Alhana watched through a dusty window as Nesrin walked up the wooden board walk to the restaurant’s entrance. Nesrin had stopped to look at one of the wood pillars that supported the awning. The pillars were really trunks of small trees that had been cut and de-limbed. That made them thick, and as a result they were faring better most of the rest of the wood in the derelict building. At last Nesrin decided to come in. Alhana didn’t hear the door open, but did hear Nesrin’s footsteps, so she started arranging the marbles on the Chinese checkers table.
She spoke as she set up. “Two things I do not understand, and a third I am confused by. Why you prefer meeting in such a solitary place, why you insist on using the door when you are going to make yourself transparent and float through anyway, and why no one took this game away when the restaurant closed.”
Nesrin took a seat with a smile. “Because closed or not, this is still my favorite restaurant; I use the door for old times’ sake; and the last one confuses me too. Anyway, you’re a marid. I thought marids liked abandoned places.”
“Was I complaining or just asking?”
Alhana finished setting up and let Nesrin make the first move. “So Samira wants to know about the prophecy.”
Nesrin didn’t look up from the game. “I’m sure many of our people do.”
“Not least of all myself, since I made it.” She picked up a marble when Nesrin was done. “Have we talked about the subtle distinction between destiny and fate?”
“I’ve heard them used interchangeably.”
“They are used that way, yes.” She played. “Destiny is somewhat more flexible. You have heard humans talk of busses? You choose then you have to see that choice through. Fate is unyielding. Your choice with fate is whether you will be guided freely or by force. I saw Mithal’s title and I saw Withanni’s attempt at usurpation. Now, did I see Mithal’s fate, or his destiny?”
Nesrin rolled a marble in her fingers. “You don’t know.”
Alhana held up an open hand. “That is not the only variable. Suppose it is fate after all. His title is Caliph of all Jinn. Not one of our terms, humanity’s ambiguous term. That he should rule all they cannot see is unthinkable, so what then?”
“I assumed it referred to our people.”
“You assumed only us and all of us. Not an unreasonable assumption, but an assumption. After so many centuries there are many assumptions that have nothing to do with what I said. Maybe he will only rule the group who actually call themselves jinn. The term is sometimes confused with jann; maybe he will get his wish and remain among them. He is in no hurry to find out.”
Nesrin nodded. “Ceylan showed me the Scroll of the Story’s account of his fight with Withanni.
“The words of Withanni could not stand up to the words of Mithal, and he ceased to be as they were erased in the scorching winds of the cyclone. Mithal rematerialized amidst the blast to stand victorious and alone in the top room of the Great Hall when the blur cleared. The first to speak to him afterwards was Alhana.
“Rather than congratulate him, she posed the question ‘So you have walked through the first door. What do you intend to do now?’
“Mithal responded by quitting the splendor of his true form in favor of the human shape he wore while in hiding. ‘What I do not intend is to walk through the second door before I am forced. You did not, after all, predict how long I shall remain free.”
Nesrin finally put her marble down. “Guess we’ll see.”
“Eventually. What you really want to know is how it will happen, so here it is.”
Nesrin froze as Alhana leaned in.
“About the specific events that will take place, I saw nothing.”
Nesrin flung out her hands. “Then we don’t really know anything.”
“Not even how long his rule would last, and that is as it should be. If we know anything about the future it should be just enough to give us a vague sense of direction so we can keep moving. Otherwise time would never run its natural course. Of course you know I already told Samira all this, so I know you are not asking for her.”
Nesrin rubbed her own shoulder and looked around at the restaurant. “I wish Miss Mary was still alive. I’d give half my treasure for a plate of her fries.”
Alhana rolled her eyes and continued the game.