Late that evening, Idira closed the last book and rubbed her eyes. Now she understood what The Echo had meant when he said they needed to use the font and not her Light to create her echo; what he meant about potentialities, second chances. There are other variables that would have to come into play, he'd said, 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 .
She scoffed, Khadgar would never avail of said option. Never. To merge her soul with her echo, Khadgar would have to sacrifice a living person to the font, which would kill them, just as it had done to The Echo, taking their soul in exchange for pulling hers back from the Nether. She shuddered, forcing the thought from her mind. Trailing her fingers over the book's silver clasps, she went over what she now knew about the Nether: unless a soul was protected by incomprehensible powers—that of a Titan or a Creator—a soul did not last long, days at most, before it lost all awareness and was broken down, returned to the energy of the Nether. Then came the long wait to be reborn, perhaps on the same world they'd left, perhaps in another universe in an entirely different reality, but always without any memory of the lives they had previously lived. She had come to realise The Echo's situation in the Nether had been quite singular; a terrifying, brutal punishment. He must have known there were no others like him, suffering an eternal imprisonment, ready and willing to be extinguished so someone he had never heard of could have a second chance. And that was why he didn't want to create her echo from the Light. The font accepted victims, the Light only accepted volunteers. But who would volunteer for her? No one. The Echo had shown his true nature, his coldness, his detachment, his lack of humanity. Perhaps he might be capable of such a heinous thing, but not Khadgar.
She leaned back in the chair, trying to look at the situation in a positive light. The Echo had found peace and left a near-perfect echo of herself for Khadgar, which was as much insurance against his despair as she could hope for. If her echo was as complete as Khadgar's echo had been, her echo's presence might comfort Khadgar just enough to keep him from the end The Echo had predicted. She shivered, not from cold, but from dread, fearing it might not be enough, watching as the books lifted away from the table, returning to their places, quiet, subdued. They knew the truth, knew she was going to leave, could sense their sadness as they'd clustered around her, forlorn, butting up against her hand, seeking her touch against their spines, covers, and pages.
She conjured a cup of wine and sipped. One night. She had one night left before her destiny would be fulfilled and Khadgar would be left alone to face his loss. A teleport opened at the far end of the library. She closed her eyes, enduring the brutal ache of grief riving her heart as his footsteps approached, steady and purposeful, his scent preceding him, suffusing her with longing. She bit her lip, fighting back the tears threatening to fill her eyes. No. She would not ruin their last night. Tonight she would hide her pain, and be his companion, lover, friend. Tomorrow she could grieve. But tonight, there would only be these last moments, ones she would not mar with mourning.
He neared. From behind, the rustle of a paper bag being set on the table. His hand on her jaw. His lips touching hers. She opened his eyes and met his smile, the skin at the corners of his eyes crinkling. He turned and opened the paper bag, presenting her with her favourite, smoked whitefish salmon and wild mustard on rye. He took out his own sandwich, then reached in to pull out a small white cardboard box, tied with gold ribbon, bearing the gold-gilt logo of the luxury bakery Dalurée. She leaned forward, curious. He slid the box behind him as he pulled himself up to sit on the edge of the table, hiding it from her sight.
‘For later,’ he whispered, giving her a quiet look of affection. He looked tired as he leaned over and kissed her brow. ‘I have been worried about you today,’ he said, conjuring two crystal goblets and a glass decanter half-filled with a ruby-red wine. ‘Are you feeling any better?’ he asked, waiting for her answer, eyeing her. Unable to trust her voice, she nodded as he turned to pour a little wine into her goblet.
She took it from him and tasted it, her eyebrows lifting, impressed. It was the most complex, full-bodied red she had ever tried; new, exotic flavours rolled over her tongue, shifting, changing, melding. She glanced up at him, curious, as she held out her glass for more.
‘From the time of Suramar's height, before its corruption,’ he said as he poured, leaning his elbow on his thigh as he bent toward her, ‘an adventurer found a cache of bottles stashed deep in the ruins of Falanaar. Utterly undrinkable, but several of the rebel Nightborne vintners were able to piece together the genus of the grape, a magic-imbued one, long extinct. They were so excited by the find I asked one of the stewards in the Council's wine cellar to commission an admirable reconstruction.’ He sipped. ‘Hm. Quite extraordinary,’ he said, smacking his lips appreciatively, ‘to taste a vintage ten thousand years old. What an indulgence.’ He held up the glass and swirled the liquid, watching it catch the sparks of the tower's arcane blooms in its peaks and troughs. He turned to his wrapped sandwich. ‘What have you been up to today?’ he asked as he bit into his braised-steak baguette, glistening lengths of caramelised onions bulging, golden, out its sides.
‘Just catching up on what I haven't read,’ Idira answered, vague, turning her attention to her sandwich, avoiding his gaze.
‘Hmm,’ Khadgar answered, eyeing the books, hugging themselves together on the shelves, as though seeking comfort from each other. ‘It's very quiet in here tonight. Almost funereal. Has something happened today?’
‘Ah,’ Idira glanced over her shoulder in the direction of the corridor. ‘It's been like this all day. It might have something to do with what happened while we were in the font this morning. The books have been a little skittish since then.’
Khadgar nodded, following her gaze, taking a sip of his wine. ‘Could be. I'll double check the wards, I admit I wasn't thinking straight when I closed up the room.’
‘Ah,’ Idira stammered, her cheeks warming, ‘about that, I think you will find them in a bit of a mess, I added quite a few more wards of my own.’
‘It's alright,’ Khadgar said, gentle. ‘I can understand your uneasiness. I'll take a look later.’
From the corner of her eye, Idira watched Khadgar as he ate, tucking into the fat baguette, the bottom half still wrapped in its paper; he took big bites, utterly unselfconscious, wiping crumbs away from his mouth with the back of his hand as he stared down at the floor deep in thought, a line of worry furrowing into his brow. He glanced up at her so abruptly she started in surprise.
‘I apologise,’ he said, sweeping baguette crumbs from his lap. ‘There is much on my mind tonight. Unfortunately, a multitude of last minute changes had to be made to the plans for tomorrow's assault.’
Idira hurried to swallow her bite. ‘Assault?’ she asked, surprised. ‘I thought there was only going to be a small party.’
‘Yes,’ Khadgar nodded, peeling back the paper surrounding the bottom of the baguette. ‘But we needed to create a diversion to give us the best possible advantage.’
‘Oh?’ Idira asked, impressed. ‘So who is standing with you, the Horde or the Alliance?’
‘Both,’ Khadgar answered around a fat mouthful of steak and onion. He flashed up his index finger, acknowledging her surprise, indicating he had more to say. He swallowed. ‘Once Lady Tyrande was taken, King Anduin and Warchief Sylvanas came to see the advantage of working together. Of course, finding out Gul'dan is close to completing the transformation of the Betrayer into Sargeras's avatar has helped to give the factions' leaders some much needed perspective.’
‘I'll bet,’ Idira muttered, thinking of the petty fights she had witnessed in the mess hall the morning after the Battle for the Broken Shore. She poked at a stray piece of the smoked salmon, pushing it back in between the slices of rye. ‘That's the second time you have mentioned Lady Tyrande's abduction. I admit I am curious what happened to her.’
Uneasiness slashed over Khadgar's face. ‘Yes, that,’ he said, shaking his head, resigned. ‘A nasty, nasty business. Poor woman. I fear Malfurion is near to losing his senses over this.’
Idira blinked, taken aback by his words, her mind irresistibly drawn to making an unpleasant comparison. She hoped her thoughts were not showing on her face. Khadgar however, appeared oblivious to her turmoil. He finished his sandwich and picked up his wine. ‘It's a long story,’ he said, eyeing her. ‘Are you certain you want to hear it?’
Idira nodded. ‘I do,’ she answered, thinking of the future she had seen, of the ruined body of Tyrande, turned into the avatar of the Titan Sargeras instead of the Betrayer as everyone seemed to expect. A part of her had begun to nurture a wild hope she had only seen one possible outcome—the worst one—her true destiny distorted by both the font and the inherent evil saturating the Tomb of Sargeras.
‘Very well,’ Khadgar said, conjuring a chair. He sat down facing her, his knees touching hers, his sudden contact intimate in its thoughtlessness; his fingers working at the buckles of the leather straps on his shoulder collar. He shrugged it off and dropped it onto the floor, the collar's heavy weight hitting the stone flags with a dull thud.
Idira glanced down at his collar, lying in a heap. One of his habits, this undressing and letting things fall where they may, unexpected in a man who had to maintain so much control over almost everything else. She wondered what other habits he had, then suffered a paralysing stab of regret, realising anew she would never have the chance to find out.
He leaned back, cradling the wine in his hand as he rolled his shoulders, easing the tension in them, distracting her from her thoughts as he strained the material of his tunic in a most pleasing way.
‘Thirteen days ago,’ he said, taking a sip of his wine, ‘Tyrande came to me, riding her sabre cat right into the Council's Chambers.’ He chuckled. ‘That didn't annoy Modera at all. She must have ranted about Tyrande's disrespect for at least an hour after that.’ He sipped his wine again, making a quiet sound of appreciation. ‘Anyway,’ he said, his expression turning serious, ‘Tyrande had come to tell me she had learned that Illidan the Betrayer was not as dead as we had all believed. His soul still remained fully conscious in the Nether but was being torn away from him piece by piece via a portal into the Chamber of the Eye, where Gul'dan was corrupting it and returning it to the body of the Betrayer, in readiness for Sargeras’s use.’
Idira took a sip of wine as she digested Khadgar's words, glad all of a sudden to have spent so much time reading about the Nether. ‘But Illidan has been dead for a long time,’ she said, tilting her glass in her hand, watching the wine slide, smooth along the inside of the crystal glass. ‘Surely his soul would have been broken down by now. What if it was a trick, a lie of Gul'dan's to catch Tyrande instead?’
‘I suspected the same, but unfortunately it was no lie. Malfurion was able to see into the Chamber of the Eye when Tyrande was abducted. Illidan's body was there, being transformed right before Malfurion's eyes.’ Khadgar rubbed his hand over his thigh, making the nap of his leather breeches move back and forth. ‘Before Karazhan was lost, I read a book—I regret I was not able to save it—but I recall reading that those who commit the greatest crimes will remain intact and conscious, forced to live with the memory of what they have done until they have atoned for their wrongs. It is rare, very rare, but I am guessing in Illidan's case, it might explain his continued existence in the Nether after such a long interval of time.’
‘How terribly convenient for Gul'dan,’ Idira said, bitter.
‘Indeed,’ Khadgar nodded, then continued, ‘but Tyrande did not only come to me to tell me of her disturbing news, she also wanted me to arrange for her to speak with another—the last Na'aru, Xe'ra, whom she believed would know of a way into the Nether while one is still alive—her intention to join Illidan in spirit form so she might use the Light of Elune to protect him, or at least try to slow down Gul'dan's predations.’
‘I take it she found a way in,’ Idira said, dry. ‘Hence Gul'dan's sudden interest in her.’
‘She did,’ Khadgar sighed and looked down into his wine. ‘Not long after, Gul'dan took her unconscious body from the Barrow Dens in Moonglade, right out from under Malfurion's nose through a portal into the Chamber of the Eye. Soon after learning of these developments I used the font and went to The Tomb of Sargeras, first of all to find a way in—the tunnel, where you read the wards—and then to see for myself what was transpiring within the Chamber itself. Tyrande was there, held in the grip of the Betrayer by the nascent power of the avatar, for what purpose I cannot imagine, but it looked for all the world like the thing was worshipping her, intending her for his consort.’ He stopped and shook his head, his expression darkening. ‘But what Gul'dan was doing to feed the tethers needed to pull the pieces of Illidan's soul from the Nether . . . horrible things. Horrifying. I still have nightmares. Little Nightborne children, stolen from Suramar, still holding their stuffed murloc toys, grimy with filth; clutching them against their little chests, their eyes wide with terror as that monster robbed them of their souls. Their screams . . .’ He brushed his knuckle against the corner of his eye and took a self-conscious sip of wine. ‘And I could do nothing but watch.’ Blinking back her own tears, Idira reached out and pressed her hand against his knee, his own coming to cover hers, squeezing it.
He took another quick gulp of wine and cleared his throat. ‘Not long after I returned from the font, you turned up, and here we are.’
‘Here we are,’ Idira repeated back, soft, her heart aching, sensing his conflict: wanting to make things right, yet being forced to wait while innocent children succumbed to total annihilation. ‘It will be over soon my love,’ she said, knowing the bitter truth. ‘Gul'dan will be stopped. You will not fail.’
Khadgar set his glass onto the table, pinching the goblet's stem between his thumb and forefinger. He turned the glass round and round, the wine's dregs sloshing up the sides as he retreated once more into his thoughts. ‘I hope so,’ he murmured. ‘With all my heart, I hope so.’
Idira let him brood for awhile, falling inevitably into her own troubled musings. After a time, Khadgar roused, and poured them both more wine. They drank, quiet, their eyes meeting now and again, touching, then parting, to return their thoughts.
‘Ah I am bad company this night,’ he sighed as he swallowed the last of his wine. He set aside his empty glass and reached for the white box, pulling it across the table. He held it out to her.
‘For you,’ he said, with a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes.
Intrigued, she pulled apart the golden ribbon and lifted the lid. Inside, perched on a thick piece of golden card, a tall, circular chocolate confection awaited, its top slick with hardened icing, a tiny golden physalis perched on top, its papery pod artfully opened.
‘It's called a chocolate fondant,’ he said, taking the box back from her and conjuring a dainty porcelain plate and silver spoon. Lifting the cake out of the box by the card, he set it on the plate and handed it back to her. ‘Try it.’
She didn't need any encouragement, her mouth watering, she broke her spoon through the cake's icing, and pushed through the confection's silky softness, crying out with delight when she discovered a puddle of liquid chocolate in its centre.
She held up her spoon, laden with chocolate cake, icing and sauce, offering him the first taste. He shook his head.
‘No, you have a lot of chocolate to eat to catch up to me,’ he said, the corner of his lip quirking into a half-smile when she couldn't hide her relief at his refusal. ‘Enjoy it. It's more fun for me to watch, anyway.’
She ate the cake, lost in bliss, its chocolate even better than the croissants'. It was all over too quickly. Khadgar took away her plate and kissed her, gentle, saying he could taste the chocolate lingering on her lips before pulling back to conjure his incredible coffee. As she sipped, savouring the moment, he leaned forward and took her hand.
‘When we have finished with our task tomorrow,’ he said, twining his fingers together with hers, ‘I would like to bring you back to Dalaran with me, to live in my residence. Or, if you'd rather,’ he hastened to add, looking a little sheepish when she started, misunderstanding her reaction, ‘we can find you an accommodation of your own. Whatever you prefer.’
Stricken anew by is ill-timed request, she visualised all the things she would never have: mornings together waking tangled in his arms, late nights spent drinking wine and talking, him dropping his clothing into heaps as he undressed. The love they would never make, the kisses they would never share, the balcony she would never stand on with him again, the journeys they would never take, the enemies they would never face, the trials they would never endure, the arguments they would never have. The path neither of them would ever know.
‘Idira?’ he broached, quiet, his brow creasing with worry.
‘Yes,’ she cried, falling into his arms, clinging to him, sobbing, riven with sorrow and regret, her cheek pressed against his shoulder, soaking the expensive woollen material with her tears; his embrace tightening around her as he lifted her and carried her to the bedroom.
‘I will make you happy,’ he promised, fierce, as he kicked the door open and shouldered his way inside, cradling her against him. ‘I swear it.’ He settled her on the bed, his eyes raking over her, unveiled, exposing his heart to her, vulnerable, letting her realise the depth of his love. ‘Finally,’ he breathed, ‘Azeroth has granted me my heart's desire.’
She cried out at that, anguished, though in the heat of his own blinkered joy, he misunderstood her reaction. Kissing her tears away, he promised she would never suffer again, would never again be outcast, alone, alienated; driving spears of sorrow into her heart with each whispered vow, grieving at his belief in a future she knew they would never have, leaving her languishing alone in her torment as he loved her, whispering words so tender, she wept anew.
Much later, he slept, holding her against him, his warmth staving off the worst of her cold. She watched him sleep, memorising the planes of his cheeks, the cut of his jaw, the furrows in his brow, the reckless fall of his silver hair; wiping away her tears before they fell against his chest; her heart bruised and sore, cursing the day she was born.
The hours dwindled. Soon it would be morning. Her last day. Soon she would die so others could live. It had been her fate—it had always been her fate. There would be no fairytale ending for her.
Despite her fighting it, her body succumbed to its fatigue and she slept. She dreamed of nothing, until a voice came to her from within the unutterable depths of her inner darkness; clarion and clear, reeking of eternity.
Daughter, you are not forsaken. You are not alone. There is another. They are waiting.
Idira woke with start, hurtling back to consciousness as though struck by an internal blow. The cryptic words made no sense. Who was waiting? Logan? Was Logan who she was meant to be with after all? Was she and he to be reborn soon after, given another chance? She shook her head, a fresh wave of grief assailing her. She didn't want to be with Logan, she wanted to be here, now, with Khadgar. Within the tangle of blankets, she turned, emptiness consuming her, longing to feel Khadgar's arms around her, but his side of the bed was abandoned, his pile of clothes collected; in front of the marble fireplace the glow of his teleport glimmered, faint. She was too late. He was already gone.
On the bedside table, evidence of his recent presence: a bouquet of wildflowers, another box from Dalurée, half-opened for her, exposing an artful selection of chocolate truffles nestled on a bed of golden tissue, and a mug of coffee, long cold.
Naked, she got up and looked at her old dress from Logan hanging over the folding screen. No, she didn't want to wear that dress anymore. A plain black dress materialised over her body instead. She went to the door and looked back at Khadgar's parting gift. Her throat tight, she turned and went to the library, leaving the coffee and chocolates behind.