The World of the Dead

Playlist: Asleep in the Desert - ZZ Top
Keeper Note: Just Aimo, Steve, Ric and Loz for this evening's adventure.

Airborne, Egypt, 14:00 - 18:00 27th June 1940

As the plane rumbled south over the featureless desert under the eye-aching blue dome of the desert sky, Marcus buried himself in books, mugging up on the myths of the Egyptian Book of the Dead.  Huddled in the turret above, Joe discovered that watching the sky for threats for that long was exhausting; by the end of the flight he looked very weary.

Qena, Egypt, 18:00 27th June 1940

Birapeer made a low pass over the small town, observing its' features. The town looked fairly normal, but a mile and a half away across the river were the ruins of the temple complex. Groups of tourists wandered around, usually shepherded by a native guide as they explored.

A small railway station showed how most of the tourists arrived, and taxis and carriages clustered around its entrance ready to pick up a fare.

To the north was a very basic airstrip - a long stretch of hammered earth near some buildings. RJ had explained that a nominal garrison - a couple of platoons - occupied these and maintained the airstrip. Birapeer angled away in a turn and lined himself up for a landing. Despite his skilled handling, the landing was anything but smooth, rattling the passengers around more than a bit; finally, however, the plane rolled to a halt and he turned and taxied it back to the buildings before stopping the engines.

Captain Jenkins

Dusk was falling as he and Francoise hauled the covers onto the engines. Two soldiers and an officer were walking over from the buildings and he went to meet them, accompanied by Marcus, Cyril and Jimmy. "Captain Jenkins, commanding," said the young dark-haired officer with a crisp salute. "How can I help you, Sir?" he added, clearly a bit unsure who or what he was looking at. Birapeer handed him some orders that RJ had put together, instructing him to assist the agents where possible without asking questions. He nodded to himself and looked up. "What do you need from me?" he asked simply. Birapeer hooked a thumb at the plane. "Top the tanks off, please," he said, "and we'll need a bivvy for the night then a car to go over to the ruins late afternoon tomorrow." He paused. "Oh, yes, there may be one or two Kraut agents hanging around; if you see them, shoot on sight, don't ask questions." He described Weisemann and G, adding "We have a photograph of the other man, but it needs developing." Jenkins eyebrows had been steadily climbing though this. "Shoot-on-sight is a bit stiff from just a description, Sir," he pointed out. "These are dangerous men, Captain," replied Birapeer. "Now, what's the local situation?" he asked, changing the subject. Jenkins looked puzzled. "There isn't one," he answered slowly, unsure if he'd missed something. "We're billeted here to watch that slab of dirt over there, " he pointed at the airstrip, "and nothing happens. Tourists wander around. Arabs do whatever arabs do. Nothing else really."

A few minutes later, accompanied by two soldiers provided by Jenkins, the four were down in the village looking for the local photographers. With the tourist trade to the ruins and the desire for souvenirs, there was plenty of business, and the shop was right in the market-place next to the other stalls selling plaster pyramids and models of the temple of Hathor - some of which even had the right number of pillars. The sign over the window read "Messers Lalkaka and Bannerjee, Photographers Western Style".

Photographic Enlarger

After some determined military hammering on the door by one of the squaddies, it was opened and a tousled Indian face peered out. "Grieviously, we are indeed closed at this hour," said Mr Lalkaka, but the agents weren't having any of that. "We need a photograph developing, right now," said Cyril, unpacking the bag of films, "and it's a military matter - so for security we need to do it ourselves." A torrent of protest from Lalkaka and the now appearing Bannerjee came in reply, expressing a great reluctance to allow anyone to use their precious European-style equipment. "You see, we are not military gentlemen," pointed out Bannerjee earnestly. Cyril coughed. "We are prepared to offer an exoribtant fee," he said producing ten Egyptian £5 notes. For a shocked moment, Lalkaka and Bannerjee glanced at each other in silence. Then they resumed protesting.

It took additional persuasion from Anné and Jimmy - the latter wielding technical expertise successfully enough to convince the Indians that he knew what he was doing - before the deal could be struck. Two hours later, Jimmy emerged from the darkroom with two prints of the photograph at Rosetta Station, as well as two prints of just the face of the spy enlarged to fill a whole print. One of these was passed back to Captain Jenkins, and then after Birapeer and Francoise had checked the plane over, the team retired to bed.

Temple of Hathor, Dendera, Egypt, 16:35 28th June 1940

For most of the day the group rested up, checked equipment, dozed and chatted. Marcus buried himself in Cultes des Goules, his lips working as he strove to memorize the incantations listed under "Speak with the Eaters of Dead Flesh". Finally, they gathered and split into two parties; Francoise and Jimmy to stay with the plane, the others to head over to the ruins and enact the ritual.

Dendera Temple Complex

They selected a guide, who introduced himself as Batkha, and allowed him to shepherd them around the ruins. Marcus and Cyril listened to his spiel rather skeptically, waiting for him to make a mistake or start talking complete tosh. However, although simplified for tourists and trimmed to fit in a visit's time, the guide's work was good and Marcus found himself chatting - helped by Jimmy's translation - to Batkha in some detail.

Ceiling of the Hypostyle Hall

Once their tour was over, they unloaded the cricket equipment they had brought with them and set up for an impromptu cricket match. Without much difficulty, they encouraged spectators - and their guide - to take part. There was an awkward moment when two Englishmen challenged Anné over whether a woman - and a Frenchwoman at that - should be playing cricket. She made it clear that she would indeed be playing, and turned away. As she did, she overheard one comment quietly to the other, "Well, at least it won't matter if she gets a ball in the face..."

The game whiled away the late afternoon, and Birapeer was roundly congratulated for scoring the most runs. The only long face was that of a young Englishman who unaccountably seemed to have been hit with a ball while fielding and was nursing a broken and bloody nose. As the light began to fail, Batkha started trying to collect his 'visitors' to direct them to accommodation or the station, but smiled and left them to it on being told that they wanted to watch the stars from the ruins.

Evening began to draw in, and the temperature began to fall. It was decided that Cyril, Marcus, Anné and Birapeer would make the first attempt at the ritual, with the others keeping watch.

Temple of Hathor, Dendera, Egypt, 18:52 28th June 1940

As the light failed, the four chosen adventurers settled down comfortably, their backs to some of the few remaining walls of the Sanatorium, and Marcus and Cyril uncorked their jars of the Red Ale of Truth and swigged cautiously. The liquid was sweet and only faintly alcoholic. After a few moments, both drifted off into what looked like a perfectly normal sleep. Birapeer and Anné checked them carefully, then followed suit.

Duat, Local Time unknown

Horizon Glyph

Each of the four woke to find themselves on a wide, rectangular stone pavement, facing a range of mountains. The sun was rapidly sinking down into a gap between two peaks, a sight that reminded Marcus of the hieroglyph for the horizon. Desert stretched as far as the eye can see in every other direction, but the fading light of the sun illuminated a pathway leading to the peaks.

As they looked down at themselves, they realized that their clothing and equipment had undergone significant changes. They were now dressed as Ancient Egyptians, their clothing morphed though retaining its' colours. Bladed weapons had transformed into the forked metua, while longarms had changed to bows or spears. They rather expected to feel uncomfortable in these strange clothes, but they seemed appropriate, somehow.

It was clear that they were supposed to follow the track of the sunset towards the mountains, which looked like a several hours' walk. Squaring their shoulders, they set off. However, rather bizarrely, within a few minutes they found themselves at the mountains. Here, it seemed, distance was merely symbolic, and a journey would take as long as it needed to - no more, no less. Soon they were through the mountain pass and on a path crossing a sandy plateau. At the far side lay a massive gateway with walls that apparently stretched off to infinity on either side.


As they got closer, they could see a group of guardians of some kind, flanking the gate. Their horror grew as they realized that the guards were animate, moving mummies, swaddled in bandages and protective amulets. Only their heads were uncovered, the skin stretched taught over a broken nose and rictus grin. A few wisps of hair still clung to their scalps, their bared teeth were yellowed and cracked, and their eye sockets were largely empty. The snake guardian was a large boa-like snake with mottled gold and lapis skin, balanced upright on a curve of its great, muscular tail.

Marcus cowered in fear, shaking in horror, perhaps understanding better than any of the others the dangers they faced here. Cyril, however, stepped boldly forwards. The snake swung to look at him and - incredibly - spoke in a clear, bell-like voice with no trace of sibilance.

"Who are you, and what is your business in the Duat?" it asked. Stuttering only briefly, Cyril answered with his name and that he was here seeking the lost piece of the Palladion. The snake stared into his eyes for a long moment, then swung its' gaze to the next person. Each was asked the same question, and answered simply and honestly - except Birapeer, who succumbed to his stroppy nature and barked out "None of your business - and I don't know!"

There was no flash, or bang, or cry of pain, but suddenly Birapeer simply wasn't there. The others looked worriedly at each other, but the snake-guardian bowed smoothly - a motion for which it was exquisitely suited - and backed away, leaveing them a clear path to the gate.

Temple of Hathor, Dendera, Egypt, 19:47 28th June 1940

With a sudden jolt, Birapeer jerked awake, gasping for breath, his heart suddenly racing. Automatically, his hands ran over his body, looking for wounds, but found only his normal clothes. Gathered around him, his companions questioned him urgently to see if he was all right. After a moment, he realized that he was - he'd been precipitated out of whatever state or place or shared hallucination they'd been in.

Not wanting to leave the other three - none of them really combatants - unsupported, he picked up his jar and sipped some more of the Ale... but nothing happened. The Sheikh's voice sounded in his memory; "Drink the ale at sunset," and he realized that Marcus, Cyril and Anné were on their own.

Duat, Local Time unknown

The others, hoping that Birapeer had merely woken and not been vaporized, pressed on and fairly soon reached another, similar gate. This was also watched by mummies and a snake guardian, but in front of it sat two chairs and a table whose top was inlaid with ivory in a grid pattern three rows deep and ten columns wide. The table’s legs had been carved to look like those of an animal, but none any of the agents recognized. Marcus suspected that the table was a Senet board, the so-called “game of passing” referred to in the Books of the Dead as a talisman to those passing through the underworld.

The snake guardian, with a sinuous gesture, invited Marcus to join him at the table. Some playing pieces materialized out of nowhere and the guardian explained the game rules, the knowledge dropping from the words into Marcus' brain as if they were his own memories. A tiny piece of professional pride nudged him - if he could remember them, his name might be made, because no-one now knew how the game had been played.

The game began, and Marcus moved his pieces confidently and smoothly, as if he'd been playing the game his whole life. The guardian played well, but after - some time? - no-one could be sure - Marcus placed his last piece and sat back. The game was won. With a creak the gate swung open.

Judgement of Osiris

Two more gates had followed the Senet gate, flanked by more animate mummies but uncontested. The next was entirely unguarded, led not on to yet another featureless plateau but into an oddly decorated, low room. The severed heads of bizarre, nightmare creatures hung upside down from the ceiling, and the walls were richly carved and painted with images of the gods and scenes from the Books of the Dead that describe this very chamber: the Judgement Hall of Osiris.

In the centre of the hall was a raised stone daïs, on which stood a large set of balance scales. On one pan of the scales rested a large, brown ostrich feather, almost identical to the one Cyril used to stir in the Well of Stars. Both Marcus and Cyril recognised the object as the scales on which the hearts of the dead are weighed by Ma’at. To either side of the scales was a large, grotesque figure of a monster; these were the fearsome am’mut, the eaters of the dead. They had the head of a crocodile, the mane and forelimbs of a gigantic lion, and the hindquarters of a hippopotamus.

Am'mut, the Eaters of the Dead

The three paused, and then Cyril squared his shoulders, confident that he could face judgement, and stepped forwards.

Instantly, the am'mut statues animated and lunged forward. One pinned the parapsychologist effortlessly. The other sank its clawed forelimb into his chest, tearing through his ribcage like paper as Cyril screamed in mortal agony. Blood fountained as the claw closed, then dragged his still beating heart out of his body! Released, Cyril dropped to his knees, hands clutched uselessly to his rent and empty chest as the blood poured down his body to pool on the floor.

The am'mut dropped the heart onto the empty pan of the scales, which dipped and swung back and to for a few moments before steadying on a level. As he watched this, it dawned on Cyril that he shouldn't be; the injuries he had sustained, and the very real agony he was in, should have killed him instantly. A moment later, the pain vanished and he knelt there on dry paving slabs, his clothes and body intact. He slumped with relief, breathing hard. Apparently, he had passed the judgement of the scales of Osiris.

Not without considerable fear, the other two followed his lead, and underwent the same grisly, agonizing experience. As he watched, Cyril frowned. When their hearts were placed on the scales, the balance remained rock-steady, where his had see-sawed for a few moments. What did that mean?

Once all of the three had passed the test, a hidden door on the far side of the room opened. The lands beyond the Judgement Hall were not the same as those encountered so far: the road was lined with jackal-headed standards, each with a body firmly lashed to it. Examining the faces of the dead revealed that they were known to the investigators; it seemed as if everyone who had ever crossed them or attempted to harm them was there, even if they were still alive in the waking world. Emma and Maude, the Meatpaste Murderesses; An Italian fascist Blackshirt, the back of his head stoved in; Several Italian soldiers with bullet and bludgeon wounds; Dr Sergio Gregoretti, riddled with bullet holes; Sturmbannfuhrer Steiger, also shot to bits; Carlos Ortega, beaten and tortured; Douglas Mowell, his skull hanging open; Weisemann and G, apparently dead but bearing no visible wounds. The corpses’ sightless eyes watched the investigators’ every move, their heads tracking with the group as they moved past them. Marcus was shaking with reaction by the time they had been left behind.

The road led finally to the shores of a lake whose inky black waters were as smooth as polished glass. At the lake’s centre was an island on which stood a temple, not dissimilar to the one at Dendera, only on a smaller scale. Patches of trees lined both the shore and the island’s edges; Marcus recognised them as a species of willow. The instructions for defeating Apophis described in the Book of Gates started to make more sense.

Barque. 'It's only a model' 'Shh!'

Encouraged by Marcus, everyone settled down to attempt to make chains from the willow wood. Despite having no skills in any such craft, they all found it coming very naturally to them, and in a very short space of time had made five long chains of braided willow - because, in this place, at this time, it was the correct thing to do. A small barque was moored to a wooden jetty where the road ends; there were enough seats (and oars) for everyone present. It seemed not to be magical or motorized; they were going to have to row.

The journey across the lake was an easy one. The barque took little effort to row and did not appear to need steering as it homed in on the jetty on the island’s shore (matching the one on the mainland). As soon as the last of the investigators stepped from the barque, the waters of the lake burst into flame and twisted hybrid creatures (some of them bearing an uncanny resemblance to the ones they saw hanging in the Judgement Hall of Osiris) could be seen writhing and twisting through the fire.

Nachtwölfe Symbol

The Blue Monk

As the three agents approached the temple gate (whole here, unlike the ruined one at Dendera), Anné cocked her head; her keen ears had picked up an oddly familiar but inappropriate sound ... like an approaching train. She looked wildly round and noticed small pebbles on the ground were dancing and skittering as the surface rippled. As all three gazed around looking for the source, they saw once more a glimpse of a figure in blue monk's robes, watching them from the far shore. As they did, he turned and hurried away. For an instant, a pictogram flared over his head, not perhaps visually seen but perceieved with some other sense specific to this strange place - a white paw with a blue eye in the centre. The emblem of Nachtwölfe!

He was wiped from their minds as, suddenly, a grotesque, massive worm-like creature erupted from the ground in front of them, barring their way to the temple. All three were knocked sprawling.

It was a huge, distorted snake shape, but in place of a snake's mouth it had a huge, distorted human face; accompanying it are eleven other, more normal-sized faces – the faces of the people seen on the crucifixes above, as well as several they had never seen before -  poking out from folds all along the creature’s repulsive body. The faces undulated and changed, screaming and sobbing, threatening and cajoling. This bloated monstrosity was the temple’s guardian, Apep-Apophis.

Somehow, the realization came to them that destroying the subordinate heads would have to be achieved before Apep-Apophis could be bound with the chains. Drawing their metua, they bounded forward, slashing and stabbing. The monstrosity was slow, but devastating - each of the subordinate heads could bite, the main head's huge jaws clashed viciously and it could wind the coils of its tail up out of the ground to enwrap and crush an unfortunate foe. Between them, the three managed to destroy six of the smaller heads, but one by one, first Anné, then Cyril and finally Marcus' dream-bodies were wounded beyond endurance and 'died'.

Temple of Hathor, Dendera, Egypt, 20:52 28th June 1940

Marcus reared up from his comfortable sleeping position with a scream of terror, his hands clasped to his waist where he'd felt - and seen - Apep-Apophis' coils crush his viscera til they spilled out. Gradually his panic subsided as he discovered that he was unharmed. The physical effects of the sojurn were not transferred to the real world; but the mental ones were - he was distinctly shaken and shocked. Gradually, he recovered and looked around; everyone was there and reasonably OK. They would need to make a second attempt the following night.

Session Date: 10th July 2018