Patience, The Red King reminded himself, patience is my greatest ally when dealing with the Sultan. For perhaps the tenth time, The Red King found himself reiterating Azazil’s words of wisdom when he discovered The White King’s plans to create Ari. “Many have sought the Ring of Solomon over the centuries. If one of those seekers were to be successful in finding the Seal they could have commanded us all and ripped Chaos from its Master’s hands. But if the Seal is a child, if the Seal is Ari, she can be manipulated, she can be swayed, and her loyalty to you can be won.”
He smiled, pleased with his son’s passionate oration. “Such fine words I weave.”
“So.” He straightened, his huge seven feet tall frame moving sinuously on the throne. “The next phase is in place. Ari has been forced into using the powers gifted to her at birth?”
“Yes, Father. And I promised I would ask you to help her find the Shaitan who has hurt her mortal father.”
Azazil nodded slowly. “She has begun to trust you?”
“I believe so.”
“If Master would see fit to do this for her, I believe Ari would also come to trust you.”
Like a serpent slithering across Azazil’s face, another smile slid into place. “Excellent.”
The Realm of Truth and Lies
Charlie had a way of taking Ari’s mind off things. Jai might not like that but he admitted the truth in it as he watched the two of them laugh through a foreign movie without the subtitles, translating for the actors on screen and coming up with ridiculous lines that made even Jai snort with amusement. Sitting together on the couch, close, their arms brushing, Ari’s chin tilted up as she laughed into Charlie’s face, Jai could suddenly see the years of friendship between them. They were comfortable, in sync. Jai was still suspicious of Charlie and his interest in the Jinn, but it hadn’t taken him long in close quarters with the teenagers to see that the kid genuinely cared about Ari. Probably loved her even.
And right now she needed that familiarity and that comfort that Jai was unable to provide her. All he could do was sit back and watch as she grew sadder and angrier over all the changes in her life. It had made him panic, that darkness in the depths of her forever-changing eyes. The last thing they needed was for Ari to spiral into the black, especially when she was just getting a handle on her powers. So it was a relief to see her acting like Ari again. Even if it was this untrustworthy idiot bringing her back to the light.
Keeping his eyes trained on his book, Jai sighed, wondering when and if The Red King was ever going to show up. Despite his tendency to distrust everything and everyone there was something about that particular Jinn King. If Jai didn’t trust him he at least liked the ancient immortal. Had he been wrong about him? Was he going to leave Ari’s dad to die? Sliding a furtive glance Ari’s way, he felt a pang of anxiety creep in. What would happen to Ari if Derek died?
Are we irritating you? Ari’s laughing voice suddenly echoed around his mind and Jai bit back a smile, focusing his gaze down on his book.
Not at all. In fact, I’m amazed at your ability to rewrite a script on the spot.
Her laughter glittered in his brain like champagne bubbles, making his heart throb. Jai slid his hand over his chest on the place that ached, wanting to contain the feeling somehow.
We used to do this when we were kids. She was getting good at using telepathy. As she spoke to him with her mind, she was still engaging in conversation with Charlie. It was difficult to do. Not many could.
Ah years of practice then.
Yeah. It’s nice. Feels like old times.
You know your boy hasn’t had a drink or a smoke in days? Why was he telling her that? He wasn’t supposed to be encouraging her with Charlie. Well you can’t encourage her with you so…
I know. At least one good thing has come out of all of this right?
Hearing the melancholy creep into her voice again, Jai hurried to reassure, Ari, everything will be fine. I promise.
For a moment he didn’t think she’d answer but then…
If you say so then I believe you.
Something in her voice caught him, making his heart pound, and he twisted his neck around to look at her across the room. She gazed back at him, her expression unreadable but serious. Jai gave her a soft nod.
If she believed in him there was no way he was letting her down.
Ari was mentally berating herself for not being able to spend five minutes without having some kind of interaction with Jai – using her telepathy to talk to him behind Charlie’s back? What was that? She had little time to yell at herself, however, her attention caught by the dark, writhing shadows that suddenly came to life across the living room walls. The atmosphere in the room grew charged and the spot in front of the television screen shimmered.
Jai muttered, “Incoming,” springing up on to his feet and placing himself between Ari and the shimmer.
Orange, reds and yellows burst before them and this time Ari barely felt the heat of the flames as they licked at them before their smokeless dissipation revealed The Red King. Relief poured through her and she shot to her feet, stumbling to Jai’s side and feeling Charlie behind her, his strong hand on her lower back, giving her silent support.
“Hey guys.” The Red King grinned cheerfully at them. “How’s it going?”
As if sensing her sudden burst of fury, Jai gripped her arm tight, his fingers biting into her skin as he stopped her from launching forward at the Jinn King. She knew it was a smart move on his part but right now she just wanted to tear the red-head to shreds for making her suffer this long.
Jai cleared his throat. “We’ve been waiting. We’re anxious to help Derek.”
The Red King nodded sympathetically. “Of course you are. Sorry about the delay but Azazil doesn’t exactly jump when you say ‘jump’, you know.” His blue eyes found Ari and they winked at her brightly under the dim light. “You been working on your magic?”
Clenching her teeth tight together in an effort to control herself, Ari nodded tightly.
Once again Jai spoke for her, “Ari’s got a handle on telepathy and she’s been conjuring, using her magic for everyday things.”
“Good, good. What about enchantments or using the Peripatos or the Cloak?”
“No.” Jai shook his head. “I felt that would be too much too soon. She did a few basic enchantments… turning a cushion to ash and locking Charlie in the bathroom but—”
“I knew that was you,” Charlie grunted behind her and Ari had to bite back a nervous laugh.
“And the Seal?” The Red King took a few steps towards them, his eyes narrowed, his whole body pulsing with energy and power. “Have you used your powers as the Seal yet, Ari?”
Finding her voice, Ari replied hoarsely, “I commanded Jai to shut up. It worked.”
Her uncle burst into laughter, slapping a strong hand against Jai’s biceps. “Oh dude, that’s funny.”
And just like that Ari relaxed, sensing her two companions ease beside her. Smiling now at the king, Ari explained, “I didn’t mean it. These two were arguing and I told them to shut up and Jai literally couldn’t talk until I reversed the command.”
Blue eyes sparking like electricity now, her uncle drank her in with amazement. “So it is indeed true. That’s crazy! Well… we better put Derek back together again then huh?”
Her knees almost buckled with relief at that pronouncement and she had to stop herself from throwing her body into The Red King’s arms in gratitude. “Did Azazil tell you who did it?”
And just like that the air around them changed, compressed, as The Red King’s face grew dark. He took a few steps back and shook his head. “He wants to meet you first.”
“What?” all three of them asked and she could feel both Jai and Charlie bristling beside her. Her own pulse had increased in tempo and this sick, wary feeling was toying with her gut.
“Azazil wishes to speak with Ari directly.” Noting their worried eyes and the way Jai surreptitiously began easing his body in front of Ari’s, The Red King’s own eyes narrowed. “Ari isn’t going to get hurt for the love of Shaitans. Azazil’s just curious. And he wants Ari to know that he’s doing what he can to protect her, even if it is just to piss off my brother. So… you meet Azazil and he’ll give you the scoop on the Jinn that hurt Derek.”
“You gotta be kid—”
“I’ll do it!” Ari raised her voice over Jai and Charlie’s protests. Jai glared at her and Charlie whipped her around to let her know he was glaring too. Shrugging out of his hands, Ari stepped away from her companions. “Don’t look at me like that. I’m doing this. If meeting Azazil will save Derek them I’m doing it.”
Charlie threw his hands up in frustration. “What part of this doesn’t say ‘it’s a trap!’ to you?”
“Hey!” The Red King’s voice thundered around the room. Ari blanched at the danger in the sound and glanced cautiously over at him. For the first time since she’d met him he looked truly annoyed and truly… scary. “Are you questioning my word of honor?” His now black eyes bore into Charlie.
“Say no,” Ari whispered.
Charlie crossed his arms over his chest and Ari’s heart fell, recognizing the defensive stance. Before he could say anything, Jai thrust an arm out pushing Charlie back. “No, he’s not. He’s just a kid worried about his friend. But if you say Ari is safe going to Mount Qaf to speak with Azazil then we believe you.”
There was a tense moment as they all waited to see if Charlie would disagree with Jai. However, he must have remembered that he was owner of a modicum of intelligence for, to Ari’s everlasting relief, he remained silent.
“Good.” The Red King skewered them all with another severe look. In that moment Ari knew he was silently telling them that although he might be a nice, easy-going guy, he was also a guy who could kill them in a snap of his fingers. Drawing the moment out, his demeanor slowly transformed from scary to cheerful again, which was in itself sinister. Ari shivered when his blue eyes alighted on her again. “When I ask you to repeat these words I need you to truly mean them. No being enters Mount Qaf under duress.”