The Genie and the Grim Trap

Since it has come to my attention that the original link to flash fiction ‘The Genie And The Grim Trap’ appears to be broken (or at the very least requires you to enable Flash), I have decided to post the entire piece of flash fiction below as it appeared in The Golden Box Publishing collection.

Please note that unlike the Audio version that has recently been made available on YouTube (free) – this original piece remains un edited and is there fore a little rough aroudn the edges. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy.

 

The Genie and The Grim Trap

 

“Why are you doing this to me?” The tone was that of a confused, hurt young man rather than the Elvern High-King-to-be.

I cast my eyes to where my prisoner, Ang’Liamnar – Liam – crouched before me – unable to move unless I commanded, forced by the laws I’d built into the Grim Trap disguised as a golden lamp, bedecked with opal and sapphire.  His wide, slanted eyes were dark in his pale chiselled face of alien perfection as he beseeched me.  He would have held me spell-bound but for the fact that I’d also pacified and bound his 7th Tier Spell-Weaving powers to the lamp and thus to service only me.

“I love you! I set you free! I would have given you everything. Etruia, please!” His lustrous voice cracked and for a blink my resolve wavered.

I tugged at the cord that secured my long brown hair in a plain, but functional ponytail.  It held tight.  Blinking, I looked away, trying to lose myself in the beautiful red sunset that stretched like an ocean across the jagged horizon of the wilderness we were traversing.  It was no good.

I wished then, I hadn’t stopped to make camp.  I wished I’d kept going and never rubbed that dammed lamp because I felt guilty; felt as barren as the twisted shrubbery surrounding us: remembering his kindness; the kisses that had sent my heart soaring…

But for my people, I had to be strong; I must not falter, yet-

I hated he was the one I’d reap my revenge from.  He was not like the others.  Over the last month as I’d set my trap and watched him walk right into it, I’d gotten to know him a little too well. He was a scholar, not a warrior. I knew he had a surprising amount of compassion for a royal off-spring of the race I hated the most. But… but I could not relent.  He might me young; his infatuation with me might have been love; and he might have proven to be a better leader of the Elvern than any of his ancestors, but I could not have taken the chance.  He happened to be the last of his lineage. But so was I.  His father and his brothers had seen to that. Yes, he might be young – but he was of the same age as me and my twin, Bellaria, when she and my entire line, all my friends, servants, subjects, were taken from me in one of the Elvern ‘long games’ that my father had always warned us about.

That was over a hundred years ago, now.  In-between I’d slept in my lamp, in a ‘long game’ of my own.  Waiting for my spell to come full circle to draw one of them to awaken me. 

I’d hoped it might have been his oldest brother, but a Venzoian Blight Walker had stolen his longevity and he’d died years ago.  The high-King himself had been touched by an attack of the heart just a twinned moon earlier: robbing me of my real target, but at least I could rejoice that the Race Wars had cost the Elvern dearly as well.  The rest of Liam’s brothers had all died as a result of the battles fought, and though the High-King might have sired other children in time, his health had not permitted it.  I hope someone had poisoned the bastard to make it look like the burden of old age – but now my victory felt shallow.  My vengeance had not meant to include me falling in love!

“Etruia.” The former Elvern prince tugged at my attention.  “My love, please speak to me.”

I sighed.  He deserved an explanation.  He’d ‘freed’ me from the lamp, thinking I would finally be his, only to spring the magic of the Grim Trap and ‘switch’ places with me.  My first wish had been for him to always obey my commands.  My second… well I had all the wishes in the world and he would not like my second, but that was for later.

“You did nothing,” I told him, my gaze weighing and candid, “But I would tell you what your father did; what your brothers did; what your army did!”

As though Liam feared what I was about to reveal, he shivered – crimson long hair swaying in the evening breeze.  I was cold too and pulled my pale knitted tunic closer for warmth, but suddenly the old hurt was back, blazing.

“I was making soup in the castle kitchen when the attack came.” I let my bitterness and anger leach into the words.  I stepped closer to Ang’Liamnar as though to add impact.

“My twin sister was ill with a cough that made her bark like a walrus and being so closely linked that we were, her affliction grated on me.  I wanted her to get well.  She was getting married in less than a week. I worried how she might say her vows without a voice? I worried where she might fit the obscene number of crumbled tissues in a dress that was virtually nothing but lace to begin with.”

Ang’Liamnar forgotten, I swallowed hard emotions. With a stab to the heart, my memories bloomed.

“She couldn’t wait to be married.  I wanted her day to be perfect and so I was making soup – the next best thing I could think of after magic, but she’d declined my offer of healing.  See, she had none of my Affinity; no Talent; so she ‘made do’ – still, it was obvious to me that I should help, but she was always the stubborn one.   I could have forced her, but that was not my style so I went to help her in the regular way – I was often in the cellar kitchen anyway, so none of the staff battered an eyelid when I came to make my non-magic potions and lotions.  Like any other day, Cook greeted me with an affectionate but respectful, “M’grace Etruia, well met today.  Will you require any help?”

I paused.  Fond memories wilting.  “I loved Cook.  She made no fuss when I declined.  My sister’s reluctance to embrace my help had annoyed me but I was soon lulled back into an affable mood by the casual background noise of the kitchen alive with people and activity. I remember pondering whether to add garlic and deciding for it; I remember the fat clove smashing under my palm when I broke it against the wooden board, and then-“

Now it was my turn to quiver. “The surge of violent magic hit a blink after.  It was a blunt boom that was felt more than heard, then the very walls began to shake as it echoed like a silent shock-wave, pushing wild energy ahead of it, like a ripple across a pond – expanding as it blasted through the kitchen like some reaping entity of invisible construct.  It hit me and flung me sideways, something in my ears popping, then hot fluid leaked down my earlobe.

“Everything slowed.  I could see the Weave spill through the kitchen, the foundations of my father’s vast castle now groaning as the floor buckled and the staff screeched; many lost their balance, falling like dominoes.  My ears were ringing.  I tried to get up but couldn’t; those who somehow stayed on their feet tried in vain to stop the tables from upturning, the shelves from tipping, and the utensil from rattling to the now mole-hole shot floor, but it was a lost cause.

“Then the second Weave took out the rest.  A pillar buckled in the corner, the ceiling crashed in: a deluge of plaster and white dust.  Screams erupted as pans of boiling water bounced from the stoves; injuring.  I watched as ovens split; the giant fireplace shook apart, spilling hot coals onto the spit-dog and maiming Cook as she tried to intercept.  Mercy, Liam, I tried to counter the disaster with a flash Weave to null the horrors, but it did not take as intended.  It should have worked. But it didn’t! Instead the Weaves behaved like lead weights as I grabbed to affect a Persuasion that never took…”

Ang’Liamnar swallowed audibly, his pale skin almost see-through. “I… I’m sorry.”

I cast him a blunt look and clutched my arm where my bracelet rested beneath my black sleeve.

“Are you?” I taunted him, “See I knew of only one thing that would have such a detrimental effect on my Affinity.  Knew of only one race to wield it with such precision too.  The Elvern!” 

I shook my head.  “Soon, the sounds of madness and mayhem siphoned through from the corridor beyond.  The dust was settling.  Again and again I tried to counteract the pressure on me but it was too great for me to fight.  How had the Elvern managed to get past our outer defences? And why now? What did they want? To end us all?

“Father always said that was their goal.  Since childhood I’d learned to fear and hate the Elvern almost as much as the Venzoians.  Father would always warn us that you arrogant varlets were slippery and heartless: that due to your longevity, you played the ‘long game’ so very well in our insane war.  Of all the races, he said, you were the ones to watch; to stay ahead of.  And we had done.  Or at least we’d held out own: created balance.  Until that day…”

A tear broke free and skated rapidly down my cheek.  I didn’t care. “I was their Princess and yet I was little better than an insect.  I was on the floor, the wide flagstone under my hands now cracked by the force of the rogue impacts.  My lungs were bruised and I could barely breathe.  But I could watch: the suffering created; the chaos and death! I heard steel on steel; heard the cries of the dying and injured; felt the oppressive magic Pursuations of 7th Tier Weavers tightening in all around me.  Then your brother arrived…

“Aieh-ran fei Etruia come-silvarnir!”

I swallowed the memory of the fear that had clutched my heart when I’d heard that rich voice.

“They were looking for me;-” I accused, “-my residual magic clearly guiding them like a beacon, but I’d rather die than be taken!”

“They didn’t get you,” Liam whispered, still prostrate before me since I hadn’t allowed him to move, “But how?”

“I had an artefact,” I hissed, recalling how – guided by sheer panic and fear – I’d managed move enough to reach a hand beneath the simple pale knitwear of my tunic to clasp the silver armlet on my left wrist. “My blood activated the Weave within its design, the shield of invisibility settling around my frame like a second skin – and a good thing too.

“Next your brother vaulted into the now-broken kitchen, blood-soiled curved blade raised at the ready, alien leather uniform of silver and black stirring an image of both whip-cord strength and danger.  I didn’t know who he was then, of course, but you resemble him in looks a great deal.  Indeed, I would have found him devastatingly handsome if not for the feral, hate-filled expression and the merciless slant of his tilted citrine eyes that narrowed as he surveyed the kitchen.  So I cowed as more men followed.  I’d never been this close to anyone of the Elvern before.  They were as handsome as my mother’s garden in full bloom and as deadly as a pack of Venzoian Hyatts.  They were looking for me, indeed.  For the Twin Princess.   A Spell-weaver arrived: detected a lingering glimmer of my presence; anger and frustration ruled them – and then the slaughter began.”

“Mercy!” If my captive could have moved, I knew he would have come to me then; he would have enfolded me in his arms and comforted me:  I could see it in his eyes.  No deceit.  No arrogance.

I cut short my feelings and turned my back on him.  He looked nothing like his brother after all.  It made me glad, but also sad.

“Your brother did not comprehend how the remaining kitchen staff would not betray me, but how could they?  They could not see me. The magic-blind servants had no means by which to detect my whereabouts, even should they have wanted to, so they were executed one by one.”

I sighed hard. “I would have given myself up but I had not the strength nor power to do so.  I regretted every heartbeat; every cruel slash of their blades, every twist of magic, but eventually they left.  Eventually…

“Days passed.  I think.  I could not move, but I did not want to.  In due course the original binding spell began to lift.  Weak and fearful of what I might come across I stumbled from the remains of the kitchen…“ My next sigh became a sob, “What met me was the rubble of my father’s kingdom, the desecration and enslavement of what had been my world; my people’s world; my family’s world; I made it to the stateroom the day your celebrated father sent mine kicking and screaming into a Grim Trap.  It was in the shape of full-size silver mirror.  They left it on display for a week before your brother with the raven eyes and the pale hair smashed it, leaving my father to wander the in-between forever: with neither a way back, nor forward.  By then mother and my siblings were already gone, but my twin had become your father’s trophy.  Liam, they’d hurt her! Even as my father suffered his demise, her gaze was on something only she could see.”

I paused, then said, “I swore I would save my sister.  And I almost did.  Later that night, I found her.  I dropped my guise and I got through to her; implored her to leave with me, and for a blink her gaze turned lucid and her voice spoke reason, yet I had already lost her.”

I closed my eyes.

 “I’m not long for the Void, Etruia.”

“No!” I protested. Fiercely. “No, Bellaria! We can go now. Before they come back.”

“Etruia, listen, and listen good,” My twin smiled bitterly, “They killed Gendaron: my love, my light.  They forced a wedding night upon me but I will not give life to the High-Kings bastard spawn.  I will not!”

“But I can heal-“

“No sister. No you cannot.” Bellaria smiled softly, then told me, “I’ve taken poppy shade.  But you can make them pay.  Like papa said.  Remember the ‘long game’…?”

“I remember.”

A sound escaped Liam.  I realised I’d been speaking aloud.

“Bellaria shushed me.” I continued.  Toneless. “I knew we did not have long.  As though she’d planned it, my twin pointed towards a golden lamp – the one we now both know so well – and I hastily grasped it, cradling it in my arms.

“The Elvern covet beautiful things almost as much as power,” Bellaria reminded me, “Do you remember the old tales of far-away lands we used to read? Remember the one about the Genie in the lamp?”

“I nodded.  I remembered.

“You will have to sleep for a little while,” Bellaria told me, “but enchant the lamp to awaken you when the century is up; cast a spell to make it a Grim Trap; avenge us.  Play the ‘long game’ and turn it against them: take back the future. Make the maggots crawl!”

“I stared at the lamp. I knew exactly what she was saying.  Some thoughts never needed to be spoken aloud between us.  I could cast a Weave just so: ensure my lamp would attract the most powerful Elvern royal! If enough time passed, they would never suspect foul play; not being a real genie, I would not be bound as one, and-“

“You were never a Genie?” My prisoner blinked, understanding slowly clearing the clouds from his eyes.  Was that anger I finally spied as he knelt before me like a slave?  

“Of course not!” I made my voice hard and made myself laugh as though bemused by his ailing intelligence, “And neither are you! Still, your life is tied to the lamp just the same – and you, my love… you will help me take back the territories your father stole from the Humans; you will help bring your nation to its knees; and you will do it with a smile if I order you to!”

“The lamp is verily a Grim Trap?” Up till then I don’t think Ang’Liamnar had really believed my callous intentions; up till then I think he’d still held out belief that I hadn’t intentionally gone out of my way to rain misery down on his existence, but now he saw me for what I really was; for what I really wanted.

My soul shrivelled when I witnessed his dark eyes narrow with the pain of betrayal, then anger.  Before long it would turn to hate.  I knew it.

My heart sundered into a thousand cold pieces.  Suddenly he looked just like his brother after all.  He tried to move, I could feel the ripple across the Weaves of magic that tied him to the lamp.  I couldn’t bear it.

“Rise.” I demanded and he flowed upright, the move elegant and fluid but I spied danger in his abused aura.

Tilting my head to look him in the eye, ignoring the tears that formed in my own, I said, “Your soldiers; your Hunters, are following us.  I want you to stop them.  Now.”

A tick pulled at his jaw. “How?”

“My love, I want you to kill them all.  You are clever: I’m sure you can think of something suitably terrifying; something that will echo all the way back to your crystal palace.”

“You would start another war?” he growled, fists clenching.

“No my love,” I smiled as those cold pieces of my heart solidified, “I would finish one – and make the maggots crawl!”

 

*****

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