"Now, if we insert the variables listed into our base formula for determining anchor viability..."
The clacking of chalk on blackboard rang out through the spacious room, though Professor Whyll still stood a ways away from the board itself. Most of the many sets of eyes in the room flitted attentively between her and the myriad arcane calculations that the ensorcelled chalk had scrawled across the black surface, though she noted a fair few with their attention diverted elsewhere. She couldn't blame them. She did her best to ensure the theory portion of her class was as engaging as possible, but there was only so much she could do to make strings of numbers and variables interesting. She just made sure that when the class finally reached the practical exercises portion of the semester, all her safeguards had been triple checked and secured. She didn't need an entire class going up in smoke, literally, because a poorly-calculated portal placement dumped the contents of a volcano on everyone.
"Does anyone think they can solve this equation for me?" she asked, eyes roaming over the sea of faces.
A number of hands began to raise from the crowd, but one shot up far quicker than the others. Erica nodded to the student in question, and Sarah Tann rose from her seat, approaching the board and taking up a decidedly mundane piece of chalk. Despite her lack of supplementary education before enrollment, or perhaps because of it, Sarah had surprised Erica with how voraciously the younger girl, approaching true womanhood, had devoured any and every class she could find the time to take. She had struggled early in the semester, but after some thinking from her professor, and a precisely-calculated group project, Sarah had managed to find those who she worked well with, and had soon shot up in the class' performance rankings. Erica, for one, was quite interested to see where the aspiring spellblade went in her career.
As Sarah placed the chalk back down on its ledge and turned to her professor, Erica nodded with a smile at the girl's work. "Excellent work," she said, gesturing for Sarah to return to her seat.
The girl smiled with warm confidence, working her way back into the crowd. Erica looked back to the crowd, watching them take in as much of the material as their growing minds could handle. It was one of the many small moments that reminded her why, after everything that had happened in her still short life, she had chosen this position.
"Now, as usual, it's time for me to demonstrate this in action," she announced.
Erica waved a hand towards a low pedestal built into the floor of the room, and a light blue orb shimmered into existence above it. The orb was just large enough for a human or elf to enter, and within its depths hung a scenic vista of Stormwind City, as seen from what appeared to be one of the many parapets that dotted the walls. "Pockets of magic exist in the strangest of locations," she explained, "One's ability to walk the leylines is only the start of what a true portal expert can accomplish."
With yet another wave, Erica allowed the portal to naturally dissipate. A glance to the class confirmed she had their full attention now. Good. The practical demonstration always caught their interest. She was excited to see their reaction to the next one.
"Now, the portal I just conjured was a simple one, to a location not far from here. That's not nearly enough to truly show you the power of a tempo-spatial specialist. For this next demonstration, I'd like to show you all the possibilities that come from combining both time and space. Today, I would like to grant you all a brief glimpse into an alternate timeline."
That caused every set of eyes to widen. Hushed whispers broke out among pockets of friends, and Erica did nothing to quell them. This was how she drew students to her more advanced courses. With a thought, she unhooked her ever-present hourglass from her waist, simultaneously pulling her staff from a small portal to her study. She set the butt of the staff on the floor firmly, channeling precisely tuned spatial energy through it to the pedestal. Concurrently, she wove a temporal distortion spell through her hourglass, setting the parameters of when the final portal would open to. She had gazed through the currently flowing alternate timelines the previous night, choosing the perfect moment that would show an interesting and unique scene, without posing any risk to the stability of her portal or the timeline.
As she channeled, however, something felt off. A slight tugging at her consciousness threatened to distract her, pulling her spellwork completely off course. She tightened her mental defenses, mentally recording the event for future reference. The portal opened without a hitch, displaying a gorgeous scene overlooking an entire city done in the Night Elven architectural style. It sat at the edge on an enormous lake, filled with dark waters that flowed serenely across the shoreline.
"Students, this is a glimpse of the ancient city of Zin-Azshari," she explained, channeling magic steadily into maintaining the window through reality, "This is the world of Azeroth as the Elves knew it long ago, before the Burning Legion and the Sundering. In this timeline, one elf, an elf by the name of Xavius, never rose to political power, and never led the elves in the creation of the first portal into the Twisting Nether. This is a world of peace, but it is not a true world. This timeline will fade eventually, winking out of existence. We still have the chance to glimpse what could have been, however."
The murmurs grew to full hushed conversations, and Erica knew she had won over a few minds to further exploring this type of magic. Satisfied, she began the delicate process of closing the portal.
Until the pull returned, stronger than before. It slammed into Erica's mind, rapidly dropping her defenses and flowing into her spellwork. Rather than vanish, the portal shifted. The new spell matrix pulled heavier on Erica's magical reserves, forcing her to dip into the well of void energy within her core to maintain control of the magic. If she lost it here, an unstable collapse was the least of her concern. The portal could very well begin pulling on the latent energy saturating the University, growing wildly, risking the lives of everyone present.
Many of the students noticed the portal beginning to wobble and shift, and their professor's suddenly pinched expression. They grew more concerned as sweat appeared on her brow, and the hushed conversations soon turned to expressions of fear and concern. None were foolish enough to interfere, however. All had experienced the backlash of an interrupted casting, at some point.
With a final grunt of exertion, Erica changed tracks, instead stabilizing the altered portal once more, rather than trying to force it closed. The scene within shifted, no longer displaying the placid view on the elven city. Now, strange black and red metalworks glinted with light in the background. They appeared almost Gnomish, but far sleeker and more compact. A figure walked into frame, and Erica had a double take. The face that appeared in the image... was hers. Not as she was now. The woman was clearly human, and much younger than the current Erica. To her surprise the woman looked exactly like Erica had during her apprenticeship days. Before the accident.
"Apprentice, are you alright?"
The voice, that of an older, yet not aged, woman's voice rang out through the room. With a start, Erica realized it had not come from within their room, but from the portal itself. Erica's lookalike turned her face from the portal's view, looking somewhere out of view. "Yes, I'm fine, my Master," she responded, though Erica caught a glimpse of darkness in her eyes before they vanished, "I think that last ritual drained me of far more than I anticipated. I felt the Force drawing on more than my own power. As if it were pulling at my very essence."
"Well then, do be careful going forward," the other voice instructed. Not unkind, yet not with much affection either. "Your power is essential to ensuring our plans succeed. I cannot afford to lose you to a botched training exercise."
"Of course, Master." Erica's counterpart bowed in respect to the unseen speaker, and she caught a look at the other's outfit. Tight and form-fitting shined leather, perfect for mobility in combat, yet awful at preserving modesty. She noticed that a number of her students had also caught that detail, and she couldn't stop a flush from creeping up. Much as she was intrigued by this incredibly odd situation, she would have to endeavor to recreate it in her spare time later.
She tried to begin the shutdown sequence for the portal again when the same throbbing pull took hold of her head once more. Interestingly, she could see that, within the portal, her doppelganger placed a hand to her head at the exact same moment. Curiosity got the better of Erica, and she allowed the portal to follow the ebb of her essence.
"Come now, Apprentice, we must-"
"-Get out of here, Erica!"
The elder voice vanished mid-statement as the scene whirled to a new locale. This time, golden beams of sunlight streamed peacefully through a forest canopy, the ground below shaded by massive trees of unfamiliar structure. They bent and curved, often forming what appeared to be pathways among the branches
A new voice echoed from within these odd woods, and two figures burst out from between the trunks. Once more, Erica found herself looking upon an eerily familiar face, this one somewhere between the previous younger version, and Erica's current visage. And, notably, this doppelganger was also markedly human, though she bore a shock of pure white hair, instead of Erica's original red locks. The tips were stained purple, this shade far more familiar to her body in recent years. Luxurious black robes clad her frame, granting her plenty of modesty, yet also tight enough in just the right places as to not hinder movement heavily. This woman ran at a steady pace, shaking her head and touching it softly, as if coming off of a sudden headache.
Beside her ran another, shorter figure, and Erica had to stifle a gasp when her face became visible. Two distinct wide markings, reminiscent of whiskers, adorned the other woman's cheeks. Her pupils were tall slits that ran vertical in her eyes. Perched atop her own white bob cut rested two cat ears, twitching and shifting as fully functional ears would when in use.
"I'm- sorry-" the robed woman panted, clearly out of breath from too much running, "I don't- know- what happened. My spell- too much aether lost- like being drained."
The cat woman shot her a concerned look. "Is it a Primal somewhere? We can't afford one right now!"
The counterpart shook her head rapidly, "No... it's okay. I'm feeling better already. Hang on."
With a twirl, a staff with a construction much similar to the last vision appeared in the woman's hands, its twin prongs separating and starting to channel electricity between the two. Planting her feet in a solid stance, the woman raised her staff, causing blue light to start flowing between the prongs faster and faster. A small ball of what looked like flame solidified, and the woman launched it towards the direction they had just come from. An animalistic shriek erupted from the treeline, and a massive bear broke from. What little cover it had been charging through. It skidded to a halt, face driving directly into the soil in front of it.
As Erica observed closer, she noticed that the creature had been no ordinary bear. It's coat more resembled marble than flesh, and it's eyes glowed an unnatural blue. It struggled back to its feet, shaking off whatever the launched spell had done. Part of its right foreleg was mangled and broken. Blood should have been coating the marble fur, but instead, light shone from within the creature's wounds. Even that was slowly healing.
"Seems your aim was a bit off," the cat woman commented.
"Yeah, yeah, give me a minute," the woman with purple streaks grumbled. She charged another spell, this one clearly far stronger.
With a start, Erica realized that the same tugging sensation was pulling on her mind once again. A thought started to take shape, and Erica watched her counterpart fire off this new spell, a massive explosion of flame and force erupting on the bear creature's head. It annihilated the bear in an instant, the creature seeming to dissolve into a mass of pure light as it died.
The cat woman let the tension of battle disperse with a sigh. "One more down," she mused, "who knows how many more to go."
"It's a wonder this one made it so far into the Greatwood," the purple-streaked woman said worriedly, "With the Lightwardens gone, most of the Sin Eaters scattered to the Empty."
"Well, at least we can actually trim their numbers now," the cat woman pointed out, "Let's get back to the tower. I'm sure they have some news to report by now."
The purple-streaked woman nodded, pulling what appeared to be a white wooden mask over her face. The two began channeling identical spells, though Erica felt no pull this time around. Seizing the moment, she once more attempted to close the portal, praying it wouldn't be yanked away from her a third time. Twice had been embarrassing enough. Thankfully, the blue orb snapped shut, and the surrounding space returned to a perfectly normal state.
Erica turned back to her students, who all sat wide-eyed and silent from what they had witnessed. Erica cleared her throat to snap them out of their reverie, and clapped her hands for good measure. "I'm sure you all have an endless sea of questions," she said, "but unfortunately, I doubt I can answer them. All I can say is that those scenes were not intended as anchor points, and frankly, I have no idea where, when, or even who we just saw."
That last bit was partially untrue, but her students did not need to be involved in that. She had a sneaking suspicion neither of those locations had been branches of Azeroth's timeline, and she would have to figure out why she existed in them herself in her own study time. For now, she had to keep them from panicking. "This just goes to show you how important proper anchor positioning can be. If either of those had shifted us to the bottom of the ocean, this room would look like a miniature Great Sea. Luckily, I had wards in place, and had structured the spell in such a way that no substantial force could penetrate this side of the portal. Now, I want everyone to complete the practice questions on pages 11 and 12 of your exercise booklets for our next class, so we can dive right into the next topic. Class dismissed!"
Her class finally snapped back to reality, and classroom materials began to vanish back into bags with frightening speed. Students started filtering out the doors, many throwing glances back to their professor, some confused, others concerned, and a number with curiosity writ plain in their features. Erica nodded reassuringly at each look she caught, but her own mind was busy whirling with questions. Once she was alone in the room, she looked to her hourglass. Two hours before her advanced class started. She would normally use the time to grab a quick bite and get a start on grading homework turned in earlier, but that could wait.
With a snap, she opened another portal, this one firmly set to a single destination: her home study. She walked through, already activating the enchantment on her quill that would cause it to record everything as she said it. She had work to do.