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THE GODDESS OF DANCE
by Anna Kashina

Genre: General Fantasy, Fantasy

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Wind sweeps over the ancient dunes of the desert, and the grains of sand rustle as they settle back over the wavy crests. One can almost hear the wind murmur and whisper as it passes through its endless realm. One can imagine voices, barely distinguishable in the wind’s dry rustle over the sands.

“A djinn is free. . . .”

“A djinn must never be freeeeee. . . .”

“The one who freed him is a threat . . .”

“. . . to the existence of the world.”

“She must be contained.”

“She must not be allowed to stay in her world.”

“She must become a slave for eternity.”

The wind rushes on, straight into the crimson haze of the ever-setting sun. The desert is empty. There is no one around to listen to the voices in the wind.

***

CHAPTER ONE

The rustle of the reeds on the riverbank has a threatening pitch, as if someone is crawling through the thicket toward her.

Sobek, the crocodile god?

Thea desperately claws at the knot on her wrist. Why did mother tie her up and leave? Was she trying to teach her a lesson? Or had she finally tired of Thea’s willfulness?

A wail of a night bird cuts through the air. Only a few hours until dawn. Maybe then mother will come back!

If she does, Thea will never be a bad girl again. She’ll always clean up after herself, and comb her hair all the way down, and she’ll never ever tease her sisters ever again. If only she survives the night. If only Sobek doesn’t take her first.

Sleep, she thinks. If I sleep, Sobek will think I’m dead. And if he still wants to take me, at least I won’t feel it.

The ground is hard and damp. Inhaling the fresh sweet smells of earth and lotus, Thea closes her eyes. Make my death swift and painless, Sobek, she prays as she sinks into a deep sleep.

***

Princess Gul’Agdar of Dhagabad opens her eyes. It seems that the air has just stirred in front of her bed. As if someone had been standing there and disappeared when she woke up, leaving behind a shimmering trace.

Hasan?

The princess sits up. The uneasy feeling of a powerful presence disturbs her. And something else, barely perceptible, hanging in the air. A smell.

She inhales, trying to recognize it. The scent is sweet and heady, like incense. And very, very faint. It quivers in the still morning air and disappears, just like the shimmer of a shape disappeared a moment ago. Only after it vanishes completely, replaced by the fresh spring smells of flowers and earth from the garden, does she finally put a name to it.

Myrrh.

Hasan’s natural smell has always been juniper. A week ago, after his transformation from a djinn into a free wizard, this barely perceptible scent acquired a more substantial human touch, no longer a pure juniper essence. In its human quality the princess finds his scent even more intoxicating than before. But the smell that was hanging in her room a moment ago was nothing like that. No human could have such a smell.

The princess’s skin tingles.