Idira woke, her face tight with dried tears, and her eyes gritty from crying. She sat up and stared at the fading teleport, bleak, a fresh spear of grief lancing through her.
‘So,’ Khadgar's echo said, rising from one of the chairs and making his way over to the bed, ‘it seems I might be of more use to you than just keeping you company, after all.’ He held out his hand. She took it and let him pull her up from the bed. He looked her over, arching an eyebrow. He cleared his throat, meaningfully.
She glanced down at herself, realising she stood naked before him. Her dress had been neatly hung over the top of the folding screen. Her heart lurched. Khadgar must have put it there. The man who always dropped his expensive clothing onto the floor into a heap, had taken the time to hang up her old, threadbare dress.
‘How long have you been in here?’ she asked, dull, as she pulled the dress over her head.
‘Long enough,’ the echo replied, shrugging.
‘You didn't watch us?’ Idira asked, momentarily shocked out of her despondency.
‘Hmm,’ he answered, oblique, looking away. ‘I came back after Khadgar left to break his fast, watched you sleep for awhile, waiting for you to wake up, was about to go to the library when he came back with those delicious buns—which I watched you gobble up like a little pig, not even thinking to save me a single one.’ He looked so put out, mirroring the look of a petulant child, Idira would have laughed if her heart had not ached so much.
‘So you watched us,’ she said, flat.
‘Hmm,’ he said again. He glanced at her. ‘You do realise I am his echo? Everything he experiences I experience. I didn't get much sleep last night, thanks to you.’
Idira felt her cheeks begin to flame. She ducked her head, embarrassed. ‘I hadn't thought of that. Is there a way to turn it off?’
‘Turn it—?’ the echo repeated, astonished. ‘No, there is no way to 'turn it off', unless you send me back to the Nether.’
‘Are you . . . jealous?’ Idira asked, catching his gaze moving over the rumpled blankets on the bed, his fists clenching, exactly like Khadgar had done when he had seen her with the echo.
‘Who, me?’ the echo asked. ‘Jealous? Of him? Of course not. No. Not at all.’
‘You are,’ Idira breathed. ‘But you have no . . .’
‘Yes, I know it well,’ the echo answered, sharp, ‘but I can still feel his feelings, know his thoughts. The man is lost to you, would die for you. And now . . . No. Absolutely not, I am not jealous of him. Not knowing what he is going to have face tomorrow.’
His blunt words hit her so hard, she staggered. For just a moment, she had been distracted from her pain. But now, seeing the look of anguish on the echo's face, she felt sick, realising the echo was already experiencing Khadgar's pain, anticipating his fall, having learned the truth from her thoughts.
‘What is going to happen to him?’ she asked, low.
The echo turned to her. He eyed her, desolate. ‘He will not recover. Bitterness will claim him, and he will abandon his duties to use the font, his intention to remain within it, living in the past with you until his body dies of hunger.’
Her legs gave out. She sank onto the floor’s cold stone flags. ‘What have I done?’ she whispered, remorse tearing her apart. ‘Oh Light. What have I done?’
The echo lowered his hand to her. ‘Get up,’ he said, rough. ‘You're no use to him moping on the floor.’ Bridling a little, she thrust her hand into his.
‘I have a plan,’ he said as she came to her feet. ‘It's not much, but it should keep Khadgar out of the font, give him the will to go on and get him through the worst days to come.’ He pulled on her hand, leading her into the corridor. ‘That's the good news. The bad news is we're going to have to use the font.’
‘No,’ Idira said, letting go of his hand. ‘I won't go back to that thing. There has to be another way.’
The echo turned. ‘You made this mess,’ he said, cold. ‘You need to clean it up. It's not always about you, you know.’
Idira backed away from him, stung. Though his words cut deep, he was right. It wasn't all about her. But still. The font? That thing was dangerous. It had almost killed her. ‘What about my Light,’ she offered, ‘couldn't we use that instead of the font?’
‘Why not?’ Idira persisted, annoyed by his terse reply.
‘Because, there are other potentialities at play,’ the echo snapped, fractious. ‘Things the Light would prevent that the font won't. I like to keep your options open.’
‘Options?’ she repeated, confused. ‘What sort of options?’
‘Second chances,’ the echo said, vague. ‘There are other variables that would have to come into play, but this way, they are at least possible. It would be up to Khadgar to decide if he wishes to avail himself of them or not.’
The echo wasn't looking her in the eye. He knew something and wasn't telling, and from the look on his face, he wasn't going to tell, either.
‘Couldn't we just destroy the font,’ she broached, ‘so Khadgar can't use it?’
The echo laughed, abrupt. ‘Have you not yet realised Khadgar is a man of secrets?’ He waved his hand, encompassing the length of the corridor. ‘Just what do you think is holding this fortress intact outside of space and time, hmm?’
She licked her lips, nervous, and glanced at the forbidden door, warded, sealed, locked.
The echo followed her gaze. ‘That's right. Destroy it, and—’ he waved his hand again, ‘—all of this ceases to exist, the library, the books, Medivh's office, you, even me, obliterated by the impossibility of our material presence in a place immaterial.’
He waited for her to digest his words, looking exactly like Khadgar, his hands on his hips, frowning down at her, severe. She nodded, resigned, and moved to the door.
‘Before we go in there,’ she said as he joined her, placing his hands against the door, working to remove the wards. ‘Tell me what you plan to do. This time I want to be prepared.’
He cut a look at her. ‘I am going to make your echo, and imbed her into the fortress. She won't materialise until after you have gone to the Light, hopefully sooner rather than later.’
‘Oh,’ Idira breathed, both impressed and disturbed by the thought. ‘Wait,’ she said, as a troubling new thought rose up, ‘I made you out of Khadgar's raven with my Light. What will we make my echo from?’
The echo paused in his work. ‘What will be my purpose once tomorrow's events have passed?’ he asked, his voice softening. ‘The font can create an echo for the price of a soul. I can think of no better use for my existence than to do this. Anyway, I rather like the idea of not having to go back to the Nether, waiting to be remade for evil.’
‘But you said you were made out of the stuff of the Nether,’ Idira said, perplexed by his logic. ‘You don't have a soul.’
The echo looked at the door. He clenched his jaw. ‘When I told you I was made of the stuff of the Nether, I wasn't being entirely honest,’ he paused to look at her, guilt cutting a path through his eyes.
‘Go on,’ Idira said, tentative, her skin prickling.
‘Aeons ago, in another universe,’ he began, low, his voice hard with shame, ‘I was a god. Soulless.’ He leaned against the door frame and looked down the corridor, his arms crossed over his chest, avoiding her eyes. ‘My power was absolute. At first I sought to do good, but after thousands of years I became tired of mortals and their unending greed, pettiness and wanton destruction. I turned against them, growing depraved as my hatred deepened, hungering only for blood, ruin, suffering, and death. The crimes I committed were so heinous that the Creator of all life destroyed my corrupt world, and turned my immortal body into a soul, sending it to the Nether, fully conscious, never to be broken down and reborn.’ He glanced at her, uneasy. ‘The Nether is terrible place to be conscious. While other souls exist in full awareness for a just a brief flicker of time before the Nether's relentless pressure breaks them apart, granting them the oblivion of the great dark until it is their time to be reborn, I drifted, alone and outcast, crushed by the timeless, epochal silence. Every now and again, I was able to escape by joining with those who have the power to call recently passed spirits from the Nether, but those who do such things are usually practitioners of the darkest arts.’ He paused, a spasm of deep anguish passing behind his eyes. ‘The things I have been forced to do, things so abominable,’ he said, shuddering, ‘even thinking of them makes me long for the release of eternal death. No. I will not let you believe me a hero. By manifesting me here in this place, you have granted me a way out of the endless cycle of my suffering. To create your echo, the font will need to extinguish a soul, but I welcome it. I have suffered enough for what I have done. I long for annihilation.’
Idira stared at him, stunned. A god. That explained the vanity, arrogance, his cold logic, his spoiled, childish pique over the croissants. ‘Will my echo—?’ she couldn't bring herself to ask, wasn't sure she wanted to know.
‘Have my memories?’ he finished for her, reading her thoughts. ‘No. She will be you. My soul will merely be the fuel to create her.’ He turned back to the door, continuing the work of removing the wards. The door swung open, silent, driven by its own magic. Her heart thudding, Idira eyed the font, sensing it waiting for them, the liquid in its basin rippling. It sat there, dark and malevolent, somehow sentient, watching them, reminding Idira of a spider, crouched low against the ground, waiting to strike its prey.
The echo held out his hand. ‘Are you ready?’ he asked, quiet.
Idira hesitated. ‘Tell me your real name. I deserve to know who is giving up their soul for my echo to be created.’
He looked at her, intrigued. ‘How unusual you are. So unique,’ he said, eyeing her with genuine admiration. ‘But my name?’ he winced. ‘That is the only thing I can't remember. The Creator took it from me when he sent me to the Nether. Ah, but it is of no matter for I have had many names since then, all of them meaningless. Just call me The Echo, it suits me well enough, don't you think? Come,’ he took her hand, and positioned her in front of the font. ‘Stand here, and do not move until it is over.’ He kissed her brow, soft. ‘Farewell Daughter of Azeroth,’ he said, turning to make his way up the steps behind the font, ‘may the Creator reward you well.’ He stepped into the basin. The silver liquid stirred and began to creep up his boots, coating them in its residue. He closed his eyes.
‘Wait!’ she burst out. ‘How will I know when it is over?’
He opened his eyes and threw her a cavalier smile, brave, valiant, reckless. He looked at her, full of admiration, Khadgar but not Khadgar, dying forever so Khadgar would not. ‘Why, when it has consumed me, of course,’ he said, soft.
And then, she watched, horrified, as he uttered the ancient incantations and the font awakened, hungry; its mercurial liquid slithering up his legs, across his torso and up to his neck, encasing him in its cruel grip.
When it was over, Idira rose up from the floor, trembling. She must have blacked out near the end. She backed away, wary, her flesh creeping with horror, keeping her eyes fixed on the sated font, which stood deathly quiet after its feeding. The thing had torn The Echo apart. shearing him into hundreds of thousands of pieces, all of them identical tiny cubes; no blood, no gore, just an eye-watering amount of swirling cubes, each no bigger than a pin's head, his screams of agony still ringing in her ears, even when he was no longer whole, his scream carried on, as though coming from a great distance. She shuddered and pulled the door closed behind her, throwing up wards, covering it, frantic, her hands flying over the wooden surface in her haste to lock the font away, using every possible combination she could think of.
She stepped back, her breathing shallow. A memory stirred, visceral, of what the font had done to her while she was unconscious. She staggered back, hitting the opposite wall, her hands covering her mouth as the memory replayed in all of its bizarre horror. Two silvery tentacles had arced up from the basin, reminding her of vipers about to strike. They had darted down and wrapped around her inert body, their touch freezing cold, their lengths containing thousands of feelers, sharp like needles, tasting her, reading her, imprinting her into itself. Smaller tentacles calved from the main tendrils and slid up around her head, probing into her mouth, nose, eyes and ears, cold, sharp, unfeeling, delving into her brain.
When it was finally done, the calved tentacles merged back with the two larger ones. Fat and heavy with her imprint, they slithered back across the floor to the font to rise up once more, spiralling, slow at first, then faster, around the centre of the basin, forming into a double helix. Within its vortex, thousands of tiny cubes swarmed up from the silver liquid, moving back and forth, like a flock of birds, forming, taking shape, solidifying into a perfect copy of herself. The tentacles slowed their spin, and slithered back into the basin. The woman looked down at herself, then around, curious, biting her lip, self-conscious. She stepped out of the font's basin and walked down the steps, wearing a precise copy of Idira's old and faded dress from Logan. The echo lingered over Idira for a heartbeat, examining her, then with a soft smile, she dematerialised and sank into the floor.
Idira's thoughts careened to a halt. Her echo was not a perfect copy. The other woman's eyes had been a brilliant icy blue, not violet. Idira fled to the library, calling out to the books. They clustered around her, frightened, agitated, sensing the subtle change in the fortress, the arrival of another, concealed within its foundations, and the font's malevolent energy, fed for the first time in tens of thousands of years, rippling outwards, disrupting the magical balance.
‘Bring me everything you have on the font and the Nether,’ she cried, urgent. ‘Leave nothing behind. Hurry, before it is too late.’