Yseult Shadowrun – Dust of Ages Part VIII

   Getting a rush job on cyberware repairs in Cairo wasn’t easy. Even the half-assed repairs Yseult eventually wound up with – most of which would have to be redone later to get her systems up to specifications – cost a bundle.

   But she wasn’t giving up now – and her improvised little team wasn’t going to give up after they’d defeated the guardian and were apparently closing in on some epic secret.

   By the time the groups various injuries had been treated, repairs had been made on her systems and everyone’s equipment, and a swarm of replacement drones had been ordered, Sulahafa had gotten the remaining mapping drones well into the zone the serpent-thing had been blocking access to.

   A good thing he still had a fair number of surveillance-crawlers and plenty of computer power left. Working their way in that far would have taken weeks without them; the tunnels there were a maze that kept twisting away from where they wanted to go. Evidently the snake had mostly avoided the center of the circle.

   Well, that made sense; if that was where something important was hidden, she wouldn’t have wanted a giant super-corrosive snake getting near it either.

   It took a lot of mapping and crawling – but eventually they found themselves beneath the Sphinx – and in front of a massive set of double doors at one end of a long chamber that was choked with sand at the other end – although there was something odd about the walls just before the sand took over; they were oddly carved and started to curve out, while a series of short pillars was sticking up out of the sand just before them, spaced out regularly in an arc across the hall. The doors were sealed with a classical pharonic curse-seal – and all the drones instruments said that they did not exist. Despite the glowing magical symbols on them, they didn’t radiate any magic either. The whole area seemed dead and empty to everything except their physical eyes.

(Yseult, quizzically) “Any idea what those symbols might be? Or – for that matter – what’s up with this ‘invisible to instruments’ routine?

(Nassor) “Well, it’s very, VERY, old anyway – and I think it’s some sort of channeling effect. It seems to be directing energy somewhere, which may be why it doesn’t show up as a magical hot-spot against the local background. Whatever makes it appear as simple rock to divination and instruments is another matter. It’s hard to believe that whoever made this predicted modern instruments and made an illusion to fool them. Perhaps it’s the doors that are an illusion? Or perhaps they’re real, but exist mostly or entirely somewhere else?”

   Yseult sighed. Asking had been a long shot, but she’d had hopes. She wasn’t about to try calling on an elder dragon or elf or someone who might actually know something about this ancient magic stuff; anyone like that would probably edge her out.

   Some obscure impulse – along with growing impatience and a momentary lapse of caution – led her to lay her hand against the door (albeit carefully NOT touching one of the glowing symbols). If she could feel it, but the drones had reported nothing but a smooth wall, something was REALLY up.

   It was. The ornate carvings of the door could be felt. But if the sensors in her cyberhand could pick it up… wait. She’d incorporated the limbs into her astral form, which was why they cost her “essence”. If it was an astral illusion, they’d pick it up – but no non-living system would. That fit.

   Then she got an overpowering feeling of being watched, and an image leaped into her head – a massive figure, made of dark stone yet somehow alive, wearing something rather like ancient egyptian dress, bearing a variety of symbols, and carrying a massive spear with a burning head. It seemed to be regarding her with… mild surprise?

   She shared that information – and her tour guide was prompt with an identification; Set, god of darkness and concealment, lord of the lands beyond egypt, master of the trackless desert, god of war and guardians.

   A literal god? Or some spirit that chose to represent itself as one? Or perhaps – given the age and power of this place – a primaeval entity that a myth had gathered around, like the grain of sand at the center of a pearl?

   She hesitated – for a moment it seemed almost a sacrilege to disturb a mystery that had lain hidden for three millennia – but then laid her palm against the wall. If whatever-it-was was alert enough to notice her small disturbance after so many centuries, there had to be a reason. Perhaps some sort of communication was possible if the entity wasn’t merely watching.

   Whatever it was, it was slow… Immensely patient, but stirring into action – she brushed away Nassor, who said she had been communing with the stone for several minutes just to get that far – and attempted to “listen” to the essence of the stone. She got the impression that some sort of summons was being sent, of long ages, of drifting sand and forgetfulness – and of the Osiris statue? Should she fetch it or have it moved somewhere? There was no apparent way to be sure.

   With Yseult still lost in the contemplation of the wall, Nassor had shrugged – and started poking about and removing loose sand (which presumably meant that there was a passage to the surface around somewhere) and examining the other contents of the room. Who knew? There might be a clue to the mystery of the doors…

   By the time Yseult had garnered the impressions that the figure seemed to be both pleased and mildly surprised at their presence, and was a touch impatient, the rest of the group had cleared away a few hundred tons of sand… A few earth-spirits to make sure they didn’t miss anything, magical sight, an earthmoving spell, and the scanning-assistance of a thirty mapping-drones should be sufficient for the archeological record.

   All that clearing left them with a sizeable section of a great hall, with the doors at one end and a set of broad stone stairs that ended in a mass of rubble – still with occasional grains of sand sifting through – at the other end. According to their maps, the area beyond the collapse should correspond to the dead-end stairs that had been reported previously. But those had been reported to end in solid rock…

   Ah; they had ended in solid rock before the awakening – or perhaps because the area had been intentionally sealed after the collapse.

   The center section was a bit more interesting; the walls went back in two irregularly-carved semicircles, with a series of notches in them, and the circle was completed by two lines of irregularly-shaped pillars – about three feet high – which stretched across the main hall. There were a variety of statues, apparently of a selection of the ancient egyptian gods, and the walls were covered with hieroglyphs. It reminded Nassor a bit of the room under the temple; it had the same sort of wall-niches.

   The jars and boxes in the annex seemed to have once contained offerings of foods, clothing, and similar stuff. It was all in surprisingly good shape actually – and would grace the collection of any museum – but none of it seemed especially relevant. Every Egyptian crypt had been stocked with grave-goods.

   Nassor shook her out of it to have a look.

   Well, that explained why the set-figure seemed to be vaguely pleased about something being cleaned up. She’d tried to “tell” it about the temporary defeat of the snake-thing, but it was hard to tell if she’d made any impression. The entity simply reacted so SLOWLY…

   There weren’t any more glowing symbols, but there were plenty of hieroglyphs – most of them talking about the crowning of the pharaoh and his responsibilities as the keeper of the afterlife and the gateway to it. When the Pharaoh rose from the underworld in the ship of Ra, his people were supposed to rise with him.

   The hieroglyphs on the statues were mostly prayers to the gods, asking for their aid in the affairs of the kingdom. The forty-eight symbols on the Osiris statue were a little different; they matched the symbols on the statue they’d found beneath the temple – and were some sort of prayer for direct intervention.

   Was this hall once known as the Eye of Ra? Or was this the foyer with the Eye proper still behind the doors? Was “Set” the guardian? Why was he, she, or it, so slow? Was the entity not fully awake, or simply very distant? Perhaps it simply wasn’t experiencing time in the same way? Well, if it was made of stone or something, being slow might be natural enough.

   They fetched the first Osiris statue, and found that it – although considerably smaller – was a pretty good match for the one that was already present.

   They parked it in a corner while they thought.

   Yseult spent some more time communing with the wall, and eventually got the impression that “Set” was waiting for some sort of religious figure.

   Well, there were plenty of would-be worshipers and priests of the old gods running about. Of course, better than 99% of them seemed to be crazy, and had simply pulled their information off the matrix. Maybe the other 1% were real, or maybe they simply hid their insanity a trifle better. Who knew?

   She asked the tour guide if he thought he could stand in for a priest. After all, he seemed to take it all at least semi-seriously and seemed reasonably knowledgeable on the topic.

(Guide) “Well… I could probably do as well as anyone. There really haven’t been any trained priests of the old gods for hundreds of years now, it’s been word-of-mouth traditions and ancient fragments.”

  She had him try to communicate with “Set”. Who knew? He might catch some reference that she was missing or be more acceptable or something. She could analyze the data a bit more while he was trying it…

   Well, they had some statues, some pillars, some carved niches in the walls, a widened area in the hall, and sand to tinker with. There were flat spots in the niches and atop the pillars, but they were mostly tilted to near-vertical positions; you couldn’t set anything there and have it stay. There were some flecks of old pigment on them though.

   Maybe something to do with the crowning of the pharaoh? A matrix search on that turned up quite a lot; the old priests had kept fairly good records on ceremonies that important. It had involved a lot of being handed various sacred objects, being blessed, being given the twin crowns and hailed by the priests, being pronounced one with Horus and Set, some ceremonial mixing of the earth from around Egypt, and being presented with bushels of grain – at least supposedly containing one seed from each village in Egypt.

   The room wasn’t even remotely large enough for THAT. The ceremony was supposed to have taken place in front of most of the major nobles of the realm, and there wasn’t room for that here. Perhaps it was the entryway?

   Bah. There was something she was missing.

   She went to try and clear the stairs while she thought. Maybe with a distraction it would come to her.

   A few hours of work on that brought down a lot more sand and rock. It really did look like the bottom end of those stairs near the sphinx that hadn’t led anywhere – albeit under another ten feet of rock and maybe forty feet of sand. Actually getting out that way would be a really major project, but it was nice to confirm where they were. Presumably the old-time excavators had run into a wall of rock with rubble behind it – unless they’d also run across “Apep” and had decided to cover things up with a report of a dead end. Before the awakening, Apep would have been an utter terror…

   That didn’t leave too much in the area that she didn’t understand.

   Her tour-guide felt that the Set-figure was probably only partly awake, and got the impression that it felt that it was “not yet time” for something or other. He also got the impression that Osiris, the pillars, the number forty eight, and paint all entered into it somewhere too.

   Well… There was paint on the walls and some of the pillars, although it had flaked off in a few places and the sand had been hard on it. Forty-eight had last turned up with the number of symbols in the prayer on the Osiris statue. No special ceremonial references came to mind though. There were no reported matches in the symbol database for the glowing symbols on the wall, although Osiris – as one of the major deities – was referenced in an awful lot of places. Even the layout was fairly unique; the only partial match she’d seen recently was from their first entryway – the area under the temple with the first statue of Osiris and all the flattened areas carved out of the wall. Those had run in a roughly-circular band about three feet above the floor.

   She had Sulahafa start using the drones to try and get direct access to the stairs and the surface opened up while she considered that – and took another look at the room under the temple. Maybe there were clues to more ornate rooms like this one…

   The room was still as they’d left it, although they’d removed the Osiris statue – which mostly left the walls and that band of odd flattened places. The heights seemed to match the heights of the pillars pretty well…

   She ran a geometric comparison – and got an almost-perfect match. The flat spots were in the same relative locations and at the same angles, and were even oriented the same way with respect to the compass. There were forty-eight flat spots in all, and they all matched, right down to the angles at which they sloped. About the only differences were the location of the ancient paint flecks. There were traces of ancient magic, but they were wall too many centuries old to tell much about. The flat spots were a circle though, which might relate to some magical operation. A lot of them used circles.

   Sadly, the area that would correspond to the mysterious doors and their symbols was about forty feet back in apparently-solid rock.;The widened area and the pillars were towards the middle of the last hall, and this carved-out area was mostly round. That was why the pillars had had to cross the hall to keep the flat areas in the right positions.

   There had to be a reason for the match, for the two Osiris statues, and for forty-eight flat spots with flecks of old paint.

   Something purely magical? It was really starting to nag at her! What was she missing?

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