Friday 17 May 2024

Missed Classic: Daughter of Serpents – Death on the Nile

Written by Vetinari

Alexandria is on the Nile, so the title is technically correct.
Last time we were going to visit Bimbashi Cameron at the police station to check on our leads about the case which brought us here in Egypt. Cameron gives off the vibe of being a very strict and severe man, a classic by-the-book policeman.

This is the one and only pleasantry which he exchanges with me.

In an As You Know moment, Cameron explains the backstory which brought me here, i.e. the fact that a friend of mine was sold shares in a worthless company, and that I have managed to find out that the man behind the fraud is one Constantine Elytis, who runs the Elytis Import Export Company here in Alexandria.

Unfortunately, Cameron says that Elytis died over a year ago, and his widow Ariadne has taken over the business. She can't be legally touched because she can plead ignorance of the dealings of her late husband and she is also covered by the Capitulations. These are legal privileges and immunities granted to foreign citizens by the Ottomans to encourage trade; they are still in effect after WWI (even if now Egypt is a British protectorate). In practice the police cannot arrest a Greek subject if there isn't a representative of their consulate present. So, tough luck.

Sure, let's dispense some extra-judicial justice.
Cameron says that a lot of unusually fine papyrus manuscripts have turned up on the black market. This may mean that a new archeological site has been discovered by the criminal underworld, and the authorities are worried. So he proposes that I impersonate a buyer of manuscripts to lay a trap for these criminals and, since he suspects that Mrs. Elytis herself is the source of these papyri, we can kill two birds with one stone.

I can either agree with this plan, or refuse and go rogue. Since I think that collaborating with the local police will be the most proficuous course of action, I agree. Cameron says that in order to contact Mrs Elytis, I can choose to meet her either at her office or in her café “The Gardens of Paradise”. I think that the café will be a more inconspicuous locale, so I choose that.

I make a note to try and see, after finishing the game, if there are alternate paths when you choose not to help Cameron with his investigations, or if you meet Ariadne Elytis at her office instead of the café. This will be in addition to trying to beat the game with my other two alternate characters.

In any case, Cameron concurs with my suggestion, but informs me that, due to the rampant corruption in the police force and in the various consulates, we cannot divulge our plan to anyone. Therefore, I have to setup a further meeting with Mrs Elytis at the Savoy Hotel bar, where she will want to see the colour of my money. Cameron says that he will provide me with the funds to make the purchase through a banker's draft from Cook's, but Sven has other ideas.

Weird flex there, Sven.
Cameron rebuffs me and says that we need to use Cook's because we cannot be seen together in order not to arouse suspicion. He will instruct the clerks to inform him of my draft request, and the fact that I will order the letter of credit for a certain time will tip him off that the meeting with Ariadne at the bar will be at that particular moment. In this way he can swoop in and arrest the widow, while also having invited a representative from the Greek consulate for cocktails at the Savoy Hotel bar at the same time, in order to cover the legal quibbles over the Capitulations.

The café is helpfully signposted on the map.

I decide to start off this plan immediately, so I go to the “Gardens of Paradise” where I pose as an ordinary vacationer.

The music changes between the various locations.

Sven has the distinct impression that this café is a place for tourists, not a seedy criminal hangout. I order some coffee and sweets and wait around to see if anything happens.

I think that's a sfouf, but I could be mistaken.

It doesn't take long until the helpful proprietress comes to my table to inquire how everything is going, and I am more than glad to strike up a conversation with her.

Sven tries to pull off a James Bond here.
It takes Ariadne close to no prompt by my side to suggest that I should take home some interesting souvenir of Egypt (if you catch her drift) and that she will let me know if she finds something interesting by leaving a message at my hotel reception. Then she excuses herself and leaves.

After finishing my coffee, I return to the Savoy and, since I have to wait until something happens and there is unfortunately no option to pass the time by sightseeing, I decide to rest in my room.

Sven doesn't know anything about Egyptology.

When I come down to the lobby, the ever-helpful Emil informs me that someone has left a message for me there.

Not shady at all, no sirree.

I go to the bar and wait for Ariadne to show up.

The bar clock helpfully provides another means to pass the time.

Mrs Elytis shows up, as per our appointment, at eleven sharp.

The speech balloons for Ariadne seem a little off.

She tells me an obviously made-up story about a coptic community member here in Alexandria who is in deep debt and is selling off ancient relics from his family. In particular, she offers me a cased scroll for the extortionate price of 5000 egyptian dollars, which is however (or at least that's what she says) much less than its true value. I accept the exchange and she says she will be here at 6 pm with the manuscript.

Thomas Cook's was first and foremost a travel agency, and it shows.

I go to Cook's office to request a banker's draft, telling them to bring it to the hotel lobby just before 6 pm, in order to alert Cameron of the time of the exchange. Then I wait for the meeting.

Ariadne has the artifact with her, and asks me to show the letter of credit. She then proceeds to unwrap a little bit of the golden case in which the papyrus is held, but she is cut short by Cameron who appears behind her and declares her under arrest. She is initially nonplussed, but regains her composure very soon as she spars verbally with the Bimbashi.

Whoa, sick burn!

Cameron says to take her over to the police station, while he retrieves the letter of credit from me and arranges to have the artifact brought to the museum, to be examined by a certain Professor Stone. He asks me if I want to come along with him to the museum and I accept.

This seems to be based on the Graeco-Roman Museum of Alexandria.

Professor Stone starts examining the case and says that it is not clear if it is fake or not, since gold leaf does not tarnish.

I would say that's pretty unlikely.

There really is a scroll inside the case, however, and the professor thinks that by checking and translating it we can arrive at some conclusions on the veracity of the container.

That case/sarcophagus is really pretty, by the way.

The scroll is in Greek, and titled “Biblion Kayrukeion” or “Book of the Serpent Staff”. It promises to reveal powerful magic to the reader, and describes the voyages of a certain Neneferkaptah, who had a vision from Thoth who led him to a city of serpents in the midst of the Sea of Coptos.

There, inside a series of boxes, of iron, then bronze, then wood, then ebony, then ivory, then silver and finally of gold, all guarded by an endless serpent, he found a book that Thoth wrote, called “The book which governs the return of the stars”. Hmmm. That's not creepy at all.

Translating scrolls is hard work, but does it really make you sweat?

The scroll is written in a very obscure language and difficult to decipher, but Stone says that it seems that Neneferkaptah studied the wisdom of the ancient city, killed the serpent who guarded the book and used one of the spells in it to imprison the denizens of that place. Cameron asks why it was called the “city of serpents”, and Stone says that it is because its inhabitants were serpents.

This prompts the Bimbashi to recount what happened when the SS Dacia docked, i.e. what was shown in the introduction sequence for the game. The eyewitnesses said that the attacker turned into a snake, but the coroner who performed the autopsy said that the scaly skin, slit pupiled eyes and needle teeth were just skin diseases and birth defects.

Do these seem like a skin disease and some birth defects? That's a f***ing reptilian, man.

Stone then proceeds to tell about three magic spells that are recounted in the book: one of summoning, one of binding and one of divination; this last one was performed by scratching the eye of the recipient with a golden needle. This reminds Cameron of one of his police officers who was found feverish and delirious, repeating that “she scratched my eye with a golden needle and gave me second sight”, and soon afterwards he died. When they carried out the autopsy, there was a scratch in the corner of one of his eyes.

Before he can elaborate further, he receives a phone call and has to go to a crime scene elsewhere. Stone goes on to translate the next part of the scroll which seems to be a prophecy for the end of the world, “when the stars are right” and when the true name of Thoth would be invoked by the spell of summoning. Then suddenly the lights start flickering, and this happens:



A manifestation of Thoth appears from a pylon gateway in the main hall. He commands Stone to give him the manuscript since “its time approaches but its message is not for you”. Stone hurries to comply with his requests, kneeling at his feet.

Yeah, rock on, ancient Egyptian god buddy!

Then he says that he is a teacher and a messenger, and to those that seek he brings wisdom and knowledge. Since I have sought knowledge, that will be his gift to me.

Thanks, really, but do you mind if I take a rain check on that?

Next thing I know I am in the catacombs of Kom Es Chagaufa, where a tourist guide asks me if I am all right, because I was standing there when he came in and for ten minutes I had not moved, as if I was frozen still.

That's what we all would like to know, Sven.

I make my way back to the hotel, where I immediately notice that there is something amiss. Emil tells me to go sit down at the bar while he makes arrangements, and soon after a police officer comes to escort me down to the police station.


Fortunately, it would seem that Bimbashi Cameron is just very apprehensive for my well-being. He asks me where I was, and I answer that earlier today I was at the catacombs, while I remember only that yesterday night I was at the museum with Professor Stone.

Cameron elaborates that I have been missing for three months and I must be suffering from amnesia. He brings me up to date with the events of the night I was at the museum.

He had been called to investigate the body of the customs agent of the Elytis, Yusuf Al Raschid, who was found dead in the cellar of their warehouse. By the time he managed to get back to the museum, the professor was dead (apparently of a heart attack), while me and the scroll were both nowhere to be found.

Cameron thought that Ariadne had paid someone to kill Al Raschid and recover the scroll, but before he could interrogate her further, she had escaped custody by bribing the guards. He further assumes that the people responsible for the murder had kidnapped me but they couldn't face killing me in cold blood, so after some time had passed they cut me loose in the catacombs after hitting me on the head, which caused my memory loss.

Cameron says that there are however some loose ends in this story. For example, Ariadne didn't have the keys for the cellar door in the warehouse, only Al Raschid did. Also, the door from the cellar had been forced open from the inside, which didn't gel with the reconstruction that the killers broke down the door to drag their victim down to the basement. If the door was opened by Al Rashid, there would have been no need to force it, and even if Al Raschid locked the door after he and the killers went inside, he was found tied to a chair with the keys still hanging from his belt, so no need to force it open afterwards, they could have just used the keys.

Since he still hasn't managed to make heads nor tails of it, he thinks that a fresh pair of eyes might be needed to shed light on this whole situation.

I don't know, maybe that could have been useful, like, three months ago?

Well, since this post has been running on the longish side for a while, let's stop it here and we will continue the investigation next time.

Session Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours 00 minutes

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There’s a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!


  1. Thot is nyarlathothep in the game ? Or the egyptian god thot?

    1. Dude! Spoilers!
      But yes, in the end it is the Thoth of the Lovecraft Mythos, so one of the Masks of Nyarlathothep.

    2. I don't think it was a Lovecraft story you read where Nyarlathothep is a thot... ;p

    3. I was trying to come up with a worthy joke about that, but didn't know how international that term was... ;)

    4. That Horrorbeyondhumanimagining Over There?

  2. I looked a few reviews of this game, and I noticed that some of them mention that the game included a short pen-and-paper RPG called "The Alchemist of Istambul" which served as a prequel to the story.

    1. Well, well, that's very interesting! I looked at the booklet (you can find the pdf at the <a href=">Museum of Computer Adventure Game History</a>) and it is indeed a short RPG system (based on the skills present in the game) with a prequel scenario, which also explains/spoils a lot of the game itself! Luckily I have already finished it!

  3. I do like the art of that golden container, an intriguing start, I wasn't expecting the supernatural quite so prominently.

  4. Someone arrest this man. He's linking to TV tropes in broad daylight!

  5. This game doesn't really feel like there's much puzzle going on, more like a CYOA game with more interactivity. Events will advance whether you figure them out or not, and you're just along for the ride.

    1. That's often the case with event-driven games, right? Traditional linearity can be considered a series of gates: the player doesn't progress unless they can get through. But event-driven games are more like a hurdle race. You can clear the hurdle or you can crash through it, but the race will continue regardless.

      (Sometimes developers will Game Over you for not clearing the hurdle, but imo this is the worst of both worlds: the dynamism injected by the world existing beyond your actions becomes a source of frustration.)

  6. Space Quest Historian just released an interesting video about Sierra's voice recording database technology:

    1. Very nice! As much as I find SQH a little obnoxious, I can always listen to an Al Lowe interview. I think I still have the audio from a phone interview I did with him 25 years ago, on a couple of microcassettes.


Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There's a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of the reviewer requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game...unless they really obviously need the help...or they specifically request assistance.

If this is a game introduction post: This is your opportunity for readers to bet 10 CAPs (only if they already have them) that the reviewer won't be able to solve a puzzle without putting in an official Request for Assistance: remember to use ROT13 for betting. If you get it right, you will be rewarded with 50 CAPs in return.
It's also your chance to predict what the final rating will be for the game. Voters can predict whatever score they want, regardless of whether someone else has already chosen it. All score votes and puzzle bets must be placed before the next gameplay post appears. The winner will be awarded 10 CAPs.