Vasedra stood in the open iris of what was formerly her workshop along the outer hull of the Legion warship, the Soul Cleaver, staring in at the spacious room. The blueish tint of the lights turned the bright metal of the walls and workbenches - not felsteel, but an alloy of cobalt and ghost iron and an ore that she harvested on a far distant world - more purple than rose, glinting like sunlight off the ocean from the surfaces of tools and crystals, liquids and even decorations, what few survived intact when the Cleaver was grounded, smashing itself into the shelf of the Mac’Aree landmass. Keepsakes. Resources. Half-finished creations. Salvage.
It all sat neatly on repaired shelves, sorted into bins and hung on hooks resettled into their places along walls and floors and tables. Organized. Efficient. Ready to be used, once more.
Her fists clenched with the creak of leather as she stepped through the threshold, the iris sliding shut behind her. The new wards across the place where the spine of Argus had proved stronger than the Soul Cleaver’s hull glowed in a soft net over the pale rock, humming softly and casting a yellow tint on the most homely corner of the room: the padded settee, its blue cushions stitched and cleaned; the blanket that should have been used laying folded at its head; an older journal and a few sheaves of paper on the shelves at its side along with a pair of quills and spare inkwells of various types.
No crystals. Those would have been in her pouches when she was taken. All save the few still growing in the slurry pod at the back of the room.
The void knight stood before the place where Ary should have slept, unsure at what point her hooves had taken her there, her fingers brushing along the blanket as the shadows at the corners of her vision, on the edge of her senses, whispered and cried and hissed and begged for her attention.
Useless. The words were clear, more hers than the shifting thing in the corner that said them. Useless. Futile. Her fingers tangled in the fabric, a soft weave that the little redhead preferred whenever she wasn’t putting on airs about how tough she was, and Sedra snagged it into her fist, crushing her hand tight around the bunched fibers.
“Useless!” she shouted to the empty room, yanking the blanket up and tossing it into the air. Her stygian eyes, so black and depthless, narrowed as she reached out with invisible fingers, things of force and fury made of darkling thoughts and rage and determination. With these, she pulled every inch of the blanket at once until it exploded with a riiiiiiip, shredding and shredding and shredding again until only individual fibers, short and torn, were left to float down to the settee and floor by her hooves.
Sedra gasped for breath, hunching forward, curling around her heart and pressing a fist to the feelings that trembled there. The swords at her waist screamed, screamed through the air, through her head. And then it was her own voice with theirs, and she lifted them both from their sheathes. Flesh hands and then darkling thoughts, their hilts in the grip of her mind, of her emotions.
“USELESS!” Her voice cracked on the word, and so did the floor panel beneath her hooves, denting downward. It was nothing less than a temper tantrum that set the blades whirling, sent the oh-so-recently-restored contents of the shelves flying across the room to shatter, to stab, to cut, to clatter, to break. Against anything. Against everything. For long minutes. Until the room was back to being as ruined as it was a few short days ago. Until the void knight crumpled to the dented floor, blood dripping from her nose and head lolling as a blackness that had nothing to do with the Void threatened to cut her away from her body. She caught herself, just barely, with one hand against the floor.
And then it all stopped as suddenly as it started.
The unnamed swords clattered to the ground a few feet in front of her, laughing and taunting her and crying as she refused to. And there they all stayed, the mournful eredar and her room full - her realm full - of new companions, the latter as ceaselessly, senselessly active as she was still, for a dozen tense minutes. The workshop was a cacophony, filled with the sound of her ragged breathing and the mad chorus, the voices of entropy.
Useless. Futile. Give up. Give in.
“Ary,” Sedra whispered with a ragged, raw voice, ignoring them. “I will not give up.”
Dead. Limbs torn. Mind wrended. Soul consumed. They knew everything, and they made sure that she relived every awful fear she’d entertained since long before she left for Viskarri. Every worry replayed as reality.
Vasedra grit her teeth and ignored it. Always. Everything they said. Every time they laughed that Ary was dead already. Every scream that sounded like her voice. Every whimper of unknown origin. Every shifting shadow that took Sraath’s horrific form.
“Quiet,” she whispered, ragged, “... and still… and closed.”
The mantra focused her mind, her thoughts, gave her access to some little portion of her nature that she’d come to just barely understand and control, and she pushed the shadows away, farther away, to a place where they could barely be seen and where their screams were reduced to whispers. The best place. The safe place. Where she could still be Vasedra and hear her voice over theirs. Where their urges did not reach her.
Finally, after a long time, the void-sick eredar shoved her hooves under her and staggered back up, sniffing and smearing the ticklish blood by her nose across her cheek with one plate gauntlet. Little though she wanted it, she needed rest. A few hours of sleep before she set out for Krokuun to clear the way to the Eclipse, to hold it clear until the others were ready.
Vasedra sighed and looked at the settee, strewn now with debris and the fibers of a devastated blanket, ripped in another two places, and sitting oddly crooked on its mounts. Her gaze, dark and depthless, swept through the wreckage of the room until finally she just turned for the iris door, her hooves clicking on the deck as she left and locked the workshop behind her.
Not a sanctuary at all.
“I’m going to sleep,” the captain said softly, tossing her pack carelessly to the deck in the corner as Cazas watched from the doorway to her quarters. The succubus’ tail, long and sinuous and ending in a series of spikes of cartilaginous flesh, twined around her waist as she watched the eredar thoughtfully, her luminous blue eyes pale and sharp. Cunning.
Hips swaying, she sauntered over as Sedra tugged her gauntlets from her hands and dropped them beside the pack and, without a word, set her nimble fingers to undoing the hard-to-reach buckles beneath the eredar’s pauldrons. The other woman hesitated, but said nothing, simply glancing at her before she started her own work against her breastplate.
“How long would you like to sleep, darling?” the sayaad asked idly as she placed a finger against Sedra’s chin to encourage her to look up. The void knight shuddered, her eyes widening as she did, but before she could protest, the demon was tugging her pauldrons over her head, cutting off both words and line of sight. She closed her eyes, her breath leaving her in a rush at that familiar touch, at the memories it awoke. It took a few thundering heartbeats before she could suck a new one in and start the process of shutting the intimate moments back away.
That’s why she didn’t see the demon’s pleased little smile, the way her tail twitched happily.
Her reaction contained, Vasedra answered, “Three hours will suffice. Wake me then.”
“Of course,” Cazas smiled sweetly, taking her breastplate from her and stealing the opportunity to brush a few pressed-in wrinkles from the embroidered tunic her captain wore beneath. She followed Sedra as she wandered to the bed and settled on its edge, kneeling as a servant before her master. “You will need to eat, as well. You know how you get when you’re hungry, my sweet.”
Sedra winced and then shied back as the sayaad reached for the buckles at the tops of her cuisses, high on her thigh. With a ‘tsk’, the eredar swatted Cazas’ hands away.
“I’ll do that myself,” she ordered. The succubus instead set to work on the tamer, less interesting buckles by her knee.
“See to it that Vaxos has everything he needs to clear quarters in the Cleaver for all of you. And ask Ire and Venom to look in to the damage to the Atrium. I’d like to repair it if we can.” She worked on removing her armor as she spoke, ignoring the little excuses Cazas made to brush her leather-clad leg or cup her hand around her ankle.
“It will all be done. You just rest, dearest. You seem upset...”
The void knight said nothing to that, gritting her teeth as she pulled free her right cuisses, the leather straps trailing over her thigh. Cazas’ smirk was hidden by her black hair as she peered down at her work.
When Sedra’s armor all lay on the floor, the succubus rose and stepped back, giving her room - just barely enough room - to stand. There was no subtlety in the way Cazas reached for her captain the moment she could, nor anything less than wanton familiarity in the hand that moved to trail across the eredar’s ribs as the woman leaned against her. Yes. Definitely familiar.
“Let me help you sleep, my sweet captain. You know you’ll rest better with the proper re-”
“No, Cazas.” The void knight grit her teeth and took hold of the other woman by the upper arms, pushing her away - not roughly, but firmly - setting her back a few paces with the staccato clatter of her black hooves against the deck. “Go, now. See to what I asked.”
The demon pouted in a moue of soft, pink lips under her spiral horns, taking a step back when released, but no more. She folded one arm under her breasts and caught its hand in the crook of her other elbow, her second hand raising to twist coquettishly in her hair.
“If you’re quite sure, Desire. I could send Vaxos if he is what y-”
“No. Just the tasks.” At the void knight’s firm response, the demon sighed melodramatically and bent down to pick up the discarded armor.
“Of course. Anything you wish, darling.”
Sedra watched as the succubus strode across the room, her hands full of armor, but at the door, she called out. “Cazas?”
The demoness smiled, turning back. “Yes?”
“I would like to eat when I wake. You were right about that much.”
Cazas sketched a curtsey with enough grace to rival a court dignitary. Or perhaps enough to impersonate one. She rose with a devilish smile, promising, “Your meal will be waiting. Rest assured.”
Once she had left, once the door to the captain’s quarters slid closed and the lights dimmed… Vasedra tugged off of her tunic and breeches, spending a moment in front of the mirror tracing the shadowed scrollwork of symbols drawn on her skin while her thoughts circled tiredly around Ary and Tza’kiel, the fight with Eraelan, and the conversation with Tris; and while the shadows tried in vain to whisper to her.
At length, she sighed and reached down to recover the nameless blades from where they lay, instead hanging them on the pair of crossed hooks that lived on the wall beside the head of the bed, a relic from the room's previous owner. Perhaps, from what Tza’kiel had shown her, intended for glaives, but more than sufficient for her swords. The pair of them whimpered as she turned back toward the bed, and she paused long enough for one last soothing caress to appease them before she attempted to get some rest.
The way the nameless blades slid through flesh was new and beautiful, an invasion of the body that was levels deeper than anything Mercy and Grace had been capable of. Every slice, now, opened nerves and blood vessels, severed muscle, snapped bone… and through the blades, she felt it as if it was her own hand that formed the void-blackened felsteel, her own senses that pressed through the spongy flesh with vicious, decisive, razor-sharp intent. It was… horrible. And amazing. Sensation with every strike.
Blood, warm and wet against her skin. Armor rending beneath her fingers. That thin resistance of leather or fabric, clothing before naked flesh. Like undressing a lover only to dive through his skin to his guts: banded muscle snapping apart, hard-soft cartilage gripping as she reaches through it, bone rigid and brittle, entrails so soft and warm and wet with lifeblood.
Sedra groaned and shuddered as she slipped the pair of them free of the eredar in front of her, staggering away from his body as he fell. If she weren’t careful, it was monumentally distracting, dragging her attention deep into the victim in front of her and leaving her vulnerable to all the other dangers around her. She grit her teeth and willed her racing heart to slow, forcing her fast, heated breath to ease. And cool.
Even as she rushed for the next demon patrol, shadow drifting from her as her new speed blurred her visible image, she wrestled her reactions under control. Emotion, passion, leashing to reason and objective analysis and will. The next few deaths were viewed with a surgeon’s eye. Anatomy. Precision. If she were to feel every piece of flesh, she would use that knowledge to do what she needed better, not to hunger for it.
I am a weapon. Not a toy! Well. Not a toy outside of the Master’s sanctum, at least.
... And it was all a distraction from what she wanted most to be doing, what she needed to focus on. But focus was difficult with the blades keening for her attention, crying for her approval as they slew in her hands. And the shadows whispering secrets, ideas, plots, gibberish, all the dreaming, crawling things.
The void knight paused when the next two demons fell, flicking blood from her weapons and sheathing them both. Distractions. Ary always hated distractions from her goal, hated Sedra to be distracted. She needed to focus.
Vasedra bowed her head, her glamoured horns throwing shadows across her cheeks at the angle, and closed her falsely-blue eyes as she stretched out her mind. Opening. Unfolding. The dark things surged to fill the spaces that she made, and it shocked her so much that she lost it all, her eyes snapping open on a gasp as her mind shuttered.
Still, they tried, shoving at her. The void danced on the edges of her reawakened vision, filled with all the horrors, all the lost edges of order that had dribbled into the black. She grimaced at its message, loud and mad in her head for the heartbeat it took to shut it back out. Consume.
No. Focus. The eredar knew what stole hers from her, and it was… unacceptable.
As unacceptable as Ary being in Sraath's hands.
Focus. Ary… The shadows didn’t matter. They wouldn’t stop her.
Vasedra stood at the center of the path and raised her face to the sky, tossing her cowl back against her neck. Her stygian eyes watched the streaks and sparks that pretended to be stars in the night-dark above her as she stretched once more, reaching with her thoughts until her gaze no longer saw, focusing past the mad things in her blood and body. Let them rush where they would, let them pretend to fill her. She would drive them back into their corner when she was done.
Ary… she called without calling, a questing that had to be silent and careful, that had to slip past Malfias should he try to bar the way. One that could not reach Sraath’s ears. Harnessing everything she needed and discarding everything that wasn’t useful to simply extend a hand, to open and offer out a connection left empty and dangling for too many days already.
And to defend it from the madness that eyed it hungrily, babbling with deafening intensity in her ear.
Later, she would be hard-pressed to say how long she stood there, head back and blades sheathed, unseeing black eyes fixed on the sky and filigreed horns glinting in the fel-sick light. At some point, the void within her shifted her perception of the time she spent questing, drawing it long against the short Argussian minutes to drive her more steeply into desperation. Into fear.
Her head filled with seconds that didn’t exist for anyone else. Time through which she focused unceasingly, against which she leveled an immortal’s patience… and in which she fought a worried friend’s impatience.
Until the moment came when she felt a glimmer, something that her relief interpreted as warmth through the thread she dangled, through the web she wove along the ill-defined places that weren't places at all. A presence that winked back into existence and fit back along the tattered end of her bond with her friend. Unaware. Indistinct. Scattered. Shuttered. And yet still unmistakable.
“Ary,” Vasedra breathed the little human's name aloud, her eyes widening for a moment before they closed with naked, raw relief. Alive. The void knight curled forward, shoulders and back hunching around her heart.
That's what saved her from the fel-glowing blade aimed at her neck.