“Any luck?” he asked. She hesitated. She was trying not to find what she knew would be there. And as she passed the light over the stone carvings, she saw it: a bare spot where the inscriptions, lost secrets of ancient Menurabi, were now truly lost, and a circular marking carved over it instead. She pulled out a mid-sized book from her traveler’s bag, holding it in both hands, and recited magic words; her eyes glowed, and in her field of vision, the magical forces of the world were laid bare and visible. The arcane mark shone a dark blue and was indeed a glyph of a solar eclipse with a stylized zigzag, either lightning coming down or a toothy maw of darkness swallowing the sun.
The apsara, or nymph, knelt at the water’s edge. This was her home, a clean pool fed by the great river, which eventually flowed out of the wooded wetlands and beyond to the floodplains and seas. The pool was but a few feet deep, like a wide natural bathtub, part of a large collection of pools in the hilly landscape. The forest and its creatures loosely surrounded the apsara’s abode like the walls of an open house, branches as the roof chattering with birds and monkeys.
Xeric scratched his short beard. The young man thought for a long time on how to word his wish. You had to be careful with djinn, he thought, and efreet were even more dangerous than them. In the dark basement storeroom, a pair of fiery red eyes gazed impatiently through the smoke. What appeared to be a horned man had a grin on his face, trying to look trustworthy. It worked surprisingly well.