Riddle of the Stars

by Carl Fox

Read in Lovecraftiana: The Magazine of Eldritch Horror (2016-17)

(This review contains spoilers)

The story begins with the Kemetan Tribe returning to their lands after years of being driven away by Nyarlathotep, who ruled from his place named ‘The Great Beast.’ It stood high over all in the desert lands, carved from a single stone.

No one knew if this place was his home or a temple or even built by him in the first place, but the stories surrounding it became fables that were told and passed down through the generations; the main of which being that Nyarlathotep, The Crawling Chaos, now gone, would return one day and reclaim his kingdom.

The desert sand had covered most of the Great Beast, and only its head was visible. So the leaders of the tribe decided they would dig out the rest, and when they had found that it resembled some strange four-legged creature.

Fearing it and the strange noises that sometimes came forth, the leaders also barricaded the place off from the rest of the tribe and set guards to patrol it. But over time, believing there was knowledge and treasure to be found in the place, they developed a contest: Once in a generation, a young man coming of age is sent into The Great Beast. For five generations though, none had ever returned.

This enters Menes into the story, who for years had the same dream of him as a young boy traveling throughout some other lands with a pet cat that one day disappeared. (Which is a reference to Lovecraft’s ‘The Cats Ulthar,’ that I bring up for no other reason than that it made me happy to be referenced.)

Upon entering The Great Beast, Menes finds footprints, stone cocoons full of shriveled corpses, and carvings on the wall showing the story of the lands throughout time. The most important detail of which is that a dead king would return and fight against Nyarlathotep. There is a good atmosphere built up in this story section, and I quite enjoyed the writing here.

He comes across a watery corridor as he continues through the place, but luckily he finds a small boat. As he rows in the water, he hears hissing, sees strange forms in the water, and even believes the walls of the place themself become alive and appear as pulsating scales. He eventually reaches a hole, and he falls into a large chamber. This was another story section full of excellent writing.

In the chamber was an archway showing the night stars, and next to it was a guardian who looked just like The Great Beast itself. This creature welcomes Menes but is interrupted by another guardian, a man with a jackal head. He does battle with Menes and would have easily defeated him if not for the archway changing from the night stars to some other place full of strange flutes playing a horrible melody.

All three are thrown to their knees from the awful sound, and the jackal-headed creature relents and realizes he must allow Menes to prove himself worthy of the treasure before it is too late. To earn it, he must answer a riddle, “What child is forever born
in the dawn, yet is devoured every day at dusk, to be reborn?”

Menes contemplates this for a while, but the story never reveals his answer. The door of The Great Beast opens and Menes, now decked out in regal attire, greets the gathering crowd of tribespeople and its elders. They demand from him to know just what the treasure he found was.

He declares himself to be named Hor-Narmer and that HE is the treasure and raises his arms which causes The Great Beast’s eyes to glow and an army of black cats to spring forth. The lands are now his, a new age dawns, and his kingdom will endure forever.

As you can probably tell from my not having mocked anything in this story, I enjoyed it a lot. The writing was incredible, and everything it referenced was done well and added to the story instead of the usual shoehorning it in to say hey guys, this is Lovecraftian! Although Nyarlathotep is quite overused, here he is done as he should be in his Egyptian setting and his ever vague efforts to bring forth Azathoth to end reality.

This one was just really great, and although a short story was packed with detail, a lot of which I had to skip over or reduce to a few words to keep this review from ballooning in size. I strongly recommend reading this one.

***** Five out of Five Stars (Great)

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