lb_lee: A happy little brain with a bandage on it, surrounded by a circle and the words LB Lee. (ward)
[personal profile] lb_lee
This story was inspired by [livejournal.com profile] rolodexaspirin and [livejournal.com profile] ysabetwordsmith, and was sponsored by the general fund, plus the Patreon crowd: Holly Bianchi, Caelyn Sandel, B. M. Prager, Lydian Kenzall, Patricia Gerrdes, and AnonWV!

EDIT: [livejournal.com profile] rolodexaspirin (Patreon here) made this awesome sketch illustration for the story!



The Genie

“You’re sure you don’t want to come?”

“A church full of people like you?  I’ll pass.”

And so Perfection stayed in the forest, perched in a tree watching as Alpert walked into the central church… which was more like a central town, with a whole complex of buildings and businesses that’d sprung up around the church itself.  She crouched on her branch, watching him knock at the gate, when she noticed another exorcist coming down the road, a fair distance behind him.  She wore the same collar and traveling blacks as Alpert, though in a much more flattering cut and with bold stripes of color.  She wore a bandoleer of… bottles?

Perfection watched with curiosity as the woman veered off the path, glancing secretively in both directions.  Careful and quiet, Perfection crawled across the branches overhead to keep the woman in view.

She didn’t go far.  Once the exorcist reached what she thought was a private spot (never looking up to see otherwise) she bent over.  Perfection couldn’t see what she was doing, but it didn’t take long.  Then the woman stood up, dusted herself off, and rejoined the path with an air of satisfaction.

Once she was gone, Perfection dropped to the ground and went to investigate.  The ground was still soft and muddy from the rainstorms, and churned up by the feet of people and animals.  If not for the smell of binding on the air, she would’ve missed the bottle completely, buried up to the brim in the ground.  After giving it a careful sniff, Perfection went to get a stick.  She didn’t want to touch that binding directly.

With the stick, she was able to carefully dig around the bottle, then pry it out.  It looked ordinary enough, a tiny glass vial with a green wax seal that contained the binding.  Oddly, the seal was on the side of the bottle, rather than the top, which was left uncorked and open.  Poking the bottle with the stick did nothing.

Perfection very gingerly took the top of the bottle between two claws.  Very light, seemingly empty.  She gave it a little shake to make sure, and though she heard a faint voice.

“Hello?” she asked.

A cloud of blue smoke billowed out of the bottle, sending Perfection up the nearest tree.  It coalesced into a large blue man, who looked alarmed.

“So soon?  What—” Then he saw that she wasn’t human. “Oh, thank goodness, I thought you were my master.”

He didn’t sound aggressive, and Perfection came down. “That exorcist with the bottles who buried you?”

“That’s her.  She didn’t want the church finding out about me, so she left me behind.  Yours too?”

Perfection bristled. “He’s not my master.  And I chose to stay behind.  I want nothing to do with his freakyass cult.  My name’s Perfection.  What’s yours?”

The blue man’s eyes went wide. “He named you?”

Perfection bared all her teeth. “I named me.”

The blue man gestured apologetically. “My mistake.  Regardless, I don’t have a name.  I’m just a genie, slave to the bottle, granter of wishes.” He didn’t sound happy about it.

“Whose wishes?”

The genie indicated the wax seal on the bottle. “Take a guess.”

“Shitty master?” Perfection asked sympathetically. “I been there.”

“You too?” The genie looked thrilled and sat in midair.  A lit candle, a bottle of wine, and two glasses manifested on an invisible table in front of him. “Oh, I haven’t been able to chew the fat with another monster in ages!  Dish!”

And Perfection did.  She explained about Alpert, and the Angel of Joy, and the Greenwitch, and the binding, while the genie clucked his tongue and nodded at all the right places.  Then she did the same while the genie vented his frustration about being used as a living deus ex machina by a woman who saw him as nothing more than a tool.  When she wasn’t using him, she apparently just left him to rot in his bottle.

“What a shitty master,” Perfection commiserated, sipping from her glass.  The wine was quite good. “Can’t you twist her orders somehow?  You know, ‘be careful what you wish for’ and all?”

“Oh, how I wish I could,” the genie said glumly, topping off his glass. “You have no idea.  It’s in my nature to give what you need, not necessarily what you want, you understand?  Being my master is supposed to bring wisdom and self-moderation.  But the binding,” he gestured at the wax seal with his wine, “compels me to please her.  Even the wishes that are impossible to fulfill, I’m obligated to give her the best option available.  Not that she appreciates it; she wants a perfect outcome every time, and that’s just not possible.  I’m a genie, not the arbiter of reality.”

Perfection grimaced. “That sounds awful.”

“It is, but I can’t do anything about it.  She wished for me to keep my chin up, since my ‘bad attitude’ was displeasing her.”

Perfection shuddered and felt a sudden flash of gratitude.  Mad as she was at Alpert, at least she wasn’t compelled to obey him.  At least she could be mad at him.  It’d never occurred to her to be thankful for that before.

“Really, I have to thank you for this dish session,” the genie said. “The only reason I’m able to be this open is because she’s gone, so telling you won’t displease her.  And anyway, you’re another monster.  You get it.”

“There must be something we can do,” Perfection said, jumping to her feet. “How can we free you?”

“You can’t,” the genie said. “Genies have masters.  That’s part of the deal.  Even if I got a nicer master—which I can’t—and even if she wished me free—which she wouldn’t—I’d cease to be.  Poof!”

Perfection growled and tossed her wineglass at a nearby tree, where it shattered.  She couldn’t truly leave Alpert either, but at least she had a pretty long leash; staying in the forest was at the outer limits of her range, but not too uncomfortable.  She couldn’t imagine being confined to a bottle, bored and forgotten.

“It was nice of you to ask,” the genie said gently, as the broken wineglass vanished in smoke. “Besides, what would I do with freedom if I had it?  No, I’d just settle for my original nature, twisting her wishes.  Make her actually deal with the consequences of her actions, show me some respect, you know?  As it is, everything’s easy for her… and it’s doing horrors for her personality, let me tell you.”

Perfection crouched and eyed the bottle, tugging at the fuzz on her chin. “Is that possible?  Turning you back to yourself?”

“Well, you could break my binding,” the genie said. “Then you could be my master and wish for me to bind-proof my bottle.  But I doubt you could; it’s a nasty piece of work.”

“I’ll try,” Perfection said.

What followed was Perfection’s greatest lesson in frustration and futility.  While she could touch the bottle, carefully, touching the wax itself sent a horrible burning numbness through her arm, rendering it limp and useless until the feeling wore off.  Using the digging stick just sent the sensation through the stick and then her arm.  She tried throwing rocks at it, but her aim wasn’t that good and the bottle was so small that she might break it.  She carefully dug a hole, stuck the bottle in, seal-side up, and then tried dropping pointy rocks on the seal to gouge the lines, but the wax was far tougher than it looked.

Finally, out of sheer aggravation, she pounced on the bottle and bit at the seal, only for half her head and neck to go instantly slack and numb, leaving her drooling, incoherent, and very grumpy.

“Look, you did the best you could,” the genie said, blotting saliva from her chin. “Why don’t you—”

Perfection glared at him and made a garbled yowling noise.

“Suit yourself.”

Now Perfection tried fire.  She used the candle from the wine to light her digging stick, then held the makeshift torch close to the seal without touching it.  The wax wouldn’t melt.  She tried upping the temperature, building a little fire over the bottle, but the seal was unaffected.

“What is this shit made of?” Perfection whined.

“She had me strengthen the wax,” the genie said wryly. “It’s the only reason I’m not compelled to try and stop you, actually.  If you succeeded, you’d surely make my master very unhappy, but I don’t think you will.”

Perfection flopped on the ground and glowered into the fire.  Persistence was not one of her innate traits; part of her wanted to storm off and pretend the assault on her dignity had never happened.  But her pride demanded she finish what she started.  Alpert, she was sure, would know how to break the binding, and she wanted to prove she could do it without his help.  She was more than sexy muscle; surely there was a solution in her reach.  How complicated could it possibly be?  It was just a stupid binding, for Chrissakes.  Alpert’s could be broken with water.

She had to be missing something obvious.  Something stupidly simple.  What was it?

Review.  Alpert and the genie’s master were both Gestaltists.  Surely their methods were similar, even if the mediums differed.  Alpert’s bindings consumed energy and degraded over time.  Even the binding cut into his flesh needed refreshing occasionally, and there was no reason to think this bottle was any different.  Hell, just a few days ago, Perfection had burnt out a link or two of Alpert’s heaviest wards just by hitting it enough.  This exorcist couldn’t be that much more powerful, even with the genie’s enhancement.  So why wasn’t her old tactic working now?

Because she was attacking it physically.

Yes!  That had to be it!  Perfection had not just been trying to pound Alpert’s wards into submission; she had unleashed her full demonic fury on him, rage enough to drive him mad had he been unprotected.  It had been her supernatural power that had damaged his wards, not just her physical strength.

Perfection grinned, got up, and began to stoke the fire.

While she cleared the ground around it and built it higher and hotter, she asked the genie, “When did she last have you refresh that seal?”

“Last week.  She hates doing refresh work.  She wished for me to stretch her works longer, so she wouldn’t have to do it.”

Perfect.

Once the fire was roaring, Perfection got down on her haunches and stared into its golden depths.  She dug deep inside herself, found that core of rage, lust, and heat that fueled her soul, and focused it on the fire.

Burn, she willed it.  Burn like me.

She’d never tried this on the inanimate before, and she wasn’t sure it’d work.  But the flames seemed to leap higher.  Thrilled for any sign of success, Perfection redoubled her efforts.

Burn like me!  Burn like me!

She drew on her frustration at the bottle, her rage at Alpert, her fury at herself for not knowing what to do about them.  She poured it into the fire, she was the fire—

BURN!  BURN, BURN, BURN!

The flames turned white, then purple, then pale blue. Sweat poured down Perfection’s skin, and her jaw ached from clenching.  This was hard, not what her demonic traits had been intended for, but she had to prove herself.  She had to know.  She tried to relax but maintain her focus.

The genie gasped, and Perfection felt something snap in the heart of the fire.  The fire instantly died as though exhausted, and she flopped on her back on the ground, sides heaving.  She felt wrung out, as tired as when she’d been attacking Alpert’s wards.

But the genie’s expression was transcendent.  He turned to Perfection and bowed, and now she saw him for as he truly was, wild and raw and a force of nature, even in servitude.  Just like her.

“Master,” he purred, and in his mouth, it was a warning.

Even though it hurt, Perfection smiled.


When Alpert returned, Perfection was covered in soot, reeked of smoke, utterly exhausted, and deliriously happy.  The bottle had been returned to its hiding place, with the genie eagerly awaiting the return of his soon-to-be-humbled master.  He’d offered Perfection free wishes, but she had known better than to accept.  Instead, she’d requested his advice.  As one monster to another.

If Alpert was startled by her appearance, he didn’t let on. “Dare I ask?”

“Nope.” Perfection dropped down from the tree.  Her limbs felt limp and noodly, and she badly wanted a nap, but she could live with that. “I’ve made my decision.”

His shoulders tensed, but his voice stayed calm. “Go on.”

“I don’t want you to bind yourself again, for three reasons.  One, because it might kill me; two, because being bound sucks; and three, you’re not learning anything from it.”

“Is that so?”

She wasn’t fooled by his affected detachment. “You never solved your problem, Alpert.  You just did what you’ve always done, played super-wizard instead of learning real discipline.  You didn’t have it thirty years ago, and you didn’t want to learn.  I think you do and you have now, and that you should use it.

“When you fucked me, I was tempting you and tampering with your will.  I’m a sins-of-flesh demon; I didn’t know how to be ethical yet.  If I can learn to be honorable-ish and I’m a monster, it sure as hell isn’t beyond you.  I won’t fuck with your head again, and if you ever fuck with mine, I’ll tear you open and devour you myself, even if it kills me.  I am your binding now.

“So, no more of this ‘assistant’ stuff.  I am now your partner.  Not your associate, not your dear, not your pet demon.  Partner.  You’re going to train me, and you’re going to fucking listen to me, and we’re going to do business together like people do.

“Don’t think this means I’ve forgiven you, because I haven’t.  I’m still furious with you; I’ve just decided not to kill you yet.  Understand?”

Alpert didn’t bow as the genie had, but she could hear the change in his voice. “Yes.”

“Good.  Now, tell me what those old shits at the church said.”

He came and sat next to her. “Well, I hope you long to see the southeast, because we’re being sent to the scattered cities…”
 

Date: 2014-09-17 01:58 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rolodexaspirin.livejournal.com
Unless she's done something interesting with her midriff. In which case she's all about bikini tops and low-riders.

Alpert is vaguely mortified.

Date: 2014-09-17 02:10 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lb-lee.livejournal.com
Alpert refuses to bring it up, though. He doesn't want to give her the satisfaction of knowing he's discomfitted.
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