“What do you mean?”

She brushed her leaking eyes with the back of one hand. “Cyrus, he… he k-killed Bahir. In front of us. In front of Nuriya.”

Learning of Bahir’s demise came as a blow. I owed my life to that jinni. Poor man. I’d never even gotten a chance to thank him.

“I-I have to go,” the jinni breathed, glancing around anxiously and beginning to move away.

“Wait,” I whispered. “Are you really telling me there’s no way for you to escape? There must be some way.”

She cast one last fleeting glance at me, her eyes wide with fear. “There’s only one way to free us and that is… to slay Cyrus.”

After dropping that pile of bricks, she hurried away, leaving me staring after her.

Slay Cyrus.

Great.

Ben

Returning to the others waiting by the portal, I explained to them what I’d learned from one of the female jinn, albeit leaving out the details about how the Nasiris’ family were being treated, for Aisha’s sake.

“So,” I concluded, “we need to kill Cyrus.”

My words were met with silence. Jeriad, disappointingly, didn’t have any advice to offer. Even Aisha had pursed her lips.

“Well?” I asked the shifter and the jinni. “Don’t you have any ideas?”

“He would kill you first,” Aisha said.

“But jinn can be killed?” I pressed.

“Of course they can be killed,” Aisha said, rolling her eyes as though it was the most obvious thing in the world. “They can be killed, just like any supernatural can be ended, but only while they are manifested in their physical forms. Flesh and bone. You could stab one in the chest, chop off the head; there are boundless options, but… Cyrus? Not only does he possess powers above all other jinn, his physical prowess is second to none.”

I paused, mulling over her words. “What if I just snuck up on him while he was asleep and slit his throat? That would kill him?”

“Yes,” Aisha said. “But I assure you, it would not be that simple.”

“It’s the same with ghouls,” Marcilla murmured behind me. “They can only be killed when they’re in their solid state.”

“So we need to pick a moment when Cyrus is in his solid state,” I said, thinking back to when I had seen him just now. At least his top half had been manifest—and seemed solid. The thought gave way to another question that had been at the back of my mind ever since I’d first laid eyes on jinn.

“Why are your bottom halves perpetually covered by mist?” I asked Aisha. “Or do you not have bottom halves?”

She sighed, glancing down at her own wispy lower body. “We do. But we keep them covered because, well, it’s just the way of the jinn. Tradition, if you like. We keep our lower half hidden from everyone but our sworn life partner. In most cases that means a husband or wife.”

I never would’ve guessed that was the reason. If chastity was their concern, I wondered why they could not just cover up with clothes, like humans did. But who was I to judge? “I see,” I said, my eyes roaming her smoky trail. “So you do have legs and feet, just like humans?”

“Uh-huh,” Aisha said.

“Okay.” My curiosity satisfied, I shook away the thought and turned my mind back to more important matters. “So I will need to follow Cyrus around and wait for him to turn his back, or something… I guess…” I was grasping at straws.

“Remember that you will also have to assume a solid form in order to kill his,” Aisha said. “And I suspect that, like jinn and ghoul, fae can also be killed in their physical bodies.”

That was something I had not even considered yet. Of course, I would need to be solid in order to assault him in the first place.

“Remember his superlative powers,” Aisha went on. “While you… well, to be honest, I don’t even know if fae have any powers. I don’t know much about them.”

That makes two of us. I turned to Marcilla and raised a brow, hoping she might have something to add.

The werewolf-turned-fae shrugged. “I don’t know everything,” she replied.

I wished now that I had stopped to ask Sherus for more details about this body, but at the time, I’d simply been too elated to think straight. We all had.

I sat down at the edge of the crater, in front of River. She wrapped her arms around me, pulling her chest against my back, and I felt her lips press against me gently. Everyone else remained quiet. What could they say? All of us were in the dark. I covered my face with my hands and tried to think. The way my mind whirled with conflicting thoughts and ideas, it felt as though River was the only thing grounding me.

But a few minutes later, I had found my answer. As much as I loathed even considering it, there was only one clear next step on this path. Before attempting anything, we needed to learn more about Cyrus and his weaknesses. It would be foolish to try to murder him without doing so. There was a reason why he was so feared in the land of jinn. Neither I nor any of us could dive in blind.

This meant I had to pay yet another visit to the oracle. The same person who had caused me to almost lose my soul to The Underworld… yet to whom I also owed my escape, and this body I found myself in now.

But can I really stand facing that woman again?

I didn’t have the luxury of choice.

Ben

There was no point in our whole group going to visit Hortencia. So although we all traveled back through the portal to Lake Nasser, it was decided that only Aisha, River and me would go.

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