There was no worse feeling, Chris thought, than waking up from a nightmare to find the most terrifying pair of eyes staring straight at you, and wishing you were still asleep, because at least in nightmares monsters couldn't actually hurt you.
Unfortunately for her, the bloodthirsty Genie leaning against her desk was very much real.
He had his arms crossed and wore a smirk on his face... which had changed, she realised as she blinked sleep away. His fine features had been replaced by a prominent jaw, and his hair now consisted of golden locks. The eyes were the same, though. Chris suppressed a shiver. "Did you feel the urgent need of an image change?"
"I tried to kill you thirteen times while you were asleep," he replied calmly. "First I tried to set your bed on fire. I tried to make the ceiling fall on you. I summoned one of those things you humans call guns and shot you with it. I went down to your kitchen, grabbed a knife and came back to stab you. I tried wringing your sheets around your neck. I tried to make your blood freeze. I tried to choke you with my own hands…"
Chris yawned, feigning indifference. None of those were worse than in her nightmare. "And it didn't work."
"No." His smirk wavered, betraying his frustration, before falling back into place again. "But I'll find the way, I promise."
She sat up on her bed and pretended to stretch to hide the fact that she was assessing the status of her body. Her muscles weren't sore. Bones not broken. Not a scratch on her skin. That meant his attempts really had no effect on her, she thought, and her mood lightened. Nothing made your day like good news right after waking up, either.
She opened her wardrobe and got out the first clothes her hands touched before heading to the bathroom. Lé followed her but she slammed the door shut in his face.
She found him downstairs again, seating on her chair, eating a slice of cold toast from her plate, and rolled her eyes. Was he trying to annoy her on purpose? What a stupid question. Of course he was. Sighing, she grabbed an apple and sat in front of him, nibbling on it thoughtfully.
"Funny guy, your dad," Lé remarked with his mouth full. "Came in at 2 a.m. Grabbed some papers. Left again. He didn't even go upstairs to check up on you."
"Did he see you?"
He stopped eating, apparently offended again. "Why would I bother making myself visible to him? No offense, but your dad means as much to me as a fart." She laughed, choking herself with her apple, and started coughing violently. Lé didn't move to help her. He just sat still, a hopeful expression on his face.
Finally Chris straightened up. "Sorry to disappoint. I'm still alive."
He grimaced. "I thought I'd gotten you. It's poisoned."
Chris glanced at the perfectly round, smooth fruit thoughtfully, twirling it between her fingers, then looked up at him, and, holding his gaze, she took a big, juicy bite. Lé's eyes lit up again, but the seconds trickled by and nothing happened. She smiled triumphantly. "It appears that your poisons don't work."
"They normally do."
She finished the apple in two more bites and got up from her chair. Swinging her bag over her shoulders, she went out the front door and started the walk to school. Lé trotted behind her, hands in the pockets of his hoodie. "Where did you leave the bottle?" he asked, out of curiosity more than anything else.
"Somewhere safe." Like she was going to tell him. Of course, she didn't doubt he could find out if he wanted to. But if he purposely annoyed her by eating her breakfast, then she would do the same. "Alright, Genie," she added. It was time to put an end to it. "I command you not to make any further attempts on my life from now on."
However, she realised she'd made a mistake when she glanced back and noticed the slow, malevolent smile spreading on his lips. Her heart jumped. Had she missed something? Did she not have the right to make demands that would carry out over time? Had she not been careful enough when phrasing it? Her palms started to sweat.
The silence stretched, but when he finally spoke, his voice was cruel and inhuman. "Do you think you have what it takes to bind me to a Complex Order?" A cold shiver of fear ran down her spine, but she made an effort not to show it. Something was wrong. A Complex Order? What did he mean?
She had screwed up. And it was going to cost her.
Lé remained silent during the rest of the walk, but he was barely able to contain his inner joy. Finally. Complex Orders were not a simple chain tied on one end to his wrist and on the other to hers. They were like the delicate web of a spider, a network of threads. A million interwoven ties of silk, so many a human's mind was unable to keep track of them all.
They were a Genie's heaven, because they overruled the Contract.
Immediately he started examining it for the loopholes that would no doubt be there. The first one was huge and obvious. Then there were many others that could be of use in different situations. He took note of them and classified them away for future use. Girl, he thought smugly, your tapestry is full of holes.
They arrived at her school. It was – well, not what he had expected. He'd assumed it would be the kind of luxurious private school all rich kids went to, but it was exactly the opposite. Big, dirty, and falling apart. Inside, the metal rings would probably be missing from the heaters, the walls would be full of obscene drawings and the desks and the chairs would all be dismantled. He wondered why her father would send her to a place like this.
By her smile, though, he guessed that this school was her own choice, for her own secret reasons. And sure enough, as they advanced through the schoolyard he started noticing the glances and the whispers following in her wake. Intrigued, he distanced himself a few steps from her, and marvelled at the general phenomenon her presence produced. It was like a circular ripple in the water, spreading through the crowd. He grinned. Quite the popular chick, wasn't she?
The bell rang. She didn't seem to mind his absence, so he took the privilege of staying outside while the throng of students headed indoors. There were a few minutes of utter chaos, but Lé simply floated above the rushing bodies like none of it was any of his concern (which, admittedly, it wasn't). Finally, the only ones left outside were groups of smokers lounging around who couldn't be bothered going to class.
He started inspecting them carefully. To his disappointment, they were just normal teenagers. Maybe a store thief here or there, but nothing more extreme than that. He was about to give up when he spotted a lone figure leaning against a dead tree. It was a guy, tall and bulky, with a tattoo of a dragon on his bare shoulder (tough, not to wear a jacket in this cold). He had a nose piercing.
In the whole hour that he watched, no one approached him. The guy just sat there, smoking. Making a decision, Lé took the appearance of a middle-aged, intimidating thug, and strolled over casually. "Yo, kid."
The guy looked up with a pair of very clear, almost eerie blue eyes, but didn't answer. Lé gestured to his cigarette. "You got any spare?"
He wordlessly handed him one and the lighter, and Lé sat down next to him, taking two big mouthfuls of the stuff before speaking. It was good. "You ever killed anybody, kid?" He certainly looked like he had.
The guy finally deigned to reply. "Sure. I threw Shivering Johnnie out a window last spring." Bingo. So that was why the others didn't approach him. Just to make sure, Lé forced his way into his mind, skipping past the memories of the youth prison, and saw that it was indeed true. He also saw that his name was Eric, and that he was still under conditional freedom. Damn.
"Tell me, Eric. Do you know who Christina Witherstone is?"
" 'Course. Everyone does." Eric didn't seem surprised at all that a stranger knew his name, nor did he show any signs of weariness. But, despite his relaxed appearance, his mind was guarded. Lé smiled inwardly.
"I'll pay you if you throw her out a window."
Eric's piercing eyes nailed on his with a dangerous glint, and a tense silence settled. For the first time Lé noticed the small Swiss knife spinning in the fingers of his other hand. The gesture unnerved him, as it reminded him of the way Chris liked to twirl the green bottle, but it meant good things: if Eric carried a knife around, he was probably used to using it. The Genie trailed his gaze back to his eyes.
Everything hung on the guy's personality. If he was the merciless, greedy thug with no morals Lé thought he was, then he could expect to be free within the week. If not, he'd have to find a deep addict to class A drugs or someone in a similarly desperate situation, and he wasn't feeling up to combing the city for those. The air hung still as they stared each other off.
Ha! The Genie grinned widely, putting a hand in the pocket of his hoodie and summoning what he considered to be a reasonable stack of bills before handing them over. "Double after the job's done."
Eric eyed the money sceptically. "Hardly worth going back to prison."
Lé chucked him another stack. As the guy seemed to be satisfied, he got up and started walking away. "Make sure it kills her." He disappeared behind a building and reverted back to his original, invisible form.
For once, luck did smile to him, he thought, his mood on sky-high levels. Eric wouldn't take long to make his move. The guy was perfect, with no scruples and an insatiable greed for money. In fact, Lé was so happy he started whistling.
His mood wasn't even affected by the fact that he had actually hired a human. Alright, it was; Lé had never known the feeling of powerlessness before, and being utterly unable to do anything by himself frustrated him to no end. Having to resort to a lowly human for help was a tremendous humiliation for a Genie, and even more for one of his status. Though it was nothing compared to the humiliation of being ordered around by her, which made it worth it.
Of course, there would be complications. He had to make sure not to be around while the murder took place, or she would force him to protect her. But if it all went smoothly, he'd be back home soon… And he'd have his revenge. His earlier frustration slowly churned into dark, violent feelings. He would make Yellie regret it, a thousand times over, same as every other fucking traitor in the Court.
The bell for break startled him out of his thoughts. Students started trickling out of the building in twos or threes. Once again, Lé floated above them aimlessly. He didn't feel the usual pull on his chains, which meant that Chris had no need for him at the moment, so he let himself drift wherever the wind carried him.
Soon he noticed that a significant crowd was gathering at one end of the courtyard, under a banner, 'Against the government cuts in education'; he approached, mildly curious. The sounds coming from a speaker reached his ears. "The Student Strike tomorrow..." He recognised the voice. In the centre of the crowd, standing on a chair, was Chris.
She noticed him floating, but didn't pause in her speech. "…I'm not the only one who's fucking fed up with the broken desks and torn books and violence in the corridors. I'm not the only one who's sick and tired with the teachers being inexplicably absent three times a week." Lé grinned.
"And I think we can afford giving up one school day to go down to the protest at the CBD. We can afford losing one school day to protect the rights, our rights, to a safe and fair education environment, which the public system is not. We can afford losing one day to make the old men up there see that we are not giving up, and that we will keep standing for our future and the generations coming after us." She paused, and even Lé could feel the expectation pulsing in the air. "What we cannot afford to do is waste the FORTY YEARS OF FIGHT FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION which have marked the beginning of Democracy, and which this rotten Government is destroying ONE BY ONE!"
In the middle of the applause she lowered her speaker and looked up at Lé, smiling. Lé smiled back, only feeling slightly guilty about his decision to rid the world of a potentially brilliant politician.
Chris got down from the chair and handed the speaker to another girl who started listing the specifics of the protest at the CBD. The Genie didn't take his eyes off her as she weaved her way through the crowd, receiving slaps in the back from the senior students and silent admiration from the juniors. The bell rang again, dispersing the remaining people until only she and her group of friends were left to tidy up their banner.
Eric still hadn't moved from under his tree, watching her through slit eyes as the knife kept spinning around his fingers.