The Meddling

The Sage hadn’t slept well the night before. His dreams were invaded by the nocturnal wanderings of his old friend Saul. Even now, at noon, the Sage was still trying to figure out whether his visitor was really Saul or just a representation of him that gave him the warning. Saul had never spoken directly of astral projection but, considering his studies, it certainly was likely that he had attained that state.

The warning was not an ominous one. Perhaps it was almost comical, but the Sage was sure it was serious, too. The character, or Saul himself, said “Remember, it’s the quiet ones who are the threat.” The Sage had no idea what the warning was referring to. Recently, things had been rather quiet. The Old Ones and even the other supernatural nasties, imagined or real, had been behaving themselves. Or, so it had seemed. Claire and Rupert were off again, dealing with another low level supernatural threat from Rupert’s to do list. Restless as he was, and efficient, Rupert kept a lengthening list of sites he wanted to visit when things were quiet. Claire usually went along, both as back-up and as company. Claire had become a fixture in their activities soon after that day she walked into his house to confront the visiting Imam with vital, meaning life-saving, information. She demonstrated her extraordinary skills on that day and had done repeatedly since, all in the cause. The Sage found himself doing the research part of their activities. This, of course, suited him fine, as he was rather sick of traipsing hither and yon to find some nasty bent on making human lives a misery.

Despite movies like Poltergeist, supernatural evil tends to stick to the middle of nowhere. Not for them downtown Manhattan or London. Old Ones particularly shied away from big modern cities. They preferred to stick to small hamlets, villages, and decrepit abandoned locales, usually on the edge of their boundless habitat, the sea. Their very presence announced itself by that noxious smell of the depth of their origins mixed with their evil intent. It was all too easy for the locals to abandon an infested locale to the encroaching evil. The fate of one who would confront that evil was too well known.

The Sage often contemplated the sad fate of the courageous who had fought the evil and, sometimes, won, but with the grievous loss of the health of the mind. He was thankful that his own sanity was so far, fairly good throughout his numerous encounters with Cthulhu’s minions. It was partly this hearty constitution which kept him in the game, long after some of his contemporaries had either retired to a secure redoubt or to a “rest home.” These rest homes were pleasant places where those who had fought the good fight could live out their days in comparative tranquility. The Sage once again made a mental note to visit a nearby home to check on some of his retired allies and volunteers. Sad to see them, but a few, in their debilitated state could appreciate a visitor and feel his appreciation, even though they would never again be returned to life in the real world after the shock of meeting the great evil.

Thanks to some recent developments in the age of the internet and silicon valley, the fight had acquired some generous benefactors. After a series of Cthulhu-inspired attempts to hijack the internet and many of our interlinked computers worldwide, the types appreciated that there were some things even more evil than Bill Gates and Steve Balmer. The most recent attempt to use the Microsoft empire to take over the minds of computer-using humanity, prompted one top MS employee to donate a substantial sum to a foundation fighting the Old Ones in the US.

Most of the donations stayed with the forces of good in the US. So, the meetings of Cthulhu foes were mostly in the US and there was a decent stream of invites. The Sage occasionally spoke for a fee at these meetings but found most of them more talking shops than practical events. Still, it was nice for him to be able to go to the US and stay in nice hotels and mansions. And the fee helped support the rest homes in his own land where they were sorely needed.

The Sage sighed as he contemplated the dream. He was sifting through all the spam in his email box. One email attracted his attention. Things had just stopped being quiet. Instead of the normal paranoid loon complaining about his latest conspiracy theory, it was a genuine plea for help. Short and to the point. Always a good clue. If you’re really scared, you don’t write a 3,000 word screed.

“Well I’d better get Rupert headed for this one.” He said to Edin. “I think we are going to take a trip to North Wales. And very soon.”

He set about writing a text message to Claire. He really could not place just where they where had been summoned to. Despite the fact he was Sage of Wales, he did not know every hamlet in the country. He doubted anyone did, not even the Ordinance Survey people. The Sage dashed off an email asking for directions, assuring his worried correspondent of his imminent arrival.

In North Wales, something nasty was stirring.

“Duty calls,”, he said to Edin. We’d better get ready. The pair trotted to the cellar door and descended into its depths for several hours of contemplation and meditation. “So much for a relaxing Saturday.”

Just then his ICQ flashed open a message. “We are on our way there. Luv Claire.”

The news the next morning was no improvement. The Sage got more details on the problem. It seemed that the evil that was stirring had been helped in its efforts by an environmental do-gooder with a grudge against religion. His meddling threatened to unleash the evil forces on the unsuspecting people of North Wales. The trouble was this bloke was in fact carrying the problem inside him. To make matters worse he was an Australian, stubborn and a so-called gonzo “journalist” to boot. A cynic would be happy to see him suffer a long and painful death. The trouble is, in dying alone, he could release something that would cause the death of hundreds.

“What a bloody mess”, the Sage exclaimed reading the detail of what had happened. The journalist, “Slim” Hanson, had attended an open house at the sanctuary run by the Brothers of Unforgiving Sea. The Brothers did their best to teach safety on the sea. Their seminar and demonstrations were once a year occurrence and usually attracted only locals. The main draw was a sea themed fair, antique sale, and food stalls. The instruction seemed a minor part, but was in fact the most important part, as you will soon see.

Of course, this was a front for their other activities. The brothers’ role was to guard a deep passage under the sea and make sure nothing went in or out. They were in charge of monitoring various other areas of activity in the Irish Sea. These men were not mere religious brothers but highly trained and adept soldiers in the battles against Cthulhu and his minions. Alas, they were not highly trained in dealing with a meddlesome journalist bent on finding a story. It seems “Slim” took a fancy to a new addition to their buildings. They began adding reinforcement to the protection over the tunnels after it became apparent that some were being challenged. The brothers were keen to make sure the only access point was the one below their main building. This single remaining tunnel was heavily warded and guarded at all times. Unfortunately, the reinforcement resembled something you would see at a nuclear power plant or a missile silo. Or so Slim thought.

One Brother David talked to this “innocent” and learned his story line for the articles he was trying to sell back home. Slim was eager to share his discovery with Brother David, who appeared to be a novice. Slim bragged that he could transmit the stories back to The Melbourne Herald by wireless connection, although, at the same time, Brother David could tell from the way he put things that he was a stringer desperate for a big story to propel himself up in the profession. And so it was that Brother David raised the first alarm. Trouble was, the Brothers were handling the issue as though they were dealing with one man alone.

Slim slipped back into the monastery that night after his festival visit. Time would tell how he could manage that through the monastery’s rigorous security layers. And things got worse from there. When the security detail were doing their last curfew checks of the tunnel, they found the journalist passed out in the tunnel. As four burly brothers approached his prostrate body, he arose and overpowered them all and escaped. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind how he overpowered the guards. Slim was not the only one in his body.

The Sage got together his things and headed North with his amanuensis, the dog Edin. He called Claire and Rupert. They were on their way and would meet at the remote monastery. Edin’s nose would be most useful; that is, if they were not too late. Fortunately for all, a large balding Aussie with a thick accent was easily traceable. Equally fortunate, he had taken a small cottage on the coast near the monastery. He had stayed there alone… until now.

The Sage arrived first and sensed the Brothers’ anger and embarrassment at what had occurred. He tried to console them. To no avail. Although not strictly the case, the order, and others like it in Wales, considered the Sage their boss. Or, commander-in-chief. It did not please any of these groups to have to call on him to bail them out.

When he informed them that Claire and Rupert were joining them, the mood got even darker. Claire, widely known as “the witch” did not always go down well in some of the orders the Sage worked with. The religious ones just did not know how to deal with a woman, and even more problematic, a woman with occult “skills”. Certainly on this day, it was more pride than misogyny. But they all knew they needed help, and the Sage was there to give it.

The Sage was directly dealing with Bro. Davies, a largish fellow with a fulsome Welsh accent. Late of the Welsh Guards, he was a formidable sight in his cassock. Alas, most of his men were not so tough looking. A fair proportion of them were weedy looking intellectual types with glasses.

Rupert and Claire arrived just after the Sage. Edin, as per a normal dog, bounced out of the Land Rover and rushed over to greet Rupert and Claire. Rupert patted her on the head and Claire asked if she enjoyed her trip. She wagged her tail and lapped Rupert on the nose.

Rupert greeted the Sage, as well as Brother Davies. Rupert, as is his wont, grasped the Brother’s hand firmly and stared him right in the eye. Claire stood behind Rupert and merely said “hello” with a wave. Claire understood the deference she received from many of the Sage’s allies.

It was 3 o’clock in the afternoon by the time they had all gathered. The newcomers were fed, watered, and shown the important site around and under the monastery. They would not venture out towards the cottage until dark. The Sage, Rupert, and Claire stayed close to the monastery hoping to keep their presence unremarkable. Various methods of defence and offence were gathered. The medical brothers prepared one of their old 4-door Land Rovers as an ambulance or mobile infirmary.

“His phone line is down,” said Brother Davies. “I did it myself. It will take BT at least a week to reconnect him. Unless he has a satellite phone, he will be incommunicado. There is no mobile phone reception for miles around.”

The team members got into their vehicles to leave. To avoid attention, even in the foggy darkness that had descended, their departure from the monastery courtyard was staggered,. Hedgerows and a farmer’s field near the cottage would provide an ample staging area.

The Sage, Rupert and Edin would be going in. It was highly unlikely they would be greeted by a hail of gunfire. Well at least that is what they were counting on.

Edin made sure they were led to the right place. She sneezed quietly as they approached the house, her nose the most sensitive of the group. The stench of dead fish was overwhelming. It was if they were approaching a low tide in the middle of the summer at mid-day. Claire positioned herself within view of the cottage but hidden to view. She concentrated on protections, her voice a low murmur as if emanating from the ground.

The house was bathed in soft light apparently from candles casting a yellowish tint from each window. The reinforcements waited out of sight. Each continued his respective preparations ready to support the main team should they be needed.

The two men and dog approached the house, worried that their quarry might have left at nightfall. As the reached the cottage, the claymore wielding Rupert grasped the front door and turned the knob hard. The door flew open. The evil one has no need of locks.

“Oh shit, the estate agent will not be happy with this,” exclaimed the Sage.” Edin looked up at him and Rupert sneered.

Instead of a floor, the middle of the front room was a giant hole….surfaces left flat around the edge were covered with candles. The candles were the thick kind associated with ceremony. From one edge of the hole, a wooden ladder lead down to a flattish surface below.

The ladder was coated with a layer of slime….and stank of the worst of the sea. Before the Sage could say anything, his backup was rushing to his aide. No doubt Claire’s doing, one of the Brothers carried with him a large aluminum ladder. A smaller Brother followed carrying the top end. The placed the ladder without difficulty, braced against the edge and bottom wedge ends anchored at the bottom in the muddy ground below.

While the Sage worried about whether he and Edin would go, Edin proceeded to walk head first down the ladder.

“Once again,” the Sage said to himself, “I guess I am taking orders from a dog again!” He duly followed the dog down the ladder. Rupert was next, followed by Bro. Davies. Claire slid down the side in an act of daring-do mixed with arrogance.

She declared, “He has headed to meet his masters before spreading his plague.” She proceeded ahead of the party down the dimly lit tunnel, hair and cape fluttering.

The Sage was unsure if he had ever seen her carry a staff but he suspect this one was more than a match for his own. Not that he was planning on challenging her to a duel any time soon.

Edin, no doubt understanding the change of leadership, galloped to Claire’s side as they headed down the passage. The men rushed to keep up with the two female warriors.

Clearly, the tunnel and they were heading towards the sea. And through a very new tunnel. It was slippery at times, slowing their progress. The smell became stronger as they moved forward and downward. The soft floor of the tunnel and their caution combined to let them approach their prey with stealth. Still in silence, they came to a point where the tunnel widened to form something like an anteroom. To what, they probably did not want to know. Claire, and Edin, and those following slowed their pace.

Not, that he would have seen or heard their approach in any case. Slim was now a bloated wreck, wrestling with the tentacled growth emanating from his stomach. As he struggled with it, he spoke in a rational manner. He sounded quite his normal self, speaking in his hearty manner to whatever entity was speaking to him. His Oz accent filled the room and the tunnel behind.

“No problems mate…” he said. “I will make sure the whole world knows about the Lord Cthulhu and his imminent return. This village will be in yer pocket by tomorrow, mate. My readers love me. They will follow me to the ends of the earth….honest.” He paused. “It isn’t back the earth, it’s back to the sea! No worries!”

Edin retreated behind the Sage as Claire approached the rotund Aussie. She silently and firmly placed her staff in the middle of his back. He did not notice until his entire body was consumed by a crimson light. He began to scream….his Aussie accent made the screams of terror and pain all that more piercing as they echoed in the tunnel room. Brother Davies circled the room, placing Elder Signs on the walls.

In a sudden motion, the search party began to retreat. With his quarterstaff, the Sage traced a magical Elder Sign on the floor of the tunnel, carefully making sure the lines of the star were complete. The beings beyond them were getting restless and angry. The party hurried towards their point of entry, covering the distance this time in only a few minutes….The screams of Slim followed them the whole way. There were sounds of slithering beings racing up the lower part of the tunnel toward them. But on striking the sigil, their screams joined with human screams to create a deafening cacophony that would drive the inexperienced insane. It seemed an eternity for our warriors to reach the ladder, their only path to safety.

Edin rushed up the ladder followed by the rest of the party. The brothers who had awaited them in the cottage quickly pulled the ladder out of the hole. The brothers outside formed a chain with those inside, hand over hand barrel-shaped explosives attached to wires came into the cottage. Most of these sent down the hole into the level below and down the sloping tunnel beyond. Charges were attached to all the flat surfaces in the room. The candles were replaced by a few lanterns. The pull-out was as swift as the approach. They were well away from the area when the charges went off, turning the night sky crimson. As they passed the Brothers waiting with the ambulance, they asked them to move back a little further from the cottage, but to continue their vigil a little longer to be sure there was no need for their services.

“Well we seem to have seen that off in time Sage,” said Brother Davies as they headed for their cars. “We shan’t be seeing any of the “possessed” this time out.” He climbed into the Land Rover with Rupert, the Sage, and Claire.

Before the Sage could say a word, Rupert spoke.

“Brother Davies, you were only lucky this time. We must never be careless in the light of such a threat.”

Rupert grunted and continued driving. Brother Davies rode in silence. He and his fellow monks had mistaken that journalist as just a nuisance until it was nearly too late.

Claire, cross legged, sat in the rear of the Land Rover, concentrating on what lay behind them. She winced as the screams of their victims pierced her mind. Their screams made her smile despite their apparent pain.

There would be no good-byes this night. Rupert and the Sage would drop Brother Davies off at the monastery and head south. Rupert advised the Sage that they should travel this night together. They had confronted enough danger for one day. Separating to return in two vehicles was not wise at this time. They would return in a few days to inspect the monastery’s defenses to be sure that no other breaches were in the making. They would collect the Sage’s Land Rover then.

“Diplomatic as ever Rupert,” grumbled the Sage.

“I don’t do diplomacy, I clean up messes made by the careless and foolish.”

Claire, exhausted from exercise of her powers, lay her head on Edin’s solid warm body as the drove into the night.

“That is what he got for meddling in affairs that did not concern him.”

“Wonder if he is dead or just absorbed?” the Sage said.

No one had an answer to his question. Each looked forward to the warmth and peace of the Sage’s Pembrokeshire house by the sea.

To the West of them, beneath the Irish Sea someone screamed with an Australian accent. No one heard his torment.

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