Continued from Part One. And as it turns out, there will be a Part Three.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Two more wandering Doomguard patrolling near the demon portal were dispatched in a similar manner to the first – drawn in by the young Draenei, whose name was Wullam, and overwhelmed. After that, there was a clear path.
Vindicator Lazheward crept as silently as was possible in full plate mail. He positioned himself behind one of the columns that formed the frame of the demon portal, then he turned back to the others, and motioned them forward.
About a third of the group moved to join Vindicator Lazheward. The rest formed up in positions beyond the edge of the woods, to support their comrades as needed.
“Veksha, can you close the portal while we cover you?” Lazheward asked, his voice but a whisper.
“Yes, sir. I will do so as quick as possible,” the woman replied with a nod.
Returning the nod, the Vindicator peered back around the pillar, and kept watch.
Several minutes of hushed breathing passed.
Effraeti was in the woods with the other group, and watched Veksha with trepidation. Every time one of demons walked close to where Lazheward and the others stood behind the portal, she held her breath, wondering if that was the one that would discover them.
A commotion behind her made Effy turn around.
She gasped as a demonic polearm glowing green with fel energy impaled the Draenei standing beside her. Lifting him off the ground, the demon wielding the polearm flung him off to crash through the trees behind him. It then wasted no time skewering another in the confusion.
There were only four demons, but they had the element of surprise. A Doomguard cut swaths of blue blood through the unprepared Draenei. The Eredar wielding the polearm stabbed with abandon and devastated those who stood up to him. A winged Succubus cracked her whip, purred a few words, and immediately had the undivided loyalty of one unfortunate Draenei. He became as fierce an enemy as the demons. Worst of all, a Nathrezim, a Dread Lord himself, stood at the edge of the battle and sent green bolts of energy at the Draenei, some setting them on fire, others disintegrating them where they stood and leaving only blackened bones to clatter to the ground.
Effraeti gaped in horror at the sudden turn of events. If only she were capable of casting spells, or could do something more helpful than weakly swinging her second-hand mace. Most importantly, how could she alert Lazheward of the patrol tearing apart his team, before he needed backup that was no longer there?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
With a frown, Vindicator Lazheward caught sight of a tendril of smoke raising from the edge of the woods where the majority of his team waited. It was just a small ribbon, but coming from a spot where it should not be.
Veksha was deep into her task of shutting down the portal, and would be finished in mere moments. When the portal suddenly winked out, it was certain to draw the attention of the remaining demons in the camp. He could not leave her defenseless, but something was certainly not right.
Whispering commands, Lazheward designated five others to stay with Veksha, and took the rest with him. He cautioned them to be prepared for anything.
Before his group got to the edge of the woods, the tendril of smoke doubled in size and then doubled again. His unease of a moment before grew with it as distant sounds of battle came to his ears.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Effraeti coughed, the smoke singing the delicate lining of her throat. Still not enough fire, she scolded herself. They probably cannot see the smoke. But the smoke was enough to force her a step back.
It also caught the attention of the Succubus. The demoness hissed at the Draenei woman, and purred a command to her hapless pet.
“Oh dear,” Effy whispered fretfully as the male Draenei advanced on her, his eyes glowing a vicious and dangerous green.
Her mind whirling, Effraeti brandished her mace and looked at the tiny fire, which was barely more than a smoldering pile of dry leaves. She wished it was larger – at least large enough to deter the approaching threat. She glared at the pile helplessly, frowning.
Then, something impossible happened – the fire listened.
Effy had to take a few steps back, as suddenly, the fire was nearly as tall as she was and fierce enough to make her face warm from several feet away. It also, to the woman’s delight, made the enthralled Draenei pause. She could not be sure, but the flames seemed to have burnt his hands and he now held the singed digits up before his face, protectively.
The Succubus hissed again, and cracked her whip, catching her pet with its stinging tips. “Attack!” she snarled.
The Draenei had backed up from the flames, and dropped his hands from his face. The green light in them was gone, and he seemed himself again. Drawing his two-handed sword, he advanced instead upon the demoness, anger at what she was and what she had done to him glinting furiously in his silvery eyes. The Succubus met him with her stinging whip.
Once more desperate to do something, Effraeti glanced at the flames before her. They seemed to be holding a static size and shape despite the scattered dry leaves surrounding them. She swore quietly and wished the flames were closer to the Succubus. If she could not defeat her, maybe she could at least push the demoness back.
Effraeti gasped. She could have swore the flames blinked at her, but as quickly as the mysterious fiery eyes appeared they were gone again.
A trick of the light.
She was still working at convincing herself of that when the flames rose again. This time the top portion detached itself from the bottom and a vaguely humanoid shape with drifting tendrils of flames instead of legs rushed toward the Succubus. A vacuum of rushing air followed along behind the fire being, and Effy had to exert a fair amount of backward effort to avoid being swept along behind it.
Seeing the form made of fire rushing towards her, the demoness’ face rippled into a snarl of anger that quickly broke into uncertainty. She flailed her arms in the beginnings of a spell, but was consumed the fire being. The male Draenei sprang away hastily and just missed joining her in her fate.
Her screams were horrible, and Effy had to cover her ears as she squeezed her eyes shut.
Effraeti nearly screamed too, when a moment later large hands grabbed hold of her shoulders, but they gently steadied her. Her wide eyes met Lazheward’s. His were questioning, but also exuding strength, and they immediately calmed her anxious mind.
“You saw the smoke?” she asked, her question and her voice both sounding weak to her own ears. She steadied her legs beneath her, and composed herself before the gaze of the other Draenei.
Vindicator Lazheward nodded.
“They appeared from nowhere… I did what I could,” she continued, shrugging with regret and fearing to disappoint him.
Taking in the stoic figure of the fire elemental, patiently waiting for further commands from above the charred remains of the Succubus, Lazheward looked back at Effraeti, surprise lining his sharp features. “I think you have done quite well. Will your friend attack the other demons if you ask it of him?”
Effraeti blinked. “The fire being?” she asked.
It turned its gaze upon her at the sound of her voice, seeming to recognize she spoke of it. Its gaze unblinking, it watched her just as they watched it.
Crinkling her brow questioningly, Effraeti looked straight at the fire elemental and said, “Stop the rest of those demons from hurting anymore Draenei.” To her utter surprise and elation, the creature of fire headed straight for the nearest demon – the Nathrezim.
Flaring brighter and turning a hotter shade, a yellow that was almost white, the elemental sped toward the Nathrezim.
The demon snarled and cast a few ineffectual fel bolts at the fire being. They merely passed through the insubstantial creature.
The Nathrezim frowned and spat more spell words. Clawing skeletal hands rose from the ground and reached for the fire elemental, but it slipped through the bony fingers, singing them and turning the hands to sooty dust in the process.
Another spell flung a small army of imps at the fire being. They cackled mischievously for the span of a few seconds, bouncing at the oncoming creature. Then those laughs turned to tiny high-pitched screams as the imps incinerated themselves upon the elemental’s body.
The demon let loose what must have been a curse in some unknown language. It gestured to shield itself, but to little avail, as the fire elemental was now upon it. To ensure the Nathrezim could not escape, the fire being summoned a wall of flame behind the demon, without pausing, and threw itself at the once more casting Nathrezim.
As the demon ignited and began to curse and shout, it finished its spell and banished the fire elemental in a swirl of grey-green smoke. But the Nathrezim was only a smudge of ash, and had no chance to celebrate the victory.
“Can you summon another to help us finish the last demon?” Lazheward asked.
“I would, but I am still unsure how I summoned that one,” Effraeti admitted.
Only a handful of those who had been with Effraeti in the trees were still standing, and those Draenei and the three who had come with Lazheward fought the sole remaining demon – the Eredar with the polearm. The weapon was slick with blue blood, and it looked as if black paint sprayed against the fiery skin of the enraged man’ari.
“Well, just try and do what you did again,” Lazheward suggested. He gave her a reassuring smile, and they hurried to join the others.
The Eredar fought like a cornered badger, and even as Laheward and Effraeti approached, he skewered another of the Draenei and shook him off the polearm’s barbed tip into the others, knocking down two more. He continued to press himself forward, ferociously cracking another Draenei in the skull with the butt of his weapon.
Vindicator Lazheward met the Eredar’s next attack head on with his shield, jarring the demon. White light enveloped the Paladin as a roar full of blood lust thundered from the Eredar’s throat. The demon swung at Lazheward while the man was still raising his shield back up.
With another burst of pure white light, Lazheward blinded the traitorous Eredar and knocked aside his blow with ease.
The other Draenei, rallied by the Vindicator’s presence, surged forward with renewed strength. It did not take much from their combined efforts and coordination to completely subdue the Eredar.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“Hurry!” Lazheward assisted. “I know you are tired and we have wounded, but we must return to Veksha and see if she has succeeded. If she has, it will be in our best interests to make ourselves scarce.” He glanced around. “Help the wounded away. We will have to return for our dead once reinforcements arrive.”
To start the momentum, Lazheward helped a wounded Draenei to his feet, and supported his steps while the others did similar and the group hurried to the edge of the demon camp.
Effraeti helped the young Draenei, Wullam, the one who had served as their bait for the Doomguards at the portal. She smiled reassuringly at the boy, and he returned it, looking stronger for it.
Veksha was still standing behind the portal, glancing around desperately. She exhaled raggedly in relief when she saw the Vindicator and the others, as the swirling green light of the portal was gone.
The portal was dead.
The demons in the camp had taken notice too.
There was already a commotion starting, and slowly the demons began gathering and pointing and cautiously approaching the darkened pillars that had served as the doorway between whatever hell they originated from and the Draenei’s world. Their voices grew louder and more aggravated with each passing moment.
“We need a distraction to get away,” Vindicator Lazheward said softly. “Grigori! Do what you can to distract them! You as well, Veksha! Effraeti? Now would be a great time for another fire elemental!”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Do what I did before? Effraeti asked herself. What did I do before? She wracked her brain. All I did was wish I had some kind of magic to be of more help… She had just come back out of the trees, waiting near the edge for word of what next.
When she heard Lazheward call out to her, she nearly froze. What if I cannot?
“Miss Effraeti?” the boy leaning on her whispered. “I saw you summon the fire. I know you can do it again.” He broke into a large grin, even though it looked to pain him and the cut across his cheek.
Blushing a deep violet, Effraeti nodded. She stepped away from the boy, noticing briefly he seemed able to support himself now, and she concentrated.
Hmm, first there was fire…
A whoosh of burning hot air hit her face, and she stumbled back as a raging wall of fire rose before the darkened portal. A few Draenei standing close to where the fire flared into existence also backed away quickly in surprise. An older male Draenei looked to have lost some of his eyebrows in the process.
Effraeti was too distracted to even sputter an apology.
More commotion arose from the confused demons who now had no view of the portal, and similarly no chance of spotting the Draenei, for now.
Then, I wished for the fire to move…
From the larger fire emerged a larger elemental, easily standing twice her height. It reached its flaming hands into the air, seeming to stretch, and uttered a crackling roar. Then, it stopped, motionless except for the creeping flames coursing along its body.
Effraeti blinked. What is it waiting for? Oh! “Attack!” she shouted, hoping it was only loud enough to reach whatever passed for the creature’s ears and no further.
Its body flaring, the creature advanced on the confused demons.
“That is our queue to leave,” Vindicator Lazheward stated, his face a mask.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The Draenei pushed back into the forest, heading in the direction opposite of Habere. There was no good to come from leading their enemy straight back to the main city. Once their reinforcements arrived, they could more safely head home.
There seemed to be no pursuit, but Lazeward set scouts around the camp. It was only a matter of time before the demons dealt with the fire elemental and reorganized.
Veksha signaled back to Habere, and Vindicator Jurdan moved his larger force to meet them.
Then, the group was finally able to relax, albeit briefly.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“Effraeti? Do you have a moment?” She knew it was Vindicator Lazheward’s voice before she even looked up.
“Of course, sir,” she replied, meeting his gaze. She set down the supplies that she had been gathering together, her satchel of bandages and healing herbs, so she could give him her full attention.
“May I?” he asked, motioning to the ground beside her. Effraeti nodded, and Lazheward seated himself nearby.
“I wanted to thank you for your assistance back there. I am not sure we would have been successful without you.” His visage was most serious.
“Sir, it was hardly worth praise. I did what anyone would have.” She gave him an embarrassed smile.
“Do not sell yourself short. You are obviously possessed of a gift. I assume it has never manifested itself before now?”
With a distracted shake of her head, Effraeti nervously tapped her fingers against her hoof. She had always been fascinated by magic, and mildly jealous of those who wielded it, but she had never thought she might one day be able to use it herself. Why now? Perhaps it was just that the need had never arose before?
Lazheward chuckled, and Effraeti glanced at him. “See the fire?”
The woman cocked her head curiously, and looked at the low burning fire. After a moment of silently watching, she whispered, “I do not see anything unusual about it.”
“Well, no, I suppose not. You stopped fidgeting with your fingers,” he replied with a smirk.
“Hmm,” Effraeti murmured, her brows furrowing. She once more tapped the nail of her finger against her hoof, and watched with fascination as the height of the fire lightly mimicked her motions. She then moved that same finger from left to right before her, and the tongues of flame followed. Up, and the fire leapt. Down, and the coals flared as the fire nearly guttered out.
“It is amazing,” Effraeti breathed.
After a moment of nothing but their hushed breathing, Lazheward spoke again. “I also came to ask one more thing of you.”
Effaeti raised an eyebrow.
“Someone needs to watch the demons between now and when the others arrive, to brief Jurdan on what they are up against and make sure that portal does not reopen in the meantime. Many of the others are too hurt and exhausted. I wanted to ask you to accompany me.” Lazheward looked from the fire back to Effraeti, the orange glow casting strange lines and shadows on his serious face and squared jaw. He was quite imposing.
“I was going to help Grigori with healing what small wounds I can, but I would be honored, sir. I appreciate you thinking of me.” She gave a small smile.
“As much as I think he could use the help, I would prefer if you got some rest first. It is going to be a long night,” Lazheward warned.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Effraeti tried to rest, but she was too anxious about what the evening might hold. So though she was curled up on her side, she was wide awake when Lazheward touched her shoulder.
“Are you ready?” he asked softly, as not to disturb anyone else.
She nodded and grabbed her pack, which she had already prepared before she laid down.
They stepped quietly through the camp and back in the direction of the demon portal. Both Draenei took on a more natural gait as the firelight disappeared behind them.
Silence hung between them, and Effraeti followed Lazheward, thinking much but not sharing all of her jumbled thoughts.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Effraeti sat with her back against an old, wide oak tree, her view of the demon camp unimpeded, though she herself was hidden from their view. They had circled the camp fully before deciding where best to set themselves. Their current position gave them an off center, frontal view of the portal and a good vantage of the demons themselves.
Lazheward contented himself with pacing restlessly.
“It will be quite a long night if you pace the length of it,” Effy said with a smirk.
The man stopped and regarded her. As the playfulness in her words settled upon him, he afforded a quiet chuckle. “My apologies,” he replied with a respectful nod of his head.
“None needed, but you should sit, before you begin to chase your tail in your unease.”
He nodded without further response, and settled himself with his back against the same large tree as Effraeti.
Silence descended again, and brought forth a yawn Effraeti quickly muffled. She would need to maintain her attention for the duration of the evening, and silence and darkness were not helping.
“Tell me about yourself, sir. If only for the sake of keeping us both alert.”
Lazheward smiled. “What would you know?”
Shrugging, Effraeti responded with, “How did you become a Vindicator, sir?”
A severe look crossed Lazheward’s face, and Effy feared she had gotten too personal. She was about to apologize when he stated, “Now if we are going to exchange stories, you must promise me you will drop the ‘sir’ and call me Laz.”
“Heh. Yes’sir… err, Laz.”
Once the conversation began, it flowed like a great river – smooth and strong and over the course of the rest of the evening.
They learned much about one another, including the fact that Lazheward was exactly 400 years Effraeti’s elder, give or take a few months. This struck them both odd as 400 was a lucky number in Draenei culture.
Lazheward explained how he had become a soldier young, to help the burden bore by his sister, who had raised him after the deaths of their parents. His strong connection to the Light was discovered early on in his service, and he was only a few millennia old when he became a Vindicator. Most recently, the death of his superior officer during the initial attack by the demons had led to his current promotion.
“I am sorry to hear about his death,” Effraeti whispered.
“As am I. It is not how I would have preferred to move up. He was a mentor to me,” Lazheward replied. His eyes cast downward, the emotion filling them was hard to determine.
Before she could stop herself, Effraeti squeezed his hand, and her eyes widened in surprise when a crackle of electricity jumped between them. It made every hair on her head stand on end. Laz obviously felt it too, one eyebrow raising curiously, but he did not move his hand away.
“Some strange side effect of the elementals, perhaps,” Effy mumbled as her face flushed a deep violet.
“Perhaps,” Laz replied. The word seemed much larger than its spoken reality.
Effy had trouble determining whether the following silence was awkward, but her thoughts along that line were interrupted by the harsh voice of an Eredar.
She stiffened. Every muscle in her body tensed as she silently berated herself for distracting them both from their purpose. Then, Effy realized the voice was not one of discovery. The Eredar was on the other side of the trees covering them, talking to another demon.
Strangely enough, the pause in her conversation with Laz had meant they were not noticed – yet.
Lazheward’s voice was barely a whisper when he spoke next, but it still caused Effy to jump. “If I can lure them into the trees here and keep them occupied, can you attack them with the help of your elementals?”
Effraeti scrunched her face up. “I think so.”
“Alright, it sounds like there are only two of them, but be ready.”
Nodding, Effy met his serious gaze.
Lazheward readied his hammer and shield and started to cause a commotion closer to the trees where the Eredar were hidden by stomping on some twigs and dried pine needles and scuffing his hooves along the ground. It had the desired effect and not two but three Eredar burst through the tree cover between Laz and the demon camp. The last must have been silent through the overheard conversation between the other two.
Effraeti was not idle as Lazheward confronted them. Her confidence in the responsiveness of the elements was growing, and she wasted no time in requesting the aid of another being of fire. As it joined Laz to batter and singe one of the demons, drawing its attention, Effy wracked her brain for what else she could do to help.
Laz let out a pained growl, and Effy gasped. The twin blades of one of the two Eredar not occupied by the elemental had broken through the Paladin’s defenses and pierced him at a joint between two pieces of plate covering his upper arm.
Elements? Can you protect him? Effy thought, desperately.
Almost as the thoughts formed in her head, the ground beneath Lazheward rumbled. Effy could tell he fought down the panicked thoughts of it being something the Eredar did, even as he became partially encased in stone. It melded to his arms and legs and reinforced his shield, but the stone armor did not seem to encumber him. For that, Effy was glad.
She caught the eye of closest Eredar, then, and he snarled and sprinted towards her as the other demon continued to assault Lazheward.
Effy made a surprised noise as he quickly closed the gap.
“No! Back!” she commanded, her voice a mixture of frantic and commanding. She was not entirely sure what good she expected the exclamation to accomplish.
The sky darkened and rumbled. Within seconds rain began to fall, and each drop that hit her skin seemed to wash away some of the weariness of the past few days and refresh her. The wind picked up, and though Effy and Laz remained unaffected, a great gust blew the approaching Eredar off his feet and crashing backwards into his companion.
The two scrambled to untangle themselves.
Laz dispatched the Eredar who had been thrown through the air with a quick downward motion of his hammer to the creature’s temple, but the second took advantage of his recovery. The demon sliced across Lazheward’s midsection with its two-handed sword. The Draenei tried to step back, but it caught him fully and cut through his chestpiece like paper.
Shock and anger hit Effraeti like a tidal wave as Lazheward stumbled backwards, losing his footing as he held his shield arm tightly across his stomach. A grimace pinched his facial features, and he seemed only partially aware as the Eredar approached him, sneering, his sword readied to swing again.
The rain fell heavier, the storm clouds reflecting Effy’s darkening thoughts. Thunder rumbled and flickers of bone white lightning jumped between the clouds, making the woman’s azure face pale and intimidating. Through clenched teeth, Effraeti growled, “Strike!” and at her request the crackling electricity that played among the thunderheads detached from them and struck once, twice, three times upon the Eredar.
The demon stayed upright through the cascading bolts, though its body convulsed violently, but once they retracted, the smoking form crumpled.
The moment the Eredar’s body struck the ground, Effy shook herself from her rage and gaped at what she had wrought. Her delicate eyebrows formed a jagged pattern of remorse across her crinkled forehead.
She attempted to remind herself she could afford no pity on these creatures.
The fire elemental had dealt with the third Eredar, and remained stoically nearby.
Swallowing at the dryness that was accumulating in her throat, Effy came fully back to herself and ran to Lazheward’s side. He was very still, but breathing. He appeared to have collapsed from exhaustion and blood loss.
Distractedly, Effy did notice the rain still fell, still infusing her with its calming effect. It cleared her mind further, and upon a quick examination, Effy realized it must be doing more than affecting her; Lazheward’s wound did not look as bad as she had expected.
Quickly and carefully, she unclasped and removed his breastplate. The wound still made her gasp harshly enough that she nearly choked. She argued with herself on how best to tend the wound – and if she were even capable of healing it. As it was now, the rain had somehow helped, but moving Laz at all would tear it open again, and she doubted he could stand to lose much more blood.
The rain continued to fall, now more somber in response to her own strained mood. The wind continued to whip around her, though, anxious, as if it were trying to get her attention.
Then, Effy realized a breathy voice hailed her. She tried to focus on the voice, curious.
Suddenly, many voices spoke all at once. They all seemed eager to be heard, and at the same time, surprised. The voices of the elements all became a heavy clamor inside her head until her temples began to throb.
She could not make out anything in the cacophony.
“Please, slow down, one at a time,” Effy begged. She held her head between her hands, her eyes tightly shut. The elements would not be deterred, they continued to speak fast and loud and with obvious excitement. “I must help Laz…”
That brought a temporary peace.
“Yes, help me. Help me to help Laz. Please,” Effy continued when she had to capacity to think clearly again.
Murmurs. The elements seemed to be anxious to not give up this newfound connection. Effy was surprised to notice she understood everything said, now that it was coming at her less jumbled.
“Once he is healed, I will listen to all of you,” Effy promised. “One at a time,” she quickly added.
“Please,” she asked again.
Finally there seemed to be a general consent. The elements seemed pacified with the agreement.
It was the element of Water who then told Effy what to do.
To Be Continued in Part Three
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
This story is based on worlds and characters in World of Warcraft.
Awaiting the Muse by Jamie Roman AKA Effraeti is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at https://awaitingthemuse.wordpress.com/.