Watching the elves and eladrin flail around and run for water was amusing but only a passing fancy. I grow restless. Bede’s daughter agreed to teach me some of her songs. She says I have a natural voice for music but my ear needs a little work.
I don’t even have ears.
I think she’s a little scared of me.
Izera is a githzerai woman with quick eyes and a deep and angry wisdom. She claims she has the means to cross the planes and get us to the City of Brass and home again. The Codex Avaritia is supposed to be there.
The weather turned cold before we left Sayre, the crisp air threatening frost before too long, and snow perhaps. I do not like snow, it works under the scales and freezes there, aching and cold until you step inside and it all melts with a dripping rush that leaves you wet and shivering. I do not know why dwarves seem to thrive in it so well. Perhaps it is the beards.
Izera says the City of Brass will not have any snow. I relish the thought.
The portal was a mass of swirling red and purple chaos and a wave of great heat, like a campfire built too high. I went through first. It felt like jumping into a furnace. When I arrived I was surprised to find my scales un-singed and my armor cool to the touch.
Thera came next. She has a furious kind of bravery that I can’t help but respect. She came through with a snarl and a shake of her head, her tusks gleaming. Izera, Althaea and Jalissa followed quickly. The city is a hideous mesh of opulent decadence and foulest poverty hidden under a veneer of flame and artistry.
The denizens of this city are ten-foot tall fiery lords of fantastic wealth. They show their wealth by enslaving those they see as lesser races.
Which is everybody.
The portal took us to an abandoned hovel in the poorest part of town — Izera calls it a safe house.
It took me only a few minutes of observing the movements of the people in the city to become angry. Freedom is sacred and slavery is exactly opposite the strongest tenet of my belief. The slaves of this city outnumber the denizens by ten to one. Why do they not rise up and fight back? Why are they content to live a life of captivity, however safe it may seem?
What happened next felt inevitable to me. Like the anger of dragons provoked or the coming of snow in the winter. Althaea tells me I could have walked away, kept the mission in mind. I contend that I could not.
I will tolerate injustice when I have to but I will not tolerate the selling and owning of beings who the gods have given free will.
I urged the slaves on the street to rise up, to free themselves. I spoke to them with all the fire that is in my bones. They gathered, they listened and then they tore me down. The slaves swarmed around me, pulled me to the ground and beat me. Thera and Jalissa tried to fight their way through the crowd but they were too thick around me.
When I regained consciousness I was bruised, battered and left naked lying on cold stone. Jalissa was there and she helped me rise. Thera also shared my prison. Althaea and Izera seemingly escaped when the Efreet authorities arrived.
The cell was small enough that only one of us could lie down at a time and the water was served to us in a rusty bucket that smelled like it had previously been somebodies chamber pot. The food was worse.
I have more sympathy now for those who are burned by the stews that I produce. Perhaps I will temper them in the future. Being served inedible food is nearly as bad as being locked up.
Izera says we were only in there a week but it seemed much longer.
Many times the efreet guards would come and drag me away. What they did to me is better left unsaid but they wanted to know which faction sent me and who paid me to start a slave revolt. They didn’t seem to believe that I acted on my own.
Once, when they returned me to my cell I heard a voice from the cell next to ours. It was female and soft.
“Just give them what they want. They don’t care if it’s the truth.”
The voice belonged to a woman imprisoned for trying to steal an artifact that she referred to as a piece of the Rod of Seven Parts. She called herself Glamor and talked to us in the times between our meals and my frequent visits from the guards.
Glamor claimed to know where the guards stashed our weapons and armor. To the efreets, even such wealth as our magical items were regarded as paltry and plain. In exchange for getting us out she wanted us to help her break into the solarium of Bashumgarda, lord of the efreets to help her steal her artifact.
After several more days of being woken and beaten and starved I was willing to try anything she might suggest.
Glamor charmed the guard when he came to get me and we quickly ushered him into the cell and fled. In the light she is a pale tiefling, with flaming red hair and dark red horns that curl away from her forehead.
True to her word she lead us straight to the closet where all of our gear was stashed in a tangled pile.
Leaving the prison building was more problematic. Efreet’s are giants made of fire and are powerful. Thera tells me that when they came to arrest us it took only two to hurl the slaves aside and bind the three of us. She said the last part with a low snarl that convinces me that she tried her hardest to stay free.
Glamor rolled her eyes at us and muttered the words of a spell. Before our eyes she grew taller and morphed into an efreet woman with flames pouring down her back like a glowing cascade of hair.
I have seen other illusions before. Jalissa and I were impersonated by doppelgangers in Overlook that were able to create an approximation of our faces and bodies by studying us. This illusion was not nearly so complete. Glamor would only pass for an efreet from a distance.
She wanted us to be pretend to be her slaves.
I will never be a slave. Not even in deception.
Thera told me to get over my pride and move along. Jalissa pointed out that by feigning captivity I could actually facilitate my own freedom. Jalissa is often more wise than her appearance indicates at first glance.
Still, I make a poor slave for even when beaten and starved I do not have the deadened look that is in their eyes.
Reluctantly I allowed Glamor to lead us from the prison — newly purchased from among the prisoners as she said was common in the City of Brass for the less wealthy in need of slaves.
Once away from the prison, a black, obsidian structure with peaked dome topped towers and a mote of fire leaping about the walls, she returned to her normal appearance.
Crossing the city to the Solarium of Bashumgarda was an exercise in frustration. I have never been good at subterfuge and sneaking but being seen outside alone without any slave markings would immediately point us out as suspicious.
Worse, we had to move quickly else our absence be found out and the search for us begun.
My instincts were to step out in the street and face the onslaught and beat it back. To bring the light of Avandra to this fiery hell of a city. I long to face the efreet masters there and drive them back. My desire to fight back made my scales itch and burn with impatience.
But the efreets, even the lowliest, have skin as hard as brass and arms as strong as dragons and they are fast and deadly beyond even my reckoning.
I was forced to sneak, like a common thief. My only consolation is that Jalissa was at least as bad at it as I was.
The City of Brass is the largest city I have ever seen, larger then a person on horseback could cross in a single day if she started at sunrise and rode till the sun had sunk below the western horizon… if there was a sun in that infernal pit. The sky was a constant coppery shade of orange that glowed as if the city had sunk into the sun itself.
At times the heat made me wonder if it had.
It took us most of a day to follow Glamor to our destination. After a time the buildings drew closer together and we took to the rooftops, leaping across the gaps between the buildings and skittering over the steep peaked tiles that sheltered the inhabitants — from what I cannot say, I do not think that it ever rains there.
The Solarium was guarded on all sides by a circling patrol of demons. Demons that thrive on darkness and hate the light. Demons I know how to handle. Demons I can kill, or at least vanquish.
Jalissa and I summoned the radiant energies of our gods to blind them long enough for Glamor and Thera to sneak past. The demons put up a horrendous keening sound that grated the ears and seemed to rattle our brains inside our heads.
We followed Glamor inside, to get away from the sound and regain our sanity. Jalissa had a small trail of blood coming from one ear. When I remarked on it she told me that I didn’t look so good either.
The comment seemed fair. I had not had enough of food or drink or sleep in over a week.
The Solarium of Bashumgarda, like the rest of the City of Brass is a posh exercise in arrogant wealth. Displays made of solid gold are arrayed about the room in a long maze of artifacts from across the planes. The labels are scribed in platinum and mounted on aluminum plaques.
Glamor led the way to a display showing what appeared to be a piece of a staff. She looked at us, shrugged and smashed the glass case open before grabbing the piece. Jalissa pointed to a case nearby. Inside lay a small book, bound in leather, worn and yellowed with age. The title was written in common on the front, faded but still legible. “The Codex Avaritia.”
At that moment the room filled with efreets bearing long curved swords that were nearly the length of a grown human. They moved in from all sides and their leader hit Glamor so hard that she was thrown many feet in the air, the rod flying from her grasp.
The fight didn’t take long. The efreets are too powerful, too quick, for us to fight. They beat us and bound us and drug us away. They took us to the nearby house and into a large, marble hall where a tall blue-skinned creature took custody of us. He introduced himself as Darujhistan, the djinn head slave of Bashumgarda. He informed us that we were to be delivered directly to his master but before he opened the door to show us in to the chamber he stopped us.
“I will remember you,” he said, “nobody has fought back against the efreets in ten thousand years. I will remember your words. In return you should remember mine. One shard of Erek-Hus is left, forged into a hammer that can blend two souls. You will need it before your journey ends, avatar.”
With that he opened the door and showed us into another posh and polished room where an efreet lord greeted us. He said he had been looking for us since we escaped his prison.
He gestured with his arm and I saw Althaea and Izera standing a few feet away. The efreet lord told us that we were free to go as long as none of us ever set foot in his city again. He nodded to Althaea and apologized for taking her slaves and warned her that we should be marked in the future. With that we were released and Izera scribed her sigils in the air and we found ourselves back in the Material Plane.
Glamor cursed soundly the loss of the rod that she had tried to steal and tried to intimidate Izera into sending her back to try to get it again. She seems more concerned with getting that rod than with her own life. She can be surprisingly terrifying when she is angry, though and will make a valuable companion.
Jalissa, watching the argument winked at me and pulled the small book from inside her pouch. She had grabbed it while we fought the efreet warriors. The mission, then, was not a total loss but still felt like defeat.
My mind looked back to the words of Darujhistan, trying to salvage some feeling of good will from it all. He at least seemed to be touched by my words. Was it enough to make a change in his world, in the City? My heart aches even now that so many people are slaves, owned by another person and commanded and forced to obey out of fear, or pain or simply because they never knew any better.
Althaea made a pact with the Queen of Winter while the rest of us were incarcerated. The Queen offered Bashumgarda support in his machinations to seize control of the City of Brass. In exchange Althaea owes the Queen a favor — making a deal with one of the archfey is foolhardy at best and I fear that we will all live to regret her decision.
Althaea says that at least we will live. She has a point there. I would not have lived in the City of Brass for long. They would have tried to enslave me and I would have died.
Outside it is snowing. I have never been happy to see snow until this day.