“So what will I command you?” she asked quietly, ignoring the way her fingers trembled as she played with the tab on her soda can.
When she got no answer, she glanced up to see Jai’s face going red, the veins in his head throbbing.
“Dude, what’s wrong?” Charlie asked quietly, looking at Ari in alarm. “Is he choking?”
Ari’s heart flipped in her chest at the thought and she reached across the table to grab his arm. “Jai?”
His eyes widened and he waved a large hand at his throat and mouth and then pointed at her.
What the hell?
“Jesus Christ, he can’t talk?” Charlie asked incredulously. “Is this a joke?
Ari, your power! Jai’s voice blasted into her head in a shout, probably born from his frustration. It knocked her back in her chair with a painful wince. You commanded me to shut up!
Holy macaroons, so she had! “And it worked?”
“What?” Charlie blinked in confusion.
“Telepathy,” she muttered, staring at Jai wide-eyed. Curiously she reached a hand out, her fingers brushing his warm throat without thinking. His eyebrows hit his hairline at her touch and as quickly as she had reached out to him his own hand trapped hers in a tight grip, pushing her away. Hurt, Ari pulled out of his grip, ignoring the flip in her stomach and the tingles down her spine at the feel of his work-roughened hands sliding against her skin.
Guess it works. His voice sounded quieter, more subdued.
She nodded, at once creeped out and unsure of herself. I can really command Jinn to do anything?
Looks that way.
Her mouth twisted at the possible consequences of this verification. I am so screwed.
Looks that way.
She shot him a dirty look. You want to be able to speak again or not, Jinn Boy.
She smiled teasingly. What? I think Charlie came up with a super nickname.
When he smirked at her, Ari felt relief pour through her, glad to see his features soften a little. I think Charlie better watch his mouth.
Why? No matter what he says it’s not like I can command him to shut up.
You really should try to get along.
Hmmph. That’s as likely as humans rediscovering the lost city of Palmyra.
I have no idea what that means.
Ahh what else. The bitterness must have been apparent in her eyes and tone because his whole demeanor changed.
Noting his concerned look, Ari smiled softly at him. I can never tell with you, Jai… do you actually care or not?
He froze, his green gaze pinning her to the spot. I’m your guardian. I care.
Because you’re my guardian?
Why else? And why do you care if I care? He cocked his head, his eyes narrowing. You’re in love with the kid… right?
“OK, this is getting old,” Charlie snapped, jerking Ari out of the little bubble she’d gotten caught up in with Jai. Her heart was pounding against her ribs, blood rushing in her ears, and she was pretty sure in her face.
What the hell did that mean?
Oh my god, what did that mean? She eyed him, frustrated as all hell when his gaze dropped. Can you uncommand the whole shutting up thing? he asked, the monotone back.
Huffing in annoyance at the interruption, not only at Charlie, but at herself for being annoyed with Charlie, Ari nodded. “Jai, I command you to be able to talk again. Or whatever.”
He made a face at the ‘or whatever’ part and cleared his throat. “I… great, I can talk again.”
“Well.” Charlie shrugged. “Paradise could only last so long, right.”
Getting up from the table, shaking a little at her unraveling, Ari cuffed Charlie across the head. “Be nice.”
“Tell him to be nice!”
“I can’t,” she snorted, looking back over her shoulder at them. “If I did that he’d actually have to be nice… it would be like re-writing his entire personality.”
Jai grunted. “Funny.”
Charlie chuckled. “I thought so.”
Rolling her eyes, Ari strolled out of the kitchen, not surprised at the scrape of kitchen chairs across tiling as the two of them rose to follow her out. Jai was still contracted to be glued to her hip and Charlie had taken up residence in her home and life as a guardian in frickin’ training. Not for the first time, Ari wished she could have just one moment of alone time so she could gather her thoughts and work out what the hell was going on with her and how she really felt. About everything.
It was the stalemate. The waiting.
Where’s a Jinn King when you need one?
If there was one thing being an immortal Jinn King had taught him it was patience. For days The Red King awaited news from his father after requesting an audience with him. His father, the all-seeing, all-knowing, powerful Sultan of the Jinn, Azazil, was most assuredly aware of The Red King’s reason to request an audience. Azazil enjoyed drama, conflict, tragedy, destruction — he liked to manipulate a situation into place, then draw it out and glory in the carnage that resulted from frustration and impatience and misunderstanding. It came as no surprise then to The Red King that he heard no word from Azazil for seventy two hours. And now he was summoned while he sat in a darkened movie theatre in Stockholm watching a reshowing of a Swedish horror movie that made Interview with a Vampire look like Nosferatu. Disgruntled at the call during an especially chilling scene, The Red King stepped into the Cloak before descending into the Peripatos. Unlike his brothers, The Red King was still quite enamored with the mortal realm. He liked the movies and technological gadgets they were forever creating. Their science and inventiveness was a form of magic even they themselves did not appreciate.
He thought them rather clever.
He even (although he would never admit so to his brothers or father) liked some of them.
Granted access to Azazil’s compound in the furthest reaches of Mount Qaf, The Red King appeared in the Receiving Room with grace and aplomb, automatically conjuring robes and hand-sewn leather trousers more befitting to this realm and his father’s tastes. His hair he let loose and he strode towards his father’s throne at the farthest end of the room with his red robes and hair billowing out behind him like a flickering flame. He was an impressive, intimidating sight, and his vanity preened a little as he relished the awed looks that crossed the faces of the hundreds of servant Jinn who stood in formation, one after the other, on each side of the room. They were garbed in white pants and loose white shirts, no accessories adorning their bodies. They were all Shaitains, immensely powerful, but completely under Azazil’s command. Despite their own power and their subjection to the Sultan Azazil the sight of one of the Seven Kings of Jinn could still thrill them. The Red King remained expressionless as he passed them, the Receiving Room stretching an impressive few hundred yards, the glass ceilings and floor only interrupted by cuts of precious stones that winked back in all of the reflections, creating a chaos that only the Jinn could see through without becoming befuddled. The ceilings arched high above him and the dais that housed Azazil’s throne stretched way before him. The Receiving Room was as vast as an airplane hangar, designed to confuse the unworthy and intimidate the ignorant.
Using enchantment to silence the sounds of his bare feet slapping on the glass floor, The Red King swept along, eager to discuss Ari’s predicament with his father.
Finally, he drew to a halt several paces before the throne. The throne itself was constructed entirely of black flawless marble, the hard, harsh lines undisturbed. There were no arabesques or curlicues or chiseled reliefs. Its high back rose a good ten feet in the air, the overawing light of the Receiving Room seeping into its deep black like a sponge soaking up water. Azazil eyed him, his black eyes narrowed. He gave his son a tiny nod and The Red King took the steps up to the dais with ease and confidence. His father held his hand out and he took it carefully, bowing over gracefully to place a respectful kiss on his father’s knuckles. Nodding approvingly now, Azazil waited for his son to retrace his steps back down from the dais before waving a hand across the air in front of him. The Red King felt the heat of the enchantment at his back, crawling on his robe like little secret spiders.
“We have privacy now, my son,” his deep voice, so like The White King’s, rumbled around them like the thunder of an avalanche on a snow-covered mountain. “You need my help? It is time?”
He nodded. “My brother has had a Shaitan place an unbreakable enchantment upon Ari’s human father Derek Johnson.”
Light glittered in Azazil’s black eyes and he smiled. Although the smile was sinister, Azazil’s power was such that his smile made you warm and eager to stretch your own lips into a matching expression. “Clever. It seems my son has played into my plans every step of the way.”
The Red King gave a sharp nod. “Yes, Father. It appears he has.”
“His arrogance will be the death of him. It pleases me. His arrogance. As does your loyalty to me.”
Azazil abruptly burst into raucous laughter, the harsh and unearthly sound making even The Red King wince. “Is it not humorous, son, The White King believes my greatest lieutenant would be fooled by an Ifrit?”
“It amuses me greatly.”
“I will have to take your word on that since you show no mirth.”
“I laugh inwardly, Father. My brother believes Sala stole the Seal of Solomon from around Asmodeus’ neck when in truth you commanded Asmodeus to let her take it.”
Not without his own conceit, Azazil enjoyed having his trickery repeated over and over again so he could glory in his own cleverness and manipulative genius. His humor, however, dissipated as his eyes took on a contemplative look. His moods were as mercurial as the sea. “The White King must never be Sultan, son. He is not cool-headed enough to claim mastery over the Fire Spirits. But sometimes I do admire his intelligence. Transforming the Seal into human form was one of his better notions. Why did I let his plan play out?”