For fans of all the old IPC stalwarts!
Raven originally appeared in Valiant comic between 1968 and 1974,
with a brief return appearance for several weeks in early 1975.
He was a boy from a gypsy tribe called the Lengros, whose remarkable footballing abilities were spotted by "Baldy" Hagan, manager of failing team Highborough United. He became left winger for the club and eventually their star player. The clash between gypsy culture and that of the "Gawjos", as the Lengros termed members of settled society (of a superstitious nature, Raven would sometimes refuse to play on a certain day if it were likely to rain, which brought him into conflict with the team's management),provided much of the interest and drama, although it was doubtful how much of the portrayal of Romany life is accurate. An appealing thing about the strip was that in addition to Raven himself it featured a wide variety of characters, such as the pompous Sir Mortimer Child-Beale, Highborough's Chairman, Morag, the Lengros' "wise woman" and caster of spells, whose face was always obscured by a hood, the aristocratic and stuck-up Clive Manning, the team's right-winger, and Highborough's manager "Baldy" Hagan. The last-named had an attractive blonde teenage daughter named Jo, who I confess I rather fancied. She featured more prominently in events than other female characters in other strips, but was nevertheless still largely a cipher. On one occasion she appears with rather masculine features, which suggests the artist isn't used to drawing ladies.
In 1973 Raven for various reasons became fed up with Highborough and Sir Mortimer in particular, and left to become player manager of a team called Wigford Town. Baldy and Jo vanished from the strip never to be seen again. Raven's new club became bitter enemies of Highborough. After all the latter and Raven had been through together, such a turn of events seems rather a pity. Perhaps the two clubs could have merged or something, with Raven at the helm and Baldy assisting in some capacity.
Eventually, after years and years of moaning about that, I decided to write this story...
It was a warm, pleasant country evening. The sound of church bells drifted through the air on a gentle breeze.
Within the little painted caravan, a shrouded figure sat hunched over a transparent crystal ball, staring intently into it. The air was thick with a smell like incense, and numerous candles stood about the room, even though it was light enough to see without them. The interior of the sphere filled with smoke, and within that smoke images began to appear. Morag saw a heavy, brutal, moustached face with piggy eyes that gleamed with a lust for power.
She saw the world engulfed by chaos and destruction. She saw something vast, alien, emerging from the ground and growing in size until it filled the sky, looming over the entire planet and casting its evil shadow over all Mankind.
And she knew the time was drawing near; the moment for which all her powers, all her training, had been a preparation.
She remained silent for a long time, filled with dread. Then she began to collect herself. There was no time to lose.
She knew what she must do. She had to contact Raven.
It was the peak of his career; the ultimate achievement for the boy from a gypsy tribe who, after a sparkling career playing for two major league football teams, had gone on to be England's manager. And eventually, under his leadership, his country had finally repeated their 1966 World Cup victory.
It was only to be expected that scores of reporters would want to interview him. He granted meetings to a select few only; one of them, from the Daily Bugle, was now grilling him in his hotel room.
It had seemed an ideal opportunity to go over the whole of Raven's career. "What's your reaction to the merger between Highborough and Wigford?" the reporter asked.
Raven grinned. "Well, I can say this now." There was barely the faintest trace of a country accent in his voice. "I'm absolutely delighted; the more so since the new team's doing so well. It's a pity in many ways, but I guess they didn't have much choice." It wouldn't always be so good, of course. They would go through their good patches and their bad patches, like all football teams. Football, and life, was like that.
The merger seemed highly appropriate, as Raven felt great affection for both teams. Highborough had been his very first club. After a disagreement with its Chairman, Sir Mortimer Child-Beale, he'd left it for Wigford, which he'd built up almost from nothing, becoming its player manager. Largely thanks to Sir Mortimer Raven had got thoroughly sick of Highborough, and when Wigford had beaten them shortly afterwards Raven had felt a sense of triumph. But he'd often thought of his old club with an illicit nostalgia. Eventually it had come to seem a pity that they and Wigford should be enemies.
"Have you any regrets?" asked the reporter.
Raven was silent for a few moments. Yes, he did have regrets. Only one, but it was a big one. After all he and Highborough had been through together, it was a shame to have left it in the way he did. He often wondered if he hadn't acted foolishly over the whole business, though there had been good reasons for his departure. During that phase of his career success had often gone to his head, causing him to act like a prima donna. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter, he ought to have got in touch with a few, at least, of his old team-mates. His failure to do so had troubled his conscience, on and off, for years.
He thought with affection of "Baldy" Hagan, Highborough's coach and manager during his time there - and of Jo, Baldy's daughter. Jo had been something of a fixture at Highborough. When her mother died, Baldy had had to bring her up on his own. It seemed odd for a girl to take such an interest in football but she had inevitably become thrust into the life of the club.
She'd been annoying at times, but although people didn't realise it Raven's exasperation with her had masked a certain affection. And he had to admit she was very pretty. It was perhaps an attraction of opposites; he was dark and swarthy, she fair-haired and blue-eyed.
He hadn't seen either of them for years now, and it was starting to prey on his mind. He expected a lot would have happened; there was no way of knowing where they were and what they were doing now. He really should get back in touch but he just didn't know what to say to them.
"No," he said after a further moment of hesitation. "No, not really."
Then, suddenly, the meeting was interrupted. Raven had opened the window to let in a bit of sunshine. With a raucous cry and a flutter of wings a large black shape flew into the room.
The reporter jumped back, startled. "Flippin' heck! What a wopper!"
The bird perched itself on a sideboard. Raven regarded it in astonishment.
"Naarku," he breathed.
Of course it was unlikely to be the same bird, not after so long. At least he presumed not. But its purpose was the same. It was a messenger from Morag.
From the sideboard its black eyes stared at him in a seemingly baleful fashion. An accusing fashion, or so he fancied.
"Are you all right?" asked the reporter. Raven had gone a little pale, and was staring at the bird as if transfixed.
The raven took to the air with a raucous cry and flew out through the window. Its namesake got up and went to shut it.
He answered the other man's question. "Yeah, I'm fine...just a bit taken by surprise. I didn't expect that at all."
The interview resumed, but wasn't as relaxed as it had been before the incident. Clearly the bird's appearance had unsettled Raven; but why? He had been born and brought up a gypsy; perhaps it was some superstition of theirs that had suddenly come to mind.
The reporter thought of probing his subject about it, but decided it somehow wouldn't be a good idea.
After he’d gone Raven sat thinking for a long time over what had happened. It wasn't only Baldy and Jo who he had allowed himself to lose touch with, who he had a conscience about. There was Morag and the rest of the tribe, too.
This time it was absolutely crucial that he got in touch. In the past, Morag had never summoned him unless it was for something very important.
Some distance away, a car was heading along a stretch of road that led through open countryside towards the large industrial town of Hartsbury. Inside it sat two men. One was in his late twenties or early thirties; he had a fleshy face with greasy black hair and glasses. The other, slightly older man was dark-skinned and Middle Eastern in appearance.
"How are we from the camp?" asked the latter.
"We're nearly there. It should be just around this bend. Let's just hope they haven't moved on."
The car turned off the road onto a patch of wasteground and stopped. Its two occupants surveyed the scene. A few items of rubbish were the only sign that the land had recently been occupied.
"Looks like they have," said the European, cursing.
He noticed a farm labourer lounging against a fence smoking a cigarette. He got out of the car and approached the man.
"Excuse me, we're from the council - gypsy site team. Some travellers were here a while ago, but they seem to have moved on. Do you know where they are now, by any chance?"
"No idea," the labourer grunted. "But they went that way.” He pointed eastward. "Towards Hartsbury."
"How long ago did they leave?"
"'Bout a couple of days ago."
"Thanks," smiled the European, and returned to the car.
The farmworker watched it disappear from sight. He hoped the Lengros weren't in any trouble; as gippos went they were reason-ably well-behaved. He had nothing much against them.
He wondered who the foreign-looking gent had been. Of course, you did see more of that sort in rural areas these days, but they were still a comparative rarity, and it couldn't help sticking in his mind.
In the car Ahmad Jabal, operative of the Maghrabian Secret Service, turned to his European colleague. "Do you think we'll find them?"
"Depends how long they stay at one site for. It varies. Let's hope we don't have to drive all over the Midlands looking for them." He sighed. "We'll just have to keep our eyes open."
Raven turned off the main road along a narrow, winding lane. Glancing to the left, he saw the bird. As long as he continued to follow it he could be sure of finding the camp.
All the time his mind was racing. Surely Morag couldn't still be alive? Even twenty years ago she had been old; probably somewhere in her eighties, although her exact age could not be ascertained. If she was, she must be on her last legs, and that was why the raven had been sent to him. It was part of the old custom that when a wise woman was dying all members of the tribe were summoned to be present. He'd wondered whether they'd bother about calling him, though, since he was no longer really one of them. At least, he'd ceased to think so.
Then he saw the cluster of caravans, parked at the edge of a field about four hundred yards from the road. The bird flew to the left. His posh sports car pulled up beside one of the caravans. Even the Lengros, he noted, had moved with the times. All the caravans were of modern design - except one, a painted wooden affair which stood some distance away from the others and looked considerably older. Raven got out of the car and went towards them. Some of the gypsies regarded him with interest, others with a distinct hostility. In his suit and tie he hardly looked like one of their number.
He saw a familiar large figure moving towards him, and with a smile recognised Hodge Luscombe, the giant Lengro who at one time had been assigned to be his bodyguard. Luscombe’s hair was grey now. He stopped and stood staring hard at Raven for a long moment. Then his eyes lit up and a broad grin split his face. "If it ain't the Chosen One himself!" The two men embraced.
"Been a long time," Luscombe grunted.
"Should have been a lot shorter," Raven replied. "And if it wasn't then the fault's mine."
"How are you keeping?"
"As well as can be. You ain't lookin' bad yourself."
"She's in there, I guess." He indicated the ancient caravan.
Luscombe nodded. "Aye."
"Then I'd better go and see her. We'll talk later. Keep an eye on my car, won't you?" He noted that some of the gypsy boys were taking a keen interest in the vehicle.
Raven walked over to the caravan. He hesitated briefly, then climbed the steps and knocked on the door.
"Enter," a familiar voice bade him.
Raven stepped into the caravan. Its cluttered interior was just as he remembered it from his last visit here. He saw that the bird had returned to its mistress and was now sitting on top of the crystal ball.
A figure turned towards him from the window. Its head was covered by a shroud with holes cut in it for the eyes. The latter blazed at Raven with a fierce intelligence.
"Morag," he said.
"Raven." She sounded just the same; the years had not diminished the power and authority her voice carried.
"It has been a long time, Raven. A very long time."
He looked guilty. "Aye..yes...it has." He took a deep breath. "All my fault. I wasn't even sure you were still alive."
The folds of the shroud twitched as Morag smiled beneath it. “When I die, Raven, you will know about it...wherever you are, and whatever you are doing. But my time is not yet "up", as I believe the gawjos say. I cannot die, not just yet. There are no others who will seek to understand the old ways and take them up. And my powers are still needed."
Her voice changed, becoming less severe. "How are you, my son?"
"Well, thanks. I'm pleased to say you seem just the same."
Morag cackled. "You say that because you do not wish to offend me."
"I'm sorry I haven't been in touch," he told her again.
"You have become too immersed in the ways of the gawjos. You speak like them, think like them. You are ashamed of your heritage…of what you are."
Raven had to admit that this was true.
Morag sighed. "But, it must be said that you are not the only one." That was true also. Nowadays Spider Mulford, Highborough's one-time goalkeeper - now a successful businessman - who had always insisted he could not perform adequately in goal unless his beloved "Strawbod" was hanging at the back of the net, would laugh at the thought of so much fuss about a straw doll. Though it was believed he still had it.
"Perhaps I shouldn't have been," said Raven. "But I've been away from the tribe for so long now..."
"It was to be expected," Morag said. "It was our plan that you should go out into the world of the gawjos. So I did not summon you...until now. In any case this is not the time for recriminations." She paused, eyeing him keenly. "I sense there are things which trouble you, Raven."
"Well, I keep on thinking I should get in touch with Baldy and Jo," he said.
"The man of little hair," Morag smiled. "And the yellow-headed girl."
"I just don't know what to say to them, though."
"Your last contact with them was not of a happy kind, I believe." The last time Jo had seen Raven he was storming out of her house in a huff.
"It's not that. It's just that after so long…would we be able to get to know each other again?"
"You must steel yourself to do what you are afraid of. Only then will you have peace of mind."
Raven nodded slowly. "Yeah...I guess you're right."
"But there is another, more important matter we must discuss."
"Is the tribe in any danger?" he asked.
"Not only the tribe, but the entire world." She told him what she had seen the previous night in the crystal ball, which she consulted regularly. "There is an evil man who rules a land far from here...a man who has great power, but craves more. He is interested in you, and in the secrets which I guard. He wishes to use them to rule the world. There is danger, Raven...danger for you and for everyone."
"What can we do about it?"
"You must guard yourself. For the moment, that is all. The police will not rely on the word of a gypsy wise woman who claims to be able to work magic. Only when our enemies have shown their hand can we enlist their aid. We must wait rely on them to make their move and then trust in the powers I possess."
Jabal and the European, whose name was Matheson, saw Raven's car drive away from the camp.
"You know, I'm sure it was him - Raven - in that car," said Matheson.
"But you can't be certain?"
"Look at the way he was dressed. It's a bit odd that someone like that should be visiting a tribe of gypsies. It must have been Raven."
"Perhaps he was from the Council...the real council."
"Anyway, we know this is the place. And that old caravan over there must be hers. Jesus, it's a real museum piece!
“Well, we know where she is, that's the main thing. And tonight we'll make our move."
The car pulled to a halt at the side of the road and its occupants got out. They were dressed in black so as to be invisible in the dark. Shining torches in front of them, they crept stealthily towards the Lengro camp.
Reaching the wise-woman's caravan, they tried the door to find it securely locked. Producing a wrench, Stathern tried to force it open. The door swung open and they entered.
The light from his torch fell on the figure lying on the bed, its head covered by a shawl.
Christ, she even sleeps with it on, he thought. As he approached the bed, a chloroform-soaked pad in his hand, there was an ear-splitting screech and a winged shape hurtled towards him. Naarku pecked and slashed savagely at his face, and at his hands as he brought them up to protect himself, dropping the pad and the torch. Its talons drew long stripes of blood across his flesh. Aroused by the commotion, Morag sat up. The Maghrabian was trying to strike at the bird with the wrench. It flew out of the open window and he slammed it shut.
By now the whole of the camp had heard the muttered voices and cries from the caravan. A group of men ran to investigate.
Moving at astonishing speed for her advanced years, Morag leaped from the bed and rushed towards the door. Matheson made a grab for her and managed to grasp the shawl, which came away from her face.
In the darkness he was unable to make out its details clearly.
They heard voices outside, and Jabal came to a decision. "Let's get out of here, quick!" he shouted to his companion. Knocking Morag aside they ran out, Jabal drawing an automatic pistol and firing it into the air. The crowd of gypsies fell back.
They raced towards the car, Jabal continuing to let off warning shots at intervals. Reaching the vehicle, they scrambled into it and drove rapidly away from the camp.
"You all right, Morag?" asked Hodge Luscombe, running to the door of the caravan.
"Aye," replied a voice from inside. "Thanks to Naarku."
"What did they want with you?"
"I believe I know," replied the wise woman grimly. "We must be away from here as soon as the sun rises. And a guard must be put on this caravan whenever we are at camp."
Unseen by any of them, she replaced the shawl over her head.
"We should have tried to take her with us when we escaped," said Matheson to his colleague. "Now the whole thing's messed up. They'll find a new site after this." He swore.
"What are we going to do now?" Jabal asked.
"I suggest we concentrate our efforts on Raven. He'll be a lot easier to get at.
"Besides," Matheson added, "if we can grab him then the old woman will come to us."
Raven managed to trace Jo after a couple of days' intensive enquiry. After a few minutes' deliberation, he picked up the phone and dialled the number.
Her voice when she answered was still recognisable, even though twenty-five years had passed. "Hello?"
"Um, it's a former player of yours."
"Oh, right.” She sounded interested enough. “Which one?"
"Jo, it's Raven!"
There was a very long silence. Then he heard her draw in her breath.
"Raven!" she exclaimed, delightedly. "Why, after all these years! To what do I owe this, then?"
He laughed. "Well, to tell you the truth I was feeling a bit guilty about not having seen you or Baldy for so long. I was a bit nervous about what you'd say."
"Oh, don't worry about that. Raven, it's great to hear from you."
"How's your Dad?"
"Not so bad. Been married a couple of times...didn't work out. No children."
Raven was relieved and delighted to find that her manner towards him was friendly, although he'd expected in any case that time would have healed the wounds and removed any bitterness she might have felt.
"You've certainly done well for yourself," she commented.
"Guess I have," he said, trying to sound modest. "Hey, listen, would you and Baldy both come out for a meal with me tomorrow night?"
"Why not?" she replied. "I'll give Dad a ring. Where did you have in mind?"
He suggested the name of a local restaurant, and they agreed to meet there at the appointed time.
Raven waited a little apprehensively near the entrance to the building, wondering if he would recognise them, what changes time would have wrought to their appearance. Then he saw them coming towards him.
Baldy looked noticeably older. What little hair he had ever possessed had gone now, and he walked a bit stiffly. Jo, though now in her late thirties, was still very attractive, and able to wear her blonde hair long without looking silly.
"Raven!" She gave a whoop of delight and ran to hug him.
"Hiya - yackychops!"
She grinned at the use of her old nickname, a reference to her habit, as Raven saw it, of talking too much.
"Raven, it's lovely to see you again."
"I'm sorry...you know, about walking out on you and all that."
"Oh, don't be silly. It's nice of you to say that, but for goodness' sake, the whole thing was over twenty years ago."
Raven and Baldy shook hands firmly. "Lovely to see you again, lad."
Over their meal they chatted about old times and compared notes on what had happened to them in the years since they'd last met. Baldy had a good career in various teams after old Monty had kicked him out of Highborough; he had in fact been the last but one England manager before Raven.
“Ever hear anything of the old gang?” Raven asked.
"Oh...well, let's see." She started to tick them off on her fingers. "Clive Manning's doing quite well in business; got his own company now. Everyone seems to be fine. We had a reunion a few months ago for people who'd been involved in both teams. Shame you weren't there." She smiled pleasantly, trying to show she wasn’t getting at him. "Never mind, you can come to the next one."
"Is old Monty still around? I guess not."
"Died about ten years ago."
Raven sighed. "He had his faults. I know we didn't exactly get on, but..." It was the attitude of Sir Mortimer Child-Beale, Highborough's Chairman, which had been a major factor in Raven's deciding to leave the club. "But it's still a shame. I'd like to have seen him again, just to patch up our differences. There's one consolation; he must have been pleased by the way things were going for the club. I'm not sure how he'd have taken the merger, but he'd have been glad the new team was doing so well."
He didn't repeat to them about what Morag had told him, didn't want to spoil the occasion by causing them worry.
When Baldy left the room to answer a call of nature, Raven took the opportunity to broach a certain subject with his daughter. "Look, Jo. I-I'd like to see more of you in the future...you know what I mean?"
Jo studied him thoughtfully. It was such a long time since she'd last seen him; and he was a very different Raven from the one of twenty-five years ago. But perhaps that meant it was all the more important to catch up on lost time.
"All right," she smiled eventually. "Just give me a ring when you've thought of a time and place. I'm free for the foreseeable future."
The two men sitting at the table nearest to theirs listened to this conversation with interest.
At that moment the raven flew into the lounge. Since this obviously infringed hygiene regulations, the staff were immediately thrown into consternation. Someone went to phone the animal squad of the local police.
The bird flew straight towards Raven. It settled on the table in front of him. He saw there was a roll of paper tied to one of its claws, and removed it.
Its task accomplished, the bird took to the air and flew back out through the window.
"Was...was that Naarku?" asked Jo, astonished.
Nodding, Raven unfurled the scrap of paper and they studied the strange writing on it. The language was Romany.
"What does it say?"
Raven looked grim. "Someone's tried to kidnap Morag," he said grimly. "Jo, I'm in grave danger. She wants me to rejoin the tribe."
"You can't do that," she told him. "You're the manager of Eng-land. Surely the right thing to do would be to apply for police protection?"
"Morag thinks the people who are trying to get at us may have powers the police couldn't cope with; although she says they haven't quite learned to use them as well as she does hers, which is a good thing. She needs to think carefully about what to do. It's best if I stay with the tribe for the time being, until the business is sorted out. I'll pretend I'm going on holiday."
"We'll definitely have that date some day. Take care." He kissed her and got up to leave.
“Oh by the way,” she said, “do you ever see anything of the others? I mean as in – “
“Not sure about Tim and Louis, but Rick and Charlie are retired now; both coaching. Zethi likewise. Zethi should be OK now they’ve banged up Munsen, probably for good. Incidentally he tells me a friend bumped into Kramp, Munsen’s butler; he’s now working as a deckchair attendant at Bournemouth! I suppose he had to find something to do after they let him out. The friend says he just felt sorry for the guy.”
It all brought back memories of the days when Raven and his chums had been putting the world to rights by sorting out the likes of Munsen and Kramp. For a moment the two of them were lost in nostalgia.
But time moves on.
In a room at the back of the Maghrabian embassy, Jabal and Matheson were being debriefed by a pair of none too happy diplomats.
"I'm afraid Raven's nowhere to be found," said Matheson. "He's disappeared. He could be with the tribe; trouble is we've no idea where they are. They keep moving about all the time, and they'll be particularly hard to track down now they know someone's after him and Morag. It'll take some time to find him."
"And when we do find him, the Lengros will be on their guard after your bungled attempt to seize the old woman," said the Second Secretary.
"So what do we do?" asked Jabal. Everyone in the room was having the same thought. Their leader did not like failure. If they did not succeed in delivering Raven to him it would mean loss of influence and privileges - or possibly something worse.
"I have an idea," announced Matheson. "Raven has no family outside the tribe, but from our monitoring of his affairs we know there are certain people - and one person in particular, it would seem - that he values. We can put pressure on him through them. And this time, in case anything should go wrong, I suggest we use the Power."
A biscuit-coloured Lada drove into the car park of the block of flats in south-west London where Jo Hagan lived. It was three o'clock in the morning; probably the occupants of the vehicle were returning home from some late-night drunken revel.
The man with the greasy hair got out of the car and went up to the entrance. It was normally kept locked, the master key residing with a warden who lived off the premises, while each individual resident had their own.
The man removed the glove he was wearing and touched a silver ring on his index finger. The ring began to pulse with a red light. After a few moments, the intruder stretched out a hand, pointing at the locked door. A glow just like that emanating from the ring appeared around the lock, and with a click the door swung open.
In her bedroom, Jo was woken from her slumbers by the sound of footsteps from the hall as the intruder moved about in search of her. With horror, she realised someone had entered the flat uninvited.
She reached for the telephone kept beside her bed in case of incidents like these. By the light from her bedside lamp she dialled the number.
"Which service do you require?"
"Police," Jo whispered into the phone. "There's someone in my flat -"
Then the door swung open and the light came on. She screamed.
The man standing in the centre of the room stretched out a hand and a beam of bluish light seemed to stab from his pointing fingers, striking her in the chest.
She slumped back, unconscious. Swiftly, the intruder crossed to the bed and pulled back the sheets. He lifted her senseless, pyjama-clad body and carried it from the room and down the stairs, pausing to turn off the light and close the door before he left. He carried her out of the house and over to the car where his colleague sat waiting. Fortunately, it was unlikely anyone would see them at this time of night. They laid her on the back seat and tied her wrists and ankles with a piece of twine. Then a blanket was flung over her.
"Let her know when she wakes up that she'd better keep quiet," the greasy-haired man told his companion.
He returned to the driver's seat and was just about to start the vehicle when the sound of police sirens reached his ears. Whether it was anything to do with them they couldn't be sure, but neither wished to take any chances.
A moment later the reddish glow appeared around the Lada. When the police car turned into the car park, it had completely vanished from sight.
Raven strolled along beside the fence which marked the edge of the field where the Lengros were currently encamped. He took a lungful of fresh country air, sighing in contentment. He was enjoying the rural life, and wished for a moment that he had never left it.
Just then Hodge Luscombe came up to him. He announced that a car had stopped just outside the camp and a man had got out. Approaching a group of gypsy boys, he had told them he had a message to give to Raven, and handed them a sheet of paper.
Raven unfolded the scrap of paper and saw the message. It wasn’t handwritten but composed of characters cut out from a newspaper and pasted on with Prittstick.
"Raven, we have your lady friend. If you want to see her again you will have to come to Maghrabia. Morag must go with you. Don't attempt to contact the police or Jo Hagan will die."
Raven paled. He should have realised that those close to him were in just as much danger as he, should have given Jo some kind of warning.
"Bad news, Raven?" asked Luscombe, concerned.
Raven told him what the message contained. "We must go and see Morag right away."
They did. "Then the time is right for us to act," breathed Morag. "I said we would need to wait until our enemies had shown their hand. A kidnap attempt on an old gypsy woman...hah! The authorit-ies would take little interest in that. But a gawjo...they will have to do something."
"But they've said they'll kill Jo if I..."
"They will need to secure your co-operation once you have arrived in this land of Maghrabia. For that they must keep Jo alive. Besides, the evil against which we are fighting is best confronted at its source."
Raven was silent for a while. He still wasn't convinced there was no risk to Jo's life.
"Well...I suppose if it's that important..."
"I will need your help in this, Raven. You are more versed in the ways of the gawjos than I."
Raven stood up. "Let's get moving, then," he said. "I suppose the first thing to do is contact Scotland Yard."
Raven and Morag were sitting in the office of Chief Superintendent Deakins.
The policeman turned to Morag. "You say these people tried to kidnap you earlier, Madam? Why didn't you report it?"
Morag repeated what she had said to Raven earlier that day, namely that she didn't think the police would take much interest in the fate of a gypsy. "Hmmmm," responded Deakins, not quite sure what he should say.
"What happened about the kidnap, anyway?" asked Raven, changing the subject. "Is there any news of Jo at all?"
"None, I'm afraid. There don't seem to be very many leads. Of course at the time of day the crime was committed, it's not likely there were many witnesses. One person thought they saw a car turn out of the drive and go along the main road for a bit, but all our enquiries have failed to turn up any trace of the vehicle. You'd think it had just disappeared into thin air.
“Nor are there any clues at the scene of the crime. They must have been wearing gloves, since there are no fingerprints anywhere. And nothing to suggest how they got in. The door to the flats doesn't appear to have been forced. The caretaker assures me it was kept locked...all in all it's a pretty odd business." He sighed. "We'll go on searching for your friend of course, Mr Raven, and keep you informed of developments. But I've a feeling she's in Maghrabia, though I can't fathom how they could have got her out of the country. We'll open channels to the Maghrabian authorities, though I expect we'll simply be met with a wall of silence."
"It is important we go to this Maghrabia ourselves," said Morag. "There are dangers there which must be faced. Dangers which threaten the entire world."
"A kidnap attempt is a very serious matter," said Deakins. "I can assure you it'll be investigated thoroughly. But all this talk about magical spells and the whole world being in danger...well, I'm not sure I can believe it. Not without some kind of proof."
"I am the proof you require," said Morag quietly.
"I see...in what way, Madam?"
Morag turned to Raven. "If you do not wish to see what I am about to show him, I would suggest you look away."
Raven turned aside. The Superintendent eyed Morag a little uneasily.
She removed her shawl. The policeman gave a violent start and recoiled with a cry of horror, his face very pale. He stared at the gypsy woman for what must have been a whole minute, trembling with shock.
Morag replaced the shawl. When she judged Deakins to have recovered from his fright, she spoke. "Now do you understand?"
Deakins nodded, still speechless.
"If it helps to convince your colleagues of the truth of what I say, tell them what you have seen. But the knowledge must not be spread more widely than is necessary."
"I guess I'd better contact MI5," Deakins gasped. "Though in fact it's hard to decide exactly who should be dealing with this."
So Raven and Morag's next visit was to the security services, where an official listened to their story with mounting astonishment.
"There's an organisation called UNIT which specialises in this sort of thing," she said slowly. "You may have heard of it although you won't know very much about it. You'll have to sign the Official Secrets Act."
The strange laws of the Gawjos meant nothing to Morag, and for that reason she was quite happy to sign the Act. A specially ordered car took them to the UNIT’s headquarters, located some miles out of London in the Buckinghamshire countryside, where they were shown into an office whose walls were decorated with portraits of distinguished military personages, past and present. Sitting at the desk was a man in his sixties whose immaculately groomed moustache suggested he too was from an Army background. There were two others in the room; a young man, vaguely good-looking brown hair, and a strikingly attractive young woman something between a redhead and a blonde.
The man got up from his seat with a smile, hand outstretched. "Good morning, Mr Raven, Mrs er..."
"Morag," replied the wise woman with a brief nod.
"Mrs Morag. I'm Brigadier Alastair Lethbridge Stewart, Director of UNIT. Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully of the US Federal Bureau of Intelligence."
Mulder nodded, a little curtly Raven thought. Scully gave a pleasant smile, and Raven found himself warming to her.
He guessed the Americans must have their own organisation for handling matters such as these, and this particular business was so important that they had insisted on being involved.
"I thought it was the CIA who did this sort of thing," Raven said, puzzled.
"We've been seconded," Scully explained. She and Mulder, who tended to ask a lot of awkward questions, had been put in charge of the US contribution to the operation because it was a means for their superiors to get them out of their hair for a while.
Lethbridge Stewart indicated two empty chairs. "Take a seat, both of you. Now, you'd better tell me in more detail what all this is about."
Morag told them of the traditions of the Lengros, and about the Chosen One. To prevent any one person getting control of all of it at the same time, the Power that the gypsies had been given thousands of years ago was divided between the wise woman - whose powers were genetically transmitted to her descendants, all of whom performed the same role in the gypsy community - and the Chosen One. The Chosen One would not be born for many hundreds of years, the genes which would give them the ability to perform their task lying dormant in their ancestors. It had been thought possible that at some time in the far future, someone would discover the Power and seek to use it, and it could not be guaranteed they would be benevolent. The Chosen One's role would be to confront them and defeat them. Raven had been sent out into the world of the Gawjos, away from the tribe, because it would make it more difficult for the wrong sort of person to find him and eliminate the threat he posed to their ambitions. It was not to be known that he would become a famous footballer and high- profile public figure. The Power might explain to some extent Raven's extraordinary abilities as a footballer; it had sharpened his reflexes and enhanced his co-ordination to a remarkable degree.
The conversation turned to Jo's kidnapping. "It does not surprise me that you cannot find the car in which the Hagan woman was kidnapped, or that they were able to enter her abode so easily," Morag said. "You remember, Raven, how you used one of my brooches to summon me, or rather my spirit, to your aid?"
"When we had all that trouble with Mandan in South America? Yes, I do. Is this the same kind of thing?"
"It is. But they must be close to its source to achieve full transportation - and of physical objects as well as astral bodies. I was only able to achieve the latter, and that with some difficulty. It is my belief Jo was transported to Maghrabia in stages. It takes a great deal of the energy to move an object or person over a long distance, and if our enemies have not yet mastered the Power properly..."
"I expect she was teleported to the Maghrabian Embassy first, then to a Maghrabian cargo plane," said Lethbridge-Stewart. "Going the rest of the way by conventional means would save a lot of bother."
He sighed. "In the hands of someone like Hosani, power such as this could be devastating." General Hosani was the dictator of Maghrabia, an international thug of whom it was said that if anyone surpassed Saddam Hussein in cold-blooded brutality, he did.
"So what exactly are we going to do?" asked Mulder. He seemed impatient to go onto the offensive.
"We must go to Maghrabia, of course," Morag said.
"The lady's right," nodded Lethbridge Stewart. "We need to confront the problem at its source. Draw Hosani out."
"Have they been giving you any further information, Mr Raven?" Scully asked.
Raven nodded. "Yes...I had a phone call last night. Can't say who it was, the voice was disguised. I'm to catch a flight from Heathrow to Kambiz, then book a room in a hotel near the airport."
"This is the plan, then," said the Brigadier. He outlined the scheme he and the Americans had agreed. "You'll be on that plane, but so will Mr Mulder and Miss Scully here, posing as business executives. We have contacts in Maghrabia - rebel factions who are trying to overthrow Hosani - and ways of keeping an eye on you once Hosani's men pick you up, as I'm sure they will soon after you arrive. Neither you or us know what you're going to find when you get there, but once we do know we can draw up an appropriate strategy."
"So you and these rebels are going to launch an attack on wherever it is they take us?"
"We're not in a position to do that just yet, but we should be able to move pretty soon," Mulder said. "You realise, of course, there's a danger you and your friends may get hurt."
"And a certainty of Jo dying if we just ignore Hosani's demands," said Raven grimly. "But I'm prepared to take the risk."
Before Raven set off for Maghrabia he paid a visit to the tribe to say farewell to the few remaining Lengros who he knew, the dreadful thought that he might never see them again, if things didn't go according to plan, constantly haunting his mind.
A worried Hodge Luscombe suggested he go with them. "It's right that the Chosen One be protected. He shouldn't have to go into danger alone."
Raven patted the giant gypsy on the arm. "I'm protected enough already, Hodge. But that's not the point. The intelligence services won't want anyone else involved in this."
While they were at the camp, Morag used her spells in a bid to confirm that Jo was alive and well. She cast a lock of Jo's hair, which she had given Raven many years ago when he was with Highbor-ough, into a burning brazier and uttered an incantation in a strange guttural tongue. Amid the smoke from the fire a wavering, ghostly image started to form. Looking on, Raven saw Jo lying on a bed in a little room which otherwise was almost devoid of furnishings. Her head rested on her arms which were crossed behind it and she was gazing blankly at the ceiling. She looked well enough, and showed no signs of any physical injury, but was clearly nervous and frightened. She had been given some kind of rough overall-type garment to wear.
"I sense she is far away, in a place which is well-guarded," Morag said. "It would be unwise to attempt to rescue her."
"As long as she's all right for now," Raven said, and turned away.
The following morning, their plane took off from Heathrow as scheduled. They spent most of the flight in silence. The two FBI agents were sitting a dozen or so seats back from Raven and Morag. There would be no contact between the two couples from now on, unless and until their business in Maghrabia was safely included. They didn't wish to arouse the suspicions of the Maghrabian secret service, whom they were sure were on the plane watching them closely.
Morag attracted one or two odd looks from time to time, but mostly people probably assumed she was some kind of strict Muslim, who believed it improper to reveal the slightest amount of flesh in public, other than what they needed to see with.
Raven had taken off his coat and hung it on the back of his chair. Mulder, on his way to use the lavatory, deftly slipped a small metallic object into one of its pockets as he passed them, making sure that no-one, including Scully, could see what he was doing.
From the airport they took separate taxis to the hotel, where rooms had already been booked for Morag and Raven. Later in the evening the wise woman called on Raven for an urgent conference.
"Raven, I do not think the gawjos' plan will work," she told him. "But I have something here that may help us to stop Hosani."
From the folds of her cloak she produced a dark-coloured stone in the rough shape of a bird.
"The Raven Stone," he breathed.
"Yes. You have seen it before, now it is time for you to know its true purpose. The Raven Stone is a control. It can be used by whoever has possession of it to prevent anyone else harnessing the Power."
The quantity of the Power that had been given to the gypsies was in fact split between three, not two, elements, the third being the Stone. The Stone's purpose was to help the Chosen One, the only person with the ability to use it, defeat the likes of General Hosani.
"Its power can be projected to serve as a weapon but that requires training," Morag said. “It cannot be done on command.” The training meant thinking certain key thoughts, conceiving certain mental images, or something approximate to them. Raven spent the next few minutes trying to learn them. The images were quite complex and he found the task difficult. Not only that, but he was interrupted before he had fully mastered the technique by a knock at the door. He switched on the monitor screen which was built into the wall, and saw two swarthy men in suits and ties.
He gulped. "I think this might be it."
Morag touched him gently on the arm. "Courage, Raven," she whispered. She herself was completely unafraid.
Raven hung the Stone around his neck, out of sight beneath his clothing, the string hidden by the collar of his shirt. He opened the door, and the two men stepped into the room.
"Ah, Mr Raven," one said. "Glad to see you could make the appointment. Please come with us. No trouble, or we will shoot instantly."
Their captors did not bother to search them, to make sure there were no bugging devices or weapons concealed about their persons; it had been assumed that they would not attempt anything which might place Jo Hagan's life in danger.
They were “escorted” along the corridor to the stairs which led down to the back entrance. Everyone got into a car and it drove off into the suburbs of the city, which they noted were characterised by shabby, nondescript houses outside which squatted children in tattered clothing. There seemed to be a great contrast between the lifestyle of Maghrabia's leader and the wealthy elite who supported him, and the mass of the common people.
Soon they were in open countryside. The scenery was bleak and rugged, with a certain austere beauty about it. Little vegetation was visible, and the ground was littered with rocks. They stopped at a small airfield from which they were flown to the complex in a military helicopter.
Nestling in a fold between two mountains, the complex was an enormous, slab-sided concrete building which reminded Raven of a giant fuel bunker. A cluster of smaller, similarly-shaped buildings was situated nearby. The helicopter touched down on a small landing pad and the door was swung out and down to form a ramp.
They stepped out, and four or five armed men came to greet them. Flanked by these guards, who were obviously soldiers, they proceeded to the main complex where a recessed metal door, several feet thick, slid open to permit entry. They were marched along a series of drab, featureless corridors to a lift.
Morag was tiring visibly, but their guards continued to hustle them along. "Hey, go easy on her," Raven said angrily. The group slowed down a little.
The lift door opened. They descended several levels to another corridor, which ended in a pair of double doors. These gave acces to a vast, luxurious room with an ankle-high carpet and several enormous armchairs. A man in his fifties, a little on the plump side with a round, football-like head, was seated at a desk in one corner of the room; he rose and turned to face them as they entered. Raven was immediately awestruck. Like most decent people he had no particular regard for Ahmad Hosani, and had met world leaders before on a number of occasions, but it was nevertheless awe-inspiring to think that they were in the presence of the man currently regarded as the principal threat to world peace, Public Enemy Number One.
Morag recognised the face she had seen in her crystal ball. Her eyes glittered.
There were three other men in the room, standing a short distance away from Hosani. All, like their leader, wore military-style uniforms. Two looked to be gorillas of the sort that you used as sidekicks because they were too stupid not to obey you, and you alone, instinctively. The third, of slimmer build and clearly more intelligent, Raven knew to be Farzad Assam, Hosani's Number Two, and the second most powerful man in Maghrabia.
Hosani rose from his seat and took a few paces towards Raven. His eyes were shining with exaltation. "So, here they are. At last. At last." He turned towards Morag.
"Where's Jo?" Raven demanded. "I want to see her."
"You will, I promise you. But not until my plans are safely completed." Hosani was clearly impatient to get things going.
Raven wondered why Hosani hadn't wanted to see what was under Morag's shawl. Perhaps he already knew.
"Now, let me tell you what this is all about, Mr Raven. I don't know if you believe in aliens from outer space. Well let me tell you, they do exist. Not long after I came to power, I became intrigued by certain ancient legends which the people of this region still believed in, and by the strange powers some of them were reputed to possess. In addition, archaeological excavations had produced some interesting finds.
“My own scientists were eventually able to piece together what had happened. They discovered that extra-terrestrial beings had visited what is now Maghrabia many thousands of years ago. The visit was unscheduled, for their spacecraft was damaged and forced to make a crash-landing.
“A dying race, they wanted something of their culture to survive, to be remembered. They told their secrets to a tribal people whose modern-day descendants, scattered all over the world, include the Lengro tribe of gypsies."
The Lengros like many gypsy tribes were thought to have originated in this part of the world, eventually finding their way to Europe.
Morag spoke. "The aliens gave their secrets to our ancestors because they knew the gypsies would keep their culture apart from that of the world in general. They knew that world was not to be trusted with such powers. They wanted it to remain a secret until Mankind had evolved into a being capable of using the Power wisely. If properly deployed it could be of immeasurable benefit."
"And I don't think that's happened yet," said Raven. "Certainly not when there are people like you around." He glared at Hosani.
The dictator's eyes glinted dangerously. "You would be advised not to anger me, Mr Raven. But with powers such as I will shortly possess, I can do what I like how I like. It makes sense to save any punishment you may deserve until then."
He resumed his story. "The powers of the aliens became the spells of the Lengro gypsies. Only the wise women were allowed to understand them."
"They were specially chosen for their wisdom," said Morag. "Because only they would know how to control it, and only they would use it for good ends."
"For hundreds of years,” Hosani went on, “the secret was handed down from one wise woman to another. But with the tribe gradually abandoning the old ways, it is now in danger of dying out. It took me many years' research to find you and the old woman. Fortunately, I was able to do so in time.
"The Power was split between two elements, the wise woman and the Chosen One." Hosani did not know about the Stone; its role as the control had been so important that there had been no record of it in the computer on board the alien ship, in case the wrong sort of person should find out about it.
"Now I have you both, I shall drain from you the Power itself and the knowledge with which it can be controlled." He stood up. "But first, a little tour around the complex."
His entourage led Raven and Morag to another lift. This one took them an incredible depth into the bowels of the Earth. It opened into a vast underground room whose walls were solid rock, smoothed and polished by the action of machinery. It was divided into a number of different partitions and a central island on which stood its dominant feature, a huge transparent sphere made of toughened glass. A spider's web of cables emerged from this structure, some disappearing into the floor while others led to banks of computers and complex instrumentation. White-coated scientists with clip-boards were inspecting the apparatus.
As they came up to it, it seemed as if there was some kind of substance, or energy, inside the sphere; it was hard to be sure. It was spread out so thinly as to be almost invisible. Raven peered more closely and detected a faint, yellowish light. Every few seconds there occurred flashes of something like lightning, so brief they were almost subliminal.
"The Power has been gradually leaking from the damaged spacecraft for centuries, permeating the solid rock itself and irradiating the surrounding area. That explains the abilities some of the local tribespeople are supposed to have, such as clairvoyance, "second sight", telepathy. Not everyone has the ability to use it. “To harness it for everyday purposes requires a certain amount of technology." Hosani gestured towards the sphere. "I have constructed a repository for it and a means of tapping the power. It is taking time to learn how to use it as and when I wish. But eventually I shall succeed."
"What happened to the spacecraft itself?" Raven asked. "Did it break up on landing?"
"It buried itself deep in the ground."
"To prevent one such as you from finding it and learning its secrets," Morag said.
"But they did find it. They were sure to, sooner or later." Hosani indicated the various fragments of the dismantled craft, fragments of bluish-grey metal twisted into weird surreal shapes, that were stacked against the walls of the room.
Hosani regarded the sphere. "I now know there are other ways of conquering the world than by guns and tanks - or atomic bombs," he said.
"So that's why you suddenly abandoned your nuclear weapons programme," said Raven.
"Yes. When I learn how to use the Power properly, nothing in the world will be able to stand against me. Not the Hindistanis, not the Americans, not the British...no-one."
"What about your own people? Some of them have the power too. Why don't they use it to defeat you?"
"Because it can only be used sparingly."
"But when complete breakthrough is achieved, it will be more of an asset to whoever has it," said Morag.
"I want to see Jo," Raven said again. Hosani ignored him.
Raven felt himself grow cold at a sudden awful realisation. Now that he was in Hosani's power, that the dictator he had what he wanted, there was no need for him to keep Jo alive and well. Had he already disposed of her? If she was still alive, she might not be at the complex at all. He decided it was unlikely she would have been killed, if killing her was Hosani's ultimate intention, just yet. It had only been a few minutes ago that they'd arrived safely at the complex. And maybe Hosani would keep her alive just in case something went wrong and he needed her as a bargaining counter. Maybe. This uncertainty over her fate gnawed at Raven's heart.
They were taken to a section of the enormous chamber which was enclosed by a partition, creating a room in its own right. Itself by no means small, it was a laboratory filled with a mass of intricate equipment, some of it bizarre and alien-looking; a forest of strange twisted shapes. In the centre of this mass of equipment were two metal slabs with restraining straps fitted to them.
"Using both my own equipment and that from the crashed Gethrardi ship, I have constructed an apparatus to drain and store the power." Raven presumed Hosani was planning to transfer the Power into his own body, perhaps sharing it with trusted supporters; or channel it into some device only he and they could have access to.
Morag and Raven were made to lie on the slabs, and were fastened tightly down to them by leather straps.
Meanwhile in their room back at the hotel, Mulder and Scully were listening to the transmissions from the bug which Mulder, not entirely with Scully's approval, had planted on Raven.
"I've seen enough," Mulder said. "Let's call Skinner."
Several of Hosani's scientists busied themselves about the console. Two others went over to Raven and Morag and proceeded to roll up their sleeves.
Raven noticed that the man attending to him was a Westerner. "And what's in all this for you?" he asked.
Matheson smiled grimly. "The President pays his scientists a damn sight better than our country does its own," he said. "That's why."
The scientists made small incisions in their flesh - he heard Morag cry out in pain - and to the incisions attached electrodes like hospital dripfeeds. The other ends terminated in the strange hotch-potch of human and alien technology.
The British scientist moved to the apparatus and switched it on. With a humming noise the power began to build up. Raven felt as if something was being drained from him. It was an unpleasant, debilitating sensation.
Then he found himself becoming very aware of the presence of the Raven Stone, the feel of it against his flesh. The power began to leave it and soak into his body, replacing what was being sucked from him.
Suddenly the hum of power began to vary sharply in pitch. A technician studied the instruments worriedly. "We're getting some kind of feedback, Sir. I'm not sure what's happening, but something seems to be disrupting the process."
Hosani frowned. "Can you overcome it?" His own knowledge of technology was limited.
The man fiddled with the controls. For a little longer the pitch of the sound from the equipment continued to rise and fall, then a high-pitched whine like that of a drill or power saw started up. A wisp of smoke curled from inside the main console.
"It's going to overheat!" The technician shouted.
"Switch it off, then!" shouted Hosani. His face was a frightening mask of savage rage.
The sound died away. "Check that equipment," the dictator ordered.
The technicians obeyed, dismantling the cover of the console and starting to probe about among its innards.
Walter F Skinner, Mulder and Scully's boss at the FBI, was conferring with the NATO defence chiefs.
"There's only one way to deal with this," he told them. "Let's face it, if we really want to stop whatever's going on in there, we'll have to take strong action, and soon. It looks like Hosani's schemes are pretty close to completion. There's no time for our allies in Maghrabia to launch an attack, even if we could be sure it would succeed. We'll have to seek authorisation from our respective leaders to launch a nuclear strike."
"They'll be blown to pieces," someone objected. "Raven and his friends, I mean."
"I'm no more happy about it than you are," Skinner sighed. "But it seems to me that there's far too much at stake."
"What's the cover story going to be? If we tell everyone the real reasons why we're trying to take out Hosani, they'll think we've gone crazy."
"That our spy satellites scanned the complex and found it was a nuclear installation. Hosani was lying when he said he was giving up his nuclear weapons, which bearing in mind his past conduct is something people can well believe. He was about to launch a surprise attack on Israel or one of his neighbours, and we acted immediately to prevent it. Of course the evidence will be destroyed in the blast, but that can't be helped."
He sighed. "All in all, it's better than the alternative. We have a choice between a bad headache and terminal cancer, and I know which one I'm going for."
The authorisation took less than twenty minutes to obtain. In another ten four B15 bombers were taking off from a Turkish airbase, bound for Maghrabia.
At length the technicians straightened up. "I'm sorry, Sir,” sighed their chief. I don't understand what could have caused it to malfunction."
Hosani turned furiously on Raven and Morag. "This is your doing, isn’t it? You're doing something to disrupt the process, aren't you?"
"I swear we're not," Raven protested. "There must be something wrong with your equipment."
"You're lying!" Hosani snarled. He signalled to his aides, who drew their pistols and aimed them. "Tell the truth or you both die!"
"If you kill either of us, you won't get the power," said Raven, hoping this was true. In any case he was quite prepared to die to thwart Hosani's plans, and he suspected Morag would be too.
Hosani stared at them for a long time, then barked an order to one of the aides. "Right, get the Hagan girl down here!"
The man hurried from the room.
While they were gone Raven tried desperately to think of some other means of extricating them from their predicament. Unfortun-ately he couldn’t. He was about to admit to himself that they were beaten when a familiar figure was marched into the room between two heavies. Jo's face lit up at the sight of Raven, her eyes gleaming with pleasure. Then her face clouded again as she remembered the desperate situation they were all in.
One of the men drew his pistol and held it against Jo's head. "Answer me now," Hosani ordered, "or I will have her killed here and now, right in front of you."
Raven gave a deep, shuddering sigh of despair. "There's a stone…hanging around my neck."
A technician undid the first few buttons of Raven's shirt and fumbled inside it. He removed the string with the Raven Stone attached to it, and showed it to Hosani.
"What is it for?"
Raven told him.
"Then it is best that I should have it," said Hosani. He took the stone and placed it on a nearby console. "Good. Now we can resume the experiment."
"There is some damage to the equipment," said the chief scientist. "I'll have to repair it first. Should take a while."
"Then see to it."
They waited while the repairs were carried out, Jo looking on, still covered by the guns of the two aides.
More time in which to think of a solution. But was there one? Without the stone for him to disrupt the transfer of power with, they were surely finished.
"Better search them in case they've got anything else hidden on them," said Hosani. The two aides complied - and of course found Mulder's bug.
"A tracking device!" Hosani swung round on Raven.
Raven was angered and horrified by the thought of what might now happen to Jo. "I swear it was planted on me without my knowledge." "Who by? The British? The Americans?"
"It's a combined job. The Americans have two people from the CIA working on it."
Hosani looked at his colleagues in alarm. They spoke agitatedly in their own language for a couple of minutes.
If the Americans knew what was happening here they would try to stop it. And the action they'd take would be of a drastic kind.
"You must get that equipment repaired...quickly!" Hosani shouted to his men. Once he had full control of the Power, not even a nuclear strike would stop him.
Mulder looked up from the scanner as a light went out on the screen he was watching. "The bug's stopped transmitting. Either it was faulty or they've found and destroyed it."
Scully gave him an extremely frosty look. "You may have jeopardised the Hagan girl's life, Mulder."
Mulder sighed. “It was probably the only way of finding out what was going on in that complex. I think you know that really, Scully."
His colleague pursed her lips, but inwardly she had to admit he was right.
"In any case," said Mulder, "they'll probably be blown to pieces soon anyway."
In Hosani's laboratory the repairs to the equipment were nearing completion. And now Raven and Morag had no Raven Stone to help them. It seemed there was nothing to stop Hosani.
Then Morag noticed that Farzad Assam was edging gradually towards the Raven Stone where it lay on the console.
Hosani ruled by fear, not respect. It occurred to them that it would have been very strange if one of Hosani's men, not entirely loyal to his leader and realising the danger they might all be in if he alone had use of the Power, did not intend to seize it from him should the occasion present itself. They would have to move soon, for if somebody did not acquire the Power the American missiles would blast them all into radioactive dust.
From his expression the same thought seemed to have occurred to Hosani, but before he could give voice to it Assam had spoken. "This Raven Stone," he asked, addressing Morag and Raven. "Can it be used by anyone who does not have the Power?"
"That is so," Morag replied. "You simply will what you desire to happen, and the Stone does the rest."
To Hosani's utter horror, Assam in a sudden movement snatched up the Stone and brandished it triumphantly. He pointed it at Hosani, his head full of malice towards the dictator.
"Die!" he screamed.
The attention of the aides and the technicians - indeed of everyone in the room - was distracted from the three prisoners. The aides swung round to cover Assam. Morag called out to Jo. Knowing it was now or never, she slipped away from her guards, and hurried towards where Raven and Morag lay. Even if Hosani had noticed them, the chances were he would be far more concerned, for the moment, by this revelation of treachery.
Assam was, to say the least, disconcerted when his command had absolutely no effect. Hosani remained where he was, still in a state of terror, believing he was about to die. Almost a minute passed before it was realised nothing had happened.
Once Hosani had collected his thoughts, the uppermost of them was revenge for Assam's treachery. "You filthy swine!" he shouted, drawing the gun he always carried on him out of paranoia. Assam whimpered with fear. He collapsed to his knees, begging for mercy. Indisposed to give any, Hosani shot him where he knelt, the upper part of his body being knocked backwards by the impact. The Raven Stone fell from his nerveless hand and skidded across the floor.
Jo, meanwhile, had reached her friends and on Morag's instructions was undoing Raven's straps. Rubbing his wrists and ankles and wincing, he sat up stiffly. Jo then proceeded to release Morag.
"Raven, get the Stone," Morag whispered urgently. He began to creep stealthily towards the group. "While they are distracted."
The wise woman knew that the more diversions they could create, the better. "Jo," she whispered. "Prepare yourself. I am going to remove my mask."
Meanwhile Hosani was haranguing his associates. "Who else is planning to betray me?" he screamed, his eyes bulging from their sockets, a vein in his temple pulsating rapidly. He seemed almost insane with rage. "All of you get out!" He turned to his Police Minister. "Search the Complex immediately! Search everywhere..."
Then Jo Hagan let out a piercing scream, and all heads turned in the direction from which the sound had come, to see her cowering in terror from the sight of Morag, who stood before them with her mask removed and her face exposed to the eyes of the world for the first time in over a hundred years.
The Maghrabians cried out in shock and revulsion. They recoiled, then stood gazing at the gypsy wise woman in a horrified trance.
Morag's face was little more than a skull with a thin film of flesh clinging to it, teeth and gums starkly exposed in a hideous grin. It was completely bald except for one or two wisps of white hair. In contrast to this image of shrivelled Death the eyes, which should have been sunken and rheumy, blazed from their sockets with a terrible fire; they were the eyes of a much younger woman, one with a strong and powerful personality.
Raven didn't know what had caused this latest distraction; his only thought was to take advantage of it. He dived for the Raven Stone and snatched it up from where it lay.
Morag replaced her shawl. "Raven!" she shouted. "Use the stone!"
Raven struggled to remember what she had told her the night before. His arm outstretched, he brandished the stone, using it as a channel for his will. As Hosani's men drew their guns an invisible, overwhelmingly powerful force swept over them. It pinned them to the spot, holding every part of their bodies motionless, preventing them from bringing their guns to bear on Raven.
Then the effort began to drain him. He couldn't be getting it quite right. He struggled to remember the correct words, think the correct thoughts. Morag shouted instructions at him.
No good; he was continuing to weaken. Gradually the gun arms of Hosani's men came up.
Morag hobbled slowly towards the console. Hosani's men were making their way there too. Jo Hagan looked on anxiously, trying to decide if there was anything she could do to help.
The US planes flew high above the Maghrabian countryside, out of range of their enemy's ground-to-air missiles, a fighter escort protecting them from attack by the Maghrabian air force. They would be over the complex in approximately ten minutes.
In the complex, Hosani's men, Matheson among them, were standing at the console which had been set up for the purpose of drawing the power from the repository in which it had been placed. They began operating controls and in a few seconds vanished into thin air, transported out of the range of the forthcoming nuclear blast. Faced with imminent annihilation, they had decided to cut their losses.
Hosani was still trying to salvage something from the situation. He and his aides were trying to shoot at Raven, but still the former gypsy held them stationary with the power of the stone. Or just about. They were struggling ever more fiercely to break free from its grip as they felt it weaken. Raven's face was twisted in pain, eyes screwed up tightly, and his face covered with sweat.
Painfully Morag dragged herself towards the console. Jo Hagan ran to help her.
"What are you trying to do?" Jo asked.
They reached the console and Morag began operating the switches, as if she was already aware how everything worked. "You...will...see...in a moment," she gasped. "You could do this...yourself, but I would like the honour to be mine."
Power flooded from the console into Morag's body, and the frail old woman jerked stiffly upright. With a shrill, triumphant cackle she turned towards Hosani and his men, raising her arms and pointing. Throwing her head back, she brought every ounce of her will to bear on them.
A crackling bolt of energy travelled across the room and smashed into Hosani, dashing him to the floor. Then two more struck the aides, hurling them down too. All three men lay unconscious.
Raven collapsed exhausted, the pressure on him ended. He fell to his knees, gasping for breath, and Jo ran to help him.
"We must leave here quickly," Morag gasped. "Bring him to the console. The Raven Stone must be left behind."
Jo obeyed. Soon all three of them were at the console. "What's going on, Morag?" Jo asked.
"I do not fully understand your gawjo politics, but I believe the Americans are going to destroy this place with their bombs. This machine will help us transport ourselves to safety."
Jo turned to look at Hosani and his sidekicks.
"It is too late for them," Morag said sadly. "Besides, it is best that the man Hosani does not survive to try again to steal the Power."
By now Raven had recovered. They placed their hands on the console while Morag operated the controls. The power built up and the reddish light enveloped them.
The American planes were now directly above the complex. The hatches of their bomb bays opened, and the aircraft jettisoned their deadly payloads.
The four black metal cylinders smashed into the roof of the complex and detonated. There was a massive eruption of smoke, rock and soil, forming a column three miles high. When it had cleared, there was nothing left of the building save a massive, gaping hole in the ground, from which thick clouds of smoke belched.
Raven, Morag and Jo watched the scene from a safe distance, four or five miles away. As the smoke began to disperse, all three sighed with relief.
"It is over," declared Morag. As soon as these words had left her mouth, she crumpled in a heap to the ground. Immediately Raven was kneeling beside her, examining her anxiously. Jo joined him.
"She's old," Jo said. "The strain of it all must have got to her."
"We must get her to a hospital," said Raven. "The thing is, I doubt if medical facilities in countries like this are much good."
Morag spoke. Her voice was faint and reedy; truly the voice of an old woman. She smiled beneath her shawl. "No, Raven. You need not worry about me any longer. It is over now…over for good.
"You may remove my mask." She didn't have the strength to do it herself. "It is only fair that you should see what I have hidden from you all these years."
Tentatively, trembling a little, Raven pulled away the shroud. Like Jo before him, he shrank back with a cry from the horrifying skull-face.
"The Power had to keep me alive...until my task was done. Until either the human race had learned to use it wisely, or someone sought to harness it for evil and I had seen them defeated. It kept me alive...far beyond the normal lifespan of a human being. Do you know that I am one hundred and fifty years old?"
"G-g-gosh," said Jo.
"There are no more tribes...not with the Power. Now it is accomplished...the world is safe, and I can die. Thankyou, both of you."
"No!" shouted Raven. "Morag, please don't go..."
Morag smiled, and lifted up a hand to touch his cheek. "It must be. I would have died soon anyway...even the Power could not have sustained me forever. I wish you both well. Your destinies are...entwined..."
There were tears in Raven's eyes as he reached down and clasped her hand. "Remember me…to the rest of the tribe,” she whispered. “To the man with little hair...look after the Lengros, Raven. Look after them...look..." She struggled to say some final words. "Raven...tell me...if you had the Stone, and could use the Power...would you?"
Raven considered for a moment. "No," he said. "It'd be too dangerous."
Morag smiled. "Good...that is good...you have wisdom; I am proud of you. Good luck, Raven…good luck…”
The fierce light which had burned in her eyes for as long as he'd known her was going out. As he ooked on, sobbing, it died. Jo wrapped her arms around him.
A strange golden radiance suffused Morag's body, and her features blurred and changed before their eyes. For a few moments she was a beautiful young gypsy girl, with glossy black hair and smooth brown skin. She smiled up at them. Then her face became that of a skull again, before the bone and surviving flesh finally crumbled into a fine white dust which blew away on the wind. All that remained was a pile of dusty clothing.
For a very long time Raven knelt over it in silence. Then Jo tapped him on the shoulder, and he started out of his reverie, hearing a droning noise in the sky. He looked up, and saw circling above them the shape of a US transport plane.
"They've come to take us back," Jo said.
The plane came in to land a few hundred yards away. "Time to go, Raven," Jo said gently.
He gathered up Morag's clothes and the ring she had always worn, slipping the latter into his pocket. He had to have some kind of memento of her.
They saw a group of people emerge from the hold of the aircraft, Mulder and Scully among them. The FBI agents questioned them about what had happened in the Complex.
Mulder sighed. "I guess everything would have been destroyed," he said sadly.
Scully patted him on the arm. "There'll be other opportunities to find what you're looking for. Come on, let's go."
They all started to walk towards the plane.
"I guess it would have been better if those aliens hadn't told anyone about their powers at all," Jo said to Raven. "They just wanted to be remembered. Is that so bad? Maybe we'd have done the same."
"It's sad, really," Jo said. "There'll be nothing left of the aliens, or of the gypsies' magic, now we don’t have the Stone. You've got the Power in you but you don't know how to use it."
"Morag was right to leave the Stone behind. It was the best way to destroy it. If I, or anyone else, had worked out how to use it properly all this hassle could have started again. I don't think I could have trusted myself not to misuse it somehow. No-one could." He realised that Morag hadn't even told Mulder and Scully, or for that matter Lethbridge Stewart, about the Stone's existence.
"I'd have had to disown you if you'd done that. Reluctantly, of course."
"Which reminds me, Morag said our destinies were entwined. I think I know what that means. I also think she knew what she was talking about. She wasn't a wise woman for nothing."
Jo leaned forward and kissed him. "I agree with you there. We've got a lot to do when we get back home."
Raven’s thoughts turned again to the adventure they’d just had, and he reflected that it was sad people couldn’t be trusted with the kind of powers the aliens had bequeathed to the wise women of the Lengros. But perhaps the solution to that problem lay in another world.
Just before the ramp closed behind them, he heard a raucous cry from somewhere above and glanced up, though he knew what it was. High in the sky the raven soared, until the sun seemed to swallow it up and it was gone, presumably winging its way back home now that its task was done. He never saw the bird again.
A little sadly they smiled, and began the long journey home.