Mr. Kipfel stood up and approached her, gently putting a hand on her shoulder.
"It's okay, don't worry. Eli, right? You're just fine. Now that I got rid of the djinni, we can go our separate ways. You can forget about all this and your life doesn't have to be disrupted any further."
Eli shook off his hand and stared at him for a second: "Have you by any chance noticed that we are in the middle of some desert?"
"Of course, we are pretty close to Petra in southern Jordan... Oh."
"Yeah. I should be back home for the dinner at the very latest, mister wizard."
"Well, the good news is that we are not stranded. We shouldn't be more than an hour or two of walk away from civilization."
Eli looked up at the burning Sun and sighed. "What's the bad news, then?"
"Another good news is that you can now truthfully say that you saved the world! Nobody will believe you, but-"
"What is the bad news?"
Mr. Kipfel fidgeted. "You will be late for that dinner tonight. No matter how briskly we walk, I don't think we're catching a flight back home quite as soon as we both would like."
"We teleported here. You can't take us back?"
"No, not really. No."
"The djinni just waved his hand!"
"True, but that was a djinni - very powerful, very dangerous, should have been dead. We're lucky that his transport capsule held out for so long, it must have been lost and out of power for centuries. I'm..."
"...a wizard, yeah. I thought you were an actual wizard. One that can do stuff," Eli grumbled.
"Sorry to disappoint."
"What about the portal? We could walk through to somewhere closer."
"This is the closest Gateway, that's why I've shown him here. I frankly failed to realize you might tag along. My apologies."
"I didn't..." Eli turned away, frustrated. "Mum and dad will be frightened to death when I don't come back."
"You might want to tell them it will take a while."
"And how am I supposed to do that when we're half a world away?!"
"Shut up," Eli said and reached into her waist pack. She glared at the phone, angry at this ridiculous situation and unsure of what to say.
Hi mum, guess where I am?
Hi, I'm just calling to tell you that I found a djinni imprisoned in a bottle and let him out. Also that trip we planned for the next year? I've already got it covered.
Mum! Magic is real! I met a wizard! He can't do shit! I'm in Asia now!
"Hi sweetie! What's up? Everything's okay?"
"Hey mum, um..."
"Hey!" somebody shouted.
Eli followed Mr. Kipfel's gaze to a soldier with a sub-machine gun slung over his shoulder. He emerged from behind a nearby rock and was now quickly making his way towards them.
"What are you doing here? Are you lost?" he asked.
"Eli? Are you there?"
"Sorry mum, just a second."
"Hello sir and sorry, we did not really mean to be here," Mr. Kipfel said.
"Oh, you speak Arabic?" the soldier said.
"We do, a little. And we are indeed a bit lost."
"I don't speak Arabic," Eli muttered to herself.
"Sorry?" she heard her mum say. "I didn't catch that."
"Oh no," the soldier smiled at Eli, "I think you Arabic is quite good."
Taken aback, Eli looked at Mr. Kipfel who was just starting to speak again, when the soldier's smile froze as he caught sight of the djinn door.
"What the..." he reached for his gun, but halfway through the motion, a bright flash struck him in the chest and he crumpled on the ground, lifeless.
Eli whirled back to the portal which was now active again, two figures in black stepping out of it, their featureless body armour nearly blending into the even deeper darkness of the door.
Another flash came right for Eli.
It struck her in the stomach and sudden numbness spread from the point of impact, making her legs buckle. She tried to catch herself, but her arms were already clumsy and slow to respond. She slammed into the sandy ground face first, hands awkwardly bent and drooling from a mouth slightly ajar.
"Eli? What was that? Eli! I can't hear you!" the phone was blaring.
She saw as Mr. Kipfel dashed all of two steps before a third flash sent him down, too. There was a crunch of heavy boots on sand, but her vision was already loosing focus and-
Occasionally, Eli had scarily lifelike dreams. It didn't happen often, but she remembered times when she woke up on the day of a big exam absolutely convinced that she had already took the test. Other times, she needed to pee and her brain tricked her into dreaming about going to the bathroom. Of course, there often were some weird, dream-like elements, but she couldn't tell those apart right away. The dreams were coherent and convincing enough that she had to sit on her bed for a second and think back if she really had been to the bathroom or if the teacher had flown to the classroom through an open window.
As she was waking up, she knew this was one of those dreams. She'll have to tell her mum that for whatever reason, her brain had made her find a djinni instead of a geocache. If only life was that cool.
She opened her eyes, staring at the painfully bright light fixture. She wasn't in her bed, one of her eyes felt full of sand and she definitely haven't just got a nightful of sleep. It took some effort sitting up, her limbs wobbly and her mind a morass.
She was in a small cell with nothing but this narrow bed, a metallic toilet and a shimmering force screen instead of bars.
"Better not touch the containment field. It's quite painful, if I may say so," she heard Mr. Kipfel from a nearby cell.
"Who would've guessed," she said to herself. It was so easy to let out at least some of the confusion and fear through a petulant tone.
There was a zap followed by muttered cursing from even further down the hallway. Eli stood up from the bed, arm held out to the wall to stabilize herself, and came as close to the screen as she dared, until she could see the soldier in yet another cell, nursing one of his hands.
"As I said, very painful," Mr. Kipfel nodded to himself.
The soldier scowled. "Who are you two? Where are we?"
"No need to try and use English," Mr. Kipfel smiled at the soldier. He was rummaging through his pockets until he found a pen case. "Both me and my young lady companion are comfortable with Arabic and I'm sure it would be easier for you, too. Anyway, I'm afraid I'm not yet sure-"
"I do not speak Arabic," Eli protested, vehemently. Too many things made no sense.
"You do now," Mr. Kipfel said, prodding at the force screen with a pencil, every touch prompting a burst of electric sounds and sparks. "The djinni must have melded you before I arrived. You probably didn't understand him, so he decided to make you understand with a dose of nanites."
"But I don't-"
"The nanites make you speak any language required and make you understand what you hear. Real-time override on the neural impulses between your gyrus frontalis inferior, plica vocalis and organum spirale. It's really quite impressive technology."
"Okay, in even more simple terms, you have some translator microbes in your-"
"Shut up for a second! I know what you're talking about, I'm just a little overwhelmed here, if you don't mind."
"My apologies. As I was saying," he turned back to the soldier, "I regrettably don't know who kidnapped us and to where, except that it's obviously a prison too advanced for your Earth. They likely took us back to their base through the Gateway and if I may guess their motives and intentions, they arrived very soon after our opening of the old djinn door, so they were likely alerted and searching for the reason of the seal being broken."
The soldier glared at Mr. Kipfel for a few silent seconds. "I don't know if you're insane or joking, but if I don't report back, people will come looking."
"Very nice but unlikely to help, unless the Jordanian military has been hiding a lot of things from the rest of the world."
"Can you get us out of these cells?"
"Maybe, but it will take time," Mr. Kipfel replied, already searching through his pockets again.
"Can I help?"
"No, not really. No."
"Miss?" Eli startled. "Are you okay?"
"I think so. Yes," she said. "Thank you."
"We will get through this," the soldier continued, "and then we can see about getting you back home, okay?"
She just nodded.
"My name is Sharaf. Nice to meet you."
"Eli. I'm Eli. Nice to meet you too. I mean..." she started to giggle.
"Don't worry Eli, it's okay. It's going to be okay."
Mr. Kipfel suddenly gestured for silence and Eli managed to bite back both laughter and tears. Footsteps were drawing close outside of the heavy door of this cell block. There was a muffled sound of short conversation, then with a faint click, the door opened and slid sideways into the wall. One of the black armoured figures stepped through. Its helmet wouldn't look out of place on some motorbike rider, the dark glass betraying not a hint of a face inside. The figure had a strange and dangerous-looking rifle slung on a strap around its neck, the many other potential weapons hidden in its utility belt notwithstanding. With a hiss of pneumatic propulsion, the door behind it closed and clicked shut.
"Hello there," Mr. Kipfel smiled. "I was wondering if you wouldn't mind letting us out of here?"
"Of course. Sorry it took so long."