Rumpelstiltskin III and the First Time he Lost that Bauble by Kevin Kauffmann
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In his leathery hands was something Rumpelstiltskin could not quite understand. Lord Cray, the ruler of the papercraft kingdom, had named it the Ifrit’s Eye, but even among that construction-paper populace, this red bauble had too many names. The Orb of Desolation, the Red Death; each name held the promise of the destruction brimming within that pulsing, red stone. In that kingdom it had been a source of misery and greed; outside of that world of paper Rumpelstiltskin had seen the serrated sunset that had burned the earth every night. Even against the backdrop of his lunacy, Rumpelstiltskin knew that he—and perhaps only he—was capable of resisting the flames and the greed that came with holding the Ifrit’s Eye.

That, however, did not mean the imp wished to remain its guardian forever.

After crossing over a rolling terrain of sand dunes, Rumpelstiltskin had come to the decision that he must hide this red gem in a place it could not be abused, in a place where devious and destructive men could not find it. The red gem was best forgotten, its existence nullified by obscurity, and Rumpelstiltskin was childish enough to believe that obscurity was even possible. He knew of many magical ways to find items of power, he knew of plenty of ways to cheat death and to skirt the impossible, but the imp was just so earnest and naïve that he thought that maybe—just maybe—he could find a way to keep the Ifrit’s Eye from those who would seek it.

“Sir Death, I hope you come find me soon,” Rumpelstiltskin said into the dry air, but he had less hope of that prospect after the last week. He had wanted the reaper’s guidance about this stone for some time, now, but no matter his method of summoning, Sir Death had still not appeared even after Rumpelstiltskin returned from the papercraft world. Since he was bereft of that supernatural guidance, Rumpelstiltskin had decided he would ask about the Ifrit’s Eye in the nearby town, which was still growing along the horizon.

Only minutes away, now, the desert outpost seemed like some fortified sandcastle, the stones blending in perfectly with their surrounding environment if not for the multi-colored awnings and stalls peppering the beige backdrop. To the imp’s mind, one of the merchants in the bazaar might have some clue where Rumpelstiltskin could find further information, though he resolved to keep the Eye close to his chest. Just by its color and size alone, a crafty thief might see Rumpelstiltskin’s burden as the treasure of a lifetime. While Rumpelstiltskin did not fear for himself—he was always safe from mortal danger—he did not want to spend an afternoon or even longer on chasing after a fool who could not know the potential of this dangerous relic.

So, wrapping the Eye inside the bottom of his tunic, Rumpelstiltskin walked up to the third stall and waited for the merchant to acknowledge him. The first two stalls had seemed disreputable, either by the wares on display or just by the missing teeth of the merchants, themselves, but this small man—still a head taller than Rumpelstiltskin—had a nice, white turban above a light-blue shirt, which the imp found quite pleasing to the eye. In this desert environment, such vibrant clothing made Rumpelstiltskin feel quite at ease.

However, the merchant apparently had not noticed the imp’s company—possibly because the crown of Rumpelstiltskin’s head did not quite break past the visual barrier of the stall’s counter—so the imp cleared his throat, in a manner befitting a camel and thus shocking the merchant, and grinned at the confused, sand-weathered face of the vendor.

“Hello! My name is Rumpelstiltskin the Third, and I have a few questions for you,” Rumpelstiltskin started, starting to reach forward for his usual handshake, but in the process lost hold of the Ifrit’s Eye underneath his tunic.

Whatever grace the imp possessed did not allow him to recover in time, and the red stone fell out of Rumpelstiltskin’s shirt and then plonked along the sand, coming to a stop on one of the sticks propping up the stall. If he had not seen that bauble, the merchant probably would have shooed Rumpelstiltskin away, but if the merchant’s eyes could have drooled, his face would have been sopping wet by the time the imp crawled forward, retrieved the Eye and then stuffed it back under his tunic.

However, since they could not, the merchant merely smiled with his entire face and reducing his eyes to slits and crows’ feet in an effort to keep Rumpelstiltskin talking, possibly to the extent of relieving himself of his treasure.

“Welcome, Rumpelstiltskin! Please, please do ask any questions which come to your mind,” the man almost jeered, stepping around the counter so he could assist the imp to his feet. Rumpelstiltskin, unfortunately, took this as an effort born from true friendship, and decided to trust the merchant to the ends of the known world.

The imp was gullible like that.

“Thank you, good sir,” Rumpelstiltskin said, holding the Eye within his shirt with both hands. “You seem like the trustworthy sort, and I have need of some assistance. Well, some assistance of the magical variety,” he said, leaning in and including the merchant into his designs. The vendor played along, also leaning forward so they could whisper into each other’s ears.

“Oh, I see. Does this assistance have to do with that gem underneath your shirt?”

“Why, yes!” Rumpelstiltskin exclaimed in a hushed whisper. He was now certain that this new friend was exactly the kind of person who might know about the magic Rumpelstiltskin needed. After nodding toward the stall, the merchant took his cue and they both walked around the corner so they could have privacy. Once he was able to stand on his tip-toes and scan the bazaar for onlookers—finding none—Rumpelstiltskin returned his attention to the merchant and then withdrew the Ifrit’s Eye from his tunic. Rumpelstiltskin mistook the man’s greed as just an excess of wonder, and tried to explain his predicament to his new friend.

“See, this object is very powerful, and it really should not be in anyone’s hands. Death, fire, blisters on big toes, this gem does it all,” Rumpelstiltskin explained, and he saw how the man’s greed changed with the claims. At first, the merchant almost slobbered over the treasure he could easily steal from this deranged midget, but the inklings of the Eye’s curse was enough to quench his desire. Suddenly, the vendor was more skeptical, and he stepped back from Rumpelstiltskin, determined to see if these were just stories.

“It brings fire, imp?”

“More than that,” Rumpelstiltskin stressed, recalling the first village devastated by the gem’s mere side-effects. “Anyone who carries it ends up… well, they get really hurt. I can’t get hurt, so it makes sense for me to hold it, but from what I’ve heard, even when the magic isn’t—umm, active… it still brings bad luck. They call it a lot of bad things, but Lord Cray seemed like he knew it best. He called it the Ifrit’s Eye.”

“An Ifrit?” the merchant almost screamed through his whisper, and Rumpelstiltskin watched as the man backed into the wall behind the purple drapes covering his stall. Where before had been greed and earthly pursuits, fear now dominated the man’s wizened features. Luckily, this kind of reaction was the exact kind of clue Rumpelstiltskin was looking for, so he stepped forward and lifted the bauble between them.

“Oh, you know what an Ifrit is? That’ll make this easier.”

“Stay back!” the vendor demanded, but his voice broke with fear and he almost seemed like he was trying to climb the drapes behind him. “I want nothing to do with an Ifrit!”

“Uh… well, alright,” Rumpelstiltskin conceded, taking a step back and stowing the Eye back within his tunic. As soon as it was out of sight, the merchant relaxed, but he was still noticeably on guard. “Can you at least tell me where I can find an Ifrit? Maybe I can give the stone back.”

“You fool…” the vendor spat, but at least he was standing on the ground and moving around his own stall. “You come to this land and know nothing of the spirits in it. Next, you’ll tell me you know nothing of Djinni.”

“Oh, good, then you can tell me that, too!” Rumpelstiltskin exclaimed, not realizing the social faux pas he had just committed. The vendor stared at him for a moment in disbelief, but ultimately ground the heel of his palm into his eye and walked to the other side of his stall. Once he was able to put his back to the other counter, the man almost growled at Rumpelstiltskin.

“Do you always wander like this, imp? Always relying on dumb luck?”

“Well, it’s worked for me so far.”

“So it has,” the man murmured, looking past the counter of his stall and into the desolate street beyond the awning. “You have come to a land dominated by evil spirits, bound to this world by the mischief they would create and the discord they would sow.”

“Ooh, I like mischief!” Rumpelstiltskin perked up at the concept, but the vendor shook his head and nodded into the distance beyond the city.

“Not this kind, imp. These entities are the downfall of man, bestowing upon them wishes of outrageous and unbelievable fortune, but only if they are captured. Rare men of cunning have placed these spirits within jars and lamps and other containers, but eventually they escape and reverse whatever fortune they have created. In their freedom, the Djinni’s brand of mischief is more reminiscent of a natural disaster.”

“Oh…” Rumpelstiltskin mused, looking down at the orb pressed between his tunic and belly. “That seems less friendly.”

“Djinni are no friends, and the Ifriti are worse still,” the merchant said as he walked to the edge of the counter and then motioned for Rumpelstiltskin to walk beyond that edge. “They are much the same, though born of fire. In these deserts, we have even less need of flames, imp.”

“Hmm. That explains the flames…”

“Yes, it does. Now, imp, please remove it from my presence,” the merchant commanded, and the declaration was enough for Rumpelstiltskin to be cowed into action. Stepping around the counter, Rumpelstiltskin felt like a scolded child when he turned back and found a scowl directed toward him.

“I understand,” the imp said, but he realized he had only learned a fraction of the knowledge he pursued. Before he lost the man’s attention, Rumpelstiltskin puffed up his chest and tried to be confident. “But that just means you believe me! And I started off saying that I wanted to make sure it didn’t end up in anyone’s hands! That’s what I want, Mister… uh, well, you never told me your name, but I promise, I just want to make sure no one can use the Eye.”

“And you think I can help with that, imp? What makes you think I have any power over the spirits reigning over my part of the world?”

“Well, I…” Rumpelstiltskin paused, flustered because his mind couldn’t make the right arguments. Even now, childish thoughts battered against his will—made him want to run and abandon these serious notions—but the imp shook his head and bit his lip, making dark eye contact with the brightly-garbed vendor. “You know more than me, sir. Tell me, if I have the eye of an Ifrit, what can I do to make sure it goes away and never comes back?”

“I have no idea, Rumpelstiltskin. That sounds like a task for a Djinn.”

“Okay, well, where can I find one of those?” Rumpelstiltskin leapt at the idea, which the merchant had clearly offered in sarcasm. However, the imp’s insistence was enough for the man to hesitate. Looking Rumpelstiltskin over, the merchant weighed the option in his mind, but even that was a source of hope for the imp.

“You’re serious, imp? You would seek out a Djinn if it meant you could rid yourself of that bauble?”

“Well, yeah!” Rumpelstiltskin replied, confused at the nature of the question. “Why wouldn’t I?”

“You could die?”

“Hah! Shows what you know,” Rumpelstiltskin said, withdrawing the Eye so he could hold it between their gaze. “I told you I can’t get hurt. So it seems like I’m the best person to talk to a Djinn about this.”

“You are some kind of magic, yourself, aren’t you, Rumpelstiltskin?” the merchant asked, but they both knew it was not a question. With a smile, Rumpelstiltskin stowed the Eye back underneath the burlap fabric of his tunic.

“About time you figured that out. So can you help me? Do you know where a Djinn might be hiding?”

“I have heard rumors, imp. That is all I can give you.”

“That’s more than I have, Mister.”

“Arrabin. That is my name,” the merchant replied, placing his hands onto the wooden planks of his counter and leaning into them, just so he could point beyond the city gates and to the mountains in the distance. “If you truly wish to enlist the aid of a Djinn, I have heard of a valley to the left of those mountains. In it is a perpetual sandstorm, and it is said that storm is the work of a great spirit. If I knew of any place that might house a Djinn, it seems as good as any.”

“That sounds like a solid lead,” Rumpelstiltskin agreed, but Arrabin clucked his tongue and narrowed his eyes at the imp.

“There will be nothing solid in this pursuit, Rumpelstiltskin. Djinni can shift their shape at will, with the wind—become the wind—and they are devious beyond measure. If you encounter a spirit within that storm, you should know that it will intend for you to be its next victim.”

“Then I will intend to become their friend, first,” Rumpelstiltskin said, grinning at his cautionary acquaintance, which was enough to bring a genuine smile to Arrabin’s face, even if it was out of sheer frustration.

“Perhaps you will, Rumpelstiltskin. I wish you good fortune.”

“Thank you, Arrabin. It was nice to meet you,” Rumpelstiltskin said before he walked toward the gate and into the sands beyond. He didn’t mind that he had not shaken the hand of the man in robin’s egg blue, or that the man had not seemed to want further friendship. His responsibility was the red, pulsing gem pressed against his midsection, and Rumpelstiltskin would not be deterred from the end goal of that responsibility.

That resolve would be tested, as the mountains that had seemed faint against the sky above the desert outpost were no closer after days of walking in bare feet over hills made of sand and through winds sharp with airborne grain. After those days, the mountains still seemed pale from the atmosphere between them, but Rumpelstiltskin had made himself a promise. This bauble was a danger, and he would pursue whatever means with which he could end that danger. No matter his thirst or hunger or even boredom, the imp would survive, which was the very reason he had been chosen for this task. He knew that now, that this bauble had called for him, and he had been rewarded through some deliberate hand of fate.

“I wonder, Sir Death, if you’re watching now,” Rumpelstiltskin mused as he cleared a sand dune on the fourteenth day, wondering perhaps if the reaper was using this as a test. However, Rumpelstiltskin reasoned that the same hand responsible for giving him the Ifrit’s Eye was meddling with his connection to Sir Death. This was his task, the imp was certain, and the stubbornness born from his six-year-old soul had given him the strength to prevail where adults may have faltered.

For once he was at the crest of that second-week sand dune, Rumpelstiltskin saw the spiraling sandstorm above the valley, and he would have wept if the desert had not taken the moisture from his eyes.

“Finally,” Rumpelstiltskin croaked from the cracked tissue of his desiccated throat, but his next step forward was bereft of the balance he needed. The imp’s small body took a tumble, and he fell down the steep angle of that sand dune and all the way into the entrance of the valley. Whatever pain he felt from those arid acrobatics was soon forgotten, because however inconvenient the experience, Rumpelstiltskin climbed to his knees to see the churning wall of the stationary sandstorm in front of him. In fact, if he had not been at the end of his pilgrimage, he may have climbed to the sand dune to tumble down again, for it was a novel experience made less memorable only due to the events before and after.

Because when Rumpelstiltskin rose to his feet and placed his hand against the wall of sand, it shifted, and the churning veil was pulled away to form a window showing the eye of that perfect sandstorm. The top of a buried pyramid was just a hundred yards away, but as wondrous as the surroundings—the relics and ruins strewn about the inside of that unharmed interior betraying the beginnings of stories Rumpelstiltskin would never hear—the principal sight within that cloud was the gigantic figure sitting cross-legged ten feet above the top of that pyramid.

The spirit was nebulous as a cloud, but still held the shape of a man dressed in the garish adornments of a vizier, or possibly a fool. Rumpelstiltskin enjoyed its sense of fashion, even if it was thirty feet tall and its skin was a blue the shade of a tropical ocean, but he could tell that sense of curiosity was a two-way street. As Rumpelstiltskin stepped through the shifting doorway and into the column of sand, he could tell the Djinn was amused by the imp’s very presence. Rumpelstiltskin at once knew that this was the spirit that terrified Arrabin and the denizens of this desert, but whatever malice the Djinn held, it was tempered by the curiosity of a child.

Rumpelstiltskin could work with that.

“Would you wish for some water, Rumpelstiltskin?” the Djinn asked, and the imp smiled so wide that his lips cracked. If he had been mortal, blood would flowed out of those cracks, but the imp’s curse mended those wounds, even if it would not resolve his thirst. Upon sight of that magic, the spirit’s brilliant, white eyes gleamed even brighter, but Rumpelstiltskin was no student of malice and saw only the potential of friendship.

“Yes, yes, I would appreciate some water,” Rumpelstiltskin tried to say while nodding, but his neck was weak and barely tilted—his throat was dry and permitted only half the syllables. However, the Djinn understood and lowered a gassy, nebulous hand, curling a blue index finger.

“The word is important, Rumpelstiltskin. You must wish.”

“Then… I wish,” Rumpelstiltskin said, the wish barely more than a mental whisper, but the Djinn gave a cruel smile and an ornate, green pitcher appeared in front of the imp, more than half his size. With zeal, Rumpelstiltskin heaved the pitcher up and tilted, feeling cold, crisp water splatter against his face and into his mouth, instantaneously reviving his withered tongue and his parched cheeks and giving life to his wretched throat. Gluttonous, Rumpelstiltskin drank and drank, not realizing the pitcher should have been empty twice over, but the Djinn’s magic was not on the imp’s mind. Rumpelstiltskin had found water in the desert, and he was not satisfied until his belly sloshed with the essence of life itself.

Now that he was revived, the imp looked at the shifting spirit, sighed, and then realized he had lost the Ifrit’s Eye. Panicking, he looked behind him to find the gate within the sand, but all around him was the wall of the sandstorm, and he realized that he would have the ask the nice spirit to open the door once more in shame.

“Do not worry, imp,” the Djinn said, and Rumpelstiltskin turned around to see the red bauble hovering above the spirit’s open palm. At once he was relieved, but then Rumpelstiltskin remembered Arrabin’s warnings, and he wondered if it was good or bad that a Djinn now had the eye of an Ifrit in his possession. That worry made itself evident, and the growing smile on the Djinn’s face made Rumpelstiltskin realize that he should not have been thinking at all.

“So you can read my mind, then, Mister Djinn?”

“From time to time, Rumpelstiltskin,” the spirit replied, looking down on the imp with a gleam of pleasure in his eyes. “Your mind is too chaotic for even a spirit as wild and chaotic as myself, but the truth shines in the right light, when a sane facet of that prism reflects and conjures the reality of your world.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I don’t expect you would, imp,” the Djinn replied, turning back to see the fire brimming within the jewel dwarfed by the spirit’s open palm. “You understand very little in this world, including what it is you held in your possession.”

“I was told it was the eye of an Ifrit.”

“Again, the truth,” the Djinn admitted before turning his attention back to Rumpelstiltskin. “But it was their truth, based on a misconception. This stone holds no relation to Ifriti, or even Djinni, but it is a good name for such a stone.”

“Really? I was hoping you could help me find a place for it,” Rumpelstiltskin said, about to pout in his dismay, but the deep chuckle of the elemental earned his attention once more.

“That I could do, Rumpelstiltskin. You have two more chances to do so, but I would much rather you left this stone in my possession. I could have quite a good time with such a relic,” the Djinn mused, but after sighing—the entire sandstorm shifting with that expression—the Djinn looked back at the imp and grunted. “But we have engaged ourselves in a contract, now, and you may do whatever it is you wish.”

“Contract? What kind of contract did I sign?” Rumpelstiltskin murmured, looking all around him for some piece of paper that he may have stumbled into, consequently writing his name by accident. Things like that had happened before, despite the astronomic amount of luck involved with such a task. Under his breath, Rumpelstiltskin made a mistake he did not comprehend in time. “Oh, I wish I knew what was going on.”

“By saying that you wished for something, particularly, the water I granted you, I ensnared you within a verbal contract,” the Djinn explained, and Rumpelstiltskin’s face scrunched up as all of Arrabin’s warnings had been in vain. “As a Djinn, I can grant three wishes to a soul, but the soul in question belongs to me after I have fulfilled those wishes. Usually, a Djinn only engages that contract under duress, but we can volunteer if we so desire.”

“But… why would you want to?”

“It does stretch the imagination,” the Djinn admitted with a shrug, but he let out a low, resonating chuckle within his own wind chamber. “However, the nature of your soul is quite obvious to anyone with the eyes to look, and a Djinn like myself has eyes built for that… appraisal. Simply put, Rumpelstiltskin, you come to me with two treasures, and by claiming you under this contract, I will—at the very least—gain one of them.”

“Arrabin warned me that Djinni were dangerous.”

“And yet you persisted,” the spirit replied, stunning Rumpelstiltskin by allowing the Ifrit’s Eye to float between them and then in front of the imp in offering. Once Rumpelstiltskin raised his hands and the bauble fell into his grip, the Djinn crossed his arms and seemed content. “Now you must choose, Rumpelstiltskin. You may save your soul with your last wish, of course, but you came here to rid the world of that gem. You may only accomplish one of these tasks.”

“You tricked me with the second wish so I would have to choose,” Rumpelstiltskin commented, but the Djinn’s only response was the gleam in his white eyes. Sighing, the imp looked down at the red gem and realized two things. The first of which was that the world would indeed be better off without the Ifrit’s Eye in it.

The second was that, no matter the contract, this Djinn did not know what he was getting into.

“I wish… I wish that you would take the Ifrit’s Eye and…” Rumpelstiltskin hesitated as he lifted the gem above his head, but he swallowed down his trepidation and hoped everything would be okay even if a Djinn owned his soul. “Make sure nobody can use it.”

“Granted, Rumpelstiltskin,” the Djinn said, blinking once and taking the Ifrit’s Eye from this world. The imp smiled at his achievement, but then he saw the Djinn raise his hand, open his hand, and reveal a pulsing, red gem in the air above it.

“What? Hey, that’s supposed to be gone!” Rumpelstiltskin cried foul, but the Djinn only chuckled and grinned as only a Djinn can grin.

“You wished that no body can use the gem. I, my dear imp, have no body. You wished this gem directly into my hand, and by that means I have gained two treasures instead of one,” the Djinn claimed, lifting his ephemeral head to the sky and letting out a boom of laughter. Although Rumpelstiltskin was momentarily afraid, anger soon took its place and he lifted a crooked finger to condemn the swindler of a spirit.

“You knew exactly what I was wishing, you… you stupid…”

“While I knew your intent, Rumpelstiltskin, I used your words, and you only have yourself to blame,” the Djinn said as he lowered his head and then beckoned toward the imp’s small frame with his free hand. Rumpelstiltskin felt his body lifted from the ground, felt the pull from somewhere inside and yet outside his heart, and it was not long until he was thirty feet above the ground and looking ahead at the Djinn’s massive, blue-tinged face.

“What are you going to do with my soul?” Rumpelstiltskin said, and the Djinn smiled so wide it almost looked like he was about to swallow the imp whole.

“Oh, my dear imp, so much. My issue is what I shall do first. In fact, I will mull on that idea a while, while you reside in a place of safety,” the Djinn said, and once he opened his mouth, Rumpelstiltskin realized that he was about to be swallowed. Yet fear did not consume the imp, he merely felt regret toward the man who had safeguarded him all these years only to be thwarted by Rumpelstiltskin’s own actions.

“I’m sorry, Sir Death. I wish I had been smarter,” the imp said, closing his eyes against the darkness of the Djinn’s mouth.

“A better wish than your last, that is certain,” the Djinn’s voice was a maelstrom around the imp’s ears, but then a scream took its place, and Rumpelstiltskin fell back and through the air, landing on his back so hard that he bounced. When he was able to roll over and recover from that daze, he saw the Djinn nursing a foggy stump where his right hand used to be. Following the spirit’s gaze, Rumpelstiltskin found the man who deserved and received his adulation and admiration.

There, holding his scythe in both hands and hunched over in a ready position, was Sir Death.

You…” the Djinn growled, and Rumpelstiltskin could tell there was a grudge within that epithet. These two had met before, and Rumpelstiltskin could only watch their reunion, for interrupting was more than just dangerous.

“This one is under my protection,” Sir Death declared, relaxing the grip on his weapon before grinding his bones against it once again. “But you knew that, didn’t you?”

“What do I care for your protection, wise man?” the Djinn spat, straightening his posture before reclaiming his hand from the wind. “You have no sway over the Djinni. This is our part of the world.”

“Only because I have not claimed it from you,” Sir Death replied, standing up and setting the end of his scythe into the sand on his left. The Djinn saw this movement as overconfidence, chuckling at the reaper’s arrogance.

“I have this creature under contract, reaper. He is mine.”

“I am not concerned with your contracts. He is under my protection, and I do not wish to repeat myself.”

“Hah! How foolish you are,” the Djinn claimed, extending a blue finger to condemn his opponent. “You forgot the power of that word.”

“And you forgot the nature of negatives, Djinn,” Sir Death said while raising his right hand, blue energy sparking at the edge of his fingers that he used to trace a circle in the air. “There is no contract on the wind between us.”

“Careful, wise man,” the Djinn cautioned, forgoing his defeat and instead letting the Ifrit’s Eye float above his palm once more. “Your imp brought me a treasure which I will use if necessary.”

“What… is that—” Sir Death balked, and the Djinn answered with a smile.

“You will leave, and you will leave the imp with me. That is the nature of this situation, reaper,” the Djinn said, but this time Sir Death sighed and then resumed his circle, sigils appearing with the bounds of the blue electricity. With that, the Djinn growled and brandished the Eye further.

“I warn you! Persist and you will fall, reaper!”

“I give you the same warning, Djinn,” Sir Death said, and Rumpelstiltskin was left to watch the clash of two magics beyond his ken. A fountain of flame burst from the Eye and headed toward the reaper, but although Rumpelstiltskin’s heart leapt into his throat, his worry was unfounded. Once the flames met the crackling, blue sigil left by Sir Death’s fingers, they poured out and rebounded along in a wide arc, an umbrella of energy directing the flames out and then back toward the Djinn. Before the spirit could react, the flames poured back onto their source, a cone of devastation enveloping the Djinn’s nebulous form. At first its skin crackled and popped, but the heat of the Eye’s potential was enough to evaporate the outer whispers of the Djinn’s form. It would not be long before the entire spirit was consumed by the flames.

Still, the sentient cloud had seconds of life left to it, and its grudge toward Sir Death was worth more than its sense of self-preservation.

“At the least, reaper, you shall not have this infernal gem,” the Djinn stated through the cataclysm, and the gem disappeared along with the last vestiges of the spirit.

And then, all at once, there was nothing above the buried pyramid except sky. Even the sandstorm dissipated, and Rumpelstiltskin was left kneeling on the sand with his guardian heaving just a few yards away. After a moment, Sir Death recovered his breath, and he turned to face the imp he had saved. Although it was clear that the reaper had lost something valuable in that stone, it was doubly clear that he was glad Rumpelstiltskin was unharmed. By the time the reaper was standing above him, Rumpelstiltskin had picked himself up to his feet and had patted off the front of his tunic, grains of sand falling to the sea beneath him.

“I’m sorry you had to come to save me,” the imp muttered, looking at his feet in shame, but he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder, and he lifted his chin and saw Sir Death smiling down on him.

“You never have to apologize for that, child. I must apologize for not arriving beforehand. A djinn is no adversary for a boy of your age.”

“It’s not your fault, Sir Death. It was the Ifrit’s Eye,” Rumpelstiltskin argued, pointing back to the Djinn’s midair throne. “It must have had something magical that made it so you couldn’t hear me.”

“That… is a reasonable theory,” Sir Death said, but Rumpelstiltskin could tell the reaper was holding back. He knew that it was more than reasonable, but the imp decided not to push the issue. After weeks without company, Rumpelstiltskin was just grateful to have his friend back.

“Where do you think it went? The stone?”

“I do not know,” Sir Death admitted, sighing as he stared into the middle distance above the buried pyramid. “The Djinn made a point of that, but I am sure it will turn up again. An object like that has… permanence.”

“You know what it is, don’t you?” Rumpelstiltskin asked, taking the reaper’s hand and staring into the distance with him. That contact broke Sir Death’s vigil and he looked back down at the imp, but as Rumpelstiltskin maintained his forward perspective, the reaper surrendered to the same instinct.

“Not yet, but I have an idea,” he said, squeezing the imp’s hand before taking his scythe and carving a narrow line into the space in front of them. Brimming with warm light, Rumpelstiltskin realized something incredible was about to happen, that they were going to somewhere amazing, but something about it all seemed familiar.

“Where are we going, Sir Death?”

“I’m taking you out of this desert, child. We’ll just be using a… shortcut, of sorts.”

“It seems familiar,” Rumpelstiltskin commented under his breath, but the reaper at his side heard him clearly.

“It would. It will seem just like a dream,” Sir Death said as he stepped into the light, bringing Rumpelstiltskin with him. As the imp felt the light all around him, he remembered the feeling, the warmth, and for an instant realized why. Sir Death was only half right, and Rumpelstiltskin did not have the opportunity to wonder if that was intentional before it was all over. In the warmth of the Void, Rumpelstiltskin did not carry the burden of his curse.

Rumpelstiltskin got to feel like a little boy again, even if it felt like a dream upon waking.

Wanna read some more stories with Rumpelstiltskin? I'm steadily releasing them all on myAuthorpage.