The Serpent’s Riddle

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Abdul el-Kader felt sharp ridges digging into his knuckles as they battered against the shanty’s ramshackle door. A hollow, rasping knock met his ears, the sound of hard bone hitting parched wood.

A film of sand fell like a shimmering veil from where the desert winds had whipped it against the woodwork. Lines appeared, swirling patterns and hard corners. It was a figure carved with intricate skill into the plain wooden boards. As fine white sand continued to trickle down the door’s face, the design took shape before his sweat-stung eyes.

A thick, cloying lump formed in Abdul’s throat. Now he had come too far to return. He could not fail.

The serpent twisted and writhed across the cracked timber, a thousand chipped scales seeming to dance beneath a falling curtain of sand. With a click, its jaws opened to reveal a set of long fangs fashioned from snagging splinters.

A dry voice hissed from inside its mouth, speaking in a tongue that Abdul did not know.

Sa alassa?” It asked.

He knew that the answer he gave would determine whether he lived or died. Damp sweat clung to his armpits, soaking into his flowing white ropes. A hidden, silent voice in the back of his mind told him to run, but it was too late for that.

He could not fail.

Read the first part of Abdul’s tale here: An Imposter’s Dilemma

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