Border Crossing

(co-post Thaen, Ender, Lsp and Rosmary)

Known as The Silver City, Shadrazar rested in a fertile valley that extended between two great mountains and which marked the starting point of the trade route to the Southern Realms that Zatar jealously guarded. After traveling for a couple of hours, Reise, Severos, and Orla reached the heavily guarded border where a detachment of Sarnian knights clad in light grey uniforms of chainmail stood vigilantly at their respective positions. No more than fifty metres away, the Golden Swords of Zatar, dressed in gold vests and turbans were ready to counter any forced entry from Sarnia with deadly force. The elite warriors were outfitted with large scimitars, heavy crossbows, and cart-mounted ballista, as well as magical security measures less visible.

Severos turned and looked approvingly at their improvised disguises derived from the garments they had purchased in the Sarnian border town. He and Reise wore a navy blue galabeya with an Amanap style collar and long ornate sleeves along with fine boots and a burnoose with fringes of silver thread. Orla had on an elegant burgundy coloured galabeya dress with intricate gold embroidery sewn into the front and a transparent veil that alluringly obscured the lower half of her face. Together they were the picture of a small but successful merchant troupe, with Orla likely assumed to be the wife of one of them.

“I'll do the talking,” Severos said. “Your accents will make them suspicious. Just stand there and look calm and friendly. We're a human merchant troupe visiting Zatar, and no more and no less.”

“Have you been through this checkpoint before?” Reise asked.

“No, but I have been through the one at Amanap many times. It should not be any different.”

“Let’s hope not,” Orla said, glancing around at the soldiers. “There is a lot of tension in the air.”

“The Iron Queen has everyone tense and afraid,” Severos said. “But we have nothing to do with her.”

“What about the Mortith?” Riese adjusted the pack on his back. “It doesn't concern you we're lugging around the most sought after magical tome probably in all the world?”

“Of course I'm concerned,” Severos replied honestly. “But I've overlaid the book with multiple spells of concealment that ought to keep it from being detected.”

“The spells are well cast,” Orla confirmed, offering some assurance. “I can no longer sense the Mortith with my faerie sight.”

Reise didn't feel overly reassured knowing that the Nameless was as omniscient as any god. Going by what the bugmage had said, the entity seemed to keep in close communication with its mortal agents, supplying them with information in real time. Casually he smoothed down the front of his galabeya, making extra certain that he could access his devices of otherworldly purpose quickly if he needed them.

“Why do you come to Shadrazar?” a turbaned soldier asked at the station post where Severos presented himself.

“For your spices and other desirable commodities,” Severos answered with a smile.

“And what merchandise do you bring to exchange for them?”

“I bring not merchandise, but gold and silver,” Severos said, knowing that Zatar needed an influx of coin to help pay their army and the bands of foreign mercenaries hired to help fight against the Iron Queen's forces to the north.

“Gold is good,” the soldier said with a smile, though his expression remained unconvinced. “You all look very young for merchants.”

Severos reached into his galabeya and produced the brass plaque bearing his surname. "Qad yakunun sgharan, lakinahum yastahiquwn ahtimam waldiy."

The guard looked very closely at the name. Then, he handed back the plaque. "Of course, move along," the guard said with a waving motion.

Severos gestured to the others and they began their trek. Guards watched closely as they passed between two life-size statues, human mouth agape on both with a large ruby inside. Their twisted features looked to each other, their sight broken only by those that passed between them. The young mage held his breath as they passed between them and let it out in relief as the guards looked past them.

"We made it," he breathed.

"Proceed. Touch nothing but the Lamp." Reise mumbled to himself.

"What did you say to him?" Orla asked, curious at Severos’s words in the foreign tongue.

"That you and him are worthy of my father's attention," was the mage’s smiling response, followed by a wink.

“Hopefully whatever we have to do here doesn't sully the Aven name,” Reise said sincerely. “But it appears itl still holds weight and our bonafides are more than up to snuff.”

As they talked, the three walked around a bend in the road and Shadrazar came into view, causing them all to stop in their tracks. It was a vast city of multitudinous domes, black towers, high spires, and a profusion of exotically designed turrets spreading out across the valley floor. The place looked awe-inspiring, but evil, and felt evil too. Reise pulled a brass telescope from his galabeya and extended it to its maximum length. He raised the device to his eye and scanned the sprawling sea of buildings in front of them, noting the city's defenses, its heavily fortified walls, and its largest and most impressive structures reflecting the exorbitant wealth of some of its elite inhabitants.

“'Tis thrice as big as Opra Dale,” Orla said in amazement.

“But not as beautiful or so interesting,” Reise remarked, only half listening as he pulled out another device and began scanning for a certain magical life signature matching the one that stood next to him.

A great many of the structures below were no doubt magically shielded and Orla, the majority of her etheric essence, could be imprisoned in any of them. But if he had to search every one of those buildings, he would do so. The Hall of Doors could get him past locked entrances and magical wards easily enough. Still, even with that said, this was going to be anything but easy.

A cloaked figure passed by them, followed by a few more. As one passed Orla she noticed the green skeletal ouroboros on the person's arm from where his sleeve hitched up. The group disappeared into the crowd before they could be stopped.

“That man,” Orla said with surprise. “He had the cursed mark, the same one as Joseph.”

“Joseph?” Severos questioned with a frown.

“A very troubled individual we met on the way to visit you,” Reise explained, quickly stowing away his scanner and telescope as he saw some soldiers approaching.

One of the men walked over to them and said, "Excuse me, but I need you folks to confirm something for me. I need all of you to show me your arms, legs, chests and backs. There have been some people with skeletal ouroboros on their bodies. They are terroristic people, so we need to make sure you aren't part of this group. If you don’t comply, we have all the right to arrest you." The guard himself sounded like he didn't understand the terroristic group themselves, but they scared him enough. The heroes saw that they weren't the only ones being stopped, many refugees and visitors were being searched for some sort of mark by the guards, checking every possible place.

"Of course," Severos said gently. He let himself be frisked for the symbol, not sure entirely of what it was. It sounded like a spell branding, something not unheard of in the long history of Aeran, yet it was something that had him worried. Zatar was the only place where mages would not be hunted. Karavoss was nice and all, the Republic could do little to stop Inquisition agents from extraditing whomever they targeted unless it was in the open. And someone abusing the power of magic would certainly draw unwanted attention from everyone.

The soldiers were quick and thorough, intent on finding a mark. One soldier stood back from the rest, an iron rod in their hands instead of the common scimitar. The rod was black metal, tipped with a spherical emerald gem and flowing Zatarese script along the haft of the rod. The man kept it at his side as he stood in observance. His eyes lingered on Orla and Reise for a second or two longer than Severos, the mage himself knowing that he probably felt the magic coming off of them. Yet when the soldiers finished, the Zatarese battle mage seemed to lose interest. He stowed his rod as he shook negatively at his fellow troops. The soldier that spoke previously turned back to them.

"You are cleared," the soldier said to them, already making waving motions. "If you see anyone with a skeletal ouroboros, seek the nearest armspost. These individuals are considered highly dangerous. If anyone is seen assisting these individuals, the Sultan considers you guilty in association."

"I have been away on business and studying for my house," Severos said, applying some worry to his voice. "When did these individuals begin appearing? Should I hire some bodyguards?"

The soldier shook their head. "Just report mysterious happenings and individuals, milurd." With that, they looked to their other compatriots. The battle mage nodded his head to another group of passers-by.

"Truth told, I heard of some sort of war happening here in Zatar before the two of you found me. I was told it was a slave revolt. But this… this is worrisome," Severos said to the two. He continued along the roads, looking at the signs and turning at intersections.

"Where are we going?" Reise asked, passing another patrol.

"The one place there has to be a record of Orla. The slave bazaar," Severos stated, voice neutral as he looked at Orla.

Hearing their next stop, Reise looked at Orla. “Stay next to me. Latch onto my hand or arm if you have to but do not get separated from me,” he told her.

"And do not remove that veil," Severos added, turning them down one last street. "Zatar is one of the few places where slaves are as common as bread. Slaves are well documented and cared for by the noble elite and those with enough wealth to maintain them."

"And abducted to be pressed into slavery," Reise remarked, a sour taste in his mouth.

"Are we here?" Orla asked a bit loudly, speaking over the din of people.

"Yes, there are the slaves being sold right now," Severos replied, pointing to the center of the bazaar. Numerous men and women stood before the onlookers, dressed in comfortable clothing that was highly revealing on both sexes. Or at least, was a bit more revealing in style than any western clothing. All but a few of the slaves looked at ease, some smiling and showing their physique at the behest of slave masters.

The ones that looked about the crowd with a mix of anger and plotting were closely watched by a few orc warriors, emerald hands never far from the chains that kept these ones separated nor were they far from their weapons. One tried to plead with the slave master, fruitlessly for several last times, and was brought to their knees as the slave master yelled at them for making a scene. The slave master pointed a wand at them, a young woman twisting on the ground in obvious and excruciating pain.

"By the Goddess…" Orla remarked, easily feeling the pain all the way out here.

"By God, you mean," the mage corrected. "Zatar worships only the One True God, Ar. Be mindful of phrases such as that, Ar is a jealous god and suffers none of his believers to follow another.

"This is a terrible place!"

"I know," the mage said, picking a path to the slavers with care. He did not remark about any of the proceedings they were witnessing. He kept his focus and soldiered on.

With Orla standing next to him, she could hear Reise grinding his teeth in frustration, and flexing and unflexing his fingers in the hand that she held. Though he never squeezed it hard. Now and then his nostril flared, she could tell he was like an animal that was angry but knew better than to lash out. He was desperately holding himself back, or ‘someone’ at bay.

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