And so we begin. Here are the dice rolls for today’s inaugural Story Dice Tale:
Let us begin our story:
The sun beat down relentlessly from above as the steamboat Ptolemy out of Banha rumbled its way down the lazy Nile. Patrick Townson was beginning to feel distinctly uncomfortable, sweating into his rolled up shirt and the opulent looking waistcoat that he spent far too much money on back on Gibraltar. His wide brimmed hat did nothing to stop the sensation that he was stewing in his own juices, nor did the white sheet that was unfurled above the poker table at which he sat.
Opposite him sat the other three players, an American, a German and another Englishman. Townson didn’t know their names, until a that morning he hadn’t known them at all. Hard times had forced Townson out of his homeland and out into the Empire in search of wealth, something to take back to his parents back in Manchester. After a night’s hard drinking (which he could barely afford) he had got talking to his fellow Englishman and had been invited to make up his money at the poker table.
Now Townson fancied himself as something of a card sharp and had, that morning, suspected that he could easily hustle his opponents. Yet he had been wrong and was now very much in trouble. It was the American. He was a grizzled, moustachioed man in his late forties, dressed like a cowboy, even carried a big revolver, and was wiping the floor with everyone. In fact, thought Townson, he’s just taken my last ha’penny.
“Never mind, mister,” drawled the American as he raked Townson’s last chips over to his on stack, “I hear they’re always looking for dock workers in Cairo. I’d be happy to vouch for your character,” Townson couldn’t tell if the an was being genuine or not but he was feeling angry and ashamed, having thrown away every single last coin in this fruitless game of poker. The other Englishman chuckled slyly at his countryman’s misfortune, the German merely stared straight ahead as Townson scraped his chair back and stormed away from the table to lean on the railing at the ship’s bow. A few minutes later, the American joined him, the ivory inlaid handle of his gun clacking against the painted rails.
“You know,” he muttered, just loud enough for Townson to hear as the other players passed them by, “I may have a way for you to get your money back and then some”
“What, really? Or do you yanks just have a strange sense of humour?” replied Townson bitterly, glancing at his present company out of the corner of his eye. The American laughed in response,
“Yes, really. I’m meeting with an explorer in Cairo, one of your lot, says he’s found some ancient ruins out in the desert that he intends to poke around in. He’s looking for tough men who don’t mind pokin’ around in the dark,”
Townson has heard of these people, rich folk who had never worked a day in their lives yet had the money to go messing around with ancient ruins that should be left well alone. Still, he had to admit, that sounded better than loading crates onto ships for the rest of his days in some bustling Egyptian port.
“Okay, I’m in. What do I have to do?” he asked, trying to hide his excitement.
“Simple, boy, just stick with me. The name’s Leicester Cross and I’m going to make you rich,”
One month later:
There was something chilling about the ruins. Clearly at one time it had been a temple or some such structure, broken pillars sandblasted by the desert and reaching toward the sky like giant, gnarled fingers. At the centre was the dig site. Twenty strong local men had been hired to move tons of sand aside, revealing a stone doorway to the depths below. That door was now lay on the ground, having been pried loose unceremoniously.
Townson and Cross’s employer, Lord Philip Dawson, peered into the inky darkness past the doorway, his lantern held before him. He was older than Townson had imagined he would be, maybe in his mid sixties. Well groomed and wearing an all white outfit commonly sported by explorers, he really looked like an archetypal English Imperialist.
“Well then gentlemen, who’s going down there first?” he called out in his reedy, nasal voice, clearly not having the same level of courage as he had enthusiasm for taking the relics of long dead cultures.
“What’s wrong, mister Dawson? Scared of ghosts?” laughed Cross, gently taking the oil lantern from his employer and walking boldly into the unknown. Townson followed his newfound American friend in, overcoming a moment of trepidation as the darkness swallowed them. It was silly, he thought to himself as Dawson and the local workers fell in behind, to be afraid of this place. At camp the previous night Dawson had told them a little about the Ancient Egyptians, that they were a mighty race thousands of years ago but now all that was left was these ruins and amazingly preserved bodies, called mummies, that had their organs removed and were wrapped up and thrown in giant sarcophagi. Townson had never believed in ghosts, however, so these mummies and their dusty temples didn’t frighten him, not like poverty did.
After what felt like an eternity, Cross suddenly came to a sudden halt, a wall of smooth stone filling the lantern’s circle of light.
“Looks like we’ve hit a junction, boys. What’s the next move?” the cowboy asked, looking past Townson toward the expedition’s leader.
“Light another lantern, mister Cross! Perhaps mister Townson could take a few of the locals down one way and we got the other?”
Townson started to worry then. He didn’t speak a word of Egyptian and besides, exploring this place without Leicester Cross sounded rather unpalatable. Still, he had been promised a good payout from this adventure, he had to continue.
And continue he did, down a maze of seemingly unending corridors, leaving chalk arrows at each junction so that he and the Egyptians could retrace their steps should they get lost. Things were going better than expected until part of the ceiling suddenly caved in. In happened quickly, barely giving the Englishman time to leap out of the way as tons of stone and sand separated him from the local boys. The only casualty was the lantern, which fell upon the stone floor and shattered, spreading paraffin oil all over and sending the labyrinth into pitch darkness. Fighting off all out panic, Townson got back to his feet, coughing sand and dust out of his lungs.
“Sahib, can you hear me?” came a muffed voice from beyond the cave in, his accent strong but his English thankfully legible. Perhaps, Townson thought, they should have asked the local team if any of them could speak English in the first place.
“I’m alright, but the lantern is broken!” he called back, daring not to move in case he triggered another collapse.
“If you can, feel your way further down the corridor, I’m sure I could hear mister Dawson’s voice just before this happened! We will circle around!” came the voice of the Egyptian again.
Townson thanked the man and, slowly and with great trepidation, began to feel his way down one wall, keeping his ears open for the sound of Dawson or Cross’s voices. It took a few minutes, but he did eventually begin to hear something.
“Where are you going?” came a sudden whisper from somewhere very nearby. Townson’s blood turned to ice, whoever it was it sure as hell wasn’t Dawson or the American, he couldn’t even place the accent.
“I…I’m looking for the others,” he answered, his voice sounding like that of a frightened child. There came no answer, however, so Townson began to move again, wishing fervently for a lantern and mister Cross’s revolver. Several times he heard whispers as he shuffled along, though he was unable to make out what they were saying. It sounded like he was sharing the space with several others, yet he knew, deep in his heart, that he was alone down here. Putting it down to hysteria and too much stale air, he fought onward until, with great relief, he spotted a light up ahead.
Overcome with relief, he ran forward and into the light.
Only it wasn’t Dawson, Cross and the other half of the Egyptian contingent. It was a great hall, adorned all around with beautiful golden sconces in which great flames roared and danced. The hall was largely empty, aside from two lines of statues of men with dog’s heads, their great ears pointing up to a high ceiling covered with ancient murals and hieroglyphs. The rows of statues flanked a central path, paved with what seemed to be solid gold, which in turn led to a huge golden door, embossed with an effigy of the dog headed man. Townson couldn’t believe his luck, he was going to be incredibly wealthy, Cross certainly hadn’t lied back on the steamboat. He fell to his knees and attempted to pry up one of the golden slabs, though it seemed to be cemented into place and the Egyptians were carrying the tools.
“Here, friend, try this,” came a voice from behind him, a dark skinned arm corded with muscle holding out what seemed to be a golden dagger before him. Townson snatched the dagger without hesitation, blinded by his desire to own a slab of ancient gold. Even just an easily hidden chunk of it would set he and his family up for back back home. As he set to his quest, the thought dawned upon him, who was his mysterious benefactor?
“Here you kneel, in a temple built in my honour, defacing it. I should kill you now,” the mysterious figure growled, their strangely accented voice sounding almost animal to Townson. Still facing away from the man, he felt the hairs rise on the back of his neck.
“Who… are you?” he asked, his voice a strangled whisper.
“My I have many names, my avaricious friend, but these people knew me as Anubis,” the man snickered. Townson turned to face him then, wondering why this madman was trying to pass himself off as an ancient god.
What he saw blew his mind. For the man was a man as normal as could be, right up to his neck. His head was that a black furred jackal, eyes wild and teeth bared. Townson was so scared he could barely breathe as the creature stepped right up to him, robes of gold and black flowing from his shoulders, his chest bare and glistening and adorned with a chain looped through what appeared to be three broken human skulls.
“this temple is for only the dead,” Anubis sneered, “the lucky ones, those who I judge worthy, pass through that door, into the afterlife,”
Townson couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Not only were the deities of ancient Egypt real, but one of them was stood before him, perhaps about to end his life.
“What… about the ones who aren’t worthy?”he managed to stammer, a sliver of curiosity snaking through his growing despair.
“Their souls remain here forever, as my servants, until they fade into nothing. Perhaps you would like to meet a few?” laughed Anubis.
A series of grating noises came from behind Townson and he somehow managed to tear his eyes from the god for long enough to see the statues that lined the golden path slowly coming to life, as if stretching after a long sleep. Townson somehow knew that their intentions were not going to be friendly.
“This is where your journey ends, strange one. Nobody leaves this place alive!” snapped Anubis then, moving to shove him into the arms of the now advancing horde of statues. But Townson moved fast, slashing at the deity with the golden dagger and opening a cut across his chest. The jackal headed monster stumbled back, howling like a dog as stone arms began to close around the Englishman’s arms and torso. Terrified almost out of his mind, he slashed and stabbed at his stone assailants and was encouraged to see that they cut and bled like a man of flesh and blood. And so he stabbed, over and over, managing to drop several of them, covered in their ethereal blood until, out of nowhere, a loud crack filled the chamber and a searing pain shot through his shoulder as Anubis made his counter attack, his laughter filling his ears as the room swirled around him like a carousel.
He came to lying on the path of gold, except the chamber was now dark once more. The statues seemed to have returned to their positions, he noticed thanks to the light of a nearby lantern. The pain in his shoulder was intense and the ground around him was splattered with blood. As were the bodies of several dead Egyptian workers that littered the room, their bodies horribly mutilated. At the edge of the lantern’s light knelt Leicester Cross, his torso stripped to the vest which was covered in blood, as was the bandage wound around his torso.
“Wh-what happened? Did you kill him?” Townson slurred, getting the American’s attention.
Cross stood slowly, wincing at the pain of his injury, and walked over to stand above him.
“Kill who, boy?” he asked, an edge of hostility in his voice.
Townson realised then that something was very wrong with this scenario. For one, his hands and feet seemed to be bound with rope.
“Just who do you suppose was down here with you, mister?” said Cross, kneeling beside him and looking him in the eye. He looked angry and confused, maybe as confused as Townson himself was.
“I know it’s crazy but… I saw Anubis, mister Cross, the actual god! He.. he had the head of a jackal…,”
Cross shook his head at this and climbed back to his feet.
“No, mister Townson, there was no ancient god here. Just me and these poor bastards,” Cross said sadly, waving a rough skinned hand over the pile of dead bodies, “I found you, kneeling there, stabbing at the ground with a damned golden dagger. Christ knows where you found it and, when I tried to question you, you acted all spooked, like a horse facing a pack of wolves. I tried to talk some sense into you mister but you gave me a nasty cut with that dagger. When those poor bastards tried to take hold of you you turned that dagger on them, cut four of them down before I could draw my Colt and put a round through you”
Tears welling up in his eyes, Townson wondered if Anubis had indeed taken his soul, down there in the darkness, or if it had all been a figment of his imagination, the stress in his mind and the miasma in the air teaming up to warp his mind and force him to kill innocent men.
Patrick Townson spent the rest of his life in an institution in London, studied by therapists and psychologists alike. He maintained his story about meeting god in a tomb miles under the ground, yet nobody believed him until the day he died, an emaciated old man.
He never did see Anubis again.
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