• Graded • Hanging Pawn - memory [Kydrel]

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Hanging Pawn - memory [Kydrel]

Hanging Pawn


80th trial of Vhalar, arc 715

The compressed earth stifled the glorious, slow, threatening "clomp" of their approaching boots. But the widening corridor of wide-eyed, cringing citizens went far to replace this lost aspect of intimidating pride that the two Queens' Guard wore like armor. Just the knowledge of who these two men were was sufficient to safeguard their safety against any but an absolutely suicidal maniac. And unless this maniac possessed incredible skills in either magic or ranged weaponry, their prowess with blades would have him diced for the slaves' evening meal in bare ticks.

But there were none presently abiding in Rhakros possessed of such madness. And these men, as well as the rest of their company, would have been aware of any that were. Humans they were, nearly giants in stature at 7' 2". Their armor a burnished bronze, bordered by tatted fur to give the effect of insectoid fuzz where it rose beneath the plates. Their helms shaped to imitate the design of wasps, right down to the mandible fangs that would inject a venom if so desired. The spherical eye covers formed of a steel mesh just tight enough to prevent those without from tracking their eye movements, but allowing them to see out from within.

The tatted fur smoothed and extended beyond to drape into a lush cape, dyed and cut to inspire the impression of resting wings. The hafts of twin javelins jutting from behind their shoulders added to this effect. Their limbs were embellished with armor fittings to resemble the sort of stiff, carapace spikes found on the joints of many insects' legs. An elbow thrown back at an attacker to their rear could transfix him upon the equivalent of three or four stilettos. But these were not the spindly-looking limbs of insects beneath these fittings. These were men of brutish strength, smoothed with the agile practices of many arts of unarmed combat; their muscles oiled and gleaming where they could be seen, dark teak in color, only slightly lighter than their ebon eyes.

These men were of the Queen's Guard; Lisirra's elite; and they were to be feared.

Multiple straps criss-crossing their attire to affect the look of insect-like color bands were actually bandoleers of throwing weapons of both blade and vial variety; the chemistry within of the deadliest compounds the Immortal of Pestilence had yet contrived. Their use to be without regard for innocent bystanders, for all residents of Rhakros were to have been long since building resistances to them. And visitors were assumed to know the risk of entering Lisirra's city. 'Was that not the purpose of devotion to Lisirra? To show your appreciation for the wisdom of a lifetime spent developing an immunity to the tactics that would be employed against her enemies?'

When these men left their positions in the Chamber of Audience, it was to retrieve someone at her whim. Any that were unaware of some way that they might have pleased her had to consider the possibility that they had DIS-pleased her; and that was perilous, not just for them, but for family and friends as well. But it was only citizens that knew this. Visitors though, might have come to guess it by the consistent wake of relieved sighs coming from the throats of all that were bypassed by this pair.

Ultimately, they came to the inn serving the visiting populace of the south side of Rhakros. A hush struck down all conversation and turned all eyes to the pair as they entered, now reveling in the crisp, reverberating "clack" of their boots on the hardwood floor. They stopped and scanned the room, their eyes quickly finding their target, their voices low and soft, yet carrying the power to level cities.

"You...avriel...you are called to audience with "Her Radiance". You may leave your dealings as they stand. Any that exploit your absence will be punished to your satisfaction." One took a backward step to the doorway, while the other stepped forward and to the side, awaiting the compliance of the avriel that would make the return trip between them.
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Hanging Pawn - memory [Kydrel]

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50th trial of Vhalar, arc 715

Anger. It filled his mind like a thick haze. A caged animal snarling, clawing at the bars of his sanity, threatening to break free and wreck havoc on those in his midst. Emotions, barely controllable, twisted and flared, one indistinguishable from the next, knotted together so tightly that it felt like a physical weight constricting his chest, making it hard to breath.


Chaotic thoughts roiled like the waves under his feet, the hewn wood rough against the soles of his heels. A strong wind blew against his back, feathers catching and tugging in the breeze. Those external sensations were the life line that he clung to, the only thing keeping him from lashing out, keeping him from plunging over the edge.


It had been the longest year of the Avriel’s life. He felt hollowed out, a mere husk. The events leading up to this moment, standing on this ship sailing across the open sea, refused to register in his mind. All he felt was the carnal instincts raging war against the fortified reason he fought so hard to obtain and strengthen. Everything he had worked for, the hundreds of hours spent trying to complete his Dominion Training, all wasted.


Exiled.


The word echoed in his mind on a loop, mocking him. Humiliated. Banished. Rejected. Alone. Possibly hunted. The last direction he thought his future would go. His thoughts drifted, the events that led him to this bleak future floating to the forefront of his mind, stress, anxiety and exhaustion threatening to consume him.


A bloodied comrade, unconscious at the Avriel’s feet, receiving blow after blow from the training weapon, uncontrollable rage taking hold of Kydrel. Hands reaching out to stop him, only to be lashed out at until he struck a trainer. An explosion of pain at the back of his head and he awoke the next day, chained and imprisoned in the Forest of Stone. It wasn’t long before he was before the court, sentenced and exiled.


Though they let him live, that didn’t mean he was safe. Enemies had been made, friends turned their backs, there would be no help from anyone but himself. The weak died and the strong prevailed. A sentiment he once believed in. The conviction had been so strong; it had been the closest thing to a religion as he was likely to get. But now…nothing seemed to matter. One needed purpose to care. And now it was gone.


Ocean spray caught in the wind, misted down on the motionless Avriel, the freezing water striking his exposed skin as the ship struck a wave. He jerked out of his reveries, for a moment, confused. Then his situation came flooding back. Forty trials prior, Kydrel had bribed the captain of the Chrien’s Hold to allow him passage to Rhakros. Promising added protection against enemy vessels free of charge, he was accepted, albeit begrudgingly.


Under normal circumstances, Kydrel would have never taken a sea voyage, the majority of his race having an extreme dislike for water, much less entire expansions of it. He was hoping that aversion to the sea would play in his favor. Heading north from Athart, seemed too obvious of a route. If he was being followed, the long journey across the ocean would hopefully deter those but the most determined to see him put down. Even in Ivorian, he felt jumpy. It just wasn’t far enough away.


Which left Rhakros.


Kydrel knew absolutely nothing about this city. He had only heard rumors of it down at the docks as he tried to secure passage off that lone rock of Ivorian. That it wasn’t a place for the weak of spirit or of mind. Most avoided it if possible. The perfect place to seek refuge.


Or so he hoped.

80th trial of Vhalar, arc 715

He had made a grave error.


It started as an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach as the ship he traveled aboard reached the coast and slowly made its way through the canal. He couldn’t place it but the forest seemed…oppressive. Nothing at all like Athart.


The feeling only got worst as he reached the docks and into the city. Frustration grew as he tried to pin it down but it evaded him. As with every city he arrived in, he quickly drew attention, eyes following him everywhere he went. He was used to hostility but this felt…menacing. He would find no friends here.


That had been weeks ago and still the feeling remained, stronger than ever before. The hope of a new start had been quickly snuffed out. Now all he felt was depression. And Rhakros didn’t help. Having found his way to an Inn had proven the only successful thing he’d accomplished thus far. And even that bit him in the ass. He spent the first three days puking his guts out, having consumed some of the local food.


Kydrel sat slumped at a table in the common area, back to the wall, staring vacantly at the lines in the wood. The feathers along his wings looked ruffled, unkempt. They draped over his shoulders and along his body, covering his frame like a cloak, his head partially concealed from view. He had taken up that position for the last few trials, resigned to his fate.


It wasn’t until the doors of the Inn swung open and two of the most intimidating men, if they could even be called that, strode into the room, instantly commanding the attention of all in it, a hush falling over the Inn. The Avriel’s eyes flickered up from the wood for the first time in a while, feeling the instant tension that filled the room as though everyone inhaled sharply as one.


Mild interest turned to uneasiness as the two creatures seemed to scan the room, heads slowly turning until they stopped on him. A spike of apprehension stabbed at Kydrel’s stomach as the two spoke.


It took a few seconds for their words to even register in his mind, so outrageous did they sound.


I…they…what? Her Radiance? Who the…? For the love of…


Every eye was on him, to see his reaction. He weighed his options.


There weren’t any.


It didn’t take a genius to know these men meant business. To openly defy them was idiotic; it took glance to know that. However, for the first time since arriving in Rhakros, something stirred in the Avriel. Curiousity.


Kydrel slowly stood; chair scrapping against the floor loudly, wings parting and retracting to rest behind his back. As his wings shifted, the glint of metal caught the dim light, revealing armor covering his torso and limbs, weapons at his waist. Purposeless, haggard and lethargic as he may be, he was no fool as to move anywhere in this city unarmed.


Kydrel silently moved across the room and between the guards, wondering, not for the first time, if he was making a huge mistake.
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Last edited by Kydrel on Mon Apr 18, 2016 4:54 am, edited 1 time in total. word count: 1186
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Hanging Pawn - memory [Kydrel]

One who did not know better might have been alarmed at the sight of such a youngster being so flippant as to sit in a throne meant for one of the most notoriously lethal Immortals in all Idalos. A deity of surpassing disregard for life and suffering, Lisirra was responsible for heinous acts of cruelty and genocide, just to amuse her curiosity about the strength of some new deep jungle toxin. It was only the benevolent powers of her sister, Moseke that had preserved some of her victims.

And now this girl, this innocent youngster, looking as if she should have been in a classroom awaiting a chance to gossip with her friends, sat upon the high dais as if she belonged there. Even her clothing spoke of a cavalier disregard for royalty. A plain white dress, stained with dark smudges was apparently supposed to represent the robes of a queen. Sandals clung to her feet as she kicked them playfully, her fingers twining her dark hair, bound by a feathered headband. She looked bored.

She may have started issuing playful commands, as part of some game. But the others in the chamber would hardly have responded in the same care-free manner. Any command this "child" issued would have been obeyed with grim swiftness and ruthless accuracy. For this WAS Lisirra, The Plague-Lord; Immortal of Pestilence, Toxin and Decay, The Queen of all insects, and only she played games in her throne room.

And one of those games now approached. The growing shadows of a trio formed beneath the carved, polished Cambrian doors. The exotic wood scent blended richly with the blooms that graced sconces throughout the chamber. The heavy droning of colorful insects was an hypnotic effect to go with the aroma; though the stingers of these little "pets" could well be lethal to anyone unaccustomed to the ever-present miasma of toxins permeating air, water and earth.

The one being escorted into the royal chamber now was one such, though it was doubtful he knew it. The avriel was not from lands anywhere near Rhakros. And though there was similar flora and fauna in the jungles near his birthplace of Athart, the potency of their venoms and toxins were not embellished by a matron Immortal. But whether or not the "guest" knew of this particular angle of danger, it was obvious by his demeanor that he knew this invitation was perilous.

Lisirra beamed in genuine welcome, as if it would never occur to her that someone bidden to appear before her might have apprehensions. "Aaah, there he is!" she chirped, bouncing to her feet, her golden eyes glowing with eagerness. Kydrel would recognize her use of the Lorien tongue, though the flowing accent of Xanthean enriched it lavishly. "So good of you to ease the burden of diplomacy on my guards, by cooperating. Appearances must be maintained, after all. I have to be the 'evil Lisirra' or my enemies won't hesitate to attack my city." she embellished her act with an exaggerated monster act, making a face and hooking her fingers into claws as if her reputation was entirely unjust and unearned.

She spun with a flourish, her arms extended. "No one else wanted the jungle for a home, so I took it. I love the vines and blooms and snakes and birds! All so sweet-smelling and colorful! I can't help it if they all use poison to get their food. And if I'm going to live here, it's only natural that I would need to learn all I can about them, to control them, to combat them, to protect my people from them. Doesn't that make sense?" Her look was utterly sincere, as if it truly pained her to suffer the disdain of her fellow Immortals, unfairly branded as some kind of twisted sadist.

She seemed to suddenly come to realize her guest had been left standing, even after the escort had moved on to take up their regular posts at the foot and upper landing of a grandly upholstered stairway to an encircling promenade. There were similar guards in pairs by every door. And there were many doors. "Oh, my goodness!" she burst, "Please excuse my rudeness! I've gone and left you standing after that long walk." She gestured to plush chairs lining the walls with a snap of fingers and one of the guards nearly leaped to bring one to the foot of the dais as she retook her seat on the throne.

"You know, this old thing is probably less comfortable on my bottom than that chair is on yours." she giggled, acting a little embarrassed at her casual vernacular. A second gesture brought a tray of fruit, breads and fish to be placed before her guest. She laughed lightly, but with a slight air of hurt feelings. "I know you must have concerns about any food served here, all the things people say about me. But I promise you, it is not poisoned. It is the rumors others spread about me that give you these worries." She suddenly leaned forward, perching herself on the front of the seat pad. "That is why I have asked you here. Have you ever heard of the city of Etzos?"
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Kydrel’s mind was awhirl as he found himself escorted by titans of men that strode next to him, one on each side. The crowd melted around them as they made their way through the city, every eye in passing locked on the trio, both in fear but mostly pity directed at him. The looks were not lost on him, he could feel the appehrension growing in the pit of his stomach.


But it wasn’t long until they reached their destination.


The first thing that registered in his anxious mind was the scent; it invaded his nostrils, a pleasant change from the rest of the semi-cloying city. Yellow eyes flickered along the walls, looking for the source of the smell but he was unable to place it. He did however notice the insects that floated in clouds around them. He tensed warily, his time here having slowly shown him the unknown in Rhakros was dangerous.


It wasn’t until a light, childlike voice spoke up that his attention was snagged, his head whipping around violently from the swarm of bugs that floated lazily about. Kydrel hadn’t known what to expect, but this was certainly not it. The small girl that lounged easily on the throne defied every expectation that he could have come to. Disbelief briefly crossed his face and he quickly glanced at the guards that lined the room, as if expecting someone to jump out and say it was all a joke. But they were deadly serious, never looking at him, standing as if carved of stone.


It took him a few seconds to finally come to terms that indeed, Lissira was a little girl. That made everything he had heard whispered about in the shadows about her even more sinister. He was even more startled when she spoke in clear Lorien, in the midst of such turmoil, it was a small comfort that he hadn’t felt in a long time.


Kydrel knew he wasn’t the most impress looking creature in that moment. His appearance mirrored the turmoil that churned within his mind. His normally preened feathers were frazzled and sticking up at random angles, a slight hunch in his shoulders he didn’t care to hide marked his mental state of a man slowly sinking into hopelessness. The lack of purpose that had driven him for so long had finally fizzled out. During his escape over the last arc, the hope that Rhakros would bring redemption for him and his uncertain future had fueled him. But now he finally came to the conclusion that Rhakros didn’t have the answers he sought.


He was at a loss.


But the girl in front of him sparked something within him. He just wasn’t sure what it was.


Kydrel glanced from the Plague-Lord to the guards around him, his lip twitching at her comment about coming along willingly, the only indication of his mirthless humor.


“They make quite the impression on the locals. But I would never allow Her Radiance to be kept waiting.”


Kydrel gave her a penetrating look for a moment. He doubted anyone would be foolish enough to attack this city. Her reputation alone from the few snippets he had overheard since his arrival was enough to give him pause. Her remark about her reputation caused a strong emotion to stir from within him and he spoke with a hint of venom.


“Evil is a strong word. People throw that word around whenever they do not agree with actions that are different than theirs. Or even appearances. They judge what they do not understand. I should know. They fear what they do not recognize. A tool which you use with great success.”


The Avriel’s wings twitched, resentment rising to the surface, his own memories flooding to the forefront of his mind at his own mistreatment. He understood in part Lisirra and what it was like being hated, deserved or not. He wasn’t trying to impress her or gain her favor, he only spoke what he believed.


Her movements were so graceful and innocent distracting and for a moment he could feel himself wanting to let his guard down. But then he tensed, his attention returning, knowing that he needed to be on his guard. He still didn’t know her intentions and the reason for this summons. She continued on about her home but before he could respond, she snapped her fingers and the Avriel was left momentarily stunned at the speed in which her guard reacted. It was as though someone lit a fire under him and threatened to execute him, further reiterating the need to be wary of Lisirra.


Kydrel sat in the chair offered. Under normal circumstances he would refuse, never wanting to bow to authority of those he deemed lesser than he. But something inside him told him he didn’t want to anger the one in front of him. The reactions of the town folk, to the elite bodyguards that surrounded her, a wild fear and the intense obedience of each sentry in the throne room left him with the impression that Lissira was quick to anger and made it known in ways he didn’t want to think about.


The Avriel nodded as she giggled at her own joke, returning to the present, listening and acknowledging her, maintaining eye contact but not offering words in return. He thought about replying but it would come across as forced and fake. He was not a chatty or social person. It did not come naturally. Kydrel hoped she wouldn’t take offense. He reached for the food offered, knowing he wouldn’t eat it but accepting it all the same.


It wasn’t until she leaned forward that he sensed the change in her demeanor making his stomach clench. He spoke quickly, heart beginning to pound.


“Etzos…It is not familiar. I traveled south from Athart. I only heard about Rhakros from my time in Ivorian after my…disagreement with…people.”


He could have punched himself, in his haste to answer her he almost let it slip about his exile and did a horrible job of covering it up.


Idiot. You sound weak. Hesitant. Focus.
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Last edited by Kydrel on Mon Apr 18, 2016 4:55 am, edited 1 time in total. word count: 1047
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The Immortal did not let on that she'd noticed how her servants' quick obedience had impressed her guest. Nor did she act as if his sniveling about the injustice visited upon him back in Athart made her think any less of him. In fact, it did not. He was only a mortal and they were always sniveling about something. The sooner they accepted that they were only suited to be the tools of their betters, the easier it would be for them.

This was not to say that Lisirra did not love her devotees in her way. But she expected them to know their place. And that place was service. If it required deception to make them fill the role she desired, then they deserved to be victimized by trickery. Had they displayed the willingness to obey without question, then she would not distort or withhold the truth from them. And those who said she did not value and honor her martyrs truly were liars. - Or at least mistaken.

But the one before her now was avriel. And that meant he would be far more receptive to commands if they were couched in the the absurd flattery of their twisted notions about being equal to the Immortals. Sure she could intimidate him. If he had someone with him that he cared about, she would not hesitate to threaten them for his cooperation. But either he showed unusual wisdom for his race, or he was genuinely alone in the world. In any event, a negative approach would surely motivate him to simply flee once he was beyond the bounds of her domain.

It was ironic to think that his destination, in such an event, would probably be Etzos. She smiled at the thought, letting it shift into a smile of feigned sympathy. All she needed was a cause. And it didn't even have to be one he would ever complete. All he needed was to start doing it. As an avriel, she could play on his race's arrogance. But the people of Etzos would not share his opinion of himself.

It would be easy enough for him to get in. With the avriels' claim of sovereignty over their own evolution; as well as defeat of the Immortals, there would be no immediate belief that he would perform a job on the behalf of an Immortal. It stood against everything the avriel represented. There would be the assumption of arrogance of course; the assumption of pure self-interest with the added antagonism of expectation that the local humans should leap to his service. But no one would start off thinking he was in Etzos to further HER agenda.

But as soon as he began to work on her task, the scrutiny would be all over him like bacteria on rotted flesh. Then it would escalate until someone stepped forward to be the paragon of the people. It did not matter if they stepped forward to vilify him with zealous eloquence, or to take the stand of righteous tolerance. Someone would rise up to be the hero of the people. She already had a good idea of the three or four that were likely to fill that role, but confirmation was the goal here. Then, her agent would refer that information to her patron, Faldrun, and assassins would strike a crippling blow to the city's morale.

This had not been her own idea. Syroa had approached her with it, apparently at the behest of Faldrun. Though she did not consider him any sort of ally, she DID number Syroa among them. And she knew there was some connection between those two. As the "enemy to the south", she and Faldrun, to the north, had Etzos in their jaws. So it made sense to maintain the "common enemy" state of diplomacy by doing her part.

It was true that Hiladrith, with the all-too-kind-hearted Edasha, was inconveniently in the midst of the war corridor. But Edasha was also Faldrun's plaything, though it was obvious that she lacked the killer instinct to be of much use to her sweetheart. But Lisirra did not feel the least bit disposed to bad-mouth her to the Lord of Fire. She believed Edasha would eventually come around.

Her reverie was short-lived as she estimated that the passing time was sufficient to let her smile effectively wane and imply a sad empathy for the avriel before her. "Is it not always that way? That those with extraordinary capability are always set upon by the unworthy? There is no shame in acknowledging that when all your peers wish you cast out, it is best to leave them to their stagnant redundancies, and go on to bigger and better things elsewhere."

Now she let a look of anger begin to cloud her features, though she directed it past him to some obscure target. "We are not that different, you and I. It was on Syroa's own advice that I sought you out. That you, even from out of all your glorious race, would know how it is to be targeted by such envy and treachery. And she has prepared a gift for you, if you choose to do a task for me."

She was on a roll and she knew it. The mortal's interest was clearly piqued. But now the diplomatic tact was to take a different tangent. She looked down as if a small degree of shame made it difficult to meet the winged humanoids eyes. "I hope it does not offend you that anyone here thought you might need to be...bought...to help me punish those who would spread false tales in order to glorify their ugly selves."

Now she let a hint of plea enter her look and voice. "But you are so perfectly suited to help me! And I would not see you go without a gesture of appreciation. Syroa has created this ring...It will give three charges of an ability to alter your form, so you can deceive the deceivers...well, you will need to use it once to know how it works, so it will only have two charges left."

Now she leaned forward eagerly, trying to draw the mortal in with the thought of righteous vengeance and intrigue. "You see, there was once a group of mortals that did work for me, delving into the secrets of many things poisonous and debilitating. Such things MUST be investigated to be understood well enough to be countered. But they went too far, bringing disgrace to my name as a someone wanting to bring death to all the world! Such an accusation is madness! I want no such thing! Why would I? Why would ANYONE? But their insidious lies, bolstered by the advocacy of those Immortals that hate me, have convinced the world that such lies are truth."

Now her lip trembled ever so slightly, then firming up again, as her expression fluctuated between hurt feelings and the determination to lash out. "Well, what it comes down to is that this group is rumored to be in Etzos, and is growing in number. Obviously, I can not go there and ask. And their obsession with not allowing devotions makes them very untrusting of newcomers."

Now her expression became conspiratorial, "But you...member of a race known to have never knuckled under to any of us. You would not be suspected of any desire to further some scheme. And in truth it is no scheme I seek to implement, I just want to know if these liars and betrayers are truly located there. I may never undo the damage they have done to my name. But I can at least rest easier knowing I now have the right target, and begin to plan their destruction!"

She acted as though she did not realize she had risen to her feet, her fists clenched and her face reddening with outrage. She looked around in feigned surprise and adopted a sheepish look as she returned to her seat. "I do not know what else I can offer you, besides a more permanent ring, and my undying gratitude. What do you think? Will you help me? Will you go to Etzos and see treachery properly repaid? Would this perhaps make your own history feel somewhat avenged?"
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Hanging Pawn - memory [Kydrel]

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The Avriel watched Lisirra as he spoke, noting her pleasant smile, the girl appearing to be sympathetic towards his plight. That empathy directed towards him caused an inkling of suspicion to creep into his mind.


Ever since his exile and the betrayal at the hands of those he once called comrades, the people he had trained with, fought for, eventually come to call friends, that faith he placed in others was shattered beyond repair. The mistrust he had finally learned to let go of, came roaring back full force even stronger than before as the dagger plunged into his back, leaving him once again, alone. He had seen sympathy before. Sympathy in the eyes of those he called friends as he was led away in chains. It had led to nothing but suffering.


Kydrel glanced around yet again at his surroundings, eyes flickering over the menacing guards, features obscured by their terrifying armor; the luxury that surrounded the girl, the cloying smells, the colorful swarms of insects. He thought back to the fear he saw in the eyes of the people, the flippant talk of poisons as though they were but toys, the dangerous food that made him throw up for three days after consumption, the lowered voices and idle whispers in the shadows.


And then his eyes rested on Lisirra herself, sitting delicately upon her throne. He watched as that smile slowly faded from her lips, its warmth not quite reaching her eyes, her expression turning serious. It was then that an uncomfortable thought struck him.


Why did this powerful…woman go to all this effort to find ME?


He was a nobody, a stranger to the land. A foreigner. To top it off, he had only just arrived a few trials prior. Yet here he was in the throne room in the presence of the one who controlled the city.


In that moment he realized something else. He was so accustomed to being the hunter, that suddenly he realized what it must feel like to be the prey. And there was nothing he could do to change it. She had the upper hand and they both knew it. This was a game, a very, very dangerous game.


Yet as she spoke, he could still feel the tug of her words, slowly caressing him, filling him, his pride swelling at her flattery. He knew they were but empty words and still he chose to believe them. He had nothing else. Why not, for the moment at least believe he WAS the best, the most suited for the task at hand. He could feel her words soothing the brokenness of his own spirit. Her words filled him with a sense of purpose that he had gone without for too long. Anything was better than wallowing in pity and despair that had so consumed him.


But it was the mention of the ring that fully captivated his attention and he listened, riveted to his seat.


A ring that allows me to transform? Is that even possible?


He could feel desire welling up from within, gripping him.


I want it.


Kydrel didn’t care what was needed of him. He held no allegiances to anyone, good or bad. He had discovered the hard way that one had to look out only for himself. And he knew obtaining an item of such power was as good as place as any to start.
The Avriel listened as she spoke of treachery, plots and betrayals in Eztos at the hands of her followers. If they worked for her at some point, they couldn’t have been good people to start with. Not that he was bothered by their morals. And all she wanted to know was if the rumors were true or not. Simple enough.


Lisirra jumped to her feet, fist in the air before looking sheepishly at him. Her question only hovered in the silence for a few seconds before he answered.


Information for a ring of power? That wasn’t even a difficult decision.


For the first time in as long as he could remember, he felt a sense of purpose welling up in him. All because of Lisirra. Whatever her reasons may have been, he still benefited from them and for that he was grateful. Kydrel stood to his feet as well, locking eyes with her.


“Yes. I will help you. I will get you your information. Now how does this ring you were speaking of work…”
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The Immortal could see the greed flare in the mortal's eyes at the merest mention of the ring. But she carried on with her tirade as though such a trinket was the basest of afterthoughts. She could see the winged fellow squirming impatiently, eager for her to finish, so he could claim his prize. She stifled a chuckle at the thought that this fool would probably agree to kill himself if he could just die with the ring.

But he held off until she actually made the offer, which, of course, he quickly accepted. "Oh thank you, good sir. When I have my vengeance, I will name the scorched ground in your honor: "Kydrel's Killing Fields", how does that sound?" She seemed only then to notice his eagerness. "Oh yes of course, I need to show you how it works, don't I?"

Once again, the merest gesture, this time nothing more than a slight nod toward a side door, brought immediate response, as two of her guards threw the door open to allow a woman to enter accompanied by yet one more guard. The woman was obviously terrified of what awaited her in the Audience Chamber, though Lisirra could not have looked more beneficent. The guard swung her to a crouch before the queen and stepped back. The woman begged her apologies, citing nothing specific as to what she might have done.

The slightest tic betrayed Lisirra's annoyance with the woman, but she still maintained an air of sweet kindness as she approached the woman, extending her arm in a clear request for the woman to do the same. The poor slave blanched white and cringed back, pleading her ignorance of any transgression she or her family may have committed. To her credit, Lisirra had truly done nothing to suggest any intent to inflict punishment upon the poor wretch. "Be at ease, child, I only want to demonstrate the use of this ring to my guest." She said softly, taking hold of the woman's arm and pulling it to bring it close to the ring.

But the woman recoiled, pulling her arm free of Lisirra's grip, "No, Please my queen!" she gasped, her voice broken by tears, "Tell me what I can do to atone. I only wish to please you."

Patience, already a difficult state for Lisirra to maintain, now drained from her face, "Well you're doing a sorry job of it, aren't you!" her expression grew vicious as her voice grew in volume and malice. "You DARE to say 'NO' to me? I ask you here to AID me in bringing this avriel into helping me OFFSET the UNJUST reputation that MY ENEMIES have SPREAD THROUGHOUT THE LAND. And the BEST YOU can do is GROVEL AND BEG AS THOUGH I HAVE ALREADY BENT ON SOME HORROR TO INFLICT UPON YOU FOR NO REASON! PERHAPS THERE IS SOME REASON AFTER ALL!"

Her face was red as the deadly blooms in the northwest garden site, as she clutched the woman's throat, screaming. The woman's terrified release of urine on the royal floor sealed her fate. A single fingernail pierced her throat, and she died in mere ticks, her throat swollen like a cantaloupe and her face blue. Even the guards seemed to shrink somehow as the body squelched to the floor in its own puddle. She whirled on the guards now, fury dominating her temperament. "BRING ME ANOTHER! ONE WITH A SPINE THIS TIME!"

it took no more than a bit for the guards to return. The woman in their company strode proudly before them this time. She proudly windmilled her arms angrily to free herself from their hold and knelt freely and without hesitation before Lisirra. "My Queen. I live for your service. What is your pleasure?"

The girl-queen took a deep calming breath and fairly beamed with appreciation. "Now is that too much to ask?" she asked the entire room. Then she returned her focus to her loyal subject, "First, I ask you to clean up this mess, then I ask you to let me demonstrate this ring for my guest. When those tasks are done, you may deliver my instructions to this dead bitch's family that they are to serve in the hives for the remainder of the cycle. Tell them as well that you are to have all their belongings; home, stores, lands, everything. And let them rejoice that I do no worse."

AS the woman quickly saw to these orders, Lisirra turned back to Kydrel. "Understand, you are my guest and have no obligation to serve. So do not fear that I will be angry if you refuse. This..." she swung her arm back to indicate the scene that had just transpired, "...is just a matter of rewarding obedience." She did not mention the aspect of punishment for DISobedience. There was no need.

The ring was a two-jewel affair, both gems rounded and opaqued in color like a pearl. One was yellow, the other blue. They were set into a diamond-shaped frame with the longer points slightly upturned. She touched one of these to the loyal woman's arms and she winced ever so slightly. The blue jewel, at this point, swirled briefly and turned completely purple.

Lisirra handed the ring to Kydrel. "Now, when you want to take this woman's appearance, press the yellow bead slightly. You will feel a slight prick, and you will transform. It's as simple as that, but you must use this charge right now, or the others may not work. Both gems will turn green when you do. When they return to their two-tone condition, the ring can be used again."
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Hanging Pawn - memory [Kydrel]

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Kydrel’s life had just taken a 180 degree turn. He been banished from Athart, his life purpose extinguished, traveled to Rhakros in hope of finding it again, only to find emptiness.


Until he met Lisirra.


Suddenly power was tantalizingly close at hand. Which up until this point, was something he didn’t realize he craved. But it wasn’t just that. She was giving him someway to be useful again. Hone his skills and challenge himself. He normally wouldn’t bow to authority, but this was different. Lisirra seemed like someone you wanted on your side as an ally. It wouldn’t hurt him to be on her good side.


And he was about to find out just how true that statement was.


Lisirra made a grand gesture about naming a field after him. He knew she was just stroking his ego but he'd be lying to himself if he said he minded. In fact, he actually liked the thought of it. He wanted to make his mark in a place where he was unknown. Remaining in obscurity was for the weak. He would make his name known in West Idalos, one way or another.


But it was at the mentioning of showing him how the ring worked that his eyes came alive for the first time in as long as he could remember.


Kydrel’s attention was shifted as a guard moved to obey Lisirra, seemingly unbidden. The immortal’s power she held over those in her command impressed the Avriel. A deep, dark part of him admired that fear she held over people. He wanted that control over others for himself. Maybe there were other ways he could gain her favor.


But he was tore from his reveries as a woman was brought by another guard and forced to her knees in front of them. She was a quivering mess, terror written across her face as though it was the only emotion she had ever known. Kydrel watched as Lisirra approached the weeping figure, speaking comforting words to her. And yet the servant still panicked, babbling on and on. A sense of uneasiness wormed its way into Kydrel’s stomach. It was like watching a predator stalk its prey.


And then pounce.


Lisirra exploded like a hammer to a melon, her figure transforming into the monster she really was. But it wasn’t a physical transformation; no it was an aura that oozed from her very words, the venom and rage that blanketed the room like a cloying sensation that seemed to crawl across the flesh, everyone almost shrinking within themselves, trying to avoid drawing the attention of their mistress.


Kydrel was frozen in spot by the overpowering display of Lisirra’s wrath and awed by the switch that came over the immortal in less than a heartbeat. He resisted the urge to flinch as her words cracked like lightening in the sky, emphasizing the woman’s failure.


The Avriel watched in fascination and envy as the little girl grabbed the servant’s throat and seemingly doing nothing as far as he could tell, the woman turned blue, bloated and died on the spot. Lisirra dropped the body and spun, her face contoured in rage. Kydrel tensed, fearing that look would meet his gaze and would the brunt of her wrath would be released on him.


But her gaze passed over him and he released a breath he didn’t know he had been holding. He felt relief surge through him as another servant was summoned.


We could be here awhile at this rate…


They exchanged words and as Kydrel listened he arched one eyebrow. It seemed as though the immortal was as quick to reward as she was to punish. He logged that information away for later. Maybe there was more he could get out of this encounter than he anticipated. She didn’t seem stingy on the gifts. Yet on the other hand, he didn’t want to push his luck, his eyes drifting to the body being cleaned up, a very clear reminder of what happened to those who displease her.


Eventually the Plague-Lord’s attention was returned to Kydrel and he met her gaze with boldness.


She doesn’t react well to weakness or insecurity. Your Avriel. Proud. Confident. Better than everyone else. Prove it.


Kydrel listened as Lisirra explained how the ring worked; drinking in the information as though his life depended on it. And it did, to a degree. He eyed the ring, marveling at its craftsmanship but more interested in the power it held in its depths, watching the colors of the jewels change.


His heart skipped a beat as the little girl in the white dress handed him the ring. He accepted it gingerly, looking at it more closely. It didn’t feel any different than a normal ring would. He had assumed it would radiate some sort of aura or shock, something. If he hadn’t seen the gems change color he would have guessed it was just an ordinary ring.


Heart beginning to beat a little faster, Kydrel slipped it on his finger and pressed his thumb against the yellow bead.


And he began to change.
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Lissira purred with assurance, snapping her fingers without even looking in the direction of the guard who now hurried forward with a mirror. Lissira bid him to hold it beside the target woman and turn it so her avriel guest could see his - or was it her - reflection.

"Impressive, is it not?" She said with a glow of conquest in her voice. She knew the now-wingless humanoid was seeing a virtual copy of the woman's visage in the mirror; identical in very way except the dropped jaw of amazed intrigue. 'Oh yes...he is hooked.' the sweet face said behind its delighted facade.

"And it will last as long as you do not consciously dispel it. If you have the ability to focus your dreams to maintain it, it will even last beyond sleep. Please, feel free to spend the day clothed in her guise, good avriel. She can now be my guest for the remainder of the day. You both can! But I would like it if you could depart as soon as possible; tomorrow morning if you could. Oooh, I can not wait!" she giggled and wiggled like a child having just learned she is going to receive just what she wants on her upcoming birthday.

She danced impetuously across the room, spinning and gathering a succession of guards and guests in her steps, laughing and calling for music and drinks. An impromptu party sprang up around Kydrel and the woman he copied. A feast of meat, fruits, cheese and roasted vegetables was hauled in on platters, clearly prepared ahead of time to celebrate the success she had anticipated. The room was suddenly populated with happy throngs, the party flowing out into the court beyond.

"Help yourself, Kydrel! You too, good lady. Don't be shy! Everyone! Tuck in and enjoy the fruits of your labors and the bounty of the jungle!" It was is if the furious slaying just bits before had never happened. Incense filled the air with fragrances both inert and narcotic. Fashions of dazzling colors flowed over human shapes from wall to wall, their voices a happy din of easy harmony. Dancers spread exotic and erotic art across the tiles and the cushions of the furnishings, cries of pleasure filling in the gaps of laughter and song. Lisirra herself, of course, took no partner during the goings on, instead keeping a covert eye on Kydrel, eager to see him buy in completely to her service. And when did a bribery of debauchery ever fail to recruit the self-indulgent?

The party lasted well into the night, coming suddenly to an end with Lisirra's stern but pleasant command to disperse and depart. She called Kydrel aside, he looking none the worse for wear, and still in the woman's guise. She wondered perversely if the male had taken the opportunity to know intimacy from a female perspective, but chose to disregard her curiosity.

"Now listen, my friend. When you depart, you must not go due north to Etzos. They have patrols that will surely shoot you down or trap you, regardless of your guise. Any that come from my city are immediately incarcerated as villains, the bastards! I would advise you to take a northeastern heading towards Ne'haer...a decent enough town, if somewhat diluted in reverence toward anyone."

She shook her head slightly and waved off the last comment as fluff, "Anyway, you need not go all the way to that city. in fact, the further you go, the more landscape you will have to cover on the way east to Etzos. And that landscape is quite inhospitable. But you'll be able to fly from there without drawing any undue suspicion from the army stationed there. They will be on maneuvers, but they allow travelers to enter freely, as long as there is no blatant connection to any Immortal, especially me! I am the villain that the administrators use to keep everyone tightly united in fear."

Again she let a brief lapse of hurt feelings cloud her sweet expression, then sighed and waved it off as well. "But that is not your problem. Obviously I wish you success, and advise caution and patience. There is no good done by getting yourself killed. Then I will learn nothing, and you will gain no additional reward." She went on with talk of the confidence she had in his abilities, the subject giving her the excuse for the smile that spiced her face as she saw the glint in Kydrel's eye at the mention of "additional reward".

A promise easily made. If he actually lived to return, after playing a part in the assassination of one of the popular figures there, he would most definitely have earned it.
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Kydrel didn’t know what to expect but this most assuredly was not.


It was one thing to rationally explain the power of the ring and the effects it would have upon him. But to physically see the transformation and feel the actually change that overcame his body was astounding beyond explanation.


In a blink of an eye, his wings shrunk and disappeared, feathers melting away, revealing clear, pale skin in its place. He watched in shock as his eyes shifted and changed from their acid yellow hue to a dark warm brown, hair sprouting from his skull and cascading down past his shoulders, his form taking on a slighter yet fuller figure.


What surprised him even more was the disappearance of his armor and weapons. He hadn’t expected his garb to change. But it wouldn’t do to change into another form and be wearing the same clothing as the previous figure. Espionage would be pointless at that point.


Hmm…anything I’ll want to keep on my person before a change, I’ll need to set on the ground if I want to be able to use it in the next form.


He, or she (that was a little disconcerting), stared at them/self in the mirror wide eyed. He hesitantly reached up and touched his face, feeling the smooth skin of the woman whose appearance he now took on. He looked over at her and then back at the mirror. If he didn’t know any better, he wouldn’t know who the original was.


He listened as Lisirra explained how to dispel the transformation.


So that means I’ll need to finish whatever I do in this form before falling asleep. A limited time window. Good to know.


Kydrel(a) was swept along in the crowd that materialized, surprise going even stronger in the warrior. He wasn’t used to such extravagant displays of wealth and power. He was accustomed to sparsely decorated caves. He felt a tug in his stomach, an emotion that he hadn’t experienced before.


Envy.


He wanted what Lisirra had; a name that caused those around him to quake in fear. But that thought was banished just as quickly as it came, the distractions around him overwhelming his senses and he finally gave in to the carnal instincts. It was a night to remember.


But it ended as suddenly as it started.


The room emptied, leaving Lisirra and Kydrel alone, the way it had all began.


The Plague Lord explained how to get to Eztos and the route he would take to maximize safety and arrive as quickly as possible. Kydrel listened to her commands, filing the information away in his memory. He knew everything she said was crucial to the fulfillment of his task at hand. If he ever wanted to get his hands on that permanent ring, it was relatively important he get there in one piece. But it was the mention of additional rewards that caught his attention and he gave her a sharp look.


More? Interesting…


His heart beat a little faster, thoughts a whirl as to what other wonders she could possible give him. The sooner he got back, the sooner he would find out. Kydrel pressed the jewel on the ring, marveling yet again as he resumed his natural form. He gave Lisirra one last nod.


“I shall return victorious, your Radiance.”


And with that, he gathered his supplies he had left behind at his lodging required to make his journey to Eztos and left Rhakros behind, a sense of purpose once again filling the wind under his wings.
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