Session 21 | Egypt | In dust we trust

 

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The Carlyle Expedition

Game system: Call of Cthulhu 6th ed

Dramatis personae

Carl Blackwater | Foreign correspondent | 31 yrs | Martin

Edward Foxworthy | Big game hunter | 34 yrs | Flan

Absent this session

Slim Shady | Attorney | 46 yrs | Djuro

Kent Bengtsson | Aviator | 38 yrs | Berndt

H.P Rennfarth | NYPD Forensics Specialist | 27 yrs | Mats

Link to background stories and portraits

Written under the influence of Ghost


Ashmunayn (Hermopolis), Friday, February 27th, 1925 | middle of the night

Part One: Sanctum of the Watcher

Desert night

After having delivered a proper beating, trying to coerce the truth from the two men both claiming to be the real colleague and friend of the murdered Coptic priest Butrus Al-Qusi, the PCs decide to distrust both of them.

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Night in the desert

After some argumentation about their next move, they decide to bring both men, bound and gagged, to the ruins in the desert just north of the town. There, they hope that the truth will be revealed…

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Temple ruins

The streets of the small town are eerily quiet at in contrast to the constant daytime bustle and the party manages to sneak out of town undetected (or so they think at least).

The field of ruins are located some 3-400 meters just north of town and are completely dark, most of the low structures still standing covered in sand. The prisoners are pushed before the investigators, who have told Father Shanuda to show the way. Mikhay’el hobbles along, seemingly subdued. The man keeps trying to talk, looking into the darkness on either side of the path, but only muffled sounds emerge from his gagged mouth. After a while, Edward silences him with a backhand slap.

After a while, Shanuda nods to the right (east), towards a shallow depression where the sand has blown away, revealing the remains of what looks to have been a temple of sorts. Only the flagstones and a few low walls and pillars remain.  Two baboon-like statues stand guard at the far end of the area.

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Baboon statue at Hermopolis

The prisoners are struck to the floor, kneeling in the sand, as the investigators discuss their next move. It is decided that they will trust Father Shanuda as his story feels more accurate. Shanuda is liberated from his bonds and asked for forgiveness.

The Ritual

The old priest tells the PCs to drag a feebly protesting Mikhay’el to the center of the flagstone floor and requests the dagger. He then proceeds with asking the PCs to move back ten paces and tells them to look away, no matter what they hear.

To the light of a single kerosene lantern, Shanuda uses the dagger to draw a large circle in the sand around Mikhay’el and starts scribbling strange glyphs inside and outside the circle, while chanting a strange tune in some kind of old-fashioned Arabic.

The air seems to fill with a peculiar humming sound as a vortex of starts swirling inside the circle, dragging up sand particles, forming a small sand tornado around Mikhay’el, drowning out his terrified screams (yes, of course, some of the PCs looked… luckily their SAN checks were successful…).

After a while, the temperature seems to increase markedly and something materializes in the vortex. Shanuda holds up the dagger with two hands, seemingly communicating with the creature. The creature then grabs the sandblasted and screaming Mikhay’el and they both disappear in a puff of sand as everything returns to normal as the sand settles on the ground.

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The Vortex creature

 

 Into the catacombs

Shanuda then cuts his hand, dripping blood in the sand, calling out loud:

“-Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl ghuul’fhtagn!”

Shadows start moving in the darkness around the explorers, moving closer in silence. Four bizarre creatures enter the flagstone floor, communicating with Shanuda in guttural archaic Arabic. The old man holds out the dagger as a holy symbol of power and the creatures bow to him.

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The desert creatures

“-Quick! Follow them. They will show the way to the Temple of Thoth!”

The creatures move silently over the sand, deeper into the ruins, before stopping in front of a pile of tumbled-down stones. There, behind the pile, a small dark opening can be seen…

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The cave opening

One of the creatures quickly climbs in (Keeper note: They move Gollum-style) while the remaining three stay outside.

After a 15-meter down-sloping and narrow passage through rock, the passage gets taller so that the PCs can almost stand upright, and stairway cut in the rock leads down into the dark. The PCs have electrical torches and a kerosene lantern for light.

The humanoid creature scuttles through endless passages with great haste and the PCs have a hard time to keep up. Carl has the mental presence to mark their way by drawing with a chalk-like stone as they move further into the structure. It is evident that no one has been here for a very long time. No one human at least…

At one point they hear what sound like running water and the walls of the passage has watermarks on them. Other places they feel like someone is watching them.

The Obsidian Man

After what seems to be an eternity in darkness and after having descended two more stairways, the creature reaches a more elaborate entrance and stops, pointing to the entrance. It’s a triangular entrance to what appears to be a man-made structure. A straight stairway leads further down into what appears to be some sort of temple. First, they enter two pillared ante-rooms, complete with Egyptian style wall murals. Then, after a long and plain corridor, they enter the main sanctum – a large pillared room, all in smooth black stone. The far end of the room is dominated by a large statue of a faceless black sphinx.

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The Black Sphinx

The investigators study the room in awe, as Father Shanuda beckons them to start the ceremony to lift the curse of the dagger. He asks Edward to kneel in front of the Sphinx and starts chanting, waving the dagger in a repeating pattern.

Suddenly, a presence is felt in the room. An obsidian man, all dressed in black has entered.

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The Obsidian Man

“-I see that you have returned my dagger. How considerate of you. Now, leave me the dagger and I assure you free passage out of my domain.”

They all hear the words, uttered in perfect Oxford English. However, no one can recall seeing the man’s lips move. Father Shanuda looks terrified but is only momentarily disturbed as he continues the ritual.

After a moment’s hesitation, all the other investigators pull out their firearms and starts shooting at the Obsidian Man, but the bullets just stop and hover a few meters from the man as he steps closer…

Father Shanuda finishes the ritual by calling the name of El Shaddai and stabs the dagger into the stone of the sphinx, shattering the blade in a flash of green light.

Suddenly, the Obsidian Man is gone. The only sound in the room emanating from the red-hot bullets as they drop to the stone floor with a clatter…

It all feels like waking from a dream, but the investigators all remember the same things and one by one they also realize that they have a new tattoo on the back of their left hands…

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The hand tattoo

Then the PCs head north-west into the complex, where they find a long corridor sloping upwards. Sensing the possibility of finding an alternative exit, the PCs decide to follow the corridor, which leads steadily up for about 500 meters, before exiting in a small, cool cave.

Nope. Not in Kansas anymore…

Outside, it’s daylight. The cave is situated on a stone knoll in the middle of a vast sea of red sand. There is no Ashmunayn or River Nile anywhere to be seen, nor any other familiar landmarks.

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Looking out of the cave

“-Balls!” Carl curses, as he realizes that he has no idea of where they are.

At a distance, a camel caravan can be seen, moving slowly between the dunes.

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The caravan moving past

The investigators decide to talk to the caravan people and start trekking across the sand hot sand dunes, waving at the caravan. When they see the PCs approach, the caravan stops and waits for them.

As they walk across the red sea of sand, the PCs realize that their clothes and gear has somehow transformed to more antique versions of what they used to have. Rifles have become crossbows, pistols have tuned into intricately curved daggers. And their clothes resemble what they see on the caravan members.

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Carl in his new outfit

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Some of the caravan folks

Coming closer, the PCs notice that the caravan consists of both women, men and children, all dressed in peculiar outfits. The leader, an old man with sun-bitten skin hails them and offers some sweet tea of unknown origin.

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The caravanserai leader, Elharai

He’s speaking a strange language but curiously enough, the investigator’s seem to understand what he says and likewise, they seem proficient in this mysterious language.

They soon learn that they are in the Desert of Cuppar-Nombo and that the caravan is en route to the great City of Cuppar-Nombo to trade, and offers them to travel with the caravan.

After the initial silence, followed by dropped chins and open mouths, the investigators decide to try to back-track their steps and find their way back to the Temple of the Watcher. After thanking Mr. Elharai, they begin their journey back towards the stony hill that they emerged from. Despite some disagreement on exactly which hill they came from, they eventually find their way back to the cave.

The entrance into the underground is still there and after some 500 meters going down the stone ramp, they enter the underground sanctum once again. Curiously, their gear has also changed back to what it used to be…

Pathways into darkness

After these mystifying events, the PCs decide to investigate the temple further before returning to the world above. Beyond the main temple room, they find a series of old cells, three of them inhabited by totally insane wreckages of persons. Probably poor victims that have been kidnapped for some obscure cult use. The PCs decide to leave them where they are and return to save them at some point later, as they can’t lug around these people under their current predicament. (GM note: Yeah right, that’s some serious rationalization right there)

They also find what appears to be a room for cult priests, complete with black robes and occult tomes. After a quick scan, the PCs take three dusty and evil-looking books:

  • Cultes des Goules (French)
  • Al Azif (Archaic Arabic)
  • Kitab al-Stiwah (handwritten in Archaic Arabic / Hebrew)

There is also a small shrine-like room, with a 1.2 m statue of the Black Pharaoh.

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The statue in the shrine

As they search the temple, the PCs realize that the structure is quite large and decide to return to the surface, lest they run off their light sources or worse. They can always come back at another time to investigate the rest of the complex and save the prisoners…

They follow the markings that Carl so foreseeably made on the way down. Upon exiting from the temple, the creature that showed them the way down is nowhere to be found and the passages are quiet like a tomb…

 

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Tunnels…

As they slowly navigate back the way they came, the investigators realize that someone or something is following them. Always out of sight, just a hint of something moving in the dark, disappearing into a side passage…

Trudging on steadily, it seems like this something is joined by others and by the time the PCs reach the exit, they are watched by a large number of creatures, just like the one that showed them the way, to begin with. The creatures keep their distance, though.

They gather outside the exit, on the flagstones where Mikhay’el (or maybe rather Khalid) was carried away by the thing that Father Shanuda conjured forth.

Father Shanuda takes farewell of the group, saying that his work now is done, as the Dagger of Thoth is destroyed and Edward is free from the curse. The old priest tells them to seek him out in the Monastery of St. Pakomios if they ever should need help or if they need healing or just sanctuary from the forces of evil.

The first rays of the sun appear on the horizon as our dead tired heroes walk back to civilization. After a stiff drink in Slim’s room (even Muhammed has one to calm his nerves), they all pass out in their beds and are carried off to the Land of Sleep…

 

Ashmunayn (Hermopolis), Saturday, February 28th, 1925 | morning

Part Two: The Black Pharaoh

To Dahshur

Tired and worn after the night’s events, the investigators have an early breakfast at the hotel, pack their gear and head down to the Nile, their intent to sail downriver to Dahshur, where the Carlyle Expedition was said to have performed excavations. Before they board the felouk, the PCs visit the market to buy thin goat leather gloves to hide their strange hand tattoos. The gloves smell of goat cheese but do their intended job well.

Since the old felouk is gone, Muhammed arranges for passage with another, equally jovial river captain. Sadly, there’s no tulumbe served on this leg of the journey. The boat trip downriver is uneventful and takes about the whole day, so the PCs get ample opportunity to rest more.

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Dahshur during the flood in 1924

In the late afternoon, they reach Dahshur, where they first locate a reasonable hotel (The Sakkara) where they can stay. As it turns out, Dahshur is more tourist-oriented than Ashmunayn, so finding accommodation isn’t hard. After a meal, lots of water and a quick late siesta, the PCs go to the local market to acquire some digging gear to function as props, as they are going to act like they are on an archaeologic expedition in order to blend in.

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Archaeologist disguise…

When they arrive at the local market, most stalls are closed or are closing up. Nightfall is early this time of year (sunset is approximately 6 p.m). Despite trying their best in the baksheesh scene and even employing kind manners, the investigators fail to find an open shop. From a lingering shop proprietor, they learn that the pyramids are now closed for the night and that they open again tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock.

The rest of the evening is spent recuperating at the hotel or reading up on the pyramids in the area. There are two pyramids near Dahshur – the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid. However, it’s not really clear where the Penhew Expedition had their dig site.

Dahshur, Sunday, March 1st, 1925 | morning

At the pyramids

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Breakfast in style…

After a luxurious breakfast in the shadow of the pyramids, the investigators return to the souk to shop digging gear and other equipment “to blend in”.

There are tourist camel riding tours to the Dahshur Necropolis, but the PCs decide to go by car, which leaves them among the rest of the tourists at the base of the Red Pyramid.

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Camel pyramid tours

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Tourists…

They are immediately accosted by men, all claiming to be the best guide around. Among the djellaba-clad guides, one man stands out in his black suit. Abdul the guide turns out to be quite knowledgeable in English and better yet – his brother-in-law works as a pyramid guard, and Abdul promises them access to areas “not usually open to the public”.

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Abdul the Necropolis guide

The Red Pyramid

The investigators decide to begin with the Red Pyramid. The imposing structure was built by Sneferu, probably after he built the Bent Pyramid, which was, well, a little bent…

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The Red Pyramid

Armed policemen monitor the number of people going in and out of the pyramid to ensure that not too many enter at once. The entrance to the pyramid is reached by a rickety wooden stairway consisting of 125 steps, as it is situated at above ground level.

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The layout of the Red Pyramid

Inside, a 63 m downward-sloping corridor leads to three interior chambers: two antechambers with 12 m high corbelled vaults and a 15 m high burial chamber with a corbelled ceiling. Human remains, perhaps those of Sneferu himself, were found here, but are long gone and the chambers are empty.

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The downward sloping corridor

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The inner chamber with the corbelled ceiling

The silent stone chambers are imposing, but nothing out of the ordinary is found in the Red Pyramid.

The Bent Pyramid

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The Bent Pyramid

A bit disappointed, the PCs decide to walk the 1 km path to the Bent Pyramid instead. Abdul takes them safely to the North entrance, where guards are posted.

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Egyptian policemen

The northern entrance is also situated a bit above ground level, and an old wooden stairway has been built for the tourists. Like the Red Pyramid, there’s a down-sloping corridor that leads below ground level. The corridor ends in a 12.5 m high chamber with a corbelled ceiling. There is also a side tunnel leading to yet another chamber actually situated even lower.

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The Bent Pyramid interior plan

Interesting as it is, the PCs find nothing out of the ordinary in the northern chamber system. As they exit the darkness, Abdul mentions that there’s a western entrance as well, leading to a separate set of chambers, but that it’s closed to the public due to the many accidents that have taken place there. Obviously, the investigators want to see this as well and Abdul helps with bribing the single guard there with 10 USD to “go have a pause with his colleagues on the north side”.

The West entrance

The west entrance is also located up the face of the pyramid. No stairs are built here so the PCs have to climb up.

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The western entrance

Entry is blocked off by a pair of metal doors held in place by wooden planks. A wooden hand-painted sign says “Entrance forbidden” in several languages. Like that is going to deter any investigators. It’s an easy task to break loose the boards and open the door.

Inside, it’s dark and musky. Armed with flashlights and a kerosene lamp, the PCs enter while Abdul stays behind to guard the door.

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3D-sketch of the two western chambers

There’s a down-sloping corridor that leads below ground level. In two places raised portcullises are placed and the corridor ends in a 12.5 m high chamber with a corbelled ceiling. There is also a side tunnel leading to yet another chamber actually situated even lower below ground. Scholars believe that this second burial chamber was maybe intended for the Sneferu’s queen Heterpheres. The main burial chamber is unremarkable except for two unusually thick alabaster columns in the back of the room. After some closer study, the PCs find what appears to be a secret door in the right column. It’s almost too easy to open… As a precaution, Mohammed stays in the burial chamber.

Inside the column, a 20-step spiral stone staircase leads up to a chamber, from which a series of ramps ascends almost to the capstone of the structure.

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Inside the Bent Pyramid

The ramps end in a chamber with triangular asymmetrical archway leading to a large elaborately decorated throne room.

The Throne Room

The large chamber is dominated by a black obsidian throne on a raised dais. The throne is encrusted in myriad unknown gems that sparkle in the torchlight. Six 1.5 m high pillars line the walls, each with a large blue gem on the top.

On the wall behind the throne, a there’s a bas-relief with common Egyptian and other unknown glyphs. To the left, two large bas-reliefs depict what seems to be a star chart and a smaller chart of the Solar system with the planets in specific positions. In the star chart, the PCs can identify Aldebaran and Fomalhaut but not the other stars. To the right, the bas-relief shows a distorted hemispheric map of Earth, with Eurasia, Africa, Australia and the Western Pacific. Geographical features like mountains and rivers are easily recognizable, but no nations or cities are shown. Three uncut rubies form an elongated triangle, marking points in central Kenya, Western Australia, and in the East China Sea. An inlaid ebony band marks an arc crossing the Indian Ocean.

Carl produces his trusty camera and starts taking photographs of the walls and the room’s features. As the other investigators are trying to take all in, Edward decides to try to pry loose one of those huge gems atop the pillars. The second he puts his knife between the pillar and gem, it lights up, burning with a strange blue flame. As the big game hunter backs away, another gem also lights up. And another. And another…

The PCs realize that something is happening and starts bolting for the exit almost as a single-cell organism. As they near the archway, a rumble is heard and a massive stone wall starts forming, blocking the exit!

Before it’s fully formed, our heroes manage to exit the throne room, standing scared shitless and panting outside the now massive stone wall blocking off the throne room.

It is then that the monsters attack!

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Pyramid creatures

Seemingly out of the stone, four creatures manifest in the chamber and they immediately assault the PCs with razor-sharp claws and fanged maws. The battle is short but very brutal. At first, the PCs manage to damage two of the creatures. Their luck runs out, however. Slim is bitten over the neck and shoulder, and raked across the face and throat, sending him to the brink of death. Carl takes a vicious claw wound to the chest and side, sending him unconscious. Luckily, Edward manages to kill the remaining creatures before they hurt him badly as well.

While Edward is giving his friends first aid, he shouts for help from Mohammed…

GM note: Slim was wounded below 0 hp and started bleeding out while Carl was wounded to 0 hp. Luckily, Edward managed two successful First Aid rolls in a row and saved Slim’s life while getting Carl back to an agonizing consciousness… 

And this is where we leave the investigators. In the darkness inside the Bent Pyramid, badly wounded and half mad from terror…


Action! Suspense! Humor! Mystery!

Be sure to follow A Fistful of d20’s continued struggle against the God of a Thousand Faces! 

 

 

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