Session 22 | Egypt | The Black Pharao cometh

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The Black Pharao

Game system: Call of Cthulhu 6th ed

Dramatis personae

Carl Blackwater | Foreign correspondent | 31 yrs | Martin

Edward Foxworthy | Big game hunter | 34 yrs | Flan

Slim Shady | Attorney | 46 yrs | Djuro

Absent this session

Kent Bengtsson | Aviator | 38 yrs | Berndt (in New York)

H.P Rennfarth | NYPD Forensics Specialist | 27 yrs | Mats (in Egypt)

Link to background stories and portraits

Written under the influence of Huntress


Dahshur, Sunday, March 1st, 1925 | mid-day

The Black Pharao

Having had their arses handed to them by the pyramid dwellers, the investigators find themselves in a tight spot. Edward has managed to staunch the bleeding on both Slim and Carl. Carl is rather ok and can move by himself, but Slim is in bad shape and barely manages to drag himself along with the support of his friends. Mohammed has heard the kerfuffle and comes rushing up from the grave chamber where they found the secret door, panting from exertion, and the group immediately starts down the ramps to get out of the pyramid.

However, on the second ramp, there’s a portcullis blocking the way. Mohammed looks confused, stating that it wasn’t there a few minutes ago… With their combined efforts, using Edward’s rifle as a temporary scaffold, they manage to get past the portcullis, which slams back down with a loud metallic clang as Edward removes the gun.

As they make it down the circular stairway inside the pillar in the grave chamber the PCs since their salvation, but upon exiting the secret door they somehow find themselves back in front of the throne room of the Black Pharao!

An offer you can’t refuse…

The formerly stony wall that blocked the asymmetrical doorway is absent and the six strange blue flames are lit, bathing the chamber in a cold fluctuating light. It is also very obvious that someone, or rather something is sitting on the obsidian throne…

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The Black Pharao

The air beside the imposing figure seems somehow distorted, almost as air above tarmac on a hot day. Atonal flute music can be heard from afar – or is it just in the investigator’s heads? But the worst is the stench of death and decay that surrounds the throne.

The Pharao then speaks. His lips cannot be seen to move, but he greets all the investigators by name, asking what their hearts desire most in the world, his voice seductive and dripping with honey and promise. All he asks in return is an insignificant token of respect from them – that they cease with this foolish quest of theirs and instead join him in servitude. If they do this little itsy-bitsy thing to prove their loyalty, they will be rewarded with anything that their hearts may desire – be it wealth, power, love or anything else…

I am sure that some of the PCs are severely tempted by the deity’s offer, but they all decide to courteously decline the offer.

No deal.

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Le Pharaon Noir

The Black Pharao’s expression palpably changes to immense irritation and his tone grows cruel and mocking:

“-You are fools if you continue with these feeble efforts of yours. The gods that you defy are too powerful to be disturbed by the efforts of mere mortals such as yourselves. Unless you can be in three places at once, you have no hope of stopping the glory that is to come. We are legion. Like the hydra of legend, unless all of its heads are removed at once, the beast still lives.

Go you back to your puny lives and enjoy the short time that is left before the inevitable fate that is coming instead of continuing this doomed and pathetic struggle of yours.”

The Black Pharao waves his hand and images of the Carlyle Expedition in Africa appear as a hologram in the air. Kenyan bearers and expedition members can be seen going about their business in an African camp.

“-Look you, at the fate of those that came before you, and see how they prospered.”

Suddenly, winged creatures appear out of the sky, almost blotting out the sun. Screams of panic can be heard as the creatures attack. As people try to run, the earth opens up and wiry fanged creatures crawl up and attack! Even the trees seem to draw up their roots and join the carnage. All the expedition members along with their Kenyan staff are ripped to shreds in the most inimaginable ways.

The god laughs, a pitiless sound echoing through the confines of the store chamber.

“-Even the brave know their lot. All doors are closed to you; all your dreams are doomed; all your struggles are futile. You should have accepted my most generous offer.”

Even as he finishes the sentence, the god slowly fades away, leaving the investigators in the dark chamber.

“-Balls!” Carl curses as he realizes that the stone wall is back across the exit from the room.

Luckily, the PCs have their digging equipment with them. The bad thing is, that it will take days of uninterrupted work to work through that stone…

Sighing, Slim sits down on the obsidian throne, his face in his hands, while the others start hacking away at the stone in the light of electric torches and lanterns. Carl decides to take a few more photographs of the bas-reliefs, map and astronomy walls.

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The hemispheric map

“-Might as well do something useful.” He mutters.

Suddenly the death stench is back and Slim is talking with a strange voice:

“-Are you still defiling my temple, fools? Since you are bound to my service, even if presently unwilling, I will extend my great benevolence and let you out”.

Slim gestures and the stone wall barring the way out disappears. Then the attorney slumps over and falls to the floor, unconscious. Everyone’s hand tattoo burns and tingles…

The investigators make a hasty retreat and don’t stop until they reach the exit from the pyramid. Outside, Abdul the pyramid guide wait, smoking a strong cigarette and keeping an eye out if the guards should return.

“-Fantastic eh? Abdul told you would get to see things that other tourists can’t see! But don’t you want to stay more? You’ve only been inside for ten minutes… And have you had an accident? Did you slip and fall? Very treacherous, those steps…”

The PCs realize that a very short time has elapsed outside the pyramid, while they have been in there for what seems to be hours.

Shaken to their very cores and wounded, our heroes demand to immediately go back to Dahshur to lick their wounds.

It’s early evening when they arrive at the hotel. After a quick meal and a refreshing shower, the PCs fall into bed, soon snoring away…

While showering, Slim realizes that most of his wounds are already healing well, but not with flesh and skin. Instead, the new tissue is comprised of snake scales, which now covers a fair bit of his body. Slim decides to write a letter to Father Shanuda, asking if the old priest knows anything of his unnatural condition and if there are any known cures.

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Slim’s new style

Dahshur, Monday, March 2nd, 1925 | morning

The Brotherhood strikes back

Early the next morning Edward is awakened by something tapping on his window. In his underwear, he sleepily scoots over to the windows towards the street. It’s a bright sunny morning outside. Peering out, he sees a young boy throwing stones at his window. When the boy sees the big game hunter, he gestures that Edward should open the window. Edward draws the curtain aside and opens the window to lean out when he cathches a glimpse of something in the dark window in the building across the street. Edward barely manages to throw himself to the floor as a hailstorm of bullets shatters the windows, shredding the wooden venetian blinds and curtains, showering him with bits of brick and plaster! The staccato rhythm of machine gun fire keeps hammering his room to shishkebab as Edward tries to melt into the floor.

Suddenly the hail of lead cease but the shooting continues. Edward realizes that the shooters are rifling the next rooms, where Slim and Carl are!

Meanwhile, Slim is brutally awakened by machine gun fire, sitting up in bed in his pajamas and nightcap. As the first bullets smash his window, Slim manages to roll off the bed as the hail of lead demolishes his hotel room, sending feathers from the bedding into the air.

Carl is sitting on the toilet, half sleeping, as he hears bullets tear up his room, punching through the inner walls, showering him in broken tile and plaster. The journalist quickly crawls into the bathtub and assumes fetal position, memories from the Great War coming back…

As Edward realizes that the attackers are shooting at his friends’ rooms, he crawls over to the wardrobe to retrieve his trusty rifle. Moving over to the window he risks peaking out, spotting the machine gunner behind what seems to be a Maxim gun! When there’s a short break in the firing he takes careful aim and fires two rapid shots. The shooting stops momentarily, only to start again as the second gunner takes place behind the machine gun. Before the gunner has the chance to realign his arc of fire, Edward fires again and hits the second gunner as well. This time the Maxim stays silent.

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The Maxim machine gun

As the Maxim stops firing, the investigators gather in Slim’s room (they have three interconnecting rooms in a row) and quickly decide that they should take the fight to the bad guys and immediately run down the stairs. Early hotel patrons are shocked by the sight of three half-naked, dirty, armed and above all scruffy and unshaved men, dressed in pajamas and bathrobes, one with a towel wrapped around his head, running through the lobby, shouting and toting firearms…

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The three Duderinos…

The building across the street is an old colonial building in French style, once fancy, but now in a sorry state and under renovation. The PCs encounter no one as they ascend the stairs and enter the 4th floor, which should correspond to their rooms across the street. Advancing with caution, they soon find the shooters’ room. Inside, two black-clad men lie in pools of blood on the floor, hit by Edward’s high caliber rounds. An old English war era Maxim stands on a tripod with an ammo box beside.

As the PCs enter the room, they hear the commotion on the street outside and police sirens in the distance. A quick search of the men reveals nothing more than that they have inverted ankh tattoos on their left forearms and that they are of Egyptian or Middle Eastern origin. Probably members of the Black Brotherhood.

The PCs decide that they could use a Maxim gun and grab the gun, tripod and ammo box before leaving the place. Down on the street level, it is chaos, and they try to look inconspicuous while hiding the hardware under their bathrobes (as much as possible at least), while skulking into a side street where they hide the Maxim and the ammo box in a smelly dumpster close to the back door of hotel restaurant “Kazaz”.

The police arrive just as the three dudes step back into the hotel, putting on their most innocent “victim-of-a-crime” looks.

While the police officers are investigating the crime scene in the PC:s rooms, they are interviewed by Sergerant George Thorgood of the Dahshur Police. The interview is very cursory and it’s evident that Thorgood has no suspicions about the investigators. He rather suspects that one of the many anti-British insurgent groups that have formed after Egypt was returned to Egyptian rule in 1922 is behind the terror attack. Illegal organizations like “The Egyptian Peoples Front (EPF)” or “The Front of the Egyptian People (FEP)” has been known to attack English subjects or foreigners before, but maybe not on this scale.

The hotel manager is most apologetic and arranges for new, suite-like lodgings for the poor tourists so that they can rest and freshen up.

Realizing that his skin condition now has become very hard to conceal, Slim calls for Mohammed and asks the guide if he can get him a bedouin desert outfit so that he can hide his face.

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Slim’s new outfit

 

Back to Cairo

Not wishing to remain in Dahshur after the vicious attacks, the investigators immediately pack their things, including retrieving the hastily hidden Maxim machine gun, and return to Cairo by felouk, arriving in the early evening.

Back in Shepherd’s in Cairo, they meet up with H.P Rennfarth, who has researched the last known address of Warren Besart, reputed to be Roger Carlyle’s man in Cairo. The PC:s decide to pay the man a visit the same evening.

The French Connection

Mohammed informs them that Monseigneur Besart’s address is located in Darb el-Ahmar (The Red Alley) area in the Old City, near a bazaar along the Sharia Muezzeddin Allah. The address that Rennfarth got from the police is The Red Door, Street of Scorpions.

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In the Bazaar…

With the aid of Mohammed, the PC:s quickly manages to locate the Street of Scorpions, a dingy side street near the Bazaar. There is only one red door on the street, which opens up to a second-rate clothing store, run by a Mr. Abou Udhreh, who swears on his life that only he lives at this address and that he has never heard of Mr. Besart.

Slim notices that the man seems nervous, and that he constantly glances at a bead curtain at the back of the shop. When pressed, the man gives up the charade, showing the way to Besart’s lodgings. Behind the curtain, there’s a short corridor, ending in a green door.

Inside, a man is snoring loudly on a dirty mattress on the floor. The room reeks of neglect, alcohol and hashish smoke. As the investigators enter, the man wakes up, asking if they have some hashish or opium for him.

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Warren Besart

It is clear that the man is European. He is tall with blonde hair and beard, but his hard life has taken a serious toll on him and he looks much older than he actually is.

After promising the man some money, Besart tells them his story in a French accent, sometimes reverting to French or gutter Arabic (see Handout #31).

In short:

  • He was hired by Roger Carlyle to purchase some illegal antiques from a local dealer, Faraz Najir and then ship the items to Sir Aubrey Penhew in London.
  • When the Carlyle Expedition arrived in Egypt, it was Besart that arranged with digging permits and equipment.
  • The Expedition’s main dig site was Dahshur, in the area of the Bent Pyramid.
  • After a while at Dahshur, Carlyle, Masters, Sir Aubrey and Dr. Huston disappeared while exploring the Bent Pyramid. The diggers left as they said that a curse was upon them. When the expedition members returned, they had changed, and not to the better.
  • The same evening an old Egyptian woman, mother of one of the diggers, came to Besart and said that Carlyle and the others had consorted with a great evil known as the Messenger of the Black Wind and that all were doomed except myself and Jack Brady. If he wanted proof, she said, he should go to the Collapsed Pyramid at Meidum at the time when the moon is slimmest, the night before the dark of the moon.
  • Besart took one of the trucks and went to Meidum, hiding in the sand dunes, where he witnessed a mass ritual led by Carlyle and the others. The desert itself came alive and strange creatures emerged from the sands, devouring all but the Europeans and one more robed cultist. Then arrived yet another five-headed creature and devoured all the hundred dead, leaving only the cultist leaders in the blood soaked sands.
  • After this, Besart fainted. When he woke up he was alone and started walking in the desert, only to stumble upon a field of sphinxes, ready to devour the world. At the sight, Besart fainted again.
  •   A man and his mother then had found the mindless Besart in the desert. They took him home and nursed him back to some semblance of health over the next two years. However, every night he has nightmares and now the only thing that keeps him sane is the drugs.
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Warren Besart tries to get away from the images in his head

The PC:s realize that the man has utterly lost his mind and that he now only lives for his next fix. Unable to do much more for the poor man, they give him a wad of Egyptian Piastres and leave him to his fate.

Back at the hotel, the PCs read up on the local news and find that The Cairo Bulletin might be a good place to look for further clues regarding the Carlyle Expedition’s whereabouts during their stay in Egypt.

Cairo, Monday, March 2nd, 1925 | morning

Cairo Bulletin

After breakfast, the investigators visit the most serious English language newspaper – The Cairo Bulletin, where they are received by a Mr. Nigel Wassif, head journalist and chief editor.

 

 

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Mr. Nigel Wassif

Over a small cup of sweet and strong coffee, the PC:s explain what information they are searching for. The journalist turns out to be quite helpful, the main points being (full info see Clue #31c):

  • The Expedition arrives in Cairo in May 1919.
  • Digging is begun in Giza, they moved to Saqqara and finally Dahshur, looking for sites from the 3rd dynasty.
  • In July 1919 the expedition suddenly embarked for Mombasa, Kenya.
  • The expedition leaders met with Omar Shakti, a powerful Cairene businessman on several occasions. Wassif can’t hide how much he dislikes Shakti.
  • Another Penhew funded expedition, the Clyde Expedition, is in Egypt right now and are excavating in Giza, where they recently discovered a new mummy, thought to be Queen Nitocris, a mysterious figure from the 6th dynasty. However, both the sarcophagus and mummy was stolen from a very well guarded site and police investigations have come up with no leads.
  • Regarding info on the Clive Expedition, a Dutchman named Janwillem Vanheuvelen might know more. He was fired by Dr. Clive in relation to the theft of the mummy, allegedly based on accusations of alcoholism and incompetence. The man is still rumored to be in Cairo since he did not have the funds to go back to Europe.

The Mosque of Ibn-Tulun

After visiting the newspaper, the PC:s go to the Mosque of Ibn Tulun, to find out what secret they are hiding that the Black Brotherhood wants to steal, according to Faraz Najir. The mosque is located a half mile west of the Citadel of Saladin, and almost next to the City of the Dead, and is the oldest complete mosque in Cairo.

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Aerial view of the Mosque of Ibn Tulun

Knocking on the main entrance door, it is answered by a young mosque attendant, who informs the visitors that none of the ulama (learned scholars of Islam) is available for a meeting, and then shuts the door without further ado.

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Mosque of Ibn Tulun

Knocking again, Edward has come up with a plan to get access. Starting anew, he quickly informs the attendant that they are here to make a monetary contribution in the form of a donation to help with repair of the old mosque. This gets the attention of the attendant, and they are invited to meet with the nazir (the person who manages civil matters as well as religious duties) of the mosque – a certain Achmed Zehavi. The PC:s are led inside the mosque proper, and into a house that is actually situated outside the mosque, but must be entered from the inside of the mosque, where the civil offices are situated.

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Achmed Zehavi – Nazir of Ibn Tulun

And this is where we leave the investigators, when they have just entered the office of the nazir of Ibn Tulun.


Action! Suspense! Bizarre humor! Mystery!

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

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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! 

 

 

Session 20 | Egypt | Death on the Nile

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Visions of Egypt

Game system: Call of Cthulhu 6th ed

Dramatis personae

Edward Foxworthy | Big game hunter | 34 yrs | Flan

Slim Shady | Attorney | 46 yrs | Djuro

Carl Blackwater | Foreign correspondent | 31 yrs | Martin

Absent this session

Kent Bengtsson | Aviator | 38 yrs | Berndt

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

Link to background stories and portraits


Cairo, Friday, February 27th, 1925 | shortly before noon

A visit to the Egyptian Museum

When Muhammed and H.P are away doing their tasks, the rest of the party decide to follow up the Cairo lead that they found in the Miskatonic University Library. Apparently, Dr. Ali Kafour, an expert on the time of the Black Pharao, works in the Egyptian Museum. Maybe he can shed some more light on the case at hand?

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The Egyptian Museum in Cairo

The museum is situated just north of the Kasr el-Nil bridge (Great Nile Bridge) on the east side of the Nile and is only a short cab ride away from the hotel. The building is truly massive and beyond doubt houses the most comprehensive collection of Egyptian antiques in the world. After paying the entrance fee of 10 Egyptian Piastres, our heroes enter the huge halls of the museum.

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Dignitaries visit the museum

Cairo and district, Egypt. The Egyptian Museum. Interior show...

The main hall

After some asking around at various desks, the investigators are shown to the 2nd floor, where they are asked to wait in a small reception room. After some 30 minutes, they are shown into an office where a small bespectacled man sits behind a huge desk laden with books and documents.

“-Welcome gentlemen. I am Dr. Ali Kafour. How can I be of assistance?”

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Dr. Ali Kafour

The investigators extend their thanks for agreeing to see them and says that they are sent to investigate what happened to the Carlyle Expedition. Dr. Kafour seems intrigued by this and over the next hour or so our heroes learn the following:

On the Carlyle Expedition

  • Dr. Kafour believes that the Carlyle Expedition discovered a secret about the Black Pharao and that this led to their demise in Kenya.
  • Sir Aubrey Penhew had long studied the Black Pharaoh and Kafour and Penhew had discussed the topic many times and traded research information.
  • However, last time Sir Aubrey was in Egypt, he did not seek out his old friend and colleague Dr. Kafour. When Kafour heard that Sir Aubrey was in the country, he traveled to the dig site near Dhashur but was rudely rebuffed by Sir Ayúbrey. Kafour recalls changes in the man – he seemed physically younger and his emotional disposition had changed to withdrawn, aloof and strangely malicious.

On the Black Pharaoh in history 

  • In the late 3rd Dynasty, when Pharaoh Zoser ruled a there came a mighty sorcerer known as Nephren-Ka to Egypt, bringing madness and death to those he willed at a flick of his finger. The story says that he came from dreaded Irem, ancient City of Pillars, deep in the desert sands of Arabia.
  • Nephren-Ka worshiped an old foul god – the Black Pharao, and soon they became as one, and now no one can distinguish their deeds and legends.
  • Nephren-Ka and Zoser fought long over control of the realm. However, no records from this time remain today.
  • For a time, the Black Pharaoh ruled over the peoples of the Nile, but at last Sneferu arose, founding the 4th Dynasty and with the aid of the goddess Isis he fought and brought down the Black Pharao, restoring the land from evil.
  • Legend says that Sneferu built a mighty pyramid to contain the still magical body of the Black Emperor, but the structure collapsed even as Sneferu was building a second pyramid. The Collapsed Pyramid is situated at what now is Meidum. The second pyramid is the Bent Pyramid at Dhashur. Records indicate that Nephren-Ka’s remains were moved from the Collapsed Pyramid to the Bent Pyramid. However, explorations at both pyramids have failed to substantiate this. No trace of the Black Pharao has been discovered at either site.
  • Legend also says that Sneferu built yet another pyramid at Dhashur, the Red Pyramid, to guard Dhashur, lest Nephren-Ka should rise from the dead.
  • Pharao Sneferu also ordered all traces of the Black Pharao stricken from the land, killing worshippers of the Black Pharao in the process. Legends say that remaining worshippers fled south, into the hideous swamps beyond the Sudan river.
  • The book also mentions that in the 6th Dynasty, Queen Nitocris was suspected of being in league with a new cult of the Black Pharao, but evidence of this is at best sporadic and much debated among scholars of Egyptology.
  • Finally, the book mentions that Nephren-Ka (or the Black Pharao) sometimes was known under the name of Neyar-Hotep.

On the legends of the Black Pharaoh

  • Some say that he was but one god out of a whole pantheon of abominable deities dedicated to chaos and madness, more ancient than the gods of Egypt.
  • Nephren-Ka was said to possess a huge beast, of which the Sphinx at Giza is only a small, inaccurate representation.
  • The voice of Nephren-Ka is said to have been carried throughout the land within a black wind, which could destroy at his whim.
  • There is a prophecy that implies that the Black Pharaoh will arise anew “fingers and toes after the Great Good One”. This has been interpreted as meaning 20 centuries after Jesus. It is also said that this will mark the beginning of a new age, destined to bring the end of mankind’s dominance on Earth and to bring freedom and truth to the followers of the Black Pharaoh.
  • Man-like but inhuman followers of the Black Pharaoh were said to lurk underground in the deserts, occasionally waylaying passers-by.
  • The Great Sphinx at Giza is said to have an important function in the hideous rituals once held by the evil Queen Nitocris.

On what Dr. Kafour believes

  • The Black Pharaoh and Nephren-Ka once existed, as did the pantheon of malicious pre-Egyptian gods. He calls them the Elder Gods and says that they are led by the Demon Sultan Azathoth.
  • Dr. Kafour has seen servitors of these gods in the desert and knows for a fact that the Brotherhood of the Black Pharaoh does exist in present-day Egypt, though he knows nothing of its organization, leaders or activities.
  • He also suspects that the worship of the Black Pharaoh is growing in other parts of Africa. For example, he has heard of a cult called the Bloody Tongue in British Kenya. Apparently, this cult worships a monstrous deity which is another aspect of the Black Pharaoh.

On Queen Nitocris

  • The unidentified mummy that was stolen from the Clive Expedition at Giza was undoubtedly the remains of that beautiful and deadly ruler.
  • She was rumored to have been buried alive, but no trace was found until the Clive Expedition uncovered the secret room in the smallest of the Great pyramids.
  • How or why she was stolen he does not know, but he thinks that the theft relates to the prophesized return of the Black Pharaoh.

On the Penhew Foundation

  • Dr. Kafour has always respected Sir Aubrey, director Edward Gavigan and the efforts of the Penhew Foundation. However, since Sir Aubrey died there has been 10 Foundation expeditions to Egypt, and among them, there has been at least 20 deaths, numerous disappearances, several suicides, and one certified case of madness. Most have followed the same pattern of paranoid secrecy, erratic excavation and bizarre incidents that was set by the Carlyle Expedition.

 

When the investigators ask about Ashmunayn and the Dagger of Thoth, Dr. Kafour refers them to guest researcher colleague of his, Dr. Alfredo Monteverdi, who is most proficient in those areas. Originally from Italy, Dr. Monteverdi is a world-renowned Egyptologist and a friend of the late Dr. von Petersdorf, and even contributed to the latter’s book, The Antiquity of the Egyptian Religion before von Petersdorf’s tragic demise.

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Dr. Monteverdi

Below is a summary of the main points of that discussion.

On Ashmunayn

The current city of Ashmunauyn is located right next to the ruins of the ancient Egyptian city and cult center of Hermopolis (as the Greeks called it) or Khemennu (as the Egyptians called it).  In ancient times this was a great center of learning and both Plato and Pythagoras studied there. Khemennu was sacred to the god Thoth.

On Thoth

Thoth was known as the “counter of the stars” and “the self-created one to whom none hath given birth”. Thoth is also associated with the Greek god Hermes and is known in Egyptian mythology as the messenger of the gods as well as a god of knowledge and writing. In the middle age and renaissance, magicians and wizards attributed Hermes (i.e. Thoth) as the father of all magical knowledge as well. The secret book Corpus Hermeticorm (The Works of Hermes) from the 2nd century was a book of magical formulae supposedly written by Hermes/Thoth himself and came to form the basis of many magical grimoires for centuries to come.

On sacred animals

There were two animals sacred to Thoth – the Ibis and the Baboon (or as it was called the “dog-headed ape”) and it was believed that Thoth would assume the form of a baboon when he incarnated on Earth. The baboons braying or reacting to the moon was taken as the baboons were talking to Thoth.

On the Dagger of Thoth

Contrary to Dr. Kafour, Dr. Monteverdi does not believe in the current worship of ancient evil gods. He does believe that such worship has existed, but not anymore. He does, however, know about the legends about the Dagger of Thoth:

  • The dagger is rumored to have magic powers
  • It was used as a ritual dagger to sacrifice unbelievers by slitting the throat and stomach before being used to remove the heart
  • The Dagger can be used to open a gate to summon Thoth (together with the correct ritual of course)
  • The Dagger can also be used to banish Thoth (again, together with the correct ritual)
  • The Dagger is also said to be the only weapon that could harm Thoth physically

River Cruise

When everyone has returned from their respective tasks, the investigators meet up with Mr. Mikhay’el Sufuyani, pack a few duffle bags with gear and go to the riverside pier, and the small felouk that Muhammed has arranged for them.

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The felouk

To decrease the risk of detection, Muhammed has chartered the boat privately. The boat turns out to be very plain, a fact that makes the snob in Slim Shady cringe with ill-concealed disgust.

“-I will surely get fleas or whatever on this river canoe…”

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Hakim, felouk skipper

The skipper, Hakim, is a jovial and friendly man and he has even arranged for a textile sunscreen in the aft of the boat.

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On the way towards Ashmunayn

The small boat makes good speed due to favorable wind conditions, but the trip takes the whole day in demand and the investigators arrive in Ashmunayn late in the evening. All that they have had to eat was tulumbe (i.e. fat and sugar) that Hakim’s wife had made, together with sweet mint tea.

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Tulumbe

Map Cairo - Ashmunayn_LI

The trip to Ashmunayn

Ashmunayn

The docks of the small town of Ashmunayn is rather busy despite the late hour. Muhammed inquires about lodgings and learns that there is only one hotel in town – Le Grand Hotel. It is only a short walk and soon the PCs are greeted welcome by the owner, Mr. Yusuf.

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Mr. Yusuf, proprietor of Le Grand Hotel

Despite its fancy name, it is evident that the hotel has put its glory days in the past. Mr. Yusuf however, welcomes the effendis as royalty, and one can suspect that he expects to be paid the same way.

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Ashmunayn, the main street

After washing up and settling in their rooms, the PCs gather at a small restaurant for food. It’s simple grilled lamb and vegetables, but anything feels luxurious after their previous tulumbe diet…

After dinner, the investigators plan to withdraw to the hotel for some well-deserved rest, but as we shall see there is no rest for the wicked…

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Dining in style!

 

The Lemonade Man

After dinner, the PCs order strong coffee, which really gets the bowels working. When Carl gets up to get to the men’s room (it’s not really a room, more a shed in the back, with a hole in the ground and a bucket for washing afterward) he is approached by a man carrying a large waterskin.

“-Lemonade, effendi?”

Carl says no, but the man still follows him all the way to the toilet. When no one else can observe, the man grabs Carl’s arm and says in perfect Oxford English:

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The Lemonade Man

“-I am no lemonade salesman or beggar and I don’t want your money. I am Father Abba Shanuda and I am a friend and colleague of Butrus. The man you are with, no matter what name he goes by, is not of our Order, but is, on the contrary, high in the counsels of the Evil Ones, Khalid Abd Al-Azi. He has lured you here for the sole purpose of trapping you and your friends, killing, torturing or worse, sacrificing you to his blasphemous gods and then stealing the dagger. I have followed you and your friends since you arrived in Egypt, but I haven’t contacted you to lull Khalid into a sense of security. I cannot emphasize enough that you and your friends are in the greatest danger. Khalid would kill you all without hesitation if he felt it would serve his criminal purposes. If you ever wish to leave Ashmunayn alive, you will need my help.”

Carl decides to get his friends and after paying for their meal they meet up with the strange lemonade man behind the restaurant.

Father Shanuda’s plan is simple:

The PCs are to summon Mikhay’el/Khalid to one of their rooms, with all present. Father Shanuda will hide in a closet or side room. When Mikhay’el arrives, they will bind and gag him immediately. Once the villain is subdued, Father Shanuda will enter the room and proceed with his plan.

The investigators decide to trust the old man and agrees to the plan. Shanuda is told to wait outside the hotel until they have prepared everything.

As they walk back to the hotel (without Father Shanuda), the PCs decide that they can’t trust either of the men. They will play along with Shanuda up to a point but will then proceed with their own plan…

Finding the imposter

After returning to the hotel, Slim seeks out Mikhay’el to scout the (false) priest’s room for signs that the man isn’t the man he says he is. He also wants to determine if Mikhay’el wears a tattoo on his underarm. The room checks out ok and looks every way like a priest’s room, complete with a small portable shrine and a Coptic bible on the bedstand. To see if the man has a tattoo, Slim picks a fight, acting a bit drunk, saying that he wants to arm-wrestle. Mikhay’el gets seriously annoyed, as it’s very late After a while, Mikhay’el agrees to do it as he wants to get rid of the annoying attorney. A few rounds later Slim gives up and leaves, satisfied that Mikhay’el has no tattoo on his arms.

He returns to Edward’s room and informs the others. Then they summon Father Shanuda. As they have no other room, the old priest will have to keep hidden in a cupboard.

Muhammed is then sent to bring Mikhay’el to Edward’s room as well, under the pretense that “there has been a development”. When the man enters he is immediately grabbed, bound to a chair, and interrogated. Despite the harsh words and slaps, the man sticks to his story.

A triumphant Father Shanuda is then let onto the scene. But his smirk is soon erased as he is also tied to a chair and interrogated the same way! As none of the men breaks down, Slim decides to increase the pressure and produces a switchblade which he uses with great skill. The two men scream out their innocence, accusing the other of being in league with evil.

The PCs try another tactic. First, they cover Father Shanuda’s eyes and ears so that he can’t overhear what Mikhay’el says. Then they ask him exactly what they are going to do in the ruins.

Mikhay’el’s story

In short, Mikhay’el says that they have to go to the ruins of Khemennu and find the secret underground temple. There, he will use the Dagger to perform a ritual of exorcism. Edward will be free of the curse and they will then be free to use the powers of the dagger to do good.

The process is then reversed.

Abba Shanuda’s story

Shanuda says that they have to go to the ruins of Khemennu and find the entrance to the underground evil temple. There, they must first use the Dagger to get rid of Khalid/Mikhay’el. Then he must perform yet another ritual to destroy the dagger so that the evil people cannot use it ever again.

In the middle of all this mayhem there’s a bang at the door:

“Mister Foxworthy! Are you all right? I have called the Police! Hello?”

Their landlord has heard the commotion and wants to come in. Suddenly, they hear him rush down the stairs. Slim quickly takes off his shoes and props his sweaty socks into the mouths of the men to silence them. Then he rushes across the hall to his own room, leaving the door ajar. The steps of several men are heard in the stairs. In the bathroom, he uses a razor to cut his own cheek, swearing loudly.

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Egyptian rural policemen

When Mr. Yusuf returns with 3 policemen, they find a bleeding Slim in his room, swearing loudly. Slim says that he had a “nasty shaving accident” and that it was he who made all the noise and that it was all a false alarm. And no, the sounds came from his room and not from Edward’s. The two policemen led by an officer proceed with a most cursory check of Slim’s room and person, but find nothing out of the ordinary and leaves with a caution to “shave more quietly”, shaking their heads at the clumsy foreigner.

(Keeper note: Slim’s player rolled some seriously good Fast Talk here and kept blabbering very convincingly attorney style.)

 When the situation is over, Slim returns to the others. As they can’t determine who’s for real and who’s not, they agree to take both men, bound and gagged to the Khemennu ruins to peform the ritual. To avoid rousing suspicion in the streets, they also desice to do it right away, in the middle of the night… A very solid idea indeed…


Cliffhanger! We had to stop for the day, but be sure to follow next session to see what happened in the sands of Khemennu…

Session 19 | The Atlantic / Egypt | Dinner for Schmucks

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Visions of Egypt

Game system: Call of Cthulhu 6th ed

Dramatis personae

Edward Foxworthy | Big game hunter | 34 yrs | Flan

Slim Shady | Attorney | 46 yrs | Djuro

Absent this session

Kent Bengtsson | Aviator | 38 yrs | Berndt

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

Carl Blackwater | Foreign correspondent | 31 yrs | Martin

Link to background stories and portraits

Written under the influence of Lenzman


The Atlantic, Wednesday, February 18th, 1925 |evening, day 4 at sea

A fond farewell

After witnessing the ghastly (and messy) demise of the Coptic priest Butrus al-Qusi, the investigators have gathered in their favorite salon, sipping their drinks in silence, staring blankly, trying to comprehend what just happened. Each member of the shrinking band of investigators is acutely aware of the mortal danger that they seem to conjure with their every step. They are also gravely aware of the dire straits that the disappearance of al-Qusi has put Edward in, as the man was key to dispelling the dagger’s curse on Edward.

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Pardy hardy

The only one seemingly not worried at all is Edward himself, who is gladly having a gin and tonic, flirting with a pretty lady over at the bar, at the dismay of her male companion, maybe her husband…

The Atlantic, Thursday, February 19th, 1925 |morning, day 5 at sea

Thieves try to steal the dagger

Having a late breakfast the next morning, Edward feels the force of nature make itself known and decides to head back to his cabin on A-deck to take care of business. As he comes nearer, he notices that the door to his cabin stands ajar.

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Edward’s cabin

Drawing his gun, Edward carefully pushes open the door with the barrel. Inside, a middle-eastern-looking man dressed in black is rummaging through his drawers. The luggage has been opened as well and the contents tossed all over the floor.

When the stranger notices Edward, he produces a mean-looking curved blade and approaches to attack. However, bringing a blade to a gunfight has never been a good idea, and the man never gets the chance to strike as Edward shoots him clean in the leg, shattering the femur, sending the man to the floor half unconscious and in great agony.

Ship’s pursers come running at the sound of gunfire, and soon they have called for Mr. John F. Wayne, head of security on board. The wounded thief is rushed off to the ship’s infirmary while Mr. Wayne interviews Edward about the incident. Edward (and Slim who has joined up) plays up the part of the offended guests and soon Mr. Wayne is in full apology mode, stating that theft in the A-section of the ship is virtually unheard of.

The investigators demand the opportunity to interview the thief and are given permission for this by a clearly apologetic head of security.

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The ship’s infirmary

However, when the PCs arrive in the infirmary, the place is in full turmoil. It seems that the thief suddenly had a seizure and died within a minute. Edward and Slim make a quick examination of the corpse, noticing a faint smell of bitter almond. Cyanide poisoning maybe? The man has a middle eastern look, is about 30-35 years old and is all dressed in loose-fitting black cotton clothes. He also has a strange tattoo on his left underarm.

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The tattoo

He has no papers, but after some more investigation, the man is identified as Mahmud bin Mahmud (or at least that’s the name in the passenger manifest). More interesting, the man apparently shared quarters with a certain Rashid Azoulay. Both men have Egyptian passports and share a cabin in 3rd class. The cabin turns out to be very plain and totally devout of further clues. And Mr. Azoulay is nowhere to be found.

The Atlantic, Friday, February 20th, 1925 |morning, day 6 at sea

Plan to root out the thieves

The investigator’s suspect that the reason for the burglary was to steal the Dagger of Thoth and devise a most fiendish plan to root out the rest of the bad guys. The idea is to arrange an opportunity for the thieves to steal the dagger, only this time with their own people ready to step in and apprehend the thieves in the act. It is decided that Edward should keep the dagger on his person, possibly showing it to someone so that it is obvious where it is kept. Edward is also supposed to play drunk in order to give the illusion of a weak target.

The plan is executed by Slim and Edward having an elaborate lunch in the ship’s restaurant, complete with champagne and other spirits (which they only pretend to drink). When being adequately plastered, the plan is for Edward to excuse himself and go out on a specific area of the deck for some fresh air. The rest of the PCs are to be hidden at that location, ready to strike when the thieves make their move.

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Lunchtime!

In the middle of the luncheon, one of the waiters manage to trip and spills a plate of food in Edwards lap. The man apologizes and starts cleaning up the mess with a towel, assuring that the company will, of course, reimburse them and pay for the cleaning of the suit. Edward, who thinks that the waiter is wiping him off a bit too near his private parts angrily waves the man away and the man disappears into the kitchen area, still apologizing.

Cursing and wiping himself off, the big game hunter suddenly comes to realize that the dagger is gone! The bloody waiter must have stolen it!

In a second the two men are running towards the swinging doors leading to the kitchen. Running through the bustling kitchen the PCs manage to push several staff members, sending food and kitchenware into the air. A young scared (as teaspoon-of-thin) sous-chef points them to the back of the kitchen:

“-H- he ran that way!”

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Hard work in the ship’s kitchen

Exiting the kitchen, the men enter a staff only area, with a long corridor ending in a T-intersection. Looking to the right, they see the man in front of a door leading to the outside deck. The door is just closing, suggesting that the false waiter had just met with someone else. The waiter swings around towards the PCs, drawing a mean looking dagger. A short fight ensues, ending with the waiter dead on the bulkhead. Edward stops to check the body while Slim runs out on the deck, in pursuit of the third bad guy. He enters the deck just in time to see someone disappear around a corner. Slim takes up the chase. After the bend there’s a stairway up to the aft deck, where a lot of passengers enjoy the sun and beauty of the scenery. There’s no trace of the runner. Turning around to go down the stairs again, Slim freezes. For a moment he’s sure that he saw Edward Gavigan’s face in a crowd. Looking again, there’s no trace of Gavigan.

-“Must have been the nerves!” Slim thinks as he returns down the stairs…

Meanwhile, Edwards searches the false waiter. The man is of middle eastern descent, with a tattoo on the left underarm, but no papers. Strangely enough, the man is still in possession of the cursed blade, which Edward quickly puts inside his suit jacket, a bittersweet feeling of having gotten back something precious…

When Slim returns, the PCs carry the man outside and dumps the body in the sea after having confirmed that no one else can see. However, they can’t shake the feeling that the big fish got away…

Alexandria / Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, February 26th, 1925 |morning, day 12 at sea

Arrival in Egypt

The rest of the sea voyage is relatively uneventful. Despite the investigator’s vigilance, there are no more sinister incidents and our heroes actually get some much deserved R&R. The 12th day after leaving England, the ship finally reaches their destination – Alexandria. As they glide into the harbor the first thing indicating that they are in Africa is the mighty Ras el-Tin Palace, overlooking the harbor.

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Ras el-Tin Palace from the sea

The Immigration Office is just a short walk from the quay, in a building that doubles as a terminal as well. The chief of the customs staff is a sweating Englishman who demands to see their papers with the demeanor of someone used to being in charge. Thanks to Edward’s previous experience with import and export of hunting weapons and the paperwork that they arranged within England, the procedure is easy and the investigators can soon take their first steps on the streets of Alexandria. It doesn’t take more than a few seconds before they are assaulted from all directions by people of all sorts – beggars, taxi drivers, hotel owners, porters all want to earn a few dollars by performing some service. If said service is wanted or not is completely beside the point.

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Alexandria street life in the 1920s

As the PCs are straining to take back luggage that some random person just picked up and started to carry away, an Egyptian man in a white linen suit comes up and introduces himself in perfect English. The man introduces himself as Mikhay’el Sufiyani and says that he’s a colleague of Butrus. He also wonders where Butrus might be.

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Mikhay’el Sufiyani

To get away from the bustle, the PCs follow Mikhay’el to a nearby café at Place Muhammed Ali, to discuss further in the shade. After ordering some strong mint tea, the man explains that Butrus telegraphed him from the sea, asking him to come and meet up and also that he described the names and looks of his American friends.

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Place Muhammed Ali

When informed of Butrus’ death, Mikhay’el looks shocked and disturbed and says that they now must make great haste as the Cult of the Watchers is on the move. Mikhay’el says that they must immediately travel to a place called Ashmunayn, where the exorcism of the curse can take place.

As they sit in the café, a man with a funny mustache approaches them, offering his services as a dragoman (guide) in broken but completely intelligible English.

-“My friends! I’m Muhammed the Dragoman. I can help you with everything! Very cheap. Special price, just for you!”

Mikhay’el waves away the man, stating that they don’t need a dragoman since they have him.

To the disapproval of Mikhay’el, the investigator’s want to go to Cairo first, to check up on some clues before going to Ashmunayn. As they wait for the train to depart, the PCs arrange for lodgings in the famous Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo. The train station is nearby and soon the group is on their way to Cairo, which takes some 4 hours.

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Alexandria Railway station

Cairo

 

After arriving in Cairo Central Railway Station, the investigator’s take a horse-drawn cab (kalesh in Egyptian) to Shepheard’s Hotel (situated about 5 minutes from the train station at 8 Sharia Kamil, just beside the Ezbekia Gardens park) where they are welcomed almost as royalty. Mikhay’el doesn’t ride with them as he has his lodgings in Hotel Mujaffah in another part of the city.

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Cairo Central Railway Station

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Entrance to Shepheard’s Hotel

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Ezbekia Gardens

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Shepheard’s Hotel

Following the clues

The main lead in Cairo is the letter from a certain Faraz Najir that the PCs found at Jackson Elias’ murder scene (Clue #11). It’s a letter from Faraz Najir to Mr. Carlyle, where Najir states that he’s in possession of certain antiques that Carlyle might be interested in. The letter further states that Mr. Carlyle’s agent should come to Najir’s shop at the Street of Jackals in the Old Quarter of Cairo to arrange matters further.

Zoomable Old Cairo map

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The investigators realize that they need a guide and since they don’t trust Mr. Mikhay’el fully, they decide to get a dragoman of their own. The hotel reception is happy to provide for this and after some 45 minutes the concièrge have rounded up a selection of dragomen:

  • Ma’muhd – a young poor barefoot boy of about 11 or 12 years of age
  • Hakim – a young man of about 20 years of age

As the PC discuss with the boys they hear a familiar voice:

-“My friends!”

It’s Muhammed – the dragoman from Alexandria! Despite him never being silent, the PCs decide to go for him as he’s a bit older and since he speaks a plethora of languages (however, how well, they don’t know). The boys depart, looking sullen and disappointed, Hakim swearing in Arabic.

A typical dragoman ( interpreter ) in Cairo, Egypt. 1920s

Muhammed the Dragoman

The Street of Jackals

In the afternoon, the investigators leave the hotel for a tour of the Old Quarter, that is situated to the east of Ezbekia Gardens. In fact, hotel guests with rooms facing the east have a lovely view of the Old City and the slums.

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Old Quarter

Asking people on the streets, Muhammad navigates to the Street of Jackals in about 30 minutes. The neighborhood is incredibly old and squalid, consisting of very narrow streets and alleys that twist and turn in a totally random pattern, sitting next to the old city wall of Cairo.

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Cairo street life

Sadly, the address provided in the letter leads to a burned-out husk of a building. Asking around with the help of Muhammed, they learn that 5 or 6 years previously, a fire demon descended upon the shop and set it aflame. They also learn that the owner, Mr. Najir was horribly burned, but that he survived and has since opened a new shop in Khan el-Khalili, an ancient marketplace near Sharia Muezzeddin Allah.

Faraz Najir’s Shop

Muhammed knows where the location of the old market is and after some 30 more minutes walking, the PCs finds a shop clearly marked “Faraz Najir” in Arabic, “Curios” in English and “Magasin des Antiquités” in French. The shop is located on a very narrow street of mostly pottery shops and above the shop are several floors of low-grade tenements. Inside, the shop is filled from floor to ceiling with a mish-mash of cheap tourist stuff. A man wearing a djellaba sits on a low stool beside a small round brass table, sipping some tea from a glass. As the PCs enter, he stands up to greet them:

-“Salaam Alaikum dear friends! What can I do for you? Perhaps you want to purchase some real Egyptian antiques today, yes?”

Despite the fact that the man’s face is shadowed by the hood of the djellaba, it is evident that his right side is horribly disfigured by fibrous scarring, consistent with the scarring you would see after serious burns.

When the investigators mention Carlyle, Najir’s eyes bulge and his English rapidly deteriorate as he mumbles something about closing the shop, trying to shoo them out. When they don’t leave at once, he picks up a bejeweled decoration scimitar which he points at the PCs as he starts to yell in Arabic. Muhammed says that he is calling them thieves and that he is calling for aid.

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People gather outside the shop

Outside the shop, people start to gather, talking angrily and spitting at the accursed foreigners that come here to steal. Muhammed manages to negotiate an uneasy truce but says that they must leave immediately as violence is just beneath the surface. All but Slim are eager to get the hell out of the place, but the attorney won’t give up until he has been hit with some thrown rocks.

After this frightening experience, the investigators decide to head back to the hotel for some well-deserved food, drink and rest and return to business the next day.

Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, February 26th, 1925 |morning

A clandestine meeting in the mosque

Early the next morning, the investigators send Muhammed alone to try to talk sense into Mr. Najir, and also offering him a sum of money if he agrees to talk with them. The dragoman returns with the good news that Mr. Najir has agreed to meet them before lunch (1 to 2 p.m.) in the El Hussein Mosque (not far from the Street of Jackals) where he feels safe.

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El Hussein Mosque

Najir meets them at the side of the mosque and proceeds with silently leading them inside to a small secluded room where they sit down on the floor.

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Faraz Najir

Faraz Najir’s tale

According to Najir, Roger Carlyle had sought information on the reign of the Black Pharaoh, a reign supposedly ended by Sneferu, first pharaoh of the 4th Dynasty. Since Najir had come into possession of certain objects of art related to the Black Pharaoh, he reached out to Carlyle to inquire if he was interested in purchasing them. The New York dilettante was interested indeed and arranged for his agent in Cairo, a certain Warren Besart, to settle the deal and collect the items, which were:

  • An ancient scroll detailing the entrance to a hidden room in an unnamed pyramid, wherein the Black Pharaoh was supposedly entombed
  • A bust of the Black Pharaoh
  • A small tambourine drum bearing odd symbols, rumored to be laden with mystical power
  • A strange circlet with a large zircon which was said to be the crown of the Black Pharaoh and to be the key to his triumph over death

More questions (and baksheesh) also reveals:

  • Najir stole the above artifacts from the house of Omar Shakti, a prominent businessman and rumored high priest of the Egyptian Brotherhood of the Black Pharaoh
  • It was the Brotherhood that punished his theft by sending a fire djinn to burn him
  • The Brotherhood is rumored to be involved in a recent theft of a mummy from the currently ongoing Clive Expedition
  • Another rumor is that the Brotherhood wants an item located in the Mosque of Ibn-Tulun, but he has no idea of what that object may be

Najir also tells the investigators that he wants no part in any of this anymore and he asks them not to tell anyone of this meeting. It is evident that he fears for his life and that he is very frightened of the Brotherhood. When the horribly disfigured little man leaves, he asks the PCs to wait for 10 minutes before they leave.

Searching for Warren Besart

The investigators return to the hotel and discuss their next move. It is decided that H.P Rennfarth and William Fredricks pay a visit to the main Police Station near Ezbekia Gardens to see if he can find the address of Warren Besart.

Book river cruise

Muhammed the Dragoman is sent down to the river to book passage on a felouk (small river sailing boat). Such meager means of travel will increase the chances of keeping themselves incognito as they suspect that the more luxurious river steamers will be monitored by either the Watchers or the Brotherhood.

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A felouk on the Nile

More plans and Edward’s condition

They also plan to ask around for the Mosque of Ibn-Tulun, but the number one priority now is to help Edward with his “condition”.

His seizures continue to come around noon on a daily basis but over the time described in this post, they increase in duration as well as in severity, abrading away a chunk of Edward’s mind and sanity with each passing day.


And here we had to end the session. To be continued soon!