Deleted Prologue from The Djinn's Desire
Mates for Monsters
Approximately two-hundred and fifty years ago…
Ophir halted his horse and sniffed the air. There it was again, the metallic anise-like scent of djinn magic creeping through the mist. Night had fallen hours ago, and his horse had already stumbled twice on the uneven footing of the forest floor. The thick branches overhead cast the world in even deeper darkness, but he couldn’t stop now. He’d lost count of the centuries he’d searched for a portal, and now he was close enough to taste one.
Tapping his heels to the beast’s flanks, he urged it toward the scent, kicking it into a gallop. Most djinn spent very little time on Earth, coming forth to ply their wish trade upon unsuspecting humans. The inconsequential things these mortals would ask for, valuing their own soul so little in the deal. During his long sojourn on their soil he’d come to pity them, like small children full of questions but never old enough to understand the answers. His home dimension was full of djinn fattened on the life-energies of foolish mortals.
But enough morose thoughts. The scent was waning quickly. Soon the wish would be granted, and his kinsman would return home. The portal would become a mere mortal object until called upon again. He kicked his horse into a lather, leaning hard over the saddle and gripping the beast’s heaving flanks with his knees.
Ahead, the flickering glow of a fire announced the presence of humans. He burst from the trees to see the ornate, top-heavy shape of a traveling entertainer’s wagon, illuminated by a flickering campfire. Beyond, a scattering of hovels cowered on the packed dead earth next to a hill, shadowed by night. Two humans sat near the fire at the wagon, their faces glowing palely in the fire light.
Slowing his mount, he swung from the saddle and flicked a hand across his clothing to shift it from his current home-spun peasant garb to that of a wealthy merchant. In his full djinn form, he could’ve leveled the camp and sifted through the remains to find what he sought. But for the past six centuries he’d been restricted to small magic, the only kind he could still access in this corporeal form. He’d get the most out of the gypsies by appealing to their greed. Taking his horse’s reins, he approached on foot.
A dark-haired woman with leathery skin looked up as he approached, her mouth widening into a gap-toothed smile. She set her cup aside and elbowed her companion, a small man wearing a bright red headband and matching waist sash. “Get Alayna.”
The man took in Ophir with one shrewd glance and darted to the back of the wagon.
“Greetings, traveler! You’re out late on a moonless night!” She threw both arms wide in a welcoming gesture. “Come, sit by our fire and rest.”
“Many thanks, good woman.” Ophir donned a grateful smile and dropped his horse’s reins, affecting a limp as he approached the fire. The anise scent was stronger here. So strong it made his mouth water. He’d not been this close to a portal since his entrapment on Earth. “My horse came up lame, and I’ve been forced to walk leagues to reach civilization. Is there perhaps an inn where I could find sustenance?” He knew very well a cluster of hovels like this would have no inn, but it was part of the act. They’d invite him to stay, and he’d use the opportunity to find the portal.
“Come, come, sit.” The woman beckoned him close, gesturing to the cushions she’d been sitting on. “There’s no inn here, but we’ll share our meager camp with you, and for a small coin we can even provide a bedmate for the night.” She grinned again and waved a hand toward the wagon. A girl had emerged from the back, her small breasts barely large enough to fill the low-cut bodice of her dress. Her dark eyes still held the remnants of sleep, but when she saw him, a smile revealed perfect little white teeth.
Ophir’s cock stirred—he’d been long without a woman—but this creature was barely past girlhood. “I prefer my women older.”
“She’s of age,” the woman took the child’s hand to drag her into the firelight. “And eager to please.”
The girl nodded, sauntering over with an exaggerated roll to her hips, stopping to look up at him through her lashes. “Are you a prince?”
Ophir cupped her cheek. He did love these human women, always dreaming of a prince. Willing to allow a man to prove his worth between her legs. But even if she’d been older, he had no time to dally in fleshly pleasure this night. The magic was fading with every passing moment. “A mere merchant, I’m afraid. And lovely as you are,” he ran a thumb across her plump lips, searching for the tingling signature of djinn magic on her body. Nothing. “I’d prefer to sleep alone this night.”
“Maybe you’d enjoy someone with experience?” the older woman said, sidling closer. She’d probably been a beauty in her day, but like all humans, that day had passed too quickly.
Lifting her hand, he took the opportunity to check her for magic as well, bowing slightly as he pressed a kiss to her knuckles. Again, nothing. “You share your daughter’s grace, but I truly wish only a place to sleep this night.”
He pulled a handful of coin from the pouch at his belt, noting the glimmer in both women’s glinting eyes as they followed his hand. “Here’s coin enough to have your wagon to myself for the night, I assume?”
Dropping the coins one-by-one into the girl’s waiting hand, he used his other hand to sift the air, seeking the source of the magic. It was here, but fading, along with the anise scent. They must’ve banished the djinn back to his portal at Ophir’s approach. He had to act fast before it disappeared all together.
“Yes, yes, let me get my husband,” the woman scurried toward the wagon.
Ophir followed close behind. The magic was getting fainter. Was he moving the wrong direction?
The woman turned to him, her brows knit in a scowl, but she cleared her expression in a blink. “Give me a moment to gather a few things, and the bed is yours.”
He smiled benignly and nodded, but remained close. She likely meant retrieve the portal to be sure her guest didn’t find it during the night. A portal could be any item here on Earth, as long as it was made of metal. A brass lamp, a gold chalice, even a pewter statue. The djinn had only discovered this plane upon mankind’s discovery of how to process and shape ore. Some rare crafters had skill enough to create a pure molecular structure, opening a path to the djinn dimension. Humans thought they were enslaving the djinn, binding them to perform magic.
In truth, the djinn were delighted to come forth and exact their price.
A wail rose from the cluster of nearby hovels, drawing the woman’s attention away from the wagon. Her eyes narrowed, and the sudden stink of fear rose from her skin.
A second wail joined the first. Then men shouting. Someone had died. The gypsy spun on her heel, leaving Ophir standing near the wagon’s door. She shouted, “Reynard! Hitch the wagon.”
The girl scurried about the fire, gathering cushions and other items and tucking them under her arms. The outcry from the village grew louder, as if a door had opened, and Ophir made out angry shouts for justice.
Calls for the gypsies’ blood.
Among the houses, a bobbing cluster of flaming torches multiplied, each flame growing larger as the villagers approached. Memories of the demise of his own portal overlay his vision, the conflagration that had melted the golden ring right off his master’s finger, breaking the magic. Killing the mortal woman he loved. Forever sealing closed his door to home.
“By the lamp,” Ophir swore and grabbed the door latch. He still had a few minutes to search. Lunging up the step and inside the compartment, he sucked in deep breaths to locate the magic’s essence.
The wagon’s floor was scattered with cushions and dishes and other camp items the girl had been throwing inside. Dried herbs and wispy fabrics hung from the ceiling. A rumpled bed lay along one wall.
Outside, the gypsy woman screeched obscenities. Villagers cried witchcraft. Metal and wood and bone thudded and clanged. A torch landed inside the wagon’s open doorway, igniting the draped fabric with a roar. Swearing, Ophir narrowed his eyes against the smoke and ruffled his hands through the bedding, hoping luck would be with him. Flames touched his booted foot, but he pressed on. Although the portal could be destroyed by fire, Ophir himself was impervious to it or any other mortal damage.
The magic was gone. Ophir could feel its passing, but he refused to give up. He began stuffing items into his shirt. A pewter spoon. A brass candlestick. A lone horseshoe.
The fire ate into the wood posts supporting the ceiling. Just before it collapsed, Ophir threw himself from the wagon, landing hard on one shoulder and rolling to extinguish the flames eating holes in his clothing.
The gypsy girl, Alayna, was screaming, scruffy men holding each of her arms. Another man pulled a large bloody knife from her father’s belly, letting the man slump to the ground beside the older gypsy woman. The old woman’s eyes were already glazed in death. The man with the knife pointed it at Alayna. “This girl’s for the fire.”
The girl’s eyes found Ophir, her nearly black irises begging him for help. Her lips trembled. She wasn’t exactly innocent, but no one deserved to be burned alive. No one deserved to die like Emelda. Letting out a heavy sigh, Ophir let the heavy candlestick fall from his fingers and pulled the other items from his shirt. Contact with metal negated his magic. And magic was the girl’s only hope.
In five strides he stood beside her. In even fewer heartbeats he’d cloaked her in a spell, making her seem insignificant. Unimportant. They could still see her, feel her, but no longer saw her as a threat. The men dropped her arms, stepping forward to lift the limp bodies of her mother and father. “Burn the bodies!”
The girl dropped to her knees, sobbing uncontrollably. The magic would taint her forever. If she was smart, she’d use it to her advantage. If she wasn’t… that was no longer Ophir’s problem.
Turning, he whistled for his horse and walked back into the woods.
I hope you enjoyd learning a bit more about Ophir's past. You probably noticed how different the tone of this scene was from the book, which is why I ended up cutting it.
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