The little imp furrowed its brow in a deep frown, the same frown it used when it tried to remember its full name or when the master asked it why it was late. It was a frown of painful confusion. This time the cause for its confusion was an object. A rusty, dented object that seemed useless by all standards. Still, it matched the description the master had given his diminutive servant, so it tucked the thing away in a hidden fold in its loincloth before scaling back up the wall and out of the window.
The imp hurried along past ramshackle houses and heaps of garbage without paying any attention to either. The two were interchangeable anyway. All it wanted to do was get its delivery done, have a well-earned meal of warm maggots and curl up on whatever corpse had supplied them. The life of an imp was simple: Serve, eat, sleep, repeat. It was enough for the imp, who very much preferred to keep things simple. Simple things always did what they were supposed to do and never asked hard questions like “What are you laughing at?” or “Where’s that wretched smell coming from?”
The imp didn’t know that the object it was carrying was no simple thing. What it also didn’t know was that the filthy fabric of its loincloth had been rubbing against the thing since the moment he had tucked it away there. It had almost forgotten it was there until the object started vibrating. The imp yelped in surprise and skidded to a halt, just barely avoiding collision with a barrel of rainwater nearly four times its size. The sudden jolt jerked the object from its hiding place, causing it to skid across the cobblestones until it came to a halt a few feet away.
The imp stalked closer, eying the thing suspiciously. Lying there on the rain soaked streets with the rest of the garbage it seemed normal, but now the imp knew it wasn’t. His master wouldn’t send it out to retrieve any ordinary piece of trash, and the strange vibrations had definitely confirmed that. Carefully a bony finger was extended, and the imp wagged its tail nervously as it crept closer and closer. Finally, after what seemed like hours, they made contact. And that’s when all hell (and the imp had seen a lot of that) seemed to break loose.
A thick cloud of smoke spewed forth from some unseen opening in the bent lump of metal, filling the alley and blocking it from sight. The imp was just about to reminded of home by the sulfurous smell when it heard a cold but cheerful chuckle. “You’d think the feeling gets old, but damn it feels good to be able to stretch my legs again.”
The imp just barely heard it, it had already bolted. Smoke wasn’t supposed to talk and trash wasn’t supposed to produce smoke. The thick stuff filled its lungs, causing them to ache, but the imp was used to much worse so it kept running. “It’s no use you know… it won’t let you go until you’ve done your duty as the new master.”
Master? Now there was a novel thought. Imps were bred to serve, and this imp more so than most. Still, it seemed like the smoke was only getting thicker, so after a while the imp decided to give up it’s attempts to escape. “Master…?”
“Of course, by the standards of my contract you will now be my master.” At that moment seemingly out of nowhere several feet of parchment erupted from out of nowhere, snaking around the imp a few times before coming to a rest at a convenient reading distance. Of course the imp couldn’t read, so he had to take the voice’s word for it. “Who… who you?”
Again the cold chuckle. “Why… I am the jinn of the ashtray, haven’t you heard of me? I really need to get a better publicist, it’s only been what? Two centuries since I got tucked away?”
The imp felt overwhelmed by the concept of living more than two or three years, so overwhelmed that he nearly missed the rest of what the jinn had said. Still, something wasn’t right. “Ashtray? No lamp?”
The chuckle came again, but a lot less merrily this time. “Bad real-estate agent I’m afraid… besides, the lamp market hasn’t exactly been very stable for the past few millennia… Anyway, where are my manners? I almost forgot…”
Before the imp’s eyes, the thick smoke began to coalesce into a single shape. The thick strands were retracted, and the alley came back into view. It remained for a moment as a shapeless grey mass until it began to shift again, sprouting arms, legs, and finally a head. A round, bald head that was dominated by a wide toothed grin set beneath small, beady eyes and a flat nose. Its skin had taken the green colour of corroding copper. Floating about two feet of the ground was what appeared to be a fat little child dressed in a riot of brightly coloured silks, although the head didn’t quite match. Before the imp could say anything, the child-jinn bent down to pick up what was supposed to be an ashtray. The imp heard him mutter something along the lines of “this won’t do” before a bright flash of light blinded him. When the last of the black spots had been blinked away, the jinn was holding what appeared to be a simple but well-crafted silver ashtray, which it held out to the imp. Dumbfounded the little creature accepted it, not sure what else to do. Luckily, the jinn seemed more than happy to take the initiative, hovering closer and looking the imp directly in the eyes. “So… let’s get down to business, shall we? My name is ibn-Aravi, but most masters seem to think that simply ‘jinn’ will do, so I will accept that too. What is your name, my… diminutive master?”
Difficult question. Bad difficult question. The imp furrowed his brow in confusion. “My name… Ghrok… Ghrok… Ghrokila… just Ghrok.”
An amused look passed over the jinn’s face, and he was visually struggling to repress another giggle. “Very well then, Ghrok, let’s talk business. Before we can continue, I need you to sign this.” The jinn clapped his hands, and the long scroll from earlier reappeared, but this time it was the end that was hovering in front of the imp. “Please sign on the dotted line…”
The imp was about to open his mouth when he felt a quill appear in his hand, dripping with ink. His hand trembled slightly as he brought it up, drawing a jagged X. The jinn reeled in the scroll and inspected the signature. “Very well, I suppose this will have to do… Now then, on to business, what is your first wish, master Ghrok?”
Ghrok thought about it for a few seconds, which was quite impressive for a creature that considered thinking to be hard labour. Wish? What should he wish for? There had to be something… something he had always wanted… Of course there was! How silly of Ghrok! “Ghrok wanna be biggest imp ever!”
The jinn chuckled once again, folded his hands over his sagging belly, and gave a short nod. The blow almost sent the imp flying. It could feel its muscles ripple, its bones twist and extend, its organs swell to fill the newly created room. It wanted to scream but found it couldn’t. When the painful transformation was finally over, Ghrok was standing a mighty two feet tall. The imp glanced down at the ground behind him, nearly losing his balance. Finally he managed to shift his eyes back to the jinn, who was patiently waiting. “What’s your second wish, master Ghrok?”
The imp struggled to think again, which was a lot harder now because its mind was still trying to grasp the consequences of the transformation he had just undergone. Finally he shrugged and gave up. “I… I think… I dunno…”
The jinn let out a tired sigh, trying his best to remain looking cheerful. He didn’t suffer fools lightly, which was very inconvenient in his line of work, especially if your master was a creature bred to understand only simple commands. “Proper jinn-master relationship ethics dictate that you send me back to my lamp- my ashtray if you don’t require my services… just rub it again if you need me… Or just make your wish, I can hear you just fine from inside.”
And with that, the jinn transformed back into his smoky form, which rushed back into the ashtray. The imp, still confused and disoriented from the encounter, tucked the silver object away again. It stood there for a few more minutes before an awful truth rushed up on it. Master! He was supposed to deliver the ashtray to his master! He would be late! Master would amputate his tail again! Immediately the imp pelted down the crooked alleyways, hoping he would be back in time to avoid punishment.
The master’s tower was an impressive thing, towering over the ruined section of the city it was standing in. Of course it was dwarfed by the structures of the central city, but on its own it was mighty. The imp scrambled up the spiraling staircase. The master would be waiting for it in his study all the way on the top floor. By the time the imp reached the floor it was panting, lungs aching with exertion, but it was still alert enough to dodge the howling projectile that came flying at it. It ducked just in time to send the projectile, judging from the high-pitched wailing one of its siblings, crashing into the wall in stead of itself. The little thing groaned and didn’t get up. Ghrok let out a whimper. The master was not in a good mood. The imp took a step forward to check up on its kindred. It got no further than that. A multihued fireball burst forth from the open door, engulfing the unfortunate imp that had just been hurled through the same opening in bright flames. The rushing inferno almost drowned out the target’s last screams of agony. When the magical blaze cleared, only a small, imp-shaped pile of soot remained.
“Master is mean… I wish I stomp master…” The imp had barely spoken the words when the ashtray in its loincloth vibrated briefly. It yelped and scrambled backwards, but the jinn didn’t seem to appear. A few moments, just enough to gather its nerves, and the imp stepped forward, into its master’s study. Carefully he called out. “Master…?”
Nothing, no response, but master had to be here. The blazing demise of its sibling had told the imp that much. He continued on. As it stepped, the sound of creaking floorboards caught its ears. The sound puzzled the imp, it was something that didn’t belong to such a well-built study. The creature stopped walking forward. The creaking didn’t stop. Puzzled, the imp glanced around, first to the left and right, then up. Then down. There was master, standing at his toes, screaming and yelling and tall enough to fit one’s pocket. Stomp… master… The imp lifted a foot, which was now enormous by imp standards. It came down fast, but not fast enough. The master had raised his arms, squeaked something in an ancient arcane language, and launched a spell. A spell that streaked upwards at the foot, a spell that impacted in a puff of smoke and feathers. The intended impact of imp on Little person never came. What did come was the impact of chicken on floor. Chicken with about three quarters of imp attached. Before Ghrok could adjust, the chicken clucked loudly and lurched forward, dragging the rest of the unfortunate chicken-legged imp down to the floor. The imp wasn’t strong enough to drag it forward, and after a brief struggle it managed to get back up again. Something stuck to the back of its head. The imp brought a paw up against it and pulled it away. Red, sticky. With a shred of a colourful robe. It hadn’t been a stomp, but it was good enough. Master was stomped… in a way. The imp shrugged. No more master, no more serving… eating was next then. Carefully it limped towards the stairs, one leg clucking with every step.
After a few minutes of embarrassed limping past all the master’s other servants the imp reached the door. They didn’t know yet, and it wasn’t about to tell them. Some of them genuinely liked master, and it didn’t know what they’d do. No. Now life was just eating and sleeping. Eating first. And eating would be easy now. It still had the ashtray. Carefully he pulled it from its loincloth, gently rubbing it. Almost immediately the jinn burst forth again with the familiar cackle. “Master? You needed something?”
Ghrok smiled and nodded enthusiastically. “I wish food… lots of food…”
The jinn nodded, grinning as always. “Lots… of food? I can do that. What kind?”
“Always maggots… I wish maggots, heap of maggots, great big heap of maggots!”
The jinn smiled broadly and nodded again, twiddling it thumbs. “Very well then, your third wish ends our contract… enjoy…” And with that, it was gone, and so was the ashtray in the imps hand. The creature stared at its empty paw, completely puzzled, completely oblivious to the fact that all around it, the city held its collective breath, watching the large indistinguishable mass of white writhing things loom up like a tidal wave, almost blocking out the sun as it reached its apex. Then gravity took hold, and it started toppling forward.