Idira emerged from the portal inside a tower, its walls and floor constructed of massive, ancient ashlars. A tingling coursed through her as the tower's magical energy seeped into her, invigorating her, making her feel more alive than she had ever felt before. Ornate wooden bookshelves lined the tower's outer wall, following its gentle curve. Between the wall and the tower's centre, freestanding bookshelves angled inwards.
She looked up. Five floors arced above her, their walkways following the curve of the tower, the walls covered in stacks crammed with thick tomes. Little bursts of arcane energy sizzled and crackled in the air, appearing and disappearing like bubbles in a pot of boiling water. She looked around open-mouthed, wondering just where she was. It certainly didn't feel like Dalaran. There was no sense of politics here, or hierarchy—only magic, pure, clean unadulterated magic. She wanted to sink down onto her knees, press her hands against the floor and just drink in its power, suddenly feeling as though everything which had come before, no matter how powerful or poignant paled in comparison to what it meant to be in this place, which inexplicably felt like home. She inhaled deep, her heart aching with a deep familiarity even though she had never known anything like it before.
Tentative, she touched one of the books nearest her, trailing her fingers down its brass and gem encrusted spine. It trembled, shivering under her touch, responding to her as though awakening from a long slumber. She smiled, her fear and terror during her escape from the library fading away. She had found her touchstone, her home. She never wanted to leave. She took a step forward, reaching out to a book glowing with blue light, beckoning to her. She held her breath as it shunted to the edge of the shelf, easing itself out. It pulled free and fluttered over to her, its pages opening to a spot it wished her to see. She bent to read, entranced, it was a spell about stopping time. She leaned closer, her fingers running over the beautiful calligraphy, the formulae and notes complex yet somehow with the power imbued in the tower, simple to understand. She leaned over, wondering if this spell was the same as—
A bolt of energy slammed into her chest, sending her hurtling backwards. She crashed into the bookshelf against the wall, the air knocked out of her lungs. Pain screamed through her shoulders and back. A tether of crackling blue lightning wrapped around her neck. She scrabbled at it, desperate as it tightened, cutting off her air, suffocating her. She tried to cry for help, but no sound came. She heaved, choking, tears burning her eyes, the cold magic around her neck relentless in its grip. Black spots blossomed within her eyes, spreading, blocking her vision. She sank to her knees, gagging for air, her chest burning. She fell onto all fours, fighting to find her Light. Why wasn't it helping her?
The tether snapped free. Air rushed in. She hauled at it, her lungs and throat screaming, burning hot. The darkness thinned, and by degrees the outline of the library returned, filling in, becoming solid again. She fell back onto her haunches and rubbed her neck, trying to ease the terrible ache the tether had left in its wake.
‘Forgive me,’ a man said, rushing up and falling to his knees before her. He grasped her shoulder. ‘I thought you were someone else. Are you alright?’
Feeling like she might throw up, Idira bit down on her lip, struggling to suppress the pounding waves of nausea. She looked up at her assailant, her vision still blurry from her tears. Khadgar fell back onto his haunches, his expression so unexpected Idira's nausea fled. There was no doubt this time, even through the bright haze of her tears, she could see he was definitely looking at her like she had seen VanCleef look at Myra. He blinked and looked away, his jaw clenching, just like he had done on the balcony. He stood, brusque, and held out his hand, helping her up.
‘How did you get into my office?’ he asked, sharp, still looking away.
‘The door was open,’ she answered, her voice hoarse.
He crossed his arms. ‘Impossible. I locked, sealed and warded it.’
‘Well, it was open for me,’ she said, her words ragged around the edges. She tried to clear her throat, it didn't help. ‘What is this place?’
‘Never mind that,’ he said, cold, ‘how did you even get in here?’
‘There was a doorway, like a portal, I walked into it. I was looking for you.’
He glanced at her then. His expression softened for a heartbeat, then hardened again. He took hold of her elbow. ‘Show me how you got in here.’
Idira glanced at the portal to her right, glowing white. It might be faint, but it was as obvious as the bookshelves surrounding them. She wondered if he was testing her. She led him to the portal and waited.
He arched an eyebrow at her, enigmatic. She guessed he wanted her to demonstrate what she'd done. Even though she didn't want to go back to where Margot and the guards were, she stepped into it. On the other side, the attacks had stopped, all was quiet. She turned and looked back through the portal. He turned full circle, calling her name. He sounded annoyed.
‘Yes?’ she answered.
‘Where are you?’ he asked, staring unseeing right at her on the other side of the portal.
‘In your office. In Dalaran,’ she said, starting to feel a little afraid. Maybe he really couldn't see her. ‘Can't you see me?’ she asked. ‘I can see you.’
‘Come back to me, if you can,’ he said, though this time he sounded a little less irritated.
She stepped back through the portal. He stepped back, staring at her, incredulous.
‘You look surprised,’ she said, feeling suddenly shy.
‘I am,’ he said, his eyebrow flicking upwards, impressed. ‘What you are doing even I cannot do.’
She turned and looked back at the portal. ‘What do you mean? Can't you see the portal into your office? It's right here.’ She put her arm into it, up to her elbow, showing him.
His arm came around her waist, solid and strong, his fingers tightening around her hip as he pulled her back so hard she came up against him, in a tight embrace. ‘Don't do that,’ he whispered against her hair, staring at the portal he couldn't see. ‘It's dangerous.’
It took a heartbeat for Idira to realise she was caught inside the crook of his arm, her body pressed against his. He smelled so good. She caught the rich scent of wine on his breath as he looked down at her, protective. Her heart began to pound, they were so close, it wouldn't take much for her to lift her chin and close her eyes. The look was coming back into his eyes. Embarrassed, she pulled away. ‘I'm sorry, I didn't know,’ she said, light. She gestured at the books lining the shelves. ‘I like it here. There is so much power. It makes me feel—’ she walked away, moving along the shelves, trailing her fingers along the books' spines. She glanced back at him, ‘—like I can do anything.’
Several books fluttered free and approached her, curious. She reached out, entranced, and touched them. At her touch, the books glowed bright blue. Others slipped free, surrounding her. Soon, a torrent of books circled her, clamouring for her attention. She felt her Light awakening, burning so bright, the space around her became infused, glowing violet. The books fluttered around her, curious, brushing against her, drawn to her. All her life, all she ever wanted was to be around books, and now books were coming to her, living things, friends. They brushed against her shoulders and arms, affectionate. She laughed, delighted.
Khadgar called out, sharp, ordering the books back to their places. They fled, rustling, indignant, leaving her standing alone once more. She looked at him, uneasy. He strode back to her, his hands crackling with arcane power.
She stepped back, frightened. ‘What—?’
He threw a barrier around her, enclosing her. He raised his arm and she lifted from the ground, hanging suspended before him. ‘Who are you?’ he demanded, suspicious.
She gaped at him. ‘I told you,’ she said. ‘I am Idira, from Westfall.’
‘Whom do you serve?’ he shouted, drawing more power towards him.
She didn't like the direction things were going. He looked dangerous. Very dangerous. Fear welled up in her. ‘I . . .’ she stammered, not knowing how to answer the question without angering him more. ‘No one? You?’
‘I do not believe you!’ he roared over the surge of energy pulsating around him. ‘You are a demon, pretending to be one of us. No more will you hide the truth from me!’
She stared at him, terrified. It had to be a test. He wouldn't attack her. He couldn't. Power crackled in his hands, rotating, shimmering, deadly. ‘Archmage?’ she called out, fearful.
He let go of a blinding bolt of blue. It smashed into her through the barrier. She juddered, as it crackled across her body, flames of cold fire, burning, waves upon waves of it, endless. Pain scorched through her, digging deep, burying itself, winding its way in and then burrowing back out, tearing at her. She screamed, writhing in agony. Deep within the haze of pain, she saw him lifting up his staff, his lips moving as he cast a new spell. She cried out, thrashing against the barrier, desperate to escape, fearing another onslaught. She called to her Light, begging it to save her, to protect her from him. It flared to life, building, gathering in intensity, rotating around her torso, so bright she had to close her eyes. She convulsed as it burst outward, her Light shattering the barrier. She fell to the floor, hitting it with a hard smack. Pain arced through her, layer upon layer of agony as Khadgar's magic faded, the bruising aches in her muscles and bones roared in to take its place. She shuddered, unable to move. Darkness beckoned, she fled to it.
She woke and wished she hadn't. Everything hurt. She opened her eyes. A canopy hung above her, dark blue, with gold tassels on the corners. Softness underneath. A bed. She turned her head a little. A bedroom, lavishly furnished. From the corner of her eye she saw Khadgar pacing, his head down, his gaze fixed on the floor as he moved back and forth in front of a large marble fireplace, his arms crossed over his chest.
Maybe he was waiting for her to recover so he could finish her off. She sat up, defensive, fearful. He turned, startled, and looked at her, his expression shifting from relief to remorse.
He went to her. Frightened, she scuttled backwards and pressed herself against the bed's headboard.
He knelt beside her, the leather of his boots creaking in the quiet. ‘Forgive me Idira,’ he murmured, reaching out to her, his fingertips touching the back of her hand. ‘I have done a great wrong against you. I will make it right, somehow.’
She pulled her hand out from under his. ‘You called me a demon.’
He winced. ‘I did. You have power unlike anything I have ever seen before. We are living in very dark times. You came out of nowhere. You have no family, and you have incomprehensible powers. You managed to breach my domain without any effort. I did what I thought right to protect Azeroth.’
‘You attacked me,’ she shuddered, reliving the memory. ‘It still hurts.’
‘If you wish,’ he said as he gazed at her, gentle, ‘you may hurt me back.’
She met his eyes. Her heart wavered, betraying her, pulling her to him once more, despite what had just passed. ‘Never,’ she answered, faint. ‘You are the Leader of the Kirin Tor.’
He took her hand in his, stroking the back of it with his thumb, sending shivers through her. ‘What if I told you it would make me feel better?’ he asked, soft.
She bit her lower lip, fighting her escalating attraction to him, trying to think about when he had hurt her. She glanced up, that look sliced across his face again, her torso clenched. He pressed his lips together, though he didn't look away.
‘You want to feel pain?’ she asked in a whisper, hardly able to breathe. He was so close to her, a mere heartbeat away. Despite what he'd done, she felt an overwhelming urge to touch his face, run her fingers over his scars, brush her lips against his.
His hand tightened on hers for the tiniest heartbeat. ‘Yes,’ he murmured. He left, abrupt, putting a safe distance between them. He set his staff aside. ‘Physical pain will help numb the guilt I feel for what I have done to you.’ He nodded at her, bracing himself, the muscles under his tunic rippling. ‘Go ahead, I deserve it.’
He waited. She hesitated. He nodded at her, his steel grey eyes holding hers, intimate. Her heart thudding, she closed her eyes and concentrated, she had never before tried to hurt someone purposely with her Light. She called to it. Nothing happened. She called to again, thinking of when he'd attacked her and called her a demon. Maybe it needed a push. Still, nothing. She slumped back against the headboard and shook her head. ‘I cannot.’
‘You cannot or you will not?’ he asked, soft.
‘I cannot,’ she sighed. She looked back up at him, watching her, intent. ‘I . . . don't know how.’
He nodded. ‘Then I will wait until you are able. I won't let you forget.’ He took up his staff, murmuring, reticent, ‘I know I do not deserve to ask for your trust after what I have done to you, but I would like you to stay here and study, instead of in Dalaran. You will be safer here under my care.’
She lifted an eyebrow at him, dubious. ‘Am I?’
He rubbed a hand over his jaw, and glanced at her, shamefaced. He nodded. ‘I will come back later with food, real food, not the conjured variety,’ he said, changing the subject. ‘For now, I must go, I am already late.’ He went to the door.
‘Wait,’ she said. She left the bed. ‘I am afraid to be here on my own. Please, let me come with you back to Dalaran. I won't tell anyone about what you did.’
He moved back toward her. ‘What if I left a part of me here with you, would that help?’ he asked, quiet.
She tried to understand. ‘An image?’
He cast a spell, and his staff blazed with light. She trembled, but stood her ground. A raven flew out of the light and landed on the back of a chair. She went to it. It walked over to her and hopped onto her shoulder. She looked up, confused. ‘A raven?’
‘Ah, this is no ordinary raven,’ he said. ‘I am able to see through its eyes, and hear through its ears. If you are in trouble, or need me, just call to me. You are never alone, so long as you keep my raven with you.’
She held up her arm. It moved onto it. She held it up, examining it, uncertain. ‘Can it protect me?’
‘No, but I can,’ he said, soft. She met his eyes, he held her gaze. She shivered, sensing his protection, his possessiveness. ‘However, nothing in this fortress can harm you’ he continued. ‘The library is straight down the hall. Once you are feeling better, why not return? The books seemed to like you very much. They will teach you what you need to know, much faster than I can.’
She remembered his ring. Setting the raven back onto the back of a chair, she pulled the ring out of her pocket and held it out to him. ‘The guards called me a thief,’ she said, deciding not to mention Margot for the moment. ‘They chased me back to your office. I couldn't understand why they didn't follow me through the door. I think I know why now—they couldn't, could they?’
He watched her drop the ring into his upturned hand. ‘No. But they saw you go through a sealed door,’ he murmured, his eyes meeting hers. He opened his pouch and placed the ring back inside. ‘Perhaps now you see why it is best for you to stay here? In this place no one will judge you, or punish you. You are safe here.’ He began to cast a teleportation spell. ‘I must go, the Council is waiting to meet with me.’
Unable to stop herself, she took hold of his forearm. The solidness and warmth of him sent tingles up her spine. ‘Promise you will come back to me,’ she whispered.
He cut off the spell and covered her hand with his own. ‘I promise, Idira,’ he said, his eyes warm and reassuring. ‘I won't leave you here alone.’
She let him go and backed away, reluctant, biting her lower lip. He looked at her one last time as he cast the teleportation spell. As he vanished, she saw the truth, plain in his eyes. The Leader of the Kirin Tor would come back, and soon. Very soon.