It was like looking into a mirror but instead of seeing her own reflection, seeing a different version of herself – one from another time, another place, another set of circumstances.
The woman looked strikingly similar to herself, Effraeti could not help but think – height, build, facial features, right down to wearing her hair in the exact same way Effy did.
One of the most noticeable differences was in her dress – black and red platemail with little regard for modesty. Effy could not help but blush a deep shade of violet at the amount of skin the woman showed. There was also her sword, black and red swirled steel with runes carved into the blade, each glowing with strange light in hues of red and blue and green.
What truly drew Effy in was the woman’s eyes. Those blue, glowing orbs sucked Effy in and seemed to hold her there, until she felt unable to look away or even blink. There was anger there, and a deep, hidden pain. Those eyes could drown her in their repressed sorrow…
“By the Light!” Lazheward gasped, upon seeing the reason for Effy’s sudden halt. He stepped forward and encircled her shoulders with his arm, as if to protect her.
His exclamation and comforting touch roused Effy from the depths of those glowing orbs the other woman possessed, and Effy was relieved for his presence. The other woman, however, seemed surprised and in her shock there was also recognition. She seemed to grow more agitated.
Effy meant to say something to reassure Laz, but merely touched his arm reassuringly with the tips of her fingers and instead addressed the woman. “Greetings, sister. I am Effraeti and my companion here is Lazheward.” She offered the other woman a polite curtsy, touching her forehead in a Draenei greeting.
Raising an eyebrow at Effy’s words, the other woman’s face made an odd grimace. Her demeanor took on a cold rigidity, the surprise falling off her like a discarded cloak and replaced with a stone-like, impassive expression.
“What is this devil-trick?” she snarled, and drew her runed sword.
Effy gasped and stumbled back a step as the great glowing sword whistled past, just inches from her face.
Laz was right there to catch her following the off-balanced dodge and then spring forward, his great hammer of glowing violet crystal suddenly in his hands.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Swinging his hammer left to right, more to try and off balance her while he came in closer, Lazheward did not put all his considerable weight behind his weapon’s blow. So he was able to quickly respond when the other woman spun and brought her sword at him from the opposite direction. Laz deflected the blow easily, down to his left, and in his next movement he set his hooves firmly beneath him in a wide, balanced stance.
The Paladin could not shake the odd deja vu feeling brought on by meeting with this woman. Not only did she look strangely like Effy, he swore he recognized that strange blade. His recollection was hazy, though, like remembering a dream upon waking.
Then, a strange thought occurred to Lazheward, one which made his blood run cold.
With surprising speed, the Draenei woman retracted her blade and stabbed straight at Lazheward. Only the reflexes of many previous battles saved him from the skewering she intended as he desperately dodged. Instead, her attack caught him only along the back of his lightly protected left hand and forearm. Biting back the sudden pain with a resilient growl, he was able to maintain a firm grip on his hammer through sheer determination and sidestepped her thrust without further injury.
It did draw a loud curse from him in Draenei, so angry was he with himself for getting distracted.
The other woman swung her blade down and across and up and back again in a wide X, pressing forward on him.
Lazheward dodged the first swing and met the second with his own, a great clang resounding as hammer and sword met and held. Both put their weight behind their weapons, and faced off, neither willing to back down. Equal amounts of effort and determination lined the faces of both, and Laz saw murder in the cold, blue eyes of the woman.
Still straining against the weight of other warrior’s blade, which belied her smaller size, Lazheward freed up his left hand and began to summon the power of the Light to him.
A moment later, he expelled it with a burst of golden radiance that caught the woman full on, knocking her back a step and ripping a pained shriek from her. The blast left her momentarily stunned, causing a grimace to form on Lazheward’s face.
“Death Knight,” he whispered in confirmation to himself, biting back an epithet.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
There were few things in undeath that affected the Death Knight as did that blast of Lazheward’s holy wrath. The pain sunk clear to her bones, lighting them on fire and making them feel as if they would tear themselves from her body.
There was no longer any doubt in her mind that he was truly Lazheward. This was no arcane illusion, no demonic trick. The force of Light that struck her was undeniable – there was warmth in its presence and agony in its assault.
At some point, she became aware that she was on the ground. As if through a mass of turbulent water, muffling her hearing and blurring her vision, she saw the other woman who had called herself Effraeti. The other knelt over the Death Knight, studying her. Though her body would not respond, the prone woman tried to strike out or even shout at her.
What of this other… her? Surely she had to be behind some devious plot to hurt Lazheward in some way.
Because I am the real Effraeti, was her last thought before her vision blacked out and unconsciousness stole her away.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
As the other woman, who looked far too much like her own doppelganger, fell to the ground, Effy hurried over to her – healer instincts overcoming those of survival. She knelt beside the woman and saw she was still conscious, if barely.
Effy leaned further over, as the other seemed to be trying to speak, but then her eyes fluttered and closed.
Urging forth the healing powers of the element water, Effy touched the woman’s forehead. The elemental magic flowed strongly through her, but Effy realized the woman’s skin was already cold to the touch. Her breath caught and she began to anxiously check for any signs of life.
“Laz, you killed her!” Effy cried in shock.
He stepped to her side, watching the motionless figure and not loosening his grip on his hammer. “No, not likely. Though perhaps I should. Do you not realize what she is?”
Effy met his gaze with confusion and then looked back to the lifeless woman.
Lifeless? Undead? Then, the sword’s odd runes made sense. A Death Knight.
She gasped, as that moment the other woman opened her eyes again. Those eerie blue eyes, full of icy anger, met Effy’s again.
The Death Knight scrambled backwards from Effy and glanced around anxiously for her Runeblade. Laz held it loosely in his left hand, nonchalantly studying its pulsing runes, while leaning against his great hammer with his right. His face was impassive and his posture rigid, silently daring her to challenge him again.
Effy glanced anxiously between the two of them – her love and this odd mirror image of herself.
“I believe there is still one introduction to get out of the way,” Effy said, looking expectantly at the other woman.
“Effraeti,” she replied brusquely through gritted teeth.
“Hmm, I imagine I should have seen that coming,” Effy replied, trying to force a smile and a small laugh. It came out choked, and made her cough. “It seems there is much to talk of.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It took some coaxing and convincing to get Effraeti off the street and quietly, though agitatedly, settled into a chair in the nearby tavern. She continually glanced around, as if expecting attack, while absently caressing the hilt of her recently returned Runeblade. It seemed to react to her anxious posture, and pulsed like an angry red, beating heart.
There was much to discuss, and despite her obvious discomfort, Effraeti seemed to feel the same. Her face seemed a conflict of emotions, and at the same time absent of many Effy would have normally expected.
Well, from a living person.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Effraeti’s story started with her death, as she explained that was the earliest of her clear recollections. Raised to a Death Knight, bound to the Lich King, Effraeti admitted terrible atrocities while under his his control, but refused to elaborate. It was not until Mograine’s rebellion and forming of the Knights of the Ebon Blade that Effraeti truly began to open up and tell her tale.
“I left Stormwind soon after King Wrynn’s pardon and his promise of an alliance. Even though I felt a connection to the city from my past, I knew I was feared and despised for what I was.
“I wandered without purpose. The only thing that drove me forward was a self-hatred strong enough to seek removal from others, but not enough to allow me to end my own existence.
“I found myself in Outlands – and that sentence holds curious double-meaning.
“It seemed completely accidental, the result of my aimless wandering. But as soon as I took in the landscape, I surprised myself at recalling what it had been before it was red and barren. I remembered grasslands and docile grazing animals and villages and temples. I remembered my people…
“I felt pulled towards Shattrath City. It was almost a voice in my head, but more of a memory of a memory… if that makes sense.”
Effy nodded her understanding and continued to listen.
“At the very center of Shattrath City, I found myself face to face with the Na’aru, A’dal, and immediately knew my wandering had not been aimless. I had found what I was looking for.
“A’dal told me many things…” Effraeti drifted off for a moment, and her look became more reflective. “Things about myself I had forgotten and things the Light still had in store for me.
“He said, ‘The Light never truly leaves us. Though, sometimes we have to rediscover the way to its radiance.’”
Lazheward looked up from his thoughts, and met Effraeti’s gaze with reverent eyes. “A’dal is most wise, and his words are similar to those of another who imparted the same knowledge upon me.”
Effraeti nodded curtly, and quickly broke the look. It took her a moment to recollect herself, her previous train of thought broken. That intent and pious look of his gave her too many jumbled images in her head, some of which made her breath catch uncomfortably in her throat.
Memories of him and her – when her heart still beat and her body was less cold. The faraway feeling of skin against skin, and touches that contained warmth and emotion…
Enough! Effraeti silently berated herself.
The Death Knight glanced over to her other listener, this other Effraeti. She still fought to convince herself there were some trick, some illusion here, but Effy was everything she recalled of her former self. Her facial expressions were like open books to Effraeti, her mannerisms as well known as if they were her own.
Then, there were the brief but frequent touches between Laz and Effy. Nothing inappropriate, but full of affection nonetheless. Each time Laz’s hand touched Effy, Effraeti felt a ghostly prickle that made her hair stand on end.
Both looked at her expectantly.
Finally pushing aside these unwelcome memories creating within her a dull ache, Effraeti continued her story, more rushed now. She was eager to return to the present again.
With a quick decision against it, Effraeti skipped over her last, brief meeting with Lazheward. Instead, she explained going to Duskwood upon her return from Outlands, and how she spent much time there fighting off undead for the citizens of Darkshire. She became somewhat of a local hero, even though the people there never went so far as to call her friend. Despite her help, she was still aloof and haughty and… dead.
It was not until a family by the name of Wolfsbane came to Darkshire that Effraeti really found a purpose and a kinship.
The Wolfsbane family had their secrets and their own reasons for seeking a life less public, but they also had a noble intent. They sought to cure the Worgen curse. So Effraeti assisted them in this purpose.
On the far fringes of her conscious, Effraeti realized she had never thanked the Wolfsbane family for their companionship. Kind words seemed to flee from her tongue like spooked sparrows anymore, not like the ease they came to the woman sitting across from her. This woman whom she wanted to hate for her kindness and warmth.
And why not a little more self-hate?
I should have said something to Eduard and Gaeladrial, Effraeti finally concluded, and then scoffed at the thought. I think that like I will never see them again.
It was returning to Stormwind for supplies for the continued ventures of the Wolfsbane family that had brought Effraeti face to face with… herself?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Upon hearing the entirety of the other woman’s tale, realization struck Effy.
“It had to have been when Chromie sent us forward in time,” Effy explained, addressing Lazheward as well.
The man remained thoughtfully silent, his brows knit, but nodded.
It was difficult piecing together periods of time from the fractured memory of the Death Knight, but Effy felt confident without knowing how that she was sure she could place herself in a separate time and space for each and every point of the other’s tale. It seemed to Effy the pieces and answers were slowly coming together.
Effraeti stopped Effy with a raised hand before she could continue. “This Chromie. The name seems familiar, but I cannot place it. My conversion to undeath destroyed much of my memory, and I still have not recovered it all.”
Effy nodded and decided it was time to tell her half.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“Many times, Lazheward and I were called upon to assist the Bronze dragons in their battle against the Infinite dragonflight. The Infinites sought to disrupt the very timelines themselves.
“Everything Nozdormu, the leader of the Bronze and master of Time, worked to maintain in delicate balance was threatened by their malicious tamperings.
“By seeking to assassinate historical figures or disrupt what happened at specific points throughout history, the Infinite dragonflight claimed they were seeking a better Azeroth. Any disruption they might have succeeded with would have resulted in unknown shifts in history, but more dangerously the possible unraveling of Time itself.
“Our task became to protect Prince Arthas, later to become the Lich King. Despite our own reservations – how easy it would have been to let him fall and never threaten Azeroth with the Scourge! – we realized the gravity of our task.
“So we saw to it that Arthas survived to head north, and eventually claim Frostmourne and the Frozen Throne.
“At the close of our task, we were congratulated by Chromie, another Bronze, but more often present to us in the form of a female Gnome. She informed us Nozdormu had an even more important task ahead of us, one that would instead take us to the future to handle a most serious threat there.
“Ever willing to assist our Bronze friends, Laz and I agreed. We ended up here in Stormwind, a Stormwind ravaged by the return of the Destroyer, Deathwing.”
Effraeti nodded thoughtfully. “Yes, I heard of his return during my time in Duskwood, and many a time that beast flew over and terrorized the populace, setting fire to homes and trees and people alike. I was most pleased to hear of his fall.”
Effy tried to suppress the darkening of his face, her cheeks flushing with warmth.
Raising a curious eyebrow, Effraeti asked, “Were you involved in his death?”
Effy’s eyes fell to her hands in her lap. “I did not strike the blow, I merely protected those who did with the powers of the elements and spirits.”
“I wish I had been there beside you, my love,” Laz whispered, his arm encircling her shoulders. Their foreheads touched briefly.
“You were ever at my side, love, and in my fondest thoughts,” Effy replied.
Effraeti seemed to grow uncomfortable, and Effy noticed.
Eagerly leaning forward, Effy dropped her voice to a whispery tone.
“The strangest feeling of arriving in the future was that which I could not place until this very day. It was a feeling of missing a part of myself, feeling less whole. I was intact and my memory was sharp, but I found myself often looking for something. What? I could not answer.
“But I believe I know the answer to that maddening question now. I was looking for the other half of myself.” Effy smiled.
Eyes widening, Effraeti found herself too stunned to respond.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Throughout the tales of both women, Lazheward kept his own silent council. Many thoughts ran through his mind, but until he could organize the pieces into something coherent enough to share, he stayed quiet. It was his own way to process the situation.
He acknowledged both often as he listened, but merely studied each, both separately and as a pair. They shared manners of speaking and demeanor. Both spoke with their hands in the same fashion. They used similar wording to express their thoughts.
As Effraeti grew more comfortable, her body language changed. It was still stiff and awkward, but she became obviously more relaxed with Effy, her body noticeably leaning towards the other.
Though, Lazheward reflected fondly, it is difficult to not be comfortable in Effy’s presence.
Effy, in turn, grew more zoetic. She talked with Effraeti like they were long-lost sisters or old school day best friends. At several points, she looked like she might eject herself from the wooden chair, so animated was her story telling.
However, it was in a surprisingly low tone, though no less excited, that the Shaman stated her thoughts on how such strange things had come to be.
Surprisingly, Lazheward realized he had drawn the same conclusion.
Two halves of the same woman?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
He knew he would have recognized that blue-skinned, blue-blooded devil anywhere. The scars from their last meeting tingled as the Twilight assassin flexed the fingers of both hands around the hilts of his daggers.
At the close of their last encounter, the Twilight assassin had left bloodied and without the death of his mark. It was quite a sore spot for the proud man.
He had followed Lazheward to Stormwind. His superiors’ command had been the Paladin’s head after the blue devil sabotaged several Twilight’s Hammer camps and operations. The largest disruption being to their excavation in Darkshore of the Soggoth the Slitherer’s remains.
He was their most dependable assassin, a killer among killers, less fanatical but no less loyal to the cause. So he did not hesitate to accept.
Once in Stormwind, the Twilight assassin had watched and waited for the perfect moment.
Then, late one night, he knew his moment had come. The blue devil was drinking in this very same Dwarven tavern and making a regular fool of himself. He was so stinking drunk, he was dancing on one of the tables! Half a mug of ale was balanced on his tail, and another precariously swaying on his horned head.
This will be too easy, the Twilight assassin had thought to himself with a grin.
His moment was almost ruined by the entrance of another Draenei, a woman. Wearing the garb of a shaman, she addressed Lazheward with familiarity, but obvious surprise. There was a story there, the Twilight assassin knew, but what it was held no interest for him. His interest was reserved only for completing his task.
Who could have known this Paladin kept company with the covert members of SI:7?
He did not realize his error until it was too late. He was already committed to the attack when the first SI:7 member drew her daggers – a dour looking Night Elven women. In his surprise, the Twilight assassin somehow completely missed his intoxicated target and stabbed at only air.
The Twilight assassin soon found himself surrounded by a dozen or more enemies – Lazheward and the Twilight assassin at its nexus.
Cursing under his breath, the Twilight assassin realized that the blue devil standing before him had made him the fool, as he was dead sober. His expression was stoic. His giant amethyst-colored hammer was already in his hands.
The Twilight assassin had been setup, and he had fallen for it.
Lazheward and his companions wasted no time in attacking the Twilight assassin. Parrying and dodging for his very life, the assassin avoided many of the strikes, but took many as well. Only a well-timed smoke bomb saved him, and allowed the Twilight assassin to slink off – disgraced and seething.
This time, he knew better than to underestimate the Paladin, and had called in several of his more trusted brothers and sisters.
The blue devil would pay, and he would suffer first.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
One of the benefits of undeath, Effraeti had discovered, was the heightening of her senses still remaining to her. Without breath or blood, smell and taste and touch were mostly wasted on her, as they were still experienced but muted compared to what they had been in life – black and white and grey in a formerly multi-colored world.
Her vision and hearing, on the other hand, were far more acute.
Though she surely came across as paranoid to most, it was more the overload of her senses. Every little scuff of a boot across the wooden planks, each unconscious fidget of a hand moving to brush aside a stray hair, none were lost to the Death Knight.
So it was Effraeti who first noticed the strange figures gathering in the tavern.
Dressed in a similar nondescript fashion and trying too hard to seem inconspicuous, Effraeti soon counted nine. The last seemed to be giving silent instructions to the others, hardly noticeable movements to most, but not lost to the senses of undeath.
Meeting Lazheward’s eyes, Effraeti flicked her gaze to his right. He immediately seemed to catch her meaning, and glanced to his hammer without moving his head – easily within his reach to his side. Then, the Paladin casually panned his vision, and caught the notice of the closest barmaid with a friendly wave.
A cheery, red haired dwarf, obviously of the Bronzebeard clan of the north, quickly made her way to their table and nodded when Lazheward ordered a few more drinks. Clearing some of the empty mugs, she balanced them on a tray and made her way toward the kitchen area.
Effraeti knew Lazheward had caught sight of what she had seen during the interaction with the barmaid, as he met her gaze again with a determined look and a barely perceptible nod.
They were quite effectively surrounded.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Lost in her thoughts and all the information she was digesting, not the least of which was her recently stated epiphany, Effy was taken by surprise when both Effraeti and Lazheward threw back their chairs and readied their weapons. Within seconds, both were standing defensively to either side of the table. She quickly fumbled for her totem pouch, and held it tightly to her chest while rising to join them.
A circle of unfriendly looking roguish characters surrounded them, each wielding swords and daggers that glowed with unholy light and wearing clothing that immediately identified them to her trained eyes as cultists of the Twilight’s Hammer..
“Oh dear,” Effy whispered.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The Twilight assassin grinned when the three Draenei rose, no longer oblivious to their surroundings, but too late in noticing to escape. Briefly, he made the connection of the female Shaman being the same as from his last encounter with Lazheward, but brushed it aside.
He made an abrupt hand signal to his brothers and sisters, who quickly cut the two women off from the Paladin.
Lazheward was all his.
The two faced off, great violet hammer glowing with Na’aru magic and holy Light against two black daggers pulsing with dark energy that seemed to steal the light around them. They watched each other and circled slowly, each waiting for the other to attack first.
With a shout, the Twilight assassin struck first, a dagger slashing to the blue devil’s left. It was a distraction more than a true attack, but Lazheward did not fall for it, merely stepping easily to the side of it.
Again, the Twilight assassin lashed out, this time with both daggers, forcing a response from the Paladin. The Draenei pushed his hammer out horizontally, and caught both attacks. The quick blades shifted and stabbed beneath the hammer shaft, and the blue devil had to jump back a step to avoid the sharp weapons, missing the chance to take a solid swing while the assassin was in close.
Sneering, the Twilight assassin vowed to take his time with this.
A bright flash to the far left of his vision caught his attention and he saw his companions keeping the two Draenei women busy. The plate-clad one with the sword seemed to be causing them quite a bit of strife, and successfully holding attack off her Shaman companion who cast elemental devastation amongst them.
The Twilight assassin let out a displeased growl, but was roused from thoughts of their incompetence by another swing of his more immediate foe’s enormous hammer. He dodged and spun away on quick but silent feet.
Only a few of his companions previously numbering eight were still attacking the two Draenei women. Remembering the Shaman and her relation to Lazheward once more, the Twilight Assassin used the dark powers granted him by his dark gods to step through the realm of shadow from before the Paladin to behind the furiously casting Shaman. Within the span of a breath or two, the Twilight Assassin had his pulsing black dagger to her throat.
The plate-clad Draenei snarled and disemboweled the final Twilight’s Hammer cultist she was engaged with. Then, she raised her blade and made towards the Twilight assassin.
“No! Stop!” Lazheward shouted. “He has us at an impasse.”
The blue devil woman curled her lip in response, but stood down.
“Alas, tie games were never for me,” the Twilight assassin retorted with a harsh laugh. “I prefer to win!” He sneered and slid the dagger across his captive’s throat.
Only a small noise left the Shaman’s lips before she collapsed to the floor.
The look on the Paladin’s face was exactly what the Twilight assassin had been hoping for.
Now. Now was the time to finish him.
The other female devil roared a challenge and sprang forward. She sliced her great sword at the Twilight assassin with unbridled fury, and he did all he could to dodge the attacks and wait for her to leave herself open to his daggers.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Lazheward stared. He vaguely registered Effraeti sprinting past him and attacking the Twilight assassin. Still his gaze was on Effy, but not. There were two hazy images of her on the tavern floor, his eyes not willing to focus, as if not seeing her laying there, not seeing her blood, would somehow unmake what had just happened.
It was not until his legs tried to give out from underneath him that Lazheward regained himself. His hammer steadied him, and he straightened with its added support.
The Paladin strode forward, his hammer now resting on his broad shoulder, his left hand raising to call upon the Light. He felt its warmth gathering within him, and still several feet from the Twilight assassin, Lazheward readied to release its holy judgment.
But then it was gone.
Lazheward blinked. He reached within himself and tried again, to no effect.
All was dark inside of him.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
An unreasonable rage burst from Effraeti and she unleashed all of it against the dodging Twilight assassin before her. Each thrust was an expenditure of the built up angst of her years as a Death Knight – every hateful look cast her way, every whispered stinging name, every creature foolish enough to cross her. Add to all of that this new feeling of happiness and belonging that had been welling inside of her all day, so quickly stolen away and scattered across the floor like Effy’s lifeblood.
She knew the Twilight assassin waited for her to slip, to wear down, but even in her fit of anger, undeath made her tireless and coolly precise.
She clipped him with her Runeblade several times – his right thigh, his left hip, a near miss that instead of taking off his head merely grazed his cheek. Still she pressed him, and he soon seemed to realize that her attacks did not slow.
Then, Lazheward stepped in beside her, his vehemence nearly matching her own. His was an impressive display, for one who still drew breath. That made the Death Knight recall her own clash with the Paladin, and as the two took turns attacking and feinting and dropping back to give room to the other, she wondered why he did not just end this with a similar display of the Light’s retribution.
Effraeti called upon the runic powers bestowed on her by the Lich King, but no matter how she charged her Runeblade, she had to squarely hit the slippery rogue first.
Like an angered wasp, the Twilight assassin slid forward and stung her along her exposed hip. The bite of that blade burned like acid more than sharp steel, and Effraeti inhaled sharply, biting back a cry.
The hit seemed to energize the Human and he sneered and made a renewed attack with both daggers, toward her face.
Lazheward gave her a great shove and the off-balance Death Knight stumbled. She just barely caught herself with her left hand, sending an agonizing shock wave of pain up her arm. She quickly sprung back to her feet, though, and charged back towards the Twilight assassin.
Lazheward met the daggers with a clang of his hammer’s metal shaft. Then, he swung the weapon in a great arc before heaving it downward towards the spot of floor where the Twilight assassin had stood just a moment before.
Only a slight trail of magical residue hung in the air, as the duplicitous rogue reappeared behind Laz, daggers raised.
Effraeti shouted a warning, and Lazheward spun to the side as she leapt in and thrust her Runeblade ahead of her.
The weapon found its mark, and pierced the Twilight assassin straight through the chest. He made a surprised face that quickly turned to a angry grimace.
The Twilight assassin’s daggers dropped to the floor with a dualized clang, as he fought to extricate himself from the long blade. Hands grasped the blade, seemingly impervious to the bite of the red Runeblade. Feebly fighting with the sharp blade protruding from his chest, an unrepressed trickle of blood escaped his snarling mouth.
Effraeti spun, retracting the Runeblade as it whirled with her, and the Human pitched forward, crumpling to the already-bloodstained tavern floor.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Watching the Twilight assassin fall to the floor ripped the remaining fury from Lazheward, and he too fell forward, his hammer clattering mutely beside him. Blood throbbed in his head turning the sudden silence of the tavern into a roaring cacophony of sound. Exhaustion settled upon him, and his limbs felt heavy.
Once on his knees, the Paladin glanced back at Effy’s still form. He chided himself for the irrational thought of her reviving at the death of her murderer.
With his body fighting him for every movement, Lazheward tried to swallow back down the large lump in his dry throat and approached the body of his love.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
After years of searching and wandering, pondering the cryptic words of A’dal and questioning her very purpose for being, Effraeti knew what she had to do to make that existence worthwhile, to bring herself full circle. She had to give up everything. But could she do it?
A’dal’s prophetic words came to her once more:
For the love of one, you are destined to sacrifice it all in order to save yourself.
The answer was there in the eyes of this man she loved. The gleam of yet unfallen tears glossing over those bright white orbs. The anguish that rimmed them with furrowed brows and tightened features.
This man she could never be with, but Effy could. Effy was meant to be with Laz.
Effy, who lay with her lifeblood seeping from her, but bearing the most serene look upon her face. She might have been sleeping, eyes gently closed, were it not for the jagged gash lining her throat and the paleness of her countenance.
Lazheward’s large hands gripped tightly at the source of the blood covering them both, holding the torn sleeve of his shirt to the wound and whispering to her in Draenei.
“No, no, no… You cannot leave me… Stay with me, my sunlight…”
Hearing his private name for her was too much. It yanked a sob from her throat and pierced her chest with a stab of heartache. Effraeti pitched forward, jarring her knees sharply against the unforgiving plank floor. She was overcome with the memories of personal moments with Laz, and had to fight to steady herself with both arms for several breaths.
Upon recollecting herself, Effraeti crawled to Effy’s side and unsheathed her Runeblade from her back. She laid it on the cool, smooth planks of the tavern floor before her. Bringing her knees and hooves up tightly underneath her, the Death Knight touched Laz lightly on the shoulder.
He started and glanced at her, his eyes now ringed red with grief, but the tears still not yet flowing.
“I have the power to give you both a chance to say goodbye,” Effraeti told him. A tinge of guilt wracked her, but she buried it as she was well accustomed to by now.
At her words, the first few tears fell from Lazheward’s eyes, and he nodded silently. He took Effy’s hand, and it was deathly pale. His eyes followed the lines of her shadowed face.
Effraeti fought back her own emotion, something mostly foreign to her in undeath yet so foreign it was out of her control when present. She touched the cold metal of her Runeblade, running her fingers delicately over the figures carved into its steel. She summoned the death-magicks held there and within herself and directed them to Effy’s still form.
Glowing mist drifted from the Runeblade, growing and swirling and surrounding the prone woman.
Effy’s eyes twitched and opened.
Effraeti’s chin lowered to her chest in concentration.
Lazheward’s mouth dropped open, and he blinked away another tear.
“I cannot move. My love, what is happening?” Effy asked, her eyes widening with terror at the thought.
“Moj solnysko, we have only a short time…” Laz replied to her, his voice breaking.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Effraeti was deeply concentrating and knelt oblivious to the conversation going on before her.
Her sole purpose in this was to permanently bring Effy’s soul back to her body. She had no idea how, but knew only she must. This was the purpose A’dal had alluded to. This was the reason for her continued existence – this moment in time. Somehow she unconsciously knew this beyond a doubt.
Saving Effy, and in turn saving Laz, the man she loved.
In the confusing murk that was the spirit realm, Effraeti found her. The other woman’s spirit form looked lost and confused, having been ripped from her body most violently by the blade of the Twilight assassin.
Effraeti’s incorporeal form reached for that of Effy’s.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Clawing his way along the floor of the mostly silent tavern, the broken Twilight assassin scowled in the direction of the blue devils. He would complete his task. These instigators would pay with their lives before he would give up his last breath.
By the will of the Old Gods, he swore it!
Right hand clenching his already blood-stained dagger, the assassin agonizingly dragged himself across the wooden planks with his left. He tried cover the oozing hole in his chest. The devil woman’s sword had pierced his left lung, and just barely missed his heart. His breath came most laboriously in sharp, painful gasps, but his rage and determination kept him going.
He clamored along as quietly as he could muster, but it seemed for naught, as the two were engulfed in their mourning and self-pity.
A sneer that was more grimace crossed the assassin’s bloodied face. There was little life left in him, but that would be enough to finish the two distracted Draenei.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Effraeti cried out as sharp pain pierced her. She lost her focus on the spirit realm, and Effy, ripped back to herself in one painful moment.
Effy’s eyes closed once more in that same instant, and Laz looked up confused. That look quickly turned to horror as he noticed the jagged black blade jutting from the Death Knight’s chest.
“None of you shall escape the Twilight’s Hammer!” the assassin cried, his voice a pained shriek.
Nothing had ever hurt her as the Twilight assassin’s dagger did. Enchanted with necromantic powers, it was leeching the life from Effraeti with each passing second. She was desperate to remove it, but paralyzed by the pain and the weapon’s dark magicks. Effraeti grasped feebly at the dagger’s blade sticking from her chest, her eyes begging Lazheward to help her.
She had been ready to give herself for both of them, but not like this! Not when she had so hopelessly lost Effy, and was now losing herself to this assassin’s tainted weapon.
The Twilight assassin seemed to be growing stronger as the life was drained from Effraeti. He was now in a low crouch behind her, using the dagger and the stunned Draenei to pull himself up.
It all passed in mere seconds, but felt like an eternity, even to a Draenei, before Lazheward stood and swung his great Na’aru hammer with all his might. All the rage and pain he was feeling coalesced into that swing and broke on the Twilight assassin like a great crashing wave. The combined weight of the hammer and the Draenei guiding it nearly evaporated the sneering assassin as he exploded into a shower of red gore.
As soon as the hammer met the floor, with little left to soften its blow, Laz released the handle and knelt beside Effraeti. His fury once more spent, he gazed at her and the dagger helplessly.
“Remove… it, please…” Effraeti gasped.
Lazheward nodded and complied.
Once the dagger and the searing pain were removed, Effraeti crumpled and Laz caught her. Staring at her in angst, Laz felt all over again the swelling loss of losing his love, his life, his sunlight. How in the Light’s radiance could he have both of them taken from him?
“I’m sorry… sorry… so sorry…” the Death Knight sobbed, weeping dry tears from her dead tear ducts and clutching feebly at his chest with numb and unresponsive fingers.
“Shh, no…” Laz shook his head back and forth wept for them both.
“I… tried to… tried to… bring her back… I am so… sorry…” Effraeti continued, her voice barely a whisper. “I was… so close…”
Without hesitation, Lazheward leaned forward and kissed her. Effraeti’s lips were chill, but behind them was the memory of what kissing Laz was like. Though she could not hold him, as her limbs no longer responded to her, her lips granted her this one last wish.
Then, a genuine smile upon her face for just that moment, Effraeti’s glowing blue eyes closed and her body went limp.
Lazheward cradled her in his arms and rocked back and forward on his hooves, clinging to her still form. Before he even knew it was forming, a great agonized bellow of pain left his lips.
Only the corpses were there to hear it.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The rain fell in sheets and matted Lazheward’s hair against his face and shoulders, but he paid it no mind. His countenance was somber, emotionless – he had cried out every emotion left to him. Even his lavender-hued armor was dull beneath the rumbling thunderheads.
The Light had forsaken him in his greatest need of it. Hours he had spent on the floor of the dark, shattered tavern attempting to revive Effy, and then to revive Effraeti, until he had collapsed in exhaustion. The Light would not come to him. It was as if his connection to it died along with Effy.
The elements cried today. They cried for the return to the Earth of their companion and voice.
Lazheward brushed away the pallid words of comfort from Nobundo. He had insisted to the Broken Shaman this would be solely his parting moment with Effraeti, not to be shared with those of Earthen Ring. Where had they been through all of this? The Earthen Ring, Nozdormu, the Alliance, the Na’aru, the Light – they could all kiss the backside of his hammer.
So it was instead that Lazheward heard the mournful howls of the ghost wolves as he gently laid the broken forms of Effy and Effraeti onto the unlit pyre. He cursed the source of those howls softly under his breath, but went about his work. Mechanically, he situated Effy with her hands laying together over her stomach. He brushed her long, dark bangs back from her face and tucked them behind her ears as he had so often seen her do, and it intensified the dull ache in his chest.
He had to pause a moment, lowering his head, and willing the ache away. It lessened to a point where he could finish his task, but did not leave him. As he thought about it while setting hay and twigs about the pyre, tucking them around the still forms of the two women, Lazheward revised his previous thinking and realized the ache was mildly comforting.
Perhaps it would keep him company. Neither Effy nor the Light were there to fill the void, perhaps his sorrow was all he had left.
It had nearly consumed him to lose Effy once – his other self in that other time – and even though it was like a faded picture more than a true memory, it was real enough. Real enough to make this ache familiar, this hole familiar, like a mostly healed scar torn back open.
With the rain falling as it was, Laz briefly wondered if the fire would catch and burn. As he lit the smaller, drier pieces, he realized this concern was for naught. The fire caught, and it was only a short time before the pyre was fully burning, its flames licking at the sky and hissing resiliently at the falling rain.
Effy looked wreathed in flames, but from where he stood, she looked untouched by them despite the fire now reaching twice his considerable height.
Silent, impassive, Lazheward stood there watching the fire crackle and climb into the grey sky. Unconsciously, he took a step forward, and realized how easily he could join Effy. He could feel the heat of the fire from his several yard distance, and knew it would be hot enough to consume everything quickly.
Even though, with a questioning squint, he pondered how his love still looked unburned.
Lazheward shook away both of the absurd thoughts, and dropped his chin to his chest, closing his eyes and quietly reciting a Draenei prayer.
Thanking the Light at the end of the prayer nearly caught in his throat, and the man had to swallow down the bad taste forming in his mouth. It felt a strange reaction, but at the same time, Laz reminded himself that part of the gaping hole within him was where the Light had once filled him. The other part of that hole was the absence of Effy, also the fault of the Light and its abandonment of him.
Had it answered him, Lazheward knew Effy would still be alive.
Finally opening his eyes again, Laz let out a ragged sigh, which immediately became a gasp.
Effy was now several feet above the pyre, still surrounded by flames, but emerging from it before his very eyes. The wavering form of a fire elemental detached itself from the flames of the pyre and bore Effy forward, towards Laz. It stopped about halfway to him, and made as to set Effy down on the ground. Instead, she stirred and settled upright, floating above the ground. She was wreathed in flames, but completely unharmed, and they seemed to be keeping her aloft.
Lazheward gaped, and his unconscious thought was the meaning of her name: Effraeti, born of fire.
Blinking and glancing around her, Effy’s eyes settled on Lazheward, and a smile that lit her face formed. She took a few steps forward and her hooves touched the ground with the utmost grace. Once she began to walk, most of the fire left her, until it was only ringing her head and shoulders. At that moment, she broke into a run and threw herself into Lazheward’s arms.
The man took hold of her, awe stricken and checking to see if she were real. She felt real. Was he dreaming?
“Effy?” he asked, his mouth working to form more than that.
“Yes,” she replied simply, and kissed him.
Laz returned it deeply, running his hands along her hair and her arms and the small of her back – making sure every moment that she was not going to evaporate and disappear. He lifted her light form and held her to him.
When their kiss finished, Lazheward pulled his face back to realize he had wet them both with his tears.
Effy did not move to brush them away from her cheeks, but she did tenderly wipe them from Laz’s with a soft whisper in Draenei. “I am so sorry, edinstvennaa, my only one.”
“How?” Laz whispered in return, his voice hoarse with emotion. “How is this possible?” He buried his face in her neck and hair and continued to weep.
The woman comforted him, and held him for a moment before coaxing him to look her in the eyes again. Then, Effy explained.
Effraeti had found her, lost and confused in the spirit realm, far from her body. The Death Knight had led Effy nearly all the way back when she was abruptly stolen away by the tainted dagger of the Twilight assassin.
Effy was close, she knew that much, but she did not know the way. In all of her spirit travels prior, she had a starting place and a tether to get back to that starting place. But in the confusion of the ripping of her spirit from her body, that tether was lost. She knew her body was near, but did not know where. She could hear Laz’s voice, but did not know how to get to him.
She felt the moment of Effraeti’s death as if it were her own again, and were she not a spirit, she would have wept.
Effy knew not how long she searched, large and confusing as the spirit realm is. She called to the elements, but her spirit voice was but a whisper.
It was not until the fire that Effy had any semblance of a direction in which to go. Even in the spirit realm, she somehow saw it, and around it, she heard the sorrow of the spirits of the elements. In the spirit realm, their voices were much louder. They drew her in, coaxed her to them.
Once among them, Effy found her body, and beside it, that of Effraeti. To her great surprise, Effraeti’s spirit was there, also called by the elements – she still heard them, even if they did not answer her.
Effraeti’s spirit was wracked with guilt and regret for having failed in her sole purpose for being.
Effy consoled Effraeti, and told her she knew how to return to her body, now that she had found it. Effy tried to convince Effraeti to come with her, as they belonged there, both of them, for Effy was only half herself without Effraeti.
Effraeti was hesitant, but agreed, knowing Effy spoke the truth.
The spirits of the elements were protecting Effy throughout all of this, and assisted where they could, most prominently the spirit of fire.
Once the elements had assisted her in bridging the gap between her spirit and her body, recreating her tether, the process was as simple as Effy returning to her body after a brief communion with those in the spirit realm. Since Effy and Effraeti were in fact one woman, Effy was able to use the elements’ tether to return them both.
In the spirit realm, all this took less time then in that of the living world – merely the span of Lazheward’s prayer.
It was at that moment that Lazheward knew that to be exactly what had happened, for Effy’s eyes were different. They possessed more blue than silver in their luminescence. They reminded him of the Death Knight’s eyes, though softer and full of love.
With no words exchanged, Effy smiled and nodded, seeing in his face what he saw and what she already knew.
She was whole once more.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Awaiting the Muse by Jamie Roman AKA Effraeti is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.