Author Note: No title as of yet, so "Djinn" isnt the real title.

Chapter One

The moon rose over the dunes like a pair of horns, the crescent upturned and filled with blood. The desert wind whispered along the paths and brought a chill to the guard standing near the edge of camp. He peered through the darkness at the red horned moon. The guard muttered himself a prayer as he adjusted the cloth that protected his face from the cold night and the sand devils.

In the camp itself, young men and women danced around the dying fire. Their bodies glistened with the collected hours of sweat. Their eyes saw nothing and their minds felt no more than the beat to which they twisted their bodies and threw their passions. A man sang a low, sad song while his woman accompanied him on a thick-skinned drum. Beside them, another man poured his soul into his gourd flute, enticing the dancers to sway like the snakes with which he usually worked.

Above the fire, a healthy young boar roasted, attended to by an older woman who sang along in a harmonizing part. The audience clapped along to the beat, drank wine from their pouches, and filled their bellies with the goods they had stolen from the market over the week.

The revelry continued on with its fevered pitch, serving the group's leader only too well, and disguising their private conversation.

Siavash, the leader, sat in his tent not far from the feasters and the dancers, the charmers and the children. He sat on a fleece before the men he considered his equals, each whom sat on a fine blanket themselves and who ate with him the richest of the stolen goods. At Siavash's side, the woman he had taken to his bed and claimed as his wife knelt in silence; her head bowed in respect. During the evening, she had filled her lord's cup and those of his men and tended to the dying embers of their fire. Now she merely waited for them to leave so that she could have her supper. Two other women, slaves bought with their former masters' blood, brought fresh bread, apples, and boar's meat along with more pitchers of wine before disappearing from the tent.

"We must break camp before daylight," the leader told the three men as they laid their hands on the good things set before them. "They will come for us tomorrow when they find what's been done."

"None of the others know about the deaths at the inn," said Siavash's chief warrior. "Leave them here and let us run on our own. The townspeople will not recognize any of us among them; they'll be spared."

"The gods see fit to punish you already, Fariel. They've turned your keen mind into wax. No, the townspeople will toss their torches at the first tent they find out here. May the other bands be spared punishment for our crimes."

Fariel argued, "The whole camp cannot outrun men on horseback!"

"Fariel's right, Siavash." Haidar, the most cunning of the thieves, swallowed a mouthful of wine before he went on. "We stand a better chance if we left on our own and met at somewhere in the months to come. We can tell anyone who questions us along the way that we are our own leaders, and your name will never be spoken."

The leader sprung to his feet and drew his sword. "Trusted friends, the words you speak to me echo with desertion. Let the man who would take my place step forward to fight me now if these are your plans. I'd rather die an honorable death than be put to shame by having my men betray me on some cold night."

At his side, Siavash's wife covered her fair face with her hands to stop herself from weeping. Already too much blood had been spilled that day.

"Your pride is gorged with wine tonight, Siavash," said Persepolis, the wisest of his council. "No one is questioning your command and I know none among us who could take what is yours even if they were so inclined. You're our leader for many reasons, including your fairness. Look at us now and know us by name. We would never seek to overthrow you."

"A weightless promise from thieves such as the lot of us are." The leader sat despite his words, placated for the moment. Though he trusted Persepolis, he kept a watchful eye on the other two and a steady hand on the hilt of his sword.

"Noble Siavash, my brother, listen to our friend's suggestions," Persepolis continued. "Let us each take our families and break the camp for a while. We can meet again far from here outside the next city at the full moon. If you insist we go tonight, we stand a better chance taking to all corners of the desert rather than making a caravan east. Word of a group like ours would spread fast and no doubt the families of the slain will seek their revenge upon us."

"You are young, Persepolis, but wise beyond your years. Yes," Siavash said, rising, "we shall do as you three have suggested."

The other men cheered Persepolis' quick thinking, but the young thief spoke again. "Before we go, we should see to the slaughter of our fattest calves. We should burn the thighs and make a drink offering to heaven of our finest wine so that we might appease whichever great deity we have offended this day with our recklessness and the deaths at the inn."

Siavash brooded upon the words of Persepolis. He stroked his beard as he weighed the situation then said, "We have no time for such things. In fact, I say we leave most of the livestock behind, taking only that which we will need over the next month's time. We can steal what we need when we rejoin. Until then, let the men who seek us tomorrow have them. Perhaps such a flock as ours will quiet their anger even if it does not satisfy the gods."

As the men began to depart, Persepolis grabbed his leader's tunic and turned him to speak in private while Haidar and Fariel left the tent to make merry and join the dancers.

"Brother, I must implore you to reconsider. I saw a terrible omen after we left the inn. An eagle flew by me and dropped dead before he left the town. No rock or arrow had soared past. I fear with this omen you will not make it to the next city."

Siavash placed a strong hand on his young brother's shoulder. His dark eyes shone in the fading firelight. "Trust me, the gods will forgive us one night. We can burn our apologies tomorrow evening if that will calm these omens of yours."

The music outside came to an abrupt halt. Several of the women screamed and there came a mighty clashing of toppled pottery.

Siavash looked to the door of his tent and then back to Persepolis. "Take my wife out the back," he said as he brandished his sword. "Get her on my horse and start for the next city. I fear the relatives of the slain have decided not to rest before venturing this far from town."

Persepolis went to speak, but Siavash had already taken off into the camp with his great sword held out high The young man turned back to his brother's wife. She sat where they had left her, with her hands still hiding her tears. Persepolis took her by the arm.

The two other women with which she worked were huddled in the adjoining tent. The two slaves clung to each other and called to their mistress. Siavash's wife broke from Persepolis. He called out her name in a frantic whisper.

"Nisacara!"

She stopped in her tracks.

Persepolis whirled the woman to him but stepped back as he saw her face. Nisacara's eyes had always echoed the color of the midnight sky. Tonight, a fire that danced within those eyes that sent a tremor over the young man's skin. He did not doubt, seeing into Nisacara's soul, why his brother had chosen a prince's daughter over that of a less costly wife.

In a voice so low that only Nisacara could hear, he said, "My brother wants you to be safe. There's no time to hesitate. You could be killing yourself as I speak."

"Then cease your words." Nisacara knelt beside the women. "I'll stay here and face whatever is coming for us. I'm no less a slave than these women, who've been like sisters to me since the night your leader took me to his bed and called me his wife. Now go. Nothing you say will make me follow, unless you plan to bring the three of us."

As the princess wrapped her arms around the two women to shield them, Persepolis tore from the tent.

Chilled and spiced with the scent of the fire, the night air wrapped her tender arms around Persepolis and placed frosty kisses on every inch of his skin. The moon appeared as a wicked grin, laughing at the young thief as he strove onward thinking only of his appointed task.

The horses were still lashed to their posts, for which Persepolis said a silent prayer of thanks. He untied his brother's mare without wasting any time then led her towards the main tent. As the young man slunk into the tent once more, he called Nisacara by name. "I will get you out of camp if it means I have to tie you up to do so."

Persepolis stood in the second room of the main tent. He turned around and still saw no sign of Nisacara or the slaves. He called for his brother's wife once more though no call answered his.

Persepolis burst into the main tent only to find his charge lying deathly still at the foot of the banquet table.

"Nisacara?" He bent by the woman's side. One hand brushed back the long black braid from her neck while the other felt for a pulse.

"She is but sleeping, child."

Persepolis leapt to his feet at the sound of another's voice. His hand fell to the hilt of his scabbard as he stood poised and ready to draw.

A shadow appeared on the doorway followed by a delicate hand poking through the sheets. A lithe woman stepped into the tent, but this did not persuade Persepolis to lower his defense.

He demanded, "What has happened here?"

The woman flashed large jewel-like eyes at the young man with an expression of amusement fully revealed upon her lips. She moved soundlessly to Nisacara's sleeping form.

His blade was at the woman's throat before he could even think otherwise. "Step back!"

The smile on her lips turned soft as she said, "Wise and sweet Persepolis, son of Theiodin, do not threaten me with your mortal weapons. While I doubt your blade could ever touch my skin, you would find I would not then bleed as you would like."

Persepolis dropped his scabbard. The next moment his knees dug into the ground and his head followed suit.

The woman folded her arms across one another. "I knew you could be reasoned with. You have always been the wisest of this clan."

"Goddess, for I do not doubt you are such as any mortal could not walk through our camp and into our chief's tent and remain unharmed as you have done, please have mercy on my brothers and sisters. Any who have offended you, let me take the burden of retribution as your servant, and you will see that they will burn half our flock for you and your mercy. If this does not please you, they will commission altars to be raised up in your glory and the entire camp will quit their thieving ways to become servants in your temples where they will keep all fine things to embellish your beauty."

"If only it were as simple as all that, son of Theiodin." The goddess waved her hand and the room swirled like the very sands of time. She now sat before Persepolis on a throne of finest silver, inlaid with rubies and amethysts. Around her stood guards and past them were the twenty-six men, women, and children Persepolis called his clan.

He called to them, but none stirred as they were just as asleep as Nisacara had been when he found her. Around the throats of each of his clan members were thick leather straps. Those straps were hooked to thick gold lengths of chain. Their hands and feet were kept together with leather manacles.

It took him only a moment longer, when he ran to embrace them and rouse them from their slumber, to find that he had his own leather bands and chains. Unlike the others, however, his chains were silver instead of gold. He knelt before the goddess with his hands fastened behind his back.

The goddess spoke. "Persepolis, your warriors killed the finest of my flock, a crime I cannot easily let by."

"The inn?"

She did not answer his question.

"You are the most reasonable of your clan and so I make an offer to you and you alone. The weight of your decision will be your chain to bear for all eternity. I make this offer here and now; it cannot be reclaimed if you refuse it and it cannot be refused if you claim it."

"Speak, Goddess, so that I might make amends for the sins of my tribe."

"I am a being that can be reasoned with, child. I gave your people a moment to redeem themselves and whispered in your ear the words that could have saved them all. You tried to speak reason to your brother this evening to seek my forgiveness. This is true?"

Persepolis bowed his head in a solemn nod.

"And he did refuse to burn the offerings you so wisely suggested. True also?"

"Aye, Goddess, all of it true."

"And so your brother and the other men who slew the brightest and most loved of my fold have condemned the souls of all this clan."

"No, Goddess, please-!"

She raised a hand to silence the young man and then continued. "You have a choice, Persepolis, one which will damned them no less than your brother did when he plunged his sword into the hearts of my favorites. I am afraid there is no one better nor worse but a choice must be made. From one you may find redemption, but not until this world has passed from memory of your fellows."

Again the room melted and whirled. The colors blended together before reforming in new ways. When he regained his bearing, Persepolis looked around this new room only to find that his clanmates were gone once more. Instead of kneeling, now he lay on a soft bed. His hands were no longer shackled, nor were his feet, but he felt the leather strap still tight at his throat.

The goddess, who had been seated before him, now knelt above him. She grabbed his wrists and pinned them above his head on the pillow. Persepolis' heart raced in fear as her lips, soft as silk, closed over his. Then she bent to his ear and placed kisses along the side of his neck, down and back up, where she took his earlobe between her teeth and pressed gently. Her tongue danced along the sensitive skin as she said, "Take your place at my side, be my king for a hundred years, and know all the comforts your people could never give you. Be worshipped as a god by day and share my bed at night."

Persepolis felt himself accepting the offer, but jerked away from her honeyed kisses and impossible words. "What of the others?"

Her lips turned up in a wicked smile. "I cannot fool you, son of Theiodin. The first offer I make is a hundred years of servitude from you and your tribe. You would find yourself my king and worshipped as a god, all that is true, but you would have no more power than you have at this moment. You would belong to me in every way and even your mind would begin to fade as the years passed. Your people would be servants in my home, shackled and chained, but I would never lift a finger against them. No, I wouldn't not need to as the last part of the bargain would be that I would take their minds before they came into my service, so I would have no fear of their rebellion. After one hundred years have passed, I would free all of you from your duties and cast your immortal souls into oblivion with no hope of being born again."

"And of your other wicked offer?"

The goddess sat up straight and dropped Perspolis' hands. She ran her fingers over his chest, over scars from battles past, and then stopped above his heart.

"Your people can find salvation in bondage. I will turn your men and women into powerful creatures, shackled to obedience. Of the children, they will be kept by my sister, where they will know no suffering as they wait for their mothers and fathers to find redemption for the crime of killing my followers and priests."

Persepolis placed a hand over the goddess' at his heart and said, "Tell me what will happen."

The world spun and melted, twisted and danced. At last, the world settled and Persepolis knew at once they were back on earth and not in the world of gods. The goddess had Persepolis' hand in hers as she led him to a scene. Persepolis recoiled at the image of his brother, his proud strong brother, kneeling before another man.

The stranger held in his hand a ring that Persepolis recognized- a ring very much like his own.

The goddess spoke as Persepolis wound his way around the image. "I present to you a different form of servitude, one where each of you separate and at the will of mortals who will offer you nothing-and you will offer them everything."

Persepolis whipped around to the goddess, his eyes raising his questions without needing to speak.

A wicked grin played across her handsome face. "Through time and effort, you'll understand. And at last, when your immortal souls have had their punishment long enough, I will send for them. Take this offer, Persepolis, and your tribe can know peace and humanity once more but not for thousands of years."

He stepped carefully towards her, feeling like the mouse approaching the serpent. "Thousands of years of slavery will buy our freedom from your wrath?"

She slipped a hand between the folds of his shirt, fluttering her fingers over his chest as she whispered, "A hundred years of luxury can buy your freedom as well. Don't forget that."

"With the added price of oblivion as our reward." He flinched away from her warm touch. "You're leaving something out of the second offer. What is it?"

The Goddess' brilliant eyes flickered to the frozen image behind the young man. She sighed and gave in at last. "You will be immortal, and have power beyond any known to man. But that power will not be your own to wield. You will be at the mercy of your master, who will find you a valuable commodity indeed. Though you will be immortal, you will know death and disease. You will be able to father children... and you will live to see them grow old while you stay as beautiful as you are this moment. You will see empires, Persepolis, built and destroyed. I can save your flesh from being ravaged by time, but I can make no similar offer for your mind."

Persepolis sunk to the ground at the feet of the goddess.

"The choice must be made now, son of Theiodin..." She knelt to him and touched the leather strap at his throat. "A hundred years or a millennia?"

He deliberately raised his head and met her gaze. "You and oblivion, or earth and salvation? Isn't the choice obvious?"

She laughed. "You people brought this on themselves, foolish boy. It's not wise to anger a goddess. Now you know. Let us hope you never need reminding." She stood. "So you have made your choice?"

Persepolis hung his head in a nod and the goddess smiled.

"So shall it be. Rest now, child." She touched his head. "Dream of the oblivion you have escaped and wake alone and cold in an unfamiliar land surrounded by strangers."

"Goddess!" Persepolis cried out as he found the tender arms of sleep wrapping around him like a hungry lover. "Grant me one wish..."

His eyes fell closed as he struggled against her command.

With a motion of her hand, his body drifted upwards. She kissed his lips and, knowing what he desired without his needing to ask, she answered, "Worship me as Sholeh."