It always amazed her, really, how people insisted she was something other than she was. “You aren’t a monster!” they would insist, or “don’t you want to join us for dinner?” “Have a drink!” was her personal bane – she never knew what to do. Refusing usually led people to being insulted or, worse, to lengthy explanations involving the pointlessness of drinking it, the fact that ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ wasn’t really a function of eating anymore, and how her opinions on even her own food were at best suspect.
Being dead led, she had learned, to a great number of headaches. Not that her head could ache, really, but headaches in the sense of this is too much trouble and I want to kill them even though they mean well and that was a thought she had to work too hard to stifle and hated having.
Being dead was indescribable, but if you insisted, she’d likely say words like “cold” and “sandy” and “long”, but those words really didn’t encompass everything. Banging her elbow into the wall made a sound – it didn’t hurt. Standing in the freezing rain wasn’t particularly bothersome except how it made her hair stick to her armor. Then again, sitting close to a fire meant she had to be careful that she hadn’t stuck some part of her in it and combusted by accident, rather than ‘comforting warmth’, and touring the blasted lands no more made her break out into a sweat than Icecrown made her cold.
It was existence. Not life. There was love in it, and there was worth, but how could anyone possibly explain the difference to someone whose only experience was living?
She never grew tired, never ached after hard work. Her bones could break and it was more an odd sensation than anything approaching ‘pain’, and they mended on their own when she gave them time to mend themselves. She remembered these things as one would stubbing one’s toe as a child – certainly, they once happened, and they were terribly troublesome, but now? They weren’t quite the same level of bother.
What always caught her off guard, however, were the two aspects of being dead that remained a novelty. The first, of course, was the Light. Shadow was cool and comfortable and it came easily to her magic – but Light? Light was searing and harsh and burned from the inside, awakening nerves and flesh that insisted they were dead and it should hurt. She could feel it, faintly, inside of her – a dull burning somewhere near her shattered and broken heart (quite literally – it was the wound that killed her, after all) that was nonetheless part of her, a pain that made things like love and affection sear her, that made her songs with Seella pulse pain in time with their beat, that left aches behind when others touched her.
She would never refuse a hug – this led to a certain paradox where the hugs themselves were pleasant, letting go hurt, and sometimes she clung a bit too long and Ygraine would tell her that she had to let go because dinner was burning.
Even so, this was good – it meant that the fear of the darkness within was largely gone; her emptiness had been replaced by something that, though thin and wavering, painful and often difficult, reminded her that she had hope, and it was fine that hope was painful, as that was the nature of hope at its heart.
No, the concerning problem was the madness. She always knew she was a little mad – at least by everyone else’s consideration of what sane was. Part of that was simply being who she was: you could not feed from killing and not enjoy it at some level, and inflicting pain and causing hurt was intoxicating, and that certainly skewed your view of the world at some fundamental level. No, being a monster was fine – but this was a madness that intruded and poked and prodded and insisted and looked in on her while she was dressing, and while she really wasn’t bothered by nakedness or clothing, for some reason the fact that this madness looked in always made her grumpy.
“Aunne’keva – what -are- you doing?”
Ah. There it was. She turned, there at her wardrobe, to look at the faint outline of the male Draenei – and despite herself, she smiled.
“I am trying to pick out a dress that does not need cleaning.” Her draenic felt good to use. “I leave them alone for too long; they gather dust.” Something flew out of the black fabric she held. “And flying things.”
“You’re dithering. You certainly know as well as I do that, of all people, Etsiyona won’t care what you’re wearing. Neither will Acele or anyone else that will be at that little drinking place.”
“I care. It is nice to feel pretty for a while – I can forget I am not, and yes, I know it is vanity, but I am allowed vanity sometimes. Isn’t that what you always told me?”
“I did. Do you remember the night we danced in the marsh, and I put that starflower in your hair? We’d been wet for three weeks straight, our clothes were a disaster – “
“- and you told me that I was still the most beautiful thing in the swamp, which, if I recall, wasn’t much of a compliment.”
“Hey. I thought river striders were gorgeous – “ He raised his hands, defensive, laughing – and her hurt burned a little more. She closed her eyes to pull that feeling in a little closer. She felt his hand on her cheek. “Aunne’keva – are you happy?”
He always asked her that, and she never really knew what to say. Happiness was for other people – as was joy. How was she supposed to have them herself? “I think so.” She knew it was not likely true, but she said the words anyway.
“You’re lying.” He’d never said that before. “I thought you promised you would never lie to me?”
“That is when you were alive, and real, and I was alive, and real, and there were a thousand years to have together for lives to fester. What difference does it make now?”
“You aren’t real?”
Had she said that? “I…”
“What an odd thing to say.”
“… well. It is true.” The words tumbled out of her. “I was Aunne’keva a’Poros – and now I am Aunne. She is dead and gone. I am a shell – a body given animation like a puppet through magic that refuses to end. Her soul is gone. I do not have one. I am not the one -you- loved. I am just Aunne, who tries very hard to be good, and fails quite often – and who has grown tired of war, and cannot stop fighting. I am a .. toy soldier, like Pyotr loved. The little crystal and metal ones? If the ones who loved me were wise, they would understand that my existence is, at best, no more significant than the little toy robots the old gnome sells in Stormwind.”
“You know that is not true.” He sounded so disappointed.
“Isn’t it? I am a construct. A creation of a power-hungry human mind – did your Aunne’keva know how to use swords and armor? Could she channel the cold and the dead, and know a thousand rune words? Did she understand the best ways to break a creature’s bones so that it will survive for days, and feed you on its pain as it died slowly?” She bared her teeth – and her fangs showed. “Could she rip the very blood out of a living being and use it to repair her body?”
She snorted. “Of course not. She was a priestess. Even when it was darkest, she healed and protected and the only thing we have in common is how much we both love flowers.”
“That is not how I remember her.” He settled – without disturbing it – into one of her two chairs, and looked mournfully at her. “She was a creature of fire. Of temper. She eventually came to be a warrior – or do you forget hiding in the marsh, fighting off the Orcs, running – how many did you kill after they killed me? After you saw the Path of Glory? How reckless did you become? Was it ten? A hundred? A thousand? How many shadow constructs tore orcs apart – or the bolts of light you threw, or the knife you kept at hand?”
“… to this day, not enough.” Some of the rage tried to well up. It became cold and harsh and the temperature of the room fell. Her voice grew echoing, ominous.
“And why did you stop fighting?”
“Because… Pytor had to survive.” The cold faded – and she sat across him. Feeling tired. She hadn’t felt tired in ages.
“That was you, Aunne’keva. Not a construct.”
“No. That was her – the one that was in this body before me. The one who died. The one whose memories..”
“Whose memories you found already inside of you, after your then-master took most of them from you.” He raised his hand.. and then took hers in his. She could feel his touch – it was better when she closed her eyes. Oh, how it burned – it /burned/. He went on –
“I know you. You’ve come so far, and you have so far to go – do you remember the Blademaster? Your friend? He is on the Vindicaar. He teaches now – and I want you to go talk to him.”
“Why?” She kept her eyes closed. She felt the burning – and felt /warmth./
“Because it is time. You have come so far, Aunne. You can go no farther – now, it is time to take your next step. To become whole. And he can show you the way – though it isn’t an easy one.”
“Easy… what is hard, now?”
“You will have to give up your power, your strength. You will have to face who you are – and you will have to mend the rift within yourself… or your existence will end. Eternal twilight, my dear one – or something else. Something new.”
That troubled her. Her existence was not life, but it mattered. “You are saying that I could end?”
“Certainly. Or become much, much more than you are. Or you could go mad – there are risks. The mage told you what you will become if you do nothing – alone. Mad. Forgotten at the edge of the world. There is another path, If you are brave enough. If you are strong enough to be weak.”
She looked up at him then – pale and translucent and dead. “And if I am not?”
“Then I will fade. Your madness will grow. The longer you exist, the more your mind will fray – and when all of your friends grow old and die and move on, there will come a time when you are truly alone. They share their love with you, and it gives you purpose and focus – and with that, I am here. With what you have learned, I can speak to you. But you cannot be both things, as you are. You cannot go back – the only way forward is through.”
She brought his hand up to her cheek. “You aren’t real.”
“Just because I am dead, Aunne’keva, does not mean I am not real.” His thumb caressed the ridge above her eye. “Haven’t you figured that out yet?”
She tidied her things. And she left a letter – in simple Draenic that she knew Ygraine could read:
My Daughter –
I must go for a little while. I am uncertain when I will return – tend to your studies and the house. Make friends. Grow in your life. I will wish a thousand stories when I see you again, and you must not worry about me.
Instead, you must worry for you – study well. Master Edwards will, as always, ensure that you have money, and the school will check in on you, as will Cael and Maisy when they can. Be gentle with your sister – she will be very angry with me.
Know that you are loved.