The line between the occult and conspiracies has always been a thin line for you as a senior member of the Cult of Crawling Chaos, or c3 as they’re referred to. But an invitation to visit a before-unknown tomb of an Egyptian pharaoh previously thought to be myth, sent directly to you by the Cult Leader who had gone missing for a large part of a decade was still quite the strange moment. Especially since the messenger died not soon thereafter, a clear sign that this had to happen in utter secrecy.
It wasn’t hard arranging a plane ticket to Egypt, nor was it particularly hard getting to Abu Minqar, the oversized village closest to your destination. What was particularly troublesome was following the invitation’s instructions further, since the Great Sand Sea has always been inhospitable, but even more so in recent times. Locals complain about the wrath of Allah or Global Warming making the trek into the Sahara even more perilous than in the past, despite advanced technology. Plus, nobody wanted to guide you since it seemed multiple archeological expeditions to find the tomb you’ve been invited to failed so utterly previously, to the point of not a single person returning
So ultimately you had to make the trek by yourself. Perhaps for the better; anyone you hired would have had to be killed upon arriving, the tomb of Alhireth-Hotep being one the Cult Leader seemingly wants to remain unknown to the greater world. The path dotted out on your letter got you there safely, though your throat and eyes felt like they had experienced enough sand to last a lifetime. The tomb didn’t seem too impressive from the outside, there wasn’t much to see from the outside either. A hard, slightly moss-green sandstone entrance leading down into a structure nearly washed away by the Great Sand Sea. It’s a miracle this place was ever found considering it was immediately clear that the sand blocking the entrance had to be displaced, piled up next to the entrance in neat and large piles.
Then came the descent, a slow and twirling corridor of more mossy sandstone. Less and less sand was present on the steps as you declined, and the temperature gradually went from sweltering hot to surprisingly pleasant. The sound of running water and the slight moistness in the air certainly helped make the tomb feel agreeable to stay in. It surprised you that you hadn’t reached a guard yet, but you guess the need for secrecy was more important than the need for security, plus it isn’t as if this was easy to reach by any stretch of the imagination. You just hope that the Bureau or rival cults haven’t been informed, they have this nasty tendency of being far more zealous about meddling with your plans than the unwitting populus.
Maybe it was the long decline that caused you to focus inwards and worry about potential threats you haven’t even heard anything about, but it was the arrival into the annex that wiped any such concerns from your mind. It was a glorious tomb, one that made you question why Alhireth-Hotep wasn’t a well known pharaoh. Oil basins embedded into the wall, apparently refilled and lit, illuminated a large hall kept aloft by ornate pillars. The annex was multiple stories, and sandstone stairs led to hallways on all three levels of this tomb. Precious metals and gems crossed the walls in delicate mosaics, and right at the very centre of the room was a large obsidian obelisk, markings and engravings crossing the entire multi-story monolith. You’ve seen obsidian before, but the unnatural smoothness and lack of imperfections on the obelisk drawed you in and made you admire the craftsmanship.
You and several others in fact. It seems you weren’t the only one invited. Anonymity was a big thing in the Cult of Crawling Chaos, so it didn’t surprise you that you didn’t recognize a single other person. You had changed your mask and robes for the occasion as well, wanting to avoid any recognition from previous congregations on your part. After all, it is not uncommon in cults for someone to turn traitor, and the less everyone knows about the other members, the better it is for the collective. The masks stay on at all times, with one exception. Standing a bit further away, discussing things with another cult member, stands the Cult Leader. The only person unmasked in the entire room, his habit of never wearing a mask during meetings holds to this day. Still, his face could have been a mask, since you’ve never seen him age a single second in the rather long time that you’ve known him. You’ve never even seen him change his haircut or his expression. A constant, all-knowing grin that pulled you in and made you believe every word that he says. It is funny that Alhireth-Hotep was hailed as a prophet in myths, because of all the people and almost-people you know, the Cult Leader was the person you’d most describe as prophetic.
As a few more people stream in, the mingling starts to pick up. The Cult Leader explains some of the facilities to whoever is nearby, expecting the information to spread through the group. We all have individual rooms, the doors polished and oiled for our convenience. We will be staying here for a while, but there’s enough water and fresh food to feed a town for a month so we won’t be lacking. There’s apparently even plumbing, though that wasn’t originally here and instead placed by the Cult Leader for the sake of our meet up. He quickly went over other miscellaneous facilities as well, like a small prayer room, the scroll library with some preserved texts, the corpse disposal pit, the observatory with a series of lenses actually showing the outside sky, a hallway dotted down the entire length with dusty flasks of various preserved eyes of extinct near-mythological creatures simply referred to as the eye-hall. It quickly became clear that the pharaoh was a strange fellow, and that despite this being his tomb his actual sarcophagus was nowhere to be found.
Still, as the last person trickles in, the Cult Leader gathers everyone back into the Annex. His eyes shine with excitement as he goes over every mask, and as his eyes glance over you you get the unnerving impression he knows exactly who you are underneath. As he waves his hands in a grand gesture of welcome, a sudden stir in the crowd becomes noticeable. A feminine voice suddenly perks up and coughs with a noticeable tremble, the person herself approaching the raised sandstone platform the Cult Leader stands upon. Sand is displaced by the coughing motion, making it clear that she was the last to arrive and hadn’t settled in properly, and the Cult Leader interrupts his opening speech with absolutely no change in his expression. Then, a flurry of motion: The feminine figure suddenly explodes into movement, leaping onto the platform with fluidity that beguiles her previously hesitant and frail gestures. Before anyone in the crowd could react, the figure had already pulled a dagger out from her sleeve. It didn’t seem like a normal dagger from your perspective, the blade glistening with the faintest hint of illumination and being entirely translucent. Despite the Cult Leader’s attempt to ward her off with his hands and step to the side, the dagger found its way into the Cult Leader’s chest with unerring precision, the entire moment lasting but two seconds from leap to thrust.
Even as he suddenly expels black bile from his mouth, the Cult Leader’s expression still doesn’t change from his all knowing grin. He exclaims, surprisingly loudly for someone who had their lung and heart pierced: “I am so glad the Bureau could join us today as well. Pleasure to meet you, Inquisitor.”
A sudden gust of wind and a loud popping sound causes you and everyone around you to flinch, the sand in your eyes and ringing in your ears causing your senses to fail you for this pivotal moment. When you rub your eyes clear, you notice nothing. As in, where the Cult Leader and Inquisitor stood, there was now nothing. If it wasn’t for the small puddle of black bile remaining on the floor, exactly where the Cult Leader had expelled it moments before, there wouldn’t have been any sign of either of them ever having been there.
Unrest grows in the room, as people start panicking and accusing each other. Nobody is willing to unmask themselves or others, since doing so would require removing their own masks and unmasked cultists don’t survive very long. But Inquisitors never work alone, and anyone here could be a fellow member of the Bureau. What’s more, although it became clear that we were here for some sort of purpose, what that purpose is the Cult Leader never actually explained. To make matters even worse, one of the members tried running up the stairs to escape, but a while later returned downstairs, out of breath. Despite the weather having been clear not too long ago, a sandstorm of utterly lethal proportions now rages outside. A sandstorm so bad, the connection to the outside world is entirely cut. Satellite phones don’t seem to work, whatever internet infrastructure the Cult Leader had placed seems to be failing. It seems you are stuck here, together with the Bureau and Crawling Chaos knows what else.
Your only consolation is that the Cult Leader seemed to have been expecting the Bureau. Dead or not, whatever his plans are, they are still in effect even now. The best you can do is try to figure out who is Bureau and who is loyal, and do so before they end up bringing you all down. Still, the sudden death of the Inquisitor should shock them. There aren’t that many of them, and you doubt that the rest of the members of the Bureau present are as well trained as she was. Plus, the weird glistening weapon she used disappeared alongside her in the pop. You still have a chance to turn this around, you can feel it.
If only you knew who to trust…