Daoud’s Wondrous Lanthorn: Chapter Five
Flight from the City of Brass
“Now my son,” Surrvaris said to his student, “You have learned some magic and you have learned the ways of undeath. But what do you really know of the world? Are you ready to command the genies? By the power of your great-grandfather’s ring, I will create a portal. Toss yourself into the flames of this brazier, and you will see wonders. Only do not forget to return by the way you have come before the coals of this fire go cold, or you may not find your way back at all.”
Daoud looked apprehensively into the hot flames, then shrugged his shoulders and stepped into the fire. Pain seared his flesh as the fire leapt up to consume him, and in only a moment his whole body burst into flames. In terror for his life, he leapt away from the brazier, only to find himself no longer in the chambers of Surrvaris or anywhere near the city of Sefmur. He stood upon a balcony overlooking a great city of stone and brazen domes, all ablaze with flame. The heat struck him like a blast from every direction. Even the streets burned, as did the arched bridges that spanned a river of hot lava flowing through the center of the city. Daoud lifted his hands and peered at his body, expecting to see himself badly burned, but instead he found himself quite unharmed. Well, if I am really here, I should have a look around and see what I might learn.
The blazing streets teemed with fearsome creatures: efreet sauntered about like sultans; Azers strained at heavy carts and hunched beneath the weight of various burdens; carriages drawn by fire salamanders stalled traffic through the streets; mephits leapt about like flaming squirrels; fire weirds snaked themselves around poles, and fire elementals shifted from form to form, as the spirit of the flames willed it. Fire giants with flaming whips herded slaves to market. Daoud peered about at it all and would have surely been wide-eyed with wonder if not for the smoke and stinging ash that forced him to squint.
“Are you not a stranger to our city?” asked a woman’s voice in the common language, albeit heavily accented. He peered up to see a tall genie, beautiful and terrible, with coal-black skin, draped in expensive silks and adorned with priceless gold jewelry all set with gems. Daoud bowed in the manner of his people and exclaimed, “I am that indeed my lady. A stranger and one entirely new to this place. I am Daoud of Tusmit.”
“Well met man of Tusmit,” the efreeti said smoothly. “I am Najat Shams of the City of Brass. And lest you think us inhospitable, you shall stay beneath my roof this night and eat from my table.” She scooped him up in one hand, the way a man picks up a child, tucked him under her arm, and carried him to her home where she tossed him in among the slaves.
Unhappy was his lot in the house of Najat Shams, for the efreet are cruel to their slaves and work them most ruthlessly. Daoud was sent to her threshing floors outside the City of Brass where, all day long, he threshed the grain in the hot cindery winds. If ever he showed fatigue or begged for water beyond his ration, a wicked ogre applied the whip across his back. Now I have surely overstayed. How shall I ever escape, and if I do escape, how shall I return to my home? If only I had committed some spell to memory which could save me from this fate. But he had come to the City of Brass quite unprepared for such an eventuality.
One night (or what is called night in that place when the hot yellow sun of the sky burns slightly less brightly), Daoud observed another slave of the household weeping and wiping at her tears. “Woman, what causes you to weep so? Are you not among the personal attendants of our lady Najat Shams? Surely you know your lot is much better than the rest of us who toil under harsh labor.”
“Yes,” she replied, “But our lady ordered me to read to her this evening. Since I have never learned my letters, I said that I could not. She punished me most severely and warned me to answer her better the next time she tells me to read to her from her books.”
“My lady, have no fear. Am I not a man of learning? Let me read to our lady.”
So Daoud rose to the station of attendant for Najat Shams. She delighted to hear the stories of the lands of men and collected books of tales from Oerth. Some of these Daoud could read easily, for they were written in languages he knew. Others were written in languages less familiar, and others in tongues completely unfamiliar to him, but he created the stories or told tales which he had heard elsewhere, and Najat Shams never suspected otherwise. In this way he found favor in her eyes and also in the eyes of her friends and family, all of whom used to gather in her parlor to hear Daoud read to them.
Daoud rose in fame among the scholars and the elite until, presently, he found himself promoted to an assistant in the library of the Charcoal Palace. He took a place among the most eminent scholars of the City of Brass. They taught him the lore of the efreet and their language too, and they set him to work translating the books of Oerth into their tongue. He taught them about the lands of Oerth and the ways of men and elves, dwarves and gnomes. They traded with him in knowledge of spells and enchantments. Moreover, they taught him the secrets of fire, its heat and its hunger, its strength and its weakness. But he remained a slave, and even the kindest efreeti is cruel. Daoud plotted his escape. Drawing from the sources at his disposal in the library of the Charcoal Palace, he copied a rudimentary book of spells, preparing especially charms of fire and heat resistance. Pouring over a book titled Manual of the Planes, he noted routes by which he might, perhaps, navigate from plane to plane to come once again to his home on Oerth.
On a certain festival day, when all the efreet gather to tend to their sacred rites, Daoud armed himself with spells, stole a magical carpet and a sack of books, and launched himself from a minaret. True to its enchantment, the carpet supported his weight and bore him aloft. He sailed over streets of the city unchallenged, but when he passed through the gate to escape the great bronze dome, the watch raised the alarm.
A red wyrm leapt into the air to pursue him on a hot wind of cinders and ash. Daoud urged the rug beneath him to fly faster, but when it became clear that he could not outfly the beast, he banked and turned to do battle with the dragon in the flaming skies. It blasted at him with a breath of flame, singeing his hair and beard and burning off the fringes of the magical carpet. Daoud struck at the wyrm’s heart with spells of cold and ice which exploded in the air. At length the dragon gave up the pursuit and turned back, and Daoud slipped away.
The Tusmistite flew for many days, racked with thirst. Hot winds baked his sooty skin until it cracked and flaked, but he saw no water, nor did he expect to see any. All the life left his body, and he withered away, barely strong enough to cling on to the flying carpet. The smoke and heat of never-diminishing flames obscured all the world below him.
At last Daoud beheld a wall of fire climbing the sky on the horizon. He steered, as best he could, toward the ominous conflagration. Flames rose up nearly a mile into the sky like a sheer bulwark of fire all along the skyline where the blazes were fed by tempestuous drafts from the world of wind. Daoud spoke a spell of fire-resistance (a spell with which he had become quite adept in recent months) and dove toward the conflagration like a moth fluttering toward the flame. Cyclones of flaming wind whipped at him and spun his carpet all about, dropping him suddenly, now lifting him on the updraft, now tossing him to and fro. A blizzard of thick ash swirled in the firestorm of howling wind and filled his ears and eyes and nose and mouth with the choking dust until he passed from consciousness, still clinging to the ash-sodden rug.
“And thus I escaped from the City of Brass and the world of fire,” Daoud told Hasnat and all the companions beneath her pavilion. “A pity that the lateness of the hour prevents me from telling how I then travelled to the Court of Ice and Steel and became a favorite of the sultan of the djinn, how I went on from there to the world of water. More the pity, for that is a tale worth hearing, not to mention my further adventures and all that has befallen me on my journeys, and how Grimmly and I have come to the Twin Paradises by accident.”
Based on Rasgon, “The Golden Age of Tusmit,” Canonfire! [Posted Octomber 13, 2011].
Featured Artwork: City of Brass: Dungeon Master’s Guide
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