In the Nick of Time in a Bottle

((Shadrazar, Zatar))

In the alley overlooking the Grand Temple to Ar, Orla and Ola stood worriedly waiting for Reise and Severos to come back. Each took turns peeking around the corner to see if they might catch sight of their friends returning from their insanely dangerous incursion into the high secure building that sprawled for over three city blocks and was protected by swarms of soldiers and guards.

“Do you think they're okay?” Ola asked, doing a little spin on her heels. “They’ve been gone for a while now. I'd hate to have to get a new master already. Reise is so cute, don't you think?”

Just as she asked the question she spotted an intimidating band of warriors headed for the temple that then brazenly launched a blitz attack on the outer guards, cutting down scores of them who they took by complete surprise. As men fell and blood splatters shot through the air, Ola quickly made her way back to Orla.

“What is the matter?” Orla asked as the genie rushed past and immediately began struggling to move an old wooden crate slightly away from the alley wall, creating a space not enough to crawl behind and hide but enough for her to place her bottle out of sight.

“I gots me a bad feeling about this,” Ola answered hurriedly.

“Found... you!” a voice said with a sing-song squawk.

Orla looked up to see a large kenku flapping its black featured wings and circling overhead. The crow humanoid was as tall as an average man and built like a big barbarian of the north. He wore thick armor and had a halberd in his claws, looking somehow both terrifying and ridiculous at the same time.

“Hey, Vaggs!” he called out to another of the psychopathic bounty hunters. “Over here! I found the two wenches that were with him!”

“Well, well, well, lookie what we got here!” the orc said with glee as he came running over with a horrible grin, his green muscled body so wide it nearly blocked the light from the alley's entrance.

The Kenku cackled. “Let's cut their little heads off and then roll them down the temple corridors like bocce stones! That'll really freak Mr. Tough Guy out!”

“I like the way you think, Ickle!” the orc said with a laugh and he charged at the two small women with his blood-stained axe raised high.

Wide-eyed in terror, Orla prepared to swiftly take flight, but before she could summon her wings Ola collided into her.

“I hope you trust me, Orla,” the genie said, grasping her in a hug just as the kenku swooped down from the air with its halberd swinging, beating the orc to them by a couple of seconds.

There was a flash and the next thing Orla felt was cool air and a falling sensation. The next thing after that she saw was the ground fast approaching, a veritable technicolor terrafirma spread out beneath her. She landed with a soft plop and sank deeply into the ‘ground’ that consisted of nothing but piles and piles of multicoloured cushions of various shapes and sizes.

“IT WORKED!” Ola whooped laughing hysterically and popping free from under the plush floor and sending a few of the pillows and cushions flying, before reaching down and digging Orla out from them all.

Pulling herself free from the plush clutter with Ola’s help, Orla took in the strange room that filled her vision. It was a round chamber, not very large, probably only as big inside as the shopping area was in Horo's old shop in Dalen. But it was tall. She could see the cylindrical shaped ceiling tapered near the top about fifteen metres high. The surrounding sloping ribbed walls seemed made of ornamented stained glass in several shades of lavender, blue, and gold.

“Ola, where are we?” Orla asked, looking around with her mouth open.

“Can’t you guess? Inside my bottle, silly,” Ola responded as she waded through a sea of pillows towards a plush sofa sitting against one glass wall. “With those two misfits trying to kill us I thought it'd be a smart idea to jump us inside where we'd be safe. Since you're a half corporeal magical being like me I figured it'd probably work.”

“Probably?” Orla said, frowning at that. “And if it didn’t?”

Ola turned to look at Orla. “Well…” she paused for a bit too long, as if contemplating all the many unpleasant possibilities. “Well... it did work, right? It totally worked. You arrived safe and sound in my sanctum sanctorum. So best not think too hard about the what if’s.” Letting out a forced laugh, the genie turned back around and with some difficulty continued through the waist-deep mounds of cushions that threatened to swallow her. “Sorry about all these,” she said, picking up one pillow and throwing it to the side. “I kept making them until there were too many and I realised I couldn't unmake them for some funny reason.”

The genie gave a half-mad laugh. “But like I said, we're out of harm's way unless those two oafs find my bottle and smash it. That would kill us. A lot of genies have died that way and why there aren’t as many of us around any more. But I hid the bottle behind that crate in the alley so there is no way those idiots will ever guess that's where the two of us went. That stupid bird brain probably thinks he vaporised us with his sword. Yeah, I bet he thinks he did. Would you like anything to drink?” Ola asked, changing the unpleasant subject to a pleasant one as she reached a liquor cabinet and opened the brown glass doors. “I've got so many bottles in my bottle: wine, brandy, mead, vodka. But I can just conjure up whatever you want. Tea, coffee, absinthe? Ooh, do you want some absinthe? It's green!”

“A cup of tea would be lovely, thank you,” Orla told her, sitting down on the exceptionally soft sofa that was covered in down pillows with gold tassels and brocade cushions.

“You want a cuppa?” Ola said obligingly. “Coming right up!” A steaming cup of tea in a dainty cup and saucer appeared in her golden tanned hands. “Here you go! It's a popular blend from the Southern Kingdoms with mossy, fruity, and plant flavours that I think you’re going to like. I can conjure anything for myself in my bottle, and apparently for others too. Who'da thunk it?”

Orla took a small sip. “Oh, that does taste nice,” she said appreciatively. Then, “May I offer you anything in return, Ola? You're not the only one who can conjure things. I can do that too, or small things like food and drink at any rate.” She playfully made an arcane gesture and her slim hands sparkled with magical glitter.

Ola looked amazed at the offer. “You want to grant me... a wish? Nobody has ever granted me a genie, wishes! Nobody has ever offered to do that before. Not ever! Not in thousands of years! It's always about them and never me!” Ola plunked down on the comfy sofa and turned to Orla with a big smile. “Well this is a real novelty. Okay, for my first wish I'd like a Kerfa bel haleeb please, and don't spare the cinnamon.”

“A what?” Orla said, her brow scrunching at the strange foreign name.

“A Kerfa bel haleeb!” the genie repeated enthusiastically.
“It's a non-alcoholic Zataran drink.”

Orla looked around for a moment and picked up an empty porcelain mug sitting on a side table. She held it up before her and cantillated the verses of a prayer to Fernoia. At once the mug began to fill with a hot, creamy beverage, wafting the rich aroma of hot cinnamon.

“Neato! That’s fab! But how does it taste?” The genie grabbed the mug and took a deep gulp. “The answer is... yummy!” she cried, quickly draining the mug and leaving a ring of creamy foam covering her top lip. “That was even better than the ones I can make. Divine!”

'Twas certainly that, Orla thought, and she was so happy that she had recovered her ability to cast her old divine spells again. Ever since that dream she had...

The fae elf leaned over and inhaled the beverage’s sweet and spicy scent. “It smells delicious.”

“Try one yourself,” Ola offered, and just like that another foaming mug instantly appeared in the genie’s extended hand, a liberal layer of ground cinnamon floating at the top.

Before Orla could take a drink the pair felt the floor shift and wobble. It was somewhat akin to the rocking of a rowboat on a windy lake.

“Oh no, someone found my bottle!” Ola said worriedly. Before the room started to rock too much, she tapped the side of Orla’s mug and then the teacup and both vanished from sight. “Sorry, I don’t want to spill, it is not as easy to clean as you might think it would be.”

Outside, Horo picked up the genie’s bottle he found abandoned next to a stack of crates, laying on it’s side.

“Where are they?” Severos coughed, voice raspy and pained from being nearly strangled by the gargoyle.

Horo answered with silence, mournfully putting the bottle in his bag.

The two began cutting through the alley headed to the other side as to not re-emerge on the street flooded with chaos and carnage, only to encounter a group cautiously entering the alley as if they’d seen the attack that had occurred.

“Well this was an unpredictable situation,” a woman said, looking around for Orla and Ola who had mysteriously disappeared. She kept her hood pulled over her face, keeping it well hidden.

Horo stood staring her down hard for a moment. “I don’t know who you are, but I can guess. Tell your boss it’ll take more than those D-listers to take me down,” he said, rudely pushing past her and her strange group of people, all the while ready to strike them all down should they make a wrong move.

The woman tilted her head up at the man, "D-listers?"

"I was going to call them low life mouth breathers, but went with that instead."

The woman nodded her head as if understanding his exotic slang. "Apologies my lord, but I'm not the one behind the disappearance of your women. I sense your wrath Reise Hund, and I request to be of assistance." She respectfully bowed to the Wandering Dog, "I want to help you find them." Her people around her doing the same.

Request to be of assistance? She sounded sincere to Horo, but he'd met good liars before. “Who are you all, and how do you know who I am? I look a bit different than I did last week and the week before that.”

The woman looked at him with solid grey eyes, "That can be discussed as we track your friend. My men can stay here, I'll go with you, if you don't trust me or believe me." She continued to speak to him without a single sign of a lie.

“Explain then why I should trust you and not drop you where you stand?” he said, still hardly convinced. “I’ve dealt with far more people in the past few days than I care to remember who have put themselves on my list. Why don't you tell me what makes you any different, and don't lie. If I even feel like you are lying you better hope for mercy.”

"We both seek to save someone. You desire to save a friend, and I desire to save the last of a nearly forgotten people. There is no need to trust me, however I know you are a man who will do anything to save those you cherish, and I've seen what your kind can do. Let me help you, so you can save your friends, and I can make sure no one has to suffer unless they deserve to." Horo could see her moonlight skin and pointed ears under her hood.

“If the only reason you want to help is to save a novel idea of the past like she’s some sort of zoo animal to you, we have no words to speak. I don’t need your help to save her.” Horo made sure his words were clearly spoken. “I will burn every damn city in Zatar to the ground if I have to and if anyone, and I mean ANYONE gets in my way again, death will be the only mercy I will grant them. Do you got that?”

"Your rage will destroy you, Reise. I do not see your friend as a creature to gaze at. If anything I would have stayed in my homeland to watch real animals. I wish to help you save her so I can in return, save more who require saving. You on the other than rather go on a slaughter, for one life? Do you not see the issue in your statement, the darkness you are clouding yourself with?" She kept her voice calm, not even shaking at his words. "It's simple, I want to help save one life, so you don't regret the decisions you made on the way."

Horo was trembling with cold fury. “You fail to understand what I meant when I said Zoo Animal. You are treating Orla as if she is some precious glass thing. Meant to be hidden away and never touched,” he said. “She brings that out in people at times, but she is a person and my best friend. Do you see yourself as holier than thou speaker of truth? Because I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you're wrong here. It’s not darkness that clouds me. I know perfectly well what I am doing. These Zataran people and these so-called gods above are meddling in my business, and that’s not a good place to stand. Do you understand what I'm saying? Those people that took her, do harm to more people every day than I plan to do. It’s not lives for a life. I’m saving everyone they haven’t killed yet and protecting any future people they could harm. I don’t regret anything I’ve done or plan to do. This conversation is over. The longer I waste my time with you the longer she’s suffering wherever she is and from whatever they're doing to her, so move. Now!”

The woman looked at her men and snatched up a single scale, which was a bit bloodied, and handed it to Reise. "It seems those you wish to stop have had a disagreement of some kind. Lead the way Wandering Dog, I'm going to aid you, like it or not. Their trail leads that way." She gestured to the ground pointing out small drips of blood that lead out of the alley.

Horo threw the scale to the side and wiped his hands. “If you must follow, don’t get in my way, lady. I'm not killing indiscriminately as you believe. I killed those bounty hunters because they attacked me first. I made sure no one in that temple that was defenseless was harmed. The guards didn’t deserve to die, they were doing their job and part of their job was to defend the temple, which is sacred to them. I will fight to defend myself, and my friends but will not kill the innocent. They are harmed enough by the corrupt and depraved systems in place in this country that I don't intend to add to their misery. And those bounty hunters wouldn’t have lost their lives if that slave master I allowed to keep his wretched life had only not attempted to backstab our deal and had just let the beating I gave him go.”

"Not likely he would do that, and I think you knew exactly how he would respond to your treatment of him. Perhaps I'm paranoid that I'll see another great man fall. You can call me Kara, it's only fair that you know my name since I know yours, Reise."

“Not Reise... not any more. Just... call me Horo."

"Of course. Horo. Let us go and rescue your friend."

“We need to get out of the city first,” Horo said, “Then we discuss.”

“I couldn’t agree more, my lord,” Kara said. “Come, this way…”

She began to lead Horo and Severos to where a secret underground tunnel lay that would get them beyond the great Walls of Shadrazar so they could continue their journey.

(JP with Ender)

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