Ceylan stopped under a tree with a bronze limb. “The limb’s lost its leaves. The trap’s already been tripped.” She looked inside a hole in the tree. “Empty. The trap didn’t work.” She walked more quickly to the next trap, a rock of red gold. “It’s pushed into the rubies. This one’s been tripped too, but I can’t see faces in the jewels. Seems the other three rulers are fairly resourceful.”
A soft voice said “Or the thief helping them is.” The voice belonged to a figure wearing a black hooded cloak with hanging threads and tears running all down the sides. The other three rulers, all looking like a fire that been given a living body, were standing behind her. Augusti appeared as a very tall man with a third eye, Lilit appeared as a winged woman with the body of a snake from the waist down, and Cassim appeared as something half goat and half lion with the face of a man. The cloaked figure’s sleeve moved and her hand appeared, holding a clay bottle marked “Harun.”
Back inside the Great Hall, Nesrin was teleporting around the top room trying to avoid Narong and Choshech while figuring out how to break her mother’s spell that prevented her from leaving. Narong managed to grab her wrist, but she jerked it free. When she did she stumbled through one of the smoked glass entrances. It dawned on her that Samira’s incantation only prevented her from teleporting out of the room, not leaving it physically. Finally free, she vaporized herself and rematerialized—back in her human form—inside the Sanctum of Records. A parchment scroll the size of a tree trunk, the Scroll of the Story, floated in front of her.
“Okay, it’ll take them maybe a few minutes to sense where I’ve gone. I’ve got that long to figure out who has a grudge against Mother.” She waved her hand in front of the scroll to make it unroll and motioned up with her hand to make the text scroll. She figured she could rule out humans, and she knew few self-respecting hidden ones would disguise themselves as a jann, so the culprit probably really was one. Her eyes landed on a record involving the jann from around the time Samira allowed the five sects to split from her rule.
Narong and Choshech materialized beside her and she had to disappear again. Thankfully she’d had time to read what she needed. She telepathically asked Ceylan “What’s going on?”
Ceylan quickly explained and returned to the situation at hand. “So you have the bottle. It doesn’t mean anything. Only humans can open those things. I can’t even do it because I’m only half.”
Lilit smirked. “Then it’s fortunate that you’ve supplied us with two. Did you honestly not realize we would sense that they aren’t our kind?” She raised a hand and her eyes glowed green.
Jason’s face went blank and he started to move forward.
Isabelle tried to perform a head kick to stop him, but Augusti waved a hand and she found herself hanging upside down in the air.
Nesrin materialized—back in her hidden one form—above Jason and brought him to the ground with her as she fell. “Ceylan, pull back that jann’s hood.”
Ceylan rushed to do so.
Narong and Choshech materialized as the hood came off. It revealed a young woman with hair of ash and a face of smoke.
The five rulers stiffened. Augusti let Isabelle fall. Lilit was the first to speak. “This is the form Samira wore when she was found tampering with our tribes.”
Cassim moved in front of the thief. “Why would Samira orchestrate her own downfall?”
Nesrin stood. “I wouldn’t. This is an imposter working on behalf of Bedeea, formerly the Princess of the Jann, am I correct?”
The thief shook her head. “Not quite. I am not working on behalf of Princess Bedeea, I am she. When I learned that Samira allowed disgruntled groups to split, I petitioned her to let the jann govern ourselves as we did in the days of old, but she saw fit to deny my request. However, I remembered that when the first king, Harun, came into power, he allowed my father to retain rule of the jann until father willingly abdicated.”
Ceylan nodded. “So you arranged for Harun to be reinstated in Mother’s place hoping that he would grant your request.”
Bedeea replied “It is as you say. I appeared to Choshech to convince him of Harun’s suitability and offer my services in attaining the bottle. He then spoke to the others.”
Choshech said “What she says is true. She convinced me that Harun’s rule would not be as effective as yours, Samira, and your kingdom would no longer have the advantage of strength and prosperity over ours. Based on your history and his I found her assessment accurate, and it’s an idea I still find somewhat attractive, so I suggest putting that bottle back wherever it goes immediately.”
Nesrin nodded to Ceylan, who took the lamp and walked into the cave. Nesrin assumed her best impersonation of her mother’s ‘royal decreeing’ posture. “If all of you leave now except Bedeea I may respond mercifully to this.” She wanted to sigh in relief when they all actually left, but didn’t. “Now, Bedeea, rather than exact punishment, I ask that you present your request again in two weeks’ time to my adviser, Ceylan. She will aid you in making your case to me for a second time. Would you find this agreeable?”
“Yes… but I don’t…”
“I will not be called a tyrant, and I would sooner have someone so cunning as a friend than an enemy. Upon reconsidering your request it may be I can grant it, and if not, the least I owe you is open discussion first. However, any further attempts at treachery or rebellion on your part will result in the termination of this offer and immediate retribution. Do you understand?”
“Very well. You may leave and begin preparing your case.”
Bedeea bowed and vanished.
Nesrin reverted to her human form and leaned against a tree. “I think it’s over for now. You two can take off those costumes.”
Jason was still checking for cuts and bruises. “You think your mom’s gonna accept the rulings you made?”
Nesrin rubbed her own shoulders. “Hard to say. She wouldn’t have turned her down before without a reason, but I think we can make something work.”