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Vionora

Eclipse: Umbral Shadow

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Malhavik looked up from the book he was reading when he became aware of her presence.

Vionora stood at the top of the stairs, her hands at her sides. The gray glow of her eyes shone in the murky light of the dilapidated farmhouse, which had barely been sufficient to read by. The gloom of Silverpine permeated it all.

“I didn’t think you were a coward,” she said.

“Coward?”

“You made sure you were long gone before I awakened.”

Malhavik let out a hearty chuckle as he closed the book. Then he reached up to remove his mask. Across the room, with only the slanted table between them, he admired her appearance. The new dress looked well on her.

“I needed more time,” he said. “I wasn’t sure how long I could keep you under.”

“Time for what?” Vionora passed a hand over her midriff distractedly.

“To think,” he said cheerfully.

Her expression reflected a distinct lack of amusement. “Think about what.”

“About what to do with you, of course.”

“You seem to have already decided that.” She moved her hand again, like grasping at cobwebs that clung to her body. Malhavik watched her odd movements and realized what it was.

“Noticed my work have you?” he inquired. He didn’t wait for an answer. “There are still many different ways this night can end,” he said.

She dropped her hand. Her face was blank, now. “What ways are there besides the two obvious ones?”

Malhavik tapped his skeletal fingers on the dusty table in front of him. “Well I suppose that all depends on you.”

Vionora looked at him for a long moment, then walked forward to stand on the other side of the table from him. He didn’t move, just watched her draw near.

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“Do you like the new look?” she asked.

She held her arms out to her sides, somewhat sarcastically, for his admiration. The new dress was dark gray and virulent crimson with a corset-style bodice. The gloves were fingerless, covering the marks on the back of each hand, but allowing her to touch if need be. She didn’t know if he had picked it out or if one of his demons had, but the outfit was superb. And it felt like a mockery. Yet she still wore it.

“You look beautiful, my lady,” Malhavik said smoothly. “It fits a woman of your stature much better than your previous garb.”

Her arms fell back to her sides. “My stature,” she repeated flatly. He nodded, and she said, “My father was a night elf. I’m a lowly half-breed.”

It was why her skin was so dark for a Quel’dorei, and why she was so tall. And it was why a million other things in her life had gone as they had. Because of the accident of her birth. While it would not take more than an educated guess, it was not something of which she ever spoke, except now.

In response, Malhavik pointed with a skeletal finger at his jet-black eyes. They had glowed yellow, once, but at some point they had changed. Likely, it was an effect of the curse. “You are far more in the eyes of those capable of seeing it,” he told her.

Vionora wondered if he thought she was fishing for compliments. Very little seemed more foolish to her, and charm and charisma had stopped affecting her long ago. He was not as capable of seeing as he thought he was. She dropped the subject entirely. “What do you want from me?” she asked instead.

Slowly, he pushed back the chair and rose. He spoke with a deliberation, each word carefully chosen. “I want you to live,” he said. “I want you to share your pain, your despair with the world. Not many have tasted such pure emotion as you have.”

Her breath caught, her gaze going unfocused.

SHOW THEM... SHOW THEM ALL...

But it wasn’t right. Her gaze focused on the warlock again. “Why?” she asked.

He sighed softly, and pondered for a few moments over his choice of words before answering. “Because the reality we all view ourselves in is a farce. Good, evil, light, and dark, do not truly exist as we perceive them.”

This, she knew. This, she was finally understanding. He was still a step behind her, here. “Is reality the farce?” she asked. “Or is what we wish it was just a dream?”

“The second one,” he responded.

She placed her hands on the dusty table, palm down. The marks were beginning to glow through the gloves, now, casting faint purple and amber light. He watched her carefully.

“Then the only way to escape reality is death,” she said. The words had a finality to them; the argument was made.

“You can’t escape it, not even in death,” he replied, his words more crushing than hers. Her fingers curled on the desk as they shook her. “Why try to hide from it when you can embrace it?”

“I tried.” She tried, for so long. She walked willingly into Elek’s hands. Then, in the dream, when he handed her the sword, she refused to use it. And for seven miserable years after that she tried to be a dutiful priestess and serve others, only others. “I tried.” And then Malhavik had entered her life. Her voice echoed with a pain she couldn’t forget. “All it held was more suffering.”

“Just because you’re forced to play a game you’re losing, doesn’t mean you can’t learn to enjoy playing it.”

Vionora gave a shudder, stepping back. He spoke of something she had spent her entire life running away from; the one thing that threatened the last vestiges of anything she had left to call her own. He spoke of the utter capitulation that was the only thing besides death that could make the suffering of life bearable. “You would have me learn to enjoy suffering,” she whispered.

He simply nodded, watching her.

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“Is it really such a hard concept?” he asked. He grinned. “I love suffering!”

Suffering was different to him. It was something he inflicted. She knew that well. “But do you love to suffer?” she asked quietly.

“Well, it wouldn’t truly be suffering if I enjoyed it, would it?” he said.

Vionora was briefly bewildered, trying to grasp the implications of that. But he continued speaking.

“My own suffering I learn from,” he told her.

“Suffering serves no purpose,” she replied, finding sureness once again. “Suffering teaches nothing.”

“Suffering teaches resolve,” he said. In a way, he was arguing with her; in a way, he was simply lecturing her, as tutor to pupil, he surely imagined.

“Enough suffering will break any resolve.” This she knew beyond a doubt.

“And enough love will make one fat dumb and blind,” he said. “Anything taken to an extreme is bad.”

She was struggling, trying to keep her position. His will was insurmountable. “You didn’t care one bit about that when you took me,” she said.

“It’s a harsh world, dear, you were simply another tool for my use when I first found you.”

“I’m still only a tool to you.” She was always just a means to an end for someone.

“Not true,” he said calmly.

Vionora closed her eyes. The dank, dusty farmhouse filled her senses, and so did the presence of the warlock. Like all of her marked, she could sense him from anywhere; could track him down whenever she liked. He was prey to her. He was supposed to be her prey. He still stood behind the table, remaining cautious as they exchanged words instead of attacks. She opened her eyes again.

“I’m not... whatever you think I am,” she said.

“But it seems you have no idea what I think you are,” he responded.

“It doesn’t matter, because you have no idea what I actually am,” she said.

Malhavik surprised her by suddenly clapping his hands excitedly. “That’s part of what makes you so exciting!” he said. He raised his skeletal finger to point at her. “There can be no reward without risk.”

“And that’s what I am to you,” she said, flatly. “An intriguing gamble.”

The warlock smiled and leaned against the table. He didn’t argue the point, but neither did he concede it. Instead he said, “So what are you going to show me?”

She was here for a reason. And it wasn’t to convince him of anything. It didn’t matter if anyone else understood, especially not him. She grasped this and held onto it. “...I’m here to give you two options,” she said quietly.

“Oh?” he said. “Do go on.”

“Give me the soulstone, and leave me alone. You’ll get to enjoy whatever suffering you want until Accalia comes.”

She paused.

“Or... Die, now.”

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Malhavik’s posture straightened from its stoop. He spoke after a moment. “Honestly, I didn’t think you’d give me the option to live,” he said. “How disappointing.”

From the doorway of the next room came a six-armed demon. At the same time, a bound voidwalker appeared beside him. Both moved to flank Vionora. She stood silently, gazing at him, he back at her, until the two demons were almost on her. Then she moved.

With one bound she leapt over the table, slamming into him and pinning him against the wall with superhuman strength. Her hand wrapped around his throat, echoing the rope burns that signified how his life had ended, her bare fingers pressing into where his pulse should have been. He stood still as the sword-wielding demon leveled a blade on either side of Vionora’s neck.

“Suffering will not take me again,” Vionora said. “Not this time.”

She released an explosion of shadow energy. It novaed out from her, throwing the demons back, and slamming Malhavik punishingly against the wall. The rotting wood wall behind him splintered, but he seemed largely unaffected himself. The blades of the demon sliced shallowly as the demon was thrown back, the injuries ignored.

“A pity,” Malhavik remarked conversationally.

“Where is the stone?” Vionora said lowly.

“In a safe place of course!” He laughed.

His life was in her hands. She could have killed him, right then. But as she stared at him, holding him there, she understood: her bluff was called. Killing him would not break the tether. She needed the soulstone.

“You can’t do this...” she said.

“Tell me, which do you detest most?” he asked. “Physical or mental suffering?”

“Why? Do you have a preference?” she asked in return, almost sarcastic again. It was a fleeting emotion. Another encroached.

“Hmm, tough choice. I think I enjoy inflicting both equally,” he said.

Her hand clenched, nearly crushing, nearly tearing his throat out. It was over. The pretense of any sort of control was over. She let go, stepping back from him. He blinked in confusion, not understanding, as she stared at him. Then she turned away.

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Vionora walked back around the table into the center of the room and stopped there. His demons waited on their master’s command as she stood with her back to him.

“Why did you stop?” he said, puzzled and perturbed by the sudden turnaround. “I am in your way.”

She did not respond immediately. Her mind was slowly going blank. Malhavik let out a rasping hiss and walked up behind her.

“You’ve bound me,” she said dully. “Even if I kill you, I’m still bound.”

He started to reach out to her, but stopped short. His hand lowered. “Hmph,” he said.

“Maybe I should learn to love to suffer,” she said. She raised her left hand, the demon-seal marked hand, and clasped it against her chest as she stared off into empty space.

IF YOU HAVE TO SUFFER, THEY SHOULD ALL SUFFER... LET THEM KNOW FEAR...

But she could not find it in herself to stir to anger. Once again she had collapsed to despair, because once again she had been stripped of any semblance of choice. What good would it do her to rail against the unfairness of it all? What good would anything do?

“I’ll make you a deal,” Malhavik said.

She turned her head to look at him. Some of the flesh on his face had melted downward, exposing more of his jawbone. His dead and decaying state did not bother her; she had seen worse, in Stratholme.

“Find a purpose, something to motivate you, and I’ll destroy the stone myself,” he said, adding, “And I mean you, not Accalia.”

“All I want is... for the suffering to stop,” she said. “But that’s not good enough for you.”

“So make it stop!” he said, gesturing with impatience.

“Destroy the soulstone and I will.” She took her dagger out from its sheath on her hip. Holding out her other arm, she slashed, cutting through the robe and opening vein from elbow to wrist. Rich, think blood surged like a blanket and dripped to the floor... but only for a few moments. The energy of the curse flowing through her knitted the wound quickly, and the bleeding ceased. The cuts on her neck were long gone. She stared at her arm. Like the fall in Stormwind, it was only an illusion.

“Ugh,” Malhavik said in disgust. “Terrible.”

“I told you,” she said absently. “It’s not good enough for you.”

“So find another way, one might suggest.”

She looked off. “There is no other way. So do with me what you will. It doesn’t matter.” The dagger slipped from her hand and clattered to the floor.

His voice was condemning. “Then you are doomed to suffer eternal. Learn to suffer, or don’t and be a miserable wretch as you always have been.”

Vionora shuddered again, the words touching a nerve she was not prepared to defend. She was a pathetic wretch; she was doomed to suffer forever. “I don’t... I can’t..” she whispered.

“How sickening. For the vile monster so many claim you to be, you sure don’t act like one.”

The urge to laugh bubbled up, maniacal. Somehow, she didn’t. “Yes. I am a monster,” she said.

“Could fool me,” he said. “You seem more like a scared little girl in a monster’s flesh.”

Her legs didn’t want to hold her anymore. She sank to the floor, closing her eyes again. “Is your interest in me dispelled now that you’ve figured me out, Malhavik?” she asked quietly.

“It is...” He paused, looking down at her. “Disappointing,” he said at last. “All that power, all that potential... Stuck in a worthless little girl. I could try and shape you into something useful, something worthy of the elegant robes you now wear, but I suspect it would be a lost cause. You just can’t handle what it takes to survive in this world.”

He saw her for what she truly was, now, all the mystique gone, all the truths laid bare. And she was nothing but a girl who wanted to die, who could not even manage that. She was broken and beaten and still suffering was not done taking its due. It demanded more, and more, and more, more than defeat, more than humiliation, more than her pride, more than pain, more than agony, more than her innocence, more than her purity, more than her life, more. It demanded her identity.

Malhavik sneered in disgust and walked away.

“Wait.”

The word emerged from deep inside her, faint. He stopped, and turned around.

“Please...” she whispered.

He walked back, and knelt down, leaning in close. “What? Speak up!” he ordered.

She hesitated, struggling. She didn’t even know what she wanted. She just knew that this condemnation would be too much. He had been there from the start of the end; he was the start of the end, for her. But this wasn’t the end she wanted. “Please...” she said again, and then forced the rest of the words out. “...show me how?”

For several long minutes he simply stared at her. His face was unreadable even to someone who could look past the black pools of his eyes, the fleshless jaw. “I can try,” he said at last, “but know there will be much pain, and much, much more suffering.”

It was a promise. Vionora shuddered one more time. “Yes... I know.”

The warlock’s demeanor changed completely, becoming as friendly as a fel-covered Forsaken’s demeanor could be. He rose to his feet, offering her a hand up. Staring up at him, she placed her hand in his skeletal one and let him draw her to his feet.

“First, we need to find something even one such as you can enjoy doing,” he said. “I suppose making you hate something you once enjoyed is already crossed off on your list.” That made him chuckle. She just stared at him. He seemed relaxed, now. “So, Vionora, what do you hate?”

It was a strange counterpart to the question Tirien had posed her. But it was just as difficult to answer. It had been so long since she’d had the will to hate... But she remembered... what it had felt like.

“I hate... all the people... who look down on me,” she said slowly.

Malhavik grinned evilly. “Now that... we can work with.”

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