The trader Veklen knows the route, but will guard this secret. They need help though, taking brightglass through the desert. Kajhar is a dusty land, but not a dead one. Great scorpions and lizards lie under the sand. Afield is the cactus desert, a beautiful but deadly place.
Near the tail of the Great Dune lies the city of genie, Shalilas. The human trader keeps it a secret, but the genie care little if they are found. The gates are living, possessed by sometimes lackadaisical genie. In times of need however, those gate genie respond instantly and resolutely.
The most need for traders lie in the small human population. They all know each other, and most are Wishmakers, paid to request simple wishes. Wishmaking is not lucrative; they each have other reasons for being here, and make a living in other crafts.
|Desert City by Sam Denmark|
At the outskirts of the city lie mounds of shattered clay and slag metal, the cast-off remnants of genie who moved up in the city or died trying. Living in the refuse are the lowest of genie, poor souls wearing broken scraps as their body. Even those unfortunate denizens know they can rely on Mother Neres, long-standing guardian with an unusually sturdy body of charred oak. She speaks rarely, and spends her time protecting the slums rather than leading the city.
Most genie in the city will inhabit bodies like human-sized dolls of clay or ceramic, or metals such as steel or iron, or even zinc when possible. Very rare bodies will be made from even lighter materials, like glass or rare metals. Heavier bodies are also uncommon, but more as a matter of practicality than expense. It is more common to see a genie in a body that cannot move, such as a pot, lamp, or other artisanal item, with an attendant or companion to carry them.
Fashion covers an eclectic and varied range, as one might expect from the wide variety of possible bodies. The most important traits for genie clothes are convenience and versatility, as the vessel can always be changed for more long-term appearances. In that vein, there's also something of a trend for genies to alter their vessels, bolting on additional parts or carving away small portions. The right shops can offer strange and unique piercings or other strange changes to the bodies of mortal visitors.
From anywhere in the city, and some ways beyond, one can see its metaphorical center. It is the Green Palace, a gleaming tower of glass holding the city’s greatest elders. Perhaps the most powerful, though not the oldest, is Prinim Veshisk, a massive genie in fine glass. He enjoys his unwieldy, fragile vessel, and forcing slaves to maneuver him. The newest councilor is Toril Syaran, who suspects Prinim may have destroyed a rival on the council, and wishes to expand trade with the mortal world.
The city also relies on the Incense Mines, an ancient buried forest from which all manner of aromas have been gleaned. These scents and the colored flame they produce give the genie incredible sensations, be they euphoric, inflaming, or subduing. At the markets, one can buy such things as stonesmoke cones, fire-dripping sticks, and spiritwalk powder. A hopeless addict to the stonesmoke, Dalifer has spent much time wandering the desert looking for anything to pawn, and if given incense will tell visitors of some of the stranger things out there.
|Incense Knight by Hwa Min Jung|
Most genie outside the city have been lost for ages, found buried in ancient ruins with little memory of where they originated. Only a few have left the city or been kidnapped, and most end up finding their way to Shalilas eventually. There are only two ways for a genie to truly die, without arcane intervention. Either by the decay of the vessel, to a point of complete incoherence, or by failing to transfer to a new vessel when they may leave their present place. The worst wrongdoers are imprisoned by building a pit like a well, lined with stone and filled with sand to bury the criminal.
Perhaps the largest gathering of genie outside the city are at the sandstone fortress of the Smoke-fist Warriors, an order of veshkin mercenaries who ritualistically burn one of their arms to let a genie inhabit it, granting increased strength and an uncanny ability to fight with two weapons at once. The genie Ryula lives secretly within their order, inhabiting a burnt corpse of unknown origin.
Walking the streets of Shalilas
A young genie approaches carrying shards of pottery, looking frightened. He says his master’s vessel has been shattered, and he needs you to buy him a new one quickly.
A commotion from the gates as a genie rushes into the city, asking for aid in rescuing their fellow’s vessel, a vase which has been captured by bandits in the desert.
Prinim’s procession (or another vainglorious councilor) fills the street, forcing commoners and visitors aside at risk of violence.
A player’s finest weapon catches the eye of a Talmar Fineshadow, a genie adventurer who just returned from the Labyrinth of Glass with plenty of gold and a new obsidian vessel. Talmar wants to buy the weapon, and seemingly won’t take no for an answer.
The group is approached by a genie carrying an empty vessel, handing them a few coins and telling them to make a wish.
A human notices the group and rushes over, offering to sell them snacks. Fruit on a stick, peeled and covered in spicy powder, they are more expensive since human food is uncommon here.
Stonesmoke cone: a strangely vivid grey incense that produces deep black smoke, and a rich, salty scent. The namesake smoke is rigid, flowing upward regardless of wind or touch, and feels like shifting stone.
Dripfire stick: particularly long sticks of incense that produce a dim orange flame that does not rise or flicker, rather dribbling down from the end. The scent is sweet and spicy, sharp but fading quickly. The flames are not mere liquid, as indeed they weigh nothing
Astral powder: incense dust that creates a strange, misty smoke, wafting and waving in unfelt winds. The scent is slightly minty and makes one feel energized but calm. The sensation is like being outside of one’s body, and it is said that an excessive amount can draw out the soul.
Harmony coil: usually sold in a spiral shape along with instructions on how to light it. The smell is woody with a floral note, and can vary slightly depending on the type, usually enhancing introspection and self-discovery. It is unique for being ignited by sounds, of particular tone and patterns based on the shape of the incense, despite always being the same material. The common spiral is lit with a low whistle.
Midnight pellets: small beads of blue incense that smell tangy and a bit sour when lit, giving mild feelings of energy and preventing all sleep as long as it burns. On a moonless night, the pellets will burn like tiny stars.
Iris oil: debatable as incense, this fluid always seems to be watching, and when burning releases colorful smoke that leaves afterimages and increases sensitivity of body, mind, and spirit. Some say it simply makes people more suggestible.
|Gold pot by Sandesh Tuladhar|
- A giant made of flame, unnaturally tall and gaunt, striding the desert a short distance to the south. It’s been seen twice, each time at midweek, heading the same direction and leaving a trail of glass footprints.
- In the cactus jungle, full of prickling trees and scorpion monkeys, a spiralling pit of carved stone that leads to unknown depths.
- A gigantic carapaced serpent, coiled and gleaming in the sun. Dalifer ran before realizing that it hadn’t been moving.
- Black sand amid the desert, laid out in a perfectly symmetrical pattern with no one around to have done it. The wind hasn’t picked up since it was spotted, so it may still be there.
- Bandits lost in reverie at night, singing and dancing around a fire. They were burning stolen incense, but there were simply too many.
- Flipped upside down, a huge statue of a head. Very detailed face and square structure that wouldn't roll on its own. No other parts in view.