Note: Naturally, this should only be read after Favors-Part One
Colonel Arjmand wasn't sure he made the right choice. Granted, it was either using the talisman or certain death, but the latter seemed like a more attractive option with every passing moment.
He was standing in a lavishly furnished dining room, surrounded by plump, richly dressed men, each wearing a different bizarre hat. One of them, sporting a hat that Arjmand was sure was made to look like two goats fornicating, approached Arjmand with a huge, smug grin on his face.
"Captain Arjmand!" The fat man said, intentionally getting his rank wrong, "How pleasant it is to see you here again! What brings you to the demesne of the Djinn today?"
Arjmand loathed the Djinn. The very idea of dealing with them was an affront to God, to decency, and, frankly, to common sense. The Djinn fancied themselves traders, honest businessmen, but they were much more similar to loan sharks. Behind that jovial, colorful facade lay a mind like a razor, and Arjmand knew he wasn't leaving without getting thoroughly sliced by it.
"You know damn well what I'm here for, spirit! I know you keep a close eye on items like the one I was searching. Those pigs from the Foundation got the drop on me, and I need to repay them. With interest."
The Djinn smiled warmly at him, and produced a notebook from the folds of his robe. Arjmand shivered. People always spoke of the terrible powers of the Djinn, but they rarely mentioned their complete mastery over numbers, real or imaginary.
"Hmm, let us see," The Djinn peered at the notebook, now filled with page upon page of numbers. "Carry the one, reduce a week for bulk discount, add four months for multiple assailants…I would say you'll need one year of condensed time to deal with them and stay alive, in a reasonable condition."
Arjmand relaxed a little—a year wasn't so bad, he could live with that. The Djinn wasn't done, however.
"Of course, there is the matter of our commission. Let's see…stun removal, conversation fees, regeneration overload prevention, instant death fail-safe, friction nullifiers…that comes to five years overall."
"Five years!? That's ludicrous! It's highway robbery!"
The Djinn flashed his wide smile again, but there was nothing warm in it this time. "Come now, no Djinn would be caught dead on a highway. Five years, or no deal."
Arjmand sighed. "If I give you five years, you guarantee I'll be able to dispose of those who attacked me?"
"Of course. You know our word is good."
The Djinn placed a thick finger on the talisman still around Arjmand's neck, which started to emit a steady argent glow. Most of the silvery light flowed to the Djinn, who's grin could now only barely be contained by his puffy cheeks. Some of it, however, stayed in the talisman. And grew brighter.
"It is done."
Despite himself, and despite the knowledge he just lost five years of his life, Arjmand answered the Djinn's smile with one of his own.
"Yes. And so are they."
Agent Gladstone couldn't help but winch at the sound of gunshot. When he told his men to neutralize the stunned Iranians, they knew what he meant. It was dirty work, but he couldn't risk them following his team on the way out. Overall, things went surprisingly well for the Mirth Busters.
"Colt, go check on their commander. I want to question him before we get rid of him."
"Got it, Sir."
With this, Gladstone began looking for the object. The great stone hall with its great pillars and columns would take ages to properly search, but now, with the Iranians gone, they had all the time in the world. Maybe the Iranians already found the object. Their commander would know.
"Colt, what's taking so long?"
No reply. Gladstone turned to find the commander's body gone, and replacing it was Colt's, his throat crushed.
"Defensive positions! We got a possible Zero-Thirteen scenario on our hands! Backs against a wall, now!"
Well, so much for things going well.
Colonel Arjmand hid behind one of the great pillars, having used three days' worth of strength and speed of his condensed year to crush the soldier's throat and escape unseen. He could feel time leaking out of him, a few minutes for each second- the human body was never meant to hold so much time at once. He knew he needed to act fast, lest he won't have enough time time left to finish the rest of them—their commander was already ordering a defensive position, and he would have to spend a lot more time to penetrate it. He knew his sidearm would be entirely unreliable under the influence of the Djinn's talisman, so hand-to-hand was the only option. The entire affair was giving him a headache. Damn the Djinn and their temporal nonsense.
Arjmand considered his options. With his sloppy control, it would take at least two weeks worth of time to pick one of the soldiers off and just barely avoid the hail of bullets that would follow. There were fifteen of them. With him leaking time all over the place, and his muscles already aching from the abuse of using them in such a careless manner, he knew he had no chance to win using strength and speed alone. Luckily, even a novice like him could use concentrated time in other ways. While he was protected from some of the more horrid effects of the Djinn's intervention, the soldiers were not.
Gathering two hundred days of concentrated time all at once, and leaking time everywhere, Arjmand charged. The moment he left his cover, the soldiers spotted him and opened fire, but he was moving at such speed the bullets seemed to barely move as they floated lazily in the air. He knew he couldn't maintain this speed for very long- he already ate through months of speed, and his muscles screamed in protest. Luckily, he didn't need to. As he reached the first of the soldiers, he placed a finger on the man's forehead. Using the time leaking out of him to his advantage, Arjmand forced three weeks of wakefulness into the man's brain. Without the Djinn failsafe to protect him, the soldier collapsed immediately, suffering the equivalent of three weeks without sleep. With blinding speed, Arjmand turned and elbowed another soldier in the stomach, sending him flying across the hall.
Arjmand was beginning to enjoy himself, despite the enormous temporal pressure his body was under. In less then thirty seconds, or several months of concentrated time, ten of the fifteen soldiers were down, out cold or dead. Arjmand accelerated the air flow in the lungs of one of the survivors, causing the friction to burn the man's lunges to cinders. Another had his bladder and intestines explode, caving in under the pressure of a month of waste that wasn't there moments before. This was true power, Arjmand thought, this was glory! He laughed as he ripped the guns from the hands of the surviving men, casting them aside. It was time to finish this. He was going to enjoy this, oh yes.
A sudden shock of pain in his back brought his euphoria to a sharp end. Turning around, he saw a figure in grey holding one of the discarded rifles. He gathered what little remained of his time and tried to rush to it, but the figure was somehow too fast, even for him. Three more shots, and Arjmand felt himself falling, as slow as a feather, as heavy as a tombstone.
"You promised there would be enough time…you said I could kill those who attacked me…"
"And we kept our word. You never mentioned the man hiding behind that corner."
Arjmand would have cursed the traitorous bastards, but he just felt so very tired…
Colonel Abtin Arjmand's time had run out.
Agent Gladstone, nursing a broken arm, was gazing sullenly at what remained of his task force. Over half his men were dead, and of the rest, only three were in any sort of fighting condition, including himself. Of course, there was also the man in grey, who was at the moment checking the dead colonel's body for something, while taking care to keep his weapon pointed firmly on Gladstone and his men.
"Huh, would you look at that," the man in grey said, removing a silver necklace for the colonel's corpse. "It seems like this trip wasn't a complete waste of time after all."
"Yeah, I'm real happy for you."
"Come now, no need to be like that. I did just save your lives."
"Oh yes, and I'm sure you didn't wait until most of my men were disposed of before acting on purpose. You must have been busy building an orphanage for the blind behind that corner."
The man in grey just shrugged and turned to leave. "I would advise you to wait an hour or so before making your way back to your rendezvous point. The good colonel here didn't come alone. Oh, I've almost forgotten," he produced what seemed to be an ancient toy. "Are you a father, agent?"
Gladstone shook his head. "Good, then it should be safe for you to handle this. I believe this is what the Iranians were looking for." He tossed the toy to Gladstone, who awkwardly caught it with his good hand. Then, he threw his rifle away and stepped out of the stone hall's mirage doors. Gladstone, without a moment hesitation, recovered the gun and went after him. He'd be damned if he let the smug bastard get away with a possible SCP object. The desert sands were blowing outside, as the sun was beginning to set on the salt flats. Of the man in grey, there was no sign.
As the dry and salty desert air began to smell of rain, the man in grey knew he was out of harm's way. passing the corner of what seemed to be an abandoned butcher shop, he sank to the floor and wiped the sweat from his forehead. He seemed to have misplaced his hat, which annoyed him.
A fortunate turn of events. The talisman of the Djinn could speed the growth of the Maker's chainfruit. They are creatures of avarice, but they will serve.
He hated talking to the Breath without his Gem of Aspects. Ever since he was forced to give the Gordian Stone away by the Breath's own instructions, his ability to discern which of its aspects was currently dominant was much reduced. This sounded like the Mind, but it could have been the Eye or the Mouth just as easily. The Breath was a solid, impenetrable storm front now, and trying to have a conversation with it was like trying to fly a kite in a Jovian maelstrom.
The others are stirring. The Pulse has attained powerful tools already, and the rest are not far behind. The fruit will be needed. Acquire the services of the Djinn.
He knew there were other Gems out there, like the Pulse's stone, but he had no way of knowing where they were. Besides, he knew the Breath did everything for a reason, and the blasted thing must not have wanted him to have one anymore.
Do not tarry.
With a sigh, the man in grey twisted the talisman, and the dirty butcher shop was replaced by lavish dining hall, all ivory and gold. An enormous man, wearing a hat which could not be described in civilized company, rose from a cushion and waddled towards him, a wide grin on his face.
"A new customer, how pleasant! Welcome to the demesne of the Djinn, my good man. Are you here to trade? We have such marvelous wonders waiting for you, and all for just a humble price of time."
"I'm sorry, but all my time is already in the possession of another. No, I'm simply here to take a few years of concentrated time. Twenty-five or so should suffice."
The grin vanished. "If you have no time to trade for it, we have nothing further to discuss."
The Djinn began making his way back to his cushion, and, feeling a rush of air at his back, dived just in time to avoid a large stone bust colliding with his skull. Turning, he saw the man in grey was standing in the midst of a swirling mass of air, which was rapidly reducing the dining hall into piles of expensive rubble. The Djinn, with surprising agility for a man of his size, accelerated his movement and smashed into the interloper with the force of two centuries, but found that all of his time simply vanished into the air flow around the man. Later the Djinn understood why—the thing was so old, two hundred years were nothing more than a quick lunch break for it.
"Who are you?"
The man in grey felt himself disappearing, fading into the gathering storm, and the Breath of the World, sometimes known as the Wind in the West, the sum of humanity's secrets, considered the question for a moment.