“If you’re so eager for muffins, does that mean they count as an exciting day?” I asked hopefully.
He gave me a warning look, holding up a finger. “Don’t get carried away. They count as an exciting moment.”
I sighed. “Your standards are too high,” I muttered. Though I should have just been grateful that something like muffins rated so high for the pyromaniac. Nothing made him smile like when he was lighting things on fire.
I jumped as an unfamiliar and overly excited voice said, “Look at the glam on the twins! Their style never fails to disappoint. The older twin looks like she’s glowing, and the younger is fresh as a rose.” The sound came from my laptop. I assumed an ad had started playing on some home makeover site Tavor was exploring, but he let the sound keep playing.
“Sandy, tell our viewers, how are you so radiant? And Mandy, how are you so fresh? Your scent matches my mom’s old rose garden! What are your skincare secrets, and who is your designer?”
Rajan stiffened as a laugh trilled from the computer. A high voice pitched to sound sultry said, “A lady never reveals her secrets, and the McMichaels employ their own designers. What would we do if we ever encountered someone wearing the same clothes as us?”
My eyes flashed to Tavor at the name McMichael, but his gaze was intent on the computer. The twins said a few more things I didn’t catch, and Rajan’s face twisted into a snarl before he burst into flames, the fire streaming into the ruby sitting on the counter.
Tavor glanced up at that, his eyes unreadable. “He used to belong to one of the twins,” he said quietly. “I never have, but I belonged to their father for several years. Those two are quite the terrors—but all the McMichaels are. Greed and cruelty breed more of the same. And each generation is worse than the last.”
I rounded the counter so I could see the screen and blinked at the sight. “Why are you watching this?” The reporter hadn’t been exaggerating. A pair of nearly identical twins, the main difference being one was bright blond and one had dirty blond hair, stood posing at some event. The skin of the brighter blond truly glowed, and her yellow dress gave off an unnatural shine that I would have thought were special effects if I had been watching a movie instead of entertainment news. The other twin had rosy cheeks that looked like a perpetual demure blush and flowers artfully woven into her dress. They looked real, but perfectly formed, without a sign of wilting or bruising.
“Are they using magic on their clothes and skin?” I asked.
He huffed a laugh. “Of course they are, Ali, thanks to the light and plant genies within their possession. Why do things naturally when you can do them magically? And I’m watching because I feel a sense of responsibility for them.” He spoke quietly, so that Illan wouldn’t hear. He paused the video, but kept his eyes on the twins. “With the exception of Illan, all of us McMichael genies have belonged to the same family for centuries. Not that I’ve been able to do much for them. A slave cannot save another slave.”
I didn’t know what to say, and I didn’t feel like I could just go back to making muffins after that.
Slowly, Tavor continued, “I told you I don’t know what’s happening with you gaining genies you shouldn’t be able to. Maybe it has something to do with the free will you gave me and my desire to see the others in a better place. Or maybe it’s a combination between that and you yourself.”
I kept my volume low to match his. “Me? What could I have to do with this?”
He shifted in his chair to face me. “The genie who stole me must have been another universal, a beast genie, or a transformation genie.” The words beast genie and transformation genie were foreign to me. How many kinds were there? And what could they all do? “My belief is that it was a transformation genie, and that you weren’t chosen at random. Transformation genies have the ability to see things the rest of us don’t. They can even spot a genie in human form, something the rest of us cannot do.”
His intent gaze made me want to step back, but I also felt rooted in place, like something in the world was shifting and if I moved, I would miss it. Or maybe get caught in the shifting and tumble down some great precipice.
“Ali, you can’t begin to understand what a miracle it is for genies to be with a master who doesn’t want wishes. We’ve ended up with people who didn’t know of our existence before, and they were no better than masters who’ve known of genies their entire lives. Greed is part and parcel of the human experience. You’re different.” He paused. “Have you thought that perhaps fate brought us to you? That perhaps you’re meant to play a different role than becoming an easily replaceable cog in some corporate machine?”
I drew back, pain spreading through my chest at his words. I’d spent seven years crafting a plan to escape my home life. My plans—good grades, then good degree, then good job—meant the world to me. They were my choice, my vision. He made them sound so insignificant. “What are you suggesting?”
“We could save the other McMichael genies.”
“Save?” I repeated, disbelieving. “Tavor, I can’t grant freedom. You told me that. What saving do you think is going on here?” Was he suggesting I give up all my plans in life to become some kind of genie crusader? To what end? So wealthy, pissed off people with hordes of genie wizards could hunt us down? So that the genies wouldn’t have to perform wishes for a couple decades until I died and a new master found them? I had a sudden vision of me old and gray, surrounded by genies and having accomplished nothing in life. Just because I didn’t want my mom’s plan of marrying right out of high school didn’t mean I didn’t want marriage and children someday.
“Save is the wrong word,” Tavor admitted. “But compared to the life I’ve lived for millennia, that is what this feels like.”
“But it can’t last,” I whispered. “Even if you stay with me my whole life, it can’t last.”
Tavor gently closed my laptop. “I suppose not. Though if an impossibility like stealing a genie under contract can be accomplished, perhaps other impossibilities can happen as well.” With that, his body burst into bright orange light before flowing into his imperial topaz on the table, leaving me alone with Illan, who remained engrossed in my textbook.
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