Lucas and I left the islet, even as the expression on River’s face cut me to the core. We dove through the portal and arrived back in The Dunes.

We zoomed to the entrance of the Drizans’ lair and, in our subtle forms, passed through the scorpion entrance, which, after the oracle’s tale, now held new meaning for me. As I led Lucas onward, the palace was much quieter than before. We didn’t spot a single jinni in the hallways. I guessed because it was so early in the morning.

We approached Cyrus' apartment and entered it. I headed straight for the bedroom where we’d left him. No laughter drifted from it now, but rather deep heavy snoring. We drifted inside to see Cyrus lying in the middle of his giant bed, beneath silk sheets, with Nuriya—apparently also sleeping—clutched to his chest. The other female jinn had gone.

Lucas and I roamed silently about the large chamber before exploring the rest of the apartment—which was like a palace in itself. It took us a surprisingly long time to explore every corner of it. We spotted nothing of particular interest, just more of the same, senseless luxury.

We returned to the bedroom again, the couple was still sound asleep. My eyes traveled over the walls, settling on a display of bejeweled daggers. What if I just tried to kill him now? In his sleep? Wouldn’t it be easy?

Lucas and I—transparent, though still visible to each other—exchanged glances. I sensed that he had guessed what was going through my mind. His expression was uncertain.

Despite everything that I’d been told about Cyrus' powers, and how it would not be easy to end him, I couldn’t stop myself from at least attempting it… with him lying here so vulnerable. Turning solid, I moved to the daggers and silently removed one from its holder.

Stilling my breathing, I moved closer to the bed, tightening my hold around the blade’s handle.

He was so close. All it might take is a slash across the neck, and this whole nightmare could be over…

But as soon as I reached the edge of the bed frame, the jinni stirred. Then, to my horror, he twisted away from Nuriya. I barely had time to even think how to react. I thinned myself in an instant and dropped to the floor, causing the dagger to clatter down with me. Lucas had dropped too, and together we raced for the door.

Detaching himself from Nuriya, Cyrus crawled over the bed, peering over the edge at the fallen dagger. He let out a low growl and his dark, dangerous eyes flashed as they darted around the room, his nostrils flaring.

“Who goes there?” he hissed.

We sank through the door, hoping he hadn’t spotted us. Emerging on the other side of the door, I whispered my uncle’s name.

“We need to leave the apartment,” I breathed to my uncle.

I caught sounds of Cyrus tearing through the rooms in search of the intruder as we sank through the walls and arrived back in an outside hallway.

If Cyrus had detected my silent approach through the depths of his sleep, I could only imagine his reflexes when awake.

Lucas and I hurried onward, creating more and more distance between us and that jinni. Eventually we paused in a quiet corner of what appeared to be a dining room.

“What now?” Lucas whispered, his breathing uneven.

The oracle’s “advice” rang in my head. “Remember… everybody has something to hide.”

I clenched my jaw. “We have to keep watching.”

Ben

We did not dare reenter Cyrus' bedroom, though we had no choice but to return to his apartment. As it turned out, we found him in the kitchen. His back was turned to us, a glass of bright orange liquid in one hand, while the other rested on the marble counter. He drank slowly from the glass, his mind clearly elsewhere… on the strange events of this morning, no doubt.

We watched him finish the glass. Then we followed him as he left the kitchen and returned to the bedroom.

“Nuriya,” he said, standing in the doorway.

“Mmh?” an absent voice replied.

“Come,” Cyrus said, extending his hand.

Nuriya arrived next to him, and he took her hand, leading her to the kitchen. Opening a silver cabinet, he took down a large flask of the same orange juice he had been drinking. He filled his own glass with it, but this time handed it to Nuriya.

“Drink up, my sweet.”

Nuriya still looked bleary-eyed from sleep, or perhaps that was her normal expression now. Obediently she took the glass and sipped. She immediately choked.

“Drink it all,” Cyrus insisted.

Gingerly, she swallowed the rest. After setting down the empty glass, she clutched her throat, wincing.

Cyrus looked pleased, his full lips broadening in a smile. Running his palms down her arms, he took her hands in his and leaned forward to kiss her lips.

“You will be my queen, Nuriya. My tenth and final queen.”

Tenth and final. Wow… way to woo a woman.

I wondered if all of his nine wives were still current. I also wondered how many children he had fathered. According to the oracle’s story, before he was crowned he had already had several wives and children.

Nuriya swallowed harder than when she’d been trying to down the potion. Still, she nodded, though her eyes remained distant.

“I must leave you now,” he said. “I have a meeting.”

We followed Cyrus out of the kitchen and the apartment, along the winding hallways, until we reached a magnificent courtroom—empty except for one jinni hovering in the centre. He turned around to glare at Cyrus as soon as he entered the room. I could tell immediately from his stark features that he must’ve been one of Cyrus' relatives, and from his youth, most likely one of his sons.

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