Bixink opened the box from Dinkarn and blinked. A tarnished, rather tawdry oil lamp festooned with gems lay at the bottom with a note resting next to it.
This was with a few other artifacts shipped to me for my inspection from Uldum. Lamps like this are quite common from the area and era (as I�m sure you already know) but this one is a bit different. The base metal is bronze as are most of the cheap ones used by all but the elite. However, the gems are genuine rather than being colored glass as is normally found with this type of lamp. There appears to be some sort of engraving done on the metal as well, which is, once again, unusual for such a base object. I�m sending this to you since you have more experience and knowledge than I do with gems and their cutting and mounting techniques. I refrained from reducing the bronze back to its non-oxidized state in order to give you the opportunity to examine the lamp as it was found. You�re welcome to remove the oxidation during your examination if you believe it will help. Perhaps you can elucidate the meaning of the dichotomy of the materials used in its creation.
�This is a bit elaborate even for you, Dinkarn.� A grin spread across her face at the thought of her lover going to such extremes to find something interesting for her to investigate just so he could have a valid reason to request her company. Even gnomes could be a bit … emotionally rather than logically driven at times. The grin stayed as she reached in the box to remove the lamp but faded to a look of concentration as she eyed the gems decorating the sides and top. Not only were they genuine as Dinkarn stated, but also were skillfully cut by an artisan of the craft. �Now why would someone with this much skill waste his or her talent on such an obviously cheap lamp?� Examining the metal more closely, she could just make out the words or symbols buried under the patina covering the metal indicated by Dinkarn. Doubly intrigued, she set the artifact down and walked over to one of her benches to grab the reducing agent and a soft cloth. Ever so gently, she rubbed the agent along part of the surface containing the marking.
At the eruption of smoke from the spout of the lamp, Bixink carefully set it down and watched as the mist slowly coalesced into the form of some sort of air elemental. �Greetings, mistress. Tell me your fondest wish and I shall grant it.�
A small furrow emerged along her brow. �Did Dinkarn set you up to this?�
The entity blinked, apparently surprised. �No, mistress. You have called me from the lamp. I will grant your fondest wish.�
The furrow deepened. �Who are you?�
�I am the genie of the lamp.�
Her brow smoothed as a smile spread across her face. �Wait right there!� Jumping up, she dashed to a bookshelf, grabbing a fresh, unused notebook. She returned to the bench, seating herself comfortably as she opened to the first page. �So, you�re an actual genie like in some of the legends I�ve read about Uldum?�
The genie nodded. �Yes, mistress. What wish would you like me to grant you?�
Bixink waved her hand in a shooing motion. �That�s not important. We can get to it later. First of all, are you an air elemental?�
Now the genie�s brow furrowed. �What does that matter? You rubbed the lamp so I must grant you a wish.�
�What does it matter?!� Bixink�s face reflected a combination of incredulity, consternation, and disbelief. �What you are matters if I�m going to sufficiently research this occurrence and discover how much data is in the legends and how much of the legends is fantasy.�
The genie frowned deeper. �I don�t understand.�
�Of course you don�t. You�re not a gnome.� Her pen settled on paper again. �Now, are you an air elemental or some other sort of conjured being?�
It was the genie�s turn to look flabbergasted. �Are you not going to tell me your wish?�
�Not yet. I�d like to get some data from you first.�
Crossing his arms over his chest, the genie glared at the gnome. �I�m here to grant your wish, not entertain you with stories.�
�Fine.� Bixink set the pen and notebook down and waved at the genie in a shooing motion again. �Then go back into the lamp so I can finish my examination of it in peace.�
The genie�s jaw dropped to the floor. �Are you seriously dismissing me without telling me your wish?�
�Yes.� Bixink picked up the cloth and polish again to work on removing the oxidation from the areas containing the writing.
�But … but … YOU CAN�T DO THIS!!!�
�Why not?� Her fingers carefully cleaned the metal, exposing more of the engraving.
Flummoxed, he threw up his hands. �Because it�s just not done! The master or mistress rubs the lamp, the genie is summoned, the genie grants anywhere from one to three wishes, then the genie returns to the lamp to wait for the next master or mistress.�
�Oh?� Dropping the cloth, she reached over for her notebook and jotted down what the genie told her. �What else can you tell me?�
The genie sputtered. �Are you going to write down everything I say?�
Bixink shook her head. �Of course not. Only the data you give me.�
�Are you refusing to tell me your wish?�
A quick shake of the head partially answered him. �I�m not refusing to tell you anything. I�m simply trying to retrieve what data you can give me before stating my wish.�
�So you�ll tell me your wish if I answer your questions first?�
Grudgingly, the genie floated over to the chair across from her. �Ask your questions and be quick about it.�
Smiling, Bixink settled herself comfortably, pen poised over paper again. �Why are you so insistent on granting my wish?�
�Because it�s what I�m supposed to do. It�s why I was imprisoned in the lamp. It�s my job to grant your wish and wait for the next master or mistress.� The genie�s smokey end split into two, with one part crossing over the other, matching his arms over his chest.
�Imprisoned? Is this a punishment then?�
The genie shrugged. �Yes and no. It�s not intended as a punishment per se. More along the lines of me not being strong enough to prevent another from doing this to me. So, yes, I�m trapped in the lamp. However, with every wish I grant, I gain more power so when I eventually become free, I can protect myself.�
Bixink finished writing the genie�s words and looked at him quizzically. �You�re trapped until you�re strong enough to become free. How do you free yourself?�
�I don�t. The master or mistress that holds the lamp must free me.�
�And how would they do this?�
The genie looked at Bixink like she was stupid. �They have to use a wish to free me. Duh.�
Bixink ignored his disparaging words and looks. �You said genies can grant between one and three wishes. What is this number dependent on?�
�The strength of the imprisoned genie. Stronger ones can grant more wishes.�
Nodding her head as she wrote, Bixink continued. �That�s logical. So, the longer you�re in the lamp granting wishes, the stronger you�ll become until you�re freed by your master or mistress.� Her eyes rose from the page to meet his. �Can I make the assumption most genies don�t wish to be free until they�ve gained enough power?�
�Yes.� The genie nodded in return. �If we�re freed before we gain power, we can simply be put back into another lamp by one strong enough to do so.� He shrugged. �Why free yourself only to be stuffed back into another lamp?�
�Valid reasoning,� Bixink agreed. �How is a genie imprisoned and does the lamp have to meet certain specifications?�
The genie shrugged again. �I don�t know how it�s done. It�s something you have to figure out on your own when you have enough power to do it to another genie. As for the lamp,� the genie waved in the direction of the one that bound him, �it has to be ordinary. Something that generally wouldn�t garner any additional attention. That�s the only part of imprisoning one of us I know. If the lamp is ordinary, it�s more likely to be ignored and the genie inside forced to serve longer.�
�Oh really? Then why does your lamp have genuine flawless and skillfully cut gemstones decorating it?�
�It what?� The genie blinked.
Bixink pointed to the lamp. �Those gems. They�re real diamonds, rubies, and emeralds. Highest quality.�
Narrowing his eyes, the genie rose from the chair to float over to the bench. �What in ….Those weren�t there the last time ….�
�They weren�t? Hmm.� She set down her notebook to join the genie by the lamp. �Why would someone replace fake gems with real ones?�
The genie shrugged, eyes still on the additions to his lamp. �I don�t know. Usually it�s the opposite. To keep your gems protected, you put them somewhere safe and have glass copies made for show.� He waved at his lamp. �They replaced fake ones with real ones for some reason.�
Bixink thought a moment. �Were the original ones in your lamp the last time you had a master or mistress?�
Still keeping his gaze on his lamp, the genie nodded. �Yes. This has happened since my last master made his wish.�
�What did your last master wish for?�
�To become rich by being the most cunning person ever to have lived.�
Grabbing her notebook, Bixink toddled back to her chair. �Did your last master know anything about gems?�
The genie nodded again. �Yes. He was an apprentice to a master jewel crafter and already skilled himself.�
�Would he have been able to craft gems of this quality?�
Bixink tapped her pen on her notebook as she thought. �How common were lamps like this?�
�Very common.� The genie looked over his vaporous shoulder at the gnome. �There would have been at least one in every poor household.�
�So no one would look twice at, say, someone selling or delivering this type of lamp? One that normally would have pretty cut glass but no real value?�
�No one would care. Lamp sellers had stalls and most would have a boy or two for deliveries if needed.�
Tapping pen against paper more, she asked, �Could gems have been smuggled on ordinary lamps then?�
�I suppose …� The genie stilled as his face grew livid. �That conniving son of a jackal used my lamp to smuggle gems?!�
Bixink waved a hand at him in a calming gesture. �Now, now, we don�t know that for sure. If he used your lamp then he�d risk having one of his … customers release you.�
A hissing noise like a kettle at full steam escaped the genie as he pointed to the markings in the metal. �This says �Rub not the lamp lest you release the demon inside that will consume your soul.��
�Well that would be a deterrent, yes,� Bixink muttered.
�I�m ruined!� The genie screeched. �Part of the binding requires the lamp not to have any real value! The wishes I grant will not increase my own power! I�m doomed to be trapped forever!�
�I can replace the gems with fakes. I�m a jewel crafter myself. Wouldn�t take much work to remove those and put glass ones in their place.�
Her matter of fact voice cut through the genie�s wailing. �You can?� The genie floated over to stand by her chair.
�Will you do this? Grant me this so that I may one day be free?�
Bixink�s lips twitched. �Is that your wish?�