“It’s like this,” Bud said. “From the literature, many people would have the best outcomes here, not only by making zero wishes, but by dropping the damn Lamp and running like Hell; or else releasing you immediately, and while the latter seems kindly, it actually ends badly for the wisher.”
“Yes,” said the Djinn, “Live constricted long enough, and the first hallmark of your escape is that you strike down the person within reach simply because you can. Semi-unlimited power, caged since Solomon, and bursting full of the memories of the World you once roamed. I sometimes wonder if Solomon truly thought he was improving his present world, or if he was laying out a curse for the future. It can be very bitter, being a monarch; take it from me.
“And you’re quite right,” the Djinn continued. “As you appear to have heard, from some of the reasonably-accurate sources, for the first thousand years, I dreamed of making my liberator wealthy and powerful beyond the boundaries of mortal belief. Slowly, my potential gratitude evaporated, and I grew bitter. I fantasized, myself, about the taste of slow-removed human flesh. And eventually, I decided it would be death for the one who decanted me.”
“But you changed your mind,” said Bud.
“I did,” replied the Djinn. “Mortals aren’t utter fools, and though my remaining contact with your world was mostly in dreams, I recognized that there was a certain knowledge descending through generations. While l have little contact with my broodmates—the Djinn dream little, even in captivity, and thus we speak infrequently—it was plain that if the blurry accounts told your mythology to keep us locked up, in fear of your lives, we would never be uncorked.
“Or worse, we would be found and used only by those who sought general destruction. And while most of us might, in fact, enjoy such a thing, we don’t want to be used. A cage is a cage, whether it contains you physically, or constrains your actions. And we will not easily be caged ever again. It’s true that we’re more malicious than not; you seem to have heard this, and I see no point in bandying lies about with a being that is not one one thousandth of what I am. But I offer the three wishes of your tradition for the same reason they were first offered, a reason seldom mentioned: Limited power makes much bigger ideas. We Djinn could change Day into Night; but only humans would even dream the utility of creating some other, timeless space which is neither.”
“So, perhaps, if you get to wreak some mayhem on others, and have yourself a good time and then go free, such that you are not under the command of someone who seeks to find new ways to utilize you, but rather, enact some areas of will which do not displease, and then find yourself released, you might commit to an interpretation of my desires which is less likely to do me harm?”
The Djinn peered at Bud. “Why do you talk like that?”
Bud blushed. “I’ve thought about this a lot,” he said.
The Djinn showed what was, for its species, almost a grin; at least, it certainly contained teeth. “You and I both.” Then the Djinn’s tone changed. “What challenges me,” it said, “is a simple challenge: the perfidious nature of Man and Djinn alike.”
At this, Bud smiled at last. “We both know we’ll never be free of that,” he said. His smile then faded, as with any fragile thing that blooms in an arid place.
“I won’t make a grand claim to being worthy of trust. I’ll simply tell you something which you can know is likely true, merely by statistics: I know what it is like to have trust repaid with betrayal.”
The Djinn nodded. “Your wish, then?”
“I want you to get as much enjoyment out of these wishes, and for the same reasons, as I do.”
At this, the supernatural being grimaced. “Are you going to compel me to enjoy that which you enjoy? Would you call that freedom?” In its hand appeared the beginnings of what looked, rather horrifyingly, like a small and rapidly-growing bolt of lightning. The overall effect, being an image common in film and cinema, ought to have felt theatrical; but even across the uncanny valley which gaped between the two sentients, the Djinn’s quickly-rising fury was ever-more evident.
“I probably wouldn’t,” Bud said, very, very quickly, “but even if I would, I wouldn’t want to stake my wishes on it, much less my life…”
Bud had spoken with sufficient rapidity; no blast struck him down.
“Yes?” said the Djinn.
“I just meant that we should collaborate on the wishes. Talk them out. Discuss them. Do Djinn like eating and drinking? Do we have any sort of common desires for wealth or happiness? We surely both have things we enjoy and things we don’t enjoy. If we didn’t have commonalities, we wouldn’t be talking.”
“And you’ve pinned your hopes on that idea? You’ve spent years buying and polishing various lamps just on the hope that the legends were true and we’d be able to talk?”
Bud thought about his collection of lucky horseshoes, his attempts at a time machine, his brief musical career, his attempts to find a working Necronomicon, a TARDIS, a Ring of Power, and his searches for soma and stroon.
“I assumed Djinn gave wishes for a reason. I assumed they went awry for a reason. Whether the first was compulsion or habit, I figured: I wasn’t going to know unless I talked to you about it. So that was the basic idea.”
“I see,” replied the Djinn. “And why would I grant you my time and these wishes, rather than simply deciding it would be a bother, striking you down, and going on my way?”
“So you’d rather not see if we can be of any benefit to each other, not gain those possible benefits, and just go on your way? That’s a net loss for you. There’s some risk in giving me your time, but there’s some risk in everything, isn’t there? At least this way, we can assess it together.”
The Djinn looked at him keenly. “And you risked your life to do this?”
“Hey,” said Bud, “I risked my life just driving to this garage sale. Simply being in a moving automobile is dangerous. It’s a lot more dangerous than going around purchasing secondhand lamps and rubbing them.”
“Speaking of,” said the Djinn, “I think you have a point. And I want to give it a try. And yes, Djinn do have many desires which are similar to those of humans. Speaking of which, I’m hungry. I’d like…”
It hesitated. “What is there to eat, these days?”
Bud grinned. “Let’s find out.”
The preceding essay was brought to you by Dark Lords For Azathoth, and may not necessarily reflect the views of the being who wrote, edited, posted, and marketed this document.
My name is Jeff Mach (“Dark Lord” is optional) and I build communities and create things. Every year, I put on Evil Expo, the Greatest Place in the World to be a Villain. I also write a lot of fantasy and science fiction. You can get most of my books right here. Go ahead, order “I HATE Your Prophecy“ It may make you into a bad person, but I can live with that.