Monday, 16 January 2012

A Little Taste Of Jinn


Currently, I'm experimenting with a new protagonist/antagonist race in urban fantasy (I think vampires are becoming a little stale now, and werewolves, zombies and witches have all been well used too.) I've chosen The Jinn, who are mentioned throughout legend, even in the Old Testament and the Q'oran. I've tried to bring things up-to-date a little while still retaining the traditional legends.

One such legend concerns The Seal Of Solomon, which is likely to be at the centre of my first attempt at a Jinn novel. This artifact is said to have existed as a ring owned by King Solomon, which gave the bearer the power to control the Jinn. (it's where the stories of genies in bottles originated.)

What follows is a first draft short story introducing a couple of my Jinn characters: Irwin Hall, (also called Sakhr) a part breed Jinn who tries to exist in human society and is somewhat of a rogue, and Asmodeus, a pure bred Jinn with immense power who is one of the ruling class of the Jinn.

As usual, this piece is the result of a 'just sit down and write' session, so it's definitely first draft, (if not earlier!) and probably full of mistakes, which will be corrected as I come across them.

I'd appreciate any comments you might have, understanding that I'm particularly eager for points made about the potential of the genre, the storylines, etc.

Introducing The Seal Of Solomon

It was time for me to leave.

I’d been a long way from home last night; it had got colder as it got darker and I’d decided to spend the night here. Of course I could have found a hotel, but I wasn’t at all certain where the best hotels in this town were to be found, and I only ever stayed at the best hotels.

I’d picked out this house as one of the smarter ones in what looked like the most affluent area of town I’d walked through, so it promised to be adequately comfortable as indeed it had proved to be.

I’d had a restful night, uneventful and unexpectedly profitable. I stood in the hallway now, my jacket pockets crammed with jewellery. I glanced around for some kind of bag I could take, but couldn’t see anything suitable. That was a shame: Of course I could easily have left my booty in my pockets, but there was a platinum and amethyst necklace in particular that gave me an uncomfortable feeling being so close to me. It was the amethysts that did it. My people had a problem with amethysts.

I could hear voices coming from the kitchen. The man of the house raising his voice as though angry: “So how the hell did they get in then!” and a woman protesting through her sobbing: “I DID put the alarm on. I always make sure I do, every night before I go up.” I could also hear the voice of the girl, a youngster of around twelve years old who I’d met only moments earlier. She was trying to gain her father’s attention: “Dad, dad,” she kept repeating.

She was good, this child. She really ought to have forgotten me by now. She’d walked downstairs into the hallway over two minutes ago; she’d shrieked at the sight of me, and then rushed into the kitchen where her parents were arguing.

“For God’s sake Lydia,” I heard the father say, “What the hell is it?”

Both he and his wife were silent for a while, not so much anxious to know what was bothering their daughter, but more to put a stop to her constant pestering. The girl spoke after a silent pause: “What?”

“What do you want?” her mother asked, “You’ve been nagging at your dad for ages now.”

“I don’t know,” replied the girl, “I can’t remember what it was I wanted.”

I smiled. There were four people living in this house, and now I’d been seen by three of them, and none of them remembered meeting me at all. The woman was telling the truth: she had set the burglar alarm last night. I’d heard her do it. When I’d let myself into the house, the only person still downstairs was the lady in question. She’d walked in from the kitchen as I was settling myself on their couch.  The sight of me stopped her in her tracks, and she looked as though she was going to scream at first. That usually complicated matters, so I’m glad she didn’t. She just demanded to know who I was, and ‘what the hell’ I was doing sitting on her sofa.

I was used to this kind of thing happening and it was surprisingly easy to overcome. I smiled, muttered something about being a friend of her husband, and looked up, toward the sitting room door just behind her; I smiled a little more and nodded then. It was a natural reaction of hers to turn to see who had entered the room. Once she did, I knew that she’d forget she’d even seen me, but that wasn’t enough. As soon as she looked back toward me, she’d see me again and we’d go through the whole situation again. After all, I wasn’t invisible. That was one of abilities that only pure bred Jinn had, and I must say, I envied them for it. The best I could do was to cast a compulsion on the lady, so that she would subconsciously resist looking toward me. She turned back from the door but automatically averted her eyes from where I was sitting. She tidied a few magazines she’d been reading then she walked into the hallway, closing the door behind her. I heard the tell-tale beeping of the house alarm being set, then heard her climbing the stairs. I was all ready to settle down for the night, but it crossed my mind that if this house was alarmed, there was probably something worth stealing in here. I decided to wait for about an hour, then to search the house for valuables I’d be able to carry away.

I know that by human standards, robbing people’s homes like this was wrong, and the human part of me left me with feelings of conscience every time I did it. But I only ever stole from the wealthiest people I came across, and I’m sure they’d have been adequately insured. It was what I’d heard other humans call ‘a victimless crime.’ OK, so perhaps what I did led to other less well off people paying higher premiums for their insurance, but I saw it as a kind of social security payment. There were humans who lived on benefit payments all their lives, at the expense of other humans, so what I was doing amounted to pretty much the same thing. I didn’t use crime to make myself rich: I only stole occasionally and then only enough to support myself.

I would rather have worked for a living, however difficult that was in a human society where nobody ever remembered me. Over the years I had worked, though of course it always had to be casual work, at the end of every day, I’d be paid and go home, knowing that if I’d managed to work tomorrow, it would be like starting the job again.

I’d been sitting on the sofa examining the jewellery I’d acquired when I heard the panic upstairs. They’d discovered that they’d been burgled. I began to stuff my jacket pockets with my takings. I considered leaving the amethysts as they made me shudder a little just to hold them, but I knew the sheer number and size of the stones, coupled with the platinum they were set in would fetch a decent price.

I was walking past the stairs as the man of the house came down them. He spotted me, so I suddenly backed up into the hallway toward the sitting room door I’d just come out of. I did my little compulsion trick and as he rushed down the stairs, he looked all around but never directly toward me. He called out to his wife who was coming down the stairs behind him: “Did you see anything then,” he asked, “I thought I saw someone down here for a moment.”

“No,” she replied. “There’s nobody here, you’re seeing things. You’re probably just in a panic because we’ve been robbed. Did you call the police from upstairs?”

“Yes,” he replied, “while you were in the bathroom.” With that the pair of them walked into the kitchen.
So now I stood in the hallway, zipping up my jacket as I prepared to leave. Suddenly I heard a voice.

“Who are you? Are you the burglar?” I turned to see a small boy of about seven standing behind me.

“Yes,” I said, “I am.”

“You don’t look like a robber,” the little boy said.

“Well, my striped pullover is in the laundry,” I said, “and I left my mask on the bus.”

“I should call my dad,” he said. I noticed he had a purple velour bag with a pyjama cord drawstring that he was swinging it from.

“What’s that bag?” I asked. He glanced down toward the bag as he said “It has my gym shoes in it,” then he looked up again and appeared surprised to see me standing there.

“Who are you?” he asked again. “You must be the burglar.”

“I am,” I replied, nodding. “Can I have that bag?”

“No,” he said, “it’s for my gym shoes. I could fetch my father you know.”

“You could,” I said to him, “but you won’t. If you’re not looking at me, you won’t even remember me.”

“I will” he said.

“You won’t,” I assured him. “You just forgot me a moment ago when you looked at your plimsoll bag.”

He glanced away from me again, back toward his shoe bag. He turned toward me again and said “Hey! Who are you?”

I didn’t particularly like using my abilities on children, but that bag was exactly what I wanted. “Give me the bag,” I said quietly as I stared into his eyes. He passed me the bag and I removed a pair of plimsolls from it and put them on the hallway table. “Now off you go into the kitchen; your mum, dad and sister are waiting for you there.”

He turned and walked away. I emptied the contents of my pockets into the bag, taking special care handling the dreaded amethysts. I pulled the drawstring tight and turned toward the door and examined it, it was clearly still bolted and was no doubt still locked from the night before. I turned the handle and the door opened. I walked out into the crisp morning air, closing the door behind me and suddenly the door was locked and bolted once again. I didn’t even think about it; this was one of my abilities that I tended to take for granted.

As I walked down the path toward the street, I remembered times when I’d have likely had the chance to have run into the police as I left, but they didn’t seem to treat burglaries with the same kind of urgency as they had thirty or forty years ago, so I wasn’t surprised to see the street deserted.

Deserted that was, apart from the solitary figure I spotted standing a few yards along the road, looking right toward me. I recognised the colourful robes he wore. I knew they would very likely stand out in any modern environment but knew that wouldn’t matter at all to someone like him. I walked toward him. I really had no choice. I was convinced he’d come looking for me, and it would be pointless trying to walk or even run away. He’d found me this time. His kind had a knack for finding people, so I knew there’d be no doubt he could find me again.

There was a slight feeling of dread in my stomach. I knew I hadn’t done anything, but if this individual thought I had and chose to punish me, then I was right to fear him. I respected his kind, though also despised them in a way. Whenever in their presence, I gauged how far I dare push things and always made certain to show them as little respect as I could get away with.

“You know who I am?” he said as I approached.

“I know what you are,” I replied, “and if those bottle green and yellow robes are really meant to be emerald and gold, that would make you Asmodeus of the Ifrit, one of the Purest.”

He half smiled as though being both annoyed and amused by my attitude to him. “And you,” he said, “I presume you prefer to be addressed by your human name? ‘Hall’ is it?”

“Irwin Hall,” I replied. “It’s a name I’ve got used to. It served me as well as any other this past century.”

I sensed him looking me up and down; I suppose since he didn’t spend too much time in human society, the sight of my trekking boots, denim pants and leather bomber jacket looked as ridiculous to him as his ornate robes looked to me.

“So why the robes then?” I asked him. “If you’re walking among the humans, I’d have thought a more conventional form of dress would be advisable. I know they can’t see you unless you want them to, but you’d be surprised how many of them there are with just a little Jinn blood in their ancestry. Any one of those may see you even if you don’t allow it.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised at anything,” he said, “I know as much about your type as you do.” It annoyed me when he referred to my type. He was grouping me in with these mostly human types.

“They’re not my type,” I almost shouted at him. “I am Jinn. I can trace my line back for thousands of years; they are for the most part human, they have no abilities to speak of, and most of them aren’t even aware they have Jinn ancestry.”

“It’s all a matter of proportion,” he said. “You’re all part-bred; none of you are pure Jinn. What’s the matter? Does your human conscience bother you more when you consider you may have been stealing from your own kind?”

“I know who my kind are,” I replied, “and it isn’t any kind of humans, no matter how little Jinn blood they have, or how much human blood I have. Anyway, why are you here, what do you want me for?”

“You would do well to show a little respect to your betters boy,” he said.

It annoyed me to hear him refer to me as a ‘boy’. I was a hundred and one years old, and that was almost middle aged for one of the Jinn, though this one was of the Purest, with no human blood corrupting his Jinn ancestry at all, and they measured their lifespan in centuries, so to him, I probably was only a boy. “I don’t see you as my better,” I replied, “More powerful than me, I’ll admit, and you could probably make me suffer if you wanted to, but I know the old customs: you can’t punish me unless I’ve done something to offend you. I don’t think standing up to you counts as offending you, does it?”

“You’re correct; you haven’t offended me,” He said. “Your clever remarks and attempts at mock courage don’t bother me one way or the other. I’m here because I have a task for you.”

Traditionally, the Purest, had the right to demand favours from the other Jinn; nobody had exercised this privilege for years, and I wondered if I dare refuse his demands.

“Have you heard tell of ‘The Book’?” he asked me.

“I’ve heard of many books,” I replied, “I’ve even read two or three of them in my time,” though I knew exactly what book he was referring to.

“The book in question has shown up again,” he said.

I was a little surprised. I half believed that the book he was clearly talking about was an object of legend, more up-to-date than all of the other mythical items of course, but not real, nevertheless. There were a couple of things I’d heard about the book that made me have my own doubts though.

“So what does that have to do with me?” I asked, “I don’t have it; and if it even exists, I have no idea where it is.”

“We need to talk,” he said, “Get in” and he opened the passenger door of the BMW saloon he stood next to, before walking around to the driver’s door and getting in himself.

I got into the car. “A car?” I said to him, “I didn’t expect to see one of The Purest making use of a human invention.”

“The humans have always had their uses,” he said, “forms of transport are things they’re particular skilled at producing. I’m not so prejudiced against them that I won’t accept it when they’ve done something well.”

“Doesn’t it prove difficult when the humans see this thing driving around, but can’t see you driving it?” I asked, “That would really freak them out.”

“I make certain that they see someone driving,” he replied, even if it isn’t me.

I thought he was going to drive me somewhere, but he seemed content to just sit in the car talking.

“Does the name ‘Genevieve Larard’ mean anything to you?” he asked.

“I’ve heard of her,” I replied, “She was a part-bred, like me, Genevieve was the name given to her by her human mother. She chose to live amongst the humans and married a human male, George Larard, the man who’s supposed to have written the book.”

“No ‘supposed to’ about it,” he said. “She lived with the Larard man for over two years, until they were separated by war. When he returned home, she had left him, disappeared in fact. She found she couldn’t survive in human society being what she was.”

“So did she return to the Jinn?” I asked.

“No,” he replied, “We can only assume she continued to live amongst the humans but reclusively. But it was her desertion that led to Larard devoting part of his life to finding her. He never did, but he did learn more about us than he had a right to, and he wrote it all down in a book. It was published, though only a few copies were ever printed. We located most of them and destroyed them, though one remained hidden, until now that is.”

“So what’s the problem?” I asked, “I heard this story years ago, and always wondered what the big deal was. So if anyone read his book, they’d never believe it; surely they’d just see it as a work of fiction. Our anonymity would be safe.”

“That’s a chance we of The Purest weren’t willing to take,” he said, “so we tracked down every copy of the book we could and had it destroyed, although the incompetents who took on the task didn’t ever consider delivering a copy to us. We knew that it contained details of our background, our history, who we are and where to find us. It also recounted our legends, and these exist in ancient testaments of human civilization also, and that was the danger as we saw it: that the humans would see Larard’s book as much as a gospel as they did their own mythical works. We saw the danger, but we didn’t see the extent of the danger.”

“The extent of the danger?” I asked.

“It was only after the destruction of the last copy of the book we’d located, that it came to light that it contained other more sensitive information,” he said, “I fear that the book contains clues, perhaps even details as to the location of The King’s Ring.”

“The King’s Ring?” I almost laughed. “You mean the legendary ring of King Solomon? Now that really is a thing of legend, surely?”

“It exists,” he replied, “What do you know of it?”

“Only that it was a magical seal set into a ring that was possessed by King Solomon, an ancient human king and that it supposedly gave him command over the Jinn,” I thought for a moment, searching my mind for details I’d been taught as a child. “Hold on, didn’t he use it to capture a Jinn in a wine skin? Wasn’t that Jinn called Asmodeus? That isn’t you is it?”

“Of course not,” he snapped at me, “Even The Purest mark their years in centuries, not millennia. There have been many named Asmodeus since then. You know that it has always been the tradition of pure bred Jinn to use the traditional names, occasionally not just pure bred either.” He looked at me accusingly.

“My maternal grandmother was pure bred,” I said, “She was of the Marid, and it was she who chose that name for me. I had nothing to do with it, and surely if it causes offence to The Purest, then I’ve made up for it by adopting my human name.”

“But ‘Sakhr’ was hardly just a traditional name was it?” he asked, “Sakhr was a king over the Jinn, and for a time over human tribes also. You’re not worthy of that name; your grandmother had no right to bestow it on you, what with you being part bred, though I ought to expect nothing more respectful from the Marid.”

I’d been away from Jinn politics for many years, but it seemed that the old differences and prejudices still existed, that the feud between the Ifrit and the Marid was still around too.

“Aren’t we getting away from the point?” I asked, “Let’s assume that Solomon’s seal did exist and that it can still be found; is that what you’re afraid of: spending the rest of your life imprisoned in a bottle? That I’m sure is just something from human legend.”

“Whoever holds that seal has power of command over other Jinn,” Asmodeus looked positively frightened now. “If the humans find it, we could all see ourselves become enslaved by them, if we found it, of course we’d destroy it.”

“Of course,” I agreed, though it crossed my mind that someone like Asmodeus would relish having command over all Jinn.

“After Larard wrote his book,” Asmodeus continued, “He eventually gave up on finding his Genevieve again, and thinking her dead, he married another, a human woman. He died two years into that marriage, but we’ve always been certain that he, and afterwards she, knew of the whereabouts of the last copy of his book. For years we did everything we could to find it. She died a few months ago, but it seems she had a son, another called George Larard, so we kept watch in case the book had been passed to him, hoping that if he didn’t realise its true importance, that his guard would be down and we could retrieve it.

“It seems though that others had similar ideas, and we discovered recently that the book has fallen into the hands of the Saytanites.”

I knew of the Saytanites.  They were one of those extreme groups who publically nobody took particularly seriously, but who privately just about everyone feared. They followed the mythical leader of the Jinn, Iblis who in legend had been the cause of the Jinn being cast out of heaven. The Saytanites called him by his alternative name of Say-tan, a name that was also known to the humans. Outside of the Saytanites, most of the Jinn didn’t believe that Iblis still existed, or indeed if he ever had, but they all recognised that in their support of him and what he’s supposed to have stood for, the Saytanites were a dangerous group themselves.

Asmodeus spoke again: “If the Saytanites locate the seal, they will use it for their own ends, and will enslave their own people; certainly The Purest, though it’s doubtful a Jinn would have the ability to use it’s power on one with human blood, but whoever holds the ring and thus commands The Purest could use it’s power to force us to destroy first the part bred, and then even the humans themselves. And believe me, that is something that the Saytanites wouldn’t hesitate in doing.”

I was still a little confused about what my part in all this was supposed to be. “So where do I come in then?” I asked, “You must have some reason to need my assistance.”

“Well of course, I want you to help hunt down the seal,” he said, “I want you to attempt to locate it before our enemies, Saytanite and human might. You have certain talents outside of your Jinn abilities that may help. Plus of course, being a part bred, if the Saytanites find the ring first, you’ll be less susceptible to any efforts they may have to wield its power. In addition, there is another reason.”

“Another reason?” I was curious what that might be.

“This current George Larard may have clues himself as to the whereabouts of the seal, and he may have the desire to see his father’s book returned to him. You’re someone he may trust to help him, someone he may even confide in.”

“Me?” I asked, “Why should he?” though I suspected I already knew the answer.

“Because you knew his father,” Asmodeus confirmed my suspicions.

When I’d originally heard tales of the book, I’d laughed it off as a modern myth, but when I heard the name of the supposed author: George Larard, I’d wondered if it was the same George Larard that I’d known.

In 1940, I’d had what I always thought of as my great adventure. The humans were at war and had taken to killing each other worldwide, though mainly in Europe. This was a conflict that the Jinn took no part in, just like most of the others throughout history, but I took a special interest in it. I knew my entire lineage back as far as Jinn records allowed, and I knew that there were only two humans amongst my ancestors. One back in the 1640s and one around 1810, but both came from eastern Europe. I saw what the Nazis were doing to the other humans in Europe and especially to the eastern Europeans, and I didn’t like what I saw, at least the human part of me didn’t like it, so I went to war in Europe. Of course I couldn’t enlist, because as far as society was concerned, I didn’t exist, but I donned a British uniform and went to France to fight the Nazis. I was a particular asset to the allies, though I say so myself, working behind enemy lines was simplicity itself for me, so I found myself achieving things that my human compatriots never could. Amongst all the men in the regiment I chose to serve with, only one ever remembered me from one day to the next, only one welcomed me back from my missions; I assumed that he must have some level of Jinn blood himself, just to be able to do that. More than that though, he recognised me for what I was. He knew of the Jinn, as though he’d had personal dealings with us himself. He and I became great friends, but when he returned to England later in the war, I remained and when France fell, I attached myself to the resistance and fought on. I never saw my friend George again.

“So where do I find this George Larard then?” I asked.