The snake’s fangs seemed to glisten against the dust of the dune as it struck out from the rotted wood of the door and tore at Abdul’s right shoulder. Instinctively, he wrenched the snake from its assault, a howl of pain accompanying this defense as his shoulder became wet with blood.
The snake turned to dust in his hand, and the world around him, the crackled wood of the door and the decrepit stone of the house, lost its form and dissolved into a mass of black. He was only dimly aware of the three white blurs which seemed to be pulling him deeper into the abyss before the last of his thoughts were swallowed by the void.
“This isn’t sleep.” Abdul thought. “This isn’t death.”
He had expected one of the two, or perhaps both. Abdul had always imagined death would be the eternal sleep in which he would drift through the millennia, unchanged. His only hope had been that he might dream after he died.
But he was not dead, that much was clear to his feverish mind. His sweating and chill-wracked body stank of life. He was failing.
Abdul’s task had been so simple, so utterly straightforward that he had pinched his arm when he first heard it. Still, he imagined that it had all been an unusual dream weaved upon his mind as the desert heat cooked his head.
But the imposter was not dreaming. He could feel the serpent’s venom inside him. It felt like thousands of fine needles were swimming in his blood. His heart pumped liquid torture through his veins. It ripped, snagged and pierced wherever it went.
He had failed.
His mission had been simple. Find the house where the serpent lay, meet the Aswan in their white robes, let them kill him in their rage and join the ranks of heroes.
He was being kept alive, but for what purpose he did not know. Abdul focused his mind, seeking out death so that he could welcome it into his shuddering body.