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It was not really a djinn, but that is what the shamans called it for want of a better name. Incorrect nomenclature was the least of its problems though because they had successfully trapped it in a stasis spell.
Whilst their captive struggled to escape, the shamans discussed what to do next. There was no guarantee that they could maintain the spell for very long. And if it failed what would their captive’s wrath be like?
The answer was simple although extreme. In return for sacrificing a portion of their life energy, the three created a prison for it. A globe several leagues across with walls permeable to all but the likes of the djinn. OK, so it could still work magic within said prison. However, any mischief would be contained.
As for escape, well the only stuff that could break down the walls was iron and only if in vast quantities.
The shamans did not fear that the djinn could acquire enough to be able to do so. Beyond a few fallen stars the surrounding area was devoid of the element. Serendipity might cause more to fall upon it but not enough to matter.
To deter visitors from where the prison was, they christened the site The Plain of Evil. OK so rather melodramatic, but anything to keep people away.
As for the djinn, well its captivity would last until the Sun rose and set no more and the Moon ceased to wax and wane. In other words, forever.
Problem solved the shamans shouldered their flint tipped spears and headed north for a place that aeons later would be called Babylon.
Millennia past and the grassland where the djinn was forced to sojourn turned to arid desert. It was a patient creature though. If it had to wait for the stars to fade before it was free again it would do so. Not that it had much choice in the matter.
In the meantime, it collected up what few flecks of iron lay on the Plain.
Then suddenly its time started to come. Men ceased to use stone tools. Instead, they began to hew iron from rocks and make implements and weapons from it.
The djinn first learned of this when some outlaws came to the Plain. Although language had changed beyond recognition and the reason for it no longer recalled, the label had survived the years. Thus a good place to hide from enemies.
The desperadoes were asleep by their fire when it came across them. Holding no grudge it left the three slumbering whilst it inspected their belongings.
In the past, it had not taken anything because it had not found anything of value. This time there was so it did. When the outlaws awoke, they found that they had not only been divested of the tips of their lances and belt buckles but the very nails from their sandals as well.
With no explanation for what had happened and fear in their hearts for the inexplicable mystery they fled back to civilisation. Their tale revitalised the curse about the Plain, which after so long was all but moribund.
In spite of the outlaws’ bewildering tale, others came and the djinn garnered iron from them too. Collection was slow, but it paid that no mind. It might take aeons to accumulate enough of the element, but better that than waiting until the Sun turned to ash.
Then the wheel of fortune really turned in its favour. A tyrant assembled an army on the Plain. Surveying the rows of war machines covering the sand the djinn marvelled that so much iron could exist and grieved that the bounty would eventually leave.
It was also a salutary lesson of a changing world. Until the arrival of the war machines, the djinn had not considered the impact of a vast quantity of the element on its own abilities as well as on the magic of the shamans.
Yes, the walls of its prison were weakening, but so was it. Not to the point though that it was completely powerless.
As events turned out the djinn need not have fretted.. Before the warriors could move out, death rained down from the sky slaying them and smashing the machines.
The sound was so deafening and the air filled with so much sand that the djinn thought that its own time had come as well. To date nothing in this world had tested its resilience, but then again it had not encountered such a force before.
The fear died though when the sound ceased and the air cleared. Some of the war machines were on fire whilst others lay strewn in pieces. In either case, none of them were going anywhere.
As it looked at the destruction, the djinn knew that its time was almost come. If it had had lips for a smile, one would have ghosted them.
Move forward some years later as it watched a flying machine travelled low over the Plain it wondered if that too contained iron.
It did! A green aura visible only to the likes of the djinn flashed around the machine as it passed through the wall of the prison. Not though enough to shatter them. Still the djinn was not one to turn down the gift of what there was. As they say, every little counts.
Just a fraction more and the wall would fall. The question was how to obtain that fraction more.
“Saddam’s gold, Kidd’s gold, Hitler’s gold. They are all myths designed to sucker mugs into hunting for a mirage.”
Vernon ignored Martin’s sarcastic words.
“Well, we know that a lot of bullion disappeared from Baghdad just before the Coalition invaded and it still hasn’t turned up. Whilst some would have been shipped out to Jordan and Turkey, we have reliable reports that a lot was cached somewhere in the desert.
“Besides, I have more than just a map. I have a report downloaded from GeoSat 47 that shows an anomaly right where one should be.”
Martin could not see how a satellite in orbit could detect gold bars under tons of sand and rock; modern technology is good, but not that good. Then again, he was not a true believer.
On the other hand, for once Vernon could be right. In that case, it would be crass to walk away from a fortune.
“And pray where is this hoard supposed to be hidden?”
“On the Plain of Evil.” Vernon stumbled over the Arabic before giving the English translation. “Apparently there is a curse on the area so the rags rarely go there.”
“Nice. And how do I fit in?”
“You fly me there. No need to worry about Brent. He’s going back to Washington for a few days. Besides, he is rather sloppy about admin so I doubt that he’ll notice a little fuel gone. The amount will be too small for someone to have messed about selling it on the black market.”
Brent was their nominal boss of whatever secret squirrel agency employed the two men. He hated his posting so took every opportunity to abscond to civilisation.
“Fine and how do you expect to depose of the gold?”
“Well, we ship it out of the country labelled as something else to Liechtenstein. Better place than Switzerland; they ask less questions.”
Whilst Vernon appeared to have all the answers, Martin had a hunch that there was a catch. He just could not see what it was.
On the other hand, it seemed a sweet deal. After all, they had done some iffy jobs together in the past and those had panned out fine. There was no point letting scepticism get in the way of easy money
“Okay. I am in.”
“Good. Now if we look at the map and this pinnacle of rock…..”
A week later, the two of them were flying over the Plain of Evil.
“This is the spot,” Vernon said. “Put her down by that large dune.”
“Wilco,” Martin replied then put the helicopter into a wide turn. “We are going to have a hell of a job finding the gold under all this sand,” he added.
“Not really. According to the GPS we are smack on top of the anomaly. I don’t see no pinnacle of rock though.”
That was not good, Martin thought. No gold then. Just a lousy flight across a hot desert.
“Do you still want to land?”
Later with the helicopter grounded and the engine shut down Martin asked, “What now?”
“Let me have a look round,” Vernon replied. He jumped out of the door then headed for the nearest dune pole and spade in hand.
Martin checked that everything was set for a quick take-off. It was unlikely that there were jihadists in the area; any would have already fired at the helicopter on its approach. One could not be too careful though.
Once done, he too stepped onto the ground. Vernon seemed to be agitated about something because he was waving to him.
The djinn surveyed the minds of the two humans who had come with the machine. One of them was full of nothing but gold and where it might be hidden. The djinn could see no good reason why any creature might be obsessed with such a useless element. One just could not fathom some beings.
The other creature had more potential if only because it was less concerned with gold. What was more important was what was radiating from its mind. Apparently, it had means the djinn did not understand by which it could contact other humans who also owned flying machines. If another were snared then it the djinn might have all the iron it needed
A big might of course, but said creature could be the key to freedom. Assuming of course that it could be talked into helping. If not, other means of persuasion could be applied!
When Martin reached Vernon, he saw what his colleague had dug up.
“A bloody tank wheel! We have flown all this way to find scrap from the Invasion.”
Ever the true believer, Vernon jumped in with, “Don’t you see it? Saddam sent his Republican Guard to protect the gold. Okay, so the flyboys bombed them but so what? It would take more than HE to destroy an ingot.
“And how are we going to find the hoard amongst all these dunes?”
“Trust me! I am so close to it that I can smell it. In a few hours we will be loading up the chopper with a fortune.”
Whatever Martin might have said was swept from his mind. Instead, his mouth dropped open at the sight of the entity floating behind Vernon.
The djinn decided to drop its invisibility cloak. It would be easier to handle the humans if they could see it. It had no need to fear them because they could not hurt it with their puny devices. Not even a shaman could have, and the two were definitely not a such being.
In fact, it no longer feared its former foes had they been present. Were a stasis spell to be cast now the surrounding iron would drain it away in a matter of a few seconds.
So, it revealed itself to humans for the first time since the start of its imprisonment. After all, it mused, if they were uncooperative, it could always cloak itself again.
Turning to see what had Martin’s attention Vernon’s mouth too dropped open.
“What the fuck’s that?” he asked.
Telling him that it was a streak of blue light hovering in mid-air if hovering were the right word, would be stating the obvious.
For a moment, he thought that it was an illusion or mirage. Then a small voice sounded inside his head.
He automatically replied, “Greetings” before starting to babble “What are you? Where did you come from? What you to want?”
Only the last question was answered. “Another flying machine.”
“And what do you want with one?”
It was doubtful that a light creature needed a helicopter to travel in. Still an answer might provide illumination. It would also buy time in which to figure out how to outwit said creature. Not that would be easy as it seemed to be reading his mind. One could always try though.
“That is my concern.”
“What’s it saying?” That was Vernon. Obviously, the light creature was telepathing or whatever the word was to Martin alone.
“The light creature,” he replied. “It wants a helicopter.”
“And what does Zippo want with one?”
“No idea and somehow I don’t think that it is going to tell us.
“Then tell him to take a hike.”
Even though the light creature was not telepathing to Vernon, it either could hear him or was reading his mind too. Either way its reaction was sharp, almost extreme. An invisible hand seemed to pick Martin’s compatriot up and throw him thirty feet through the air.
The landing was not too hard in that Vernon did not appear to be hurt. At least from the language that now filled the air he did not appear to be too hurt.
How can you take on a beam of light that can chuck people around like a poltergeist and speaks right inside your head?
Answer, you cannot so you might as well quit.
Besides, it might throw the chopper next and then Vernon and he would be well screwed. Not only would it be difficult to get back to base, but Brent would go mental. To say that he would have their guts for garters would be an understatement.
“Okay,” he said. “I’ll call for one.”
Assuming that the light creature could read what he was doing, he switched on his phone then tapped out the number of another member of the team. After a while, they, Sally, answered.
“It is me, Martin,” he replied.
“What do you want?”
He read out his location on his phone’s GPS then asked,“Can you fly a chopper out here?”
The question was rhetorical because she was an accomplished pilot and the secret squirrel agency had more choppers than just the one being borrowed. It seemed though more diplomatic to ask than give an order.
“We have someone here who needs to borrow it.”
“What’s wrong with yours?”
“My eh friend won’t say.”
“You mean that there’s another numpty besides you and Indiana Jones out there? And here was I thinking that only two chumps had gone treasure hunting.”
By Jones Martin guessed that she meant Vernon. The ebullient treasure hunter and reclusive ex-model did not get on very well and regularly traded insults. As for the comment about chumps, he supposed that he had it coming.
She was not finished. “How about I tell them to get stuffed?”
Informing her that the friend was a streak of blue light would not sound convincing to put it nicely. As for passing on her message, no chance of that!
He decided to try nice with bribery.
“Please, Sal. If you come, Vernon will cut you in with some of the gold.”
Given that none had yet been found, the offer was a liberty by any stretch of imagination. Still, it got her out here then he would take his lumps. Besides with Brent away she was not exactly occupied.
One thing was certain. There was no way that the light creature would be working with jihadists. That meant that it should be a quiet flight for her.
“OK and I am going to hold you and Indiana Jones to that. And your friend too, whoever he is.”
He should not have worried. After all, when it came down to it, she was as mercenary as Vernon and himself. You did not work for Brent’s secret squirrel organisation if you were not.
“Thanks, Sal. You won’t regard this.”
“You will be a dead man if I find I do, Martin. And your friend will be as well. Be seeing you.”
Two beings watched as the helicopter flew low over the desert. Neither of them saw the same outcome of its approach.
For his part, Martin observed nothing but a chopper flying low over the desert. Very low too so that unless they were right on the money any jihadist out there would not get a clear shot.
He had no idea what he would say to Sally or what she would do when she found out that she had come at the behest of a streak of blue light. Hopefully, Vernon would find enough gold to assuage her wrath.
As for the rest, he knew that he was missing something, but had not the foggiest what it might be.
In contrast, the djinn first saw a green aura surround the flying machine for a moment as it crossed the wall of the prison. Then the entire sky lit up an incandescent orange as said wall collapsed.
If it had had lips for a smile, one would have ghosted them. The shamans’ strategy had been thwarted and it was now free!
There was no time though to waste savouring its victory. The prison might very well return when either of the flying machines left. And leave they would because there was too much iron now for it to stop them.
So before events could tip the other way, it gathered itself together and propelled itself into void.
Raymond Coulombe, Michael Gallant, Timothy O. Goyette
|The Tooth Fairy War and Other Tales|