((Alternatively titled: Why Not To Anger A Country Warlock))
((This all happened after Xzavier decided to visit while looking for Mhorighan, and while many of us were discussing the baby. Margaid was there to drop off homework to Mhorighan's mailbox.))
“Three sprigs of nine herbs, bound in nine strands of three cloths... Shoot, where are those thistle branches...”
Yasius brought a checkerboarded bindle over onto the table. Margaid took them after patting the voidlord. “Nine twigs of three woods...” She looked to the amorphous blob of shadow. “You thinkin’ what I’m thinkin’?” Yasius gave no hint of emotion, but Margaid grinned anyway. “Oh yeah. I’m thinking.”
She began to assemble the poppet.
Three each of felweed, gromsblood, blindweed, dreamfoil, nightmare vine, manathistle, fireleaf, silkweed, and dreamleaf were bound with strips of soulcloth, felweave, and spellcloth.
Willow, larch, thistle, rhododendron, sycamore, cherry, blackthorn, hawthorne, and plum. Three branches of each bound together.
These made the guts and body, respectively
Fuller’s Teasel, Rose of Sharon, goldenrod, clotbur, citron, juniper, helenium, burdock, and crocus all came together in a crown placed around it like a sash, three flowers of each.
Margaid held it up to the light to examine it. “Looks good. Gran’d be proud.” Yasius gave a long, nondescript sigh. Margaid grinned, and added one final touch. Arguably the most important piece. Hair of her target, Xzavier Steele, forcibly taken. This was attached to the ‘head’ using a glob of beeswax. And with that, she was done. She set it carefully down before summoning her succubus, Mirnys.
“Take this to the cafeteria. Store it up in the chimney, too far up for even the big blue one to reach.”
The demon took it gingerly, before vanishing. Invisibility was useful for stowing these things secretly.
Dean Amaranthaea Crowelley Ph.D.,
My purpose for writing this missive is twofold: First, to inform. Secondly, to confirm.
I have not seen you and yours since the Winter's Veil family banquet hosted in Steelhaven nearly a fortnight ago, and I confess that I'd sought a chance encounter with you on my recent visit to your University's campus. I had news to share, which was only further reinforced by some impromptu essence scanning and aura scrying that I had done while there. No, instead, I'd met with several of your most prominent faculty members. It seemed to me that they were deeply entrenched in the mystery surrounding the children; venturing hypotheses and theories that I found mostly desperate and hopeful in my happenstance eavesdropping, but... some, well, I admit to a stark fascination with some of their hunches. I was particularly intrigued by Kelimare's belief that the children are in fact special in some way. I strongly believe this as well, as I have since the days of their arrival into this world. But surely you remember my prediction of this possible outcome? Of course you do.
I was met with suspicion and consternation upon my arrival at the University Main Offices, although this is nothing particularly new or especially bothersome to me. I knew my purpose there, which incidentally aligned with their own, whether they trusted in that or not. I'd also assisted in correctly diagnosing a dormant infection I had easily detected inside Professor Bache's head wound, as well as its cause. Cani tended to it immediately and, I must confess, eradicated every last trace as though it were your hands working vicariously through hers. I can tell you that a Fel Corruptor attacked him, which, confidentially, means that these attempts on the children have escalated. Had Cani not acted so swiftly, Garry might be a cunning, mind-controlled agent of the Legion right now. A way of infiltrating your University and gaining close, trusted access to their target. Or targets. Interesting girl, that Caniell Lyca... Demure, brave, compassionate. She weaves restorative magic like few others I've witnessed before. But she's unable or perhaps unwilling to give herself due credit... Lack of confidence, a shame really. You would be wise to plumb the potential within her and cultivate it properly, Amaranthaea, for the betterment of those whom she favors and loves. After this interlude, I went about the rest of my urgent business there and conducted it mostly uninterrupted by your faculty, aside from a few errant inquiries about my actions and some minor questioning of my motives.
Which brings me to my first item of business...
I can now confirm that Mhorighan is indeed alive and well.
In fact, she has been moving among your University campus through some manner of sophisticated magical means. How, exactly? That, I reluctantly confess, is yet unknown to me. But I will soon discover the answer, rest fully assured of that! My evidence of this stands within the readings I'd gotten all throughout the University grounds on the evening in question. Mhorighan has been specifically traveling among your... "Fel Arts" laboratories and library, throughout the building which encompasses the entirety of your Magical Arts and Sciences Department, including her personal office, and the University Main Office where I'd happened to run into your faculty. On a personal note, I'll add that Mhorighan also seems to frequent the gazebo behind the Cathedral of Light specifically on Thursday evenings, for whatever reason. She does not linger long, as the traces of her essence hang faintly in the aether there.
While I doubt that the rank and file of your University colleagues would be able to, perhaps someone of your power could attempt to detect her presence in some of these places. Perhaps not, for even I have met with severe difficulty in this task as well, and I am her mentor. Her Master. The one who has given her such power, which she now uses to confound and perplex us in her absence. A sly and clever vixen, she is. Perhaps too much so, at times...
The hunt continues and the sport is twofold! I seek the return of my sweet Raven, my loyal and dutiful disciple. And, her elusiveness presents a keen challenge! I absolutely love a good challenge, after all, for as woefully seldom as one merits my notice and superior intellect. Mhorighan shall be returned to you, to us, and very soon, Amaranthaea! On my blood and honor as a Steele, you will see her again! Once I fully unlock the mystery of her ability to traverse through means unknown as of yet...
Ah, yes. My second item of business!
While among your faculty, there was a student present as well. A fresh-mouthed and disrespectful youth by the name of Margaid Ingram. She smelled of latent Fel energies and her aura gave such away rather easily, although it was Cani who claimed her. (This sardonic and petulant darkling, merely a Literary Arts student? Feh!) I feigned ignorance - alas, the first waypoint to lowering one's guard! - and pretended I didn't know who, or what, she really is. Miss Ingram made no attempt at obfuscating her feelings, however. She's fiery, that one, and undoubtedly one of Mhorighan's finest students. She would make a fine supplicant, would that unworldliness and youthful ignorance weren't stunting her potential for true power. But as you know, Amaranthaea, I seek no other disciple than my sweet Raven, Mhorighan. So Margaid remains safely among your University colleagues and her peers.
But again, I digress.
Once the office had cleared out, only myself, Cani and Margaid remained. It was there that she revealed all: Her purpose was to make known that if I were somehow responsible for Mhorighan's disappearance, or that I was withholding information from you, that I would suffer her wrath and consequences. Cani immediately intervened, although it was hardly necessary. Tch! Foolish girl. Such mistrust in a potent ally, despite our aims in full alignment! Margaid left shortly after, with Cani's assurance that some form of discipline would be handed down for her transgression. But before she did depart, the youth plucked a series of hairs from my beard and absconded into the City!
Do not take me for a fool, Amaranthaea, just as surely as I do not ever dare discredit you and your own vast eldritch wisdom of the macabre and forbidden. I know what this one plans to do. And I welcome it. Do they teach the Rule of Threes in your Fel Arts Department? I'm certain that they teach it on the Gilnean countrysides, where your power was manifested and cultivated, yes? The child hails from there, as I'm sure that you know, and so she should mark that lesson well before any true harm can be done. I promised Cani then, as a token of my respect for you, for her, and your institution of learning, that no harm will be delivered by my hand unto Margaid or any other faculty or student member of your University. Quite the contrary, in fact, although I hardly feel that any one of them truly believe that. They will see in time, however, despite that I've nothing to prove.
Nevertheless, I shall keep my word, but I am not responsible for the repercussions of clandestine workings by some hedge-witch's dabbling into dark arts she does not fully comprehend.
I shall furthermore keep my word, and find a way to return Mhorighan to you and yours, Amaranthaea. And then, of course, once the reverie has faded and the dawn has come on this august reunion, my disciple will return to me... For there is much more work yet to be done.
C. Xzavier Steele
Somewhere, deep below the fel-scorched landscape of Shadowmoon Valley...
The grand hall of a subterranean keep, masterfully hewn from obsidian with large flowing veins of fel-imbued stone and crystal stippled all throughout, quaked and reverberated with the massive pulse of incredible Fel energies. Xzavier Steele stood at the center of the fashioned throne room, teeth clenched and gritted in a display of nigh-impossible struggle, his chest bared and misted with the drippings of sweat borne from extreme exhaustion. Both of Xzavier's hands were tightly grasping the fel-steel shaft of a sorcerous war-staff possessed of seemingly tremendous power. Its pommel rested securely in a circular panel on the floor, at the center of this throne room, encircled by an incredibly wide circumference of runes and eldritch inscriptions spiraling all throughout the hall.
A pair of emerald green eyes, tinted with a flaring fel-green radiance, watched Xzavier with a keenly intrigued resolve and a burnishing determination from upon the throne at the center of the room. These eyes widened and narrowed in equal measure, matching perfectly in line with the fluctuating tempo of the vibrations of thrumming sound and illuminations of fel-green light produced by Xzavier's remarkable efforts. These eyes were cold and analytical and ever watchful. These eyes belonged to none other than The Master; Xzavier's great-uncle in the proud Steele bloodline and sole mentor in the Dark and Fel Arts!
The Master watched as the runes and inscriptions surrounding Xzavier, still standing firm within the ritual circle and attempting to conquer this challenge, continued to illuminate and expand further and further outward. The slightest of intrigued grumbles escaped The Master's lips and a wry smirk crossed his otherwise emotionless expression. He raised a crystal goblet slowly and drank deeply of it, though The Master's eyes never once left Xzavier's form.
Xzavier's eyes began to glow and smolder with a hellish fel-green light. He bore down and planted then re-planted his feet squarely to the runic setting in the floor. A low and seemingly painful cry of anguish began to rise from within Xzavier's throat, and his eyes began to roll back into his head, as his very limits were being completely tested! But still he remained, hands clutched tightly to the war-staff as though his very life depended upon it.
"...Or, perhaps, someone else's life?" A voice boomed within Xzavier's mind, accompanied by frightfully ominous laughter. It was almost mocking, in fact, yet Xzavier knew his Master well enough by now to realize that it was a thinly-veiled encouragement. The best that Xzavier could possibly ever expect from the inhuman Lord of Fel, at least. "I summoned you here to resume your training, Xzavier! Now that your tempestuous and painfully mortal waif has vanished and left you to it, of course. That... Professor, Mhorighan Meadows. But your powers! They have grown considerably since you last performed this empowerment ritual! This is the furthest that you've pushed your limits yet. You see now that I have been right all along. That woman... Those... emotions that she'd instilled in you, mere obstacles in your path to true power! You may yet succeed this night and manage to impress me, Xzavier. You may yet fulfill your destiny and join me at my right hand in saving Azeroth and driving back the Burning Legion, once and for all!"
Xzavier closed his eyes as The Master's words echoed through his mind, attempting to find some measure of focus within or perhaps despite them. He restored his grip upon the war-staff and tightened until he felt searing pain surging through his wrists and into the implement of destruction. Xzavier's essence was draining away now, he could feel it ebbing slowly into powering the ritual, but still he remained stalwart in seeing it through. He parted his lips to groan forth some kind of defiant utterance, but found them cracked and dry, his tongue also devoid of the proper moisture to refresh them. The whole of the grand hall flickered and flashed with blinding fel-green light that rivaled a small sun, the very foundation of this underground fortress beginning to rock and quake violently.
The Master stood urgently from his throne, exhibiting an extremely rare show of actual concern, and watched Xzavier with a tentative expression. "Control it, Xzavier! Control it, damn you! Such awesome power... Rein it in! Now!" The Master bellowed, now raising a hand fully enveloped and swirling with Fel magic, seemingly prepared to forcibly cease the empowerment ritual if it came to that. Xzavier bared his teeth and reached deep within himself, muscles taxed to their capacity, and he suddenly felt a strange and inexplicable serenity wash over him. The keep began to slowly cease its relentless shaking and the furiously wild energies began to collect and gather into a singular force once more. The Master's concern appeared to fade just as immediately, a gratified smirk crossing his lips as he'd seated himself once again upon his obsidian throne. He watched in cold, silent assessment once again from the inky black shadows of the grand hall, sipping calmly from his crystal goblet as he did so.
Xzavier's eyes fluttered open as the sudden calm permeated his body. His thoughts. Even his very soul felt somehow... lighter. Less burdensome. He bowed his head for several moments, feeling the previously searing pain throughout his wrists and arms now transmuting within his veins and muscular tissue into raw power. Delicious, pleasurable power! He reveled in it, and with the first few seconds of the recognition of such power within the synapses of Xzavier's brain, he felt that he'd finally understood - nay, comprehended! - what The Master felt every moment of every single night since his own transcendence to breaking this final limit to ultimate power, so long ago!
The runes and inscriptions encircling the ritual circle rounded further and further until finally reaching what looked like the tangible apex of expansion throughout the grand hall. The Master's eyes widened for a mere split-second before the realization had hit him; Xzavier proved himself ready to finally transcend and - no, this couldn't be! - his power levels presently exceeded that of The Master's in those moments of stability! The Master drank greedily of the remnants in his cup and rose swiftly from his throne once more. He chuckled madly with great pride in his disciple, clapping his hands together with anticipation as the laughter echoed and boomed through the grand hall. Slowly and with a casually triumphant gait, The Master began descending the stairs of the dais of his throne, his eyes remaining upon Xzavier and intent on congratulating his charge at long last.
In these moments, and many more beforehand, Xzavier was so intensely focused upon his test that he'd begun to see visions. He experienced his many trials and tribulations throughout his entire life, streaming in momentary flashes through his mind's eye, from his earliest memories to his latest experiences and encounters. Interspersed between these glimpses into his past, Xzavier continuously saw glimpses of Maggie. Her lovely face. The deep brown pools of her eyes. Those inviting lips. Her light caramel skin. The curvaceous frame of her body, crown to toe. With each vision that passed through his perceptions, Xzavier could see only Maggie. His Sweet Raven.
Until he finally did see her!
So too did The Master see her, as he stopped immediately in his path to Xzavier and the ritual circle, his eyes flaring wildly with equal parts surprise and seething rage! Xzavier could do naught but focus all of his energies into maintaining the perilous balance of his summoned Fel energies into the empowerment ritual, though in truth it was Maggie's presence that spurred him onward and gave him that additional push to carry on. Maggie appeared as a tangible physical body for mere moments, long enough to mouth a silent apology to Xzavier and blow him a solemn but heartfelt kiss, then reverted to a translucent aetherial form and further, back to her recent state of intangibility. "Begone, mortal waif!" The Master roared in furious anger, "What have you done?! How did you find this place?! Purge yourself from his presence, from this hallowed sanctuary of the Fel! You dabble in magics, in affairs, that you do not fully understand, clever girl!"
"YOU. DO. NOT. KNOW!"
No sooner did Maggie vanish into complete invisibility, than The Master had sent an immense bolt of swirling Shadow and scorching Felflame hurtling toward her. It did not strike its intended target, but rather, managed to pierce the aetherial bonds that Xzavier had been so precariously binding together and weaving into his control! The ritual was fully disrupted prior to its ultimate completion, the circle of runes and inscriptions now damaged and singed in places from where the Felbolt had struck. Xzavier, now encircled by the smoke and tinder that remained of his ritual circle, stood for a few silent moments before unceremoniously crashing to the floor, unconscious and unresponsive. The Master knelt at his disciple's side, brooding amid his sharp concern, and surveyed the concussive collateral damage that his error had wrought. "You have passed your test, broken your final limit, in all but actuality, my disciple." The Master murmured, watching Xzavier as he lay otherwise silent and unmoving. "I have warned you many times of the dangers of her interference in your quest for power. There is no room for such things in our paths to ultimate power over the Fel, I assure you. I have paid the costs dearly, once upon a time. So too now, have you. Perhaps in time, you too shall also transcend beyond your error and achieve full power as I have."
Xzavier laid there at the center of the obliterated ritual circle, his eyes open though hardly seeing what was before him. He eventually felt his fingers curling and twitching, his muscles and blood shocking themselves awake, and his senses very slowly began to return to him. A small, triumphant smile crept across Xzavier's lips then. He saw her, he knew now with full certainty that Mhorighan was alive and indeed quite well. She'd even managed to travel, by whatever unknown means she's been employing, to The Master's clandestine keep deep beneath Shadowmoon Valley! Xzavier was overjoyed, and for once, he wasn't concerned for showing it openly. He began a low and sinister chuckle which then rose into near-maniacal laughter. The Master, who had been lecturing quite a tirade by now toward his senseless disciple, spun around and watched Xzavier cautiously. "Have you gone mad, Xzavier? The ritual circle has been destroyed, there is no direct manner to measure your energy potential now! No tangible way to see if you're able to break your final limitation! At least, not until I can see it repaired and recalibrated. It could be quite some time, and we don't have nearly that much to spare! And there's still the matter of the children! The Legion does not only annihilate, as you know, they also assimilate where they see the merit."
Xzavier slowly ceased his laughter, choosing to remain quiet and show at least some measure of reverence to both his Master and the situation as a whole. He gave himself a couple more minutes to recuperate, then sat up and sighed deeply with the weight of further duties he knew would be calling again soon. He closed his eyes for several moments again. Xzavier could see Amara in his mind's eye. Her child, Ellisondra. Then Declain, Aurelinna and their son - his own nephew - Sevastien. His vision next loomed over the campus of Stormwind University, then throughout the Perfoming Arts Department's amphitheater. He could see Caniell, standing with crossed arms and an angered expression that somehow managed to look somewhat endearing. Cani was gesturing to a nearby broom, dustpan and an assortment of feather dusters and rinsecloths, directing her stern command to that young Gilnean hedge witch she'd called her student. Margaid...? Yes. Margaid Ingram. Xzavier gave a crooked grin as he peered upon Margaid's face from this spiritual vantage. Perhaps her little curse had a way of unfolding upon him after all, albeit not in as direct a manner as she may have intended. Xzavier noted that both Cani and Margaid shivered suddenly and almost simultaneously, then abruptly ceased his scrying lest either of them begin to suspect something. Xzavier rose to his feet, using his impressive war-staff - which somehow, remained completely unblemished nor was rendered ineffective by the magical overload - for balance. The Master was still on his angry, vengeful rant. Xzavier cleared his throat and began to tug his robes back onto his body, willing himself to pay better attention lest he incur any further ire from his Master.
"...You'll need to complete your training, and I happen to know of one other way. If you thought the empowerment ritual was difficult, this will require far more of your efforts still! I cannot go to Azeroth, as I presently remain bound to these chambers for the benefit of our secret workings. You know this well, Xzavier. I shall beckon for you a highly capable emissary in my stead. Someone who, in my younger years, served as both mentor and accomplice to many of my plans and ultimate goals. I shall implore her to search through the innumerable libraries that lay dormant and hidden away at our disposal." The Master stood before a large, blood-red scrying orb. He gazed into it and waved a hand in some archaic gesture over the orb's surface, glancing at Xzavier from over his shoulder. "And whom do I have the pleasure of serving in this most glorious and painstaking endeavor, my Master?" Xzavier inquired, clasping his hands together and bowing his head ever so slightly in respectful acquiescence. "...Is she demon? A rogue Legion turncoat perhaps, beholden to many eldritch secrets such as this?"
The Master turned slowly and shook his head. "No, my disciple. The one of which I speak, she is family. You know her well. Return to Azeroth and await her summons shortly afterward, it will not be long." Xzavier peered at a swirling image that slowly began to form within the scrying orb. He could see the vision of an impossibly beautiful Night Elf woman with a flowing white mane of hair, paled ivory flesh and the Kaldorei mark of the Shadow upon her face. From her naturally pouted lips spoke a dusky yet melodious voice that could easily seduce or instill fear at her whim. Xzavier grinned, nodding slightly, as now he fully understood.
"Behold, my disciple," The Master decreed with equal parts pride and reverence, "The White Witch of Duskwood has been tapped for your service and invaluable aid in the quest to break your final limit! She will show you the way, as she had once shown me. Xzavier, you must not delay. Even for your... 'Sweet Raven', you must not delay. She will... no, she must, understand this!"
Xzavier grasped his war-staff tightly and twirled it expertly before sheathing it to his back, intent on beginning his journey back to Azeroth. He had much to share on his return, much to do, and now it seemed he'd add achieving his true destiny as a Master of the Fel Arts to that list.
Margaid entered the door of her dimly lit dorm. Already the comforting smell of lemon verbena filled her nostrils and sent a wave of comfort through her body. “Ugh. Bloody Cani. Bloody Creepy. Bloody Maggie and her bloody absence. I swear, Yasius, everyone wants to make things hard. I bloody hate it.” She collapsed onto the thick woolen sheets that lined her mattress and slammed the thin pillow over top of her head. She gave a muffled scream into the bag of feathers and then threw it against the wall. “Creepy is on the move. Felt it. Knew he didn’ know I know, but I know, ya’ know?” She let her head turn to the amorphous blog of shadow energy, who gave a non-descript sigh and allowed itself to pool a bit on the ground. “Yea. I know you know. Smart guy ya’ are.” She looked up to the paint smears all over the ceiling above her bed, letting her focus get lost in the swirling pools of color that reminded her of simpler days in simpler places. Eventually, she let out a groan and shifted her feet to the floor, sliding down to a squat on the ground before standing up and pushing open the window. “No time ta sleep. Got work to do. Hate it, but I gotta. Hold down the fort?” She nodded to the voidlord, who made no motion, and then jumped out the opening and onto the branch of the trusty oak tree growing against the fel-arts dorms.
New moons make for secrecy and dark magic, Gran always said. Margaid kept her lessons to heart. She was the only one who believed in her. She was the only one who nurtured her gift. Margaid kicked a stone up against one of the brick walls of the cafeteria building. Her succubus slowly faded back into view, clutching a burlap-wrapped parcel that smelled of smoke and cooked food. The demon saluted and then faded back into the shadows once it was taken from her grip. Now it was time to see what mister Steele was up to. By this hour, she approximated, he would be asleep. Or at least tired enough for this to go without too much a hitch. Not like she cared, though.Let him know. Let him come. She’ll bash that smug smirk right off his face without so much as a hesitation. Alas, however, she needed him to find Maggie. He was the only one who had an idea. Margaid rolled her eyes at herself for thinking like this. Already she had managed to find her way to the locked room in the basement of the fel-arts building. Sure, it was cliché, but what other building on campus has been locked up this tight ever since things were being stolen? According to those logs she found in Jecht’s office, nobody’s routes go this far into the building. Which means her actions would be kept secret, so long as she was smart. And she was.
Lockpicks are an easy thing to learn, but it’s often a matter of time. In this case, Margaid didn’t have much time to fiddle with picks and all that. Using an old mirror standing in a closet, she used the same ritual she had practised so many times in order to get into the room. Not many knew that this particular mirror had a sister. It was Gilnean-made by an artisan long since passed. Mirrors contained within them a certain kind of power. Reflections open up in alternate worlds, some supposed. Margaid, however, just found the flat smooth surfaces to be perfect conduits for the arcane magic that twists and ties together the fabrics of reality much like someone would reweave an old tapestry.The visualization helped her manage these portals for longer. Imagination always was a strong suit of hers. It certainly helps that it is one of the fundamental aspects by which she operates. One simple spell later, and Margaid walked seamlessly from one door to the next. She dispelled her portal to mask her trail and then began to don her traditional ritual garb.
Practised hands began to work on preparing the space for the dark spell she had in mind. Soon, a thin smoke began to fill the room with the heady aroma of burning incense. The circle was purified, and the runes were checked and double-checked. Everything was in order, just as it always was. Gran would be proud of her, she thought as she removed the poppet from its burlap prison. The effigy of Xzavier would serve its purpose well. She placed it on her altar, left of the crystal ball which was left of the thurible currently still burning it’s sweet perfume. She soon began to chant her spell work, singing out the song she was given willingly by a mentor in order to focus her will to a point. She will hold herself together through this, weather it be by prayer or beat of drum. She will find Maggie. She will prove herself to Xzavier. She will do this to make her Gran proud. Her vision was transfixed upon the swirling clouds within the orb of glass as the ritualistic dance continued. She could make out flashes of visions as her power began to reach out through the Twisting Nether, grasping out towards the lifeforce bound to the figure. And there it was. A thread by which she will weave her way into thoughts of her target.
It was with all of her hope that Margaid wished he knew. She wished Xzavier could feel that she, a lowly hedge mage meddling with forces beyond her ken, managed to find him, and to know him. With all of her might, she began channeling dark magic into the orb, which was serving as her conduit into the mind of her intended target. The connection could not have been maintained for long, however. She already had counted on her presence being known to him. Despite all of her distrust, she did recognize that he had power. But, today was about learning. Margaid began to tug and pull at the treads of his subconscious, looking for any pieces of what she could find. A memory, a vision, just anything relating to her mission. Eyes of flaming emerald and tickles of fel power unlike anything she ever felt. Something almost more primal. Something like what she felt so long ago in her youth. Margaid focused her willpower once more. No time for reverie. There was work to be done. Deeper she went, searching for anything on this tapestry she held before her, so to speak.
Stitches in fabric can be easy to spot when you don’t really want to hide them. There is was, deep down as far as she dared to go on tonight, a vision of Mhorighan, whispering over and over again that silent apology. It was all she needed to know. Mhorighan was alive, somehow. Margaid knew somehow that Xzavier would know she knew as well. But, she did not care. Her own laughter, ringing out in the stone room, roused her from the deep trance of spellcasting. “I did it! I bloody did it! Take that, ya’ big creepy!” Margaid raised a fist to the air, before swearing and diving to stop her crystal ball from smashing against the concrete floor. It seemed as though all those years of football helped her with something for once, she thought. But now she was all dirty. That would have to be fixed later, however. For now, there was the task of cleansing the area once more, and hiding the remnants of what she did her tonight, ‘lest her clandestine operations be discovered. This, however, was something she was very good at. She better had be, if this was to go off without too much fuss. She did have class tomorrow, after all.
The night of the Debate Series, Salon Room A, Stormwind University main campus...
Dean Amaranthaea Crowelley stood by the erected dais at the head of the salon room, peering out at the gathering crowd that began to assemble within. There was a strange feeling that she just couldn't shake; something, somewhere, certainly felt... "off", was the best and only way Amara could describe it. Nevertheless, she stood by Professor Caniell Lyca's side at the podium, making conversation with her and the previously chosen volunteer members of the debate panel. It was an interesting assortment gathered, to say the least, and the topic was of a vastly global concern. It was one that Dean Crowelley herself had been pointedly interested in as an Archdruid of the Cenarion Circle: The preservation of our natural resources, matched against the benefits of their widespread harvesting and usage for the advances of civilization and progress.
Amara withdrew her pocketwatch from her vest and glanced at it idly. It was but a few minutes prior to start time and a distraction from this inexplicable sensation she'd been feeling was gladly welcome. By this point, her senses felt somewhat dulled and sluggish. Caniell had been attempting to attract Amara's attention for a full minute by this point, her voice an unintelligible drone in the Dean's mind, until once more Amaranthaea could hear clearly again. "Uh... Wha-What was that, Cani? Beg pardon, I hadn't heard what you just asked." Amara had muttered at first, almost to herself only. She turned to face Caniell and blinked her eyes in a flutter, refocusing her gaze as she'd repeated herself, this time louder and more clearly. "Are you alright, Ma'am?" Cani inquired, a mildly concerned look on her face. As a fellow Worgen, Cani knew that Amara's hearing faculties were heightened considerably and more so, are even sharper than her own. It was an incredibly rare moment that Amara missed anything at all within her incredible earshot, let alone something that was said a mere three feet beside her.
Amaranthaea shook her head slightly and fluttered her lashes once more. She tilted her head a bit and parted her lips to speak, though not a word issued forth right away. Cani cleared her throat gently and offered the Dean a soft smile, then gestured to the gathered audience behind Amara. "Nay, I'm fine Cani! Thank ya for askin' though." Caniell chewed her bottom lip tentatively then nodded in acceptance. "I was also askin' if you were still up for hostin' Debates tonight. I can do it in your stead, if ya like..." Amara glanced at her pocketwatch once again and appeared to be considering Caniell's offer. In the periphery of her view, Amaranthaea had suddenly noticed the unexpected arrival of Doctor Marrion MacHarren and his wife Kelimare; former faculty and recent architects of a woefully failed scheme to lead almost half of Dean Crowelley's beloved University colleagues away to start up some small business venture elsewhere. Amara ground her teeth for a moment as a low, feral rumble of equal parts intrigue and irritation welled up within her throat. Amaranthaea's eyes flared momentarily with the amber-gold hue typical of her Worgen half before averting them to focus upon the face of her watch once again. Amid all that she was sensing in this moment, Amaranthaea had neither the time nor the patience required to figure out how she felt about that particular situation right now.
Amara slowly perked her head back up and she glanced aside to meet with Caniell's inquisitive and concerned expression. "Don't ya feel somethin's off, Cani?" Amara murmured quietly aside to Caniell. "Somethin' not quite right. Somethin' stirrin' out there." Caniell blinked slowly and glanced all around the salon room for several moments then returned her attentions to Amara. "I don't know, Ma'am. What kinda somethin' is it? Then maybe I can tell ya if I'm feelin' it too." As though in answer to Caniell's inquiry, Amara's ChatStone began to whir, buzz and flash its tiny light in the Dean's left earring. She clicked it on to open the transmission frequency and Caniell, with her keen Worgen auditory senses, was able to discern Ysobaella's voice over the secured line.
It seemed that Amara had left her Cenarion Circle beacon at their flat, and someone by the name of Skylord Omnuron had been sending urgent communications to all available defenders of the Dreamgrove to converge on Val'sharah. Somewhere outside of the sector that has since become known as Darkheart Thicket. Furthermore, it seemed to Caniell that when Amara hadn't answered the summons, Rensar Greathoof himself - Archdruid of the Dreamgrove - decided to attempt hailing her personally with a desperate yet commanding plea to join their ranks as quickly as possible. Ysobaella admitted to not answering the beacon herself, but she thought it worth passing the message along to Amara; The described situation sounded incredibly dire and the Circle must strongly require her direct aid to have sent such a summons out personally.
Amaranthaea softly whispered that she'd be on her way immediately, then closed the transmission. She glanced upward and over to Caniell, about to explain, but Cani smiled supportively and raised a hand to politely halt her from doing so. "I heard," Cani interjected, "Go on ahead, Ma'am. I can handle the Debates. Just, please don't hesitate to call on me if anyone's in need of healing." Amara exhaled a relieved sigh and smiled gratefully. She offered a sharp nod of encouragement to the debate panelists then urgently made her way from Salon Room A, intent on conjuring a portal to the Dreamgrove once she'd made it home and retrieved her Cenarion Circle beacon first. She turned the corner leading into the open campus a bit too sharply and, unable to stop herself, Amara crashed into an unmoving figure she'd immediately perceived to be that of Xzavier Steele!
He caught her easily in his arms and steadied her, that coy smirk across his lips and a smoldering fel-green glimmer burnishing in his otherwise emerald hued eyes. "Xzavier," Amara stammered forth as urgently as she could. "Beg pardon, but I've hardly the time right now to entertain your presence." She pointed back toward the corridor leading into Salon Room A, collecting herself and standing straight with an impatient but cordial expression on her face. "Our University's hosting the monthly Debate Series, if you'd like to sit in. You are more than welcome to it. Cani's there, I know ya get on well enough with her. But Margaid's inside, as well! So, you behave, yeah?!" Amara allowed herself a moment of mischievous reverie and poked Xzavier lightly in the chest as she uttered that last command to him, winking slyly. Xzavier cocked his head aside, appearing to consider this notion, then a satisfied smirk spread slowly across his lips. He nodded to Amara then, moving aside with a polite, sweeping bow to allow her to pass. "Very well, Dean Crowelley! I shall make my own entertainment this evening. The Nightmare encroaches, and so you must go. Fight well, Amaranthaea! Return... victorious."
Amara found Xzavier's choice of parting words deeply intriguing and even slightly macabre. One would think that she was used to that sort of thing from the sorcerous Steele by now, but nonetheless he'd still manage to surprise and catch her off-guard every now and again. Amaranthaea shook her head free of these notions for now and sprinted toward the open green at the center of campus. She was merely three full steps away from the hallowed Seal of the University, before leaping into the air and taking wing in her druidic Flight form.
Later that evening, SWU Botanical Gardens, Dean Crowelley's personal laboratory...
Amaranthaea had returned home to Stormwind City several grueling hours later. She felt physically sore, mentally exhausted and spiritually depleted after the entire experience that unfolded earlier that night. When she'd arrived at the outskirts of Darkheart Thicket, the briefing she'd been given by Archdruid Greathoof and Keeper Remulos indicated that a large infectious pocket of the Nightmare had "erupted" further outward from the Thicket into previously uncorrupted sections of Val'sharah. Sensing freedom within their warped and frenzied minds, those horrific creatures once set free began to spill into the pristine landscape and perform acts of depravity and corruption on a much larger scale than the Dreamweavers were normally used to.
Amara leaped into the fray, initially supporting those already deeply embroiled in fierce battle with the Nightmare's worst and many. She called upon a wide variety of her healing and restorative magic in those crucial moments, tending many wounds and helping her allies fight onward with renewed vigor when it was needed most. When her fellows were once again at their strongest and able to carry onward on their own, Amaranthaea charged into battle herself, taking on the forms of both the Feral and Guardian druid as needed. Her eyes were full of vicious challenge and savage malice toward the foes she met in combat, their amber-gold sheen haunting in appearance to any with a mortal heart and a sane mind. On this night, she found particular delight with inviting mighty blows upon her Guardian form, only to return the furious onslaught upon the corrupted by threefold.
The Corrupted had been almost fully obliterated and beaten back to the eerie maw of Darkheart Thicket, when Amaranthaea felt an odd sensation coursing through her entire being. She reverted to her Worgen shift and, by sheer instinct, called upon the mighty Scythe of Elune from within the aether and held it aloft. "What is that you hold, druid?!" called a sinister voice from within the Thicket. One of their lost, their fallen, the once wise and benevolent Archdruid Glaidalis stood among the defeated and retreating Corrupted, his eyes shining with both madness and intrigue. He seemed intent on separating Amara from her Scythe; a notion which erupted in a violent, taxing battle and concluded with Glaidalis' defeat.
Amara was seated at one of the workbenches situated within her expansive alchemical laboratory, her eyes blinking slowly in remembrance of the events that took place earlier that evening. When Archdruid Glaidalis had finally fallen, Amara couldn't help but notice a tiny spark of light that seemed to cling around his neck. She'd knelt beside the Archdruid, finding a mythril silver chain around his neck attached to a small and non-descript crystal vial filled with a glowing dark amber colored liquid. The shimmering fluid was like nothing Amaranthaea had ever seen before, and was proven unidentifiable as of yet. Yet the Scythe of Elune seemed to "know". The artifact had reacted instantly and positively to the presence of the vial and its contents upon Amara's discovery of them and she'd been pondering even the most wild of possibilities ever since. She glanced down at the curious object in the palm of her hand, taking hold of the vial between her thumb and forefinger and brought it up closer to her view.
Amaranthaea sighed, feeling a bit defeated at present moment, then set the vial down next to a potted plant that she'd grown from a seed and had been nurturing for nearly four months now. The plant hadn't grown much taller or developed any further than what Amara estimated was a seedling with a few small branch-like blossoms springing up from it. It was a curious little plant, grown from a gift that she'd been granted by the Dreamweavers of Val'sharah for her tireless efforts in their service. They called it a "Seed of Solar Fire", and explained that for as rare a gift it was, even rarer still was seeing it grow to its maximum potential. The elders of Lorlathil could only posit that the growth was a symbolic one among druids, as well as literal, though nothing further was known as fact about the nature of this phenomena. All research that Amaranthaea had done from that point to this offered little else in the way of reference or even a proper point in the right direction.
Amara unsheathed the Scythe of Elune from her back and set it down vertically in front of her, pommel resting gently against the finely tiled laboratory floor. Eyes wearied and mind dulled, Amaranthaea rested her foreheard against the haft of the Scythe and felt herself begin to drift off. She fought the exhaustion as best she could, something deep within her beckoning her eyes to open and her mind to continue to circulate conscious thought. "Tomorrow," she kept repeating to herself within her own mind. "Tomorrow. Fresh eyes, fresh mind, fresh approach... Fresh coffee!" Amara chuckled wearily to herself, though she suddenly awakened after the adrenaline of feeling herself falling; the result of nearly passing out and gravity taking over, while she remained sitting upright.
"Let me at least get home," Amara murmured sleepily to herself, using the Scythe for balance as she rose to stand on her own two feet. "See my little Ellie, pass out for several hours. Ah. Spend some time with Ginger, been meanin' to do more o' that lately." Amara smiled fondly to herself, thinking about Ysobaella. Beautiful Ysobaella, sexy Ysobaella... fiery Ysobaella. Fiery. Flames. Flames? Flames! FLAMES!!! Amara's eyes widened with unbelieving shock, awash with full wakefulness by the sudden rush of adrenaline that followed. The seedling plant had suddenly, somehow, grown into a miniature tree-like figure and its branches were fully engulfed with flames as bright as the sun that illuminated the entire laboratory. Amara held the Scythe of Elune before her in a defensive manner, shielding her eyes as best she could while attempting to assess the situation.
"Wolf spirit, guide me..."
The Scythe of Elune began to glow and vibrate within Amara's grasp, the light that enveloped it taking on the same ultrabright hue as the flames on the Solar Fire plant's branches. She held fast to the artifact, suddenly emptying her mind completely as some greater force began to hold sway. Amara felt every nerve, every synapse in her body, electrified with this presence! Calmly, she beheld the Scythe of Elune with one hand and plucked the vial up with the other, using her thumb to promptly remove the cap and tilted her wrist until the viscous fluid slowly drizzled out onto the flaming plant. Amara's keen Worgen eyesight saw the liquid run like dark amber molasses from the vial onto the flaming branches of the Solar Fire plant; it was sap, it seemed! Tree sap! Rather ancient tree sap, in fact!
Amara searched her mind and suddenly it began to make sense. Before his corruption by the Emerald Nightmare's hideous sway, Archdruid Gladialis was the last and most honorable tender and guardian of the First World Tree, Shaladrassil! The sap within the vial, which even now he'd seen fit to wear and keep securely on his person, contained the last pure remnant of his sacred charge that remained. The Scythe of Elune itself was forged in the joining of a fang from the Ancient Guardian and wolf demigod Goldrinn, and the Staff of Elune, comprised from a branch of wood plucked from the boughs of Shaladrassil and blessed by the benedictions of the Mother Moon herself! (Or, so Kaldorei legend suggests!)
"Henceforth, you, my Child, shall be known as Nahlen'do... Mistress of the Fang..."
A blinding light shone throughout the laboratory, bathing every corner in pale illumination and leaving no respite for even the tiniest shadow, until finally it began to withdraw and shrink back into the comparatively diminutive form of the Solar Fire plant it had originated from. Amara had been sent reeling, fallen backward against one of the nearby workbenches, tentatively opening her eyes to view the sight unraveling before her. Within the sole flowerpot sat the mythical Sunbloom, a blossom not seen anywhere for thousands of years and never again since Shaladrassil, the First World Tree, last flourished upon Azeroth.
Amaranthaea stood slowly and took a few steps forward, eyes transfixed upon the incredible beauty that was the Sunbloom. She knelt slowly to lift the Scythe of Elune from the floor and extended it toward the petals of the magnificent blossom, watching as tangible lines of Nature and Arcane magic danced and swirled over the blade of the Scythe, transforming it into a length of pure sunlight and cleansing flame. Amara remained kneeling, words unable to express the depth of the honor and glory that she felt in these moments. To be chosen, truly Chosen. As a Child of Goldrinn and Bearer of his immortal Fury. Nahlen'do. Mistress of the Fang.
Tears borne of joy and serenity streamed uncontrollably down Amara's face and several moments later, the light slowly ebbed away and withdrew into the shaft of the Scythe of Elune. She heaved a deep sigh and closed her eyes. Amara began to collect herself, moving to stand and finally head home for a much needed and well deserved rest. Much to her surprise, Amara felt an unexpected sensation on her right hand, much like when one of her many pets decided to lap at it for attention, affection or both. She opened her eyes abruptly and peered aside, non-plussed by now at the sight of a tiny creature seemingly comprised completely of flame. Whether it was canine, feline or otherwise, Amaranthaea couldn't fully discern at first glance. But every time she moved, the little flame critter moved along with her, those tiny eyes watching her expectantly.
At this juncture she'd seen enough, endured enough. Amara just wanted to go home. If this unexpected by-product of the Sunbloom's empowerment of the Scythe felt like following her home, then so be it. It didn't "feel" evil or ominous in the least to Amaranthaea's heightened druidic senses and instincts. She'd keep it penned up with Ember, Ysobaella's pet Cinder Kitten, and study the little bugger once her mind had time to settle and process everything that had just occurred in this single night. For now, this was more than enough. Hells, more than enough for quite some time, if Amaranthaea Crowelley had any say in the matter. With that lasting impression, Amara ambled to her feet and headed out from her personal laboratory toward the waiting comforts of home, the tiny (and she had to admit, adorable!) flame creature padding gingerly behind her in dedicated pursuit.
What follows is a transcript for student file purposes of a conversation between two girls sitting together in a dorm room, speaking animatedly to a few somewhat bored-looking demons. One dresses in leather and a top-hat. The other is the infamous Margaid Ingram. Conversation recorded by Judenny Inkbinder, translated out of Gilnean Codespeak by Caniell Lyca
I told you, Inkbinder, that’s just their accents. ~CL
I still needed a transcript in triplicate. And no, this is not overtime.
“It was a dark and stormy… Well, okay, no it wasn’t. As if it rains in Stormwind.”
“Or the Searing Gorge, or Arathi, or Hillsbrad...”
“We got out to Gilly, though. It never STOPS raining there.”
“Still smell like fish from there, too. Nasty. Fish and fur smell terrible.”
“Only together, Mar-mar. Anyway, it was dark and stormy and all somewhere but we started out somewhere else: The Uni office and Can-can’s cottage respectively.”
“Yeah. And then Can-Can had to be a jerk and give me a roommate. Not like I even did anything bad! I never do anything like that.”
“Ha! I’ve not known you a week and I know better. I’m just tryin’ to figure out which of us is supposed to be a good influence.”
“I mean, really. Not like either of us aren’t known for trouble, am I right? Anyway... So, we get talking. Laying down the ground rules and shite.”
“Don’t mess with the critters, by the way. They bite, and if they don’t, I will.”
“You heard it, Gelbrik. Don’t go messing with anyone.”
“You’re barely a snack for Balac, shrimpy.”
“Right, right. So, yeah. Anyway, we get into the juice bites, aye? The stuff like what she’s in for. And why she got stuck with me. ..And why I got stuck with her.”
“Oi! I’m not stuck. I could run away with another circus anytime I please.”
“Yeah, yeah. Still. She tells me she has plenty of critters. I tell her about my demons. Still need to let her see Yasius and his accordian. Anyway, she asks me about magic and stuff, aye?”
“Never had magic of my own, y’see. It’s interesting stuff, though.”
“Real weird, too. I tell her about my latest project, trying to get at some Creepy dude Maggie’s after. Don’t know why she likes him, but, I don’t. Probably going to make shrivel up or something later.”
“Pop says matters of the heart work in mysterious ways. Shiv says matters of the bedroom even more so.”
“Yeah, well, he’s still a creep. Point is, we go and I show her this poppet I made, aye? Looks just like the creep. Eyebrows and ears and staff and everything. Even put a bee in it.”
“I don’t know the creep myself, but it’s dressed like the evil mage in all the stories I heard as a kid. Y’know the type? Dress and spiky staff and silly beard an’ all.”
“More like an evil ‘lock. Bloody fel-crazy ‘lock. Probably greasy, too. Point is, she asks me what it’s for, so I tell her it like a focus.”
“Yes, I know what that is. Pop’s a mage, he has a buncha them.”
“Still went and showed her. Was fun. Hopped on a bike and rode all the way from Stormwind to Gilneas. Even got to shift for a bit. Hated every second.”
“Ah, you’re just not used to it.”
“No, just not bloody used to changing my entire body. Feels weird. Is weird. Hate it.”
“Don’t tell Can-can. Changing her entire body’s what she’s training for.”
“Fair. Still don’t like it. Clothes get too wonky. Monocle falls out.”
“Ah, you just need an enchantment like Can-Can and I get.”
“I got one like that! Did it myself. Showed you the loom, even.”
“Right, right. Can you do mine, whenever I get around to proper school clothes? Ones that aren’t performance gear or the one other set I’ve got?”
“Sure. Just gotta fold the laundry first. Not doing it this week. What were we talking about again?”
“Moterbike. Poppet. Gilneas. You were telling Shrimpy here about it.”
“Oh! Oh oh. Right. Yeah. We took a bike from Stormwind to Gilneas. Cut through the mountains, through the Gorge, even got to punch an imp!”
“I left the punching to her. I’m a decent shot, though.”
“Decent? Took that lanky one’s cranium clean off!”
“Alright, so I’m a damn good shot.”
“Damn right you’re a damn good shot.”
“So we get to Gilly, go out to Mar-Mar’s gran’s place for a few things…”
“Place was still clean! Like it hasn’t been... years? Since we left. Weird. Still. That’s when the fun started.”
“Oh yes. We stood out in the rain and did magic. How’d that spell go again?”
“Shoot. Something something... Something delt. Something something back has welts.”
“Ah close enough. And the whole place goes kinda dark and shimmery and I see evil-mage guy in the mist, except I don’t look long ‘cause I’m supposed to be focusing on Margaid and holding the thing.”
“And hold the thing you did. Beats a pole any day. But, yeah. Did the thing. Casted just a minor hex on big Creepy. Something to leave a few nasty welts on his back.”
“‘Cause Mar-Mar doesn’t think he’s good enough for her teach.”
“Yeah! Maggie’s smart, strong, and probably one of the bravest people I know. Probably going to make him shrivel up or something. Dunno yet.”
“So long as you don’t leave me out of any fun road trips.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it, sis. Got a sidecar for a reason, aye?”
Rest well assured, they both have detention on Monday. How many years of gum do you think the Magical Arts desks have accumulated, Inkbinder?
By my calculations, at least seven years, accounting for their larger-than-average consumption of gum products, Lyca.
((Co-written by Lestuu))