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As she crosses from Twisted into her Solace Bole, Liyara lets out a deep breath. The tree-portal that brought her here lowers into the ground, and for the first time in a day, the half-dragon relaxes. This is the only place she CAN relax.
It's not that Liyara doesn't feel safe on Twisted; her vast power, incredible sturdiness, and unmatched arrogance all lend themselves to a feeling of security - even when it isn't warranted. Rather, it's that Liyara doesn't feel free to act herself with the technomages at Mechanica spying on her, and all of the citizens being so... ... naive. Thank Tiamat she got this ritual working; at least here she can be herself. Not only that, but she can use ritual magic without the agonizing extra work and insane timeframe Twisted requires. It actually feels like spellwork again! A fact she plans to take advantage of right now.
Red tresses spill over her horns and wings as Liyara shakes her head once or twice for good measure, then loosens the ribbon securing her capelet. With a shrug it falls to the ground, where it dissolves into nothingness. The entire outfit is magically created in the first place, after all. With her back and shoulders bare, she squares herself and takes a deep, slow breath. "...Stop wasting time, Liyara." The dragoness looks into the full-length mirror that's grown inside of a smaller tree, and gives her body a once-over. Deciding she's satisfied with what she sees, she heads over to her newly-grown forge.
The feywild produces many wonders, but one of the things it doesn't create is trees that don't burn; Liyara had to do that herself. The ironwood anvil she planted holds up nicely to her strikes, and there's no need for a furnace or bellows. She's spent the last few months learning not only how to scribe scrolls, but also how to create wondrous items. Today will be her first attempt at making magic rings, and she's certain she'll do fine. Still, best to start small and cheap, make sure she's got everything perfect. And they don't come cheaper than the Ring of Dragons. Literally. It is the cheapest magical ring she knows of, and she knows of an awful lot.
As Liyara pulls out her cast and crucible, she reflects on the circumstances she obtained and learned to use them. A bittersweet memory, filled with equal parts vengeance and sadness.
"You'll both burn like Hotenow!"
The dragoness can still hear her own voice, shouting above the sounds of the home collapsing around them. Herself, of course, and the people she’d lived with for four years. The people she’d grown quite fond of. The people she’d killed.
Liyara closes her eyes and sighs. One of the problems with a perfect memory is how much discipline it takes to keep the slightest recollection from pulling her on a trip down an audio-visual daydream of cinematic proportions. Normally she’d clamp down on that, but what’s the harm? She’s made rings hundreds of times before; it’s rote at this point. She can afford to let her mind wander a bit...
Auburn hair fell down in ringlets around her square, stocky shoulders as she drove the hammer home. She was a young dwarven smith named Lily, or so the story went. She’d showed up at the modest villa years ago, looking for honest work and lodging. Lily Autumngrain was her name, and quite an unusual one for a dwarf, but none paid it any mind. The lord and lady of the house had put out their request for an accomplished smith and farmhand to assist them, and they got her. They’d not expected her to be so handy at, well, everything, and so they requested she stay on to help with other things as well.
This was, of course, exactly as she’d intended. When Liyara took the form of Lily Autumngrain five years ago, she’d done so with the sole intention of getting to know Talbot Uskevren and his wife, Neathal. They had information she needed, and perhaps more importantly, they owed her a debt they’d be paying in blood. Not that they knew this. No, Lily was just a friendly face that helped out around the house. Lady Uskevren was particularly fond of Lily, and often joked with Talbot that Nea and Lily would one day leave him for each other. Talbot took it in good humor, as he did most things.
It was… nice. Pleasant. Of the humans Liyara had dealt with in her life, she supposed she feared and hated these two the least. No, that was dishonest, and she had no need to lie to herself. She didn’t want to admit it, but she genuinely liked them. But no amount of goodwill could undo what Talbot and Nea had done. They were the last ones, save for the questgiver itself. What the Xanathar had been thinking was still a mystery to Liyara, but she’d deal with it after… this.
At her feet, the couple lay bleeding. Talbot had put up more of a fight than she’d expected, but not enough to actually hurt her. He’d done very well to conceal his lycanthropy from her all these years, but a werewolf was no match for a dragon in even the best of circumstances, and she’d taken them both by surprise. Talbot’s longsword was buried up to the hilt in Nea’s chest, and Talbot himself was down for the count with a fractured skull on top of an entire body full of third-degree burns. Lily had attempted to be swift and merciful, but Nea was a powerful cleric, and clung to life well after her fatal wound.
“Wh-why?” Despite her years of battle experience, Nea was still dying and going into shock. It was an act of sheer will that she was speaking at all. Yet she clung to Lily’s boot stubbornly, and looked up with eyes full of questions. “You’ve been with us for years…”
“Four years,” Liyara-who-was-Lily acknowledged with a slow nod. “Two years for each of you, to consider if I should kill you.” Her words only served to confuse Nea, but Lily continued. “...Certainly more consideration than you showed at Hotenow.” Lily’s eyes blazed with heat and rage beyond anything Nea had seen, and the dying priestess pieced it together quickly.
“You’re... “ Lady Uskevren’s eyes widened. “No… that’s imp-impossible.”
“Yes. I’m afraid I am.” Lily’s voice was cold, but as she held her hand out, a blazing bolt of flame surrounded it. She pointed it at the woman she’d shared breakfast with every day, and her voice changed from one of icy intensity to a heated bass roar that caused the earth beneath them to tremble. “...And I do not forgive you! Now you know, and so you'll both burn like Hotenow!"
“W-wait…” Nea looked into Lily’s eyes, her own tearing up finally. “...We always regretted it. We… I’m… so sorry.”
In Liyara’s experience, humans always tried to avoid death by saying they regretted their actions. But she knew Nea, and she could tell, it was the last thing the woman would ever say - it was hard, it hurt. She meant it. It was important to her that Lily know it. Unbidden, tears welled up in the dragoness’ eyes, and she inclined her head as emotions swirled about inside her. She really did care for this woman. She almost started to lower her hand, but then swallowed and ground her teeth as she steadied herself.
“...Good.” The twin blazing bolts engulfed Nea and Talbot in flames hotter than the surface of the sun, and soon there was nothing left of either of them. Lily turned and walked out of the collapsing rubble, and away from her home of four years. She wasn’t crying.
There’s a heavy sigh from Liyara as she finishes melting the gold to fill her crucible, and lets the molten metal pour carefully from her bare hands into the container. She often turns that day over and over in her head. Almost a century removed, she realizes now that she loved Talbot and Nea, and she wonders if perhaps four years was not enough. Certainly, her life would have gone very differently if she’d just… stopped there. But Vengeance is an all-consuming monster, and many more had perished at her hands before it was finished with her.
The half-dragon moves to start tracing the rituals needed to enchant the rings while her hands are still hot from the gold, and her mind begins to wander again. Amused, she realizes that it was that same vengeance quest where she learned the enchantment for the Ring of Dragons...
Her wavy red hair was almost all frizz in this dry environment, but there were more important things for her to worry about than her appearance. Even as she looked over a ritual scroll with one arched eyebrow, she could feel his presence. He floated silently behind her, watching her with three of his ten eyes, and she could feel the hairs on her neck all standing on end.
“Larissa,” began the Xanathar, his voice stern but reserved in spite of the gravity of his words, “I expect you know that there are only three times a year I leave my vault, and then only for a few minutes.” The beholder reiterated the circumstances they found themselves in, playing it up for drama’s sake as much as his own anger. “...If you’d really wanted to know how to enchant a Ring of Dragons, there were much easier ways than breaking Every. Single. Rule. I’ve ever laid out for you.”
The redhead, who went by the name of Larissa Neathal, was a simple courtesan in the eyes of the city’s gossip-mongers. Perhaps a very good one, but nothing more. Only she and a handful of others knew that she was one of the Masked Lords of Waterdeep. A handful that she suspected now included the Xanathar. And yet still, he behaved as though he were above her, in more ways than just literally. She tossed the ritual scroll aside; she’d memorized it already anyway.
“What, this? I was simply amused by its design. I found what I was looking for almost a full minute ago.” Larissa turned to look at the Xanathar without a hint of fear in her face, wearing a wicked grin that the beholder had never seen in the time he’d known her. “I was just waiting for you to come back.” The Xanathar actually paused for a moment, before responding.
“You’re not her. Who are you?” His voice was deep and rich, and reverberated off of the stone walls of his chamber. It sounded nice. Pleasant. For a beholder, anyway.
“I’m the same Larissa Neathal you’ve known for the last ten years,” the woman began, shrugging as she took the feather pin out of her hair and shook it free to reveal a small pair of horns. “...I’ve just finally found what I was looking for, and now I can leave.”
“...Presuming I would let your lordship leave.” The Xanathar’s eyes were almost all focused on her now, and his voice was getting an edge to it that Larissa had expected the whole time. The many-eyed creature basically thought himself a God in here. The courtesan arched an eyebrow at the threat, and sighed. Being constantly underestimated was tiresome.
“You’re looking down... Is your head heavy from your crown?” Larissa began circling the beholder slowly, and her voice started to take on an edge of its own. She’d dismantled his protective wards long before he returned. He had no homefield advantage now. “You’re so impressed with your damn false divinity.” Another copy of her flickered into existence behind the Xanathar, and then another to his left, and then to his right. Three of the beholder’s eyestalks swiveled quickly to take them all in sight, and then four more turned as copies of Larissa sprung up in between each of the originals. Then another two above the Xanathar, walking on the ceiling.
“This was all planned, you see. An unhappy ending to your sense of deity.” All ten copies of the woman held a hand out towards the beholder, and blazing bolts of elemental fire sprung to life within their palms. The Xanathar was no fool, and immediately transfixed all of them with a petrifying gaze attack - only to see it have no effect. None of them were real, it seemed. From everywhere in the chamber at once, mocking laughter rang out.
“You feel so safe inside these walls you’ve fortified; a lord noone could overthrow.” The woman’s jeering voice was impossible to place as actual blasts of elemental flame came from her illusory clones. Each of them was harmonizing with her even as the Xanathar’s disintegration rays started tearing them apart one by one. She’d been waiting for this for a full decade, so what if she came off a bit melodramatic? She had every right!
“Your supremacy’s just implied - your arrogance unjustified.” As the last clone was torn apart by a disintegration ray, the Xanathar’s many eyes cast about looking for the woman, before all ten snapped downward at once. Larissa shimmered into view beneath him, her enshrouding candle snuffed out.
The woman reached up impossibly fast and grabbed the lowest hanging eyestalk, then yanked, slamming the entire beholder into the floor with inhuman strength. “It’s down you go!” the woman declared as she pinned the beholder with one hand, and lifted the other, burning white hot. It pulled back into a blazing fist, ready to strike in the Xanathar’s main eye. “And now your pride burns like Hotenow!”
Larissa drove her fist down into the beholder’s massive eye, and… the sound. It was the worst thing she’d ever heard. Perhaps she would ever hear. And she would never, ever forget.
Neither would the Xanathar.
Liyara stretches her arms above her head as she finishes her work on the ritual circle. It’s only been a few moments since she started, but she’s relived the entire fight with the Xanathar. She had many dealings with him in the past, and he was one of the few creatures in the Sword Coast she truly respected; that’s why she’d let him live. Well, that, and because she’d discovered that he was merely acting as an information broker. The real person who’d started all this madness, she’d found, was named Nasher Alagondar. The High King of Neverwinter.
The dragoness reaches into her small pile of trophies and pulls out the Crown of Neverwinter, staring at it transfixed. It’s no modest thing, even as crowns go, only worth two or three small castles on its own. It should be suitable for her purposes; she has the gold and the magic for the rings, but just as badly she needs the gems and mithril within the crown. She hesitates for a moment; there was a time this was her proudest trophy.
She sets it atop the crucible cap. That time has passed. She has grown, and this is a time for practicality, not sentiment. Ah, but what a sentiment it is…
The Crown of Neverwinter sat heavy upon Nasher Alagondar’s head. He’d rejected the title of King for most of his life, preferring the title of Lord, as he viewed himself a servant of the city rather than a ruler. Only now, in his old age, had he accepted the proposition to kinghood, and even then reluctantly. There was something to be respected in that; Nasher was no power hungry despot, nor a pretender at the crown.
He was a true and proper king. Hard earned and deserved. Liyara understood and respected that, not that it changed his fate. She wouldn’t toy with him like the others. From one ruler to another, she would be clear and decisive. He’d declared war on her family, all those years ago, and she was here to bring it to a close.
“Nasher Alagondar.” Liyara’s voice rumbled through the throneroom of Castle Never, and a weary King Alagondar looked up as the humanoid dragoness simply floated through the castle walls, leaving a molten hole of stone behind her. Her red hair was carefully arranged to fall around her horns, framing her face. Her eyes were red where there should be white, and a blazing aura of flame surrounded her. “You sit alone - upon your lowly throne.”
Nasher looked around him with the lethargy of someone who had endured too much, and did not look forward to any more. Where were the Nine? Even the throneroom guards were missing. With a great sigh, he stood, drawing Frostbrand and facing the fiery creature before him. A fiend? A dragon? Some combination of both? Liyara watched the thoughts move behind his eyes, his alone, but practically laid bare to her after her years of studying him.
The King said the command word to freeze his blade with ice and surround himself with the protection of fire resistance from both the sword and crown. A steel wall erupted from the ground before him and cut the throneroom in twain, one of the palace’s wards that Liyara hadn’t bothered dismantling. It was no impediment to her. She floated forward, her corona of white-hot flame melting the steel into a hole around her as she moved. It may as well have not even been there.
“You’re oblivious to your own frailty.” Liyara waved her hand to dismiss his idea of defense. She could take the king even with all of his enchantments, but the artifact in her robes would generate an anti-magic field on her command, and that was all it would take to disable every single protection Castle Never’s throneroom and armory offered. Obviously it would limit her options as well, but she was not so weak as to have to rely on spells alone.
“I have come for my vengeance, and I shall wait no longer.”
The elderly king sighed and gripped his sword tightly. The Frostbrand provided him with fire resistance, and the crown further amplified it still. He had been felling monsters with his bare blade for fifty years, and this was not the first fiery fiend to demand his demise since he took the throne. “And what do you avenge this day?” He held the blade before him. This was still hardly ideal. He was getting too old for this.
There was a moment’s pause, and Liyara’s eyes blazed brighter as orange, fiery tears streaked down her cheeks. This was it - the end of her search. The Neverwinter Nine were indisposed, the King who’d ordered her family killed was right before her. It was almost a struggle to speak. Almost.
“Mount Hotenow.” As the words left her mouth, Liyara couldn’t help but see the scene play out in her mind - a scared, horned child with red hair, who’d locked herself in the keep’s cells to avoid the slaughter of her mother and her entire brood. She huddled in the corner until the murderers found her, believing her a poor tiefling girl with the terrible luck of being kidnapped by dragons. She was not a tiefling.
The king actually lowered his blade a hint as his mind pieced the puzzle together. “...Then we’ve failed Toril.” A look of melancholy settled on his face, before he met Liyara’s gaze fully. “...Your father is simply using you for his own machinations. You know that.”
"I am more than my father’s twisted schemes!" Liyara’s voice shook the walls, and her eyes were ablaze with indignance and anger. Nasher looked right into them and gave a mighty sigh.
“I hope so. For all of Toril, and for Abeir as well.”
The king’s words took Liyara aback. She blinked once, then twice, through molten tears. This man understood what was at stake, what she represented. He was not underestimating her. He was the first person who actually mattered that gave her the respect and fear she was due. She had planned this for months; there were hurtful, cutting words she’d intended to throw his way. They didn’t seem to matter, now. This man, this low-born human that worked his way to the throne - he saw her. Truly saw her. It was a first.
“Your burdens are too heavy for one man, King Nasher. I will relieve you of them, now.” Liyara took her hand out of her robes; this man didn’t deserve to have all his magic and artifacts abandon him at the end of his life - she would leave the anti-magic field inert and face him at his pinnacle. He had earned that with his wisdom and understanding of her superiority. “Do not fear. Your son will rule admirably in your wake for decades to come.”
Nasher blinked at the statement once, then lowered himself, preparing to charge. “...I will tell him after I slay you.” He knew he would die, Liyara could see it in his eyes, but he gave not an inch of his pride. How noble, almost like a dragon. She would regret killing him.
The melted mithril mixes with the gold as the rings are cast, and Liyara’s eyes sparkle in her private sanctum. She remembers that fight well, it was actually a good one - she’d been wise to dispatch of the Nine before dealing with him. Ultimately, though, he hadn’t even scarred her. He was just a man, after all. And now his crown was gone, and with it her ties to the vengeance she’d pursued for so long.
“I’ve let you go, and so your crown burnt like Hotenow~” Liyara sings to herself as the ten rings cool, fresh enchantments layered into nine of them that would grant their wearers a number of draconic boons. And the tenth… well. The majority of the crown’s value had to go somewhere. Liyara’s a dragon after all; she loves herself some jewelry.