Masks of Nyarlathotep

Friday, March 6th, continued, to Saturday, March 7th

In the belly of the Beast

Friday, March 6th, continued:

See “Collapsed Pyramid”

Ernst shares his visions of undulating sands and horrible things swimming beneath. Stoneridge tries to calm him with a story about another man he knew who went crazy. Perhaps it is concern for Ernst, or concern over what he might do with that gun, but Stoneridge tells Ernst to relax.

The rest of the party completes their circuit. Nothing out of the ordinary is observed.

They get back in the car and head towards Cairo. Ernst sees the sands undulate again, and the ground seems to fall away in a massive mouth, threatening to swallow the car. Ernst swerves around it desperately. The rest, having seen nothing, yell out in alarm. Ernst looks back, seeing only sand and the road. He believes he may be losing his mind. Pulling over, Hansel takes the wheel. He brings the car back to Shepheard’s without incident.

In the safety of their rooms, they go over what they know, and what they don’t know. Theories are presented about the Carlyle expedition, and how they might tie in to the Black Pharaohs plans. Perhaps Nitocris is being raised in order to bear the Pharaohs black child, as the bas-relief prophesied. Perhaps Anastasia Bunay had Hypatia Masters killed, and took her place. It is generally agreed that the Carlyle principals are alive, but that only Jack Brady is likely not corrupted.

It is decided that they should catch a steamer to Mombasa soon. First, though, they want to check out the rituals at the Sphinx.

Afterwards, Ernst goes to drink, eventually stumbling back to his room where he falls asleep.

Hansel goes to recon the Clive expedition that night. He observes through binoculars for an hour or so. Everything in the camp appears to be operating as normal. A pop rings out, and Hansel feels a sharp pain in his side. He sees the flash of a muzzle from away in the dunes. He quickly moves to the car, narrowly escaping another shot. Driving off, attempting to bandage himself, he bleeds all over the car. Arriving back at Shepheard’s, he conceals his wound, nods to the doorman, walks through the evening festivities as if nothing had happened, and returns to the suite unaccosted. Viljoen-Ballard patches him up.

Viljoen-Ballard then goes out shopping for cocaine. If the party is unable to operate on their own tomorrow, perhaps that can help keep them going. He observes Ernst’s room overnight, and also regularly checks in on Hansel.

Pandora cleans the car. Stoneridge eventually comes down and appraises the job. He says she’s done good work.

Overnight, Khilkov has nightmares of drowning. Repeatedly he starts awake, gasping and choking for air.

Saturday, March 7th 1925:

Morning: Initial preparations are made for a Kenya departure through Khilkov’s agents.

Ernst, Khilkov, Pandora and Stoneridge seek out Nigel Wassif at the Cairo Bulletin. They ask if Wassif would be willing to keep them informed on Cairo happenings, topics and channels to be sent later. He agrees. Ernst bums a cigarette, noticing that they are Morley’s. Stoneridge observes Nigel’s fancy English shoes. Convinced that they’ve found their man, they press him on his being in their rooms at Shepheard’s. They push hard, and Pandora determines he is hiding something.

Accusing him outright, he insinuates that if he wished them harm they would have come to harm already, and that if they think he might be on their side, they should not speak to him as they are. Instead, they should be grateful for the help he has rendered, and asks them for information on why they are here. Ernst tells them they are tracking down the Carlyle Expedition. and that they have run afoul of a number of ne’er-do-wells.

They leave on tense terms, but Wassif states that he will keep them informed, as requested.

Late morning: A message arrives from Broadmoor. There was a security incident outside the camp last night, and Dr. Clive has locked down the camp for safety. They will not be able to make their lunch appointment today.

Afternoon: Viljoen, having slept the better part of the daylight hours after his vigil, searches out a coptic church to pray. Khilkov visits the Semiramis, and tells his relations that Nigel Wassif knows more about them then they might think, and that they should be careful when dealing with him, but just avoid him if possible.

Evening: The party drives to the Sphinx. Ernst attempts to find a good spot, but Hansel points out fundamental flaws in his placement. Drawing on his paramilitary experience, Hansel sets up the party with an excellent vantage point where they can remain likely unseen.

Late Evening: It has been a quiet and cools number of hours, but eventually lights are seen approaching. It is a loose column of robbed people bearing lanterns and torches, headed for the Sphinx. Their robes are like the ones found in the Misr House, but more rough, and less ornate. New groups join the column from many directions, but all converge to the one destination. One such group passes close by the party’s hiding place.

Thinking quickly, Viljoen-Ballard furnishes Ernst and Hansel with cloths doused in chloroform. Stealthily approaching from behind, the group is silently rendered unconscious. Hansel accidentally drops one of the unconscious forms, alerting the others, but Ernst and Hansel spring upon them before they can act. Dragging them to a hiding place, Hansel wants to slit their throats, but Viljoen-Ballard stops him. He is unwilling to participate or by neglect allow cold blooded murder. Instead, he rends their clothes to bind and gag them. Hansel begrudgingly agrees that this is acceptable. Taking their robes, the party hides their weapons beneath the folds and joins the procession.

There must be dozens before the Sphinx, excitedly talking amongst themselves. Pandora discerns that tonight is an initiation night for some of those present. As more come, the crush of people becomes significant, but one robed figure passes through the crowd, walking to the dream stele of Thutmose IV. He raises his hands and speaks the words ‘Mighty is the God whose breath brings death, and whose form brings madness!’ his voice is deep, and bellowing. The great Sphinx seems to shift in it’s position, bending its head down to acknowledge the priest. Then the stele shimmers, and the priest passes through it. The crowd quickly follow suit, carrying the party with them.

Trying to hang towards the back, Pandora and Hansel are nonetheless pushed forward, and pass through the stele. The rest follow towards the rear. Once ‘inside’, the party finds themselves in a dark room, the walls of which cannot be seen. However, the light from the crowd illuminates a path into a tunnel. regrouping, they follow.

The tunnel is worked stone, ancient and heavy. It is perhaps 8 feet wide and about that in height. The entire place feels like its pressing down around them. It is humid here, and greenish and purplish fungi can be seen in the cracks on the wall. Smaller side passages extend into darkness. Some of these passages are stone, others look like old water channels, still others look like they were burned out by acid, or scratched out by tooth and claw.

After following for perhaps a quarter mile, carvings appear on the walls. They depict monstrous humans with the heads of animals, enacting cruel tortures on others. Ernst notices that a man like those on the wall, this one wearing a crocodile mask, has joined the group and is walking with them.

Eventually they come to a wide stair, leading down into a great chamber. Its floor is black marble, flecked with white. Massive ebon pillars rise to an unseen ceiling, extending out at the caps like branches of great trees. The ‘branches’ seem to sway in an unfelt wind. Nestled amongst these is a hole, roughly circular, emanating a pale ruby light. Stairs are set cantilevered into the sides, shrieks and wails emanating from below. Further on still, a rectangular pit, perhaps 75 feet long. At first it appears to be filled with water up to about 8 feet from the lip, but upon closer look it is actually mostly leeches, writhing and squirming over each other. On the far side are a number of stair set into the stone, descending to a black raft.

Past that, the eye is drawn upward to an altar. From 3 sides, narrow stone stairs ascends sharply to a platform, perhaps 25 feet square, 15 feet above the floor. On it is an alabaster sarcophagus, surround by braziers giving off a sickly yellow light.

Beyond the altar is another structure, this one made of sweating green stone carved with violent and cruel imagery. From the front a narrow green stone stair ascends 30 feet to two thrones, side by side. Horizontally to the right as one looks upon the thrones, a processional bridge extends to the far wall of the hall.

Behind all of this, on the back wall, is an enormous hole, evidently torn open by a vast force. It is pitch black inside.

Ducking behind some of the pillars, the party observes the congregants. The priest ascends to the altar, and begins his prayers to the Dark God. They are reminiscent of some of the scrolls recovered from the Penhew Foundation basement. Then, the initiates are called forth.

It is decided that the party must act. Hansel is dispatched to plant dynamite around the stairs leading into the hall, with a long fuse. He clumsily rigs it, but it appears functional.

Meanwhile, Ernst pulls his rifle, and steadies himself on Viljoen-Ballards shoulder, lining up a shot on the priest. Khilkov, Stoneridge, and Pandora sneak back to the entrance, and, head down tunnel in the direction they came from.

Ernst squeezes off the shot, striking the priest and splaying him back onto the sarcophagus. A cry goes up from the crowd, but Ernst and Viljoen-Ballard do not stay to observe more. They run for the entry.

Hansel, being cued by the shot to light the fuse, joins the others already in the tunnel. Ernst and Viljoen-Ballard join them shortly thereafter, and all sprint back down the tunnel, trying to escape.

They are pursued, and are almost overtaken by a group of cultists, one with the head of an Ibis. It is clear at this point that it is no mask, but rather that this is in fact some ungodly aberration. Khilkov let’s loose with his submachine gun, Ernst with his shotgun, but Hansel and Stoneridge are dead-eyes with their pistol fire.

From a side tunnel, the party is intercepted by another group of monstrous men, these with the heads of many different kinds of animals. Viljoen-Ballard cracks under the mental strain. Such things are not medically possible, and, more so, should not be. Hansel has packed grenades for just such occasions. Their explosions are joined by a more massive one from back in the great hall and the dynamite explodes. Later than intended, but better than never.

A running gun battle ensues, the party expending incredible amounts of firepower to keep the god awful things and the men who have joined them at bay.

Returning to the dark room they first entered coming from the stele, there are no obvious exits. No shimmering door like in front of the sphinx. Viljoen-Ballard screams at Pandora to try the words the priest spoke, but they return no effect. Pandora tries to reverse the words, changing the grammar, and many other variations, but nothing works. The cultists are at the mouth of the tunnel, being barely kept back by swathes of gunfire. Pandora, drawing on her study of the Black Pharaoh and his cult, yells every word she knows, and stumbles on ‘Nyarlathotep’. As she invokes the name, a giant hand, palm up, massive fingers appearing from the darkness around them, grips the party and raises them up. Moments later, a great paw of the Sphinx ejects them onto the sands.

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