‘Right,’ Khadgar said, distracted, as he swept half the paperwork across his desk toward Idira. ‘I need a stack for the Horde, and another for the Alliance. Anything from King Anduin's office and Warchief Sylvanas must be at the top. After that—’ he leaned across the desk and grabbed a stack teetering on the edge and squashed them down on top of Idira's pile, ‘—matters of strategy, requests for support, calls for meeting with the Council.’ He stood up, his hands on his hips eyeing the two heaps, his and hers. He put a few more onto Idira's pile. He glanced up, barely looking at her. ‘Once you've done that, then just use your discretion to sort the rest by priority. Have you got that . . . I apologise, where are my manners, what is your name?’
‘Idira Northshire,’ Idira whispered, unable to stop herself from watching him as he talked—absorbed in the papers in his hand, utterly oblivious to the torrent of emotions rushing through her—his warm, resonant voice sending a delicious cascade of thrills down her spine. She moved nearer to the desk. His scent enveloped her; leather, smoky earth, spices, cedar.
‘Idira,’ he repeated, in that voice of his, making her knees weak. ‘Wine?’ he asked, lifting the pitcher on his desk to fill his silver cup. He turned to look at her. Idira nodded, lowering her eyes, unable to meet his, suddenly excruciatingly, painfully shy. From under her lashes, she watched him conjure another silver cup and pour their drinks, his movements precise, elegant. He handed her the cup. She took it, careful not to touch him, noticing his strong, well-shaped masculine hand, his nails cut square and short. She sipped, suppressing a smile. Wynn would approve.
The wine was excellent. Better than anything she had ever tasted before. She sighed a little as she set it aside.
‘Good, isn't it?’ Khadgar murmured as he went to get a chair for her to sit at the side of his desk. ‘One of the perks of being in the Council. Don't tell anyone I let you have some. It can be our little secret.’
At the thought of sharing a secret with him, Idira felt her cheeks begin to flame. She ducked her head and nodded, letting her hair fall down to shield her face, grateful for the seat he was pushing under her.
He rubbed his hands together, eyeing the mess of papers littering his vast desk. ‘Well then,’ he sighed, ‘shall we get to work?’
From under her lashes, she watched him as he sat down and picked up a handful of documents, his brow furrowing as he sorted through them, preoccupied. He was so close to her. Close enough to touch. A wild, reckless tremor shuddered through her, leaving her giddy. No. It was too good to be true. She had to be dreaming, still confined within her room. She slipped her hand to her thigh and pinched it, hard. A bolt of pain shot through her leg. Just to be sure, she pinched herself again, really hard this time, biting back a cry as a fresh arc of bruising pain sliced through her. She rubbed the sore spot, her heart taking flight, soaring, triumphant, incredulous. She was really here, with him. Alone. Another delicious tremor shot through her as she lifted one of the papers nearest her and stared at the page. She darted a quick look at him, just to reassure herself he was really there, in the flesh. He took a sip of wine, studying a document, his jaw tense as he swallowed. He set aside the paper and picked up another one, cutting an oblique glance at her as he did so. She hastened to look down at the papers in her hands, furrowing her brow, feigning concentration. They were upside down. Mortified, she peeked up, but he hadn't noticed. His eyes raked over the new document, his expression sliding from tense to severe as he read. She sensed a slight change in atmosphere. Whatever he was reading was making him angry. She wondered what it was.
Khadgar set the document aside and took another sip of wine. He continued to look at the words written on it as he ran his hand through his hair, distracted. His silver hair loosened from its neat combing, tousling over his brow, giving his appearance a younger, roguish air. Idira caught her breath, watching him, surreptitious, the expressive curve of his lips and brow betraying the truth: underneath the warrior's hardened exterior lived a poet's unsatisfied yearning for truth, justice and perhaps, at times, beauty.
He might be twice her age, but he was still ridiculously attractive with his square jaw, rough from several days' worth of stubble. His regal nose, once broken and reset slightly to the right, added rather than detracted from his appearance, while his left cheek bore a pair of scars, diagonal slices, silver against his skin. Yet despite his undeniable charisma and presence, he seemed completely unaware of himself and the effect he could have on others. Her heart pounding, Idira forced herself to look down at her pile of papers. He was going to think she was dull witted if she didn't make any progress. She skimmed the paper in her hand, reading through it four times before the words finally made it through the haze of her tumbling emotions; a request for aid from the Horde side. She set it aside. The next was a Horde request as well. Four more documents passed through her hands before she was able to start a stack for the Alliance.
It didn't take long for her to become absorbed in her work; the horrifying things she read—things meant only for Khadgar's eyes—showed her a far different reality to the world she had been cocooned in for the last three months. Azeroth was falling apart fast, the factions were still at each others' throats over the death of King Varian; the Legion's power had spread from the Broken Shore into Suramar City, hundreds were dying every day—she stopped, stunned by what she read in the next piece. The commander of the Legion's forces, the orc Gul'dan, the one who had killed Varian, was creating an avatar for the dark titan Sargeras, the brutal leader of the Legion, using the stolen body of the Betrayer Illidan. If Gul'dan wasn't stopped, Azeroth would be annihilated by Sargeras. She had heard enough in the last three months to know what the fiery dragon had done to Stormwind would be nothing in comparison to what the Lord of the Legion intended to do. Aeons ago, Sargeras had become obsessed by a warped sense of duty, Void-bent on ridding all life from the universe, leaving a path of devastation in his wake. The receptionist at the observatory said the astronomers could see the path of destruction he'd left. An endless wall of nothing, no worlds, no stars, no moons. Nothing.
Time was short, and no one seemed to have a plan, rather, it seemed everyone clamoured for Khadgar to provide the solutions. Grim, she continued her work, her months in the archives paying off as she worked through the documents, preparing them in the order he wished.
She kept waiting for an interruption, more misdirected portals, or visitors coming to speak to the Kirin Tor's Leader, but none came, and they remained blissfully undisturbed, working alone together in the studied quiet of his office. He had said the anomaly in the Council chamber had been redirecting things to him for the past three days. She hardly dared to think it, but what if her Light had sent her to him? She shivered, delighted by the thought.
As she finished her work, Khadgar sighed and leaned back in his chair, pinching the bridge of his nose. He stared down at a letter in front him, troubled. He reached for his wine and drank what was left, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth as he set the empty cup aside. Idira lifted the wine pitcher and approached him, shy. She tilted it over the cup, refilling his wine, concentrating so as not to spill a drop.
He glanced up at her. ‘Idira, isn't it?’ he asked. He sounded tired.
Clutching the pitcher against her chest, she looked down at the carpet and nodded, experiencing a fresh thrill of pleasure. Despite a crushing burden of world-shattering demands occupying his mind, he had remembered her name. She backed away, replacing the pitcher to its rightful place, grateful for the way her hair—still hanging loose from her long confinement—concealed her face from his gaze.
He got up and carried his wine out onto the balcony. She watched him walk away, her heart aching with longing, drinking in the sight of his powerful silhouette outlined against the light of the setting sun. He turned, abrupt, as though he could sense her eyes on him. Embarrassed, she hurried to look away, gazing around the office, feigning curiosity, hoping he hadn't seen her looking at him. She glanced back at him, catching him watching her, a flicker of a smile catching at the corners of his lips. He gestured for her to join him.
Her heart in her mouth, she crossed the thick carpets. It was happening, it was really happening, her dream was finally coming true. As she neared him, her heart pounded so hard, she feared he could hear it. She joined him at the railing, achingly aware of his nearness, his powerful presence surrounding her, sheltering her. She made herself concentrate on looking down at the city. The wealthiest part. Of course. At least his office wasn't as high up as her dorm room. She could even see people walking along the streets, striding along, filled with their own self-importance, wrapped up in their petty issues, judgements and avaricious social climbing, unaware their lives were as meaningless as grains of sand in the battle yet to come.
He pointed past her towards the gryphon landing, his arm so close to her, she could feel the heat of him. ‘I will bet you one Dalaran copper that gryphon is going to Highmountain.’
She leaned closer, her cheek brushing against the solidness of his upper arm as she sighted the gryphon he meant. It was difficult to concentrate. ‘No. It's going to Azsuna,’ she said, sensing rather than knowing its destination.
They waited, side by side, for the gryphon to decide the winner. After several heartbeats it wheeled hard to the right and dropped beneath the city's floating platform. Khadgar fished in the pocket of his tunic, a wry smile flitting over his lips. He held out a copper coin to her. ‘Your winnings, my lady.’
‘It's alright,’ she said, smiling a little at his gallantry. ‘You don't have to pay up.’
‘Oh? Well, that's very kind of you.’ With a flourish the coin became a little songbird. It sat on his finger, ruffling its blue feathers at Khadgar, indignant. Idira gazed at the little bird, astonished, a memory triggering. She had dreamed of this moment, the night Vanessa ran away, thirteen years before. She reached out and stroked the bird's soft breast, a soft smile coming to her lips, relishing the sensation of the disparate pieces of time finally knitting together, coalescing.
The bird tolerated her attention for a moment before descending into the treetops of the courtyard below. Idira watched it flit away, savouring the moment, wishing she could remain there forever, standing a heartbeat's distance away from Khadgar, surrounded by his warmth and gentleness, watching a little magical bird sing its heart out. No more struggling. No more uncertainty. No more loss.
Khadgar cleared his throat, pulling her attention back to him. ‘And where does your family live?’ he asked, conversational, taking another sip of his wine, glancing at her, then away again, an enigmatic look crossing his face, quickly suppressed.
His question brought her thoughts to a staggering brutal halt. Her family? An image of Logan, dead on the Broken Shore, alone, forsaken and unremembered flashed across her mind as Unambi's last words, engraved within her heart, replayed: 'It be a real honour ta be chosen as ya protecta, but Unambi got one last ting ta be doin' ta help ya be escapin' dis mess. Don' ya be forgettin' ol' Unambi now.' Her throat closed, aching, tight, the pain of her loss as raw as the day they died. She blinked, rapid, but it wasn't enough, the tears were already on their way. She brushed at her eyes, trying to be discreet. One spilled free. Humiliated, she rubbed the back of her hand across her cheek, trying to hide it.
Khadgar made quiet noise deep in his throat; his hands darted over his tunic, searching his pockets. He pulled out a clean white linen handkerchief, neatly folded, the sigil of the Kirin Tor embroidered onto it in silver thread. She took it and dabbed at her tears. They continued to escape, stubborn, silent.
Khadgar held out his wine cup. ‘Please,’ he murmured, his voice thick with regret, ‘take a little, it will help.’
Unable to trust her voice, she nodded, her throat so tight she could barely breathe. Choking back a sob, she reached out without looking up. Her fingers touched his, sending a jolt arcing through her as her Light awakened, abrupt, exploding to life. A deep burst of energy coursed through her into him. She glanced up, astonished, catching him looking down at their hands, his brow lifting, startled. Not knowing what to say, she ducked her head, and brought the wine cup to her lips, certain now he would send her away, just like all the others.
Instead, his hand came her elbow, firm yet gentle, just like in Stormwind. He lead her to a cushioned bench. She sank down onto it, though he remained standing in front of her, rubbing his hand over the stubble on his jaw, its quiet rasp filling the balcony's quiet as he considered her. He seemed to be searching for something to say. She kept her eyes lowered, her fingers twisting around the stem of the wine cup, waiting for him to dismiss her, consoling herself with the thought that at least part of her dream had come true.
He cleared his throat. ‘Forgive me,’ he said, quiet. ‘I should not have pried into your life.’
He leaned down, tilting his head, watching her, waiting. She looked up. Her heart juddering as his steel-grey eyes caught hers.
‘Your eyes,’ he murmured, rapt. ‘Violet, just like—’ He exhaled, slow, and took an involuntary step toward her, his expression transforming from remorse to disbelief. Her Light flared under his gaze, awakening anew, and in his eyes she glimpsed his vulnerabilities, fears, hopes, dreams.
‘Archmage, I—’ she breathed, drinking in the feel of him, his power, his strength. Khadgar's eyes raked over hers, moving back and forth, rapid. She could feel him reading her, connecting to her internal state, just as she had done to his. His chest rising and falling, he took a step back, blinking hard.
She braced herself, certain he would soon reject her, just like everyone else. One of the tears clinging to her lashes slipped free. She brushed it away and took a nervous sip of wine, letting its warmth spread through her, blunting the sharpest edges of her agitation, grief and dread. She waited, impatient, her heart pounding, willing him to get it over with. Time slowed, thickening, dragging. She took another tiny sip of wine and glanced up, catching him looking at her, distant, deep in thought. Self-conscious under his perusal, she bit her lower lip. His gaze drifted to her mouth, his lips parting. For a heartbeat his thoughtful look transformed into something else entirely, the heat of his gaze on her lips unexpected, sudden, intense. A shock bolted through her torso, tight and aching, her body reacting like a starving thing to his look. He caught himself and turned away again, the muscles in his jaw clenching.
An awkward silence fell. She looked down into the wine, fighting to pull herself back from the edge of the precipice Khadgar had just taken her to. She took another sip of wine, a little deeper this time, to ease the trembling in her body. He continued to look out over the city, silent and withdrawn.
‘Most of my life I lived in northern Westfall, on the coast,’ she whispered, desperate to fill the yawning chasm widening between them. ‘One night, without any warning, the Legion's ships arrived. I went back to help my father, but there was no time. The demons came down from their ships, materialising everywhere, even in the house.’ She blinked, unable to stop several more tears from escaping. ‘I might have saved myself, but I lost the only one who ever really loved me.’ She looked down, thinking once more of Unambi, her tears falling onto her lap, staining the faded material of her threadbare blue dress.
A chair materialised in front of her. A creak of leather as Khadgar took a seat across from her, his hands sliding down his thighs to rest on his knees. Ashamed of her tears, she looked toward the Broken Shore. Thoughts of Logan slammed into her mind. She glared into the distance. The demons had taken everyone from her. How she hated them.
‘I am sorry,’ Khadgar said, his voice low. ‘You have suffered a terrible loss, but you have come to the right place. We can help you. With eyes that colour, I am not surprised you have not been able to intuit how to control your powers. You are like a walking leyline, your connection is chaotic, and requires intense training.’
Idira glanced at him, taken aback. ‘It does?’
Khadgar nodded, his expression once more thoughtful, though Idira noticed he didn't let his gaze go lower than her eyes. ‘How long have you been on library duty?’ he asked, leaning forward, his elbows on his knees, his fingers folding together.
She blinked, wondering how he could possibly know she had been working in the archives. ‘Ever since I arrived,’ she answered, puzzled by why he should care. When he raised his eyebrow, waiting for her to finish, she added, ‘Almost three months ago.’
His lips thinned and his eyes sharpened, hard as flint. He stood up so fast he knocked over the chair. It vanished just as it hit the floor. Livid, he paced the length of the balcony, striding back and forth, his fist clenched at his sides.
‘From now on,’ he said, tight, eyeing the distant Academy narrowly, ‘you will study theory under my tutelage, and if she has the time, Archmage Modera can oversee your practicals. Your book carrying days are finished, the Kirin Tor needs your abilities, now more than ever.’
Idira opened her mouth to say she didn't think Archmage Modera would agree, but Khadgar raised his hand, stopping her. He continued, seething. ‘In three months, with diligent study, you could have already accomplished intermediate proficiencies. A needless waste.’
A knock came to the door. Khadgar turned and nodded at whomever had entered, curt. He turned back to Idira as she came to her feet, hurrying to set the wine aside, fearing Margot had come to fetch her. He reached into his pouch and pulled out a ring. He held it out to her.
‘With this,’ he said, watching her, intent, as she took the ring from him, ‘you will be granted admission to my private office in the library where my own collection resides. Some of the books there are from Karazhan, gifted to me by Medivh. You are to begin studying immediately. The first thing I want you to learn is how to conjure food and drink. You are going to need it for the long days you have ahead of you. Also,’ he jerked his head in the direction of the Academy, ‘move your things out of the apprentice's quarters and into my office in the library. I never use it these days anyway. I won't have you tormented for being different. For all we know, you are destined to become an Archmage. Carrying books. Bah!’
Idira gaped at him, astonished by how fast he had put the pertinent details of her situation together. He must have seen her the day she delivered the books and remembered her, though she had no recollection of him ever having even looked at her. It seemed the Leader of the Kirin Tor didn't miss much. Clutching the ring against her chest, Idira backed away from him and hurried out past the Archmages Modera and Kalec, who eyed her, curious. She kept her head down, not wanting Modera to recognise her and ruin everything.
Once out in the hall, she heard Modera ask, ‘What was that about?’
‘Politics! Pride!’ Khadgar snapped, his words coiled tight with anger and frustration. He continued, seething, as Idira hurried down the length of the corridor. ‘The Legion need not worry about defeating us. We are doing a good enough job of it ourselves.’