“I am a charmed creature to have this possibility fallen in my lap at least twice in one lifetime.”
Nayalil heard the words and awoke with a start. The lyrical voice was an ancestor, his accent familiar, but it was not the voice of sweet and exotic Entbu, who she thought was lying next to her but now could sense his absence. Entbu’s voice was hard to forget. She could almost still hear his musical baritone describing his far-flung enclave in the middle of a dragon-scorched desert in the most poetic terms. And he was a skilled poet, but his concentration should have been on other things. This new voice was lithe but menacing. Purely deliberate, where Entbu’s was wistful. This voice was trouble.
Before even an eladrin could blink, Nayalil was across the room, one hand on the door latch, a blade at the other, pointed at the direction of the voice — the room’s single windowsill.
The blade was the one she tucked neatly under the bed — on her side of the bed — something she did every night. The last few months had engrained a paranoid caution that she couldn’t shake even in the most secure shelters. Truth be told, she only really felt comfortable these days — comfortable in her mind, at least — inside the strange arcane chamber ripped open by the exodus knife; cold misty walls and all. Rijkardus called it a demi-plane and prattled on about its rules, its illusions, its realities. That was back when Rijkardus was Rijkardus, and not the deva Orianna.
The elf shook herself out of mental digression. Focus, Nayalil! There is a strange eladrin at the window and no sign of Entbu. You are holding a knife and wearing nothing but your boots. The boots brought Entbu back to mind.
“Jumpy little minx,” the eladrin cooed. “The deed is done. I did it while you snoozed. You really should be a lighter sleeper.”
Terror ran through Nayalil’ mind, as she took a closer look at the creature at the windowsill. What did he say? She took stock of this swordsman at the window. It troubled her to know the sword’s name. It was Azurfang. Thin and well-dressed in burgundy leathers, lavender silks, and electrum armor, the ancestor was a dandy. His grey hair, with strange cut, and the ice blue eyes, betrayed him as Prince Iydthen.
Though she had never laid eyes on this ancestor, she readily knew both him and sword. Every elf of the Lyrsian Enclave knows the Prince of the Smiodan Peaks. The enclave has served as his protector for many centuries and the druids of the enclave believe every elf in the enclave was forever bound to the Knave of the Court of the Draughts. Nayalil knew Iydthen as a near god in her youth, though a distant and cold one. He was a creature that even the primal spirits obeyed. Looking him up and down through the soft flickering light of the Candle’s Grotto, she began to think that the druids overstated his case. He looked like a fop with a glowing blue sword who, by his own admission, had done something to her while she slept. Soon he would be a corpse.
Iydthen seemed to read the elf’s mind as emotions played on her face. “Down, girl. I’m not really that kind of fellow, but I’ll let you know if things change. Look at your arm, the one at the door latch.” He gestured with his free hand, like an authoritative parent shooing a spoiled child. Nayalil stole a nervous peek at her left arm, and caught a glimpse at a purplish glow. Her second look was longer. The glow came from a magical tattoo of a serpent — a deathviper to be precise — slithering up her forearm. The mark was an ugly, gaudy thing. The line work was overly ornate, and the glow was the same color as Iydthen’s blouse.
“It’s my mark, girl. I do hope you like it because you might be wearing it for some time. See, I need you to spy for me.”
“I’m not going to do that,” Nayalil retorted, realizing even when she blurted it out that Iydthen had not laid out the particulars as to why he would brand her with this ugly glyph. Lysander always says that knowing all the particulars are important. Damn the particulars.
“That’s regrettable,” Iydthen said, sheathing his sword. He brought his hands together, as in prayer, and let their arch rest under his lips. “Then, help me brainstorm here. What would be a good way to have you kill yourself? Choose your end.”
Nayalil lunged. Even with a single blade and her boots, she was sure she could take this annoying fop. With two quick hops she lunged toward the ancestor, blade forward and centered on his heart. Midflight something occurred to Nayalil. The Lyrsians, herself included, treated this fop like a god. Why was that?
With the question asked, Nayalil’s lunge ended abruptly. Not with the familiar feel of steel penetrating armor, ripping flesh, and, chipping bone, but in that strange abrupt way that could only mean magic. Nayalil hated to be confined by spells almost as much as she hated devils. Worse still, this magical binding was more powerful than others she’d encountered. She didn’t need Rijkardus… Orianna to let her know that Iydthen was a powerful practitioner of arcane arts.
Looking around, Nayalil guessed she was suspended in mid-air, less than an arm’s length away from her target. It was hard to tell, though; she could not move any part of her body. She could not even position her eyes in their sockets. When she tried to call out, nothing issued forth, not even a wheeze. Thankfully she still breathed and blinked, but horrifyingly she had no control over either of those functions. They moved with a construct’s rhythm.
The threat neutralized, Iydthen leaped from the window, and slowly circled the suspended body of his would-be killer. “Excellent! Excellent form, both you and your attack, Nayalil. I can see that you know what you’re doing. I think you could’ve hurt me if I let you. I shalt not, I think. Avandra be praised, you’ll be a better vessel of my will than poor melancholy Fealtor ever was.” Iydthen continued to circle Nayalil, inspecting the elf like a country knight does a hunting falcon.
“Let’s move on to particulars. You didn’t let me elaborate.”
“Damn particulars,” Nayalil thought.
“Queer things are going on in Eilthir. I don’t particularly care what they are as long as they don’t affect me, or those under my dominion, of course. I also like to ensure that’s the case. I like dice but I prefer cards, as they say.
“The brand is a tsal’geas. A geas mark. It allows me to have a sense of you and where you are. It allows me to communicate with you, which I’ll do at my pleasure. And it allows me to dismiss it, and then subject you to a geas — just like the legends, it is a task you must complete or die trying. You can try to remove it if you want, but its removal releases the geas, and then I’ll have to think of some fitting way for you to die.
“But let’s assume it will not come to that. You’ll be my eyes, ears, and a one-time agent of my will. And all you have to do is do what you are doing. Return to Eilthir. Warn the Compulsor. Continue to serve him if you wish.
“I understand that this arrangement seems so one-sided, but realize that as a Lyrsian, you owe ancient allegiance to me, sanctified and enforced by druid’s circle. This isn’t convincing you, I can tell. You are your own creature, but not one unused to servitude. You do owe a debt to this Compulsor. But I offer you this. If you do what I ask, and you live to see the end of the geas, I will owe you a great favor. Anything within my power will be at your disposal. And my power is vast. I’ll owe you that much. Not that you really have a choice.
“Speak. Let me know your mind or hear your deceptions.”
With that command, Nayalil regained the use of her voice and control over breathing, though still not the blinking.
“Hmmm… it’s a shame you didn’t approach this situation more directly. Perhaps you wouldn’t have needed a windowsill to enter my bedchamber. I promised Vessalyn that I would pay you a favor, so certainly I will wear this brand. I will absolutely provide you with any information that could help you protect your dominion – and those within, of course. But I have a few questions.
First, which side do you favor – the hobgoblin Khan or the people of the Eilthir Vale? What do you know of the Venrit stone? And, even knowing you’d probably have to find a way come and kill me, how do I remove this damn tattoo. I mean, if I ever tired of your dulcet tones asking questions and issuing orders?”
The Prince smiled wryly. “Directly? Not my style, Nayalil. I like to keep my options open and the variables constrained. I am happy to hear your acceptance of the situation. That will either make things easy or interesting. I’m fond of both.
“Khan. Compulsor. They are the same to me — despoiling lesser things that can be troublesome if not kept at a distance. The Compulsor has stayed out of the Ealbhar and Smiodan by treaty or assassination, and the Vold have not taken their conquest into the Feywild, all of which is agreeable. I have no idea if the coming of the Khan will forward better circumstance, but some others in Court of Draughts – those who know him better – say that he will. Again, I keep my options open and a mind toward the variables.
“The stone? It is one of two artifacts created back in the days of the Towers of the Moons. Koscej uses its power to run his misty domain and stay independent from court. There is rumor that he has lost it. The Sisters of the Stone still seek the other stone in the north. I see it as a dangerous thing from a dangerous time.
“As for the question of removal, it’s actually relatively easy. A Dispel Magic should do the trick. I think your Vold turned deva can accomplish the task. But remember, if you remove it, the geas activates and I get to pick your death. I don’t have to pick right away either, but I probably will. I hate overthinking problems.
“Alas, what passes for the sun in this miserable place soon rises and there are other games to play tonight, Nayalil.” Iydthen moved to leap out the window, then stopped.
“Don’t worry about Entbu. He is my guest and he did enjoy the diversion. He does love to talk. He actually just stumbled upon you, or I stumbled upon him stumbling about on you, I should say.”
Laughing a cold and heartless laugh, Iydthen teleported and was gone. His laughter echoed down Sigil’s foggy byways, fading by the moment. When Nayalil couldn’t hear the laughter any longer, she fell to the floor.