Surprised at the admonishment, Ari waited with bated breath for her father’s reply. As before, The White King betrayed no emotion. Instead he eyed Azazil carefully. “It shocks you that your son has learned from your behavior, Master?”
A chuckle rumbled from the back of Azazil’s throat. “I never harm those who my children call family.”
“Then that is where you and I differ in strategy, Master. Perhaps my ability to set aside emotion will act in my favor in this—”
“Usurpation,” Azazil supplied angrily. “You are an arrogant, festering boil.”
“Must we have this same disagreement every time we meet, Master?”
Ari had to suck in a gasp as she was forced to skitter back from the throne at the angry vibration of power that throbbed from Azazil’s body at The White King’s disrespect. He leaned forward in his throne and hissed at his son, “I want you to know that I will do everything in my power to aid the Seal against you.”
As if expecting such The White King nodded. “You may try, Master. But the girl is my daughter and I have no doubt that once she is left with no one, she will come running to her father, to her family.”
“You seem confident of this.”
The bitter smile that curled The White King’s eyes almost blasted Ari off her feet she was so surprised by the slip of emotion. “Every child needs their father, Master.”
The growing heat of rage began to thicken between father and son and Azazil abruptly stood from the throne. “You will never have the Seal. I promise you that. You are dismissed.”
With his blank mask perfectly back in place, The White King offered a ‘deferential’ nod and turned, his purple silk robes snapping in the air like a wild animal, the reflection and explosion of amethyst rippling back at Ari from every direction. She waited, quietly in pain at the physical reminder of her parentage, as he strode along the immense hall towards the exit.
She knew now why Azazil had invited her to witness this interaction with her father. He wanted to reiterate the impression she’d already gained from The White King. He was cruel, merciless, unloving, and she should never be drawn or manipulated to his side by anything he said or did because he spoke and acted with one goal in mind: to use her to usurp his father.
The room seemed to breathe a sigh of relief as the giant doors glided closed with impressive silence. Letting her concentration fade, Ari stepped out of the Cloak and quickly moved down off the dais to face Azazil. As soon as he took in her expression he nodded with satisfaction. Holding her emotions inside, Ari gave him a careful look. She may know now to never trust her father but that didn’t mean she trusted this alien creature before her either.
“Pazuzu, Your Highness?” she asked quietly.
He raised an eyebrow at the question and smiled. “Your determination and bravery is entertaining, Seal. Pazuzu is not like other Shaitans. He is an ancient Mesopotamian Jinn we call a Wind Demon; he’s older than many of his kind. The Wind Demon is loyal to The White King despite his ex-servitude to me. Thousands of years ago The White King created an entire city, spent decades spinning destinies and watching it grow and flower into something beautiful and productive.” He pinned her to the spot with a dark look. “My son built it up specifically to let Pazuzu terrorize it once it was in its glory. That patience, dedication, and artful evil is seductive to our kind. It is his way of gaining very loyal followers.”
There were no words to describe the despair Ari felt as Azazil depicted the horror that was the man she was born of. It seemed unreal. It was sickening. Hollow. Painful. Heart wrenching. She wished she were anywhere but where she was just so she could run and hide from the truth.
“Pazuzu is a desert spirit. He never strays far from the sand. He cannot.” He gave her a small nod and an amused smile. “You will find him in Roswell, New Mexico.”
Ari had no chance to reply, to thank him, to tell him how grateful she was for his help despite the fact that he had crushed her even more and terrified the living daylights out of her. Almost immediately upon his words, Ari felt the darkness crawl over her eyes. She drew in a deep breath, preparing herself for the wind tunnel.
My Wings Are Yours, Are Your Wings His?
Pomegranates. She couldn’t get the smell of pomegranates out of her head. Despite her best efforts to step out of the cloying, nefarious shade her visit to Mount Qaf and Azazil’s home had dragged her into, Ari couldn’t. The gloom, the truth of how her life would be once Derek was healed, was determined to cast out the sun.
Trying to focus, Ari’s head swiveled back and forth between Jai and Charlie and The Red King who oversaw their discussion. After returning to the house by smacking into the floor like last time, Charlie and Jai had been blustery and over-concerned and vying for authority over her. Exhausted yet determined, Ari had shoved them away from her and recounted her visit with Azazil, including The White King’s appearance. To her surprise The Red King looked perturbed when she mentioned Azazil had invited his brother. As if he hadn’t known about it. Somehow, it made Ari feel better, that perhaps out of all the Jinn Kings there was one she could count on.
“I agree with Jai, Charlie,” The Red King was saying, pulling her attention back in like a thread through the eye of a needle. “Pazuzu is not an easy creature to deal with. In fact he’s effing hard to take down. If I go on this little mission he’ll sense my energy right away and take off. If you go you might get killed. Only Ari and Jai should go.”
“No way,” Charlie growled, slanting a sleepy dangerous look her way. “Ari, I’m not letting you do this without me. Why can’t I help when you’re the one who needs a 24 hour guard?”
“Oh yeah.” The Red King slapped Jai on the back. “Your contract has changed since Ari here came into her gifts. You’re still her guard but you don’t have to be hanging around all the time. If she needs you, she can contact you using this.” He tapped a finger to his forehead.
At that news, Ari caught Jai’s gaze, hating the strange ache and panic that was suddenly spreading across her chest and lungs. Like always Jai’s eyes revealed nothing and he dropped them quickly, nodding. “OK, no problem.”
It was so a problem.
Feeling guilt rip through her Ari shot a look at Charlie only to find him smirking. Of course he was happy with that turn of events. Annoyed, Ari punched him on the upper arm. “I don’t know what you’re smiling about, you aren’t coming to Roswell.”
Glowering, Charlie slapped her hand away. “What if it was me? You’d be tailing my ass whether I liked it or not.”
“Probably true,” Jai replied before she could. “But since I’ll be flying us there I think you’re out of luck.”
Flying us there? Ari’s jaw dropped. “As in… flying flying?
“You forgot we can fly?”
“Was that in the book?”
“No.” Charlie shook his head adamantly. “It wasn’t in the book.”
“Huh.” Jai frowned. “Sorry about that.”
“We can fly?”
The Red King winced at her screech and took a step back. “Hysterical woman. That’s my cue to leave.”
Before she could say a word or question when she’d see him again, The Red King went up into the fiery Peripatos leaving Ari staring at the empty spot he left behind with disbelief. Finally, she unlocked her jaw and picked it up from the ground. “Do I have to fly?” she asked, feeling more than a little queasy at the mere thought.
Jai shook his head. “No, like the Peripatos, that’s something that will take time for you to learn how to do, time we don’t have. And since it’s impossible to take someone into the Peripatos with me, it looks like I’m flying us there. It takes a lot of focus because you have to go into the Cloak at the same time. You’ll have to hold on to me.”
Ignoring Charlie’s disgruntled mumblings beside her Ari stuck out a hand to Jai, feeding off her nervous butterflies and adrenaline to get her through. “OK. Let’s do this.”
“What, now? You’ve just been to Mount Qaf. You’ve been gone a whole day. Don’t you want to sleep first?”
“No. As far as I’m concerned I was gone like an hour. I want this done. Now.”
Heaving a sigh, Jai nodded. “OK.” The air around him pulsed and suddenly he was wearing a black leather jacket over his white t-shirt.
“Show-off,” Charlie muttered sullenly.
Rolling her eyes at him Ari shoved him playfully only to be surprised as he grabbed her arm and hauled her into a fierce hug. Feeling his muscles tremble beneath her and his heart pound against her ear Ari held on tightly, breathing him in. He smelled like the tropical detergent she used. At the feel of his lips against her forehead Ari sighed, melting into him.
“You come back in one piece, you hear,” he demanded hoarsely.
Afraid if she held on any longer she wouldn’t let go Ari pulled back and smiled up at him as confidently as she could. It was only when she let her gaze flicker over his shoulder she flushed, caught in Jai’s turbulent green eyes. Another pang of guilt cut through her for some inexplicable reason and Ari stumbled back, this torn in two feeling really not working for her at all. “I will,” she murmured her promise.
“You’ll need a jacket,” Jai said, coming around the coffee table to stand before her.
His familiar heat and strength did funny things to her when he stood this close and she had to concentrate extra hard to conjure a jacket. She chose a brown leather biker jacket like the one she saw in Cosmo last week, the one she’d been lamenting over at the fact that it would cost her three months allowance to buy it. Now it fit, sleek and snug, like it had been made especially for her.
Being Jinn had its perks.
“Outside.” Jai strode out into the hall. He pulled the door open with a flourish. “Let’s do this.”