This story takes place immediately after the Netherbane were delivered back to Azeroth by Malfias at the end of the showdown with Sraath.
The workshop smelled of spilled chemicals and ozone wards, of dried blood and rotting tissue. It was broken and stained and crooked, with three sets of shelves bent at the middle and two more ripped in half, the bright, blue-white metal supports sheared near shoulder height and the tops tumbled down amongst the refuse of their former contents. The workbench, solid and unflappable, was strewn with bits of broken glass, odd crystals, tools ripped from their wall slots, and the offal left from the ruins of Belmun’s once-extensive collection of preserved organic… samples.
Sedra ignored it all, kicking debris from her path as she made her single-minded way to the settee. It was half-ripped from the floor panel and sitting at an odd angle, more detritus strewn across the cushions, but she didn’t care. The darkling things, though calmer and more under control after the conversation with her friend and her vigil in the Mindslayer, still pressed the edges of her awareness, taking advantage of a wide and widening pit of exhaustion that grew beneath her hooves.
How long had it been since she’d rested? She allowed herself the idle curiosity, calculating out the days. In Viskarri, she’d rested. Or at least, she thought perhaps she might have around moments of passion and exertion, between the rituals and the needs of her new Master. The eredar groaned at the very thought, reeling with the speed at which her cold blood heated and stumbling so hard that she had to catch herself against the high back of Ary’s favorite chair.
Under her sudden weight, the damaged wood gave with a resounding, sharp crack, and she tumbled to the ground, rolling to her side, her horns clanging on the floor panels. The blades laid on her armor by the door moaned and gasped as she curled up, echoing need and lust and adoration through her head that dragged a mirrored moan from her lips. She remembered-
“Stop that,” she snapped to herself and them, her sharp voice dropping into the memories like a pebble in a pond, its ripples turning a clear image blurry and warped. Her black eyes closed as she clenched her fists, her nails biting into her palms. “I am not a toy, and that is not what I am thinking about.”
A shadow that tittered at her from the corner of the room and pointed out that it absolutely was earned her glare as she shoved back to her hooves. Thus upright once more, she took a deep breath and decided not to resume pondering when she’d last slept. It didn’t matter, as she would soon reset that nebulous counter.
The void knight paused before the settee and stared at the stained and torn sheets dangled across it, disturbed from their neatly folded piles. Ruined blanket fibers covered it all like an odd, miscolored snow, and it sat askew, a torn piece of floor panel beneath the leg evidence to just how hard her troubled mind had attempted to yank it from its moorings. Afraid. Desperate. Hurting.
Sedra closed her eyes and summoned the last image of the Netherbane she had: Ary looking at her with that little expression that wasn’t a smile but was something… friendly. Something that made her feel like she wasn’t adrift. Veldrinas glancing up from checking his glaives, that little upward quirk on his lips. Poe lifting a pale hand to wave goodbye. Shizukera, quiet and mourning, and still managing to nod politely. Tharion and that bouncy little twit, Zadera, mid-bow. Eraelan in profile, as intent on ignoring her as she was on ignoring him, and yet them both aware of each other. The big stranger, Zhuriel, off to the side, speaking to the twinned Elishtars. Araatris with the kind smile her sister didn’t let herself show, her head tilted a little to the side as she said goodbye.
It didn’t feel like family, any more. Not in the way she knew it did for Ary. Sedra feared she would poison them all if she touched them too much, clung to the idea that she’d done far too much wrong to them to deserve to be among them. But Sedrai’s old friends in the Netherbane did still give her hope. Hope that, perhaps, she could be a monster and something better at the same time, as they were. While the void knight pondered and treasured that feeling, she supposed that it was just evidence of how old habits died hard. The Netherbane had always given a lost death knight hope, too.
The voices in the back of her awareness tried to tell her how foolish that was, how futile, but she ignored them as she plopped down on the ripped seat of the settee, the metal curled beneath the leg bending mostly back to flat with a creak and a springy resilience. Her weary head settled against the cushion, ringing with their hunger, their pessimism, their power. Thrumming with something that pressed in at her, that scratched at the edges of her awareness with the hiss of a whetstone pressed too hard against a blade.
Sedra picked up the least stained of the sheets and threw it over herself, curling up on her side and closing her eyes, shoving it all away, wrapping silence around herself despite the cacophony. The trial was over; it was time to sleep.
… But she was still awake an hour later, clenching the cover over her embroidered tunic and staring at the ceiling of the workshop, her senses on fire. Scratch, scratch, scratch. The sensation flowed out of the land around her, above her, seeping even through the tight-knit wards of the Sanctuary, crawling through her awareness with a relentless, repetitive, maddening determination. The voices and will of the shadows had gone silent by comparison, leaving her alone with the feeling that something shoved at the center of her chest, pushing against a barrier. Scratching at it. Screaming at it. Stretching it. Ripping it.
Vasedra shuddered and turned on her side, dragging the sheet with her and clenching her eyes shut.
“I don’t care,” she muttered to herself for the seventh time. “It’s not my problem.” Except it was because she wanted to sleep. Because it pried at her and denied her respite.
Go and earn your peace. A test. Stretch forth...
The void knight sat up with a growl of annoyance, shoving the sheet aside and staring up through the ceiling of the workshop, her senses questing. She would have to go up there and earn her peace, apparently. A test of what Tza’kiel and the Heartsblood had awoken within her. And an opportunity to stretch further into this new power.
Even though she was tired and plagued already by what pieces of power she’d touched on the Umbral Eclipse, it was an idea with sudden allure. And the alternative was to lay there, forced to “listen” as they brought another monster to Argus when there were already too many monsters on the beleaguered world.
Sedra slipped from the settee with a resolute expression. It seemed there was more to do before she rested.
The nameless blades danced among the ritualists, slashing and slicing as they cackled and screamed, as loud in her head as they were in reality, though twice as coherent. She was an irritated streak of dark plate and darker power, moving among them with a speed that still thrilled her even after days of using it against demonkind on the approach to the Eclipse. Vasedra was a weapon, cutting bindings with cold precision, feeling her void-rich swords slice through cloth and then shadow something, her senses with the metal of the blade, dragging through a flesh that wasn’t mere flesh, an energy that wasn’t mere energy, an essence that was mortal and immortal and everything in between.
Ethereals were fascinating, she decided, even as she culled yet another from this reality.
What they had been casting, she didn’t know, but she felt it all. Saw it all in her new-awakened senses. Much like she’d seen the roots of the fissure that had opened on Sraath’s twisted ship. She could feel what they were trying to summon, scratching scratching scratching at the heart of the barrier between there and here, at the weak place the Shadowguard Voidcallers had been making. At the heart of her, for she felt it as if the barrier were somewhere at the center of her chest, as if she was the line between real and unreal.
The locked door.
A locked door in her once-impaled heart, and a monster trying to pry it open.
Sedra bared her white teeth as she darted under another ethereal blade and rolled behind its wielder, leaving wisps of void in her wake. She stood and drew her blades along its back, relishing the echoing, hissing cry it made as its bindings were cut and its essence dissolved. She felt it go, whatever that meant, and grinned with morbid satisfaction. When she straightened and looked through the fading, dark cloud of its passing, the last of the ritualists stood a few feet away, its featureless face following her, its weapon pointed at the ground.
The void knight sneered and raised a blade, brandishing its tip at her final opponent. “Raise your sword and fight, Shadowguard.”
It shook its head, a clear no, and she couldn’t quite be rid of the idea that it stared at her in some sort of wonder, awe. Her brows furrowed. There was no hostile intent, no mad rambling or impassioned dedications to the void from this one. It was oddly still until the moment that its grip released the hilt of its blue-purple blade, sending it clattering to the ground amongst the ones dropped by its brethren.
“What are you doing?” Sedra asked, perplexed. “Why would y-?”
The awful, tearing, soundless screech cut her off, and she spun to see the ethereals’ lingering spellcraft warp, wrending, the barrier ripping open and dragging awful sensation through her awareness. Talons of something ebon and craggy stabbed through the holes it made, protruding into the Mac’Aree air, and it felt to her as though they might have impaled her chest. The knight grunted, curling forward in pain and discomfort.
“No,” Vasedra growled, the lone ethereal forgotten, stalking toward the invader. “This place is not for you.”
Her shaking hands raised toward it, and she stretched past the exhaustion that had brought her here in the first place, grasping at a power that was around her and through her and new to her. Instinct was her only guide as she called, and strength came, pulsing with the slow, languid beat of the forge at the center of Viskarri, surging like a tide through her. A tide that she turned on the creature attempting to claws its way through.
The void knight threw back her head and screamed as she strained against the awful something on the far side of the rip. Her will, her mind, shoved at it, forcing it back from the breach. She needed space. She needed distance, time to mend the torn thing that was the veil between everything and needy nothing.
You need more power.
She needed more power.
Sedra reached for more of the darkness on the wrong side of real, grasping at it, letting its strength flow like water through her. Fetid, foul water that wanted to take pieces of her and keep them.
Give up nothing. Give in to nothing.
She growled and shook her head as she clung to her self through the torrent, giving up nothing. Giving in to nothing. The power was a tool, a weapon, and she wielded it, slamming the thing screaming from the other side of the breach with a hammer of maddened determination.
Now. The seal. The seam. Close it. Mend it. Make it yours!
Her hands mimicked her thoughts, and she reached out to the empty, moist Mac’Aree air, fingers grasping at nothing and mind grasping at something. They both pulled two edges together toward the center and then held them here as she gritted her teeth, snarling words from between them.
Each one became a stitch. “This side is not yours. I defy you. I reject you.”
And then it was done.
The rift sucked closed and disappeared as if it had never been with an audible pop that echoed across the void scar. As sudden and simple as that. Sedra sagged in relief…
… and then she staggered, shadows blowing through her form like gusts of wind, turning pieces of her wispy and transparent by turns.
“Aaugh!” The void knight screamed wordlessly, grasping at her head to hold it together while it filled with voices and thoughts, presences thick with malice and hunger and a multitude of wills not her own. “NO! I do not submit! I w-will… I… AAUGH!”
The scream that echoed through the void scar was the last lucid thing Vasedra did. Her breath came in gasps as the power she had gathered turned back on her, as the darkness tried to eat at her. It spiraled out of her control in the space of a heartbeat, and she became a thing of shadow herself, her form, her armor, her features, even the cackling blades at her hips becoming fluid, a voidlost idea. Falling apart.
No. No, shhhh… I have you, my cannikin. I will hold you until you can hold yourself, once more.
Her form changed shape until what stood in her place was a strange woman in a long gown, her smooth, high cheekbones sharp in a face that bore some resemblance to the eredar's save for the new, almondine tilt to her eyes. Her horns faded to a memory, a hint shadowed by a crown of dried, desiccated flowers and thorned stalks. Her tail and the tendrils at her jaw similarly wisped to near-nothing, only half-forgotten thoughts and unrealities, leaving her looking like an odd version of who she used to be overlaid with someone much more formed like an elf. Her eyes went dead, no longer depthless and swirling, filled with eldritch power, but flat and featureless and dull, like a pond beneath a starless night. Empty. Placid.
Transformed, overcome, Vasedra straightened and turned around with a soft smile lifting her lips. She tilted her head, her sightless eyes questing with her senses until her face shifted toward the lone ethereal who stood amidst the sliced bindings of his comrades a few yards away, watching her, still, in wonder.
Curious bird. The wind sighed her words in a too-light singsong voice as she beckoned to it with a void-wracked finger. Her lips never moved. Curious, curious bird with a hawk's keen eyes and a marsuul’s tomfoolery. The humans say the cat’s murder was the product, but I would ball it up and hold it to me though all are hisses and decay.
It hesitated before walk-gliding toward her, its featureless face obscuring nothing to her blind perception, and finally paused a few feet away before kneeling wordlessly. Vasedra's smile brightened, and she watched its bowed, wrapped head for a long moment before she moved.
Yes. Her soundless tone musical, she closed the last steps between them. Yes. Gift-wrapped bird… I would hold you to me, as well, but you slip through fingers and toes.
The transformed void knight circled it slowly, her steps silent in the crisp, yellowed grass. One hand trailed across its metal armor, sliding from left shoulder to right across the stiff, high collar around the back of its neck. From the point of the right, she reversed her odd caress, walking from right to left as she traced the decorative etchings in the dark alloy across its chest.
You know me? she asked, but it wasn't really a question.
Its voice, deep and masculine and echoing out of the infinite dark, made her shudder deliciously. “I… saw you. I can name what you are. Who you are.”
Her laughter interrupted it, and she was a vision of mad mirth until she held her side and brushed freezing tears from her cheeks. It took a full minute for her to calm, and when only light titters were left, she leaned down to kneel before it. After another long, slow consideration, she took its ill-defined chin between her fingers, lifting its face to hers.
Despite the distress she felt from the ethereal, she put her cheek against the wrappings on its own and closed her dull eyes, her lips still against the place where its ear might be. Shhhh. You cannot name me, my priest. My name… must be lost until then becomes now and what was overhangs. Only then, echoing from walls bloodstained and ichor-covered, slipping in between snaps of the lash and the snikt of the dread king’s beheadings. Only then if we clutch it all tight.
Vasedra pulled back, her smile beatific and sweet, at odds with the vivid images. She didn’t release her grip on the warp-stalker’s chin, but her fingers gentled as she asked, simply, Do you accept, Hashijaad?
“I accept, goddess,” it said firmly, “I will serve.”
In her void-lost and strange form, the eredar leaned forward once more and pressed her lips to the shadowy place where the ethereal’s might have been. It was a gentle kiss, a chaste one, though long-held, and when her mouth opened on a sigh, something skittering and indistinct passed between them. That something made her form fade to a ghostly translucence as it crawled along the bindings around his cheeks and brow, marking them with shimmering webs of writing in a language long-forgotten, now found only on the oldest walls of a ruined temple-turned-citadel within the Breach. They were near invisible, only gleaming in contrast to his bindings when the light caught them just so.
The warp-stalker shuddered when the symbols were complete, darkening as she did, the skittering something curling up under the wraps at his heart and pulsing to the slow, languid beat of hers. He dared to lift his hands and cup her ephemeral cheeks, touched and pleased by their contract.
“I will serve,” he repeated, adding, “Gladly. You can give me what I want.”
Her eyes krinkled when she smiled, and she let him pull her forehead to his. I know, my priest. And you can give me what I want. Now, come.
Vasedra sobered, her true features lost beneath the power within her blood, and pulled away to straighten. Her dress dragged in the grass as she stepped back. There is a nest of corpses and crushed souls, and I would rest in it if only its tree weren't rotten.
“Shall we do something about it, goddess?” He, too, straightened, his armor creaking.
Let us find a new tree, curious bird. Her will whispered in the dry air as she turned away, her sightless eyes lifting to the sky and her indistinct lips curling into a happy smile.