The sky overhead was low, faceted, and amber, which would have fascinated Feris more if he hadn’t found himself on the wrong side of a balcony railing with nothing under his feet.
Yelling in a language he didn’t recognize followed from above as he fell. Below, thankfully, was an awning which caught him, slowed his fall before he tore through it, and landed unsteadily on his feet in front of a door.
He looked around in confusion, as the people in the street jumped back from him in fear. Most seemed to be wearing simple tunics and sandals, their faces were broad with sun darkened skin cast in yellow from the odd sky. There was little ornament, and most of it seemed to be made of colored ceramics. More muttering in that odd language as they took a good look at him and his ornate robe.
Feris looked from the faces to the street around him. The buildings were solid, mostly low to the ground, though he could see some domes in the distance. The streets were paved with bricks made from the same tan material as the buildings. It looked like a more residential area, with the buildings close to one another.
Not knowing what else to do, Feris quickly cloaked himself with invisibility, causing yet another round of gasps and cries of alarm from the onlookers. He stepped quickly away from his landing spot, and tucked himself against a wall, and watched as men rushed from the building he’d found himself falling from. They looked around, while multiple onlookers tried to talk to them at once. Unlike the people in the street, the men from the building were all armed, mostly with spears.
Whatever the people from the street said caused the armed men to circle tightly together, their spears pointed out in all directions. The one in charge barked an order, and the formation began to move off. Feris followed the men as they cleared a path through the streets. After 3 blocks they reformed into a solid running block, and took off at a faster pace.
They jogged from the residential area straight into the heart of the city, passing through a market square that was rather bare of produce. At the far end of the square was a large wall with a gate. The guards at the gate opened the door for the troop, and Feris slipped in with them, thankful for the drills that Rathgar had made them all practice.
Beyond the gate was another square, larger with a garden rather than market stalls. Larger buildings dominated this side of the wall, and crisp statues of ancient gods stood in places of honor. The people in this section of the city were clearly more well off, adorned with geometric ornaments of shining metals. Their eyes turned to the troops, worry lines creasing their faces.
The troops pushed on, and came to another large square. Ahead a massive domed fortress dominated the view. As they approached, the leader of the troops yelled something to the guards at the door, who quickly unbarred the way. Once within the cool shelter of the fortress most of the troops broke off and dropped onto stone benches on either side. Feris stayed with the leader who continued deeper into the building. Through several twists and turns they emerged in a throne room. Feris stepped softly off to the side, avoiding the guards at the doors, and the various servants rushing about. The leader dropped to one knee before the woman sitting on the throne. She was dressed in white linen adorned with simple gold bindings. Her thick hair was silver with age, and piled in a complex style straight above her head. She nodded, and the kneeling man began to speak.
A child stood beside the throne, its hand on the throne’s armrest. The simple white linen tunic lacked any adornment, and the shaved head made determining its gender impossible. It listened as seriously as the queen to the man’s report. A short time into his narrative, the child’s eyes went wide. It then covered its eyes with its hands and muttered. When it dropped its hands, the eyes glowed with a pale blue light. Almost immediately the child locked eyes with Feris and spoke a question. The child covered its mouth, then dropped its hands again.
“Can you understand me now?”
The queen looked questioningly between the child and where Feris was standing.
Gulping, Feris answered “I can.”
The queen’s back stiffened, and the guards drew their weapons. “I don’t mean you any harm!”
“He says he doesn’t mean us harm, and he is dressed very oddly.” the child said turning to the queen. She replied, and the child translated. “She says to show yourself. No harm will come to you.” The guards lowered, but didn’t stow their weapons.
Feris willed the magic he’d bound to release. “Where am I?”
“You are in the cursed city of Uskadara”
“I’ve never heard of it. Nor have I heard your language spoken before.”
The child translated to the queen. Dismay flashed as she pressed her hand against her forehead. The child turned back to Feris. “Almost three weeks ago the priest Bıçakçı trapped us beneath the great golden sky, in the ring that brought you here. Within the city walls we live, but there is no food coming in. The wells run dry.” The child pursed its lips “There has already been one riot. As long as you are here, things will only get worse.”
“Worse, our gods no longer answer our prayers, and I haven’t the strength to break this curse.”
“It must have been a very long three weeks ago.”
“We think so. You are not the first to visit, and every visit has been... strange. In the past few weeks, not counting Bıçakçı, there have been 46 strangers, 47 counting you, who have replaced one another. A few came with groups, but most were alone. Those we’ve talked to have told of an increasingly alien world. The last one stole away with a magical amulet, which is where you found yourself with the guards.”
“If they, we, replace each other instantly, then time doesn’t pass here, unless someone with the ring is in the city.”
“That’s our conclusion as well.”
“Then I’ve got to figure this out and get gone.”
“We had an alternate idea.”
Feris felt a sharp pain to the back of his head, and the amber world went black.
“Do you think you can free us from this curse Father?”
The child nodded. “I think so.” He sighed. “I hope so.”
The queen stood and hugged the child.
"I’ll only be a moment.”
“So it will seem to you.” the child answered, slipping the ring from Feris’ hand and onto his own.
“Who the hell are you!?!” Rathgar yelled at the child standing in Feris’ place.
City Rings are an extremely ancient form of magic only ever practiced by Bıçakçı of Uskadara. Over the course of his career he trapped 6 cities and placed them into rings. By force of will, the wearer can instantly transport himself into the city, along with whoever else he’s touching. Time passes normally only when the ring is within the city, and is frozen otherwise. When the wearer wishes to exit, he must travel with the same number of beings who entered with him. He will reappear in the exact spot he left, but time will have passed in the real world.
Of the 6, Uskadara is the oldest, and on the brink of social collapse.
Dougga is a compact city on a hill, but completely unpopulated except for a trapped beast who stalks the empty streets.
Yamatai is an elven city of wooden buildings, only hours into the curse.
Kota Gelanggi is a town on a small jungle island. The entire island is trapped in the ring. The people are extremely angry about the curse and will attempt to kill anyone who has the ring. They’ve already succeeded several times.
Dvārakā was an ancient stone city full of temples to a thousand gods and demons when it was cursed. The people are remarkably blasé about the situation.
Rosbroch is a rough town, recently built on ancient foundations. It was trapped in the late fall, and snow covers the town. The people are hardy and accept that they’ve been doomed, but will fight it if given the chance.
Image source: Sevan Bicakci