Nesrin and Ceylan were pacing around the top room of the Great Hall. Ceylan had gotten her sister up to speed on their society’s politics, and their defense for the less than ethical actions their mother was accused of. Now they just had to wait for the remaining five rulers to arrive. Nesrin was still in her hidden one form to pass as Samira, and was already getting tired of it. Isabelle and Jason had looked for a corner to stay in, but the room was a circle, so the plan to stay out of the way hadn’t worked.
Isabelle hated to break their concentration, but also couldn’t take the silence anymore, so she ventured to ask “Why did the other tribes split from your mother’s rule?”
It was Ceylan who answered. “The silliest of all reasons; because of a dispute over what our people should call themselves. Some say we should always use ‘jinn’ because it’s what humans called us first; others say we should adapt to the humans we encounter, or use the name we are most commonly given. I say we shouldn’t use human terms at all. We should call ourselves what we were before our people began frequent dealing with humans; ‘ashrook.’ We…”
Further discussion was cut off as a black dog that walked like a person and a tall man with blue skin came in through one of the room’s smoked glass walls. Ceylan bowed and retreated to where Isabelle and Jason were standing behind Nesrin. She whispered “The blue one is Narong; the black one is Guayota.”
Nesrin’s eyes narrowed. “Tiv enpenst Augusti, Lilit, iw Cassim?”
Jason whispered to Ceylan. “What did she say?”
Ceylan leaned closer to him. “We were expecting five rulers and got two. She asked where the others are using the original language of our people.”
Narong advanced towards Nesrin. “Eleot envorq notive, xyq eleot penstwex ensha valaosdid sqwel eto kal ele okzaxenfo eto zeft oou tuw eto elnis.”
Ceylan explained. “He said the others are engaged elsewhere, but their presence isn’t needed to inform Mother that they are forcing her to step down for her crimes.”
The argument continued with Ceylan translating.
Guayota said “You have appeared in the form of a jann to our subjects multiple times stirring up turmoil. Each time you were found out. Each time you confessed your identity and threatened to use the superior size and power of your kingdom against us if we should attempt retribution. Do you deny it?”
Nesrin said “Yes, I deny it. It is true I can shift my form more easily than most, and because of this I can be impersonated more easily than most. I demand the opportunity to investigate this matter myself and present a case in my defense. I would extend the same right to any of you were you in my place.”
Narong sneered. “The millennia have dulled your mind. You confuse this for the courts of your human husbands. The other rulers are already preparing to release King Harun to stand in your place once we have you in chains.”
Nesrin moved so that her attackers couldn’t see her sister and friends.
Ceylan heard Nesrin’s voice in her head saying “Take the humans and check on Mother’s storehouse.” She grabbed Isabelle and Jason’s arms and they faded out of the room. They reappeared on top of a mile-high mountain of rubies with gold trees. The sky above them was a ceiling of marble. “Mother is called ‘Jailer of the Seven Kings and King Harun’ for a reason. They’re former rulers of our people who were imprisoned during the Great Capturing. She keeps their bottles in a diamond chest inside a vault inside a cave on this mountain. We need to make sure they haven’t been tampered with. Stick close and I’ll get you past the booby traps.”
Isabelle and Jason glanced at each other and followed her.
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 who offered to help 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 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 Guayota 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 inside the Sanctum of Records, back in her human form. A parchment scroll the size of a tree trunk 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 besides me 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 Guayota 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 Guayota 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-el-Jemal, 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 without explanation. 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 Guayota to convince him of Harun’s suitability and offer my services in attaining the bottle. He then spoke to the others.”
Guayota 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 over ours. 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. She 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. “Ceylan and I will have to do some convincing, but I think we can make something work.”
A brown Persian Greyhound walked out of a cluster of trees and nosed Nesrin’s leg.
Isabelle squealed and rushed to pet her. “She’s so cute! You didn’t tell me your mom had a doggy.”
Nesrin rolled her eyes. “She doesn’t.”
Isabelle leapt back with a yelp as the dog erupted into flames and morphed into Samira.
“Well done, Nesrin, very well done.”
“Thank you. How was your trip?”
“Inconclusive. I found evidence that our people have been active in the area, but I couldn’t trace whoever it was. I will continue to monitor the situation, and I will, of course, expect you to notify me if you see anything peculiar.”
“We will also need to talk more about Lady Bedeea, but for now you are free to return home once you say goodbye to your sister.”
Nesrin wasted no time in exploiting that freedom.
It was early morning when the three roommates made it home. Nesrin mixed them all drinks and they sat out on the balcony to relax. She figured she owed them some explanations, so she started telling stories.
“The ifrit Mother went looking for is called Mithal. The Great Capturing began when he was imprisoned in a bottle by King Solomon. At that time the hidden ones were ruled by a council of seven kings. The drunken fools tried to respond to his capturing with force, but only succeeded in getting themselves trapped in bottles and triggering a siege against our people. The Seven Kings’ predecessor, King Harun, returned to lead the resistance. He attempted negotiation, but talks quickly deteriorated, and he too was imprisoned. Our people were left without a leader; panicked, disorganized, powerless. When Mother saw this she took it upon herself to lead them, and my siblings and I were her generals. She ordered me to infiltrate Solomon’s palace and bring her the bottles containing the Seven Kings, King Harun, and Mithal so they couldn’t depose her when the battle was over. Solomon disposed of everyone else’s lamps, bottles, or whatever else at random, but these nine were marked and kept in a vault. I was discovered and sentenced to a lamp, but I was able to send Mother all of the bottles as I was being imprisoned, except one.”
Isabelle asked “Why didn’t your people just retreat to the hidden realm?”
“The realm is not a complete world. It’s the collective name for niches we have carved out for ourselves in the fabric of this world, mostly in places where your scientists suspect there are pockets of dark matter. When the losses became too great Mother finally did lead a retreat to her storehouse, then she commissioned the Great Hall inside the cave you call Majlis al Jinn so everyone would have somewhere to go until it was safe to move about here again. Now it serves as a peace palace for our society.”
Jason pushed the ice around in his drink. “Be honest, how often are we gonna get pulled into crazy plots on mystical planes?”
“Probably not often. My spying assignment won’t involve travel, and Mother will cycle through a few other siblings before she involves me in anything again.”
The sun started to rise and Jason and Isabelle went to get some sleep. Nesrin let the door close before she added “I hope.”