its centuries’ old resting-place. In bright torchlight we examined what we had found. It appeared to be a sturdy wooden box, bound with iron bands and a heavy lock. A moment’s application of force sprung the ancient container open and a glance into the interior told us that we now had what we needed, for the third treasure was now in our possession. Furthermore Langton had obviously desired to protect his treasure from his Fey lover, for he had placed an ornate cross, (taken from a Byzantine Church in some long ago raid) on top of the jar of oils, thus preventing the Faeries from touching the contents of the box.

With all of the treasures now in our possession we began to feel confident that we could succeed in the tasks that now awaited us, opening the Trod and freeing Mr. J and Langton from the grasp of the Fair Folk. Our confidence was shattered when the disruptive sound of the sergeant’s mobile intruded into the stillness of that warm night.

At first I assumed that it must be J., checking on our progress but that illusion was shattered instantly when Jones told us that it had been Prudence, the erstwhile witch and faerie princess. Apparently the mysterious woman had made us an offer – come to meet her and she would tell us something to our advantage. Naturally we were suspicious of anything that this shadowy figure might offer but, believing that we now held all the cards, agreed to meet with her. Prudence suggested a small patch of lakeside woodland adjoining one of the town’s colleges.

After a further short journey through the darkness we drew up in a nearly abandoned car park close to the college in question, disembarking from our convoy of cars we quickly made our way towards the meeting place.

The path we took skirted the edge of a dark lake, overhung by the branches of trees. Although the sounds of the city could be hear softly in the distance the area all around us was silent . . . unnervingly so. With every ripple and splash I found myself glancing out across the dark waters, seeking out some hidden marauder, perhaps obscured by the waters of the lake. Looking at my companions I could see that the others were also on edge, each in his own way. Gabriel, like myself, continually peered into the surrounding darkness, searching out the horrors that might be lurking there, Jones, Biggles and Hammer by contrast, had adopted the role of soldiers in hostile territory, using all available cover for protection with their sweat-soaked palms caressing the guns in their pockets. Alarmingly, as I look about, I could see no sign of Mortimer, the learned occultist had apparently gone alone into the dark trees that grew in tight clusters off the main path. prude1

As our path wound away from the lake we stumbled across the witch Prudence, surrounded by candles, blocking the way ahead. No sooner had we taken this in than I noticed the lithe figures of the Fey emerging silently from the nearby undergrowth. Remembering the dread warnings concerning those who encountered the Fair Folk for a second time, I was terrified. I backed away from those blank faced figures, hastily attempting to create knots to distract them. Unfortunately there was nowhere to retreat for Prudence and her candles lay in the other direction.

Although I was unaware of it at the time, the Fey were herding us into a Faerie Ring. I cannot say what would have happened if they’d managed to get us all into that strange ring but, fortunately the keen eyes and sharp tactical sense of my fellow agent, Jones, saw the trap and avoided it.

Her plan to trap us foiled the Fey Princess Prudence was prepared to strike a bargain with us. She needed the treasures to open a Trod back to her home in the land of the Fey and, when she did so the path would also be open to us. We discussed the offer and decided that we had no choice, we would have to trust her if we were to have any hope of recovering Mr J. and Langton.

As her Faerie companions melted into the darkness Prudence accompanied us back to our cars for the journey to the gateway of another world. Under the artificial glow of the streetlights we had time to examine her more closely, finding her slim and agile with a dusky middle–eastern beauty, much as she must have appeared to Robert De Langton all those long centuries ago. She seemed at home in this modern world but still possessed an indefinable something, an air of elsewhere, of distant times and places remembered now only in story and song. Despite the threats we knew she had made to Langton and the fact that she was certainly involved in the disappearance of Mr J. it was difficult to think ill of Prudence.

Equipped with the treasures and accompanied by the Fey princess we were ready to broach the Faerie Trod while we still had time, before the Witch’s Moon of that Midsummer Night had slipped from the sky.

A further short journey brought us to the foot of Riddler’s Mound. As we stood there in the darkness Prudence explained that in order to open a gateway to the world of the Fey three of us would have to hold her treasures over our heads and follow her in a short ritual that she would recite. As we chanted those strange words into the night a shimmering portal opened before us and the mundane path at our feet became a ribbon of silver which flickered and rippled in the bright moonlight. One by one we stepped through that strange door and, as we did so, the rational world of the 21st century slipped away to be replaced by an older, stranger reality.

We found ourselves on the edge of a wide silver path which stretched away left and right as far as the eye could see, flanked on both sides by verdant walls of tree and bush , stronger and more abundant than any that you would find in the waking world. And it was not only the world around us that had changed, for our clothing had altered and our possessions were now more in keeping with this strange new reality. The guns possessed by Hammer, Jones and others were gone, replaced by sturdy blades of bronze, which flashed in the flickering light of the candles that had replaced our torches.

By the candlelight we could now see a hunched figure seated on the ground, his form cloaked in darkness but with two powerful antlers rising from his head. I am no expert in fables and legends but it was clear that this could only be the pagan spirit of the woods, Herne the Hunter, surely the guardian of this trod.

The bright light is a real mystery: to this day none of us know what it was,  but it wasn't a special effect and appeared the second the players joined the trod...

The bright light is a real mystery: to this day none of us know what it was, but it wasn’t a special effect and appeared the second the players joined the trod…

As Dr. Hawthorne had said, the guardian demanded payment before he would let us walk upon the Faerie Road. Reaching into my walking sack I pulled out the lump of fool’s gold that I seemed to have been carrying for years and handed it to the earth spirit and, as Hawthorne predicted, that hunched guardian seemed happy with our offering. Having gained his favour Herne asked which direction we would travel down that shinning path – I could see no difference so I opted for the side sinister and we headed left down the moonlit Trod. Before we departed Herne warned us that we would meet other guardians on that strange path, guardians whose requests we must also fulfill if we wished to reach the end and the Court of the Fey. He further warned us that, if we stepped off that eldritch road, we would be doomed to remain forever in this strange world of dreams.

With that grim warning ringing in our ears we made our way along that mysterious road. Looking left and right we could see nothing but a thick barrier of vegetation, ominous and brooding beneath that bloated Faerie moon. Unsure of the protection they offered those who were now carrying swords clutched them tightly, keeping them poised in readiness for action.

Although the path seemed to stretch on forever we eventually came upon the first of the guardians we had be warned of. Standing on a bridge spanning a bubbling brook a curious apparition awaited us – what was it, a Faerie Lady clad in a cloak of lustrous feathers with an obscuring mask or the spirit of some brightly plumed bird, in that odd silver light, I could not tell. As we approached this fair creature ‘she’ spoke, telling us that she was the Songbird and that we could only pass if we too could give voice to a song. Not for the first time on that strange evening we were taken aback, the requirements of a Cassandra 23 operative did not generally include the ability to sing. song

Nonetheless, if we wished to pass the Songbird that is what we must do. One by one we approached the threshold and did our best to satisfy the silver-voiced guardian’s demands. I cannot say that the songs we recited would be pleasing to all ears but most seemed to meet with approval from the songbird. I managed a halting rendition of “When the saints come marching in” and, more worringly, Mortimer gave us a virtuoso performance of the stormtrooper anthem, the “Horst Wessel Song”, in flawless German. Only the often-reticent Jones displeased the Songbird, his first effort being a Scandinavian drinking song that seemed to lack variation in either tone or content. Terrified at the thought of being lost in this land of Dreams, the sergeant summoned up his inner reserves and gave a burst of song that satisfied the guardian. Once Jones passed the Songbird bid us to go on our way and she flitted away into the surrounding trees. We had passed the first of the guardians that Herne had warned us about but our spirits were not lifted, for with each passing step the silver path we were on seemed to become less inviting. In places other paths and tracks appeared to run off the main thoroughfare, attempting to draw the unwary from the correct route. We also began to pass under great arches of stone, some of which had great central columns which seemed, in the dim half-light, to have been carved into the shapes of grotesque beasts or gargoyles. Although these illusions were dispelled as we passed by them none of this improved our confidence. It was further dented when we saw, waiting off to the side of the path under another of those great stone arches, the figure of a Fey Lady, blank faced but nonetheless alluring.

The beautiful Faerie woman stepped forward and introduced herself as the May Queen, the second guardian of the Trod, and warned us that we must meet her challenges if we wished to pass. In a voice of clear crystal she told us that we must acknowledge the three truths of Love that she would tell us and, only after doing so could we pass on our way.

The first truth that we had to face was that ‘Love make the proud humble’; to demonstrate this one of us must come forward and kiss her feet. After a moment’s hesitation Luke stepped forward, dropped to his knees, and performed this act of submission at the feet of the May Queen. queen.

The May Queen then told us that we must recognise that ‘Love makes the strong weak’ and that therefore the strongest of us must hand over his weapon. That clearly referred to Sergeant Jones and the curious weapon he had acquired from the Mi–Go. In the altered paradigm of the Dreaming it now appeared to be a magical wand, carved with strange glyphs and runes – different in appearance but perhaps not in purpose. I was surprised that Jones gave up his prize so willingly but, as he had demonstrated before, he was always prepared to make sacrifices for the good of the mission and his companions.

The enigmatic creature then informed us of the third truth that we had to acknowledge, that ‘Love make wise men fools’. In fact to pass this test all our Fey questioner required was for the ‘wisest’ of us to step forward and tell her a joke. Unexpected though this challenge was we were a match for it and Gabriel stepped forward telling her what she took to be a joke (although I was none too sure).

The devious Faerie then told us that, in order to pass, one of us would have to gift her a kiss. Without hesitation the hard-boiled gumshoe, Hammer, stepped forward to grant the May Queen’s last request. Unfortunately, as he leaned towards her the detective stepped from the safety of that straight ribbon of silver that ran beneath our feet. In an instant the guardian seized the hapless agent and both he and she disappeared into the dark shadows beneath the arch.

Pete drew the May Queen from memory, and it's a pretty good likeness!

Pete drew the May Queen from memory, and it’s a pretty good likeness!

That one of our number could be snatched away so swiftly and that we could do so little about it was terrifying. Despite this we screwed our courage up to the sticking point and decided that we had no choice, if any of us wished to escape this spectral dreamland we would have to follow this strange and terrible path through to its end.

Despite the danger of inadvertently leaving the path we made a collective but unspoken decision to pick up the pace. All of us now desired to reach the end of this terrifying journey regardless of whether that end was for good or ill.
Within a few short minutes of encounter the May Queen the silver path ahead of us widened and then split, with what appeared to be the main path bearing off to the right while a smaller track made off to the left. This smaller way cut a silver furrow through thickening undergrowth; close under the boughs of those strange trees that bordered the Trod on every side. As we stood puzzling which route to take a figure stepped from the surrounding gloom. A brief glance told us that this ragged figure must be another of the Faerie guardians. This curious intruder squatted by the side of the path and produced a set of Faerie pipes and, with a half-smile set on his lips, told us that he would help us on our way if we would agree to dance to a jig he would play for us.

There was no hesitation now, we had all come to far too turn back at this last hurdle and thus it was that that Midsummer moon witnessed a soldier, a scientist, a computer expert, a pilot, a Princess of the Fey and a bemused reporter joining hands in the silver half-light. As the Piper struck up a jaunty tune this strange circle began to jig and dance to his compelling tune, spinning faster and faster until the Trod became a blur. The bright flash of Faerie lights erupting around us served to add to our disorientation. My sense of time became distorted as the Faerie tune echoed in my head and impelled my feet into motion – only the feel of my companions’ hands gripped tight within my own kept me rooted in the present. Just as it seemed we could dance no longer the Piper’s music stopped and our dancing circle split apart, with each of us (save for the Fey Prudence) left giddy and gasping for breath. While we recuperated the Piper spoke, telling us that the correct way lay to the left, along the path under the boughs, he also told us much of what Dr Hawthorne had conjectured about the weaknesses of the Fair Folk. I am afraid that I did not pay enough heed to his words – for he also told us that, if we were ever the guests of a Faerie Lord we could request a boon of him. In my tired state I failed to take that information in, which was a pity as it could have been of use to us later.

Like the Songbird and the May Queen before him, the Piper melted into the shadows, leaving us alone once again. We looked down the path that lay ahead of us, narrow and treacherous and decided that we’d have to move along it in single file. That decided we re-organised with Jones in the lead, still confident in the face of danger, no matter in what guise it came. I am ashamed to admit that I lingered at the back, I have never been a man of great physical courage and the strangeness of this long Midsummer Night had unsettled me, perhaps more than I realised at the time. piper

Fortunately for all of us our journey was almost at an end, for not far down this new track we could see a great cave opening and hear the sounds of revelry and laughter. As we were approached the silver light of the moon revealed a scene straight out of the pages of fable. Spread out before us, filling that great stone cavern, was the Faerie Court of Dark Summer, dominated by the imposing figures of the King and Queen and peopled by a collection of grotesques and oddities more varied than one would ever see in the waking world. As we crossed the cave’s threshold Prudence ran forward to be greeted by her long estranged ‘parents’ and joyous cries of greeting echoed off the cavern’s dark walls. As Prudence left our side we had time for a more detailed glance around and we were overjoyed to find not only the imprisoned forms of Mr J. and the elusive Comte de San Graal, Langton, but also Hammer, whom we had give up for lost.

There was clearly not a moment to lose; we had to act while the Faerie court was still distracted by the return of Prudence. Jones and the young computer expert, Luke, charged into the cavern and made straight for the imprisoned men. Within moments they were at their side and sharp blades flashed in the gloom, severing the bonds that had held the three captives. While the others plunged into the darkness, Biggles, Gabriel, Mortimer and I waited on the threshold, offering prayers to whatever gods we believed in. A patch of darkness came spilling out of the cave and resolved itself into the forms of Mr J. and Langton. prisoners

The moment they dashed past I too took to my heels and fled, urging those in front to greater speed as we all ran down that narrow silver path. Glancing behind me I saw a terrible sight – Luke had not quite managed to get clear of the cavern when the Faeries realised that their captives had been rescued and a Faerie Knight stepped across his past. The poor man tried to parry the blow of that terrible blade but it was hopeless, there was a flash of silver and our companion was virtually cut in two. That spray of scarlet which sprayed across the dark trees broke the dream-like spell that had gripped us since entering the Trod and soon even Jones was fleeing for his life along the narrow path that would lead us back to daylight and sanity.

As we reached the junction and the path widened I put on a spurt of speed and left Mr J. and Langton behind. Our erstwhile superior complained bitterly but, having seen what those bright blades could do, I would not risk an encounter with them, not even to insure his safety. I was surprised to find Jones appearing at my elbow but I matched him stride for stride as we fled before the wrath of the Fey. Glancing behind we could see our other companions attempting to defend themselves, most of them were hurling knots of various complexity into the path of their pursuers which seemed to delay but not to stop them. Gabriel, remembering the words of Hawthorne and the warnings of the Piper, had opted for the more daring step of turning all his clothes inside out. From where I was I could not see whether he was successful.

I cannot fully describe the horror of that moonlit flight back along the Trod, all I recall are images … the flash of Faerie swords in the moonlight, the rasping breath of desperate men and the regular crash and slap of shoed and bare feet on the hard cold surface beneath us. A brief moment of terror as Biggles seemed to stop and was swallowed by the Faerie host. The glimpses I caught as I glanced backward showed me how desperately close the pursuit was as the other used nearly ever item of clothing they possessed to slow the hate filled Faeries.

Ultimately we succeeded in opening a gap between ourselves and that Unseelie Host and for, a few moments I felt that we would escape without further loss but then a darkness moved in the … the trees … yes, the trees on the left of the path. Unsure what it was we slowed and watched in silent horror as that terrible creature stepped across the path.

Even as I sit here safe in my own home, isolated from the dark and the cold, the thought of that THING still chills my very bones. It was squat, not more than ten feet high, but terribly wide, blocking the whole path with its long ropy tendrils and great branch-like arms. Where the light played upon it we could see that its skin was composed of some unearthly material that was deepest black and yet glistened where the moonbeams struck. It moved on great pillar-like legs that seemed almost goat-like in that ghastly illumination. daphne2

As we hesitated, confronted by this child of a thousand blasphemous imaginings, the Faerie host came upon us, blocking the path behind as they gazed into the darkness with blazing eyes and traced patterns in the air with their terrible swords.

Trapped between the two dangers we decided to rush that huge demon of the trees and charged towards it, Mr J., Gabriel and I lagged back . . . an act of cowardice that nonetheless probably saved our lives for, with a demonic speed totally out of proportion to its ponderous bulk, the creature shot ropy bunches of tendrils at Mortimer, Jones and Langton as they tried to pass it. In moments such as that the urge to survive overcomes all higher instincts and so it was with me, for in the plight of my companions all I could see was an opportunity to escape. It was clear that, huge though it was, the terror was fully engaged in holding the three victims it had. Therefore Hammer, Mr J., Gabriel and I all rushed beneath its dark and fearful eaves, turning a deaf ear to the cries of our erstwhile companions.

We never did get a good shot of 'Daphne' the Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath. She was 15'high, and took twonpcs to operate, and was genuinely scary when she came out at you through the woods!

We never did get a good shot of ‘Daphne’ the Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath. She was 15’high, and took twonpcs to operate, and was genuinely scary when she came out at you through the woods!

A pang of remorse made me turn back to discover their fate . . . how I wish I had not done so, for as I looked I saw the sinuous appendages that enfolded Mortimer and Langton flex and then, in the briefest moment, tore them literally limb from limb, liberally decorating the nearby trees with their last mortal remains. Even Jones, strong and tough though he was, was unable to free himself from the grip of that antediluvian monstrosity and I watched, mesmerised, sure that the heroic soldier, who had been through so much, was also about to be destroyed. Once again I underestimated Jones’ resourcefulness and courage for, with one great sweep of his left arm, he brought up the sword he was carrying and severed his other arm at the shoulder, leaving it in the grip of the creature.

Mr J., demonstrating an occult skill I was not aware that he possessed, uttered a curious incantation and opened a gateway from the Trod. We survivors stumbled through the portal back to reality and I remember little more until the morning sun streamed through the windows of the safehouse and I returned to the reality of the normal world.

Cassandra 23 is apparently happy with our work, for while we didn’t manage to rescue Langton we did recover Mr. J., which was, after all, our most important task. The survivors have all been promoted and the technical department has been put to work building a prosthetic arm for Mr Jones.

As for me, I have returned to the mundane world of work and leisure and put all thoughts of Faerie Princesses, silver roads and Songbirds out of my mind.

Yet as I sit here and the moon rises and fills my window I cannot help hearing the trees as they speak whispers into the wind and I watch as dark shadows move in the woodland, hidden from sight…