The Shipping News

As a long time follower of current events the Sage found that he was more and more troubled by recent events round the world. While none were particularly Cthulhu or magical in nature they were certainly evil. Alas, since they were not specifically part of the Sage’s remit as Sage of Wales he would be unwelcome to poke his nose into the investigations. Nonetheless the rise in Islamic fundamentalist terrorism on or around ports was most disconcerting. Islam and its adherents had long been fertile recruiting grounds for Cthulhu and his minions. It was, after all, a Muslim, though admittedly not very devout, who first translated and compiled the dreaded Necronomicon. His eventual demise was rather fitting with the end of an apostate of the Prophet. Being flayed alive tends to be done by human hands, but the tale of Abdul Alhazred’s end was not that unusual. Islam does not take kindly to its apostates; in fact, death is the sentence for anyone who strays from the one true path.

The Sage and his companions were not unknown to certain more open-minded Muslim clerics. There were at least two occasions were they co-operated on solving a mutual problem. It will surprise no one that the Sufi-sect were far more willing to be seen talking to the Sage than were Sunni or Shi’ite clerics. The fact that one of Andrew’s helpers was a woman mage and his bodyguard a daemon hunting dog did not help matters. It had become apparent that while well-educated Muslim clerics knew of Cthulhu and his minions, they were loathe to acknowledge his existence. The reasoning for this reluctance was fairly obvious, Cthulhu seemed to find successful converts in Islamic areas near the sea in places like Malaysia, North Africa and in the Near East. The followers of the Black Pharaoh and fake-Muslim followers of various fish-gods were of a particular headache. Anti-Cthulhu forces operating in Islamic countries were as likely to become targets of zealots as the cultists. This, of course, meant that in several places around the world the worship of Cthulhu flourished.

The Sage was rather concerned that it might take Islam to admit to the problem as long as it took the Vatican.

Eden sat beneath the legs of the Sage as he completed his next move. The dog was by now completely tuned into his master’s wavelength. The Sage swore that at times Eden spoke to him in his head, reassuring him when it was needed.

The British Isles were mercifully quiet of late, at least of proper Cthulhu cult activity. The more mundane terrorism was on the rise, and it was no longer being perpetrated by Irish radicals but by home-grown Islamist fundamentalists. It was the most recent attacks that gave the Sage the chills. Police and security services were baffled how they were accomplished. In the dead of night ships were removed from port only to be blown up that day in the middle of shipping lanes. A ship laden with fuel had been placed next to the Humber bridge only to explode seconds later. Eyewitness told tales of how the ship appeared right before the explosion. Casualties had been kept down of late, but it was only a matter of time before large numbers of innocents would be killed in one of these conflagrations. The most killed was 100 who had the unfortunate luck of being next on the bridge when the ship went up. The security services were in a panic about how these acts were perpetrated, not buying the claims of “Allah’s will” coming from Al Marem.

As per normal, Rupert and Claire were making their way to his redoubt on the Pembrokeshire Coast. Rupert, Claire, and the Sage would have to try to track down those responsible with no official remit. That meant that the Sage would have to allow Claire to use “all means necessary” in her search. This tended to trouble the cautious Sage. Magical practitioners and creatures most often had their own agendas, even more so if it’s a daemon of some sort coming to your aide. In the end the trio had little choice but to try all they could to stop the attacks.

Any magical mucking about tended to attract attention or rather was noticed by whomever was watching. Whether or not anything was done about it was another matter. Claire was a very useful member of the group but occasionally skated a bit close to the edge in order to achieve what was needed as soon as possible. The Sage put it down to the impatience of age, but it still worried him at times. He generally encouraged Claire to do her most dangerous work at his place, as it was heavily warded against all manner of nasties. Much like his computer’s firewall, the Sage’s house was routinely probed for magical weakness. The Sage had many enemies, many of whom would stop at nothing to end his meddling in their affairs.

The pair would be pitching up noon-ish the next day, so the Sage would have an evening of relaxation to himself. After to checking his wards once again, he had settled down with a glass of port, a cigar and good book. For once it was neither about current events or the vagaries of various cults; it was pure fiction.

Sure enough, at noon, the Sage was awakened by the barking of Eden. The barking was of a playful sort indicating the interlopers were some of her friends. The Sage tried to wake up as best he could and raised himself out of his reading chair. While he hadn’t spent the evening in his study, he found himself returning to slumber after breakfast and a quick check of his email. Nothing of great note had occurred the previous night, so he was able to return to his pleasure reading. Alas, he was unable to finish the latest from Mark Evans before his colleagues blew in.

Over a cup of tea and some lunch Claire informed the Sage that she would doing the “Witchfest tour” over the summer period. This announcement was greeted with groans from Rupert, who would be forced to go as her escort. Rupert was an action type who hated being around the mystical hordes who tend to haunt these things. Neo-pagan hippies who just want to be alternative for the sake of being so. The Sage always sent people along to these events to monitor who was there. They were great recruiting grounds for some of the more nefarious cults kicking around, including, of course, the various cults of the Old Ones. There were many weak minds that could be easily manipulated by the clever. This was the first time that anyone associated with the Sage would be officially part of the event. Closer to the event, the Sage would be taking Claire aside and insisting she was not to talk about her work against the Great Old One.

Rupert was quiet over lunch as Claire rambled on about things. He did not seem to mind, carefully listening to the conversation and looking contemplative.

“Well I suppose we better get down to business, then,” mused the Sage.

“As I told you, I think these port-related attacks by Muslim extremists have a darker side to them. I don’t have any proof, but it has been a nagging feeling. Unless the terrorists have a cloaking device to hand, their ability to move ships is rather odd. “

“Aye” grunted Rupert.

“So what we need to do is find out who is really behind these attacks.”

“You don’t think the Islamic lunatics have hooked up with the Old Ones’ lot, do you? Surely they see the Old Ones as an affront to Allah? That lot are crazy but not that crazy, are they?’

“The enemy of my enemy …”

“But…”

“Well, no matter how out there my theory, you must admit it is a possibility. I doubt we can expect any help from even the most reasonable of Mullahs or Immans. As we saw the last time, they don’t seem too big on co-operating with any non-Muslim, especially if they are pagan like us.”

“Indeed, and I bet if it’s terrorists, they have not thought it through and understood the consequences of their actions.”

“Well, as long as the cultists are helping them kill infidel it won’t be a problem for them. But that can’t last forever.’

“So what do you suggest, Sage? You want me to go sniffing round the ports of the South-East?’

“Well no, not exactly. I think I know exactly where they will strike next and why. I am pretty sure I know the timing too.’ The Sage paused and then concentrated on his words. “We first need to get Claire here to do some research on whether or not my theory is right. I fear she will need to use some of her more unusual methods.”

“Oh bloody hell. Not that shite again. Which nasty is going to attack this time!”

“Don’t worry, I have been practicing. Besides I got a good source to help us. We shouldn’t have anyone come after us this time.”

“Yeah, right…I will believe that when I see it.”

The Sage put his hands out as if to prevent argument. “I know your feelings on this, Rupert; to a certain extent I share them. Unfortunately, we need whatever help we can get because, if I am right, a rather large number of people are about to die quite horribly. “

Rupert didn’t respond; he just grumbled. Claire shot him a look.

“We have one night, maybe two, to figure what is going on and stop it.” He paused. “What I think we need to try to do is handle the cultists and deliver the ROPMA types into the hands of the proper authorities. It will prevent lots of deaths and give us some credit with the right people. We have to figure out which ferry or liner they are planning to attack in order to stop it.”

“How are we going to stop the ship being taken?” asked Claire.

“By making sure the ship is as warded as this house, that is how!”

“I see…”

“But we have to find out which ship is the target., that is the problem.”

The Sage got up and checked his email, getting the feeling there was something he needed to see. Eden carefully followed the man into his computer room and stood beside him as he read his latest lot of email. Between the dribble of spam and daily digests was one from a source in India. It seems a boat of Hindu pilgrims had disappeared en route from Sri Lanka to the mainland. Reports stated: “ there are no signs of the boat or its occupants…it’s as if it had disappeared.”

“Damn”, exclaimed the Sage.

“I think you better look at this, Rupert” he called. “You, too, Claire.”

The pair rushed into the room, mugs of tea in hand as the Sage printed the email. “I think this is a test run.”

“But boats disappear all the time, Andrew. What makes this so special?”

“Well they normally don’t disappear leaving no trace at all. It has been 12 hours since this happened and there is nothing. Besides my contact in Sri Lanka would not have sent this if he didn’t think it deserved my attention. He monitors the activities of cultists on the island. Followers of the Old Ones have been based there for many a century. They have been pushed into hiding in the Tamil areas but they are still active.”

Rupert read the email as well as the attached report with stern concentration. He sighed. “While Claire talks to her astral friends I will do some research online. I trust you,” he said motioning to the Sage, “ to be a better bet helping Claire with her task.”

“I don’t need any help, just a bit of incense and a quiet place.”

“Yes, you do, Claire. This is nasty shit you are dealing with…the reason I want the Sage to help is he is less negative about it than I am. Don’t want my negative vibes ruining your chances of finding out what we need.”

“Good idea, Rupert. Hadn’t thought about it that way. Don’t know if there is much I can do.”

“Well, actually it’s Eden I want by her side. He will make sure to let us all know is something nasty is following her back.” He paused and turned round in the chair, “and we all know that Eden will not leave your side when you are this perturbed about something.”

The Sage considered claiming that he could order Eden to stay with Claire, but thought the better of it. He knew there was no chance. After all this a dog that when worried escorted the Sage to the toilet and rountinely shoved her nose into the shower to check on him.

“Alright, you three off you go. I need to figure out what is going on and figure out how to stop it.”

“Rupert, I know what to do to stop it, just have to know where and when and then how to make sure you make it there in time.’ The Sage put his hand on his colleague’s shoulder. “You might want to take a nap sometime; you may not be getting much sleep in the next few days.”

“I will not be sleeping when Claire goes astral.”

“Of course not,”

After patiently watching the two men discussing her actions for the evening, Claire quipped, “I suspect I will go into meditation about midnight, so make sure you are up by then. I will be off for a short nap, plan to be up by 11:30 or so.”

“I will go off and get you some more tea, Rupert. Make myself useful at least.”

Rupert nodded and resumed concentrating on the screen. The Sage brought Rupert a spot of tea and then returned to his book, relieved to have a few hours of relaxation before things got hectic.

With Eden by his leg, the Sage dozed a few minutes after laying down on the couch. His sleep was untroubled but dreamless. For a change he rested both mind and body…it was over too soon, as if in an instant.

He awoke to Eden poking him in the stomach, waging her tail but looking stern. If he did not heed her instructions her tail would become as stern as the look in her eyes. After a groggy moment or two, the Sage leaned over, grabbed her muzzle and put his eyes to hers.

“The question’s who is whose master Eden?”

She gently encouraged him towards the kitchen where Rupert and Claire sat deep in conversation. Claire’s normally cheery face looked as stern as Rupert’s as they examined the printed information scattered on the table.

Knowing full well the response, the Sage asked politely, “I am going to have a glass of wine if anyone cares to join me.” He received no response. The clock next to the door neared midnight.

He turned and sat down at the table with bottle and glass in hand. “So do we know any more?”

“Besides that we better get this right? No, not really.” Scowling, Rupert continued,. “Much as I am loath to say it…we have no option but to use Claire tonight.”

“Don’t worry, I will be fine…” Claire dropped off as if suggest that she might not be convinced herself.

“Yes, of course you will be alright. I am not worried about any of us, but I am petrified for those poor people on whatever ship is going to be hit.”

Claire rose to go downstairs to the concentration room of the house. In a Christian household of a certain age it would be called a chapel. The room, hewn out of solid rock, was a magical redoubt in the strongly warded house. It made contact a bit harder to achieve but considerably safer.

“Claire, I will be down in about an hour…don’t do anything until Eden and I arrive.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”

She headed down the stairs to begin preparation. Eden did not move a muscle.

“I will remain here reading in case of trouble.”

“I will use the call if we need you.”

“You do that…”

The Sage began to read all that was gathered before him, sipping his wine ever so slowly to make sure he didn’t consume too much.

One approached slowly for all concerned. Rupert, Eden and the Sage could hear each tick of the second hand as they anticipated what was to come.

Downstairs, Claire carefully prepared the room for her journey. Peeling back the carpet and storing it in its rack. She carefully placed the candles around the circle, each in its proper place and gently lit them whilst chanting the correct invocation for each one. The Hebrew of chants would seem pleasant to any listener . After the witch finished she sat in the middle of the circle, lit only by the fires from the candles around her and closed her eyes. Her black hair was held in a black band of leather. A vessel of wine sat in front of her crossed legs, a ceremonial knife beside it, with a low stone bowl of water on the other side of the wine. The set-up would be fairly familiar to most wiccans but her methods would not be. She could hear the Sage and Eden approach the room as she pricked her finger with the knife…letting a droplet fall into the water. With this she closed her eyes and raise her palms to the heavens. She drifted off, a look of total concentration on her face.

The Sage and Eden retreated to a far corner. Eden allowing the Sage to prop himself on her as he lowered himself to sit cross-legged on the stone floor, his heavy trousers not helping against the coldness of the stone beneath him. Eden sat like a statue at first staring at Claire, only to later to lie down, cross her legs but continue to peer at the woman in the circle of light.

Claire occasionally mumbled in her concentration. Even those with the best ears couldn’t understand what she said or even discern the tongue.

After the normal and exhaustive “pleasantries”, Claire and her astral contact begun to discuss matters at hand. Loosely translated the chat was as follows:

“So I understand that you need my help in some matter. “ Said the covered figure in an almost headmaster-like voice.

“Well yes I, rather we, would like some information if you have it. You know much about the matters on the mortal plane.”

“Well yes I do, but why exactly should I help you save mortals? I gather they are probably not those that worship me?”

Claire did not ask who or what was being worshipped but continued on as if they were at least well acquainted. “You do have worshippers who use ships, do you not?”

“My worshippers travel in all manner of methods. Much though I wish they would remain in one place,” grumbled the entity.

“Well, then, your worshippers are at risk as anyone else in this matter.” She then gambled a bit. “In fact I would fathom a guess a few of yours would be on whatever ship is going to be attacked in the next few days.”

There was a pause. “That is possible, of course.”

“Would you like to lose any of them to another god? For its own gain, not yours?”

“Who would this be? That wishes to take my worshippers from me for its own gain!” Boomed the voice.

“We believe it to be the followers of the Great Old One in concert with some of the followers of the Prophet.”

“Two who have tried to usurp me! How dare the followers of those menaces from other space dare to take my followers! If it were not for their strong Chaos magic I would have taken them long ago.” He paused. “But you have no knowledge that mine are going to be sacrificed. What is in it for me in case there are none involved. Will you sacrifice yourself for this purpose?”

Claire panicked briefly, “I am sure some of yours will be on the ship.” She then calmed and responded. “But think of it, you will be helping us thwart both usurpers. Get that tiny bit of revenge on them for deposing you!”

Silence followed…and then the booming voice spoke. “Very well, but you must arrange to have as many of those who are planning this die on this day, instead. Their blood will assuage me.”

“Thank the gods”, Claire said to herself…

“So what do you seek? Be exact, as this grows tiring.”

“We need to know what ship is going to be attacked so that we may protect
it.”

The figure concentrated and then spoke calmly and quietly. “The ship is named for a royal person. It is not the first time this name has been used.”

“But…”

“Chose your question carefully as this is your last.”

“Does the ship originate in Southampton?” She remembered the Sage had insisted that he had a felling this was the port. She was desperate for him to be right.

“That is what the area is called in your time…yes.” With that the figure disappeared from her gaze.

She slowly drifted back into her body…her hand automatically reaching for the goblet. As she opened her eyes, she drank a healthy swallow of wine, slowly focusing on the Sage.

He sat silently as Claire came out of her trance. Eden now stood and sniffed the air.

She spoke softly. “Come to me…”

The Sage rose from his feet and walked closer to the circle.

“Come closer I have information.” Her voice sounded weak and barely audible.

Although keen to rush in and helpClaire, the Sage knew that breaking the circle in any way would be extremely dangerous. Eden stood between the Sage and Claire….forcing him to push against her to get close enough to hear. She was careful not allow Andrew to come anywhere near close to the edge of the circle.

Straining to her words, the Sage concentrated.

“The ship is named for a royal person. It is not the first time this name has been used.” She paused and drank another sip of wine, her throat dry. “The ship will leave from Southampton…” She then went silent, unable to speak. Her voice completely gone.

The Sage hoped his mind was not playing tricks having heard what he wanted. After once more checking on Claire, he headed up the stairs with Eden. He closed the door firmly behind him.

Rupert turned to look at the Sage’s face…looking for any signs of panic.

The Sage calmly sat down at his chair and poured himself a glass of wine. Eden remained next to the door ready to pounce on anyone coming through it.

The Sage repeated what he was told to Rupert.

“If her source is telling us the truth, then at least we know the port.” He began to pour over the shipping schedule he had before him.

After a few minutes of silence, both the Sage and Rupert exclaimed at the same time. “Queen Mary II!”

“Damn, an obvious target for the Muslim fanatics as it is a great symbol of western decadence!” He shook his head. “Bugger, we should have been thinking mundane terrorism, not cultist targets.”

Rupert calmly turned to the Sage. “So now we know what it is…how do we stop the bastards?”

“Well the mundanes are not for us to deal with but I have a way of making sure that the ship is not taken. Or at least making it very unpalatable for whomever wants to consume it. “

“What if the Islamic nutters just wants to blow it up?”

“The cultists won’t let them, they want the ship taken intact. The dead aren’t what the Great One wants; he likes his sacrifices alive and squiriming.”

Rupert shuddered. “So what is the plan.”

“I hope you are rested because you need to take this bag of Elder Signs and get to that ship. I will make sure you have access to it once you get there. You need to leave immediately if you are going to get there with time to place the signs on the ship. I will make sure you have transport from Swansea, now go!”

Rupert rose, opened the bag near the back door and headed out.

“Please take care of Claire, Andrew.”

“I will…I promise.”

Eden whimpered a bit as Rupert went out the door. The Sage raised his glass of wine and lifted the phone off the wall. He dialled and said “get me the Home Secretary. It’s a matter of English national security.”

After some reluctance and a few terse words he was put through to the HS’s private secretary who was thankfully not sound asleep.

“May I help you?”

“I bloody well hope you can sir.” The Sage explained the situation to the man on the other end of the phone with the proper references.

“It’s now up to them to believe or not.” He said to himself. Then he rang some more understanding contacts to get a plane for Rupert. He then called the head of Cunard security. It was his home number.

Claire finally came out of her astral-induced coma, struggling to make sure to remember how to get herself out of the circle carefully. Chanting properly, she deliberately snuffed out all the candles in the circle before removing them to the side and replacing the sigil–covered rug.

It was at least as hour before she struggled up the stairs to the kitchen and remembered her promise to her contact. The Sage had moved to his computer room with Eden, who only recently had given him permission to move. She was moving too fast, too quickly, and never made it to his office. Eden yelped as Claire collapsed just outside the room door. It would be almost a week until she was coherent again.

Despite the Sage’s efforts, Rupert had a bugger of a time getting onto the ship. Security measures had been strengthened in the wake of the warning they had received. In the end Rupert had to knock out a policeman and a porter to get on board. He placed the stones, but was unable to get off in time. For most of the passengers the trip was uneventful. Only Rupert and those with any “gifts” were bothered 100 miles out of Southhampton.

Rupert was captured as a stowaway, but unlike most he was given one of the few free rooms on the ship for the duration of the round-trip journey. He would only use one way, preferring to fly back to Wales.

He made it back just in time for Claire to be fully able to function.

Once her muddled mind cleared, she panicked. “Did we?”

“Yes, we saved the ship…”

“What about the others?”

The Sage replied, “they were blown to bits in a massive explosion at their safehouse. Took out much off a housing block just as the police were about to raid the place.

“Hope that is enough…” Her voice trailed off as she went to sleep again.

“For whom?” asked Rupert.


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