Aerdri awoke facing up. High above, clustered in the shadows of plants, she could make out a marble dome, a roof. The design told her that it was indeed something constructed by kaldorei, however, the cracks and foliage that grew in here told her that this place was likely very old.
An odd smell like dried peacebloom and hickory over mildew and old wood filled her nose. It was a strange blend, but somehow relaxing. A small piece of the ceiling let in a thin shaft of moonlight. As dim as it was it still hurt her eyes to stare at it... so she closed them again.
Aerdri sputtered as the water hit her mouth. A memory that it had been raining recently, caused a plethora of other images to suddenly stream into her mind.
Her eyes flew open at the thought. Just as she was about to sit upright she felt something small resting on her chest. Lifting only her head she was surprised to find the same tiny darter sprite that the tauren had beaten to the ground earlier. It was fast asleep. One of its wings had been carefully bandaged with a few twigs and some strips of various colored cloth. She reached out tentatively to touch it, not quite believing that it was real and then stopped short.
A slight panic overtook her when she discovered she was nearly naked, but was then a little relieved when she felt her clothes and armor stacked neatly in a pile beside her.
What in the nether is going on here? she thought.
No sooner had the words passed through her mind when a silhouette framed in an ambient violet light that seemed to emanate from the air stepped into view above her.
Aerdri cradled the young darter carefully and went to sit up again. As she did, the looming figure above her moved into a crouch and placed a thin gentle, almost skeletal, hand upon her shoulder. Aerdri gasped softly as the person came into view. It was a woman. An undead woman.
She was not as worn or decayed as Aerdri had seen of other undead in the past. This woman's feature clearly reflected what she would have looked like when she last walked among the living. Ordinarily Aerdri would have immediately attacked any undead, scourge, forsaken... whatever they chose to call themselves... but this time she didn't. It was something about her eyes... those orbless sockets cupped an unnatural golden glow that seemed to have an almost... motherly love about them. The dry leathery skin of her lips pulled back into a warm smile as the hand on Aerdri's shoulder eased her back to the ground.
Moving away, the woman ruffled through some things and returned again after a moment, settling down cross-legged next to Aerdri. She took her head in her hands and began to apply some sort of a salve to Aerdri's temple.
Where the tauren hit me, Aerdri remembered.
There was a brief sting that made her wince but whatever herbs laced the balm quickly began to dull the pain making it tingle at first and then numb. Once the woman seemed satisfied she took out a roll of finely woven linen and began to wrap Aerdri's crown.
She looked up into the woman's eyes while she went about her mending. The woman returned her gaze and smiled again before returning her attention to the bandages. Aerdri continued to stare for a while, she wanted to tell the woman that she was a healer and that she could take care of herself, but she suspected somehow that she already knew this. The question was why? Why was this woman, this undead woman, helping her? The state of worldly affairs had already put the two at opposite ends of the spectrum, she knew the woman could have killed her already if she had wanted to, but instead they were here together now, despite what the rest of the world would make of it.
Looking down to the tiny sprite on her chest, Aerdri finally lifted her hand and stroked it lightly on the head, being ever careful to avoid its damaged wing. As she did the woman began to quietly hum a tune. It reminded Aerdri of her aunt and how she always seemed to hum or sing softly when she thought she was alone or while she worked. She liked those memories, of days gone past, happier times... carefree. But those memories in turn always were accompanied by others. These others were the ones full of pain, loss, and helplessness... and no matter how much she tried to push them deep into the depths of her mind they never seemed to remain there for very long. Focusing again on the melody Aerdri closed her eyes and allowed herself to relax.
You need to leave here Aerdri, the undead are not safe. Always scheming, their actions are always for their own benefit.
No. This one is different. Why would she be helping me like this?
Perhaps she needs you alive. Perhaps whatever was in that sludge she put in your wound is going to hinder you in some way. Perhaps it already has. She's probably waiting for others to arrive so they can take you somewhere for questioning... just like in bowels of that mountain.
Aerdri frowned deeply at that last comment. The crease in her brow made her temple hurt again despite the salves soothing effect. She kept her eyes closed and tried to ignore the pain...
The woman was finished with the bandage now but Aerdri could still feel her eyes, even with hers closed.
She must have noticed my reaction to the pain again, Aerdri thought. It would be best to thank her and gather my things. Then the woman got up again and moved in the direction she did before and began to dig through what sounded like a sack... Probably just a travel bag like mine, Aerdri thought.
It would be best to strike her down and make sure she does not survive.
No! Now you listen to me for once... she may be undead, but she was a living breathing being at one time. She was human. She probably had a family too. She hasn't done anything to me other than tend to my wounds. She probably rescued me from a death at the hands of the tauren too....
Then Aerdri remembered again. She remembered what she saw before she blacked out. She remembered the chilling blue hue of that ethereal creature that hovered beyond the tauren.
Oh no.... No! this woman couldn't be...
Look at her again. Why didn't you see it the first time? Because you need me to do your seeing for you. It's what has kept you alive this long... kept US alive. Just look at her again.
Now afraid to open her eyes, her breath quickened. She could feel tiny droplets of sweat beginning to gather all over her body. She listened as the sounds all around seemed to grow louder. The woman had finished rooting through her things and now seemed to be moving around Aerdri at a distance. Pacing perhaps.... no.... circling. Was she just waiting for a reaction first, waiting for her to sit up and look at her before... before...
Aerdri imagined that motherly smile again and then how quickly it shifted into a sickly evil sneer. Yellowed rotten teeth grinding together savagely. Tiny bits chipping away until one tooth shattered completely. From within she could see something moving about... the remains of the tongue she used in life to sing sweet lullabies to her children? No... not a tongue, it was... Aerdri winced again, this time not in pain but in horror as she saw a thick bloated puss filled maggot squeeze its way through the gap and fell to the ground leaving a trail of saliva or some other clear ooze dangling from the woman's mouth. The skin that seemed nearly smooth before now began to bubble and squirm below the surface.
Stop this! Why are you filling my head with this... this disgusting vision?!
Bah! Enough then... I don't need you to open your eyes to show you what I see.
Aerdri frowned again and let out a stifled moan as the pain slowly throbbed into her body.
Resisting this will only prolong it little one. I'm sorry but this is for your own good.
Her dark world suddenly came alive with light. Colors poured in like raging waters, crashing and swirling together. She cupped the tiny darter to her, even though she could hardly think straight, and bolted upright. The chaos of the chromatic storm rippled and ebbed until finally they began to merge together into something that almost resembled a painting.
The cold stone of the walls remained almost entirely black except for a few tiny fissures of deep blue where cracks had formed. Some of the plants that grew within were actually small trees and radiated a dull green increasing to a brilliant near yellow at their centers.
The darter was awake now, she could feel it moving a little, still too weak to put up any sort of fight though. Looking down, eyes still closed, she saw that most of its colors remained the same, the only obvious difference was lack of detail and a thin band of nearly pure white hugged at the edge of its form. Still aware of its wing she reached over to her side and placed it gently upon her silk shirt. It peeped softly, sounding a bit like an evening frog, obviously more content with its new location.
From behind, Aerdri could hear the woman drawing near her now.
LOOK AT HER!
No! This is insane. Your reasoning is flawed. Yes, you may have helped me in the past but you've gotten progressively more aggressive. I can not listen to you anymore!
I do not actually need you to face her you know... I was simply being... courteous.
Wait... no... don't do this...
The abstract world before her shifted and twisted once again. The hues seemed to withdraw into the darkness and then explode outwards... and again it was accompanied by pain. Aerdri's body jerked violently. Her back arched until it felt like it would snap. Her vision was now of what was behind her. It was disorienting, but no more confusing than the totality of what she saw.
The undead woman was indeed moving toward her. Allover she seemed to bleed a deep purple that quickly evaporated and streamed away from her in waves. Beyond, in the shadows that Aerdri once assumed to conceal only the barren ivory stone of the walls she could now make out the large vaporous form of a voidwalker, probably the very same one she saw before. It's white eyes were almost on fire it seemed, flickering with such acrimony that Aerdri could hardly believe that warlocks could control them at all.
The woman held a small orb in one hand. Within it there were the colors that Aerdri had come to associate mostly with arcane energy. Rather than clouds or mist though, they seemed to tumble and spread like drops of dye in crystal water. Her other hand was clutched tightly, a tiny chain dangled between her fingers and began to swing slightly as the woman started whispering words in some ancient unheard language.
Opening her eyes, the disorienting view of the reversed world disappeared, but she also saw that it didn't even matter. The vibrant cascade of colors persisted, each pulsing, swimming, dripping, cascading, undulating, flowing in their own way and at different tempos. Taking it all in... really seeing it all at once rather than focusing on one thing, seemed both a blessed dream and a devil's symphony. The turbulent mishmash brought on a nausea that pounded in her head and ripped at her abdomen like the searing mandibles of flesh eating bugs.
Now you see! This one has other things in mind for you child!
Instinctively Aerdri listened to the words from within her now and reached out for the essence of nature. Seeking the peaceful whispers of the nearby trees Aerdri's panic and nausea only increased when she found nothing but silence. She thought of the collar and how it made her feel exactly the same, as if she screamed into a void that didn't even bother to echo back.
All around her, the floor began to glow in a ring flanked with a variety of other shapes and writing. The glowing then took on a more flame like appearance... the same spectral shade of violet that she saw enveloping the woman. When she went to turn, her hands blindly searching the floor for her stave or even a stone, she suddenly felt a large unseen pressure on her chest, like a giant hand, that forced her back to the ground Struggling to right herself the assault only increased in power until she was unable to move at all. Only her eyes seemed to respond to her thoughts.
The woman's whispers began to grow louder and quicker. A hissing that seemed to come from the ring itself began to organize into whispers, the words were muddled and overlapping but quieted each time the warlock woman paused, as if the two were speaking to each other.
Aerdri's mind told her that her body was twitching, perhaps thrashing, uncontrollably now. If it wasn't for the force of the cocoon that clutched at her she imagined that her tendons would have ripped free of her bones, lashing at the air hungrily like the demonic tentacles of ravenous felbeasts.
You see what you've done now! You've damned us both!
The blinding pain in her gut spread with agonizing slowness, up her torso, until it merged with the spasmodic clawing in her head. Where the two met, a burning sensation began to radiate outwards into each limb releasing thousands of static laced pin pricks as it did.
The colors she saw now were nothing. They made no sense at all. Just a bombardment of tiny single lights that moved through the entire spectrum, unordered and unending. The pain centered behind her breast bone began to burn with such intensity she felt like it would split her apart, her innards pouring from her like the molten rock that churned beneath the earth. Without warning a sudden tugging began to pull at her as if trying to tear her heart through her rib cage, yet her body remained still.
Aerdri! Aerdri child! You must do something! Anything!!
I... I can't!!, she cried into the chasm of her thoughts. I CAN'T!!
This witch is going to destroy us! She's going to destroy ME!!
The warlock seemed to be screaming now. Her high pitched chants scraped their way past her long dead vocal cords and reverberated through the air that seemed poised on the edge of desperation. With one final shrill word the tugging on Aerdri's chest reached a climax.
The chanting and whispering were quickly replaced with a terrible wailing that filled the chamber.
The colors faded away and Aerdri could make out a twisting stream of green energy, rooted at her breast and bled up into the air above her. The wailing continued to increase in volume but then faded as she felt herself rapidly slipping into oblivion.
As it over took her she felt the pain ebb away... and she suddenly felt very...
A single tear dripped from the corner of her eye and made a slow trail down the side of her face.
Curse me for my recklessness... , she thought just as she did earlier, I'm sorry... I am so very sorry...