The Boundary Lands

Chapter 7 - The Jeweled Cities (s. 16)

7.1 The Daza

The rest of the party’s journey is thankfully uneventful, and after about three weeks at sea, the group arrives in the city of Unayzah, northern most of the Jeweled Cities. The Jeweled Cities are known as a land of intrigue and opportunity, an exotic locale, unlike any other place in the world. Unayzah certainly seems to live up to this reputation.

As their ship pulls into dock, the party is assaulted with a variety of sights, sounds, and smells they have never witnessed before. The party disembarks and finds the air is filled with odd scents as peddlers cook a myriad of strange fruits and vegetables wrapped in some kind of flat, unleavened bread to offer for sale. The sun beats down on the city making it stifling hot, even by the water. Amongst the crowds there are some large segments of tieflings and halflings, and the native humans sport a dark brown skin tone, rarely found in the north. Many of the city’s inhabitants are dressed in bizarre fashions the party has never seen before – females in green and pink silk wraps that leave little to the imagination , men wearing only a pair of billowing, baggy white pants, and numerous inhabitants donning some kind of hat that looks like a long band of cloth wrapped around and around their head.

Counting Houses

The party takes in these sights for a time with a sense of wonder, then eventually books a room in an inn near the docks. They discuss their plans – the issue of the missing shipment of furniture must be dealt with in a city farther south, Al’Zarqa. While here in Unayzah, The Zaza wants to look around for any leads on her long lost twin brother, Daza, whom she suspects may be enslaved as a gladiator. Invicto wants to see about arranging a gladiatorial fight with a chimera so that he can retrieve its tongues to craft a powerful new magical rod.

The party agrees to first complete their business with the captured pirate ship. They spend a few days getting acquainted with the culture of the Jeweled Cities while the captain of their voyage arranges a sale. While walking around the city, The Zaza notices she receives a number of second glances and even the occasional shocked stare. It seems that most dragonborn in the Jeweled Cities are gladiatorial slaves, and it is a rare sight to see a dragonborn walking freely through the streets. Eventually, a buyer for the pirate ship is arranged and the party receives a payment of 4,000gp for their half of the sale.

The party then gets to work. Invicto is the most streetwise of the group by far, so he performs some legwork to see what he can find out. He finds that gladiatorial contests are very popular in the Jeweled Cities, and a number of merchant houses deal in the sport. Some specialize in fielding exotic creatures, while others focus on developing and training humanoid combatants. Dragonborn fighters are prized by the latter, and successful dragonborn gladiators are so popular that Invicto is able to get a pretty concise list of the houses in Unayzah that have numerous dragonborn under ownership. Three local houses:

  • Jurindis
  • Hya’int
  • Al’querbon

As well as one visiting house from the city of Sijil to the south, whose fighters are in town for an upcoming inter-city tournament:

  • Un’rynan

Invicto is also able to narrow down a list of three local houses that specialize in fighting exotic creatures:

  • Wonris
  • Tu’wint
  • Three’sim

The Zaza, The Slave?

The party decides to start off by inquiring about fighting a chimera, and picks the first house to visit as Three’sim. To ensure they aren’t dismissed as nothing more than eager amateurs looking for glory in the arena, Invicto lies and says they are representatives of House Al’querbon. They claim that The Zaza is one of their gladiators, and they are interested in arranging a fight with her. The ruse works, and they are granted an audience with an Associate of House Three’sim, a tall, dark-skinned man named Timo’a.

Timo’a brings the party to a second story balcony overlooking a training yard and suggests that The Zaza head into the yard to demonstrate her skills while the rest of them talk business. The dragonborn agrees and two guards lead her through the house, down a set of stairs and into the yard. While The Zaza hacks away at a wooden training dummy, the rest of the group starts talking business with Timo’a and asks if he would be able to arrange a fight with a chimera.

Unfortunately, the party’s lack of familiarity with the slave gladiator business shows, and Timo’a quickly gets a sense that they are not who they claim they are. He motions to one of his servants and a few seconds later the party finds a large group of armed guards filing onto the balcony with them, weapons raised. The Zaza hears a loud slam and turns to see that a heavy iron portcullis has dropped in the tunnel leading into the yard, trapping her below the rest of the party.

The Zaza has a moment of panic where she fears that in trying to rescue her twin brother from slavery she has delivered herself into it. Up on the balcony, the party admits they are not associated with House Al’querbon, and breathe a sigh of relief when Timo’a assures them he has no desire to see their blood spilled, as he is only a businessman. He suggests the party be honest with him and get down to the business of why they really came. The party tentatively asks if they can be reunited with their trapped companion. Timo’a agrees, and The Zaza rejoins the group.

The Price of a Fight

The party tells Timo’a they are not associated with any house, and are just interested in fighting a chimera in the arena. The dark-skinned merchant tells the party that they have come to the right place, as House Three’sim is the only one in all of the Jeweled Cities that owns a chimera. It is a valuable creature, though, and arranging a fight would be very expensive. Timo’a tells the party that the chimera has already fought in the arena numerous times, so it’s not as big a draw as it once was. It might be profitable to retire the beast, if a new, exotic creature could take its place. Of course, he couldn’t guarantee the party a victory. The chimera is a deadly foe, and Timo’a would insist on a fair fight.

He tells the party he has long been interested in capturing a wild elemental. Such a creature has never been bonded in captivity and brought to fight in the arena, but Timo’a has heard of an alchemist in the city who has developed a magical glass chamber that can trap one. Elementals are rumored to sometimes appear within the heart of the great sandstorms that scour the deserts of the Jeweled Cities. If the party can capture an elemental and bring it to him, he says they can have their fight with a chimera.

The party thanks Timo’a for the offer (and for not killing or imprisoning them), and takes their leave. As they leave, Timo’a warns the party about the dangers of impersonating another merchant house, and suggests that they watch their backs. They discuss Timo’a’s offer, but decide not to pursue it for now. The idea of walking into the middle of a sandstorm to try to capture a living elemental sounds a little daunting, and the party puts the task aside for the time being.

Solicitation of Services

The party decides to start looking for Daza in the houses known to possess dragonborn fighters. However, they need a new ruse to get into these merchant houses, deciding it’s probably best not to impersonate House Al’querbon again. Drawing on Invicto’s streetwise again, the party pieces together that gladiatorial fighting is so popular that sometimes wealthy fans of the sport will pay for a private viewing of a house’s gladiators, just to be close to the fighters and enjoy a personal demonstration. It is sometimes even the case that wealthy ladies may purchase additional ‘intimate services’ from the prime physical specimens that the gladiatorial houses have to offer. As they are slaves, gladiators are expected to serve in this capacity as well if a customer is willing to pay the price. The party decides this angle might be best, so some fine attire is purchased for The Zaza, and she pretends to be a wealthy foreign traveler, looking to ogle the local dragonborn fighters.

Although deception is not her forte, The Zaza’s story makes sense as she clearly appears to be a rich female dragonborn asking to insepct the house’s wares. The ruse is quite successful, and the party is able to arrange a private viewing of all of the local dragonborn gladiators. The Zaza is disappointed to find no one that sparks any recognition from amongst the fighters of Jurindis, Hya’int, and Al’querbon.

Last, but not least, the party arrives at the visiting house of Un’rynan. The Zaza waits in a lavishly decorated palatial hall as the house’s dragonborn fighters file into the room. There are only three of them, but The Zaza feels her heart skip a beat as her eyes fall on one who looks strikingly similar to herself and to her memories of her brother. If there is any doubt, it is erased as the gladiators are introduced and she finds that her brother still fights under his given name, Daza. He does not seem to recognize The Zaza at all, though, as he barely looks at her, calmly staring straight ahead.

It takes every ounce of willpower she has for The Zaza to contain herself as she looks over each gladiator. After a brief inspection, the fighters leave, and The Zaza insists she must have a ‘private meeting’ with the fighter named Daza, whatever the cost. The house is glad to accept her coin, and, for a few hundred gold, The Zaza is able to arrange a reunion with her long lost twin brother.

Street Fighters

On their way back to their inn, the party is traveling through a marketplace as night falls on the city. Merchants are breaking down stalls, putting away their wares, when a well-armed group of tieflings approaches the party. One of them tells the party word around town is that they have been selling themselves as representatives of House Al’querbon, and that the house is none too pleased with that. It seems the party will need to be taught a lesson.

Unfortunately, it is the tiefling assassins that are taught the lesson, as the party quickly decimates the group of hired thugs. The creatures’ natural fire resistance is no deterrent to Erik, whose skill with fire magic is so strong that he can overcome such simple defenses. The Zaza bashes a few skulls, Aramil slides his long sword into a few gullets, and Invicto shows the tieflings’ warlock what eldritch pain is all about. The party picks through the assassins’ belongings then continues on their way.

After the fighting subsides, the merchants continue packing up their wares, apparently unfazed by the brawl that just broke out in the street. With the plethora of powerful thieves’ guilds and merchant houses in the Jeweled Cities, most people know better than to get involved in other people’s business, so no one even shouts for the city guard. While the party survived the fight, they are wary about being drawn into a feud with one of the merchant houses of Unayzah. They have heard that the Jeweled Cities are a place of wealth, but also a place of intrigue, and the party has no interest in being hounded by shadowy assassins during their time here.

A Long Time Coming

Back at the inn, the party debates about what to do with the meeting with Daza – specifically whether they should turn it into an escape attempt, or just leave it as a ‘first contact’ meeting. The Zaza decides that the reunion will be quite emotional, and an escape attempt might be rushed or even unwise. She concludes that, if need be, another meeting can be arranged. For now, The Zaza will simply make contact with Daza, tell him who she is, and ask him what he thinks the best way to obtain his own freedom is.

The Zaza returns the next night to the temporary grounds of the visiting House Un’rynan. A secluded chamber is richly decorated for her with silken drapes enclosing the bed, and candles and flowers set up all over the room. Daza is eventually led in. The gladiator wears a glazed look over his eyes and an expressionless face. He sits on the bed, and as soon as the guards leave, The Zaza can’t contain herself. She grabs her brother by his shoulders and looks into his eyes.

“Daza, it’s me, The Zaza! Do you recognize me?”

The male dragonborn looks searchingly into his sister’s eyes. As if awakening from a stupor, his face comes to life with a desperate smile. “My sister, it is you!”

The siblings both burst into tears and grasp each other in a long, warm embrace. Throughout all of his adult life, Daza has known nothing but slavery and killing. The idea of family is strange to him, but after only a couple of hours of talking with his sister, the hardened gladiator feels more comfortable, and hopeful, than he has in years. He opens himself to his sister and tells her of the horrors of his life and his burning desire for freedom. The Zaza promises Daza that she will not rest until he is a slave no more. She tells him of her adventures in the north, and her friends in town, and asks if he thinks an escape attempt would be feasible with their help.

With their time growing short, the twins discuss the details of the best way to pursue Daza’s freedom. The life-long gladiator has seen escape attempts tried, and he is not very optimistic about their chances, even with the party’s help. House Un’rynan, even in its temporary housing here in Unayzah, is heavily guarded. Furthermore, Daza has been quite successful as a gladiator, and is renowned as one of the most skilled fighters in all of the Jeweled Cities. An escaped slave as valuable as he is would be tirelessly hunted. Merchant houses are known to employ powerful magical diviners to help track down especially valuable commodities over any distance.

Daza suggests another possibility. A house in Sijil, House Malatar, has somehow captured a pair of young dragons. They have recently started fighting the dragons in the arena and, needless to say, the beasts have not come close to defeat yet. Daza knows that the master of his own house, Un’rynan, would give anything to see the creatures bested in the arena. On rare occasions, very successful gladiators have earned their freedom by an especially glorious victory in the arena or through a tournament. Daza has served his house admirably for many years now, and he believes that he can convince his master to offer the prize of freedom if he agrees to fight the dragons in the arena.

The battle sounds daunting, to say the least, but The Zaza agrees to discuss the idea with the rest of the party. She takes her leave and returns to her inn. With Daza’s dismal assessment of the success of an escape attempt, the party decides they will do what they must to help The Zaza rescue her brother. They return to House Un’rynan the next day and tell Daza to arrange the fight. Just a few days later, they receive word from House Un’rynan that Daza was successful, and the fight is set for Sijil in a little over a month’s time. The party will join Daza in fighting House Malatar’s dragons. If victorious, Daza will earn his freedom. If not… the dragons have shown no mercy to any of their opponents yet, and the party will likely be no exception.

Later in the week, Daza fights in the inter-city tournament House Un’rynan is in town for. The party watches his contests and they are impressed with his skill. Daza wields two curved scimitars and fights with lethal brutality. He wins the single fighter tournament, defeating local champions Halbrik (who fights under the name ‘The Vengeful Minotaur’) and Cassius (a Tiefling who fights under the name ‘Death’s Shadow’). The party is confident he will clearly be an asset in their upcoming fight in the arena.

As House Un’rynan returns to Sijil with Daza and the rest of their gladiators, the party makes the journey to the sprawling metropolis as well. After five days of trudging through hot desert sands, the party reaches Sijil, the largest of the Jeweled Cities by far, and the largest city the party has ever seen. Though it has plenty of distractions to offer, the party stays focused on their upcoming fight. This will likely be the most difficult battle the party has ever faced, and they must be as prepared as possible if they hope to make it out alive.

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