Wynn was right, though Idira was too new to the politics of the Academy to appreciate the implications of the changes, there was no doubt the shocking development within the Council had spread through the Academy like wildfire, fuelling gossip and speculation. Jaina has abandoned the Kirin Tor. Vol'jin betrayed the Alliance and left Varian to die. Khadgar's the new Leader. Members of the Horde allowed to remain in Dalaran.
At breakfast, Idira learned not only had the Alliance lost their king in the battle, but Vol'jin, the Warchief of the Horde, who had reminded her so much of Unambi, had succumbed to his own grievous injuries soon after he named his successor—Sylvanas, Queen of the Forsaken.
Across the mess hall no one ate. Instead, the space seethed in a susurration of whispers and murmurs as little clusters of various races gathered around the tables, their voices rising as they argued, the groups breaking apart and reforming into new ones, reminding Idira of bubbles in a pot of boiling water.
Throughout the room, accusing looks flew back and forth as friendships ended and backs were turned. The students milled together, split, reassembled, and split again, taking new sides, forging new allegiances, the division between the races of the Horde and the Alliance becoming more and more striking as the minutes ticked by. It seemed Jaina's version of the story had been seized upon by the apprentices and trainees of the Academy with something akin to religious zeal, making rumours and lies the new currency in trade. Idira kept her eyes on her bowl of porridge and said nothing, realising she might be the only person in the room who had seen the battle first-hand, and who knew the ugly truth: they were all going to die if they didn't put aside their prejudices and fight the true enemy as one.
A fight broke out near the front of the mess hall. The tutors dining at the top table watched the outburst, their eyes cold, as though enjoying the sight, doing nothing to stop the fight, spectators at a gladiator ring. In the narrow space between the student's tables and the head table, a male night elf and an orc tussled, dragging and pulling at each others' robes, their blows glancing and weak. The orc shoved the night elf away, his chest heaving from exertion.
‘I thought you were my friend!’ he spat, his eyes glowing with contained magic. ‘You would believe these lies? We lost our leader, too!’
‘Our king would still be alive if your people hadn't abandoned him!’ the night elf shot back, rubbing his wrist, sulky. ‘But your people ran away, like cowards. You talk of strength and honour, but in truth, you have none!’
At that, the orc roared and rushed at the night elf, barrelling into him, the force of his attack sending them both crashing into one of the tables, knocking several other students aside, the porcelain dishes smashing against the stone-flagged floor. The pair continued to tussle, though they were terrible at it, not really doing any real harm to the other, both of them looking ridiculous. If the situation hadn't felt so dire, Idira would have found the sight funny.
She leaned over to Wynn. ‘Isn't anyone going to do anything?’ she asked in a low voice, glancing at the tutors watching the hapless fighters, some of them continuing to eat, bored.
‘Probably not,’ Wynn shrugged. ‘As far as I can tell, the Alliance tutors pretty much have the same opinion, so maybe they like watching us fight about it, since they can't.’
‘But if Khadgar says we are to work together in the war against the demons, why aren't they supporting his order?’ Idira asked, raising her voice to be heard over another crash, as the pair knocked over a bench and tumbled onto the floor, crawling over each other, struggling to be the first to have the other in a choke hold, both of them failing and, at least in her opinion, utterly embarrassing themselves.
‘As if!’ Wynn snorted, rolling her eyes, ‘the Council is so far removed from us, they may as well be on another planet. The only one who takes any interest in the Academy is the Archmage Modera and that's only because Margot is her niece, and whatever Margot tells her is never questioned. It's been like that for years from what I hear.’
‘So Margot must have a lot of power at the Academy?’ Idira hazarded, though she expected she already knew the answer.
‘Huh, she is the power, and she's got money, so she's spoiled and powerful, and starting in a few minutes, she's going to be our tutor who happens to already hate us.’ The corners of Wynn's mouth turned down as she frowned. ‘I expect things are only going to get a lot worse from here on out. At least we have each other, eh?’
The fight ended, abrupt. The orc stood and spat on the floor beside his once-friend, who rolled on the floor, moaning, his arms wrapped around his torso. With a scoff, the orc walked away, jerking at his robes, straightening them as he joined the others milling on the opposite side of the room, all of them from the races of the Horde. Idira was glad he had won, since he was in the right, though when she looked around at the angry, bitter faces surrounding her, she suspected she was the only one on her 'side' who was.
After the morning's assembly and announcements were completed (nothing at all mentioned of the failed battle or the deaths of Azeroth's leaders or the election of the new Leader of the Kirin Tor, or even of the morning's events in the mess hall; just useless information: a new round of croquet being added to the tournament in the Quadrangle: if anyone new wished to join, see Minty Lerue for fees and applications; until further notice, the laundry facilities were being renovated, so all laundry would be sent into the city, expect an extra day for the return of one's clothing; generous donations for the continued protection of the endangered mana kittens in Dalaran Park being gratefully accepted in the vestibule of the library between 10am and 7pm).
In the vestibule outside the assembly hall, Idira and her eleven 'low-life' colleagues waited at the designated point for Margot to arrive, nervous and self-conscious, painfully aware of the hateful, disdainful looks being cast in their direction by those who 'belonged', those of the croquet-playing, mana-kitten-protecting elite. Idira wondered how much gold was considered a 'generous' donation here in la-la land, probably far more than she was prepared to imagine. As she waited, she prepared herself for the worst, expecting their classroom to be somewhere in the bowels of the Academy, dark, dank, and isolated from the rest of the campus; no daylight, spiders and cobwebs, gaping openings in the floor covered by rusting iron grills leading to even more nefarious, foul-smelling places.
In the midst of Idira's gloomy thoughts Margot swept up, in a different gown than she had been wearing at breakfast, a deep green one, the back bare and draped with—
‘Are those diamonds?’ Wynn breathed, as Margot's dress caught the light streaming in through the soaring windows, half-blinding Idira.
Her eyes watering, Idira nodded, watching Margot as she cast a spell, their tutor behaving as though she couldn't even see them. A portal opened. Hurrying after the others, Idira followed Wynn into the shimmering oval of light, bracing herself for the nasty shock on the other side, however within the blink of an eye, she found herself in a massive windowless cupula, her frame dwarfed by the spiralling reaches of one of the Academy's many towers. In the middle of the enormous space stood a table, in the shape of a half-moon. Trying not to gape quite as much as the others, she walked across a room so opulent she wondered if there had been a mistake, or if perhaps Margot intended a cruel joke. You could have all this, but instead—a wave of her hand and the dungeon-esque room Idira had expected would appear—you will have this.
Along with the other apprentices, Idira sank into her seat at the table, where a gilt name card sat before her plush chair. She eyed the book-clad walls up to the furthest reaches of the tower, where a jumble of arcane runes floated, pulsing with energy. The runes darted and dived, following a complex dance only a trained mage could possibly comprehend.
Margot stood on the other side of the table, her slender arms crossed over her breast, waiting until they subsided. She looked down at her perfectly manicured fingernails, bored.
‘I intend to teach you nothing,’ she said down to her nails, ‘your presence here is more than unwelcome, as by now you must be well aware. We at the Kirin Tor have far better things to trouble ourselves with than hand-holding the likes of you.’
‘Yeah, like playing croquet,’ one of the others muttered, a young fiery-haired man, sitting three seats away from Idira.
Margot shot him a look, her eyes flashing an icy blue. She murmured spell, so low Idira couldn't catch the words. The outspoken one cried out, his eyes widening as he scrabbled at his mouth, sealing over with a thick layer of ice. Idira shrank in her chair, a surge of fear rocking through her. She was fairly certain the use of arcane was only meant for good, or for war, not for harming others, else why didn't the orc and night elf fight with magic? She glanced at Margot, catching the satisfied smirk on her tutor's face, both dangerous and vindictive.
‘Now,’ Margot continued, once more looking at her nails, ‘you have paid your fee and thus are entitled to have access to the Apprentices' Library—the room you now find yourselves so cravenly gawping at. Therefore if you have any talent at all, you will be able to learn the use of arcane for yourselves. As indicated in the Academy's rules: for apprentices to remain in their studies they must be able to cast a level one frostbolt, fire blast, frost nova, teleport, polymorph a colleague into a sheep and back again, and conjure refreshment within three months. If you cannot, as per the regulations you will be cast out and banned from ever being able to reapply to the Kirin Tor again. Understood?’
An uncertain nodding of heads.
She turned and swept away, placing herself as far from them as she could possibly go, taking a seat at an ornate desk tucked into an alcove. Her gaze raked over them, cold and filled with loathing. A wave of her hand and the ice melted from the red-haired man's mouth, leaving behind a bright red burn on his pale skin.
‘By the blood of—’ he spluttered, indignant. The girl next to him elbowed him in the arm, a warning look in her eye as Margot's glare intensified. He fell silent.
Wynn stood up, eyeing the ladders connected to railings running along the outer rim of the bookshelves; shelves which easily contained tens of thousands of books. ‘Well, I guess we better get started,’ she murmured, uncertain. ‘Three months isn't much time to learn all that stuff, especially without any tutoring.’
‘Or books,’ one of the other girls, a dark-haired night elf muttered, her voice soft and lilting despite her acute bitterness. ‘She has given us an impossible task and well she knows it. Even if we work night and day it will take us years just to find the right books!’
As the others grumbled and dithered, overwhelmed by the odds against them, Idira sensed her Light awakening, just a trickle, like the beat of a butterfly's wings. A tug made her look up. High up, a fat tome stood out, outlined in a pale violet light. Keeping her eyes on the book, she went to the ladder nearest to it, pulling the ladder along its rollers until it was lined up with the glowing book. She fixed the brake, then began the long climb up.
‘What's she doing?’ she heard someone whisper.
‘It's like she knows exactly which one she wants,’ another murmured, intrigued.
‘She's just showing off,’ the red-haired man scoffed, derisive.
‘Shut up!’ Wynn, this time. ‘Let's just wait and see, eh?’
Idira ignored them as they bickered amongst themselves, keeping her eye on the book as she ascended the ladder, enjoying the whispering hush her new dress made as she lifted her legs. She hadn't felt the rustle of pristine linen in almost ten years, not since she had made the dress from the material Logan had given her. She reached the shelf and pulled out the book, struggling to keep it tucked under her arm as she descended the ladder, clumsy, hampered by the weight of the ponderous book.
She had no idea what book she had taken, but she trusted her Light. It wouldn't lead her astray. She set the book on the table, the others clustering around her, curious. She opened it, the lettering on the frontispiece making the others draw in their breaths, their soft gasps loud in the room's studied quiet. She read the words, written in beautiful script: The Arte of Conjuring Bolts of Frost: A Beginner's Guide Vol. 1.
She smiled at the others, pleased. ‘Found one,’ she said, and turned the page.