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AuthorPractical Labwork
It was a very busy and unusually noisy day at the Academy lab. Clattering of glass, ringing of metal, hissing of steam and other echoes of mass production combined into a cacophony of a harbour dogbody works, and only an ear of a true wizard could perceive it as a symphony.

Abu-Bakir rounded the lab desks, inspecting the job that was in process for several days already. He moved from one lab assistant to another, constantly making comments about the process, rarely muttering words of praise, much more commonly making loud critical objections or just randomly breaking into exclamations of discontent.
He approached a young wizard trainee standing at a desk performing the job he was assigned to. He was sealing crimson liquid substance into small spherical caskets whereupon it quickly turned into gas of same colour. He had just graduated the Academy of Magical sciences that year, and his internship had only started several days ago; but he was quite a successful student at the Academy, and the job he was doing did not really require many magical skills. And still, his hands started shaking slightly, and sweat trickled down his forehead as the Senior Academic approached him with an expression of a predator nearing its cornered prey. Abu-Bakir reached for a sealed orb, lifted it against the window and subjected it to an intent captious look. He then hummed contently, muttered a few approving words, put the orb back on the desk and took an entire chest of those already sealed by the trainee. He left the lab soon, making the young wizard heave a sigh of relief.

Abu-Bakir hastily walked out of the lab with the chest under his arm and directed his steps across the Academy campus towards his administerium. He had appointed a meeting with Bilir and Kh'Everst there, and he was already late for it.
Weeks ago, Kh'Everst visited Abu-Bakir and suggested the formula for a substance - 'Portinite' he called it - as a solution to a very critical problem the senior Academic, and in fact, the entire Empire had faced previously. The Court magician took great interest in the idea, and after making a few tests, ordered to commence a mass production of orbs with a complicated substance, to which portinite was the reactant. Combined with alkali and several types of stabilizers, it assumed the crimson tone that featured the orbs that were carefully packed in the chest now and traveled to Abu-Bakir's office along with its carrier.

Abu-Bakir walked up the stairs to his office. The two councilmen were already there; they greeted the academic and helped him to his cabinet.
"Production is in full motion", Abu-Bakir reported over his shoulder as he was carefully situating the chest into his cabinet. He then walked to his desk and invited his visitors to retake their seats in the arm-chairs in front of it. He placed several orbs on his desk.
"Coagulation occurs properly, but I am bothered with deposition that happens with interaction of the reactant and the casing".
"I wouldn't be worried about that", Kh'Everst shook his head. "The substance I introduced to you does not react with alcali; it will even remain passive with most acids. It is neutral to crystal as well. I would rather ponder about maximizing the dispersion of the substance after mechanical break-up of the casing".
"That is the least of my concerns", Abu-Bakir smiled, "Portinite is sealed in the orbs in liquid state. The pressure increases manifold inside it as it turns back to gas".
"Any news with the tests?" Bilir asked with undisguised agitation. Abu-Bakir sighed.
"This is currently the main problem. It worked on all primitive beings with excellent success. But the more complex an organism, the greater time lag I observe in the effect."
"You mean..." Kh'Everst cast a meditative look on the orb that Abu-Bakir held in his hand. "Time lag, what do you mean? It works, but takes time?"
"Yes, I'm afraid so. The effect occurs many minutes later at best, several hours at worst".
"Which serves no goal, as the one main objective of this little invention is the timely effect", Bilir muttered vexed.

Kh'Everst stood up, "I would like to try". Bilir and Abu-Bakir both jumped to their feet simultaneously, but the dark elf anticipated their exclamations. "I know what you are going to say; don't. I am reassured that due to my nature, I shall not suffer any side-effects from this substance. You, my friend", he loured at Bilir, "You may have an idea what kind of things they tested on me when I was young. I know this body is used to more than portinite".
Bilir compressed his lips. He remembered how one time, back yet in the lost Empire, either under the effect of liquors or sentiments, or most probably the combination of the two, Kh'Everst unburdened his heart to him. Bilir was flattered to realise the fact his friendship with the most enigmatic of the ex-warlords had reached such a point; but more than that he was dispirited by the descriptions of the horrible things Kh'Everst had undergone in his youth. But just as he tried to ask more, Kh'Everst locked himself again and didn't speak for over a day.

"I believe we may do it", Bilir said lamentably, looking somewhere between the two, as if fearing to offend either of the two officials. Kh'Everst approached the desk and took out another orb. He carefully removed the wrapper and returned to the center of the office. "Where is the origin?" he asked. "In the lab, across the campus, ground floor", Abu-Bakir answered in a trembling voice. The two wizards stood right next to each other, their looks displaying such apprehension that Kh'Everst burst into laughter.

"I swear to Twin Gods! You two look like startled academy freshmen on a date! One more second and you will grasp one another by the hand!"
The wizards smiled, and at that moment, Kh'Everst threw the orb at the floor right at his feet. The orb broke to pieces releasing crimson vapour that filled the area in a split second. Moments later it dispersed, revealing that the dark elf had vanished.
Kh'Everst shut his eyes as the contents of Abu-Bakir's office instantly reddened and contracted before him, and he felt an intensive yank, as if some force was trying to pull every bit of him towards the same direction. He felt as his body squeezed and curled, then gradually grew numb. As he opened his eyes again he found himself on the floor of a dimly lit room, his ankles hurting noticeably. "And Bilir calls him the practical genius", Kh'Everst grumbled to himself rising from the floor. "He could have at least spread out a mattress down here..."

He walked out of what appeared to be a lab utility room, passed through the lab and exited to the Academy campus. His keen eye instantly remarked that the sun was much closer to the horizon than it was just a minute ago. How long did his teleportation last? He hurried to the administerium to find out.

As he was approaching the building, a bizarre scene drew his attention. Several familiars stood just at the walls of the administerium, looking upward and waving their hands. It seemed they were desperately trying to collect something into their flasks. While usually in combat it would be mana, this time their contents were of cherry colour. Kh'Everst frowned thoughtfully at the scene as he passed the familiars and entered the building. He climbed the stairs eager to meet the wizards and stumbled over a horned demon lying on the floor just next to the office door. The demon wasn't trying to open the door, but somehow stretched himself on the floor along the door. Kh'Everst gasped at the demon with his jaw dropped. "What are you doing?" he asked.
"I am uhm.. I am from Arabat's suite!" the horned demon stuttered.
"Don't lie to me, Arabat only has a few devils in his suite!"
"Devils bodyguard him, but we go on minor commissions".
"So, what commission do you have?"
"I... uhm... I forgot!"
Kh'Everst cackled and nearly choked. He shooed the horned demon away before finally re-entering the office.

The two wizards, relief drawn on their faces, set to question him about his condition and sensations. "Everything is fine, I feel absolutely normal. But I can imagine, quite some time passed".
"Yes, almost two hours", Abu-Bakir spoke with grief. "How long did it feel it took?"
"Seconds. Maybe one minute tops", Kh'Everst hung his head. He then remembered about the odd behaviour of minor demons, and was about to describe it, but Abu-Bakir spoke first. "We are running out of time, and if I do not find a solution to this problem, we will miss it. Grammith the Warlord will never ratify this undertaking unless we provide him with a failproof sample of an orb. Please, leave me to myself, I need to think".

The foreign councilors nodded and the next minute, Abu-Bakir locked the door to his office and returned to his desk. His mind was already very distant from the administerium.
The sun was inexorably setting, passing the Empire lands into the reign of the evening twilight. At that time, the brightest stars began litting up one after another, gradually outlining the figures of different well-known constellations. The Hellhound, the Unicorn, the Soaring Gargoyle... Just above the horizon, three stars of the Behemoth - the eye, the forelock and the claw of the left paw - could already be seen. One of the largest constellations of the Empire's star-chart, the Behemoth was even more famous for drawing the focus of all Academy's scientists and Empire's fortune-tellers. The court wizard could, naturally, not ignore its movement on the night sky.

Having cast another anxious look at the evening sky, Abu-Bakir tore himself away from the window and hastily returned to his desk, continuing his work. He went on carefully mixing various ingredients in different sequences and taking notes on the parchment placed in the corner of his desk literally after each new action performed, occasionally crossing something out and writing over.
As time went on, the parchment had barely any blank spot left, and its contents were quite difficult to make out, Abu-Bakir just put it away and instead, cupped a handful of ground time crystal dust and drew it close to his face, muttering all known spell incantations related to time.

Many minutes later, the flame of candles placed in chandeliers on top of his desk flickered suddenly, as if a slight gust of wind had just ran through the office, then faded out, placing the room into semidarkness. Abu-Bakir quickly unclenched his cupped hand and realised that the dust had acquired a pink glow. The court wizard yelled an exlamation of triumph as he carefully moved his hand above the sphere at the center of the desk, strewing it plentifully with the newly enchanted dust of the time crystals.

As the last magical spark touched the crystal surface of the orb, Abu-Bakir raised it carefully with one hand, and put out all the candles with a wave of the other, thus leaving the office with only one source of light pulsing inside the artifact he had created. The wizard raised the orb to his eyes peering into the tiny filiform flows of magical energy inside it, and at last, his face became adorned with a satisfied smile.

Abu-Bakir set the hourglass on his desk. He stood up and walked to the center of the room, then hurled the orb at the floor near his feet breaking it to smithereens. When he returned to his office several minutes later, the hourglass sand was still pouring from the upper cup.

He managed to finish it in time. There was nothing more impeding him from opening another portal of time in due terms, not even the wary skepticism of the warlord whose elite soldiers were lost during the last time expedition. The portal of time would be opened on January 19th, at noon.
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