The pain in his side was like a hot poker from the fire was wedged between his ribs. Faruq clung to his side, wet with blood, staring at the lifeless body of the Yuan-ti on the floor in front of him.
Leaning heavily on the wall beside him, Faruq turned to see his companions, each of them weary and bloodied as he was, but with a faint sense of relief on their faces. Sumulael was truly dead, and they had been victorious.
The smell of the place was worse now; the blood and the steel, the memory of flames and dark magic cast back and forth lingered powerfully in Faruq‘s mind.
Diliram‘s gaze was still on the mummified creature that had turned the tide of the fight, as was that of the rest of the party.
What was that? A voice? Faruq turned around the room once but no one had called him. Nonsense… I am nearly spent… I need rest. he thought to himself.
As the heroes left the gory scene of Sumulael’s defeat, Faruq hurried to keep up with his companions, uninterested in staying in that horrible place any more than necessary. His leg still pained him, and he was certain now that it always would.
Just as the heroes were starting to cross again the distance between the bone pavilion and the Queen’s Jade Palace, Faruq definitely heard something this time; faint and tiny.
Faruq turned around again, certain whoever said it must be close, but he saw nothing again, and almost lost his balance this time. Catching himself and leaning heavily on his wooden staff, Faruq‘s thoughts drifted back again to the face of the one he lost…
Weak, hungry, bleeding and exhausted, Faruq kept following back to the palace, keeping his thoughts to himself… for now.
Back in the quarters prepared for them by their host, Faruq‘s reluctance to enjoy the Queen’s generosity came completely apart. Even without complete privacy, the rest of the party quickly took to their own spaces and Faruq was left to heal and rest. Sending away the undead servant left for him, Faruq finally laid down to rest and closed his weary eyes.
“You have done well, Faruq…”
Faruq‘s eyes opened in a flash. He lay still and looked around the room without moving, but nothing seemed out of place. The servant had not returned, and the room was still in shade, only a little light streaming through the veiled window.
Faruq was sure he wasn’t hearing things this time… it wasn’t in his mind. “Who are you?” he whispered as low as he could so as not to wake the others. Faruq waited but heard nothing in response. Daring to sit up, Faruq pulled aside his cover and struggled to get up; his leg ached still despite his rest.
“You have suffered…”
Faruq spun around as quickly as he could; the voice was absoloutely behind him, but he saw nothing. The shades remained drawn, the food and bath just as they were before. He could hear Printz snoring loudly from his quarters and a sideways glance showed no movement from anyone’s adjacent quarters.
What is going on? Faruq puzzled.
Then, as if in answer to his unspoken question, Faruq caught movement out of the corner of his eye. Turning to his left, Faruq‘s eyes squinted as he tried to bring into focus what was happening; the still water in the bath began to ripple, as if a drop had landed and radiated outward… slow at first, but faster and faster as the seconds passed. Unable to turn away from the curiosity, Faruq felt for the dagger at his side and extended his arm outwards toward the bath, ready to meet his assailant. But as he continued to watch, from the center of the ripple began to form a shape; water of its own control rose up, incredibly slowly, just a few feet from the surface. Pausing every few seconds, the water changed shape, and soon began to take shape… a humaoid shape… a small, female shape…
What a fool I am.
Faruq smiled as her form solidified, but she did not look exactly as she had before.
“Sachiel, is that you?” Faruq asked quietly, careful not to disturb his brothers.
Finished her transformation, the tiny djinn stepped onto the edge of the bath and curtsied, then turned around in a playful manner, admiring her new form.
“Don’t you like?” she replied, her voice now the same familiar voice Faruq had heard before… it seemed like a lifetime ago. “I can change now.”
“Yes of course, it is good to see you again.”
“Thank you, master… it has been a long time, hasn’t it? Quite a bit has happened…”
Faruq cast his eyes downwards. “Yes,” he said. “Much has happened. I feared you might never return; I thought I was wrong to send you away.”
Sachiel smiled. “No, I was always to return… just not… always at a time of my choosing…”. Without warning, Sachiel moved to the edge of the bath and with a small jump, landed on the table with many of the fruit set out there. Taking one of the tiny figs but needing both hands, she took a bite and closed her tiny eyes as if savouring the flavour. “Sorry, it’s been a while…”.
“So you know what happened, then?” Faruq asked, moving closer to the bath to see Sachiel better in the poor light. “You know…?”
“Yes.” Sachiel replied, her face sad. “We’ve been watching.”
At this, Faruq‘s eyes fixed on the tiny genie. “We?”
“Oh yes, I have much to share.” Sachiel smiled and continued. “Much of this has been a test, you know. For many weeks now we’ve watched you struggle, suffer, and wander. It’s been awful not being here to help, you know… but I serve and I obey.” Sachiel’s face turned up to Faruq‘s at this point and she forced an apologetic grin.
“I understand.” Faruq said, his face solemn. “I do not blame you; when I sent you away I was… uncertain… about… her. I’m sorry. I did not think it was proper to ask you stay at my side…”
Sachiel nodded in understanding.
Faruq continued, “… but why have you been sent back to me now? Especially in this place?”
“I bring congratulations from your benefactor,” Sachiel bowed formally. “You have been deemed worthy of another boon, and that which you have been granted already shall now be made fuller. But know that if you accept this gift, your word already given is not broken, nay the bond will be considered even greater than before.”
Sachiel’s formal speech was unfamiliar; she was normally quite casual; the impact was not lost on Faruq.
“Do you accept?” Sachiel asked innocently.
“Of course… but what is it?” Faruq replied.
“Let me show you then!” Sachiel shouted and launched by a jet of water, she dove straight at Faruq, surprising him and making him lose his balance, knocking him backwards into the bath.
But Faruq did not hit the bottom. His eyes open in a panic, Faruq saw the water’s surface above him, but he was sinking, legs and arms pointing upwards, further and further. No longer was he in a bath in a palace, but in a sea of turquoise water, growing darker as the light disappeared above him. In alarm, Faruq struggled to right himself and swim to the surface, but an invisible force seemed to drag him under.
“You will be granted the power to wield other magics, and I will get even more for you!” Sachiel’s now serious and stern voice rang in Faruq‘s head even as the water filled his ears.
On top of him, Faruq could make out the amorphous form of Sachiel, her expression impossible to read but forcing him down further still. The panic of drowning set in, and Faruq‘s eyes grew wider still that she may be drowning him, that it was all a ploy!
His lungs about to explode, Faruq kicked and fought to stop his descent, but it was no use. Further down he sank, the light above growing even more faint. “You will call on even genies to serve you, and they will respond!” Sachiel was speaking softer now, even as Faruq‘s panic grew.
The water threatened to fill his lungs and his eyes stung from the salt water, but it was inevitable. “You will face greater threats and you will defeat them, all in his name.” Again Sachiel making promises in Faruq‘s’ last moments.
Desperate and light-headed, starved for oxygen and ready to pass out, Faruq opening his mouth to try and scream, and water poured in drowning any sound he might have made.
But it was not the horror of drowning that happened next, it was relief. Quiet, calm and still. Faruq‘s lungs filled with water and then he exhaled. And again. Faruq‘s descent stopped and he remained still in the water, staring out into the vastness of whatever ocean this was in disbelief. Far above him, Faruq could see the faint glow of the sun, still trying to pierce the depth to which he had been dragged, a reminder that all was not lost.
And beside him, the obvious form of Sachiel, starting at him patiently.
“And I will be with you as you see fit from now on. Such are the gifts of your patron.” How could he hear her? But Faruq understood her completely. His eyes wide now not in horror but in disbelief, Faruq attempted his reply with no idea that she would hear him:
In a burst of water and air, Faruq felt the thud of hitting the bottom of the bath. Startled and arms and legs flailing as before, he caught the edges and pulled himself up, coughing and wiping his eyes as he struggled to the floor of the chamber.
WHAT IN THE WORLD!>
Faruq, now on all fours and soaking wet, looked around for his assailant. Sachiel sat on the edge of his bed, smiling broadly and giggling to herself. “This is going to be fun!” she laughed in her tiny voice.
Struggling to stand, Faruq looked back at the bath and then at himself, recalling what had just transpired. Eyes still wide but now in disbelief, the chambers adjacent where his companions slept were still quiet, as if they hadn’t heard a thing! Turning to Sachiel, ready to berate her…
Faruq‘s eyes opened.
A dream? he thought to himself. Did that even happen?
Rubbing his temples, Faruq pulled aside the cover… again… and stood to get up. He stopped in alarm however as his feet touched the floor…
There was water all over the floor.