My first instinct was to speak to her, but I wasn’t confident enough that we wouldn’t be heard. I didn’t know who might be lurking around the corner. So I simply followed as she made her way down the corridor, then took a sharp left before turning into a doorway. She closed the door behind her and I slid through, even as I shuddered at the sensation. It reminded me horribly of being a ghost.
Emerging on the other side ahead of me, Safi traveled deeper into the apartment. She stopped outside a door and knocked.
“Enter,” a rumbling male voice called, and I could’ve sworn that her hands trembled.
She pushed the door open regardless and I followed close behind her before she could shut it on me.
She definitely shuddered now as she approached a king-sized bed, upon which lay a jinni who possessed all the overbearing features of a Drizan. He was bare-chested, his head leaning casually against the headboard. He looked over Safi with mild amusement before he reached out a hand to accept the goblet she’d bent down to offer him. He drank deep, and then, discarding the glass, pulled Safi into his bed and slid her next to him beneath the sheets.
I felt sick to my stomach. The worst part was feeling that I couldn’t do anything to help her. Blowing my cover now would be the most foolish thing I could do. It could be suicide for the two of us. I still didn’t know what these jinn were capable of, and other than the ability to switch between subtle and physical states, I didn’t even know what—if any other—powers I had.
I turned to leave. I had to keep searching for another Nasiri—one I would hopefully find on their own so I could talk to them.
If Safi was up in these higher levels, perhaps some of the others were too, and they hadn’t all been thrown in prison.
I roamed from chamber to chamber, coming across many more Drizans, before noticing my surroundings becoming even more lavish, barely an inch of the wall not covered with some kind of elaborate display of rubies and diamonds. Perhaps I was nearing the quarters of the royal family themselves.
My suspicion was confirmed on entering the largest, most breathtaking apartment I’d entered so far. I heard female voices drifting from one of the rooms.
“How could you, Cyrus?” They were giggling.
Following the voices, I entered a stately bedroom, where sprawled in the center of the bed was a man who lived up to every description I’d heard of Cyrus. He was a dark beast of a man. King of the Drizans… he certainly lived like one. He’d turned his quarters into a harem, with dozens of beautiful female jinn fawning over him.
Seeing all these women around him while he drew one in for a deep kiss every now and then, I still wasn’t sure how certain… bodily functions even worked with jinn, given that they had no lower half. I wasn’t left pondering the conundrum long, however, as I realized that one of the women surrounding Cyrus was none other than Nuriya. She’d been obscured from view by another jinni—who’d been leaning over to drop pomegranate seeds into Cyrus' mouth—but now I saw her, perched near the edge of the bed. Her wrists were manacled like Safi’s, only instead of silver, Nuriya’s cuffs were gold. The poor woman was dressed just as scantily as Safi was and, as striking as her face was, her eyes appeared dull, drained of life. She bore the same black scorpion tattoo on her arm.
Cyrus reached out a hand and planted it beside her on the mattress. Unfortunately for her, I wasn’t the only one who’d noticed her indifference.
“What’s wrong now, Nuri?” Cyrus drawled, and I realized now that his eyes rolled slightly. He was intoxicated.
Ugh, as my sister would say.
“Massage me,” he insisted, spreading out his palm. She eyed his hand with resignation before taking it between her fingers and kneading it.
I felt oddly protective of Nuriya—who, in spite of everything, had helped me during one of the darkest times of my life. My hands were itching to wallop the man with one of the burning torches that hung from his walls.
But, even as I clenched my fists, all I could do was leave. Again.
I still haven’t found a Nasiri on their own… Maybe I really did need to go deeper for that.
After what felt like another quarter hour of roaming, I spied another female jinni who looked familiar to me, and who bore the scorpion tattoo. I’d seen her face somewhere around The Oasis, but had never spoken to her. Like Safi, her manacles were silver, and also like Safi, she appeared to be bringing something to her new master. She held a small pot of heavily scented ointment. Massage oil, no doubt. Since the corridor was empty and I was painfully aware of every minute I wasted in this place, this time I dared take a chance. I willed myself to solidify a little so that she could see me and planted myself in front of her. Her mouth hung open as she stared at me and I feared for a moment that she would drop the ointment.
She glanced up and down the corridor before hissing, “What are you doing here?”
At least she recognizes me.
“Trying to free you,” I whispered back. “You and your family.”
“It’s impossible,” she gasped, tears welling in her eyes. “We cannot leave this place.”
“What’s binding you?” I asked, staring at the chains. They held only her wrists, while the rest of her had free movement. But I’d already had first-hand experience of the power of jinn to imprison their slaves. It was no surprise as she glanced at her tattoo.
“We are bound by a curse… at least, those of us left.” A sob escaped her throat.