In the distance, Papa Sizwe heard the call of a pack of jackals. They sounded behind him, to his mind, not too far and not too near, but moving the opposite direction. He could barely make out their barks over the constant simpering of the two dozen hyenas that travelled around the four of them, “Those more of yours, my Queen?”
The Grey Queen wrinkled her nose, “No. My pack is here. I bring hyenas, not pathetic jackals.”
“Have you not, most glorious and exalted highness, dominion over the lesser Ghuls? Wouldn’t the Jinn whose pack these jackals communes and associates with these inferior canines below unto your own glorious self?” Rippina stroked idly at the fur on her long canine face as she paused for a moment, before shambling forward to avoid losing ground.
The Queen of Night snapped her fingers and the hyena pack fell suddenly silent. She closed her eyes and listened for what should have been a breath for a living creature, then snapped then open, staring into Rippina’s brown eyes with her black unnatural irises, “Githis. A lone Ghul, young in the ways. Not long for this world if he doesn’t learn fast. He may serve me, yet—in this life or his next.”
Aki leaned in and whispered in Papa Sizwe’s ear, “Ghuls are dead already? Can they die again?”
“Not so simple with the Ghuls,” Sizwe shrugged, showing his pearl white teeth in his smile, his deep, ebony skinned cheeks puffing out as he puffed, “Not that I’m an expert, but Ghul Jinn are something different from us altogether. Even the spirits cannot or will not tell the whole of it.”
The Ghul Queen shot the two humans a glance, pausing them in their tracks, “the spirits know better than to worry after the secrets of the dead. They know the proper respect and fear for their betters.”
Aki screwed up his courage for a minute, then stared down the Queen of Night, sweat beading on his olive brow, “Fear and respect for our betters? That sounds like the Sun grovelers speak. I do not bow before that blasted ball of light and I shall not bow before you. What will you do? Kill me? You might, but you called us all here for a reason—you need something I have or you’d have brought someone else instead. But till now, all we have done is walk, and talk, and meet in the blasted Sill. So have out with it then—where are we going, what are you planning, and why do you require us three?”
Akeelaya Gia’Anar Ri smiled, “You speak truth, petty Denier, though you have no clue what forces you will fight for me before we are done. You don’t need to bow, you don’t need to grovel at my feet—I have my Ghuls for that, and my hyenas, and most mortal men when I want—but you came because I can give you something you want in return, when are done.”
They had stopped still now, the edge of the Sill just ahead and the desert scrub from the uncorrupted land in view. “You want to know where we go? Eventually to hell itself. But not yet.”
“And where first?” Aki asked, his lip quivering in relief that his outburst had not ended in the loss of his head.
“First, we steal an emerald.”