Lena’s Office, Boralus
Lena has an office, just up from the firepit and the whiskey-seller who always seems to have the rarest bottles in stock. It’s a modest place, tucked under a boarding-house with only a few rooms, near a wide garden. Leaving the door open (as she is wont to do) lets the scent of the sea and gladiolas in on the harbor breeze, far enough from the wharves that it doesn’t include the smell of dead fish.
The furnishings inside are heavy, shipbuilt things – a rather massive desk, a pair of chairs, all serious and somber dark wood and leather. There’s a bookshelf, and a collection of barrels and boxes that changes daily by the door, while a very comfortable, battered, aging and sagging couch is tucked against the far wall so that it doesn’t harm first impressions and remains nearby for napping. A pair of cutlasses and two hand-cannons, all clean and usable, hang on the wall behind her desk, and the whole is lit by hurricane lanterns burning odorless, refined oil bought at some expense from the local tinker.
There, Lena works at her desk, a thing of fur and intent concentration, adding up a column of numbers with the scratching of a rather elegant fountain pen.
Vaelystra wanders through the streets of Boralus in a half-lidded haze, her vision split between the real and the visions from beyond. It is somewhat disorienting, and her step wobbles occasionally as her foot skips a stone, but eventually something within the Void-wrought visions pulls at her attention. Like a bonfire lit in a room full of half-spent candles, this light draws her attention, and she soon finds herself standing just outside the doorway to a large office. Half-heard whispers bring to her a name, and as she fixes her robes and shakes the lingering visions from her sight, she takes a breath and steps inside.
“Miss Lena, I presume?” She begins, her smile is warm and caring. “I would love to speak with you if you have a moment?”
Lena looks up, “Oh! Sure – grab a chair. Just one moment – you get on a roll adding, and then you lose track if you stop. Won’t be but a tick.” She lowers her shaggy head to scribble more figures.
The priestess nods once, subtly and quietly closing Lena’s door, using another subtle bit of magic to silence the sound of the hinges creaking. She walks over to one of the chairs and seats herself, then folds her hands in her lap patiently while she looks about the room. She takes in the details of the room, the smell, the feeling of it.
It takes the worgen a moment, and she grumbles at something not adding up. “of /course/.” She sighs, rubs at her muzzle – and looks across to Vael. “What a day, eh?” She flashes teeth. “We’ve met once or twice by the fire… Vael, wasn’t it? What can I do for you, then?”
“It is quite a day, yes, and you’re correct, I think we have met a few times by the fire pit. I had hoped that you might be able to aid me with something. I assume you’re aware of the current incursions by the Old God, N’zoth?”
“Mm- yes, insofar as I’ve just gotten back into town myself – lots of rumors and reports of more than a little strangeness out near Gadgetzan and into Uldum. Which – is pestersome, I’ve offices down there, and everything’s gone erratic.”
“Yes… that would be the influence of N’zoth. His visions are working their way into our reality, causing some… undue stress on those afflicted. I believe I know the reason why, and I have a theory about how to fight it and N’zoth, but I would need to test this theory.”
“… okay.” The worgen is certainly interested. “Sounds like you’d need.. I don’t know, a bunch of soldiers and maybe a trip southwest. I hear there’s a portal in Boralus that takes you as far as that huge sword in the desert?”
“Actually… I need someone of some fortitude and strength. I think that common soldiers and farmers are likely too unstable to use as test subjects… someone like yourself, actually! Someone like yourself would be perfect for my initial trial… that is, if you’re willing?” Her smile is kind, and her gaze attentive, but there’s a bit of a pleading look to her expression.
“Er. Trial. I’m afraid you’ve gotten ahead of me, Miss Vael. I’m always glad to help, where I can – but I can’t imagine I’m understanding what you’re on about, here. You’re.. some sort of researcher?”
“Something of that… I fancy myself a Priestess. I have spent a good portion of my life studying the Void and its denizens, so there is some truth to me being a researcher. I have, however, made a mistake… I saw visions of N’zoth’s coming some time ago, but said nothing, and I seek to correct my mistake by combating his rise… surely you can relate?” .” She stands and slowly walks about the room as she speaks.
A slight twist of the fingers, and the priestess lets loose a subtle flash of unlight that reverberates through Lena, subtly jarring loose any old memories of similar feelings and events.
“… yeah. I’ve been on that side of things more than once.” She again rubs at her own muzzle, a little dazed. “I still don’t quite understand what you’re asking of me, mind. I suppose I can track you down a mercenary or three? Someone to cover you while you’re doing whatever this research is?”
“Then I suppose I should be a bit more direct… I would like you to accompany me, miss Lena, as we stand before the minions of N’zoth and cut them down. The part that I wish to trial, so to speak, is a certain way of preparing your mind to face such foes. Again, only if you’re willing to help us fight such an existential threat… it would be unreasonable of me to ask you to risk life, limb, and sanity unwillingly, and unrewarded.”
“I … don’t know what help I’d be, and I warn you, I don’t come cheap.” Lena frowns. “Especially as I’ve just gotten back, as of late, and my affairs are in a bit of a mess. But, if your heart is set on it, I do solve troubles – though I’m not sure what one rangy worgen will do against a bunch of cultists and worse.”
“I am sure your talents with a blade are useful, in and of themselves, but more importantly what I truly wish to see is how my preparations will affect you, and how well it will prepare you to come face to face with N’zoth’s minions. And I understand about your fee. Certainly we can come to some form of arrangement. Are you familiar with what Priests and Priestesses who study the Shadow are capable of?”
“I’m afraid I”m not much of one for magic, one way or another, Miss Vael.” Lena seems – unsettled, however. “Perhaps I should go looking into some more suitable folk for your –“
Vael interrupts, excitedy, “That’s actually precisely why I am asking you to assist me, actually! I need someone who’s mind is not influenced or persuaded one way or another by a particular school of magic to see how my preparations will work. If I am successful, then I can help the entirety of the Templars of the Rose in preparing their minds for the assault on N’zoth, including those of less magical capabilities! It’s an opportunity to lessen the strain of witnessing the horrors of the Old Gods… surely that seems like worth while work? And as I said before, I could compensate you for your time and efforts. Surely there is something that you want… something that I can do to help sway you? Perhaps someone else I could persuade to be more amiable towards your business… or some painful memory I could help you erase…”
“Er. That’s.. a bit beyond me, honestly. I’m one for more mundane sorts of influencing. Gold is something I can call predictable, really. I’m glad you’re hoping to help folk – and your Templars, not a bad notion there – and it certain does sound worthwhile, but I’m truly not sure I’m the one that’s best for your choosing. Maybe your Justicar and I can come to an arrangement, if coin’s not in your purse?” She stands, amiable, spreading her claws, moving out from behind the desk… more skittish, if anything.
Vaelystra stands with her back to Lena, her eyes closed for a moment. She then lets out a long sigh, “Very well then… as I said, I do not wish to try to coerce you into helping me. I simply thought that you might have been the right person to ask… perhaps, then, you can direct me to someone who might be more interested in helping me with my work?” She turns around, whatever frustration she wore in her expression has disappeared.
“Now.. I didn’t say I wasn’t interested – just..” Lena sighs. “Being honest, Miss Vael? Magic makes me a little twitchy. And all of this talk of visions and abominations and such – well. I still don’t know what to make of it. You’re a nice enough soul – you always have been – it’s just..” She points to herself. “Listen to how I’m talking, if nothing else. I’m /never/ lost for words – everything just feels.. uncertain. Nothing goes together like it should.”
Vael tilts her head to the side, looking at Lena for a moment, “It’s entirely possible it isn’t just the subject that is bothering you, although I can see how it would certainly be uncomfortable for someone not used to such topics.”
The priestess pauses, considering – then offers, “Tell me, miss Lena, how have you been sleeping of late? And have you felt particularly anxious of late?”
Lena moves to the couch – “Not well, If I’m honest. Since my pack got back from their adventure over near Caer Darrow, I keep seeing dead things when I sleep. All of my plans and work keep going /sideways/ – seems like I can’t think like I did before to fix the troubles before they fall apart.”
“Mmmhm…” Vael listens, sitting on a chair and pulling it a bit closer to the couch in a doctorly fashion, “I see. And have you been experiencing any physical discomforts or pain? Particularly headaches?” She asks, again with her quiet, gentle, healer’s voice. She’s clearly quite practiced at this sort of thing, as her ‘bedside manner’ is excellent.
“Not really. Been a bit harder to keep my temper. That’s been worrying. It seems like I’m snapping at the least thing, these days.”
“I see… difficulty controlling your temper. And you say this began after your encounter at Caer Darrow. Would you be able to tell me about that experience? I don’t mean to pry into your affairs, but perhaps something about that adventure might reveal some truth to your present troubles.”
“Hrr. Brembal Vulpe was a bloody necromancer – and his house was something I’d not care to visit again.” Lena’s eyes flare yellow – flickering. “Let’s just say that dead flesh tastes horrid, but it’s still satisfying tearing it apart.” Her voice deepens to a growl. “And leave it there.”
Vaelystra nods, not seemingly visibly threatened in any way, keeping her bedside manner impeccable. “I understand, I don’t wish to dredge up any old mental traumas unnecessarily. Just one question, though… how long ago was this excursion to Caer Darrow?”
“Got back … four days ago?”
“I see…” Vael says. She sits a moment, thinking, looking into Lena’s eyes. “My concern is that, whether you are magically attuned or not, your traumas on this excursion to Caer Darrow are allowing an… entry for N’zoth’s influence, so to speak. I worry that you may already be affected.”
“Sounds like troubles – but I’m fine. I could use a good night’s sleep, but that comes in time.” Lena eyes the door. Sniffs at the air blowing in from it – relaxes a little. “Why am I telling you all of this? Odd.”
“Not at all… the mind will often call for help in unexpected ways when it is troubled.” She says this with an air of comforting concern. “I have seen it manifest in many ways, and far worse ones than explaining one’s troubles.” Vael smiles, reassuringly, and goes on.
“I would offer to sense N’zoth’s influence in you to see if that is the cause of your unrest but, well… I don’t want to inconvenience you any further, especially if your mind is made about aiding me in my task.” The priestess says, standing somewhat abruptly, “But please, do keep your thoughts in mind, miss Lena. N’zoth’s influence is subtle, indirect. Be aware of your dreams, pay attention to your aggression and when it comes and goes.” She says, making somewhat of a show of preparing to leave.
“… wait.” THere’s a momentary agony of indecision there. “This.. thing you’re sensing. Well. Having a look couldn’t hurt, could it?”
Vael gets halfway to the door before stopping and turning around, “That is true… if you do truly wish to know, of course. The process may not be entirely… pleasant, I’m afraid.”
“… Just to see, mind?” Lena’s cautious, but.. “I can handle a bit of .. discomfort if that’s what it takes.”
“Yes, even just to see… unfortunately, if N’zoth’s influence is present, it is much akin to shining a light upon something that very much so does not wish to be revealed. It may attempt to flee scrutiny…” Vael pauses a moment, “…or worse. However, if the Old God’s presence is not there, then you haven’t anything to worry about.”
“.. then that’s something. Like as not it’s not, in any case.” Lena nods. “Do what you need, then.”
“Very well. Please, lie back on the couch and make yourself comfortable.” She says, walking back over to the chair and the couch again. She sits herself down and lays her hands in her lap, taking a few deep, slow, calming breaths to prepare herself while Lena gets comfortable.
Lena flops backward with a whine – apparently, comfortable is easy. With a surprising level of trust, she shuts her eyes.
Vaelystra takes another deep breath, then holds her hands out to either side of Lena’s head, her palms facing the Worgen’s head. Faint light begins to glitter from her right hand, golden and warm, even comforting in its sensation. Her left is lightly wreathed in shadow and ethereal smoke. She slowly presses both hands to Lena’s head, gently and carefully.
The magic of the Light, channeled through her right hand, spreads a warming, calming, comforting sensation throughout Lena’s body, slowly moving from her head down her neck, to her chest, and then out to her limbs. The Shadows, however, stay at her head, serving as a sort of ‘safe haven’ if any Old God presence is there. If such an insidious power lurked within the Worgen, was to be drawn toward Vaelystra’s left hand. Even so, there is nothing. A faint pull, and Lena whimpers, slightly, at the sensation of shadow, but nothing more.
You could make her help. You need someone like her. The voice was soft at the priestess’s ear.
Vaelystra’s eye twitches a bit at the invasive whisper. The whisper is so clear now, unlike before. Ever since N’zoth’s rise, the whispers have been so much more direct… and so much harder to deny. ‘I could… it would be easy, too… and it would finally prove my theory.’ she thinks to herself. The temptation is so strong now. All it would take is a few moments of subtle manipulation of her mind, twisting her thoughts and fears to flow along paths she desires.
She hesitates another moment, the flickers of the Light reminding her. ‘But it would be so wrong… to twist someone’s mind to do my bidding.‘ she thinks, a sudden wave of guilt washing over her.
But can you afford not to? The voices whisper again, and she is yet again wracked with doubt. It isn’t about how easy it is, or even about whether it is right or wrong. It is about doing what is necessary to stop N’zoth, isn’t it? Surely her experiment will work, and even if it doesn’t, she could heal her! What is there to lose? What could go wrong?
Lena’s eyes stay closed.. but something in her tries to pull away from the ongoing effects.. but for her, it is a bit like thinking her way through murky water. She makes an odd noise, a word half-formed. “Havrrrr-“
Vaelystra makes up her mind, and a dark seriousness comes over her. “For the betterment of all…” she whispers. Her right hand ceases glowing with holy Light, instead, both are now wreathed in shadow. She presses her fingertips to Lena’s temples and channels Shadows directly into her mind.
Within that mind, Vaelystra’s voice echoes eerily. ‘N’zoth feeds on our struggles, Miss Lena… like swimming against a riptide, the more we struggle, the more we exhaust ourselves. The only way to fight madness like this is to swim with the current, Lena. We have to hold our breath, dive deep, and find the source of the corruption and kill it.”
Tendrils of Shadow magic worm their way through Lena’s mind, subtly twisting and manipulating her thoughts, digging in deep. Lena’s attempted word becomes a low cry- she struggles against the intrusion, but slowly, head turning side to side.
Whispers pour into the worgen, overwhelming- coherent thought flees from Vael’s intent. Lena’s mind is an incredibly well ordered place, each thing in its box, each thought precise. Something under it seethes with rage- the Wolf Within- and this surges forward against the shadows, a thing of rage, warring against the burrowing tendrils.
Lena’s eyes flutter open- burning gold warring with swirling shadow.
the wolf is a beast, the whispers say, very powerful. Properly leashed, it could certainly do your will.
Vaelystra grits her teeth and intensifies her efforts. She hadn’t counted on this feral presence, and now she would have to leash it to her will if her trial was to be a success. The shadows dug through Lena’s memories, her past, her mental scars to dredge up visions of times that Lena had failed, and through the use of the Shadow’s magic, insinuated wordlessly that only Vaelystra herself was capable of making those mistakes, those hurts go away. She would be the sole source of comfort in an otherwise troubled mind.
The pressures of applying this kind of mental manipulation caused her to sweat, and her eyes glowed darkly with void-light, but she persevered until the task was done. “I will be your guide, Lena… and together, we will fight the darkness of the Old Gods… and when this is all over, I will heal you of your woes, your hurts, your pain.” She said, slowly and commandingly.
Inside, the wolf struggles against grasping shadows, a war of thought and self. It rages, snaps, bites at the shadow that reaches for it, but it is muzzled, dragged down by great tendrils of invasive thought as the order of that mind shatters. Shards of memories cut deep, as the magic hones them into weapons that flay against the structure within the worgen’s psyche, break the measured spaces, and leave her confidence and will in tatters. There are snatches of memory: Abuse at the hands of an Innkeeper and guests, failure in keeping her pack safe, failures of plans and loss of friends- utter fears of being alone, the last met only with the image of Vaelystra.
Lena’s form.. shifts, growing smaller, leaving behind a red-headed woman with shadowed eyes, who sobs and reaches out, blindly, “Vael… I.. “
Vaelystra breathes a heaving sigh of relief. The mental, physical, and magical strain of such manipulations taking a toll on her, but she smiles at her handiwork. “There there… I am here, Lena. I will be with you, there’s no need to worry now.” She nods, satisfied to herself, “You will be alright, miss… just rest for now. We will need you well rested and strong for the journey we take to Uldum, yes?”
“y..yes. of course. You will stay?”. Lena clings to that hand, as though it were a lifeline. “I can’t..”. Tears flow.. and her expression has grown uncertain and vague, lost.
“Yes, of course, Lena, I will stay by your side… now tell me… what can’t you? What troubles you?” Vaelystra asks, stroking a lock of the woman’s red hair aside gently.
“… I can’t be.. why isn’t my pack here?”. The green of her eyes is barely visible behind the shadow. She wraps her arms around herself, leaning into that touch. “They’re all …-. Shut /up/! I didn’t.. “. She whines.. a strange sound from a human throat. “I can’t think. It hurts. I have to.. I was supposed to do something.. were.. we were…”. She looks up. “Uldum. We are supposed to go to Uldum? I can’t.. why?”
“Do not worry about your pack, miss Lena, they will be alright for a little while. I just need you to come with me to Uldum. Everything will be alright.” Vaelystra says, putting a hand on Lena’s shoulder as comfortingly as possible, though while deliberately not including what they will do in the desert. “Trust me, Lena, everything will be fine once we get to Uldum. You will see, I promise. You will see your purpose there, and together we will make things right.”
Lena slowly, bowing as though a great weight presses upon her, leans into the priest, tucking her head under the elf’s chin.