Mummy: The Curse by Daeren
Introduction and Chapter One Part One: Rise From Your GraveOriginal SA post
Introduction and Chapter One Part One: Rise From Your Grave
Memory is the basis of every journey.
— Stephen King, Dreamcatcher
As you might expect from a book that opens quoting Stephen King's classic tale of shitweasels and the magical powers Downs Syndrome gives you, Mummy: The Curse is difficult to explain. So difficult to explain, in fact, the very first words in it are dedicated to defending its own existence.
In this day and age, the first instinct of a certain type of player might be to question the viability of a roleplaying game about mummies. Say the word “mummy” to this sort of player and watch his face contort as he struggles to accept even the possibility of the premise, let alone the premise itself. (We can all see him picturing Brendan Fraser swinging awkwardly away at the CGI.) To be perfectly clear and frank, we understand this instinct, to a point.
But that point, then, represents part of why we went and made such a game, anyway. If that sort of player thinks it’s a monumental challenge to create a rich and exciting roleplaying experience centered around mummies, then it’s a challenge we not only accept in good faith, but one we actively relish. One of the things almost all game designers (and writers in general) tend to appreciate is a true and fair opportunity to effect nothing less than the utter transmogrification of disbelief into delight. For some of us, that’s essentially what gets us up in the morning.
What you’re reading now represents the culmination of a lot of genuine effort and creativity, on the part of an equally genuine team of writers and artists, to provide just such a transformative moment. We’ve done our best to take every apprehension-inducing image, every shambling stereotype, and turn them on their heads for your enjoyment and, with any luck, your betterment. All we can assure you is that this game is a product of sincere vision, direction, and hard work. But don’t take our word for it. Give the game just as
sincere a chance, and decide for yourself.
Welcome to Mummy: The Curse.
It does not give a good impression of your product when the first three paragraphs aren't the pitch, it's saying "No, we got this, trust me, just listen." This, however, was probably the safe bet, as the original World of Darkness's Mummy: the Resurrection is a line that many players either never heard of, or forgot nearly instantly. I've not played it myself - indeed, I suspect anyone who says they have is up to something - but it was was a weird, weird game, that actually started as a supplement for V:tM 1e, got Revised, then completely overhauled as Resurrection before support basically got dropped like a hot potato until a few footnotes in the books about the end of the world. It didn't really fit the rest of the World of Darkness, which had a high tolerance for some goofy bullshit but drew the line at regularly bringing up the undying demigods fighting the forces of evil Egyptian demons.
So, when White Wolf effectively transformed into Onyx Path, and began making noise to the effect of updating old lines, most people's thoughts went straight past Mummy to wondering how they'd handle Demon's very Judeo-Christian angles in nWoD's decidedly agnostic setting. Most fans were utterly baffled upon Mummy: the Curse's announcement, and nobody was quite sure what to expect. That, combined with the hard sell of pitching Boris Karloff in some bandages to the closest thing to a general public roleplaying games have, honestly all but necessitated something like this intro.
To those of you who looked at it and narrowed your eyes as memories of the authorial tone of oWoD rose to the surface, though, yeah, you're not wrong. Mummy: the Curse was developed by C.A. Suleiman, whose bibliography was mostly books from the original World of Darkness run and a few Requiem books. Mummy is a game that very much feels caught between the old and new World of Darkness, which is actually fairly appropriate for the themes of the line itself, but doesn't do good things for its accessibility. The initial release of Mummy was met with a decidedly tepid reaction, with some people enjoying what it was going for, and a lot of other people sent screaming in the direction by seeing old mechanical or narrative bogeymen lurking within.
I actually was one of the latter group until much later in the line's life, after a few supplements came out and the direction of the line became clearer to me. The core suffers from being a poorly laid out, shabbily proofread, generally meandering mess, and later books tighten things up and add some more immediately compelling hooks to the game. That's why I'm writing this review - I won't make the argument that Mummy: the Curse is a particularly good game, but it is a very interesting one to me, one with a lot of potential to tap into. If edition updates are still going on in five or ten years, a fresh update to Mummy could make it into a pretty amazing game as well as a unique one.
Enough about that though, let's talk about more than just the first three paragraphs.
THE QUICK PITCH
Mummies are immortal, once-human relics of an empire that rose and fell about the time when mammoths were still in the "doing okay, all things considered" phase of extinction, and they've been spending a long, long time trying to maintain their grip on a world that has long since moved on without them. They are patient, they are ancient and terrible, they are relentless, and they're finally starting to crack under the pressure of eternity.
Mummy's core theme and narrative is ultimately about memory. Memory is all that stops the Arisen from being pure automatons, slaves to their eternal purpose. It's what makes their sense of self, what defines them as persons, what makes the world more than an endless passage of time and duty. Every scrap of memory from the ever-widening abyss of time mummies exist in helps piece together a map of their own existence, leading to self-discovery, self-definition, and how people change and are shaped by their world being a hugely important part of a mummy's narrative arc. If you've ever played Planescape: Torment, you've already got the idea.
The default mood as presented is the sense of ancient dread and occult horror, and later books (and later parts of the core) make it clear that introspective horror from reflecting on your own existence is fairly high on the list as well. However, there is quite a hefty dose of pulp horror-adventure, or just pulp adventure, in Mummy. It doesn't take a lot to reorient the themes - while both a standard sort of game and a pulp game mightinvolve a lot of old rivals and ancient evil, the pulp game is going to look less like your average game of Vampire: the Masquerade and more like a two-fisted tale full of Nazis to beat senseless.
Speaking of Nazis, Mummy's fairly unique in the sense that the nature of spotty memory, narrative license, and eternal life giving you a lot of opportunity to set a game in a whole shit-ton of times and places, or even weave flashbacks (or flash- forwards) to events hundreds or thousands of years disconnected from the game's present, giving the game a very dynamic approach to a story of the endless cycles of eternal life.
UH OH HERE COMES THE METAPLOT
And already we come to one of the biggest things that made people reflexively pull faces at Mummy: the Curse: the return of an oWoD style secret history and metaplot. At this point I doubt I need to go into much detail about oWoD's love of metaplot and exhaustively detailed alternate supernatural history, because if you're reading this thread you probably know the drill. Mummy makes a return to form by splitting the core book into a Player's Handbook and a Storyteller's Handbook. The justification is that Mummy is a game about discovery and the forgotten past, so the secrets of the game are out of the way of the rules so Storytellers can dole out things to actually discover to both character and player...
except that shit didn't work in the 90s either. Players will read the section that tells them to fuck off elsewhere. Not only that, the rules sections are full of references to things only described and given rules in the Storyteller section, which more comes across as a constant elbowing in the ribs than a tantalizing mystery. Later books more or less abandon the pretense entirely, or are entirely about things that would have been hidden behind the Great Wall of Metaplot. The bigger issue with those later books is that they implicitly rely on you giving a shit about Mummy's secret history. In nearly every other line, the mysteries of Irem would be left to the Storyteller to make up, and indeed so little about them were given in the core that people running Mummy when it came out would have had to do just that.
Of course, that creates the situation where, say, some long-running game gives an explanation for the oft-referenced Lost Guild, then the book for the Lost Guild comes out and whoops now you've either got to retcon everything or the book's useless - which was, again, one of those things everybody else learned from after it happened repeatedly in the original World of Darkness books. Even if that's not a problem for you, it also relies on the incredibly well-worn oWoD narrative conceit of the mysterious wise NPC that figured everything out before you and -
I'm getting ahead of myself. Before we move on, one cute note:
Whoops. Yeah, that never became a thing. There’s something really appropriate about this game line trying to utilize modern technology to make something eternally relevant and long-lasting, and completely faceplanting.
Anyway, the introduction ends with the lexicon, which I will put at the bottom of this post for readability’s sake, then moves on to the Player’s Guide.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Aadesh Nidal, owner of Nidal Construction, tensed as he lifted his head from the table.
Around him, the rest of his team kept their eyes on the blueprints, afraid or otherwise unwilling to look up.
“Mr. Saunders, if you’ll permit me to—”
Saunders had no intention of permitting anything. “I’ll have your licenses revoked,” he interrupted. “All of you. Hell, I may have you up on charges! We’d agreed—”
“Do not blame Mr. Nidal, please.” It emerged from the shadowed corner at the back of the room, that voice; soft, tinged with an accent Saunders couldn’t quite place. “It was I who made the changes to the plans on which you’d settled. If you’ve any objections, take them up with me.”
“And who,” Saunders asked, trying to peer through the gloom, “is this supposed to be?”
“Mr. Ouonsou,” Nidal answered with uncharacteristic hesitation. “He’s a… special consultant my family brings in for certain important jobs.”
“And what gives Mr. Ouonsou the right to just waltz in here and fuck up plans that we signed off on months ago?”
An off-white grin split the shadows, providing only the faintest suggestion of dark-skinned features surrounding it. “I merely adjusted for a more favorable grace of fortune, Mr. Saunders. Your angles were obstructing the flow of Sekhem. I’ve corrected for it.”
“The flow of…?”
“Really, you ought to be thanking me. The Nidal family will be acquiring one of your new offices for its own, and I did this for their benefit. That your remaining tenants will also benefit is only to your advantage.”
“You’re insane. You are all—”
“And I’ve a gift for you, as well. In tribute. For the lobby, perhaps.”
The figure shifted within the darkness, pushing forth a metal cart. Atop it sat a small clay bust of Saunders, himself.
The landlord scowled. “And is that somehow supposed to influence my decision, Mr. Ouonsou?”
“Oh, Mr. Saunders.” Without any apparent change in the lighting, that gleaming grin somehow grew brighter still. “You have absolutely no idea…”
They ruled under the sign of the scorpion, emblazoned on the pillars you built.
Your hands sowed the secret seeds of Western civilization. Later Egyptian dynasties, and the Greeks and Romans who learned their ways, arose from stones you laid so precisely a razor could not pass between them, and idols sculpted with such life and art they seemed to move in firelight. You toiled in a lost age where crafts and sorcery melded into a single operation. You invented alchemy. You gave the gods shapes of looming basalt, granite, and alabaster. Across millennia, religion, art, architecture, and more all echo your primal labors.
Our modern world of masters and servants is an echo, as well—the ancients were not much different. You were a worker, not a king, and that’s why your labor remains undone. Your masters gifted you with death, but refused you its peace. Their dread and powerful magic forced you to serve long after your nation crumbled to dust and heretical history. Your corpse rises. Made ruthless by time and ritual, your soul pushes it to obey ancient commands. Now Arisen, will you toil as your instincts demand, or will you embark on a greater work to reclaim your memory, your past, and perhaps even yourself?
We get a brief introduction to the concepts of Mummy before we do a deep dive into the backstory, so savor it while you can. If you ever get really confused during the lorechat, just refer to the next few paragraphs a few times.
The Arisen lived about six thousand years ago in pre-dynastic Egypt, in a vast empire under the rule of sorcerer-priests called the Shan’iatu. In return for their loyal service in life, they were subjected to the Rite of Return, a mighty spell that unfortunately required them to die and be mummified. Their soul ventured to Duat, the Egyptian underworld, and underwent trials administered by its divine Judges. These trials forced them to define their spiritual nature forever afterward, and granted them eternal life…of a sort.
Using the occult energy of Sekhem, best described quickly as elemental life force and the power of eternal cycles, the Arisen’s body and soul reunited, with Sekhem maintaining the body’s form and providing channels of mystic energy mummies can enact their magical will through. Sekhem zaps mummies into states of temporary animation, during which they enact the will of the Judges by recovering vessels – objects full of Sekhem. The Judges demand this tribute from the Arisen as their most sacred duty, and it is the reason for their eternal service. Over time, the power that animates them wears down until they return to their death-like state until awakened once more. The Arisen experience and remember nothing during this period, and are almost always confused and disoriented upon awakening, their memory of prior active periods growing more and more faint as time marches on.
The power that can revive the dead fills the Arisen, and give them inhuman strength, endurance, and even sorcerous rites and commands descended from their former masters’ art. Driven by commands written into the Rite that animates them, the Arisen must make the choice between eternal life in servitude, or exploring their own nature, past, and the secrets Duat keeps hidden from them. A brave few even dream of defying their gods, risking their unimaginable wrath in hopes of finding a way to escape the Rite’s chains forever.
MYTHS, POP CULTURE, AND FACT
This is the true/false thing every WoD line does about its subject matter, so I’ll just copy and paste it to save time.
History, cinema, fiction, and games all have stories to tell about mummies, but the Arisen represent a particular vision. To set Mummy: The Curse’s protagonists apart from other interpretations, let’s see where ideas you may already have about mummies apply to the Arisen.
Mummies hail from ancient Egypt. True, but the Arisen were not made during recorded Egyptian history. Before the known pharaohs, sorcerer-priests ruled under the sign of the scorpion, building an empire from their capital Irem, said to originate in the Nile Valley. Their dominion stretched from Ethiopia to the edge of Mesopotamia. Physically, the vast majority of Arisen resemble the peoples of North Africa, Central Africa, and the Middle East.
Mummies are kings, nobles, and priests. False, for the Arisen. Elite members of the later dynasties did preserve their bodies with ancient science and religious rites, but these were distorted shadows of the true, occult Rite of Return. The sorcerers of Irem performed it upon their retainers to prepare them for service across many lives. The Priests of Duat never became mummies themselves, but left the living world to attend their patron god in the afterlife.
Mummies rise from the dead under the influence of an ancient curse. True. Sort of. The Rite of Return was never intended to give its recipients a second chance to redeem themselves or to right wrongs per se. It fixes their minds upon vessels to return to Duat and upon other holy duties— each Judge may be pleased by certain actions, and obedience staves off the decline of Sekhem. In those respects, it is a curse, though mummies may struggle to escape its bonds.
Mummies exist in many cultures, each with a distinctive form of magic that brings it to life. False, as far as the Arisen know. Only the sorcerer-priests of Irem knew the Rite of Return, and only they cast it upon their subjects. Even if other cultures could somehow use effective sorcery to raise their blessed dead, such magics are pale reflections of the eldritch Rite of Return.
Mummies draw power from the gods of ancient Egypt. Unknown. The masters of Irem made the Arisen using methods beyond their servants’ comprehension. Mummies remember gods similar to those of ancient Egypt, with Azar (closest analog is Osiris) being the divine patron of the Nameless Empire, but they occupy a secondary position in the Arisen mind compared to the Judges.
Mummies master ancient sorcery. True, but it is not exactly “mastery.” An Arisen’s greatest magical asset is the magic that animates her. She may augment her abilities with the Pillars of her spiritual being. In addition, the Rite of Return infuses the Arisen’s soul with the Sekhem and the instincts to work a few simple effects by rote. Mummies may expand their rote knowledge, but few become truly creative occultists. Magical skill is a pattern programmed into the Sekhem, not the mix of will, enlightenment, and study that legendary magicians are said to cultivate.
A QUICK SIDE NOTE:
I cannot even begin to express my displeasure at the state of my cult upon my arising. In the mere century I had been in repose, the nature of both its members and the world in which they serve has become unimaginably hard and sickeningly soft at the same time. These people are urgent in their needs and lackadaisical in their urgency, now responding with casual grunts and inconclusive nods when I address them. A world of terrifying speed is the one to which I have awakened, yet we Arisen are steady and powerful in our purpose. The flimsy things of this rushed and mindless place can pose no true threat to my goals during this time.
All the more, then, is the reason I need my functionaries to fall in line. Every age has its obstacles, and all obstacles have a solution. I will establish orders within my temple, and each will serve me as an organ to reconcile this new world with the one I know. I am told that computers are a powerful information and analysis tool that have replaced humans as servants among the mightiest kingdoms of this new world. I have learned there are those among my flock who are masters of these lifeless new servants. My thanks will be to initiate them to new levels of responsibility. For those not possessed of such skills and who lack the capacity to develop them, I should have need, as well, for what we seek is no easy prize.
Despite the frenzied pace of this new day, I am certain my descent shall be as it has always been—for no hand can stay long when set against Fate itself—and that those who seek to defy both Fate and Judge can only die screaming my name.
— from the letters of Ankh-Nephris, Hand of Wisdom
This book’s a few years old now but I still want to have some sort of ghostly force that automatically slaps people who think illegible font is excusable if it’s for in-character documents. Mercifully, the core only has a couple of these.
THE GAME IN BRIEF
The next section briefly goes over many of the mechanical differences and oddities Mummy has in comparison to other World of Darkness games, as well as the details of what it does the same.
Probably the biggest difference is in how their power stat, Sekhem, works. Other games have their line’s power trait – Blood Potency, Primal Urge, Gnosis, etc. – start at 1, and go up by spending a large amount of experience. This trait is usually used in supernatural power rolls, defense against supernatural powers, determines how much fuel you have for your powers, and determines if your attributes can go over 5. Mummies have a dynamic Sekhem rating, which starts at 10 when they awaken from slumber and decreases automatically over time. This, in combination with how their powers work and how strong their innate advantages are, mean that mummies start games with the sort of power other games end with, and makes the narrative arc less focused on consolidating power and more about actually pursuing your goals and fulfilling expectations. However, over time, mummies get weaker and weaker, and juggling priorities gets harder and more urgent – especially because acting out of line with the cosmic fun polices’ dictates means you get weaker faster, and they don’t necessarily have your best interests at heart.
Before that is Memory, the Mummy version of Morality because this was before CofD threw that shit out the window for Integrity. It’s not exactly a moral code, though, and is more a measure of how well you remember your endless existence. Instead of starting with a rating of 7, you start with a rating of 3, because your long-term memories are vague, fleeting, dreamlike, and often contradictory. The higher your Memory, the more you rediscover your true personality and sense of self. Whispers “by a lone, wandering heretic” say that Memory is the key to a state called Apotheosis, beyond duty and the ravages of time. But it might be a lie. (It isn’t. The Heretic is a terrible oWoD throwback element. I hope you liked Golconda!)
Due to the nature of Memory, characters are expected to have little to no backstory at the start of the game beyond a few broad-brush strokes, because the character doesn’t actually remember a damn thing about themselves. The Storyteller (or player) reveals elements of their past as Memory increases.
Sekhem isn’t just restricted to animating mummies. It can also be found in certain objects called vessels, and the Judges of Duat want them. Badly. The Arisen’s primary goal is to get as many of them as possible by any means possible. Of course, this is rarely as easy as getting onto Antiques Roadshow and robbing Grandma blind, because vessels often have weird curses and rumors associated with them, as a side-effect of being full of mojo. Some are even leftovers of Iremite times, or made with Iremite secrets, and have magical powers of their own. These are called relics, and are similar to things like fetishes from Werewolf or artifacts from Mage. It’s these that have a bad habit of finding their way into the hands of collectors, occultists, and general weirdos who have no interest in giving them up without a fight. Mummies have an innate sense for the presence of relics and vessels, and are especially sensitive to ones that resonate with the craft their caste practiced in life.
These guilds are how mummies organize themselves societally, based on old crafts practiced and caste divisions. They pass down ancient secrets, rites, techniques, and the old ways of their society. Mummies all have instinctual knowledge of Iremite magic, but most must be taught, and the guilds keep the real-deal, heavy-duty magic as sacred secret arts.
In addition to this societal structure, the Arisen are defined by their decree, the statement of defiance and self-definition they made in the face of the torture they underwent in Duat. The nature of the decree determines which of the five Egyptian/Iremite elements of the soul they are most attuned to, and generally colors their personality even when Memory is high. These elements are ab (heart), ba (spirit), ka (essence), ren (name), and sheut (shadow). These are also the five types of not-mana the Arisen can use, collectively called Pillars. These can fuel supernatural powers, which vary from mummy to mummy.
There are two main types of power Mummies can learn aside from their innate advantages. The simpler of the two, and usually the subtler, are Affinities, which either enhance an existing power or advantage a mummy has, or provide a small set of stable benefits. Complex, overt power is the domain of Utterances, ancient spells descended from the art of the Shan’iatu that can bind ghosts, crack the earth open, wither flesh, and even perform feats as mighty as calling down the stars when used at the peak of Sekhem.
ANCIENT, PERSONAL SECRETS
The Arisen know the basics of their existence—their origins in predynastic Egypt, their positions as servants of the ruling elite of the Nameless Empire, and their instincts to rise, serve their cults, and reclaim items of power. But they don’t know the full story of their creation.
The Storyteller knows.
In some ways, this convention returns to the roots of roleplaying games, where critical knowledge stays behind the screen until players uncover it, but it also recalls contemporary games where part of the fun lies beyond the immediate challenges of a scenario, in uncovering the deep and variegated mythology that created it.
Mummy: The Curse separates information into the player and Storyteller “compartments,” defined by each book in the core game. If you plan to play one of the Arisen, you have two choices: You can choose not to read the Mummy Storyteller’s Handbook, or you can indulge in the spoilers, using the separation to guide your behavior and roleplaying.
Brace yourselves, because we’re taking our first dive into Deepest Lore.
Six thousand years is a long, long time. When a span of time gets big enough, people lose sight of what it really entails. Six thousand years ago was as far from Hammurabi's first code of law as we are from the traditionally given year of Jesus Christ's birth. Cleopatra lived closer to the invention of the smartphone than the building of the first pyramid, and the first pyramid doesn't quite make it to five thousand years old. In the last years of the Neolithic Era, writing had yet to be invented, the plough was the cutting edge of technology, and the scorpions came to the land of Kemet on the Nile.
They came from the seemingly endless desert on the sleeves of strange men and women, sorcerers and ghost-tamers, who command fire and banish the hungry dead with a word. They bring the knowledge of crafts to the people of Kemet, but save the secrets of sorcery for only the sons and daughters they steal away when they see talent. The strangers call themselves the Shan’iatu, and Priests of Duat, the world of the dead. They make themselves lords of the living and build a nation, just as the 42 Judges of Duat are lords of the dead under their god Azar. These sacred necromancers appoint a divine Pharaoh as high priest of Azar, and become a senate of holy necromancers only nominally under him.
The Religion of the Pillars
The Arisen revered the Shan’iatu as something between teachers, lords, and demigods. The sorcerer-priests gave their ancestors civilization, and made their works the magical spearhead of an empire. In the City of Pillars, only the Shan’iatu could fully worship the gods, but they accepted the petitions of commoners on their behalf. Gods from Egypt’s historical dynasties stir something in the Arisen, but they can only identify a few of these (those featured most commonly in Irem’s religious epics) from the most ancient days.
Above all other gods, the Shan’iatu worshiped Azar, believed to be the predynastic form of he whom the Greeks named Osiris. Azar sent his divine bau-presence into Irem’s Pharaoh. The city itself was a monument to the god: Each of its pillars was a djed—a representation of the spine of Azar, the unifier of life and death. As the senate of sorcerer-priests ruled Irem under the Pharaoh’s ceremonial rod, the 42 Judges ruled Duat under Azar.
Under the scorpion banner and scepter-head, the Shan’iatu yoke and lash the tribes of Kemet into castes. Artisans, acolytes, laborers, and an ever-expanding body of soldiers push the boundaries of their territory outward, until the time comes when all under the Shan’iatu must be commanded as one, from a permanent capital. It’s said that the Shan’iatu never named the city they made, nor the empire it would soon lead, but later civilizations would call it Irem. Those who lived there merely called it the City of Pillars, after the sacred occult architecture it was built upon.
The Nameless Empire is born from fumbling tribesmen drafted to become artisans, bolstered with sorcery and secrets ripped from the world itself. Obsidian blades anointed with blood cut through bronze, figurines made with corpse-ash gain a false life. The Arisen, on the rare occasion they remember even a hazy impression of their time alive, remember moments like these most, for all were members of the craft-guilds of Irem.
That doesn’t mean some weren’t soldiers too, however. Every guild’s art was bent in part towards the militarization of the Nameless Empire, whether making arms and armor, or strange rites that make a simple pot rip souls from slaves, or an instrument that causes madness in the listener. Tribal identity is broken, their peoples scattered and reformed into legions. Tribes that refuse to join the City of Pillars are killed to the last child, and their very existence is erased from every graven record by the Shan’iatu.
After a hundred years of preparation, the Shan’iatu lead the Nameless Empire to conquer the known world.
Ethnicity and the Arisen
All Arisen once lived in the city they call Irem, thought to be in the Nile Delta, but they came from every part of the Nameless Empire. This doesn’t mean mummies belong to every conceivable ethnicity, however. No Arisen comes by blue eyes or blond hair naturally. The largest segment of Arisen resemble modern Egyptians, Libyans, and other North African populations, minus the influence of later European arrivals. A significant number possess Central African ancestry and the same overall appearance as modern Sudanese. A few hail from the Levant or Asia Minor, as these were tributary states governed by the Pharaoh’s early Akkadian and Sumerian vassals.
As far as the Arisen can recall, the Priests of Duat appeared to be of the same ancestry as their subjects, though this might have been due to sorcery, not birth.
The Arisen just don’t think about race the way modern people do. European colonialism, the slave trade, and the rise of “scientific” racism occurred long after a mummy’s living years. They rarely empathize with the thinking engendered by this history, and don’t classify people according to the races Westerners see. The Arisen recognize differences between the people of the Nile Delta, Nubians, Libyans, and the people of Asia Minor that might go unnoticed by Westerners. Unlike later dynasties, they do not attach any stigma or merit to these groups based on ancestry. As a rule, the Shan’iatu did not discriminate in their craft-houses; only skill and obedience mattered. To the Arisen, there were only two “demographic” groups: servants of the Empire and unconquered outsiders.
The forces of Irem march south, up the Nile. Tribes that appear useful are enslaved, while those more useful as corpses are butchered. In a year’s time, modern-day Libya and Sudan are utterly crushed, but when the Shan’iatu wheel north to Canaan, they hit an unexpected wall of resistance. The Ki-En-Gir were not an empire like Irem, but they have a professional soldiery, and seers to advise them. Though the Nameless Empire wields superior resources in nearly every way, the foresight of Canaan’s mystics force the conflict to a bloody stalemate. Irem sends generals and diplomats to the Ki-En-Gir city of Ubar, described as a cursed citadel where the veil between worlds is threadbare. When they come back, Ubar is gone, swallowed by the desert as if it never existed. Tribute begins to flow from the east after this Pact of Ubar, in gold, horses, and enslaved seers. The seers in particular are immediately brought to the Shan’iatu’s personal precincts, and are never seen again.
The Nameless Empire is at its height at this moment, growing fatter and richer with conquest, glorifying itself with ever-more imposing pillars and temples. It is now that all Arisen lived, and labored for the Empire, until the day of the Rite.
THE RITE OF RETURN
There is no work that day. The inner servants call him to chambers below the palace. They wash and perfume him in a fire-lit antechamber. They burn his clothes and then give him a linen robe. It is covered with strange hieroglyphs. Before proceeding to the great hall, they command him to drink a bitter, thick liquid from a black stone cup.
As he enters his lord’s vault, he discovers that Irem’s pillars transfix the earth; one of them passes through the hall. He finds he cannot feel his extremities. His solemn pace degrades into a crude shuffle. Sounds grow loud and strange, as if they’re passing through water. One of them is a chant that begins once they lay him on the stained slab.
He is surprised the chant comes from the mouth of one of the Shan’iatu. The hoarse growl seems out of place on his ageless face. His master looms above with a long, copper spike, and he feels so very thirsty.
Then the artisan’s vision fades into a terrible, white pain—the first of many.
The Arisen remember little of the Rite beyond this point, but all share the same memory. They walk westward, through an endless desert, away from a weak, red sun on the eastern horizon. They have none of the advice or rituals or protection later dynasties of Egypt would give to their dead, only an instinct to keep walking – and perhaps some places, demons, and incantations invoked during their ritual murder. Slaughterers, demons wielding impossibly sharp stone knives, stalk them through the wasteland. Beetles and snakes and locusts pursue them, biting at their heels. Firestorms roar through the desert, and every one must find a way to survive them or die a true death. Some bury themselves in the sands, others slather themselves in cold clay that the flames harden into armor, and others slice themselves open so the blood will put out the fire.
At the end of the desert is a colossal black iron gate, guarded by demons and demigods who force the Arisen through trials, riddles, and tortures that question the Arisen’s right to be here, to survive, to exist. Beyond this first gate are more trials, more agonies, and more gates, until the seventh gate stands before them, in a desert of crushed gems and lapis lazuli trees. Here waits Shezmu the Executioner, patron of the Nameless Empire’s army, who crushes the weak into blood-wine for Azar.
The traveler doesn’t know what happens to failures. He succeeds. Instead of attacking blindly or begging for an end to his pain, he answers with the highest magic. The words vary from one to the next, but they possess a common meaning: “This is who I am, and no matter what you do, my soul is unyielding.”
The Executioner steps aside.
Shezmu knows the petitioner, but it is up to the Judges to determine the exact parameters of his fate. Each of the 42 Judges demands to know more of his soul’s true nature. They test him with torture, trials, and visions of terrible scenarios. When one Judge touches the part of his soul that cannot break, it passes him to the next—and the next, until he stands face to face with the last Judge, who identifies that lone, immovable Pillar of spirit. The wanderer declares his nature before it. He knows this is his last chance to turn back—to accept dishonor and ouster from paradise rather than fulfill his role—but having won through to this very moment, he instead steps forward and pronounces his decree. In that moment, the final Judge knows the soul as one of the blessed dead, and that Judge becomes his patron for an eternity of service, whispering the secrets of his Pillar and of the magic within.
The traveler closes his eyes. When he reopens them, he is Arisen.
And…take a deep breath. There won’t be another plot dump quite that bad for a while. Because this book is so ridiculously front-loaded and dense, I’ll be ending the post here to prevent information overload, and because I'm nearing the character limit.
Next time: Unlife among the Living, the Guilds, and the Judges
The following is a sample of the core terms used in the world of Mummy.
ab: In the five-fold soul, the heart.
Affinity: A mystical imbuement that grants a mummy the quiet power to prevail at his purpose.
Apotheosis: A fabled state of being whereby mummies might either end or otherwise transform the cycle of death-and-rebirth to which they have chained themselves for eternity.
Arisen: A mummy or mummies created in lost Irem by the sorcerer-priests of the great guilds.
ba: In the five-fold soul, the spirit.
cult: Customary term for any group of mortals that has forged a bond with a mummy.
Deathless: All mummies who are not Lifeless.
Deceived: Mummies of the “lost guild,” they are of a different breed than the Arisen.
decree: One of five defining pronouncements an Arisen might make before the Judges of Duat; one’s decree determines which aspect of the five-fold soul guides a mummy throughout unlife.
Descent, the: An activity period, or life cycle, for a mummy; it could last a night, or it might last a year.
Devourer, the: In the mytho-religious worldview of the Arisen, the oblivion goddess Ammut, who devoured the souls of those whom the Judges of Duat had judged and found wanting.
guild: One of six mighty organizations in lost Irem, each led by a cabal of seven sorcerer-priests (q.v., Shan’iatu); the five modern guilds reflect the Arisen’s reconstructed visions thereof.
henet: The spiritual “repose” into which mummies fall when they must take their rest.
Irem: The Arisen nickname for the many-pillared city that was the seat of the Nameless Empire.
Judges of Duat: The 42 godlike beings who sit in judgment over departed souls; each Arisen pledges himself to the service of his people and his purpose before one of these 42 beings.
ka: In the five-fold soul, the essence.
Lifeless: Umbrella category of warped, less perfected visions of undeath than the Arisen.
Maa-Kep: The Arisen iteration of an ancient guild of laborers and spies led by seven sorcerer-priests who specialized in the creation of mystically imbued amulets.
meret: Customary term for an alliance among two to seven Arisen; denotes the group as a unit.
Mesen-Nebu: The Arisen iteration of an ancient guild of craftsmen and smiths led by seven sorcerer-priests who specialized in the occult transmutations of alchemy.
Nameless Empire, the: The lost, predynastic Egyptian civilization that gave birth to all true mummies.
Pillar: One of five aspects of the ancient soul—heart, spirit, essence, name, and shadow.
relic: A vessel containing distilled or refined Sekhem (or in rarer cases, substantial levels of unrefined Sekhem) and thus bearing both discernable mystical properties and an attached curse; found in one of five general forms (amulets, effigies, regia, texts, and uter).
ren: In the five-fold soul, the name.
Rite of Return: The single greatest feat of magic ever performed on Earth, it is the sorcery that created the Arisen and that binds its Sekhem to their souls so they can walk among the living.
Sekhem: The pure “life force” that gives both the Arisen and their occult traditions power.
Sesha-Hebsu: The Arisen iteration of an ancient guild of magistrates and scribes led by seven sorcerer-priests who specialized in the creation of the occult word.
Shan’iatu: The cabal of sorcerer-priests who ran the ancient guilds and created all mummies.
Shuankhsen: The deadliest of the Lifeless, they are mummies who have been lost to shadow.
sheut: In the five-fold soul, the shadow.
Sickness, the: Informal term for the occult miasma that settles over living mortals unaccustomed to the ancient power and dread presence of a mummy (q.v., Sybaris).
Sothic Turn: An interval of time coinciding with the end of the previous canicular period (about 1,460 years), during which all the Deathless arise unsummoned and seek out new purpose.
Su-Menent: The Arisen iteration of an ancient guild of funerary priests and ritualists led by seven sorcerer-priests who specialized in the creation of vessels of the shell.
Sybaris: Customary term for the Sickness, experienced in one of two ways: terror or unease.
Tef-Aabhi: The Arisen iteration of an ancient guild of architects and engineers led by seven sorcerer-priests who specialized in the creation of magical effigies.
Utterance: A powerful spell invoked by a mummy through the power of his Sekhem.
vessel: An object that has either naturally accumulated or been artificially imbued with Sekhem.
vestige: A vessel containing only pure/unrefined Sekhem and bearing no mystical properties, but holding a great deal of emotional or spiritual value to one or more earth-bound souls.