(Just a side-story – written from Ari’s writing prompt.  This is things as they could have been, had Zenzorem been a little subtler… and Aunne gotten her wish.  It’s definitely written very quickly, and I’ll likely be revisiting it for edits – but I wanted to post it anyway.   Sorry, Zen, for borrowing the big guy.  I didn’t figure you’d mind.)

She stretched, languid and easy, reveling in the feel of silken sheets against bare skin, the glory of a pale sunbeam on a cold morning as filtered through the Hall’s great windows.  She stopped when her hand hit fur – and, with a low giggle, she rolled over to cuddle the furry thing next to her.

“Good morning, puppy!”  The draenic rolled easily, musically from her – vibrant and full. “Today’s the day, isn’t it?  I should be nervous, and I’m not.  I wish you could be there – it will be absolutely glorious.”

Chains clinked as the great shape whined, coughed, copper eyes burning.

“i know, and I’m sorry.  But you can’t keep snapping at him – you know that.  I know when you settle in, it’ll be alright.”  She smiled, and flexed – a bone cracked, and the wolf-thing howled. “… or you won’t.  I hope you do.  I miss you.”  She left, moving languid and easy – idly pouring water in a basin for her wolf.  It wouldn’t do to have her thirsty – that would just be cruel.  And she was never cruel – everyone told her so.  It was gratifying to know.  

Attendants dressed her, whispering adoring words – flowing robes of the softest silks, in vibrant reds and yellows that set off the blue of her skin and the vibrant raven of her hair, and the gleam of gold at her ears, on her face-tendrils.  Her glowing-green eyes shone like emeralds in the sun – and she took some time in front of a mirror to make sure everything was just -perfect-.  She was to sing today – and it wouldn’t do,  no, not at all, to not be absolutely perfect.  Hooves rang against crystalline floors in a steady beat, and she loved the tones as it bounced from the walls.

But, there was no time to get lost today – nono.  Her love waited for her.  He needed her.  And she would go to him.

——————–

In the dark spaces elsewhere, amid the rattle of chains and the groans of pain and slow, somehow heavy roar of felfires, the Paladin woke.  Her golden armor was still there, just.. broken, burned, beyond useless – a steady mockery of the glory that it was before.  Everything ached.  She couldn’t think.  She was thirsty – so thirsty.

“Ah, you’re awake!  Wonderful.”  Zenzorem somehow managed to make even that seem – positively menacing, and yet happy. “It wouldn’t do to have our day get started without you paying attention.  There’s just so much to do!”

“Monster – ”  Came the snarl from the cage across the way – where the pirate, in worgen-shape, was unable to turn, much less stand upright. “I’ll tear off your bollocks and feed them to you… I’ll..”  

A snap, and a muzzle wrapped itself around the wolf’s jaws – Zenzorem managed to somehow look.. condescendingly dissapointed. “You’ll be so much /nicer/ once I tear out your tongue.  Honestly.  You need more creativity to be -interesting-.   Don’t you think I shou…”

“Dearest,”   Came the soft, musical draenic – “don’t play with your food.”  She clopped down the stairs – a vision of vibrancy in this place, drawing every eye… and glorying in it.  “You know how you get carried away.”  And with that, the living Draenei twined herself into the Dreadlord’s arms, chuckling – soft and musical and -alive-. “Besides.  YOu said I could keep him.  He /is/ my pack, after all.  I’ll take care of him – I /did/ promise.”

“how could I refuse you, dear one?”  Zenzorem leered. “After I’m through.”

Aunne pouted, looking up at him fetchingly. “… don’t break him.  I want to.”  She smelled the sudden fear from the cages beyond… and it made her heart race.   And it was glorious.

———————————–

That night she sang – a grand hymn to which her crowd of attendants and hangers-on swayed and cheered and even her earstwhile ‘mate’ seemed moved.  

It had been a full day – the Paladin just stared as she patiently ‘explained’ to her new wolf exactly what he would be, at least until he fainted.  She should, perhaps, have avoided freezing bones.  The woman’s eyes bothered her.  They seemed to know her, but she couldn’t remember – and they judged, somehow.  And for the first time in a long, long time, the judgement shook something inside.  

It made her snippy.

She snarled at the imp who was helping her undress, and backhanded the Eredar maiden who trod so carelessly on her hoof.  A few well-chosen words and she cracked and crumbled and shattered like the ice she’d become – how -dare- she.  How DARE SHE.  In a fit of pique, she kicked the crystalline, glittering remnants, not even finding comfort in their merry tinkle across her dressing room floor.  Her pet brought her no comfort, snapping and  snarling at her like she had at the beginning instead of being a good girl.   She threw her into her cage, just… too impatient to even bother with gentle correction… or the choke collar.   Just.  Everything was so frustrating.

Those eyes were still judging her.  She knew it.  She could feel it.  Gnawing at her.  Just… how could that woman possibly know.  Well.  Anything?  

She stalked into the rooms beyond – putting time into a bit of a workout.  But, not even the big draenei slave could put her to rights; she hit too hard, grew too angry too quickly, and soon the healers had to step in lest he be permanently ruined.

 It just… wasn’t any fun.

She stripped off the last of her clothing, leaving it in a trail for the remaining Eredar maid, flinging herself into the baths with all the petulance she could muster.  She tried relaxing, tried soaking – and even the little, squeaky stuffed duck couldn’t make her smile.

She kept seeing those eyes.

Finally, dripping, she dragged herself out of the bath,  moving naked to the mirrors that hung in her dressing space, dripping on the crystalline floors and just -not caring-.  She was still there – she was still beautiful, wasn’t she?  Just the scar, above her heart – so faint now – 

“De’seeth, kuru’nai- ”  the male voice made her shiver – and she saw him, in the mirror.  She could see through him, through the door beyond, where her puppy whimpered and curled around new hurts, but his golden eyes held her, and she shuddered.

“no.  I’ve forgotten you.”

“It isn’t so easy.  I promised I would never leave, and I haven’t.  Forgetting me doesn’t change my promises.”

“Leave.  Me.  Alone.”

“… never.  I’ve brought you a gift, Light of my Heart – I’m sorry it’s taken so long.”

He had her eyes.  Then his.  He reached for her – and she flinched.  “Go -away-.”   But.. she found herself unable to move.  Unable to look away.

“Let me show you.  See.”

And.. she did.  She saw the ruin of her body, the decay that had set in, the burning felfire as it ate into her joints and her smile and her eyes and she saw the ruin of her hair and the cracked claws of her hands and the flame… her horns.  Oh, her horns – and she couldn’t breathe and it hurt, how it hurt and the scar bled green fire and …

She fell to her knees, weeping, and her tears were fire, and they burned her hands and the floor and her face and it didn’t matter.  Nothing mattered.  And… she could not close her eyes anymore.  She couldn’t look away – she saw his eyes.  His golden eyes, and the Paladin’s… and she knew.

She knew.

Author Aunne
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