Vanessa hadn't lied, Idira would never have found the place. They left the bustling streets of shoppers, went past the vast campus of the Academy, through an enormous park encircling a brilliant blue lake, and down into a maze of residential avenues crammed with elaborate apartments sporting long, narrow, wrought iron balconies, high windows, and opened double doors offering tantalising glimpses of the opulence within.
At the end of a narrow lane nestled a tiny garden, filled with flowering bushes and a little circular path which led to a small burbling fountain in the middle. Behind it, a solid wall of stone loomed over it, several stories high.
Idira glanced at her niece, annoyed. Her feet hurt and the feeling of fullness the ale had given her had long since worn off, leaving her hungry and irritable. There was nothing here. It was a dead end. She waited for her niece to realise her error and turn back. Instead, Vanessa continued to move forward, straight towards the wall and a cluster of bushes, their branches slim and light, sweeping down to the ground, filled with luxuriant, wide leaves. Vanessa pushed aside the curtain of weeping branches and to Idira's utter astonishment she discovered a small, neat staircase leading down to a wrought iron gate.
Vanessa caught her astonished look. ‘Told you they made it difficult,’ she muttered. ‘Though it wasn't always like this. When the city was still up in Northrend, they had a sign-posted office just outside the Academy's gates. They only moved the office once Dalaran moved here and they became overwhelmed with 'undesirable' applicants.’
‘But when this place is so hard to find how can anyone like me ever apply?’ Idira asked, thinking of the complaints the woman had made on the gryphon landing, behaving as though the unwanted applicants were still getting in to the Kirin Tor.
Vanessa smiled. ‘I was lucky, coming across their little map. I started out solo, but now I have four others working for me. They hang out in the city waiting for opportunities to arise.’ She chuckled, smug. ‘And these days there are plenty. Business is booming.’ She swept her hand towards the steps. ‘Shall we?’
Idira went down the steps and pushed on the latch of the iron gate, half expecting it to be locked. It wasn't. The gate swung open, silent and smooth. They emerged into brilliant sunshine, onto a little stone courtyard lined with benches surrounded by a low wall no higher than Idira's knees. She went to the edge and looked down, curious. The sky fell away beneath her, the gulf of space separating her from the world below—obscured under a veil of scudding clouds—giving her brutal dose of vertigo. She staggered back from the edge into the middle of the courtyard, her legs turning to jelly.
‘Yeah, the first time's a shock,’ Vanessa said as she went to the little border wall and lifted her foot up onto it, leaning down to look at the empty expanse, her easy confidence terrifying Idira. She glanced back, sweeping her arm out into the air. ‘No wind here, bet you didn't notice that. It should be blowing like storm at sea at this height. But no, nice and calm. Good old Dalaran magic.’ Vanessa reached into her tunic, pulled out her tobacco pouch and began to roll a cigarette on her leather-clad thigh. She jerked her head to the side. ‘The door's just there behind you. Since there's no one out here waiting, it looks like you're next.’
Idira turned. The door stood set back into the wall, plain, discreet, and unassuming. It looked like nothing more than a door to a storeroom. She went to it and pushed it open, hoping she wasn't interrupting anything. Inside, the stone-walled space was clean, though dimly lit. The arches of its low roof reminded Idira of the crypts she had seen in her illustrated fairytale books, but as her gaze swept over the room, she realised there were no dead here, nor had there ever been. It was just an empty space, converted into a temporary office. At the far end of the room, separated by thick, luxurious rugs, a dark-haired woman sat at an ornate desk, writing in a notebook. She looked up as Idira entered, her welcoming smile immediately fading from her lips.
Idira took a step back, apprehensive, recognising the woman as the same one who had been speaking to the Gryphon Master.
‘You are not the one I was expecting,’ the woman said, cold. ‘What are you doing here?’
Idira stepped towards her hesitant. ‘I have come to apply to the Kirin Tor.’
The woman sat back and folded her arms over her chest, her eyes roaming over Idira's faded, old dress. ‘Have you indeed?’ she asked, arch.
Idira moved closer, reaching into her pouch. She pulled out the bank note from Logan. ‘I have the gold,’ she held the paper out to the woman, ashamed how her hand trembled.
The woman took the bank note and looked it over, suspicious. ‘How did you get all this? Someone like you?’
Idira blinked, taken aback. Surely if she had the money, its provenance was none of the other woman's business. The woman, waited, hostile, glaring at her, holding the bank note pinched between her thumb and forefinger as though it were dirty.
‘One of the Commanders of the Elite Forces who is leading the assault on the Broken Shore left it to me,’ Idira answered, feeling her face begin to heat up, embarrassed to have to share her personal business with such a woman as she. ‘His parting wish was for me to join the Kirin Tor. I could show you his letter, but it's . . . personal.’
The dark-haired woman raised an eyebrow, cynical. ‘So you were his lover. Typical.’
Idira stared at the woman, astonished. ‘I was not. I have known him for almost all my life. He was like a brother to me.’ She reached out and took the bank note back. ‘I don't understand what this has to do with my application.’
‘It has nothing to do with it,’ the woman scoffed, ‘I was merely curious. People like you fascinate me, like watching animals in a menagerie.’
Completely at a loss, Idira didn't know what to say. The woman looked back down at her ledger and waved her slim, ringed fingers at the door. ‘Your application is denied, you may leave.’
‘But,’ Idira said as she looked back down at the bank note, perplexed, ‘I have enough money, four thousand gold. I have it right here.’
The woman continued writing in what Idira now realised was a ledger. ‘That amount is for those the Kirin Tor wishes to have in its ranks. For those like you, the amount is five thousand, and as you can see, your Commander is a little short.’ She said Logan's title without even trying to hide her derision, as though she couldn't accept someone like Idira could know a Commander of Stormwind's Elite Forces. She glanced up, impatient. ‘Now please leave, you're blocking the light.’
Idira backed away, drowning in humiliation. The woman turned her attention back to her ledger, completely ignoring her. Idira pushed back out into the sunshine, where Vanessa was just stubbing out her cigarette, her hood thrown back. She tossed the butt over the side, watching it tumble away, a strange look of longing on her face. Idira moved closer, Vanessa turned, her forlorn expression melting into one of cool arrogance. She jerked her head at the half-open door. ‘That was fast. Even to them, money talks, eh?’
Idira sank down onto one of the benches, too stunned and humiliated by what had just happened to answer.
‘Hey, what's going on?’ Vanessa asked, turning to Idira. ‘What happened in there?’
When Idira didn't answer, her niece's fingers drifted to the hilts of her daggers, her eyes slid to the door, narrowing into dangerous slits. ‘Did someone disrespect you?’
Alarmed, Idira stood up. ‘I don't have enough money, so they denied me.’ She shrugged her shoulders as though she didn't care, desperate to lighten the mood.
Vanessa screwed her face up, disbelieving. ‘What are you talking about? It's four thousand, always has been.’
‘Well I guess they changed the rules. For people like me, it's five thousand.’
‘What do you mean people like you?’ Vanessa erupted, furious. ‘You were bloody raised by Edwin VanCleef, the man who rebuilt their precious city of Stormwind, or have they forgotten?’
‘I don't think it's a good idea for me to mention him,’ Idira murmured, shrinking back against rising heat of Vanessa's temper. ‘Not everyone feels the same about him being a hero.’
‘Bloody ungrateful bastards!’ Vanessa spat, stalking back and forth across the courtyard, her feline grace reminding Idira so much of VanCleef she felt like she was looking at a smaller, slimmer version of him.
‘Never mind, if money's the only thing holding you back, I can fix that,’ Vanessa erupted, storming back to the gate and pulling her hood back into place. She flung the gate open. ‘Come on. Let's go to the bank.’
They came back an hour later, with a bank note made out to the Kirin Tor for five thousand gold, the difference from Logan's note made up from Vanessa's substantial savings. Idira went back in to the shadowy room, thinking only of fulfilling Logan's wish. If it hadn't been for him, she never would have gone back.
The woman glanced up from a book she had been reading. ‘You again?’ she asked, her tone dripping with disdain.
Idira didn't wait, she could hear the sharp staccato of Vanessa's boots moving back and forth across the flagged stones of the courtyard, primed to take matters into her own hands should Idira's application fail a second time. She walked straight up to the desk and lay the bank note on top of the ledger.
The woman looked down at the bank note, drawn on Dalaran's Merchant Bank. She picked it up and examined it, her upper lip curving in distaste. She scoffed and flung it to the side.
‘Name?’ she asked without looking up, her demeanour so frosty, Idira sensed the temperature in the room dropping.
‘Idira Northshire,’ Idira answered, her heart trembling with hope as she watched the woman write her name into the ledger.
‘What are your abilities?’ she snapped, terse as she dipped her quill into a silver and gold-gilt ink pot.
‘I can kill demons. I have this Light inside of me? I stopped an invasion,’ Idira whispered, looking down at her feet.
‘Of course you did,’ the woman scoffed, condescending. ‘They'll say anything these days,’ she muttered to herself. Idira watched what she wrote beside her name. Can conjure butterflies.
‘Names of parents,’ the woman demanded, her eyes fixed on the ledger.
‘Jac and Marian Northshire,’ Idira answered after a moment's hesitation, suddenly fearing the woman would know her father's notorious name. She bit her lip, fretting, watching the woman write in the names. She spelled her father's name Jak. A wave of relief washed over Idira.
The woman set her quill back into its gilt holder and crossed her arms over her chest, annoyance emanating from her as looked Idira over. ‘Your eyes are violet,’ she said, matter-of-fact, almost indifferent.
‘Is that usual for mages?’ Idira asked, her curiosity getting the better of her.
‘Not at all,’ the woman answered, closing the ledger and handing Idira a crisp white card, lettered in silver runes and gilt in gold. ‘Show this to the guards at the entrance of the Academy. They will take you were you need to be.’
‘Thank you,’ Idira said, as a tremor of happiness washed over her. Logan would be so pleased.
‘We'll see how thankful you are in a week's time,’ the woman snapped, disdainful, as she picked up her book and waved her fingers at the door.
On the way to the Academy, Vanessa bought Idira lunch from a little sandwich shop. Carrying the wrapped parcels in a small paper bag, she led Idira into the park and to a bench by the impossibly blue waters of the lake, sparkling in the light of the afternoon sun.
As they sat, Vanessa reached into her tunic and handed Idira a small leather purse, containing fifteen gold pieces and a bank note for two hundred and twenty gold, made out in Idira's name. ‘The leftover money from Logan,’ she said as opened the wrapper around her lunch and bit into a fat bagel stuffed with thin layers of braised steak.
Idira raised her brow as she looked at the bank note and the gold pieces, surprised, she hadn't expected that. ‘Thank you,’ she said tucking the purse into her pouch. ‘When did you—’
‘When I said I needed to use the facilities,’ Vanessa shrugged, her mouth half-full. ‘I lied.’ She eyed Idira's dress. ‘You really need to replace that, it's falling to bits. We can stop somewhere I know on the way if you like.’
‘Okay,’ Idira said, biting into her own sandwich; smoked whitefish salmon with grainy mustard on rye. It was delicious. She sighed with delight.
‘That's genuine good food right there, nothing to do with magic,’ Vanessa said around the bite in her mouth. ‘The Bagel Brothers make the best sandwiches anywhere, nothing can beat them.’
They finished their lunch in companionable silence, and while Vanessa rolled a fresh cigarette, Idira ventured to the water's edge and trailed her fingers in the lake's crystal clear waters, feeling for the first time in a long while a tiny tremor of happiness ripple through her. She looked up at the silvery white towers surrounding the park, the tallest one, rising above the rest, resplendent and imposing, caught her eye. As they had eaten, Vanessa told her that particular tower was called the Violet Citadel and was where the most powerful archmages leading the Kirin Tor, called the Council of Six could be found.
Idira hadn't said anything at the time, grateful for the excuse of having had a mouth full of food, but in her heart she felt a stirring, an awakening, of her purpose becoming clearer, and her path opening up before her. She watched as her fingers moved through the waters, distorting the reflection of the Violet Citadel, shimmering in the sunlight, thinking of the man who had touched her shoulder and caught her elbow, saying he had her. All my life I have waited for you, she thought, looking up at the Citadel. Soon now, somehow, some way, I will stand with you on a balcony and you will look at me and see me. And then, maybe my life will finally begin to make sense.
Vanessa called to her, waving her arm, gesturing for her to join her, impatient. Idira backed away from the lake and went to her niece, reluctant, wishing they didn't have to leave so soon. As they departed she looked back one last time, just as an enormous black raven landed where she had stood on the lake's shore. It lowered its head to drink from the waters before surging back up into the skies, breathtaking and graceful, soaring away until it vanished into the pure, white light of the sun.