Deidra Maher whored her way through France and Spain to earn passage across Morocco, Algeria, and finally to Mali. Since inheriting the cipher from her great-granduncle as his only living relative, she spent the next five years accomplishing what he had failed to do in twenty. Shon Knowles certainly had a keen mind but not a brilliant one, so the secret of the cipher eluded him. However, his great-grandniece was considered a prodigy, though an undisciplined one, yet it still took her half a decade to master the ancient code.
It was unusual for a woman to travel alone, even a European one, in Islamic nations, but she was now posing as a reporter covering the first Festival au Désert to be held in the region since 2013. Making her way through the horde of residents and tourists along Askia Mohamed Boulevard in Timbuktu, Deidra arrived at Hotel Colombe 2, a modest but adequate accommodation. She only planned to stay for a day, two at the most. For the present, comfort was her main interest.
The city had once been a hub of Islamic learning many centuries past, but eventually began to decline and finally collapsed under the heel of French rule. Yet, the cipher contained a map to what Knowles believed were long forgotten tunnels under Mosquée Sankoré. All she had to do was break in.