Shadows and Nightmares
This encounter takes place aboard the Legion vessel, the Mindslayer, not long after the Sovereign of the Eastern Gate beamed the survivors of the battle against Sraath back to safety.
Vasedra slipped away from the group as soon as she could, as soon as she was convinced enough that everyone was safe and that Ary was protected. Though she didn't know the Mindslayer well, she had been on her former Master's vessel enough times to know her way, to know that it wasn't far from the command deck to the now-empty officer's quarters. Down the leeward hall and off to the left side.
And so she escaped with the echoes of what had transpired, of the terrible loss they'd realized, of both triumph and tragedy ringing in her ears... while the shadows writhed and whispered into it all. Too much. Too strong. Emboldened and empowered by that void fissure and the proximity to the Gate.
Despite Elishtar's dark mimic sharing the cost, Sedra felt like she was being drowned slowly and was too exhausted and hurting and haunted to swim. Out amongst her friends, she had found it hard to ignore the forms of dark things weaving in among the bodies of night elves and eredar and a pair of little humans, whispering poison into her true thoughts, turning them sour and foul and hungry.
And so she escaped. She needed time and focus to shove the newest burden of her nature back into its place.
As soon as the door slides shut, Vasedra pulls the nameless blades from their sheathes and tosses them on the bed, just blankly letting their insane ramblings fill the room with sound. She doesn't care; she isn't listening. And keeping them silent is too much effort in the wrong place. But their noise only makes her head ache worse, and she groans softly to herself as she slumps to the floor and flops to her back to stare at the ceiling.
It's a comfy enough place to lay, her right arm extending out to her side and her fingers half-curled into her palm. The stretch feels good on her strained shoulder. With the left, she grips her side beneath her half-unbuckled breastplate, just resting her cold gauntlet against the stinging, oozing burn across her ribs. A small, soothing thing that requires no effort.
Though she feels in that instant like the energy doesn't exist, still she takes a deep breath and tries to pull her flagging will to bear against the shadows that shift around the edges of her vision, the voices whispering from nowhere in her ears.
"Quiet..." she says softly to herself, closing her eyes, "... and still... and closed...."
Ary's mind echoes with the spirit of the Eclipse. The shadows churn and chatter in a realm that only she can hear. Most of all, she ached. Mind, body, and soul, she felt abused and battered. She'd slipped away under the pretense of rest, but she'd been drawn to this closed door.
Her arms still cradle the large teardrop-shaped crystal that houses Sraath's soul. Not because she felt any personal attachment, but there was a piece of her clinging to it to remind herself of her purpose. She would allow no other to hold it. After long minutes, Ary raises one hand to tentatively knock on the door while wondering why she wasn't taking her own advice to rest.
It takes a moment before the door slides open, preceded by the mutter of voices and an odd thunk against the wall. Silence falls in the room before it's finally revealed, and Sedra stands in the opening with her hand braced against the wall. She lifts her head from its slouch, pulling her gaze away from the gauntlet on the floor by her hoof, and blinks at the little human, blue eyes widening beneath the cowl.
The human woman's voice sounds distant to her own ears. "Oh. Were you sleeping? I can come back later." Ary frowns slightly in confusion, wondering if she was more tired than she thought. She wraps her outstretched hand back against the gemstone's smooth surface.
"No!" The eredar says it too vehemently, tensing, but she manages not to look at the source of the whisper she was answering. Instead, she rolls the word into her answer, managing a more normal, "No," and a brief shake of her head.
"I wasn't sleeping." She peers at Ary quietly for a moment, taking a deep breath. "You look tired. Do you wish to come in? These quarters have a bed."
Ary nods jerkily. "If it's okay. I need... I need some quiet." She grimaces. "I won't steal your bed though. I'm tired, but I'll find another bed for rest." She slips past as Vasedra widens the door and looks for a corner. She immediately settles down, pressing her back against the cool metal and drawing her knees up to cradle her burden.
The void knight watches her friend quietly as she enters, letting the door slip shut behind them when she follows into the room. She stands while Ary settles, and then tugs her loose, damaged breastplate over her head, setting it at the foot of the bed.
"It is not my bed. The swords are the only ones using it, and they do not much care where they lay." As she says it, she picks up the twin blades and moves them to a bench against the far wall. They don't make so much as a peep. "Feel free to claim it."
"The metal feels better right now. The bed is... too soft if that even makes sense." Ary rubs her face with her hands. "There's nothing physically wrong with me, but... I hurt." She lays her head back against the steel. She dryly snarks, "Physical and mental status at five percent." The small human closes her eyes and goes silent.
She suddenly comments, "You should be using the bed. Why aren't you?"
The eredar tugs off her remaining gauntlet and wanders restlessly back to the doorway, leaning down to scoop up its match. Her attention never fully strays from Ary, though her gaze does at times. Dropping the pair by her breastplate, she finally settles on her knees at the center of the room, as Ary poses her question.
"Sleep is not what I need most," Vasedra says softly. "I found the floor was enough for that."
She watches her friend for a heartbeat before saying, "Tell me."
Ary slowly opens her eyes, settling on Vasedra with a blank impassive look. "I left the tea party hosted by Elithe and headed home. When I got home, someone had gone through everything. The shadows circled me as I stepped in, then someone hit the back of my head and there was nothing."
She grimaces and grabs her head, snapping irritably in contrast to her even tone moments before, "Seriously, Vasedra, what do you want to know? I was in a cell, then he hooked me up to the Eclipse. I had a Legion vessel in my mind."
Her friend presses her lips together within the shadows of her cowl, her expression hidden. Despite the other woman's odd dance from emptiness to irritability, her tone is soft and even.
"I surmised all of that, Ary. I want to know how you feel now. You are back. But how far?" Her glance darts to the crystal cradled in the human's lap.
The human's face scrunches, "Like I still have a ship in my head. I keep thinking that I'm driving this bucket of bolts. Beyond that... I just hurt. Everywhere and everything hurts even though there's nothing wrong with me."
"If you're asking if I'm going to get sudden urges to murder you... unlikely. I was part of the security system, but there's nothing directing that." She lowers her legs with visible effort and they straighten with an audible pop.
Sedra shifts forward, a small motion. "I am... not asking that, Ary."
She sighs and reaches under her cowl to rub her temple. A soft whisper comes from the far side of the room, an indistinct mutter and a groan. "I'm sorry. You need time. Time and distance. And quiet that I cannot give you."
Her luminous blue gaze lands back on the crystal. "Why do you still have that?"
"Several reasons I guess. It's comforting to have my most recent jailor shoved into his own prison. I want to bring it to Eraelan. And..." Ary hesitates and looks away. "I feel like it gives me a purpose to focus on at the moment. I... I can't focus on much yet."
Ary takes a deep, unsteady breath. "I am not back to myself yet. Not with the echoes in my head. I feel disoriented and confusion and it's difficult to focus. I take what I can for now."
"Perhaps... Eraelan will be able to help you feel less of... that." The void knight across from her shifts, drawing her knees up. She says nothing more, just resting her chin on them and watching the human, unreadable.
Ary frowns as if finally realizing something. "Does something bother you? Are my answers not what you're looking for?" She turns and looks at her Blade, scowling, but not directly at the woman. She mumbles to herself. "Did I say something I don't remember perhaps..."
Vasedra shakes her head. "No. No, not you. I should have..." She sighs, and Ary can see her eyes close when the light of them winks out. "I want to... I am just..."
The other woman pauses, clasping her cold hands over her legs. Her voice is soft as she tries again. "I'm glad you're here."
The small woman wraps one arm around the gem as she pushes to her feet with a groan. Ary shuffles across the floor. "I'm glad, too. I'd wondered if perhaps this time I wouldn't make it out, but... I've had that thought before and lived. I hope you don't feel responsible. If you do, I'll make sure to hit you with something hard when I feel up to it." She smiles weakly.
"Now why are you still wearing that hood when you've taken off all your other armor? You know it irritates me when I can't see your face." Ary kneels in front of Sedra, one leg at a time, until she can sit. It takes a few more unceremonious groans and grunts, but she manages.
The eredar blinks her eyes back open as her friend moves, watching her settle once more. Closer. Close enough to feel how much less chill is in the air around them. But Sedra can't bring herself to move away from the little human, not even to better hide.
Still, she conveniently fails to address the first part of Ary's comments, instead just shaking her head and softly saying, "Please don't take it off."
Ary frowns again. "Why do you need to hide? It's me, Sedra." She leans forward attempt to peer further into the hood. With a sudden, pained grimace, she rocks back. "Seems that isn't a good idea at the moment."
Rather than let her friend try more painful maneuvers, the void knight shifts around herself, pulling her knees under her and moving closer. "Don't hurt yourself. Please. This... this cowl hides more than my expression."
I don't know if- She grimaces and presses her fingers against her aching head, switching back. "I don't know what you will think. I don't know if now is the best time."
The expression blanks again as Ary thinks, racking her brain for a memory. "You... You went away somewhere. Viskarri. Did something happen there? You thought it would help you." Ary now stares with a more critical eye.
Sedra glances over as the blades burst into sound, laughter and incomprehensible whispers for a heartbeat before her gaze narrows angrily, and they fall silent.
She turns her attention back to Ary quickly, ignoring the outburst.
"I got what I wanted. And what I didn't want. I'm... I'm just... I should have been here."
Ary shakes her head. "They got me someplace that should have been safe. I've gone to my apartment alone often enough." She reaches out and lets her fingertips rest on the eredar's arm.
"You said you got something you didn't want. Were you injured?" Ary grimaces as a particular ache hits her. The normally sensitive young woman seems to be deaf to the swords at the moment.
Vasedra hunches forward, laughing softly as her head droops not so far from Ary's shoulder. It isn't a particularly joyful sound. "Arguably... quite the opposite. What little I remember seemed very... pleasurable."
She shudders slightly before she straightens and slowly lifts her cowl back.
The glamour of her luminous eyes and unmarked horns dissolves, revealing the stygian, star-flecked swirling black of her gaze and the felsteel bands at the base of her horns. The filigree of metal that traces over the rest of their graceful curves is simultaneously elegant and instinctively disturbing.
Sedra's short, black hair flops against her cheek as she straightens and tugs the cowl entirely off her neck. The folds of fabric lift away, revealing the tops of the inky tattoos that trace across her collar bone and far beyond, their lines reminiscent of demon hunters' markings.
Rising slightly, Ary finds herself studying the changes. "Yet, you don't sound pleased. Is this the price you paid?" She reaches up to touch Sedra's horns, grateful for the distraction from the last several days and herself.
The void knight holds still for her friend's perusal, her voice subdued, shifting between confused emotions. "No. Those are a gift, a mark of favor. I had... I didn't expect to be so... I wanted power, an army to lead to the Gate when you no longer needed me. I thought I could barter, but... the Bloodbinder's price was me. I am his Blade. And yours."
Vasedra pauses, her black eyes watching her friend's reaction until her own silent self-recrimination drives her to look away.
That makes Ary scowl. "You're my Blade first, Vasedra." Her fingers trace first the filigree then tattoos. "You should have known better. Who is this Bloodbinder anyway?" While critical, Ary seems more curious than judging.
"The Bloodbinder is ... a nathrezim, a Lord who had broken from the Legion even before it started to crack. He, too, sets himself against the Dark that Consumes. Like Malfias... but..."
The eredar's voice turns breathy, subtly longing. "... so unlike Malfias."
In the wake of that thought, she tries to stay stoic, but Ary's fingers trailing across her cold, marked skin eventually make her shudder. She shies back, looking away with an obvious blush as she says, "Tza'kiel is Sor- ... Sa'khari's Master. And now mine. But I am... I choose to be your Blade first, Ary."
Lowering her hand, Ary stares into Sedra's onyx eyes. "I don't like this any more than Malfias. At some point, you'll have to choose because your duties don't align. Then, where will my Blade, my friend, be?"
She smiles sadly. "And should this nathrezim set you against us in any way..." Ary lets the thought drop meaningfully. She rubs her temple as she sighs. "I am tired, Sedra. I am cranky, in pain, and confused. But... I know where my loyalties lie. Do you?"
The eredar curls forward around her heart with a sigh, reaching out to tangle the fingers of one hand in the end of Ary's sleeve. She lowers her head and closes her eyes, tense and obviously struggling to control her reaction.
She whispers, "I don't know anything, Ary. Not a thing. Not right now. I... can't even help you. I'm useless; my mind is a dangerous place, now. It belongs to him as much as my blood and body, and the power fills it further with... pitfalls. I... I didn't want a new master... but... I think I might adore him."
Her grip clenches on the fabric of Ary's sleeve. "I have barely begun to process it all around searching for you."
The woman nods. "There is time for us both to think. Sedra..." Her voice softens. "I'm not going to stop being your friend because you have a new master... or because you might adore him. It is a very real thing that he might ask you to do something that contradicts with me. You'll need to prepare yourself for that day."
Ary raises her hand, despite the grip on her sleeve, and rests her hand on Sedra's head. "Perhaps I can help you once I've recovered." I am still here. The woman grimaces as her head throbs more loudly with the effort to whisper into her friend's mind.
Vasedra nods slightly, though she doesn't raise her head.
I am grateful. Her own pained grimace is aimed at the floor, and she presses her hand against her temple with a weak little chuckle. "Lightless Depths. That's so backwards, Ary. I am supposed to help you. What a rotting awful time to unravel..."
Ary laughs, an unexpected sound full of startled amusement. "Sedra! I'm not a child. I need someone to watch my back in battle not feed me a bottle and change my diaper. I'm rather good at mental control. I had to learn that from Tharion years ago. That might be of use."
She changes the topic. "Now tell me... why aren't you going to use your bed? I sure hope it's not to punish yourself because you still need to take care of your body if you want to help me." She comments wryly.
The void knight raises her head, finally, fixing her friend with a warm look. Without her cowl, it's easy enough to see her lips quirk up into a smirk as she straightens and finally releases Ary's sleeve. It's also quite easy to see when her glance darts off to a dark corner of the room before it lands back on the human.
"I... wasn't punishing myself. I was..." She winces, and the smirk dies into a grimace. "... I suppose I was meditating. Concentrating. Taking advantage of the quiet to ... the shadows creep in if I'm not vigilant, and between sealing the Void fissure with Elishtar's mimic and being so close to the Eastern Gate, they crowd me. I was taking time to push them back out."
She pats the deck beside her leg. "The floor was sufficient for that."
Smirking, the woman gestures. “Make sure you take advantage of the bed next time. I haven't known them to bite back yet."
She rubs her face, weariness creeping back in. Her gaze seeks the new blades, Sedra, then the door.
Shaking her head, Sedra nevertheless follows her friend's gaze.
She brushes a hand through her hair, taking a moment before she says, "I have no intention of sleeping aboard this vessel. Take the bed if you wish. I won't allow the blades to bother you, and..."
Vasedra pauses and fixes Ary with a stare and a little self-deprecating smirk. "... and I certainly wouldn't mind not letting you out of my sight for a little while. Just a little while, mind. I recognize that you are not a child."
Pushing to her knees again, Ary groans. "Fine. I don't feel like hunting down another bed anyway." She pauses, giving Sedra a weary smirk. "The look isn't bad, but I never took you for a jewelry and tattoo girl," she teases.
She pulls herself to her feet and staggers the few feet to the bed. Then she flops onto the soft surface with little decorum, tucking the crystal against her belly as she curls on her side.
The void knight stays where she is, watching her friend thoughtfully until her comments, then she smirks. "Apparently, I am one, now. Tza'kiel seems to have... a keenly-honed aesthetic. My weapons, too. He gifted them to me. When you are feeling better, take a look. They are lovely, if a bit unruly."
As Ary settles down, her friend sobers a bit, tilting her head. "... the ship broke part while you were still connected to it. I wonder if that is why your body aches..."
Ary grimaces and nods into the pillow. "Sympathy pains. You're likely right." She closes her eyes. "I don't know if I can actually sleep yet, but I'm definitely willing to try. Maybe the aches will lessen."
Sedra nods, not that Ary can see, and climbs to her hooves with a tilt to avoid pulling on her burned side. She steps toward the bed and crouches at the bedside. When she speaks again, her voice is as quiet as her new proximity demands.
"You were Ary Valryss long before you were any part of the Umbral Eclipse, and you will be Ary Valryss long after you can push that vessel from your mind. Remember that and rest well."
The small human's lips quirk in a quiet smirk and she murmurs sleepily, "Of course."
Sleep came in short bursts between nightmares of the Eclipse, but, still, she slept.
Vasedra haunted the room as her friend tried to rest, propping herself in the corner and losing long minutes here and there to the effort to scour the darkling voices of the void from the nooks and crannies of her being. She only settled her attention back on the room three times: twice when Ary's nightmares were at their worst and once when the familiar thrum of a transport beam vibrated through the deck.
For the little human, she pushed to her feet both times and made her way to the bedside, simply crouching to place a cold hand through the buffer of a folded blanket against her upper arm until the sleeper eased.
The third time, she simply raised her black gaze to the door as a familiar voice spoke in the hallway beyond, its tone unmistakable despite its words being obscured. When the second, deeper voice responded, Sedra sighed softly and glanced back at her sleeping friend.
A shadow against the far wall, lingering still and bolder than the others, laughingly asked her if she felt relieved or annoyed that he yet lived, and she quietly whispered, "I have no idea..."