(See “Test Subject” – https://trg.network/test-subject/  – before reading this, as this is a near-direct continuation of the first part.)

Visions bombard Vaelystra’s mind, violently distorting her view of objective reality and displacing it with depictions of Uldum conquered by N’zoth, of Ny’alotha risen and devouring all Azeroth. Massive, tentacled horrors crush any and all opposition while enslaved peoples of Azeroth raise obelisks to the skies. Cultists chant blasphemous incantations and for all her perceptions, it appears that the world itself is being swallowed by madness.

Vaelystra tries to turn away, to shut her eyes against this vision of insanity, and she drops to her knees, covering her ears to try to block out the visions. Her mind swims, and memories of the past bubble to the surface. Memories of Quel’thalas, her homeland, being invaded by the Scourge and her failure to stop it from happening. Memories of her people suffering from magical withdrawal after the destruction of the Sunwell. Memories of her people… memories of her extended family… her nieces.

He eyes blink open as a faint Light gleams from behind her nieces. A soft, faint glow emanates from that memory. Her family, her kin… even though they were still Blood Elves, and still aligned with the Horde, she would do anything to keep them safe. This was her anchor… this memory always centered her, kept her focused on her path, and she had lost her way, but now she had found her way back. She had been deceived, but no longer.

“No… NO! I won’t give you another tool with which to torment our world!” She screams, her voice reverberating with echoed force. She whips her hands forward towards the thing that was Lena, and a delicate intertwining of shadow and Light arcs forward, connecting with the she-beast. She knows she must work quickly to undo what she had done, before all is lost and N’zoth’s hold over Lena becomes permanent.

The monster rocks forward, the magic reaching in. For a brief moment, Vael is greeted with a vision of the nightmare Within: the great Wolf, engulfed in shadow, driven to rip and tear at half-seen visions of jeering faces and screaming men, thorns from the great tentacles chaining it digging in, cutting and injecting madness. No order remains, only a bleak landscape of thirst and blood and whispers that never end, while fiery eyes stare down from a blighted sky.

A forest of shadow tentacles sprout from the “ground”, diving at that intruding awareness.

Shocked to her very core over the true depth of what she has done, Vaelystra fights back tears welling in her eyes as she begins to duck and weave through the veritable copse of thorned and spiked tentacles that lash at her, both mentally and physically. With her left hand, and a fan of shadowy knife-like projectiles, she begins to lash at the tentacles digging into and chaining the great Wolf Within. Where these projectiles cut, her right hand arcs flashes of healing Light, healing the wounds and searing any darkness that attempts to shackle the Wolf in that place again. She weaves a balancing act of darkness and light, shade and illumination, unreason and reason, but her foe is an Old God, and one who is keen to keep its new prize.

You fight the inevitable. Your world is already corrupt, more than you know. You cannot win here.

The voices assail her, but rather than heeding them, or even acknowledging them, she single-mindedly keeps to her task of viciously pruning the waving, shredding forest of shadowy tentacles. Her only intent is on freeing the Wolf so that it can fight for itself.

It slowly works. She makes headway against the shadow as the whispers grow.

The wolf snarls it’s hate at her, but still it fights with her as she slowly frees a forelimb as large as she is. Now there is a massive paw and flashing jaws and insane rage at her side.

In the world outside, two great faceless ones move through the veiled shadow, advancing on the priest.

Face the inevitable. You cannot resist.

Vaelystra’s concentration is nearly entirely broken as one of the hulking Faceless ones swats her aside with the same annoyance as one might swat an insect. She hurtles through the air, landing and rolling badly, end over end through the sand. Her tenuous grip on reality swims as her perception explodes with pain from what are surely her shattered ribs.

Her vision swims with two completely conflicting, overlapping scenes. One of the Wolf, and the battle within Lena’s mind, the other of the real world and the two Faceless overseers seeking to crush her to a pulp. She raises her hands and her searing magics, and tries her best to weave between them both, but is caught by one of the shadowy mind-tentacles, slashing at her. In sympathy, ragged cuts appear along her midsection and arm where the bladed tentacle slashed her in her mind, and she begins to breathe more raggedly.

She tries desperately to keep up the fight, but even she doubts she can last much longer.

The thing that was.. is? Might be Lena moves slowly toward the two faceless things and the priest, then faster – and faster still, until she explodes along the ground to barrel into one of the monstrosities.

The unthinking rage has a huge, obvious target. It loses the tentacled arm in the first pass, and rounds, making a sound that is not sound, on the shadowed Worgen, burbling threats that dig at the ears and leave sensations of tar on the mind. The other turns to watch, deflecting the curse the priest weaves with deceptive ease. 

Submit, or be ended. Accept the glory of the Master.

In the mindscape, the great wolf fixes its gaze on something external and pulls /hard/ against its bindings. Claws dig into the not-earth, and the tentacles grip tighter – but the raw power in the exchange has stretched both the binding magic and the rage within to its limit.

Noticing the efforts of the wolf brings some hope back to Vaelystra, and she redoubles her efforts, pouring even more mental effort into purging the Wolf of its tentacled shackles and healing its wounds. Magics pour from her at an alarming rate, and sure enough, she seems to be making even more progress, but at the cost of her own wounds going ignored. She begins to sweat profusely as her wounds and the pain threaten to collapse her, but she stays upright.

Her hope burns fiercely now, a light within her heart like a blazing bonfire, casting long, deep shadows. She clenches her teeth before unleashing a scream that echoes with both the chiming crystals of a Light-blessed windchime and the horrid screech of the damned, a blast of combined Light and Shadow magic sent searing towards the Faceless brute nearest to her.

Something in the power Vael feeds to the wolf pulses. The wolf seizes on it and draws /hard/.

Lena is not a creature of magic, nor is, perhaps, the wolf – but it is a creature of primal emotion, vengeance and protective instinct given form. And in this? All of that power is aligned – and the tentacles within tear free from the poisoned ground of the mindscape. The great glowing eyes that watch narrow in rage, as they struggle to remain connected to the Worgen.

No. This will not be. You are mine. You both belong to me. All that you do will be part of the truth.

In the real world, Lena’s eyes suddenly flare bright gold. The shadow and void still spread across her fur, but the howl she offers rings with challenge, not madness. The other faceless turns to join the fight, only to be lashed by the shadow and fire the priest creates.

The eyes within turn on Vael – and what tentacles remain grab for her. You will serve.

“I will NEVER serve anything but myself ever again!!” She screams in defiance, the beam of coalescing light and shadow intensifies for a moment, slamming into the Faceless that had turned towards her, and for a moment it seems as though nothing is happening… until the thing’s flesh begins to sizzle and pop, before the beam punches straight through the beast, boring a hole through its torso. As the beam halts, the creature drops to its knees, then falls face and tentacles first into the sand. Vaelystra shortly follows, dropping to her knees and doing her level best to try to maintain the Light pouring into Lena…and that does it.

The void and shadow burn away from the Worgen, and her golden eyes shine bright with reflected power.

The monster-that-she-was was terrifying, true, but at the end of things? There is little that matches the primal ferocity and grace of a Worgen given wholly to the rage within. The faceless ones, wounded as they are, have no answer for her as she blurs between them, almost seeming to vanish from one spot and appear, slashing with heavy claws across them, and then vanish again. One drops to the sand as she tears out the back of its heavy legs; the other quickly discovers that its throat is as great a vulnerability as any other creature’s. Her clothes in tatters, her claws streaked with black ichor, Essalena stands over the fallen, evil dreams and howls her triumph to the shadowed sky.

And then those golden, unreasoning eyes turn on Vael… and her lip lifts. One heavy paw moves forward deliberately, then the other, and she stalks slowly toward the priest.

Vaelystra sighs heavily, her arms dropping to her sides. Her wounds consume her focus for a moment and she grimaces in pain. She then looks up and sees the Worgen stalking toward her. Her blood goes cold as Lena comes closer and closer.

“Lena… I was… I was wrong… deceived…But you… you have every right to… to hate me. I am… sorry.” Vaelystra tries to rise but is unable to summon the strength to do so.

The Worgen sniffs at the air, scenting the void elf, and her lip lifts. The tearing snarl that comes from her has no intelligence in it. Another step closer. Another.

“Lena… I am so sorry… I do not ask your forgiveness… if you plan to kill me, let it be you who does the killing, not a beast…” Vael uses what’s left of her strength to conjure forth a gentle stream of light that inveigles its way into Lena’s mind.

Unlike her previous efforts in clouding Lena’s mind with darkness and shadows, calling upon her fears and her failures, this time Vaelystra calls the light to clear her mind, to bring back fond memories of home and of friends, of comforts and of joys that Lena would remember.

“At least let me try to set this right…” She says as, her work done, she slumps, whatever power she held completely spent. “I am so sorry to have failed so completely.”

In the mindscape, it begins with grass, green and vibrant that sweeps across barren ground. The savage wolf within lowers its head, golden fur shifting to Lena’s russet and white. The order doesn’t come back quickly; however, trees sprout and the night sky takes on stars.

There has been damage. Cracks and broken things peek through the green, but it is something.

The Worgen doesn’t speak. The priestess is lifted bodily and not at all gently, slung over the furred shoulder, and carried across the sand, toward the ring of hills that marks the edge of Uldum and the beginning of the crater in Silithicus. Vaelystra’s eyes close as she is lifted, and she silently whispers prayers in Thalassian, accepting her fate as her world goes dark, and consciousness escapes her.

————————————–

When Vaelystra comes to, it is to warmth and the scent of green and growing things, as a Tauren from the Cenarion Circle channels healing into her prone form. She finds herself laying on a rock in Magni’s small encampment with no immediate sign of Lena.

The Tauren grumbles at her. “Easy. You have lost a great deal of blood.”

“Eh- auughh…” Vaelystra moans as she shifts position. “What? Where… am I?” She asks as she tries to clear her blurry vision. “How did I get here?”

“A Worgen brought you in. A rather naked Worgen.”. That seems to amuse him. “She wouldn’t come into the camp, and dropped you here, then ran when we approached. One of the shadowmoon rangers is trying to track her. You are lucky someone found you. What happened?”

“I…” Vaelystra tries to get her head to stop spinning. “I failed… I thought I alone could resist N’zoth’s whispers, but I was wrong, so wrong… I did… horrible things.” Her words are totally bereft of emotion, but tears are streaming down her face. Misery grips her, and she hangs her head in, not wishing to engage with the chuckling Tauren any further. She instead shifts and tries to get to her feet to go after Lena, but is unsuccessful and drops back to her cot.

“easy now. You were badly hurt.. even with magic, this will take time.”

“I don’t have time… I must help her… Lena, the Worgen… I did horrible things to her; I have to make it right…”

Vaelystra tries again to stand, this time managing to get upright… then falls back over immediately as her wounds reopen. “Rrrggh!!” She utters a string of curses in Thalassian before her vision swims again, and she passes out once more.

—————————————

The next time she wakes, it is morning. There’s the metallic tang of some potion’s aftertaste on her tongue and that bone tiredness that accompanies magic healing. The Tauren is nearby, talking with a female of his kind in red and gold armor — a Sunwalker.

Vaelystra sluggishly works to get to her feet, and this time she is successful. She slowly makes her way over to the pair of Tauren, coughing due to dry mouth. The Tauren from before offers her a skin of water, which she takes with a thankful nod. After a few long drinks, the first of which makes her cough and sputter, she asks again, “The Worgen who brought me here… have you found her?” She seems more set, now, less shaken and crushed than before.

“there are signs to the east. The Silithid are having a very poor day. How are you feeling?”

“I’m… fine. I have been worse, but only once. I have to go after her,” she says, looking about for the rest of her gear.

“Your wounds are not fully healed, Elf. You won’t survive another encounter like what happened to you before.” The Tauren says again, although it’s more of a warning than an admonishment. Clearly the big fellow has treated his fair share of hard-headed warriors and the like in his time, and knows better than to try to stop her.

“Thank you… I’ll be careful. I must find her… Lena, her name is. I have to find her and make this right.” She says, tears beginning to well in her eyes. “Ish-ne-alo por-ah” She attempts the Tauren’s formal greeting and farewell in his own tongue, to which the Tauren just nods and shakes his big head, jingling the various tokens and trinkets tied to his horns.

As Vaelystra gathers up the rest of her belongings and sets out into the sands, the Tauren sighs heavily, “That one is doomed… Mu’sha guide her path, maybe she will find some form of solace in death.” He then turns back to his Sunwalker companion and goes about his business.

——————————————————————-

The harsh sand is even more unforgiving, after the sword that shattered it, making it uneven, turning most of it to rock. There are angry elementals, lost Silithid…

But perseverance picks out a trail, mostly written in the broken and chewed parts of Silithid, moving ever east toward the cliff face. It becomes obvious that, within a wide swath, nothing that moves is left living.

This includes the crumpled body of a Kaldorei ranger, gutted and broken, her bow shattered.

Upon finding the dead Kaldorei Vaelystra stops. Guilt smothers her like a weighted shroud. “This death is my fault. I did this to her.”

She stoops and gathers up the Kaldorei’s broken bow, and the rest of her belongings, then begins to dig with her bare hands. It takes a long while, and the cruel, sharp sands cut into her hands whenever she strikes shards of rock, but she finishes her task. She drags what she can of the Elf’s corpse into the makeshift grave, then covers her with the displaced sand and dirt. The broken bow is planted upright in the sand by way of a grave marker, and Vaelystra recites a short prayer, one of the very few she knows in the Kaldorei’s language.

Her gravedigging duty done, and her grief only minimally assuaged, she presses on, hoping that the trail will lead her to Lena. She’s not sure what she will do when she finds her, but she knows she must try to make amends, no matter the cost.

The day drags on, but it never gets truly light; the harsh light of the sword is what illumines the hellscape that is Silithicus, these days. This leaves deep shadows pocketed with rivers of glowing azerite on black obsidian and a thin layer of dark sand.

The low growl that comes from somewhere ahead echoes ominously over the stone.

“Go. Hrrrrrr. G..go aw… Away.”. The words are thick, forced, and barely coherent, as though speech is dimly remembered and difficult.

Guilt, and not an insignificant amount of fear, stabs at Vaelystra’s heart as she approaches. She is clearly close, but without seeing her quarry, she is left with more hesitation than relief.

“Lena… I’m sorry for what I did… I wasn’t in my right mind.” She admits, although she isn’t even truly sure how many of her actions she can attribute to N’zoth’s influence. “Please, Lena. Let me try to fix what I have broken, let me try to help you.”

“I… I failed you, Lena… I failed myself, again. I thought that I could take on the whispers in the dark all on my own, and I was wrong. I have spent so much time probing the Shadows for answers, I never stopped to think that they might be probing back.”

The priestess’s survival instinct rises to the surface, tells her to prepare herself for a fight, to wreathe herself in the Void, but she suppresses all of it. It would only make things worse. Much, much worse.

“hurrrt m.. me.” Gold fire burns in one deep shadow and white teeth flash. “Hurrt you. Saved m.. me. S.. saved you. Even. G… go ‘way.”

Vaelystra whirls to face the sound coming from the deep shadow and stares at those golden, burning eyes. She keeps her hands held to her sides, her stance neutral, and does her best not to present herself as threatening. “Lena… please… let me help restore you… I know I was wrong before, but I remember what I did, and I can undo it, I think, if you let me.” She reaches a hand out, palm up, “Please… let me right this wrong that I’ve done to you.”

Suddenly, as Vael’s hand comes up, those eyes surge closer… and a massive claw wraps around the priest’s neck, lifting her with contemptuous ease. Teeth flash an inch from her nose, and golden eyes bore into hers, snarling. “S… stay out.”

Hrrggkk!” Vael gasps as she is lifted off the ground as though she weighed little more than a stuffed toy. Her eyes are wide, terror is obvious in her expression, but she manages to barely get out her offer again, “P-please… hrrgh… Lena… I can… h-help… restore your mind!” She tries, her outstretched hand still raised, palm up, as if offering aid, the other going to Lena’s clawed hand around her throat to keep herself from suffocating.

“STAY OUT.” It is roared at the priest – and she is shaken there, just once, hard, before being tossed to the rock a few feet away. “… hhurrrt. NO MORE.” Bared teeth and black claws are shown – a pointed threat. “n.. no m.. morrre hurrt.” And she retreats, a step, then another, obviously fighting that rage within. It is a battle she is struggling to win.

“HRRgkhh!” again Vaelystra struggles as she’s shook, then tossed unceremoniously to the rock below like a sack of potatoes. She gasps for air a few times, holding her slender, and likely now bruised throat and neck.

“Lena… I won’t hurt you again, I promise… I just wish to restore you to how you were… no shadows, no tricks, no pain…” She tries. She is persistent, despite the beating she has taken, at the hands of the Faceless and Lena both. “I cannot right all of my wrongs, I cannot go back and undo everywhere that I have failed in my life… Lordaeron, Quel’thalas, Silvermoon, Outland to name a few… but I can help right this wrong that I have done. Please let me help you…”

“… br.. broken. Hur.. hurrt. Go ‘way.” There is no trust there… but she isn’t running.

Vael’s hand drops to the sand. She just sits there on the sandy rock, looking down at her hand, “I know you don’t trust me… I don’t even trust myself anymore, not after what happened. But I can’t just leave you out here… and I can’t leave you like this. It wouldn’t be right. You are so much more than this. I want to help you return to that. To your office, your home, your pack, your business… at least you have some hope to return to what you were. I have none.”

There’s a faint whine alongside that growling. “… want… want wo.. words. Want.. ” There’s a snarl. “Br.. broken. hurrt.” It’s accusing. “Should k… kill. All. All g.. gone.”

“Lena… let me help you bring the words back… restore you to your senses… then you can do with me whatever you feel is right. I owe you that. It is your right.” Between Vaelystra’s palms, she creates a small, gentle, candle-light orb of Light energy. She holds it up to show Lena, “I can… make the hurt go away… fix what is broken. Then you can kill me, if you want.”

The burning eyes pace side to side, indecisive, and then they narrow. Lena stalks forward out of the dark – somewhere, she’s lost the tattered remnants of her clothing, existing now only as fur, claws, and that never-ending snarl. She moves on all fours – coming forward to push Vaelystra over, pinning her to the ground by claws in the priestess’s shoulder and raw body weight.

“Hurrt. And d… die.”

And with that, she lowers her head and closes her jaws – loosely, around the elf’s throat. A rear claw comes down on the void elf’s leg. The growl never stops.

Vaelystra closes her eyes, furrowing her brow as she is pushed down to the ground. She feels the teeth of the Worgen about her throat. She feels the Worgen’s breath and knows that her life is a hair’s width away from ending at the points of claw and tooth. Though she is pinned, and she does not move, she maintains the faintly glowing candlelight orb glowing at her right palm. She holds it gently, carefully, as if it were an orb of thin glass that would break if she dropped it.

“Th-thank you, Lena…” Vaelystra whispers as a tear rolls down her cheek. She smiles softly as she allows the orb of light she is holding to slowly grow. Soon the orb of gentle candlelight swells in size and brightness until it encompasses them both, and everything turns white.

Within Lena’s mind, all is still for a time. She hears the faint chiming of crystals, like a wind chime blown by a gentle breeze. Soft chanting in Thalassian accompanies it, quiet and peaceful. The pathways and memories within Lena’s mind begin to softly return to their rightful places. The order of her mind begins to reassert itself, reordering and replacing everything to as close to its original order as possible.

As the blinding light begins to fade, Lena finds Vaelystra still there, pinned beneath her, softly chanting prayers to the Light, tears streaming from her eyes and her voice wavering with emotion. Her chanted song would slowly taper off as the ritual of restoration came to an end. Vaelystra keeps her eyes shut.

The teeth tighten, for a moment… then relax. The Worgen steps back, shaking her head – her lip stays lifted, but the sound of the snarl fades.

Most telling, those emerald eyes are visible again; the gold fire has left her eyes. Even so, she remains on all fours. “I should fucking kill you.” It’s cold, and so very angry. “I should tear your head off slowly, so you get to enjoy the sensation of your backbone coming apart.”

Lena paces backward another step, “how could you?”

“Yes… you should.” Vael admits. She sits up, but makes no attempt to move further. The tears streaming from her eyes have not stopped, but she continues, “I was not myself, I was manipulated by the Old Gods, but that is no excuse. I am the one who peered into the Void. My hubris is what kept me from thinking that it would not peer back. It is my fault that I was not vigilant enough.”

“The Void is a weapon, Lena… but it is the only weapon in all creation that wields you, not the other way around. You can direct it, you can shape it, but ultimately it is not ours, it is not of this world. I thought that wasn’t true, that I had mastered it. I was wrong, Lena. I was so very wrong.” Vaelystra admits, “I am Ren’dorei. Forever marked by the Void, forever it will be with me. I can never be separated from it. Now that N’zoth is risen, I am a danger to everyone. You should kill me, Lena. I would only ask you do it quickly.”

The Worgen surges forward suddenly and a lightning slash of her claws lays Vael’s cheek open in three wide furrows. Low, deadly, and snarling, she growls, “no. I should do so much worse. But I can’t … take from you what you are. I can’t …”. Her eyes are haunted. “I can’t even hurt you in a way that lasts. If you regret anything? You’ll let those stay and remind you every time you see them of right now.”

Lena goes on, “If you come near me or my pack, if you so much as raise a hand in their direction, I will tear you to pieces. Don’t touch me. Don’t even look at me. If you’ve got half of the guilt you claim, you’ll report to someone that matters. You took away everything. You won’t get off as easy as dying. Live with what you’ve done.”

With that, the Worgen just turns away, moving out into the blasted desert.

Vaelystra says nothing. She sits there on the sand-dusted stone, hearing the pattering of blood from the three parallel wounds across her cheek. It spatters her neck, her robes, down to her hand and then onto the sand. For a long while she sits there, letting the pain wash over her, not just from the recent laceration, but from her other wounds as well.

The void elf eventually staggers to her feet and heads back in the direction she came, first to stop off at the Cenarion Circle encampment, then to contact the Templars. She would do as Lena said. She would never allow the scars of her wounds to heal fully. They would serve as reminders until the end of her days of the dangers of the Void, and her own hubris. 

Author Aunne
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