Swindon, Wiltshire, UK
Lucy Sinclair lay in bed, trying to sleep. She couldn't escape a sense of foreboding though. Bob, the Ecstatic who hung out at her favourite club hadn't been seen in days, and his mates said he'd been acting increasingly erratic before he vanished. Jimmy, a Lakshmist from her Marabout had also been acting oddly for quite some time. Both of them were convinced that something horrible was coming, but nobody had been able to pin them down on what. All that was clear was that whatever it was would make the Holocaust look like a Guy Fawkes Day bonfire. That was not something she wanted to think about. She tried to think about the ribbing in that sweater, instead. It was a fairly complicated pattern, and she'd been having trouble with it.
Eventually, she managed to fall into a fitful sleep, only to wake up screaming. Something had invaded the ambulance company. Something implacably hostile to her and everything she stood for. Something that sought to smash the Wheel and replace it, with what she wasn't sure. Elisabeth Watson, the other woman on the shift, jerked into a sitting position. She threw off her covers and came over to Lucy's bed.
'Lucy, are you all right?' she asked.
'I had a nightmare,' said Lucy, 'At least I hope that's all it was. That would make quite the headline wouldn't it. "Ambulance attendant goes mad."' She was shaking badly.
'Tell you what dear,' said Elisabeth. 'How about we have a nice soothing cuppa, and you can tell me all about it.'
Lucy agreed that this sounded like a good idea, although she didn't think there was much to tell.
They had just put the water on to boil when the alarm went off. An accident with injuries at the Magic Roundabout, multiple ambulances needed.
'At this hour? Did an American tourist get lost after having a few drinks too many at the pub?' Elisabeth wanted to know. At five o'clock in the morning, the traffic was light, and almost everyone who drove through the roundabout knew its quirks.
As people were suiting up for the run, Painter looked up. 'Oy, where's Walton?' Everyone looked around. Walton was a light sleeper and usually one of the first to respond, but this morning he was nowhere to be seen. Painter went back to the men's bunk room to check up on Walton. When he came back, he looked puzzled. 'He's not in the bunk room, an' he left his pager and his clothes behind. His pyjamas are still on the bed. I pulled the covers off them.'
They didn't have time to go looking for him, but Lucy called in the disappearance to the police who sounded more harried than usual, and told her rather brusquely that he wasn't the only one.
When they got to the scene, it was a mess. It was the time of day when lorries made their deliveries to the local shops, and the people responsible for opening said shops had to get in to work to meet said lorries. In addition, they found a man who'd been trying to get his pregnant wife to the hospital when she'd unexpectedly gone into labor. Both man and wife were hysterical.
Lucy had been doing triage which had gotten to be her unofficial duty since her mates had discovered that she had a knack for it. She hadn't explained to them that she was a mage from a group that specialized in triage, both medical and spiritual. As she looked at the woman, she saw something odd. There was only one life, and nothing in the patient's life pattern to show that she ever had been pregnant. But there was an odd magickal signature that matched the presence that had woken her before the alarm came in. Lucy felt a chill. They had to be connected, but how?
'Pardon me ma'am, I thought your husband said were pregnant,' said Lucy.
'I was,' she said, gulping. 'Then as we entered the roundabout, all of a sudden I wasn't. I think my scream is what caused the accident. Harry jerked the wheel when he heard me.'
Lucy looked around. 'There's no blood,' she observed. 'And miscarriages aren't usually instantaneous.'
'I know,' the woman said. She looked around wildly. 'I don't know what happened.'
Lucy got Elisabeth to reassure the patient and do a more detailed examination while she finished the triage. She was even more puzzled when she completed the job. One of the lorry drivers was nowhere to be found, and his clothes and fillings were stacked on the driver's seat with his trouser legs hanging over the edge. The lorry had run over a car, and killed the driver. Just as she finished verifying that, the driver's cell phone started ringing. She grabbed the phone and muted it quickly. There was no time to explain matters to the caller, but its directory would likely contain numbers for people who would need to be notified when things settled down. She straightened to hear other cells going off, along with the lorry's radio.
The mystery deepened when she called the findings in to the hospital. The physician on duty turned out to be Rowan, a Verbena she occasionally had lunch with. He took the information, issued instructions, and then told her 'It's a zoo, here. Billingsley's gone missing, and I've been hearing rumors of disappearances in Maternity.'
Lucy cursed softly in Gaelic, then relayed instructions to the rest of the crew, then got to work. When she found time to catch her breath, she noticed a larger than usual police presence. She also heard the sounds of people hysterically calling names. She didn't have the attention to spare to find out more. Her patients came first.
The scene at the hospital was as Rowan described. One of the duty nurses took charge of the patients, and got the ambulance report. She didn't have time to talk to Rowan before going out on another call. Shite, she was supposed to be getting off duty soon. In fact, getting off duty that morning consisted of returning to base after the second call long enough to swap crews before the ambulance headed out again.
She took the opportunity to look in the men's bunk room. Yes, the same magickal signature marked Walton's bed. As far as she knew, the only thing that Walton and Billingsley had in common was their church, a radical American import that had scared her with its theocratic ranting. That couldn't be it, could it? She called the hospital to find out if Rowan was available. He wasn't, but she was informed that he'd probably be able to make his escape in an hour. Fine. She'd meet him then.
She intercepted Rowan as he left the hospital, and invited him to breakfast, explaining that she wanted a chance to compare notes. They couldn't find an open breakfast shop, so they ended up at her flat while she scrambled some eggs and fried some bacon. While she cooked, she talked to the Verbena.
'Do you think this is what's had the probability and Time specialists so worried for the past year?' she asked him.
'If it isn't,' replied Rowan, 'then I don't want to know what is.
'I've confirmed it. Every child in Maternity vanished, and every woman in for delivery abruptly lost the child or children she was carrying with none of the usual signs of a miscarriage or spontaneous abortion. That woman you brought. On a magickal level, she didn't look like she'd ever been pregnant, but yes, she had that odd signature you told me about. I called up her records, by the by. She had an ultrasound showing a nice healthy baby boy that was taken just last week.'
'What about Billingsley?' asked Lucy.
'One of the nurses swears blind that she saw him just vanish in front of her leaving behind his clothes and his glasses. There's been a few other adult disappearances in the hospital too,' said Rowan
'Now, here's the scary part. It seems like every child below a certain age and some portion of adults have vanished. Nobody knows what happened. Where the adults are concerned, some areas have been hit harder than others. America seems to have been hit worst.'
'Rowan,' said Lucy hesitantly, 'Walton and Billingsley belonged to an American church. Do you think there's a connection?'
'This Rapture thing that Billingsley was always on about?' asked Rowan. He opened his mouth to say something probably sarcastic then stopped. When he finally spoke, he sounded thoughtful 'Maybe. I don't believe in the Rapture, but if enough people believe in it, maybe one of the things that inhabit the Darkness beyond the Horizon was able to use that belief to, ah, simulate it. Whatever it was, it definitely didn't like me.' He shuddered.
'It didn't like me, either,' said Lucy, as she served breakfast. 'But then again, the Christian god wouldn't, would it? "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" and all that. Verbena, Euthanatos, you think they can tell the difference? And the masters of the Nephandi don't like anyone who opposes them, so that doesn't give us much to choose from does it?' She settled down to eat.
'Right, if you can't co-opt them, destroy them,' said Rowan, picking up his fork. 'Well, if you're right it's going to get much, much worse, but not right away. I vote we get some sleep while we can, who knows how much chance we'll get to do so later. I can brew up a potion for us.'
'Oh could you?' she said gratefully. 'I'm too exhausted to be any good to anybody, but I don't think I could sleep a wink without help.' Lucy turned on the radio, and they continued eating while listening to reports of disasters all over the world. Finally, Lucy said, 'I think we need to call a pan Traditional meeting. I want to know if any of the Chorus vanished, and if so what religion were they. I also want to know if any other mages vanished. I don't think anyone local is an Evangelical unless they're in the Chorus, but it wouldn't hurt to find out. Also, I want to know what everyone felt when whatever it was hit.'
'Hold on a moment,' Rowan held up his hand. There was now a report on the radio that the Pope and several of his staff had gone missing. 'Somehow, I don't think the Pope is an Evangelical Christian. You may have to rethink your theory.'
'Oh pooh.' Lucy got up and put the dishes in the sink. 'I think I could really use that sleeping draught right about now. And I'll rethink my theory when I have more information.'
Crossposted to rbrpg.
Well, this seems excessively long. I hope I didn't mess up writing Brits too badly here, I spent about three and a half months in the UK in 1980-81, and that doesn't seem to be adequate preparation. I wanted to do a non-US Traditions Teaser, and was inspired by the "cell phones of the dead ringing" comment from the "In Case of Rapture" thread.