“Turn into something. Something small enough for me to carry in my pocket.”

“I guess a mouse, again, would make sense,” she muttered.

The next thing I knew, Aisha had vanished and on the ground beneath us was a small, brown mouse. Horatio stooped down and picked her up, placing her gently into his pocket. Then grimly, he turned to me.

“It’s also time that you thin yourself. As you may know, jinn cannot see invisible fae just as fae cannot see invisible jinn. I will remain physical, of course, so just make sure not to lose sight of me.”

I nodded.

I thinned myself and followed Horatio across the final stretch of sand before the medallion entrance. He opened it and we drifted down the bejeweled staircase into the entrance hall adorned with diamond chandeliers. He began drawing us deeper into the palace, along a route that I’d passed a few times by now. He headed toward his mother’s apartment, stopping outside a door a dozen feet before it. Looking up and down the hallway to check that nobody was around, he pressed his ear against the door. Then he murmured beneath his breath, “They’re both inside. I suggest you go now, in case he decides to leave early.”

Aisha’s mouse head was peering out of Horatio’s pocket, as though she wanted to come too. But she would have to stay, safe in the folds of his robe.

“Okay,” I breathed. “I’m going in.”

I sank through the door and arrived outside the chamber from which emanated voices: those of Cyrus and a woman. Passing through this door too, I entered a lavish bedchamber. Another strikingly beautiful, tan-skinned jinni, her head bedecked with a tiara, her body sparkling with gems, sat on the edge of the four-poster bed while Cyrus stalked up and down the room. They were deep in conversation.

“Can you really be sure that she will be the one?” the queen asked Cyrus.

“I believe it from the very core of me,” Cyrus replied. He stopped his prowling and sat down next to her on the bed, slipping an arm around her small waist. “Besides, if not her, then who?”

The queen shrugged. “I suppose, since there have been so many false starts along the way, I find it hard to have faith anymore.”

Cyrus' large hand reached up to her face and stroked her forehead, moving up into the roots of her hair. “Yes, there have been,” he replied softly. “And it is regrettable. If I’d had Nuriya from the start, I’m sure none of their lives would’ve been lost.”

Whose lives?

“Even if my gut feeling turns out to be inaccurate,” he went on, “what have I to lose? You have never expressed your fondness for Nuriya anyway, have you, my love?”

The queen stiffened. “I can’t say that I have,” she murmured, pursing her lips. “And I honestly don’t see what attraction you have to her either.”

Cyrus chuckled. He caught her chin and tilted her face upward, kissing her lips. “Attraction is a strange thing,” he said, as he drew away. “But you should well understand the real reason I am drawn to her.”

She nodded curtly, then as Cyrus continued lavishing affection on her—pulling her closer to him and showering kisses down her neck—she loosened a little. She reached for his hands and held them, creating a distance between them so she could look him in the eye. “I do agree with you, Cyrus, despite my reservations. If there’s any way that she could be the one to give you the heirs you need, you must try it. As you say, the only loss would be Nuriya’s life, which isn’t even a loss at all.”

Her previously stony face burst out into a smirk. Cyrus also grinned.

“I’m glad we’re of one mind, my love.” He pushed her back against the mattress and crawled over her, their kisses becoming more heated. She let out a soft moan as his hands travelled down her waist and then, for the first time ever, I saw it. The bottom half of a jinni. The mist that had covered the queen from the waist down, relinquished to reveal… quite an ordinary pair of legs. She wore a silk skirt around her waist—a garment that Cyrus quickly removed, revealing satin underwear.

That I didn’t yell in horror at what happened next was a miracle.

Cyrus’ mist also disappeared, giving way to the lower half of a scorpion.

His smooth, ebony torso flowed into a shiny black abdomen that segmented in several places. Eight black, pointed legs propped him up, and shooting out of his backside was a thick stinger with a razor-sharp, red-tinged tip.

What. The. Hell.

I’d read about a “King Scorpion” in an Egyptology class at school; a historical figure during the Protodynastic Period of Upper Egypt. This guy sure takes that name to new levels of meaning.

I was glad that I did not have Lucas with me, for I was sure he would have gasped out loud.

The half jinni, half scorpion scuttled leaned to his wife on the bed, and she stood up so that her face could be level with his.

I sensed that this scene was about to get a lot more disgusting as his hands lowered to her hips, but then she whispered, “I wish I could have you again.” From the fire blazing in her eyes, she could mean only one thing by that.

“I know, my love,” he breathed, even as he caressed her collarbone with his full lips. “But you did have me. We had children together. Just because our intimacy has lessened since I came to the throne does not mean that you have lost me. I still love you, just as I love your sister-in-law.”

“And more than you loved your previous seven wives, I hope.” She said the words with a teasing smile. “And Nuriya,” she added spitefully.

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