“Horatio!” Cyrus boomed cheerily.

Horatio. The name rang a bell. I was sure that he was the jinni Aisha had mentioned—her old friend, the person who’d banished her from The Dunes for her own safety. Unless there were two Horatios…

“Father.” Horatio stormed over to the king, not even giving his father a chance to rise to his throne. “Are they true, the rumors?” Horatio asked, unrelenting in his glower.

“What rumors?” Cyrus asked, a half amused look on his face.

“That you plan to wed Nuriya?”

Cyrus heaved a sigh. He took to his throne, one elbow resting against its arm, while the other hand massaged his temple.

It seemed that was enough to answer Horatio’s question. The young man’s eyes narrowed. “You promised my mother she would be your last. You promised us all.”

Cyrus' smile faded. “You forget, Horatio, that Nuriya was meant to bear my heirs long before I made that promise.”

“You’re an abomination,” Horatio spat. “That’s what you are.”

I was shocked to see Horatio insult Cyrus in this manner, even though he was his son. Horatio must’ve been very dear to Cyrus, for Cyrus did not admonish him in the slightest. He simply rolled his eyes as his son stormed out of the room.

Crouched down in one corner with Lucas, I dared breathe, “Let’s follow him.”

Lucas shot me a quizzical look. I jerked my finger toward the door and whizzed toward it.

To have found somebody who did not worship the ground that Cyrus walked on was more than intriguing. Horatio had just become far more interesting than any meeting Cyrus might have been about to call in his court.

We hurried after Horatio as he rushed along winding corridors and then through the doorway of an apartment not far from Cyrus'.

“Mother!” Horatio called, his voice booming through the apartment.

“Horatio?” A female voice drifted from one of the rooms. Horatio turned into a sitting room, where his mother—a beautiful ebony-skinned woman—was seated on a sofa with a servant behind her, brushing her silky black hair with a bejeweled comb.

Her honeycomb eyes widened with concern as her son stormed toward her. His chest heaving, he took a deep breath. “It’s true what they’re saying. He will wed Nuriya.”

Although the news clearly came as a blow to his mother, she did not appear surprised by it.

“What are you going to do?” Horatio asked.

She furrowed her brows. “What do you mean?”

“Are you just going to stand by and say nothing? Father’s gone back on his word.”

The woman smiled affectionately at her son. Reaching out, she took his hand and held it in hers.

“Darling, we cannot expect that promises will remain unbroken forever.” She said the words firmly, as though she was speaking partly to comfort herself about the situation rather than solely for her son’s sake. “He carries the destiny of our tribe on his shoulders. Remember that Nuriya was meant to wed Cyrus. Now that he’s found her again, his plans to wed her shouldn’t come as any surprise. You know the value that she could bring him… that she could bring all of us. The marriage can only strengthen our clan, and that’s what we all want, isn’t it?”

Fire leapt in Horatio’s eyes. “No,” he said in a low voice. “That’s not what I want.”

His mother’s eyes widened. “What are you saying?”

“I said that’s not what I want!” he shouted. He brought his fist slamming down against a crystal side table, causing it to shatter.

“Y-you’re letting your bias toward the Nasiris blind you, my darling,” his mother said. “You never said such things before their arrival. Of course it’s only natural you have an attachment to the clan you spent much of your childhood with… but your father has the greater picture in mind.”

“A greater picture I want no part of!” Horatio hissed.

With that, he turned on his heel and shot out of the room, leaving his mother shell-shocked.

Lucas and I hurried after the jinni, my interest in him now increased tenfold. He made his way up through the palace until he reached the medallion exit. Pushing it open, he burst out into the desert, his chest still heaving, agitation marring his features.

I wasn’t sure where he was planning to go as he went hurtling in the opposite direction, toward the shore. Perhaps merely to blow off some steam. He stopped at the water’s edge, arms wrapping around his chest, and gazed out over the sparkling waves.

I looked around to check that nobody had followed him—half expecting his mother to come after him—but no. He was quite alone. We were quite alone…

Acutely aware of our escaping time, I didn’t stop to consider the consequences of the idea that had just flitted into my brain. I solidified myself behind Horatio and spoke his name.

He whirled around to face me, almost jumping out of his skin.

“What—”

Before he could finish his question, I said, “I’m Aisha’s friend.”

He was speechless as he gaped at me and then at Lucas, who followed my cue and solidified himself beside me.

“Who are you, and what are you doing here?”

“My name isn’t important,” I said. “For I am here on the bidding of Aisha Nasiri. She awaits at the other end of the portal, miles north from here. She wishes to speak with you.”

His frown grew more severe, although I couldn’t miss the flash of anticipation in his eyes. “What about? I-I banished her…. Why would she want to speak with me?”

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