Of all the places she had traveled, never had Tanthelara thought she would find herself so at home in a troll city, much less the ancient capital of the Zandalari empire, Dazar’Alor. Then again, she never expected to break bread with orcs in the deserts of Kalimdor, or find fellowship with the undead either. It was strange how life changes so drastically at times, and yet, always seems to bring some sort of good with it.
She smiled at her companions as she took another sip of her drink. It wasn’t anything real special, just some Sea Breeze wine a “friend” smuggled in from Suramar with some Rootway papaya puree mixed in to tame the stringent tannins of the vintage, but served as an excellent way to round out the evening. Across the table from her and to her left sat Dihe, a tauren huntress whom she had known for a couple of years now and had met shortly after arriving with some other Horde forces on Zandalar. Her large frame seemed simultaneously at home and out-of-place in these foreign lands, she noted, as the tauren quietly ate the small meal before her. Dihe was always the mysterious, reserved, silent type, and when she did speak it was always with a calming softness to her voice that completely belied the seasoned marksman it belonged to. Even now, the only sounds Tanthelara could hear was the soft chiming of iron buckles against armor crafted of stone and bone. To her right sat Birch, a vulperan warlock who just seemed to appear one day and never left. She was almost the polar opposite of Dihe, being boisterous and the braggart she was. The small fox-person gleefully chomped on a honeycomb, swatting away annoying flies from her snout with her free hand before eventually conjuring a small flare of fel-fire in her palm to scorch them. Dihe eyed the vulpera for her effort with a faint hint of distrust on her face, before turning to address Tanthelara.
“Can I ask you something?” Dihe inquired, her voice ever so soothing and methodical.
Tanthelara took a large gulp of her drink and nodded. “Of course.”
“What is it like, using the void? What does its power feel like?”
Birch stopped ravaging the honeycomb and turned to face the blood elf in anticipation for the answer. Power was a topic she was always interested in, aside from sweets and procreation.
“Well…” the priestess began, “the magic itself, I suppose you just wield like any other. Spells have their incantations and whatnot. You just have to speak their language.”
The tauren nodded, “ok, so…?”
“I’ve never put much thought into it and with void spells, usually I try to refrain from using vocal incantations. So basically, all magic is just telling energy what to do, right? Like, there’s different ways of doing it, but its all the same - you have to communicate with it in a way it understands and will listen to. For void magic, it’s called Shath’yar. Lots of people say you’ll go mad if you speak the language of the old gods, since a lot of their magic focuses on the mind. So far I haven’t noticed anything, but still, if I can avoid it I’d rather not press my luck.”
“But there’s more than that, isn’t there?” Birch chimed in, greedily licking the honey off her claws. “I’ve noticed with fel magic that I have a tendency to act… I dunno, evil? I mean, I know better than to do any of the really bad stuff like murder or betrayal, but I’ve certainly noticed some changes. My drive for certain… urges… is through the roof and if I have a chance to make an enemy suffer - you better believe I’m taking it!”
“It’s something like that, yes.” the priestess responded, finishing off her drink, “it corrupts like the fel, but isn’t as ‘decaying’, so-to-speak? It’s more personal than that. Like, you know how you have that inner voice you hear whenever you’re thinking to yourself? Imagine having a second one, one that persistently encourages you to engage in behavior that is not only self-destructive, but brings pain, misery, or suffering to others as well.”
“Sounds like a demon.” the vulpera said.
Tanthelara nodded in agreement, recollecting her years of fel usage in the wake of the Sunwell’s desecration and subsequent destruction. “In that sense, yes. Demons and fel can drive you insane just like the void can. It happened to a lot of my people. But trust me in that the Void’s different. Sometimes its just one voice, sometimes its dozens. Sometimes you’ll feel its presence for no reason, and sometimes it’ll show up just when you feel like things can’t get any worse.”
“Just like some people I know.” Dihe said with a grin forming on her face.
Birch instinctively snarled at the subtle jab, but quickly relaxed into a chuckle. “Seems like it would be exhausting. Like, with the fel the only things I have to worry about are not being a bad person and not summoning too many demons. I could only imagine what it’s like having all that chaos in your mind.”
…why don’t you give them a demonstration…
The Void echoed in the back of Tanthelara’s mind. Taking a deep breath to center her thoughts, she pushed its presence back into the dark recesses from which it came.
“It takes some training,” the priestess said with a smile as she inwardly bolstered her will, knowing what her next words would imply - both inwardly and externally.
“If you’d like, I can give you an example of what I have to deal with.”
…yes! Give them the gift as I have given you… the whispers shouted in her mind.
"I’m teaching them how to resist you. Now be gone!" she responded in her thoughts. She could feel the whispers’ presence writhe in contempt and frustration but eventually pull back.
“I know a spell that allows me to enter your mind. It’s too weak to let me do any real harm to you, so you might just think of me as another part of your consciousness. Don’t worry, I’ll make it known that it’s me and just not another figment of you.”
Birch swallowed hard and then allowed a smirk to creep back over her face.
“I suppose I was fortunate when the Void first came to me.” Tanthelara began as she started tracing the lines needed for the spell’s invocation on the table. It was important to distract the target, otherwise their mental defenses would reject the intrusion immediately.
“I was in Northrend that day. My faith in the Light had been shaken, which caused me to lose my ability to commune with it. I guess I was so tempting of a target that the Void just rushed in and did away with the initial subtleties, opting instead to promise power. That day taught me how to recognize its presence. Knowing what to look for allows me to focus and push it back. As long as I know to resist the Void’s desires, I think I’ll be alright.”
With a subtle flourish of her fingers along the table, the priestess finished the spell and projected a portion of her consciousness onto the vulpera across from her. Immediately she was met with an intense but short-lived resistance that relented once Birch realized the invading presence wasn’t a demon seeking to manipulate her. Moments later, Tanthelara could feel the connection between their two minds coalesce and stabilize. It always felt odd, she noted while exploring the space in the vulpera’s psyche, to see herself through someone else’s eyes. She could feel Birch’s consciousness bolster its presence before agreeing with her and then begin to grow restless at the mental overlay. Focusing a bit more, the elf projected some friendly banter into her target’s mind - some negative thoughts just serious enough to cause some discomfort and make the warlock realize they weren’t her own. Tanthelara shamed the vulpera for her promiscuity and eagerness to indulge her sweet tooth, stating how it was a miracle she wasn’t the size of a brutosaur and have a litter of kits to look after, to boot. She could feel Birch’s mind reel at first, and then, after realizing the thoughts were foreign, push back firmly against her presence. Feeling as though she made her point, the priestess ended the spell and vacated the diminutive fox-person’s mind.
…such a promising pupil… the Void laughed in Tanthelara’s mind.
“That… that was intense.” Birch said, rubbing her temples as she chugged some water from a canteen at her side.
Tanthelara smiled. “See what I’m talking about?”
“Yeah. I felt something that first felt like a demon trying to control me, but different? It seemed friendly. Was that you?”
The elf simply nodded.
“It was weird. Demons love to make their presence known because they’re so prideful. Its like some power kick for them or something to announce who they are when they appear in your mind. I dunno. You didn’t feel as… imposing? I guess that would be the word. You simply were, like a shadow or a memory I couldn’t shake.”
“Yes - that’s what the Void’s presence is like, at least for me. It has never tried to dominate my will, but rather tries to get me to surrender.” Tanthelara explained as she waved the innkeeper over for a drink to rinse the taste of alcohol from her palate.
Birch narrowed her eyes at the elf. “Was that you making me feel bad, as well? I thought it was legitimate guilt at first then remembered that you said you’d be doing something to make it apparent you were in my mind.”
The priestess blushed slightly at being found out, and allowed a mischievous grin creep along her face. “Perhaps.”
The warlock continued staring her down and then relented in an uproarious cackle. “Ha! Fair enough! I probably do indulge a little more than I should!”
Dihe turned to the warlock and chortled. “You think? I can’t recall the last time I saw someone with an appetite - in any sense of the word - like yours.”
Birch let loose a big smile, baring her teeth. “What can I say? I know what I like!”
The three all laughed at the remark as the innkeeper arrived with a fresh set of drinks and a final bill for the evening. After a short banter about who should pay for what, they agreed upon just paying for their own share and chipping in a little extra for a decent gratuity to go to the staff.
“How do you know to resist it, then?” the warlock continued as the innkeeper walked off, “The Void. Seems like if it can masquerade as your own thoughts, it would be easy to succumb to its influence. At least with demons, I know who they are and can plan around them.”
Tanthelara’s smile softened.
“I know myself. Sometimes not as well as I think I do, but well enough to generally recognize the Void’s call to action. Being able to recognize the Void allows me know what I shouldn’t do and what I should fight against. And as long as I don’t allow myself to surrender to the Void -to cross that line- I think I’ll be alright.”
“What then,” Dihe asked as she stood up from her seat and began gathering her things, “do you think it would take to cause you to cross that line?”
The elven priestess sat motionless for a moment, pondering the question before answering.
“I’ve been fighting against it for so long. I don’t know for sure. My sense of self is all I really have left, aside from a sister and a nephew I don’t visit nearly as often as I should. Then there’s you two, as well… I- I don’t know. All I can guess is that there would have to be so little hope left for me in the world that I’d have nothing to lose.”
Tanthelara could feel her heart grow heavy from the contemplation. “Why do you ask?” she continued.
Dihe waved it off. “You’re stronger than you think, if Birch’s reaction to your mind spell is any indication. Call it a curiosity, if you will, so that I can know you better. I like to think I look out for my friends, and part of being able to do that knows where their limits and weaknesses lie.” the tauren said with a reassuring smile.
The void’s whispers echoed in unison within the elf’s mind with an icy resonance that sent chills up her spine. She smiled back, doing her best to suppress it all.
“No…” she responded with her thoughts, her inner voice as steadfast and unmoving as the mountains wreathing the city around her.
((thanks for reading! This one took several days. Tried to keep it as short as possible but there was a lot of work that had to be done in setup and explanation. Gist of it is that Tan’s hard-line is to “don’t listen to the void”, which can be difficult given its ever-intrusive and persistent nature, and that in order for her to cross that line, things would truly have to be dire. hope you enjoyed, I’ll see you on the next one!))