For the first two days of their studies in the Apprentices' Library, as the students puzzled through the complicated chapters of the book, Margot completely ignored them. But on the third day, when Wynn displayed a fluttering of arcane energy spreading through her hands as she concentrated on casting her first spell, Margot looked up from her book, sharp.
‘What do you think you are doing?’ she demanded, coming over to them, causing the nascent flickers of blue in Wynn's hands to dwindle away.
‘I . . .’ Wynn said, paling as Margot dragged the open book across the table and flipped the book closed, opening it again to its frontispiece. Her lips thinned as she read the title.
‘Who found this?’ She looked over the group, her expression dangerous, full of accusation.
The red-haired male, now known to Idira as Asur pointed at her, ignoring Wynn's blistering glare. ‘She did,’ he said, adding, unnecessarily, in a sycophantic voice, ‘first book she picked out of the stacks.’
‘You turd,’ Wynn muttered.
‘Arse kisser,’ someone else said, under their breath, though Idira wasn't sure who.
Margot turned, slow, and faced Idira. She drew herself up, reminding Idira of a Westfall viper preparing to strike.
‘Let me guess,’ Margot sneered, contemptuous, ‘your demon-slaying Light helped you find it?’
Idira didn't say anything, suspecting Margot didn't care for her answer anyway. Her tutor continued, scathing, ‘From now on, your studies will be taken separately from the others. Since you seem to possess an unfair advantage, your time can be put to better use in the Academy Library. You will work there during the day, and may study here in the evenings, if there is someone around who will portal you in and out.’
Margot turned and began to cast a portal. Idira slid a look at Wynn, who was already opening her mouth to protest. Idira shook her head, warning her to stay out of it.
The portal blossomed open, spreading into a neat oval, the surface shimmering, a liquid film of bright blue, like a pool of water.
‘In you go,’ Margot said, grabbing hold of Idira's arm and marching her towards it, rough. ‘When you get there, go to the Main Reception Desk and tell the Director on Duty I have sent you there for indefinite archival duty. They will know what to do with you.’
At Margot's final words, Idira felt herself being thrust into the portal. She lost her balance and tumbled face first into it, landing on the other side on her hands and knees. The portal snapped shut behind her. She stood up and looked around, brushing off her dress, although there was no need, the floor was immaculate. From the sofas clustered into little groups along the vast reception hall, several students glanced up at her, curious, returning to their books and coffees when nothing else interesting happened. Along one face of the building, soaring windows rose at least twice the height of the house in Moonbrook. Brilliant beams of sunlight streamed onto the elegant interior garden which ran the length of the marble-floored reception. In its leafy midst, a large fountain burbled, the soothing cascade of its water calming.
On the opposite side of the garden, the entrance to the library loomed, its silver-gilt gates open, and a pair of guards positioned to either side. They eyed those passing by, hostile, vigilant, and intimidating.
Just outside and to the left of the gates stood a low platform surrounded by a wood-engraved partition. Inside its perimeter, a half dozen desks fanned out. Behind the barrier, several Kirin Tor staff moved around, looking harrassed and stressed. On the wall behind it, a sign, gilt—as usual—in gold, read:
Dalaran Library of the Kirin Tor
Main Reception Desk
All Visitors Must Sign In
Soliciting Strictly Forbidden
No Unaccompanied Goblins
Thinking of Kuzzik, Idira smirked at the last restriction as she made her way along one of the paths through the garden, which she soon realised was comprised of crushed seashells. She eyed the numerous other paths, criss-crossing the garden all along the length of the enormous reception hall, trying to comprehend just how many seashells had been sacrificed to create the garden. She couldn't. The amount would have been stupefying.
She reached the desk. She had to wait a long time before one of the staff members finally glanced up from their work. A thin, ginger-haired man came over, harried, wiping his hands against the front of his robes.
‘I have been sent by Lady Margot to speak to the Director on Duty?’ she explained, hesitant.
The staffer raised his eyebrows at hearing Margot's name. ‘That'll be me today,’ he muttered, though he didn't sound too happy about it. ‘What's the message?’
‘She says I have been sent for archival duty?’ she answered, uncertain, hoping it wasn't going to turn out to be as bad as it sounded.
The director nodded and turned away to pick up something. A plain, leather bound ledger landed on the counter between them. No gilt, no gold, completely ordinary. She stared at it, enjoying the sudden, unexpected uniqueness of it. He patted his robes, sighed, and waved his hand, impatient. A stylus appeared between his fingers. He opened the ledger and went through the usual questions, Idira's name, her dorm address, her tutor's name, date of registration, etc. Then: ‘And how long is your punishment for?’
‘Punishment?’ Idira asked, perplexed. ‘She said I would be working here since I was learning too fast.’
‘Learning too fast?’ The director asked, taken aback. He shook his head. ‘No, you must have misunderstood. No one is ever punished for advancing quickly, rather it is rewarded. And certainly none but the most offensive crimes are punished by archival duty. How long?’ he asked again, impatient, waving away another staffer who approached him holding a bundle of papers in her hands, a questioning look in her eyes.
‘Um. Indefinitely?’ Idira answered, biting her lip, suddenly beginning to understand the gravity of her situation.
The director looked up at her, astonished. ‘Really? In all my life I have never heard of that before.’
Idira nodded, glum.
He glanced from side to side before leaning forward, curious. ‘I must know. What did you do?’
‘I'm not sure,’ Idira answered, sincere, ‘but I think it's because I found a book out of the thousands in the stacks the first time I tried. The exact one we needed, I mean.’
For a beat the director stared at her, incredulous and obviously impressed. A flicker passed over his face, and his look melted into resentment. He pulled back, his expression hardening. ‘So you're one of those ones,’ he muttered as he wrote the length of her punishment in the ledger. ‘Should have suspected it sooner, with unnatural eyes like yours. You know it's not even supposed to be possible to be human and have eyes that colour. You're a . . . what's the word again? Oh yes, an anomaly.’ He slapped the book shut. ‘Never mind. We don't tolerate liars here in Dalaran, not for a minute. I can see why the good Lady Margot has come down hard on you.’
‘I'm not—’ Idira protested, thinking Margot was anything but good, but the director held up his hand, stopping her.
‘Don't speak,’ he said, cold. ‘Just follow me. Let's get you settled in, shall we?’
She was told the archives were right at the back end of the library, accessed through a locked door and then down three flights of stairs. When the director, whose name she discovered was Duncan, found out she hadn't even learned the most basic of spells—not even blink, a basic teleportation spell—he grumbled to himself, complaining he would have to show her the way on foot, warning her they were going to be in for a long walk. He hadn't exaggerated. The library was vast. She had thought the library where she and her fellow apprentices were studying was enormous. No more. That library amounted to the size of a thimble compared to the interior of the tower soaring away above her, at least a hundred levels high, each level containing corridors radiating away like the spokes of a wheel, their hubs a circular balcony overlooking the library's great tree-lined court at the base of the tower. She tilted her head back, losing her balance as she gazed up into the tower's impossible heights, the perspective diminishing with distance.
‘How many books are there here?’ she asked, breathless, thinking perhaps her punishment wasn't so bad after all.
‘Somewhere in the vicinity of half a billion,’ Duncan shrugged. ‘Well, at the last count, at least.’ He sighed. ‘The trouble is some of them, ahem, multiply, which isn't always a good thing. We have a special room for those books when we can catch them. We painted it red and call it the red room. After a week in there they never misbehave again.’
‘Half a billion!?’ Idira gasped, euphoric. ‘So many books, and all in one place. It's like a dream. Wait. A red room? What? Like the colour of blood?’ She shuddered, horrified by the thought.
Duncan nodded as he fished in his robe for the key to open the door at the back of the library. ‘Interesting story,’ he said as he led the way down a wide, marble staircase, a plush blue carpet clothing the middle of its steps. ‘One time, a very strange book came through one of the inter-dimensional portals. I remember it took quite a long time to translate the thing only to find out it was really rather awful, extremely badly written, and no magic in it at all. We thought since it was so terribly bad at being a book, we would name the punishment room after the room they were so fascinated about in the book. We put up a bookshelf in the room and chained our misbehaving books on the same bookshelf as book, something about the colour grey as I recall.’
They arrived at the bottom of the stairs. The space opened out to a large room. Desks and chairs stood stacked against one of the walls and a very plain, unassuming door waited for them at the far end. He went to the door and unlocked it, continuing, ‘Though no one really understands the principles behind it, after a week on the same shelf as that book, our books are more than willing to do as they're told and never act up again. Seems they never want to go near it or that room again. Quite a useful book, after all, even if it reads like it was written by a teenaged goblin in heat.’
He opened the door. Idira followed him into a low-ceilinged, wide corridor, the walls and ceilings painted white. The corridor curved away into the distance, presumably following the contour of the library's foundation. A lone, bare desk stood in front of ten identical rows of metal racks, their shelves filled with labelled boxes. The racks stretched down the corridor, long, endless fingers.
‘So here we are,’ Duncan said, rubbing his hands together, ‘and just in time, too. The last offender finished their duties last week, so we were in need of a replacement.’ He handed her the key ring with the two keys. ‘You'll be needing these, since you can't portal. I hope you own something sturdier than those flimsy slippers because you are going to be doing a lot of walking from now on.’
He turned to leave. Idira caught his sleeve. ‘Wait! What do I do? What time am I to be here, things like that?’
‘Oh, yes,’ Duncan nodded. He glanced at the racks, clearly impatient to leave. ‘Well, you will receive requests to find documents. You collect them up and take them to whomever the request came from. That's all really. Sometimes the request will also ask for books, too. You get those from the library stacks, but you need to come to the front desk and show us the request so someone can fetch them since you aren't allowed into the stacks.’
Idira looked around the space, shivering a little in the oppressive space. She would be completely alone. ‘How do—’
‘The requests arrive?’ he asked, finishing her question for her as he began to cast a portal to return to the reception. ‘They arrive on your desk, through very small portals. Oh and the hours. 7am to 7pm. Don't be late. Lunch is between 11am and 1pm. The cafeteria is in the reception hall. I'll leave a badge for you to collect at the Reception Desk so you don't have to pay. Staff perk. And don't read anything from the racks. It's forbidden for apprentices.’
Idira opened her mouth to ask him where the facilities were but he had already stepped into his portal and was gone. She turned and looked at the racks. The corridor yawned away. She glanced at the desk. No. She wasn't going to sit with her back to all that space. She didn't even know how long the corridor was. It was possible it encircled the entire foundation, ending on the other side of the stairs outside the door. She hoped not, if she had to fetch something from that distance, it would be a terribly long walk.
Grabbing hold of the edge of the desk, she turned it round, its claw-shaped feet scraping, loud against the stone-flagged floor, setting her teeth on edge. She pulled the chair around after her and sat down, facing the racks. Better. She'd rather have the door to her back than all that uncharted space. She folded her hands on the desk, thinking about her new situation, wondering if she could bring books from the Apprentices' Library down here with her to study while she worked.
A shimmering, the size of a lunch plate, appeared under her hands on the surface of the desk. She snatched her hands away, startled. As quick as it came, it vanished, leaving behind a piece of parchment, containing a list of documents written out and where to deliver them. She stared at the letters and numbers following the documents, realising she had no idea how the organisation system of the archives worked. She picked up the parchment, crisp, expensive, the ink still wet, and perused the fascinating list:
A Treatise on the Containment of Fel. by Kel'thuzad DLA451.887,01-K
A Brief History of Azeroth, the First Years. by Brann Bronzebeard LS78620. FF5-89
An Essay on the Wars of the Titans, What Went Wrong. by Evelyna DLA674.902,73-E
The titles went on, a dozen of them, she skimmed through them until:
Yr Three Final Paper, Free Choice Subject: Arcane Mastery in the Bedroom, the Fine Line Between Pleasure and Pain and How to Maintain it. by J. Proudmoore DLA334.621,77-P
Suppressing a smile at the previous Leader of the Kirin Tor's choice of subject, Idira moved through the racks, working through the complex organisation system. After a few minutes, she realised it wasn't going to be as difficult to decipher as she had expected, in fact, the system turned out to be quite elegant. DLA meant Dalaran Archive, while LS stood for Library Stacks, the next trick she discovered was to read the code from the back to the front. Once she found the rack with the correct first letter (after the dash), she then took the number after the full stop, then the last three digit number.
She found all the documents much faster than she expected with the added bonus of there being teleportation pads at the start of each letter. After several confusing teleports she realised she needed to face the direction she wished to go before she stood on the pad. Easy, and if she was totally honest, the teleports were quite a lot of fun. Just for the sheer pleasure of it, she decided to take the teleports all the way to the end. At the letter M she discovered a magical broom sweeping the floor. She dropped her files, utterly astonished, startling the poor thing, sending it scuttling away, frightened. When Idira didn't do anything more, the broom returned to its work, cautious. Idira watched it for several minutes, fascinated, before carrying on, wondering what other wonders she might discover. (Unfortunately, only more brooms).
As she made her return trip through the archive portals, her arms filling up with neatly bound documents, she decided her punishment could have been much worse. Even though she knew she shouldn't, she took a quick peek at Jaina's paper while she walked up the stairs from the archive hall, curiosity driving her mad, but it made no sense at all, it was nothing but formulas, pages and pages of it. Nothing like she'd hoped to read. She sighed and turned the key in the lock and went out into the library to start the long walk back to the reception desk, and onwards out into the parks, halls, corridors and offices of the vast Academy of Dalaran, strangely happy, though she really couldn't have said why.