by China DeSpain
Every night, for thirty years, my sisters and I have danced. We dance through fatigue, through bleeding feet, through rage and tears.
We dance because our Master wishes it.
Born as a dozen royal daughters, we now live as slaves, bound in thick gold bands at our wrists and ankles. When our father was alive, we were princesses, and we used our magic to help our people. But now we do as our Master bids; we must grant his three wishes. As yet, he has made two: For the first, he bound us together, so that we would obey as a single unit. For the second, he bade us dance, night after night, for his pleasure.
I fear he will never make a third.
I am the oldest, and it is my duty to protect my sisters. Yet I am helpless, forced to watch them perform for a man they loathe, a man who exploits us and leers at us relentlessly. If that were not enough, tonight I learned the worst thing of all: Master intends to take Jamila, my youngest sister, as his bride. If she refuses, he will confine us all to a lamp, where we will wither without light and fresh air. Jamila cannot abide this, and so she will go through with the marriage.
Unless I find a way to stop it.
I may be a slave, but I am also a royal jinni, and I am clever. My Master is not.
I wait until our evening dance has finished, until my sisters have bathed and collapsed, exhausted. And then I seek him out. I am dressed in the traditional garb of my people, as he prefers, and my hair is unbound, its shiny black coils spilling down my back. I slip into his bedchamber.
“Master,” I purr. “There is something we must discuss.”
He watches me through heavy-lidded eyes. Tonight he partook of both the wine carafe and the hookah, and they have dulled his brain. “What is it, Zabrina?”
“Master, please don’t think me impudent, but I must issue a complaint.”
He sits up straighter. “What?”
“My sisters tell me you intend to take Jamila as a bride. She is young and inexperienced. I am the oldest. I am more worldly, more beautiful, and I have stronger magic. I am a better match for you, Master.”
He grins, pleased. “I never thought you the jealous type, Zabrina.”
“You’ve never given me cause to be jealous before, Master.”
He pats the bed next to him, and I force myself to sit. “And just how do you intend to change my mind?” he asks.
“I can be most persuasive, Master.” I know what he expects from me, and he will not get it. But I have other charms.
I lean in, placing my palms against his cheeks. He closes his eyes on instinct, expecting a kiss, but instead I send him a fantasy that sinks into his skin.
This is where the danger begins, and why I haven’t attempted this before. There’s a fine balance to be wrought: I must keep him entranced enough to do my bidding, but not let him fall too deep, for I need him mobile. The magic of a jinni’s enslavement prevents one from harming one’s Master—at least with one’s own hand.
But there is another way. And if I wield my spell correctly, my sisters and I will be free by morning. If I fail, we’ll all die. If Master wakes and discovers what I’m doing, that I’m attempting to assassinate him, none of us will have a choice. Magically enforced Jinni law will kill me automatically, whether he wishes it or not. And because he linked me with my sisters, they’ll perish too.
So it’s simple enough. I must not fail.
I must be careful about the manner of death I choose. Nothing violent—it cannot look like murder, and no one would believe suicide. No, it must appear to be an accident.
The bath, then.
I slip into the fantasy to see where he’s taken it. He has me disrobed and dancing, which is no surprise. Unimaginative pig. Keeping a hand on his face, I stand and begin leading him to his bath chamber. In the fantasy, I look coyly over one shoulder and crook a finger, beckoning for him to follow. He rises from the bed, still entranced, and begins to walk.
I move slowly, keeping a hand on him at all times—it’s vital to maintain the thread of the fantasy. When we reach the bath, I turn on the taps, filling his massive sunken tub. In the fantasy, my naked form does the same, promising Master a bubble-filled romp.
Getting him into the tub is simple; I merely lead him in the fantasy, and he slips in willingly. But now the trickier part begins. To drown him without him realizing it or waking will be no easy feat. I slide him lower, dipping his chin into the water. In the fantasy, I kiss him, and at the same moment, I slip his lips beneath the surface. His mind will interpret the moisture as the kiss. I’m about to shift his nose under when a sound behind me catches my attention. I whirl around to find Jamila standing there.
“What are you doing?” she whispers furiously.
“Saving you from marrying this pig.”
“Zabrina, stop. If you kill him, we’ll all be executed.”
I shake my head. “I’ve found a way around that. It will be a peaceful drowning. He’s inebriated and it will seem natural.”
She steps forward and grabs my arm. “I don’t want you doing this. I’m going to marry him. As a wedding present, I’ll ask him to set the rest of you free.”
Our Master moans, and I realize my grip on the fantasy is slipping. “We don’t have time for this,” I tell my sister. “Go back to bed. I’ll be there soon.”
“Jamila, if he wakes up, the law will take effect and we’ll all die. Let me finish.”
My sister steps closer, her nose inches from mine. “I won’t let you do this.”
Frustrated, I do the only thing I can think of: I teleport myself and my Master out of the bath chamber and into the back garden, near the pool. I’ve escaped Jamila for the moment, but now I have a new problem. What do I do with our Master? Drown him in the pool? Wake him? Leave him here to think he was sleepwalking? But if I let him live, Jamila will go through with the marriage. I can’t allow that. He must die.
Unless…there might be another way.
There might be a way to trick his muddled mind. I renew the fantasy, richer and more vibrant. I create a sumptuous room in his mind, filled with silk pillows and throws. Golden coins teeter in large piles, and women with ample curves lounge about. A feast is set on a banquette table, and to one side is a hookah.
“Master,” I coo, tickling him under the chin. “I’ve brought you to a den of pleasure. Tell me what it is you wish. Gold, food, women? You can have it all and more. You’ve but only to ask.”
He glances around, eyes gleaming with greed. “I want the girl in green,” he says.
The girl in question is young and supple, with red-gold hair and hazel eyes. She’s unusual, and it’s no wonder she caught his attention. I created her for just that purpose.
“I’m sorry. Which one do you wish, Master?”
“The one in green,” he repeats.
With a subtle flick, I change their costumes so that all the women are wearing various shades of green.
“My apologies, Master, but you’ll need to be more specific. Which one do you wish for?”
He rolls his eyes and stands, marching over to the redhead. “This one.” He points at her. “I wish for this one, you imbecile.”
I smile and nod. “Of course. Your wish is my command.”
I exit the fantasy, leaving him with his imaginary girl. In reality, near the pool, my four golden shackles fall away, disappearing into the ether. Master has made his final wish, and my sisters and I are free.
With a grin, I leave him where he is and go to collect my family and our lamp. It’s time to return home.