The Apotheosis of Osirantinous in Further Tales of Cthulhu Invictus

Golden Goblin Press has published the second of their Cthulhu Invictus anthologies, tying into their Call of Cthulhu RPG line of the same name, which pits investigators against the denizens of the outer dark in ancient Roman Times.

Further Tales of Cthulhu Invictus - Digital Format

Further Tales of Cthulhu Invictus marks the return of my talisman salesman and occult expert Damis of Nineveh and his compatriot Modus Macula, who appeared in the previous volume.

In this outing, The Apotheosis of Osirantinous The Reborn and Everlasting, Damis and Macula are part of Hadrian’s imperial train as he tours the Egyptian province with Empress Sabina and his lover, Antinous when the Emperor’s growing melancholy take a strange, dark turn, particularly in regards to his obeisance to his increasingly influential Brynthian concubine.

Damis, readers might remember, was the student and traveling companion of the near legendary ancient wonderworker Apollonius of Tyana, who famously healed the sick and announced the death of an emperor as it happened thousands of miles away in the years immediately following the time of Christ.  At this point in his career, Modius Macula is a Praetorian in the direct service of Hadrian.

When Damis notices Hadrian’s favorite Antinous consume the offering meant for a god at a festival, and the Emperor puts out a call to the sorcerers of Egypt for a demonstration of the lethality of Egyptian magic, the old philosopher begins to suspect the machinations of the Old Ones in the steady rise in influene of Hadrian’s lover and calls on Modius to help confirm his suspicions.

Marble_Busts_of_Hadrian_&_Antinous,_from_Rome,_Roman_Empire,_British_Museum_(16679053956).jpgHadrian may be my favorite Roman Emperor. He toured his own frontiers extensively and was a supremely devout (or superstitious) man, which of course, makes for a fertile ground for storytelling. The romance of the sireless Emperor and his concubine Antinous has been ficitonalized many times over, and is irresistable for its mysterious end in the Nile River. Much of this story is inspired by the ancient accounts of Hadrian’s tour, including the demonstration of the Egyptian sorcerer which kicks the story off.

In this excerpt, Damis’ investigation leads deep into the necropolis of Tuna el-Gebel outside Hermopolis, where he hopes to consult the hieroglyphs in the tombs of the priests of Thoth….

————————————————————————————————————————————

Macula bribed one of the tomb guards to grant them access into the catacombs. By torchlight they passed into the dark, mummy crowded tunnels beneath the necropolis. At least it was cool.

2010-11-01-14-49-03-7-at-tuna-el-gebel-priests-placed-a-votive-animal-iDamis led with purpose, though Macula could not fathom how he knew where he was going.  The Assyrian said nothing, and Macula, not wanting to spoil whatever internal navigation he was working from, followed quietly. The torch made the shadows in which the dead reposed shift and move so that he laid his hand superstitiously on the hilt of his gladius. His heart beat so behind his breastplate that he was half surprised he didn’t hear it banging like a smith’s hammer. He imagined the rooting of tomb rats as the scrape of linen wrapped feet and the stir of old bones.

As they passed deeper in, the character of the silent tenants shifted dramatically. No longer human, they found themselves navigating passages cluttered with mummified birds and diminutive caskets with animal faces painted upon them.

“Baboons,” Damis said, pointing to one, as if he had heard Macula’s thought. “And ibis. Sacred to Thoth. We are near. There! Lend me your light.”

They moved to a dead-end corridor. Damis squinted at a series of faded pictograms on the wall.

Macula could make nothing of the words, but saw a serpentine arrangement of yellow globes emerging from the river, as a barge bearing eight figures lifting a mummy with a scarab beetle for a head sailed toward it.

Damis studied the wall and its glyphs for some time.

“Can you read these marks?” Macula asked, his own voice startling in the silence of the crypt. He could usually pick out a few words among the symbols, but these were gibberish to him.

“These are R’lyehian glyphs. There are the gods of Egypt as they are now,” Damis intoned, “and there are the gods that came before the benben mound rose from the primordial waters of Nun, and the ibis egg which contained Ra and his light chased back the darkness. On those dark waters the Khemenu sailed,” he finished, tapping the barge with his finger.

“The what?”

357px-Nun_Raises_the_Sun

“Immensely powerful, primal deities, pictured here with Apep the serpent of chaos,” he said, indicating the snaky coil of circles in the river. “Once revered as creator gods here in Hermopolis, now they are mostly forgotten by all but the initiated. Ra superseded their influence. Apolonious taught me that always they have sought to return, to pull down our world and drown it in the black waters. There was once, in the time of Nephren-Ka, and may yet be, a nefarious cult of the Khemenu, known as the Possi of Khepri, the god of the morning sun, an aspect of Ra.”

“The sun is revered as good, right?” Macula said, squinting at the wall.

“The doctrine of the Possi was bawut – abomination,” said Damis. “Khepri is but the name they used to hide their evil god, a priestly servant of Apep, whose true name brings ill-fortune. Khepri is the scarab-headed god of becoming, of rebirth. The scarab rolls its eggs in dung, you see. They hatch within and eat their way out.”

“So what?” Macula was getting annoyed at all this esoteric nonsense.

“Some believe that all of life is a sphere floating in the waters of oblivion. The Possi taught that our world is the dung ball rolled by Khepri around the Khemenu from which they may be induced to emerge and devour the world, remaking this reality as they please. Their dawn, our dusk.”

“You believe this?” Macula said.

“It may be that Antinous believes it,” said Damis. “And Hadrian. The Possi seek to pervert the death of Osiris. Their purpose is to prepare a candidate for a certain time when the stars are right, as they will be this evening. They will perform a ritual to open the floodgates and release the waters of Nun into the Nile itself. They believe that immersing their candidate in those waters will transform him into their god.”

“You think Antinous is one of them?”

“He is a foreigner, and has the Emperor’s heart in his hands. His rise in favor could be well timed.”

“Hadrian saved him on the lion hunt only a week ago. Why kill him?”

“Perhaps in order to spare him for his true destiny. Poor Hadrian believes his young madman will give his youth to extend his lover’s life for the glory of Rome,” said Damis sadly, averting his eyes. “In reality, he seeks the end of all things.”

Even if none of this mystic palaver proved true, it was troubling for Macula to think of the sway Antinous had over the Emperor, playing upon his lust and superstition. If he had convinced Hadrian he was some kind of god in the making, what else might he convince him to do? Maybe he intended to get Hadrian to declare him his heir. Then, in a way, the fears of Damis would be truly realized. Rome undone.  Another Caligula ruling the earth.

Macula was no assassin, but a potential threat to the Empire was another matter. Antinous would have to be removed. Personally, he was surprised Sabina hadn’t poisoned the young cinaedus long ago.

Then he heard murmuring from somewhere in the blackness of the catacombs behind them.

“Someone’s there!” Macula hissed.

“Listen!” Damis urged, holding up his hand.

They heard a voice intoning strange words that made Macula’s neck hairs rise. Then there was a scrabbling as of many somethings coming down the tunnel. He remembered Damis’ dream, and half expected to see a carpet of scarabs come flowing out of the dark.

He drew his sword.

Beside him. Damis produced something from his robe, a kind of waxen snake candle, covered in green glyphs. Its tongue was a forked wick.

“Whatever happens, Macula,” Damis said, holding the snake up to the torch till it ignited and began to drip wax like venom, “you must find the source of that spell and slay the utterer.”

“What are you doing?”

He took Macula’s sword by the blade and dripped wax on the flat three times.

“Counterspell. You will be able to fight with this.”

Then he began muttering his own incantations as the effigy gradually melted in his hand.

Macula turned toward the voice and advanced, fighting panic as though he were facing wild tribesmen on the frontier again.

A horde of diminutive things attacked him in the dark as he stepped from the torchlight. He hewed right and left, hacking a path for himself. Twig-like claws raked at his legs and scurried up his back. Sharp somethings pricked at the bare points between his cuirass and arms. No scent of blood met his nostrils as he slashed and stabbed. None flecked his arms, only puffs of dust and the faint sweet scent of natron. Something on his shoulder stabbed at his ear and seizing it, he flung it against the tunnel wall, hearing it break into tinkling pieces. His unseen attackers made no outcry.

The murmuring grew steadily louder as the light of Damis’ torch diminished behind him.

Finally, having slashed his way through a knot of invisible nightmares, the chanting of the sorcerer ceased. Macula heard the flap of sandals on the stone ahead and ran.

He reached out at the sound of huffing breath and was rewarded with a fistful of linen. Finding the wearer, he threw him down and stabbed, feeling the comforting sensation of yielding flesh and spurting blood, the rattle of a dying man.

Far back, he heard the muttering of Damis, and called for him.

After a few moments Damis’ torch lit the passage. He found he was straddling the corpse of a bald priest with a scarab on his inner wrist.

“Pachrates’ apprentice,” Macula gasped.

“If he’s a priest of Thoth, I am the messiah foretold by the Jews,” said Damis.

Macula’s attention was drawn to the niches in the walls of the tunnel, recognizing the area packed with mummified animals through which they’d passed. The recesses were all empty. Feeling something prick his leg, Macula plucked the dry beak of an ibis from his cingulum militarae.

Pick up Further Tales of Cthulhu Invictus here –

https://www.goldengoblinpress.com/store/#!/Further-Tales-of-Cthulhu-Invictus—Digital-Format/p/116311624

 

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Published in: on October 31, 2018 at 10:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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