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Author Topic: Fortnightly Writing Competition: The Sphinx (until 2. July 2022)  (Read 424 times)

Sinitrena

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The Sphinx

After spending some time in the Stone Age for last round, let's jump a bit forward in time, to ancient Egypt, or, more precisely, to the Sphinx.



The Sphinx is obviously a very famous, very large statue, as well as a mythological creature.

Recently, I stumbled about rumours (clearly false ones) that the Sphinx has closed its eyes. Maybe you want to tell us more about this? Or tell us about how it was built? Or maybe you want to have some fun with the creature from myth who likes to ask cryptic riddles (that's perfect for a forum about adventure games, isn't it?)? Or maybe S.P.H.I.N.X. is an acronym for a secret organization? Or you tell us about someone seeing the Sphinx for the first time?

No matter what story you write, the Sphinx or a sphinx of whatever kind, should feature prominently.

Allure us into ancient mysteries with your stories by the end of 2. July 2022.

Happy writing.

Mandle

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THE RIDDLING OF THE SPHINX

Harland Smith's attention was riveted on Pastor Gerald, pacing back and forth before the altar of the First Church Of The Second Coming Of The Christ.

The pastor was waving his arms about in a frenzy around him, punctuated now and then with a savage point of his finger here or there into the audience with a cry of "YOU?!" and "OR, PERHAPS, YOU?!" and those that felt they were pointed at shook their heads violently in denial, all five or six of them at a time.

"IT IS THESE 'FIRST POINTER SHOOTING' GAMES THAT ARE SENDING THE MINDS AND SOULS OF OUR YOUTH TO SATAN!!!" he bellowed, and then he stopped pacing and the audience heard his dramatic pull-in of breath through his lapel-clipped Bluetooth mic and watched him draw his clenched fists into his sides in a display of heroic self-control.

Harland fell back on the pew he was seated upon, up near the back of the modern auditorium church, and reminded himself to breathe again.

Pastor Gerald ALWAYS spoke the truth. He spoke the word of GOD. If Pastor Gerald said these game-making people were doing the work of the Devil then it must certai...

"AND YOU! WHAT WILL *YOU* DO ABOUT THIS?!" came the cry that snapped Harland's attention back out of his musings and he saw the Pastor's finger pointing DIRECTLY at him!

The other dozen nodding heads of the people seated near him did not register in his peripheral vision as he locked eyes with the Pastor down across the heads of the hundreds of others seated in the auditorium-sized church.

The Pastor's finger was wavering around and was no longer directly on Harland. But it had been. IT HAD BEEN!

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Jane Connolly pushed through the door of the Sphinx Games office with her shoulder, the tray of six coffees, each in the divots of the eco-friendly molded pulp tray from "Grounded Beans", barely tipping in the grip of both her hands as the rest of the crew greeted her with:

"Hey, here we go!" from Bob, her favorite programmer on her team, but not the lead.

and

"Gimme that sweet, sweet double-mocha!" from Thomas, the actual lead.

and

"Jane! You look fab!" from the other Jane, Jane O'Hara, currently doing the marketing on the game.

and

"Finally! How you expect us to work without the caffies, you slave-driving bitch?!" from Kate, her college roomie up until three years ago when they graduated and formed Sphinx Games soon after.

and

"Sup?" from Justin, with a smile and nod of his curly auburn mop of hair.

It was an exciting morning as the launch demo of their first-person-shooter game "Outland Desperate" had just gone live late the night before. Everyone had been up until only about three hours ago chatting back and forth about the varying responses from "It's alright so far." to "Bit skeptical about the supply crates. Are they gonna turn into loot-crates in the full game. They are, right? Yeah, they are. >sigh<" to "THIS SUCKS DONKEY-BALLS!".

But the download numbers were what mattered the most. Jane C. looked meaningfully at Jane O. and saw the smile on her namesake's face.

"Well, tell me! Hurry up FFS!" said Jane C., actually saying the letters "FFS".

"They dipped a bit in the last thirty minutes but were performing well above average up unti..."

SLAM-SMASH!!!

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

It took Harland only about ten minutes of Googling to find the nest of satanic vipers that Pastor Gerald had surely been pointing out for him to cull as his part in the coming war against those undeserving of salvation.

And they were just across town. "Sphinx Games", a pagan name if ever he had heard one.

He watched the demo trailer of their game "Outland Desperate" on their steam page, and had to take several deep gulps to control his rising gorge as he saw kill after kill after headshot after headshot all set on the very pagan backdrops of Egyptian temples and even in one level that seemed to represent Hell itself.

The war was no longer coming, it was here! And HE would be the first warrior on the front lines!

His mom asked him "Are you gonna aksually gosh to sschol today of swhat?" from her usual morning wake-up on the sofa surrounded by empty vodka bottles, and he said "Yup, gonna learn some bitches some shit!"

He didn't hear her fading reply as he hefted the black, zippered gym-bag over his own hefty left shoulder and headed out to his shitty little Honda that he hated.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

SLAM-SMASH!

Even while the glass from the shattered panes of the front door was still falling, the gunman stepped into the office and opened fire with his assault rifle.

Jane C., her back to him, had the bottom-right portion of her stomach blown out, and then the middle of her chest, and then a section of her left shoulder and immediately fell onto her face on the linoleum-tiled beige floor, dumping all the coffees from her tray out in a fan of brown milkiness from under her.

The bullet that passed through her stomach punched through Bob's left thigh and he briefly screamed before that was cut off as the returning arc of fire took off the top of his head and put down Thomas as well as he tried to stand up.

Still only a few seconds into the attack, the gunman stepped another two paces into the office and spent the rest of his magazine on Kate and Justin.

Kate was killed instantly with a bullet through her sternum, but Justin was only hit through the meaty tissue of his side and swiveled off from his gamer-chair, screaming, onto the floor.

The gunman took another two paces into the room, threw his assault rifle aside, and took out an automatic pistol from the back of his belt.

He reached out and plugged Jane O. right in the middle of her face, up close, and then stood there for a moment, head cocked to one side, listening after the last two bodies had tipped their chairs over as they fell, and the chairs had stopped clattering around and spinning their casters in the air.

He saw Justin slipping and scrambling in his own blood as he tried to pull himself to safety with a grip on the leg of a cubicle wall. But it was no good and he only managed to pull the cubicle wall towards him an inch or two before the gunman put a bullet in his backward-staring horrified face as well.

Then the gunman looked around at the demons of the Sphinx Games office that he had riddled with bullets and smiled and put the automatic up under his own jaw and, knowing that he was about to be welcomed at the side of his god for his bravery in battle, he pulled the trigger.
« Last Edit: 21 Jun 2022, 10:51 by Mandle »

Sinitrena

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Hi there, entry! Nice to see you!


... reading ...


... reading ...


This story needs a trigger warning (no pun intended).

Also: https://edition.cnn.com/2022/06/18/opinions/mass-murders-pathway-to-violence-bergen-meloy/index.html I'll leave this here without further comment.
« Last Edit: 22 Jun 2022, 14:30 by Sinitrena »

Mandle

  • NO PIXEL LEFT BEHIND!!!
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    •  
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Thanks for the comments Sini, but I think I will let my story stand as is. It is more intended as a piece concerning extreme outlooks leading inevitably to extreme actions by someone not equipped to know better. It is not intended as a comment on religion or mental health sufferers. I just wanted to write a sad story about things that are probably happening right now.

Baron

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Anyone here watch the fantastic adult cartoon called Venture Brothers?   (laugh)




Sinitrena

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Anyone here watch the fantastic adult cartoon called Venture Brothers?   (laugh)

Never even heard of it before.

Mandle

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Anyone here watch the fantastic adult cartoon called Venture Brothers?   (laugh)

Never even heard of it before.

Same, but if Baron says it is awesome then it is guaranteed AWESOME!

EDIT: Just watched the provided trailer and I did laugh a few times but the out-of-context stuff did get a little creepy. Maybe it's supposed to. I laugh at creepy stuff all the time. Take my own reflection in the mirror for example.
« Last Edit: 24 Jun 2022, 14:57 by Mandle »

Just to let everyone know I am working on a piece, but it has turned into quite a large beast. I should be alright for the deadline as I have an ending in mind and just need to type up the remainder of the journey.

[update]Oh dang. It keeps getting longer and I still haven’t ended it.
« Last Edit: 30 Jun 2022, 16:16 by Stupot »

Mandle

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Oh dang. It keeps getting longer and I still haven’t ended it.

That's what she said.

Sinitrena

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Wait am moment. Let me look in my pockets, I'm sure I saw some extra time in there somewhere... Where is it... Hm, ideas for games... Stories I never finished... Things I still have to do (no, that one can go in the trash)... Oh, here it is, three days! No idea where they come from but here they are and I don't know what to do with them.
Do you want them?
Don't answer, just take them.

Deadline extended: 5. July.

Wait am moment. Let me look in my pockets, I'm sure I saw some extra time in there somewhere... Where is it... Hm, ideas for games... Stories I never finished... Things I still have to do (no, that one can go in the trash)... Oh, here it is, three days! No idea where they come from but here they are and I don't know what to do with them.
Do you want them?
Don't answer, just take them.

Deadline extended: 5. July.

Haha. I had just "finished" my story and was about to call it a day and post it before picking my kid up, when I saw this message.

I think I will instead take your kind offer. It will give me a chance to have a proper proofread and also to sort out any formatting issues that I normally have when I post a story here.

Word count (barring any subsequent edits): 4085

Baron

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    •  
    • Baron worked on one or more games that was nominated for an AGS Award!
Wait am moment. Let me look in my pockets, I'm sure I saw some extra time in there somewhere... Where is it... Hm, ideas for games... Stories I never finished... Things I still have to do (no, that one can go in the trash)... Oh, here it is, three days! No idea where they come from but here they are and I don't know what to do with them.
Do you want them?
Don't answer, just take them.

Deadline extended: 5. July.

Woot!  I was about to get started, but now I get the whole weekend to really procrastinate think up some good ideas.   (nod)

Thanks Sini!  :-D

The Wriggle of the Sphinx.

All Toby’s childhood, he had wanted to be an Egyptologist. Now he was a grown man and he had long forgotten everything he’d learned in elementary school about the pharoes (he could even spell it, back then) and the pyramids. His current position as a middle manager for a catering firm for global events and conferences could hardly have been further from his boyhood dream of digging in the dirt and finding tombs.

This week however, work had taken him to Cairo for a preparatory meeting to discuss the needs of a client hosting a robotics conference later in the year. And as part of the entertainment side of his trip, his hosts, two rather stony-faced gentlemen named Moussa and Osman, had planned a brief excursion to Giza to see the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx. Mr Osman was organizing the conference, while Mr Moussa, CEO and lead engineer of his own private robotics company RXAIN (pronounced “rain”) was paying for it.

Toby, now 34 and usually rather a serious, expressionless gentleman, could hardly contain his excitement. In the car ride alone, he had already made three derivations of the “in de-Nile" joke, to which his hosts politely smiled as though they hadn’t heard it a thousand times before. And as the car pulled up to the large parking area and the true size of the pyramids became apparent, he couldn’t resist one more.

His hosts, Moussa and Osman, had clearly seen this place more times than they would care to, and did well to humour him with photographs and explanations in the absence of an official tour guide. One of the men, Mr Osman disappeared for a moment, possibly to find a rest room. There were a number of signs around the site asking visitors, in multiple languages, not to remove material from the site. This bummed Toby as he had been hoping to take a little souvenir for his nephew, Alfie, who was himself developing childhood love of all things Egypt.

Two things struck Toby: first, just how busy the place was. It was obvious, really, that this, the most iconic of the seven wonders, would be a popular tourist destination, but he had envisioned it being much quieter and more desolate. It is in the desert after all. The other thing that struck him was just how close you can get to the pyramids. You could walk right up and touch them. The Sphinx, however, was more restricted. The public were not allowed close to the monument, instead taking pictures from a platform some 50 metres away.
Osman returned with another gentleman in tow. The man introduced himself jovially as Doctor Al-Ameen, a resident Egyptologist. Toby went giddy at the knees and greeted the man is if he had just met Indiana Jones himself.

“Dr Al-Ameen has offered to take you closer to the Sphinx, if you’d like,” said Osman. “He owes me a favour.”

Toby was lost for words, and couldn’t quite think how to thank the man.

“It seems your man is... in de-Nile.” Dr Al-Ameen chuckled. Toby had found his soul mate.

The four men passed a chained-off entryway intended for site staff only, and the doctor led them to the very side of the Sphinx himself.

“I must remind you not to remove any materials from the site. Please do not touch the monument.”

More pictures were taken. Even Osman and Moussa were excited. They had never been up this close to the monument before. Not many people had. This was something they would go home and tell their wives and children.

Toby thought of his nephew Alfie, and in a moment of sheer kleptomania, when the three Egyptian men were not paying attention to him, he reached out and plucked a piece of limestone from the base of the Sphinx and put it in his pocket.

A few moments passed and he realised he had gotten away with it. But a sudden sense of regret filled his soul. He had been gifted this truly unique experience by some kind gentlemen who didn’t know him from Adam, and he had broken their trust. He considered trying to put the piece of rock back, but something was happening. He noticed another piece of rock falling from the area he had taken the first piece from. It was crumbling. Oh shit, he thought. What have I done? He would have to come clean. There was no way they would believe it just so happened to start crumbling at this exact moment.

“Errm... E-excuse, me, doctor?” said Toby, timidly.

Suddenly, a creaking sound sent a trickle of rubble down the side of the Sphinx’s rear. And more and more of the ancient material began rolling to the floor. The monument was crumbling before their eyes.

“What have you done?” said Al-Ameen. Moussa and Osman went back to their earlier stony-faced visages.

“I was just...”

“Did you...”

Toby nodded.

At that moment. Mr Osman pointed up at the place where the limestone had been falling from. “It’s... moving.”

“I beg your...”

“The Sphinx... It’s... wriggling.”

It was true. The rear end of the monument was definitely moving. It was shaking off the stone in a side-to-side motion.

“It’s just like a cat?” Mr Moussa said.

Dr Al-Ameen shook his head. “That’s impossible. We have seen inside it. It is not a cat.”

But even the Egyptologist could not deny his own eyes.

The Sphinx continued to wriggle and shake. Rubble continued to fall to the ground, and a larger piece narrowly missed Mr Moussa as it crashed to the floor.

“It’s getting dangerous. We need to leave.” And Dr Al-Ameen led the men back up to the public platform where a crowd of people had gathered to watch. “It’s a kitten” “Is that fur?” “I knew it?”

By the time Toby had reached the top of the steps, the doctor had disappeared. Presumably to call for some kind of back-up.

Just then, a giant crack formed right up the back of the statue and the whole right side of the Sphinx crashed to the ground, sending up a cloud of dust and sand, which completely obscured the monument.

And then: “Meeeeeeeoooooowwwww!” It echoed for miles around and as the dust began to settle it was clear the Sphinx had been replaced by a giant kitten. It was simultaneously the cutest and most horrifying thing Toby had ever seen. Most people ran. A few stopped to take videos. Toby was among the runners, as were his two hosts.

As they approached the car in the parking area, Toby stole a glance behind. The giant kitten had kicked up another dust cloud so huge around itself, the Great Pyramid was completely obscured behind it. A huge furry tail span around through the cloud and the group of Instagrammers who had chosen to stay and take selfies were swiftly swiped away. Those who had chosen to run were mostly in their cars by now.  But the cat bolted in the direction of the parking area and made light work of a school bus (thankfully empty) before slamming its paw down on the bonnet of a nearby car, crushing the engine inside.

Toby and Mr Osman seemed to have had the same idea. Run. They abandoned any hope of getting away on wheels, and changed course towards what must have been some form of visitor’s centre, some 500 metres away. Mr Moussa, apparently was not on the same page, and was not behind them when Toby checked over his shoulder.

“We’ve lost Moussa!” yelled Toby. As they approached, it became apparent that this visitor’s centre was little more than a shaded seating lounge with little in the way of any sturdy structure that might protect them from the giant furball currently turning the car park upside-down as though it were a nest of baby mice. Toby knew there was no way Mr Moussa would have survived.

The tourist centre did not look strong, and Toby knew that they would be not be safe here. Having said that, most survivors had also made their way here. Some were crying, some were on their knees praying, others were peeking out through the thin drapes.

“He seems to be happily toying with the cars,” said a familiar voice, “for now.” It was Dr Al Ameen. He had made it to the lounge too, and was addressing anyone who might listen “The military have been called. We may not be able to stay here, in case they use heavy weapons.

“They’re going to kill it?” said one voice. A small girl, maybe six or seven. She seemed to be speaking on behalf of an entire class of elementary school children on a field trip, who seemed more concerned about the welfare of the baby giant kitten than of the dozens of people it had now killed and injured.

“I don’t know,” said the Egyptologist.

At that moment, there were some shrieks and gasps from the group of people watching the devastation from the drapes. The cat seemed to have gotten bored of the carprk and was heading towards the lounge, slowly, but with prowling intent.

“We’re all gonna die!” shouted an American tourist, the front of his red shorts darkening.

The group of school-children began to scream and cry, but the doctor was able to cut through the commotion. “We have a lot higher odds if we stay in here, keep quiet, keep together and keep away from the sides.” Everyone in the room, listened to the man. Cats were not his field of expertise, but he was the only person in the place who had any remote aura of authority, so they heeded his advice and gathered, all 30-40 of them, in the centre of the lounge space

The giant cat was now prowling around the outside of the lounge, looking for a new plaything. He circled the structure slowly, turned and circled back around them in the opposite direction. At which point it collapsed to the floor with a thunderous bang and began rolling on its back, as though waiting for a giant hand to reach down and tickle its belly. No such hand arrived, and so it sat up, almost, human-like, bent forward and began licking itself.

Osman, who was closest to the kitten’s loction, turned to the others and said “my cat does this too”. Out of nowhere, a giant paw swiped through the drapes, its machete-length claws outstretched like a giant death-fan, and Mr Osman was spun around on the spot. Blood spurted in every direction, covering the crowd of frightened sightseers, as Osman was flung up into the air and landed in at least five separate locations. His torso was then hooked and lifted up into the air, and scooped into the mouth of the huge kitten.

What followed was true indescribable terror. In later reporting his version of events, Toby could only provide brief glimpses of what happened in that lounge. He and the doctor were able to escape, via some kind of desert buggy, bringing two or the school-children with them – that was all the space they had – whilst behind them the cat lay waste to the visitor’s lounge and everyone inside of it.

Dr Al Ameen, Toby and the children drove for ten minutes before they felt it was safe enough to stop. Up ahead, wall of black was heading towards them like a desert tsunami. It was the military. Armoured vehicles and supply trucks were followed by an entire fleet of helicopters and fighter planes.

The two children, already traumatised, didn’t know whether to be scared or relieved to see the soldiers. To be honest, neither did Toby. As the trucks passed their position, they were told to jump into the back of an armoured truck for safety. The truck turned around and took them towards safety as the army continued on. Toby noticed a number of helicopters flying in formation, and between them they were carrying a large net. Were they going to try to capture the cat?

“The claws,” Toby managed to say.”

“Pardon me?” said a soldier travelling in the truck with them.

“The cat’s claws are too sharp.” Dr Al-Ameen agreed. “You’ll never capture it with that net.”

The soldier’s face went pale. He immediately said something to the driver in panicked Arabic, who then repeated the information into a radio. A voice came back over the radio, thanking them for the heads up. They were going to have to engage with the kitten militarily.

A few moments passed in silence. Toby couldn’t shake something from his mind.

“Why did you bring me on the buggy? You could have saved another kid. Maybe two.”

Dr Al-Ameen shook his head. “Oh, I don’t know. I had some ridiculous idea that you might be the key to fixing this, seeing as… you know?” Al-Ameen mercifully didn’t finish the sentence.

Then Toby said: “What if we go back to the Sphinx site? What if I return the piece I took? What if there are some ancient instructions written there? What if...”

“I’ve thought of all that. None of it meshes with anything we know about the Ancient Egyptians. This is not one of your Hollywood movies. There are no riddles, no curses. That’s all just folklore.” The once jovial doctor was defeated, and in his place was a broken man, out of ideas, his life’s work rendered meaningless.

“Until an hour ago, doctor, you didn’t think there was a giant cat lying dormant inside the Sphinx.”

“Exactly. Everything we thought we knew was wrong.”

“That’s my point. Let’s just go back to the Sphinx site and see what’s there. Maybe there is a riddle after all.”
But both men knew it was futile.

The truck came to a stop and the passengers were ordered to disembark. They had arrived at the banks of the River Nile. Toby shook his head. “This can’t be happening,” he thought to himself. Two soldiers lifted the children into their arms and took them into a large tent. Another soldier led Toby and Dr Al-Ameen to a large boathouse that seemed to have been commandeered by the military.

Inside the boathouse, it was buzzing with activity. Hastily assembled equipment and cables covered every surface and personnel were flitting around. A large man covered in medals turned to face them. All formalities were dispensed with and the man (possibly a General?) paced over to Toby and said “Are you him?”

Assuming “him” referred to “the idiot who caused all this”, Toby simply nodded in the affirmative.

“I assume you are sorry. You can apologise later. Now we need your help. We are going to lure the target back to the Sphinx site. We have men there already.”

Dr Al-Ameen said “You’re not going to bomb it?”

“If this does not work, we will.”

“What makes you think it will work?”

“I don’t. But one of your friends seems to think it will.”

At that moment, the door opened. It was Mr Moussa. Toby, forgetting himself, flung his arms around the man.

“I thought you… we… I’m…”

Moussa stiffened rather abruptly and shook the man off coldly, without offering an explanation as to how he survived the car-park massacre.

It took toby a few moments to remember how he had met Mr Moussa in the first place.

“Robots!”

The men followed Moussa out of the boathouse and there, standing as high as the great Pyramid itself, was a creature in the form of an adult cat, even bigger than the kitten currently rampaging around Giza.

“A robot cat?”

“Not necessarily,” Moussa touched a button on a tablet and the giant cat transformed into a huge falcon before their very eyes. Its huge wings waved gently, and it whooshed high up into the air above their heads, and then came to a rest.

Dr Al-Ameen, dropped to his knees. “Magnificent,” he said.

“Nanodrones. These tiny drones, millions of them, each smaller than a flea can create any form. They communicate and cooperate with one another. And combined with current A.I. technology, they are almost completely autonomous. We only have to give it an objective and it will do the rest.” Moussa spoke very matter-of-factly

“But it’s so real,” said Toby.

“Each nanodrone is fitted with a tiny LED that can emit red, green or blue light. When combined, the bots can recreate any image, any texture in very high definition.”

“You said I can help? What do you need me for?”

“Well, you are its mother.”

“You what?”

“It was you who awoke it. You who gave birth to it. You are its mother, and it will follow you.” Moussa held up the tablet. “Now, look into this camera”
As he did, the huge falcon reshaped itself to its previous feline form, except this time its head was that of a human, just like the Sphinx itself. It took Toby a few seconds to realise… it had his face.

Mr Moussa typed some commands into his tablet. “I’m telling the nanodrones to lure the cat back to the Sphinx site, where it will be tranquilised and put down humanely.”
Moussa then swiped his finger across the screen with a flourish and the Sphinx with Toby’s head, stood up, morphed into the form of a cheetah and immediately started running across the desert at great speed. Toby noted that its feet were not even touching the floor.

“They can also combine to create functioning cameras that transmit the images wirelessly" The four men, Toby, Al-Ameen, Moussa and the general turned to face a large screen that had appeared. "Whenever I want, I can have some of the drones break away from the main unit and form themselves into a functioning camera for any angle we require. At the moment, we have three angles.” Moussa had clearly practiced this speech for the conference.

Three hi-definition videos appeared on the screen. One was a POV view from the front of the nanodrone cheetah running through the desert at immense speeds, another showed an overhead view while another showed the front of the creature’s beautiful face. It was flawless.

“It’s nearly there already.” The desert view from the first-person showed something appearing in the distance. It quickly grew larger on the monitor as the nanodrone cheetah approached the giant kitten. The kitten was now fully in view and it made Toby gag. Its coat was matted with blood and it was now pacing around aimlessly, having killed everyone in its path. It turned its head and the men watching the screen gasped in unison as the form of a woman appeared, dangling out of the cat’s mouth like an old discarded Barbie doll.

The cheetah, slowed down and moved closer to the cat. It subtley morphed back into its earlier form of a Sphinx with Toby’s face, and immediately got to work in its capacity as the mother of this beast. The kitten immediately recognised Toby and locked onto the mother, just as planned. It began to follow the Toby-Sphinx, dropping the human Barbie from its mouth as he did so.

The nanodrone mother slowly worked its way across the desert, occasionally turning its Toby head to keep the giant kitten in tow. The men in the houseboat-turned-control-room watched on as the nanodrones worked their magic. At one point, the kitten’s attentions began to wane, and so some of the drones broke off to create what looked like a huge length of knitting-wool, which dangled from the mother’s tail. This immediately got the kitten back on track.

Mr Moussa had not touched the tablet, so the nanodrones’ AI must have thought of that themselves. As though he had read Toby’s mind, he said “As I explained, they will do whatever necessary to bring the cat home.”

Dr Al-Ameen noticed something else in one of the other video feeds. “What are those, in the distance?” he asked, pointing to the screen.

“Those are my soldiers,” the general explained, “In case anything goes wrong.”

They continued watching. Progress was slow, as the kitten and the “mother” gradually moved across the desert. As well as the ball of string, the nanodrones also tried several other tactics, including picking the kitten up by the scruff of the neck. But this was short lived as Moussa explained, “The drones are mostly a visual tool. They can look like anything. Remember, though, that they are made up of tiny individual units. Like a sandcastle, it is not a solid object. However, the drones are equipped with limited quantum tension capabilities allowing them to essentially become solid. This requires a lot of energy, though, so it can only be used sparingly.”

Eventually though, the two cats reached the site of the Sphinx without a hitch.

Something hit the rear of the kitten. The tranquilizer, Toby guessed. But it had no effect. The kitten was so big, it barely registered the dart. Another dart flew, then another. The cat, began to swat with its paw, as though waving away an irritating fly. Three more darts flew and the cat was no distracted. The “mother” circled around and showed its Toby face to try to calm the cat, but the men firing the darts clearly hadn’t read the room and kept firing more tranquilizers at the animal. It was getting pissed off and the tranks were clearly having no effect.

The general shook his head “That’s enough. I knew this wouldn’t work.”

Mr Moussa tried to object but the general had already moved to a different part of the room. He pricked up a walkie-talkie and pressed the button. “Let it rain.”

At once, bombs rained down and bullets were flying every which way. The nanodrone Sphinx dissipated and morphed and swirled into a giant cloud, weaving and dodging between the torrent of artillery pummelling down on the giant death kitten. This carried on for what must have been ten minutes as smoke and dust and sand filled the air.

Toby watched on in disbelief. The cameras blipped on and off from various angles as the drones streaming the events had to keep dispersing and reforming around the rain of destruction, but eventually they settled as the shells and bombs finally ceased.

The nanodrones spiralled into its earlier falcon form and used its massive wings to beat away the smoke and dust. What lay beneath the rubble was, just a kitten, lying broken and bloodied and very dead. The room breathed a sign of relief, but they did not cheer. This was a sad day. The beast was defeated, but death toll would be in the hundreds, and the world’s most iconic monolith was gone forever.

Toby turned to the other men. Dr Al-Ameen was sobbing. Toby put his arm around the man he had only met just a few hours before and joined him.

“Goodbye, gentlemen.” Mr Moussa had been standing over the sobbing pair, waiting for them to finish. “I must leave now.” Toby went to shake the man’s hand, but his own hand went through it as though it were a cloud of dust.

“You’re…”

“Thank you for your help.”

“But…”

And with that, the man Toby only knew as Mr Moussa, but already loved like a brother, disintegrated and swirled into the form of a falcon, albeit smaller than the one currently overlooking the bloodied remains of the giant cat, and flew out of the room.

After a while, the general returned flanked by two officers and declared, “The mission is complete. Clear out.”

Al-Ameen stood up, “Sir, I”.

“Everybody out.”

Toby stood up too and was about ready to leave when one of the soldiers said something in Arabic and pointed at the screen. The small falcon that was once Mr Moussa flew into view and, without any ceremony, became one with its nanodrone brethren.

The huge falcon swirled and morphed into a huge spinning sphere, grey at first, but then splashes of colour formed and shifted into a psychedelic kaleidoscope of patterns. Then, the huge lightshow took the form of a marching army, a flying dragon, Elvis Presley's blue suede shoes, a bullet train, the Eiffel Tower, Ayer’s Rock, a fleet of fighter jets before finally becoming a swirling cloud again.

Slowly the cloud lifted, seeming to disappear one tiny nanodrone at a time. In its place was the Great Sphinx of Giza. Just as it had looked that very morning.

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An extension you say? On the week my summer vacation began on, you say? Well then...

Insight in Ice

The map was useless. Worse than useless, it was almost entirely inaccurate! And yet it had just enough in kind with the landscape the young knight had traveled so far, so as to have him beginning to trust the ragged old thing. Now, as the snow crystals whipped his face in the intense wind and the red travel cloak he’d wrapped around his body was becoming stiff and heavy, he cursed the thing in the most colourful words he could muster in the darkest depths of his mind. As if to spite him one last time the faded map fluttered between his stiff fingers, caught in a violent gust, and tore itself free. As he turned to see it go down the steep incline he’d just climbed, the ragged parchment disappearing past the sparse coverage of craggy little trees, the boy stuffed his hands inside the robe. There, closer to his body, he felt some sensation slowly returning to the numb digits.

“Not going back yet.” -he muttered, shaking his head as he turned his back on the traitorous map and faced uphill once more, into the wind that made his eyes squint under the hood. The boy of blonde hair, freckled face and lithe body forced his foot to rise and move forward, the snow crunching under the soles of his boots as he continued to trudge up and along the night-invisible path he’d followed so far. It was the fourth day of his climb, and with each handful of hours the path had become more difficult and the weather had become less kind. From the mist below he’d ventured up into the rain-soaked woods, only for the second night of his journey to bring about the eerie silence of extreme cold. The second night, spent wrapped tightly in his robe in a makeshift shelter, had marked the arrival of the wind. He tried to imagine what might be ahead next, but aside from raining fire and brimstone, which might actually be a nice change considering the cold, the boy could not imagine things getting any worse.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Crackle. Crunch.

The sound of snow being crushed and compacted by the boots was the only sound that competed with the wind for a while. The depressions left by his feet vanished in a mere moment as fresh snow was piled on by the storm. Beneath the robe the scabbard of a slender sword, hung off his belt, tapped his thigh with every other step.

Crunch. Crackle. Crunch. Crunch. Crackle.

The young knight made a humming sound in the back of his throat, as if to test his voice to make sure it was still with him. It seemed to push back the noise of the wind a little. With a shake of his head to dislodge some snow off his brow he began to smile.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Crackle.

He began to hum a tune. A welcome distraction that brought about memories of a better place. A warm hearth and a crackling fire, the scent of smoke and the whine of a dog with a fuzzy coat of creamy brown fur beside him, licking his fingers and begging for scraps of his meal. Back then it wasn’t him humming, but his mother. The song had no words, but as its melody swirled about it was easy to conjure up images of springtime winds, warm and gentle, moving through the endless sea of trees which surrounded Ravenwood Keep. His older brother had been there, too, but the fuzzy dog always preferred the company of the younger sibling, and was rewarded with scraps of chicken meat and skin for its loyalty.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

Their father was often away, but he’d been with them that night, sitting upon the benches with some of his friends. As the snow-covered hill leveled off, making for easier marching, the boy tried to remember more. The moon had been out in that night of his memories, glimpsed through a sooty window nestled between tapestries of red and gold, with the black Raven embled intricately woven into them, clutching a dead, dry branch in its claws. The men and his father had spoken feverishly in hushed tones, but as the hum of gentle melodies had filled the hall they, too, had fallen silent and listened. Had they known, the boy now wondered, what would come in the night?

Crunch. Crackle. Crack. Crunch. Crack.

The image vanished from his mind as his boot sank deeper than before. Something wasn’t right.

Crack!

Too late he understood he’d walked off the path, which had snaked off somewhere beneath the snow. As he tumbled forward, his hands were trapped under the robe for warmth, and he couldn’t reach out to stop his fall in time. A thin sheet of powdery snow met his face, but underneath was a sheet of ice, polished and thinned by the wind, which shattered upon impact. The shrill scream that escaped his lips might have served as a reminder of just how young and unprepared the boy-knight of just thirteen summers was for such a trek. The snow blinded him. His knees smashed into the ice, then through it, following after his body. Despite the darkness in his eyes he could almost see the surface of the lake beneath the ice, frigid water ready to claim him.

To end him.

Instead of a splash, however, there was a dull thump. The boy screamed again as he felt his body go into a roll. Fine sand filled his nose and mouth, forcing his eyes shut. His hands, finally free of the robe, clawed desperately for something to hold onto, but found only soft, loose grains which offered him no help as he went down further. An impact finally halted his tumble down the bank of fine sand, as his back and skull simultaneously impacted on stone. Air was knocked from his lungs. The space behind his eyes was filled with vivid images of sparkling stars. Consciousness flickered, then faded.

-

Whether in dream or memory, the boy could hear the humming once more. The familiar song with no words. The boy groaned, and the sound of his voice echoed around him in the darkness. The melody rose and fell, but it wasn’t the delicate voice of his mother as it had been in his memories, nor was it his own voice, vibrating within his skull. It was a deeper, lower sound, as if the very mountain he had been climbing had taken to humming the song around him.

The boy opened his eyes and the humming stopped. He saw nothing but the tiniest speck of light above him, where fresh snow was steadily closing up the hole he had fallen in through. A low, rumbling voice spoke, and the boy could feel the stone upon which he lay trembling with the words: “You bring with you a melody most fine, to help and pass the time.”

The young knight coughed, turned his head and spat out sand that had stuck to his lips and tongue. Slowly he pushed himself to his side, then up to sit. The stone beneath him felt smooth, polished and unnaturally warm.

“Do you have a name, I wonder? Did you bring it with you as you ventured over yonder?”

The boy leaned forward onto all fours, then pushed himself to his knees again, and finally stood. Sand fell down from him, cascading over the stone with a faint sound. He opened his mouth to speak, but was forced to cough out more sand instead, retching there in the dark. The voice was silent, waiting for his reply.

“I am Ser Thomas!” -the boy finally called out, sounding hoarse and winded. “Of the noble house Ravenwood, I come seeking-” He clenched his teeth for a moment, uncertain of himself, preparing to say more. Instead he fell silent as a pair of eyes opened above him, shimmering blue light emanating from their irises. Could this truly be it? Had the found it?

“Thomas.” -the rumbling voice repeated as the light from the eyes spread about. The boy could make out the shape of a vast stone face above him, its noble jaw covered in a layer of frost, icicles hanging off it. A vast decorative mane of shimmering stone silhouetted the unmoving face. The boy stood upon the vast stone paw of the thing, the other having been buried in the bank of sand. It was impossible to tell how large the cavern was, as the darkness devoured any suggestion of wall or ceiling. “A once noble name of a once noble house. Yet it garners less respect than a mere field mouse...”

It was the truth, but to have it so spat in his face made the boy blush in anger. Another memory flashed in his mind of that night, the scream of his mother as the doors of the great hall were smashed open. The clang of steel and the shouts of intruders. Blood on the blade of an axe and the stench of smoke and burning hair.

“I came here to-” The boy tried to regain his footing in the strange conversation. He’d found what he’d been looking for, but this didn’t seem right. It wasn’t like in the stories.

“To find salvation is your true aim, to claim your right and clear your name.” -the stone voice replied. Silence followed as young Sir Thomas reorganized his thoughts. He nodded his head. He’d heard tales of an ancient being in the mountains, which knew all things that were, had been, and were to come.

“My family was accused of crimes they did not commit.” He blinked his eyes furiously to keep them from flooding as the memories washed over him. He’d watched his older brother fight the attackers with his sword drawn, only to fall with an expression of shock once a crossbow bolt caught him in the neck. The guards were overwhelmed. His mother and father had been dragged to the gallows hastily erected outside. The great hall had been on fire and the black smoke had darkened the moon and the stars. Thomas had been dragged out, too, and even his dog had been too afraid to stay and protect him. You are too young to pay for your family name, they had told him, as they forced him to watch. Too young to die for the crime of another, but still you must learn. Crime begets punishment.

“They were betrayed! I am sure of this!” -Thomas cried out. He remembered how his father had taught him to ride a horse, how his brother had sparred with him with wooden swords, and how his mother had tended to the scrapes and bruises he’d accumulated while adventuring around the keep. “I seek only the truth, the knowledge that will prove it! With that I will find a way and clear the name of house Ravenwood!”

The blue eyes above seemed to observe the boy, judging the weight of his words.

“Through the snow and ice, you had the will to push through...”

Thomas nodded his head. His skull throbbed painfully and his lungs burned in his chest, but he wouldn’t back down now.

“...but does innocence make one blind, or do your words ring true?”

Thomas was sure. He knew his family and how the people under their protection respected and revered them, how his mother assured him they would safeguard the people, the roads and the ancient wood that provided their wealth through hard work and dedication.

The blue eyes shone brighter until Thomas had to shield his eyes so as not to be blinded.

“Very well, we shall see in time, the very nature of your family, and the truth of their crime.”

The hand wasn’t enough. The boy shut his eyes but it wasn’t enough either! He screamed as the light blinded him and his world turned bright blue, then white. He sank to his knees and curled up into a ball to hide away from the overwhelming light. Images flickered in his view, inside his eyelids: memories of summer days and winter nights, of campfires out in the woods and treks into forgotten forest glades with his mother.

“A clear name and conscience is what you expect, but will the history of Ravenwood be worthy of respect?”

A raven sat in a tree, watching the mother and child, curiously tilting its head as the leaves rustled about it in a breeze. The child was no older than seven summers old, and through the eyes of the raven Sir Thomas could recognize himself as he ran after the puppy. Another memory of a better time, when the woods were safe and his family with him. The small boy in a pale red tunic stumbled in the grass of a clearing and called for his mother, who was there for him with her kind smile and gentle touch. The raven took flight, flitting between the ancient trees, over stacks of felled trees and logs, out to clearer ground where small farms were nestled. Thomas saw his older brother and his father, the latter sat atop a mighty horse, as well as a group of guards from the keep. The raven did not understand the words spoken, so they were nothing more than muffled noises, but the farmers begged on their knees, gesturing to the flattened crops and the metal chest the guards carried. The man on the horse swung out a crossbow and put a bolt through the chest of the ragged farmer, and the bird knew it would feast again that night.

Thomas felt that bolt as if it had hit his own heart.

“To see your house rebuilt, you must first understand the root of this guilt.” -the stone voice intoned.

“No! We were- He’s- I’m innocent!” Desperation reflected from his voice as the young knight felt doubt creep into his mind like black venom. As his mother hummed a sweet song to him in a forest clearing, on a sunny day of sweet childhood, his father and brother committed heinous acts. The raven flapped its wings and vanished, along with the scene before its eyes, only for another scene to appear. Men clad in plate and chainmail, their shields emblazoned by the raven crest, dragging a screaming young girl out of a horse drawn carriage, through rain and mud. Flap. A broken wax seal and a letter promising to pay a ransom. Flap. A cup for a guest and a crystal vial of black poison.

“No more!” -Thomas screamed. He felt naked and afraid as each flap of the raven's wings made the painful truth more obvious.

Flap.

A delicate hand of a woman, his mother, slipped the bottle of poison away in a cupboard as guards carried away the robed figure of a priest. She turned as the raven watched through a sooty window, and knelt by her precious blonde-haired son, stroking his head and whispering sweet words, lies that served to protect his innocence.

Flap. The image vanished and was not replaced. Instead there was darkness now, and a pair of blue eyes set in an unmoving stone face. Thomas felt the tears rolling down his cheeks and the guilt burning in his chest as he knelt on the stone, shaking and shuddering, feeling powerless.

“With only this small peek, I cannot give you what you seek. No glory or gain I have to present, yet I can offer one thing: atonement.”

Thomas looked up and wiped his face with the back of his hand. The blue eyes were fading, now like a pair of embers, glowing weakly with that unnatural hue.

“It shall take a great many deeds of virtuous good...”

The last of the blue light vanished, plunging the young boy in darkness once more. Lost. Trapped. Alone. His belief had been shattered. Instead of the justice he sought he’d gained only pain and sorrow and the knowledge it had all been a lie.

Crunch.

Something warm and wet slid over his eyelids. The bitter cold wind howled around him and the snow threatened to bury him. A sniffing sound intruded in his ear, followed by a sharp bark that jolted the boy awake. Gasping he sat up from the snow, feeling stiff and deathly cold. Fresh, fluffy snow fell down around him as his hands rose to brush some of it off. The fuzzy dog with its creamy brown fur caked in snow hopped back and barked again, then dashed off a short distance before stopping to check if the boy was following after. The snow had begun to let up, and Thomas could see the mouth of a cave ahead. The dog had found shelter. There was no sign of the icy surface of a lake, only sparse, craggy trees and snow and the mountain.

In the back of his mind, rumbling in the very bone of his skull, the boy heard a faint, whispered voice:

“...to cleanse the tarnished name of House Ravenwood.”
Wrongthinker and anticitizen one. Pending removal to memory hole. | WHAMGAMES proudly presents: One More Fathom!

Baron

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A Sphinxster Says What?

Dnìt, the twenty-third day of Choiak.  Man, I hate Dnìtdays.  It’s the hump day of the Egyptian calendar.  Well, one of the hump days…  Our week is kind of like a bactrian camel, with more humps than you can shake a was sceptre at.  And I’m not talking about sweaty slave girl humps down at the temple of Bes, either.  No, I’m talking about real hump days in the middle of really, really long weeks.  Weeks of back-breaking stone hauling or eye-bleeding stone cutting or torso-snapping crocodile wrangling.  It’s a bitch-long week for anyone who’s a slave, and pretty much everyone is a slave.  It’s a rough life, but somebody’s gotta live it.

My name’s Toth, and I really shouldn’t complain.  Sure, I’m press-ganged into manual labour at harvest three times a year, and everyone has put in their mandatory decade over at the pyramid works.  But in the big scheme of things, my endless toil pales in comparison to many others.  For starters, I work nights, which is way cooler than the day shift, and comes with mercifully less slave-driver supervision.  Second, I’m a Medjay.  Once my people were nomads in the eastern desert, and then later we were hired on by a pharaoh as desert-rangers to keep the peace.  Well, fast-forward six dynasties and now we’re basically a loin-clothed police force charged with keeping order on the mean streets of Memphis.  And my role in the force is actually cushier than most.  I’m a detective, which means I get to spend most of my time thinking.  Thinking about doing my endless papyrus work.  Thinking about getting another triangular donut down at the canteen.  Thinking about how damn long our Egyptian weeks are….

And that’s when she walks in, all eye makeup and headdress, with fingernails like a jackal and more jewellery than a bedouin belly-dancer .  Her name’s Sobekneferu or something long and noble like that.  She likes to twitch her hips when she talks, and gods she talks a lot.  Turns out her noble husband is being blackmailed for 100 000 shats by some secret sect called The Ma’at.  I’ve heard of these guys - shadowy figures of the night who drink the blood of virgins and wear hippopotamus costumes to raid small villages.  But they like to keep a lowish profile, so normally they steer clear of nobles and the capital.  Anyway, apparently they are upping their game these days, since Sobekneffwhatever’s daughter has now been kidnapped to make her rich daddy pay up.  And now it’s my job to save the day for no pay and meagre donut rations.  Gods, I hate Dnìtdays….

 So we load up in the patrol chariot.  Not Sobekehoohoo - she travels in a litter carried by a dozen slaves.  No, just me and my assistant-detective slave named Khonsu.  Sometimes we bring Khonsu’s slave too, but there’s not that much room in the chariot.  Especially since regulations dictate that we also bring a wailing slave to scream like a siren in an emergency, and a whacking slave to paddle the wailing slave in the balls every ten seconds to make him scream.  And then there are four more slaves hitched up to the front of the chariot since horses are expensive to feed, but we have to leave room for them in the back just in case we go down hill so they don’t slow us down.  And then there’s the slave-driver, who steers the slaves and controls their speed with an ingenious four-tailed whip system (which can also serve to get the siren working if you find yourself short-staffed).  There’s not any room for criminals if you actually catch somebody, so they usually end up being dragged behind. 

Slowly we trundle off to the palace of Sobekowhatsherface.  Painfully slowly, and I’m not just talking ball-whacking siren pain.  The patrol chariot is so slow that there are grandma slaves carrying huge stone blocks on their backs passing us.  Bear in mind that this is the middle of the night and these old-timers have already been working for 18 hours straight to get their quota in.  I use my standard issue Medjay crook to hitch a ride behind one of the sturdier old ladies, just to speed things along.  I think about asking Khonsu to get out and push, but he’s leery of sliding past the ball-whacker slave, lest the paddle catch him by accident.  Poor Khonsu was a siren slave when he was a raw recruit.  Ironically I was a ball-whacker slave, and sometimes we joke about that (although Khonsu’s mirth seems slightly hollow).

At length we arrive at the palace to investigate.  There is hieroglyphic graffiti painted on the walls that leave no doubt that this was the work of The Ma’at sect.  There’s some weird freaky stuff illustrated there, showing organ extractions and flying pyramids and highly acrobatic sex-contortions.  Khonsu eagerly draws notes for the case file.  Prominently featured is this half-woman, half-cat who’s taking a shat (that’s our money, remember).  I deduce that this Sphinx character is an avatar for The Ma’at leader, a criminal so brazen and conceited that she advertises herself on the walls of her crime scenes.  This Sphinx character fancies herself some kind of supervillain who is above the law.  We’ll see about that.

Further investigations of the palace revealed a fully stocked larder (some of which was necessarily impounded for evidence), a beer cellar (more evidence), and a boutique harem (way more evidence!).  There wasn’t a trace of Sobekafrufru’s daughter, but there was a ransom note and what looked like lion paw-prints in her room - good attention to detail, given the Sphinx theme of the kidnapper.  The ransom note was in a hieroglyphic cipher that I didn’t understand.  Lord Mister Sobekadoodle informed us that it was a Syriac adaptation of our writing system, and that it said to have the money balanced precariously on the tip of an ancient pyramid on the outskirts of town by midnight tomorrow or their daughter would be inducted into the mysteries of Ma’at, whatever that meant.

So here I am with 24 hours to find some girl I never met with no real leads and way too much beer along for the ride.  Oh, and it turns out that Lord Mister Sobekookoo is good pals with the Pharaoh, so I better make things right or I’ll be chipping mountains into monuments for the rest of my days.  Great.  Just great.  Khonsu at least seems optimistic, probably because he thinks he’ll be taking my place as chief detective on the Medjay force.  At least he’s a good sketcher….

But wait!  Something catches my eye on his papyrus scratchings in the moonlight.  What I mistook for a weird sex-act might actually be just two people together, working in tandem.  They have four legs together, and the person in the front seems to be talking smartly - a Sphinx!  And Lord Mister Sobekaidunno said that the note was written in a Syriac corruption of our language.  Quickly I ask Khonsu if there are any Syriac traders or embassies in town this week.  He shrugs, but the siren slave pipes up and says that a pair of Syriac acrobats have been awing crowds down by the Nile since last Dnìtday (confusingly there are several Dnìtdays in our week!).  This seems like more than coincidence, so I direct the patrol chariot driver to get us to the location as fast as possible.  Unfortunately this meant turning the siren on, but I make a mental note to put forth the siren-slave for promotion if I am still chief detective in two day’s time.

   Well it turns out the Nile is a long river, and it’s hard to get specific directions from a slave in only 10 second intervals between his siren screams of pain.  Eventually we track down the acrobats’ encampment down on the mud flats - lucky for them the annual floods are still some months off, although presumably since they are acrobats they could just flip away right before the waters get them (to thunderous applause, no less).  We attempt to interrogate them but the whole Syriac dialect thing is a real communication barrier.  Either they are in the market for a nemes crown to bring back to Assyria for their favourite cat, or they are haunted by undead onions in the moonlight.  Both stories sound suspicious, so we search their encampment.  We don’t find any noble daughters or even blood-drained virgins, but we did find some goofy hippopotamus costumes in their baggage.  They say they are for their performance (or their nipples are particularly sensitive to sunlight - again the language barrier), but I decide to take them into custody nonetheless.  Usually they’d be dragged behind the chariot like cheetah bait, but through their marvellous leaps and contortions they end up instead balanced on the shoulders of the siren and ball-whacking slave. 

   I’m at a loss for what to do next, so we just tool around the streets of Memphis in the patrol chariot for the next few hours, trying to impress the harem girls we impounded back at the palace.  It turns out some of them are actually quite educated, and one in particular is doing her priestess training through a correspondence course.  Although not familiar with The Ma’at sect in particular, she talks excitedly about some sort of godly conjunction that is happening the following night when the stars align in the west.  This fact sticks with me, as the old pyramid we’re supposed to leave the money atop is to the west of town.  Then our conversation is interrupted by the patrol chariot getting stuck in a random sand dune.

   The closest thing we have to a shovel is the ball-whacking paddle, but it’s against sanitary regulations to use it on anything other than slave crotches.  I consider using my Medjay crook, but it’s just as likely that the chariot is plain too heavy.  So we all sit down and drink all the beer evidence we impounded from the palace in order to lighten the load.  The sun is rising by the time the beer runs out, and we have a grand old time laughing at Khonsu digging in the sand with his hands and then his feet, kind of like a cat in a litter box.  Then I suddenly have another epiphany: the lion footprints!  Quickly I look over Khonsu’s crime-scene sketches and determine that the placement of the footprints is too realistic to be done artificially - they must have had a real-live lion on site!  And how many tamed lions could there possibly be in town?  And how many of those might have Syriac handlers? 

I canvas the group (four pulling slaves, one slave driver, one siren-slave, one ball-whacking slave, one assistant-detective slave, four harem slaves, and two acrobat slaves -Osirus, no wonder the chariot got bogged down!) and piece together our collective knowledge.  Apparently there are between 18 and 22 lions in town (we’re not sure if the death pit under the Temple of Ptah uses crocodiles or lions, since no one has first-hand experience of its depths).  Of those, most are just menagerie beasts, guard cats, or death pit felines.  In fact, we only know of two that are tame enough to be handled.  One is owned by the Pharaoh himself and has been trained to balance an asp on its nose for the purposes of ritualistic suicide should the need arise.  The second is a toothless old beast named Mumu who gives rides to children in an upscale neighbourhood on the east side - conveniently close to the very palace that Shebadawhosit’s daughter was kidnapped from!

We all pile back onto the patrol chariot to check out the latest lead, only to discover that despite Khonsu’s comedic efforts it is still stuck in the sand.  Only by burying a couple slaves in the sand under the wheels can we get enough traction to pull free, but by this time it’s already midday and the heat is oppressive.  We pull into a service station where I splurge on a couple of palm-frond waving slaves to help keep us cool on the long drive back to the east side.  I was saving those shats for retirement but, hey, when you’ve only got twelve hours of relative freedom left to live pocket change starts burning holes in your loincloth.

The petting zoo had some good news and bad news.  The bad news was that Mumu died two months ago.  The good news was that her eternal soul was preserved in a clay jar by a travelling shaman.  And get this: the shaman was wearing a ritual hippopotamus costume at the time - it can’t be a coincidence!  We ask to see the jar, but alas it has been stolen!  I sit down in the sand in despair, and a large part of our throng wanders off to pick up their lives where they left off.  Only the palm-frond slaves and Khonsu remain with me, the former basking me in a refreshing yet soul-chilling breeze of nemesis, the latter patting my shoulders consolingly and trying out my Medjay crook for size.  Dusk is approaching quickly, and soon my failure will be manifest.  I consider running away with the acrobats back to Assyria, but it’s a long walk back to the river and I’m not very good at putting effort into things.  What would really cheer me up right now is a bunch of triangle donuts, more of that beer, and two or three of those harem slaves.

But wait… what’s this?  The setting sun falls behind a nearby monument, casting a circle of light onto Khonsu’s papyrus scribblings.  Is it a sign from Ra, the sun god, that there is some clue that I have overlooked?  Frantically I lay out the drawings of the crime scene, scrutinising them in the fading light.  I see nothing of note, but the passing zookeeper identifies the missing Mumu soul jar on the bed stand in Shebaabaabazoo’s daughter’s room.  And it is open!  That little minx!  I mean Sphinx!  I mean…. I don’t know what I mean, but I’m certain the daughter is tits deep in this Ma’at conspiracy.  The family even speaks Syriac.  This changes everything!

   Quickly I tell Khonsu to send a message to the Shebernerberbers to come to the pyramid at the appointed time, and then to procure some important supplies for this evening: a grain sack, a silver vine plant, a camel, an assortment of bronze bangles, a clay jar, two more palm-fronds, a ball-whacking paddle, and a travelling shaman of non-Syriac extraction.

*   *   *   *   *   *

   Midnight on Dnìtday.  I know I started my tale on Dnìtday, but there are a lot of Dnìtdays on the Egyptian calendar.  I like this Dnìtday even less than the last one, since I am sweating like Anubis at the gates of hell waiting for my carefully orchestrated trap to spring.

   Mister and Missus Shebinaknefrubeedoo scale the pyramid and lay a jingling sack of shat on top, and then descend to wait for the villainous Sphinx to appear.  The stars churn in their heavenly orb: soon the conjunction will be at hand.  And then there she is, silhouetted against the rising moon: a real live Sphinx!  She bounds up the pyramid and claims her prize, laughing maniacally at her feat.  But what’s this?!?  The sack suddenly rips open, revealing none other than me!  I’m decked out in jangling bangles to sound like coin (which in ancient Egypt is actually rings, so the ruse worked well).  Before the Sphinx can react I shove the silver vine plant into her face, instantly dosing her with mind-altering cat drugs.  Dreamily, she stumbles off the pyramid summit into the arms of the waiting shaman and his soul-capturing clay jar.  I pull the camel into place atop the pyramid and then slide down the pyramid to join the Shebenehoohoos to watch the show.

   “What exactly do you think is going to happen to that camel?” the noble father asks sceptically.

   But I shush him with a finger over my lips, as the show is about to begin.  Suddenly the last star clicks into place and the gods themselves appear, not as the familiar animal-headed men that are so popularly depicted on tomb walls and the more ephemeral papyrus cartoons that appear in our weekend newspapers, but in great floating pyramid-shaped vessels from the sky.  They hover over the pyramid, zap the camel up in a beam of light, and then bugger off into the heavens.  The Shebakeroos are dumbfounded, until the Missus remembers to ask about her daughter.

   “Right over there!” I beam, directing their attention to the shaman.  Sure enough, he has re-bottled the soul of Mumu the decrepit old petting lion into the clay jar, releasing their daughter from the spell that had transformed her into a half-cat, half-human villain.  They rush to hug their daughter, then chastise her for falling in with the wacky Ma’at sect and trying to run away with the gods.

   I shrug, telling Khonsu that it was another job done.  He looks confusingly at the two palm-fronds and ball-whacking paddle that remain unused.  I tell him the extra palm-fronds are for the other hands of my palm-frond slaves, thereby doubling their productivity.  And I tell him the ball-whacking paddle is for him if he ever questions my ability as a Medjay detective ever again.  Khonsu drops the paddle as he instinctively covers his crotch, swearing allegiance to me from now until eternity, which I’m guessing will probably fall on a Dnìtday.