"Oh, I wouldn't worry about that, Probe." a voice says behind them all, "While he is able to time travel, when he was killed by beings that were his peers....his fate got sealed. In other words, he can't turn away from the path that will lead to his destruction. But in the meantime, things could be....er....interesting for all the lives he'll touch on the way."
Rule 1 had this one last stop to make to help this djinn (who was one of the "old style" Champions), before seeing Two Girls up north from here....
"Uh, who is...this?" Susan and Astra ask together, sensing something....monumental was in the works here.
"Oh, pardon," Rule 1 says, "Allow me to introduce myself and why I'm here...."
So the personification of order told the others who he was and why he was there. He was here on a round trip journey to correct some long standing wrongs done earlier, centuries ago, by other "unenlightened" (read "drone") Rules when they inducted into their services as an older style of Champion, where instead of being undying the Champion was born anew again and again....always in service of Rules (and Agents).
"And I fear that Astra the Djinn is one such inductee, though a bit different," Rule 1 sighs, "While I fear I must say that Elric migh.....er.....be the most famous of the old style Champions, Astra the Djinn is the first."
"First?" Probe asks, looking at Astra (who has a look of something like dread at what'll be said next), "Uh, could....you explain, please?"
"This I'd like to understand," Astra says, beginning to cross her arms across her chest...only to stop halfway in embarrassment when she remembered how....buxom she now was (the transformation had done some enhancing in a few areas). Though, something about her new look kind of appealed to her.....in that one thing at least.
"I'd ask you to sit for this," the Rule says, "But I know you won't, being who you are. Okay, the fact of the matter is......"
And so asRule 1 speaks, images of the past take form.......
"There must once have been many people living in these caverns," marvelled Astra. "Yes," said Fred, "there were, before the dragon took up residence and killed some, drove out others and enslaved the rest." Velus barked his agreement.
Some of the stalls had probably once sold fruit and vegetables, presumably brought in from the outside world. Their produce had long since rotted away. Others had sold clothes. The garments at first sight had been remarkably well preserved but, when Astra picked one up, to her disappointment it crumbled away into dust. Whilst she was unwilling to wear bandages, she would have been happy enough to find some proper clothes. Then Fred called Astra over. "Look at this," he said. He was at a stall that had sold household items, trinkets and cheap jewelry. (Perhaps it had sold some more expensive items too, but those would have been taken by the owner when he left, or else had been looted long ago.) Astra looked at what he was holding up, an old oil lamp. "Do you think if I rub this a genie will appear?" he joked. He rubbed it.
Instead of a genie emerging from the lamp, Astra found herself being drawn into it!
Astra was sucked into the lamp. Well, this was certainly more conveniant, but Astra might have some valuable information.
Fred rubs the lamp in hope of bringing Astra back.
A plume of what seemed to be blue smoke emerged from the lamp, which gradually solidified into Astra, except that her calves tapered away into a wisp of smoke coming from the spout of the lamp. She was no longer naked, but wore gauzy harem pants and a bikini top, and had what looked like a large ruby set in her navel. Fred hadn't known Astra long, but he suspected that it would take a lot to frighten her. She looked frightened now, though.
"Command me, O Master," she said. "I am the slave of the lamp."
"Princess Astra - what has happened to you? I'm not your master!"
"I am no more Princess Astra of Aquallaria. Thanks to the magicks of the Mystic Lamp of Zolar, I am now Astra the Djinn, creature of magic, and bound to the lamp. Likewise the lamp is now bound to you, which means that you are now my master! Your wish is now my command!" Astra didn't look very pleased with this turn of events, but she was apparently helpless to resist the power of the Lamp of Zolar.
As Velus cowered behind the stall, Fred considered this. He'd heard of Djinni, of course, but he had no idea that an ordinary mortal could be changed into one.
"Does this mean that you have to grant me three wishes now?" he asked.
Unhappily, but compelled to speak the truth, Astra replied:
"Yes, Master. Once I grant the three wishes, I and the lamp will vanish to await my next Master."
"Can I wish you back to normal?" Fred asked. "No, Master. Wishes that affect my own status are not allowed."
"Is there no way, then, to release you?" "I do not know, Master. That the lamp was empty when I found it suggests that it might be possible."
"Then I had better make at most two wishes. I don't want you and the lamp to disappear before I can find a way to set you free."
"That is up to you, Master. I may not express an opinion. But I ought to warn you to be very careful with your wishes, since I am compelled to be very literal. If you say: 'I wish I could get rid of this nasty cold', then that will happen and you will have used up a wish."
"Would you please drop that 'Master' nonsense and just call me 'Fred'." "I am afraid that is not permitted, Master. It would imply that we were equals and therefore would count as modifying my own status." Fred thought of how he might use his two wishes. Perhaps first to kill the dragon and then to transport himself and Astra to some powerful mage who might be able to free her from the lamp? Then there was Velus; he really ought to restore him to human form. Or should he be more ambitious, and wish for world peace and an end to poverty? Could even the power of the lamp achieve things like that, though? Or, and though Fred was a noble man he was not immune to temptation, should he wish for wealth and a long life for himself? Or even that Astra should be his slave, wife or mistress when/if she was free of the lamp?
He decided to keep his wishes in reserve for now.
Finally, Fred said, "I can't think of what to wish for right now, Astra. Im going to have to think about it a bit more."
"As you wish, O Master," she said, bowing low.
"Look, I'd like to at least have your company. Can you come completely out of the lamp and walk with us? Or would that somehow alter your status?"
"That I can do, Master," Astra said. The wisp of smoke detatched itself from the lamp's spout and settle on the floor, where it finished forming the bottom of Astra's legs. In addition to the skimpy top and filmy harem pants, she now also wore a pair of slippers with curled-up, pointed toes. "But I cannot leave your side, Master, and I must return to the lamp for at least six hours a day."
"Fair enough," said Fred. "Well, let's get - Velus. Velus, come on, it's just Astra - we need to get going!"
Velus, though, now seemed to be terrified of Astra. He slinked out from behind the deserted stall, but hid behind Fred's legs and whined.
"It is not his fault, Master," Astra said sadly, "In his current form, he is able to see my magical aura clearly. If you could also see it, Master," she added, looking on the verge of tears, "You would likely react the same way."
Astra looked so despondent that Fred (being a chivalrous knight) wanted to take her in his arms and comfort her, but realized that might not be the wisest course.
"Astra," he said, "I swear that I will find a way to release you from the lamp and restore you normal." Then he added:
"Defeating the Dragon, though, and ending his terror must take priority for now."
"I understand that, Master. You realise that you could achieve the dragon's defeat simply by framing a suitable wish?" "Yes, I do realise that, but it somehow seems almost as though it would be cheating to accomplish my quest in such a fashion. However a thought has just occurred to me. What would happen to you if I, your 'Master', were to be killed by the dragon?" "I do not know for sure, Master. A master-less djinn is almost a contradiction in terms. The situation would be highly unstable. It is possible that the effect of your death would be the same as if you had used all of your three wishes, and that I and the lamp would be transported somewhere else to wait for a new master. Or I might simply cease to exist."
"If there's a risk of that, I shall have to set my chivalrous scruples aside. It occurs to me that it might be best to wish that the dragon had never existed, so that all the evil he has done would never have happened." "I am afraid that such a wish is not possible, Master, as it would involve changing my own status. Had the dragon never existed, I would never have come to the Northern Caves - to you, the Southern Caves. Thus I would not have found the lamp nor have become Astra the Djinn. You see the paradox? However, a wish that the dragon should drop dead is possible."
"Then that is what I wish: that the dragon should drop dead this instant." "Your wish is my command, O Master," Astra said, in words that Fred guessed were an unavoidable part of the ritual. Just for a moment, her body seemed to take on an insubstantial quality, but then she resolidified.
"Master, this djinn has failed you," she said. "The dragon's own magical defences are so powerful, that I could not penetrate them."
"I am truly ashamed, O Master!" Astra said, prostrating herself at Fred's feet.
"Please forgive this unworthy servant for her failure!"
"Um, no, Astra, it's all right. Really. Just - please, stop that. Stand up!" Fred had only known Astra a short while, but he had been impressed by her spirit and determination. That she had been reduced to this - calling him "Master" and groveling before him - incensed Fred's very nature. "Look, Astra..."
"Do not worry, Master," she said, rising. "Since the failure was on my part, this will not be counted as one of your wishes."
"No, that's not it. Look, it's obvious that this dragon is a very powerful and dangerous creature. We've got to try another way."
Fred paced back and forth, thinking. Velus continued to hide in the ruins of the marketplace. Astra merely stood there, torn between raging at being caught in this ridiculous situation and shame at failing this man, her first master, so miserably.
After a few minutes, Fred stopped and turned to her. "I think I have it, Astra. My new first wish is:"
I wish we could find a mage powerful enough to both defeat the dragon and lift your curse!"
"Your wish is my command, O Master," Astra said again. Inwardly she felt much happier, for Fred seemed to have hit upon a very effective wish, but she was compelled not to show any change in her impassive demeanour.
Again she seemed to shimmer for an instant. When she resolidified, she said:
"Here is Merlyn, Master, a mage who is capable of doing what you require." She indicated the rather surprised-looking man who had appeared at her side. He is strangely dressed and he looks less than pleased!
"I have not been called by that name in a month of blue moons!" Flagg says, laughing a little bit with something that could only be called humor if one wanted to be charitable.
Frankly, Flagg was VERY angry with being called away without so much as a "by your leave." Here he'd been planning the most entertaining greet for that stupid Gunslinger. Maybe, just maybe he'd finally get Roland to cry off in his quest! And here this genie had yanked him away! It would take a long time to get back to Mid-world from this distant sector in the multiverse. He'd barely be able to arrive in time.....
"Okay, what the f**k do you want?" he grumps, dropping the happy, luney manaic mage monster act. Only wanting to get it over with.
Maybe it would halfway interesting.
Somewhat put off by Flagg rather bad manners, none-the-less Fred and Astra the Djinn explain the gist of their problem.
"So, I guess the reason why you dragged me here is to help you turn your squeeze back into a human being?" Flagg finally asks, amazed.
Don't they know what he was?
Yes, it was true he appeared human (and had in this form access to his powers.... making him appear as a mage). But surely this magical being should be able to look past his seeming and see his true nature!
"Yes, basically." Fred says, perplexed at the surprised tones in this "Flagg's" voice.
Well, time to enlighten this lady to the true nature of things, Flagg the Demon sighs, Hmm, should be interesting on how the next action effects her....considering the connection of djinns to their masters! Should prove educational. If she survives this, then she'll be more cautious at who she brings forth via her magick!
And in this sector of the multiverse, he was allowed more leeway on how he interacted with the Clients....
Flagg's face shifts, showing the black nature of the being within....and Velus gives off an almost human scream of horror as Flagg throws a black bolt of magic at him and Fred before Astra can even lift a finger to block the foul being known as Flagg.
Everything goes black for them and.....nothing.
"You and your little dog to, my pretty!" Flagg giggles, quoting from the movie he'd borrowed from for the party that he'd planned for Roland before being so rudely interrupted.
This is a horrible thing that he's done, but hey, the guy is a demon....after all. A demon who'd good at hiding his nature from casual detection, unfortunately for Astra the Djinn.
Astra screams as her link backlashes at her. She flickers out, and ends up in a daze (invisible) in a small town that some would say had an American Western motif to it. But she's not familiar with such a style and isn't coherent enough to wonder at that. Seeing a door with a key in it's lock (also invisible to others...as well as immaterial to others except for those like herself), she dazedly opens it and steps through it.
Past the large figure....and passing out into a spare bedroom further on in the keep.....
12/24/2000 12:13:48 AM
The Never Ending Quest Home
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