Chapter Thirty—The Sultan’s Jinni
Shiro ran back the way he had come as fast as he could, his heart racing faster than he was kicking his feet.
He almost bowled over two women in the corridor. They cried out angrily as he passed them. “Watch where you are going, fool!”
He went back to the place where he had found that pool surrounded by lanterns and statues. The water was still steaming, the raucous behavior and debaucheries even more overt than they had been before.
Shiro sprinted across the wet tiles when his feet came out from under him. To keep from cracking his head open he slammed his palm sown against the tiles before sliding feet first into the hot pool water.
Hot water enveloped him as he thrashed back to the suface.
Laughter erupted all around.
Shaking his head of the water, Shiro whirled around and came face to breasts, the woman before him making a surprised but delighted sound at his sudden arrival.
He thrust back and almost howled.
“Gomen! Gomen! I am sorry!” He bowed quickly and turned to haul himself back onto the tiles, his palm aching deeply amidst laughter all around.
“Where are you going?” the woman asked.
Ignoring her, Shiro trudged, wet and sopping across the pool grounds toward the railing overlooking the colonnaded throne chamber. He took care not to slip and fall a second time.
Below was a large courtyard where guests frolicked about at banquet tables. A woman posed without clothes on as a man recreated her likeness with brushes and paints.
Ignoring the incensing sights, sounds and smells, Shiro stepped over the railing and paid no heed to the guests calling out to him to be careful. He took hold of the marble statue of the beast, half lion and half fish with the voluptuous breasts of a human woman. Sliding down the legs, he slowed at the clawed paw which touched down upon a large marble block that stood as high as he was tall.
There were guests here, overflowing out of the throne chamber. The guard next to him glanced up at Shiro with disapproval, but said nothing.
With widening eyes, he broke left and trudged across the tiles, trying to seem like he was drunk. He melted into the crowd, pushing his way though. The bodies were packed tight and smelled of alcohol, hookah smoke and sweat as the drums ahead were being pounded to a furious crescendo.
With an echo through the air the gong was sung.
The press of bodies was cloying. It felt to Shiro like clawing his way through mud. He growled and almost started shunting the people aside, until he saw another statue, that of a bird—also with a woman’s breasts. He pushed his way to the statue, took hold of the white-marble block it perched atop and hauled himself up.
Reaching out, he took hold of the beak to support himself.
From here, he could see over the heads and between the columns into the throne chamber. The isekai was hot and sweating from his incident in the heated pools. The cool summer night air would have felt refreshing on his skin, but Shiro’s blood was rushing through his body with anticipation. His ears throbbed as his heart tried to climb out of his chest.
The performers and the scantily clad woman parted for the sultan, who approached his throne. As he stepped atop the dais, he raised his arms and the people cheered, calling out all manner of exultations.
Darius moved, and Shiro watched as he removed a shiny object from under his jacket.
It was the lamp!
“Jessamine!” he heard himself call out, then, surprised at his own outburst, clamped his mouth shut.
There was a pause as Darius looked upon the crowd, the countenance of his face one of superiority and arrogance as a cloud of blue mist swirled about him.
She appeared and the crowd cried out in gasps of wonder and awe. Shiro felt their surprise. He hadn’t imagined it would be like this.
Narrowing his eyes, Shiro watched Jessamine as she sauntered before the sultan, strode up the steps and turned toward the crowd with a smile on her face.
If she knew he was in the outer crowds outside the throne chamber, she didn’t show it—didn’t so much as glance in his direction with a flick of her eyes.
Shiro heart had been hammering inside his chest, but now it was thundering like part of a storm called on by the gods.
Reaching out her hand, Darius took Jessamine’s and she guided him up the steps where he turned and gazed across the people.
More exultant cheers came out of the mouths of the guests as the performers blew fire, summersaulted and performed magical artistry for the eyes.
The drums suddenly came to a stop, and with them, the performers all froze in various poses like statues exulting the sultan.
Had the festivities not been of debauchery and drunkenness—had Darius not been a villain—the events taking place before Shiro’s eyes would have been one of glory.
The crowd was silent, save for hushed whispers as Darius looked upon them all, his head turning.
For a moment, Shiro thought he might glance in his direction and his heart leapt into his throat.
“My beloved subjects!” Darius called out, and then paused again. As he spoke, Jessamine—the jinni Darius had summoned in front of the whole crowd, ending and confirming all rumors of such—looked on him with affection.
Shiro gritted his teeth as a hot flash came up to his face. “No!” he hissed, and made to jump from the statue atop the heads of the people under him. He would climb across them like flagstones in a pond of fire all the way to Darius so he could kill the sultan with his bare hands.
Just as Shiro crouched to leap as he intended, he was suddenly stopped as a strong hand grasped his ankle.
He jerked with sudden surprise and glance down at the guard who—
It was Ali there looking up at him.
“What are you doing? My friend, come down from there.”
For a moment they just looked at one another, then Ali glanced nervously toward the throne chamber, then back to Shiro. “This is not the plan,” he whispered.
Taking a deep breath, Shiro glanced back at Darius and Jessamine and hissed a wordless oath.
Ali was right.
If Shiro did this, there would be no turning back, and he wouldn’t have the help of his friends. It was stupid and foolish!
Looking back at Ali one more time, he nodded. As soon as his Abassir friend let go of his leg, Shiro jumped down to the tiles where he landed heavily.
“Come on,” Ali said, as he put a hand on Shiro’s shoulder.
He wondered if that was a hand of comfort, or of warding, perhaps to stop Shiro from suddenly bolting the sultan’s direction?
With narrowed eyes and gritted teeth, Shiro nodded and followed Ali away from there and back toward Shai’na’s chambers.
Bio: Some believed me to be a wandering samurai, or a vagrant, or possibly a ninja—though perhaps in my infinite mystery, I am none of these things. Whichever the case, I wander home as Odysseus did after the great Trojan War in some realm unbeknownst to our world. And—by direct theft of a quote from a certain dwarf named Varric Tethras—"I occasionally write books."