Urban Fantasy

The Palace Hotel Grand Ballroom was most decidedly not grand that morning. Morning light spilled through the huge windows that overlooked the bay to cast rays on the detritus of the previous night’s soirée. Overturned tables and chairs, spills and stains on the carpets, half of the draperies ripped from the windows, and above it all, the smell of stale champagne and spilled booze.

“You ever notice,” Karl asked, “that the richer the party, the worse the mess?”

Sera knew what he was getting at, but she’d let him explain himself, again, in order to keep the peace. It wasn’t that she hated him, but he often pushed her close to it. “How so?”

“The union workers that had their thing here last week, for instance. There was some spillage where the kegs were, but all the trash was in the bins, and they even cleaned off the tables and stacked the chairs up.”

She nodded. Their efforts had been appreciated, but still made more work for them to take all the chairs down to clean them properly.

“But look at this,” he said, throwing his arms out wide, as if she’d been ignoring it all along. “Some wizard politician and all her rich cronies come in here, lording it over everyone like they’re the most civilized and elegant people in the world, and what do we get? Destruction. Damn wizards.”

“She’s not a wizard,” Sera countered, “she’s an elf. I don’t know where you get this idea.”

“Well, yeah, not all elves,” he said. “I mean, you’re not a wizard, or else you wouldn’t be cleaning up after ‘em with me. You’re one of the good ones.”

The sigh of exasperation left Sera’s lips before she could stop it. “Karl, you really need to check yourself before you say things like that. Jik hears you, it’ll be a trip to HR, and not a happy one.”

“Yeah, well, boss is a wizard too, so I wouldn’t be surprised.”

“Wait, so now Jik’s a wizard too? Because he’s an orc? What do you think a wizard is? Anyone that’s not a human?”

“No, of course not. Most elves are, and I saw boss making a coin disappear and reappear; showing off for his kids.”

“First, some elves, not most, have some latent magical talent. Same with all the other races, including humans. That does not make them wizards. Being a wizard is about life-long study and mastery. Second, most actual wizards are humans. And third, the boss does sleight of hand tricks, not magic. Hell, he could probably teach you how to do it this afternoon if you asked.”

“Nuh-uh, no way, no how. I’m not messing with anything magic. Too dangerous.” Karl ended the conversation by busying himself collecting all the bottles for recycling.

Sera began collecting the wine stems, champagne flutes, shot glasses, and other assorted dishes into bus tubs. By the time she’d finished, Karl had removed the remaining drapes to be washed and was gathering the tablecloths.

As they worked, they piled lost items on the table farthest from the door. It would be the last to be folded and carted out, and they could run them to lost and found then. Sera sprayed the chairs with disinfectant and placed them in ten chair stacks near the large doors.

Karl flipped a coin. “Heads or tails?”


They watched the coin land on the floor, heads up. “Sorry,” Karl said, “looks like you’re spot-cleaning the carpet while I stack tables on the cart.”

Sera was through nearly half of the ballroom. Most of the spots came up fine, but there were a few that stubbornly refused to be cleaned. “I don’t know what this purple stuff is, but it’s not coming up.”

“So much for stain-proof carpeting, eh?” Karl made notes on the work order. “Well, if they have to replace it those wizards can afford to pay for it.”

Rather than get back into that discussion again, Sera finished up the spot she was working on. “It’s lunch, let’s take a break.”

“Coffee?” Karl asked.


He left and returned with two cups of coffee from reception. “And I think I’ll spice mine up a little.” Karl picked up a whiskey bottle with two fingers left in the bottom. “Found this under one the tables.”

“Really? In the middle of the day?” Sera shook her head. “None for me, thanks.”

Karl shrugged and poured the remnants of the bottle into his coffee and took a sip. “That’s a nice cup of coffee.”

Sera looked over the table of lost items while she ate her brown-bag lunch. Two cellphones, a leather clutch full of makeup, a device that resembled a toothbrush with a cloth head that she knew was a tusk polisher, several key cards from the hotel, a pair of women’s undies, an expensive strappy stiletto, and an odd dark glass bottle.

“Looks like Cinderella was at the ball, huh?”

Karl looked confused. “What are you talking about?”

She picked up the shoe. “Cinderella, like the story?”

“Except it’s not glass,” he said around a mouthful of egg salad sandwich.

Sera finished her pot noodles and looked over the items on the table. The bottle kept calling to her. “I wonder what’s in the bottle.”

“Probably some perfume that costs more than we make in a year.” Karl belched. “The kind that stinks to high heaven, but rich old biddies splash it on like it’s the best smelling thing ever.”

“You’ve got a real problem with anything expensive or anyone rich, don’t you?”

“Nah, I just wouldn’t be all ‘look at me’ about it if I was rich.” He belched again. “Wouldn’t change the way I act at all.”

“I can believe that.” Sera picked up the bottle. It felt cool in her hand, too cool. “Feel this,” she said, “I don’t know what kind of glass it is, but it’s cool to the touch.”

Karl put his hand on the bottle. “Doesn’t feel cool to me, just cold glass. Nothing cool about that.”

Sera pulled the stopper out of the top, curious about its contents. A mist rose from the bottle, and they felt it grow even colder in their hands. Out of the mist came a feminine figure and strident voice.

“Damnit, Horace! You promised me....” She stopped short and looked around. “Who are you? Where’s Horace?” To appearances she was a slight human woman with a dark, Mediterranean complexion and tightly curled dark hair. Dark circles under her deep brown eyes hinted at exhaustion.

“I’m Sera, and this is Karl. We were cleaning up and found this.” She held up the bottle. “What’s your name?”

“I don’t know. Can’t remember.” She walked around the room, looking behind the cart of folded tables, the stacks of chairs, under the table with the other lost items, her movements becoming more agitated.

“What are you looking for?” Sera asked.

“He’s really not here?”

“No, it’s just the two of us. Who is Horace?”

“A fat, ugly, good-for-nothing wizard.”

“See?” Karl pointed at the woman from the bottle. “I told you! Damn wizards!”

Sera ignored Karl’s outburst. He’d be insufferable for the next week at least. “What is his relationship to you?”

“As of now, nothing. He left me behind, you found me. I belong to you now.” She sat cross-legged on the floor.

“What does that mean?” Karl asked.

“I was cursed, nearly three thousand years ago, to be trapped in this bottle. I’m cursed and belong to whomever owns the bottle, until they lose it. Part of the curse is that my powers must be used to grant one wish from every person that opens my bottle.”

“So, since Horace lost you, doesn’t that mean you’re free?” Sera set the bottle gently back on the table.

“No. You two found and opened it next, so I belong to you now.” She lay back on the floor. “Horace likes… liked to pass me around at functions, trading wishes for influence or future favors.”

“He pimped you out.” Sera’s jaw tightened.

“That’s a very gentle way of putting it,” she said.

Karl butted in before Sera could speak. “I wish to be rich enough to retire right now!”

“Done.” She raised a hand holding a stack of papers.

“What’s all this?”

“This is a real estate flyer for a foreclosed off-grid cabin in the Yukon for two-hundred dollars, a list of supplies you’ll need to survive, and a thirty-percent off coupon for all purchases at the outfitter in Whitehorse to get all those supplies.” She gave him a cold smile, her eyes closed. “That’s an easy one. You already had what you wished for, I just showed you how.”

Karl’s face drained of color. “That’s not what I meant, and you know it!”

Sera laughed. “Be careful what you wish for, lest you get it.”

The small woman rose and looked at Karl. “I’m not the one who made the rules. The king’s nephew who cursed me, however, had a warped sense of humor.”

“Can you explain?” Sera asked. “Unless you don’t want to talk about it.”

“It was a long time ago.” She sat on the table next to her jar. “I was a consort to the king of a small nation bordering the Kassite Babylonians. As a djinn, I was expected to do the king’s bidding.”

Sera stopped her. “You’re an actual djinn? Like the myths?”

“No, that was my title. I was a court mage. So was the king’s nephew.” The smile that crossed her face was sad. “I refused to kill the Kassite king with my magic, so he locked me up until his nephew could imprison me in the bottle and force me to do the king’s bidding. It was his nephew that made the one wish rule, no bringing back the dead, and to follow to the letter the wish.”

“Why all the weirdness with the rules?” Karl asked, waving the bundle of papers.

“The king’s nephew was next in line for the throne, unless the king’s son were to be resurrected, or the king wished for a son, or the king wished the nephew dead.” She shook her head. “He also blocked most of my memories, except for denying the king’s order, and everything that came after. Still, I found a way to rebel.

“The king’s wish was, ‘I wish for the Kassite king to die.’ So, I declared it done and was pulled back into the bottle. When he next came to me, furious that his enemy was still alive, I reminded him that his wish was already true, the king will die, as will everyone else.”

“Wait,” Karl broke in, “can I change my wish? I know how to say it now.”

“Sorry, one shot is all you get.”

Karl threw his half-eaten sandwich in the trash and downed the rest of his spiked coffee. “Damn wizards.”

Sera sat on the table next to the small woman. “Is there any way to break the curse?”

“Yes, but I can’t speak it, write it, sing it, or act it out.”

Sera sat quietly pondering the woman’s plight. She pursed her lips, her eyes staring into nothing in the middle distance.

“If you’re not going to make a wish, could you order me back into my bottle, please? I’m exhausted after the way I was used last night.”

Sera put her arm around the slender shoulders of the woman. “I want to help you. No one deserves to be locked up and used for any reason. Especially for refusing to kill. How can I help you?”

“I—I can’t tell you how.” Tears streamed down her face. “Everyone else who tried eventually gave up, except Horace. He knew how, but thought I was more use to him as a wish factory. Thank you for thinking of me, but please make your wish and allow me to sleep. Then hide me away for a century or more?”

“I think I know how to handle this.” Sera took her hands. “I wish to have, right here, right now, all the knowledge, skills, resources, and power needed to remove your curse.”

Karl let out a yelp. “What the hell? I’m glowing! So are you!”

Sera felt the power flowing through her. She saw the curse placed on the woman... Anunit was her name. “Karl, get your wizard ass over here and help me out.”

“I—I’m a wizard,” he said.

“Yes, you are. Now get over and help me.” Sera placed her hands on Anunit’s head. “I need you to put your hands on my back, let your energy flow through me and mingle with mine. Whatever you do, don’t let go until it’s over.”

Karl did as she directed. The room grew increasingly bright. Sera’s ears rang with a high-pitched whine that threatened to deafen her. Anunit’s memories flowed through her hands, back into the place they belonged.

“Anunit, daughter of Urbau, I declare your penance paid in full and release you from your prison. By the power of all the king’s mages, you are free.”

The bottle shattered into hundreds of shards and Anunit collapsed. Karl dropped to his knees, exhausted, while Sera panted, trying to catch her breath.

“You did it,” Karl said. “And we’re both wizards now?”

Sera laughed. “Yeah, I guess we are.”

Karl recovered faster than Sera. “Stand back, I’m going to try something.”

“Um, maybe you shouldn’t...”

The remaining tables folded and stacked themselves on the cart. The shards of the broken bottle swirled into the air and dropped into the trash bag which closed and tied itself after.

“See, no big deal,” he said. Karl reeled on his feet, then sat on the floor with a heavy thump. “Whoa, woozy.”

“No big deal, huh? And what about not wanting anything to do with magic?”

“Hah, had to try at least.” Karl looked at his hands as if seeing them for the first time, a stupid grin plastered on his face. “I’m a wizard.”

Sera helped Anunit sit back up. “Are you okay?”

“I—I am.” She hugged Sera. “I wish I could repay you, but....”

“No, no. I think we’ve all had our fill of wishes today.”

Anunit nodded. “Thank you, anyway.”

“Do you have a place to go?” Sera asked. “No, of course not. You can stay with me until you get on your feet.”

“I’d like that,” she said. “I need to learn more about the current world anyway and create an identity for myself. It may take some time.”

“Take all the time you need.”

Anunit patted Karl on the shoulder. “Well, now you can learn all about money management and savings and use that knowledge to power the magic you need to get the kind of retirement you’re looking for.”

Karl lay back on the floor and grunted. “Damn wizards.”

May 08, 2021 19:30

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Charlie Murphy
20:44 May 19, 2021

Awesome story! I like Karl!


Sjan Evardsson
12:42 May 21, 2021

Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed the story.


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Hugo Millaire
14:22 May 17, 2021

Great story! Good job on the characters and character developpement with Karl it was really interesting to see him become a wizard especially since he disliked them throughout the story!


Sjan Evardsson
19:34 May 17, 2021

Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it.


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22:42 May 15, 2021

I really like this. The way he talks about Wizards at the beginning made me think it was going to turn out to be a kind of anti racist allegory. Maybe it sort of is? I love that the 'genie' gets released, it's a really happy feel good story. Thank you.


Sjan Evardsson
01:18 May 16, 2021

It is an anti-racist allegory, in the special way that casual racism creeps in. Karl is one of those guys who distrusts the "other" - but believes it's because of what they can do, rather than who they are. I'm glad you enjoyed the story, and I certainly enjoyed freeing the "djinn," especially at the cost of Karl becoming one of those "damn wizards."


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