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Spell-Weaver

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Lady Jaina Proudmoore, Grand Magus of the Kirin Tor, stared at the document folio on her desk. She knew the contents well; she'd written most of them. Additional information had been added in more recent days by Archmage Modera and, to her surprise, Archmage Karlain. Khadgar had sent a single page from Draenor, badly smudged by dirt and perhaps other things Jaina didn't wish to contemplate.

Despite the presence of whatever still pungently lingered on Khadgar's contribution, the report looked harmless. But she knew there was a possibility it could rip her city apart.

She had run the numbers again. Kalec had checked her work with serious eyes and agreed. Modera had run her own logistical analysis - and a few besides which she'd only shared with Jaina thus far. The correct course for the city was laid out in clear, concise tables and graphs.

Other members of the Council of Six had been reviewing her data and the updates for more than a week. Khadgar's update had been the most recent addition almost four days ago. She'd asked for, and had been given, time and space for Theramore's memorial. It had allowed her to get some distance and process all she felt, but it had also been to give space to those who would surely be offended by what she was bringing up for discussion.

Vereesa was offended and angry. She wouldn't be the only one. Jaina expected the entirety of the Silver Covenant would be displeased they were even discussing the issue.

There were rumors in the city. No one knew precisely what the council was going to be meeting about. At least as far as Jaina was aware. Yet everyone knew something important was going to be discussed soon. Wild speculation was beginning to spread. Khadgar had arrived via portal the previous evening, looking every year his physical age. His late night arrival only served to spin the rumor mill into new heights.

Modera was taking over, some said. Others said Khadgar was going to step in as leader. The city was going to be moved closer to Stormwind, or it was going to be moved over the Nexus. Some of their suggestions might have been funny if she'd been a little less anxious about the outcome. The most outlandish was the suggestion she and Kalec were both going to wed Varian as some sort of Mage-Dragon-Alliance power play. The dragon had found it hilarious and commented on how very pretty he thought Varian's hair and eyes were. Jaina had hit him with a throw pillow.

A few people were correct about what the council was actually going to discuss; reintegrating Horde mages into the city.

Jaina didn't want to, but she knew she had to do so. The numbers were clear. Unless Dalaran returned to somewhere near the population they'd hosted before the Purge, the city would fall into a downward spiral of economics and population loss it would be nearly impossible to recover from. More, a power vacuum among the mages would give ample opportunity for another more neutral city to rise, accelerating Dalaran's death.

It would also be another powerful statement in support of Anduin's still-forming plans to get both sides talking armistice. Peace wouldn't come for a while but there was an opportunity to talk and to start down that road once more. Greater dangers lurked in the darkness beyond Azeroth. Jaina shivered, goose flesh erupting over her arms. The Legion was out there.

A knock interrupted her thoughts. "Yes?"

Archmage Modera entered the room, wearing her battle leathers like a second skin. The older mage was someone Jaina had always respected for her power and prowess, but she'd recently also become a teacher and perhaps even a friend. Modera leaned against the wall, crossing her arms. "Ready?"

"I have to be," Jaina said, sweeping the files and folios off her desk. She held them as she rose, gesturing her office lights off. "You?"

Modera patted a scroll case. She fell into step with Jaina as the two walked. "So I hear not only are you and Kalecgos are both involved in a torrid love affair with the King of Stormwind, but Prince Anduin is being married off to Queen Moira to secure the dwarves in this new power play by the Alliance."

"What?" Jaina groaned pinched the bridge of her nose.

Modera kept a straight face as she spoke but her eyes glittered. "I know, I know, it's insane. Clearly Anduin will be wed to Princess Tess to keep Gilneas around."

Jaina pointed a finger at her. "Don't! He's got enough to deal with without people adding more rumors. I can take absurd speculation, but please leave Anduin out of it." She was more sharp than she'd intended to be.

Modera arched an eyebrow and held up a hand. "Of course." After another few steps she said, "I was simply trying to lighten the mood."

"I know. I didn't mean to snap."

"I understand. He's family and he's still a minor. For now." She gave Jaina a direct look.

The Grand Magus met her eyes for a moment then focused on the hall ahead. "I know." He was growing into a fine young man and was almost of age. Not that the speculation hadn't started before he'd been born. Varian had done much to try to shield his son from feeling like prized breeding stock, and Jaina had tried her best to help. "He'll have to learn how to handle it. He already is learning. But I can help hold some of it off him."

Modera made a pensive noise, something haunted in her eyes. Then the look was gone, fast enough Jaina wasn't certain she'd even seen it.

They stepped into the Chamber of Air and were shortly joined by the other members of the Council of Six, the ruling body of Dalaran.

Archmage Karlain was a human with dark hair cut short so as not to interfere in his work. He was a master alchemist who usually wore a severe expression that matched his attitude, but Jaina had found him to be reasonable if a logical argument could be made. He'd added a logistical report in support of Jaina's findings about the state of the city but she did not know his mind regarding the point up for debate.

Archmage Ansirem Runeweaver, a human with a bushy beard and eyebrows who'd led the council before Rhonin waved as he arrived. He'd wandered over all of Azeroth and had travelled to Outland but family had drawn him back to Dalaran full time. He'd been a staunch supporter of the Purge and was one of the most vocal members of the Council, but Jaina believed if she could be swayed by logical argument, he could as well.

Khadgar entered the chamber next, his hair silvered and face lined with age, though his eyes sparkled in eternal mirth. He was actually only about a decade older than Jaina, but the last fight with Medivh had left him looking older than his age. It was unusual for him to be in Dalaran as he was integral to efforts to track down Garrosh Hellscream and dismantle his Iron Horde. He'd constructed a portal with the assistance of Archmage Zaliya, the Alliance garrison commander, and had returned for this important discussion. Jaina expected him to be on the pro-integration side of the debate. He'd been working with the Horde already - against the Council's previous decision. He had, if she could be forgiven the pun, ruffled some feathers.

The most recent addition to the council was Archmage Ilsudira Spellsong. Spellsong was a willowy high elf with pale golden hair cut into a neat bob that fit under the helm she often wore. Like Modera she was a warmage. She had distinguished herself in the fighting at Icecrown, in the Nexus War and Thunder Isle most recently. As was the case with many elves, she was far older than she appeared to be and prior to taking up warcasting, had been an accomplished enchanter.

Jaina knew while Spellsong had supported the Purge, she held many of Modera's concerns about the lack of magepower. Where Spellsong would fall on the matter of Horde relations, Jaina didn't know. She had strong ties to the Silver Covenant but did not consider herself a member.

The Chamber of Air did not always have seating, but today they'd conjured a round table and chairs. The mundane furniture took away from the grandiose statement of the room, but they were likely going to be here for awhile and it was far more practical to sit down to discuss some matters. Jaina took her seat, flanked by Modera and Ansirem. Khadgar sat across from her and the rest filled in between them.

They'd brought notes and their copies of her initial document. Half of Khadgar's notes appeared to be somewhat burned and she did not want to know what the stain on the top vellum was. His copy of the document she'd sent had a large muddy pawprint, but it was messy enough she couldn't tell if it was from a Worgen or an actual wolf. She shook her head and stood.

"You've all read my report on the status of the city and seen the additional documents?" There were nods all around. Good. "Does anyone want to debate the data or my conclusion that we need to bolster our numbers?" The rest of the council shook their heads, some murmuring soft 'no's. Also good.

"Then we will move on to debating what to do." Jaina took a breath and let it out slowly. Even with an additional week to get used to the idea, she still felt sick as she spoke. "As a solution, I propose we investigate how to safely reintegrate Horde mages back into Dalaran."

In a novel, the table would have erupted over that statement. Here though the council shifted in their seats, frowning thoughtfully. She supposed it helped that they knew what would be discussed prior, even if the rest of the city did not. Jaina sat down, putting herself on equal footing with the rest of the council.

"I admit I am surprised," Khadgar spoke up, his hands folded on the table before him. "You have been the staunchest opponent to this idea since it was first suggested after the siege."

Jaina set her jaw. She'd expected this but not from Khadgar. Fixing him with a steady look she lifted her chin slightly. "My personal feelings are not part of this debate."

"Aren't they? Aren't all of ours?" He gestured around. "The other mages here in Dalaran will have strong feelings. The Silver Covenant will certainly have much to say. I think even the Horde mages will have some thoughts."

Jaina folded her own hands on her papers. "I imagine they will, and I believe that as we move forward we will need to be careful. We did what was necessary at the time, but now the situation has changed. We have evaluated the data at hand and this is the most logical thing to do." Why? Why was he doing this? Khadgar of all people. Why didn't anyone else speak?

Breathing evenly she tried to stuff down the sudden panic. Would they ask her to step down over this? Don't panic, think it through, she thought to herself. Even if they did, then she could return home.

"Logic is all well and good, but not everyone embraces it," Ansirem spoke up, heavy brows knit together. "I dare say passion and... zealotry are what caused the Horde mages to act as they did. I think it's what drives Hellscream as well."

"It's a risk," Modera agreed. "But we welcomed them in when we began the campaign in Icecrown and they behaved themselves until that-" she cut herself off then continued, "until their former warchief incited them to cause trouble. I think the actions at the siege and the trial speak well to how Hellscream is currently regarded."

"But that doesn't mean they won't cause issue in the future," Karlain pointed out.

"If I might add, we have many in the city who will not accept the decision if we decide to allow them to return," Spellsong added. "The Silver Covenant will... not be pleased."

Jaina closed her eyes briefly against a flash of pain. When she opened her eyes she found Khadgar studying her.

"A quick reversal of policy will leave many... suspicious." His eyes held hers. "We kicked them out before. Who is to say we will not do so a second time?"

"Well if they don't choose sociopaths as their warchiefs I don't see us doing so," Modera huffed. "Context is important."

"Once burned, twice stupid? Isn't that the saying?" Ansirem pointed out. "The same thing could happen again."

"And who is to say they would desire to return?" Khadgar added, his steely eyes still on her. Khadgar shouldn't have been opposing her. Why? Was he against her specifically? Would he have acted this way if Modera had proposed it?

"This is a city for mages. We have the largest and best library in the world. We have the resources and space. Even the Horde mages appreciated it once they were here," Modera argued, ignoring the byplay across the table.

"I think Rommath would disagree on some of those points," Spellsong added wryly, causing Modera to scoff and roll her eyes as she muttered uncomplimentary things under her breath.

Jaina continued her mute staring contest with Khadgar. He blamed her, she suddenly understood.They'd all voted but she was the visible face as leader. She'd been the most vocal. Jaina swallowed. There was something she could do. If it would help, if it was best for Dalaran, she would. It would be of her own choosing. She could live with Kalec as a regular archmage in the city's population. Perhaps she could even look into actually rebuilding in Theramore.

"Would it be politically expedient to this reintegration process if I were to step down from the council entirely?" She suggested with all the poise and decorum she could muster.

The discussion around the table stopped. Khadgar blinked, surprised. Jaina continued to stare across the table at him. "Is that what you want?" She asked and it was an effort to keep the sneer off her face even if she couldn't quite keep it from her voice. If anything he looked more surprised before his look turned shrewd.

"You have been the loudest voice against the Horde in this Council. You have suffered unimaginable pain and suffering, Lady-"

"Archmage," she interrupted. He arched a silvered eyebrow. "Archmage is the relevant title here," she snapped. If Khadgar was going to throw titles around, he should use the more germane one. She wasn't often a stickler for such things but the patronizing tone set her teeth on edge. She'd worked just as hard as he had to have the skills to attain that title.

Jaina looked away, tapping her fingers on the table as she caught herself. "Excuse me, that was sharp and I interrupted. Please continue."

"Archmage," Khadgar said, inclining his head slightly. "I find it curious you are the one to bring this point up."

She wanted to throttle him. She breathed in then out. "And I will ask again, do you want me to step down? Is that why you are questioning me about my personal feelings when this is supposed to be a debate about a policy reversal we all agreed to when it was the correct thing to do?"

"I am questioning your motivations Archmage. You have made no secret of your current distaste of the Horde. Some would find it suspicious for you to have another quick reversal. Yes the data stacks up, but for you to bring it?"

"I have spent most of my life advocating for coexistence and peace," she snapped back. "I have had a very bad year in regards to interactions with the Horde, but the situation and our understanding has changed."

"Khadgar," Modera spoke up, but the other mage continued, heedless.

He nodded to concede the point, eyes hard. "But such an abrupt change? When the man who murdered your people and so many others isn't yet defeated?"

"A year where I was traumatized and abused should not invalidate a lifetime of work!" She shut her eyes and breathed out. Yelling wasn't productive. She could work with them. She didn't like being feared or for people to walk on eggshells.

"Khadgar-" Modera tried again.

Khadgar spoke over Modera's second warning. "My understanding is that Garrosh allowed Theramore to regroup and believe the attack had been routed so your guard was down and there were maximum casualties. It could be said the same is being planned here."

Jaina's heart froze. The room fell silent. Even Khadgar looked somewhat surprised by his outburst, but that didn't change what he'd said or that everyone else had heard it. He thought she might have arranged all this to lure Horde mages into a trap to be killed. He didn't just blame her, he thought she was evil incarnate. An avatar of mindless vengeance.

Just as bad as Garrosh Hellscream.

Her heart cracked.

Fine. Fine. He wanted to know why she'd changed her mind? What was going through her head? She would tell him. And if they wanted her to go, she would, but not before she told him why. She could only hope they'd do the right thing.

Jaina rose to her feet, head high. She'd fought too damn hard for far too long for what she believed in and for herself. Jaina stared down her nose at him and spoke into the silence. "I have spent my life trying to advocate for everyone on this world to live in peace. And do you know what happened? No one listened except for one person. Varian and the others actively fought against everything I did. My ally on the other side abandoned me and installed the man who obliterated not only my city but your last leader and a sizeable number of Stormwind's finest soldiers."

She held his eyes as she spoke, each word dragged forth to in biting, crisp clarity so there would be no doubt as to what she said. "And while I was wounded the one person who listened to me did the impossible and managed to convince his stubborn, war ravaged father that perhaps everything I had been saying to him wasn't a waste of air."

"Jaina," Khadgar said but she waved a hand, cutting him off with a gesture.

"No. You don't get to speak yet. I have been spoken over my entire life. You are going to shut up and listen for once. I died at Hellscream's trial, Khadgar. I died. I hated how I felt. I hated how dark and isolated I’d become. I hated it. And then just when I thought maybe things would be better, I died. That puts things into perspective." She glanced around the table, daring them to speak up before she had said her piece. The council was stunned silent.

"You want to know why I've suddenly changed my mind? I want to know why you haven't questioned Varian. He spends a lifetime hating the Horde and then suddenly decides not to dismantle them? Why aren't you questioning him?"

She shook her head, disgusted. "You want to know why I've brought up reintegration? Because Dalaran won't survive. Because some of us take our leadership responsibilities seriously and do the mundane work of actually running a city. Because it's the right thing to do, Khadgar. Because right now we're not in a shooting war with the Horde. Right now we might be able to actually sit down and decide to stop shooting one another. Sooner rather than later some Old God is going to come slithering out of the ocean or the Legion is going to fall from the sky. I would rather not be fighting a damned war on two fronts when we could be fighting whatever comes next together."

She'd leaned over across the table as she'd spoken, a sneer creeping up into her face. Jaina straightened and attempted to school her features. "You want to know why I have changed my attitude? Because I've been seeing a Shado Pan mind healer to find a damn way out of the darkness and hate. It's been hard but I am finally getting somewhere, even if opening Theramore still gives me screaming nightmares. I've been trying to heal my soul, you unmitigated ass. And like any other healing it is a personal matter and isn't any of your business or anyone else's. So you can take your suspicions and shove them."

Jaina sat, hands on the table, eyes closed. Her hands shook with her pounding heart. She clasped them together. Breathe in... then out. She would not cry like a child. She was a Lady, an Archmage and Grand Magus of the Kirin Tor. At least for the next few seconds. Jaina opened her eyes to judge Khadgar's reaction.

His jaw was practically on the floor. So was Ansirem's. Spellsong's brows had disappeared under her fringe. Jaina braced herself.

"Jaina, I'm so sorry," Khadgar said, his own voice entirely without the edge of mirth it always held. For once, he was completely sincere, and lacking in the scorn with which he'd been speaking moments ago.

"I was trying to play devil's advocate to make your position stronger. I am in complete support of reintegration. I wished to test the more... volatile counter arguments so success would be that much more secured when we brought a plan to the Horde mages. I was caught up in the debate and I overstepped. What I said was incredibly offensive." He ran fingers back through his hair. "Please accept my most sincere apology, archmage. I have absolutely no desire for you to step down and I do not believe you would ever do something so heinous."

The Grand Magus didn't trust herself to speak, so she inclined her head, accepting his apology. Devil's advocate? That.... made some sense. Far more sense than his opposition given all he was doing with the Horde currently. Had that been why he was holding her gaze? Jaina leaned back in her seat, shaking hands held in her lap.

Modera rose. "I think we need about a twenty minute break," she said, looking around the table "And I am going to remind us all that this is a private meeting."

Khadgar and Modera remained with Jaina. The others made tactical retreats.

"Khadgar," Modera snapped.

"I'm sorry I didn't think-"

"No. You didn't." She fetched a scroll and smacked him upside the head. Khadgar winced but accepted the blow.

"I thought you understood what I was trying to do," Khadgar said, open hands held out. "And then I went too far. I mistook your reaction. I am honestly and truly sorry and meant none of it."

"Damn right you're sorry-" Modera growled.

"He's not wrong though," Jaina spoke up, cutting off Modera's tirade. "He hasn't said anything that they aren't thinking right now. I'm the visible face of the Purge. Lor'themar and I managed to arrange a truce on Thunder Isle, but I haven't been exactly friendly."

"Given the repeated and grievous offenses against you when you are the person in the Alliance who had done the least against them, I don't blame you one bit, Jaina," Modera said. She glared at Khadgar again then slouched into her seat. "I suppose, however, that featherbrain over there did bring up some salient points amid the ludicrous ones."

"He did," Jaina agreed. "Some probably do think I would go so far as to lure them into a trap as my people were."

"Archmage," Khadgar started but she shook her head.

Jaina looked down at her hands. "Hate and fear are dangerous and there is a lot going around still." She sighed. "If it's suspicious of me to want to help the situation, maybe someone else should take over this debate if not my council seat."

She didn't look up and the silence lasted for awhile. "Do you want to step down?" Modera asked. Jaina had never heard the other mage ever sound so soft. Did she? Perhaps a part of her did. The part that wanted to just sit and study, curl up beside Kalec reading, and visit Varian and Anduin for dinner. But they'd asked her to lead and she had agreed.

"I accepted the responsibility and I won't run from it." She looked up at them. "I would like to see Dalaran survive. I'd like to see an armistice. I am very tired of seeing my friends die. If I am getting in the way of those things, I will do what is necessary."

"Damn that's noble," Modera quipped. "But if it's all the same to you, I'd rather you stick around." She grinned, flashing her teeth. "They might try to put me in charge next, and none of us want that."

"I think you would do quite well," Jaina told her honestly. Smiling a little she continued, "If you can teach teenagers and reticent archmages with gaps in their education, I think you can manage the rest."

"Ha! It's because I've done those things I know I don't want to herd all these cats. Believe you me I'd start tossing people over the side within a week." Modera shook her head, the wry smile fading again into a more serious expression. "They're going to say everything Khadgar just said, and probably worse."

Jaina looked down at her hands. At least they weren't shaking anymore. "I thought perhaps being a public supporter and trying to move forward on this issue would be a positive statement. It is a hard realization that I might be a detractor simply by being me."

"Which is bullshit," Modera said.

"And yet it isn't without substantiation." Jaina gestured at Khadgar. "I'm certain he's heard all this and more while he's been in Frostfire on Draenor."

Khadgar grimaced, guilt on his face, but defiance in his eyes as well. Jaina understood that look and those feelings so deeply she wanted to laugh. And perhaps cry. She'd once been the defiant one working with the other side.

"As extreme as some views may be," Khadgar said, "I think- I know there are those among the Horde who will respect you for reevaluating the situation and for being the one to propose the change. Others will be very impressed. A few might even understand."

Jaina played with the fabric of her skirts. At the trial, before it had all gone sideways, Vol'jin had sent her a personal letter. He'd understood her position and her rage. "Perhaps."

"My sense of Vol'jin is that he would respect a reversal in light of Garrosh being out of the picture," Khadgar said as if reading her thoughts. "And there are many mages among the trolls who would like to return to Dalaran's resources. Baine Bloodhoof would welcome any overtures we made and encourage the same in his allies," Khadgar continued.

"Gallywix won't give two shits as long as he gets to extend his trade back into our markets," Modera added with a shrug.

"The Blood Elves made up the largest contingent of Horde mages," Jaina said. "I understand Rommath would like to see me killed slowly over several days. I don't think Lor'Themar is of a significantly different mindset."

"Sunreaver is aware of the mistakes made by his people," Khadgar said, which didn't deny anything Jaina had said was incorrect.

"Bet he doesn't care for the grand-magister chortling about how working with the Kirin Tor was a bad idea from the start," Modera growled.

"Lor'Themar might not be as unyielding as you think," Khadgar said. "He's a politically savvy fellow."

"Oh, have you found an alternate Azeroth, too?" Modera asked dryly. Khadgar rolled his eyes at the other mage and Jaina found a small smile at their byplay.

Jaina sobered as the reality of the situation hit her fully. She'd known it would be hard but perhaps she hadn't appreciated how hard. Nor had she understood how she might have an effect. Anduin had suggested her support would be a positive. It might still be- but among the Alliance. Among the Horde, her involvement might very well be a liability.

Jaina rubbed at her temple as the other three council members returned and took their seats, casting anxious glances between her and Khadgar. And they hadn't even touched on the problems they would face internally.

"I would like to apologize once again," Khadgar said, standing on his side of the table. "I cannot express how personally cheered I was when the initial proposal arrived at my tower. I always admired your persistence and aims, Archmage. I should have been a more vocal supporter earlier. Then maybe it wouldn't have just been you and Prince Anduin advocating for peace." He sat down.

"Thank you," Jaina said, inclining her head. "So." Breathe in then out. "There will likely be some among the Horde who are... less inclined to return. That doesn't even touch on the people still here who will be displeased." She stared at the middle of the table. "And despite the difficulty, I still feel in the long term this will be not only right for the city, but we might be able to help start a larger dialog."

"I can't say I like the risk," Ansirem said, fingers idly scratching through his beard. "It was always risky to invite them in. I have to admit a part of me felt vindicated in not entirely trusting them." He folded his hands on the table. "But I've been trying to give the idea a fair shot. I agree we need to do something, but I'm still unsure this is it."

"This is what Ranger-General Windrunner was screaming at you about, isn't it?" Spellsong asked.

Jaina sighed and nodded. "I'm sorry. I didn't think we would reach that point." She hadn't expected Vereesa to shout at all. Be worried, complain or snap? Yes. But some of her comments had hit low. And then at the memorial at Theramore... Jaina put her wounded friendship with Vereesa aside. "I have a concern that some in the city will be moved to show their displeasure. The Silver Covenant was formed specifically as an opposition to the Blood Elves."

"It was easier to put differences aside when we had the very real and tangible threats of the Lich King, Malygos and Deathwing to contend with," Spellsong observed. "Garrosh is still at large but he isn't present here."

"Are you suggesting we wait until the next mutual enemy rears his head?" Karlain asked.

"No," Spellsong shook her head. "I think we need to capitalize on the enemy we have."

"If I might interject," Ansirem said, raising a hand. The others fell silent and looked at him. He set his hands on the table. "Have we examined other options?"

"Are there any, Ansirem?" Modera asked. "Name another population of mages on Azeroth we could reach out towards?"

He frowned at her. "Are you all decided then that this is the course of action?"

"We haven't yet thought through all the implications," Karlain said. "What if, and understand I think these are improbable and I bring it up for completeness sake, the Silver Covenant decides they are going to leave? What also if the Horde mages refuse offers to return?" He nodded at Ansirem. "I too cannot think of a substantial population of mages who aren't already welcome here."

"Well," Modera said, hesitantly. "I can think of one. But they're nearly as controversial. However the representative we have so far has been rather polite."

"Blue dragons?" Spellsong asked, brows knit together. "Don't they regard all of us as rather... quaint?"

"Don't they have their own city?" Ansirem asked, looking over at Jaina. Karlain and the others also looked at her.

"We could extend the invitation but I do not honestly know how many would show up if any did at all," Jaina said. "The dragonflights are dealing with their own transitional phase. The blue dragons still control the Nexus but the blue flight has largely dispersed themselves."

"I hesitate to suggest it," Ansirem said, "But we could attempt to recruit more non-mages to live here."

Jaina winced and found her expression mirrored by many others around the table. Dalaran had been built by mages for mages. It wasn't forbidden to be a non-mage in the city by any means, but the founding mages had left their own cities to avoid persecution for being what they were.

"I don't like it either but it might resolve things," Ansirem said. "At least in the short term."

"We're not exactly in a prime location anymore," Karlain pointed out. "It would likely be easier, should we choose that route, to recruit new citizens if we were closer to other large population centers."

"Moving the city isn't easy," Modera said. "But it is possible. We should consider that."

"I think if we move the city or not, if we allow more blue dragons or not, we should still extend offers to the Horde mages," Khadgar said. "The Blood Elves might be disinclined to return but the other races would like our resources. Some of the Undead were Kirin Tor before the plague."

"Do you believe some would desire to return even if others from the Horde do not?" Jaina asked.

"I do. As I am in a unique position given my... proximity to the Horde, I believe there were some bad feelings between Sunreaver's people and the others, particularly with the Goblins and Undead. While they feel they were unjustly removed, they do lay partial blame on the blood elves. Among the orcs, most are appalled by what Garrosh became, but the distrust of the Alliance still runs strong. The trolls, from what I can tell, almost universally hate Garrosh. In that population they feel the least rancor- Dalaran was a city of human origin and a crime was committed. I think they respect the Council for acting decisively against a threat and many feel they would have done the same were the positions reversed." He grimaced slightly, "If anything some might say we were too lenient. It is a... point of debate with the elves."

"What do you think our chances are for having anyone return then, Khadgar?" Jaina asked.

"I think it will be slow. Trust was lost on both sides. But the Undead, Trolls and Goblins will come. Maybe not at once but they will. The Orcs will be slower."

"And the elves?"

Khadgar frowned thoughtfully. "I am uncertain."

"Do you have the time to make some inquiries using the unique channels you have at your disposal?" Jaina asked.

"I could do that," he said.

Jaina gestured towards Spellsong. "You mentioned capitalizing on the enemy we have. Did you have further thoughts?"

The elf nodded. "We still have Garrosh who is almost universally hated in the Alliance and the Horde. He's raised an army which both of us are currently fighting. Khadgar is involved with both expeditions. In the recent past, we have acted as a neutral party. At Icecrown we not only allowed the Horde in, but we moved troops and provided magical firepower for both sides. As much as propaganda might say otherwise, everyone was needed to ultimately take down both Malygos and Deathwing." Spellsong looked around the table as she spoke. "We acted as a neutral city before and we made good on our promise to be so until our trust was violated. If we step up support similarly in the alternate Draenor and put actions behind words, that's going to be convincing proof for a lot of people."

"You're suggesting we throw more of our weight behind Khadgar and use him as a way to soften up our political perception among the Horde," Jaina summarized. "And also give them opportunities to allow us to trust them."

"That and squash Garrosh Hellscream like a bug," Spellsong said, nodding. "But yes. In addition to whatever we decide to do here as well.

"Zaliya's over there as Commander," Jaina mused, meeting Khadgar's eyes. "Do you know how her relations with the Horde are?"

Khadgar pursed his lips as he thought. "I think she knows the Horde commander from the campaign in Pandaria. Call it a neutral respect? I can find details."

Ansirem shifted in his seat. "The Silver Covenant will not like any of this. I'm not sure I like any of this."

"What are you thinking, Ansirem?" Jaina asked.

He looked at her with a serious expression. "I have three children now and a wife who would rather care for them and teach than get into an actual conflict again. Lily's hung up her sword. Jaina, is it safe for them to be here? This is a terrible risk." He drew in a breath and sighed. "Is it worth it? We might find another solution with more time. Why now?"

Jaina adjusted the folder and papers before her so they were entirely straight, giving her a moment to order her thoughts. "I have come to believe that it is worth the risk. The time is critical because right now we still have a common enemy," she said, nodding at Spellsong. "Other organizations have members from both factions in their numbers. My suspicion is that Vol'jin is more interested in fixing everything Garrosh broke than in conquest. I believe that given the current circumstances, Varian would be inclined to set his sword aside. Why not now?"

"Ansirem," Modera spoke up. She straightened from the casual slouch she'd been in and leaned forward in her seat. "I've seen more war first hand than anyone else in this room including the elf over there who's got a few decades on me." Modera tilted her head at Spellsong, but there wasn't the expected humor in her voice.

She sounded tired and worn. For the first time Jaina truly recognized the lines on Modera's face, the many, many time-faded scars on her hands and the age in her eyes. She was nearly in her seventies if she wasn't already; old for a Human, and incredibly old for a battlecaster.

"I am very good at war, Ansirem," she said. "But I am really damn sick of it." She sighed with weight. "I have a bad feeling about the next crisis. Haven't you felt it? The looming darkness?"

Across the table, Khadgar sat up straighter, eyes drawn to Modera. Ansirem frowned, as did Karlain. Spellsong's lips thinned and Jaina wondered if she felt it too. The dark foreboding had only recently made itself known to her, faint as a whisper, but there none the less.

"I can't say I have given all that's going on right now," Ansirem said, "But I trust your judgement Modera." He studied Jaina for a long moment then nodded to himself. "And I trust yours Jaina. I have reservations though."

"I believe we all do," Jaina acknowledged. "Moving to the other question then. The response here."

There were uncomfortable looks around the table. Spellsong leaned forward, folding her hands together on the table.

"The Silver Covenant will not be pleased. They were formed when Rhonin allowed Sunreaver and his people in initially. What happened under Garrosh, for many, justifies holding onto their views." She shifted in her seat. "Ranger-General Windrunner is a vocal opponent of the Horde still. The Silver Covenant represents a portion of our strongest battlecasters and the non-combatant mages and warriors are respected in the general population."

"Ranger-General Windrunner is aware I was bringing this question to the Council," Jaina said, speaking up when Spellsong was finished. "As previously mentioned she was... displeased. She has had some time to think about the issue over the past few days."

"Do you think she will change her mind?" Khadgar asked.

Jaina closed her eyes. "I don't know. I haven't spoken with her about this issue since that initial meeting. I'm also concerned about what the rest of the city will think."

"Well speaking personally, we'll be worried about our families," Ansirem spoke up. "And we're going to wonder if we can trust them this time."

"Having some of the same suppliers back will be welcomed by many of the craftsmen," Karlain said. "New people conducting business will go a long way to soften hard feelings. That said we can probably expect some of the same behavior that happened when the Horde mages first came here. Refusal of service and poor service. Inflated prices."

"How did the council deal with them last time," Jaina asked. She'd been far more preoccupied with Icecrown citadel and concern for what Arthas was doing.

"Passed mandates saying that sort of behavior was unacceptable," Karlain answered. "Eventually people got over their anger, but at the time we were more concerned about the Scourge than the Horde."

"I have given this some thought," Modera said. She tapped the stack of files in the sealed scroll case she'd brought with her. "Just a few... contingency plans. In case."

"I may regret asking this," Khadgar said, "but In case of what?"

"Well I have a preliminary report of our martial capabilities should the Silver Covenant decide to leave or refuse to do anything," Modera said. "And then I have a plan in case they are agitated enough we need to deploy security forces in the city to stop mage on mage violence. I have some response scenarios in case they try to forcibly eject any or all of us from the city. Another on if they attempt a total coup." Modera shrugged a shoulder. "Fairly standard apocalypse scenarios."

Jaina closed the jaw she'd not notice had dropped. Then again she was learning this sort of slightly paranoid thought process was typical of Archmage Modera. She cleared her throat.

"Ah. Well, do you have thoughts on what the likelihood of any of those scenarios might be?"

"Well I place them attempting to throw us off the city as rather low. I also think they'd be disinclined to undo all our warding and let the city plummet to the ground," Modera answered. "I think most likely is physical or magical altercations between whoever is brave enough to return and Silver Covenant members. I'm not looking forward to having to police that," she concluded.

"So at best a worse version of the low grade fighting and adjustment as happened before, and at worst you think they might try to overtake the city?" Jaina asked.

Modera shrugged. "Something like that, yes. It will probably end up somewhere in the middle. Every group as their members who are more extreme than others. I think it is very likely we'll have a lot of angry people yelling at us. Depending on how we decide to go about reintegration there are more or fewer opportunities for violence."

"In your estimation, what is the likelihood it will tear the city apart?" Jaina asked.

"Not sure I can say without knowing how we'd go about bringing people back. I know there is going to be an initial outcry and it will be loud and angry." She crossed her arms. "Frankly though if we can get past that initial reaction, people will get used to having Horde mages here again. The boost to the economy Karlain mentioned will quiet many of the concerns quickly."

"Are you so sure?" Ansirem asked.

"It happened before," Modera said, with a little shrug. "I think there is a risk in inviting them back and I think there is a risk our people will react badly. But I also think that there is a very real danger in not trying to reintegrate."

"So that's it, we're agreed we'll move forward on this item then?" Ansirem asked, looking around. "Are we ready to take a vote?" There were nods all around the table and Jaina rose.

"On the issue of re-admitting Horde mages into Dalaran, votes in favor?" Modera's hand rose as did Khadgar's. Spellsong did as well though she was not as fast. Karlain followed a beat later, looking thoughtful. Ansirem blew out his bushy moustache then held his own hand up. Jaina raised hers as well. "I am grateful we are in agreement on this," she said. "We spoke as one before and we have done so again." She sat down. "Now comes the part where we figure out how."

"I have some thoughts," Ansirem said. "I would like to devise some plans if no one else has objection. I have some specific concerns. If we're going to do this, then I'd like to oversee things here in Dalaran."

"I would appreciate being involved," Karlain said. "Somehow I've become in charge of half the logistics here," he said, casting a wry look in Jaina's direction. "And I have concerns as well. I don't want us devolving into another internal fight and none of us want anything to negatively affect our citizens."

"I'd welcome your input, Karlain," Ansirem said.

Jaina nodded. "I have no objection. Your concerns are well founded and I agree with them. I know between the two of you we'll get a solid plan. Anyone else have thoughts?" There were none and Jaina found herself smiling a little. "How long do you two need for an initial proposal?"

Ansirem shrugged. "A week?" he asked Karlain.

The other mage's eyes narrowed as he thought. He nodded. "Acceptable."

"A week then," Jaina confirmed. She looked at Khadgar. "You've got your hands full in Draenor, but would you be able to make inquiries?"

"I will do that and what I can to promote the idea," Khadgar nodded. He paused. "I assume this means I am now free to openly work with both factions with the Council's blessing?"

Modera actually growled. She leaned forward and fixed Khadgar with a gimlet eye. "I think that goes without saying, but try to be a bit less rude when you're flaunting your contrary feathers." The older mage jerked her head in Jaina's direction. "Maybe you should observe and reflect on the definition of discrete and ask for pointers."

Khadgar chuckled and held a hand against his chest. "I promise to be the epitome of diplomacy."

"Light help us," Modera said, rolling her eyes as she slouched back in her chair.

"If we're claiming areas of work, I'd like to help with promoting the Kirin Tor in the alternate draenor and other more martial areas," Spellsong said. She inclined her head to Modera and smirked faintly. "If the venerable Archmage Modera doesn't mind."

"Oh fel no, knock yourself out if you want to take point. Frees me up to coordinate with you and Khadgar. Means I might get some field time," she added the last with a feral grin. "In all seriousness I'd like to help work that angle."

Spellsong nodded smartly. "We'll coordinate after this meeting."

"Right. Khadgar don't run off immediately as I think we'll have questions about what you'll need and what you think everyone else will need," Modera said.

"Of course," Khadgar said. He turned a smile on Jaina. "Which leaves our Grand Magus either having cleverly delegated all the work, or left her with the least fun task."

Jaina found she could return the little smirk before she sobered. "I'll help coordinate here of course and if anyone needs me I will be able to help. I'll see what I can't do to smooth things over with the Silver Covenant and I'll probably be doing more of the same with the leaders of the Alliance once we announce our plans. I think I will warn Stormwind prior and depending on what Varian thinks I may be paying visits to the other Alliance leaders as well."

"Definitely the least fun task," Khadgar said, pulling an exaggerated face. "And I imagine you will be plenty busy once we see if Vol'jin has anything to say about this plan of ours. You might even have to negotiate with Lor'themar and Rommath."

"Oh, goodie," Modera said.

Jaina ignored Modera's commentary, even if she felt much the same way. "I would like further information through your contacts, Khadgar, before we draft a formal letter. By then we should have some solid plans in place to use moving forward."

"Agreed," Ansirem said, nodding along with the others at the table.

"I imagine it would be wise of us to keep news we have decided to offer readmission quiet?" Modera arched an eyebrow. "Given how strained communication is right now, I would much rather not have anyone over there learn about it from angry Kirin Tor Mages."

"Also agreed," Ansirem said with feeling. "Perhaps we should try to plan a bit faster than a week, Karlain? News like this could turn sour fast if we don't have a plan."

"Agreed. Let's call it three days." He frowned. "It won't be as thorough as I'd like but things like these have a short shelf life."

"Good. We'll report back in three days, Jaina."

She nodded. "Khadgar can you be back by then?"

The other mage thought about that for a moment before reluctantly shaking his head. "No, but I trust everyone's judgement. Keep me informed of what you decide and I'll work on seeing if anyone would even be willing to return."

"And if no one does?" Ansirem asked.

Jaina blew out a breath. "Then we think of something else. It's another reason to keep this close."

"Aye," Modera said. "No sense in getting anyone angry if won't work."

Jaina and the others nodded agreement. The meeting broke up, the various teams to their different tasks. Jaina remained to banish the table and chairs they'd summoned. Khadgar lingered as well.

"Something else?" Jaina asked as she began to banish chairs back to storage.

"About earlier-"

"You apologized," she said rising with her stack of papers. She banished the table with a wave of her hand and murmured word.

"I didn't want to apologize for this in front of the others."

She looked up, instantly wary. "Oh?"

"Nothing nefarious," he said, waving a hand. Jaina relaxed. "I put you in a place where you revealed something very personal to us," Khadgar explained," and for that I am very sorry as well."

Jaina considered him for a moment then nodded. "Thank you."

"I'd wondered where Modera had gotten the idea for speaking to the Shado Pan. Was it your idea?" he asked as he helped her to banish the remaining chairs.

Jaina shrugged a shoulder. "Partially. We had a talk and I told her what I'd been doing. She and I agreed there might be more mages than me who could benefit from their healers."

He nodded, eyes downcast in thought. "Good. That's good. For us all." He looked up at her. "You think something dark is coming, too?"

Jaina swallowed and nodded mutely. "Modera spoke of it to me first. Prescience hasn't ever been my strong suit but even I'm feeling something. A distant worry I could ignore except it's been called to my attention. Maybe I'm just picking up on Modera's feeling."

Khadgar nodded. "Will you keep me apprised of that as well? If something changes among any of us?"

"Of course." They stepped through the portal that led out of the chamber of air and walked down the hall, stopping at the intersection.

"Then I will see you when I see you, Archmage. I am going to stuff my robes with as many decent baked goods as I can before I have to open a portal back."

Jaina smiled a little more broadly. "Do you need a hand?"

"Kind of you to offer. I would appreciate it. Will save Zaliya and I some time recovering. I'm scheduled to depart this evening from the parlor here."

"I'll see you then," Jaina said, turning towards her own office.

She felt lighter, though worry remained. The council had stood with her, though. She'd worried about them being a road block. The realization that she herself might be an impediment on the Horde side was... uncomfortable. But she could do much the same as Spellsong had suggested for the Kirin Tor as a whole. She could let her actions speak. Opening Theramore to shamans and druids from races allied to the Horde was terrifying but the knowledge that it would have larger benefits helped ease the fear somewhat. She'd cleared the first hurdles in convincing herself and the rest of the Council.

Now she just had to convince everyone else this was a good idea.

Chapter Text

Kalecgos, Spell-Weaver of the Blue Dragonflight, held back a growl. He was once again shirtless.

He sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. These are good kids, he reminded himself. These are teenagers pushing their limits. He glared at the assembled students. A few appeared to realize they'd perhaps stepped out of line and quickly stood straight. The laughter trailed off into awkward coughing.

"I will remind you," Kalec said, trying to keep the growl out of his tone, "That banishing is not part of this exercise." He looked around the room, meeting the eyes of many of his students; apparently the floor and ceiling were very interesting. Kalec knew the feeling of their magic now and it was always the same culprits. He didn't know why they disliked him so intensely, why they stared and why they tried to embarrass him. Each one appeared to look innocent. Kalec tried to let go of the frown. He'd have to speak with Modera once she was out of the meeting.

Hopefully the meeting was going well. Jaina hadn't spoken her fears aloud but he'd seen the anxiety in the tightness of her shoulders, rigidity of her stance, and the way she'd alternately clung to her report or regarded it as some sort of unexploded weapon.

Kalec conjured another shirt and crossed his arms. "Evocations. Team one on cleanup," he ordered. The students sighed and grumbled but formed up into lines and began their drills.

"Archmage," the gnome girl, Helly, called his attention as her line formed up near him. "Can you tell us what the Council is meeting about?"

"My understanding of Dalaran is that the Council's business is confidential," Kalec said. He made a spinning gesture with his hand, indicating she should turn around pay attention to the drill.

"Well, kinda," she said. "I mean we all know they're voting on something big. You know what it is, right?"

"What makes you think I'd know anything?" Kalec asked. "And you're dropping your fire again."

The gnome girl smiled sweetly. Too sweetly, he was learning. "Well you happen to be in a close relationship with the Grand Magus."

"Are you suggesting Jaina would improperly share confidential information with me simply because I'm her consort?" He asked, arching an eyebrow. Half the class giggled, and Kalec suppressed another sigh. Clearly he'd said something inappropriate again. He'd have to ask what it was.

"Well, no," Helly admitted, twisting a lock of bright green hair around a finger. "But my parents talk about stuff all the time with one another so... Is it really inappropriate?"

"You mean as it would be inappropriate for me to share with you even if I did know something? Eyes on your target, Nimar." Most of the class was trying to listen in. Most were also very bad at pretending they were not listening.

"Aw come on, tell us something!"

"We're having class, Helly."

"After class? We wouldn't tell. Well, I know I wouldn't."

Kalec sighed. "I will tell you something after class, provided you all execute these drills correctly," he said, raising his voice loud enough everyone could hear over the bang and sizzle of fireballs hitting targets.

It was impressive just how quickly they could shape up. Kalec rolled his eyes and resumed monitoring their form and output. Truthfully he wasn't an expert at this by any means, but Modera was in session with Jaina, supporting the reintegration position. And in his opinion, what he knew wasn't inappropriate at all. He was Jaina's consort and as far as he had been able to ascertain, being a sounding board and being of assistance was a duty among humans as much as it was among dragons. He wasn't certain how much Lily Runeweaver was consulted by her husband on details, but Kalec had no doubt Ansirem spoke with her of confidential matters. And like it was his duty to be there for his mate when she was worrying late into the night, it was his duty to be silent in public.

They wrapped up their practice and Kalec checked the time. It was only slightly early and truthfully he was anxious to see what the result of the meeting was if Jaina was done. Kalec called for the end and the group of teenagers crowded around, eyes bright for the latest gossip.

Kalec cleared his throat and waited for total silence. Some of the students smacked their peers until they were entirely quiet. Kalec gazed around solemnly.

"I will tell you this," he said, waiting just a tiny bit longer than usual, just so he had their full attention. "Twenty five evocations of each type by Monday in addition to the paper Archmage Modera wants."

The entire class groaned. A few actually sank to their knees in teenage melodrama. "Oh come on!" "Tell us something?" "Is Khadgar coming back?" "Did Hellscream die in agony over days?" "Is Archmage Proudmoore marrying king Wrynn?" "Are you marrying King Wrynn? Dragons have like as many spouses as they want, right?"

Kalec leaned back as the outburst hit him. "What? No I'm not tell you anything even if I knew something. As far as I'm aware they're still pursuing Hellscream. Marry- Varian? No! Where did you get that idea?" He asked, looking at the blonde elf who'd asked that. One of the ones who hated him and who kept trying to covertly banish bits of his clothing.

She shrugged. "I dunno it's what everyone's saying."

"Everyone?" Kalec asked.

She shrugged again.

"And who is everyone?" the dragon pressed.

She shrugged again, less certain. "I dunno. I heard stuff."

"Like how the Prince of Stormwind is getting married!"
"To a dwarf!"
"I heard to Lor'themar as a peace offering."
"Why would the Kirin Tor be meeting about that? That's a human thing."
"Because of the Horde. Duh."
"Oh. Think Keethri will come back then?"

Kalec spoke over their chatter. "No. Jaina isn't in a relationship with King Wrynn. Nor am I , nor is Prince Anduin being married to any of the dwarves-"

"HE'S MARRYING PRINCESS TESS?!"

There was a great deal of high pitched screaming from a fair number of the students, half in glee, half in wailing lamentation.

"No! No one is marrying anyone, honestly where do you get these ideas? Oh, Light above." He found himself looking heavenward - and seeing the smirking face of Archmage Modera. Archmage Spellsong stood beside her, lips pursed against a smile. "Think I should give them another twenty for being gossips?" he called up to the gallery overlooking the training hall.

The class turned and it was almost worth the indignity of their claims to hear the surprised reaction.

"Sure. I'd give them thirty each, but then you're much nicer than I am." She waved at the students. "Go on you lot. Class is just about over anyway. Get."

They rolled their eyes and stalked away, muttering to one another and casting looks over their shoulders. Spellsong and Modera took the stairs down to the exercise floor. Kalec watched the last student slowly shuffle out, lingering in case the older mages said anything. Kalec gestured and set up a privacy ward around the three of them.

"You're done a lot faster than I expected," Kalec said, frowning.

"It was... eventful," Modera said, glancing briefly at the door where no less than three students were trying to covertly watch. She gestured and brought up a magic colored shield around them so they could not even read lips.

"You do that and the rumors are just going to get worse," Spellsong noted with wry amusement.

Modera rolled her eyes. "Should only be for a few days and this is better than letting those monsters hear us."

"Ah, should I even be hearing any of this?" Kalec asked. Spellsong and Modera glanced at one another and Kalec felt suddenly very worried. "What happened?"

"Khadgar tried to play devil's advocate. Accused our Grand Magus of some rather unsavory things based on what he's been hearing from the Horde," Modera said. "He and Jaina appear to have things straight between them but those same things are going to be said."

"Okay?" He frowned at Modera, working through why she was telling him this. "Oh. And worse will come. And I might be part of it."

Modera patted his shoulder. "You'll both get through this. We all will. But having had a chance to get to know our rather self-sacrificing Grand Magus, I wanted to be sure you knew what was going on, too." She shook her head. "Price of being with a council member or something." She looked over at Spellsong. "Has your husband even noticed you're on the Council yet?"

Spellsong rolled her eyes but there was fond amusement in her expression. "Yes. That managed to penetrate his aura of research and reflection."

Modera snorted. "I swear an infernal could drop on that man's head and he'd continue whatever it is he was doing at the time."

"It was the scourge and you're not wrong," Spellsong said. She shook her head and returned the conversation to Kalec. "We voted to pursue reintegration," she confirmed. "But we're not announcing yet. Not until we've actually spoken to the other side and made some plans here for how things will proceed."

He nodded. "I think that's good. How can I help?"

Modera smirked a little and eyed Spellsong, some message passing between the two. "You continue to be you. I'm also going to need you to handle more of my classes. It looks like I'll be spending some time on Draenor soon."

"We're doing more to support Khadgar?"

"And everyone else," Spellsong said. "You helped open the portal for the garrison supplies, correct?"

"I did."

"Can you do that again on a smaller basis?"

"Yes but I have limits too. It took four of us to hold that portal open for as long as we did," Kalec said. "If you need a portal of that size and duration I could hold something like that on my own, but it wouldn't be for nearly as long."

Spellsong was already nodding. "I understand. We might just have to do the same thing once we have a good location to set up camp," she said to Modera. "I think I'll go send a letter before the mail exchange happens tonight. See if we can't get some reconnaissance of the area based on what Khadgar said. We can chat in the morning." She nodded to Modera then Kalec. "Night." The High Elf left the confines of the privacy wards leaving just Kalec and Modera.

"How'd class go?" Modera asked, making no move to drop her wards.

Kalec explained how things had gone; fairly well except that once again the small group of students continued to try to embarrass him before the others.

"What are they doing, exactly?" Modera asked.

"Banishing my clothing," Kalec said, shaking his head. "I don't think they understand dragons don't have the same sort of body modesty customs humans and others have. We don't wear anything but our scales most of the time." He huffed out a breath. It was upsetting. "I wish I knew why they hated me."

"Which students? Do you know?" Modera asked. Kalec nodded and listed them off for the archmage. She snorted. "Kalec, they don't hate you."

"Then why?"

She stared at him for a long moment then just shook her head. "Modera," he warned.

"You are aware that this," she gestured to him up and down, "shape you wear-"

"It isn't something I wear, it's me but shaped different," he said, frowning.

She looked at him askance then waved a hand. "Questions later. You do realize this form fits the parameters of what many humanoid races consider to be attractive, right?"

"Yes," he answered hesitantly. "What does that have to- They're taking my shirt because they think I'm attractive?" Kalec pinched the bridge of his nose. "Why?"

"Oh, I imagine they like what they saw," Modera continued to smirk at him.

"They're..." He railed off sputtering. "They're children!" They were hardly more advanced than whelps!

"A few are on the edge of being legal adults," Modera said, shrugging a shoulder.

Kalec made a face. "But they're children. Immature! Even aside from currently being in a relationship with Jaina alone, I have no desire for-" he grimaced. "They're kids."

Modera was already nodding. "And for the most part they all know that and they know that you know that. That makes you safe."

"Safe," he repeated, deadpan.

"Safe. Safe to practice flirting if they're daring. Safe to have an unobtainable secret crush, possibly for the first time."

"What's the point of that?"

Modera sighed. "Because it's unobtainable you can't get into any of the really scary relationship stuff, like sex, or talking or, and this is the worst, rejection."

Kalec frowned at her. None of those things were scary. "I don't follow."

She smiled and patted his shoulder. "Ask Jaina. Tell her, and quote me directly, that Modera said your class is 'hot for teacher' and would she please explain what I mean by that."

"What do you mean by that?" Kalec asked.

"Ask Jaina," Modera said. "She'll have fun explaining and Light knows we need some fun after today."

"Was it that bad?"

Modera blew out a breath. "Some of the Horde think it within reason that she would invite them back into Dalaran just to kill them. A trap like what Garrosh made of Theramore."

"What?" Cold, furious anger filled him. And like a cold snap, the ice cracked and thawed nearly instantly. His heart ached for his mate. "Where is Jaina?"

"Office. Working. Look, about the kids, I'll read them the riot act when class resumes next week. It's inappropriate. If they continue to do it, you have my permission to use feedback and reflection shields." She sighed. "And I hate to say it, but maybe I shouldn't let you be alone with them one on one. I know you'd never do anything, but they're stupid hormonal kids. Call me paranoid but I'd rather you didn't have to deal with one of those brats lying or being told to lie to get at you or Jaina."

Kalec's jaw dropped then he closed it. "I understand." He sighed. "This is far more complicated than I expected."

She smiled sadly. "You're telling me." She jerked her head over her shoulder in the vague direction of the citadel. "Jaina's probably in her office and I imagine she'd like a visit from you." She waved a hand and brought her privacy screens down. Kalec did the same.

"Thank you."

They bid the other farewell and Kalec nearly tripped over two of the boys in his last class as he left the room. Given what Modera had said, he wasn't in a mood for their adolescent boundary pushing, so each boy earned an extra ten exercises.

Jaina's office door was open and the midday sunlight through her window made her hair shine. There were dark circles under her eyes however. Kalec closed the door behind him and went to his mate. She set her pen aside and rose to accept his embrace. She leaned heavily into him, face pressed against the crook of his neck, arms tight around him.

"I saw Spellsong and Modera. You did it." He nuzzled the side of her face, hands skimming soothingly over her back and shoulders.

"Five down," she sighed. "The whole... rest of city to go."

He kissed her temple. "You'll win them over. I'll do whatever I can to help you."

She squeezed her arms around him. "Just be there for me. They- What did they tell you?"

"The worst of what Khadgar brought up," he admitted, gently grooming his fingers through her hair. She made a very tiny sound of pain and he kissed her temple again.

"That hurt," she admitted. "That hurt a lot." She was silent for awhile as he held her and ran his fingers through her hair and over her back. "I might have to step down or step aside."

"Well, I love you for your incredibly sexy mind rather than your lofty titles," he said, trying to get her to smile. "And whatever happens, you've done so much good here."

"My sexy mind?" she asked, arching a silvered eyebrow.

"Sexy other things as well," he admitted easily. That earned him a little giggle. He stole a kiss then set his hands on her hips and leaned back. "Do you need me here or am I distracting?"

"You're a bit distracting," she said, reaching up to draw her fingers through his hair. "I have more work to do, but in a strange and miraculous twist of fate, I don't think I need to stay here late. Once we got everyone to agree, they all volunteered to take on tasks. I'm mostly trying to facilitate." She rolled her eyes. "At least until there are fires to put out and ruffled feathers to settle." She shook her head. "I'm going to bury myself in whatever constructive thing I can find for a few hours and try not to think about anything else."

He tilted her chin up and kissed her sweetly. "Then I'll be home packing up for the move." He kissed her again. "And if you're feeling stressed, just think about that huge lovely library."

She closed her eyes and hummed in pleasure. "So many books by the fire," she practically purred, laying it on thick for effect.

Good that she could joke a little. He kissed her again. "I'll leave the materials out to reconfigure Anduin's hearthstone."

"Mmm. We'll need to get it back from him."

"Oh what a shame. Dinner in Stormwind with Varian's fine selection of wines," he feigned hurt then kissed her forehead. "If you're not back by supper I'm coming for you."

She laughed at the promise, delivered as a playful threat. "Tonight I might need to be distracted," she admitted. "It was... it was hard. I'm holding off really thinking about it until later."

He kissed her forehead. "Are you sure you want me to go home?"

She nodded. "I want to do something before I leave today and I want to be on hand in case anything explodes. Tomorrow I need to speak with Varian about this. I don't want him to be blindsided." She'd done that enough. Jaina closed her eyes. The past was done but the future could be better. When she opened her eyes, Kalec was studying her with concern. She offered up a small smile so he wouldn't worry. "I'll be okay."

"Okay." He kissed her. "Supper." He kissed her again. "Come home when you want to be distracted." He kissed her again. She laughed and shooed him out of her office.


When Kalec arrived home, he picked up the mail and was surprised to see the letter on top was not addressed to Jaina but to him. He couldn't recall the last time he'd received mail. The wax seal had a small depiction of a dragon's paw. Kalec was not familiar with who had a sigil like that as their seal. Looking closely he realized by scent as much as sight that the impression hadn't been made by a seal at all, but by a young dragon's paw. The scent on the wax was faint and unfamiliar. Kalec opened the letter and was surprised to find it had been sent by Wrathion.

"Lord Kalecgos,
I ask that you read this letter and consider my words rather than dismissing them outright. Your sister, the spirit of the dragon Tarecgosa, indicated I should make contact with you. It is at her behest I am sending this letter."

Tarecgosa? Kalecgos frowned. He'd have to confirm with Zaliya that they had indeed sent Wrathion his way. He'd give the whelp the benefit of the doubt. Reading didn't cost him anything.

"Let me first state that I find what Kairoz did at the temple to be regrettable. It was not my intent for anyone to lose their life there and I even took pains to spare the life of Chronormu and the rather ineffective guards posted to Garrosh's cell. I was relieved to hear that the Celestials intervened as they did."

Kalec felt a growl bubble up in his chest. Regrettable? Jaina had died because of his actions.

"Understand that everything I have done, I have done for the good of Azeroth and to uphold my flight's charge. I believe we must be united under one banner to face the coming Legion. And they are coming. Prince Anduin believes me."

Huffing out an annoyed snort, Kalec sat at the island table in the kitchen. The Legion again. And Anduin believed him. Tapping his hands against the tabletop he took a moment. Tarecgosa had possibly sent the whelp his way. She wouldn't have done that without reason. Was there a letter from her too? Looking through the small stack of mail, he found a second letter, sealed with the eye of the Kirin Tor in blue wax rather than the typical violet. The scene smelled of Worgen and carried Zaliya's mage's mark. He set that aside to read when he was done with Wrathion's letter.

"Gul'dan and his organization, the Shadow Council, are active on the Alternate Draenor. It is my intent to see them dead and to disrupt their corruption. To that end, I have begun my own operations against them. The first such successful foray has liberated a grimoire from one of the warlocks. Such books are personal journals as much as they contain spells. I would use the knowledge of this warlock to gain advantage over the enemy of all Azeroth, the Legion. However, there is concern that such a spellbook might contain traps or other dangers.

As you have no doubt guessed this is why I have reached out to you, Spell-Weaver. You are the most powerful of our remaining mages and I know that in ages past, the Blues were able to nullify and contain dangerous artifacts, including those of demonic origin.

While I think it is clear we do not agree on what needs to happen to secure Azeroth's future, I hope you will see that we do indeed fight for the same cause. I will enclose what observations I have made about this tome and the sigils on the cover. When I handle it for too long I feel ill so I have left it well alone since it was acquired.

No need to trouble Archmage Proudmoore or anyone else with this matter. I imagine the Alliance will be aware of my location soon enough and my request for assistance is genuine and free of ill-intent.

Sincerely,
Wrathion, Prince of the Black Flight

ps: Tarecgosa said to ask you what you know about the Earthmother. Which seems somewhat suspect as it's a shamanistic rather than Arcane topic, but there you are. I have asked."

Well.

That wasn't good.

Kalec flipped to the next page. The whelp had drawn pictures of the book and recreated some of the sigils on the cover and bindings. Kalec swore as he flipped to the second page which had further details. The whelp had no idea what he held and while he had little mature sense, in this case perhaps the Light had smiled on him and kept him from triggering any of the clear and obvious traps Kalec could see. He eyed Zaliya's letter then looked at the time. Mail to Draenor was scheduled for later that day. If he was to get Wrathion something he would have to act quickly, but he could read her letter.

"Kalec, I write this to you on behalf of your sister-of-choice as I understand the word translates into common. Sister-in-law? No matter. Tare says 'hi' and wants to know a number of rather inappropriate things about your personal life with the Grand Magus that I have zero desire to learn so she's going to have to live with not knowing.

We sent the black whelp your way. I saw his letter come in with the rest of the mail dump from Taylor's garrison, he's there for the moment by the way, so he finally took it on himself to contact you. Tare says he's very intense about his flight's charge. Tare is not sure if it's because of whatever happened to him in the egg or if he is just obsessive and compulsive. She's concerned he might do even more stupid things if he doesn't know what Azeroth is, and if he doesn't have someone to guide him.

Having worked with him in Pandaria I can attest that he's growing in power but he seems not to realize what that all entails. He's also damned contrary and stubborn. Tare says you happen to know something about helping stubborn, contrary whelps and to remind you of the seagull incident.

Wrathion is an ass but he's not evil. He's a kid with more power than he should probably have and even more than he knows. He believes he's alone and that the ends justify his means. That combination is already trouble. Tare adds that a whelp having to fend for himself, or feeling he has to live alone, is shameful.

So what we're really saying is that if he asks for help, please give him a hand. If he trusted more people we might not have the mess we have right now on Draenor. "

The handwriting changed from common to the glyphs dragons used.

"Kalec,

I don't expect you to abandon your duties, but this is a whelp who needs an older sibling as you were to me. He hates the red flight with a surprisingly intense passion but he might listen to you or someone else in the blue flight you trust to provide a good example.

How are you personally? Are you happy? How is your mate? I want all the details and ignore Zaliya's protests. Gilneans are too prudish. Have you seen any of my brood? I know Moanagosa wanted to stay in the north with her little ones and Aoigos was in the area. Have you heard from any of the others?

Draenor is strange. We are preparing an observational report.

-Tare"

Kalec set the letters aside and rubbed his temples. He would answer the personal letters later. First he'd address the issue of the dangerous grimoire that the black whelp had found. Rising he made his way into the half-packed laboratory space and looked around with a scowl. He needed something quick which would bind the book and he had something in mind but most of Jaina's equipment was already packed and he had little of his own currently. Sighing, Kalec got to work.

He only unpacked what he absolutely needed and fortunately the reagents case was to be moved as it was so it was easy to find the components he needed. Except for a few. Kalec tapped his fingers against the table then left at a trot.

Archmage Karlain was the third resource he looked for. He'd been directed to another vendor after the first had been out of stock, but when he got there he found the stall empty. They'd apparently closed shop and relocated to Pandaria.

Karlain looked up in surprise when Kalec arrived at his office. "Kalecgos?"

"I've been asked to help assist in binding a grimoire in the alternate Draenor by Archmage Zaliya," he explained. It wasn't precisely the exact truth but he wanted to speak with Jaina about the black whelp first, and the archmage in charge of the Shadowmoon garrison had asked him to assist her by helping.

"I'm guessing you need the felweed and the last supplier moved to Pandaria," Karlain said, closing up his office. "My workspace has some. Do you require anything else?"

"I have the gold and amethyst from Jaina's supplies." Kalec followed the Archmage through a portal into the master alchemist's personal lab. Several beakers and potions were brewing under the careful eye of his apprentice. The young dranei nodded his head at the pair then resumed measuring.

"I hope you're using mooncloth," Karlain said, as he pulled an empty reagent box off a neat stack and began to summon items from the various cubbyholes, cabinets and drawers around the room.

"If I can find it," Kalec said, looking around in open curiosity. "We're moving so I had to unpack half of her equipment."

"Here," Karlain said, pulling off a small bolt and handing it to the dragon.

"Thank you."

"Not at all. You're going to be using Kezziky's binding?"

"I'm unfamiliar with that name but possibly?" Kalec said. He sketched the sigils in the air with a finger trailing silver light, then added their translation in common beside them.

"Interesting. Draconic glyphs?"

"Yes," Kalec said. "What would you suggest?"

"I'm no expert but the one I'm somewhat familiar with is this," he said, golden light trailing after his fingers as he drew in the air. The sigils shimmered beside one another, silver and gold.

"Ah. I see what you mean," Kalec said, nodding. "And in that case they are very much the same."

"Interesting. We'll have to compare notes later. I take it this is rather time-critical?"

"Yes, unfortunately. I got the message in the mail perhaps a quarter hour ago."

"And the return mailing is soon. Understood. Do you need anything else?"

"I wouldn't want to impose-" he was cut off as Karlain waved a hand.

"Demons have no place in this world or any other and if Zaliya has asked you to help bind a warlock's power then I will assist."

With the archmage's considerable resources on hand, Kalec was able to obtain the materials he would need to manufacture a long strip of cloth and decorate it with empowered glyphs. He hoped they would be sufficient to bind the book until he could devise a better solution. Holding the box of reagents, Kalec thanked the archmage and hurried back home.


Jaina sighed and rubbed a hand over her face. She'd cleared out her daily business in record time. Nothing focused the mind on work like avoiding thinking about other things she supposed. The Council had come together on this issue though and it was heartening but there was so much left unknown.

Karlain and Runeweaver had promised her a preliminary outline by the next day but had given her the highlights of their thought process in a quick letter. They were debating how gradual the influx should be and the parameters they might use. Reading between the lines she could see that Ansirem favored gradual reintroduction while Karlain was more in favor of just opening the gates as had been done before. She hoped they would come to an agreement quickly.

Modera and Spellsong's initial report was an outline of what they were going to do. Spellsong had tapped a few archmages who were likewise itching to get to Draenor to do some reconnaissance while not discussing the larger issue of Horde relations. Modera expected they'd have reports and proposals within days. The Isle of Thunder had whetted the adventurous appetite for many mages in the city it seemed and she expected they would have no lack of volunteers - which just meant fewer mages back in Dalaran.

Jaina had decided to spend her time drafting letters; letters to the alliance leaders, letters to the various city leaders here in Dalaran who weren't on the council, and even letters to the Horde. She'd written and burned several of each. A few were now locked and sealed in her desk drawer. The letter intended to go to Vol'Jin remained blank before her

A knock drew her attention from the paper. "Yes?"

Khadgar strolled in, Atiesh in one hand, the pockets of his robes stuffed to bulging, as promised, with pastries. He held four boxes bound in twine with his other hand. Jaina blinked.

"Did you leave any for the rest of us?"

"I'm afraid several stalls are now entirely without baked goods, but I assure you that our people in Draenor will be most appreciative of your sacrifice," he said with mock gravity.

She smiled a little and rose. "Ready to head out?"

"I am if you would be so kind. And before we go," he paused to sigh. When he spoke he was once more the wholly serious person he'd been earlier. "Do you wish for me to attempt to sway opinion about you specifically?"

Jaina blinked in surprise.

"I know I am not always the most diplomatic or even the most tactful person, Jaina, but I have not liked hearing the whispers I hear. Not one bit." He frowned the continued on before she could speak. "I know you can fight your own battles, but my blunder today has just illuminated for me how much I have not been an ally." He huffed out a breath. "We need to be allies, now. All of us."

She wanted to say no, wanted to throw it in his face. The little voice, the one which had grown stronger than the rage, told her to stop. He's right. We all need allies. I need allies. Not just for me but for Anduin and for the people here in Dalaran, it said. You don't need to stand alone.

"I don't think you need to campaign for me," Jaina said finally. "But I would appreciate it if you stood up for me."

"I- Yes. I will do that." He bowed slightly at the waist. "Well." Khadgar awkwardly shuffled his feet. "I am well provisioned for the journey. I will be in the more, ah, northern areas tomorrow. Frostwall and thereabouts."

"Modera's initial report said that you believed extending our power to help mail service would be a good first step towards assisting your campaign. I agree."

"If we were to, say, have some extra power run through my tower and some of it made it to the Horde garrison, well, the leylines of Draenor run as they do."

"Not much you can do about it," Jaina agreed. "None on the council would certainly chastise you for allowing it to happen."

"What a relief! I was terribly concerned by the amount of spillover that might occur as we expand the network."

Jaina smirked. "I'm sure you were. Just... be discreet." For now was unspoken between them.

He nodded agreement and understanding.

Jaina helped him cross time and space with his cargo of baked goods then returned to her office. Modera was lounging by the door.

"I was hoping to catch you before you left for the day."

"I sent a reply-"

"Haven't read it. I'll do that in a bit. I wanted to speak with you about another matter," she said, following Jaina into her office. She shut the door behind them and plonked down into the chair across from Jaina's desk.

"Oh?" Jaina sat in her seat and folded her hands on the desk. "About?"

"Combat training. I may be old- excuse me venerable, but I haven't forgotten I got you to agree to some in a week. It's been longer than that."

"I don't know I have the time-"

"If I can make the time, you can make the time. This is important. Best get it done and over with and then we'll both feel better." Modera smirked. "Besides, blowing up targets is wonderful stress relief."

Jaina sighed and bobbed her head in a nod. "As you like. What, where and when?"

"Tomorrow. Sometime after lunch. I booked the classroom on the fifth floor. The one with all the heavy warding."

Jaina arched an eyebrow. "The one used for experimental warcasting?"

"Yep."

"Do I want to know why?"

Modera grinned. "Because I want numbers."

Jaina looked at her askance. "Okay. I think."

"Good." She rose. "I'll see you tomorrow then. Oh and Kalec has something exciting to tell you about his class. Be sure to ask him about it." She grinned again and Jaina was suddenly very curious.

"I'll remember."

She bid Modera goodnight then resumed staring at the blank document in front of her. Sighing in resignation, she set the paper aside and put her pen away. The workday was largely done anyway. She shut her office and headed home.

Chapter Text

"I'm home," Jaina called, closing the door behind her.

"Lab!" Kalec called through the apartment.

Curious, Jaina headed his way. "How's-" the question died on her lips as she beheld the ongoing project. Braziers were lit and a liquid that swirled golden and violet was being stirred in a glass beaker over heat. Her mortar and pestle were out again as well as an unrolled bolt of mooncloth and a box containing herbs she knew she didn't have in her collection of on-hand reagents. "Kalec?"

"One moment," the dragon said, eyes fixed on the careful runes he was inscribing with the gold-violet ink. He'd done most of the bordering and was nearly done with the main glyphs leaving a final border to contain the energy. Jaina could feel the power ebbing off the infused cloth like a cold mist. It was metaphysically heavy and Jaina frowned.

"A binding?" she asked, recognizing some of the components and sigils. "What happened?"

"Letter," he said, tilting his head to the unfolded parchments on the side table. "Wait to read."

She nodded and sat quietly while he finished his runework. He wasn't speaking in full sentences which said much about the amount of focus he needed for this working. Sighing as he finished, Kalec set his brush down and stretched with audible joint popping.

"The one on top is from Zaliya," Kalec said. "Read that one first and then I will explain the second."

She read the one on top first. It was from Zaliya as he'd said and, she supposed, Tarecgosa as well. Jaina was certain she'd not be able to share her head as the worgen Archmage was now doing, but the two seemed quite happy with the arrangement.

Jaina re-read one of the lines again. She looked up. "Help Wrathion?" Why? He was a menace!

"The second letter is from him. He's hunting Shadow Council warlocks. Got his claws on a grimoire."

"You're helping him?" He'd helped Garrosh escape! He'd hurt Anduin! "How can you help him after all he's done?!"

He held out his hands to her. She glanced at them then back to his face. Her chest was tight.

"He's in Taylor's garrison, Jaina," Kalec said.

"Kalec!" She wanted to lash out, strike something. The urge was so strong it was frightening. Jaina stopped.

He waited, hands open, waiting and watching for her to calm down. She winced and drew in a shuddering breath. Closing her eyes she put her hands in his. He ran his thumbs over her skin, a small, soothing gesture and Jaina hated he felt she needed to be calmed like a small child or a skittish horse. She hated he was right.

Jaina tried to observe her feelings from a more rational angle now that she recognized her defensive reaction. She was angry because Wrathion had helped Garrosh and had hurt Anduin. And he'd been part of the conspiracy to release Garrosh that had led to her own death, as brief as it had been. The eternal moment of ceasing to be still haunted her. Jaina shivered and tried to release the thought. It was terrifying and had been awful, but she was okay now. She was here in her lab, safe, and Anduin was in Stormwind.

Jaina rolled her shoulders, drew in a deep breath then let it ease out. She opened her eyes. Kalec smiled at her, kind and patient. "What happened?" she asked, nodding at the letters.

He kissed the back of one hand then kept them both as he explained. "He got over there somehow and has decided that he is going to hunt the Shadow Council. He killed one of their warlocks and stole a grimoire." Kalec jerked his chin at the pile of letters. "The drawing he included suggests a number of traps. I am making a binding for the book until the magic can be properly dispelled."

She released one of his hands to pick up and look at the drawings then back at Kalec. "It would serve him right for meddling," she grumped. Some of the traps looked like they could do a lot of damage if they weren't disabled properly.

"It would," Kalec agreed. "But it wouldn't be right for me to ignore this. He's... Anduin said he was doing it because of his Charge. Because of mine, because of the responsibility I have, I feel I must help him with a problem of magical containment. He's in Taylor's Garrison and I would not like to see what could happen if any of the traps on the book went off." He shook his head. "And he's a whelp. He is not of my flight and he's been a pest but he is a child. It's-" He looked away looking for words, pain on his face.

Jaina nodded and reached out to touch his arm, being the comforting one now. "He's a child and the dragonflights cannot have more." The anger and the panic had faded and she could see more clearly. Putting it that way, it did feel strange to wish actual harm on a child, even one as obnoxious and precocious as Wrathion.

"Read his letter," Kalec said. "I'm going to finish empowering this and send the binding back today if I can make the mail."

"If you miss it we could send it anyway," Jaina said, picking up the other letter. She sighed, "He's a twit but I would rather not see anyone else hurt because he doesn't have any sense. Or empathy."

Kalec returned to his work. "He's a whelp," the dragon repeated, "For all he makes himself look as old as Anduin, for all his advanced intelligence, he's four. He has the emotional maturity of a four year old and, well, I think the intellect plays a part too." He looked up from his working. "At least among dragons sometimes the very intelligent ones aren't always personable."

Jaina sighed. "That happens among humans, too. Some are just... too smart and find everyone else frustrating." She'd met many such mages who were like that. Karlain was one such mage, all blazing intellect and scant patience. Light knew she felt like that sometimes when others didn't immediately understand what she was saying. "I learned not to be so harsh because of my brother. He wasn't unintelligent but he didn't... he wasn't as fast as I was when it came to numbers and logic. He was better at people." She smiled a little. "Derek was possibly the one who first showed me how to navigate politics, though I didn't know what I was learning at the time." She'd figured that out eventually and had been the one to tutor her brother in cartography and charting.

"For me that was Kyri," Kalec said. "She taught me how to teach. How to phrase things and not come across as a total boorish ass."

Jaina laughed quietly.

"Read his letter. I'd be happy to hear your thoughts."

She did, gritting her teeth the whole time. His letter gave no indication as to which dragon had ultimately been the author of Garrosh's escape, but Jaina couldn't help but be suspicious of Wrathion. Even if he hadn't been the one to approach the rogue bronze with the idea, he'd been a willing conspirator. And he'd done it for his Charge. Or so he said.

People of all types could do awful things in the name of their beliefs. Malygos had nearly ripped magic away from anyone who wasn't in league with him because he was upholding his Charge. Lei-Shen had tried to conquer the world because he believed he'd claimed the power of a god. And Garrosh... Jaina mentally stepped away from the memory of Hellscream standing defiant and unrepentant. Countless lives had been lost in wars for gods and kings when people believed.

But then she'd believed in things and good had resulted. As heavy a task as it had been, she'd seen Arthas put to final rest, believing that the Scourge had to be stopped. Tyrande's faith in her goddess had helped her steer her people through troubled times. Anduin believed in the Light and in the goodness of people if they were given a chance. Jaina had once felt that way too and there had been rewards, and terrible prices paid, for that trust.

Jaina set the letter down and quietly watched Kalec finish his work. Anduin believed Wrathion about the Legion. It would be very easy to dismiss the warning because of the source, but for Modera's independent unease and the foreboding Jaina felt.

Fear could make people act rashly. The Grand Magus knew from personal experience. Had the escape at the trial been a rash act by a whelp all alone? A child who was afraid of what his visions showed him as well as the weight of upholding something that was apparently very deeply ingrained in all dragons no matter their flight? Jaina shifted uncomfortably. She didn't want to be sympathetic. Which probably meant she should try to think more logically.

Jaina watched over Kalec's shoulder to distract herself as he penned his own letter back to the whelp.

"DO NOT OPEN THE BOOK

Further assistance will be forthcoming. Wrap this cloth around the book as many times as you can and leave it alone until I can provide you with something better. If you have already opened the book, close it, wrap the book up, and leave it alone. I will be in contact again as soon as possible."

-Kalec
PS. You don't want to end up a fel-corrupted slave or possessed by a dreadlord. Trust me. Don't open the book."

"You've made the mail call," Jaina said, glancing at the clock. Kalec nodded and sent the letter off with a burst of magic to be collected and transferred with the rest. Reading over his words she realized that she'd forgotten he might have a more personal reason for not seeing another soul harmed by demons, even if it happened to be an obnoxious brat.

He double checked the fires were out and began to repack the equipment he'd used. "What are your thoughts on Wrathion's letter?"

"He's obsessed with this Charge and the last dragon I know of who was that obsessed was Malygos."

Kalec's eyes tightened in pain. "Wrathion appears unusual in that regard. I'm uncertain if it's actually a compulsion or if he's just obsessive."

"Meeting with him might tell you if he's mad like Malygos or not."

"Or if there is something else. Strange things happened to create his egg."

"I- Thank you for telling me," Jaina said.

Kalec growled pensively. "He hurt you indirectly. He did directly hurt Anduin. Even if you were not my consort, telling you would be proper. But you are my consort and keeping volatile things from your consort isn't proper behavior." He snorted, angry but not at her. "And he doesn't know that." He shook his head and changed the subject slightly. "Did you read what Tarecgosa asked?"

"I admit I wasn't really paying attention to her part of the letter," she said. "Something about her children?" She began to help him packing the equipment away. It fortunately wasn't much.

Kalec's gentle smile fell a little. "That too. She wanted to know impertinent details about us. I won't tell her anything intimate," he said. "Some dragons share details like that. I'd- no." He grimaced. "She's my little sister."

She prodded his shoulder. "I think she's familiar with the mechanics, Kalec. She does have children."

He scrunched his nose. "And with my brother, Azigos."

"You don't like him?"

"Oh, I liked him just fine, I introduced them, but he was my brother and with the little hatchling I'd help raise! I did not want details."

"Did she tell you details?"

"Unfortunately," Kalec said with another grimace. "I am changing the topic."

Jaina laughed quietly. "Fair enough. So. What are you going to do next?" She nodded at the letters, the only thing that remained on the now clear workbench.

Kalec latched the box of glassware closed and set his hands on the bench with a heavy sigh. Jaina slipped her hands over one of his.

"I think all I can really do is offer to be a line of communication," Kalec said. "I have responsibilities here on Azeroth and I don't think he'd respond well to living as a typical four year old does."

"Which is?"

"With parents or caretakers learning how to use their skills, refine how they hunt, learning at the feet of older dragons." Kalec shrugged. "He's been on his own for too long for any of that." He shook his head. "And Tarecgosa is right. It is shameful we let him be alone like that. None of the youngest in my flight are alone." He nodded in the vague direction beyond the city. "When we dispersed the dragons with hatchlings formed little enclaves. They're well cared for in quiet places."

Jaina ran a hand up his arm then down his back. She leaned in close. "I wouldn't mind if any of those dragons wanted to roost here." She kissed his shoulder. "I think it'd be an easier sell than the Horde. Those wounds are older. It was actually brought up as a counter-solution at the meeting."

Kalec made a thoughtful noise. "I will let them know when next I make my rounds checking in on the groups I know about." He looked at her. "Wrathion is stubborn and driven but he's also smart. And he's alone. If I encouraged him to contact me, would that bother you?"

Jaina thought that over, staring into the middle distance as she rested her cheek against his shoulder. "He hurt people I love and indirectly hurt me. We're in this mess on draenor partially because of his actions." Jaina frowned. "Archmage Zaliya is right. He's a kid with too much power and not enough sense. If you speak with him do you think you'd honestly be able to do anything productive? He's the most prideful dragon I've ever met."

"Mmm which is saying something," Kalec said.

"I think he's afraid."

Kalec nodded. "When I look at Wrathion, I see a whelp trying to be a much bigger dragon than he is. Not just in taking on adult tasks but also... trying to appear more confident so he looks less vulnerable." He paused, brows knit together as he thought. "Perhaps it's my own pride but maybe I can make him think. Maybe make him feel less like he needs to act as he has. Anduin had you to give him an example. Maybe I can try to be one for him. Wrathion hasn't been around many other dragons in his life."

"He killed most of the remaining blacks from what I heard," Jaina said. "Or at least had them killed."

"I have no doubt that has had an impact. But he hasn't had someone of his own kind to be a good role model. I think Anduin was a very good role model for him, but he's just one example and he's also human and I suspect that might have less weight for Wrathion."

Jaina sighed. "It would bother me if more people I loved were hurt because of him. Don't let him think you're another pawn."

"I have duties here, I'm not planning on going there and taking him under my wing literally," Kalec reassured. "Just... Maybe I can be a voice of reason."

She nodded. "Don't get hurt or I will turn him into a handbag."

He leaned over and kissed her head. "We can finish packing or we could find some dinner?"

"Dinner sounds better right now." She tugged on his hand and he followed her out of the lab and into the mostly empty apartment. "Oh and Modera said you had something to tell me about your class?" She asked over her shoulder.

"Ah," he frowned thoughtfully. "She said to quote her directly and tell you that my class was 'Hot for Teacher' and that you would explain."

 

Jaina burst into laughter. "What?"

"You don't understand?" He asked as they entered the kitchen and began to rummage through the fairly sparse options.

"Oh I know what the phrase means. What brought this up?"

"What does the phrase mean?" he asked.

"What brought it up?" she insisted, grinning back at him.

He glanced at her then frowned at the empty breadbox. "They banished my shirt. Again."

"What? And what do you mean again?" Jaina asked, closing the pantry door. "Your shirt?"

"Yes," he grumbled. "Apparently these apprentices are less like whelps and more like drakes than I had imagined."

"What's the difference?"

"Older drakes are interested in well-formed haunches, strong flight shoulders, how bright your scales are, and if you might be a good partner when spring came around. They're beginning to consider adult things."

"Ah. Yes. Teenagers and young adults rather than young children. Didn't Modera tell you they were teenagers, Kalec?" Jaina asked. She leaned a hip against the counter.

Kalec rolled his eyes. "Yes, but none of my fifteen and sixteen year old students have ever tried flirting with me before. The precocious ninety year olds certainly, but not whelps." He shook his head. "Are you going to tell me what the phrase means or am I to guess it based on the context clues?"

Jaina crossed her arms and smirked.

He leaned a hand against the counter and faced her, looming ever so slightly with matching amusement.

Jaina suddenly grinned and banished his shirt. Kalec yelped in surprise. Her grin grew sly as she openly eyed him and set one hand on his chest. She began to trace down the planes of his chest. "It means they have a schoolroom crush and you probably figure into hormonal fantasties."

Kalec snorted. "Maybe I should hold class down on the ground in my real form."

Jaina let her hand slide down further so she could hook her finger into a belt loop. She tugged him closer. "But they'd still see you look as you do in this shape in the city. They'd know that this was also you even if you were walking around in pretty blue scales."

Kalec snorted again, this time in surprise. "Pretty?"

Jaina grinned up at him. "I've always been rather fond of blue."

He arched an eyebrow. "But 'pretty'?"

"Mmhm." She leaned up and kissed his cheek. "And you're my consort right now."

He growled, pleased, and pulled her closer. "Damn right." He frowned. "Why do they always laugh when I say that? Or anything, really."

Jaina arched an eyebrow. "Oh?"

"If I say 'mate' they giggle. If I say 'consort' they snigger." He rolled his eyes. "And they're kids!"

Jaina laughed and draped her arms around his shoulders. "Blame it on the hormones. They're just discovering this stuff and can act juvenile about it."

"Modera said that I was a 'safe crush'."

"Mmmm. That makes sense." She leaned against his chest.

"How?" he asked, exasperated.

"Because these adult thoughts and feelings are new, scary and thrilling. Suddenly they have this exotic and attractive man in charge of their class. He’s a teacher which puts him off limits, and he's far older in age which is also against another set of taboos. The difference in race will set him as untouchable for some, and he's in a committed relationship which also makes him unavailable. They know nothing would ever happen but they can fantasize. It's safe."

Kalec growled pensively. "It seems so wrong."

"Kalec, at the risk of having you walk out of here in disgust, I'm only twice their age, remember."

He tightened his grip. "Yes, but you're an adult human. They are not. I thought they were closer to whelps and that was a mistake on my part. I'll adjust. I hope I'm not botching Modera's class, but I get the sense if I was she'd have let me know."

"She absolutely would have," Jaina agreed. "Modera's itching to get into the field, so I think she appreciates having some backup." She let her fingers wander over his chest. It was a remarkably nice chest.

"She said as much," Kalec agreed. "I wonder how much time she'll spend there."

"Modera also still wants me to train with her," Jaina said. "I'm supposed to meet her tomorrow afternoon. If she wants to keep doing that she'll have to be back and forth. But if Spellsong takes point on settling things in Draenor that'd leave Modera free to move as needed. So no luck in skipping remedial battle mage training for me, I suppose."

"You're a quick study, and already quite capable," Kalec said. "She probably won't start you off with her beginners class."

"Oh? That's too bad," she said, pouting. "I've heard her student teacher is rather cute."

"Oh, really?"

"Mmhm. I'm told he has a very nice rear."

Kalec grinned, picked her up and set her on the counter. "Is that so?"

"That's what the gossip says."

"Does it? And what else does the gossip say?" He set a hand on either side and leaned in, parting her knees as he stepped closer.

"I've heard his aim is atrocious," she said.

Kalec rolled his eyes. "Well perhaps if you'd never practiced physically throwing fire, while shapeshifted I might add, your aim might be as bad. Theoretically." There was a tiny bit of hurt in his tone and perhaps being teased about this was beginning to sting.

Jaina reached up and ran her fingers through his hair, the amusement dropping a shade or two. "I've heard he's very talented at magic. Able to do impressive workings even if he's shapeshifted to work with humans." She slid her fingers down through his hair then cupped his cheek, rubbing his skin with her thumb. He leaned into the touch. "And that he is very responsible about magic."

"Sounds pretty boring."

"Not at all," she disagreed. "He sounds like an excellent example for hormonal teenagers full of themselves. Or wayward archmages. Or even petulant whelps. I have also heard that he is very kind and patient with even the most obstinate mages." Her smile grew once more. "He sounds quite exceptional to me. I wonder what else he might be talented in? Maybe I'll have to ask for private tutoring sessions."

Kalec's low chuckled ran down her spine. Jaina grinned as he leaned in and kissed her.

There was a startled yelp followed by a bang and a crash from the parlor. Jaina and Kalec broke apart, looking towards the other room.

Very faintly they heard, "Ow."

"Anduin?" Jaina called out. Kalec gave her a hand down from the counter and the two hurried to the parlor.

"Hi, auntie," Anduin said from a heap on the floor. He'd appeared amid the few stacks of lab equipment, books and other items Jaina had retrieved from her personal vaults or bought in the last year.

"Well, I guess we don't need to go to Stormwind for Anduin's hearthstone anymore," Kalec said as he offered Anduin a hand off the floor.

Anduin got to his feet and then dusted off his tunic and straightened his clothing. Kalec looked over at Jaina. She was holding a hand over her smile. If Anduin had arrived perhaps ten minutes later, well, things might have been a bit more... interesting in the kitchen. In hindsight it was an amusing oversight they'd have to handle... delicately. Kalec flashed her a grin and wagged his eyebrows at her.

"Sorry to drop in like this," Anduin apologized, drawing both Kalec and Jaina's attention from their silent conversation back to him. He appeared to be oblivious to their thoughts.

"It's perfectly fine," Jaina said, reaching out to give him a quick hug. "I built that so you could visit me. It didn't even occur to me to keep the space clear. There's just been so much going on." She held him at arm's length. "What is going on? Is everything okay?"

"Yes?"

"You don't sound so sure about that," Kalec observed as he exchanged a greeting handclaps with the young man.

Anduin glanced at her then focused on the floor before seeming to come to some decision.He set his jaw then spoke. "I got a letter today. From Wrathion."

"Ah," Jaina said, hating the way Anduin felt he needed to steel himself before speaking to her. "Turns out Kalec got one as well." She'd make it right for them again. She rubbed her nephew's shoulder. Wrathion's betrayal had hurt him.

"Oh?" Anduin looked relieved. "Did he mention hunting agents of the Legion and acquiring a wizard's grimoire?"

"He did. I sent back something to bind the book's power temporarily. I didn't want Admiral Taylor and his people to suffer because of his inexperience," Kalec explained.

"Admiral Taylor's garrison? That's where he is?" Anduin shook his head. "He said he was someplace in Draenor but not where." He set his jaw again. "And Taylor knows he's there?"

Jaina shrugged. "I imagine he would. Taylor's not exactly the type to miss someone as... grandiose as Wrathion usually is." And if Taylor knew, then it indicated the whelp was behaving. Jaina wondered if Varian had heard yet. Something else to ask when she visited the next day.

Anduin scowled into the middle distance then shook his head as he came to some thought or other. He took a breath then sighed it out. "I would appreciate it if you, either of you, were to prevent him from doing any more damage to anyone."

"I have an idea of where to find something to disable the magic on the book," Kalec said. "Among the artifacts in the Nexus are things we used in the past." He looked over at Jaina. "It is beginning to sound as if I need to make a brief trip to Draenor."

Jaina didn't want him to go but she clamped down on the reaction. If he went he might prevent further damage to Taylor's garrison and all the people there. Kalec was wary of the situation and capable. She blew out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. "I agree. And it sounds like sooner rather than later."

He nodded then returned his attention to Anduin. "What else did his letter say?"

"Here, you can read it," Anduin said, fishing out the folded paper from his tunic's inner pocket and handing it over. Jaina went over to Kalec so they could both read it. Anduin flopped onto the couch.

"Anduin,

I imagine you're quite angry with me. I can understand why. I did not intend for anyone to be seriously harmed in that confrontation. I am pleased to hear the Celestials stepped in.

Everything I have done, I have done to uphold my charge and to protect Azeroth. I still believe that we will only be safe if we are united under a single, strong banner. There cannot be an question as to who leads - someone must conquer.

Agents of the Legion are active in Draenor. That is where I am as you shall soon be informed. In any case, I have made it my goal to undo their works and prevent them from taking the Iron Horde as was done in our timeline.

I have taken possession of the grimoire of one of the warlocks in league with the Legion. As I am certain you would not wish for innocents to be harmed, I would appreciate any assistance you might provide. Is there some priestly technique or blessing which might be done so that I can find out all the dirty secrets and not summon an infernal on anyone's head?

I look forward to your response.

Wrathion."

"It is consistent with the letter I got from him," Kalec said when he'd finished reading.

"Have you replied yet?" Jaina asked.

Anduin nodded. "Yes, after several drafts. I sort of... let him have it." He winced. "It was... not an elegant letter but I-" he trailed off and shook his head. "How have you been?" Anduin asked, clearly changing the subject. "You're moving?"

Jaina sat on the couch beside him. "Yes. A different place in the city. One that can be our space," she said smiling at Kalec. She looked back at Anduin. "I was planning on visiting your father tomorrow. I was also going to ask for your hearthstone back so I could re-tune it to the new location."

He fished it out of his pocket and handed the stone over to her. "Why'd you need to visit father?" Anduin asked, sitting up from his slouch.

Jaina folded her hands in her lap and considered. It was an internal Kirin Tor matter but it did have an impact on the Alliance. She was going to forewarn Varian anyway and the young prince had begun to be more involved in the greater politics of ruling his kingdom. Jaina had been prompted to act at all because of Anduin and his ambitious goals. What she did here in Dalaran would absolutely have an impact on his own plans.

"This is confidential information and I will have your word you will not speak of this to anyone else. I cannot stress that enough." She fixed him with a firm gaze.

Anduin blinked. "Maybe you shouldn't tell me then."

Jaina realized she was probably frightening him a little. She smiled to take some of the tension from the space between them. "The Council took a vote on reintegration."

Anduin leaned forward and Light there was such hope in his eyes. "You actually did? Really? Already? I mean- What happened?"

"We voted unanimously to pursue it," she told him then waved down his cheering before it started. "But pursuing it doesn't mean it will happen quickly. We are investigating if any of the Horde mages would even want to come back. We also want to have a plan in place in case they do, before we announce anything. The council agreed but we are only six people. The rest of the city will be a harder sell."

Anduin threw himself at her in a bearhug. Caught by surprise she needed a moment to return the hug.

"Thank you."

Jaina's heart caught in her throat. The naked emotion in his voice warred with the fear still in her soul. "It was the right thing to do," she said, her voice quiet. Any louder and she might lose composure. She squeezed her arms around his shoulders then sat back. "I am only telling you this because I intend to give Varian some forewarning tomorrow."

Anduin nodded rapidly, much cheered by her news. "Maybe I can soften him up a bit for you?" he offered.

Jaina considered then nodded. Anduin had somehow gotten through to his stubborn father before. And, she reflected, he'd helped her as well. "Can you speak without specifics or only when you're alone? We're trying to control the rumor mill as it is."

"Why? This is great news!"

She smiled gently. "Because I don't want anyone important to hear it second hand. Not my people here in Dalaran and certainly not the Horde."

Anduin's expression grew more serious as understanding dawned. "You need to control the message."

"Cynical if correct," she admitted. "Where did you learn that phrase?"

"Some of father's ministers go on about that. Usually when it comes to propaganda or recruiting or reports from battles. Morale related things."

Jaina nodded. "This is going to be hard enough. I don't want anyone taking offense or acting inadvisably."

He nodded and stood. "I'll be circumspect when I mention you'll be coming to see him." He took the letter back from Kalec and grinned at his aunt. "Well, I guess I'll be going now. I seem to have interrupted something. If you wouldn't mind making a portal back home for me, I'll let you get back to your... packing?"

Jaina blinked at him. Then it suddenly dawned on her that Kalec still didn't have a shirt on. She hoped her cheeks weren't as blazing red as she felt they might be. The mage swiftly made a portal and Anduin waved and ducked out of sight with a grin.

"We could be done and moved in tonight if we wanted," Kalec said, thoughtfully as he looked at the small stack of crates by the hearth.

He presented a very nice view of broad shoulders tapering to a narrow waist. He didn't have the exaggerated muscle definition of a warrior, but his powerful wings apparently translated into some rather nice lines. And he'd been shirtless the whole conversation. Anduin had been perfectly diplomatic until the teasing at the end, which was both a sudden source of pride and also abject horror. Kalec could forget to wear clothing, dragons seldom went in anything more than their scales, but she should have noticed.

"Jaina?"

Her eyes snapped to his. "Shirt."

He tilted his head in query then looked down. He looked back up and her and grinned. "And you were the one who banished it."

Jaina hid her face in her hands, cheeks absolutely on fire. "I know!" she complained. "That only makes it worse!"

Kalec laughed and wrapped his arms around her shoulders. "I'd wondered what bit of human innuendo I'd missed. I'm sorry I forgot to put a shirt back on."

"No, don't be. We were both in a rush to make sure he was okay and then I should have remembered, too. Or noticed. Light above he is too young to be making comments like that!"

Kalec rumbled a gentle, thoughtful noise. "I've been thinking of my students as whelps, but they're not. It occurs to me that Anduin's not a whelp anymore, either."

"He really isn't, is he?" She sighed and wound her arms around his waist.

"Sad he's grown up?"

She nodded. "A little."

"Be glad he's grown up well. You had a fair hand in helping him, you know. That's always something to be proud of."

"I regret the time I lost. But that's done and there is no sense in dwelling on what's gone when I can look ahead." And if I keep telling myself that, I'll believe it.

"Absolutely." Kalec rubbed her back. "So. We could actually find something to eat in the kitchen this time and then move everything else over if you like. You've been rather diligently moving things to the new place piece by piece. There's just the boxes here, the larger things in the lab and the bedroom. A portal should make that easy enough."

"It was a nice distraction to have," she admitted. She drew in a breath then let it out. "Let's eat then clear out of here. I'll have all the new forwarding activated tomorrow." She looked up at him. "You won't need the lab immediately for whatever you need for the grimoire?"

He shook his head. "No, I'll make a quick trip to Coldarra then I think I'll cross over for the day and be home by dinner if I can."

They went back to the kitchen and actually ate this time before moving the last few items over. It wasn't all that much, Jaina thought as she focused on lifting the last laboratory item, the heavy chest of reagents, and sending it across the portal. Kalec's power brushed against hers as he took possession of it and neatly lifted it to the far wall. Most of the moving she'd done in the last week had been of new purchases they'd made - more distractions from the tension and feelings stirred by the Theramore memorial.

"That's the last of it," he said.

"I'll teleport over," Jaina said. "I want to do a final pass and lock up." She smiled as the portal closed.

Her footsteps echoed loudly in the now empty lab space. Nothing was left here. Walking through the dining room and the parlor she hardly needed to double check for personal items. She'd not had many. She was leaving almost all of the furniture. A few new items more to her liking were in her new residence. It wasn't fully furnished like this place had been when it had been gifted to her. She'd had little else but the clothing on her back.

Jaina stood in the center of the room as she had the day it had been given to her. She was thankful to the others in Dalaran who'd arranged for her to have someplace to live, but this hadn't really ever been her home. Now it would be someone else's, the remaining contents donated to another person who might need them and the apartment space made ready for another mage.

Jaina checked there wasn't anything left to rot and moulder in the kitchen then finally swept through her bedroom. The furniture in here had been more to her liking and had already been moved. Again her steps echoed in the empty room. Seeing nothing she'd intended to bring with her, she turned and left.

She felt a little guilty, so much had been gifted when she'd had nothing, but it was also a reminder of what she'd lost; not only the stinging loss of people but the loss of control in her own life as well. Even her furniture hadn't been her choice.

Jaina breathed in then out. Much had been taken and it still hurt to think about, but she'd be okay. She'd lived through it. Building a new life in a new place with someone she loved was something she was honestly looking forward to doing. Jaina recognized the old pain and then deliberately set it aside and turned her attention towards the new.

She closed and the locked the front door then teleported to the entryway of her new home. Jaina drew in another breath then let it out. Another step forward. Keep going. She looked around at the sparsely furnished parlor. It could be seen as empty and lacking in all the things now gone, or she could choose to see it as potential for building something new. Jaina had kept one of the small side tables and Kalec had found some comfy chairs they both liked. The parlor was quite spartan but it was a start.

The ink portrait of her and Anduin from last year was at the top of one of the cases. She found it and set the framed picture on the side table. She didn't look very happy and Anduin's grip was a bit strained around her shoulders. The artist had been very accurate. This year they'd have a happier picture.

"I'm here," she called, heading for the direction she suspected he was in.

"Lab!" he called back.

"So I see," she said, smiling as she found him.

He was using magic to unpack and set her equipment on what they'd agreed was her side of the room. She watched with a small smile as books, chests and glassware sailed through the air to carefully be placed in appropriate niches and on workbenches, all in half the time it took to pack it up. The new space was easily more than twice the size of her previous personal lab space with plenty of room for them to work side by side without tripping over one another.

"We'll need to get you more for your side," Jaina mused, coming to stand beside the dragon. He'd already set up his sparse space to his liking.

"I figure I can acquire as I need to. No rush."

"No rush," she agreed. "Speaking of research and discovery, Wrathion said he was to ask you about the Earthmother? What was that about? More comparative power systems?"

Her set of fine crystal flasks paused briefly in their aerial dance towards the rack he'd already set up.

"Kalec?"

"Let me finish this. Then we should go get comfy for that discussion."

"That sounds slightly ominous," Jaina remarked, crossing her arms.

Kalec set the glassware and other items down, letting the magic fade from around them. He smiled and held a hand out. "It's not anything bad," he said.

Jaina took his hand and let herself be pulled through their new home to the library. It was unsatisfyingly empty currently, but they'd found a decent couch. Kalec gestured and activated the enchanted crystals in the hearth. The illusion of fire appeared as the crystals began to heat the room, providing light and warmth and none of the danger of fire around flammable books.

Another gesture summoned a box of cookies he'd been hiding in a dimensional pocket someplace. He sat on one side of the couch and offered her a cookie. Jaina took it, eyeing him askance, and sat on the other side of the couch.

"What is this about?" The way he was acting, almost stalling, was both sending up warnings as well as stoking the fires of curiosity.

Kalec ate his cookie, gathering his thoughts."Put most simply, the Earthmother is real, her name is Azeroth and she is a Titan."

Jaina blinked. "Azeroth is a Titan." She processed that for a moment. "That... makes a strange amount of sense given all we've discovered the Pantheon left behind."

Kalec nodded. "The Aspects and the Keepers and all the machines were built to protect the world's soul while it forms."

"It's still forming? The world is a Titan egg?"

"Without the cracking as I understand it," Kalec said with a small smile. It faded as he spoke. "The Mantle came with a lot of information. Most of it is just... gone. Sometimes I get bits and pieces back- strange, random insights or information I just suddenly know." He shook his head as if to clear it. "But one thing that I knew, even before Alexstrasza pulled me aside to tell me, was the nature of our world. That Azeroth was a Titan was something I had begun to consider on my own, but I didn't have all the pieces of supporting evidence. The Mantle filled in the pieces I'd been missing."

"This is... Wow. I admit I wasn't expecting something like that. Maybe the Earthmother was a spirit or something. A Titan?"

"Well she is a spirit," Kalec smiled. "The greatest one. The tauren know the world has a spirit of it's own, but they don't know she is the same sort of being as the pantheon. Well, perhaps some might have come to the correct conclusion given some of the recent archeological discoveries," he allowed.

"I have so many questions," Jaina said, her distant eyes suddenly focusing on him intently. "So not even all dragons know?"

"It was set that way by the Keepers and kept by the Aspects. If you don't know the world has a soul, you aren't going to go looking for it."

"A fair point," Jaina mused. "But what could be done to a Titan?"

"The Old Gods," Kalec answered. "If they'd been left unchecked they'd have either killed or corrupted Azeroth. The Titans placed the Keepers here to help order Azeroth so she had a chance to grow and eventually join them."

"And the Aspects were charged with keeping specific areas or attributes of Azeroth safe," Jaina realized aloud. She looked up. "The Emerald Dream isn't just the collective dream of the world's people or an- an elemental plane of nature? Is it her dream?"

"That's... actually a lot more complicated," Kalec said, rubbing his hand over the back of his neck. "It's a spiritual plane and it is connected to the world-soul, but it isn't Azeroth's actual dream as we would understand it. I don't think. I'm not certain if that is by design as another buffer between her and things which could harm her or if the dreams of Titans are entirely unlike those of anyone else. It is the closest you can get to a perfect, unspoiled Azeroth." The dragon's sad gaze turned back to his mate. "I think it's why Ysera is so intent on creating more World Trees. They sort of... balance everything. They also aid access to the dream."

"She's afraid there won't be effective guardians when her flight is gone."

Kalec nodded. "There is a cadre of greens that lives entirely in the dream still. They're essentially immortal but they don't have the power they once did. Ysera had..." Kalec trailed off, looking for the words. "She had incredible power and influence, but it was her duty to see Azeroth grew according to the plans the Pantheon laid down in the dream somehow." He turned a thoughtful frown to the fireplace. "In a lot of ways, she and Nozdormu had similar tasks. Observing and protecting but never changing, living in places unseen and hidden."

"You were all given a rather thankless task." Jaina reached out and touched his hand. "But I thank you. We'd not be here if it wasn't for all your people had done."

Kalec smiled a little. "And I'm certain none of us would be here now if you and your people hadn't helped us."

Jaina smiled, her look turning intent again. Then the torrent of questions tumbled forth. "Where do Titans come from? Why is Azeroth still an egg and the others weren't? Why is she younger? Did they find her? Was she made by them? But if a Titan is the soul of a world, the Pantheon visited Azeroth! Did the planets move? How? Dimensional displacement? Are the astrally projecting their being into space? Does Draenor have a world soul too? If Sargeras is the Mad Titan, is he also the soul of a world? If you destroy a world do you destroy the soul too then? That would make sense. Could you destroy Sargeras by somehow destroying his planet? Are Titans who are like the Pantheon still bound to their worlds or do their spirits just leave? Are you certain we're not all going to die when the planet hatches? That sounds so weird to say." She paused a moment to breathe.

Kalec laughed warmly as he took her hands and pulled her closer, leaning in to rest his forehead against hers.

"Sorry," she said, half laughing. "I have so many questions."

"So I heard," the dragon teased. He kissed her forehead. "But I will answer what I know, which isn't as much as I would like." Kalec picked up a cookie and held it out to her.

She took it and nibbled on it while he collected his thoughts then began to answer in much the same manner as she'd bombarded him.

"Titans manifest in the Great Dark Beyond, I don't think they even know where they come from or at least that wasn't included in the information I received as Aspect. Azeroth is apparently younger. I have the distinct impression they thought she was important because they did so much Ordering here to undo the damage of the Old Gods. The information likewise doesn't say how they moved but I suspect it's projected consciousness. Not all worlds have a soul. Draenor doesn't. Sargeras is the same sort of being as the other Titans but he... Turned. He was a lost brother. I can only speculate, but I think they are somehow still tied to their worlds after they-" he paused briefly, "hatch. That is odd to say out loud. The awakening wouldn't kill us. At least I don't think. We're.... Part of her somehow. Honestly we're somewhat expendable, but we are part of her. My information about this subject is very incomplete. I didn't have much time to think of random questions about the nature of our world in the hope of getting flashes of knowledge from the Mantle." He blew out a breath. "Did I cover everything?"

Jaina laughed. "Yes. I still have more."

"So do I," he admitted. He set the cookies on the floor and turned so his head was in her lap, his legs casually draped over one arm of the couch. "Why haven't we seen the pantheon recently? Why didn't any of the Keepers intervene with Neltharion or Malygos? When will Azeroth grow up? When she does will we be able to speak with her? Will we get to travel the Great Dark Beyond with her or will she leave us here? If she can move herself around what happens to the moons? Do they come with her? Can she move the star she orbits? Would we even need to act like a normal world, like Draenor or Argus, and rely on the sun for light and warmth and the moons to change the tides?"

Jaina stroked her fingers through his hair as she listened to him speak. "Are Titans powerful enough to not need such things," she mused aloud.

"Their powers are incredibly vast and while it would be difficult, with sufficient magic many of these problems could be solved, so they remain valid queries in my mind." He closed his eyes under her touch.

"What do the others think of Azeroth and her potential power? Of her status as a Titan? Alexstrasza and Nozdormu and Ysera I mean."

He grimaced. "They weren't terribly concerned and at the time they were right. Deathwing was the more immediate issue. The world has been turning for twenty-five thousand years under their watch. Azeroth existed before they ascended. It wasn't a pressing issue and I get the sense it hasn't been one."

"Is it now?" Jaina asked because of his wording. She continued to run her fingers through his hair. It was a shame it wasn't longer.

Kalec considered the question at length, his breathing growing more even as he meditated on it. She hadn't been asked to stop, so Jaina continued to card her fingers through his hair. Their discussion had not changed her general sense of looming danger, but that did not mean there wasn't a connection someplace. Perhaps it was Modera's influence but his wording had caught her notice.

"Not pressing," he finally decided, opening his eyes to look up at her. "Not an issue but Azeroth is wrapped in our future. I can't see." He sounded sad and she smoothed the worry lines on his forehead with gentle fingers.

"Do you think it's why Tarecgosa told you to tell Wrathion that our world is a baby Titan?"

His brow furrowed as he thought but he did not fall into meditation again. "He's motivated by his charge but I don't think he knows exactly what he's protecting. If he did, he wouldn't have been confused why Tarecgosa told him to ask me about the Earthmother."

"Tarecgosa knows. Does that mean Zaliya does?"

The dragon's expression fell. "Tarecgosa sacrificed everything for me, Jaina. She took the blast meant for me. I still don't entirely know what possessed me to bind her spirit as I did. I continue to be grateful that Archmage Zaliya was willing to allow it."

"They seem to get along quite well, actually," Jaina offered.

Kalec sat up and faced her on the couch."A fact I am eternally grateful for. Please don't be offended I told them and didn't immediately tell you? I- Jaina I owed them both my life and my flight's future. I wanted them to know just what it was we were fighting for. The full scope." He'd taken her hands and squeezed them in emphasis.

"Kalec I understand. It is better that fewer people know. I'm not angry."

He relaxed and his smile grew. He squeezed her hands. "Thank you. And I'm glad you know now. It means I finally have someone I can talk about this with."

Jaina laughed quietly. She squeezed his hands back. "Guessing that the aftermath of the Cataclysm the other flight leaders didn't really want to talk about it."

"No." He rolled his eyes and flopped back down onto her lap with a sigh. "After the... incident with Tyr's artifact they started to treat me a bit more like a peer, but there's still an awful gap." He sighed. "But at least I got them to try to live again."

Jaina tilted the dragon's head up to look at her. "You did more than that, Kalec. You got Ysera to help rally whatever power you all have left and bless new world trees. Alexstrasza didn't look nearly as defeated when we saw her at the trial. You said she still searches for a cure?"

He nodded. "She does."

She lightly tapped his nose with a finger. "You did that."

"I had help." He grabbed her hand and held it to his heart.

Her first instinct was to dismiss her small role, to push the spotlight away again. "I was happy to help you," she said instead.

He sat up and kissed her. "Thank you."

"Always." She smiled and returned the kiss.

Kalec pulled her into his lap. "Have I sufficiently distracted you with moving and fascinating new information this evening?" He kissed her again. "You did mention earlier you'd want to be distracted this evening."

She laughed. "You have." She tapped his lips and he playfully bit her finger, wagging his eyebrows at her before releasing her when she laughed. Jaina sighed and looked around. "We're moved but not quite moved in yet."

"Hmm, well I can think of a few things to remedy that," he said matter of factly.

"Oh?" the mage looked up at him, arching a silvered eyebrow in query.

"Mmhm," he said, rising and easily picking her up in a bridal carry. He began to carry her through the apartment.

"Kalec!" she laughed and hastily wrapped her arms around his neck. "What?"

"Old dragon tradition," he said as they walked. "I hope you don't mind," he told her arily. "First you and your consort find a new roost. Which we have done."

"We have," she said through a grin.

"And then you both move all your stuff out of your old roosts in to the new one."

"Which we have also done," she said as he walked up the steps to the level with their bedroom. "This is so far sounding remarkably like human tradition."

He grinned and gently pushed the bedroom door open with a foot. "And then once everything is moved, it is customary to retreat to wherever you'll actually sleep."

"Still tracking with human custom," she replied with false gravity. She laughed when Kalec dumped her onto the bed. A portal between locations had made it easy to move. They hadn't even needed to unmake and disassemble it.

Her lover leaned over her, pressing his lips to hers in a searing kiss, wandering hands sliding up her side to rest against her ribs and under her bodice. He grinned down at her.

"And then you cast some privacy spells and screw like rabbits."

Jaina burst into giggle. "Draconic tradition, hmm?"

"A very serious and hallowed tradition," he replied, somehow managing to keep a straight face though his eyes glittered in mirth.

"Well, I wouldn't want to be the cause of you breaking tradition," she replied, winding her fingers into his shirt and pulling him down for another kiss. Jaina remained happily distracted for the rest of the evening.


The next morning Jaina had an appointment to keep with Varian in Stormwind, but first Kalec would leave for Draenor. He wore fine travel clothing but as he usually flew in his natural form, his clothes showed no wear. He conjured a dark blue hooded cloak and swung it around his shoulders. Jaina was suddenly struck with the memory of their first meeting in Theramore when he'd asked for help, bearing Rhonin's seal. She could smell the salt on the air mingling with the scent of brewing tea. The echo of premonition pricked her skin.

"Jaina?" A gentle hand touched her arm and she opened eyes she'd not realized she'd closed. "Beloved?"

She embraced him fiercely. The image was strong but it was a memory, not another premonition. The ache of loss had found purchase again, the surprising intensity almost as bad as the flash of memory. "You wore much the same thing when you arrived on my doorstep," she told him, voice muffled by pressing her face to his shoulder. "I'll be okay. It was just unexpected."

Kalec made a soft noise of understanding. A warm, heavy weight settled over her shoulders. She looked up as the dragon fastened his cloak for her. He held her close, forehead resting against hers.

"I'm sorry I reminded you of something painful."

"It hurts most when I don't expect to have it brought back." She rested her hands on his chest, surrounded by his warm arms and the soft scent of him. "I- Please be careful, Kalec," she asked, feeling alone.

"I will come home to you," he promised.

She leaned up on her toes to wrap her arms around his neck and kiss him. The ache in her heart began to ease as the moment passed. "Still working on getting better," the mage murmured.

He tucked her hair behind an ear. "I know. It's happening."

"You should get going," she said, reaching up to unfasten his cloak. He stopped her.

"Keep it. I like seeing you in my colors," he admitted with an impish smile.

Jaina smiled back and was still smiling even after he'd opened the portal and had passed through into Shadowmoon Garrison. Jaina gathered a sealed copy of the files she'd sent to the rest of the Council, reminded the staff that she would be out until after lunch, and teleported to Stormwind.

Chapter Text

Jaina appeared in the magic quarter of Stormwind in one of the areas designated for teleportation arrivals. She was glad of Kalec’s cloak as a chill wind wound between the buildings. Stormwind was far more temperate than other places, including Dalaran, but the Kingdom's name wasn't for show. Jaina flipped the hood up against the wind. Holding the cloak closed with one hand, her other arm wrapped around her files, she made her way towards the Keep.

Some of the local mages recognized her and nodded in greeting as she passed by, but she was left alone as she walked through the streets. Jaina could have easily teleported to just before the Keep, but she wanted the time over the walk to settle her feelings. She could see the tall statues that guarded the gates of the city just above the houses. She'd arrived outside of Stormwind's gates after Theramore had been destroyed. The gates had been the first teleport locus she'd learned around Stormwind and the configuration had come to her first. Jaina had not intended to take the long way that day, but her control had been savaged and the oldest patterns were the easiest. Looking back, it was a minor miracle she'd been able to make the crossing at all. There had been so much power, so much rage, so many intrusive thoughts.

The mage ducked away from the main roads, stepping away from the light press of people going about their mornings. The park, ruined by Deathwing and long a scar on the city, was finally being rebuilt. Jaina watched as a crew of dwarf shamans moved earth and stone at the direction of a human foreman. On more stable parts of the rebuild site a few gardeners, night elves as well as human, moved about newly planted shrubs and trees. Stormwind finally had some time and energy to heal the wound the city had suffered nearly four years prior.

"You're procrastinating," she told herself under her breath. She could see the Keep clearly from where she stood. The harbor, so new only a few years ago, was still white and shining with good maintenance, but there were weathered edges present now, subtle weatherings and marks made by the sea.She was procrastinating again. Jaina drew in a breath and let it out.

She liked Varian. She respected him. He'd become something like a brother over the years, but she knew he could be temperamental. The king of Stormwind had learned something about letting go of his rage, but she'd seen that anger come roaring back to the fore. Would her decisions now bring it about again?

No. No and she knew that. Mostly.

The wind caught the hem of Kalec's cloak and stole a lock of her hair. She tucked the hair back behind an ear and pulled the cloak closer. It smelled like him. Conjured by his magic it felt like him too. Thinking of him drew a small smile as she watched the wind sculpt white crests on the waves. Still procrastinating.

Jaina considered the sea for a moment longer then looked back towards the Keep. She began to walk in that direction again. The mage wasn't afraid of Varian. His response however... he could be supportive. That would be the best response she could hope for. Logically, it was the most likely one. He could be neutral and unsupportive. That would make things hard on her and on Anduin, but it was better than his anger.

Anger was seductive. Rage addictive. She'd been feeding and had fed on Vereesa's rage. It had felt good, too. But there were more important things in the world. She glanced back at the park where the devastation of Deathwing was only now being healed. She looked back towards the Keep. Many more important things than her rage over those dead. Those who wouldn't want her to avenge them with more death and destruction when she could build. Jaina pulled the cloak around her shoulders against the wind and made her way to the Keep without further procrastination.

Jaina was well known by Varian's staff and his people were excellent at their jobs. On arrival she'd been quietly and efficiently escorted to the room Varian used alternately as an office or war room. There was already a steaming pot of the tea she preferred beside a mug of the coffee Varian seemed to live on. Jaina wondered if Kalec would like it, too. While Kalec enjoyed tea well enough, he preferred coffee. She was pulled from her musing as the inner door opened. Jaina rose from her seat but was surprised by Anduin rather than Varian.

"Aunt Jaina," Anduin greeted, hugging her with a smile. It was like the sun breaking through the clouds. Jaina relaxed and returned his embrace. "Father says he'll be finished with his morning meeting in a moment and sent me ahead to make sure you weren't kept waiting."

"He can take the time he needs. I was thankful he could fit me into his schedule."

Anduin looked around then tilted his head closer. "I've tried to do what I could without being specific."

"What do you think?" She asked. Varian could be hard to read sometimes, but Anduin was well practiced at discerning his father’s mood.

The young man frowned thoughtfully and studied the floor as he spoke. "He knows there's some sort of plan, but he doesn't know what. If I had to label his mood when we spoke on it, he was curious." He looked back up at Jaina and sighed. "It's been a long meeting this morning though."

"He in a bad mood?"

Anduin's smile was apologetic. "Might be. But he's always glad to see you. That'll cheer him up."

Jaina's reply was stopped by the growl that preceded Varian's entrance into the room. Anduin gave her a quick hug then made a smooth tactical retreat, closing the office door behind him as he left.

As the king stalked into the room, his growl rose into a series of half-voiced curses and complaints. He went for the coffee and downed the entire thing before pouring himself another mug. He sat down heavily enough his chair groaned. He pinched the bridge of his nose and exhaled a long, tortured groan.

Jaina took the seat across from him. “That bad huh?” She was answered with another groan as he rubbed his temples with his fingertips. Even less verbal than usual; it had to have been a very annoying meeting.

"Mind if I bend your ear?”

"Not at all," Jaina said, crossing her legs at the knee and setting her hands on them. "And you know I'd keep anything said held in strict confidence."

"We're finally in a place where we can devote more resources to Westfall," Varian said without further preamble. "Frankly, the situation is worse than I thought it was and intervention from the crown is long overdue. What's been blocking forward progress has been some nasty business with a few of the local councilmen." Varian's thunderous expression focused on the far wall. "Well placed, hidden agreements and corruption have been bleeding what recovery and security funding we've been sending there," he stated with a growl.

Varian glanced aside at Jaina, grinning suddenly. "We got them though. Seems the son of one of the councilmen is a more honest man than his father was. We've been working with him for months to get all the evidence we need to get rid of the whole lot of them. Three weeks ago we came down hard on the offenders. Cleaned the whole region," he said, waving an expansive hand across his desk. "Started legal proceedings and a few went to the stockade. The council and I made a number of emergency appointments as were needed."

"But now you're left with a number of newcomers?" Jaina hazarded a guess.

"They're good, well-meaning people but they're not entirely up to the task." Varian rolled his eyes. "Oh Councilman Hanumm is a fine young man who saw corruption in his father's seat and took steps to end it when he inherited, but he's so green, Jaina. Some of the men and women he's supposed to lead lost out financially because we've cleaned house. Others-" Varian broke off and shook his head. He let out a frustrated grunt. "They see Stormwind forces and aid as an intrusion."

"Intrusion?" Jaina asked, surprised.

Varian snarled silently. "The men who were running things there had- Light, currently have everyone believing all the problems they're having are Stormwind's fault. That they're my fault. The corrupt ringleaders did a damn fine job of convincing a lot of people that all the problems weren't their doing." He shook his head, disgusted. "At least this time I think we caught it before it became as bad as the Defias."

Jaina nodded agreement, lips pressed into a grim line. "The men responsible are gone now. I know opinions won't change overnight, but they will."

"We're working on it and those opinions could change so much faster if certain people would stop being obstinate." He growled. The king realized what he'd said and met her arched eyebrow with an eyeroll. "I recognize the irony of my saying that."

Jaina chuckled. "Yes, well," she looked down at the floor and kicked her crossed foot. "There's a lot of that going around, Varian. You're hardly the only one." She looked up. "Something specific blocking you now?"

Varian grumbled into his coffee and took another long sip. "Yes," he said, setting the mug down. "We have supply caravans heading there now. One of the key points on the route is controlled by a man who is... not terribly thrilled by the changes in the area. He's being lax in keeping the gnolls back so I have to move more guards into the area which just makes a lot of the more... independently minded steadholders suspicious of the Crown's motives."

"Westfall's had it's share of trouble since the Cataclysm. I imagine the people who've remained or moved into the area are... stubborn?" Jaina picked up her teacup and sipped.

"And I couldn't be prouder of what they've done to reclaim the land, but I should have been more supportive." He shook his head. "And I'm paying for that now." He grunted and sipped his coffee. "It'll get worked out, but half my council thinks we should just march in and straighten it out. Truthfully they're feeling a bit betrayed I'm not agreeing with them."

Jaina winced behind her teacup. She knew that feeling from both sides. Vereesa's angry words echoed in the back of her mind. The Ranger-General had turned in her paperwork but Jaina had only seen her briefly since the Theramore memorial.

"Well I've taken enough of your time with my complaints," Varian said, sitting back in his chair, apparently oblivious to Jaina's thoughts. "What did you wish to speak about?"

Jaina set her teacup down. She pulled the folio of documents onto her lap then sat back, folding her hands on it.

"A... potentially similar situation, actually."

"Oh?"

Jaina tapped her fingers on the folio, collecting her thoughts. "I have been doing a great deal of thinking about Dalaran, Varian," the mage began. "And I realized I needed to look into our current situation more thoroughly before I did anything. I found some problems in the City. Problems with solutions I wasn't terribly happy about but which are best for Dalaran."

"I brought my findings to the council and we had a long discussion." Jaina drew in a shaky breath then let stutter out. Varain sat forward in his seat, a frown creasing his forehead. She offered what she hoped was a reassuring smile. "Varian, the council has voted to readmit Horde mages into Dalaran."

"Readmit?" A flash of fury crossed his face before it melted into a softer expression. "And what do you think about this?"

Jaina huffed a quiet laugh. She passed across the folio. "I was the one who brought the issue before the Council."

Varian sat back, eyebrows lifted in surprise. "You did?" He opened the folio and skimmed over the top document.

"That's the preliminary timeline we're going to be working with. Before we can get there we have a lot of things to resolve, but those are the basics. The second page is some of the numbers I'm willing to share about why I feel this is necessary. The third page has some very tentative plans for how we will be moving forward. Very tentative, but I wanted to show you the larger benefits." Jaina sipped her tea, giving Varian a moment to look over the papers.

After a few minutes Varian closed the folio and handed it back. "The Horde back in Dalaran," he mused.

Jaina nodded. "I wanted to give you some forewarning. I know there are going to be people who are displeased with this decision, in Dalaran and abroad, but it's what is best for Dalaran."

"I... appreciate the warning." Varian's eyes found hers. "It's really that bad there then."

Jaina frowned and sipped her tea, considering her words. "It will be without intervention. The council agreed with my assessment and even had some further damning details in their own areas. We need them. That's incredibly hard for me to say, but we do."

Varian leaned his arms on his desk and studied the surface, brow slightly furrowed. "Genn's gonna raise hell."

"I expect his will be the loudest voice on our side. I don't think Tyrande will be pleased either given what happened to Darnassus. I don't expect much protest from anyone in Ironforge. I thought you might be understanding."

"Dalaran is a sovereign nation," Varian agreed. "I know my intelligence and security people will be displeased, but this isn't my decision." He looked up at the mage. "Stormwind will acknowledge and support Dalaran's choices. The Council has made a decision in the best interest of their people and in the past Dalaran being a neutral city has had benefits. Even if my people aren't happy, I can't fault you for doing what is best for yours."

"I appreciate that," Jaina said. Varian's voice was steady but she saw the tightness in his eyes.

"I'll do what I can to rein Genn in. Setting all that aside for the moment and speaking unofficially, how are you feeling about this Jaina? I suppose I can understand the numbers but is that all? You've made some rather bold changes recently." He held up his hands to forestall the retort she was already forming. "I am not saying that is a bad thing. Light knows I have begun to change some of my own inflexible stances. I-" He scowled and looked to the side. Jaina let him collect his thoughts. It gave her a moment to order her own.

"I showed you some of the numbers, Varian." Jaina said. "Reintegration is the logical thing for us to do. Given all that has happened in the last ten years, Light above, even the last five years?" She shook her head, long white hair flowing around her shoulders. "Dalaran has grown and changed. We cannot survive going back to being an Alliance only city."

"The government of Dalaran has to keep the interests of its people first," Varian agreed. "I know how that works. I keep Stormwind in my mind and act for my people. I understand. But you still haven't answered my question."

Jaina winced. "I'm... Varian it's... I know it's right. In my heart I know it's right. And it scares me. Part of me honestly expects to be hurt again, for my people to be betrayed again." She bowed her head, feeling her heart still pounding in her chest. "But I also know this is what must be done for us to have any future at all." She looked back up at him.

"You'll forgive me if I point out this is going to come as a surprise to many. It is in keeping with your decision to declare Theramore a sanctuary area, but that was an abrupt reversal of your feelings over the last year. It isn't a criticism."

"I know," Jaina said, eyes dropping to her tea. "But the council agrees with me something must be done for Dalaran to survive." She looked up at him again and smiled a little. "I appreciate you understand the position we're in."

"Was it Anduin's idea to soften me up or did you ask him?" Varian asked. "I know he made a quick trip to Dalaran yesterday."

Jaina chuckled. "He offered."

"Light above, that boy," Varian rolled his eyes with a fond smile. "Suddenly some of this morning's breakfast conversation makes a lot more sense," Varian said.

"He's not so much of a boy anymore, Varian," Jaina reminded, gently. "And he asked me, very politely, to consider the question. So I did. The state of the city alone would make this move worth it."

"But."

"But," Jaina echoed. "It is the right thing to do. For Dalaran. For Azeroth-" she paused then added, more quietly, "-maybe even for me."

"He's up to something."

Jaina studied Varian's expression and decided this was not hers to tell. "You should ask him what he thinks about the present world situation."

Varian's eyes narrowed. "I see. I will. Was he part of your decision to allow Horde races access to the world tree now in Theramore or did he find you afterwards? You said something at Theramore. You said 'you could do this'. I didn't question it before, but what are you two up to?"

Jaina played with the hem of her sleeve. "He found me before, right after we sent the Garrison shipments off and we had a serious discussion. If you would like to know more I would speak with Anduin." Jaina looked back up at him. "Theramore is mine. I have always tried to do what was best for my people. That is what was best." She smiled, though she knew it was a bit watery. "And I knew if I let the Druids in there without saying something, I'd hardly ever be allowed back on my own island." She shook her head. "I couldn't bear losing it again, even to a more friendly invasion."

"They do get particular and protective," Varian agreed. "And especially about something as sacred as a world tree." He paused then shook his head, clearing away whatever thought he'd been about to say. "Alright I'll speak with Anduin later."

"When you do," Jaina said then stopped. Breathe in and out. "When you do, please listen. Don't react." Her smile was mostly grimace.

Varian's expression was grave, but he nodded. "I see. It's a conversation like that."

Jaina inclined her head. "Just listen to what he has to say."

"Well." Varian sipped his coffee. "Completely changing the topic, anything interesting going on with Theramore?"

"Oh besides the giant tree that's already taller than my tower was?" Jaina quipped. It was a thin joke but it was nice to joke once more.

Varian grinned wolfishly. "Besides that, yes."

Jaina gradually relaxed back into her chair as she spoke. "Ysera contacted me. She'd like to assign some guardians from her flight on a more permanent basis. I'm of a mind to allow it but I haven't replied to her yet. One of the women who ended up adopting some of the children we evacuated wants to move back. She kept the inn there before. Her husband died with the rest." Jaina tapped her fingers on the folio in her lap. "I'm giving her permission and some funds to re-establish a building there. The Cenarion Circle wants to be there of course."

"Of course."

"I've asked them to compromise with my people and everyone else." She drew in a breath and let it out. "I appreciate you haven't asked me to re-establish a garrison there. I- Varian I cannot allow that. I know there is one up the coast, they're welcome to visit as anyone else. I meant what I said."

Varian inclined his head. "I understood. Another item my intelligence people weren't pleased about. I will make it clear to them we are not to conduct operations through Theramore."

"If they wanted to use it as a neutral location to conduct clandestine negotiations to avoid conflict-," Jaina interrupted, "it wouldn't be the first time."

Varian quickly flashed his teeth at her in a feral smile. "No, I suppose it wouldn't be." His expression sobered. "That sword can cut both ways, Jaina."

Jaina leaned back, startled and stung. "Don't you think I know that?" she snarled back, wrath flooding in like a tidal wave. Jaina knew she was opening herself up to pain and betrayal again; she didn't need someone else to point it out to her. She was making this choice fully aware of the potential consequences. She was not the wide-eyed innocent child she'd been, the girl too stupid to understand there were people who would always choose to hurt others. Of all the people to have the audacity to remind her of her own failures and the danger she was intimately aware of, she'd expected it the most from Varian, but not now.

Lips pulled back in a sneer, Jaina awaited the scathing retort, the answering roar of anger. It never came. Varian stared at her, eyes wide. He'd leaned back in his seat, away from her. When had she leaned forward?. There was a patch of ice under the hand she'd placed on the desktop.

In a flash, Jaina understood he'd not meant the comment to be patronizing and she felt her cheeks heat and her stomach twist. She dismissed the ice with a curt word and gesture and sat back in her seat, hands clasped tightly together. Wincing slightly, she drew a deep breath in. It stuttered on the way out. "I'm sorry, Varian. I know it can," she said more calmly. This was the fear that woke her in the middle of the night and what she spoke of with healer Yu-len. She'd made her choices but that did not stop the small, dark voices pointing out how her life could fall apart again. "That's- it's not a truth I am comfortable with yet."

Varian sat forward again, resting both hands on his desk. "I chose poor words," he said, wary of another snapping reaction. "Allowing others opportunity to build trust when they could as easily betray me is a truth I also find hard to deal with. We aren't wrong for trying. And we're not wrong in being on guard."

Jaina nodded in mute agreement, unable to meet his eyes across the desk.

"You declared Theramore a sanctuary area," He continued in the same calm tone. "Do you have anyone yet to enforce that?" Varian asked.

This time she recognized the question as simply that, and not a hidden implication she was incompetent or naive. Jaina shook her head and scowled out the window. "No. I will figure something out." She realized she was clenching a hand in her dress and forced her fingers open, smoothing the fabric.

"Jaina?"

She looked over sharply. She expected perhaps pity from the King or possibly scorn. Varian was a hard man with little tolerance for emotional outburst. Instead she was surprised to see understanding written clearly in his expression. Jaina felt a little bit of guilt to go with the shame of verbally biting his head off and assuming the worse. Varian had been on his own journey as she had been.

"In Dalaran you had the Silver Covenant to balance the Sunreavers. If a contingent from Stormwind would be welcome, they are yours. You could invite some of Baine's braves as well. The Tauren live nearby and have acted in good faith most often among the Horde."

"I- Thank you. I will let you know. Honestly I'm hoping perhaps I can work something out with Ysera. An angry guard is one thing. When that angry guard is a dragon, well, I'm hoping that will be a strong deterrent. Theramore isn't as tempting a target as Dalaran is, either. Well, at least not from the same quarters, I suppose." She shook her head and smoothed her hands over her dress again. "If you would not mind, that isn't the matter I wished to discuss today."

Varian accepted that with a slight bow of his head. He sipped his coffee then set it down on the desk again, evidently mulling over his words. Jaina was grateful for a moment to compose herself.

"Getting back on topic to Dalaran," Varian said, "Genn will howl, literally, and Tyrande will grumble. I will admit I have some concern for a repeat of the Horde using our own portals but- but not as concerned as I might have been, Jaina." He gave her a small crooked smile. "It's been a hell of a year."

"It's been a hell of a decade. More."

"Yes," Varian agreed. He considered his coffee, thinking. About what Jaina was uncertain.

"Vol'jin seems disinclined to conquest," the mage prompted.

"He's got a lot to handle in Orgrimmar," Varian agreed, "but that does go into a point I wanted to raise."

"How the Horde will react to the council's decision."

He pointed a finger at her. "Precisely. You still probably know them better than I do. How do you think they'll react?"

"I'm not sure I do anymore, Varian. But I have someone on that," Jaina admitted. "Draenor is providing us with some opportunities."

"Khadgar."

Jaina gave him a very mild look. "I can neither confirm nor deny the details of what Archmage Khadgar might be doing, only that I have full faith whatever he does he feels it's in the best interest of Azeroth."

Varian's smile bared his teeth at her, wider and sharper than the grin before. "Again you're avoiding answering the question," he teased gently while he poured himself more coffee.

Jaina rolled her eyes. "Being serious, I don't want this getting out to anyone, least of all the Horde, before we have devised our own plans for how to handle things in Dalaran."

Varian lifted his coffee in surrender. "A fair point. I concede Lady."

"Speaking off the record, I think Vol'jin's got enough of a mess at home, he won't care. We have some indications that the Goblins will care more about a reopened market than what happened before. Sylvanas is a wild card, but she can usually be counted on to be pragmatic and I believe she'd see advantage in allowing her mages back into the city. The orcs? I don't know. They have fewer mages in their numbers and reaction to Garrosh was always mixed as I understand it. The elves are the big question." Jaina frowned as she finished her sentence.

Varian grimaced. "Lor'themar was... not happy with how that turned out."

"I don't imagine you were happy. I am sorry for thwarting your plans."

Varian conceded the point with a nod. He sat back in his seat and sighed. "I was pretty damn pissed," he admitted. "And then I realized that this was how you must have been feeling for years. So again, I'm sorry as well."

Jaina smiled a little. He had done much to undo her own more peaceful plans. She shoved the anger down. There was progress here and getting into a shouting match with an ally, a friend, wouldn't help her now. It was likely, she recognized, she was still reeling from her outburst moments before. Jaina forced her attention back to the immediate matters at hand. "I've recently been told all you can really do is recognize the problem, see it for what it is, and move on. It's a damn hard thing but that's what I've been trying to do." She shook her head to clear it then turned to the other thing she'd wanted to discuss.

"One of the items in our plans moving forward is to look for opportunities where the Kirin Tor can be useful as a neutral organization again. We supported the efforts in Icecrown. We'll be looking for ways to do that again." She met Varian's eyes. "That means supporting military operations against the Iron Horde in Draenor on both sides."

Varian returned her gaze. His jaw clenched, the muscle jumping, but he nodded. Jaina understood the reaction. He wanted to say no, but he was forcing that voice aside, forcing the instant rage away. She was intimately aware of that reaction now. She'd just had to set it aside a moment ago; a thought which gave her some amusement. The mage understood her friend much better than she had before. Varian's expression eased as he seemed to come to some conclusion; perhaps the same one she had.

Varian inclined his head. "Thank you for the forewarning. Stormwind understands the benefits of having Dalaran as an ally and we value you. I might not entirely agree, but then I didn't entirely agree at the outset of the campaign in Icecrown and that turned out well in the end. This is the unanimous choice of Dalaran's ruling council. We respect that. We'll continue to support you."

Jaina bowed her head more deeply to the king. "That is appreciated."

Varian blew out a breath. "Damn but we live in strange days." He slouched back in his seat.

Jaina chuckled. "I suppose we do, and likely with many more to come."

"Light above I pray it will be so," Varian agreed. "Fewer of my people are dying and I have a moment to attend to what my Kingdom needs. That has been a blessing." He looked up at her. "I hope you and your mages have the same opportunity, Jaina. And Theramore as well."

Jaina inclined her head, grateful for his support more than she could say. If the most obstinate hater of the Horde could be swayed to the side of non-aggression, if she could find a path back in that same direction, perhaps there was some hope after all. "I've taken a lot of your time and you likely have more to do. Thank you," Jaina said, voice cracking just a little with emotion.

Varian waved a hand, somewhat uncomfortable but his tone was warm. "Any time. You don't bring things up unless they're important, Jaina. I'm working on listening to that." He smirked. "And that's Anduin's doing too."

Jaina chuckled.

"Speaking of my son, as part of his sneaky campaign to soften me up before you arrived in my office with this little political bomb-" he paused as Jaina snickered, "- he reminded me that Winter Veil is coming up shortly and we wanted to invite you and Kalec to join us here if you don't have other plans."

Jaina smiled brightly, feeling warmth in her chest. The holiday always had meant time with family and friends. The year prior had been agony. This year would probably also be painful but the first reaction wasn't the ache of loss this time. "I know I would love that. Let me check in with Kalec, but I imagine we'll be free to join you for at least part of the time."

Varian grinned. "Excellent. Maybe we can get a little snow in the gardens again," he said with a wink. He looked up, expression becoming more formal as there was a polite knock on the door. "And that'd be my keeper with my next meeting," Varian said, rising.

Jaina rose as well, tucking the folio securely under an arm. They said their goodbyes and Jaina left, drawing Kalec's cloak about her shoulders.

"Three, two, one-"

"Auntie," Anduin said as he stepped up to her right.

Jaina grinned. "The meeting went well."

Anduin relaxed and murmured a soft prayer of thanks.

The mage smiled, "His assessment of who is going to be difficult matches mine. I'm going to remind you to keep things quiet."

"Of course," Anduin said, seriously. "So. How can I help?"

Jaina paused in the hall and studied the young man before her. He'd let his hair grow and while it was a bit shaggy now, it was clear he was intending on letting it grow long like his father wore. His expression was hopeful but he was approaching this seriously, his jaw set so much like his father's could be when he was being obstinate. Light above he had scruff on his chin. He'd be seventeen soon. All these changes. And she vowed she would miss no more.

Jaina motioned for him to follow her into the little garden off the throne room. She waved a hand and cast a privacy spell.

"I have given this a little thought. Eventually you were able to get through to me again. You managed to do the impossible and reach your father when I could not after years of trying."

Anduin shrugged, a blush on his cheeks. "Well, I think being his son helped."

"Yes," she agreed. "Genn Greymane is going to raise holy hell. I don't want to be the cause of a political rift in the Alliance." No more than she had been at least. No more than she might become when Dalaran made readmission public.

"Dalaran is a sovereign government-"

Jaina held up a hand, interrupting,"Yes, but Genn will be loud and angry. He's left to go do what he wanted before. He might look at this as Dalaran leaving again. Technically- Technically we would be."

"I don't think the Gilneans will be too happy about another wall."

"No, they won't," Jaina agreed, "And I don't think that's what Genn would want either. Too much has changed. He's changed."

"You think he'd go offensive."

Jaina nodded. "What I think would be most beneficial for me, and for our long term goals, is to work on Genn Greymane."

Anduin nodded, frowning thoughtfully in a way that made Jaina smile; he looked so much like Varian worrying over a problem. She hid her smile as Anduin looked back at her. He grinned slowly and that too was a bit of the wolf.

"I was able to get through to my father." His smile grew further. "Let me see where Tess sits."

Jaina smiled, pleased he'd picked up on the direction she'd headed towards. She banished the privacy shield and gave him a quick hug. "Hopefully this weekend I'll have your hearthstone recalibrated."

"Come for dinner. Bring Kalec."

"Or you and Varian could visit us." Her lips quirked. "We might have a dining room table by then."

Anduin laughed and waved as she created a portal and returned to Dalaran.

Chapter Text

It was early morning in Shadowmoon when Kalecgos arrived on the alternate Draenor. The garrison camp was surrounded by rough but sturdy palisade walls and while there were still many tents around, the first buildings were nearing completion.

Eyes looked at him curiously as he stepped from the portal, got his bearings and headed in the direction of the largest building in the encampment.

"Kalecgos!" Archmage Zaliya, the garrison commander, was seated at a table under an awning with some others eating breakfast. He detoured in that direction when the dark-furred worgen archmage waved him over. "What brings you here?" she asked, conjuring another camp stool with a gesture.

Kalec took the offered seat and accepted the offered coffee. "Ah, the item you wished for assistance with. I'm here to provide that. It means I'll be making a trip out to Taylor's garrison."

"I see. Well, shall we adjourn to discuss the matter?"

"If you have the time. I don't wish to overly disrupt your day."

"It'd be disrupted by something. Might as well be you," Zaliya said, rising with a half-finished pastry held in one clawed hand, a mug of coffee in the other. She led the way back towards the completed building she was using as headquarters. "The crossing wasn't too difficult?" she asked after finishing her breakfast.

"Not at all," Kalec replied, ducking slightly under the doorway.

Zaliya grunted. "They made that a little too short for anyone who isn't a dwarf," she said, nodding back at the doorway. "There are plans to fix it in an update to the building. Though a quarter of the camp is Draenei so I don't know why they didn't build it a proper height in the first place."

She gestured and maps scrolls flew from their neat racks and unrolled on the table in the center of the room. "We'll do business then Tare wants to ask you all sorts of inappropriate things."

Kalec chuckled. "Well, she will have to be content with wondering."

Zaliya's ear flicked, hearing the words Kalec could not, but the blue dragon could easily imagine what Tarecgosa was saying to the worgen mage. Zaliya snorted a laugh. She set her coffee to the side and began to set down tokens on the map of Draenor.

"We've got orcs all over," she said as she placed markers, "and plenty of Arakkoa. Taylor's people and the local Draenei have told us there is a group called the Saberon at these locations as well," she said, laying out more tokens and using her magic to change the sigils on each to reflect the various groups.

"Saberon? I am not familiar with them," Kalecgos said.

"Large saber-toothed, felinoids," Zaliya said. "For whatever reason they did not survive the legion on our Draenor. Perhaps they were twisted into something. Maybe they rallied, fought and were killed. Doesn't matter. They're here. Tribal. Low Tech. Intelligent. Some magical combatants," the Archmage summarized.

"We're here. Taylor's over there," she said, setting down two small tokens with Alliance banners. "Frostfire garrison." She set down a token with a red banner. "We're scouting another permanent installation here on this island off the coast of Hellfire." Three more banners went down, purple, red and blue. "There are ogres on the island. Highmaul affiliated. We also know there are Horde- our Horde- forces on the other side of the island. We haven't engaged them. Yet."

Kalec made a pensive sound. "Personally speaking I hope no one does."

"Current orders are not to engage. They seem to have the same. We're holding steady. For now."

Kalec turned his eyes back to the map. "Is it a long flight to Taylor's garrison? Wrathion liberated a Shadow Council grimoire."

Zalia paused, muzzle twisting in distaste. "That-" she broke off shaking her head, "-That obnoxious whelp. Good on him but dangerous and foolish. He asked for your help or are you going in to save him from himself?"

"He asked for help. But I am going to probably save him from himself."

"Huh. Might be hope for that boy yet then."

"I sent him a temporary binding. I have the means of nullifying the rest of the traps." Kalec patted a travel satchel filled with a few implements to accomplish the task.

Zaliya's ear twitched. She held up a clawed finger then her golden eyes glowed blue. Tarecgosa spoke. "Tools like my father and your mother used?"

"Yes," Kalecgos confirmed. "I think I have your father's rune set, actually. I brought a second set to leave with him in case he comes across more."

The spirit of the blue dragon nodded. "Good." The blue glow subsided and the worgen shook her head, the beaded braids in her mane of hair clicking together.

"Stormwind knows about Wrathion in case there was concern there. We knew about the raid he made in Shadowmoon, but not that he got anything valuable. Taylor thinks he's a brat but he's actually been useful while he's been there. I know that his attack on the shadowmoon orcs has made my job easier. For that, the King said to watch him in case he stepped out of line." The worgen smirked, a tiny flash of white fang against the coal-black fur. "I think Wrynn's just glad he's not on Azeroth causing trouble. At least with Taylor he knows where the whelp is."

Kalec snorted a laugh. "And if he is trying to help maybe he'll actually do something this time."

Zaliya barked a laugh. "Hope springs eternal. Now, I am entirely changing the topic since I know you'll wish to be off soon. Khadgar came back in high spirits last night." The archmage waved a hand and set up a privacy shield around the room. She crossed her arms and leaned a hip against the table. "He told me what the meeting was about when he came back and how the vote went. How much do you know?"

"I know both of those things," Kalec said. "Jaina wishes for it to be on the more discreet side until they know better what the response will be from the Horde. Khadgar's looking into that. Do you have any idea what it might be?"

Zaliya nodded thoughtfully. "I know the garrison commander a little from the campaign in Pandaria, but she's not one for magic. Probably one of the best with a blade, but magic is not in her wheelhouse. Khadgar asked what I knew but it wasn't much. More of interest to me is that he mentioned we might be getting some additional support here. That would be most welcome."

"Is the campaign not going well?"

Zaliya grunted and pointed out several markers. "It's going well enough but anything which could bring it to conclusion faster would be a benefit in my eyes. We're closing in on Ner'zhul. The whelp did us a huge favor by striking out when he did. Not that I am going to tell him that. He doesn't need a larger ego." She and Kalec shared a chuckle.

"Once the valley is secure the local Draenei will be in a better position to help support us pushing further inland." Zaliya looked up at Kalec then down again at the map. "The Horde, our Horde, are up here. We know there is a mess in Shattrath." She drew her fingers over the map, tracing red and blue lines converging on the city at once. "If Dalaran is neutral again, we can facilitate massive troop movements into the area from either side at once."

"Modera and Spellsong are making their plans. I've already been asked to help ferry things over from Azeroth at some point," Kalec said.

Zaliya nodded, distantly, eyes still fixed on the map. "Good. Good." She shook herself and grinned back at the dragon. "So. If you fly high you'll probably not have any difficulty getting to Taylor's garrison." She gestured as she spoke, hands glowing faintly with the colors of magic as she wove a duplication spell. "I can give you one of the garrison hearthstones we have on hand so you can return directly here after. I'd appreciate a report on what the whelp is doing before you return home." She finished her cast and with a flash of light and a barely audible "ping' a duplicate map popped into existence in the air above the original. She rolled it up with efficient motions. "This copy will last about a day before it dissolves. Plenty of time for you to fly there."

"How long is the flight?" Kalec asked.

"For a huge beast like you?" She smirked and punched his shoulder lightly, "Call it three hours."

"Thank you. Both of you."

"Of course," Zaliya said, waving a dismissive hand. She paused then rolled her eyes. "Tare wants to fly part of the way."

Kalecgos smiled. "I would be happy to have the company."

Zaliya sent a quick mailed note to Taylor giving him advance warning of Kalec's arrival then the two took off towards Taylor's garrison. They began by climbing high into the sky until Tarecgosa said they were too high for offensive spells or the local rylaks - a strange, two-headed chimeric beast that was native to the world. The dragon and dragon-shaped mage found a nice airstream and settled in to cross the continent.

"So," Tarecgosa said, angling her flight to sail beside him. "How's everything?"

Kalec rolled his eyes. "I am not telling you intimate details about my relationship with my mate, Tare."

"Not even a little?" Tarecgosa asked, pouting.

Kalec groaned. "Tare-"

"If you are concerned for Zaliya she is doing the mental equivalent of sticking her fingers in her ears and singing very loudly." She paused then said, "and for someone who claims she doesn't want to know the details, the shanty she's singing is remarkably lewd."

"We are happy. We've had some rough moments but that had less to do with what is between us and more to do with outside factors."

"Garrosh Hellscream obliterated her entire city using our focusing iris. Frankly, I cannot wait to see him die, too."

"Garrosh was a large part of it, yes. She's healing though."

"Ah, Zaliya reminds me we heard a rumor about something in Theramore. Some big deal ceremony and the island is open again?"

"It is open and not just to members of the Alliance. Jaina has declared it a sanctuary space."

Tare's wings faltered in the air a beat and she had to flap hard to catch up. "She did what?" Zaliya asked, blinking owlishly.

"Ysera has been working with the druids to grow sapling World Trees. She planted one in Theramore during the ceremony to remember those who were lost. I helped with the blessing ritual. It's already as tall as Jaina's tower was," Kalecgos explained. The expression worn on Tarecgosa's face was one of shock and, he was happy to see, hope.

"We can still do that?" Tarecgosa asked, speaking up this time. Her words were quiet and Kalec had to strain to hear her over the wind.

"Apparently we can," he answered back, finding he too felt a rush of hope and pain. So much had been cut from the dragonflights, but they could do this much still. They weren't faded shadows yet. "We needed the help of the druids and the shamen but we can. Ysera wants to plant others around the world." And that too was sad and hopeful. They couldn't do it alone anymore, but they weren't alone.

The other dragon made a pensive sound then flew in silence for a time. "Good," Tarecgosa said. "Good. One day we will not be around at all to keep our charges. It is good we can leave such things as our legacy. So much better than hate, fear and continents rent asunder," she said, tail thrashing a bit in the air.

"Yes," Kalec agreed. They flew in silence for a few moments before Kalec spoke again. "Jaina declared that everyone was welcome on Theramore as long as they came in peace. Everyone. Alliance or Horde. Dragon or not."

"Probably did it to stop the druids from taking over," Zaliya spoke up with a snort. "I am going to admit surprise, though."

"Oh?"

"You didn't see her on Thunder Isle, Kalec," the mage told him. "She was... intense. There was a truce called with that ass Sunreaver and Lor'themar but it was a very close thing." She shook her head. "When Khadgar said the Council's vote was unanimous I imagined that she was bowing to pressure from the others but then he said she was the one who brought up the issue."

"She has been doing a great deal of healing in the last little while. Jaina isn't the same as she was when we first met, but she's been less angry than she's been," Kalec defended.

"So I see!" Zaliya lifted a paw, forestalling further defense. "And I count this as a good thing for Dalaran and the Kirin Tor. You can even tell Jaina that when you see her next. I lived behind Greymane's wall, Kalec. It could be argued isolation has a place, but it also has a time to end. What changed? The tree on her island?"

"The healing for Theramore has helped, but it was the trial."

"Was she really dead like the rumors say?" Tarecgosa asked.

"Yes."

The other dragon crooned a sympathetic sound. They flew in companionable silence for several minutes. Kalec watched the terrain below them change, noting features that matched the map he'd tried to memorize. This world was so unlike the world he'd come to know at Outland, and yet he could see some familiar features.

"So," Tarecgosa spoke up, drawing him from his study of the alternate Draenor, "does this mean you've finally slept with her?"

"Argh!" Kalec sped up, easily putting distance between himself and his bratty little sister-in-law.

Laughing, Tarecgosa surged to catch up to him. She flew above then came down to land on his back, sinking her claws into the back plates as she'd done when she was a hatchling. "Oh, I take that as a yes then?"

Instead of answering Kalec spun to one side, trying to shake her off. The brat just dropped down low and held on, laughing like a hatchling. She was still cackling as he leveled out.

"Brat." He couldn't be entirely angry though. She'd been a much larger dragon before the death of her physical body. The form she and Zaliya could conjure was only a bit larger than that of a drake. It had been centuries since she'd been small enough to ride around on his back.

"Whee!" she trilled back.

"Brat!" He called again, diving then quickly climbing while she continued to laugh. He rolled his eyes and evened his flight out.

"Why are you so uptight, Kalec? Love is a good thing!" She fetched him a light blow on his back with a closed paw. "You've been dancing around her like a perfect gentledrake. It's been like watching a ridiculous courtly romance novel play out. It's sweet but you both needed to get laid. Zaliya agrees with me on that much."

"Tarecgosa!"

"You know I'm right!" She smacked him lightly again. "And besides, if you'd hesitated too much she might have gotten the impression you didn't want that sort of relationship and I think we both know that's not true."

"Tare-" Kalec growled, though she wasn't too far off. Jaina had said she'd worried she was too different, too human, for him to pursue a full relationship with.

"And what is the issue anyway? It's just sex for Eonar's sake!" Her tone turned wry. "Have you been listening to too many prudish Gilneans?"

"It's private! It is something between me and my consort."

"Consort, eh?" Tarecgosa opened her wings and let go, letting the wind carry her into the air. She came back alongside Kalecgos.

Kalec glared. "Do you have a problem with that?"

"Not at all. I happen to respect her quite a bit and you wouldn't be so touchy if it didn't mean anything to you. You like one another and make each other happy which is all I need to know. Besides, we're dragons and we should do as we like." Her voice turned sly, "or who we like." Tarecgosa swept over him and came back to level out on his other side. "Have the others given you much trouble for taking a human mate?"

"I have hardly seen the others," Kalec admitted, the words sighing out. "And when I have seen them, the situation was not brought up."

"Would you name her your Prime?" Tare asked after a long moment. It was a serious question. A Prime Consort was a special position held mutually by the dragon you considered to be your first in love. It was a statement of commitment and even if the power of the Aspects was no more and the blues disbanded, it was a position with potential rank among the dragonflights.

"We have not discussed that. Referring to her as a consort at all is still a bit new," Kalec admitted. The thought wasn't displeasing to him; far from it. But there were likely those dragons who already didn't like he'd taken a human as a mate. To give her further status wouldn't sit well with them. But then the flight was disbanded and barren. Why should any of them care who he bedded?

"Well," Tarecgosa said, breaking into his thoughts, “if you go in that direction please be sure to send me a note." She pointed ahead. "We're coming to where we must part ways." She angled in to land on a barren patch of stone in the rugged mountains. Kalec followed her down. Tare embraced him when he'd landed, a wing extended to his side and her head tucked against his. "Be safe. If you run into trouble, get away and use the hearthstone."

"I will," Kalec said, returning the embrace. "Fly well. Thank you for indulging our conversation, Archmage Zaliya."

"Thank you for sparing me the details of your intimate lovelife with the leader of my order who I will have to sit across from in meetings on occasion," the Archmage quipped back.

Kalec laughed. "I'll send word if I end up staying out there later than expected."

"You should make it by noon without me slowing you down," Tarecgosa said. She stepped back and stretched her wings then shimmered. Her visage faded away, leaving the dark-furred worgen carrying a tall staff that glowed with blue energy.

"I'll be taking the quick way back," she said with a wink. She twisted her fingers and murmured a spell and was gone in a flash of teleportation.

Kalec smirked at where she'd been then gathered his feet under him and launched into the air, rapidly climbing back to a safe cruising altitude. He crossed the distance to Taylor's Garrison by mid-morning, making excellent time. Since they hadn't heard from Taylor's garrison that anything was amiss, Kalec had assumed Wrathion had used the binding properly. However, he didn't want to make it a leisurely flight. It was a serious matter and he knew he'd feel better if the situation was handled. He was drawn from his musings by a guard on a gryphon lifting into the sky to investigate why a large blue dragon had appeared on the horizon. Kalec slowed down and waved at the rider.

"Ah, hello, you're the blue dragon we were told to expect? Lord- uh-?" the rider asked once she'd angled her mount to intercept his flight. Both dragon and Gryphon hovered in mid-air.

"Kalecgos. I am here on behalf of the Kirin Tor and Archmage Zaliya in Shadowmoon. I'd like to speak with Wrathion," Kalec said.

"Oh! Right then, Lord Kalecgos.." She eyed him up and down then shrugged. "If you'll follow me, I'll show you to the Admiral first."

"Of course," Kalec said. He followed her down to the ground where she tossed the gryphon's reins to a stable hand. Kalec shifted into his humanoid form. The guard did a doubletake and stared at him with a strange expression on her face before she turned and marched inside the palisade walls.

Taylor's garrison was coming along well. They had a barracks and a larger central hall. The foundations for other buildings had been sunk into the earth and constructions workers were already erecting the bones of another building. The muggy heat was oppressive but the camp seemed to be in good spirits as Kalec was led into the large building and to Admiral Taylor.

"Have you come to take the whelp?" Taylor asked once Kalecgos had been introduced.

"Actually no," Kalec said, then explained that Wrathion had acquired a dangerous grimoire and had requested help neutralizing it properly.

Taylor grunted. "Huh. Must be why those ogres were after him. Well. He's under house arrest right now, Lord Kalecgos. I'll let you chat with him and if you want to take him into your keeping that's just fine with me. But I'll be having no additional draconic nonsense in my command." He shuffled the papers around on his desk. "Archmage Zaliya mentioned the Warlocks in Shadowmoon are making pests of themselves. Glad to see he got a hit in even if he is a bit of an arrogant prick." He signed a document and shoved it into the waiting hands of one of his staff then rose from his chair.

"Come on, I'll show you to the little prince."

Kalec followed Admiral Taylor outside. Across the Garrison he saw Wrathion and his ever-present bodyguards emerge from a tent. The whelp's steps faltered ever so slightly as he walked towards them. The flash of uncertainty was quickly covered up and the self-titled Black Prince marched up, head held high. Kalec fixed him with a stern look.

“Admiral Taylor. Lord Kalecgos. How might I be of assistance?” Wrathion asked, bowing.

Kalec nodded at Taylor who snorted and waved a hand as he left, apparently happy to leave the dragons alone. “Don’t blow anything up.” He turned and walked away without a second glance.

“We need to talk,” the Kalec said.

The whelp's red eyes widened just a little bit. "Ah, you are here about the book I imagine?"

"Yes and some other items. But let's handle the book first. Did you do as instructed?"

Wrathion narrowed his eyes. "I did as the letter said, yes."

"Good," Kalec said, trying to relax. Wrathion had done the right thing in this case. Kalec was still angry about what the whelp had done at the trial, but that was not the pressing issue. "I brought some runestones which can be used to neutralize the spells we are likely to find." He patted the satchel at his side.

Wrathion eyed him a moment then turned on his heel. "This way."

Kalec followed the whelp, taking note of the area. There was a strong magical field surrounding one of the tents across the way. Someone was using a heavy shielding spell inside the tent. Probably whatever mages who accompanied Taylor were working on something. Depending on the resources Wrathion had, Kalec thought he might have to ask Taylor's mages to support future actions the whelp might make.

"Here," Wrathion said, ducking into one of the nicer tents. Kalec caught the flap as it fell behind the whelp and followed him inside. Wrathion pointed at the chest at the end of one of the cots then crossed his arms. "I put it in there." He lifted his chin and looked away. Either he was that egotistical... or that afraid of what was in the chest.

Kalec gave him a solemn nod. "It was smart thinking to recognized the book for what it was and not open it without some precaution," Kalec said as he cast a few detection spells on the chest. "Better still you not only sealed it with the binding but shut it away so it couldn't accidentally be unbound."

The whelp's stance eased just a little. "Yes. Well. I am not an idiot."

"Not at all," Kalec said, distracted by the results of his spell. The binding was present and it was an easy matter for him to detect his own magic. But there was something else inside the chest; something powerful and dark. "We may need to move the book," Kalec said gravely. He crouched down and opened the chest. The hinge creaked. The book looked innocent enough in the thin mid-morning light. The magical aura of the tome was oozing and oily, dark and sick. Kalec did not want to even touch it but he had to.

"Move it where?" Wrathion asked. "You're not going to destroy it. It's mine! I need the secrets inside!"

Careful of the binding, Kalec lifted the book out of the chest. It felt slimy in his hands. He set it down before it could slide from his grip and fall open. He hastily closed the chest and set the book down on top.

"Is something wrong?" Wrathion sneered.

"The defensive magics are strong. I'm impressed you managed to carry it back." Kaled studied the whelp, opening his magic sight again so he could look at the younger dragon. "How did you manage to do that?"

The whelp's chest puffed and he set his hands on his hips. "I slew the warlock and took it!"

Kalec hadn't really made occasion to take a long, hard look at the young black dragon. It had been years since he'd seen a black dragon at all and he'd never seen one up close that wasn't trying to kill him.

"Would you hold the book a moment, I want to see something."

Wrathion stared at him for a long moment. "Why?"

"Because I want to see if the ambient magic has the same effect on you as it does on me."

"What?"

"It will help me determine what we're looking at," Kalec said. It wasn't entirely the truth but it would give him more points of information.

Wrathion rolled his eyes and picked up the book, mindful of the binding. "There. Now. Disable it."

Kalec could feel the roiling, oozing magic attempt to find a purchase and slide off. The clinging aura was feeble in the whelp's hands. Kalec leaned in, studying the interplay of energies. His father and mother had mentioned the general resistance and resilience of the black flight. His mother had fought them and his father had lamented their loss to the dragonflights. Kalec had fought black dragons himself but rarely. They had shrugged off volatile magics other dragons would have been hindered by, but he hadn't had the opportunity to study the effect for obvious reasons. Kalec leaned in to get a closer look at the vortex of power between the binding, the book and Wrathion's fingers holding the item.

"Are you unable to disable it?"

"I am. I was evaluating how it was reacting to being held by a black dragon with a different energy profile than my own." Kalec straightened, dismissing his vision. "I saw an open area nearby outside the walls of the garrison. Having taken a closer look I think it would be wise for me to do this in an area with a bit more room in case something goes wrong."

Wrathion's eyes widened slightly. "How wrong?"

Kalec considered the tome. "A mistake will probably engulf the book and the user in a column of fire."

Wrathion blinked then his eyes drifted down to the book. "Oh."

"You're likely the best equipped to handle it right now," Kalec said. "I could probably throw up a shield in time, but I would appreciate it if you didn't drop the book all the same." Kalec looked from the whelp to his two bodyguards then back. "You'll need the assistance of a mage to be able to unravel wards in the future. I understand you usually travel with a retinue. Do you have a mage among them? Perhaps whoever is using the shield charms in the tent out there?" Kalec nodded his head in the general direction of the tent in question.

Wrathion blinked at him then followed the direction indicated. His eyes narrowed. "Not Ephial."

Kalec tilted his head. "Why not?"

There was a small beat and then the whelp replied, "He is part of the Admiral's compliment and I cannot speak to his competence. I need competent help if I am to be successful. Which is why I called on you. Though you have yet to actually do anything I've asked."

Kalec gave him a flat look. "I'll be able to disable the wards on the book. I am under no illusion you won't try this again. You need to be able to do this in the future."

"So you won't be staying to help me in this endeavor then." He nodded to himself. "How unsurprising," he scoffed.

Kalec was a little surprised the black had entertained the idea that Kalec might stay. He'd historically been unfriendly with most other dragons. Was there a note of hurt in his voice and was it genuine or a manipulation? Kalec decided he might take him at face value given he had thus far acted in good faith.

"I have duties elsewhere," Kalec explained, trying to use the calm tone he took with anxious students. "While I will not be staying I do want to leave you with tools to protect yourself and the people around you."

Wrathion scowled. "Seems to me that with your flight disbanded you have few duties elsewhere."

Kalec gave him a flat look. There was the prickly whelp he'd heard about, the one who made digging comments and pushed. The words had stung but he wouldn't give the young one the satisfaction of seeing him flinch. "You're on Draenor and our charge was Azeroth. For someone who has used that as his excuse to cause so much harm to others, you're awfully far from home."

The flash of pain was easy to read. As was the defiant glare. "I am upholding my charge by being here! What are you doing?" he snapped.

"Upholding mine," Kalec said, mildly. "Ensuring you are able to properly and safely handle dangerous magical items like that book is part of that. Helping the Kirin Tor is another. Do you have a mage you can call on or should I coordinate with Archmage Zaliya in Shadowmoon so you have that resource."

Wrathion's ire eased a bit when Kalec didn't snap back. He straightened his tunic with his free hand and drew himself up. "One of my Talons is a mage," he said in a more reasonable tone. "She is quite talented."

Kalec his a smirk. He wasn't sure if it was more amusing his group had a name or the possessive pride the whelp was showing. "Is she near?" Kalec asked.

Wrathion tucked the book under one arm. "She arrived with the rest of the supplies I am graciously donating to Admiral Taylor's garrison."

He strode from the tent without a backwards glance. Kalec sighed and followed. The two bodyguards both glared as one followed the whelp and the other held the tent flap open with an air of put-upon patience.

Amid the hustle and bustle of the garrison, there was a motley assortment of people unloading crates from a laden cart. They stopped what they were doing as Wrathion approached, only returning to their tasks when he waved a dismissive hand.

"Neseema?"

A draenei with a fluffy corona of short dark hair, one side side of her face deeply scarred, stopped what she was doing and wiped her hands on her pants. "Your highness?" Her eyes flicked to Kalecgos then back to Wrathion.

"I need your assistance with a magical matter."

She bobbed a slight bow, glancing at Kalec again, then returned her attention to Wrathion. "Of course."

Wrathion waved for everyone to return to their task of unloading a large wagon, apparently of building supplies, and turned on his heel. It was a small matter of informing Taylor that Kalecgos would be taking Wrathion outside of the Garrison's walls to disable the grimoire. The human woman Wrathion referred to as 'Right' was left behind almost as a form of collateral. Or perhaps as a power play between Taylor and the whelp. Wrathion had been annoyed he could not have both of his personal guards with him. One of the garrison guards would follow with Wrathion's mage.

Outside of the garrison walls, Kalecgos stepped away and shifted into his natural form. He stretched his wings and rolled his shoulders before turning to Wrathion. "I saw a clear area a little ways off." He dipped his shoulder silently extending the invitation to the other dragon.

Wrathion eyed him for a long moment. He looked over his shoulder at the guard already astride her gryphon and the draenei shifting her weight from hoof to hoof. He sighed, put upon, and stalked forward, the book still held firmly under one arm.

He was a bit awkward climbing onto Kalec's back while holding the book. He cursed, shifted into his natural form and flew up to Kalec's back, the book held in both forepaws. To Kalec's amusement, he shifted back into his humanoid form again and the small party flew to the cleared area Kalec had spotted from the air.

Once at the location Kalecgos carefully explained the use of the runes to both Wrathion and mage Neseema. The wards on the book were a nasty business which would have engulfed the a large area in fel flames - at the least. The draenei's scars looked like burns and from the aggressive way she was casting, Kalec wondered if demons were responsible for the injury.

Whatever her story was, she was a competent mage. Kalecgos judged she didn't have the massive power at her command that Modera did, but she had been well trained and there were no issues with her control.

Kalec took time to explain the setup to both of them but it was clear that the whelp had little understanding or interest in arcane matters. It was also apparent that unlike other members of the black flight, Wrathion had done little to no training in the arcane arts. He declared that Neseema would be his proxy then paced around the clearing, ostensibly to keep a lookout. His self-imposed patrol always returned to the two mages.

"What are you doing?" Wrathion asked. The draenei mage's lips thinned ever so slightly at the interruption. Kalec drew some of his attention away from the working to answer. It would slow the process down but Kalec had little interest in allowing a whelp as... adventurous as Wrathion clearly was to go off without proper understanding.

"The magical wards around the book form a sort of trap," he explained. "The lines are held under metaphysical tension and require a specific key to unlock safely."

The whelp digested that for a moment. "Are you looking to pick the lock or snip the wires? Metaphorically speaking of course," Wrathion asked, quickly adding the last.

"A little bit of both actually, which is what makes something like this a bit tricky," Kalec told him. "Once we unlock the mechanism we'll see about unravelling the rest of the warding work, taking it apart bit by bit. Unlike many types of mechanical traps there's a lot of energy still stored in the wards once the mechanism is disabled."

"Is that what those runestones are for, then?" Wrathion stopped pacing and sat on the ground.

"Actually the runestones are lockpicks to continue the metaphor," Kalec said. "Expanding on the analogy, in some ways they're like levers if you are familiar with-"

"I know how basic mechanics work," Wrathion snapped. "I am not an idiot."

Kalec frowned, pausing in his casting. Interesting. "Not all four year olds are familiar with physics and mechanics," Kalec said.

"I am a dragon," Wrathion huffed, climbing to his feet again. "I am well versed in many basic concepts even if I have been on my own." He waved a dismissive hand which was accompanied by a small scoffing noise.

That... wasn't usual. Kalec considered raising the point that not all four-year old dragons were familiar with the concept of how a lever worked. How was Wrathion familiar? Who'd taught him? He tucked those questions away for the moment.

"Runestones like these make the work easier. We still have a great deal of heavy lifting to do, but many of these help. Some of these actually hold some of the metaphysical threads in place while we manually tumble the lock. Er- it's similar to that but all done with power and energy flow."

"I see. Do you often do this?"

"Disable wards set up by warlocks clearly tampering in fel magic? No, not often. I have in the past, though. These runes were made specifically to aid in disabling a number of fel-based threats."

"You will teach Neseema."

Kalec's eyes flicked to Wrathion then to the Draenei. The other mage's expression was intent on the working but she appeared to be mildly irritated by the ongoing conversation. Yet, she didn't stop him. It was curious that few beings seemed to call Wrathion on his poor behavior. Both guards and certainly the mage could easily put the whelp in his place. It was equally curious and strange to Kalec that he had this need to backtalk.

"If she is amenable and I determine she is able to handle this safely. I will not place her in further danger because you have a strong desire to kill the Shadow Council and won't provide her with the necessary backup," Kalec said firmly.

The whelp glared but then nodded once. "Fine," he allowed. He drifted closer again, eyeing the glowing circles and sigils in the air with studied disinterest. Whatever failings the whelp might have, he did possess a healthy curiosity. That reassuring familiarity was welcome to Kalec; he could work with that.

"We're working past the second layer here," Kalec explained, expending a bit more energy to highlight parts of the weave in silvery lines and sigils visible to the naked eye. Enmeshed within the working as they were, Kalec and Neseema needed no indicators.

"How many layers were there?" Wrathion asked. "Is this typical?" He'd seated himself on the grass again, leaving the guarding work to the guard from the garrison and his own bodyguard.

"Four I can see. We'll know in a few moments," Kalec explained. "As for the typicality, I would consider this a medium level of security. That suggests to me you found something fairly valuable. It also likely means the information is dangerous."

"Personal spells?"

"Likely. Also the names of Demons and methods of summoning them almost certainly. Possibly some Shadow Council movement information which is what I assume you are most interested in."

"Yes," the whelp said. He watched quietly for a time then growled. "Well?" He stood at his mage's elbow, peering as close to the working as he dared.

"They've layered in the security like a nesting doll," she commented, her voice absent as she was deep into the casting. "We're nearly done."

"Can you undo it?" Wrathion asked. "Will you be able to do it the next time we capture a prize?"

"We can and I feel confident I can do this again," she said, drawing her power from one rune stone and pushing it through a second as she followed Kalec's direction.

"You're doing well. You've done a lot of intricate casting before," Kalec said. He'd been increasingly impressed by her level of fine control and efficiency.

The other mage glanced at him. "Once upon a time."

Wrathion tore his eyes from the book to glare daggers at him. The message to let it drop was clear. Interesting. Kalec inclined his head but let the subject go.

Unwinding the enchantments from the book took the better part of an hour. Once it was done, Kalec constructed a strong barrier shield then used a remote spell to remove the binding and open the book.

"Did it work?" Wrathion asked.

"It didn't explode, so yes," Kalec said, removing the layers of shielding. He walked over but Wrathion beat him to the book. The whelp picked it up and began to thumb through it, utterly absorbed almost instantly.

Kalec sighed and turned to the mage. "Any questions?"

"You'll really leave me those foci?" she asked.

He nodded. "Yes." He looked at Wrathion then back at Left and Neseema. "I am given to understand this is his new campaign. You'll need them."

"The Shadow Council are allies of the Legion," Wrathion interjected. He handed the book to his bodyguard and turned to face Kalecgos. "Thank you for your assistance in this matter, you are dismissed." He waved a hand at the other dragon.

It was very hard not to laugh either at the situation or the reactions of the others. The mage's eyebrows raced for her hairline. She pursed her lips, turned on one hoof and went to go stand near the garrison guard standing watch with her mount. Wrathion's bodyguard considered her charge for a moment then stood behind his shoulder, but her eyes were bright with her own amusement.

"Actually if you had some time I wanted to know if we could speak a bit."

"Dragon to dragon?" Wrathion asked, arching a suspicious eyebrow.

Kalec shrugged. "If you like. I am not opposed to your guards being present." He stopped before adding 'if it would make you feel more at ease.' The whelp was already defensive and walled off. And obsessive. "I'd like to know more about your hunt for the Shadow Council."

Wrathion lifted his chin. "The less you know the better my operational security is, and aren't you returning to Azeroth?"

"Privacy spells can be cast," Kalec said. "No one outside would hear us speak if we remain at a conversational volume. If you need to get your guard's attention she can hear you."

Wrathion eyed his guard then Kalecgos, eyes narrow.

"You had a question in the post script. I would be able to answer some of that for you," Kalec offered. He watched the whelp's red eyes glitter thoughtfully at the bribe dangled in front of him.

He nodded. "Acceptable. Left, if you would continue at your post. Neseema if you do not need a break would you join her and our guest from the Garrison?"

The mage finished securing the runestones into the satchel Kalec had brought to carry them in then bowed at the waist. She walked a few paces off and took a seat, watching the treeline and the sky for attack. The guard eyed them both, shrugged, then turned to cover the remaining area around the pair of dragons.

Kalec conjured the promised privacy shield then a couple seats for them. "Before we get to the other question, I am truly curious about this new action against the Shadow Council." Kalec took a seat and after a moment Wrathion did as well.

Wrathion crossed his arms. "Why do you care?"

"Well for one, it might have an impact on what the Kirin Tor is doing here."

Wrathion glared. "I won't be in the way of your precious mortal mages."

Kalec was equally unimpressed if he was casually racist or if he was just trying get a response from the other dragon. The blue let that one slide. "Actually I was wondering how I might be able to help."

Wrathion blinked then his eyes narrowed. "You. Helping."

"Not just me, but yes."

"Why would you help?"

"Why are you so suspicious?" Kalec asked honestly. It was curious why he would be so instantly suspicious. Was he up to something else?

Wrathion tossed his head and looked away. "I would think you would have little interest in helping for a variety of reasons."

"Which are?" Kalec pressed.

The whelp's fingers tapped on his opposite arm. "Well. I am a black dragon. You're a blue."

"As far as I am aware you're untouched by the Old Gods-"

"I am perfectly sane!"

Kalec continued as if the whelp had never spoken. "- and in ages past, all the dragonflights worked together to help keep our charges." Wrathion's jaw twitched but he said nothing."We are all fewer and less powerful than before, but our Charges remain," Kalec said. Still nothing. "Anduin has mentioned that you take yours very seriously."

"You've spoken with Anduin?" Wrathion asked, the closed arms loosening just a bit.

Kalec tilted his head to the side. There was more emotion than the whelp had shown thus far in that question. Hurt, pain and hope chief among them if he wasn't misunderstanding. "I have. He came to speak with Jaina and me about your letter in fact."

Wrathion looked away again. "Well." His fingers tapped again and Kalec let him have the moment to gather his thoughts. The whelp's red eyes slid back over to Kalec. "What did he say?"

"He said that he didn't want to see more people get hurt," Kalec began. The other dragon flinched ever so slightly, the muscle in his jaw jumping. "But he also said that he believed you about the Legion returning," Kalec continued. Wrathion relaxed marginally once more. " He said he sent you a letter in return." The stiffness in his posture reappeared. Apparently, despite all his bravado and bluster, the whelp knew he'd hurt a friend and it hurt him.

"Well, he and I disagree on methods," Wrathion dismissed with a lofty air. It was a good act, but it was an act.

"I disagree on some of your methods," Kalec added, gently chastising.

Wrathion glared. "I believe I apologized for inadvertently harming your human. It all turned out in the end."

"No, it didn't." Kalecgos leaned forward. "You have much to apologize for, Wrathion."

"Is that all you are here for? An apology because your human doesn't know how to handle herself in a fight?" His words lashed out and found unexpected marks. The casual dismissal of she who was dear to him drawing out seldom seen ire from the blue.

Kalecgos growled in warning, the sound large enough it filled the space in the clearing and spilled beyond the confines of the shield. Young ones tested boundaries but there were limits of what was acceptable. The whelp's eyes widened but he shut up. For a moment. He continued before Kalec could correct the chastized whelp.

"I will not apologize," Wrathion snarled. "Why should I apologize for anything when it means that ultimately Azeroth will be safe! Why should I when-" he broke off and changed what he was going to say. "A few lives aren't worth losing our world to the Legion!"

Beyond Wrathion, the guards attention was drawn to their exchange. Left and the Mage shared a glance while the Garrison guard pretended not to be trying to listen in. Left waved the Mage off and took a few steps closer to her charge.

"It was wrong-" Kalec began.

"No!" Wrathion stood abruptly. "I have upheld my charge. I am the last of the black dragons, or at least the last sane one. I did not ask for this, but the Charge of my flight falls to me and no other! I will not let the scheming, hypocritical reds take what is rightfully mine! You may be content to let your flight surrender but I. Will. Not. Our world is in trouble. I have seen the green fire falling from the sky. I have seen the army that marches on us, desolation in its wake.The scene was very clear Kalecgos. One. Banner." His finger jabbed in the air as he made his point. "We will not survive the Legion if we are divided and weak. We cannot stand united while there is the question of who is mightiest." Smoke curled from the edges of his mouth and nose as the whelp worked himself up further.

Kalec sat back and listened, unable to get a word in edgewise, and concerned he might start spitting flames. He spoke with passion, yes, but there was desperation and fear as well as pride. Even if he was misguided on how, it was clear he believed his views fervently, almost madly. Yet, Kalec judged the tremor in Wrathion's voice was borne of conviction, not the madness of the old gods.

"You talk of the Charges but do you ever keep yours? Did the reds come to take your charge too? Did you roll over and hand it off to that hypocritical bitch of a so-called queen you all worship?" The whelp's hands clenched and his teeth bared. "If you're here to explain why everything that happened in the temple was wrong, you might as well just leave now because It. Wasn't. Wrong."

"It was!" Kalec said, voice raised to match the whelp's. Wrathion's lips pulled back in a silent snarl. "It was wrong," Kalec repeated, a low growl spilling into his words. "Everything about what you did was wrong, Wrathion, except your motivation. Actions have consequences. Your actions led to the deaths of many people-"

"I believe I have apologized for harming your pet human-"

"Jaina is not a pet!" Kalec snapped, silencing the whelp for a moment as Wrathion flinched back, eyes huge. Kalec wrestled his temper back down. He was better at holding his emotions in check than this! He was an adult and Wrathion the child. He should not let his emotions rule over him like a whelp. More calmly Kalec said, "You should apologize to Jaina. To the others who died. And to Xuen and the other Celestials. And you should mean it, but at the moment I don't think you understand how you erred."

"If everything has just gone according to plan, if people had just been rational, none of what happened at the trial would have been necessary!"

"None of what happened was necessary!"

"I was upholding my charge!" Wrathion snapped back. He abruptly shifted into his natural shape, wings whirring as he hovered at eye-level with the other dragon. "That is what I was created for! What we were all created for! What the Titans intended for us, or have you somehow missed that? I have done only what was necessary to see that our world doesn't drown in fel flames and demons. The aspects may have forgotten what we are for but I have not!"

"We have not forgotten-"

"Why has Ysera ceded control of the Dream to the Druids? Why has Nozdormu not intervened to help us survive and left mere mortals to patrol the timeways? Why has even that bitch Alexstrasza given up and disappeared? Why is the blue disbanded? Did you want to forget you were a dragon and pretend at humanity awhile?"

The fervor Wrathion spoke with was contagious and his cutting comments brought to mind some of Kalec's own fears. The image of Jaina, cooling and lifeless, was one which still haunted Kalec. The thought of all his blues dead as had been reported by his maddened alternate self at the trial still appeared in his dark dreams. The shame of not living up to being the leader he should have been warred with the melancholic certainty that it was the right thing to let his people live, at least a little, before they died out. And yet he felt anger burn in his chest as fear and shame ignited into rage over things he could not control- and the few things he could.

Kalecgos banished the seating and shifted shape, filling the area and expanding his privacy shield accordingly. Left moved forward and Kalec waved a paw, encasing the loyal guard in a softly glowing bubble of arcane energy. He set his paws on either side of the frozen whelp, lowered his head and growled, the grass and brush nearby shaking with the sound.

"The Kirin Tor will inherit the keeping of magic in this world when the last of my flight dies. That day may come in ten years or it may come in ten thousand, but I act as I must to keep my Charge." Kalecgos let his aura go unrestrained as he growled the words softly enough his privacy shield would not let them pass. The mage on the far side of the hill yelped and scooted away on her hands and hooves, eyes wide. The guard drew her sword and eyed the two dragons but did not approach. Kalec noted them idly, his attention focused before him.

Wrathion's wings tightened against his sides as he rolled over, unable to escape, placing his claws up in a meager defense against the much larger and older dragon. He shook and a very tiny chirp escaped between his teeth, small and young and frightened.

Kalecgos blinked as if a heavy fog had lifted. Here was a small whelp, one far smarter and aware than even a dragon child should have been, making adult decisions and carrying very real, very adult burdens. And fears. The rage of the little black dragon had truly been contagious. Kalec sat on his haunches and rolled his flight shoulders to ease the tension and shook his head and neck, throwing off the last of the sensation as he would seawater. He drew in a breath and sighed it out. The whelp had hardly moved and was still making the distressed sounds of a youngling. Kalec eased onto his stomach and pulled the smaller dragon close with one forepaw.

"I did not come here to fight with you, truly I did not," Kalec said as gently as he could. "And I did not mean to lose my temper," he said loud enough for Left to hear. He disabled the prison holding her and she dropped to her feet. Her gun was instantly trained on him, her grip unwavering and her eyes blazing.

Kalec regarded her steadily. "He is fine. His anger was infectious." He tilted his head, silently asking if this sort of thing was common. The orc woman regarded Kalec down the scope of her rifle for a long moment then put up her weapon. She rolled her shoulders and nodded. Kalec nodded back and regarded the shaking ball of black scale currently held in the crook of one forelimb.

"I am sorry I lost my temper. Can we start again?" He reeled in his aura and tried to appear as non threatening as he could. Shame burned in his breast. This was a whelp. Even if he was obnoxious and ill mannered Kalec was the older one.

Wrathion glared up at him, angry, wary and embarrassed perhaps. "If you're here to just take me and throw me into a cell get it over with," he ground out.

"I am not here to do that and I am not here to fight you," Kalec said.

"Then why are you here?" Wrathion asked, uncurling only a little bit.

Kalec sighed. "To help you with the book and then to speak with you specifically. I wanted to answer your question about the Earthmother and I wanted to understand what you were trying to accomplish here on Draenor." When there was no comment from the whelp Kalec asked, "Please tell me about the Shadow Council hunt?"

Wrathion stared up at him for a long moment. Finally he snorted and twisted around. He scrambled up so he was sitting on Kalec's wrist. "They will bring the Legion again if they are not stopped."

"And that is why you arranged things at the trial?"

"I did not-" he shouted then attempted to be calm. "The Iron Horde is stronger than the Alliance or the Horde of Azeroth. They will conquer and Azeroth will be safely united under a single banner." He lifted his nose into the air. "And I will see to it they are not influenced by the Legion."

"You didn't arrange this. Kairoz did," Kalec said, musing aloud.

Wrathion glared. "Well what else was I supposed to do when Wrynn turned out to be spineless and weak? He had the Horde at his mercy! Even Proudmoore was talking sense for once and what did Wrynn do? He let them go!" Wrathion began to pace up and down Kalec's arm, each step an angry stomp.

The statement about Jaina brought to mind some of the sharper things she'd said in the last year. She'd done a lot of healing but this was still very much the view many had of her.

"I imagine she'll be quite angry when she finds out you've been here. It might be wise if neither of us told her, don't you think?" Wrathion said with a suddenly toothy grin.

Kalecgos blinked down at him. Light, the whelp had just tried to coerce him. After Kalec had scared him half out of his wits. Kalecgos blinked. And the whelp thought it might work, too. The child was either touched in the head or remarkably resilient. Or possibly both. Kalecgos sighed. Wrathion should not have been left alone as he had been; Tarecgosa was right.

"Jaina knows I am here, Wrathion," Kalec told him gently.

"What?" He looked around, as if the mage might appear and turn him into a pile of ash.

Kalec shook his head and gently set the whelp back on the ground. "Jaina knows I am here," he repeated.

"Why did you tell her? I told you we didn't need to involve-"

"Because she is my mate, Wrathion. Because it would be wrong not to tell her." He sighed at the scoffing whelp and continued. "You hurt her. Indirectly but you did. You enabled the scenario in which she died and you more directly hurt Anduin whom she thinks of as kin. Aside from that I love and respect her. She is my consort. Dragons do not keep important matters from their consorts."

Wrathion huffed and rolled his eyes.

"Beyond my personal attachments, she is the leader of the Kirin Tor and Archmages Zaliya and Khadgar are already here. She is also in a position to extend help to you as well."

"Unlikely. In enacting far greater and more important matters I stole from her the pleasure of seeing Hellscream die. I doubt she would extend help, as meager as a mortal mage can give."

Kalecgos chuckled. "Wrathion, I think you have a somewhat limited view of the situation. If you show good faith in your actions here then you would find yourself with ample assistance."

"Feh! No one gives anyone anything." He waved a dismissive paw. "And in any case my work is too important to wait for mere mortals to catch up." He sniffed. "We are dragons. We do what we want and as we please."

"We can," Kalec said. "So can everyone," he added emphasizing the point slightly. He let that sink in before continuing. "While such things are more accepted among dragons culturally, we still have to face consequences for our actions. I do. You do. Even Alexstrasza does."

Wrathion scoffed and muttered uncomplimentary things under his breath. "I think we're done here," he said aloud.

"I have a question for you before we depart."

Wrathion rolled his eyes and crossed his forepaws over his chest in a very human gesture. "What?"

"What does your Charge mean to you?"

The younger dragon blinked. "We were given dominion over the earth-"

"Not what I meant. What does it mean to you? Personally?"

Wrathion frowned as if he didn't quite understand the question. "We protect Azeroth," he finally answered.

"But what does that mean?"

Wrathion's wings flapped. "Stop with the word games!"

"No games. I am honestly asking."

Wrathion sputtered. "But- it's obvious! I protect Azeroth." He drew himself up and glared up at Kalecgos. "I am the last of the Black Flight and it is my duty to see that Azeroth doesn't come to harm."

"But what does that mean?"

"I keep answering you! Are you not listening?"

He wasn't ready, Kalec could tell. He also didn't know despite whatever other knowledge might have been gained or granted to him. One day, possibly soon, Wrathion would be able to handle the truth of Azeroth and the reason for the Charges, but not yet. The Charge was a vague compelling notion that almost overrode other ideas.

"Protecting Azeroth is what you do," Kalec said. He touched a gentle clawtip to Wrathion's chest. "But you still need to decide what the Charge means to you. How you feel about it. How you connect to it. How you go about living it."

"I am!"

"To an extent," Kalec allowed. "My charge is the keeping of magic and the management of it, but magic should not be hoarded. That was Malygos' great mistake. Magic should be appreciated and even enjoyed." He smiled, thinking back to the conversation he'd had with Kinndy not that long ago. "I wish to see magic managed well, so I teach my appreciation, and my respect, to others. But these are not actions explicit in the instructions we received from Norgannon."

"We're dragons," Wrathion protested. "This is our purpose!"

"They are guiding forces in our lives and our society," Kalec said, "but they are not strict marching orders."

Wrathion growled. "Speak plainly!"

Kalec considered the whelp for a moment before answering. "When you say your charge is to protect Azeroth, I want you to think about what that means. Is Azeroth just the land or is it something more?"

The whelp fell silent mid-protest. He started to answer but then fell silent again. Kalecgos leaned forward so he was almost snout to snout with the younger dragon.

"Consider that question seriously for a few days." He shifted back into his humanoid form and Wrathion followed.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean I want to continue this conversation but you should consider the question seriously." Wrathion looked ready to protest again and Kalec held up a hand. "Figuring this out is something all dragons do, even black ones." The whelp subsided into a grumpy pout. Kalec nodded at Mage Neseema. "You have the tools you need to handle many of the threats here, but I will make myself available to you should you come across something more substantial."

"You aren't going to stop me?" Wrathion asked. "Or drag me back to Azeroth?"

Kalec shook his head. "No. That would serve no purpose." He nodded in the general direction of Shadowmoon. "I don't like the Legion anymore than you do. If you can do some good here in stopping them, then that is time well spent."

Wrathion digested that on the flight back to Taylor's Garrison. When they landed the whelp gave him a gimlet eye but inclined his head very slightly and stalked back behind the palisade walls. Kalecgos made a quick stop in Admiral Taylor's office, thanking him for his assistance. Kalec found the orc bodyguard, Left, waiting to escort him from the garrison when he left Taylor.

"Did your younger master send you?" Kalec asked.

Left smirked, bearing her teeth a little at him before sobering. "No. Threaten my Prince again and I will turn your hide into some very nice leather, make jewelry out of your teeth and use your claws as tableware."

Kalec frowned. "He has no idea he can influence the emotions of people around him, does he?"

The orc woman's cheerfully threatening grin fell in an instant to a dangerously neutral expression. Left glanced to the side, then back. "We think he has no idea. We think most Talons do not realize it." Her expression eased slightly. "Will it cause him trouble?"

"Only if he ends up provoking someone who has little control over their anger. I will be on guard now and he and I should not have further... incidents."

"This is the first time I have witnessed him provoke rage," the orc woman said. "My counterpart believes he should grow into it naturally."

Kalec looked at the tent Wrathion had claimed then back at Left. "Something tells me she is correct. This is a gift he should discover on his own. Here," he said, pulling a slip of paper from thin air. A burst of power inscribed the glyphs of his name on the parchment. A second of focus and he tied the scroll to the location and person he wished. "If he runs into trouble, burn this. Archmage Zaliya will be notified and she can notify me in turn."

She eyed the paper then accepted it silently. She inclined her head very slightly and walked away. Kalec wasn't certain if he'd been successful in opening a line of communication or closing it entirely but he could only move forward. He took the hearthstone activated it and returned to Shadowmoon Garrison.

Chapter Text

Jaina returned to Dalaran and found something quick to eat so she wouldn't do whatever it was Modera wanted either starving or on a full stomach. She mentally listed the other items she wished to accomplish that day. Now that the issue of Varian and Stormwind's reaction was put to bed, she likely had some time to get ahead and address some of the tasks she'd set aside until the following day.

Vereesa Windrunner was seated on a chair by Jaina's office. She rose as the Archmage neared. Her friend's expression was troubled. Jaina offered her a tentative smile as she approached and opened the office.

"Hello, Vereesa." She hadn’t seen much of the Ranger-General and she hoped that her presence here now was a good sign.

"Jaina. Have a minute? I'd like to speak with you privately."

"Of course," Jaina said. The Archmage closed the door behind her and set up a privacy charm. She led the way and sat in the small seating area rather than at her desk. Jaina had little doubt about what Vereesa wished to speak of, and hoped taking a more informal approach would make the discussion easier and more productive. The elf had had time to process her feelings. Maybe they would be able to talk through the issue as she and Varian had done.

The elf sat on the edge of her seat, her hands folded in her lap. "I wanted to discuss the issue of Horde reintegration with you."

"Okay," Jaina said, noting Vereesa's eyes hadn't met hers, and she frowned in concern. "I showed you the numbers in support. From a logistical standpoint it is one of the best things we can do for the city."

The Ranger-General nodded. "Yes, and that makes for some logical sense but, Jaina, I still think this is a bad idea. The Horde have proven to be untrustworthy numerous times."

"In most of those cases, it was Garrosh who was the largest issue and instigator," Jaina reminded her, then added somewhat flatly. "The Alliance hasn't been without fault in this area either."

"But the Horde are constantly conquering new territory," Vereesa countered. "They have an insatiable need for new resources and new materials. They've decimated entire regions by burning trees and mining."

"Again, Garrosh pushing for more and more industry had an impact on much of what they did."

"It isn't just Garrosh! The logging in Ashenvale has been an issue for years."

"It isn't just Garrosh," Jaina agreed, "but I know there are solutions to the resources issue." She smiled at the women she still hoped was a friend. "I have been giving some thought to this idea for a rather long time. I know we can find answers that we can live with." She felt her smile twist a bit ruefully, "even if we don't like it entirely."

"Jaina-" Vereesa cut herself off and shook her head.

"Vereesa, I think-" she stopped and sighed before continuing. "Vereesa I think if Varian can talk, we might be able to do something. I know Baine would be willing to speak which, I think, would get Tyrande talking."

"They were opponents at the trial."

"Yes, and because of that I think they understand the other better as a result. Baine's people have not been proponents of the mass logging happening in Kalimdor and I think he understands Tyrande's position better than he did before. I think Tyrande respects Baine's honor. He had the thankless task of defending Garrosh and even if he had personal reason to hate him, he still did it."

"The Tauren have stood by before and let the rest of the Horde do what they want," Vereesa snapped, eyes grown cold as she gave Jaina a pointed look.

"They have," Jaina admitted. "But none of the recent decisions have sat well with them. I think they're against the deforestation and stripmining as well, and this is an opportunity to extend support for their position. It isn't just the Tauren who disfavor Garrosh's way of doing things. Vol'jin and the trolls lost much and have an influential population of druids. They'd be amenable to talks so the goblins don't look to their lands once Azshara is deforested."

"None of that has anything to do with Dalaran!" Vereesa said.

"Dalaran being neutral again can help set the current political tone. If we make the move to neutrality, we can help support the other mixed organizations like the Cenarion Circle and the Earthen Ring. Those organizations might be able to take stronger stances and convince people to actually talk. Supporting Horde races who are already looking to change things can only create a more amenable Horde."

"Those organizations had their chance, twice before. They never took it, Jaina." Vereesa leaned forward, her tone passionate, eyes pleading. "When we marched on Ice Crown the Earthen Ring and the Cenarion Circle had ample opportunity to push forward with the same peaceful agenda you wanted. Then when Deathwing rose they had that opportunity again!" She shook her head. "Jaina they never said anything. Right when it would have been most effective for them to do so. Even after Deathwing it would have been feasible for them to speak up."

Jaina's lips thinned as she felt the familiar rising simmer of anger. Thrall had even taken over leadership of the Earthen Ring during that latest period. Instead of promoting further cooperation, instead of picking up the peace talks he and varian had begun in Theramore years before, he'd installed Garrosh Hellscream as Warchief. The mage looked up and could easily read those same thoughts in Vereesa's expression.

"They have had opportunities to build peace and haven't taken them. They haven't helped you. They abandoned you, isn't that what you said?" Vereesa asked, sitting back and crossing her arms.

Jaina winced. She had said that. And, she had to admit, a part of her still felt that way.

"Conquest is part of Orcish culture, and part of the Trolls' as well. How much of the history of Azeroth is written in the blood of wars against the trolls?" Vereesa added.

“At this moment," Jaina countered, "Vol'jin is looking to get his house in order, not pursue conquest. That takes away the pressure from the top on the Horde side opt for conquest. I think he will be more interested in focusing his resources elsewhere."

"I don't see how you can expect something different from any of them. How do you think you'll even reach them when-" she paused a moment then continued anyway. "They're afraid of you," her friend said, stating the truth Jaina had so many mixed feelings about. "You almost single-handedly drowned their city."

Jaina winced in pain but nodded. She had done that and she was grateful she had stopped. She rubbed her hands over her skirt, blowing out a breath.

"The Cenarion Circle and the Earthen Ring are made up of more than races from one side. And so has the Kirin Tor for most of the last decade, Vereesa. No one made a move from the Horde side before, that is historical fact, but we didn't reach out on our side either. The Kirin Tor didn't push the issue. That was probably a mistake. No, it was a mistake. We can push now and it starts with reintegration here. We'd have actions to back our words if we push at the other neutral organizations." She paused and allowed Vereesa to chew on that for a moment before she added, "Varian agrees with me about Vol'jin. Varian Vereesa. He admits he isn't comfortable with parts of it, just like I'm not, but he agrees with the overall idea of reintegration."

She'd gotten Varian to the table just after he'd killed Onyxia but the presence of Garona and the attack on her city had shattered that meeting. His stance had shifted since then, and he'd learned to rein in his temper as she was learning. Jaina wasn't grasping at smoke; these were real possibilities, difficult as they might be to actually get done.

Vereesa glared. She began to say something then stopped and looked away for a beat before meeting Jaina's eyes. "What is to stop the Horde from using the portals here, again?"

"We need to enact better protections," Jaina allowed. That Dalaran had been the vector for the attack on Darnassus had been a large sore spot for many mages in the city, Jaina and the Council included. Instead of dwelling on the past mistakes which would only fuel her anger and rage, Jaina focused on what she could do better now. "What would the Silver Covenant need to properly protect the Alliance portals here?" she asked, hoping to draw Vereesa into a productive forward thinking discussion.

"I would remind you that the Silver Covenant was created to oppose the Blood Elves in Dalaran," Vereesa said, her tone as chilly as a Northrend glacier. "And we were right all along. All of this happened because Sunreaver allowed it." Her eyes narrowed to slim bands of blue. "It makes one wonder what else he might have had a hand in."

Jaina shoved down the instant feeling of rage as Vereesa blatantly ignored her question in favor of a much more controversial argument. There was no indication whatsoever that Sunreaver had had anything to do with the mana-bomb that had ended Theramore. His behavior and actions when she'd joined the council indicated he was as sickened by what had happened as any of them. Doubt whispered in the back of her mind however. He'd known about the plot to infiltrate Darnassus. Jaina shoved the doubt away, drew in a breath and let it out. Vereesa's look was triumphant but Jaina did not agree with her as she once had. She couldn't.

She was done with giving Garrosh and his lackeys pieces of her soul.

"Sunreaver will not have a place on the council," Jaina decreed. She knew the others on the council would agree with her - even Khadgar, who was the most permissive of them all. Sunreaver had been admitted to their ranks as a peer. His betrayal still stung. "Archmage Spellsong has assumed his place. There is no room. I am not certain we will even allow him back into the city. While we wish to readmit Horde mages, his readmittance is not a foregone conclusion."

"Even if you ban Sunreaver his orders will still come. Hellscream never had to set foot in Dalaran to get Sunreaver and his people to betray the trust the Kirin Tor extended to them."

Jaina closed her eyes and bit back a sharp retort. She knew that. She'd just snapped at Varian over that, albeit about Theramore and not Dalaran, but the point was no less salient.

"They killed everyone you knew and loved and led." Vereesa reminded her again, voice cutting through the silence between them. The words fell like hammer blows, "How can you consider letting them in here? They have proven time and time again to be untrustworthy. They killed Kinndy, lured the seventh fleet into a trap, killed our rangers and allies from the Exodar, and my husband! They could do that again!”

"This is what is right for Dalaran," Jaina said, clinging to the words, reminding herself of the data, of the hope and joy in Anduin's face when they'd spoken earlier. "It is the right thing for Azeroth." It was what was needed to be done for Anduin and his future and that of his children, for the survivors of her city and Vereesa's sons.

It might even be good for her to be the one to set aside rancor. No, she corrected, it would be good. Theramore's death had shocked the world. They would not so easily allow such a thing to happen again. She would never allow it to happen.

"Most of the people I loved and cared for were killed, that is true, Vereesa. But I am trying to do this precisely because I don't want to lose anyone else," her voice quavering slightly at the start but growing stronger as she spoke. She wouldn't lose anyone else.

"How can you think this will be approved of?"

"The council has already voted," Jaina informed her friend. "It was unanimous that we move forward on this, Vereesa." She let her tone grow gentle, softening the harshness. “It is simply a matter of how and when now." Please, Jaina thought, join me in this, my friend

Vereesa blanched, her jaw working soundlessly for a moment before her eyes turned to chips of ice, her lips thinning into a firm line.

"How can you encourage them to invade our home again?" the elf demanded, "This might not be your home but it is mine! This was the home I helped make with my Rhonin and our sons!”

"Rhonin was Grand Magus when the Horde was admitted in the first place." Jaina reminded her, trying to remain calm and not match the other woman's tone. "He allowed it and agreed it must be done to enable the Icecrown Campaign to be successful. And he was right! Vereesa, he was right! We stopped Arthas from destroying the world and killing more people than he would have if he'd gone unchecked! It was a contentious decision then, but he did it because it defeated the Lich king. Because it was right for Azeroth."

"And look where it ultimately got him!" She snapped back, eyes shimmering with unshed tears. "He died because of their treachery! He left me and our sons alone!" Vereesa's voice cracked on the last word.

"Vereesa-"

"Look what the Horde has done to you! Your father is dead because of the Horde! Your brother died when Dragonmaw Orcs sank his ship. You are the last Proudmoore because of the Horde." Vereesa's tone snarled as her words lashed out, invoking the dead. "Because of the Horde you nearly died in Theramore. Because my Rhonin chose to save you. He chose to abandon his duties, his city!" She swallowed. "He abandoned hisfamily to save a contrary mage who felt herself too good for the rest of her order. She who chose to play tin god over her little town to fill her own lonely disappointing existence because no real ruler would take her as a wife. Rhonin followed a damned dragon prophecy and sacrificed his rich and full life for someone whose life was and still is barren and sad! You made yourself a target with your so-called peaceful ways, but you also allowed an Alliance military base practically in Garrosh's backyard! You were surprised he attacked with his full force? How much of a moron could you be? It was your stupidity and weakness that lured how many additional people into the trap he set?"

Jaina sat back in her seat, eyes wide as each word slashed at her. From the outset Vereesa had never blamed her. Jaina had feared that when she'd come to Dalaran afterwards. But Vereesa had hated Garrosh Hellscream as as much as she had, and they’d been strong for the other. Vereesa had never blamed her. Or so Jaina had thought. The venomous words washed over her like a wave of acid and she was drowning.

"My husband sacrificed our precious time together to save you and this is how you repay him?" Vereesa continued savaging her, the emotional quaver in her voice evening out into crystal clear, coldness. "This is how you react to your own murdered citizens? By turning the other cheek so they can scratch that too? By inviting the same people who murdered him and everyone who gave you a chance, to come here and do the same thing? Are they going to destroy this island city too, Proudmoore? Will you miraculously escape this time?" Vereesa had stood, her hands balled into fists, her teeth bared as she growled at Jaina.

Jaina could only gape in shock. Vereesa's heaving breath showed in the suddenly chilly temperature of the room, fallen tears freezing as they fell to the floor.

"What have you done with the gift my husband gave to you? Nothing. You're trading away our hard won artifacts to the Shado-pan for healers we don't need. You're opening my home to needless danger. Some stupid dragon prophecy tricked my husband into saving your worthless life and now my sons will never really know their father!" she sneered and leaned forward. "You play at being a negotiator but what have you ever done with it other than betray the Alliance? You couldn't even convince Varian Wrynn, the most bloody-minded warrior ever, to dismantle the Horde when we had the opportunity," Vereesa continued. "Maybe you should have opened your legs for him rather than that damned dragon."

Jaina rocked back as if struck physically. Vereesa froze, eyes wide in surprise as the weight of her words caught up with her. The Ranger-General turned and left without another word, not bothering to close the door behind her as she stalked away.

Jaina watched her go in shock.

Coherent thoughts slipped through her mind like water through her fingers, running disjointed and free. Had she wasted Rhonin's gift? She'd thought not. She was doing this because it felt right, except at this moment she felt anything but right. She'd fancied herself a diplomat, but had she done anything of note? She hadn't accomplished what she'd wanted to see. Was this more grasping at smoke and shadows?

"Jaina."

Theramore had been a good place with good people and how dare Vereesa imply they weren't worth anything because they'd been stupid enough to follow Jaina. Was this just a hurt reaction or was Vereesa finally speaking the truth to her now that they no longer had their hatred to share? Jaina had feared this reaction, but when it hadn't come when she'd returned to Dalaran to stay, she’d managed to let that fear go. Was that a mistake too?

"Jaina!"

She was worth more than as just the broodmare or bed-warmer of some lord or king or anyone. She was! Wasn't she? She'd done her best! Hadn't she? But she'd not been the one to die. She'd been saved. Rhonin had sacrificed a life with his family for a woman who'd never have one. She'd failed repeatedly; in bringing peace, in having a family, in leading, in keeping her people safe and secure.

But she'd had successes, hadn't she? Theramore had been a success hadn't it? She'd gotten Thrall and Varian to the same negotiating table until it had devolved into a mess when outside forces attacked. It had been Rhonin's choice to shove her away. Jaina had been intent on getting them both out of there, but could she have dragged the other mage through with her? Could she have resisted his shove better? Could she have noticed Garrosh's trap sooner? Had she failed her people by her naive choices years before-

"Jaina!"

Jaina snapped out of her spiraling thoughts as something cold and metallic slapped down over one wrist and then the other. Abruptly the background hum of arcane magic vanished and her own personal manapool was just out of reach. Her mind and body reeled in the sudden absence. Jaina flailed, startled and terrified. Strong hands grabbed her own, their warmth a shocking contrast to the ice around her.

"Jaina, calm down," Modera said. She moved her hands to Jaina's shoulders, holding her steady. "Calm down," she said, tone gentle but still commanding. "You need to settle down before you turn this entire tower into an ice block."

Looking around the room, Jaina saw that most surfaces were covered in a thick layer of frost. She could see her own breath and that of Modera's. The effect spilled out the door and well into the hallway. Icicles had begun to form and hung from the light fixtures and the edge of her book case. Jaina closed her eyes, pained, then looked at her wrists. Suppression manacles. Not as strong as a collar, she probably could have powered her way past them if she wanted, but they'd cut her off enough to stop the growing cold.

"Are you feeling calmer?" Modera asked her.

Jaina sagged, defeated. She nodded, unable to meet Modera's eyes. The other archmage removed the manacles and Jaina immediately dismissed the ice from the room, sublimating it into vapor. She rubbed her wrists as Modera tucked the suppressors back into her robes.

"I don't keep a set of these on me at all times, despite what the rumors might say," Modera joked after Jaina remained silent. "I was on my way to find you for our appointment when I saw Windrunner and the ice in the hall. I had time to get those from my office."

Jaina slowly looked up at the other mage.

Modera's look softened for a fraction of an instant then became her usual businesslike expression. "Come on. We're going to set those benchmarks."

"I- Modera, no. I don't think- Modera I don't think that would be wise."

"Are you going to lose control again?"

"No," Jaina said, dropping her eyes. She'd lost control last time she and Vereesa had argued in her office. They'd shouted at one another and half the building had heard. Her cheeks burned as she withstood Modera's eyes."I should not-" She broke off. "I do not think this is the time."

"I think it's a fine time," Modera said. "You're pissed off, right?"

Jaina gritted her teeth against the fist around her heart, cheeks burning hotter. She would not lose control like some barely trained novice. Again.

"Come on," Modera said. "Blowing things up is cathartic." She stepped closer, leaning in. "Trust me. A little bit of controlled destruction is good for burning away some of the inner demons."

Jaina scowled into the middle distance, Vereesa's words ringing in her ears, her cheeks burning. She wanted to- What did she want to do? She wasn't even sure. Leave here. Not necessarily Dalaran but this room. Be away from the scene of their verbal battle. She wanted Kalec. She wanted to lose herself in his arms and be petted and told it was okay. She wanted to cry. To scream. She wanted to lash out and shake Vereesa until she understood. Maybe tear into her verbally too. Retaliate.

Jaina closed her eyes. No. Light, how she wanted to savage the other woman, but that would accomplish nothing. It wouldn't make the words hurt any less.

It wouldn't silence the demons whispering that Vereesa was right.

"Come on," Modera said. She lowered her voice. "Indulge me. Then I can hunt down Kalecgos for you or you can go see the healer in Pandaria or we can even get stinking drunk. Let's work some of it off."

Jaina looked at the older woman. "You implied you wanted to see how destructive I could be. Is that really wise when I was leaking power like a novice in her first week of training?"

"The room on the fifth floor is probably the best place if you don't feel like you can control yourself." Her expression softened again and she dropped her voice. "At the very least you'll be tired enough you can't unconsciously summon ice."

Jaina's lips curled into a snarl as a flare of anger blazed in her heart. She wanted to call fire but she stopped herself. She wasn't a teenager lacking in control despite her current appearance. Modera nodded, understanding rather than smirking or afraid. Solemn grey eyes met her own and Jaina felt the rush of anger fade again.

"Okay."


They didn't speak as they made their way to the classroom on the fifth floor. Jaina was grateful for that. She needed some space and the older woman seemed to understand and give that to her.

'Classroom' was a bit of a misnomer as the room was more of a practical applications lab. It was one of the most heavily fortified and warded areas in Dalaran outside of the Violet Hold and was used for experimental magic. During the Nexus War and the Cataclysm it had been used regularly by the battle-casters as they developed new spells to defeat enemies and to protect allies. Jaina hadn't been inside before, but she could feel the weight of the wards as she crossed the threshold. Modera shut the door behind them and began to cast with a few absent gestures, setting up whatever manner of monitoring she intended to have while Jaina performed like a trained monkey-

Jaina stopped the thought. It was unkind to her as well as the older archmage. Modera was an ally and more, she understood some of what Jaina was experiencing. Further, she was doing her job in getting Jaina to come down here.

Modera had probably forgotten more about battle-casting than the next-most experienced mage had learned in their lifetime. Jaina was accomplished but there were clearly gaps in her knowledge as evidenced by the fact that she'd died at the trial. She'd not thought she was an awful battle-caster, but she'd been distracted by protecting Varian and had died for it. In most of the conflicts she'd been involved in, firearms hadn't been the preferred weapons of the opposing side. Fireballs, lightning and swords she could handle. Bullets were something she apparently needed to work on.

Modera had high standard and was still alive at.... however old she actually was. Jaina wasn't entirely certain anymore. The other woman had the ageless quality that mages sometimes developed. No matter her actual age, she knew her craft and she was willing to teach. Jaina was lucky to have some one-on-one evaluation time. The city was lucky to have her expertise. Jaina drew in a breath and let it out.

"I've always been reluctant to do any of this," Jaina admitted aloud. "I didn't like it. The first time Antonidas had me turn something into ash..."

"You were what, fifteen?"

Jaina nodded. "It was a bit intimidating that I could do something like that." It had given her nightmares. She was the sweet younger daughter of the Lord Admiral of Kul Tiras. Seeing the precise hole she had carved into the center of the target, the pile of ash the wood had become, had shifted her perception of reality.

"Is that why you chose ice?"

Jaina crossed her arms. "Maybe partially. Ice has always been easy. I understand water. It's versatile and mutable. It can be soft and soothing." She smile ruefully. "Or it can be a storm or blizzard. Or a tidal wave." She rubbed one arm. " You can freeze someone to take them out of combat. It's easier to be less destructive than fire." In Kul Tiras she'd been surrounded by water. The sea and all it's beauty and treachery had been part of her blood.

Modera made a thoughtful sound. "I started with Ice," she said, smirking when Jaina looked up in surprise. "Oh, I came to enjoy the various aspects and applications of the other schools, but I started with ice because I am, at my heart, a contrary bitch. The versatility and prowess of ice wasn't well respected at the time when I first arrived in Dalaran." She grinned and Jaina found herself smiling a little in return. "Iit was something else the first time you used magic not to create or conjure but to destroy, wasn't it?"

Jaina nodded. "It's probably silly."

"Not at all," Modera said as she set up targets on the far side of the room. "I'd rather a mage have a healthy respect for the power they wield than not." She gestured for Jaina to step into a runic circle at one end of the long classroom. "Stand here and we're going to start with just flat numbers. When was the last time you did an evaluation like this?"

Jaina shrugged as she stood in the circle. "I was probably twenty? This never really interested me and Antonidas never pushed me towards it."

Modera grunted. "Fair I suppose. Now, technique counts for a lot, as does training and experience. But I'd like to see what your raw brawn is."

Jaina nodded and turned towards the targets down range.

She summoned a fireball to her hand and then sent it flying to hit near the center. The flames erupted on impact sending little sparks into the air.

Modera made a scoffing noise and Jaina looked back.

"The fight you had today," Modera said. "Take that rage and use it."

Jaina frowned at her.

Modera's expression was inscrutable. "Emotion has a place in the logic of magic. Logic can crush and compact everything down. Take those emotions. All of them. The good and the bad. Take them and turn them into kindling for the fire. I imagine Veressa must have made some low blows to get you of all people to lose control even a little."

Jaina glared.

Modera's smile softened. "You don't need to be in control right now. You won't burn down the city with all this warding and I'm standing behind you. Just let it out."

Jaina looked at her for a moment longer, the annoyance fading as Modera brought up the secret fear of most sane mages; that of harming those around them with their power. Magic had to be controlled by the mage or it could control them. It had to be managed as the blues said. Norgannon's charge had mentioned joy as well, but Jaina didn't feel much of that at the moment.

She felt rage.

Rage for her people. For what Vereesa had said. At herself for being weak. At the rumors and awful things the Horde were saying about her. For the doubting voice in her head that believed it. For the part of her that didn't believe it. Jaina felt her hand clench into a fist as she let the anger and hatred and fear flow out.

The fireball sailed down range. It was greater than the previous one, but it wasn't enough. Jaina needed to be more, to be better. She'd almost been unable to stop the attack on Varian. She'd died because she wasn't good enough.

She flung a third and fourth at the target, their impacts satisfying as the sound of fire blazed around her. She drew in a deep breath and let it out as she began to hurl handfuls of fire at the target, mechanically conjuring and tossing, dialing in her aim until she struck the center every time.

Vereesa was wrong. She had to be. Everyone else in her life was supportive of this change, even if they were cautious. Even Varian! She adjusted her spell so the flame would be smaller and hotter as she pelted the target down range. She'd see. Vereesa was angry now but she'd see eventually. She had to see that Jaina wasn't wrong again. And it wasn't even Vereesa's fault she felt the way she did.

Jaina hated Garrosh for continuing to hurt everyone even if he was far. She hated him for being out of her reach. The target down range became his face and she put out his eyes with fire that was white-hot. The fire burned but it wasn't enough. It would never be enough for Garrosh. She'd lose her own soul if she went to hunt him down and she hated the truth of that. The fireballs became streaks of pure arcane energy as she drew more deeply on her manapool and sent wave after wave of bolts down range. Little bursts of violet ash and light erupted from the dummy as each blow struck.

The rush of blood filled her ears, drowning out some feral, wordless warcry as she spiraled down further into her power then drew it out in a single ribbon that coalesced into a beam of of arcane energy that blazed with eye-searing brightness.

The beam hit the target slightly to the right of the center, the wards protecting the vaguely human-shaped figure shattering under the barrage. The metal practically evaporated under the assault as it continued through the target and hit the back wall and the even heavier wards there. Jaina recognized the war cry as her own voice as she maintained the attack for an eternal second longer. The beam sliced across the figure's neck then torso in quick succession. Jaina released the cast suddenly aware of the havoc and the ragged shreds of sadness and rage in her heart. As the head and upper body fell to the floor, she let the magic go, staring at her handiwork.

There was a scorch mark on the back wall where the wards had snapped and fizzled, reacting to the attack she'd levied. The torso and head clanged as they hit the ground at nearly the same time. They sent puffs of shimmering violet ash into the air as they fell.

Jaina sank to her knees and tried to rein herself in.

Modera sat beside her and conjured a flask of water. Jaina accepted the flask and drank. She'd not really made a large dent in her manapool, but the effort of maintaining the cast, holding it down so it wouldn't flare wildly, and also handling the emotions fueling it, had been significant. If she were being honest, the emotions and feelings had been what had the most effect on how she felt.

"Find what you wanted?" Jaina asked, sounding cynical even to her own ears.

"I didn't want something from you, Jaina. At least not beyond a benchmark."

"Did I hit your expected numbers?" Jaina rephrased.

"I had no specific expectations beyond 'high'," Modera gently corrected and Jaina recognized the chastisement for what it was. "I need an idea of what you can do if only so I can adjust shields appropriately for safety sake."

Jaina bowed her head accepting that.

"You that winded?"

"No, I'll be fine," Jaina said. "It's... There was a lot from earlier. Hard to keep some control sometimes." The rage and anger swirled like stormclouds exposing glimpses of deeper sadness and fear. She'd found some small catharsis in destroying the target but less than she suspected Modera had anticipated. Certainly in this moment whatever relief she'd felt during the exercise was gone like morning mist.

"Well you did the control part beautifully," Modera said. "Perhaps even too well. I would hazard a guess sometimes it feels like forcing an entire keg of mead out of a very small tap?"

Jaina frowned thoughtfully. "It can." Jaina found it an odd question.

"Mmm. Moving troops over long distances feels easier than that incredibly deadly channeled beam of energy?"

"I suppose. I haven't cast a spell like that one before." Jaina nodded at the dismembered torso. She didn't know of one for that specific effect off the top of her head. It was an on-the-fly adjustment of something she was more familiar with in frost.

Modera's eyebrow arched, impressed if Jaina had to guess. "If I tried to cast as you did I'd be burned out in ten minutes and then be rubbish for the rest of the battle. We'll work on efficiency. As for the feeling of tightness, we'll work on getting you to unclench."

"Excuse me?" Jaina laughed out.

Modera grinned. "It's exactly what it sounds like." She crossed her legs tailor style. "Soldiers need to be trained to run into the face of the enemy. Mostly. Some people are just born being fearless or learn it before they get to training. Same with most mages who aren't combat casters. You've spent your entire life as a mage being taught to be careful with powerful spells. Battle magics are high-power, quick-reaction, high-intensity and high-emotion. You're probably the greatest power-house of your generation, Jaina. No, don't argue with me we both know it's true so stop being humble. It doesn't help here."

Jaina frowned but let her denials remain unspoken.

"And Antonidas, being the more learned mage, knew exactly how much destruction you could wreck. So he trained you to be respectful of the power, to be careful, to be thoughtful. Right?"

"Yes," Jaina answered cautiously.

"When Khadgar rolls in smelling of burned reagents or shows up to a meeting as a projected head inside a ball or when he giggles and asks what's the worst that could happen, it drives you insane, doesn't it?"

Jaina gritted her teeth. "Yes."

"Because he's not being respectful. Because the worst that could happen is fairly significant. Because he is the most powerful mage of his generation and he isn't playing by the rules."

Jaina grimaced. "I know he must respect the craft. I see flashes of it when I speak with him but-" She broke off with a little frustrated sound.

"But he falls into the absent-minded 'wackiness' and heedless boundary-pushing that seems to live hand-in-hand with a need to define the universe and order it to our own wills," Modera said.

The older mage gestured, an elegant twist of long fingers, and a fireball appeared, hovering over her hand. It was a perfect sphere of plasma, glowing like a tiny star and utterly unlike the emanations of flame Jaina had been able to summon which more closely resembled tiny campfires. Jaina opened her own senses to Modera's spell, studying the construction of a master's work.

"It's part of the dualities of magic. I think it's a bit tied into what Kalec talks about when he speaks of the Charge of the blue flight. The bit about how magic must be maintained, but how there's joy in it too." She twisted her hand from side to side, looking over the sphere of light and heat. She flicked her wrist, an almost indolent gesture, but the fireball sailed down the room with greater speed than Jaina's had with far more shoulder-wrenching throwing motions.

Jaina watched it melt a significant dent into the remains of the metal target. The little fireball had been propelled by a smaller spell and guided by others to produce something like a cannon blast, and existed for only a fraction of a moment. The spells Modera had been using to shield her hand from the heat disappeared and Jaina only noticed the subtle working fade because she'd been looking.

"I've always thought of battle magics as being... unsubtle but that-" she looked from Modera's hand to meet her eyes. The older Archmage's eyebrows were arched in amusement, yes, but Jaina was quite familiar with the look of pride in a teacher whose student is beginning to get it.

Modera summoned another fireball, then a second and third until she had three. She sent the trio swirling in orbit around one another over the palm of her hand. The ebb and flow of power was delicate and efficient. Jaina could hardly see the working because there was so little loss from every adjustment the other mage made. The charm to resist the heat generated was likewise delicate feeling but sturdy.

"The spell-latticework is something I learned when I was much younger and have been able to refine over the years. I know it doesn't look like it should work but it does," Modera said. "It is precise and orderly and actually fairly pretty if I shove enough power in there to make it visible. And yet it lasts for all of a fraction of a second. The fire is conjured, the epitome of order as long as I control it. Once it hits the target, fire is fire and will act as such unless I impose my will again." She shook her hand and the little fireballs dissipated into little puffs of smoke and accompanying fwooshes of air. "Magic has a great number of dualities which have always been fascinating to me. How we can conjure food for an army or turn that same army into ash on the winds."

"Impertinent as he is, Khadgar does respect magic, but perhaps not as much as you or I believe he should.” Modera continued, “There are a few things at work there and I am reasonably confident I can speak with authority on at least two. The first is that he copes with the knowledge he could rip Dalaran from the sky or turn entire villages into ash by making light of things. He is deep into his own personal joy of magic and discovery and allows that to help shield him from the reality of his own absolutely destructive abilities. The final confrontation with Medivh did more to shape him than just physically age him a few decades," Modera said candidly. "The other is that he's often rejected the Kirin Tor for being too rigid and too elitist and too... hidebound. Because Khadgar is also a contrary bitch," she said the last grinning at Jaina.

"And on that I think we three are alike a little. You left Dalaran and did your own thing as a mage on your own terms. That isn't a slight," she said holding up a hand when Jaina began to protest. "I happen to agree with you both about some of the rigidity. But my place was here being a contrary voice just as yours was in Theramore and Khadgar's was leaving this world altogether."

Jaina inclined her head. She chuckled, "I think you're building to a point?"

"Sassy!" Modera laughed. "But fine. The point is, you might have thrown off the social shackles of your training and I know for a fact you can absolutely lose yourself in research with the best of them, Archmage Proudmoore." She winked at Jaina then her expression sobered slightly. "But you've never fully been able to step away from the little voice in your head that probably sounds like Antonidas or a much younger you, or both, that tells you to hold back."

"I am supposed to wield with control and precision." Magic was about order and logic. Control was essential in not only safety but in understanding the rules.

Modera held up a hand. "Yes but you don't use the same sort of control you did as an apprentice."

"If anything I should use more." Jaina frowned at her.

"More isn't always better. You're trying to rein yourself in too much which is actively hurting you in the long run. You also have a hell of a lot of power at your disposal and those fireballs? Destructive and large but lossy and inefficient for sustained casting. Horrible if you're trying to hold yourself back. You changed from the big flames to smaller, higher energy strikes which is absolutely working in the right direction; synergy of control and power."

Jaina frowned. Modera smiled.

"You're a decent battle-mage, truly. I'd love to have twenty of you as back-line casters. You're good but you could be better. We haven't gotten to the non-magical training yet, which is the area you're lacking in, but magic-wise you're alternately fighting yourself and relying on an absurdly deep manapool. It's not uncommon. Ansirem actually had the same problem. So did Antonidas." The older mage shrugged and began to reset the far side of the range with idle casting. "If you don't want to continue after we go over the non-magical gaps in your education I won't be offended, but I know I can help you improve on your battle casting if you wish."

"To what end?" Jaina asked. "Why-" she shook her head and sighed. "There are a lot of good reasons to know this, aren't there?"

"Many and not just battlefield applications either." Modera got to her feet and brushed off her leggings. "Care to give it a try for right now?"

"I suppose it can't hurt," Jaina said. "Do you think I could learn to make those plasma spheres?"

"I bet you could crown yourself with ten orbiting your head if you wanted," Modera said.

Jaina rolled her eyes. Modera's gaze was steady.

"When you were an apprentice you took your lessons to heart as you should have. You learned the rigid control you needed then. But you aren't the same child you were when you came at ten, Jaina. You grew up. You've learned more, seen more and done more, lived more. Your mana pool isn't nearly the same size it was when you were a child either. So I want you to stop limiting yourself like one."

Jaina eyed her askance then looked at the warding in the room then back. Modera's expression hadn't changed a bit.

"You're a full Archmage of the Kirin Tor, but in this you're stuck thinking and casting like a child of ten," the older woman told her, her voice carrying far more of the gruff, clipped cadence of a drill sergeant. "Know the full extent of your power. You should not be afraid of what you can do. Respect it, but don't fear it. Adjust the control and power that are required for the situation." She nodded at the range. "Now, pretend the remains of that dummy down there needs to be eradicated and destroy it."

Jaina formed another fireball and sent it down range.

"Again."

Scowling, Jaina sent another fireball sailing down range.

"Again. Hotter."

Jaina sent another.

"Faster."

Jaina sent three in succession, trying to recreate what she'd seen in Modera's spell. They were blobby-looking comets but more controlled than her previous fireballs had been and more concentrated.

"Arcane," Modera ordered.

The switch tripped Jaina up for a moment. She sent pulses of arcane energy shooting down the range.

"Ice shards," was the next order. Followed by more fire then arcane and ice. The rotation's duration and the school of magic had some variation so she couldn't think too far ahead. If she slowed down from the pace Modera had deemed appropriate, the archmage called for her to be faster.

Jaina stopped trying to plan and just focused on her casting, allowing herself to pivot when the next call came. It was frustrating at first to be constantly told to be faster, to change schools, to be unable to cast when she was ready. Jaina stopped trying to anticipate and just started to react. The spells came easier than expected if she simply sank into the exercise. She realized, distantly, it wasn't entirely unlike when she meditated with her candle in the morning. The calls came and Jaina supplied what was appropriate, sending it down range. There was a simplicity in not thinking about the intricacies of her spellwork. She knew these spells well even if they were not ones she used often. Trusting her knowledge Jaina cast fire, arcane, ice and again and again.

"Good," Modera said, "Ice!" and so the exercise continued.

Modera began calling spells in a set order though she left the duration variable allowing Jaina to plan a little bit ahead. She began trying to better mimic Modera's spells again. She felt she was making progress with fire and began to experiment with Ice and Arcane, trying to use less energy to get the same effect or to focus in different ways than she'd done so before. Smirking to herself, Jaina even drew deeply to unleash some heftier blasts than she'd ever used before - actual combat was not the time to experiment. She could feel the drain on her energy now and was wondering when Modera would call an end when the older mage told her to stop.

"Shake it out, take a breather. Water?" Modera said offering Jaina a conjured flask.

Jaina accepted the water with a murmur of thanks. "So?"

"Much better," Modera said as she read from a slate. "Feeling the workout?"

Jaina nodded and rolled her shoulders.

"Feeling a bit better?"

Jaina drew in a breath and let it out. The smile she gave Modera was probably more wince than anything. "I was able to put it out of my mind for a bit. What Vereesa said, I mean." Jaina frowned at the target downrange then looked back at the other mage. "Modera? Are we doing the right thing?" Jaina gestured to the rest of the city beyond the walls of the practice room. "Are we literally inviting trouble back into our home? Do you think this could be the wrong course of action?"

Modera's eyebrows lifted. "No, I do not."

"Even with the potential for danger? Tragedy?"

"Even so," Modera said, crossing her arms and frowning. "I suppose that might sound strange coming from my corner."

Jaina's smile was a more genuine this time. "Actually it makes me feel a bit better, to be honest." She'd been peaceful and had advocated for war and so people listened, Modera had told her. Modera was a warmage and agreed with peace. There was some relief from her fear in that. Possibly people would listen again.

Modera's eyes narrowed as she glanced away then turned her gaze back to Jaina. "Might I have your word of confidence in something, Archmage?"

Jaina drew herself straighter. "Of course."

Modera smirked and waved dismissively. "Light, girl, at ease." She waited until Jaina relaxed, her smile softening then fading away entirely. She turned her head and looked into the distance. "I've been called 'paranoid' quite often in my life, but it's not paranoia if you're right." Modera's fingers tapped on her arm and she pursed her lips again. "I've never been one to make prophecies. Mostly, I rely on my gut instinct, and mostly I'm right. Been that way since I can remember. My master, bastard he was," she said with a fond smile, "had the same problem. I think that's why he took me on despite everything in my situation."

Situation? Jaina wondered.

Modera caught Jaina's inquisitive look and waved a dismissive hand. "Politics of the time which are irrelevant now. But I always seem to get a sense of the storms on the horizon. Big events. It itches in the back of my mind until it finally makes landfall. It's why I stayed here. Why I teach. Why I want good mages to be amazing. I've been meditating on whatever is coming since we first spoke of it a few weeks ago." She arched an eyebrow at Jaina.

Jaina nodded, recalling the conversation in Jaina's former apartment right after Garrosh's trial. It had been the first time they'd really spoken candidly to one another and a positive turning point in their relationship as colleagues, and, Jaina thought, the beginning of a friendship. "I remember."

She looked back in the same direction she'd been looking before, her eyes glowing blue with power.

"I've had storms loom and lull all my long life, but they were never the one I knew I needed to be really concerned about. I told you I thought the feeling would ease every time one of our recent large conflicts ended, but it hasn't. I know catching Garrosh won't change that record." She blew the fringe out of her eyes with a huffed breath. "This is finally the big one, Jaina, the one that has been creeping up since I was an apprentice. It sure as helheim isn't another fight with the Horde."

The Legion lay unspoken between them. Jaina followed Modera's gaze and realized she was looking in the direction of Dalaran's original location.

"Our ancient protections have been systematically destroyed. The Guardian, the Aspects, the Keepers, the jails holding Old Gods, Ancient Titan devices. Possibly more things we don't know about," Modera said, sending a chill down Jaina's spine. It could be coincidence or the natural decay of time. But then again...

"The alliances we have aren't what they once were. Lordaeron and Alterac are dead and Stromgarde isn't much better. Gilneas is a mess. The Dwarves are one tavern brawl away from civil war and we're on rocky ground with Quel'thalas. We're practiced at war but we're weakened. The Horde is a mess and was nearly shattered, Jaina. We're weak. As a planetary force, we're weak. I want the Horde mage powerhouses back and on friendly terms. Or at least disinclined to shoot us in the back when what comes for us all lands on our shores." Her lips thinned into a line as she was silent for a few moments.

"So no, I don't think reintegration is a bad idea, Archmage. It isn't an easy idea given the weight of history." She turned those glowing eyes at Jaina. "But right now I'm more concerned about the future, so the past is going to have to work itself out."


Vereesa stalked away from Jaina's office, her feet knowing the way even as her mind was going over and over the past few minutes in detail. She knew what she'd said had hurt the other woman; Vereesa had intended for the words to hurt, hardening her heart as each savage blow landed. Had she meant any of it? Possibly. Probably. In the moment, certainly.

She'd not intended to go to the office looking for a conflict. Vereesa had only wanted her friend to see the truth again. Jaina had been so clear-headed this past year. They'd made such progress and they hadn't needed the Horde and their devious, underhanded, savage ways.

Why had Jaina turned on her? Why was everyone obsessed with an impossible idea? Why were they so open to letting treachery into their very homes? Hadn't Rhonin's fate been enough of a lesson?

She stomped up the stairs to her apartment automatically, mind going over all the things she'd said to Jaina. Vereesa scowled as she opened her front door.

"Mom!"

Her boys ran for her, hitting with enough impact she had to take half a step back. They began to tell her all about their day, twin voices in excited stereo.

"We were learning about-"
"And then we got yelled at for talking-"

They were tall enough they could hug her waist rather than her legs. They were getting so big! And their father would miss everything.

"And Giramar was being so boring-"
"I was not!"
"And he read all recess again!"
"Why is what so bad?"
"But we read all day in school!"

They'd had such little time together as a family. Why had he shoved Jaina out of the way? Why hadn't he left that selfish old maid to share the fate of her people? Why had he left her alone with their sons?

"Yeah-huh!"
"Nuh-uh!"
"Yeah-huh!"
"Nuh-uh!"

"Boys," Vereesa groaned rubbing at her temple. How many times had she and her sister fought like that. Her sisters were gone now, too. Rhonin hadn't had family so it was just them but it had been fine! And then Garrosh had taken Rhonin away. And Jaina had lived, though her people were gone as well.

They'd become such good friends and had understood one another when it seemed the rest of the world couldn't understand their pain. Garrosh's actions, awful as they had been, were distant, impersonal events. Jaina had understood. Her sons had begun to call Jaina "auntie" and the mage had adored that because she didn't have her own family.

Maybe that was why she was fine putting everyone else at risk, a vicious part of Vereesa whispered.

Inviting the Horde back to kill and maim more families. More children. There had been such pain in Jaina's eyes as she's listened to Vereesa but it had served her right? Hadn't it?

"Mom!"
"Mom!"
"Mom!"
"Mom!"

"Stop pestering me I am trying to think!" Vereesa snapped, overwhelmed by the insistent cheer of her boys and the turmoil of her own thoughts. She blinked in shock at her own harsh tone.

Quiet, sensitive Giramar looked up at her eyes wide, jaw dropped. His twin wore almost the same expression. Then his eyes rimmed in tears and he ran. From her. His brother shot her a fearful glare and followed after Giramar.

Vereesa watched them go, again shocked by her own actions.

She'd frightened her children.

Vereesa had sworn she would never turn her anger and sorrow on her boys. She closed her eyes and fought back a frustrated scream, stifling it with a shaking hand. Stomach roiling she braced a hand against the wall. The boys, so full of life and joy despite the loss of their father - and her sadness - had stopped her from taking Sylvanas' offer of becoming undead herself. Her boys had given her reason to go on after so much had been taken from her. Her boys, who she'd left behind in the safety of Dalaran when she went to war on Thunder Isle. She'd missed them and had missed time with them because of her need to strike back at Garrosh Hellscream and his Horde.

They ran from her now. Because of that same anger.

A few hot tears of shame and frustration fell onto the hand still pressed over her mouth. The boys were silent further in the house; a sure sign they were afraid and Vereesa felt sick.

Her eyes fell on the family portrait that had been done a few years ago. The last one they would ever have as a family. The artist had been quite good and, though her husband had grumbled initially, he'd sat and helped her wrangle their two wiggling sons to sit still for the seated sessions. It had been fun, actually. The boys hadn't liked the whole experience but she and Rhonin had enjoyed some time to just sit together and talk as they hadn't in far too long. The artist had captured Rhonin's laugh lines and his kindness and strength. He'd been firm in discipline but had never raised a hand or his voice to their sons.

He wouldn't have approved of her behavior in Jaina's office or with their sons. Vereesa wasn't happy with herself either. The burning hate had cooled in the instant she'd seen her son start to cry, leaving her nauseated and hollow.

"I need help," she said into the silent room, the words creaking.

No ghost answered her nor any vision. She didn't miraculously feel better. But it was the truth and with it came a small spark of determination to fix things with her children and then.... then maybe she'd see what might happen next.

Tracking down the boys was easy. Vereesa took that as a good sign. They were in their room, both sitting together on Giramar's bed. They stopped talking when she appeared. She rapped on the edge of their doorframe.

"May I come in?"

They nodded, still silent, eyes still tear filled. She sat with them and pulled them into a hug.

"I am sorry I yelled at you," she said, kissing each on the forehead. "That was wrong of me." She tightened her arms around their shoulders. She kissed away their tears and reassured they were loved and had done nothing wrong. She was the one at fault. Her sons were young enough they didn't seem to be comfortable with the idea of their mother being wrong, but there were fewer tears now.

"I haven't been very kind this year, have I?" she mused aloud, more to herself than her sons.

"You haven't really been home, mommy," Galadin said. It wasn't said to hurt her, though it did. She'd been off on a campaign of hate and war and hadn't been home much. She'd missed bedtimes and talks about what they were learning and what they were discovering about the world and themselves.

Vereesa held them tighter. She'd tried not to let things affect her sons and she'd thought she'd been successful. She hadn't been, she realized. She kissed their foreheads.

"I am going to fix that. I've been heartsick, boys."

"If you're sick you should see a healer," Giramar said, speaking up for the first time since she'd yelled at them.

Her throat ached and she needed a moment before she could speak. It still came out gravelly. "You are absolutely right," she told him. "And I am going to do just that. So why don't we start this evening over okay? Tell me about what you learned with your teachers?"

They started off quietly but were soon back to their usual boisterous selves. Only then did Vereesa relax a bit. She would spend time with her sons and then... Then she would apologize to the other person she'd hurt today and if it was still availible, she'd take Jaina up on her offer of help.

Chapter Text

Modera studied Jaina as she left the room. Her shoulders hunched more than usual but she was less curled than she had been on the way down here. Proudmoore didn't look torn between bursting into tears or exploding in a pillar of fire either. Modera hadn't asked what it was that Vereesa had actually said to Jaina and while part of her was morbidly curious, it wasn't her business. It probably involved Theramore at some point and possibly Kalecgos. The former was Jaina's big button to push; the wound still hurt and no wonder. The latter was new as something to attack because the couple's relationship had recently evolved. Unsavory things had been said before in hushed whispers but Jaina almost certainly hadn't been sleeping with him then and they hadn't been living together. She was now and feeling all the vulnerability of being not only a public figure but being in a mixed-race relationship. It was a shame Vereesa hadn't managed to find a path out like Proudmoore had; her marriage to Rhonin hadn't been popular with certain corners among either of their people.

Modera waited until Jaina had closed the door behind her before she gleefully turned to the monitoring spells in the room and the hefty crystal which had stored the gathered data. It was damn hard to get the Draenei to expose much of their technology lest they draw the attention of the Legion, but their analytical spells were impressive and they'd been willing to share those at least.

She split the data before she'd stopped Jaina to talk and then afterwards. As it was the easiest to track, the damage analysis spells were the most advanced. Modera rubbed her hands together as she activated an analytical spell and had it run through the recording. In the end she had numbers.

As expected, Jaina's damage-per-second numbers were high. Against a stationary target dummy they were absurd. Good up-time on her casting activity despite Modera trying to trip her up and not only were the individual attacks powerful she seemed to have a solid understanding of synergy between different spells. Modera itched to teach her the more subtle tricks one could use within and even between the schools of magic. Jaina had power to spare which meant she could be deployed well as burst to adjust pressure on a given flank or set down someplace to add sustained firepower-

Modera shook herself out of those thoughts, chuckling to herself. That was a putting the cart before the horse. Leaving thoughts of how to tactically deploy the Grand Magus on a battlefield, she returned to what the data could tell her.

Khadgar had had numbers like these when he'd been at the same point in his life. Antonidas, as wise as he had been, hadn't quite reached these heights. He'd have hit these numbers with some training easily, but he had never been comfortable with war and had politely rebuffed Modera's offers to train beyond the basics. Jaina had seen combat and had the speed and skill of an above-average battlecaster, but she could be truly devastating with coaching and practice. That and she needed to be better taught how to avoid easily followed patterns of movement, how not to get tunnel vision, and how to handle avoiding non-magical projectiles with near-zero or even null magical signatures; in general, all the tricks a more fully trained battle mage knew to avoid getting killed.

The millennia of isolation had a negative effect on Malygos' supporters' ability to fight which was fortunate for the mortal mages and their allies in the red flight. Blues tended to take more time drawing and forming their power, their attacks overwhelming, precise, and utterly devastating once their blows landed. It wasn't that they couldn't use spells considered to be standard in the modern toolkits of the Kirin Tor battle mages, it's just that for whatever reason of training or thought process, they didn't. Fighting dragons who were rusty had saved lives on Modera's side but at the cost of dragon lives.

Kalec's numbers, when she'd finally gotten him down here, were higher than Jaina's here but then the dragon had several thousand years of experience and a veritable ocean of mana to draw upon. The dragon also had a tendency to go for decisive burst damage and solutions that were... non standard to Modera's way of thinking. A few of the truly ruthless blues in the Nexus war who'd managed to reacquaint themselves with war casting, had fought with the same alien cunning. Modera had told Kalec to destroy the target and he had taken almost five seconds to channel and cast, but the dummy had been slagged so quickly Modera's tracking spells hadn't been able to capture what he'd done; they'd shattered under the feedback from attempting to do so. He would be quite useful in counterpoint to-

Once again Modera stopped formulating battle plans and refocused on Jaina's data. She'd begun to suss out how the more experienced mage did her own fireballs and it showed in the graph of damage. She also had stopped spending so much time thinking. Modera grinned. Jaina needed a little bit more practice and she'd be more than fine on the magic side. Getting her out of her own head was good for battlefield awareness when she might not have a front line to shield her.

Modera pursed her lips as she manipulated the projection of data-points, moving the time-bar and scrolling through idly, watching the analysis spell recalculate the data. What Jaina needed was practical experience in not being hit for one thing. That would happen as soon as Modera could drag her out of her office. But for another, she needed to do some larger workings, to push herself. It didn't need to be combat related, but Jaina needed a project. A mage's personal manapool would deepen over time naturally, but it was generally agreed that practice could strengthen a mage further. It would also, Modera hoped, help her understand the depth of her power and become familiar and comfortable with it. And it would keep her sane.

Jaina hadn't had time for personal projects in the last year. The stress outlet and exercise of such projects was also acknowledged in most circles as necessary for healthy, sane mages. Everyone else had them. Even Rhonin had had them. Modera doubted that Jaina had had such time to herself. She'd lost her entire lab and then they'd dumped ruling an entirely new city on her lap. While it was good for keeping her busy it wasn't magical, and Jaina needed that outlet. It was, Modera realized, a failing on everyone else's part not to look out for one of their own.

So Jaina would get homework.

She'd grumble and bellyache, very politely, about how taking personal time wasn't good for the leader of the city. But Like Rhonin and Ansirem before her, she'd realize she needed time for herself. Modera pursed her lips in thought. And if Jaina didn't agree, Modera would sic the dragon on her. It was for her own good and that of everyone else's. Besides, she knew that if Modera gave her a good excuse, pardon, reason, Jaina would jump at the chance to do some study and research. Jaina was, after all, a mage; a burning curiosity came as part of the standard package, Modera thought with a smirk. Modera transferred the data to a smaller storage crystal, put it into a small lined case then slipped it into a pocket. She shut down the system, returned the equipment to their proper places, and left for her own apartments.

Modera's current residence was in one of the quieter parts of the city. She'd lived in just about every district and moved every few years. In this case it wasn't paranoia about her own life, but a general sense that staying in one place in one routine bred complacency.

"Always be moving, Girl," her master had told her. "We need to keep a weather eye on the horizon."

Some things were ever the same; the smell of her personal library and the incense she preferred. She always had a personal library and lab; what mage didn't? But it was good to shift and adjust routines to avoid stagnation. It kept one's mind sharp and young. That advice had been echoed by many beings older than she and it seemed to work. Modera set her staff in the rack on the wall and sat at her desk. She pulled out paper and quill and began to write to an old friend - one of those much older beings, in fact.

Meryl,
Things have become very interesting here in Dalaran and I might have more on that soon but I'm writing to get your read on the state of things elsewhere. I know you've been out and about in the wider world and I'm interested in what you've been seeing. Yes, it's a gut feeling. Yes again. Stop wearing that look I know you're wearing right now. You know I'm usually right.

I've mostly been in Pandaria. Place called Thunder Isle. Insane Titan constructs and would-be gods. Hell of a thing. When you get a chance come back to Dalaran. We can pick a tavern and swap stories.
-M
P.S. I've got a hell of a data set to show you.

She sealed the letter with her mage's mark and then cast a more lengthy spell. The parchment glowed purple then disappeared with an audible pop, entering the mail network. The letter would make it's way to Felstorm, though depending on how close the undead mage was to the network it might take some time to reach him. Meryl had been a human mage once, one of the original human mages trained by the elves during the troll wars. Being dead hadn't really slowed him down much.

Modera drew in a breath then let it out, eyes closed, mind centering. She'd been lax in her vigilance over the rumors and power shifts in the rest of the world. Oh, she'd had a hell of a good reason! Would-be Old Gods and megalomaniacal warlords took precedence. But it seemed things were getting back to a more normal level of chaos as people took the time and space to breathe. She had a lot of work to do still. Modera opened her eyes and got to it.


Jaina returned to her office. She did not want to go back to work, but it was still early in the day and she would not shirk her duties. She felt slightly better anyway. The exercise had helped a little. Hearing that Modera was still committed to Dalaran's neutrality had helped a lot. Modera, Jaina had come to realize, wasn't a warmonger, but she wouldn't back down from a fight either. A bit like Varian, Jaina reflected. She sighed and willed the lights to life.

Jaina sat down at her desk and stared at her blotter. The echoes of what Vereesa had said seemed to linger in the air. Jaina pulled out a piece of blank parchment and wrote to healer Yu-len requesting a meeting at her earliest convenience with a very short reason why. The Pandaren healer had said she was someone Jaina could turn to if she needed and, as much as Jaina wished she didn't need the help, she did. She signed and sealed the letter and felt better for even reaching out. The matter wasn't resolved, nor were her feelings, but she could get through this, too. It would pass. Jaina could put the conflict to the side for now. She drew in a breath and let it out, reaching for the next piece of blank parchment.

Jaina next sent a short missive to the other members of the Council of Six. It was easier to do that and avoid the other, harder letters she needed to send.

"King Wrynn and I spoke on the matter of reintegration this morning. He has his concerns, as we all do, but he understands the Council is working in the best interest of Dalaran. To that end he is supportive of our position and will remain an ally."

Jaina paused and twirled her pen in her hand as she considered what else to add. Lips in a thin line, Jaina began to add to her report.

"Ranger-General Windrunner and I also spoke. She is not pleased with our decision and is very angry. She departed abruptly after what turned into a significant argument over the matter. I feel it would likely be in our best interest if we could finish our planning and networking as soon as we can. It is very likely that word is going to get out sooner than we anticipated or would like."

Jaina signed and sealed the letter, made five copies and then sent the report to the others on the council. Checking the time she saw that Khadgar would get his in a timely manner at least. He might even have news regarding the mood among the Horde mages when the mail exchange with the alternate Draenor happened in a few hours.

Jaina knew there was another letter she needed to write, but... She pulled another blank page close and began to solve another problem first.

"Lady Ysera,
I would welcome any members of your flight who wished to make their roosts on Theramore or in the area. Please remind them that all are welcome so long as they abide peacefully. Thus far the druids have been quite well behaved and I understand that there have been a number of Shamen visiting regularly.

As I said, I wish to keep the area a sanctuary space, however I am at something of a disadvantage. In my role as the Lady of Theramore I no longer have a military force to command and drawing solely upon Alliance troops would be counter to my goals. If there are greens who would be willing to assist and act as peacekeepers and guards I would be most grateful and would be willing to work out some manner of compensation, though I do not know what your people would desire. I have no had an incident yet, but I am not so naive as to think one will never happen. The assistance of any volunteers from the green would be welcome.

I look forward to your reply,
Archmage Jaina Proudmoore"

Finally Jaina was confronted with the larger, looming unknowns. How would the rest of the Alliance react? How would the Horde react? There would be more people who agreed with Vereesa. Jaina twirled her stylus as she stared into the pale void of the blank page before her. Vol'jin had sent a message to her right before the end of the trial. Jaina had kept the note. She retrieved the parchment from within her desk. The paper had been crumpled in her pocket when the fighting had started. Her blood stained a corner. Jaina smoothed the paper out and re-read it.

"I took me some time for me to learn what happened in Dalaran. You used to be a woman of peace; you be that no more. Garrosh scorches the earth and the dead ain't the only victims. You got no blame or hate from me, no matter what you feel toward Garrosh - or the Horde.
We all got our ghosts
-V"

Jaina had sent a return message, thanking him for his understanding. It had been like a sudden break in the stormclouds. The turmoil of wanting everyone to understand her pain, how it warred with the possessive feeling that her pain was hers; suddenly there had been an equilibrium. The relief of the moment had lived until she'd looked down onto the crowd from her self-isolated perch and had seen Kalec leaving. Jaina recalled the jarring impact of the stone under her feet as she ran headlong after the dragon, afraid she would miss him. How he turned and his smile, bright with relief and welcome. Jaina found herself smiling at the memory.

Each moment had contributed to finally reaching out, to finding help. Jaina's eyes found where Vereesa had sat so recently. She sighed. Vereesa would find her way out or she wouldn't. Jaina would endure and move forward. She read the note again.

Vol'jin had been at the trial and had witnessed Theramore's death with all those present. He'd found out what had happened in Dalaran. Khadgar had indicated that, at least among the trolls, it could have been argued the Council's response hadn't been strong enough. Vol'jin might have agreed for all Jaina knew, but he did not blame her for feeling as she did.

What did she feel?

At the trial she had admitted that the Horde was not Garrosh. It was still hard to remember that in some moments, but it was true. Jaina wondered if the same could be felt for the Kirin Tor; if the Kirin Tor was not her, would they come? Would they come if she still held her office? Jaina re-folded the letter and returned it to her desk. She was procrastinating.

Jaina folded her hands and looked at the blank page. She knew she would have to write to Vol'jin and it should be sooner rather than later. Without knowing more about what his people felt though, anything she might say, would ultimately ring hollow. Even if he had expressed understanding

Sighing, she set aside writing to Vol'jin, again, and instead wrote short missives, nearly identical, to Queen Moira and High Priestess Whisperwind. She would eventually need to speak with Genn Greymane, but by then she hoped Anduin would have been able to lay supporting groundwork.

Greymane would hate the council's decision and argue it was a bad idea. He wouldn't be the only one. Tyrande would not be pleased and among the other leaders of the Alliance, after Genn, Jaina expected she would be least amenable to the change in policy in Dalaran. But it was right.

This is right. This is the right thing to do, she thought to herself, repeating it like a mantra.

She'd been the lone voice before, defiantly screaming, her words seemingly lost on the wind. But she had been heard and she did not stand alone now. Anduin stood with her. The Council stood with her. Varian, Light above, stood with her.

Jaina drew in a breath then let it out. What would be, would be, and there was no more sense worrying. She'd done what she could for now. Jaina set aside concerns about reintegration and turned to her other work.

Hours later she was startled from her state of deep focus when a missive suddenly appeared in her inbox. Jaina rubbed her temples and checked the time. The mail exchange from Draenor would not occur for hours yet. She eyed the letter warily, a sudden fist around her heart. Was it word that news had broken ahead of the Council's plans? Varian reconsidering? She considered leaving it a few moments more but avoiding the letter would do nothing.

The fist around her heart eased as she recognized the seal used by the Shado Pan. Yu-len had replied giving Jaina agreeing to a meeting.

"Lady Jaina,
If the situation has become an emergency you are most welcome to come to our monastery immediately. Otherwise I will be available to speak after the fourth afternoon bell today or tomorrow after the ninth morning bell. It saddens me to hear of your recent conflict with one you consider a friend.
Warm Regard,
Yu-len"

She wrote a note back indicating she would come later in the day and sent that off. Jaina rubbed her arms and considered what to do next. There was a knock at the door. Kalec stood there with a quizzical expression that melted into soft concern.

"You're back," she said, rising to greet him. It was a relief to see him home and seemingly well despite dealing with the dangers of Draenor and a treacherous black dragon whelp.

His expression eased and he enfolded her into a hug, kissing her temple. Jaina sighed and leaned into his ouch, fingers winding into the vest her wore.

"How'd it go?" she asked him as she leaned in. He smelled of high winds, the lingering static-y scent of a powerful portal spell and underneath a spicy scent she liked. His arms were warm.

Kalec's arms tightened around her and he nuzzled the side of her head. "Interesting. Are you free for the day? How was the meeting with Varian."

"Mostly. I have an appointment later. Let's go home and you can tell me all about it?"

Jaina took Kalec's arm on the way back home in thoughtful silence. When they arrived, Jaina led him to the couch in the library and sat with her back against his chest, their legs stretched out on the cushions. She didn't really settle until Kalec's arms went around her again.

"So. How'd it go?" she asked.

"Wrathion was very-" he paused looking for the word, "-Wrathion. No one has been injured and he seems honest about his desire to cause ruin to the Shadow Council. Taylor's people love him."

"Really?"

"Mmhm. Apparently he's been using his abilities to shore up palisade walls and make building easier for their architect. Zaliya's builder is practically salivating for a chance to get him into the Shadowmoon Garrison to do more of the same."

"Huh. Seems... beneath him somehow."

"Mmm. He's well provisioned, too. He brought in substantial resources for them to build an Inn. The foundation was laid and they were half-way done with the basic supports when we returned."

"Why? Why help?"

"Convenience I think. He's planning on conducting a war."

Jaina grunted and rolled her eyes. "He better not get Taylor's people killed. They didn't sign up to be his shield against the reprisals of the Shadow Council."

"Mmmhm. Taylor's wary but he's not going to say no to the resources. He strikes me as a pragmatist."

"That is my understanding," Jaina said, sighing. "What did you need to do?"

Kalec explained the magical component of his trip, weaving diagrams in in the air with silvery light. Jaina watched with rapt attention as he explained how he'd disabled the traps.

"That could have been very serious," she mused.

"Very," Kalec agreed. He hesitated and Jaina twisted to look at him.

"Something wrong?"

"Not wrong," he said, rubbing his hands up and down her arms. "He's... Odd. His intellect is well beyond what a whelp his age should have. His abilities are quite strong as well. Not aspect strong, but significant. And-"

"And?"

"And he's not entirely aware he is using some of them."

"That sounds dangerous." Jaina frowned.

"He affects the emotions of those around him," Kalec said. "I..." he dropped his eyes as he trailed off. "I lost my head for a moment. Nearly attacked him out of anger, because he was angry."

"Nearly attacked-" Jaina cut off in shock, eyes wide. Kalecgos was a very gentle soul and was especially kind with children. "Because he was angry?" she frowned.

"The charge of the Black Flight was earth but also inner strength. Emotions. Many were inspiring generals but they were also encouraging muses," Kalec said, the agony of loss deeply underlying his words. "They were fierce warriors themselves but the most powerful black dragons could inspire even the most timid heart to stand tall and strong, to believe in themselves."

"Or inflame anger and rage," Jaina mused, "Or fear and doubt."

Kalec nodded solemnly. "Yes. The black flight was known to be... down to earth if you will forgive the pun. Empathic and caring like the Tauren, but unyielding stone when it was required. But they encouraged us all. In my father's time he knew the best of them to be charismatic leaders... And councilors."

Jaina's eyes widened. "Like Onyxia."

"She was old, powerful and had millennia to learn how to hone her abilities. It was a minor passive effect for most dragons but deathwing's daughter was adept."

"And she became a charismatic manipulator," Jaina said, her voice hardly more than a whisper. She recalled the smell of brimstone in the dragon's lair, the strange sound of flowing, molten rock, the echoing scrape of claws on stone and the oppressive heat. "And Wrathion has this power?"

Kalec nodded. "He doesn't understand what he's doing so he just... leaks emotion like a novice mage might leak their aura. I spoke with his bodyguard and this was the first time he'd inspired rage."

"Is there a guard against such a thing?" Jaina asked. "He could be manipulating everyone around him! Anduin! Kalec, you just left him there?" Jaina turned in his arms, one hand on his chest.

He made a soothing sound and caressed her shoulders and upper arms. "He is not Onyxia, beloved. And Anduin is ever on guard against him, especially since he knows Wrathion keeps secrets and will do as he thinks is best for Azeroth, even at the expense of others. Knowing it is a possibility lessens the effect somewhat. Once I realized what was going on it was easy to brush aside."

"But what if he's manipulating Taylor and the others?"

"It isn't mind control. They could not create what did not already exist in your heart but they could draw it forth. Even Onyxia and her millennia of practice couldn't entirely control Stormwind. You told me Anduin and Bolvar were suspicious of Lady Prestor and that she had to use much stronger, more conventional magic on Varian. This is not the same thing."

"But what checks a power like that?" Jaina frowned but the tension gradually left her shoulders. If Wrathion had the power to alter someone's mind, he have little use for his bodyguards and Anduin wouldn't still be angry with the dragon.

"Empathy," Kalec said, coaxing her back into his arms. "Caring for others. The Old Gods took that from them. Neltharion was many things including daring and sometimes arrogant, but he was also protective, inspiring and loyal. The Old Gods took that and twisted it." He brushed fingers through her hair. "Wrathion is not maddened. A bit obsessive and lacking in trust, but he's not mad. He was upset Anduin is still angry, though he was trying to hide it. He cares very deeply about his Talons. I take that as a good sign for the future if he can honestly care for others beyond their use as pawns." Kalec sighed, long and sad. "Zaliya and Tare had it right. He's a child with more power than he realizes. He thinks like a child and we're all a bit selfish as whelps. I hope I got him thinking more broadly, but now we know this is a power he possesses. We can watch him carefully."

"He managed to make you angry and you almost hurt someone," Jaina said, unhappy.

Kalec kissed her head. He was frowning, his eyes solemn. "Yes but now I know he can do it and I also know he doesn't know how to control it. That's a good guard against it happening again. And now you know and can tell Anduin and Varian and I can tell Alexstrasza." He eased his hands over her arms, soothing her.

She sighed. "I suppose."

"Trust me?"

"I do," she said, leaning back against him.

His expression lightened a little. "I had an odd sense this is something he needs to discover on his own." He shook his head. "A feeling. Unless he starts hurting people I do not think I should interfere."

Jaina sighed. She would tell Anduin and Varian and they could proceed as they liked but Jaina would be wary of manipulation. And she did trust Kalec. "How are Tarecgosa and Zaliya getting along in Draenor?" she asked, changing the topic.

"Well enough," he said. "I got the expected inappropriate questions. Zaliya was pleased to hear the council was pursuing reintegration. It will make the campaign easier I think. How did your meeting with Varian go?"

"Very well! He understands our position and to the extent he can I think he will support us." Jaina smiled. "It was a huge relief. Anduin volunteered to try to start working on Genn's attitude by trying to recruit his daughter. Hopefully that will bear fruit."

"That's good to hear. If that went well, why did you look upset when I found you?"

Jaina sighed, eyes closed in pain. "It's nothing."

"I doubt that," he said, gently tapping his fingers on her arm. "What?"

"I had a fight with Vereesa," Jaina admitted. She shifted in her seat so she could rest her cheek against Kalec's shoulder. Kalec made a sympathetic sound as he drew his fingers through her hair.

"Bad?"

"Very," Jaina said.

"Do you walk to talk about it with me?" he asked.

"Yes and no," she admitted after a long moment.

"Would you feel better speaking with Healer Yu-len?"

"I'm seeing her later today."

"Good." He kissed the top of her head and continued to groom through her hair.

Jaina let him for a long time, the words Vereesa had said ringing forth with new pain as she remembered. She tucked her head under his chin and tried to will them away but they would not.

"She said I was stupid for allowing Alliance military support so close to Orgrimmar. That my people were stupid for following me." Jaina's fingers wound into Kalec's vest. "She blamed me for Rhonin's death and said I'd wasted his gift,"

"I assure you, you have not," Kalec said. "And it was Rhonin's choice which pushed you from danger. I saw it. Everyone at the trial saw him make that decision for the both of you." He kissed the crown of her head. "Perhaps she is angry with her husband."

That would make sense, and logically she knew it did, but it didn't make her feel any better. She played with the tie of his shirt, twisting the fabric around her finger. Kalec silently continued to hold her and wait for whatever else she wished to share.

"I'm lucky to have you."

"And here I was, feeling lucky," Kalec said quietly.

She smiled a little but was aware it didn't reach her eyes. "She was angry I couldn't convince Varian to dismantle the Horde. She said I should have slept with him rather than you."

Kalec's hands stilled for a brief moment then he pulled her closer, his arms firm and warm around her shoulders. He made a sound that was not at all a human croon, but the sentiment was easy to understand. Jaina found she could no longer hold back her tears. They rushed in suddenly and Jaina bawled into Kalec's fine shirt.

"Is that all I will ever been to anyone?" she wondered aloud, "some pedigree broodmare? An old whore spreading her legs for political gains and influence?"

"That is not who you are," Kalec said, "not to your family or the Council."

Jaina snorted. "What family? My father saw me as exactly that. He's dead, anyway. My mother and brother are dead. My cousin barely acknowledges I exist. My family is dead." The words were bitter on her tongue.

His arms tightened around her. "I do not think of you that way," he said and Jaina's stomach roiled, her chest tight with pain. "Anduin and Varian consider you to be family." The sick feeling grew and she pressed her face against his shoulder and cried more.

Eventually her tears, sadness and also shame, slowed. "I did not- I did not mean it as a slight," she said.

"We are not the same as your brother and parents, but we love you just as much."

"More in some cases," Jaina admitted. She sniffed and wiped at her face with a conjured handkerchief.

"You are loved without reservation, Jaina." He resumed stroking over her hair and back. "The council admires you for your skills and knowledge. Your family loves you for who you are."

"Even when I am a shrewish wretch?" Jaina winced as more bitterness fell into her tone. She whined into Kalec's now damp shoulder.

"Even when you are hurt," he corrected.

She sniffed again and lay her head against his shoulder, exhausted. "I thought Vereesa and I were friends," Jaina said into a silence. "I haven't had many close female friends. It was nice to have another. It was nice to have someone since-" she cut herself off as her throat closed up in pain. "So many of my friends died. So many of my family died that day."

"You may not have lost Vereesa's friendship over this, Jaina."

"I fear I never had it to begin with." Jaina took a deep breath in then sighed it out. "What does that say about my judgement?"

She'd intended it as a rhetorical barb aimed at herself, but Kalec answered anyway. "It says that despite everything, you still tried to have an open heart and an open mind. That you were unwilling to let Garrosh take all of your trust in others. I think that is very brave."

Jaina didn't agree but didn't want to argue. Instead she kissed his cheek. "Varian and Anduin have invited us to spend Winterveil with them," she said, changing the topic. "I do have family, no matter what Vereesa says." If the last came out a bit defiant, well, Jaina had always been a bit of a 'contrary bitch' as Modera phrased it. And she did have more people who cares about her, even if there were moments where she felt alone.

"Do you wish to go?" Kalec asked, going with the change in topic. "I've watched the festivities and have been to the public events before, but I haven't celebrated Winter Veil with close friends or family. If you wish to stay here I would be pleased by that. If you wished for us to stay with Varian I would be pleased by that as well. So long as I am with you, I am quite content."

Jaina smiled. "I think I'd prefer going to Stormwind for a few days."

"Then let us do that." He kissed her hair.

"It's coming soon. I need to get them gifts."

"Should I acquire gifts as well?"

"You could," she said, "or you could combine your talents with mine."

"Oh?"

"I was planning on making Varian a protective warding of some kind. Something that could help keep him safe since he likes to go charging into battle like a one-man Vrykul epic. I had some thoughts. Your help would allow me to make something even stronger."

Kalec chuckled. "I would be quite pleased to assist. And Anduin?"

"Perhaps something warm to wear. Or a book. Or a game." Jaina frowned. "I'm not sure what he might like," she added the last in a soft voice. Two years ago she'd have known. Last year... She couldn't even remember what she'd given to him, if she'd given anything.

Kalec tapped her shoulder, drawing her attention. "Don't dwell on last year. I regret not doing more than I did for you."

"In the end you helped me. That is what matters."

"By that token, if I might make a guess, I think Anduin and Varian will be glad for your company more than any regrets from the previous year."

She dipped her head in acknowledgement. "You are correct. So then what do I get?"

"There is still plenty of time to find or make something."

"There is. I'll send Varian a letter saying we accept. I hope most of this-" she gestured, encompassing the whole of Dalaran and the political situation," -is in a more settled state by then. We might have to accelerate our planned schedule if rumors grow and I don't have all the information I want yet. I know Ansirem and Karlain wanted a full week to plan but they're getting only a few days."

"Have you heard from Khadgar?"

"Not yet. I hope I hear something in the mail today. If I had something I could act on, it might help. I don't like not knowing."

"Perhaps I should have flown to his tower?"

Jaina shook her head. "No, you were doing more important things than playing messenger."

"The offer is there if it would help." His fingers went back into her hair, soothing her. "I am here for you."

"I have no right in asking you to do more when you've already had to put up with so much."

"I am here because I wish to be, beloved."

She squeezed her arms around him. "Thank you."

He smiled and twirled the lock of golden hair around his finger. "Did Modera end up finding you or were you able to avoid her again?" He wagged his eyebrows at her.

He was trying to get her to laugh but she wasn't quite there yet. "She did. Walked in right after I had the argument with Vereesa. She had to put suppressors on me, Kalec."

Kalec's eyes widened, fingers dropping the lock of hair.

"The room was covered in ice. I don't even remember casting."

His brows drew together. "You might not have consciously cast something specific. Some volatile things were said."

"I was leaking energy like a novice. Not entirely unlike that black whelp I suppose. Maybe that is why his ability was... concerning. It was embarrassing."

"I can see that," Kalec allowed. "What happened?"

"Modera had me do her tests anyway. I think I did well enough. She really wants me to take more of her advanced lessons."

"Would that be so bad?"

Jaina shrugged. "I don't like using magic like that much. It's necessary, I will readily agree with that, but-" she trailed off.

"Doesn't mean you have to enjoy it. It isn't my favorite part of magic either."

"I do need to learn what she knows, though," Jaina admitted. "I'm of no use to anyone if I'm bleeding out."

Kalec growled and tightened his grip on her again, drawing a small smile from his mate.

"I did feel a tiny bit better. It was a good workout."

"That is something at least. You're in good hands with her. I admit I have been very resistant to her offers. I hope she's not offended."

"I get the sense that if she was, she'd tell you to your face."

Kalec relaxed a bit under her and she leaned up to kiss his jaw.

"I do not wish to be seen as a weapon." He frowned gently.

"Beloved, Modera thinks everything and everyone can be a weapon." She kissed his cheek again. "I would take it as evidence she sees you the no differently than how she sees other archmages in the city."

"A fair point," Kalec said, laughing softly, his expression easing. "Besides, she has me teaching her students which means following her lesson plans. I'm getting her information anyway."

"She's sneaky like that," Jaina said, kissing the end of his nose.

He lifted his hand to her hair and brushed it back behind her ear again. His fingers trailed down her cheek and under her jaw. Jaina shivered under the warm, gentle touch. After the ups and downs of the day, which wasn't even over yet, the loving touch was most welcome. She closed her eyes and leaned into his fingers. She'd been so alone for so long, holding people distant. It had been more severe in the last year but she hadn't realized how much she'd missed the simple act of being held by someone else. Kalec leaned towards her upturned lips. Jaina smiled then returned the gentle kiss.

The door chime sounded.

They broke apart, both sighing in disappointment.

Kalec's forehead rested against hers. "Do you think it's something important?"

"Given the way my day has gone, it probably is." Jaina groaned and got to her feet.

Kalec rose after her. "Hopefully it's just something minor if it's anything at all." He followed her as far as the parlor, taking a seat and picking up one of the books he'd been reading.

Jaina opened the door and the polite greeting she'd been prepared to give evaporated like morning mist. The woman on the other side of the door was not someone Jaina had expected to see so soon.

"Vereesa?"

Chapter Text

Jaina opened the door and the polite greeting she'd been prepared to give evaporated like morning mist. The woman on the other side of the door was not someone Jaina had expected to see so soon.

"Vereesa?"


The Ranger-General had changed her attire from her more standard uniform armor to a soft tunic and breeches. Her silver hair was down but looked a little mussed and her eyes were red.

"I'm sorry," Vereesa said before Jaina could say anything else. "Jaina, I am so sorry."

Jaina took a half step back, wary, and Vereesa's expression fell.

"I'm here to apologize," Vereesa said, drawing herself up as if she were under review. "What I said to you was horrible and I intended it to hurt. That was wrong." She took in a shaky breath and let it stutter out. "You did not deserve any of the awful things I said. I was angry. I've been- I don't-" she shook her head, looking lost.

"Come in," Jaina said, stepping to the side. Whatever was going on, Jaina did not want another public display.

Vereesa stepped in side, shoulders dropping once more. She winced when she saw Kalec standing in the doorway to the parlor. Jaina closed the door behind her then stood with Kalec at her back. Vereesa clasped her hands before her.

"I'm sorry, Jaina. I am so sorry. What I said to you was horrible and I only became worse when I went home. I yelled at my boys, Jaina. I've never done that before." She wiped at an eye. "I screamed at my children and I have missed so much of their lives. I've thought... horrible things. I've said insulting unforgivable things to one of my closest friends."

Vereesa looked up at her. "You offered help once. After what I said it might not be possible, but if it is I would like it. Jaina I can't do this anymore."

The tight fist that had grabbed Jaina's heart eased a little. She put a hand on Vereesa's shoulder. "It's still there. Come with me."

"Go? Now?"

"I was advised not to put something like this off," Jaina told her, voice quiet.

Vereesa fidgeted for a moment then nodded. "I would need someone to watch the boys if we're gone more than a half hour. I have someone there but she'll need to leave."

"I can watch the boys if it would help," Kalec offered.

Vereesa studied him for a moment, glancing between Jaina and Kalec then she squared her shoulders and nodded. "It would, Lord Kalecgos. Thank you."

"Let's go," Jaina said, squaring her own shoulders. She took up her staff and pulled on the long blue cloak Kalec had given her that morning. It seemed like days ago. The trio went to Vereesa's home to explain things to the apprentice who'd been watching the boys and leave Kalec in charge.

With Kalec settled in with the twins, Jaina opened a portal and the two women stepped through to the other side of the world. Snow crunched under their feet and swirled around them. Before them was a huge stone temple, its curved eaves holding early snow. Jaina swept her staff up in an arc, creating an arcane shield which deflected the worst of the wind and snow away from the two as they crossed the distance to the Shado Pan Monastery.

The doors opened at their approach and they we escorted inside by two warriors, one of whom dispatched a staff member to fetch Healer Yu-len with a short message from Jaina. Vereesa shifted her weight as she looked around. Jaina put a hand on her shoulder again. The elf stilled.

"I am sorry. What I said... Jaina, I said it to hurt you and that was wrong of me. I-" she shook her head, changing what she'd been about to say. "I've become someone I do not want to be."

Jaina leaned on her staff and regarded the other woman. "Some part of you feels what you said."

Vereesa grimaced. "Perhaps part of me does," she said frowning as she stared at the intricate decorations on the wall. "You're here. Rhonin isn't. It's harder to be furious with him when he's gone and you're standing right there." She turned to face Jaina. "But despite all the sadness of the last year, I am glad we became friends. That was genuine."

Yu-Len arrived. As usual, the Pandaren Healer wore the dark robes of her order and the bold, brilliant, blue streak in her long dark hair. She was accompanied by another Pandaren, this one a tall gentleman with brownish fur, the same approximate age as Jaina. Both Shado Pan healers had kind smiles for their foreign guests.

"Lady Jaina. Lady Windrunner," Yu-len greeted them with hand clasps. "This is my colleague, Healer Tengfei." The other pandaren bowed to both of them. "Lady Jaina indicated you wished to speak with someone as she had, Lady Windrunner."

"It would be my honor to assist you, Lady Windrunner," Tengfei said, his voice deep and resonant even for a Pandaren. "If you would follow me?"

Vereesa nodded, and did so, casting a backwards glance at Jaina.

"Lady Jaina," Yu-len said. "it's a bit early but I am free now if you wished to speak?"

"If it wouldn't be inconvenient," Jaina said, turning from her view of Vereesa's back.

"Please," Yu-Len said, gesturing for Jaina to follow in the opposite direction.

Yu-len led them down a corridor. In alcoves and rooms with open screens of intricate wood Jaina could see a small group seated in plush cushions or small stools as they read from scrolls or wrote their own. They pushed through some doors and went outside where there was a covered path. Jaina could see groups of pandaren training around another building across a small ravine. In the air cloud serpents in war barding flew in formation with Pandaren on their backs. Intermixed with the Shado Pan were a few other outsiders like Jaina; here and there monks, easy to see because of their dissimilar attire, trained or conversed with the monastery members. Staff, Grummles and Pandaren both, hustled around carrying out the business of the day. Jaina watched it all in fascination as she'd only been to the monastery once to assist in teleporting support to Thunder Isle. That had been a very different time, though it wasn't all that long ago.

Yu-len led her inside another building and into a cozy room with plush couches where there was a pot of tea over the fire. It resembled the Yurt in which Jaina had first spoken with the healer at length. Jaina recognized some of the same furniture as she looked around the office.

"You've moved off the Isle finally, then?"

"I have been rotated back here," she said as she began to prepare two cups of tea. "Healer Zaofi is there currently and she is even more senior than I. Should anyone else require assistance, I have full faith and confidence in her abilities."

"That's good to hear. We're working on trying to regain neutrality so we can enact the exchange plans Archmage Modera has been working on with Taran Zhu and the other senior masters."

"That is also good to hear," Yu-len said as she set the two cups of tea on the table between the two broad seats. "But before we get too far into that topic, why don't we discuss what has brought you here?" She set the pot on a crocheted wool mat beside the cups and took her own seat.

Jaina picked up her mug and let it warm her hands. It was far too hot to drink so she couldn't hide behind the tea and had to speak. "Vereesa and I fought. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say she yelled at me while I tried to get her to see reason. She said several very offensive and hurtful things, then left. I didn't react well. But I got myself together and even got some work done. Sending you a note actually helped me be able to set it aside so I could do my job. She came to me just a bit ago asking for forgiveness and if the offer of help was still available to her even after what she'd said."

"How are you feeling about all of that?" Yu-len asked instead of what Jaina had expected her to ask; what Vereesa had said to her.

"Hurt. Conflicted."

"Would you expand on the conflicted part?"

Jaina sat back in her seat. "Varian agrees with me about reintegration. The council agrees. Kalec does. But Vereesa doesn't and I've relied on her as a supporter and coworker. And there is always the worry that something horrible might happen again."

"Do you think that is likely?"

"Part of me knows it's unlikely. Everyone's on guard against it, and yet..." Her smile was a small, rueful twist. "Vereesa brought up my people. They trusted me and they died. I'm still alive and they are not. I know I should be over this by now, but the doubt keeps coming back."

"Healing is a process. You are not going to get over your fears and the pain of the past immediately. You've made very great strides in learning to live with it. Fear and doubt walk together."

"I understand that here," she said tapping her head. "But in here it's harder," she said bringing the same hand to her heart.

"She said things which attacked your heart directly, didn't she?"

"Yes."

"Do you want to discuss those?"

Jaina shifted in her seat. "I don't know," she answered honestly. "I thought you were going to make me."

"I will never make you say or discuss anything, Lady." She frowned slightly. "I perhaps did not make that as clear as I should have, and for that I apologize if you felt pressured to discuss anything."

Jaina accepted that with a nod and felt some of the tension in her shoulders ease away. "It hurts. I know now that I'll probably feel better after, but retelling the story hurts." She pulled her cloak, the one Kalec had conjured, closer around her shoulders. "Kalec and I were able to talk a little about it. About my reaction."

"You mentioned you hadn't reacted well. Would you tell me a bit more about that?"

Jaina sipped her tea. "I was in a state of shock I think. I was unconsciously summoning ice around me. My office was covered in it. I'm not sure how it works for the Shado Pan but that loss of control is something novice mages might do, not fully trained archmages." Jaina sighed. "It's more dangerous when someone like me does it."

"Like you?"

"A fully trained mage with a lot of power at her disposal. Modera had to put suppressor cuffs on me to snap me out of it."

"That sounds as if it was also a traumatic experience."

"Embarrassing is more accurate," Jaina said. "It's a novice mistake." And Modera was someone she respected.

"The suppressor cuffs didn't bother you?"

"No," Jaina said, shaking her head. "I could have probably powered through them if I'd needed to. As it was, it helped snap me out of it." She sipped her tea again. "What she said still hurts. What Vereesa said, I mean."

"Do you wish to talk about the parts that hurt the most?"

Jaina studied the dark tea in the little ceramic cup. "She made some very personal attacks. Not many people would know to make the comments she did." That was part of the hurt, Jaina realized.

Jaina drew in a breath and let it out slowly, counting to ten as she did so. She looked out of the window at the falling snow. "She said I didn't have family. Kalec and I talked a little about that afterwards. She's right and she's wrong. My direct relations are all gone as well as everyone I loved in Theramore, but I still have Anduin and Varian and Kalec." She drew a finger around the rim of her mug. "The Sparkshines, bless them, have even tried to keep in contact. Their daughter is dead and they still try to care for me." She paused then added, "I think Modera might be a friend." She looked up, the rueful smile back. "It's not a very big list."

"Does it need to be a large list? I know you would prefer those who are lost would be present to fill it out, but aside from that is the length causing the pain?"

"It highlights how many people I've lost," Jaina said. "And-" she paused as another thought wormed its way into her mind.

"And?"

Jaina sipped her tea then looked at her. "I told her personal, private things. I know you're my healer and we would never be in the same position Vereesa and I are, but I don't want this thrown at me again. I haven't even told some of this to Kalec."

"Whatever you say here is confidential. What you choose to share or not share is up to you. Do you think telling me would help me to help you?"

Jaina dropped her eyes to her tea again. "She said that I was discarded in Theramore because no other lord would have me and that my life was barren and sad. " She wiped at her eyes. "Her wording was intentional. I wanted a family of my own growing up. I was obligated to but honestly that part I didn't mind all that much. But it wasn't to be. I told Vereesa once in confidence when we were commiserating and sharing our hate." They'd been drinking to their sorrows late at night after the boys had been put to bed and the world was dark and grim. She wiped at her eye again. "I haven't told anyone else that. Not even the people in Theramore. I mourned what would not be then poured my heart into my city." She'd had to put a wall up and be the strong leader.

Jaina smiled a little. "They became my family; Pained and Tervosh and Kinndy and the rest. I have some still. The Wrynns consider me to be family now and I feel the same way about them. I have Kalec and he has me, too. He doesn't have much family left either; a sister-in-law and some assorted nieces and nephews I know of but they're not very close right now. I haven't met anyone aside from Tarecgosa though...sort of."

"That was a very personal thing for her to attack. I am very proud you were willing to speak with your mate and that you were able to remember you have family still. That is excellent."

"It still hurts."

"Tell me more about that. You said you mourned, why then do you think it might still hurt you so terribly now?"

"I don't know. I don't think about it much."

"Because it hurts?"

"I-" Jaina paused. "Maybe in the beginning when I realized that would be how my life was going to go. But I had so many people to care for and so much work to do and it-" She sighed. "I knew I could make some choices with my life and I could pick what I wanted to commit to doing. I chose to build my city." She smirked to herself. "I liked being independant and I wanted so badly to get the fighting to stop. I wanted that more than anything else, so I threw myself into the work." And why not commit to that? Anything else seemed unlikely. Anything else couldn't be.

Jaina gave the healer a sardonic look. "Fat lot of good that did. Look at me. Where we are now?"

"You are the well respected leader of the Kirin Tor, a survivor of an unimaginably traumatic event, and yet you have bravely chosen to once again embrace a neutral position for your city. You are a woman of experience and talent who was invited to not only rejoin the mages in Dalaran but lead them, who saw that the situation had changed and who was brave enough to suggest that your policies adapt. You have a mate who loves you and those who love you as family even though you are not bound by blood."

Jaina had intended it as another self-directed barb, but like Kalecgos had done, Yu-len pointed out the positive instead. Jaina fell silent for a bit and the healer let her have the time.

"It hurts. All of it. Everything and everyone I have lost. When it's brought up it still hurts." Jaina brushed her hair behind her ear. "It isn't as crippling as it was, but it still hurts."

"Yes.That will ease with time."

"I know!" Jaina growled, then winced. "I'm sorry for snapping."

"Apology accepted. I was stating that not to inform you but to reinforce what you know."

Jaina nodded, head bowed.

"Why do you think Vereesa chose this as her vector of attack?"

"I don't know," Jaina said, glaring at her tea. She'd not really considered it before. "Family is kind of a touchy subject for her," Jaina mused aloud. "Her family was torn apart," Jaina explained. "First by the Lich King. Her sister is the undead queen of the Forsaken because of him. Her other sister Alleria is Light knows where doing Void knows what. If she's even still alive. Vereesa rebuilt her family with Rhonin and now he's dead..." Jaina sighed, closing her eyes. "...because of me, and I'm still here."

Jaina rubbed her eyes as what Vereesa said replayed in her mind. Much of her anger and concern had revolved around the life she'd built with Rhonin and the potential for threats against her sons. "Maybe it's a bit more about her and her lost family than it was about me?"

"It could very well be. It doesn't excuse her attacking you, but you might have been the unfortunate and convenient target for all of her anger."

Jaina frowned. She'd done the same thing to Kalec, Varian, Anduin and others. She could understand it even if the words still hurt.

"Honestly," Jaina said, deciding she did want to talk about this subject, "the thing that shocked me the most was what she said right before she left. Vereesa said I should’ve whored myself to Varian to get him to dismantle the Horde rather than to Kalec."

"That is very offensive," Yu-len agreed, her eyebrows lifted high. "And I can see how that would feel like an especially well sunk dagger given what you have shared with me of your feelings regarding Prince Arthas and the expectations your family had for you."

Jaina wiped at her eyes, surprised to find they were burning wet with emotion. "Kalec said I wasn't seen as a pedigree broodmare or political whore no matter what Vereesa implied. But sometimes I wonder if people actually do think either of those things."

"Does it matter what they think?"

"Makes it harder for me to get things done politically. If they think my allegiance is cheaply bought and sold or if they think less of me because they believe that's how I act, they tend not to be cooperative. It's not very respectful. It's not accurate."Jaina's lip curled into a small sneer. "I've never slept around for influence." In fact the number of people she'd actually bedded was very small, though to hear the tavern gossip she'd seduced half the leaders of the world. "It's an easy way for them to chip away at the influence and respect I've tried very hard to earn. If I protest I'm seen as guilty. If I don't protest I'm seen as guilty. It's less of an issue in some places, but within many human populations it's a weapon against me.

"There isn't much I can do," Jaina said, looking off into the snow again. "As annoying as it is, it's something I can endure. I just didn't expect it from Vereesa."

"She came to you for help and you gave it to her despite your argument," Yu-len said after Jaina had been silent for a long while. "Would you speak about how you felt about that?"

"I was shocked she'd shown up at my door." Jaina pulled the cloak closer. The cloak was a bit warm for the room, but it smelled like Kalec and felt like this magic. "I really didn't want to have to continue to debate with her."

"Any particular reason? You've brought up the debate you had instead of the very hurtful things she said."

Jaina considered that for a long moment "I worry Vereesa could wear me down. I didn't want to hear what she had to say, because I don't want to agree with her. I do not wish to undo all the good things I have going for me," Jaina admitted. "I don't want to lose myself again and I'm afraid I might. I have to hold this position and I don't want to fail again."

"I see." Yu-len smiled and refilled both of their cups. "Then I think it would be most beneficial if we worked out some plans and tactics you would be able to draw on when you're confronted with these feelings the next time."


When Jaina was finished speaking with Yu-len, she was surprised to find Vereesa wasn't ready to return to Dalaran. "I thought you said taking a long time at this sort of thing wasn't healthy?"

"The first time we spoke was a bit longer," Yu-len said as they walked towards the entrance to the monastery. "We have mages among us who can return her home if you'd prefer to go on your own. You are welcome to wait for her if you wish."

"I think maybe I should go and make sure Kalec and the boys are getting on," Jaina said. She bowed to the healer. "Thank you."

"As always, you are quite welcome, Lady."

Jaina left the warm building and stepped into the swirling snow once more. She gathered her magic and teleported back to Dalaran.

She let herself into Vereesa's home wondering what she'd find when she returned. Kalec had plenty of experience with young dragons, but young humanoids would be something else. At least the boys were well beyond the diapers and hourly feeding stage. When she opened the door she was greeted with the sound of Vereesa's sons laughing and chatting a mile a minute. They were very happy sounds. Jaina paused by the door, taking in the scene.

Kalec sat on one side of the Hearthstone board, the twins having teamed up to defeat the dragon. They weren't doing too badly either, but Jaina wasn't sure if it was because Kalec wasn't familiar with the game or because he was letting them win. He smiled at her and made space on the couch for her to sit with him.

"Auntie Jaina!" Giramar shouted running over. He hugged Jaina's legs. "Is mommy coming home?"

"She'll be home in a little bit. Have you been having fun?"

"Yeah!" Giramar said returning to sit with his twin.

Jaina sat beside Kalec and leaned into his side. "Everything okay here?" she asked quietly.

"Had to distract them a little," Kalec said. "We've been playing this game." He played a few cards onto the board. Jaina wasn't an expert but it was a fairly weak play.

Galadin looked up at Kalec with solemn eyes. "You're not very good at this game."

Jaina stifled a laugh and curled up beside him on the couch. She watched them play until Vereesa returned. The boys exploded off the couch, running for their mother and chatting excitedly. Jaina and Kalec quietly packed up the game.

Vereesa looked tired and ragged, her eyes red with dark circles under them. She thanked them both, a bit stilted in her words. Jaina went through the rest of the expected pleasantries as quickly as she could and then escaped into the early night.

Jaina took Kalec's arm, tucking in close to him. They walked in silenced until they were almost home. "It was nice of you to let them win."

"Well for the first few rounds it wasn't intentional," he admitted with a smile. "I've seen people play before but I hadn't tried myself."

"Anduin's quite good," Jaina said. "You know, I've heard about people enhancing their boards with small effects and illusions." She looked up at him, smiling. "Think Anduin might like something like that?"

Kalec shrugged, but smiled. "I think he'd love anything you gave him, but that sounds like a fine idea."

"He's too serious sometimes," Jaina mused, smiling to herself. "Giving him something fun would be good for him. He and Varian both need to take breaks and spend time together." Her smile had become a grin by the time they'd come to their door. "I think that will work," she decided aloud.

"So a ward for Varian and a game for Anduin," Kalec said, as he opened their door. "It occurs to me I should get you something. What would you like?"

Jaina waved a hand as she led the way inside. "You don't need to get me anything."

"Not only do common courtesy and culture dictate otherwise, I would like to get you something," Kalec said, closing the door behind them and gesturing their lights on.

"I don't know," Jaina said. She poked him in the chest. "And what about you? Same cultural conventions and courtesy apply to you as well. What do you want for Winter Veil."

He smiled and pulled her close so he could nuzzle the side of her head. "It isn't something I'd considered before." He nibbled on her ear.

Jaina grinned. "You already have me so think of something else," she said, tilting her head to make his nips and kisses easier.

Kalec chuckled. "I like baked goods?"

Jaina laughed.

Her dragon growled playfully and nuzzled the side of her head again. "How about time."

"Time? You might not have noticed but my name isn't Jainadormi."

Kalec snorted a laugh. "Sometime in the future when things are a bit more settled here in Dalaran, I would very much like to take you away for a little while. No politics. No worldwide crises. Just the two of us sharing time and perhaps some places we find special. I'd like to take you when I go visit the remaining blue communities and perhaps a few other places I like." He kissed the side of her head again.

Jaina sighed and relaxed into his chest. "That would be wonderful." He began to rub her back and she relaxed further as tension she hadn't noticed before began to unwind. "I love that idea. Let's do that." Perhaps they could spend some time together in Theramore. Maybe Jaina would even take him to Kul Tiras. Away from the politics and the hate and the pain. Just for a little while because she still had responsibilities.

"And since I selfishly want you all to myself, time in Stormwind with Varian and Anduin doesn't count."

"Oh, definitely not," Jaina agreed.

"Dinner and planning that ward enchantment by the fire? Maybe some wine?" Kalec suggested.

Jaina moaned into his chest. "That sounds wonderful." She stepped away and tugged on his hand, smiling. "Come on. I have some ideas."


Khadgar grinned as he munched on the last of the pastries he'd brought from Dalaran. Most he'd left with Zaliya and her people at Lunarfall in Shadowmoon, but some he'd brought to the small volunteer staff where he'd set up his tower. He'd had pastries for every meal so far. They'd go bad quickly and it was saving valuable resources! He gestured and spoke a word of power, illuminating the everburning candles in their niches around the room. A second gesture and effort of will sent them aloft to better light his corner of the tower where he was going over detailed data regarded Draenor. In this deep canyon the light was only bright at midday and disappeared quickly. He brushed his hands off on one another then conjured a glass of sparkling wine to wash it down. This was actually going to be far easier than he'd expected! Which meant he'd have ample time to attend to other duties.

"You look happy, Archmage. Why is that so concerning somehow?"

Khadgar looked up from the map suspended in the air and grinned at the Night Elf. "Cordana! Did you miss me?"

"Like a boot to the head, Archmage," the Warden replied.

Khadgar couldn't see her face within the severe visage of her helm, but there was dry amusement in her voice. She was lightening up. A little. Maybe. Probably. Most days, certainly.

"I am merely planning a bit of a trip," Khadgar said as he waved a hand over the map. Glowing lines pulsed and flowed like rivers. "Ley, lines, you see?" he said, gesturing to one of the largest; one which was very close to their location, and the reason he'd built his tower here. "The work is incomplete but young Yrel graciously spoke on our behalf so I could see one of their maps. The local Dranei were a bit wary of sharing the information."

"Why do you want that information, Archmage?" The warden asked, helmeted head tilted suspiciously.

"Mail!"

Cordana regarded him silently for a moment. "Aren't leyline workings dangerous? Can't the worgen do whatever it is you're about to do?" she asked.

"Archmage Zaliya will be here and I will be elsewhere." Places where he was marginally more welcome than she was. "I assure you this is all rather routine," Khadgar said, rolling up the map and placing it back into the tube it had arrived in. He slipped that into a dimensional fold then summoned Atiesh from its own pocket. The staff's weight and power were comfortably familiar in his hand. He began drawing upon the leyline as he stepped down to the center of the room where he'd constructed a power circle.

"And what are you doing and when do we leave?" Cordana asked.

"I will be making this trip alone. There were some rather nasty looking bog creatures out and about this morning. You could scare them off if you get bored. Or I have a number of interesting books," Khadgar said.

He set Atiesh to the side, balanced on it's end, cracked his knuckles then picked the staff up before it fell. He swept the staff into a circle then began to form a weaving. The energy of Draenor was strange and interesting. It felt like an odd echo but he was uncertain if it was due to the still missing Bronze dragon's magic or because he had spent so much time in Outland.

"Alas, Modera's rather strange tastes seem to have infected some of my own library though," Khadgar said with a distracted smile as he reached further into Draenor's arcane rivers and streams. It wasn't as... lively as Azeroth. But then this was a different world in a different era. It was all rather strange. And fascinating! Once Garrosh was captured and the Iron Horde contained, he rather imagined it would be a pleasant research project to compare here with Outland. He could send word to A'dal! The Naaru would likely find this just as fascinating as he did.

"Khagdar!"

"Yes? No need to shout!" Khadgar frowned briefly as he sought the magical threads he'd been looking for with ephemeral questing fingers.

"I've been trying to get your attention," Cordana said, the words coming out in a sigh. "What is it you are doing?"

"Mail."

"So you mentioned. I thought we had mail? You, Archmage Zaliya and the others conjured for nearly three hours."

"We have an exchange coming and going from Shadowmoon and Taylor's garrison. While that is all well and good, Archmage Zaliya and her compatriots have better things to do than open a portal so her workers can toss mail through as fast as they can, twice a day."

"You're opening a permanent portal to Azeroth?" the warden asked, drifting further into her charge's tower.

"No. Not yet at least. That will come in time. For right now I'm moving our mail network's nexus here."

"Why?"

"The leylines are better and this is a more central location. Opening a portal back from here will be easier." And it would shortly become a neutral base, Khadgar thought with a grin. His tower could be a template for future neutral locations elsewhere on the campaign.

"Stand back, please. I haven't ever moved an entire mailing network at once before." He smiled at her and waggled his eyebrows. "I don't think I'll explode but if something should happen, I have a spare set of jumper cables in the top left drawer over there." Kadgar closed his eyes, aligned his magical sight with the Leylines and centered himself

"Khadgar!"

Cordana's startled scolding faded away, drowned out by the roar of the leyline under his tower. Magic flowed like a rushing river. Khadgar only had to, metaphorically, dip his hand into the current. Easier said than done. Like a river, this much magic could wash a mage away, but it was not too difficult a feat for him. Mostly. His bones creaked with their artificial age as he pulled on the leyline. Draenor was wild and untamed and seemed to fight back! A delightful discovery! He wondered if the magic was thus naturally or if Azeroth's immense power was more civil due to the blue dragon flight? He'd have to ask Kalecgos.

Fingers moving he murmured an incantation of stability as he drew up the magic. It felt like drawing up taffy made of electric eels. The leyline firmly in one hand, he reached for the more familiar feel of the mailing network he and Zaliya had constructed. He grabbed the nexus from its residence in Shadowmoon where Zaliya had already released it from its anchoring. The nexus felt like he held a dozen living balloons by the string; a far more pleasant sensation than the living eel of energy in his other hand.

He began the proper incantation to move the nexus and began to tug on that ball of balloon strings, careful not to release any. It was slow work, but not as much as it would have been had he not had the Leyline at hand. Hah! Literally! He'd have to tell Cordana that one. No, she wouldn't get it. Perhaps Modera- no he didn't wish to be tossed off the side of Dalaran again. Ansirem! He'd think it was funny. Perhaps Jaina was once again in a mindset to enjoy humor. The thought lifted his spirits as he drew the nexus to the leyline in his mind's eye.

Khadgar fused the nexus into the new location, melding the powers so that the leyline fed the mailing network. Rolling his shoulders, Khadgar willed the spell to manifest. It hovered in the air before his hands like an intricate cube within a cube within a sphere. He watched as the complex spell construct operated under the new powersource for a moment or two then let it fade back out of visible sight. That was good work if he did say so himself. It'd hold solid and would be easily able to support new extensions.

"Well, that's one chore done. And I think I should expect-" He held up a single finger in the air and winked at Cordana who'd returned to the door. She stared back flatly. Or at least Khadgar imagined that was her expression. The moment lingered and the night elf sighed and resumed her vigil, watching out the doorway.

"That would have been far more impressive if Zaliya had arrived just then," Khadgar said. Which is of course right when the Worgen appeared in a flash of arcane energy and light. His guardian tensed then relaxed on seeing the other mage.

"Delay?" Khadgar asked.

The worgen rolled her eyes. "Minor. Thorne needed me to finish signing some requisition papers. Ready?"

"I am indeed."

"Good because you have three hours before someone comes looking for me to sign more papers," Archmage Zaliya said. "Then I have some important business to attend to further in the valley tomorrow, so I have a planning session for that foray." The worgen went to his desk and made herself at home, pulling out a long scroll from a dimensional fold and kicking up her feet. "Call when you're ready for the new connection," she said, summoning a book.

"Have fun, ladies!" Khadgar said, grinning at his guardian. He waved at her and was gone in a flash before Cordana could get really angry.

Khadgar appeared in the cold and snow of Frostfire then transformed into a raven. It wasn't that he disliked Cordana. He rather enjoyed her company, actually! A bit terse and serious but she was lightening up. Cordana was just doing the job she'd been assigned to do, but he didn't need a babysitter. He'd not needed one in Outland or when he'd fought beside Anduin Lothar. He only looked old; he wasn't into his dotage yet! And with A'dal's assistance he'd even managed to reverse some of the more deleterious effects of Medivh' curse.

The winds here were crisp but carried the faintest hint of sulfur when the wind blew in from the more volcanically active areas. Keeping an eye out for predators of both the natural and unnatural sort, Khadgar flew towards the burgeoning Frostfire garrison. He hoped they wouldn't shoot at him. So far they hadn't, but hatred could run as deeply in the Horde as it could in the Alliance.

But maybe they could stop the flow.

He spiraled down, letting the sentries get a good look at him, then transformed just outside of the range of a spear but within range of a bow. Respectful. Not pushy. He could absolutely be the diplomat Jaina and the rest of the council needed him to be.

The gates opened and the orc guard jerked her chin at him, indicating he should come in side. Grinning, Khadgar did so.

"She's in the main building, Mage," the orc guard said after eyeing Khadgar up and down.

"Thank you!"

Packed snow and gravel crunched under his boots as he trotted towards the largest tent in the Horde Garrison. Those who'd come through the portal with him looked up and tracked his progress. He nodded in greeting when he met their eyes. Some returned to their work, others continued to watch him suspiciously.

Val'ket, a troll mage he was acquainted with fell into step with him part of the way. "Khadgar."

"Good afternoon, Val'ket."

"Temptin' fate again, mon?" the other mage asked, grinning. Snow had collected in his bright green braids and both of their breaths were visible in the cold.

"No more than usual," Khadgar chuckled back. "And if your commander doesn't mind, I'll be connecting this outpost to the mailing network my tower is connected to."

The troll arched and eyebrow. "Oh, really?"

"Well if your commander wants to continue having you use the current system, that is up to her."

"You helped Gerti an' me set it up over here, but we know your boss don' really like de Horde no more. She might take it out of your pale hide."

"I am touched by your concern!" Khadgar said, a dramatic hand over his heart.

"Ha! You ain't good to me if ye be dead, mon. I'm looking out for me."

Khadgar slowed to a halt and the other mage stopped as well, looking at him curiously. This could be an opportunity. Even if Commander Teraka didn't want to further enmesh their network with the Alliance's, he could do something positive here.

"Val'ket the fine line I have been walking with the rest of the council is growing wider, shall we say."

The troll eyed him askance. "Yeah?"

Khadgar nodded. "I spoke with Archmage Proudmoore recently, in fact. We discussed how it might be possible that Frostfire Garrison might see some benefit from us moving the nexus of our network from Shadowmoon to my tower. She commented that leylines flow as they will and the council wouldn't be looking to censure any dashing mages who might be looking to take advantages of the natural arcane topography."

Val'ket eyed him up and now. "Huh," he finally grunted.

"Indeed! She's been most understanding."

"Now you foolin' me."

"No," Khadgar said, shaking his head."What do you think of that?" he asked as the troll joined him.

Val'ket scratched at his beard thoughtfully. "I think dat's interestin' but I'm no fool. I'll be waiting to see which way de wind blows." He waved a hand and walked off.

Khadgar resumed his walk towards the Commander's building. Perhaps this would be harder than he'd anticipated. He was shown into the building and found himself standing across from a pair of living legends.

Durotan was massive even by orcish standards. The chief of the Frostwolves looked up as the mage entered, inclined his head in greeting then returned to the map on the table before him. "Mage," he greeted with a grunt.

"Chief," Khadgar returned the greeting.

His mate, Draka, bared her teeth at him in a greeting challenge from her mate's side. She watched him for a moment longer then began to place markers on the map. They appeared to denote the locations of ogre forces and small scouting bands of Iron Horde. Khadgar had seen the other senior members of Teraka's staff but couldn't find the commander which meant-

"You're back soon," a voice by his shoulder said.

Even expecting it Khadgar jumped a little. Damn she was good. It was fortunate that Teraka hadn't been alive yet when Gul'dan had taken and enslaved Garona or he'd have held control over two living daggers. Then again Gul'dan was alive in this time and place. That was a frightening thought.

"Commander Teraka," Khadgar said, sweeping into a bow.

The orc woman snorted and strode over to join the others around the map. She was utterly average at first glance; average height, average build, nothing remarkable about her. Teraka's skin had a greenish cast, marking her as an orc descended from those who'd first crossed through the dark Portal into Azeroth and not one of the local orcs. Her long, dark hair was plaited into many braids and bound in in a tail. She wore well made dark leathers which made no sound as she moved. The daggers on her belt, even sheathed, emanated a deadly aura. Her daggers were rumored to have been crafted by Wrathion, the self proclaimed prince of the black dragonflight and possible author of the current conflict in this alternate reality.

"What do you want now?" Teraka asked.

"I'm here offer the use of a better mailing network. One that will allow you to better coordinate with your outposts here and with your allies abroad."

She regarded him for a few seconds, her face unreadable. "We have mail."

"You do," Khadgar allowed. "But your system, as ours was, is limited. The Shadowmoon Commander and I recently moved our nexus to make use of the ley line running under the tower I have just finished constructing. I wished to offer you the same mailing protocols used at home."

Teraka's eyes narrowed slightly but nothing else moved. "The price?"

"No price."

Teraka regarded him for a long moment before she crossed her arms. "There's always a price for Alliance help."

Khadgar smiled. This couldn't have been a better opening! "Well, strictly speaking, I'm not exactly offering on behalf of the Alliance."

The Horde commander's eyes narrowed again. "Then who are you offering on behalf of?"

Khadgar opened his mouth to speak then caught himself. He'd promised discretion, after all. He glanced meaningfully at the frostwolf chieftan and his mate and the other staff in the room.

Teraka snorted and waved a hand beckoning Khadgar closer. "Do your privacy spell thing, then," she said. "They can stay."

Nodding Khadgar crafted a privacy veil around the immediate area. "I appreciate that. I am here on behalf of the interests of Azeroth."

"Meaning what?" the rogue demanded.

"My colleagues and I are pursuing changes in policy. Changes which mean we are all less restricted in the sorts of activities we might do."

"Policy changes," Teraka said, looking him up and down. She quirked an eyebrow. "You didn't have problems doing whatever you wanted before."

Which was technically true. "Now it means I have additional support I couldn't count on before."

"What support?"

"That of my peers."

"The Council."

"Among others," Khadgar allowed.

"Why don't I have anything official?"

"Because this decision happened yesterday. Unanimously, I am pleased to add."

The orc's other eyebrow lifted. "Proudmoore's allowing the city to go neutral again since Garrosh is out. Huh."

Well there was certainly nothing wrong between her ears. "I have been asked to be discreet about that information until we've had a chance to make our new policy public."

"What changed?"

"As you have already concluded, the council's problem was with Garrosh Hellscream and his ilk. Given the change in Horde leadership, recent cooperation and the current expeditions here as well as some other factors, we decided it was best for our people to resume our previous stance."

"Unanimously."

"Indeed."

"You didn't answer the question. What changed?"

"This policy is one which was proposed a few weeks ago. Only yesterday were we able to discuss the implications and vote." It really wasn't his place to discuss the full internal details of Dalaran's economy. She would probably figure it was the Trial which wasn't entirely incorrect.

"Telling me isn't discreet."

"Actions speak louder than words and I want you to know the reasons behind my offer. More official communications will come as soon as we settle our own affairs."

She mulled that over for a long moment then nodded. "If this is an Alliance trap I will kill you." She made a shooing motion. "Find Gerti and Val'ket and do what you need to do."

Khadgar blinked, gulped then nodded. "As you say, Commander." He took down the privacy screen and went to go find the other mages.

Khadgar's shiver as he left the warm confines of the commander's hut had nothing to do with the chill wind. Teraka would kill him if it was a trap. Fortunately for him it wasn't a trap, but it didn't make her words any less chilling. Shaking himself he looked around. Frostfire's garrison was growing with the aid of the frostwolves, but Khadgar knew that a conflict with the local Ogres was all but assured. Access to a better network of contact would help but perhaps there could be more done here. But first, he had to make good on his current promise.

Chapter Text

Khadgar's shiver as he left the warm confines of the commander's hut had nothing to do with the chill wind. Teraka would kill him if it was a trap. Fortunately for him it wasn't a trap, but it didn't make her words any less chilling. Shaking himself he looked around. Frostfire's garrison was growing with the aid of the frostwolves, but Khadgar knew that a conflict with the local Ogres was all but assured. Access to a better network of contact would help but perhaps there could be more done here. But first, he had to make good on his current promise.


Khadgar looked around the garrison. Stout palisade walls had been erected and most everyone was clustered around a few small tents, but further amenities were clearly being planned based on the work being done to clear and level ground. There were more tents outside the walls as well so he imagined they would expand the walls at some point. There was a delightful symmetry between the alliance garrison in Shadowmoon and the one here; so similar despite the differences on the surface. But right now he had some work to do, preferably before night fell and Cordana pestered Zaliya into following him here.

He found the two mages who'd been part of the original Horde contingent speaking with another familiar figure. Go'el, once known as Thrall, was conversing with a cluster of people gathered around a large bubbling cauldron. The scent of mulled cider reached Khadgar's nose a moment later, making his mouth water.

"Dere he is now," Va'lket said, noticing Khadgar approach. Go'el turned and smiled in greeting. He picked up one of the mugs from the small camp stool beside the fire, filled it and handed it out towards Khadgar. Most of the others present eyed the human mage cautiously then decided they had other places to be, leaving Go'el, the mages and some of the local orcs who didn't care about humans one way or the other.

The warmth of the mug and the fire was most welcome and the cider even better; spices and fruit mixed together and mulled over a low heat for hours. Khadgar blew on the drink with a touch of frost so it was cool enough to drink.

"Did the commander decide to expand the communication network?" Go'el asked.

Khadgar held up a finger as he drank the entire mug in one go. He sighed and held it out towards the shaman. "Oh Light, that was wonderful. I would love another."

Go'el chuckled and served him a second.

"Commander Teraka did approve of the expansion here," Khadgar said, nodding thanks as he accepted the mug again. He looked across at the Horde mages who'd remained with them. "If you wouldn't mind assisting me we can adjust the connections this evening. We'll be using the same spellwork protocols as used in Azeroth if that'd be acceptable," Khadgar said, looking between the two mages.

Val'ket nodded. He tipped back the last of his mug and unslung his staff from his back. "Ready when you are, mon." He was young but cautious and mellow for a troll male in Khadgar's estimation. His bright green mane in its multitude of braids was pulled back out of his way.

The other mage was a goblin woman with long purple hair currently pinned into an elaborate bun, not a hair out of place. Even abroad in a time and place not her own she'd taken the time to apply makeup and dress well so she looked appropriately impressive. She didn't guzzle the rest of her drink down, but then Gerti Frazzlespark was far too refined a lady for such things as guzzling.

Though Khadgar had heard intriguing rumors of her tavern prowess.

"Let's get it done then," Gerti said. She looked around the walled in portion of the encampment with a critical eye. "We should probably do this outside the walls. Just in case someone bursts into flames again." She wiggled her fingers at Go'el in a little wave and began to walk towards the gates.

"Dat was one time!" Val'ket said, following after her.

Khadgar finished his second mug and thanked Go'el with a nod and small word. The orc looked like he'd wanted to continue the conversation so Khadgar paused.

Go'el's eyes flicked to the other mages then back to Khadgar. "If you would have a moment later, Khadgar I would speak with you."

Ah. Hmm. "If we have the time, certainly," Khadgar allowed. "I wouldn't wish to overstay my welcome here. I know things can get a bit... tense."

Go'el's eyes tightened and he inclined his head. "I understand."

Khadgar smiled and hurried to catch up to the other two mages. When they were outside the palisade walls they found a nice, clear patch of snow and spread out into an equidistant triangle.

"I'm gonna assume you've got someone back at your tower?" Gerti asked as she rolled her shoulders then summoned her staff.

"I do," Khadgar said nodding. "If you will follow my lead?"

The two mages nodded and Khadgar slipped into a light trance to lead the working. He'd never really minded joint workings, finding that he understood his fellow mages much better afterwards. While they could be extremely intimate, for this casting they wouldn't be getting into one another's metaphysical pants this time, he thought with a chuckle. This would be more like being on a rowing team - close but not enmeshed.

Val'ket's power was wild and eager but the mage kept it leashed well. There was always something very primal about the magic of a troll mage, Khadgar thought. Val'ket's arcane signature blazed with surprising intensity for someone so outwardly relaxed.

In contrast to Val'ket, Gerti's magic was precise and orderly at it's core, tending to fuzzy chaos at the edges. She too was fairly powerful, but her magic tasted of the Arcane school most of all.

"If we're ready I'll be bringing in Zaliya at the tower for this," he warned the two mentally, using the connection of the spellwork to carry his thoughts. He felt their wordless assent carried back along the same connection then reached out along the leylines of this Draenor to his tower.

Zaliya's power answered back. Or rather, her power and that of her associate. Khadgar had not known the worgen mage before she'd become host to the spirit of the blue dragon Tarecgosa, but her magic was easy to discern. Worgen had a sense of wild willfulness, an almost ferocious aura in their magic. Zaliya did not favor one of the schools of magic above the other and the lack of a distinct impression from any was a signature all its own.

The spirit of the blue dragon leant her power as well; deep and strong, Khadgar could only guess at how immense her power must have been when she'd had a physical body. Tarecgosa's power was cool and deep like a soothing mountain lake, sparkling with what he could only quantify as joy. Khadgar loved working with Tarecgosa and was finding he felt a kinship with the spectral dragon.

Along with their power came Zaliya's amused mental voice. "Took you long enough.".

Khadgar didn't need to see to feel the smirks from the Horde mages. He chuckled.

"Had to ask permission and then we stopped for some lovely mulled cider."

"Bring some back. Your tower is damp." Zaliya retorted. "We'd better hurry though before Cordana comes looking for you. The path she's worn in the dirt outside is impressive."

Khadgar frowned a bit in concern for his babysitter as the other mages present laughed. He drew their attention to the work at hand. "Yes, well, let's not keep the warden waiting shall we?"

He plunged eager metaphysical fingers into the depths of draenor. Frostfire didn't have the deep arcane leylines other places in the world did, but he didn't need a large one when he had such capable help.

The Horde connections weren't as well established as the Alliance ones due to their location but because of this they were a bit more slippery. He drew on the collective power of the mages in the working to strengthen and solidify those connections. Hopefully none of the mail receptacles would explode. It had happened once and Karlain had never let him forget it. He gave those collected energies to Val'ket to watch while he and Gerti laid out the security spellwork.

Khadgar fed the goblin power while she assembled the warding and spellwork, keeping the key details to herself. While it was possible to intercept mail, it was far harder if one didn't have the key signatures needed to unscramble the protections placed on letters in transit. It was an ingenious design which had its basis in the court intrigues of Queen Azshara and her Highborne and had been modified and modernized over the ages. Mailing portals in ancient places could still work! It was fascinating!

Gerti Frazzlespark was a deft hand at assembling what she needed quickly and efficiently. Khadgar hadn't known her at all before she'd been part of the volunteers to cross over with the initial expedition, but Zaliya respected her work and so did Archmage Spellsong it turned out. It was becoming clear to Khadgar why they held her in esteem despite being aligned with the Horde. Khadgar adjusted his draw upon the distant leyline at her deft direction and hoped that one day the Kirin Tor could count on her power. When her work was done she took the -complicated ball of energy and merged it with the lines Val'ket held. When this was done she pushed the lot in Khadgar's direction.

"If you would be so kind," he sent to Archmage Zaliya. Instantly power surged from his tower, reaching out in his direction. He braced himself and caught the pulse, grunting as the wave slammed into him. "Thanks," he replied, even his mental voice wheezing a bit. The writhing energy did not wish to be out of place so he worked quickly, now the one drawing on the support of his fellow mages as he began the final incantation which would link the two lines together. He breathed a sigh of relief as the spell completed. He felt it ripple outwards along the mailing lines they'd already established.

"Well," Khadgar said along the mental link, grinning at his companions, "that does that."

"And the wards check out," Gerti said as she tapped at the spell with a well-manicured fingernail. The goblin grinned up at him. "I had twenty gold on this not being a trap. Thanks Khadgar!"

"Er- You're welcome Gerti," Khadgar said gravely. "Well I thank you all for your assistance in-" Khadgar paused as something Not Right set his teeth on edge suddenly. The goblin and troll tensed in nearly the same moment. Val'ket recovered first, his eyes narrowed as he began hunting for the source.

"Khadgar?" Zaliya asked, her mental voice distant.

"A moment if you please, Archmage," Khadgar replied as he took looked for the source of the ill feeling. "Something is not quite right."

Mage Frazzlespark called out wordlessly and leveled her staff just as spectral hands rent open the air. Her prismatic shield blocked the volley of shadowy void energy that flew from the hands of the advancing ogre. Around them more portals opened allowing Iron Horde and ogres into the area.

"We're under attack!" Khadgar said just as a rather boulder hit him in the side, knocking him off his feet. Dazed, he lost the connection to the other mages. He managed to bring up a shield around himself before the earth elemental dropped an even larger boulder on his head. The rock impacted on Khadgar's shield sending a jolt through his bones. Khadgar gritted his teeth as he held the shield up under the assault.

Horns sounded from inside the garrison and warriors from the Horde poured forth to engage the enemy. The elemental dropped the rock it was holding onto the shield again and Khadgar grunted as it tried to push the rock through. Suddenly the pressure ceased. The elemental picked up the rock and seemed to consider what it was doing. It backed away from Khadgar, turned towards the largest group of Iron Horde and began to assault them. Khadgar scrambled back to his feet and looked around. It was clear one of the friendly shamen had helped him but which- Go'el!

Khadgar's shield blocked a volley of fireballs from the assaulting warband as he fell back to Go'el's position. He and the other shamen appeared to be regaining control of the enraged elementals being used, but the Orcs with firearms and Ogre mages weren't so easily dissuaded.

Gerti's arcane blasts fell with pinpoint precision as the druids called down power from the skies to burn their enemies. The warriors waded into the fray bellowing war cries which were answered in equal measure by the attacking force. Khadgar unleashed his own volley of energy driving back some of the Ogre mages who needed to construct shielding rather than press their attack. The Commander appeared in between the two men suddenly.

"We're deadlocked. Do you see their commander?" Teraka asked, dark eyes scanning the enemy.

On the far ridge the fearsome howl of the Frostwolf riders could be heard. Word had been sent to them but they were still far away by Khadgar's estimation.

"No," Kadgar said as he began to construct a shield trying to encompass as many allies and as much of the garrison has he could. His working was just in time as the Iron Horde managed to bring a cannon to bear against them. The shell hit the shield and shattered on impact. Khadgar leaned heavily on Atiesh as he continued his channel.

"There!" Val'ket said, sending a lance of fire streaking towards the backline of the advancing enemy forces. Khadgar looked and made out the figure the troll had spotted. An orc clad in dark metal and the bones of so many creatures no skin could be seen. Standing beside them was an ogre mage, apparently taking orders.

"Good eye!" Teraka said, slipping away into the chaos.

Death knights and warriors in plate clashed three to an ogre barbarian while druids and rogues ripped and tore at the enemy. The frostwolves who'd been present joined with war cries of their own, their mounts ripping and tearing to hold the line while their brethren ran in to reinforce the garrison until further reinforcements could arrive. Another shell hit the shielding and Khadgar grunted. He looked behind their backline group and saw grunts were pulling the wounded back to be tended by healers. He could possibly assist with devastating force but that would leave everyone in the garrison unprotected. A second canon rolled out of a warlock's portal and Khadgar narrowed his eyes. The energy had come from near the attacking war-band's leadership but he was uncertain by who- No! There! An ogre in dark robes gestured and a small imp appeared in a spout of green fire. It turned and capered towards the enemy, tossing green fire which stuck to armor and burned.

The two enemies were indeed at a standstill for the moment. Something needed to tip the balance. Khadgar weighed his options then grinned as he saw something the attacking force most certainly did not.

The dragon dove out of the sky like a falcon pursuing a pigeon. She flipped her wings and righted at the last moment speeding just over the heads of the enemy. As she passed, she blew out a curious mixture of arcane energy and actual fire. Her pass completed the dragon sped away, quickly outdistancing the weapons and spells of the attackers. She came around from behind the garrison then landed near Khadgar, the mages and cluster of shamen. The spectral form of the dragon faded away as archmage Zaliya leveled her weapon against the attackers and began to systematically shoot lances of fire at whatever target Gerti was attacking.

Closer to him a figure in a long dark cloak was cutting a swath through the ogres and heading his way. The screaming and disruption within the Iron Horde formed a bow wave before the warden. Death remained in her wake. One unfortunate ogre in mismatched armor stood between Cordana and Khadgar. The warden's weapon sliced off an arm then took both heads in three motions, spattering the snow with blood. The owl-shaped helm had a line of red splashed across the front and the warden's glowing eyes were dangerously narrowed as she sprinted to his side.

"We'll discuss this later," Cordana promised. Khadgar felt it most wise to say nothing in reply.

There was a commotion in the backlines and Khadgar saw the ogre mage was already dead and Commander Teraka was fighting the bone-encrusted orc. Her daggers flashed, sending arcs of bright red blood into the air and to join what was already on the snow. The Orc threw the warlock into the path of those daggers buying herself some time. It wasn't enough. Teraka dodged the warlock and sank her blades into the flesh of the orc commander. The commander staggered, clutching their throat.

Portals opened on the field and the horn of retreat blew. But the warlock had not been the one to cast those portals. Khadgar looked around then saw another figure on a ridge further away. It gestured and the portals closed, blocking off whoever hadn't been fast enough to escape.

The reinforcing Frostwolves swept down on their mounts and the unlucky stragglers were utterly crushed between them and the advancing garrison forces.

The entirety of the battle had perhaps taken five minutes.

Some of the outlying tents had been toppled or set ablaze but the garrison itself stood. The snow was red and wet with hot blood. It was already beginning to re-freeze as the bitter wind picked up. The shamen were soothing the lost looking elementals and sending them away. The wounded began to stagger back behind the walls as everyone took stock of the situation and looked for lingering threats. rangers disappeared into the snow in small groups, looking for stragglers or additional attackers.

Teraka was suddenly there, casually cleaning off her deadly blades. A tauren death knight dragged the remains of the orc who'd been leading the assault closer. Khadgar could now see that the bone had been lashed and bolted to heavy metal plates all over the orc's body. The death knight let the body drop then crouched down to remove the helm. It took some twisting and effort and revealed that the metal plates had been drilled into the orc!

"Blackrock," Draka said as she too crouched by the body. The helm was finally flipped back, an armored faceplate covered by a rylak skull. "Why would they do this to themselves," she wondered aloud. "It's insanity."

"They think it will bring them power and glory," Durotan answered.

"Feh." Draka rose and looked around. "I do not see members of the other Orc clans among the bodies."

"Nor I. They appear to be all Blackrock. This time," Go'el said as he looked around the battlefield. "Those were Bladespire ogres."

"Some of their accursed mages, yes," Durotan said. He eyed the mages present when Gerti audibly 'Harrumphed' at him. "The Bladespire Ogres have long been a problem for the Frostwolves and with the backing of this Iron Horde then have only grown bolder."

"Archmage, we are leaving," Cordana said, interrupting. Rather rudely Khadgar thought.

"In a moment, Cordana," Khadgar said, patting her shoulder. "Is there anything else we can do to assist, Commander?" he asked Teraka.

The orc woman considered a moment then shook her head. "Possibly when we make our final push against the Bladespire's stronghold but right now? No. Go back to giggling in your tower, Khadgar."

The line was delivered with typical dryness but Cordanna practically bristled. Khadgar stuck Atiesh out before her, placing the butt of his staff into the slush at their feet. "My services will be available to you should you need them, Commander."

Teraka nodded then looked over at Archmage Zaliya who was grinning a bit toothily at some of the Frostwolves. The Orcs from Draenor still weren't certain what to make of the worgen.

"Archmage Zaliya."

The worgen looked over, ears perked forward. "Eh?"

Teraka smirked. "The dragon was a bit over the top."

Zaliya shrugged and smirked. "Seemed like a good distraction." She straightened and picked up her staff. "Well. I should return. They weren't attacking us just now, thank the Light, but that doesn't mean they won't sometime soon." She waved a hand. "I was never here."

Teraka snorted. "Of course not. You were eating chocolates in your cozy garrison."

Zaliya's grin got a bit more toothy. "Quite right. Also, because I am not here, you did not hear from me that we've pushed back the Shadowmoon."

Cordana made a strained sound. Khadgar patted her shoulder again.

"Well, if I were aware of such things I might possibly say good riddance," Teraka said, a hand on the hilt of one of her daggers. She nodded subtly to the tall and silent death knight who still stood nearby; the only one not feeling the cold. "Got a few who'd love to see Ner'zhul dead. I wouldn't mind a bit come to think of it. Can't say there'd be any tears if word reached us of his death."

The mage smirked back at her and began to conjure a portal.

"Hey Zal?" Gerti Frazzlespark spoke up, elbow held in one hand as she examined her nails.

"Hmm?" Zaliya finished her cast the the portal hovered in mid-air, leading back to Khadgar's tower.

"Tavro Shimmershield in your camp by chance?" she looked up.

Zaliya smirked. "He is."

Gerti pursed her lips then waved dismissively. "Tell him I said hello." She turned and sashayed off.

Zaliya snorted and looked at Khadgar, gesturing towards the portal.

"I was thinking perhaps I'd stay-"

"We're going," Cordana said. She grabbed Khadgar's upper arm and dragged him towards the portal.

"Cordana! Really-"

"Keep walking, Archmage," she said, shoving him to the portal's field. Suddenly he was back in Zangarmarsh.

"Cordana! Really!" Khadgar said, wresting his arm away.

"My job is to make sure you stay safe!"

"I was perfectly safe!"

"You were in the middle of the Horde garrison!"

"I was! And nothing happend! I was perfectly safe!"

"You were attacked!"

"The Horde garrison was attacked by Bladespire ogres and Iron Horde," Kadgar said. He set Atiesh down and drew himself up. He and Cordana were of a height and he glared at her helmet shrouded eyes. She glared back at him.

"Wow, look at the time. I have important commandeering to do back in Lunarfall," Zaliya said.

Khadgar had entirely forgotten the other archmage. He turned towards her.

Zaliya made 'finger guns' are the pair and winked at Khadgar. "You two have fun." Then she activated her hearthstone and disappeared in a flash with a small 'pop' as air rushed into the space she'd just vacated.

Cordana sputtered.

"Well, shall we have a civil conversation?" Khadgar asked, turning back to the warden.

"You are not to race off unaccompanied, Archmage!"

"I was hardly unaccompanied! Mages Val'ket and Frazzlespark-"

"Are Horde!"

"Are Mages!"

"How can you deal with them! With any of them!"

"They acquitted themselves well when we first came up against the Iron Horde."

"Khadgar!"

"Cordana if you had been with the initial landing you'd have seen that not only are they talented and powerful mages, they are decent people as well."

"A troll and a goblin."

"Yes. And they are here for the same reasons we are. To stop Garrosh. To stop the Iron Horde, the Shadow Council and anyone else who would invade our word."

"You really believe they won't just rally with Hellscream once they catch up to him?"

Khadgar shook his head. "I do not. I know Val'ket lost a lover to Hellscream during his tenure as Warchief. I believe the fallout from what happened in Darnassus only made him hate Garrosh more."

A sharp scoffing sound came out of Cordana's helm.

"It's true. If you took a moment to see these people as potential allies you might find you have more common than you expect!"

Cordana's eyes narrowed dangerously. "And what do you know of the troubles of Azeroth when you have spent years in a ruined version of this place," she said, gesturing around.

Khadgar flinced. That was a well sunk blade. He hadn't intended to neglect his own world, but he'd been required in Outland. A'dal had needed him there and he'd needed the Naaru's guidance. He was stronger now than he'd been in years and Azeroth needed all the strength he could give.

"This world is not the one you knew, Archmage," Cordana continued, unaware of Khadgar's inner thoughts. "There are dangers here that will be surprising and unexpected. The history of this place has changed. This is not Outland." She blew out a long breath, her gauntleted hand tensing on her crescent before it relaxed out. "Let me do my job."

Khadgar took a moment to center himself as well. She had been given orders. She would follow them; she was a Warden and they were all a bit... focused.

"I have a job to do here as well, Cordana," Khadgar said, able to speak in a lower, gentler tone now.

"Your job is to find Garrosh Hellscream so we can drag his sorry carcass back to Azeroth."

"In part," Khadgar said. He gestured for her to accompany him back into the tower. "But I have taken on some additional, oh, call them side quests?" He arched an eyebrow then it dropped. "No. These are important tasks." He grew serious then cast a privacy spell once they were alone in the main room.

"Cordana, there are terrible things out there. I've seen what some of the worst of those things can do to a world. What they did to this world. I will not allow that to happen to Azeroth. To that end I will embrace whatever means or alliances I can to prevent that."

Cordana stared at him for a long moment. "Even the Horde."

"Even our Horde. They have as much to lose as we do."

"I don't like it."

"You don't have to like it. If you wish you can accompany me and be a paranoid shadow as I do what I must, or we can see if your assignment can be changed. But I cannot stop what I am doing here."

"Your council won't like that."

Khadgar smiled. "Oh, I think you might be surprised."


Jaina woke a little after dawn and stretched, but did not wish to get up. Her bed was cozy and warm and she'd stayed up far too late the evening before. Kalec murmured in his sleep as she shifted on the bed. Good food and wine and then designing Varian's gift had helped her to finally relax and to put her worries aside. They'd been able to assemble the ward in a single evening which surprised Jaina and perhaps disappointed her a little. Constructing things was fun, especially with Kalec. She'd had most of the components on hand except for the stone and a few reagents, but she and Kalec had made a quick run to the Nexus and had obtained the missing pieces from there.

Entwining their magic on a more complex and powerful working had left them both breathless and wanting. They hadn't necessarily needed to do so but it was fun. She stretched her arms over her head and grinned to herself. They'd eventually made it to the bedroom, but there had been a stop on the couch in the library. When they'd finally settled down afterwards, Jaina had almost immediately fallen asleep.

An arm slipped around her waist. "Do you need to go?" Kalec asked, voice slurred with sleep.

Jaina eyed her clock. She didn't need to be anywhere just yet and it wouldn't do for her to fall asleep in her meetings. She cast a quick spell, setting an alarm for later, and snuggled back down under the thick covers.

He rumbled contentedly and pulled her closer to him. "Mmmm good." Kalec buried his face in her bosom. She laughed sleepily and drew her fingers through his hair.

"Comfy?"

"Mmhmm," he said, nodding. "Dunno if I've mentioned it recently, but I like these." He rubbed his cheek against her chest.

She snorted a laugh. "Think you mentioned something about it last night."

"Good," he murmured. "I like when you run your fingers through my hair. S'nice."

She continued to do so. "It's pretty." Jaina wound a lock around her fingers then let it slip through. It had an iridescent sheen like his scales. "Do you make it iridescent like your scales on purpose or does it require an effort for it not to do that?" she wondered aloud.

"Hmm?" her sleepy dragon asked, opening an eye and looking up at her from his comfy spot.

"Your hair. Does it look like this intentionally or does it just happen?"

"I can make it longer if you like."

"Oh?" she asked, curious.

He grinned. "Remind me next time I shift. If you like it I'll try to remember to keep doing that." He squeezed his arms around her then relaxed again. "Part intention, part it kinda happens. You get used to a form and you do it."

 

"And the shimmer?"

"I like it," he said. "Bit harder to get it to not do that."

"You rarely wear your horns in this form," she said musing aloud as she drew her nails over his scalp. His eyes shut and he purred in pleasure.

"I don't like drawing that much attention," he said. "And they're not made for this body."

"Oh?"

"M'tall."

"You are," she agreed with a bit of a smirk. They'd needed to get a larger bed in part because of his height. She ran her hands over his broad shoulders. He was quite nice to look at in this form. Kalec said something and drew Jaina's attention back to him. She missed what he said because he'd rolled back into the valley of her breasts again.

"What?"

He moved his head so he wasn't muffled. "I hit my head on doorways."

Jaina laughed. He pouted at her and she soothed the hurt away with gentle petting. "I'm sorry. The image was funny. I imagine it hurts?"

Kalec grimaced and rose up on his elbows. He frowned in concentration and then the horns of his natural form grew out, parting his hair and crowning his head with ice-like bone. The outer set were small and likely easy to manage. The inner set were tall and large, adding to his considerable height.

"It does," he said when he'd finished the partial-transformation. "They're living bone. Knocking them against doorways or ceilings isn't pleasant."

Jaina reached up and Kalec bent his head so she could touch them. They looked like ice or cloudy crystal but were warm to the touch. "The others don't have horns like this," she observed.

"Hm?" he blinked at her, looking up through his lashes.

"Their horns look like bone," she clarified, tracing the spikes to their tip.

"They're not blue dragons," Kalec said. "When we're younger they look like the others. Once we're adults, as we grow in age and power they start to change. They get more pale and start resembling crystal. The exterior layers of the very oldest dragons actually crystallizes. Some of the Elders say it helps accentuate their spellcasting. Mine started to change early but I'm still a ways off before they start to actually crystallize."

"You're powerful." It always crept up on her in small ways. Jaina trailed her fingers through the drape of his hair and wondered at how lucky she was to have him. How lucky they are were. He was powerful but had a very great heart.

He shrugged. "It's a visible sign, yes. But it doesn't happen for every dragon. Tarecgosa's never did." He concentrated again and the horns went away. He shook his hair out and resumed snuggling against her chest. "And if I wear them I couldn't do this comfortably."

Jaina smiled. Her hands went back into his thick hair. "I appreciate not being stabbed."

He grunted a laugh then sighed out long. It was pleasant but a little chilly for sleeping. Jaina pulled the blankets back up to her shoulders. Kalec grunted another laugh from under the blankets now over his head. He crawled up on the bed and pulled her close.. He tucked her head under his chin and wrapped himself around her.

Jaina kissed his collarbone and sighed into his chest. As pleasant as the other way he'd been cuddling her was, she liked this better right now. There was something very soothing about being held close and hugged. In the warm cocoon they'd made of the bedding, Jaina fell asleep.


She woke to the chime of the alarm two hours later, as did Kalec. He grumbled and sat up on one arm, drawing up his magic for a strike.

"No," she said yawning, bumping his hand away. "Don't destroy my clock because you don't want to get up."

He growled and turned back to her, wrapping his arms around her as he buried his face back into her chest.

Jaina stroked down his hair with gentle fingers, smiling at his antics. It was very tempting to just stay here for the rest of the day, but she had too much to do. She tapped the crown of his head. "I need to get up even if you don't."

He growled and nuzzled her breasts. "I can make a compelling argument for you to stay right here." Kalec sounded far more awake than when he'd done this a few hours before.

"Yes you can, but I still should get up." She tapped his head again and he looked up at her. "Last night did you intend to tire me out so I didn't dream?"

He crawled up and braced himself above her, leaning down to kiss her gently. "That occurred to me after the library." He kissed her again. "Before that it was because you looked and smelled and felt so damn good," he admitted, his voice deep and growling. It shivered down to collect at the base of her spine. She gasped as he lightly nipped her shoulder. "But after the couch, yes. That was indeed my sinister plan." He wagged his eyebrows at her before sobering a little "Did it work?"

She reached up and touched his face, drawing her fingertips over his jaw. He leaned into her touch, rubbing his cheek against her palm. "It did," she said. "Thank you."

He smiled, darted in for another kiss then climbed out of bed and stretched, giving her a view of his very fine assets. He turned and walked towards his wardrobe and the view continued to be nice.

"Are you sure I can't tempt you to stay here all day?" he asked, too innocently as he very slowly put on the dark navy robe he'd acquired someplace. It wasn't conjured and it absolutely swallowed Jaina when she wore it.

Jaina sighed and climbed out of bed to get ready for the day. "Not today, unfortunately," she said, heading for the shower. Kalec snagged her fingers as she passed by and pulled her close. The fluffy fabric of the robe felt marvelous against her bare skin. Kalec kissed her, sweetly rather than intending to start something they didn't have time to properly finish.

"Call if you need anything. I'll swing by around lunch," he said, fingers stroking down her arms.

Jaina showered, dressed and hurried to her office, for once arriving when most everyone else did rather than early. She'd just sat down when Modera knocked on her doorframe then sauntered in. She paused, looking around.

"Late morning start?"

"A bit," Jaina said, trying to keep the blush off her cheeks.

" ‘Slept in?' " Modera said, her voice implying a great deal.

Jaina's cheeks blazed. "I was sleeping." She pulled missives from her inbox. "I was up late. Yesterday was... It was difficult but then Kalec and I started working on some Winter Veil gifts. We got wrapped up in the project and ended up working on it until early morning."

"Oh?" Modera asked, interested. She dropped into the chair across from Jaina's desk and leaned back. "Do tell."

Some of the tension in Jaina's shoulders eased a bit. "Varian and Anduin invited us to come for Winter Veil. We made a protective charm for Varian."

"Oh now I really want the lurid details," Modera said, grinning. She gestured for Jaina to go on while she conjured a cup of coffee for them both.

"At the base it's shielding charm that can absorb a great deal of damage and reflect it back. We decided to make it good for both magical and physical. It will transfer the blow into a kinetic blast. That part has to be activated by him, but the rest is passive. He likes to be in the thick of things so something like that being triggered by an attack wouldn't work as well."

"I want the exact details when you're done," Modera said.

"Actually we finished," said. "Kalec helped and between the two of us we devised the structure and imbued the stone we decided to use in one night. It took a lot of energy and several hours but we're finished."

"Oh," Modera frowned a bit. "Too bad. I was actually here to give you homework but perhaps that wasn't a good project for you anyway. Too small."

"Homework?"

"You, Archmage Proudmoore, need something magical to work on."

Jaina blinked at her for a moment, certain she'd misheard. "What?" she waved a hand. "Modera I have far too much to do."

The older mage smirked knowingly. "And none of it is magical in nature. You probably haven't had a good magical project in more than a year. I'm not talking about one-off enchantments. You need to get back into something challenging and a little bit more long term."

"Do you have a spare bronze dragon in your pocket to make that happen?" Jaina said with a bit more bite than she'd intended. But she couldn't just drop vital things and go play in her lab!

"Nope. You need to make time and given you don't have to personally oversee the coming and going on Thunder Isle and you've whipped everyone else into doing their fair share, you should have some time available to you."

"Well we've all just taken on a rather large political project," Jaina reminded her.

"You're picking up something you've been working on for years," Modera corrected, "and the rest of us are picking up the slack there too." She tapped her finger on Jaina's desk. "And when you were practically the only person working on that I bet you gave yourself time for research and study even if you were also running a city."

Jaina's lips compressed into a line. She had given herself time to just read and study. By then her people in Theramore had run like a well oiled machine and everyone had free time.

"Antonidas had personal projects. So did Rhonin and Ansirem. The rest of us do."

"Even you? Or is pestering Archmages into homework one?"

Modera grinned back, not taking offense in the slightest. "Even me! Pestering archmages into additional skillsets and study doesn't take up the entire day, you know. You need something, too. Our governmental situation is going to survive this rough patch and I think you'll find more people are willing to move forward than not, Jaina."

"I have a responsibility to-"

"Yourself.” Modera finished for her. “You need a magical outlet or it's just going to start creeping out on it's own. It's good exercise for your abilities as well." The older archmage crossed her arms, unwavering, and arched an eyebrow. "You do want to get back to having personal projects, don't you?"

She did. Light, how she did. Now that Modera had brought it up it was almost like a thirst. She'd taken time for herself in Theramore but it was a small city in a remote location, not a world-class hub of activity facing a contentious change in policy and population.

"When was the last time you did any research for yourself, Jaina?" Modera asked, tone as uncompromising as her posture.

Jaina folded her hands on her desk and closed her eyes. It had been before her city had died. Likely the very day before Kalec had walked into her parlor with Rhonin's letter.

"Jaina," Modera called, her tone gentle. The other mage's leather armor creaked a little as she sat forward. "You need this to be healthy in the long run. Pick up something old or maybe find something new and make a fresh start. You spend all day, almost every day here. You'll burn out or go insane."

Jaina wanted to take on something. She wanted to get back into the lovely lab she'd just set up and use the wonderful new library she was still assembling. But it seemed so... Shameful to indulge when so many couldn't, when so many relied on her. It would be so nice to do something... And if others had their own projects too...

"Come on," Modera said, grinning. "You know you want to. Don't make me bring the dragon in on my side. You know he'd agree."

Jaina bowed her head, admitting defeat. "Okay, I will adjust my schedule." She looked up at Modera and quirked her lips. "Anything specifically for my homework, Professor?"

Modera grinned. "Something that challenges you! Your pretty dragon can assist in the research part but you need something that pushes your power. You haven't done anything personal in quite some time so whatever it is, pick something challenging." She sniffed imperiously. "And if he isn't caring for himself either send him my way and I'll straighten out his scaly hide."

Jaina laughed. "Okay, okay. I just-" she stopped and looked around. "It just didn't seem right." Her shoulders sagged as she made the admission.

Modera patted her hand as she stood up with her coffee mug. "It's not only right, it's living well."

Jaina gestured to her desk. "I have some things to take care of but I promise I will give it some thought tonight. As long as nothing explodes."

"I will be holding you to that!" Modera said. "Also, day after tomorrow, unless you have a very good excuse, you're going to attend a battlefield awareness exercise."

"I am?"

"You are," Modera assured her. She turned to leave the stopped. "And another quick question. He's not forsaken but do you have any issues with Archmage Meryl Felstorm?"

Jaina frowned. "No, not at all." Her expression softened a little. "Have you heard from him? I do hope he is well." She frowned again. "Or whatever passes for well for him I suppose."

Modera smirked. "Well enough. Said he might be passing through." Modera turned and walked away, calling over her shoulder, "Pick up a project Archmage!" The elder mage turned back to her at the doorway, her eyes sparkling though her expression was grave."Or I will pick one for you." With that threat she was gone.

Chapter Text

Jaina bit her lip as she read over the documents Karlain and Ansirem had sent to her that morning. Their plan was workable but it... She sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose. It would be swift. The council would announce the change to the Kirin Tor's security forces and upper department management and then the rest of the city. It would almost restore the status quo the city had lived with since Rhonin and the sitting council at the time had allowed the Horde in the first time.

Almost but not quite.

Aethas Sunreaver was specifically banned from the city. His people had to be vouched for by a member of the Kirin Tor in good standing. Other persons from the Horde, mage and non-mage, were allowed to return. Most of their businesses and storefronts were still available and those who had been displaced would be guaranteed placement. If the Horde wanted to return at all.

Jaina glared at the blank pages of parchment she'd set aside. With no word from Khadgar she didn't want to speak with Vol'jin. She tapped her fingers on the desk as she looked across to the sitting area.

And she'd not heard from Vereesa yet either. Jaina took a deep breath and let it out. The Silver Covenant would have opinions about all these changes and before they'd been a core component of the city security. The ranks of Kirin Tor Enforcers had grown with the campaign in Thunder isle and Jaina suspected they would be involved in keeping the peace moving forward, but if they were also going to offer reinforcement in Draenor that would split her available power in two directions. Ansirem and Karlain's plan used the Silver Covenant but Jaina wasn't certain if they would be willing to act as they had done in the past. Some of those people and their families might even choose to leave Dalaran entirely.

Jaina rubbed her temples and groaned. If Vereesa could be convinced to be an ally, Jaina thought she might have a reasonable shot at the rest of the Silver Covenant playing nicely. If Vereesa left it would be difficult. She was Rhonin's widow aside from being the leader of the most Anti-horde members of the city's population.

Well. Not anti-Horde so much as anti-blood elf a small part of Jaina reminded her. She looked at the plans again. But the blood elves made up the bulk of the Horde mages and Jaina wasn't certain the orc mages would find much welcome at all either.

If they wanted to come at all.

Her inbox chimed and then a half dozen scrolls popped into the air one after the other. They fell into the basket with soft rustling as they settled. Sighing, Jaina sealed the plans with her notes in her top drawer and went to sort her mail.

She hadn't received a reply from Ysera but there were letters from Draenor bearing the seals from Khadgar and Zaliya. Both had been marked as urgent and the parchment pulsed with glowing light to catch her attention. She opened Khadgar's first.

"Jaina,
I did the mail upgrades we discussed before I left and I am now examining potential locations where we might open more permanent portals. There is one very strong convergence on the island off the coast of the hellfire peninsula. This is the island which is being surveyed by both Alliance and Horde. I almost regretted not setting up my tower there, but the island is apparently crawling with ogre mages making use of the local arcane topography.

This might be an opportunity. I've asked Zaliya to send what she knows and I have included a copy of the ley-map we received from the Draenei.

The Horde garrison was also attacked while I was there. Iron Horde and allied ogres. As I was present, and didn't wish to die myself, I assisted them in repelling the attack. Archmage Zaliya and Warden Cordana might also have made an appearance as I was speaking with Zaliya at the time the attack commenced. But this is all hearsay and there were spells and canon fire and I am an old mage and it could have just been some snow in my eye.

The Horde commander certainly didn't extend her thanks or let us know they're moving against the local ogres to help foul up the Iron Horde supply lines."

Jaina put a hand over her mouth as she read. She was glad Khadgar hadn't been killed in the attack and she even found herself glad that the garrison hadn't been slaughtered, but word of Kirin Tor assistance would get out and then-

Jaina paused as her thoughts caught up to her. She was glad the garrison hadn't been slaughtered. At once her feelings were familiar and strange. Shoving them to the side for the moment, Jaina continued to read.

"There are three senior mages here, Magus Gerti Frazzlespark from the Goblins, Val'ket who is from the Darkspear and another who was not present for the fight - Tygus Dawnlight of the sin'dorei. The two I have managed to speak with thus far are intrigued at the additional resource I might have to assist, but are wary. They did not engage in the more hateful rhetoric but then I did not expect it from these two as they haven't in the past. Dawnlight is another story. He is... not a fan of us.

Commander Teraka wants to know when official word is coming her way. She's a pragmatic orc and would rather see her enemies dead than fight us. I was possibly not as circumspect as I could have been in discussing our policy shift, but actions speak louder than words. Today I think our actions spoke quite clearly.

I did not have an opportunity to speak with the others further but I will endeavor to do so with all haste. While my presence here is tolerated it isn't exactly new. I imagine word of a spectral blue dragon who turns into a worgen and a Warden fighting beside the Horde to defend their own gates will make its way to Orgrimmar quickly. I should note that Cordana was only present because she wished to extract me from the location and killing half a dozen Iron Horde was the more efficient way to do it.

We have exchanged words on this subject but I have not acknowledged to her or the workers here the change in policy. I do hope it will be announced soon as I can feel movement here. There are forces at work and I believe further opportunities to promote our goals will arise shortly.

Should I hear anything else I will let you know.
-Khadgar"

The other pages were the promised documents detailing sparse tactical information and a copy of a leyline map.

Jaina rubbed at her face. Word would almost certainly arrive in Orgrimmar soon and it would be best if she reached out to Vol'jin as quickly as possible. Two senior Horde mages out of three might be the best she'd have to go on given how rumors were likely to spread like wildfire.

Setting Khadgar's message aside she picked up Zaliya's. The contents were shorter and mentioned much of what Jaina had just read in Khadgar's letter.

"Archmage Proudmoore,
While setting up the mailing system the Horde Garrison was attacked. I went to Khadgar's aid and the Warden who'd been babysitting Khadgar tagged along.

Was a bit of a fight but we turned the attackers aside. According to Tarecgosa, they have some pretty powerful warlocks on their side. I'm thinking Shadow Council.

I'm also requesting additional backup and supplies from the Alliance so we can shut down Ner'zhul and the Shadowmoon clan as soon as possible. Some of the Knights of the Ebon Blade have requested they be on the frontlines of the final march. I'm inclined to let them so long as we can ensure they're protected from whatever necromancy might be thrown their way.

Word's gonna get out that the three of us were there at Frostwall. If asked I'll use the same line Khadgar does - working in the interests of Azeroth. I hope it won't cause trouble back home with progress of that policy shift.

We lost two scouts heading deeper into the continent. The Draenei lost more as well. Something is going on over there. I'll keep you informed as I learn more.

-Zaliya.

P.S. Tarecgosa says hello and to give her love to Kalecgos."

Jaina set the letter aside and seriously contemplated conjuring a drink. The next two letters she'd picked up were from Queen Moira and High Priestess Tyrande Whisperwind. A heavy leaden feeling gripped her stomach as she opened the first.

"Archmage Proudmoore,

I would love to speak with you as your convenience. I'm had my secretary include times.
I look forward to speaking with you in Ironforge,

Queen Moira."

"Okay, that one isn't so bad," Jaina said to herself as she read the schedule. She could even speak with Moira this afternoon if she wished. Given the accelerated speed things seemed to want to move in, that wouldn't be such a bad idea.

Tyrande's letter was equally short but the night elf indicated she would be free to speak with Jaina on a schedule that suited her. If Cordana had sent anything, it likely hadn't reached Darnassus yet, but that would change soon.

Jaina sent off missives arranging times. At least here on Azeroth there wasn't a lag in the mailing system. And, if things went peacefully on this island on Draenor, Ashran it was called, then there might be little to no lag to Draenor in the future.

Jaina finally pulled the blank official parchment over. The Iron Horde had forced her hand into contacting the Warchief. Stomach roiling, she got up from her desk and walked outside onto her small balcony.

The wind had been getting colder as fall turned into winter. In the distance she could see the brooding spire of Icecrown. Soon the top would be obscured by clouds heavy with snow. From her vantage point, she could just make out what had been the Horde quarter. The buildings were conspicuous by their lack of light and smoke from active chimneys. Soon they would be active again.

Maybe.

"Jaina?" a polite knock on the door accompanied Vereesa's voice.

Jaina stiffened in surprise then turned. Vereesa was wearing a simple leather tunic and breeches rather than her uniform armor, her hair pulled back into a tail. The dark circles under her eyes stood out against her skin but her eyes were clear.

"Vereesa."

Uncomfortable silence lingered between the two for a moment. Jaina gestured for her to come in and have a seat. Vereesa did so, closing the door behind her. Jaina conjured some tea both to give some normalcy to the meeting as well as to give herself something to do.

Vereesa accepted the tea. "Thank you."

"Welcome back."

Vereesa smiled thinly. "I'm not certain where to start." She tapped her fingers on the mug. "I am sorry for the things I said, Jaina." She rubbed fingers over her temple. "I'm going back to the monastery and I'm taking the boys with me. I think it will be good for all of us. There... there is a lot to go through."

"Oh," Jaina said, uncertain what else she could say. She was glad her friend was being helped but that didn't stop the selfish feeling of abandonment.

Vereesa's smiled sardonically again, unaware of Jaina's thoughts. "It might make things easier for you here with reintegration. I- the plan is not to leave forever. I don't think I could leave this city. It means too much to me and the boys, but we need to be elsewhere for a little while."

Jaina closed her eyes. "I can understand that." She'd only returned to Theramore a handful of times before its regeneration. Even now she'd only been back twice.

"I'll get the help I need at the monastery and I can be with the boys. Rebuild that relationship. I'm leaving good people in charge here though. And I am giving them orders to support you and the Council in whatever you decide is best for the city," Vereesa said, speaking quickly, the words tumbling out before she could edit herself. "My lieutenants will do whatever they need to do to coordinate with the rest of our defenders."

"When are you going?" Jaina asked.

"In a few days. I need to speak with the school and make arrangements for the boys to have some continuation of their learning. I think... I know that we were all hurt but I need to be sure how I was feeling didn't hurt them. But I don't want this to be another disruption, so they'll be getting homework." She smiled and the expression was warmer and softer. "For them we'll be going on something a little like a vacation. We haven't done that in... a long while. I hope that getting to explore new things and a whole new place will help them heal whatever damage I might have done."

"You didn't-"

"Jaina," Vereesa snapped. She winced. "I didn't mean to cause any harm but I fear I have. If I haven't then I am damned lucky and some time in Pandaria won't hurt them. If I have then we can all step onto a healing path." She stared at her mug of tea. "I'm sorry for snapping at you."

"It's okay. I understand," Jaina said, reaching out.

Vereesa looked at her hand then took it, squeezing her fingers briefly before dropping it. "I have a lot to do to get my people squared away. I-" she sighed. "Jaina, I'm sorry I can't be in Dalaran right now."

"I'm sorry too," Jaina said. "But I think this will be good for you and your family in the long run. That's more important. The Council is in agreement on what we must do. You go do what you need to do for yourself and your family."

The High Elf finally gave Jaina a genuine smile. "I'll be back once I know the boys are okay. Once... I've had some time." She set the mug down and looked at her hands, folded in her lap. "The..." she trailed off. When she looked up her eyes were lined with silver. "Jaina they have people who specialize in speaking with children. This is something that can happen to children." Vereesa squared her shoulders abruptly. "Anyway. I'll be gone for a couple weeks. Maybe longer. I won't be out of contact and I'll be able to keep in touch with the city. Before I leave I'll set up a meeting so we can go over the Council's plans and how the Silver Covenant will be helping."

Jaina let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. "Thank you, Vereesa."

Windrunner left shortly thereafter leaving Jaina alone once more with the blank parchment and the letter to Vol'jin still unwritten. Well, if Vereesa could take steps forward then Jaina could take a few more.

Jaina sat down and wrote to the Warchief.

"Warchief Vol'jin,
I did not get to thank you in person for your understanding at the trial in Pandaria; Thank you."

Jaina sat back, finding her hands had begun to shake and her stomach churn once more. She took a deep breath in then let it out at the same count. It was almost a minute before she could continue. But what to say?

Vol'jin had suffered under Garrosh personally. Differently than Jaina had, but he had suffered. His people had suffered. His people who yet lived. Jaina pressed her lips together for a moment, trying to calm herself. Many people had suffered. Baine Bloodhoof had lost a father. Many had disappeared during Garrosh's reign and there were missing spouses and siblings and children. Darnassus had been attacked. And Anduin had nearly died. As she'd nearly died.

Jaina glared at the parchment. She'd been hurt but she was alive. Anduin was alive. There were survivors were still alive despite Garrosh's mad quest for power and tyrannical rule. But now many were suffering on Draenor and that army, that war machine, would come here and hurt more of her people if it could. And if that were not enough who knew what further dangers that loomed in the Great Dark beyond, waiting to catch their world weak and unaware.

She'd told Anduin that she wasn't certain she could convince the Council, but she could control the destiny of her island home. Then the Council had been convinced to pursue this path. She'd done that. Varian had finally agreed with her because of the words of her student.

Jaina could not hunt Garrosh in Draenor, but she could help the ones who could. She could do this and spit in the eye of his plans. She picked up her pen again, her smile feral and sharp as she took more ink.

"As you may have already heard from your Commander in the Alternate Draenor, the Kirin Tor is beginning to enact a shift in policy. Garrosh was the author of the crimes against us. As Garrosh is no longer the Warchief, we have decided, unanimously, to return Dalaran to a place of neutrality."

Jaina shivered as she wrote. Words that had once come easily to her now came as though dragged over hot coals and shards of glass. At least at first. As she wrote, she felt better about taking an active role in spoiling the plans of one who who'd killed so many and who would have killed her too.

"If you are amenable, I would meet with you at a neutral place of your choosing to discuss this matter further. I offer Theramore Isle as one such location, but I leave the choice to you. The Kirin Tor is willing and able to assist the Draenor campaign as we once assisted the Icecrown campaign. I declare to you we are a neutral body once more.

I await your response,
Archmage Proudmoore"

Jaina read over the letter then signed it and sealed it with her mage's mark. She stared at the parchment for a moment, then sent it off into the aether before she could change her mind. The howling voice that screamed in terror faded as she did so. Shivering she sat in her chair, shoulders slumping. It was done. The letter would reach Vol'jin and no doubt would be scrutinized and analyzed, but it was done.

"Jaina?"

She looked up and saw Ansirem at the door. "Are you well?" he asked bushy brows knitting together.

She gestured anemically to the chairs before her. "I spoke with Ranger-General Windrunner."

"Oh," he said sitting down.

"She is going to be leaving the city for awhile with her sons but she has assured me that her people will be supportive of the Council and our plans."

"Well that's a relief!" Ansirem said. "I do feel much better knowing we've got her support and that of the Silver Covenant. So why the long face?"

"I just sent a letter to Vol'jin."

"Ahh," he said, drawing the word out. "Well. That's done then."

Jaina nodded. "Yes."

"Khadgar got more information about what the Horde thinks? What'd he find?"

"Two of the three mages he spoke with were guarded but not outwardly against it. The third wasn't present for the fight."

"Fight?"

Jaina rubbed at her temple. "There was an attack on the Horde garrison while Khadgar was there working on the mailing network as well as gathering information about the mood of the Horde mages. Zaliya was in communication and teleported in to assist in repelling the attack. There was a Warden present as well."

"Oh," Ansirem said, eyes widening. "Oh my." His brows furrowed. "A good thing you spoke with King Wrynn before this."

Jaina nodded in agreement. "Officially our mages both agreed to state they were acting in the best interests of Azeroth. However Khadgar has outright told the Horde commander that he has more resources available to him than before, from the Kirin Tor." Jaina looked off into the distance; she could see the edge of Icecrown if she leaned back a bit. "Vol'jin will hear about what happened soon if he hasn't already. I needed to reach out."

The other mage nodded slowly, thinking through the various trails of logical consequences. He looked up at her, eyes solemn. "Well, the proverbial ball is in his court now," Ansirem said.


The spirits whispered.

Vol'jin drew in a deep breath, inhaling incense, the scent of newly repaired wood, burning coals in the brazier and the faint static scent of an incoming storm.

He exhaled and listened.

The Loa didn't appear before him but he could feel them all the same. Stronger than they'd been in some time; during Hellscream's rule they'd left with his people, then had disappeared entirely before he'd found himself again in Pandaria and had earned their favor.Their voices came with the wind. Change was coming.

Vol'jin chuckled. Change had come already.

Orgrimmar had never been a quiet city, but it had become subdued under Garrosh Hellscream's rule. The hustle and busted of the streets had returned with commerce and rebuilding. His people, his family, was secured. At least for now. Hellscream was still at large but the situation was contained... Wasn't it? He thought it was, but he wasn't privy to everything the Spirits were.

And so Vol'jin listened.

No answers were forthcoming but perhaps there was... anticipation in the air. Anticipation and nothing else. Vol'jin snorted and rose, stretching to his full height. The Spirits would do as they pleased and he would continue to listen and pray they continued to find him worthy enough of their good regard.

He snuffed out his incense and walked down to where his met with his advisors and representatives of the races aligned with the Horde. He nodded at Varok Saurfang who represented the orcs of Orgrimmar. The veteran warrior bared his teeth in a friendly challenge then sipped from a tall stein. Also already present was Aethas Sunreaver standing in for Lor'themar, and an assortment of pages and heralds. The other advisors and representatives would be here soon.

A pile of scrolls awaited him from various parts of Horde territory. One had been pulled out by an assistant. A barrier of energy surrounded the scroll. Aethas Sunreaver's eyes were narrowed as he appeared to be doing some form of detection spell. The parchment swiveled in the air revealing purple wax and the glowing sigil of a stylized eye. A missive from the Kirin Tor.

"You readin' my mail now, mon?" Vol'jin asked as he stepped into the throne room of the Warchief.

"No," Sunreaver replied, tone distracted. "Merely trying to ascertain if this is a trap of some sort."

Changes the winds laughed. Be ready, mon.

Be ready? That was new. "Somehow I don't think that be any kind of trap," Vol'jin said.

Sunreaver's magic dissipated and the scroll lowered to the table. "I haven't detected anything, but still it would be prudent to be cautious, Warchief. The sender of that letter would see us all dead."

The representatives from the Forsaken and Tauren caught the last as they entered the room.

"Something the matter, Warchief?" the Forsaken asked. Gilbert Black had been something of a scoundrel in life and Undeath hadn't entirely changed matters. He was a good sword and straightforward but he was a Forsaken and Vol'jin knew he reported back to Sylvanas regularly. He counted on it.

"Maybe. Maybe not, Gil," Vol'jin replied. He inclined his head to the Tauren representative, Hurin Plainswatcher, a warrior brave from Mulgore who was counted as a trusted voice in Baine's circle. Plainswatcher flicked his ears in acknowledgement and took up his usual spot around the central table and map.

Vol'jin picked up the letter. He couldn't tell which mage had made the mark due to any sort of Arcane affinity but there was at least one mage working with his people to hunt down Garrosh like a dog. Go'el had sent glowing words of Archmage Khadgar's help. The archmage had even assisted his people in moving supplies and materials to the new garrison in the alternate Draenor - a move Vol'jin had only approved of with Go'el's support. Sunreaver wouldn't be this wary of a missive from Khadgar and he was therefore unlikely to be the sender.

Vol'jin broke the seal on the scroll and unfurled it, scanning down to the signature at the bottom. It had not been sent by Khadgar but instead by Archmage Jaina Proudmoore. No wonder Sunreaver eyed the letter as if it were a bomb.

"Warchief Vol'jin,
I did not get to thank you in person for your understanding at the trial in Pandaria; Thank you."

"As you may have already heard from your Commander in the Alternate Draenor, the Kirin Tor is beginning to enact a shift in policy. Garrosh was the author of the crimes against us. As Garrosh is no longer the Warchief, we have decided, unanimously, to return Dalaran to a place of neutrality."

If you are amenable, I would meet with you at a neutral place of your choosing, to discuss this matter further. I offer Theramore Isle as one such location, but I leave the choice to you. The Kirin Tor is willing and able to assist the Draenor campaign as we once assisted the Icecrown campaign. I declare to you we are a neutral body once more.

I await your response,
Archmage Proudmoore"

"Huh," he grunted more to himself than anything. Laughter that was sound but not, whispered around him. Be ready He narrowed his eyes and held up a hand for silence when Sunreaver opened his mouth. The elf subsided.

Be ready but for what? An attack? That didn't seem like Proudmoore's style but then she was a much changed woman. They were all changed.

Change the spirits whispered.

Vol'jin frowned and listened, but i If the spirits had more to say, they weren't ready to tell him yet.

Or maybe he wasn't ready to hear it in their opinion.

He shook his head and looked at his advisors.

"We be hearin' from Draenor today?" He'd not heard from his commander yet, but given Archmage Proudmoore's letter there probably was a communication waiting for him.

"Yes, Warchief," one of the orc assistants spoke up. "Mail came earlier than expected."

Vol'jin gestured and the missives were handed over. On top was the one from Commander Teraka. He read the terse report within, then handed both letters to Saurfang and indicated they both be passed around. Vol'jin scratched blunt nails through his beard as he considered.

Their garrison had been attacked and the attack repelled. Teraka noted the presence of the two Kirin Tor archmages and, to everyone's surprise, a Night Elf Warden, had likely been the reason their casualties were injuries only - their unexpected disruption had given the commander a window in which to kill the Iron Horde commanding the attack. Teraka also had mentioned Khadgar spoke of a "shift in policy" and her mages had been queried by the Archmage for their opinions.

The Kirin Tor hadn't needed to involve itself but Khadgar had made it a point to work with both sides when they'd all been laying siege to the Dark Portal. On the other side of the portal he'd worked with both groups as well. From what Vol'jin knew of the human, he largely did whatever it was he wanted- a maverick even among mages. If Proudmoore's letter was to be believed, then their organization was moving back into line with Khadgar's actions thus far.

Once the letter had been passed around, Vol'jin set it down on the center table beside the map of Kalimdor. The original Theramore had been crudely scraped away by Garrosh's knife at some point in the past. A replacement had been stitched back into place now bearing not the military markers of the harbor and keep, but a sigil that stood for a world tree. Druids from both his people and from the Tauren had confirmed the sudden appearance of the massive tree which would only grow larger as time passed.

Changes come. Be ready.

"What do you think, Warchief?" Saurfang asked, drawing Vol'jin's attention.

"Neutral," Sunreaver said, sounding a bit lost, his gaze distant.

"I'm still thinkin'," Vol'jin said as he took the throne and reclined back. The others took their own seats around him, settling in for the discussion.

"You can't think you're going to go to meet Her," Sunreaver asked, seemingly waking up from his internal thoughts.

"I might," Vol'jin said.

"But what she did-" Sunreaver's mouth snapped shut when Vol'jin held up a hand.

"What she did was react to an attack on her friends and allies. You could be dead, mon. But you live an' many others. De Council blames you, don't dey?"

"Many of my people are dead!" Sunreaver snapped back, avoiding the question. "Killed by her pet rangers of the Silver Covenant."

"No one's deny'n that fact. All of her people be dead. Dat be a fact too. And what I also see is a fact is this mage, Khadgar, helpin' to clean up the mess Garrosh made, de mess we have to deal wit'."

"Theramore," Saurfang said, drawing attention to him. The orc crossed his massive arms and tapped his fingers thoughtfully. "If you're going to meet with her, meet with her there. She's not going to blow up her own island again, and she won't harm a world tree. Darnassus and the Cenarion Circle would destroy her even if she were inclined to do such a thing."

"Has anyone actually tested this so-called sanctuary space she has declared?" Sunreaver asked, a bit more subdued than he'd been a moment ago.

"Yes," Hurin spoke up. "I've been there."

The gathering turned their attention to the Tauren warrior. "The High Chieftain has been there as well," Hurin added. "I accompanied him, Archdruid Runetotem and my sister Kaleetha who represented our shamen in the Earthen Ring."

Vol'jin gestured for the tauren to continue speaking. Hurin did not speak often and some thought him slow, but Vol'jin knew the brave noted everything. He had the watchful eyes of a guardian. Like his father, Baine did not keep useless people in his retinue.

"It is small as such things go, but it grows. Already it is as tall as the tower that once stood there. No one bothered myself or the high chieftain even though we are not part of the Earthen Ring or the Cenarion Circle."

"What is the military power like there?" the forsaken asked.

Hurin shrugged massive shoulders. "None I could see. Some tents and temporary accommodations but nothing has been done to rebuild the walls."

"Yet," the forsaken spoke up again.

Hurin shrugged. "There isn't a reason to fight and even if anyone did, there are the dragons."

"Dragons," Vol'jin prompted. Proudmoore had been kissing the former Blue aspect at the trial and rumor placed the dragon in Dalaran as of late, so perhaps his people?

"I only ever saw one or two at once, but there were more than two," Hurin said. "One was always sleeping near the tree. Big wyrms from the green flight. I couldn't tell you how many are actually in the area."

Saurfang snorted but made no comment. Vol'jin could understand his meaning easily enough; few would be stupid enough to pick a fight around a Word Tree when it was just the Cenarion Circle who might take offense, but almost no one would be insane enough to pick a fight with a flock of green dragons, too.

Vol'jin considered the map and the colored spot of green on the island of Theramore. "Seems to me," the warchief said, drawing the attention of his advisors, "dat dere be no harm in hearin' what de woman has to say. And if dere's a world tree in me own backyard I should go pay respects to the loa dere."

Saurfang smirked. "Seems reasonable, Warchief. And if her offer is made in good faith, I can think of a number of ways we can get more resources to our Garrison using Kirin Tor help." He flicked out a massive hand and grinned another friendly challenge art Sunreaver. "Mages are good for tables and doors, eh?"

Sunreaver scowled at him and rubbed his arm. "I will be bringing this to Lor'themar," he said.

Lor'themar and Grand Magister Rommath would hear of it too, no doubt, Vol'jin thought. He nodded at the elf.

"Well dat's one matter settled. What's next?"

Chapter Text

Jaina stepped out of the portal near a small pool of water in a secluded area of Ironforge. The city was just on the edge of being uncomfortably warm. She called on her frost magics to chill the air around her as it wouldn't do for her to arrive a sweaty mess. Ironforge was busy. Members of all races of the Alliance did brisk business at the auction house and at the shops in the outer ring. In the heart of the city was the great forge where the artisans of the Dwarves crafted new weapons, armor and devices. She also saw crafting of less martial use; plows, wrenches, hammers, and saws.

As she was expected, the dwarves showed her to Queen Moira directly. After passing through the Great Forge, she was taken to hall off the formal area where the Council of Hammers met. This area was less ostentatiously lavish but it was no less well made. Here was where business of running the dwarven kingdoms was actually done. The stonework here was a bit more worn where generations of hands had rubbed over sharp angles. A small fire and rich tapestries embroidered with the crests of the dwarven clans added cheerful warmth to the rooms. The scale was less grand than the halls and caverns outside, but still large enough even a Draenei would not have had to duck. The furniture too was built to accommodate many races with chairs built to scale for Gnomes, Dwarves and Humans.

Queen Moira had a suite of offices to one side, her area draped with the Dark Iron crests and heraldry. Though she'd been born a Bronzebeard, it was clear where her heart lay. Most of her staff were Dark Iron dwarves but many went about their days with less dour expressions than Jaina had beheld in the past. The Bronzebeards and Wildhammers present worked with them and at least outwardly they were doing so well.

"If you'll just wait a moment," Queen Moira's assistant said. "Can I get ye anythin'? Ale? Water?"

"I am just fine, thank you," Jaina said to the woman.

"Holler if ye need something, Archmage," the Dark Iron said before departing.

Jaina looked around. She'd not been in this office before and the parallels between Moira's and Varian's were both comforting and amusing. It was obviously a working office given the items on the desk and the wear. From her seat, Jaina could just see a small portrait of Moira's son in traditional paints and a newer photograph of the two graced the queen's desk.

There were also pictures hung on the wall done in crayon, no doubt by the queen's young son. Jaina wasn't certain what all was depicted but there were bright and happy drawings with smiling people and smiling suns and smiling forges? One picture seemed to show someone playing with a very cheerful flame elemental. Jaina wasn't certain if it was the young prince playing with Ragnaros or if it depicted something else.The mental image of Ragnaros smiling was amusing, but given the Dark Iron's history of slavery under the Firelord, Jaina soon sobered into mild confusion over the drawing.

"Lady Jaina," Moira said as she entered the room from a side door. "Sorry fer th' wait," she said.

"I was hardly waiting. I thank you for taking the time, your Highness," Jaina said as she rose to her feet and greeted the queen.

Moira took the seat across from Jaina. "I was glad when you contacted me after we spoke in Stormwind just before the Draenor garrison reinforcements were sent over, but this is official business and not a social call I gather."

"I'm afraid it is business," Jaina said, a bit surprised that the queen seemed disappointed it wasn't a social call. "I'm coming on behalf of Dalaran to inform you of a change in our policy."

"Oh?" Moira asked, arching an eyebrow.

"The Council has decided we will readmit the Horde."

Moira froze entirely for a moment, suddenly as still as the stone constructs the Dwarves were supposedly evolved from. Jaina felt certain she'd shocked the queen.

"Dalaran is readmitting the Horde."

Jaina nodded. "Yes. I am informing our allies as a courtesy and through you I am speaking to your own Council. Word has not yet broken in Dalaran but it will soon."

Moira got up and went to a cupboard on the side, pulling out a small bottle of golden liquid Jaina was certain was mead. "May I ask what the vote was in the end?" Moira asked casually. She offered Jaina a glass.

Jaina was about to pass but then decided that it would be rude. "The vote was unanimous," she said, accepting the glass.

Moira blinked at her. "Unanimous."

Jaina nodded. "It is what is best for the city." And for Azeroth, she mentally added the last.

The queen knocked back her drink in one gulp then poured herself another. "Of all th' things you could have brought today, this didn't even cross my mind, Archmage," Moira said as she retook her seat.

Jaina sipped the drink. It was sweet, almost too sweet, and it had a kick. It settled in her stomach, golden and warm like a drop of pure summer. She stared at the glass in mild surprise.

"Well, Varian's going to have opinions."

"I spoke with him already, actually. He was quite calm. He had concerns, many of which are shared by the Council, but he understood the Council acts in the best interest of Dalaran."

Moira grunted. "Huh. Genn's gonna have puppies."

Jaina suppressed a smile. The Queen's assessment wasn't inaccurate. "I imagine he will have the most to say about this change."

"Y'speak with Tyrande yet?"

"She's next."

"That'll be interestin'." Moira nodded and sipped her drink. "Well, Dalaran is a sovereign state and you will do what you must for th' good of your own people. We'll be posting more guards on our end o' the portals, and I think we'll formally ask for Dwarvish mages to stand on your end too, because we have to do what we must. Bit blunt but there ye are. Security aside, I'll tell ye' what, it will be nice to have that avenue o' trade again."

The comment about stationing dwarf mages on both sides stung her pride a bit, but it wasn't an entirely unfounded concern. She could appreciate both the concern and the warning how the dwarves wanted to handle things. Varian hadn't stated such concerns but she would not be surprised in the least if he insisted on similar measures. And it might not be that bad an idea, either. "That is a sentiment I hope will be shared by many when this becomes public knowledge," Jaina said instead of the other thoughts she had.

Moira nodded. "Aye. Y'heard more from the Draenor front?"

Surprised, Jaina arched an eyebrow as she answered. "There was an attack on the Horde garrison by the Iron Horde and their ogre allies. The Lunarfall garrison is on guard for a similar attack on their location."

"Casualties?"

"Minimal injures on the side of our Horde. The attackers were routed, their commander slain by the Horde Garrison commander as I understand it."

"And how did you come by this knowledge?" Moira asked. "We've hardly heard a word from the other side from our own people let alone Vol'jin's lot."

Jaina considered for a moment then decided that it would not benefit her to obfuscate matters. "Archmage Khadgar was attending to items of logistical importance in the area of Frostfire. In the interest of not dying he helped to repel the attack."

"An forced your hand on this, I wager?"

"Just the timeline," Jaina admitted.

Moira's eyebrows shot towards her hairline. "Aye?"

Jaina nodded. "We were moving forward but this has accelerated things."

Moira sipped her drink then studied her over the rim of her glass. "Setting all official titles aside and speaking personally and off th' record, how are you feelin' about this?"

Jaina huffed out a short laugh. "I was the one who brought the matter up to the council for a vote."

"Aye?"

Jaina nodded again. "It is what is best of Dalaran."

"An' I bet being able to support everyone hunting Garrosh doesn't hurt."

Jaina found her smile becoming sharper and she let it, uncaring in the moment if her diplomatic mask slipped. "That is certainly a benefit."

"So we'll be gettin' support like at Icecrown an' when we fought Deathwing."

"That is one of our goals," Jaina said. She sipped her drink.

"Good." Moira nodded. "And may we all see Garrosh Hellscream's end." She lifted her drink to Jaina.

Jaina lifted hers, returning the salute. The two reached across and clinked glasses then drank to the death of Garrosh Hellscream.

"This is remarkable," Jaina said, lifting the drink to indicate it was the topic of her comment.

"It is! Let me send you home with a bottle. Tis fine stuff. Bit on the strong side."

"Thank you. It's strong but I imagine I can stand a bit here and there." She smiled. "Kalec is fond of sweet things and I've yet to see him actually become inebriated. I think he'll probably enjoy it too."

"He treatin' you well? Your dragon?"

Jaina smiled. "Quite well. He's very kind."

"Good." Moira said firmly. "How's he gettin' on with the mages?"

"It's been harder for others in Dalaran to accept a blue dragon after all the violence and loss. I think Kalec is winning them over bit by bit. He assists Archmage Modera with some of her classes and has joined the other Archmages in the civic duty rotations." Jaina sighed. "I have considered what might happen if more blue dragons were to show up. I would not mind, but I fear others would continue to be intolerant. Given we're already going to be looking at bringing in the Horde again I'd rather not push things in too many directions."

"If you don't mind me speaking on the topic. I've had occasion to learn a thing or two here in Ironforge."

"I would welcome any advice from what you've learned."

"The Dark Irons didn't trust me in the beginning. Said all sorts of uncomplimentary things about my husband taking a 'foreign bride' as if I wasn't a dwarf." Moira snorted and rolled her eyes. "But my husband was a Dark Iron and my child would be a Dark Iron and I was their Queen. So I embraced them wholeheartedly." She shrugged. "Hasn't been easy but it has become easier."

Jaina smiled. "Kalec's trying to do the same in embracing how we live in Dalaran. He wishes to fit in. I think it helps he was somewhat familiar with the other races already."

"And you with the dragons? Have you been able to fit in?" Moira asked. "He is a leader among them isn't he?"

Jaina looked up from her drink in surprise. "I like to think I'm somewhat more familiar with them now than I was." She considered. "But it wouldn't hurt for me to make sure I'm doing all I should be. The blues are... somewhat dispersed at the moment, but even so."

Moira nodded approvingly. "As for the rest, the way you might bring ''em over t'your way 'o thinkin' is to make it a familiar situation to see them around, to create opportunities to build trust. Hasn't been easy bringing the Dark Irons here. Lots of bad blood on all sides. But Dark Irons deserve to be here just as much as anyone else. We're kin. But all sides needed to feel it. Oh, we knew it intellectually but to feel it is somethin' else."

Jaina nodded, thinking. They were all mages after a fashion. Seeing Kalec acting as another archmage would be good, but Moira was correct; she needed to embrace his ways as well.


The Queen walked with Jaina back to where she might create a portal without disturbing anyone or be disturbed. It was close to where her son attended school with other sons and daughters of Ironforge. Prince though he might be, Moira had placed her child among the rest of his age-mates. Jaina felt glad for the boy as it sounded like he enjoyed the experience and was quite popular among his friends - of all the clans. Jaina rather suspected that was a strategic choice as the schools in Ironforge were newly integrated between the clans.

The mead had worked its way into her system and Jaina felt pleasantly warm with just the edge of floaty. It was far stronger than she'd expected and she probably shouldn't have had that second glass, but it had been... cathartic to drink to the death of Hellscream and also to turn the more formal meeting into a less formal one.

"Winter break is coming for th' boy's schooling," Moira said.

"He's excited for Winterveil I imagine?"

"Oh, aye. Keeps looking for his gifts, the scamp. Nearly found some too. Donna have clue how he managed it but I caught him right as he got to the trunk they'd been locked in." Moira shook her head fondly. "Had 'em moved to a vault in th' bank to keep him out!"

Jaina laughed. "Oh my. I suppose if he managed to find his way into the bank there would be larger concerns than him ruining the surprise."

"My thoughts exactly, Archmage," Moira said with a grin.

What she was about to say was cut off by a ruckus ahead. Alarmed shouting collected a crowd on the far side of the open plaza. Jaina and Moira hurried forward as a gout of flame erupted over the heads of the gathered people. Moira's attendant pushed aside the crowd which parted once they realized who had arrived.

Prince Dagran was in front of the school with some of his classmates. They were all cheering on what at first looked like a small dog. It took Jaina a moment to realize that what she was seeing was some sort of fire elemental which had taken on the appearance of a dog. It looked like a corgi. It certainly played like a dog... mostly. Currently it was dancing on it's hind legs for the prince who held out a bit of wood like a treat. He tossed the stick and the dog jumped for it. The wood burst into flames as the elemental crunched it down.

"Mum!" The prince raced across to his mother skidding to a stop when he caught sight of Jaina. He bowed. "Lady Proudmoore."

"Prince Dagran," Jaina said, returning the bow with a nod.

"Mum!"

"What is this?"

"He followed me home! Can I keep him? Please?"

Moria looked at her son for a long moment, blinking.

"I think, if you would not mind, I'll take my leave, Queen Moira," Jaina said, doing her utmost best to keep the smile off her face. The little fire corgi sat on its rear, it's tongue lolling from one side in a good approximation of a panting dog.

Moira waved her off distractedly and Jaina made good her escape.


Darnassus was in many ways a direct contrast to Ironforge. It was a contrast of architecture and environment to begin with; where Ironforge was stone and earth, Darnassus was wood and nature. Where Ironforge was warmth, bustle and noise, Darnassus was cool, calm and quiet. Even though it was one of the great capitals of the Alliance and there was a bustling economy, the pace was not as frantic as in Ironforge. Perhaps it was because the Night Elves had spent so many millennia as immortal creatures - why hurry when you have all the time in the world?

It was also, she thought with some amusement, well before evening. While many night elves had turned to a more diurnal schedule, especially in Darnassus, the majority of the population still preferred to be awake at night under Elune's light. Fortunately for Jaina, Tyrande graciously accommodated her daywalking allies.

The Temple of Elune was quiet during the day with only a few people up and about tending to the gardens or supplicants who might be awake. The acolyte who led Jaina to Tyrande was unusual because she appeared to be quite young, perhaps Anduin's age. The Night Elves had few children and the presence of someone clearly not an adult was notable. The young woman was apparently unused to being up at this hour and stifled a yawn as she led Jaina through the gardens. Jaina thanked her and tried to hide the amused smile when she left in a sleepy trudge.

High Priestess Tyrande Whisperwind was perched on a bench with a simple cushion. A set of scrolls in a basket on one side. On the other side was General Shandris Feathermoon, her helm held under one arm as she stood by, waiting. Tyrande finished reading then handed the scroll to her adoptive daughter.

"See to it, please."

Shandria inclined her head then left, bobbing a respectful not to Jaina as she passed.

Tyrande greeted her and the two sat on the benches in the sitting area. Tyrande frowned a little as she pulled out an opened scroll from the basket. "I believe I may have some idea as to why you are here," she said. "This has come to me from the Draenor expedition and one of our Wardens. Cordana had some... interesting things to say."

Jaina nodded. "That is part of it, but not all." Jaina paused to choose her words. "While the incident at the Frostfire Garrison accelerated our timetable, the Council has unanimously agreed to to readmit the Horde into the city. It is our intent to reinforce neutrality in the face of the Iron Horde, to support the expeditions there and for whatever else might happen in the future. Our issue lay ultimately with Garrosh Hellscream who is no longer Warchief."

An expression of thunderous anger crossed Tyrande's features so briefly Jaina wasn't entirely certain she'd seen it. Tyrande let the letter fall back into the basket. Her frown deepened.

"Are you so certain this is wise?"

"It is necessary for Dalaran and I believe it will be good for Azeroth."

"Nothing the Horde does is good for Azeroth," Tyrande retorted. "How can you trust them? After everything they did to us? To you?"

Jaina’s heart began to pound in her chest as the ever present doubt in the back of her mind tried to claw its way to the forefront again. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, attempting to calm herself before she answering. "Garrosh killed my people. He ordered the attack on yours. He also committed atrocities against Vol'jin's people and Vol'jin is now the Warchief."

"And you think their good behavior and tenuous peace with us will hold? It has never held! Not since the Orcs invaded our world," Tyrande countered.

"They have behaved themselves on Theramore since I opened it," Jaina said, lifting her chin. Granted, there was very little on the island aside from Falahdrassil.

Tyrande's lips thinned. "They are an ecological nightmare, Jaina, consuming everything in sight. It is only a matter of time before they attempt to turn Ysera's gift into firewood."

"Should they attempt that I believe they will face not only angry druids, some of them from the horde races, but a few angry Shamen and a flight of angry green dragons to start," Jaina retorted. She bit her own lip and tried to calm herself. Getting angry would not help... even if part of her feared that.

"We have a common enemy in the Iron Horde," Jaina said. "There is an opportunity here."

Tyrande lifted one long, elegant eyebrow.

"We can work with them in Draenor. The Kirin Tor can be the vector just as we were in Icecrown and during the Cataclysm."

"To what end?" Tyrande asked, her voice crisp.

"We kill their desire for the expansion and conquest on Azeroth," Jaina told her.

Tyrande's remote expression turned into a frown. "Explain."

"Garrosh wanted a war machine so he pushed for expansion into Azshara and Ashenvale-"

"Gallywix is invested in the logging and mining because it funds his enterprises," Tyrande interrupted. "Garrosh may be gone but the Goblins are still as greedy as ever."

"Gallywix is one voice in the Horde leadership and he is not the Warchief. Gallywix wants to expand trade opportunities. His empire is one of finances. He wants the mines and logging because it serves those goals. If there is better profit elsewhere he'll direct his focus accordingly."

"Are you suggesting we tell him to stripmine Draenor?" Tyrande asked, frown deepening.

"Not at all," Jaina said, her own voice becoming more strained. "I don't know what would work, but I believe more opportunities will open because of joint efforts in Draenor and in re-establishing Dalaran's neutrality."

"Nothing like this worked before-"

"No one but me has ever tried before!" Jaina said, her voice raising as this time she interrupted Tyrande. "Now it isn't just me. Khadgar is already there supporting these goals and the rest of the Council is in accordance. Varian is aware of our policy change and I firmly believe that he is now of a mindset that if there are opportunities to build he will take them. Baine's people aren't fond of the logging and strip mining anymore than your people are, but their hands were tied because of Garrosh."

"That is hardly-"

"If Varian hadn't changed his vote about Gilneas, your hands would have been tied as well. You could have continued to help them but they'd have been excluded. Eventually they'd have had to leave," Jaina pointed out. "Tervosh-" she paused as her heart clenched in pain over her missing friend and councillor. "Tervosh gave me a full accounting of that meeting."

Tyrande subsided but Jaina could tell she was not pleased.

"I don't know what Vol'jin will do, but there are political statements to be made in tearing down Garrosh's institutions, especially when they supported goals that hurt non-orcs. We have a window of opportunity now," Jaina said, leaning forward. She'd had to make these arguments before and as always a part of her disagreed, but in the end logic ruled. Dalaran would survive, the people she'd been tasked with leading would thrive. Her friends might even stop dying.

"Their focus is not on us or on the wars fought with us. Perhaps more importantly, our focus isn’t on the wars we have fought with them. All eyes are focused on the Iron Horde and on rebuilding in the wake of Hellscream's destruction. The Alliance is stable but the Horde is not - we can effect what direction they rebuild in."

She'd told Anduin once that Dalaran could be an shining example for cooperation. She wasn't certain about shining, not anymore, but she did believe a neutral Dalaran could help stop the cycles of violence. She had finally convinced one leader. If she kept following this line of thought, she might just convince the other.

She might convince herself.

"I have faith in my Goddess, Lady Proudmoore, but I do not have faith in the Horde. Trolls are conquers and their lust for such is only matched by the Orcs. I would have more respect for the Tauren, but Baine is young and untested and the Tauren have been less than impressive as potential allies. Cairne was killed by treachery within his own race! If they could not foresee and stop Cairne's death how could they stop another assassination? They hardly lifted a finger to stop Garrosh! What if Vol'jin decided to build another Zandalar? Would they stop him?History says it would be unlikely. And Sylvanas?" Tyrande shook her head. "She and her people exist in defiance of nature. The Undead are a perversion of life itself. I do not see the opportunities you speak of."

"I have to believe they are there," Jaina said. She had to believe that she was making the right choice. The alternative was unthinkable.

Tyrande watched her for a long moment before she finally spoke. "Dalaran is a sovereign nation," Tyrande said, shoulders slumping. There was a note of sorrow in her voice. "And as such you are free to do what you must." She squared her shoulders and met Jaina's eyes. "However Darnassus must do as it must."

"Meaning?" Jaina eyed her askance, blood rushing in her ears. She'd expected stiff resistance from Genn and perhaps reluctance on the part of everyone else. She'd misjudged Tyrande's feelings severely.

"Should the Kirin Tor readmit the Horde we will ask that the permanent portals here be closed. Kirin Tor mages will be allowed to construct individual portals, but only to Darkshore. Travel to our city will be by hippogriff or boat alone." She folded her hands and lifted her chin.

Jaina squeezed her eyes closed and she breathed out. She had hoped the High Priestess would be more understanding but it seemed that Tyrande's anger had not yet subsided to that point... Which made her wonder what was wrong with her that she wasn't still resistant.

No.

There were very good logical reasons for her to proceed with reintegration and the Horde was not Garrosh. The Horde was not Garrosh. The nations of Azeroth were aware of the possibility of another incident, indeed the whole of the Kirin Tor was, and they would not allow it to happen again.

But she could appreciate Tyrande's position, which is what made this so difficult.

At length, Jaina nodded. "I understand." She rose. She needed to leave.

"Jaina-"

"If you will excuse me," Jaina said, cutting her off, "I have much to do. We are not yet ready to make a formal announcement. I would appreciate your discretion." She didn't know if Tyrande wanted to convince her or if she wished to speak of something else, but Jaina needed to leave. Her heartbeat was pounding in her ears again.

Tyrande rose as well. Was it sympathy in her expression? Regret? Whatever it was she was also unwavering on her position. "If word gets out it will not have come from me. I will ensure Shandris is aware of this fact, but Jaina, word is going to get out."

"I know. Which is why I must depart. There is much to be done." Jaina bobbed a small curtsey. "Thank you for your time."


Jaina returned to Dalaran and stalked to her office. No one bothered her on the way there which was just as well. After a productive meeting with Moira, Tyrande's resistance, as reasonable as it had been, was a blow. She'd thought she might be able to convince her! Which cast some doubt as to her ability to eventually convince Genn Greymane and anyone else who would no doubt object. It cast doubt on her ability to convince Vol'jin.

It made Jaina doubt her own feelings.

Jaina shoved her door closed, went to her desk and snatched up the mail. Nothing from Vol'jin. Some reports from other departments in the city but they were routine information. Nothing from Ysera, though she wondered if the system would even be able to find the green's leader. She tossed them all onto her desk and leaned back in her chair, rubbing her temples.

Someone knocked. Jaina looked up, glaring at the door and whoever was on the other side. Jaina didn't wish to see anyone. Well, she wouldn't mind seeing Kalec. He gave her a welcome sense of perspective and speaking with him would be calming.

"Come in," she called back, hoping it was Kalec. She wasn't so lucky.

Modera strolled into the room. "Afternoon, Jaina."

"Modera." Jaina tried to keep the flat disappointment out of her tone but didn't think she was all that successful by the way Modera paused half a step.

"Did you pick something interesting to study?" The elder mage asked.

"I think I have more important things to do than play, Modera," Jaina said, and this time made no pretense of hiding her feelings. She had a mess on her hands and as remarkably nice as having her own study project would be, Dalaran needed her to be doing her job, not playing in the library. Her wondrous, new library with the new, cozy chairs.

Modera arched a silver-grey eyebrow, her pleasant smile falling into a frown. She shut the door behind her, cast a privacy spell and dropped into the chair across from Jaina. "What happened?"

Jaina watched her sit and bit her lip against an angry retort. She drew in a deep breath. Snapping at Modera wouldn't help and Jaina needed her as an ally. And as another member of the council, she had every right to know what was going on. And, as a member of the Council, she would recognize that Jaina had important things to do rather than study. She might even help.

Jaina let her breath out slowly and forced her fists to unclench. She rubbed her palms over her legs. "First, we're losing Vereesa for awhile."

Modera tilted her head but remained silent, waiting for Jaina to explain.

"She has decided to take a short leave of absence on the advice of her healer. She will be informing her second and third in command of our plans and tomorrow she will pass command to them. Vereesa is going to be in Pandara at the Shado Pan monastery."

"Ah," Modera said, relaxing a fraction. "Well it leaves things here a bit awkward for us in the short term, but in the long term this should be good I think," Modera said. "That doesn't seem so bad. Drop the other shoe."

"I met with Queen Moira and High Priestess Whisperwind. Moira was about as understanding as Varian was. Tyrande less so," Jaina admitted.

"How bad?"

"She's closing direct routes to Darnassus. All mage travel will route through Darkshore by boat or hippogriff."

Modera grimaced. "Well I can't say I am entirely surprised. Varian agreeing not to make a fuss was a minor miracle. I'm happy Moira's willing to play ball. Given the reports of Tyrande as Accuser at the Trial, well-" She broke off with a shrug.

Jaina found her hands clenching into fists again. "If it is so obvious then maybe you should be the diplomat and I'll go blow up an enemy army."

Modera blinked in surprise, then half smiled for a moment before it fell. "That was not a slight on your diplomatic skills, Jaina. In that I think we can both agree you are far more accomplished than I. I think perhaps it's because I'm a paranoid and untrusting woman. I expect the worst and given how we've been able to move forward so quickly, someone of status was, statistically, likely to throw a wrench into our plans. That is all I meant by not being surprised. I've been expecting the worst. If it wasn't Varian, it'd be her. Genn is a foregone conclusion. We know he'll be upset. How loudly he'll howl is the unknown."

Jaina felt the fight leave her and she slumped back into her chair. She resumed rubbing her temples. "Honestly, I had hoped with some time and perspective Tyrande might have been more like Varian. The land on and around Theramore is healing. Vol'jin isn't as bad as Gallywix or Sylvanas would have been as warchief." She sighed. "I'd hoped she might at least be more understanding. She accepted that I was declaring Theramore a neutral space." Jaina tilted her head back and closed her eyes. "Her opinion is respected. Tyrande's response might make Varian or Moira reconsider their positions."

"It might. You're respected too though and you have the support of the rest of us. Traditionally, Dalaran has close ties to Stormwind and I know the Dark Irons have their fair share of mages. Darnassus has little love for the arcane. Their so-called Highborne are not well regarded," Modera reasoned.

That all made sense. It was logical. Why chase after the support of someone who represented a society that didn't especially like magic?

And yet Tyrande's reaction squeezed her heart in a vice. She and Tyrande had been allies at the trial, at least to start. They'd both felt the horror of his actions and of all the Alliance leaders, Jaina had felt Tyrande understood her position best. Tyrande's questions to her as Accuser had hurt but they'd been necessary for the others to see the depths of Garrosh's crimes. And yet when Tyrande had asked Jaina if the Horde was to blame for Garrosh's crimes, she couldn't agree.

"The Horde is not Garrosh," Jaina repeated the words she'd spoken at the trial. Tyrande had almost certainly been angling for a "gotcha" moment, but Jaina had felt the truth of her statement. It had been something of a surprise to her after the fact.

"No, they're not." Modera agreed solemnly, unaware of Jaina's inner thoughts.

"I said that at the trial," Jaina told her. "I surprised myself in saying it. It was the truth." She reached up, touching her chest where the bullet's scar remained, forever marking her. "I- No. She's not the sort to take a petty revenge for me not agreeing with her."

"No, she doesn't seem the sort of person who'd have wanted you to perjure yourself."

"I told her there were opportunities in cooperation. The Horde isn't stable. Garrosh nearly broke them. We're in a position to provide influence while they try to fix themselves. We can encourage Baine to lean on Vol'jin in regards to the Kalimdor forests and mining. Give Gallywix alternative markets."

Modera nodded thoughtfully. "Lean on the Cenarion Circle and the Earthen Ring as neutral organizations to push their influence," she added, following along with Jaina's train of thought.

Jaina nodded. "We can build trade. Varian was willing to talk about that years ago with Thrall," Jaina said, her choice of name intentional and petty with bitterness but she found she didn't particularly care. She'd been abandoned. "I wonder if the Earthen Ring will even do anything."

Modera shrugged out of the corner of her eye. "Don't know until we try. Do you think Thrall won't want to act?"

Jaina snorted a derisive laugh. "I don't have any idea. I'm not going to hold my breath. He's off in the alternate Draenor anyway," she said, waving a vague hand. "Maybe he's trying to make up for the lives lost when he appointed Garrosh Hellscream Warchief."

Modera grunted agreement. "Do you think it's worth the time to even bother with the Earthen Ring then?"

"Yes," Jaina said after a moment of consideration. "He'll have left people in charge while he's off on his personal crusade of absolution. That's an opportunity to open dialogs with more than just Thrall. I have leverage with the druids because of Theramore's Tree. The Cenarion Circle hasn't ever been political but I know they opposed Garrosh's clear cutting and then weren't powerful enough within the Horde to stop him. The Shamen are a bit more of a nebulous factor but I think anything that would settle the Spirits would be welcome."

"Wars are certainly unsettling. We're already in talks with the Pandaren. I actually have the latest update from them," she said, patting her pocket. "I was bringing them to you, actually. They're ready and willing to start formal trade of services as soon as we're officially neutral again."

Jaina's smile was distracted but genuine. That was good. The Pandaren had proven to be powerful allies in general but their moderating influence had been sorely needed. Another ally in her endeavor.

"We'll have the Pandaren as allies, then. We have Garrosh and the Iron Horde as a common enemy. We can give aid to the Druids and the Shamen as well as both expeditions," Jaina summarized, eyes tracking across a mental webwork of relations, people and places on Azeroth and now beyond.

Modera snorted a laugh. "Planning a campaign?"

Jaina's smile grew as she considered what role she might get the dragons to play as additional forces for moderation and communication.

"I've wanted peace. War took my brother and father and far too many friends from me even before... Even before Garrosh. War was a storm to be weathered. I thought I could make a safe haven, I thought I could create an example, Modera."

"Well you did. Your accomplishments in Theramore were both noble and successful."

Jaina opened her mouth to deny but stopped. To deny it would be to cheapen the accomplishments of those now gone. She'd merely been the one who could provide political clout and support. Important, certainly, but it had been a group effort.

"I thought I was alone," Jaina mused. "And in some ways I was. Politically I tried to live as best I could and to be an example. I led my people and let others see how right I was by observation. They would be convinced. That was..." Naive. Silly, a small voice said, insidious and evil and dark.

"It was incorrect for this world. Had Thrall kept his position, things would have been different. I came very close so many times. So many times. I got Thrall and Varian to sit down at a table and talk, Modera. But it was fragile and ripped down. And every time I retreated to my nice, neat little corner of the world and tried to influence it by example."

"Dare I ask where you're going with this? As I mentioned, I have been accused of being a somewhat paranoid woman, Jaina."

Jaina smiled. "Because I thought I was alone, I was. But to reach my goal I need more people. Key leaders, yes, but others. The attack must come from all sides and be overwhelming. Divide and conquer plays a part." She tapped her fingers on her chair as she went through permutations of what could happen and what might be.

"Jaina-" Modera leaned forward, the chair creaking as she did so, a note of warning in her voice.

"All Garrosh wanted was conquest and war and glory for his select chosen orcs and damn anyone else who go in their way. He wanted a world consumed in flames. He wanted a legacy of glorious battlefields and corpses under his feet. He used fear and threats and blind devotion and loyalty and he almost won."

She looked over at Modera and she knew her smile was not nice. "That was his dream. I'm going to kill it." She turned her chair and began to sketch out some of her thoughts before they evaporated.

"When we're done, history will remember him only as the Warchief who failed so spectacularly that after three decades of war there was a thousand years of peace and cooperation."

"I'm listening," Modera said, relaxing.

"We've come so close before. It can't just be me or just Varian or just Thrall or anyone. An army has many parts moving in unison."

"We're building an army now?"

"Politically," Jaina said, eyes flicking up to her then back to her notes. "Instead of waiting for others to act, we'll recruit them. The Cenarion Circle, the Earthen Ring, The Knights of the Ebon Blade, the Shado Pan, Light I'll even work with the damn Darkmoon Faire if it works in my favor."

Modera snorted.

"I've got Anduin on my side. Together we finally reached Varian. The Council is with me on Dalaran's neutrality and so are the Pandaren. We use that to actively recruit more people."

"Into what? Cooperation? Neutrality?"

"Yes," Jaina said, meeting her eyes. "We actively look to create opportunities where we're working together."

"The Kirin Tor has had a messy history with politics, to play the devil's advocate. It was one of the primary complaints that Aegwynn had with them for centuries."

"A valid point," Jaina said, pausing. Was it hubris to assume she could do something? Anything? That she had the right?

But she'd tried to lead by example and she'd tried war. Time to try something else.

"I think we don't interfere in internal politics. That was the Magna's primary complaint and I agreed with her, too. But we've been aloof. The Kirin Tor has operated on a policy of peace by example hoping someone else will see and do the same. That's what I have done. It only goes so far. We need to be encouraging to the other organizations. Get them involved actively. They've all been aloof too, concerned with their own areas of direct influence."

Modera reflected on that for a long moment. "Armies and wars come and go but the bad feelings persist. What we haven't had was a pressure in the opposite direction. The Cenarion Circle and the Kirin Tor aren't going anywhere but what happens when Garrosh is dead? We'd want a network of allies and support that can live beyond the current conflict."

"Exactly. We build it now, on every level we can, hoping that some of it will survive once the unifying pressure of Garrosh and the Iron Horde is gone; economic ties, legal ties, treaties, personal ties, anything. We mix up our own people and reward cooperation - it shows an example and actively benefits others. We spread that around until the other organizations wonder why they aren't doing the same. We let individuals in organizations other than our own see they have a friend in the Kirin Tor if they're of the same mindset."

"A Jaina in every organization?" Modera asked, arching a wry eyebrow.

Jaina scowled at her. "I was going to say a champion or a few in as many places as we can encourage. Normalize working together until it's eventually unthinkable we'd actually start flinging spells and cannon fire at one another."

"Aggressively wage peace."

"Yes."

"My thoughts of caution sound like the voice of Magna Aegwynn muttering about interfering in internal politics," Modera said. She pursed her lips. "The Alliance may be more stable but that might prove to be inertia we have to overcome. There's an entire generation that's grown up knowing nothing but war on and off again. You and Varian are the premier scions of it."

Jaina gritted her teeth but couldn't refute Modera's claim.

"That said," Modera allowed, "The people are tired. They've children now, some of whom are old enough to take up arms. Varian's views have changed because of Anduin." She idly scratched her chin as she thought aloud. "We'll need to extend the campaign to the Alliance as well. Show the benefits of cooperation."

"Like we'll do in Dalaran," Jaina said. "At the Council I was told that when Rhonin originally allowed the Horde in, people settled once they realized they could continue to make a living - some of them even made a better living off a larger population."

"Aye. Gold and a sense of security went a long way to helping things here. The security has been shaken even if the gold returns."

Jaina frowned. "We'll have to make sure that's handled somehow. We'll have the silver covenant to assist our defenders. I know they went a long way to making people feel more secure before."

"Hopefully they'll be willing to stick around in that capacity. I understand why Vereesa is going to the healers in Pandaria, but she won't be around to ride herd on her people in the short term, Jaina."

"I know. But I have to hope that what she experiences in Pandaria will enable her to actually support our position and mean it."

"Fair," Modera allowed. "And her agreement would be a strong statement in addition to the ones you've made."

"I think the healers will help," Jaina said. "Not just our people but their presence and the condition of their cooperation. Even if we don't like one another, having a third political body with resources and attractive benefits will help push things in the direction we want." She felt a small smile tick up. "I didn't have that before, either."

"What? A lost continent?"

Jaina smirked. "More or less. We had a common enemy before but we didn't have an entire nation as common allies. I love Kalec and I appreciate and respect all the Aspects and their flights have done, but the dragons weren't ever in a position to disrupt the status quo on the same scale Pandaria could. The Dragons, I hope, will continue to be martial allies we might call on, but the Pandaren can be economic allies."

"The dragons did rather keep to themselves," Modera agreed. "And they barely made it out of the Cataclysm. Kalec told me about what's gone on with them," she said, her blue eyes solemn and sad. "They're not in a good place. Despite the destruction of the Vale, the Pandaren are. And the rest of the world's gone a bit mad for all things Pandaren," she concluded, her tone lightening a bit.

"And not only do the Pandaren want us to stop fighting," Jaina said, "core to their beliefs are balance and cooperation. If everyone's gone a bit mad for exotic Pandaren goods and philosophies, that will hopefully catch on, too."

"This doesn't get you out of your magical homework, you know." Modera said dryly with one arched eyebrow.

Jaina barked a laugh and gestured to the neat set of notes she'd taken. "Don't you think this is a rather large project?"

"Oh it is. Probably a project for more than one lifetime but you said it yourself, you're going to need many agents of change on this one. Burning yourself out trying to be the shining beacon of peace won't do you or anyone else any favors. You need something for you. If we're going to start actively spreading a movement like this? You'll need a refuge even more."

Jaina tried to protest but even as motivated and excited as she was to work on this movement as Modera called it, her heart was tugged in the direction of her library. It was terribly selfish of her to spend time on something just for her since she was Dalaran's leader. Except Rhonin had his own projects. Modera had said she had her own and so did everyone else. Everyone but her.

Jaina looked down at her notes and saw beyond the words to the length and depth of something like this. She'd been so close to victory before and had fallen short or been thwarted.

"I only have a small window, Modera," she said, looking up at the other mage.

"Then maybe we focus on the things with the biggest impact and pull in the rest after that has helped break down some walls. This is going to be an ongoing project, or so you said."

"Yes," she admitted and suddenly it seemed a far more daunting task than it had been a moment ago.

"Jaina," Modera called. Jaina looked up. "You need to care for yourself," Modera told her. "Your entire life cannot revolve around other people." She tapped her finger on the page. "Biggest impact. A strategic strike. And then another. And if we're successful then there will be more helping hands."

Jaina's shoulders sagged. Help would be so nice. And she had come to the realization this wasn't something she could do alone. Modera's smile grew.

"You can't do it all in the next hour, Jaina, or the next day. Something tells me this is going to be a long process. We'll try to engineer the big victories, but this isn't a war that is going to be won in a single battle."

Jaina looked down at the page and nodded. She set her pen down. "It seems indulgent."

"I'm working on some enhancements to help communication over long distances," Modera said. "I'm also terrorizing younger magi in class. Indulgent? Maybe. Is it keeping me sane? Absolutely. Karlain will deny this but he's working on better and more efficient dying processes. Ansirem makes small animated golems for his children."

Jaina blinked. "He does?"

"He does! They're darling. Been doing it for years. He made the first for his eldest daughter. When he and Lilly married he made more for their kids too. Some are a bit too intricate for children to play with but they're lovely."

"He makes toys?"

"I think he prefers the term 'action golems' but there you are." She shrugged. "Find something for yourself so all of this," she gestured around to encompass Dalaran as a whole, "doesn't consume you. Trust me, Jaina. I speak from experience on this."

Jaina nodded. She put the notes into her desk drawer. "What do I do?" she asked.

Modera rose and took out the message from the Shado Pan from her pocket. "That is entirely up to you. I'm giving you an extension on this assignment. I will not do so again. Understood?"

Jaina chuckled. "Yes, Ma'am."

"Good." She held out the folded paper. "Here's the letter from Pandaria. Read it then go home to your mate." She nodded out the window.

"Yes, Ma'am."

"So biddable!" Modera snorted a laugh. "Also you are now signed up for some of the personal terrorizing I'm doing. The combat class is for Magi and some of the Archmages who are either new or taking a refresher so you won't stand out. Class starts tomorrow at five. If you aren't there I will come for you." She smiled pleasantly but Jaina found herself gulping.

"I'll be there barring unforeseen circumstances."

"Eh. Close enough. Goodnight." Modera said then departed.

Jaina read the correspondence quickly after Modera left then set that letter aside. She went to her balcony and looked out over the ice and snow of Northrend. A blue flash caught her attention and as she watched, it resolved into Kalecgos, returning from the direction of the coast. He might look like a half-elf but he was still a dragon and occasionally needed to eat like one. Likely he was coming back from catching fish in the arctic waters. He'd smell like the sea and high winds when he came home to her.

Kalec stretched his wings and took some time returning home. She didn't read reluctance in his actions but a simple joy in flight. He liked taking her with him but there was only so much he could do with her perched on his back.

Perhaps that was something - a way for them to fly together. An enchantment to help her stay on his back or some sort of device- no. No, she was not going stick a saddle on him to ride him around. Maybe something to allow her to hang on better. Something to handle the high winds for sure - though that might be as simple as obtaining flight goggles from an engineer. And Modera wished for this to be a magical project.

Perhaps it wasn't the right sort of topic anyway, Jaina mused to herself. Kalec twisted in the air, a lazy show of power and strength. She knew what his muscles felt like under her hands as he flew and it was fascinating how much delicate control he had over his wings. He was a powerhouse but so gentle, she thought with a smile. Her smile fell.

And he was always a little sad when he set off to stretch his wings alone. Which was most often because she was busy. And now she would be even more busy because she had a goal beyond Dalaran's neutrality, one which would facilitate the goal she and Anduin shared of armistice talks. And then Modera wanted her to train and take on a personal project, too.

Jaina sighed as she watched Kalec sweep around the city in a lazy circle, a look of peace on his features. He wanted her time for Winterveil. She crossed her arms, one hand going back to the scar tissue on her chest. She was being pulled in so many directions all of a sudden.

Moira had reminded her she needed to embrace Kalec and his ways. She'd been lacking in that area. Surely there would be a way for her to attend to Kalec as well. She needed to make him a priority and more she wanted to do so. Modera and her assignments could hang if it meant she got to spend more time with Kalec. But perhaps she could combine two of her tasks. Magic and diplomacy? Magic and Kalec was a more likely combination.

Something which would allow them to spend more time together and which would involve magic and research. Jaina's mind went back to her original supposition; was there a magical way she could fly with Kalec. Mages could slow fall but they didn't fly very well. Unless they were blue dragons. Or had blue dragons living in their head and empowering their staff. Or unless they had a spell in their staff which turned them into a raven at the cost of apparently developing an odd affinity for all things corvid.

Jaina tapped her fingers against the scar and looked down as she chewed her lip in thought. A bird could fly with a dragon but probably not very far. Few things could keep up with a dragon. Dragons could-

Jaina looked back up and found Kalec. He was angling in to land, adjusting his size slightly on the wing so he wouldn't crush anyone on the landing, then disappeared entirely behind the buildings as he resumed his half-elf form.

She'd never done a shapeshifting spell before. Jaina locked her office and went to intercept Kalec. It was a crazy idea but if it worked it would solve a few of her problems at once.

Chapter Text

Early snow had begun to fall when she'd left that morning. It was cold enough to stick and a thin layer now covered much Dalaran's rooftops. Foot traffic and golems helped to keep the streets cleared. Jaina only saw one construct quietly whirring its way down the street. Later in the season more would be employed to continuously clear snow and ice but for now only a few were needed. Fat snowflakes hit her nose and stuck to the hood of Kalec's cloak as she made her way across the city. True winter wasn't for a few weeks yet but apparently no one had told the snow.

Jaina caught sight of Kalec before he saw her. He'd stopped to speak with Ansirem Runeweaver and his wife, Lily. Jaina slowed her steps, taking the moment of distraction to observe her beloved's shapeshift.

Kalec in his half-elf form was quite tall, perhaps as a reflection of his natural body. She was given to understand that Kalecgos in his actual form and size was on the higher end for a dragon. He'd admitted to changing his size even in his natural form to better fit his surroundings and had mentioned that Alexstrasza, now the largest dragon alive, was almost always adjusted down to actually fit anywhere. Part of his great size was due to having carried the Mantle of Blue Aspect even for the short time he had. However, if Tarecgosa was to be believed, and Jaina did, Kalec had always been on the larger end of things for adult dragons.

He didn't wear his horns openly, but he could easily enough if he so chose. Given how hard he tried to blend in when he wore a non-dragon form, it wasn't surprising he didn't walk around with dragon horns. That and he'd admitted they only added to his height and he could hit doorways with them. Jaina smirked to herself at the mental image.

His hair was dark blue and had an iridescent quality to it, subtly shifting in shade as the light hit it from different angles. Jaina loved the feel of it, soft and thick under the fingers and such a pretty color. Finding his shed strands of blue in among her white and occasional gold was oddly intimate she'd discovered. She enjoyed he'd made a home with her and the occasional shed hair or strand from a borrowed brush was visible evidence. Jaina noticed he'd made it a bit longer this time as he'd promised her only a little while ago. She looked forward to running her fingers through it.

This form was that of a half-elf. She was fairly certain it had been deliberately chosen because Kalec had remarked in more vulnerable moments he often felt like a strange dragon and outsider among his own people. Half-elves weren't always welcomed or treated well by either of their parent's races; never quite fitting in. Dragons could take on many forms though she'd never seen Kalec use one other than this.

She didn't know what rules of magical structures dragons used when they enacted their shapeshifts. They did not rely on magical artifacts as Khadgar did or the blessings of eternal spirits as in the druidic tradition. They still retained the ability even though their Aspects had lost their Mantles of power, so that hadn't been the source for all dragonkind. Jaina suspected it was part of their fundamentally magical nature.

But could it be replicated?

Or, she thought, at least mimicked. She didn't wish to take on many forms as a druid did. Just the one so she could fly with him when he went hunting or to stretch his wings. If a dragon was out of the question, perhaps she might manage a gryphon.

She didn't think Kalec would be offended but that was a concern to address up front. If this wasn't a good solution he might have other avenues of approach. He wished to spend time with her but perhaps she had come up with an unacceptable solution. She hoped not because as she'd turned the idea over in her mind it excited her as much as the idea of an concerted campaign of cooperation did.

Kalec smiled and replied to something Ansirem said as they continued their conversation, stepping out of the way of traffic to avoid blocking the way.

Ansirem had been reserved initially, but he'd come around to being friendly with Kalec. Cordiality had turned into respect as the dragon stayed longer in the city and had begun to take up tasks and assist Modera's classes. Runeweaver said something which sent both the dragon and his wife chuckling. Lily lightly punched her husband in the shoulder and Ansirem made a show of holding his wounded arm.

Ansirem was only a bit taller than Jaina, but the woman beside him could easily look Kalec in the eyes. Lily Runeweaver was built like a Vrykul shieldmaiden. She wore her mane of brown hair in a thick mohawk with either side of her head shaved down and tattooed in the bold angular designs Jaina was fairly certain had come from a Wildhammer artisan. Lily had retired from active adventuring with Ansirem to settle down and raise a family, but she still taught weapons. Lily remained in fine shape. Her very airy, rose-petal pink silk dress was sleeveless and had thin straps to accommodate her broad shoulders and arms. Despite the cold and falling snow, Lily appeared as entirely unphased by the chill as Kalec. A full sleeve tattoo in bold geometric lines covered her shield arm. Her arm and shoulders bore the ropey lines of scar tissue under the ink. The dress was a splash of color against the greying day. The pink of her dress darkened to a deep rose by her feet and she had an equally gauzy shawl draped over one arm and delicate filigree earrings that fell nearly to her shoulders.

Ansirem had trimmed and combed his bushy beard was wearing a more formal suit to match Lily's lovely dress. They appeared to beaded out for an intimate dinner or possibly a show of some sort. Jaina found herself smiling. The raging fights Ansirem and his first wife had with one another were still legendary nearly thirty years later. That union had only lasted long enough to produce one child and several thousand gold worth in property damage before it had dissolved. This relationship appeared to be far more amicable.

And far less destructive.

Lily caught sight of her a second before Kalec did. Spotted, Jaina picked up the pace to join the small group. Kalec's smile lit up his entire demeanor and he reached out a hand as she approached.

Tension she hadn't realized she was carrying dropped from her shoulders as she reached out and took his offered hands. His fingers were strong and warm and engulfed her own as he drew her closer. She leaned up to give him a quick kiss before settling against his side, one arm around his waist. As expected, he smelled of salt spray and high winds.

"Lily. Ansirem," she greeted.

Lily grinned back. "Jaina."

"We were just discussing if Kalec was going to need a rescue party to save you from your office," Ansirem quipped. "Lily and I heroically offered our services provided we get to our dinner reservation on time." He winked at her.

Jaina smiled back. "The battle was fierce but I was able to win free on my own. The offer of assistance is appreciated." She smiled at Kalec. "I had some motivation to get out of there, too."

Kalec smiled again and the arm around her waist tightened. "I'm glad you were."

"Speakin' of reservations, we should be going," Lily said, tapping Ansirem's shoulder. She turned her smile back to Jaina. "We should have dinner sometime. The four of us."

"That'd be nice," Jaina said, smiling back. "Go enjoy your night."

Lily grinned back. "Believe me I intend to. We have a babysitter until late. I fully intend to enjoy my evening." She grinned at Ansirem. "We might even get to take a nap after dinner."

Ansirem made a dramatic sigh of longing. "Naps. I remember naps. And lazing about on the weekends. What happened to those mornings, dearest?"

"We decided to have wee ones."

"Ah, yes," he said, pulling a face for a moment before he brightened and gave her a far-too innocent grin. "Fortunately I make cute babies so I suppose it works out."

"Ha!" Lily elbowed his side. "Come on, we're going."

"Yes, dear. Of course, dear."

"Have a nice evening Jaina, Kalec," Lily said, herding her still smirking husband away.

Jaina waved as they left in the opposite direction and gently tugged Kalec into walking home with her. Life in Dalaran might become interesting for the members of the council soon enough so it was good he was able to have an evening out with his wife before the inevitable storm hit.

"I haven't had occasion to speak with Ansirem's wife before," Kalec said.

"I like her." She took his hand in her own as they walked.

"She reminds me of Varian in some ways."

Jaina chuckled. "They're nearly built on the same scale. She's a warrior, too. Well, retired now, I guess."

"She looks like a short Vrykul and sounds like a dwarf," Kalec observed.

"You might be half right from what I understand," Jaina said. The wind picked up and she pulled Kalec's cloak closed. He released her hand to put an arm around her shoulders. She slipped an arm around his waist and they walked close together.

"She's half-dwarf?" Kalec asked, eyes wide in feigned innocence.

Jaina stuck her tongue out at him. "She was orphaned at birth. No one knows who her father is, so it very well could have been a Vrykul raider given the region where she was born. The matron of her orphanage was a Priestess of the Light from the Wildhammer clans. When she came of age she joined a dwarvish adventuring and mercenary company the matron's cousin runs. The Kirin Tor contracted with them to help with non-magical muscle in times past. That's how they met."

"Ah, yes. That would account for the slight accent and the runic tattoos." Kalec said, nodding. He held the door to their building open for her then followed her inside.

"Runic tattoos? I didn't realized those were empowered. I thought they were just pretty ornamentation."

"They aren't currently empowered from what I could sense, but she'd need to keep charging them if she wasn't a mage herself."

"Ansirem probably did it for her when they were in the field," Jaina mused. "They have four children now but I don't think that's quite a threat worthy of keeping a construct empowered."

Kalec laughed. "Either that or they've already drained her charge for the day."

Jaina giggled with him. "Possible. They're... energetic kids." She took down the hood of her cloak as they walked to the teleporter to their level. "How was fishing?"

"Delicious," he replied. "The schools are larger than I expected them to be this time of year." They reached their door and Kalec held it open for her again. "I might have possibly ruined my appetite for a few days. Penguins are in season."

"There's a season for penguins?" Jaina asked. He helped her take off the cloak and hang it up. Helping her with a cloak wasn't strictly necessary and his fingers lingered on her shoulders.

"For adult dragons. We try not to over hunt them because-" his expression fell. "Penguins are one of the game birds we use to help train whelps how to hunt. They're slow on land and fast in the sea and small enough for little dragons to take on their own with minimal suffering to the bird and minimal risk to the whelp." His shoulders sagged. "They're also delicious."

"I imagine a large adult could eat quite a few penguins in one sitting," Jaina said. She took his hand and pulled him further into their home towards the cozy reading area they'd set up in the library.

"We could. We have seasonal rules for game hunting so we didn't over hunt a given area or species and we'd have plenty for the future. The Reds help us all set up good regional systems and helped us all monitor our game populations," he said, his voice falling to a near whisper.

Jaina coaxed him into sitting on the couch then straddled his lap, tucking her face against his neck and making a sympathetic sound. Even if he tried to blend in with the younger races, there were still things he responded to like a dragon. Twining necks was an equivalent to an embrace. She wrapped comforting arms around his shoulders because she did not have wings to do so. Kalec held her and pressed a kiss against her shoulder then neck before simply holding her in silence. She drew her fingers through his hair, trying to comfort him as it appeared to have in the past, grooming him to try to help settle him and drive away the melancholy.

"I'm sorry," Kalec said.

"Don't be," she said, kissing him then leaning back and resting both hands on his chest. "I didn't mean to bring up something upsetting."

"You didn't know," Kalec said with a sigh. "I try not to think about it all the time, but it's... There." He smiled weakly, his eyes lacking in the sparkle they usually held. "I guess this means I can eat all the penguins I want. There's hardly anyone left in Northrend to share them with." Realization cross his features and his expression fell. "That's probably why there are so many fish."

Jaina crooned in wordless sympathy, her heart breaking for her beloved. She hugged him close again and snuggled against his neck and shoulder.

"Did you have a good day? Tell me about it?" Kalec asked.

"Are you sure you don't want to talk about it?"

"Right now I want to be distracted from my troubles, Jaina. Tell me about your day?"

Somehow bringing up her new idea for Modera's magical homework seemed inappropriate in the moment. Jaina kissed his temple and then told him about her meetings with Moira and Tyrande. He listened, one hand twisting a lock of her long, silvery hair in his fingers. He laughed when she got to the part about the dog-shaped elemental.

"Do you think her son might be a shaman?" Kalec asked.

Jaina shrugged. "I don't know, but given what I saw it's a possibility. It would certainly do much to help the dwarves heal their internal rifts if he is. Son of the Dark Irons, grandson of the Bronzebeards and possessing the talents of the Wildhammers?" She thought back to the art Moira had hung on her wall. "Yes I suspect that is what is going on. He must be a powerful innate talent to attract elementals that young."

"Mmhmm," Kalec agreed.

"Vereesa is going to Pandaria for a while. She's taking the boys," Jaina said, changing the subject.

"Where does that leave the Silver Covenant?"

"Vereesa is leaving orders with her second and third in command until she returns."

"Will she return?"

"I think so," Jaina said, resting her head against his shoulder. "This is her home. She made a space here with her husband and where they had their boys." She sighed, feeling melancholy as another thought occurred to her. "It's better for the boys here, too. They wouldn't be well regarded among the elves and humans can be cruel. Dalaran has long been a very mixed city and we have the highest population of half-elves living in a single location." She sat back to look him in the eyes. "Do you get any of that animosity for looking as you do?"

"I have," Kalec admitted. "When the Alliance and the elves split it grew much, much worse when I walked through your cities. Everyone here currently knows I'm a dragon though. I get guarded looks because of that."

Jaina hugged him again, making another unhappy sound. He replied with a soft croon of his own and stroked his hands through her hair.

"It is getting better though," he said, his voice full of more lightness and hope than it had been earlier. "The younger students and Magi are quite friendly. Some of the older archmages are coming around I think."

"Good."

"Seems like you had a rough day."

"It wasn't all bad," she said, sitting back again. She played with the ties of his shirt and traced her hands over the gemstone held on top of the vest. "Moira was quite nice. I haven't really had much occasion to speak with her but I think she could be a friend." She smiled a little. "And I might have accidentally started to plan a worldwide campaign to 'aggressively wage peace' with Modera."

"Oh?" he grinned. "Do tell."

She dropped her eyes and shrugged. "I realized what I had been doing and what the Kirin Tor had been doing were the same thing; trying to be examples. That doesn't work on it's own." She rolled the tie of his shirt between her fingers then dropped it. "We need to be more active in encouragement. Create more opportunities at all levels in all areas we feasibly can do so. Reward internally for good behavior. Try to convince people in the other mixed organizations they can do the same." She shrugged. "I've been treating war like a lighthouse weathering the storm. But wars are won by armies, not shining beacons."

Kalec tilted her head up gently with a knuckle under her chin. His voice was deep and sincere. "Armies need generals to give them direction and set examples. In that I think you will do quite well, beloved."

She smiled, feeling her cheeks heat and a little shiver run down her spine. He had a beautiful voice, but the sincerity and belief in her was what truly sent her heart beating faster. "Thank you."

"I'm only reminding you of all the wonderful things you have already done," he told her in that same sincere tone.

She ducked her head and nodded, the smile growing wider. It had become so easy to forget the good amid all the bad. She kissed his cheek, silently thanking him.

"Did Modera assign you a project as she threatened to do or did you pick one?"

"She told you about that, huh?"

"She did. Modera also mentioned something about sitting on you until you found something. I think she was using hyperbole but with Modera I am never entirely certain."

Jaina shared a chuckle with him. "Well, I've been giving it some thought. I've had several thoughts about this and many other things besides, actually."

"Sounds serious."

"It is," she said, meeting his eyes. In this form they were an impossibly deep blue with little flecks of gold. The eyes of his real form were the color of magic. Both were fascinating in their own way. She wondered what hers would look like and the thought brought a smile.

Kalec tilted his head at her, curious if wary. "Serious but not bad?"

"Oh! No! Not bad at all. At least I hope not." She stopped playing with his shirt and folded her hands over one another on top of the gem he wore. "I did take some time to have a more personal conversation with Moira. Through that realized that I had been neglectful of you and in embracing your ways." She held up a hand to forestall his comments, "It's true. I have been understanding and accepting but I haven't embraced them. And with trying to reintegrate the Horde and now having a better idea of what to do beyond the campaign in Draenor and with Modera pushing me to train and also take up a personal project," she trailed off and shook her head.

"Kalec, I am being pulled in so many directions. I think these are all worthy things, but you are a priority and I haven't been making you one. You have been thoughtful and kind and understanding with me even when I didn't deserve it. You have embraced me and my ways. I want to do the same."

He leaned forward and kissed the end of her nose when she paused to take a breath. She laughed in response, drawing out the gentle smile she so loved and which had helped to save her. He enfolded her hands in his own.

"I love you. All of you. I want to spend more time with you, too. I want to learn more about you and your ways. And Modera gave me magical homework." She dropped her eyes to his chest again where his huge hands engulfed her own. "I thought I might be able to combine these things. I was thinking I could create a shapeshifting spell so I could fly with you. I don't know if it is possible, and If you would not be offended, I would like to try to take the form of a dragon."

She looked up at him, awaiting his reaction and hoping it would be favorable. Kalec's jaw had dropped slightly, his lovely eyes wide as he leaned back slightly. The grip on her hands slackened.

Her heart dropped and she looked away, cheeks blazing in shame and embarrassment. She'd crossed some taboo line and he was rejecting her idea. As it died she was surprised by how attached she'd become to the thought, and she mourned. Jaina pulled her hands out of his.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend you I was just trying to make things better, I-" she broke off as Kalec tugged her hands back, almost crushing them as he held them close.

"I am not offended, Jaina." he said.

She braved looking up again and his expression made her heart do a little flip. He looked on her now with surprise and naked, open joy.

Kalec smile continued to grow, eyes glittering in excitement. He squeezed her hands. "Really? You want to fly with me?"

"Yes," she said, returning the smile and nodding. She frowned a little as she thought of something. "To be clear have I asked to do something with great cultural weight? I just wanted to be with you a bit more and you look so happy flying but so sad when you have to leave alone. I want to know more about you. Teach me?"

He laughed quietly and brought her hands up to kiss her knuckles. "Flying with your mate is much like when we walk and hold hands, or hold one another close while dancing. Going hunting together can be as intimate as when we have dinner together." He smiled and reached out to brush a thumb down her cheek and jaw. "And playing in the clouds is fun. Flying is..." He trailed off, clearly looking for words. "We are winged creatures. It is part of who we are."

She smiled, tension draining out of her shoulders. "Do you think it is even possible?"

"There is one artifact I know of that can do something similar to what you suggest. It can turn its bearer into a sandstone drake. If anyone can figure out the creation of something like it or better, it would be you, Jaina."

She tilted her head and studied him. "Would you, ah, have a preferences for me as a dragon?"

Kalec's eyes widened. "I don't want you to be other than you are," he said quickly, the words spilling out in a tumble. "I am who I am no matter how I look. This body isn't a disguise for me or some alternate personality." He squeezed her hands gently, "I just want to soar with you."

Jaina blinked, her heart again lurching around in her chest at the emotions in this voice. She leaned forward and kissed him, freeing a hand to stroke the side of his face. "I know you are you no matter how you look. Kalec, I meant more if you had a choice would you like me to look a specific way." She felt her cheeks heat again. "I mean, if I even have a choice in the matter. For all I know I could end up a dumpy black dragoness you can't stand the sight of."

"Oh."

"This would mean a great deal to you," Jaina smiled and continued to stroke the side of his face with her thumb.

Kalec leaned into the touch. "Yes," he said. "I don't think I realized how much I wanted to fly with you until I thought it might be possible."

"So you think it's possible then?"

He nodded. "You're one of the most powerful and clever mages on Azeroth."

She made a scoffing sound and stopped petting him. "Maybe among humans."

He shook his head. "No. Among mages."

Jaina rolled her eyes. She was certainly up there but she couldn't be that far. There were plenty of mages in Dalaran with plenty of power at their disposal and many beings in the world beyond.

"Well, if this would make you happy too, then clearly this has to be my project," she decided, arching her brows and speaking lightly. She grinned at him. "You promise not to be disappointed if I end up as an ugly black dragon?"

"I don't think that will happen, but yes I would. I love you no matter how you look."

Her eyes narrowed and she tilted her head. "Have you given thought to what I would look like?" His eyes widened just enough he looked guilty. Jaina's expression turned into one of mischievous glee. "You have! Tell me!"

Kalec shook his head. "You will be as you will be and whatever it is will be perfect."

"But you've thought about it!" she said, poking him in the chest. Perhaps that was why he'd been so surprised earlier. "Why didn't you mention it?"

He rubbed the back of his head and looked sheepish. "I didn't want you to be offended. I love you and no less because you are a human. And while I might have idly wondered what you would look like if you were one, I didn't actually take the step into thinking about making that happen. I've thought about what Varian or Anduin might look like too," he said, offhandedly.

"Tell me!" Jaina insisted, entertained by the notion. "Oh, let me guess, red flight?"

Kalec laughed confirming she'd guessed correctly and she laughed with him. Red would certainly be fitting for Anduin's reverence for life and the Light. Varian was intensely protective and in that way he reminded her of Alexstrasza.

"If I can pick, I'd like to be a blue," Jaina admitted quietly. She couldn't shake the idea of matching her mate. Or soaring together over the ice and snow of Northrend, of visiting the Nexus and being able to follow him rather than being forced to ride his back. Sitting together under the Aurora in the snow while they discussed magic before taking off again. But being a blue was the most likely to cause trouble because of the Kirin Tor's history with the blue flight.

But the affinity of the blue was for Magic and she might better understand him and his Charge first hand.

"You're sad though. Is it because of the Nexus war?" He ducked his head, trying to better read her downcast expression.

"On the one hand I would so love to match you as you have matched me. Of all the flights though, I think the blues would be most offended if I took on the guise of one. And I know there would be mages here in Dalaran who would be just as incensed."

Jaina glared into the distance. "But why can't we have what want to be happy?" Kalec made a sympathetic crooning noise and she realized what she was doing. She drew in a deep breath then let it out in the little meditative exercise Yu'len had taught her. Anger wouldn't do anything here. Bitterness wouldn't help. Kalec was a priority. Her own happiness was a priority as well and this would make them both happy. She felt the sudden feelings of anger begin to ease away. Kalec rubbed her shoulders and she gave him a small smile.

Jaina wasn't even certain she could pull off such a feat despite his confidence in her. Though Kalec had mentioned there was an artifact in existence which could do something similar to what she wanted already. She vaguely remembered reading about such an item but at the time she'd been far more concerned with the aftermath of the Cataclysm. Atiesh could transform Khadgar, and though a raven was far smaller than a dragon, it might have clues, too.

Kalec's hands continued their soothing motions along her back for a moment more before one hand went to her hair. "There is no question for me that unless you consciously chose otherwise, that you would take the form of a blue. Our charge was magic. It is inherent in our being. We're all born mages, and so are you." He kissed her forehead. "Your mana wellspring is very deep. I think blue is the most natural choice and therefore will be the easiest."

"How do dragons choose?" she asked, comforted by his reassurance and a bit more hopeful she could maybe pull this off.

"Aesthetics, familiarity and natural resonance," he said with a shrug. "I've always felt like an odd dragon. Choosing to look like a half-elf felt natural," he said confirming her early thoughts.

"Elves seem to be popular choices," she commented, her fingers tracing the shell of one of his pointed ears.

He shivered slightly under her touch but his voice was steady. "Some of the younger dragons are picking humans more often. I have yet to meet a dragon who has chosen to become a Pandaren but who is to say that won't happen or hasn't?"

"Do you have other shapes?" Jaina asked, drawing her fingers through his hair.

Kalec shrugged. "None I like as much as this one. I tried troll first because that was what my mother favored. Then a Night Elf and others. This is the form that fits me best."

Jaina grinned. "Alexstrasza is most comfortable in the look we most often see her in, then?"

Kalec laughed, the sound rich and warm. He leaned closer to her. "Alexstrasza has a great many shapes but she wore the one she did to match Korialstrasz. And I believe he too might have come to admire the aesthetics of a mortal form and appreciate some of the pleasing features." His hands skimmed up her sides to just under her bust, his thumbs slipping under her bodice to rest under her breasts. "Would you care to for me to try out another shape with you?" he offered, arching an eyebrow.

Jaina felt her cheeks heat a bit as she blinked at him in surprise. It was a thought which hadn't occurred to her. Recovering from her surprise, she considered him a moment because the offer had been made genuinely. Jaina shook her head. "No, I think not. At least not right now. Human you or high elf you wouldn't feel as.... genuine as this form. Each would be half correct." She traced her fingers down the side of his face. "I like this shape and when I think of you in my bed, this is the shape I think of."

He shrugged, smiling, and she knew the offer would be there if she felt adventurous. Why explore when what she had before her was rather nice. And the only other form he'd mentioned had been that of a troll. Jaina had no desire to invite Kalec to take that shape in their bed. She was curious but not that curious. Trolls had been one face of her enemy in the past year. Jaina cringed away from the sudden, clear image of a troll grinning over her in bed. It was far too easy to conjure memory the leering almost mad faces of the Zandalari on Thunder Isle.

"Jaina?" Kalec's wandering thumbs stopped. He sounded concerned.

She shook her head. "We've been fighting Zandalari-" she broke off with a grimace. "No I think I'll stick with how you look right now, thank you."

He made a small noise of understanding and pulled her close against his chest, tucking her head against his shoulder. He began to make the deep, rumbling, purring noise in his chest. Jaina sighed, relaxing against him. It was so wo wonderfully nice to be hugged and held, she thought. With Kalec the contact could very quickly turn sexual, not that she minded and in fact she often encouraged it. But it was very nice just to be held and to feel safe and secure. She kissed his jawline and his neck while his hands continued to go through her hair.

Kalec alternated gentle kisses on the crown of her head and nuzzles against her temple. Jaina felt the tension of the day finally begin to leave her body as Kalec began to leave a trail of kisses down the side of her head. He nibbled on her ear and she squirmed and giggled as he found a ticklish spot on her neck. Chuckling he very lightly kissed the spot before moving towards her shoulders. She hadn't noticed when he'd undone the closure of her shoulder armor but it fell away. He tossed it onto the chair opposite the couch they were on. Jaina laughed lightly as the pauldrons clattered as they landed.

Kalec's thumbs had once again ghosted their way under the bodice and now lightly brushed the undersides of her breasts. She shifted in her seat on his lap eliciting a very deep, male grunt from him, the deep rumbling pausing for just a moment. The purr turned into a growl as he found her lips and claimed them with a bruising kiss which left her gasping and dizzy.

"I know you probably want to start your research project but I'd like some of your time first, my lady," he asked in a low whisper that was more growl than words. Kalec's hot breath on her ear made her shiver.

She turned her head and nipped his jaw, earning a full growl. Kalec's fingers dug into her back. he nearly vibrated with tension under her. Jaina grinned against his neck.

"I believe I can accommodate that request, my lord." Jaina laughed as he tumbled her to the couch.


Snow crunched under Khadgar's boots as he stepped through to Frostfire once more. So as not to cause issues or step on toes, he'd appeared a little bit further out from the front gates than he had before. A good thing too since the area had changed since he'd last been here.

The Frostwall Garrison had recovered from the attack well. Larger, studier palisade walls had been erected in a larger perimeter and at the heart of the garrison they were building a larger meeting hall and he could see the foundations for larger buildings besides. If he'd appeared where he had before he'd have practically been inside the walls.

He became aware of another being behind him a scant moment before someone's foot deliberately crunched on snow.

"Turn around. Hands where I can see them, mage," a hard voice said.

Khadgar did as he was ordered. The woman had a bow drawn and aimed for his throat. At this distance it was almost certain she would not miss and it was entirely possible the arrow might find its mark before he could erect a shield. The scout or perimeter guard or whatever she was, was a petite blood elf with white-blonde hair and visible scars proving she'd survived a number of nasty incidents.

"What do you want, human?" she asked, voice and eyes hard as she held the bow unwavering.

"I am expected, Madam," Khadgar said, attempting to be his most diplomatic. "I am here concerning military matters which are of particular interest to a number of your compatriots as well as ours." He nodded slightly to the surrounding areas. "My apologies for being vague but I'd rather not blab our plans in the open air without any sort of privacy spell. I can assure you I am expected by Commander Teraka and her advisors- oh my what sort of creature is that?"

A feline seemingly made of light, shadow and shimmering energy had prowled up to sniff at his side. The spirit of a beast or a bestial spirit of some kind was massive and Khadgar gulped as the fascinating and terrifying creature sniffed at Atiesh then his chest. The beast only had to lift it's head to accomplish that. The cat snorted at him, flicked its tail then prowled around to take a flanking position on his other side where it waited.

"Ah, your beast is impressive. Would you mind telling me what manner of creature it is?" Khadgar asked. As terrifying as it was, it was fascinating

"Yes, I would mind," the blood elf said, her bow still nocked and held steady.

"I'll escort him in, Sunrunner," a new voice said. She was a tall tauren with grey and white fur under plate armor. Her weapon was an impressively large axe but it was currently hung at her side rather than held ready. The tauren's expression was mild but her words businesslike. "Commander wants him brought in to the central tent."

Sunrunner eyed her then finally let her bow drop but the glare remained. "Fine." She jerked her chin at the cat. "Come on, Alata." Both hunter and beast turned and slipped away into the snow, resuming their patrol.

"Archmage, if you'll come this way," the tauren said, gesturing towards the camp.

"Ah, yes thank you?" He recalled her from earlier visits and thought she might be a paladin but he'd not been introduced directly.

"Olina Stillpond of the Sunwalkers," she offered as they began to walk towards the front gates. "You're out a bit further than we expected, Archmage."

"I thought perhaps I might make less of a spectacle if I came in a bit further from your base. It seems I have run afoul of one of your patrols instead. My thanks for the timely rescue."

"She was feeling polite today," the tauren said mildly. "You can tell because you don't have an arrow through the neck." She turned and they began walking towards Frostwall.

Khadgar frowned. "I assure you as a member of the Kirin Tor I am acting in the best interest of Azeroth."

"So you say. The Commander believes you to be honest in this." She eyed him sideways.

"You believe others of my order to not be trustworthy? If so, please allow me a chance to settle fears in that regard."

The tauren chuckled. "Trust is in your name, is it not? But trust is something we have lost on both sides. Thus far you have acted in accordance with your words and thus far I am inclined to believe you as well." Her tone became more sober. "Others are far less willing to do so," she said, nodding her head in the direction in which they'd come and the departed hunter on patrol.

She paused just outside of the gates and turned to Khadgar. "Do you trust in your colleagues on the council?"

"Unquestioningly." Khadgar planted his feet and his staff and faced the paladin squarely. "They have concerns but we all see the wisdom in returning to a neutral stance. As difficult as it might be, we agree it is the right thing to do."

"Hmm. Then Light willing stiffer necks will learn to bend on both sides and we may yet find balance. Come." She turned and led the way through the gates.

Teraka looked up from her table when Khadgar entered the room. The goblin mage, Gerti was present as was Draka and a number of the commander's advisors. Among them were Lady Liadrin and Go'el. Khadgar noted the narrowed eyes from some corners but inclined his head respectfully. The Sunwalker paladin followed in behind him.

"Gerti," Teraka called to the mage. The goblin nodded then cast a privacy spell. When she was finished she nodded back at the commander. "So what are you here for this time," Teraka asked.

"Thank you for taking them time-"

"Get to the point, Khadgar."

"Ah, yes." He cleared his throat. "We are going to be driving home a final assault on Ner'zhul's last stronghold two days from now. Archmage Zaliya is extending the invitation to participate to the Knights of the Ebon Blade as we believe we have devised sufficient protections against his necromancy. The invitation is of course open to Death Knights here and any other interested parties."

Some of the hard stares turned sharp with interest. None was as sharp as the tauren Death Knight who stood silently in the corner of the room. Ner'zhul and his necromancy in the prime timeline had ultimately been transformed into the Lich King after dealing with Kil'jaeden. A second such monstrous soul wandering around on Azeroth was not something anyone wished to see. And, Khadgar thought, a living Ner'zhul could not only bolster the Iron Horde with his substantial powers, he had the potential to make further deals with demons.

"Two days, you say?" Teraka said.

"Yes. At my tower I will make appropriate portals to our staging point available beginning at dawn two days hence. The assault will commence shortly thereafter."

"What happens after?" Liadrin asked, her eyes narrowed.

"Well I would like to think we all drink and toast our victory but more likely it will involve healing the wounded, taking stock of our losses and securing the area. I have the assurance of the Lunarfall Garrison commander that Alliance personnel will not seek to stop or harm any of your people during or after joint operations."

"The Alliance agreed to this?" an orc warrior Khadgar was unfamiliar with scoffed.

"The Lunarfall commander has indeed. Archmage Zaliya is a member of the Kirin Tor in support of our policy shift, but her goal here is dismantling the Iron Horde and its power structures, not fighting you and your people. She has impressed upon her people that their purpose here is stopping the Iron Horde and other threats to Azeroth. Ner'zhul is one such threat and there are many in your camp who also have a personal history with him. She's already opening her assault forces to the Ebon Blade."

It was also an opportunity to build trust and Khadgar had been pleased to have the Archmage's enthusiastic support on this issue.

"We'll consider it. Go."

Khadgar opened his mouth to speak but thought better of it. He instead bowed to those assembled. "Then I shall take my leave."

Teraka waved him off with a shooing motion. Gerti undid her spell and followed him outside.

"King Wrynn's okay with his commander just... inviting Horde forces on military campaigns?" she questioned, clearly not entirely believing him.

"She was given command of the Garrison and the direction of the campaign. Maraad isn't entirely pleased but he would rather have more well armored and well trained and well fed veterans than fewer. The local draenei have no issue with our Horde."

"Yeah but everyone else-"

"Can follow their orders or not."

Gerti paused then ran to catch up. She grinned slyly at Khadgar. "You're asking for forgiveness rather than permission."

Khadgar arched an eyebrow and answered as mildly as he could. "Archmage Zaliya is acting well within the bounds of the orders she was given when they decided to let her command the operation."

"Ha!" She smirked and walked with him, pulling the incredibly fluffy hood of her cloak over her ears as the wind picked up. "So, ah, Dalaran."

Khadgar tried not to smile too broadly. "Yes?"

"The neutral thing. That's still happening?"

"Yes. My compatriots on the council have been working on trying to preemptively handle the inevitable political fallout. I understand that our grand Magus has sent a letter of intent to your Warchief. She might even had a reply by now. Dalaran is a city for all mages and it will be again."

"Pretty words but they're not even worth the breath they were spoken with," a cold, sneering voice said. The speaker was a blood elf with blazing red hair pulled into high tail. "My people were slaughtered at a whim for crimes they did not commit." Khadgar vaguely recognized him from the initial assault on the portal to Draenor but he'd not been among the forces that had crossed. Celian Dawnstrike if he recalled correctly.

"Maybe if they had just left like everyone else with sense did, they'd be fine. Haughty pricks but fine." Gerti snapped back before Khadgar could reply.

"And how many were imprisoned unjustly!"

"Look pal, Sunreaver didn't have to drop his trousers and bend over for Garrosh," Gerti snapped back.

Dawnstrike's nostrils flared. "Are you implying the purge was our fault?"

"I'm outright sayin' it," Gerti replied, staking a step forward. Around them the garrison had grown quiet and a crowd was gathering. Val'ket appeared and stood to one side.

"We had a good thing goin' on in Dalaran," Gerti said, her accent becoming more pronounced as she spoke. "My sister lost her shop. My Ma got cut off from her research. We ended up in a hole in Orgrimmar with Kor'kron leering at us all day, hounding us about illegal portals in and outta the city and illegal charms. They wrecked the little place my sister managed to set up 'cause they thought it would be fun."

"You losing your business justifies Proudmoore's wholesale murder of my people?"

"I left just fine. So did my sister and her sweetie and she's a blood elf. Way I saw it any idiot who tried to stick around when Jaina went on the warpath got shoved in the Hold-"

"My people were murdered in the streets by the Silver Covenant!" Dawnstrike said.

"Ain't they the High Elves who think sniffing crystallized demon was a bad idea?" Gerti said, staring down her pert nose at the Blood Elf.

"Those traitors-"

"So it's elf on elf violence. Tcha. Like Azeroth hasn't seen that before." Gerti waved a dismissive hand.

Dawnstrike bared his teeth at her. "They only needed the barest hint of permission to let the streets run red with our blood. Dalaran is under the control of an unrestrained, bloodthirsty madwoman and you put her in charge!" he said pointing an accusatory finger at Khadgar.

"Oh yeah, so blood thirsty," Gerti said, rolling her eyes. "So bloodthirsty she was teleporting iceblocked idiots into the hold anytime someone gave her lip while the rest of us just left. I will agree she's a bit cranky, but gosh it's almost as if you blood elves keep screwing her over and killing her friends and allies."

Dawnstrike drew himself up. "A goblin airship delivered the bomb to Theramore."

Gerti took a step forward and pointed her own accusatory finger. "But a Sunreaver mage stole the dragon's relic and a Sunreaver mage made the damn thing. Same mage helped Garrosh escape the trial. The rest of us have to deal with your fuckups, pal. There are more mages in the Horde than the blood elves!"

Dawnstrike's face turned an interesting shade of red. "Aethas had no knowledge of what Songweaver was doing."

"But he knew about de attack on Darnassus, mon," Val'ket said, speaking up. "Now dat be an order from his warchief and dat be a powerful thin-."

"Speculation!"

"Lotta rumors goin' around," Val'ket said.

"What is that supposed to mean?" Dawnstrike demanded.

"You got bad mojo in de sunreavers, mon."

"You can't honestly believe that Proudmoore won't turn around and slaughter you all the moment she gets a chance."

Val'ket shrugged his shoulders. "Troll mage didn't blow up her island."

"But how can you trust that human not to order your execution?"

"Maybe we don't let blood elves back in," Gerti said, crossing her arms. "Maybe the rest of us get to go back to the lives that were so rudely interrupted."

"You want to go back to that second-rate city run by a despot? What does Dalaran have that Silvermoon doesn't?"

"Oh geez," Gerti set her hands on her hips. "You actually askin' that? Dalaran was the greatest crossroads market we had access to before your people screwed it up for the rest of us." she began to tick off points on her hands. "The portals your guy abused allowed us to move goods and the trade tariffs were practically a steal! Do you know how many people who need expensive potions shop in Dalaran? Lots. You know what else is in Dalaran? Multiple libraries not run by snooty demon-snorting knife-eared mages!"

Khadgar gaped and took a step back. Several others in the crowd did as well. But, disturbingly, others stepped forward, hands drifting to weapons or clenched.

"I think mebbe we stop-" Val'ket attempted to step between the two mages.

"How dare you, you little green stain!" Dawnstrike called, his eyes blazing.

"Bring it! Any time any place! I'll turn your pretty face inside out," Gerti said, rolling up the sleeve of her couture robe.

"I think it would be best if perhaps you left," a dangerous voice to Khadgar's left said. He jerked in surprise as Commander Teraka appeared there. To his right was Go'el a half second later.

"I did not intend to cause trouble," Khadgar said.

"You never do, Archmage. This has been building since you dropped that little bomb on us about the shift in Kirin Tor policy. Go." She waded into the crowd behind a couple of bellowing guards who were trying to control the now unruly crowd.

Khadgar found Val'ket's eyes across the way and the other mage shook his head slightly then turned to physically restrain Gerti from attacking Dawnstrike who was being held back by Stillpond.

Khadgar hurried out of Frostwall, leaving the sounds of arguing behind. Soft steps followed and he turned to Go'el once they were beyond the gates.

"How bad of a problem have I caused?" Khadgar asked.

Go'el drew in a breath then let it out. "The Horde is family and families fight. But..." He trailed off with a shake of his head. "Garrosh wounded us and what we see here is another cut of his making. But it's true then? Dalaran is becoming neutral once more?"

"Yes but it remains to be seen if anyone else would be willing to return."

"I think there is evidence they will," Go'el said gesturing towards the garrison behind them.

"Actions and words are very different things, my friend," Khadgar said to the shaman. "It was my intent to help build a bridge and offer an opportunity. Not this."

"Give it some time," Go'el said. "I did wish to speak with you before but you were whisked away by your guardian." He looked around.

"Cordana is going to be very cross with me when she realizes I am not actually sleeping in my tower," Khadgar admitted with a small chuckle.

Go'el grunted a laugh. "The Council of Six voted on this? Unanimously?"

"Yes." Khadgar confirmed. He held up a hand to forestall the orc's next comments. "Attend to the matters here and your own people. Helping keep the peace would be the best way to help us. If that is something you care about." Khadgar said. The last comment was a small barb but it found its mark. Perhaps he was overstepping but he needed an ally here not a repentant friend seeking forgiveness from their Grand Magus. Jaina needed to focus on her own tasks and Go'el was still well respected within the Horde. Better for him to act as an agent of cooperation than be a distraction.

Go'el bowed his head in understanding. "It is. It is why I am here." He huffed out a breath. "Safe travels, Khadgar."

"And to you," the archmage said. He opened a portal and returned to his tower and quickly cast greater invisibility on himself before slipping into the structure. Ah! His illusion was still in place. All he needed to do was-

"KHADGAR!" Cordana thundered. "THERE YOU ARE."

Khadgar's shoulder's slumped. Oh well. He'd sneak away successfully next time.

Chapter Text

Jaina woke around dawn, though the overcast skies blocked much of the sun's light. She stretched in bed then sank into her pillows with a sigh. Kalec was sprawled beside her, taking full advantage of the new bed's larger size. He mumbled as she rose then curled into a ball, stealing the covers as he did. Jaina got ready for her morning. Kalec woke up by the time she was just about finished dressing for the day.

"Meet for lunch?" he asked. "Can start on the-" he broke off to yawn then continued -"project you didn't get to start yesterday."

"If you're awake by then," she teased.

He snorted a laugh and yawned again as he rubbed his face. "I'll be awake."

"That sounds lovely. I made a list of books I want to pull from the library. If you wouldn't mind getting them for me that would help." She kissed him then danced away with a laugh when he tried to pull her back into bed. "I'll see you at lunch."

One notice marked as important awaited her when she arrived at her office. The second letter bore the seal of the Horde in bright red wax. Jaina came to a stop, her heart immediately beating faster.

What would Vol'jin say? Were all her plans ruined already? Was he willing to speak?

She started as a crack and pop deposited another letter in her inbox, this one sealed with the crest of Stormwind, but specifically Anduin's smaller seal. Jaina drew in a breath and let it out. She set her morning tea aside and opened Anduin's letter.

"Haven't convinced Tess of the larger goals. Asked her, hypothetically, about Dalaran. She doesn't think it's her business. She's become... interesting. More later.
-Anduin."

Short and... not very informative. Jaina set the letter aside and looked at the other two. She snatched up Vol'jin's letter before she could think about it too much more and opened the seal.

The letter was short and to the point. He would meet with her on Theramore Isle tomorrow, mid morning. No indication of how he felt otherwise. At worst he would tell her no to her face, but he could have done that in a letter. Jaina took another calming breath and sent an affirmative response then set the letter aside. She got back to her work and hoped Anduin wasn't getting into trouble again somehow.

Another letter popped into her inbox. This letter was... damp and dirty and was not sealed but her name was written on the front in Anduin's neat letters. Frowning, Jaina opened the note.

"Made progress. I think. When I said T has become interesting before, it doesn't cover the half of it. Don't worry everything is fine. Probably helped our cause. Please do me a huge favor and if my father asks if you've seen me, we had tea in Dalaran last night and I was absolutely nowhere near the docks.
Love, A."

Jaina sighed at the message and sent a letter of her own.

"The price for doing what you ask is tea here within the week so I can hear the full story. Don't get into too much trouble."

Her message sent, she dove into the day's work so she wouldn't think about her meeting with Vol'jin. Kalec arrived just as the bells began to strike noon.

"Already?" she questioned.

"Already. I pulled those books from your list," he said holding up a satchel. "And I bought lunch. I hope you don't mind roasted chicken," he said holding up basket. "It smelled good."

Smiling Jaina grinned and set aside her work. They moved to the little seating area and Jaina tucked into her food, eating quickly so she could get to the books sooner. "Did you read any of them? Any thoughts?" she asked as she ate.

"The book on Atiesh was interesting but mostly history. You'll probably get more from seeing the real thing."

"I was hoping some of the theory would be in there as a basis when I go visit Khadgar. He's busy preparing to assault Ner'zhul in Shadowmoon valley. I'll pester him with trivial things when that situation is resolved." She finished her meal, cleaned her hands and then held them out for the books.

Kalec handed them over with a laugh. "Would it help to see the framework I use?"

"Yes, actually!" she smiled. "I thought it was something you were just able to do."

"It is," Kalec said. "Another gift from the Titans to our race, but we know the structure of the magic even if it is inherent." He frowned thoughtfully. "I might have to do some translation. I know the structure using our runes."

"I could learn those," she offered. "I've already started with a few."

Kalec smiled and began to write out sigils and formulae on some paper while Jaina read the very scant report on the "Vial of the Sands" as the artifact was called. She followed that by paging through the book on Atiesh, chuckling at the side comments which had been made in the margins by Khadgar.

She lost track of time and continued to make notes. Kalec bid her goodbye at some point to utilize their lab's larger space to display his work. Jaina absently kissed him goodbye then resumed her own note taking.

"Jaina!"

Startled, Jaina's pen scratched a bold line across her paper. She looked up to find Modera standing across from her, one hand holding a bundle of fabric, the other hand on her hip. The older mage smirked at her.

"You found a project?"

Jaina smiled. "I did."

"Good." Modera tossed the bundle of fabric onto the couch beside Jaina. "Class is in ten minutes. You'll want to change."

"It can't possibly be-" Jaina broke off mid-sentence as she saw the time. She'd spent most of the afternoon doing research. "Oh." She looked at Modera in alarm. "I can't. I've spent too much time on this and I shouldn't have."

"You're fine. Nothing important came in or someone would have come looking for you," Modera said in a reasonable tone. Jaina looked at her desk and saw that while she hadn't handled the tasks she'd intended to do today, nothing new had appeared.

"Come on," Modera said. "Karlain's in his office. You can spare a couple hours."

Jaina relented with a small sigh. "Okay."


Modera had picked out a set of the light armor the Kirin Tor's Defender's wore. As Jaina changed, the older archmage cautioned her that she might want to get a set more to her liking if she ended up in the thick of things more often. Jaina didn't want to be in the thick of things but she had to admit she'd been there often enough. Perhaps the light leather would be better than any of her usual outfits.

Modera's class was being held in the ruins of the crystallized forest below instead of inside the Violet Citadel. Since the danger of Ice Crown had passed, Dalaran had begun to use the grounds below the city for many purposes to augment the space inside the Citadel. Jaina looked around as they exited the portal from the city to the ground.

Other mages went about their research in studying the ruins or just using the relatively close location and open space to their advantage for larger experiments. Another class of much younger students was being held in a cleared area. They had a practice yard which had been cleared for this such purpose and rune-clad obelisks were placed at regular intervals to facilitate some order and to keep the destruction to a minimum. The younger students were practicing lifting objects with magic and summoning items. As much as Jaina was glad to see them she noticed that citywide their numbers were fewer than in previous years. She set her jaw and followed Modera down the rocky path. What she was doing would hopefully see those numbers increase.

Modera's class was milling about another cleared area, though this one was less defined than the other. There were a few other spaces beyond this one which had been created amid the ruins and crystallized trees. In some ways, it reminded her of the classroom areas in the Nexus Kalec had shown to her. Jaina smiled a little at that thought.

The mages here were all past their apprenticeships but they varied in age. They noticed when Modera arrived and the older ones all broke off their conversations while some of the younger ones, noting the reactions of the veterans, quieted as well. Modera waved them away and the vets relaxed and resumed their conversations while the other newer people awkwardly shuffled their feet.

Jaina saw a few familiar faces in the group including Algus Finch. He looked less than pleased to be present, but was prepared all the same. He wore a long light leather duster which had seen some use in battle if the runes embroidered and embossed into the material were anything to judge by. He inclined his head to her then resumed his conversation. Jaina was surprised to see him wearing protective gear but then recalled that Finch had also fought in the conflict with Deathwing. Jaina was hardly alone in wearing the standard gear for the Defenders. A few of the other magi and a couple of the archmages also wore the standard outfits. There were perhaps eight people present, nine including Jaina, and the size of the group was smaller than she expected.

"Right," Modera said quietly as she herded Jaina to the side. "New and returning faces in this group, so you're hardly the only one who hasn't been here before. For you we're going to work on the things I said before when I had you down for evaluation; your stamina, your reaction time, and getting you out of your own head and more aware of the rest of the battle. You've been solid as a caster on the backlines and on the front in a pinch but let's fill the gaps in what you know. You're a fast learner so I expect we'll be able to get into the really fun parts of battlecasting." She grinned, fierce and genuine. "There are some fascinating synergies once you've drilled to the point you don't need to think and the reactions are instant."

Jaina nodded, frowning slightly.

"Just roll with it for now and don't worry. That's why I do these training classes; so we're prepared and can worry about other, far more important things."

"Okay."

"Good." Modera stepped back and called out to the rest, raising her voice. "Line up, you lot."

Jaina fell into line between Finch and a younger brown-haired magi Jaina recognized as one who'd be deployed to Lunarfall soon. Lucithy nodded and murmured a polite greeting to Jaina as she banished her conjured mug of coffee. Jaina returned the nod and then turned her attention with the rest to Modera.

"Every class begins with stamina training. See those rocks?" She pointed to a haphazard collection of rocks on one side of the area. They ranged in size from perhaps a few kilos to something which almost certainly was more than a hundred. "Stand by the biggest rock you can lift with your magic for an extended period of time. One mage to a rock. Go."

Jaina blinked. Lifting rocks? She hadn't lifted rocks with magic since her very earliest days learning how to manipulate magic that way. Antonidas had favored ceramic cups and buckets of water; compensating for the sloshing about was more important than strength alone and an unwary mage could crush what they held if they were not careful.

Jaina drifted over and found an appropriately sized rock. She didn't know what the time frame for 'extended' meant but she decided while she could easily haul up the largest of the boulders, she wasn't certain for how long and this was Archmage Modera. She waited for their next set of instructions as Modera walked by, sometimes redirecting a mage to a larger or smaller rock. Modera stopped by Jaina and shook her head. She pointed at a rock easily twice the size of the one Jaina had chosen. Jaina arched an eyebrow in question but Modera just smirked.

"Push a little," Modera said, pitching her voice for just Jaina then continued down the line. Jaina went to the larger rock, ending up near Finch again. When Modera reached the end she nodded. "You will now conjure a single cup of tea in a saucer."

The veterans, including Finch, groaned and did so. Jaina blinked but did as she was bid. Clearly this was a signal to them of some kind while the rocks were not.

"Balance the tea on the rock," Modera ordered.

Jaina set the tea down.

"Without spilling the tea, lift the rock with magic. Make it a good spell because we're going to be moving. And," she held up a forestalling finger with a small smile, "no spells on the teacup itself. The goal is to hold the rock steady."

Jaina shared a slightly bemused look with Lucithy, then lifted her rock. It was heavy but not overly so. She'd been lifting heavy things while she and Kalec had recently moved, so recalling the proper spells to maintain a steady, stable grip wasn't too hard.

"Tomorrow you'll be doing this with weights," Modera advised. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Finch's shoulders droop. "And now we're going for a run. Keep up!"

It was harder than Jaina had expected. Modera started them down a path away from the class areas and into the ruins and surrounding forest. Lucithy, ahead of Jaina, tripped over a crystallized root and nearly lost her balance. Jaina grabbed her elbow to steady her before she fell. The younger mage smiled thanks, pink tinging her cheeks. Her rock bobbed a bit in the air, threatening to spill her tea but the Magi got her power under control quickly. Jaina took it as an indication to watch her own footing.

"Keep up!" Modera called, leading by example as she held her own tea cup and large rock. She continued at a steady ground-eating trot.

Jaina didn't run often. She didn't think herself unfit but she didn't run. Running was time she could have been spending doing any number of far more interesting things like reading or experimenting or even paperwork. She didn't indulge in all the sweets Kalec did because she didn't like running, or exercising really, so she tried to eat well so she didn't need to. It freed up more precious time for books or discussing magic with Kalec or doing her job. Jaina wondered if Modera would have Kalec do this. What size rock would he need to lift for the Archmage to be satisfied? Something the size of Dalaran? Would she have him trot about in his dragon form? At least the course wasn't a mindless, monotonous circle.

Jaina missed a rock and stumbled a few steps, the rock and teacup both sloshing in the air as she lost focus. Jaina caught herself and her cargo and, feeling her cheeks burn as she fought off the edge of panic, she resumed her trot.

Ah. This was the point. Not just stamina but keeping her mind able to be aware of her surroundings as well as maintaining the spells.

Somewhat beside her, Finch had relaxed into a sort of glazed expression, the moderately size boulder and balanced teacup rock solid in his grasp at a precise point to his side and ahead of him. The rock wasn't as large as she'd expected but then no one's was, she realized as she looked around and this time avoided another root that Lucithy hadn't quite managed to miss.

Like Finch, there were other repeat takers of this particular class, most of them battlemages, but as promised there were clearly more senior newer people who didn't know quite what they'd gotten themselves into. Due to their position, potential to be in the vicinity of battle, or according to some other esoteric set of requirements Modera used, they were here. Jaina was one but there was another Draenei archmage who was clattering about on her hooves as well as Jaina was. Jaina couldn't recall her name, but knew she worked with Karlain.

By the time they returned to the classroom area, Jaina's legs and lungs were burning. Finch was likewise winded for all he was familiar with this particular brand of Modera's insanity. Lucithy staggered a few steps,at the end, only then did her teacup slosh out and over the rock. The younger mage let out a growled string of curses which were inventive to say the least. She wasn't the only one as the end drew near and the limits of mental and physical strength started to really dig claws into the class of mages.

Modera led them into a loose semi-circle of mostly huffing and definitely sweatier mages and plucked her teacup off her rock. The rock settled to the ground and everyone else took that as a signal to do the same. Finch downed his tea and sat on his rock. Jaina did the same.

"Magic is a muscle. You exercise it and it becomes stronger, your manapool deeper, and your ability to handle more energy becomes more secured," Modera said as she strode around, somehow still on her feet. The battlemages were relaxing as well but there was a very sharp difference between those who'd done this many times before, probably voluntarily on their off time, and those who did not. The latter were flushed and breathing far more heavily.

"But a mage draws on themself for that energy and control. On the field of battle you will be, hopefully, with allies. Many of those allies will be soldiers and warriors in leather armor or plate. Let's not even get into the druids who'll just shift and bound ahead as a stag or a cat or an oversized owl or something Druid-y," Modera said with a wry brow arch. There was a low murmur of laughter from the group.

"We laugh but we do need to keep up with our allies. So. We'll run. Anyone new care to tell me what the point of this particular drill is?"

"You're an evil and vindictive woman," Finch called over.

"That too!" Modera countered with a feral grin.

Jaina raised her hand as did the draenei and Lucithy. Modera pointed at the other human mage.

"Multitasking," Lucity said.

"Exactly!" Modera said. "Battlefield awareness is key to survival," she said, her eyes resting on Jaina for a long second before she continued. "We have power and we can bring a lot to bear against terrible foes, but we can't do a damn thing if we're dead. Don't get tunnel vision. Don't let your mind wander. I'm going to be saying that a lot. If I feel you're tuning me out, Broka, I will not hesitate to correct your behavior."

A dwarf battle mage on the end of the line who'd been hauling a rock half his size straightened up. So did a few others. Jaina sat more upright.

"That's enough rest. Time for some practical applications!" Modera said, grinning.

Target practice was their rocks. Jaina suspected at some point Modera would have them digging up replacements but she set hers up with the rest and began to hurl flame at her target. She tried to emulate the elegant fireball spell she'd seen Modera use before, and saw that many of the senior battlemages around her used something similar when they used fire. The call to switch to Arcane was made and Jaina did so, trying to bring the ideas behind the fireball to the different school. Everyone seemed to fair a bit better here - this was magic, not stumbling about on a path.

Jaina felt the hairs on the back of her neck prickle then a surge of energy to her left. There was a bright flash of purple light and half of the rock beside Jaina's disintegrated.

"Oh," Lucithy said, blinking at what remained of her rock. She smirked a little. "Well, that worked."

"See what you can do when you put your mind to the work and not to sassing?" Modera called over.

Lucithy smirked. "My mind's always in it," she called back as she lobbed another hair-raising attack on her rock. She stepped back with a small "heh" and nearly lost her balance on the uneven ground.

"Learn to walk then you can sass me," Modera said mildly as she passed by. "Jaina! No slacking! Try to show up little miss attitude here." Modera walked off but Lucity covertly stuck her tongue out at Modera's back before she resumed her drilling.

Jaina resumed her own drills against the rock, and, as instructed, tried to obliterate it. It mostly worked, but while it was impressive, it took too long to charge up to that level of power and then cost. She found she could go about it with some adaptation - watching the experienced battlemages gave her the idea of how to tweak what she'd seen just a bit. What it lacked in overwhelming force, it made up in volume.

Then Modera had them do more of the rapid fire drilling, trying to trip them up by calling for different things as they fired attack after attack at the targets. She'd ended the day by having everyone hold sustained channels until they couldn't anymore. Modera had studied them all, giving tips to those using excessive power on how to be more efficient the next time. Those with smaller manapools had dropped out early. Jaina and a few of the other battlecasters had continued onwards for a much longer time until Modera had called the end.

By the end of the class, Jaina was exhausted. She couldn't recall the last time she ached from such physical exertion.

Well... Okay. She felt her cheeks heat as she recalled certain activities she'd recently been able to partake in on a regular basis. While that might have been good for her stamina she wasn't certain she'd have been up for anything of the like anytime soon. Maybe after a nap. Maybe cuddling instead.

Jaina trudged down the hall to her residence, feet dragging, the lure of her nice, hot, bathtub the only thing keeping her placing one foot in front of the other. Eventually she made it to her home. Jaina sighed in the doorway as she realized she would have to cross the expanse of her apartment. But she would persist. The armor was hot and sweaty and she was probably disgusting. Sweat made her scalp itch. After lobbing massive amounts of power with "great rapidity" Modera had made them run again, this time lobbing small, single target attacks at a target in the center of the circular track.

Jaina groaned and closed the door behind her.

And she would be subjected to this again.

"You're home!" Kalec greeted, his smile broad, eyes shining. His expression fell as she fell into his chest, letting her arms just hang.at her sides. "You okay?"

Jaina huffed a noise that was part groan and part soft sob.

Kalec stroked soft fingers through her now grimey and rubble-filled hair. "Hot shower or a bath?"

"Bath."

"Okay." He kissed her forehead. "Want me to carry you?" he asked with just a hint of mischief.

Jaina considered that for a long, weary moment, then finally nodded. Kalec picked her up as if she weighed nothing and carried her to their bedroom. He left her to strip out of the gear and ran the bathwater. She hadn't quite finished stripping when he returned and gentle hands helped her ease out of the rest of the armor and then somehow she'd ended up in the warm bathwater, though she didn't recall crossing the distance.

The water was perfectly warm and he'd dumped in some of the bath oils she liked. He'd probably dumped in a bit more than she'd have used but she sniffed a little, eyes burning even as she smiled at the gesture. Jaina sank down until the water was above her collarbone and rested her head against a folded towel he'd left. He left her alone for a little bit then came back with what looked like wine but turned out to be chilled juice. Jaina drank a little then sank back, eyes lifted to the ceiling and the mosaic depicting the daytime sky. Kalec settled beside her, arms crossed on the rim of the tub, chin on his arms.

Jaina lifted a hand out of the water and brushed his cheek. "Thanks."

He smiled. "Sure. Modera really worked you hard huh?"

Jaina drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly, sighing. She made a wordless noise of assent.

"That the only thing?" Kalec asked.

Jaina rolled her head towards his and sniffed once, smiling again and finding the fingers of one of his hands. He let her take it and waited while she collected her thoughts.

"It's..." Jaina's voice faded for a moment. "It's the dust. At first it wasn't a problem because we were using fire and ice. Then we used arcane and some of the mages in the group can just... There's nothing left but violet dust and rubble." She swallowed. "And sometimes there isn't even rubble."

Kalec crooned gently and kissed her temple.

Jaina sniffed again. "And it didn't bother me at first but then I could hear the impacts as the strikes landed," she said, her voice falling to a hoarse whisper. "And she kept pushing us to change schools and keep up. She kept demanding more power even as we ran like the Legion was behind us." Her voice was shaking now. So were her hands.

Jaina drew in a breath and let it stutter out. "I've done this before. I've fought before. It's silly to be reminded of- of what happened." She tried to calm her racing heart. "I was find on Thunder Isle," she said, her voice very small. Jaina frowned. "Well... There was a moment I thought we might have lost Vereesa."

Kalec kissed her temple. "I don't think it's silly. Maybe you had more time to think about what was going on because it wasn't a life or death situation."

"Could be. I'll be okay," she said, though as she said it, she realized it was more for her own benefit. "I'll be okay. I am okay. Practice is good. Means I can't have this sort of reaction when it counts."

Kalec nuzzled her again.

"She made us run," Jaina said, changing the topic with a groan. "I hate running."

Kalec chuckled. "It's good to build up stamina," he said. "And if you still want to try to shapeshift you'll need every advantage to make it work efficiently."

"Mmm," Jaina agreed. "I suppose that's fair. Wouldn't want to shapeshift and then have to sleep for a day before we can go flying." She frowned. "Will I have to learn or will I just know?"

Kalec grinned. "There will be some learning to do and some instinctive things. I wrote up notes for you when you're ready."

Jaina made a pensive sound and sat up in the tub. She sank back with a groan as muscles protested. She pursed her lips then looked askance at Kalec. "Could you bring the notes in here?"

He grinned and wagged his eyebrows at her then rose to go retrieve the notes. Jaina grinned and sank back into the tub. She summoned enough energy to lift a hand to the water controls and added more warm water.


The world tree was exactly as reported. Vol'jin noted this absently as his wyvern approached the island. Smaller than others of its breed, but still massive enough, it was clearly unlike other trees. He drew in a breath and listened to the laughing winds. The loa here were full of boisterous energy but while they felt like dancing, they had no words for him. He snorted a laugh and focused on the island, directing his wyvern to circle at a leisurely pace outside of Theramore's direct airspace.

The ruined walls had been partially covered with grass and creeping ivy. A large green dragon snoozed in the sun on top of one such wall, their head shaded by a small sapling. He could see druids gathered here and there, a visible hodgepodge of races and cultures. They spotted the incoming party from Orgrimmar and watched with wary body language. A large owl slid into formation with the rest of the group. It eyed him with intelligent eyes - a shape shifted druid. He nodded politely. The druid kept a wary distance before breaking off to sail ahead and land in a clearing.

Vol'jin gestured to his companions and brought his wyvern in to land before where the northern gates had once been. He left his mount with his people and walked through at the head of a small guard formation, Hurin Plainswalker a step to his right.

A strange chill ran down the Warchief's spine as he passed through the ruined gates. Wood beams and scaffolding had been constructed over the gates but green vines, larger and more lush than would have been natural, had begun to grow upwards and over them. These were the gates the Horde had stormed in their feint before the bomb had dropped. He had been among the leaders present who had assaulted this location the day of the attack. Vol'jin paused, feeling the pressing weight of so many deaths; a handful from the Horde but so many more from the Alliance. They were enemies but they'd been lives. Vol'jin found himself unsettled despite the overt peace of the island.

He was being watched. A few of the druids had drifted forward, curious and wary. Vol'jin was well aware of the green dragon still lounging in the sun on the wall and that he was being watched by them too. His guards shifted their weight behind him, feeling the weight of scrutiny. But their attention was not all of what stirred him.

He'd watched with the others as the bomb had fallen like a tiny star; perfect, bright and small. It had descended almost gently. The explosion had been blindingly bright. The Death Loa had rejoiced in so many souls crossing over in that one instant, laughing in bloodthirsty approval. Vol'jin hadn't shared the sentiment. It had felt wrong, somehow, to see the city die as it had. And if Garrosh could do that to one city, what else was he willing to do?

By design he'd arrived a little bit before his meeting with Archmage Proudmoore. He waved his guards off. His headhunters scowled but dropped to relaxed crouches out of the way - keeping him in sight but letting him go without them. Vol'jin nodded at Hurin who returned the gesture and drifted off to speak with the largest cluster of gawking druids.

Vol'jin strode forward and up the slight rise. He put his hands on his hips and regarded the tree. It vibrated with energy on a spiritual level, and while it was not the utterly rushing torrent that Nordrassil was, it was a considerable stream. Vol'jin turned towards the sea and sat with his back resting on the trunk. Closing his eyes he listened.

"Nice view, huh?" said a voice, small and high and soft but echoingly powerful.

Vol'jin smirked and opened one eye. "Aye, dat it be." He caught the faint impression of pink and purple from the corner of his eye.

"I like the sea. The sound of the waves. Jaina said it was her favorite sound. It's soothing."

Vol'jin watched the sun dance on the waves and recalled times long in the past when he'd sit under the trees for a brief rest at the edge of one of the beaches among the isles the Darkspear called home . The sea had given the Darkspear and their islands much... and had taken much. "De sea be a tricky thing. One minute it be givin' you dinner, the next it be tryin to kill you wit' a storm." The Loa of the sea were well known to be mercurial creatures, changing mood in a flash. One minute they were blessing you and the next you were cursed and doomed.

A giggle from the first voice and then a second voice answered on his other side. "Fair. But then many things can cut both ways. Give and take, wound and heal, grow and destroy." He noticed red and purple from the corner of his eye but did not look at it directly, instead considering the words.

Vol'jin scratched his beard. "Aye. Dat be true enough." Garrosh's push for advancement had given the Horde much in the way of protection and had also advanced their ability to work metals, their understanding of mechanical matters and alchemy and magic. But he'd also disregarded the people he'd been given to lead, he'd killed his own and had fallen into mad, dark plans to gain even more power and conquest heedless of natural orders or the lives of his people. The cost had become too high for the rest of the Horde.

Vol'jin exhaled and listened. There were echoes of voices between the crashes of the waves. He could hear the city as it had been when it lived and the screams as it died. Theramore had loa of its own. The people here had lived and that always attracted the spirits. They were not lost or confused, mostly they were sad. Any lingering anger was calmed by the massive presence of the tree, a rage subsiding.

"I'm glad they grew a tree. It filled the crater," the small and young voice said, reading his thoughts.

Vol'jin nodded. He could feel the way the tree was already soothing the lesser spirits. It was young and vibrant, healthy and solid. He smirked and regarded the sea again. "Am I speakin' to ya now? Are you de Tree or sometin' else?"

"Now that would be telling," the older, male voice said, amused.

Vol'jin continued to watch the sea. A small fishing boat had drifted into view. It was of human make, the fisherman on board casting his net into the sea then pulling it back. It wasn't really there but then neither was the dwarf patting the gryphon in the ruins below or the cadre of Draenei in plate or the group of humans talking with one another outside of the blacksmith's shop, or the balding mage with kind eyes or the night elf who looked so fierce. These were all echoes of the lives lived here.

He sat almost in the center of where the blast had happened. He'd seen the crater from afar but it was indeed filled by the tree, the roots reaching deeper into the world even as he sat there, its influence spreading out and growing, bit by bit. It lived, soothing and regulating, persistent as the tides... or perhaps a heartbeat.

"I wouldn't mind if ya wanted ta be straight wit' me," he said aloud. The spirits laughed teasingly and he smirked shaking his head. "Didn't think so. Ya can't blame me for try'n."

"Aw, but where's the fun in that?" the young voice was back.

Vol'jin snorted a small laugh. "More interested in what's right for my people den what's fun."

"Well you're hardly alone in that," the voice said. "Listen."

It was clearly a command and so he did; it would have been both disrespectful and unwise not to. Wind rustled through the branches of the tree. Change comes. Be ready. He caught a flash of pink and this time he turned to look. He thought it might have been hair but instead he only found the drifting petals of flowers the color of magic. A full blossom had landed at his side.

Vol'jin picked up the flower and studied it then looked up at the tree. Movement caught his eye and out over the water he saw the air shimmer and twist until a massive portal opened. An equally massive blue dragon flew through, and perched on his back was a human woman with unmistakeable white hair with a golden streak.

He'd hated humans for most of his life. They were the enemy, stopping the troll's natural progress and conquest. At best they were a challenge to test against and overcome. And they still were the adversary, but having fought them and fought beside them he'd come to respect them. And during his recovery in Pandaria Vol'jin even learned to like at least one.

He lifted a hand to scratch his beard and realized he still held the pale flower. He considered it a moment. It seemed something the loa thought he was supposed to have. He tucked it into his mane of hair for now.

The pair landed and the dragon transformed into his much smaller form once Jaina was on the ground. She and Kalecgos exchanged a quiet word then the dragon resumed his true form and wandered in the direction of the green still draped on the ruined wall.

Vol'jin met Jaina's eyes across the distance and he rose, rolled his shoulders, then approached the mage. Her eyes darted to the flower then back. Vol'jin grinned, amused to have offset her a bit. Just because he had some respect for humans did not mean he needed to make anything easy for her. She was a battle proven mage, a leader and he could grudgingly admit a worthy adversary. It would be insulting not to give her a hard time.

Her expression was guarded but he could read fear and hope in her eyes in equal measure. The soft human had been changed by Garrosh. Vol'jin snorted a laugh. He'd been changed as well. The Grand Magus' eyes narrowed and Vol'jin lifted a hand as he approached.

"Was just thinkin', Lady," he said, striding down the hill towards her and crossing the last few steps. "'Bout de mess Garrosh left."

"Mess?" Jaina questioned, eyes narrowing, jaw clenching. She abruptly stopped, eyes closing as she drew in a breath in then out. She waved a hand and with a flash of light and color two seats and a small floating table bearing fritters, wine and fruit appeared. Lady Proudmoore took another meditative breath and indicated the seating. "Shall we sit and discuss?" Her tone was polite and neutral, lacking in the blazing rage which had lurked behind her eyes moments ago.

Huh. It was an interesting development.

"Aye. Dat we should, Lady." Vol'jin settled into a seat but did not eat or drink. "You be reversin' de policy on de Horde in Dalaran." No sense in wasting time, Vol'jin got to the heart of the matter.

"We are," Jaina said, perching on the edge of her seat like a wary sparrow.

"Why now?" he asked, watching her reactions but listening to the loa should they speak.

Proudmoore took a moment before speaking, again taking a breath and centering herself in a way that reminded Vol'Jin of the pandaren he'd convalesced with. Then Proudmoore launched into what seemed to be a well rehearsed speech.

Vol'jin listened with half an ear. Dalaran was a City of mages - all mages. Their issue had been with Garrosh and Garrosh was no longer the Warchief. The Council would be very closely watching portals on the Alliance side and expected the same would be done on the Horde side as a precaution against reprisals for Darnassus. It was all very logical. Vol'jin watched her and listened to discern what the mage believed.

The Jaina Proudmoore who had landed on the beach of Durotar and who had confronted Garrosh in his inner sanctum was much changed from the woman she'd been before. Jaina prior to Theramore's fall had been soft, quiet and kind almost without reservation. Garrosh had seen it as a weakness and if he were being honest, Vol'jin hadn't given her much mind. The rage after the death of her city had been surprising to Vol'jin and his allies. It had nearly killed them. Then for the next year or so, she had been all hard edges and fierce glares. She'd allowed the Horde to continue in Dalaran until Garrosh had once more stepped in. Then she'd been according to some reports, an unholy terror bent on the utter destruction of all the Horde held dear. But then most of the reports had come from the Sunreavers and she'd allowed an uneasy ceasefire with Lor'themar, so Vol'jin, took those reports a grain of sand or whatever the human saying was. She'd been hard and angry.

Until the trial when she and many others had died.

The Jaina Proudmoore who sat before him now was neither of these extremes. She was instead somewhere in the tempered middle.

Listen.

There was much Jaina was not saying and Vol'jin listened to that as well. She wasn't happy about these changes, but she believed in them and in what she said. As she spoke, seeking to convince him, he could see her convince herself. The tightness in her jaw lessened, the icy formality faded from her posture and eyes, replaced with determination. She was the one who'd brought the decision up with the Council, and was voluntarily on this path but why?

"Did you see him?" Vol'jin asked suddenly before he really thought about it.

Jaina paused in mid word, blinking. "Him?" she asked when she finally recovered.

"Bwonsamdi. De Loa of Death."

Jaina's jaw worked a moment, her brows furrowing. "No. Not that I recall." She suppressed a shiver and folded her hands together.

So the death Loa hadn't spoken to her or set her on this path.

Jaina cleared her throat. "May I ask why you would ask that?"

Vol'jin shrugged. "It be a great change, Lady. You walked the path of peace. You don't walk it no more. But you don't dance to de war drums neither. Some say you'll attack de Horde if dey come back. Some say you be back to de way things were before. But you don't live through this much death and betrayal and end up de same." He huffed out a laugh. "Garrosh killed us. You. Me. Others. The people we were be dead." Vol'jin leaned forward, resting one arm on a knee. "Garrosh killed you twice. I be tryin' to decide who this new Jaina Proudmoore is, an' if it be safe t'let my people, my family, back in'ta Dalaran."

The grand magus considered him and his words, falling silent. At length she sat back in her seat, the formally fading. "I have died twice," she said into the quiet. "I'd not considered it that way."

Vol'jin snorted another laugh. It wasn't typical to be dead in one sense and alive in so many other ways, but yet here they were.

"So, I be askin' again, why now?"

Proudmoore considered him a for a long moment before answering. "Because it's the right thing to do. Because the Horde is not Garrosh."

And there was something she wasn't saying here. Something had the Lady of Dalaran and Theramore unsettled. It wasn't duplicity; Vol'jin was well practised in discerning that.

"And?" He prompted because she wasn't going to say whatever it was on her own. As much as she was less inclined to kill him on sight than before, she was still an opponent.

Jaina's jaw clenched. Her eyes flicked to the flower still in his hair then she met his eyes. She took in another meditative breath and folded her hands in her lap. "Because I want the mages of Dalaran to be strong when the next cataclysm happens, whatever form it might take."

Vol'jin sighed out a breath and sat back in his seat. He plucked a cookie off the tray and munched on it contemplatively. It was spicy and sweet and he found himself staring at it as the ginger flavor bit back. Snorting a laugh Vol'jin continued to eat the cookie and consider both the mage before him and the loa that surrounded the island.

There would be something next, he realized, the thought sliding into place like a perfectly carved stone block in one of the ziggurats the ancient trolls had built. It had the weight of truth. He made a mental note to ask the farseers if they felt something on the horizon and if they had an idea of what shape it might take. Vol'jin's gifts had never been as a clear clairvoyant, but he'd proven himself worthy to the Loa and with their favor came some awareness.

"Consider what you have learned," they whispered. And so he considered the recent lessons they'd gifted to him.

The Venom Queen had granted him visions during his time recovering from Garrosh's assassination attempt. The Mogu and Zandalari alliance had crumbled because of their mutual arrogance and utter belief they were the stronger. And their empires, both vast and terrible, had crumbled to dust. The Mogu were overthrown by their servants and the Zandalari ripped apart from within.

Vol'jin scratched his beard and ate another cookie. Garrosh had nearly ripped apart the Horde with his treachery and selfish power seeking. He'd been overthrown by those he'd deemed lesser. His rise in power had nearly broken the Horde with infighting. His legacy threatened to destabilize the Horde even now; both fates of empires could befall the Horde now if Vol'jin wasn't careful. And so, Vol'jin was careful.

"The Kirin Tor," Proudmoore said into the silence, "Is willing, and able, to assist both factions in the alternate Draenor. As we assisted in Ice Crown and during the fight against Deathwing, so too we would assist here. We wish to see Garrosh brought to justice, his Iron Horde dismantled, and the people of Draenor freed. Not just the draenei but orc clans like the Frostwolves."

Vol'jin took a drink from the floating tray. Mage-wine was weak but it was cool and complimented the spicy cookies.

For years the Horde and Alliance of Azeroth had been at one another's throats. The animosity between them was real and for many reasons, some personal, some of pride. Vol'jin snorted another laugh. Pride. Proud was in the Lady's name and while she might have played the part of the meek princess, even then, he reflected, there'd been pride.

Which she was holding back now. Her eyes had narrowed when he'd laughed at his own internal thoughts and yet she'd not struck. As she watched, she again let the tension go, her shoulders relaxing, breathing out at a ten-count. Like one of the Shado-pan.

"You been to de monastery in Kun-lai?"

She tilted her head slightly, a fraction of surprise before she schooled her features. "I have been studying with one of the monks from the Shado-pan."

Vol'jin smiled, his teeth showing. "Some strange ideas, dese Pandaren, but some good ones too."

Proudmoore smiled slightly. "I have come to think so."

"How long you been studyin' wit' dem?" he asked, the words again prompted by gut instinct or the hand of the spirits.

Proudmoore's eyes dropped a moment then met his steadily. "Since after the trial."

Huh. Maybe they'd been putting her back together like they'd put Khort and him back together. In fact that made the most sense to the Shadowhunter. Vol'jin could see the same hand on her that he'd seen in himself.

"Some mighty fine healers in Pandaria. Dey found my sorry carcass after Garrosh's assassins."

"Being dead," Proudmoore said, referencing his earlier statements, "gives some interesting perspectives."

That confirmed it for Vol'jin. They'd both died and had been reborn, put back together by the same hands. No wonder she'd found something between the extremes of meekness and rage. It was supposition but then something told him he was right.

Vol'jin laughed. "Aye. Dat it does, Lady Mage. Dat it does. So," he pointed at her, "I have your word, on your power, dis ain't no trap for de Horde. De real Horde an' not dem idiots follow'n Garrosh."

"I give you my word, on my power, this is not a trap for the Horde of Azeroth. The Council, myself included, genuinely wish to open our borders again. Should our trusts be violated we will take action, but so long as everyone plays nice, they are welcome."

Vol'jin rested a hand on one arm of the chair and listened hard as he studied the Grand Magus. "I dunno if dey will want to return. Dat be up to dem. But I won't stop 'em."

If he hadn't been looking he might have missed the small signs of her relief, the way her shoulders relaxed just a fraction. She inclined her head graciously and he nodded back. "As for de rest, my commander has said your mage has been helping."

"Khadgar has, with approval." Jaina lifted her head, proud once again and so determined Vol'jin could practically feel it. He smirked and she met his expression with a fierce grin. "We wish to see Garrosh brought low. Should your commander have need of our resources, she need only bring them to Khadgar's attention for discussion.

Vol'jin nodded and rose. Jaina rose as well, banishing the seating area and tray of food and wine. He stretched and sank back down with a sigh as the air around him changed slightly.

"Thank you for taking his meeting," Proudmoore said, once more bowing her head.

Vol'jin nodded, his eyes going back to the growing tree where the crater had once been. "Dis be sacred space," he said. "Powerful mojo be growin' here now." He rapped the bark with the back of a knuckle. The wood was firm and healthy under the gentle thump. "Ain't no Horde gon' give trouble here. An if dey do, den you got de right to punish em' as y'see fit." He spread his hands. "But if you can't stand the sight of 'em, send em' to me and I show em de error."

Proudmoore arched a silver eyebrow, surprised but not entirely displeased if he was reading her expression correctly. "I shall keep that in mind."

Vol'jin smirked and in the wind, one of the loa of this island giggled. He took the flower from his hair and handed it out to Proudmoore. She frowned at it, confused, then took it in delicate fingers.

"Strong loa here. Laughing." He nodded to her once more and strode off to collect his people and make the long return journey to Orgrimmar. The spirits laughed in his wake, either at him or at the expression on Proudmoore's face. Either way, interesting times were in the winds.

Chapter Text

Jaina returned to Dalaran still holding the flower that Vol'jin had handed to her. She walked to her office automatically, her mind on the blossom and the Warchief's words. Spirits? On her island? He'd said they were laughing. Jaina wondered if they were drawn by the tree or were they the spirits of those departed.

"Jaina?" Ansirem Runewaver called out as she passed by his door. Drawn from her reverie, Jaina paused. Karlain and Ansirem joined hallway between the rooms the Council used as offices. Jaina set aside the question of who Vol'Jin might have been referring to and turned to her colleagues.

"How'd it go?" Runeweaver asked.

"Well," Jaina said. "He won't stop anyone who wishes to return."

Ansirem's bushy eyebrows raced for his hairline and Karlain's expression was similarly wide-eyed. "Just like that?" Ansirem asked, now frowning.

"Apparently," Jaina answered.

"Well, that does track with what we've been hearing from Khadgar," Karlain said. He was rubbing his chin thoughtfully, the other arm crossed over his chest. "The trolls found the purge understandable if inconvenient."

"This cannot be this easy," Ansirem muttered.

"Oh it isn't going to be, my friend," Karlain said. "And I think we all know it."

Ansirem sighed. "You're right, of course. I think maybe a part of me wanted Vol'jin to have more resistance to the idea. It'd give us time to refine the plans here."

"I think we're all concerned how the rest of the city will react," Jaina said.

"At least now we can move forward," Karlain said with a firm nod. He looked at Jaina. "Shall we begin to execute the plans to tell the various department heads then?"

"We should," Jaina confirmed. "Vereesa and I will be going over things with the Silver Covenant later today. Modera will be in on that meeting. That will take care of the Silver Covenant's leadership. We should be hearing back from Draenor and the assault on Ner'zhul, soon. Assuming all goes well there, it will be the first time we'll have assisted in a successful operation."

Ansirem blew out a breath. "We're really doing this."

Karlain patted his shoulder. "We are and it will be fine. Just need to get it over with and onto the damage control until everyone settles back down. That is what we did last time when Rhonin proposed allowing them in to begin with."

Jaina hoped it would be that simple. She left Ansirem and Karlain to their meetings and checked the time. Vereesa and her seconds wouldn't be here for awhile yet so she sent a quick letter to Khadgar so it would make the mail transfer.

"I've spoken with Vol'jin. He is not opposed to his people returning to Dalaran. If they come or not is up to them, but he will not bar them. I hope this will help settle some of the upset where you are and doesn't add to it.

On a personal note, Modera's given me 'homework' you will be amused to hear. I've chosen to create a shapeshifting spell and wondered if I could examine Atiesh. I understand both the personal nature of this request and if you choose to decline.

-Jaina"

She sent the letter on its way and managed to get some actual office work done before the meeting with the Silver Covenant.


Vereesa looked tired and a bit careworn, but her eyes were clear and there was a softness in her expression that Jaina had only rarely seen in the last year. The high elf's smile reached her eyes and it hadn't in a long time.

"Jaina I think you've met Acinos and Jirella, my second and third," Vereesa said indicating a tall high elf male with wildly spiked dark hair and a smaller, more demure looking elf female with a neat red bob.

Acinos frowned but Jirella's expression was carefully neutral. Jaina knew Acinoa was the older of the two, a peer and longtime friend of Vereesa's. Jirella was younger than either of them and was considered to be a young adult. They'd been good soldiers on Thunder Isle, but Jaina was curious to see how they'd handle the change here where peace and diplomacy would be more required than ability with bow and blade.

Jaina inclined her head and indicated the seating area. They sat, Jaina and Vareesa flanking the two seconds.

"I've told them about the Council's plans," Vereesa said. "There were... concerns."

Acinos' face twisted as if he'd tasted something sour. "Is this really the best idea? The sin'dorei have proven to be just as untrustworthy as the rest of the Horde."

Vereesa spoke before Jaina did, so the archmage folded her hands in her lap and listened.

"Acinos, Kael'thas has been dead for years. Those who sided with him are dead or discredited-"

"And yet they consider the rest of us traitorous," Acinos snapped. "As if we were the ones to made dark pacts with demons!"

Vereesa's jaw clenched and her glowing eyes closed for a moment. "Acinos, not all of them did. The magic addiction continues to be an issue among them and specifically among the Sunreavers-"

"Who were the ones who allowed the attack on our allies in Darnassus!"

"Acinos!" Vereesa snapped, shutting up the other elf whose mouth closed with a click of teeth. "I know." She said, her voice holding ragged notes now. "I know." She held up a hand to forestall his comments and drew in a breath then let it out. "But where in the world is the best place for those who are addicted to magic and who wish for help? Here. In Dalaran" She tapped the arm of her chair. "You know as well as I do they're not objective about it in Silvermoon. When Rhonin allowed them here, he also allowed people to get help. I've seen the numbers since those programs started. A lot of people have been helped."

Acinos made a scoffing sound. "And the rest of the Horde? Why do we need to let them in at all?"

"Azeroth needs Dalaran to be a place for all mages," Jirella spoke up.

"Jirella-"

"Telmar was more like a brother to me than a cousin-"

"The Horde killed him-"

"Yes. But he believed in this place, Acinos. You know he did."

Acinos subsided with a growl. Jirella turned her placed gaze to Jaina and Vereesa. "We'll do what we must, Ranger-General, Archmage. We will keep the peace and we will ensure the safety of our people when the Horde mages return. It was.... mostly fine before." A slight look of irritation crept into her expression then was gone.

"Thank you. Allowing them to return will also enable us to move ahead with our agreement with the Shado-pan," Jaina said. "And I believe the benefits of that will be significant for all of us. It is also an opportunity," she said looking from Acinos to Jirella. "The Horde is unsteady and rebuilding. Think of the influence we could have on them. Most of them hate Garrosh as much as we do. If we view them all the same as him then they'll just hate us more. If we take this moment to instead work with them against the Iron Horde then we lessen the chance of a Garrosh rising in the future. Instead of young soldiers of the Horde fighting members of the Alliance, they fight enemies of all Azeroth."

"And how do we know they won't betray us again?" Acinos asked. He scowled.

"We don't," Jaina said. "We can only do what we can to lessen the chance they will. By the numbers though, we need them. We need them in the economy for the city to continue."

"Telmar believed in Dalaran," Jirella said to the other elf. "You loved him. You know he'd want us to continue."

Acinos sighed. "We will do our duty, Archmage," he said. "When does the rest of the city find out?"

"In a couple days if we can manage it. We'll announce after some actions in Draenor are settled and the Council has had the chance to brief more people," Jaina said. The elves nodded.

"If you'll excuse us, Jaina, we'll go over the last few details before I'm due to return to Kun-Lai."

"Of course."

Jaina watched them go and noted the time. The working day was just about over and she could return home. Smiling she began to neatly order her desk when a missive popped into her mailbox.

Picking up the scroll, Jaina noted it was from Khadgar.

"Jaina, you are most welcome to come examine the spellwork on Atiesh! Dare I guess this means you've chosen to create a flying form? Please come visit my tower at your earliest convenience. I can update you in person on the progress here and we can do some research. Cordana can glare at us both while we talk shop in the nice, safe, confines of my tower.

-Khadgar

PS: I am pleased to hear about Vol'jin's reaction. I too hope that it will serve to calm things here."

Another scroll popped in her inbox, also from Khadgar.

"PPS: We a will soon be moving on Ner'zhul's location and my tower will be used as a portal relay for our guests from Frostfire. Depending on when you arrive I may have updates on that endeavor as well. Or we might not be in a nice, safe tower at all. But don't tell Cordana that."

Pursing her lips in consideration, Jaina checked her schedule and noted she had some time. The formal announcement wouldn't be for at least a day and she could probably catch Khadgar before he was moving troops. She sent a quick reply to Khadgar and then left for home.

Kalec swooped on her as soon as she entered their lab space. He kissed her until she was breathless and broke it with a grin. Jaina laughed making it a bit hard to catch her breath.

He rested his forehead against hers. "Hi."

Jaina continue to laugh. "Hello there. I'm home at a reasonable time."

"So I see. Evening plans?"

"Well, I did want to work a bit more on the shapeshifting spell," she said.

Kalec's eyes lit up. "You should do that!" he said before she could say she was open to changing her plans if he wished to spend time with her. His expression was infectious and Jaina found herself smiling more. He took a half step back. "You've hardly had time to dig into it. Don't let me keep you."

She took his hand before he could retreat further. She did want to spend time on her research, but she also wanted to spend time with him. "I want to work on my project but later we could spend some time together? You could teach me more runes?"

He smiled even more broadly. Kalec loved teaching and Jaina wanted to learn more. He drew her closer to steal another kiss. "I'll go prepare a lesson plan." He wagged his eyebrows then kissed her swiftly again before striding off to his side of the lab, Jaina's laughter following him.

Returning to her workbench, Jaina opened her notes and slipped easily back into the research mindset with a content sigh. Vol'Jin's approval meant that was one less item to worry about and she could fully give herself over to study for a few hours. Modera was right; it was refreshing to have something to retreat to which was unrelated to the running of Dalaran.

Jaina knew she would need to create a tool of some kind - something to act as a fulcrum for the massive powers involved in her transformation spell. Atiesh served as the tool for Khadgar. Her staff was well-made and already laden with spells. Overlaying the transformation spells onto it would not be hard and then when she turned back, she would have her staff on hand. She wasn't entirely certain where Atiesh went when Khadgar was a Raven, and that was one of the questions she had. According to her reports, the Vial of the Sands likewise did a disappearing act.

Something other than a staff was appealing though. If she was disarmed or if there was sufficient feedback during a cast using her staff, the whole thing could break. If her spell was contained in her staff and it broke or was taken, then potentially her shapeshift was another tool she could be without in a dire situation. She wouldn't be a real dragon, but something large and possessing both flight and claws could potentially be useful. Having more of her empowered and enchanted artifacts spread meant it would be harder to disarm her in combat.

Jaina smirked. She was beginning to sound like Modera.

The Vial of the Sands was a small trinket on a chain according to the picture and short report on the object. Jaina wasn't certain how such a small thing could contain all the necessary power to turn the bearer into a stone drake. The item was in the possession of the Horde. Jaina thought it was unlikely she'd be able to study it first hand.

Given the name of the object, she wondered if some of the sands in the Vial might not be empowered by the Bronze Flight's magic in some way - or at least used to create a dimensional fold to contain the rest of the enchanting surface.

A trinket might not be a bad item. But she'd want to wear it somehow to keep her hands free. Paws? Jaina shook her head and let her pen write her thoughts and notes down so she could examine them better.

A necklace. Yes, that appealed. But a necklace might not be sufficient an item to hold the power she'd need to channel, and necklaces were not as good tools as a staff or wand was. It wasn't insurmountable by any means, but it would be something to keep in mind.

"I'm thinking a necklace, but it might not be sufficient," Jaina said, calling across the room.

"No?" Kalec looked up from his pages.

"No," Jaina sighed. "If I want to be something larger than the size of a drake, which is my goal, I'll need to draw more power from the aether or from storage or a combination of both. I need to increase the available flow somehow. I might have to construct a two-part artifact."

Kalec nodded. "You've decided against your staff?"

"For now," Jaina confirmed as she paged through a reference book. "Maybe it's Modera rubbing off on me, but having a second foci feels right. Safer."

Kalec bobbed his head thoughtfully. "Matching bracelets to the necklace? A set would be sympathetic."

Jaine made a thoughtful noise and twirled her stylus in her hand as she considered. "Possible. After I look at Atiesh it might be the case I need to use my staff anyway. There might be a good reason for how that spell is laid out." She rolled her shoulders. "I will need to acquire some higher quality materials than I currently have on hand. I'll probably need at least one battery crystal to help push me over into being able to cast the spell." She set a bookmark in her reference and crossed the room to perch on a stool by Kalec's workbench.

"Done?" he asked.

"For now," she said, smiling at him. She folded her hands and leaned on the table. "So, are we picking up where we left off?"

Kalec smiled and pushed a page of glyphs at her. "You're beginning to get the basic glyphs down. I think you're ready to begin learning some of the specific ones the blues use to define magic."


The crossing from Azeroth to Draenor was oddly itchy for a moment, like sand against her skin, then the sensation passed and she was standing in a small wooded glade. Palisade walls were being reinforced and a group of builders were working on what might be the beginnings of an inn. Troops trained in small groups and she could see the beginnings of a stout stone wall were beginning to be laid. There was a small paddock with gryphons being saddled and soldiers were up and about making things ready, though it appeared to be either late at night or very early in the morning.

"Jaina!" Jaina turned to find Archmage Zalia approaching. The Worgen archmage was wearing the standard battlegear of the Kirin Tor with some adjustments to account for lupine legs and paws. Her staff was strapped to her back and a pair of goggles had been pushed up on her forehead. Beside her was Khadgar, walking with a spring in his step. "Welcome to Draenor," Zaliya said.

"Thank you."

"Crossed just fine I see."

"It's a bit..." Jaina trailed off and self-consciously brushed at her sleeves.

"We've noticed it as well," Khadgar said while Zaliya nodded. "We think it is because of Kairozdormu's magic. In any case you've arrived just in time to see the garrisons off to fight Ner'zul. If you would not mind lending your talents, you could assist me in holding the transfer portals to the staging area."

"Save me a bit of work," Zaliya said with a feral grin.

Jaina began to respond then froze. She had arrived just in time to assist rather than avoiding things as she'd hoped. Jaina closed her eyes and fought down the urge to scream. She drew in a breath. The pre dawn air was moist and sweet and she caught the smell of cookfires and leather oil. Her heart pounded in her ears.

She could leave and reschedule. She'd not be blamed for leaving. And yet... And yet was it right for her to leave? Jaina had said many things and had put things in motion but this would be acting on it personally. She would be the one assisting the Horde even if it furthered her own goals. But it would be helping the Horde.

"Yes," she said before she could stop herself. Then the word was out there and the fist around her heart unclenched a little. She felt suddenly giddy and lightheaded. Jaina let out a shaky breath and nodded. "Yes, I will help."

"Excellent!" Khadgar enthused.

Zaliya made a pensive sound. "Did you wish to participate in the fighting?" she asked. When Jaina opened her eyes again the worgen was regarding her carefully. "We can scrounge up some gear and you can stand in reserve with Khadgar. I am guessing he didn't mention we were about to enter combat." She gave him a sideways glance.

Khadgar managed to look genuinely abashed. "She wanted to talk research!" he said in his defense, again, genuine.

"He did send a second message saying he would be assisting in moving troops. I was honestly hoping to avoid this. I suppose I mis-timed my arrival." She looked from one mage to the other. "How cross do you think Modera will be that I've stepped onto a battlefield without her say so?" Jaina asked, only half joking.

Zalia snorted. "You can play on the backlines with Khadgar."

Khadgar frowned at Zaliya. "Now wait just a-"

"Ah, ah, ah!" Zaliya held up a clawed hand, cutting him off. "Cordana and I made an agreement. You're in reserve on the back line, well out of the line of fire, or she doesn't let you come at all."

"That's absurd!"

"She's got an assignment and unfortunately for her it's you," she said poking him in the chest. "Backlines or you don't take the field at all." Zaliya looked Jaina over. "And Modera will probably to turn me into a rug if I put you on the frontlines before she's had a chance to do it herself. Come on, let's get you into something just in case two armies of angry Draenei and Death Knights don't manage to contain Ner'Zhul."

"I just wanted to study," Jaina muttered to herself as she followed the other archmage.


Jaina tugged at the collar of her outfit. "I should really get my own set," she muttered. "But it's not like I expected to be marching on a necromancer's stronghold when I left this morning." She began to adjust the gauntlets she'd been loaned.

Zaliya snorted a laugh from her perch on the room's lone table. "Khadgar mentioned you wished to study Atiesh."

"Yes. I'm working on a new project and I wanted to see the raven transformation spellwork."

Zaliya's golden eyes lit up. "A transformation spell?"

Jaina finished her adjustments and turned. "Yes. Modera's declared I needed a project and I've never done a transformation before. I'm hoping to create a form that flies so I can accompany Kalec."

The other archmage held up a finger and her head dropped. When it picked up again it wasn't Zaliya in control. It was strange to see even after having seen it before; the worgen's body language changed as Tarecgosa took control, the golden eyes becoming filled with a blue glow and her voice that of the dragon spirit.

"A dragon by chance?" Tarecgosa asked, leaning forward and grinning.

"If I can," Jaina said after a moment's hesitation.

The dragon spirit made a high-pitched, excited noise and wriggled, her clawed paws dancing in place. It looked comically adorable on the worgen. "Oh, that will be such fun! You'll have to come visit once you've managed it and I can tell you all about being a lady dragon." She gave Jaina a dry look. "I love my brother-in-law but he's such a male." She rolled her eyes and scoffed. "You're a mage. I bet you'll be a very pretty blue."

"You wouldn't be offended?" Jaina asked warily.

Tarecgosa snorted. "I certainly won't be. I was in Kalec's faction during the Nexus War and I happen to live in Zal's head. It's only by her kindness and Kalec's power I get to have any sort of existence at all. I know you younger mages are more than ready to uphold the Charge of the Blue." Her voice grew wavering and she paused for a moment. "And besides, you make him happy," she said in a more even tone.

"Kalec has always, what is the phrase I am trying to think of Zal? Something with coats?" She tilted her head and her ears cocked as she listened to Zaliya. "Ah, yes, thank you. He wears his heart on his sleeve. He's been hurt and he's lost so much. You make him happy. Flying is..." She huffed out a breath and looked ot the side trying to find the words. "We are flying creatures, Jaina. It is a fundamental commonality of all the flights." She snorted again. "Even the word we use to describe ourselves, 'flights' of dragons, conveys this. I have no doubt he would be perfectly content to share what he could with you but you've offered to try to share his skies with him. And it's probably going to be a fairly hefty spell, which, knowing Kalec as I do, is also going to be incredibly attractive." She smiled. "So no. I don't have a problem with this at all. If there is anything I can do to help I will." She paused thoughtfully. "And I imagine the magic will be fascinating."

"Thank you for your support," Jaina said. "I don't imagine all dragons will agree, but I am glad you do at least."

The dragon nodded and silently ceded control back to Zaliya who shook her fur out for a moment.

"And you?" Jaina asked the other archmage.

"Eh?" Zaliya tilted her head, one ear cocked. It would have been humorous if Jaina hadn't been feeling somewhat exposed and nervous.

"Would this offend you as a mage?"

Zaliya gave her a flat look. "Jaina I have a blue dragon in my head and I can already assume her form. Sort of. Even if I gave a damn, I'd be pretty hypocritical of me to say you can't try it." She grinned. "And honestly, flying is rather spectacular. If you manage it we might have to consult with you to see if Tare and I can't get to a proper adult size. Being something as large as a drake has advantages but it doesn't have the sheer hefty power and potential as a full adult wyrm."

Jaina found herself smiling back at the grinning archmage.

"Come on, time to get a move on. I'm due at the front and you and Khadgar are going to ferry troops. Let's go learn the endpoint and how to go through my wards and then I'll take you to his tower to you can learn that as well."

Jaina nodded and followed her out of the small commander's quarters and back into the garrison. The birds were beginning to wake with the pre-dawn light. The archmage said a few words to her lieutenants and then created a portal to their destination. Jaina joined her power to Zaliya's and began to get a feel for the location and the way through the wards on the other side.

Magic was strange on Draenor, somehow. Jaina couldn't put her finger on why but it was... odd. She passed through the portal and found herself in the middle of a small staging area which had been heavily warded. Several people slowed what they were doing or outright stopped when they noticed her. Zaliya came through a moment later and Jaina tuned everyone else out as she let the other mage help her get a sense of the area so she could form a portal to their location.

The staging area overlooked the Shadowmoon fortress which was currently protected by a hefty barrier.

"How are you getting in there?" she asked.

Zaliya grinned. "We have a key. Don't worry. We'll have those barrier down." After a quick test run back to Lunarfall, Zaliya took her to Khadgar's tower.

Zangarra was damp and stank of decomposing vegetation, which wasn't terribly surprising since Khadgar's tower was in the middle of a swap. The confluence of leylines was quite nice, though. Khadgar strode out of the tower with a glowering warden on his heels. "Hello!"

"You teach her this location. I'll be ready to receive guests in Shadowmoon," Zaliya said then teleported away once Khadgar had nodded. The confluence was such that finding this spot was remarkably easy and there was some time before true-dawn and the Horde would begin transferring. Cordana had drafted or been assigned a small cluster of sentinels and the handful of Alliance troops appeared to be uneasy. Jaina couldn't blame them for she felt some of the same misgivings deep down.

"They're not going directly there because of the warding?" Jaina asked to confirm her suspicions.

"Yes," Khadgar said. "And I admit a small bit of politicking. If they have to go through here, through me, then they know the Kirin Tor helped. The fact that you are here only helps." He smiled, perhaps a bit smugly.

Jaina narrowed her eyes. "Did you plan this?"

"Well, not entirely," he said. "Once I noticed, I might have been purposefully vague and full of hope that you'd show at the opportune moment." He gave her an apologetic smile in return for her glare.

Jaina sighed and forced her clenched fist to relax. She cast a quick privacy charm around the area. "Please do not manipulate me."

"I-" he paused then frowned. "I apologize."

"Just... Just don't do it again. Give me the opportunity to join in voluntarily. These are things I need to do on my own." She rolled her shoulders and took a moment to breathe in and out. "That said I hope this will do some good rather than backfire spectacularly."

"Have confidence, Archmage," Khadgar said. "A nice joint victory will go a long way. Now as for Atiesh we might not get a chance to look more in depth for a few hours but here," he said, handing her the staff. "Hopefully it likes you. It can be... temperamental."

Jaina blinked as Khadgar practically shoved Atiesh into her hands. The Staff of the Guardian was a tremendously powerful object. She felt the faint questing something that sufficiently powerful artifacts sometimes had. Intellectus. It wasn't quite a spirit or it was, depending on the research. Such things could disappear if they were studied too closely for reasons unknown. It was generally agreed that powerful artifacts could develop quirks and personalities all their own. Jaina stared at the carved head of the staff and focused on being very, very polite.

"The spell is original to the staff as far as I can tell," Khadgar said. He waved a hand and energy unfurled from the staff like great wings, displaying the spell's components. It was complex and looked ornate, but on closer inspection, it was actually elegant and efficient.

"I'm surprised by how efficient it looks," Jaina murmured. "And this part? This is where the staff itself transforms?"

"Yes! Quite convenient, actually," Khadgar said. "Honestly I could probably cast this spell on my own now but the staff makes it easier and carrying items as a raven is difficult to say the least," he admitted with a chuckle. Jaina joined him.

"Now the interesting thing you may have already noticed is just how… invasive the spell actually is," Khadgar said, highlighting several aspects of the spellwork. "This is why I will not be inviting you to try it out for yourself, Jaina. Spells like this sort of.... wear grooves on a mage's aura."

"Grooves? Is that why you could cast it on your own now? It's easier?"

"Quite right!" Khadgar said, nodding. "The more you cast this sort of spell the easier it becomes but it makes other transformation more difficult. This spell has granted me some measure of resistance to polymorph due to its nature, but should the cast be successful, I'm in for a world of pain once I come out. And should I voluntarily desire to transform into something else, like a cat for example the results are... Let's just say I was unexpectedly a very interesting but ineffective gryphon for a few hours."

Jaina chuckled. "I see."

Khadgar's eyes grew distant. "When I first used Atiesh, casting the spell took time and the transformation was quite costly on my own personal manapool." His eyes refocused on the present, his voice more firm. "Since then it's become nearly instant and I hardly need to think about it to cast it. That is absolutely a benefit when I have needed to escape or just for getting around. Quite convenient, wings."

"Is this sort of groove wearing necessary do you think?" Jaina asked, mentally committing aspects of the staff's spellwork to memory while it hung in the air before her in ethereal runes and lattices.

"Hmm," Khadgar rubbed at his chin, thoughtfully. "I have considered this myself. Ultimately I find it convenient and the raven form goes on like a very nice pair of boots. We're quite comfy now, Atiesh and I. But need it be so invasive? Possibly not. The power requirements would, I suspect, have to be supplemented by an external source. Druid forms are, for example. Sort of."

"I thought those were attained by communing with spirits of nature and gaining an ability," Jaina said, handing the staff back as she felt its energy writhe in her hands like an annoyed cat. "Does this mean they're channeled?"

Khadgar took the staff back. "Sort of. As far as I can tell, and Kalecgos might be a better mage to consult with on the details as I understand he studies the Grand Unified Theories, a druid gains the blessing of a particular nature spirit. There's a sort of.... growing into sync with the spirit which allows the transformation to happen quickly or even at all. But the power is.... partially external to the druid. They are channeling the ferocity of the nightsaber or the spirit of the owl or bear or whatever they have chosen, but they have become more like the spirit as well." He waved a hand. "So if you appealed to some sort of nature spirit, you could be a druid of the whatever and accomplish the task that way without an arcane spell imposing a reshaping your aura. Additionally, as you can see," he said gesturing and once again the spell's structure was visible in the air around Atiesh, "this is very differently structured from the polymorph spell though the effects might appear the same to the layman and it does begin to interfere with it and other transformations."

Jaina's lips twisted in a small sardonic smile. She doubted that there was a great dragon nature spirit. Or if there had been, they'd been the Aspects and their power was gone now.

"There are some drawbacks to be aware of. The first is the one I already mentioned; the difficulties with other transformation once you go down a given road."

Jaina nodded. "And the high cost of power?"

"Yes. At least initially it would be wise to have something on hand to help you replenish mana once you've crossed over. Crossing back is a far easier but it is not free."

"Wait, you could get stuck as a Raven?" Jaina blinked at him, surprised.

"Not now, but in the early days? Once I did in fact become stuck until I had a nap and a sandwich. Or at least a bucket of leywater I could soak in for awhile. Medivh had a ley-water birdbath. I never understood why, until it happened I needed it."

Jaina chuckled. "I see. What else?"

"Honestly the cost is not a terribly bad price to pay, but... There are some... side effects to be expected," Khadgar said, looking slightly uncomfortable. Jaina stepped closer with a concerned frown.

Khadgar studied the staff with a thoughtful expression for a long moment. "On the one hand it's somewhat fascinating how the spell has affected me. On the other it can be mildly annoying." He tapped his fingers on the staff and glared at it fondly. "You might have noticed myself of Medivh attract real ravens now. Medivh far more than I but then he wielded atiesh longer than I did. We... The transformation retains your intellect but you gain better understanding of the form which grows over time. It's as if I understand the birds at times. I'm fairly certain Medivh carried on full conversations with the local ravens."

"That doesn't seem so bad."

"That part is fascinating. I did not find corvids to be nearly as interesting until I had to learn to fly as one." He chuckled then struck a little pose. "It absolutely affects my sartorial choices and I'm sure you remember or have seen pictures of Medivh's clothing." He resumed his casual stance, the staff held in the crook of his elbow.

Jaina nodded. The Last Guardian's outfit had been very strongly themed around ravens. She wondered if this meant she would prefer... what? Scales? Wearing leather? Develop a dragon's sweet tooth? Jaina's train of thought drew up short - dressing like Alexstrasza?

"It goes deeper than that, though Jaina. It has affected me in subtle ways I am still discovering There are behavioral impulses that I know come from the raven form. Bits of my own humanity that are... different now. More avian. I suspect it will only continue to grow with time and usage of the spell. I saw how it affected Medivh." He pursed his lips thoughtfully. "Truthfully I find the whole thing to be exceptionally fascinating, but I know others would not."

"It is something to consider," Jaina murmured. She wasn't too keen on losing her humanity. Though dragons seemed like reasonable people, she wasn't one. "You mentioned learning to fly?"

"Indeed. There is some instinct operating but like a fledgling I had to learn to fly. Fortunately Atiesh's spell turned me into something smaller so I believe I tired less early and less often than if I were to have become something larger so it was fairly easy to have the stamina to try often. Oh, you frowned. Were you thinking of something larger?"

"I was," Jaina murmured, her frown deepening. "I was wondering what I might do to reduce what is sure to be an astronomic cost only to find I had sorely underestimated the task."

"Well," Khadgar said, very quietly. "I did have a confounding aspect to my experience. I did not come away from the final fight unscathed." He'd been left aged physically and though he'd appeared to have regained some of the vim and vigour a man of his chronological age should have, Khadgar was still far older than he should have been.

And the experience had probably been exceptionally traumatic. Jaina had some additional understanding and sympathy for such things, now. No doubt it had played merry hell with his abilities too.

"I-" Jaina paused as she felt a questing tendril on magical will. Khadgar noticed as well and they both looked in the same direction as the source of the magic burrowing through the aether and winding through the leylines.

"Ah, that'd be Gerti. If you'd open the portal to Zaliya's staging area, we can continue this conversation a bit later?"

Jaina nodded and stretched out her senses, following the paths she'd just learned through the leylines of Draenor. She brushed up against Zaliya's wards then wove her way through them as she'd been taught. A gesture and effort of will opened a portal wide into the center of the Shadowmoon staging area. Zaliya nodded to her from the other side and both mages stepped to either side of the portal to allow for troops to have easy egress. Rolling her shoulders, Jaina settled in to hold the portal open. Behind her she felt a brush of power as Khadgar opened his own portal.

And then the Horde began to cross over.

Chill air preceded the leading tauren death knight as she crossed from Frostfire into Zangarra. Her armor of dark metal included pauldrons which were iced over branches which held faintly glowing berries made of red gems. The runes of her axe glowed with the same unholy light as her eyes. The dark-furred female advanced on Jaina's position and she couldn't help but tense a bit as the imposing figure drew close. The death knight made no indication she saw Jaina at all, but continued steadily, implacably forward, passing through the portal, the first of several death knights from Horde races.

A troll and an orc followed closely after the tauren. The orc noticed Jaina and stopped to stare, his expression lost behind the deep cover of his helm. He stared for a moment, looked across to the portal then walked forward, crossing over.

Jaina breathed in then out. They were here to kill Ner'zhul, not cause trouble. Jaina had seen members of the Ebon Blade already in the Alliance staging point. She took another slow breath and continued to hold the portal open and braced herself as the rest of the Horde arrived through Khadgar's side.

They were led by an orc woman whose eyes flicked around the area, paused on Jaina, completed her sweep then returned to her. As she drew near, Jaina could feel the sizzling power of the daggers at her sides and knew this to be the Frostwall garrison commander. Jaina inclined her head slightly.

The orc woman was followed by Lady Liadrin and small handful from the regular Garrison. The Paladin and Commander paused by the portal she held open.

"Proudmoore," Liadrin said, fel-green eyes narrowed.

"Lady Liadrin," Jaina said, inclining her head to the paladin.

A tall shadow fell across the group. Jaina looked up then continued to look up as the exceptionally tall tauren in full plate stepped up behind Liadrin. The second paladin, a Sunwalker if Jaina wasn't mistaken, snorted and wove around the smaller elf. She stepped through the portal without hesitation and continued on the other side, joining the Knights of the Ebon blade, a shining spot amid their generally dour colors.

The Garrison commander turned and crossed without another word and the rest of the small warband who had paused behind her began to follow her. Liadrin remained, brow furrowed as she looked over the crossing. A troll with a mass of green braids, a satchel stuffed with bandages, strapped with flasks of healing potions and salves and bundles of herbs crossed over wearing a scowl that didn't appear to be directed at anyone in particular. A tauren wielding an impressive gun trotted by, her white tiger following along at her side. A second hunter, this one a blood elf with dark hair, elaborate goggles and a sniper's rifle followed. Jaina's heart lurched in her chest, the little spot of scar tissue suddenly aching. The sniper eyed her up and down as she passed by, but she crossed the portal without a word. A small group of orcs crossed next, some giving her an unreadable look as they passed. Liadrin's eyes narrowed at Jaina but she finally crossed over with a small sniff.

"That's the last of us," a new voice by Khadgar said. "And- Woah."

Jaina looked over. Khadgar had already closed his portal. A troll and a goblin were the only two from the Horde who remained on this side of the portal. The speaker was a goblin woman in exceptionally well tailored battle gear. Her troll companion was also attired for battle in light leather under a longer outer robe.

"Jaina, you look a bit pale," Khadgar said.

"I am fine," Jaina said, rolling her shoulders and setting her features into what she hoped as a diplomatic, pleasant-looking smile.

"You're really gonna let us back in?" The goblin woman asked.

Jaina nodded, not entirely trusting herself to speak.

The goblin smiled, her eyes lighting up. "Maybe my sis can get her shop back? We can use the libraries?" Her eyes grew even larger. "We can trade?"

Jaina nodded again, momentarily speechless in the face of the other woman's clearly hopeful emotions. "I spoke with Vol'jin. He is not opposed to you returning."

"Huh," the troll mage said. "Dat be somthin'." He said nothing else as he crossed through the portal in the rolling gait of his people. The goblin woman hurried forward double-time to catch up, leaving just the two humans.

"Are you well?" Khadgar asked.

"I'm fine," Jaina said. He continued to look concerned and Jaina sighed. "They had someone who was carrying a sniper rifle. I did not expect to have that reaction but I am fine. I will be fine."

Khadgar made an understanding sound and then hopped across. Cordana and her sentinels followed him then once everyone had crossed over, Jaina joined them.

The assault was already underway once she'd arrived. The Horde forces had set up a small camp of their own within Zaliya's warding but a bit away from the Alliance forces. The troll healer was bustling around giving orders to the few orc soldiers who'd remained behind. The death knights and the local draenei had pressed on ahead and broken the outer defenses already. Alliance and Horde soldiers were cleaning up what remained on the battlefield as the vanguard pressed on into the temple complex. Cordana and her sentinels swiftly set up a perimeter, the Warden herself watching Khadgar from a short distance away, her gauntleted hands flexing on her glaive.

"And now I suppose we wait," Khadgar said as he looked around. "I admit I expected the Ebon Blade to be welcome additions to this party, but I didn't expect they would be quite so.... Enthusiastic."

"They don't want to see Ner'zhul cross over. They wish to see him dead," Jaina murmured as she watched the ebb and flow of combat. There were a great many warlocks in the enemy forces, but Alliance and Horde alike were hammering them hard with an array of spells and blade.

"And in this I cannot blame them," Khadgar said, solemnly. The two mages exchanged a look with one another then lent their considerable strengths to the shielding already around the staging area.

The Shadowmoon forces rallied and pushed back against their attackers. Jaina watched the fight, her hand flexing on her staff. Their shield was solid and aside from her and khadgar, there was a draenei priest held in reserve. The presence of the two Kirin Tor mages had freed more Draenei and all of their paladins to become part of the attacking force.

The two mages watched in silence as the battle pressed onward, the front lines breaking the Shadowmoon Clan forces which had risen to stop them. Soon the only sign of their progress into the complex the relayed reports from the druids flying high enough overhead the enemy could not shoot them down. The barrier fluctuated as the team inside began to dismantle the foci holding it in place.

"It occurs to me," Khadgar said, "that I might have frightened you off from attempting this spell."

"No," Jaina said. "But I have a lot to think about."

"This isn't the only method. It is merely one," Khadgar said. "It works well for me."

Silence fell again. A small band of orcs advanced on them but the Sentinels and the troll mage who'd remained behind slew them before they even drew close to the staging area. The barrier fluctuated once more. Jaina could feel it thinning as the forces inside continued to make forward progress.

"You said it has changed you," Jaina mused loud enough only Khadgar could hear.

"The spell? Yes."

"Do you feel you're becoming less human?" Jaina asked, perhaps bluntly, but then this was Khadgar and he wasn't exactly subtle. "That is what concerns me most about the method Atiesh's spell uses," she murmured, eyes scanning and tracking, looking for threats beyond the shielding and wards.

"I worry less about that spell than many other things," Khadgar said. "That said, the companions I was with would have noticed if the change was something abrupt or overly negative."

"The subtle shift is what worries me," Jaina said, eyes scanning over the area. She noticed movement and determined it looked like a Shadowmoon warband coming to flank the forward thrust of the army. She sent a bolt of arcane energy towards their location at about the same time Khadgar did, the two spells acting as flares. They collided with a rough, semi-circle of shadowy magic. The warband was swiftly set upon by the vengeful death knights.

"I wish to do this because it's a challenge," Jaina continued, "but it's also a way for me to spend time with Kalec. If enacting the spell changes me into... not me, then what is the point?" And besides, she thought, I've been not me enough. Kalec deserves better. And maybe I do as well.

The barrier around Anguish Stronghold wavered then dispersed to the cheers of those who'd been fighting at the edge of the barrier. The small army flowed into the fortress.

"Well that looks positive," Khadgar said. "As for the spell, thus far it has been rather innocuous,": Khadgar said. "But I am aware of it which means I can monitor it. Which was my main purpose in mentioning it. Truly I did not mean to ward you off from the challenge."

"I am glad you mentioned it. Perhaps I will develop a different spell than what you use. Already I am considering a two-part artifact rather than layering it into my staff. I'm concerned by the theoretical power cost."

"You'll almost certainly want to have some sort of power storage component," Khadgar said. "Or multiples. There is the issue of transference without loss to consider. What form of artifact were you thinking of?"

"A necklace or something of that sort," Jaina mused.

"Have you heard of something called the Vial of the Sands?" Khadgar asked.

"In have but it's held by someone in the Reliquary," Jaina answered, eyes still scanning the horizon. The sun had climbed higher and the concealing shadows were shrinking. It mean there would be less chance of another group under the cover of a veil, but such things weren't out of the question still. "I doubt they would be willing to allow me to take a look."

"Mmm," Khadgar made a thoughtful sound. "Now, perhaps. But who's to say how the situation might change." He inclined his head towards the stronghold. "This is a joint operation and you are here personally facilitating success. As I said, such things go a long way towards changing opinions."

"Perhaps," Jaina allowed. Her eyes tracked up the fortress, following the progress as best as she could. A chill pricked the back of her neck. Beside her she felt Khadgar inhale. The two mages exchanged a look.

"Did you feel that?"

"Yes," Jaina said, looking around even as she pushed more power into the warding around their camp.

"There!" Khadgar pointed to a platform which overlooked the fortress. Void energies clashed with invocations of the Light, Arcane and fire magics. An amorphous form rose, arms out stretched before bringing another terrible pulse of dark energy onto those who fought. A brilliant shield of Light stood out, shining against the tide of darkness. The battle resumed.

"Should one of us go?" Jaina asked.

Khadgar's brow furrowed. "I fear the fight will be decided by the time one of us got there." His eyes searched the platform and Jaina took to keeping an eye on the surrounding area. She probably wasn't doing a professional job of keeping an eye out, but the sniper's rifle had very firmly reminded her of what had killed her on the last battlefield.

She felt it when the void-creature died. Khadgar crowed in exultation. "They've done it! Oh, well done."

Jaina relaxed a little. Ner'zhul was dead. She could return home. A horn sounded from within the walls of the fortress. Then a second. Jaina frowned. The first had been an Alliance retreat. The second, an order from the Horde. Khadgar's gleeful expression fell and he exchanged a look with Jaina.

There was a flash close by and Zaliya appeared, her eyes luminous with arcane energy, her fur practically crackling. Beside her was Commander Teraka, her blades dripping with shadowy energy as if it were blood, a tauren Deathknight, a night elf death knight, a young Draenai female who looked agonized and prophet Velen. Or at least this timeline's Velen.

Zaliya snarled and let her hands fall as the teleport finished. There was another flash and the goblin mage joined the scene with the tauren paladin, a tauren hunter and the sniper Jaina had noted earlier.

"What happened?" Khadgar, Jaina and the goblin asked at near the same time.

"The Iron Horde sails on Karabor. Ner'zhul is going to summon the Dark Star," Zaliya said, her eyes still glowing.

The Prophet sighed then lifted his head, eyes far off. "I can see it already beginning, in the hills to the southeast. Ner'zhul has everything he needs to summon the Dark Star and Grommash sails against our stronghold's harbor. They mean to end Draenei resistance once and for all."

"Not if I stop him," Zaliya said, her voice a savage growl. She grinned at the death knights. "Looks like the party has moved locations. You're still quite welcome to join, Commander Zakrina," she said addressing the night elf. The death knight's replying grin was chilling.

"You want in?" Zaliya asked the Horde commander.

"Only good necromancer is a dead one, and we haven't seen the job done." Teraka replied, placidly. "We didn't come with mounts, though. How are we getting there?"

Behind them the combined forces of the Draenei, Ebon Blade, Alliance and Horde were falling back from the fortress in good order. The garrison forces were substantial compared to the Horde forces, but though the two sides kept to themselves, they didn't attack one another. More people drew around them, listening to hear what the leaders of this operation would decide to do.

"I believe in this case the Kirin Tor might once again be of assistance," Khadgar said, drawing her attention. "If I recall correctly, Archmage Proudmoore has an excellent spell for mass teleports and I believe we have enough magepower to move everyone if Lady Gerti and Master Val'Ket would be so kind as to assist."

Teraka looked over at the goblin. The woman frowned but then nodded. "Yeah. Alright. Let's kill a necromancer."

Cordana stepped forward, her voice low and intense. Jaina could only barely hear it. "What do you think you are doing, Archmage?" she asked.

Khadgar grinned back at her. "Liberating a city."

"Archmage!"

"Cordana we cannot let Karabor fall," Kahdgar said, his expression falling to one of solemnity.

The warden's shoulders rose and fell as she drew in a breath and let it hiss out. "You cannot just teleport into an active warzone!"

"She has a point," Jaina said, interrupting Khadgar. "We can't just drop an army into the middle of a battlefield and expect they'll fight well even if they're the ones prepared for it." She found all eyes on her. "I have a good spell for transporting troops around, that is true, and I will help, but we can't just go, Khadgar."

"We can clear the way," Vindicator Maraad spoke up. "A mounted party can fly ahead and clear the way."

"I'll go," Zaliya said, she stepped back far enough she could assume the visage of Tarecgosa. She shook out her wings and dug talons into the ground. She grinned at Maraad with sharp teeth. "When we've cleared a path I can let Khadgar know and act as an anchor for Jaina's spell." She looked at Jaina who nodded.

"That would make it work much better, yes."

Zaliya's tail thrashed. "Well then, grab your mount Maraad and let's go soften up the enemy!" She pointed a talon at a worgen woman wearing an eyepatch who was among the Alliance personnel. "Thorne! You're in charge! See everyone gets to Karabor in one piece!" She launched herself into the air.

"Mounted corps!" Maraad hollered as she raced for a small group of odd-looking reptillian beasts with wings.

Jaina watched them go, frowning. This was not at all what she'd expected to do when she'd travelled here that morning.

Chapter Text

"How long will it take them to get there?" Jaina asked.

"At they speed they were flying, not long," Velen answered. He gave her a kind smile. "I thank you for assisting my people Archmage...?"

She blinked. Of course! This Velen had never met her. She bowed a bit. "Archmage Jaina Proudmoore of the Kirin Tor."

Velen chuckled quietly. "Thank you, Archmage Proudmoore. You've met me before, I think."

"I have. In my time, on my world, you and your people are valued members of the Alliance."

"So I have heard. The years have been hard for my people and we have been alone in our Exile." He put both hands on his staff and bowed his head, "Here we thought we had finally found safe haven, and for a long time it was so." Velen sighed, the weight of ages on his shoulders. "And then the Iron Horde rose. But in our hour of need, we were found." He looked up at Jaina. "Truly the Light has sent salvation."

Unsure what to say to that, Jaina remained silent. Khadgar took up a spot beside her.

"Where will Ner'zhul go?" she asked.

"It seems likely he will go aid the Iron Horde at Karabor, and when he does he will bring the Dark Star and all his foul magics to bear." Khadgar said. "According to his mate, Rulkan, he delved into the void to prevent his people from being crushed themselves. But the void... The void only takes."

"He was lost to the darkness then. Corrupted and seduced by the power." Jaina murmured.

"Yes. He has begun to use the spirits of his ancestors to fuel dark rituals. This is why Rulkan and others turned from him and chose exile." He turned to Jaina. "What do you need for the rest of us to do?"

"Once Zaliya is in place it is easier if everyone comes closer. If you and the two Horde mages stand equidistant to one another and me I'll act as focus and move everyone." Jaina drew in a breath and let it out. "If we were on Azeroth, I might not need you all to aid me, but Draenor is unfamiliar."

Khadgar turned to the crowd and raised his voice. "Everyone, gather close! Be ready to aid the forces of Karabor once we have appeared there!" He strode off, Cordana on his heels as he herded everyone into place.

Jaina rolled her shoulders and tried to ignore the press of bodies around her as everyone collapsed inward. She tried to make the unearthly chill of the death knights a distant concern. Likewise, she would not be distracted by the chatter in orcish. Hoofsteps to her left drew her attention and the young draenei paladin in training, Yrel, smiled at her. Her expression was strained but determined. She lifted hopeful eyes over Jaina's shoulder. On Jaina's other side, Prophet Velen stepped in close.

Jaina felt the pressing of will parting the aether and caught the questing tendril of Zaliya's magic, seizing it as an anchor and direction.

"Stand close!" she called above the general chatter. Reaching out she found Khadgar and the other two mages. The troll’s magic was wild, favoring fire, the goblin's highly ordered and feeling most of arcane. Khadgar… Khadgar had to be different of course, his power seemed to bounce in place, like a working hound eager and excited to be unleashed. Jaina began drawing their power to hers and spreading it out again in a webwork of spell structure. Her hands moved in familiar ways as she drew down from the other mages and even pulled on the remote connection to archmage Zaliya. She began to channel power into the spell until all her attention was focused on the magic of the small ritual, the feel of air over her hands as they moved, the sensation of energy as she wove it around the group. Jaina opened her eyes, seeing the structure of the spell around them as a dome of flowing lines and glowing sigils, a tent of energy held up by the other three mages with her in the center. She released the energy, completing the spell, and reality winked out around them.


Karabor was burning.

The smell of exploded artillery and burning wood assaulted Jaina's senses as she and the small combined army reappeared leagues away from where they'd been, at the base of Karabor. The combatants spread out at once, running to the aid of the besieged Draenei. Jaina swayed a step back. Yrel took one of her elbows, the Prophet kindly steadying her with a hand on her back. A strange blue dragon swept overhead, pouring arcane energy like fire from her maw. She swept around, avoiding weapons fire and landed on the ground before the bulk of the incoming forces, her claws digging furrows into the ground. Vindicator Maraad hopped off Zaliya's back and the worgen transformed back to her usual shape.

"They're going for the central defense crystal!" Maraad said, pointing a mace at a location higher up the hill.

"Jaina, Khadgar, give us cover!" Zaliya ordered. "Everyone, press forward!" She lifted her staff pointing for where Maraad had indicated.

Kadhar was already lifting a shield around them and Jaina joined her power to his to assist. They began a long march up the hill, the paladins and death knights providing a solid vanguard of blade and shield. Horde and Alliance alike struck and shot at the incoming Iron Horde attackers. As they rolled forward, some broke off to help the draenei or to shore up some position. Others, mostly wounded, found shelter and healing under the moving shield.

The Iron Horde noticed their approach and began to rain destruction down on them as they moved. The sudden barrage weakened the shield and a few arrows and bullets made it through. Cold fingers seized Jaina's heart as she heard the crack of rifles and saw allies fall. Khadgar cursed as his shoulder caught the edge of an arrow which Cordana hadn't quite been able to deflect. A word and a pair of her sentinels raced out to cut down the orc archer who'd harmed her charge. The troll mage was hit with the polearm of an Iron Horde orc as the shield flickered. The goblin mage turned the attacker into violet ash and meat in furious retaliation. Jaina got herself under control and shoved more power into their shield. She was left as the only mage holding the shield while Zaliya turned her combat casting on the enemy, narrowing her focus to clearing the way ahead. Jaina gritted her teeth as their opponents saw the opening and pressed the attack. She stopped in her tracks, bracing herself as an immense rock sailed down from a rylak rider above. It hit her shield hard, the impact feeling as if she’d been the one to take the blow. Yrel steadied her again without hesitation. Jaina glared at the a offending boulder as she flexed the structure of the barrier, sending it right back at the orc who'd dropped it on her. Those around her gave heartfelt cheers as the rylak and its master fell.

"Ha!" Khadgar rejoined his power to hers. "I'll have to remember that trick!"

Jaina shared a strained smile with the other archmage and the group moved forward again.

"We are almost there," Yrel said to the mages who'd come to walk in the center of the formation. The troll mage was limping along, gamely trying to contribute power if nothing else. The goblin mage's jaw was set in a determined line as she walked a few steps to Jaina's right, adding her own power to the shield.

"If we can protect the crystal, their fleet won't be able to withstand its energy attacks," Yrel explained. "They've had to leave their bigger ships out of range and the few transports they've sailed in close are mostly destroyed." She smiled at them and then over at Velen. "We'll survive this yet!"

Velen's smile suddenly turned into a look of horror as he turned his attention back towards the mainland. "No-"

Jaina felt the pulse of dark energy, greater than the one she'd felt back at the fortress, then a column of ghastly light erupted from somewhere in Shadowmoon valley. Virulent purple-white energy, somehow sickening even this far, raced for the sky which began to darken.

"What?" Khadgar asked, looking around in confusion. The cohesive unit the advance force had made up began to falter as the afternoon skies turned dark, the sun suddenly a dim star only slightly larger than the others. And then it was eclipsed. "No," Khadgar said, breathing out the word as he came to the same conclusion as Velen.

The orb which eclipsed the sun raced towards them at impossible speeds. It raked beams of purple-black energy along the ground as it crossed over Karabor, digging into soil, architecture, and bodies of orc and draenei alike. It hovered above the massive crystal that served as Karabor's primary defense, as the orb's shape dissolved into a dark, wildly spinning geometric shape.

"No!" Yrel cried as a vile colored beam struck the crystal and continued to channel, endless dark energy drilling into the focus. The crystal shuddered and cracked with a sound that ricocheted off the walls of Karabor. It wailed like the damned as it began to fail, then shattered completely under the onslaught. The smallest pieces were vaporised, the largest ones shot through the air like missiles, striking combatants from the skies or crushing anything under them as they fell.

Seeing the crystal destroyed, the Iron Horde cried as one bloodthirsty voice and renewed their attack. The defenders faltered.

In the bay, the mighty siege ships of the Iron Horde turned their bows inland and began to power towards Karabor. Smaller outriders filled with invading orcs launched from the larger craft and sped on powered engines to make landfall.

Jaina watched as the fallen Naaru, the Dark Star, turned in the air. The hairs on the back of her neck pricked as she felt it's attention come to land on their advancing party. She thrust more power into the shield, heart hammering in her chest, and felt Khadgar and the others do the same a moment later.

The Dark Star struck. Death rained from above, striking her shield and any non-Iron Horde combatant on the field. Paladins and priests and mages among the draenei raised shields, but many fell before they could defend themselves or to Iron Horde blades while their attention was split. The assault only ended when the darkened Naaru paused to gather its energy for another attack.

"To me!" Velen called out, his calm voice somehow amplified to rise over the sound of combat. All around them, the defenders of Karabor collapsed back to their position. Those who could began to aid the shield Jaina continued to channel, those whose prowess lay in blade and shield fell into an armored perimeter, as much under the shield as they could be.

The Iron Horde pressed in on all sides as the Dark Star readied itself for another attack. A heavily armored orc on an equally well armored rylak flew down and landed amid the rubble of the destroyed defense crystal.

"Lay down and die you fools!" the orc called, laughing at them as the Dark Star struck again. "I claim this land for the Iron Horde!" He lifted his weapon, a massive gun and his orcs cheered, renewing their assault as the Dark Star struck again, dark lances of coherent light striking the shield and into the buildings around them. Walls and towers began to crumble and fall as the beams ate through the masonry.

"We need to retreat,” Zaliya growled to the Frostwall commander as she poured energy into the shield Jaina was now the focus for. Khadgar sent waves of arcane missiles into the invading forces, driving them back, before returning his attention to supporting the shield whenever he felt the Dark Star was about to attack.

"Give me twenty seconds or blink me over there, mage, I'll end him!" The orc looked positively gleeful at the prospect.

Zaliya grunted under the impact of the Dark Star's attacks. "Can't split our defenses! If we both die here, you know the Horde and Alliance at home will blame the other," Zaliya snapped. "Garrosh will escape because they'll fight one another."

The orc commander snarled but did not disagree.

Jaina began to look for an opportunity to teleport everyone away, but the Dark Star continued to smash energy against their shield. Whenever the fallen Naarru wasn't attacking, the Iron Horde was, and the siege ships were now in range. They began to hurl cages of flammable rocks onto Karabor and the defenders. One struck the ground near them. Jaina staggered into Yrel who held her and Gerti upright, Khadgar lost his footing and went down, his power winking out as he lost focus.

There was no time! No opening for escape!

Jaina gritted her teeth and strained against the oppressive power of the Dark Star. The void-creature pressed its attack. Concussive bolts of dark energy struck the shield and rattled her bones. Khadgar finally found his feet, and Jaina swallowed a cry of relief as the other archmage added his power to her own once more. If she could transfer the shield to someone else, she could form the teleport spell and get everyone away, but a moment's lapse of focus would mean doom! Everyone present would die. The repercussions would be felt beyond Draenor. The Kirin Tor would have failed its promises, and they would lose two council members on top of the grievous failure. The garrisons would both lose their commanders. She could already hear the shouts of blame. Garrosh would escape because the two warring factions would fall on one another again. Jaina snarled and pressed her will against the dark power.

She would not die here!

Jaina had not survived everything she had to die far from home in a battle she hadn't planned on joining. She hadn't fought to recover just to see her own death be the unravelling of everything she'd worked for, everything Anduin had begun to work towards. She had someone waiting for her at home who loved her and she had plans. Jaina wanted to fly, to see Winter Veil with Varian and Anduin, to see Dalaran thrive, to see a world without Garrosh Hellscream or his like.

The Dark Star turned in the sky, readying for another barrage. Jaina might not have been a battle mage like Modera, but she knew Magic. Yelling her defiance she reached for the leylines of Draenor, drawing their energy into herself to protect everyone.

Her blood boiled with power, the energy opening her mage's sight to the ebb and flow of magic, the ley lines running like glowing rivers. She could see the evil magic that twisted the Dark Star. Sick and vile, Ner'zhul's darkness had infested a creature of Light, twisting it away from its natural state. The auras of the other mages burned like fires, except for Zaliya who glowed like twin moons, and Khadgar who blazed like a small star. She felt the pulse of his intent as he too drew upon the leylines to bolster the shields. The paladins and priests lent their own powers, their energy like a soothing blanket. The Void crashed against them once more, a wave of knives that sliced their own individual lines of pain that she felt like it was against her own skin. Jaina's nerves screamed from drawing too much magic at once, but if she did not, then all would perish.

She did not want to die!

An eternity later, the blast of void energies ceased, and Khadgar, Zaliya and Jaina fell to their knees, unable to sustain the arcane barrier any longer. The goblin woman had already fallen partway through the relentless assault, her power spent. Jaina turned as someone touched her. The tauren paladin had placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. Healing Light eased away some of the pain. Jaina looked back at the Dark Star as it readied another attack. This time the only barrier would be the one held by the priests and paladins. Once that was gone….

I don't want to die! she thought, the faces of those she loved most flashing in her mind. Hands shaking, she gathered her strength to try to punch a desperate portal through to Lunarfall, to get as many out as she could before the Dark Star attacked again. With any luck, fewer people would mean a smaller shield.

Then a presence passed by, spreading soothing, healing energy in its wake. Jaina watched as Prophet Velen advanced to the front lines. He parted two vindicators with gentle hands on their shoulders and made a thrusting motion with his staff. The Iron Horde raiders who had been exchanging blows with the Draenei protectors went sailing off into the air, clearing the way.

"Uncle," Yrel called out, her voice watery. There was now a glowing sigil on her brow, and even through her daze, Jaina knew what the Prophet was going to do.

Velen lifted his face towards oblivion and stepped into the shadow of death.

He reached upwards towards the Dark Star. The geometric being focused its energy on him. and the Prophet… dissolved... into Light. A pillar of energy erupted from where Velen had stood and raced for the sky, striking the Dark Star. The creature of Void froze in place. The attacks ceased.

Then there was a tremendous explosion as the purified Naaru erupted from within the heart of the Dark Star. A ring of Light spread from the center of the blast and Jaina felt lighter, her aches, pains and her fears, being brushed away and replaced with comfort. She felt as safe as she did at home in Kalec's arms. Her resolve renewed if not her energy, Jaina struggled to her feet. All around her the priests and Paladins glowed with the Light, wings and runes appearing around them in warm auras. As one, they raced forward to drive back the Iron Horde, Maraad and Liadrin emerging from the tide to lead from the front. Stunned, the Iron Horde began a messy retreat.

The Naaru descended from on high, once again restored to a creature of perfect Order and Light. It sang as it spread healing among the injured and continued to bolster the resolve of the draenei. The unnatural darkness which had spread over the valley began to fade away.

Karabor was won. The Iron Horde routed. But the cost... Jaina found herself shivering.

She was abruptly manhandled into a seat beside the injured troll mage, Val'ket, and the Goblin mage, Gerti.

"You be sittin' and don't give me no lip," a troll healer said, shaking a finger at her.

Too stunned to do anything else Jaina obeyed. Khagdar was frog-marched into the area a moment later by Cordana, one of the Alliance priests hot on their heels. He was made to sit amid much feeble protesting. The two healers, united by common cause, began to fuss over the overworked mages.

"I am fine!" Zaliya snarled anemically as she too was dragged over to take a seat by a much larger worgen in the armor of a warrior. She was dumped into the circle as well. "I am the commander of this expedition!" she said slowly climbing back to her feet. She wobbled in place.

The warrior gave her a dirty look, then looked at Cordana before stalking off to join the other fighters chasing the Iron Horde away. Cordana put a hand on Zaliya's shoulder and pressed down. Zaliya collapsed like brittle wood, landing on her rear with an exhalation and a wide-eyed look of surprise, ears splayed flat, before she began to curse impressively and extensively. Khadgar tried to get up and escape, but Cordana's gauntlet only needed to barely tap him before he was back on his rump. Jaina didn't even bother trying to get to her feet.

"Sit and have a drink," Gerti said, lifting her canteen in an exhausted salute.

All of their potions and restorative draughts had been consumed trying to withstand the attack. Water was pressed into Jaina's hands by the dwarf priest and she drank greedily. When she was finished the healer took the empty mug so he could examine Jaina's hands.

They were red as if she'd burned them in the sun. Angry red lines raced from her fingertips, down the palms and backs of her hands and wrists fading mid-forearm. Khadgar, being treated by the troll healer, was in nearly the same state but the redness wasn't as advanced. The Naaru's burst of healing had helped but that just underscored the total damage they'd endured.

Cordana's hand was firmly on Khadgar's shoulder, keeping him in place, her attention was on the troll healer who was looking at her charge.

"This'll need a salve," the priest decided. "We've been instructed to reserve healing energies for life threatening injuries, Lady. An' I'm sorry 'bout that."

"I understand," Jaina said, voice wavering in fatigue. "Triage is what you should be doing. This isn't the first time I've had this happen," She closed her eyes. I survived today. Perhaps it won't be the last.

"Here, mon," the troll healer said. Jaina opened her eyes in time to see him passing over a jar of pale green paste. He'd already covered Khadgar in it.

Feeling disconnected from reality, Jaina watched as her own hands were covered in the salve. It was cool and after a moment of tingling the ache faded, but the sensation was distant, as if it were actually happening to someone else.

"Thank, ye," The priest said, handing the jar of salve back to his fellow healer. "Come on, let's get you lot out of the way so we can handle the rest," the dwarf said, helping Jaina up to her feet.

The mages, minus Zaliya who insisted on being where she could direct things, were propped up against a wall. Joining them were two shamen and a priest who'd likewise burned themselves out trying to defend against the Iron Horde and the Dark Star. Around them were other injured who were still unconscious or were unable to sit upright.

The dead were beginning to be recovered as they took ground from the Iron Horde. Mostly they were the draenei defenders but there were spots of Alliance blue and gold and even Horde red among the bodies. The numbers were smaller than Jaina had imagined given how badly the tide of the battle had turned against them. But they were still too many.

Jaina looked away. This hadn't been her battle, she wasn't in charge, she reminded herself. She let her head fall back against the wall. The unnatural night had been cleared with the cleansing of the Naaru. The sky was finally bright and cheerfully blue once more.

"We helped," Khadgar said, his voice pitched for Jaina alone. "Don't think of those we lost. Think of the ones we saved."

Jaina gritted her teeth. She knew that. She did not need some nosy, know-it-all old man to tell her that! Jaina huffed out an angry breath between her clenched teeth and tried to mentally take a step back. Anger wouldn't help. They had to be united while the Horde were watching. Anger wouldn't help those who were already dead.

And Khadgar was right. Together they'd help up against the bulk of the Dark Star's attacks, allowing the priests to heal and the paladins to defend. Because they'd been there, they'd been able to save people. They'd been able to survive.

Though it had been close.

"Oh. Finally," Cordana said, drawing Jaina's attention. The Warden’s helmeted head was lifted to the skies, focused on the horizon.

Jaina rolled her head to the side and saw reinforcements riding in towards them on gryphons and the oddly over-sized fey dragons. Her breath caught in her throat as her overworked brain realized they were followed by a much, much larger shape.

Kalecgos flew in at speed, soon overtaking the small dots of gryphons and fey-dragons. On his back were some two dozen figures. In the lead was a mage with a tail of silver hair whipping in the wind.

"Oh," Jaina said, feeling remote and fuzzy with exhaustion. "I think I'm in trouble."

"Hmm?" Khadgar said, eyes hardly able to stay open once he'd been successfully stopped and held in place. He cracked open one eye and it eventually focused on what Jaina was seeing. "Oh. I think we both are."

"Huh?" Gerti asked, looking around barely eyed. She squeaked and jerked upright, her ears quivering. "Fuck! That's a dragon!"

"The dragon isn’t who we’re worried about," Khadgar said. "We just got into a battle and didn't invite Modera first. That's what we're worried about."

"I'm gonna get it, aren't I?" Jaina asked as Kalec swept in to land near the advancing front line. For good measure he blew a gout of flame at the bulk of the nearest Iron Horde, sending them into swift retreat. Jaina watched as Modera jumped down, followed by Lieutenant Thorne and two-dozen or so Alliance soldiers from the garrison bearing supplies and arms.

"Twice over," Khadgar agreed, solemnly. "I'll try to tank the mage. You get the dragon." He giggled. "Watch the tail." He continued to giggle, erupting into the hysterics that only happened when one was that tired.

Jaina giggled and covered it with a hand. She wasn't certain why she was laughing. There were dead and wounded people all around her.

Modera entered the fray with a concussive blast that outright vaporized some two score of enemy orcs and a perfectly spherical section of stone. The orcs slowed or paused in their orderly retreat. Modera's next blast was a delicate set of three arcane missiles which made cannon-ball sized holes in the chests and heads of her targets. The bodies collapsed as she continued her purposeful stride across the battlefield.

The Iron Horde nearest to her fled in an uncoordinated mess, disrupting their orderly retreat.

"Damn," Jaina said. "She's good."

"You pissed her off? You be fucked," Val'ket said sagely as leaned against the wall, a canteen held loosely in the fingers of one hand, the other swathed in heavy bandages.

"No, that's the dragon's job!" Khadgar cackled. Cordana fetched him a light blow. "Sorry," he said, still giggling.

As soon as the reinforcements were off his back, Kalec switched forms. He looked around, found Jaina almost immediately, and blinked towards her. Exhausted and rattled, Jaina made a small 'eep' when he suddenly appeared in front of her, sliding to his knees. Kalec hauled her into a fierce embrace, pulling her into his lap. He pressed his face against her neck with a tiny worried croon. Jaina's eyes burned as sudden tears welled up. She returned the tight embrace and buried her face against his shoulder, crying silently in fear and relief.


Jaina's armor was singed and torn. There was rubble in her mussed hair, but she was alive! Kalec's grip on his mate tightened as she shook with silent tears. He kissed her neck and temple before nuzzling against her again and just breathing in her scent. She was alive. Kalec shivered in relief and kissed Jaina's temple again.

"I'm sorry," she murmured. "I didn't think it would be that close."

"I'm just glad you're okay," he told her. "I came as soon as I could."

"I couldn't hold the shield longer," she said, voice wavering. "I couldn't open a portal while I held the shield."

Kalec drew one of her hands into his, intending to kiss it, but found it covered in medicinal-smelling salve. her hands were reddened from pushing too much power through them without sufficient safeguards or stabilization. Kalec frowned. Jaina was an accomplished and well trained mage. The reasons for a lack of precaution were few and all likely caused by desperation. He noticed Khadgar was in a similar state.

"What happened?" he asked.

"Had to pull from the leylines," Jaina murmured. Her eyelids were drooping and her voice becoming slow and sleepy in exhaustion. "Had to keep the shield up."

Kalec strangled a cry of alarm. "What were you fighting?"

"That," Khadgar answered, tilting his head towards their enemy.

Kalec followed the direction of Khadgar's nod. He held Jaina tighter and could not stop the choked whelp-like chirp of alarm. It was a Naaru. Glowing in pristine, Light filled, celestial order, the geometric being spun above the bulk of the paladins still fighting the last vestiges of the Iron Horde forces.

Injured Naaru could succumb to the void, or become corrupted by it. A darkened Naaru was terrifyingly powerful. He had been newly liberated from demonic influences when the champions who'd released him had fought one at the Sunwell. Many brave souls had died there.

Jaina and Khadgar had held one off. They had drawn on the wild leylines of Draenor to do so. Kalec turned his attention to his arcane sight, allowing him to see the ebb and flow of magical energy around him. Khadgar was low but recovering at a surprisingly tremendous rate. He was using Atiesh to draw energy. Or perhaps the staff was doing it for its master. Kalec was relieved to see no permanent damage. He studied Jaina. Her mana pool was similarly drained. It was not as bad as when the Red Crane has resurrected her at least, but she would need some time. The cost of being the channel for so much power had left her with more damage than Khadgar, but she would recover. A quick look at the other mages present showed they were in similar states. Given time, all of them would be back at their full power.

Kalec shifted his focus back to reality and the world most other beings saw. Jaina had fallen asleep. He adjusted his grip on her, tucking her head under his chin. The retreating Iron Horde blew horns as their ships departed under the sporadic barrage of arrows and energy. He felt a pulse which drew his attention sharply.

A sphere of light flew from the end of Modera's staff, raced silently across the water and went through one of the Iron Horde ships. The ship exploded from the inside out in an eye-searing ball, sending wood and bodies into the air. The archmage's staff completed the arc and Kalecgos felt another pulse. Like the drawback before a tsunami, he felt the ambient magic in the area draw into her staff. As Modera's staff arced back towards the fleet another deadly ball of light sailed into air. She didn't hit as precisely, but the explosion ate enough of the ship it began to sink, drawing orcs down into the sea and knocking other vessels off course.

Modera leaned against her staff and began to send smaller attacks from her hands, calling out to the other ranged combatants still able to shoot. Under her direction, they focused their fire on individual ships. The Iron Horde fleet finally withdrew from range, but not before they'd taken additional losses.

Kalec returned his attention to Jaina, kissing her forehead. It was then he noticed the goblin mage staring at him. He stared at her. She blinked at him.

"Yes?" he asked.

"You're a dragon," she said.

"And an archmage of the Kirin Tor. I am Kalecgos."

"Oh!" she said, perking. "The new, not insane, not-a-jerk Blue Aspect."

Kalec blinked, surprised, but found his lips pulling into an unexpected if small smile. "That was me, yes. I am no longer Aspect."

"Eh? They kick you out? Seems pretty shitty if they did, just 'cause you're sweet on a human." She jerked her chin at Jaina. "My sis's sweetie's an elf. An' some people don't like that. Don't like they're both girls either. Screw em. They ain't worth my time."

"While I am sure some of my people don't approve of who I've picked as a mate, that isn't why I am no longer Aspect. We gave up our Mantles to defeat Deathwing and save Azeroth."

The goblin blinked at him then frowned a little. "Damn, that's noble." She stuck out a hand, also showing signs of having focused too much power though her fingers. "Gerti Frazzlespark. Thanks for keeping the world from being destroyed."

Kalec clasped her hand briefly. "You're welcome. Thank you for helping Jaina hold the shield."

"Eh," said, shrugging, "I appreciate not being dead, so it was kinda self serving on my part too." The goblin sank back against the wall, losing a lot of the animated energy she'd had moments before. "So, she's legit." She jerked her chin at Jaina. "Dalaran's goin' neutral again."

"That is the plan," Kalec confirmed. "How bad was it today?"

The goblin's ears drooped a little and she looked tired and worn. "We thought Ner'zhul would come here. He didn't. Dunno where he went, but we all felt it when he summoned that dark Naaru." She shivered. "We hit the invasion force of Iron Horde hard but then the Dark Star appeared overhead. She and Khadgar were hanging in the back. They got a shield up around us just before the first blast. Not everyone was inside and the Iron Horde kept attacking."

"He still be out dere," the Val’ket spoke up, his voice somewhat slurring with the effect of healing potions and having to have used so much energy in the fight. "Ner'zhul made an enemy outta dis troll."

"Me too," Gerti said. "And you just know the Death Knights are going to be out for his blood still." Her eyes narrowed dangerously. "Think we'll get to hunt him down, Val'ket?" she asked the troll.

"Dunno, mon," he said. "Dat be up to de Commander."

"I want in," Gerti said. "How do we find his necromantic ass, you think?" she asked the troll, then included Kalec in the question.

"Dat be requirin' too much thought," Val'ket said. "Ask me tomorrow."

"Cordana," Khadgar spoke up, "you know something about hunting down dangerous and powerful dark beings as a Warden. What would you suggest?"

Cordana straightened in surprise. The warden had been keeping a watchful eye on the area while her charge rested and now she turned her helmeted gaze at Khadgar.

"You cannot be serious, Archmage. You cannot hunt him. You can hardly stand."

"I'll be fine, Cordana. I daresay our compatriots from the Ebon Blade will be ready to continue their hunt immediately. But my question remains; how do we locate him now he has gone elsewhere? We expected him to be here and he clearly was not. Where has he gone?"

Cordana's hands flexed around her weapon as the warden considered the question. The two Horde mages fell silent, waiting for her answer.

"I would ask his mate," she finally said. "She has allied herself with us, and she knows him better than we do. Ask her where he might have gone to for retreat. Potentially another warlock could trace whatever path he took to escape, but first I suggest asking the Shadowmoon Exiles."

Kalec listened with half an ear as he watched Modera and the Naaru take the final long-range shots at the retreating remains of the Iron Horde fleet.


Jaina woke with a jerk, disoriented.

"You're safe," Kalec murmured, pressing a kiss to her head.

Jaina relaxed. "How long was I out?"

"Not very long. Perhaps half an hour."

"The Iron Horde? The Garrisons?"

"The fleet was repelled. They've retreated. Everyone else is tending to the wounded and putting out fires," Kalec told her.

"Zaliya?"

"I haven't spoken with her yet," Kalec said. "She found a second wind somewhere and has been over with Modera, the Ebon Blade commander, the leader of the Draenei and the Horde leadership."

Jaina nodded. She flexed her stiff hands, finding her fingers tingled and ached dully.

"You drew on a leyline," Kalec said.

"Yes." She flexed her hands. "Needed the extra power. Now everything aches."

"You fought a darkened Naaru," he said, tightening his grip.

"I didn't fight it so much as withstand it with the help of everyone else," she murmured. Jaina's throat closed on her words and it took her a moment to collect herself. "I didn't want to die here. I was just supposed to study and go home." He held her as she shivered.

"When we get home do you want me to contact your healer in Kun Lai?" he asked.

Jaina twisted uncomfortably, her emotions just as writhing. She didn't wish to run to Yu'len every time she saw combat, like a child running for her mother's skirts. She'd never needed such things when she'd fought dire odds before. But that was part of the problem, wasn't it? And this was the first time she'd been in combat since the trial. And the Shado-pan certainly made use of their healers. It was a tool, not a crutch.

"Yes," she said. Jaina drew in a deep breath and let it stutter out. "That'd probably be good."

"Okay," he said. "Ah, there's Zaliya and Modera."

Jaina's cheeks burned. She turned her head towards Kalec's shoulder and had the childish thought of possibly pretending to sleep again. Modera would be furious with her, with Zaliya, and with Khadgar. Jaina was furious with herself for not declining a part in the assault.

But then would more people be dead? Would Karabor be lost?

No. It was ego to think she'd have had that much effect on the situation.

Boots on the grass heralded the arrival of the leadership in charge of the assault.

"Can either of you portal?" the orc commander asked her two mages.

"No can do, boss," Gerti replied. "Give me eight hours sleep and a pandaren sized feast and I could get us as far as Zangarra."

"No," the troll said simply.

The orc grunted. "I'll get the elf then," she said.

"Ugh," Gerti complained with feeling. "We going after Ner'zhul, boss?"

"Soon as we find him," the orc commander said. "Itolla and the other death knights are on that for now."

"We callin' this a win, boss?"

"Iron Horde's fleet took a big hit, we dismantled Shadowmoon support for them, too. And we destroyed a dark god. Didn't get the original target but I'll take it. Come on. We're setting up a camp till Dawnstrike gets his ass out here."

"He ain't gonna be happy about that, boss," Gerti said, climbing to her feet.

"Then he can keep his mouth shut when he opens the portals I want," the commander said. She reached down and helped the troll healer haul Val'ket to his feet. She shooed them off and turned to Zaliya. "Nothing went to plan but I can't call this a failure. Commander Vorka is dead and half his fleet are burning wrecks sinking into the sea." She grinned ferally, the first real bit of expression Jaina had seen.

Zaliya growled, baring her teeth in an equally feral smile. "We'll find him and hunt him down."

The orc tilted her head slightly. "Do not think I didn't notice you mages holding that shield up." She inclined her head slightly to both Jaina and Khadgar then strolled off, Liadrin as her shadow.

Modera conjured a camp stool and sank onto it with a string of muttered curses. She cast a privacy spell around the immediate area. "Sit," she ordered Zaliya.

"Can't. Too much to do. Have to make sure no idiots decide to fire on the Horde now." She grunted. "I'd invert their bones… I don't have the energy to invert their bones… Tare doesn't have the energy to do it either."

"How are you even standing?" Khadgar complained.

"I'm cheating," Zaliya said, bearing her teeth in another sharp grin. "No magic but Tarecgosa is helping me stay up. I have about an hour to settle things with my lieutenants and then Tare says I'll be out for half a day at the least." She shrugged. "Small price." She strode off without another word.

An awkward silence settled around their small group. The others who'd been propped up with them had been moved elsewhere, leaving just Cordana watching over her charge like a broody hen, Jaina and Khadgar who were in no shape to really move, Kalec who held her close and was the only reason she was upright at all, and Modera.

Jaina felt uncomfortably like she'd been caught not having done her homework. It had only happened in her a life a handful of times but it gave her rare nightmares. The same feeling of shame in disappointing someone burned on her cheeks and grabbed her chest.

"So," Modera said, eyes narrowed dangerously at Khadgar, "you thought it would be just peachy to enter into a major military action when you know damn well I was working on refining Jaina’s training."

"Modera-"

"Ah!" she held up a hand and Khadgar was silenced by a spell. "And you went into battle but didn't think to invite me." She leaned forward. "Rude."

Khadgar glared indignantly back at her.

Modera turned her hard eyes onto Jaina. "And you." The stony expression faded. "Zaliya says she kept you both on the back lines. She said you played focus to hold up a shield against a darkened Naaru."

Jaina sank against Kalec, the tightness in her shoulders suddenly easing when the older archmage didn't chastise her. She nodded mutely.

Modera let out a low whistle. "I'm still not happy you didn't think to invite me either, but I am glad you had the sense to try to stay out of it. And when they needed your help, you were there. Dark godlings are extenuating circumstances." She shook a finger at Jaina, "but don't think this gets you out of class." She let her hand drop to her knee again. "But you might have to forego the homework for a bit."

"I just wanted to study," Jaina said, tensing again. "I was consulting on the other project you gave me." She swallowed, her throat dry. Kalec lifted his hand and conjured water for her, handing her the glass. Jaina drank it. "And it made sense for me to help. Khadgar has been helping."

"And you being there is a hell of a statement," Modera nodded. "Light girl, I’m not a headmaster who's going to make you write lines. Relax."

Finally free of Modera's silence, Khadgar chuckled. Modera glared at him hard enough for his robes to actually catch fire. He yelped and swatted at the fire, putting it out.

"We're going someplace where you won't cause trouble, Archmage," Cordana said. She hauled him to his feet.

"Now wait just a moment!" Khadgar protested. He swayed on his feet as he got more or less upright.

Cordana made an annoyed sound, hooked her weapon on her belt then hauled Khadgar away over one shoulder like a sack of potatoes. His protests faded once they were out of the bounds of the privacy spell Modera had set.

She snorted then looked back at Jaina. "It was bad, wasn't it?"

Jaina nodded wordlessly.

"What happened?"

Jaina sipped her water and then haltingly recounted the entirety of the fight. She began with the Horde crossing over in Zangarra, the initial combat at the fortress and then the decision to stand against the Iron Horde assaulting Karabor.

"We were- I thought we might be defeated," Jaina said, coming to the end. "It kept attacking. There wasn't time to open a portal. And then the Prophet-" she broke off and sipped more water. "The Prophet sacrificed himself to cleanse the Dark Star." Kalec's arms tightened around her briefly and she let her head fall back to his shoulder. "Once the Naaru was on our side, we were saved." She sipped more water, ordering her thoughts. "If the Dark Star hadn't been summoned I believe we could have held off against the Iron Horde. Or if we'd been able to reach Ner'zhul in time and stop him at the fortress. There wasn't time..." she trailed off.

"I think a lot of people are still alive because you and Khadgar were able to hold it together until the Prophet decided to act." She reached over and patted Jaina's knee. "The two commanders are calling this a success and the death knights are even more fired up to hunt Ner'zhul."

"I hope I helped more than hurt."

"I think you may have but only time can tell. In the meantime, we move on." She frowned. "Hands," she ordered, holding hers out. Jaina put her hands in Modera's, wincing at the touch.

"Probably didn't have time to get a proper insulation spell off for something as large as a leyline, huh? Not too surprised. Leylines are tricky, powerful things."

She undid one of her own bracers showing the gemstones and runework done on the inside of the cuff. Modera's wrist was tattooed with thin lines inscribing a small power circle which would mesh with the bracer. "Rhonin had a set which were truly impressive. He never went for the full empowered tattoo like Ansirem and I have done, but they help keep massive flows under control." She smirked. "Us mere mortals need help before heavy hitters like you and Khadgar need it." Jaina rolled her eyes. Modera slid the bracer back into place.

"I wasn't expecting to have to be in a full battle like this," Jaina admitted. "I certainly wasn't expecting to have to help keep a shield up as I did. Or for us to be faced with that." She nodded in the direction of the Naaru. "Or I would have certainly made sure you were invited," she added trying to add some levity to the conversation.

Modera smirked. "Good answer." She sobered. "Go home. Get some sleep. Maybe a drink or two. You did well but then I'm not surprised. This wasn't your first dance, after all. For all I harp on the stuff you're missing, you do have a full suite of skills to draw on, Jaina."

Jaina acknowledged that with a tilt of her head. "I was more mindful of the projectiles and non-magical attacks because of what happened to me." She sighed. "And I have been through several... trying experiences recently."

"Extremely trying," Modera agreed. She turned a critical eye to the area around them. "Might help hunt Ner'zhul if there's opportunity. If not I should return to Dalaran by the end of the day." She rose and banished the conjured seat.

Kalec and Jaina rose. "I've been thinking about what this might do to our announcement timeline," Jaina told her.

"We should go ahead," Modera said, eyes narrowing. "Might mean I don't get to help hunt, but unless I am hip deep in undead I'll be in Dalaran by tomorrow morning."

Jaina nodded. Modera waved her goodbye and Kalec opened a portal back to Dalaran. The sandy feeling passed as she stepped through into early evening.

"Home?" Kalec asked.

"Home," she agreed. She would speak with Yu'len at her earliest convenience. Speaking with Modera had helped a little. After other battles she'd tried to put the violence behind her, to shove the fears to the furthest corners of her mind where they would die, starved of attention. Perhaps that hadn't been the best way to handle such things.

Jaina leaned into Kalec's side, his arm secure around her shoulders.

"Do you want a distraction?" he asked gently.

"I did get to look at Atiesh," Jaina said, feeling a bit silly. Her personal projects seemed so unimportant, somehow.

"And? I admit I am intrigued by what it does. It's an ancient tool. Quite powerful."

"And it has an attitude," Jaina said. "The spell has a deep effect on the caster. It begins to change them. It is such that it becomes easier to cast, but the trade is it reorders your aura to do so." She took a breath and sighed it out. The air wasn't quite chill enough she could see it, but she could see evidence that there had been more snow while she'd been gone.

"Interesting," Kalec mused. "Changes in what ways specifically?"

"He said he's more avian. Or at least he's picked up habits," she admitted.

Kalec nudged her gently. "What?"

Jaina took his hand, winding her fingers in his as she walked silently. Her stomach twisted and her heart pounded. "When we get home," she said, leading the way. Kalec squeezed her fingers and followed her lead.

She didn't wish to become someone else, not when she was finding her voice again, finding herself. She'd started to become something else and Jaina hadn't liked how her friends and family pulled away. She hadn't liked the angry wraith she'd been - who she could still become if she wasn't watchful.

And yet, she wanted to fly. Jaina wanted that freedom Khadgar had spoken of so lovingly. She wanted to share her life with Kalec and their differences were holding them back in this instance.

Jaina wanted to conquer the spell. She wanted to be the one to pull off something so audacious. The research was already fascinating and had given her a hundred other questions or avenues of research she could follow.

But Jaina didn't want to become not herself, and the fear held her tethered to the ground as surely as gravity did.

They arrived home and Jaina went to her lab. A few charms and some moments of intense concentration and she recreated a diagram of Atiesh's transformation spell so Kalec could study it with her.

Kalec joined her with two mugs of hot coco. "I sent a note to Yu'len for you. She hasn't written back yet."

Jaina nodded and traded the parchment with the spellwork on it for the hot mug. She winced as her still raw skin touched the hot surface. Kalec gently took the ceramic from her and after a moment she had a pair of absurdly soft gloves on her hands and the mug was turned into wood - soft but something which wouldn't transfer heat as quickly.

"Thank you," she said as he hopped onto a stool beside her at the high workbench. She leaned against his side. "I don't want to be someone else, Kalec. I want to be me. I want to fly with you, I want to find a way to do that and I do want to tackle this problem. But I don't want to lose me."

He wrapped his arm around her shoulders. "Let's take a closer look together to see how it operates. You're not committing to anything and you might find something else. You should be comfortable with what you do, love. You don't need to do this."

"I do," she argued. "This is fundamental part of who you are and somehow I want to share it." She took a breath in then let it out. "And this might not be the way, but it is something I want to do for us." She smiled up at him. "Also I think Tarecgosa was very excited by the prospect of teaching me how to be a proper lady dragon."

"I am both amused and horrified," Kalec informed her, drawing a smile to Jaina's face for the first time in what seemed like an eternity.

Jaina nuzzled his shoulder and then just leaned against him. "I feel like I've suddenly stepped back. I've been in fights before. I've moved armies. I've fought the Legion. I don't like how I'm so... affected by this now."

"You're doing rather well, I think."

Jaina grunted. She closed her eyes and pressed her face against the soft fabric of his vest. It was so very tempting to just wallow in the darkness still hovering in her mind. She would speak with Yu'len soon, and so Jaina, ever the student, though how she might apply the lessons she'd learned. She'd changed in many ways and many times in the last few years, but learning and applying what she 'd learned was comfortably consistent.

She'd survived upheaval before; the deaths of her family, being cast aside by Arthas, the wars, the battles, the birth and death of her city, the challenges here. She imagined her healer would point out that was a lot for any one person to deal with. Yu'len and her words of wisdom were a new tool, one Jaina had probably needed before. So what was bothering her?

"I think I don't like how Modera's been sort of pushing me into things," Jaina finally said aloud, realizing the truth of it. "She knows a lot. She's- Kalec's she's really good. I don't think I realized how good. But I have done some of this well before. I-" she broke off with a little whine. She'd been killed by a sniper rifle because she'd not been paying attention. Modera's battlecasting was just... It was a lifetime of craft.

"She's better. I've done decently and she's even said that but she is better than I am," Jaina said, just letting the words fall. "I don't like that I thought I was good and then someone said I wasn't and I don't like it was a teacher," she finally concluded, grumbling. And even with Modera wanting, eager even, to teach, there was something that wasn't sitting well with her in this moment.

"Did she say you weren't good?"

"No," she muttered. "She said I was decent as a backline caster but I could be really spectacular. I don't know what that means for her and I almost don't want to know." She frowned. "It sounds... destructive." She whined and scowled at the far wall. "I have a lot of conflicting feelings and I'm tired and I was almost blown up by a darkened Naaru and that untamed leyline hurt. And I'm whining like a ten year old."

Kalec set her drink aside, handed her the spell parchments she'd made, and then scooped her up. He began to carry her away.

"Where are we going?" she asked.

"Therapeutic cuddling, distraction with that spell and possibly a nap," he answered.

Jaina relaxed. "Okay." Her head was filled with too many thoughts some of them conflicting and all of them screaming for her attention.


In a novel, a meeting like this one would have been held in a seedy dive bar in the Underbelly, or perhaps a shadowy back room in a Booty Bay tavern. As it happened however, the meeting took place in a normal dining room. Dinner had been ready when the guests had arrived and by all outward appearance it was a typical gathering. In fact, most of the guests believe it to be a typical dinner gathering. The meal eaten, drinks were served and the true business was started.

"I have called you here to relate some disturbing news," the hostess said, rising from her seat to address the others around the table. "As some of you may have begun to suspect, the rumors are true. The Council in their... infinite wisdom, has decided we will reopen our doors to the Horde."

The guests around the table straightened in their seats, grumbled, and exclaimed in shock and surprise. The reactions were expected by their hostess, for this was the reason these specific individuals had been invited to dine. She felt some satisfaction that she wasn't the only one who'd reacted this way to the news.

"Surely Proudmoore wouldn't allow this!" the burly human to her right said.

"Did they kick her out?" asked the high elf on the opposite side of the table.

"There is no way Jaina would have allowed this," the youngest of the group said, her voice quavering. "Not after- not after what happened."

"The Grand Magus is in full support of this policy," their hostess said, crushing the young woman's hopes. It was painful but it had to be done. Her hero-worship of Archmage Proudmoore would blind her to what would need to be done unless it was handled.

"No," the woman said, the word coming out in a bare whisper. "She would never! Is it that damned dragon?"

The hostess held up a hand. "However she came to this position, be it because she wishes to keep her seat on the council, or because she wishes to continue whatever relationship she has with the dragon, it doesn't matter. The council is in favor and they are acting even now. The various managers and municipal leaders have all been informed and they have, where appropriate, begun to convey this information to their seconds. It is my understanding that the announcement will be soon. Possibly tomorrow."

The large human growled. "We let them into our city once and what happens? I had friends in Darnassus who were hurt. My Prince nearly died!" He growled. "I had friends who did die when Sunreaver's minions fled the city!" He pounded a meaty fist on the table. "I will not let this stand"

"I think perhaps we should listen," said another high elf, who indicated their hostess. "You seem to know the most so I take it you've been informed."

"By Jaina herself. She seems to have fallen back into her old ways of hoping that songs around the campfire will spread peace and love," the hostess bit out. "I lost-" she broke off and gathered herself together. "We have all lost loved ones to the Horde. I do not know if the council is being unduly influenced somehow, but this is the reality." She looked around. "So I ask you this; What are we going to do about it?"

Chapter Text

Yu'len found an hour to speak with Jaina. She was grateful that the healer had been so willing to come to Dalaran and on such short notice. The meeting had left her feeling drained but oddly good- more solid and less adrift. They'd discussed the battle and Jaina's thoughts and reactions.

And they'd discussed the impending announcement.

With the late hour, Yu'Len decided to stay for the night in Dalaran. Tomorrow she'd intended to be part of the Shado-Pan delegation invited to the city by Modera to see the reintegration process beginning.

Jaina had retired to bed after their conversation. Despite feeling generally better, and Kalec's cuddling and support, her dreams were disjointed and terrifying.

Sometimes the Dark Star killed everyone, even her, and as a ghost she saw the Horde and Alliance fall to one another's throats, burning two worlds. In other dreams she was tossed from the city and she tried to grow wings and fly away, but her magic was out of her reach and she couldn't even manage a slowfall cantrip. In another she managed her transformation spell but it turned her into a sprawling monstrosity that had to be slain for the good of everyone around her. In others, she turned into a dragon and though she felt her personality was no different, one by one, everyone left her, even Kalec, and she couldn't understand why.

This latest nightmare left her awake and restless far earlier than her usual time to rise. Kalec was fast asleep, one arm draped over her, the other lost in the pillows under her head. Jaina turned and buried herself against his broad chest, trying to banish the lingering terror. It was an irrational dream. Mostly.

Something she'd been learning to do with Yu'len was to question why she felt a certain way, to stare into the truth unflinchingly. The healer would question her about these thoughts and fears which held sway over her. Sometimes the fears would dissolve like morning fog in sunlight. Sometimes it took a bit longer. So. Why these nightmares?

She was afraid that doing the right thing would hurt her again, Jaina decided. The Horde had to be welcomed back. They were announcing later in the day because it couldn't be kept a secret any longer. Rumors were already spreading and the Council needed to address the situation head on. And it would allow them to move ahead with their agreements with the Shado-Pan. These were good things, things in line with the impossibly bright future she'd spoken so longingly about with Anduin.

The Council was on her side. The city leaders had grumbled but Karlain and Ansirem were on point and handling the situation well. It was a fear, but it was irrational. Soon the proverbial cat would be out of the bag and they could move forward. Karlain had remarked on hating being in a holding pattern and Jaina heartily agreed.

As for the other nightmares... She didn't want to become something other than 'Jaina'. Because she'd become something else with her hate. Or at least she'd started to become someone else entirely. That truth was not as easily reasoned into something less distracting.

Jaina listened to Kalec's heartbeat, trying to clear her mind as Antonidas had taught her to do while meditating. The steady rhythm was comforting but did little to ease the swirling maelstrom of thoughts in her head. At least her hands had stopped hurting.

"I can hear you thinking," Kalec said, his deep voice languid with sleep.

"Sorry."

"S'fine," he said, tightening his arms in a hug.

"Kalec?"

"Hmm?"

"If I try this spell, or a similar one, and I start to become not me, you need to let me know. Stop me."

"Of course. I don't think even with using Atiesh's spell as a template it would end up hurting you, but I will of course be watchful, love."

"Thank you."

He murmured sleepy acknowledgement as he stretched and shifted, collapsing back into bed, arms and legs draping around her. He nuzzled her jaw and found a ticklish spot. Jaina giggled a little, squirming. Beginning to laugh, Kalec continued to assault her with gentle kisses and nips, waking them both up more. The laughter turned growling as he rose over her, long hair falling like a curtain around their heads, shimmering in the low light. Jaina pulled him down into a heated kiss.

The front door chimed.

"Maybe they'll go away," Jaina said into the close, shared air between them. Kalec leaned down to kiss her again.

The door chimed a second time. Then a third. Whoever was on the other side leaned on the bell, making it ring continuously.

Kalec growled, eyes narrowed, baring his teeth in the direction of the front door. Jaina sighed and caressed the side of his face with a hand. "One of us should go see who it is," she said as the chime rang. Kalec rolled off her, flopping to the bed with a grumble.

Jaina rose, threw on a robe and went to see who was at the door. She opened the door just as the mage on the other side lifted her hand to knock. The young magi was her classmate, Lucithy.

"Oh good, I thought I was going to have to start really pounding on the door. Sorry to wake you, Archmage."

Jaina waved a hand. "I was up." She took in the other mage's appearance; she was dressed but a bit mussed and looked as if she'd been woken early as well and was not entirely pleased about it. Jaina felt an odd prickling sensation down the back of her neck and stepped back into her home. "Come inside."

"Sure," Lucithy said, lightly stepping inside. "You can thank Modera for the early wake up call," she said as soon as the door was closed behind her. "She's just arrived from the other Draenor, accompanied by half a dozen Death Knights."

"What happened?"

"Ner'zhul's dead. Again. The other one at least," the younger woman said, holding out a sealed scroll. "She said to bring this to you right away and to kick down the door if you didn't answer." She smirked. "She also said some things about not caring if, ah, you were busy. With Kalecgos." She tapped at the letter. "Modera said make you read this."

Jaina broke the seal and unfolded the letter. Kalec, in a more presentable state, padded into the room on bare feet, wearing only pants.

"Jaina,
Ner'zhul is dead. Some of the Ebon Blade came back with me. Commander Zakrina has requested some staging area space here for her people - all of them. Even the ones from Horde races. I've granted that request provisionally. Khadgar's in favor. I think. Cordana slipped him something so he would actually sleep and he wasn't entirely coherent. He should be fine for the announcement later today.

We've assembled in the old Horde inn. Come join us when you get this. I've sent runners to the others on the council as well. Was a hell of a fight. More to say when you get here."

"What is it?" Kalec asked.

Jaina handed him the note then turned back to Lucithy. The younger mage was staring at Kalec. She smirked at Jaina then wagged her eyebrows when the Archmage cleared her throat. A smile tugged at Jaina's lips for a second. She returned her attention to Kalec. "Modera's returned from Draenor with the death knights and the Ebon Blade commander. They were successful in defeating Ner'zhul."

"That's good, isn't it?"

"I think so."

"I have to go run more errands and bang on a few more doors," Lucithy said, backing up towards the door. "Hopefully they'll be as easy to get ahold of."

Jaina nodded and saw the mage out. She turned to Kalec. "They're meeting in the old Horde inn. I think I should get dressed. You can go back to bed if you like."

"I'm up," he said smiling.

Jaina took a quick shower and got dressed. Her hands had recovered significantly with additional healing courtesy of Yu'len and some rest, but they were tingling by the time she had to brush her hair. Kalec plucked the brush out of her fumbling fingers and began to comb through her hair. His touch was gentle; love behind the gesture.

"You announce about the Horde later today, " he mused as he stroked the brush through a section of her long white hair. "And you'll be armed with a victory."

"Yes. I hope it helps," she said.

Kalec parted the hair at the back of her head and kissed her neck before he resumed his grooming. "I have faith it will be well. In the short term there will be turmoil but once things are routine it will become easier." He set the brush down on her vanity and offered his hand to her. She took it and rose, summoning a cloak to wrap around her shoulders. Dawn was just beginning to peek out over the mountains of Northrend.

"Let me know what I might do to help," he said.

With a final parting kiss, Jaina left her residence, heading for the mostly empty Horde quarter of Dalaran.

Only the bakers were up this early and Jaina could smell bread baking as she made her way to meet Modera. The fireplace had been lit and perhaps a dozen death knights lounges around the room or stood still as statues as they preferred. Modera was seated across a table from the night elf who was commander of the Ebon Blade for the operation. Seated beside her was the tauren death knight who'd come through from the Horde side first. The rest of the death knights were an even mix of Horde and Alliance races.

"Jaina," Modera called over, waving for her to join them.

Jaina felt the eye of everyone in the room turn to focus on her. The weight of their gaze pressing on her as she crossed the room.

"Luci give you any lip?" Modera asked as Jaina joined them at the table.

"No."

"Good. Probably annoyed I woke her up, but I needed a runner and I trust her to keep her mouth shut. Ah, there's Ansirem."

Jaina remained silent, choosing to watch the visitors as the rest of the council arrived, heeding Modera's summons. The meeting with the death knights was fairly short. Commander Zakrina wished to secure a location for her people to use and the city had space. More, they could make space too. For the moment, the Ebon Blade could stay here in the Horde Inn and find more suitable lodgings after the announcement.

The council left after the short meeting, some going home or to get an early start on the day. Jaina and Ansirem ended up walking in the same direction, the lure of coffee and baked goods fresh from the oven too strong to ignore.

"It was a nasty fight it sounds like," Ansirem said after a moment or two of walking in silence.

Jaina fought back a wince. "It was more than any of us expected," she admitted. "We survived though."

Ansirem blew out a huff. "I'm glad you and Khadgar survived," he said. "The Iron Horde have any more evil Naaru tucked away? Spellsong's looking to take more defenders to that campsite she wants to run and I can't say I blame her. Modera made it sound close."

"It was. I don't think there are any more darkened Naaru, however."

"Shame about Prophet Velen," Ansirem said. "The other one I mean. I like him. Bit cryptic and occasionally he can come off as a bit aloof but he's a good man and leads his people as well as he can."

"I am grateful to him for his sacrifice," Jaina said, bowing her head. If Velen had not acted, she and everyone else on that hilltop would have been killed.

"And in an unusual turn of events, you'll probably be able to thank him sometime. Well. The one that belongs here at least," he said, chuckling. He looked over when Jaina didn't laugh along. "Still too fresh and you're not one to laugh after surviving impossible odds then?"

"I suppose not," she said. "Haven't really ever been. Awful things would happen or there would be a battle and I would focus on what came next."

"Ah. That's fair. Lily and I met and bonded over laughing in the face of death and impossible odds. Her foster brother's not like that. Drove him crazy when we did it. So Modera has you taking her deathmarch combat class. How are you finding it?"

That brought out a chuckle. "It's interesting," she said, glad for the change in topic. "I'm used to being able to have the time to compose spells."

"Aye, she'll get you snapping off fireballs faster than you expected you could. I was a fair hand at combat casting myself. I'd seen action before and I'd lived so I thought I had a fair handle on it. Took her class so she'd stop bothering me. I learned a lot. She show you how to make those little fire orbs yet?"

"The tiny ones that look like little stars? She sort of... rockets them of?"

"Yeah!" Ansirem grinned. "I can do the orb part, but just flicking them away and they rocket like a gunshot? Whew. Still don't have the hang of that one at she speed she can do. But then I haven't had quite as long as she has to perfect something like that."

Jaina nodded. "The warding to keep from burning herself was just as amazing. I didn't think combat casting could be so... elegant."

"I know!" Ansirem agreed. "A lot of the basics are brute force and dumping as much energy as you can, so it's not entirely without merit. But she's been doing a lot to encourage working smarter and not harder."

"I'd noticed that the ranks of our defenders had grown. I had plenty of support on Thunder Isle and I was glad of it."

"See much fighting there?"

"Not after the initial landing," Jaina said. "Then it was mostly planning and coordinating in our territory while others like Archmage Zaliya went out and did most of the fighting. At least until Orgrimmar." And she'd been a backline caster there too.

Jaina had fought the Legion on Hyjal and the Scourge at Ice Crown and now the Iron Horde and dark Naaru. She had an impressive resume of survival, but she knew she could be better. There were gaps in her education. They weren't huge, but they were deadly. And she could become more deadly too. Perhaps that was just as necessary as learning how to handle herself better on the battlefield... and what happened after.

"It will be good to bring the Shado-pan here," Jaina said.

"Hmm? Oh, for their after-combat thing that Modera's been talking about. A lot of people aren't happy about giving up what we took from Thunder Isle."

"It's worth it," Jaina said.


Jaina adjusted her hair in the mirror again, then began to button her overcoat. It was deep purple with delicate gold embroidery at the edges. A small scattering of gems and enchantments provided rich sparkle and accent. It was warm against the encroaching winter chill, which always came early in Northrend. Her long white hair hung free down her back, obscuring the inset golden fabric in the shape of the Kirin Tor Eye. She had little need to hold off the cold, but it was an impressive and official looking statement. The council had decided as a group they would come at this with the utmost formality.

But the buttons would not work in her shaking hands.

Kalec gently took her hands and drew them to her sides. He ran fingers through her hair during a gentle hug, then began to fasten the buttons of the coat. His motions were sure and he had no trouble.

"It will be fine," Kalec said. "If not in the short term then in the long run. It will be fine, Jaina. This is a formality, you said so yourself."

"So much has been building up to this," Jaina said, shoulders sagging. Her stomach roiled but there was something calming about having her mate dress her. "Yu'len believes I have built it up in my head."

"Have you?"

"Maybe I have," Jaina said.

"You said Modera started to make contingency plans should the worst happen. What is the worst that could happen?"

"The entire city tells us to leave and forcibly tries to kick us off, physically, over the edge."

"Well you know slow-fall and you happen to be sleeping with a rather dashing and talented winged creature, so being tossed over the side shouldn't be a concern," Kalec said, wagging his eyebrows at her.

Jaina smiled a little. "But- I'd have failed." Again

"No, they would have decided not to accept your very well reasoned and executed plans and the rest of the council would be in the same position. There are others who agree with you already." He kissed her forehead. "And if you all don't mind something a bit colder and larger I happen to know of a mostly empty city with an extensive library of magic that could take on additional tenants."

Jaina looked up. "You'd let us live in Coldarra?"

He rested his forehead against hers. "It will belong to the younger races one day. The members of the Council are some of the most talented and respectful mages currently living on Azeroth. Why not get started if you needed it?" He took her hand and tucked her arm into his. "And Varian would give you space in Stormwind. You could even return to Kul Tiras."

Jaina grimaced. She... had a complicated history with her homeland. Her initial attempts to broker peace with the Horde hadn't been welcome - her father and brother had been killed by the Horde. Peace was not especially welcome. Theramore had been a point of pride and confusion - an Alliance outpost on Kalimdor, but run by a woman who had ideas about the world they didn't tend to agree with. She imagined they'd have cheered news of the Purge, but her resumption of a more peaceful political stance with regard to the Horde would not be very popular. In many ways, Kul Tiras wasn't home anymore. They were more comfortable with her male cousin in charge, anyway. Jaina shoved those thoughts aside.

"But, I don't think that will happen," Kalec continued. "This will go ahead with some angst and disruption but then it will settle down. Changes always come with adjustment."

"Thank you for being sensible when I am not," Jaina said, kissing his shoulder. They left for the Violet Citadel.

Jaina was not the last Council members to arrive. Khadgar wasn't the last either. That prize went to Modera.

The Archmage was in full battle-dress, the armor still scuffed from her combat against the Iron Horde and then Ner'zhul. She'd even added additional enchanted items she'd not worn on the short-notice trek to Draenor. The power thrummed tangibly around her and though she'd only had a few hours of sleep, Modera's eyes glowed blue with both magic and alertness. Lucithy trailed behind her, carrying the Archmage's helm, more serious than Jaina had seen her be.

"We ready to do this?" Ansirem asked. Like Jaina he wore formal robes. Spellsong stood nearby, looking both sleek and deadly in light leathers.

"Let's get it over with so the bellyaching can happen and then everyone can get over that," Karlain said. He wore his own impressive set of armor.

"And we have news of a victory to share," Khadgar said, grinning. He looked much improved after some sleep. "Not one but three Council members assisted in the Shadowmoon offensive."

Modera and Spellsong nodded in agreement, both focused on the task ahead. Modera looked over at Jaina. "Archmage."

Jaina nodded and drew in a deep breath then let it out. When she lifted her head she let the weight of her office pull the diplomatic mask down. The weight of it crushed the lingering anxiety, bolstered by the confidence of her peers. She gathered the council with her eyes and turned for the front door to the citadel. Kalec and Lucithy slipped out ahead of the Council of Six and went to the side, waiting with the rest of the crowd.

Stepping into the midday sun Jaina looked over the people gathered to hear the Council's announcement. The rest of the council flanked her, standing close as a united front.

"Citizens of Dalaran!" Jaina called out, her voice magically amplified. "We come before you today to make several important announcements. First, the Kirin Tor will be stepping up our support for the ongoing efforts against the Iron Horde in Draenor. Yesterday there was an assault on the necromancer Ner'zhul's stronghold. It was joint venture involving the Knights of the Ebon Blade," Jaina paused to nod at Commander Zakrina and her small cluster of officers who stood out from the crowd in their dark plate. Jaina continued, "and the Lunarfall and Frostfire garrisons. Archmages Khadgar, Modera and I were present to assist and we were successful. We will be seeking additional opportunities such as this one."

"The Council has also decided that we will once more allow the races of the Horde within the city." As expected there was a dull roar of reaction to that news. Jaina continued onward over the crowd. "Garrosh Hellscream gave the orders that led to the violation of our portal network and the injury to our allies in Darnassus and in Pandaria. He was aided by Aethas Sunreaver and a small contingent of Sunreaver's faction. For this reason, Sunreaver will not be allowed to return to Dalaran and his mages will have much to prove before they are allowed here again.

"When the Horde Mages were purged from the city, many left peacefully, taking their goods and businesses, their knowledge and power with them. It is to those mages, who uphold the same value on learning and magical research and discovery, that we once again open our doors. Dalaran was a city built for all Mages and through the war with the Scourge, with Malygos and then with Deathwing we worked together for the benefit of Azeroth. We have a new common enemy; Garrosh Hellscream and his Iron Horde.

"This will be a period of transition. It was when the Horde mages were first admitted into the city, but we adapted and we grew. That spirit of openness was taken advantage of, but in the best interest of Dalaran and for Azeroth, we cannot remain closed forever."

Jaina paused a moment. The crowd continued to murmur amongst themselves and Jaina was certain that the debate would be loud and ongoing until things were more fully settled. There were many worried faces and she felt for them. But Karlain and Ansirem had created a solid policy.

"I know you will have questions and concerns. The Council had many of the same. We have come up with a set of policies which will allow us to expand once more while maintaining the peaceful security of Dalaran.

"First, Aethas Sunreaver is not allowed to return for the foreseeable future. Any mage of his faction seeking to gain readmittance must be vouched for by a Kirin Tor mage of good standing. These mages will be subject to additional security and scrutiny until such a time as they have proven themselves trustworthy. All Horde owned businesses which once operated here are welcome to return and reopen in their previous locations provided those have not been inhabited in the interim. The Council will facilitate negotiations over questions of tenancy where there is conflict.

"That being said, the Council will not abide by unscrupulous business practices or discrimination. This has always been the rule here, but given the tumultuous recent history, extra vigilance will be ongoing. It is very easy to fall into old patterns of hate and mistrust. But for us to continue we must set these aside and embrace the opportunities increased business will bring.

"The security on all portals has been increased over the past week and will continue until we have fully realized the plans Archmages Karlain and Runeweaver have devised. Some portals now terminate in locations which are less convenient but more secure," Jaina said. Many of the frowns in the crowd had become thoughtful and Jaina relaxed a little. Knowing that the situation was being handled and had been well thought eased the worry many felt. Or at least that is what she hoped the people of Dalaran thought.

"Dalaran has always been there to assist the forces of Azeroth against great and terrible foes. The Horde has seen fit to not only remove Garrosh Hellscream from power, but have sought to have him brought to justice, wherever he might hide. It will be our challenge to see past the actions of a few and to embrace the Horde Mages as brothers and sisters in the study of magic so that all Azeroth may benefit from our collaboration."


"Well, That's done," Spellsong said once they'd returned inside.

"It is and now we're going to go manage the inevitable storm, aren't we Ansirem?" Karlain said.

Runeweaver took a moment then squared his shoulders. "We are indeed. Best get to it."

The two council members left and the party of visiting Shado-pan were admitted. Outside there was a great deal of chatter as the city discussed the change. The volume dropped as the doors closed again. The Pandaren in the lead was shorter than usual, his fur gone to steel grey, his beard white. He was flanked by two other pandaren, including healer Yu'len. The healer inclined her head slightly to Jaina who returned the gesture more deeply.

"Master Snowpaw," Modera greeted. "These are Archmages Khadgar, Karlain, Spellsong and Proudmoore of the Council of Six." She indicated each in turn then to Kalecgos. "Lord Kalecgos of the blue flight who is counted among our number as an Archmage of the Kirin Tor and Magus Lucithy."

"We welcome the news you presented here today," the Pandaren said. "While we wished to help your people and were eager to regain access to the Mogu artifacts recovered from thunder Isle, we do not wish to takes side in the ongoing conflict."

"That is understood. We did as we felt was best for the city while Garrosh Hellscream was in control of the Horde," Jaina said. "Now the situation has changed and the Council has been able to reevaluate the situation."

"So, shall we get down to business then?" Modera gestured towards the exit. "The meeting room on this level should comfortably accommodate everyone. I thought first we might discuss the logistics for engaging your healers further and once we're more settled on that, Lucithy will fetch Magus Sharpaxe, our curator of the Mogu relics."

"Yes ma'am," Lucithy sketched a salute.

Modera snorted a laugh. Her eyes flicked back to the door then went back to Jaina. "If you'll excuse us, Jaina, I think your meeting just arrived." Modera nodded towards the door where two figures in cloaks had just slipped through. The taller of the two had pushed back his hood revealing himself to be Anduin Wrynn.

Jaina smiled at the young man she called 'nephew'. Coordinating with the Shado Pan was something Modera had been heading up and while Jaina felt personally interested, she'd delegated the task and Modera had handled it beautifully thus far. Bowing to the Shado-pan once more, Jaina then collected Kalec and went to embrace the prince.

"I didn't expect you to be here," she said.

"How could I not be," Anduin said, returning the hug. "Do you have some time to speak?" He clasped hands with Kalec, giving the dragon a friendly smile before looking back at Jaina.

"I do." Her eyes flickered to the other person. The cloaked visitor was a woman who looked vaguely famili- Tess Greymane! An interesting development. "We can use my office," Jaina said. She leaned up to kiss Kalec. "I'll be home in a little bit."

Kalec snorted a laugh. "If you're not home by dinner I'm storming the tower," he said, winking. He inclined his head to the others then wandered over to where Khadgar and Spellsong were talking.

It was only after the door to her office had closed that Tess lowered the hood of the cloak she wore.

"You really did it," Anduin said, grinning broadly, eyes shining as he took a seat across from Jaina.

"I suppose I did. Now we'll just wait and see what happens," she said. She looked over at Tess. "I don't imagine everyone will be pleased by what we've done but it was necessary."

"My father is going to a lot to say and none of it is going to be complimentary," Tess agreed.

"And what do you think?"

Greymane's eyes widened a fraction in surprise. Jaina only noticed because she'd been studying the young woman's reactions. She was wearing a diplomatic mask, a very good one.

"What I think?" Tess repeated, buying herself time.

Jaina smiled and nodded. Tess was her father's heir. Jaina had heard very little of Gilnean princess, now that she'd thought about it. Which made Anduin's recent note informing Jaina that the situation was "interesting" all the more curious.

"I don't trust Sylvanas," Tess said after a contemplative moment. "I think the other Horde leaders will allow her to run rampant and Vol'jin is going to have a hard time holding them together. I don't particularly like the idea that any of Sylvanas' mages might have easy access to the libraries here." She tapped her fingers on the armrest of her chair, noticed what she was doing and stopped herself. "I think the Blood Elves, at least some of them, might have the potential to be good allies. Some still suffer magical addiction and access to Dalaran would be good for them."

Tess sat back in her seat. "Most of my opposition stems from the Forsaken for the obvious reasons." She rolled her eyes and gave Anduin a look. "And I acknowledge the Horde is more than just the Forsaken." She looked back at Jaina. "But we are a people in exile and Dalaran must consider its own best interests, so I don't know what I might bring to the discussion."

"Tess, there's an opportunity here." Anduin said patiently. Jaina got the impression this was already an old debate between the two future monarchs.

"Yes," she admitted, "But father is... unreasonable when it comes to Sylvanas. And one must be reasonable for peace."

"Even if we were discussing an end to the fighting?" Anduin asked.

Tess winced. "Even so." She shook her head, frowning, her dark eyes hooded. "He's going to see what Dalaran does as a betrayal, and that your father supports Dalaran will cut him deeply," she said to Anduin. "And he is going to rant and rave. He might pull our people out of Dalaran. Or attempt to at least."

"You don't think they'll listen," Jaina said.

Again, the slight widening of brown eyes which quickly narrowed just a bit, calculating. "We've seen beyond the wall. Our mages have always reached beyond." She smiled quickly, a fierce flash of teeth that was almost as wolfish as her father. "There was a brisk trade using mages to import and export. The merchant marine hated them. They are enjoying their freedom."

Interesting that she knew about the smuggling. But then Jaina had been aware of the existence of various smuggling operations run in and through Kul Tiras when she was younger. She knew several such... interesting enterprises had once been run in Dalaran. Those had gone silent with the news of the purge. Jaina wondered if they might resurface and made a mental note to check.

"But you want to come to the table?" Anduin asked, the barest edge of desperation in his voice.

Tess turned her attention back to him, her expression softening just a bit. "It isn't right my people aren't home. There are four years olds now who've never been there. They know Darnassus and Stormwind, but not Gilnaeas. I am truly grateful for all the support that your father and High Priestess Whisperwind have given to us, but they need to go home."

They needed to go home. Not 'we'. Not her. Jaina noted the phrase and wondered if she was reading into it more than she should.

Anduin relaxed, either not having heard the same thing Jaina had, or not giving it notice. "This is a first step to actual peace."

"So you have been saying. Repeatedly." She arched a brow at him, more amused than anything Jaina judged.

Anduin blushed a bit, color creeping up his neck and into his fair cheeks, but his expression was serious. "But I'm not wrong. We can get your father and Sylvanas to talk. We can get everyone to talk, to settle some of the issues like the logging in ashenvale."

Tess's eyes narrowed. "Huh."

"What?"

"Not sure yet. Keep talking Wrynn."

Anduin rolled his eyes and looked over to Jaina. Jaina smiled. He was doing very well on his own and this was both fascinating and good for the two as allies and future leaders.

"Look," Anduin said when it was clear Jaina was letting him handle things, "I'm saying we can't just keep killing one another. It's not helping anyone and it's just making things worse. We can build some trust. Dalaran returning to neutrality gives us an avenue of communication and potential opportunities."

"Not everyone can just set aside their differences. Father's held grudges until they died of old age and then had them stuffed and mounted," Tess quipped. She looked at Jaina. "He's not sure he believes you made Theramore neutral, Lady Proudmoore."

"I did," Jaina said, "and it was no trap. I think that for the best interest of Azeroth, we should stop the fighting."

"Even after everything? Today's announcement surprised me as much as word of Theramore."

Jaina drew in a breath and let it out, eyes closed. "Yes. Because there are worse things in the Great Dark Beyond than Garrosh Hellscream. And because by choosing not to be like him, he loses. By making him the thing we unite against, he loses. He wanted to conquer the world." Jaina looked up and smiled. It wasn't a nice smile. "I'm going to crush his hopes and dreams. I'm going to wage peace because I am very tired of burying my friends and family."

Greymane arched an eyebrow, surprised and intrigued. Her answering smile was that little feral flash of teeth again. The time chimed and her attention was directed to the clock. She looked back at Jaina and then Anduin. She chewed on her lip, the most telling gesture she'd done so far.

"We're vulnerable," she finally admitted. "We are almost entirely reliant on our allies. Our lands are held by undead monsters who are allowed to do as they wish." She tapped her fingers on the chair. "But Sylvanas's resources are not infinite. She's had to become more strategic in her deployments and in who she raises these past few years. Even so, every dead soldier is potentially a recruit for her and so we are deadlocked." She scowled. "Pun very much not intended." Tess shook her head.

"Father is stubborn and the more he doesn't want to change, the harder it is for him. But he has a weakness; Mother. If we can convince her, she can make him see reason, especially if all of his allies are moving in the same direction. It would have to be all of them. As for Sylvanas? If the rest of the Horde were not so permissive of her actions, she'd have to retreat. She needs their support. If Dalaran is the method and means of making that happen, then it is possible she might fall back. Enabling Father to retake our lands would make him far more amenable to a variety of things."

"He wouldn't listen to you?" Anduin questioned, frowning slightly. He'd approached her believing she could reach Genn as he'd been able to reach Varian.

Tess norted. "Mother is the way to get him to come to any sort of table for peace talks." Tess rose. "And I apologise for excusing myself, Lady Proudmoore, Anduin, but I have an appointment to keep."

Jaina and Anduin rose as well, Anduin pulling up his hood. "I'll go with you. This discussion gave me some ideas."

Tess looked at him, shrugged and pulled her hood up. "As you like." She made a quick bow to Jaina then left. Anduin gave her a quick hug then trotted after.

Jaina watched them go and considered. Getting Queen Mia on their side might help. But using a better relationship with Vol'jin to pull back Sylvanas? That was an interesting idea. Unfortunately Jaina could foresee a point where Tyrande and Genn presented a united front against Jaina and Anduin's plans. She'd have to work on Tyrande as well. The observation about the Forsaken's limitations on how many new undead they could raise was interesting. It reflected what Varian's intelligence people had told him - mostly. Jaina was unsurprised the Gilneans had been paying close attention, and it appeared that Tess was well informed on that front.

Also interesting was the Princess of Gilneas herself. She'd learned her statecraft well, which was typical for a young woman of her rank, but her execution as not typical. There was an added layer of wariness and calculation that was entirely absent in Anduin and which couldn't be accounted for in experience granted by age. Something interesting was going on with her that Jaina couldn't quite put her finger on.

There was a knock on her door and Jaina set those thoughts aside for another time.


The city that night was filled with controversy and argument. Jaina could hear it in the halls of the Violet Hold. It grew loud enough it reached her from the streets. It grew louder as evening approached. Karlain and Ansirem were handling things well amid the chaos.

"Things will settle down," Karlain had told her. "They did last time. Everyone will act out and storm as things change, then it will settle down."

After speaking with Anduin she'd had a line of mages in and out of her office expressing concerns over the Council's decision. Jaina wasn't certain they were reassured by her either but there wasn't much she could do but stand united with the rest of the Council. Some had yelled at her, some had been polite. Two had brought charts and given they were senior enough to have some clout but not senior enough they'd been forewarned, Jaina brought out her own charts. The debate had been calming in a way. While they all had feelings about the Horde, numbers and logic were unassailable facts. She'd secured their support once they'd understood the full extent of the Council's concerns and also consideration of the whole picture. One mage had cried.

That had been the hardest. Magus Dawnlight had lost family to the various races of the Horde even before they were united under that banner, and then he'd lost more. He was a willowy, bookish High Elf and even in tears, his plea had been elegant.

Jaina understood the pain and loss. All she could do was offer reassurance that they would do their best to guard against further violations. Reassurance and hope.

We're doing this so no one else will die," she'd told him. "So we can find a way to stop it entirely."

Magus Dawnlight had sniffed and reflected on that for a moment. "I don't know that's possible," he'd said before leaving.

Jaina stood just inside her balcony door as she watched the city below, the day's meetings playing over and over in her head. Night was falling but the city was alive and bustling with the news. Jaina sighed and turned away, closing her doors and locking her office.

Not wishing to deal with the crowds or with alterations in the street, she teleported past the wards in her home and appeared in her parlor.

"Kalec?"

"Here," he called from the kitchen.

Her stomach rumbled at the delicious smells as she approached. But the kitchen, and the dragon, was a disaster. Measuring cups coated in flour and sugar were stacked to the side. The sink was filled with mixing bowls and dishes. More cutting boards than she knew she owned were being used as three knives sliced mushrooms, root vegetables and tubers. The remains of some sort of animal were neatly broken down and under a cooling spell while Kalec worked on other things. Dirty pans were stacked on the unused burner of the stove and the underlying scent of something having burned at some earlier point. There was flour in his hair and smudges of all sorts on his clothing, even though he'd chosen to wear an apron.

Something was in the oven, the scent tangy and mouthwatering. There was a pie on a cooling rack on the small table in the little breakfast nook. Two dozen cookies were beside it.

Kalec dumped all three cutting boards into a huge stew pot then began to work on the waiting meat, stripping it from the bones and turning it into bite-sized cubes. Seven pieces of parchment were held by his magic in the air.

"What's this?"

"Dinner," he said as he wiped his hands on a towel and leaned in to kiss her. "Finch and I reinforced the warding just in case anyone did anything untoward then I decided you needed a quiet night at home. Jaxi gave me some of her declassified recipes." He plucked a cookie from the table and popped it into her mouth, winking.

Jaina chewed automatically as the dragon transferred the cubes of meat to a bowl of flour then to a pan to brown. "You cook?" she asked, surprised.

"On occasion. I haven't for some time, so I'm afraid the first batch of cookies didn't work out before I remembered what I was doing," he explained as he poked at the browning meat. "I hope you don't mind?"

"No," she said, finding a seat out of the way.

Kalec transferred the meat into the giant stockpot, turned up the heat, put a lid on it then sat with her. "I'll clean the mess," he said before eating one of the cookies in two bites. "If you didn't come home I was going to bring you dinner."

"You cook. Dragons cook?" He'd made sandwiches and simple things, but it was clear he'd been baking and by the smell, cooking here was a few steps beyond basics.

Kalec smiled and scooted his chair over so he could wrap an arm around her shoulders. "Sometimes," he said. "Roasts were something we would do on occasion. Stuffing game with herbs or wrapping one animal in another. Bacon wrapped penguin is one of my favorite snacks. But I learned more when I interacted with the younger races."

Jaina leaned her head against his shoulder. "You didn't need to do anything, but I appreciate it."

"It started with the cookies and then expanded into dinner. And then dinner sort of got out of hand," he explained, handing her another cookie as he took one for himself. "Do you want to talk about how the rest of the day went?" He rose to tend to the stew, shoving the cookie into his mouth as he walked.

"Not yet," she said, sighing, "and yet I do. What did you see today?"

"Mixed reactions," he said. "The most frequent concern was that violence would erupt in the city and concern for their own wellbeing or their families. Some people were very angry that the council decided to let the Horde back in. Other people were more positive, but guarded because their neighbors were so angry."

Jaina sighed and slumped back in her chair. "I suppose that is something. Karlain believes things will settle down in a few days and people will move on. Like last time. The situation is somewhat different but I am hoping it will settle."

"It will be what will be," Kalec said.

Jaina scowled but he pressed a mug into her hands. "Try that." He was back to checking the oven. She let go of the flash of irritation. He was right. What would be would be.

The mug had warm wassail from the smaller pot on the back burner. The smell brought back memories of winters past. It was good when she tasted it. "A bit more citrus maybe," she suggested. He nodded and dropped more orange slices into the pot then squeezed another orange half into the mix.

How long had it been since she'd had a home cooked meal? Before Thunder Isle at least. And it had been since Theramore when she'd sometimes sneak down to the kitchens. But the cooks, as lovely as they had been, had been employees to some extent. Perhaps it had been an evening with Kinndy. One memory in particular stuck out; the evening she and Kinndy had gone through her apprentice's list of conjured foods and then had gone through Jaina's larger repertoire. She smiled, wiping her eyes with the back of a hand. That had been such a fun night.

"It's that bad?"

She laughed. "No, I was just remembering the night Kinndy and I spent the whole evening conjuring food. I tested what she knew and she wanted to see what I could do. We had far too many sweets but it was fun. She'd just come to Theramore and I was testing what she knew already." It was a good bonding experience and the gnome girl had been far more at ease with her new mentor and her new home afterwards.

"Thank you for the home cooked meal," She said. "It's been awhile since I've had one. Vereesa would occasionally invite me over. Anduin and Varian would too, but dinner at Stormwind was... It's different than this."

He kissed her forehead then went back to the oven as his timer chimed. He pulled out a casserole dish and a roasting pan. Already on the stove was the stew pot and two others that held some sort of vegetable. He gave her an apologetic smile. "I said might have gone overboard." He turned off the heating enchantments and looked a bit embarrassed once it was all out.

"It's nice. A good surprise at the end of an insane day." She wrapped her arms around his waist. "Thank you."


News of the readmittance of the Horde led to many conversations and debates long into the night.The Dinner Party reconvened as once such gathering. The Hostess did not actually host the gathering this time, but all the same players who'd been there before were once more in attendance in the new location.

"I can't believe she did it," the burly human said.

"She did," the youngest said, eyes hollow, betrayed. She looked to the Hostess. "What do we do? What can we do?"

The Hostess sighed from her spot by the window. She turned back to the rest of those assembled. "We move ahead with our plans. And when we are ready, make our displeasure known."

Chapter Text


The first act of vandalism happened even before the Horde returned.. The morning after the announcement, obscenities had been scrawled on the walls of the Violet Citadel. Most were statements against the Horde, but a few described some anatomically improbable things the Council could do. The graffiti was cleaned but people had seen it. The culprits were still at large.

Jaina was uncertain if the Horde would return, but she needn't have been. Within a day, the first goblins returned, eager to open up trade again and reestablish their businesses. One tried to lay claim to the inn and tavern that had become the unofficial Horde headquarters in Dalaran, but certain businesses Ansirem and Karlain felt it appropriate to give first right of refusal to the original owners and operators. Uda, the orc who'd run the Inn before, had made her intent to reclaim 'her' inn clear.

The council attempted to keep things business as usual, but that was difficult when so many in the city were angry. For Jaina that meant attending her usual meetings and Modera's next class.


"Keep moving! Luci, pick up the pace!"

Beside Jaina, Lucithy grumbled but she did pick up the pace.

"Jaina! Step it up! Almost done here!"

Jaina had half been expecting the command so she ran to catch up with Lucithy. How Modera had the energy to holler at everyone, and run at either the head of the line or at the end was impressive. Today's class was being held early in the morning. Kalec had hardly stirred when Jaina had risen.

The class had missed a session on account of an acute case of necromancer and then had been delayed a day while the initial fallout of the announcement was handled. In the interest of keeping things mostly normal, Modera had insisted on classes resuming. if Modera could hold hers and if Jaina could attend, then no one else had any excuse not to get back to work.

Jaina's breath started to come in gasps, her chest burning. Half the class was suffering. The others seemed entirely unaffected. Two of the senior battlemages seemed to be liking the torture. Kalec couldn't understand how Jaina could rise so early. Jaina couldn't understand how anyone could enjoy running. Her breath puffed into the cold morning air in great clouds.

"Bring it in," Modera called out, leading their column to an open field.

"Oh thank the Light," Jaina muttered.

Luci laughed raggedly beside her as they trotted into the field.

"Walk it off," Modera ordered. "Conjure some water, keeping moving."

"Why are we doing this?" Lucithy muttered.

"Because Modera told you to," Jaina answered.

"Why?"

"Because I'm a shrewd taskmistress, apprentice sassy-pants." Modera said, breaking into their conversation. "Movement drills!"

The veterans groaned and Jaina felt her shoulders sag.

"It's not that bad," Modera said, then pitched her voice low for Jaina only. "Do what you can on the magic front, but don't push yourself. You're probably still rough from that fight with a Naaru, I'd wager."

"A bit," Jaina admitted.

"Don't go for power then. It'll be a good exercise." She stepped away from Jaina and raised her voice. "Line up! Speed drills!"

Jaina's magic was rough and weak compared to the mages around her and each cast made her hands tingle. Modera took them through the promised speed drills, calling commands which didn't leave room for much thought. Jaina rolled her shoulders and gave herself up to the exercise. Oddly, since she'd accepted she couldn't power through as she'd have done normally, it was easier to be responsive.

After the speedwork were the movement drills under fire. This was a new exercise but one jaina decided to pay close attention towards. It involved half the class firing low-power spells at the other half and using a terrain course as cover. The spells that landed stung, letting the target know they'd been hit. Jaina thought she did fairly well, but spells landed leaving what had to be bruising strikes. Fewer strikes landed as she stopped thinking and began to more closely mimic what the veteran mages were doing.

"Stop! That's enough for today," Modera called out. Jaina felt a tiny bit disappointed because she'd been beginning to get it. Or so she thought. She stretched her arms and flexed her fingers. There was a runner up beside Modera's perch overlooking the training field. Modera caught her eye.

Jaina made her way over. "Something amiss?" She asked.

Modera handed over a scroll. Karlain's mark was at the bottom.

"In addition to more graffiti, some storefront windows were smashed in the night. Owners were a couple goblins. They just found out."

"Damn."

"We knew this might happen. Karlain's on the case already. He managed to appease the goblins."

"How bad was it?"

"Couple hundred in gold to assist in repairs. All things considered it could have been worse. We'll have to make sure none of them start wrecking their own shops for the money, though."

Jaina looked at her sharply. "That wouldn-... They would."

"Goblins." Modera shrugged. "Anyway you did well. Keep your head down. They nailed you whenever you had to take bearings, but you're a quick study and you were halfway there already."


The influx of goblins was followed by the Forsaken. They were mostly mages who'd been part of the Kirin Tor in life, but even so they were watched closely. Undeath could do strange things to a being. Shortly after the Forsaken were a few trolls. Not many, but they reclaimed their businesses and resumed their studies.

The city seemed to hold its collective breath those first few days, but the returning vanguard was mostly mages or were businesses catering to magic users. A scant few orcs returned, such as mistress Uda and her massive wolves.

Notable in their general absence were the Blood Elves.

Jaina wasn't certain what to make of that. There were a few who came in with others as workers or mates but the bulk of the Blood Elf mages stayed away.


"I think I've figured out how to keep the board from destroying itself!" Kalec said as he ducked into her office.

Jaina blinked as she looked up from her papers. "Hi?"

Kalec smiled. "Hi!" He took the seat across from her desk and began to animatedly sketch spell diagrams in the air. "I was talking with Finch and he did something similar for his nieces and we came up with this as a workable solution."

"Well that's wonderful but I have some things to finish here. Can you tell me when the-" She broke off abruptly as she realized what time it was.

"The day ended almost an hour ago," Kalec said cheerfully. "I left home to collect you forty minutes ago but then I ended up running into Finch. Ready to head home?"

"Let me finish this note then we can go," she said, quickly jotting down the thoughts she had. "There." She rose and greeted Kalec with a kiss. He swung her cloak around her shoulders. "Anything interesting today?" she asked, locking her office behind her.

"Class was all a buzz. One of the older goblin students is back so it was hard to get everyone to focus," he said, slipping an arm around her waist. "Then Modera dumped all her essays on me," he said with a sigh.

Jaina covered a laugh with a hand. "Bad?"

"Tedious. She's been heads down with Spellsong all day working out whatever it is. I am happy to help," he said quickly.

"I know, but grading papers can be boring."

"It was very boring. I decided I wanted a beer and a nice steak dinner for bravely handling such tedium," he said, striking a heroic pose as they walked.

Jaina laughed and nudged him. "I think I could handle that."

They continued to chat quietly as they walked through the city. The air was chilly and snow was falling again. Wreaths for Winter Veil were out now, adding a clean pine scent. They heard the argument before they saw the crowd. A human Jaina didn't recognize had a non-magical bullhorn and was shouting at a crowd. Kalec slowed then pulled her to one side, out of the flow of foot traffic. She felt the magic of a veil come up around them.

"What I am saying, Sir, is that the Council has lost their fucking minds!" the man on the actual soap box said, apparently in response to something said from the crowd. There were murmurs of agreement. He wore a work apron of some sort, but Jaina couldn't tell if he was a blacksmith or something else. His face wasn't familiar. He was massively built for a human, though there was the beginning of grey at the temples of his thinning hair.

"The purge was good riddance to bad rubbish! We never needed the Horde before? Dalaran was built by humans and our friends from the High Elves as part of the Alliance. We don't need trolls! We don't need orcs!"

There was an angry murmur. "And we have gained many allies! Worthy people!" he said over the rumble. "But this is an Alliance city! We're losing resources we could be using here, to help these... people return to a place they never helped to build."

"The council says we need them back," someone in the crowd said.

"To repeat my earlier point, the Council has lost their fucking minds! Modera's probably going senile and I think we can all agree Khadgar probably is there already."

There was a mixed reaction to that from the crowd, protesting and laughter both.

"Proudmoore? More like Proudwhore."

Kalec's hands on her tightened. Jaina could feel his growl but the sound was barely heard. His weight shifted as he stepped towards the speaker. She pulled him back to her, not wanting him to get into a fight with the crowd. "Don't," She asked. She did not mean for the tremor in her voice.

"She's fucking a dragon so I think we can agree her judgement is compromised," the speaker continued, unaware that the subject of his words could hear everything he said. "She was making sense and suddenly she's not. Now I'm not saying something's weird and I'm not saying any sort of manipulation is going on. You draw your own conclusions.".

"What he said-" Kalec broke off into a growl.

"Kalec, I've been called that since I was seven," Jaina said, holding onto his arm. Her grip was a bit tight and she forced herself to take a breath and relax. "It's a stupid rhyming insult and it doesn't mean anything. He's not worth it if he can't think of an insult better than the average child."

"Look," the man on the box said, "if I gave you a bowl of candy and said just three would kill you, would you eat any? That's what we're facing here with the Horde. It didn't take all of them to hurt the Alliance. It only took a few!" The man said, gesturing expansively.

"I could take him," Kalec said, his voice a dangerous growl.

"I know," she said as she rubbed his arm. "You'd destroy him utterly. No martyrs." The man was going on and on about Khadgar now.

"And Khadgar! This man was supposed to be our next Guardian? And where is he? Where has he been? What the fuck does he know about Dalaran?"

"We should go. I should make a report," Jaina said, tugging his hand away. There was a tiny bit of relief that she wasn't the only one being called out, but she didn't want to hear anymore. She might speak up. Kalec might speak up.

Kalec growled. There was a pulse of magic and suddenly they were standing before their front door. Jaina followed his angry stalk inside and shut the door behind her. She imagined she would feel anger and fury when this inevitably happened.

"I feel sad," she said, speaking aloud though she'd not intended to.

Kalec looked over, the angry hunch of his shoulders fading.

"I thought I would be furious. I am. But mostly I'm just.... disappointed. Sad."

"What that man said-" Kalec broke off with another growl.

"I was seven," she said. Jaina looked down at her hands. The redness from channelling so much wild power was gone. "The first time someone called me "Proudwhore", I was seven. I didn't know what a 'whore' was, but the way it was said I knew it was an insult. I don't know if the boy who called me that name even knew what one was."

Kalec came over and gently clasped one of her hands.

"It was very popular when I was involved with Arthas. He was very offended." She'd been offended too, but she couldn't protest too much. Too much and people would claim they were right. Too little and they were right as well. It had hurt. Ruling Theramore had given her some shelter from this as well. Some, but not all. Ice Crown had brought it all back, but by then she'd stopped caring. Mostly.

"It is offensive."

"Yes. But it's nothing I haven't been called before and I will probably be called that again. It's a child's insult. And the thoughts behind it was just as childish and selfish and self-centered." It was true even if it hurt. Even if it could make her look weaker in some areas of the world. And the reality was she didn't need to impress those places, that everyone who knew and loved her knew it to be an insult. The childishness of it hurt oddly; as if she wasn't worthy of a more creative slur.

She couldn't quite grasp the words and feelings swirling around, eluding her. She let her head fall against Kalec's chest. "Why can't they see we're trying to make things better?"

Kalec embraced her gently, his hands going to her hair. "They're angry, beloved. It doesn't make their insults excusable."

"No. It's stupid. It's all so very stupid." She shook her head. Time to do as Modera did and move on. It was a problem that had been identified. There wasn't anything she could do but address it as she moved forward. "I need to send a note to the others. Let them know this sort of thing is going on." Jaina sighed and pressed her face against his shoulder. "So much for our evening plans."

"There are some leftovers," Kalec said. "Or we could order in."

"I want that beer now. Order in I think. We're out of anything here."

"I'll do that while you write to the Council. Then maybe we could finish up Anduin's gift?"

She nodded. That sounded good. There wasn't anything she could do herself tonight beyond letting the others in the council know. And working on magical things with Kalec was relaxing. "Okay. You okay?" she asked, stepping back. "He wasn't exactly being complementary to anyone there."

"He insulted my mate and my friends and me. I would very much like to fight him," he said with a small feral flash of teeth. "But that wouldn't solve anything and would make more of a problem for you. And I would destroy him utterly. That would be impolite." He said the last with a half-joking and lofty air.

Jaina chuckled a bit darkly. If Kalec were to fight someone, the result would not be very pretty for his opponent. He wasn't the sort to kill, but she imagined anyone dumb enough to try it would be humbled.

"Alas." She leaned up and kissed his nose. "I appreciate the desire to come to my defense but we'll handle it. Somehow." Jaina shook her head. "They probably dealt with it last time." She undid the cloak and pulled it from around her shoulders and handed it to him. "You handle dinner and beer, I'll handle the council and then we'll finish up the Hearthstone board?"

He took the cloak, kissed her forehead then the end of her nose. "Lots of beer. And cookies."

"Haven't you had enough? Isn't there pie left?"

"Never and I left you the last slice," he said then scooted away from her playful swat.

Jaina smirked at him then turned to her desk. Unpleasant letters first, then on to better things.


More rank and file members of the Horde returned. Mostly they saw members of adventuring companies who came to access the knowledge of the Kirin Tor's libraries or to do business in the city. The gold was welcome, but the people carrying it less so. Even with a chilly or outright hostile reception, they still came back.

But as the city's Horde quarter grew, so did the conflict. Within days there were altercations in the city, the brief calm of the initial return shattered like a thin layer of ice over a rushing stream. Judicious use of silence spells and arcane shackles for all parties and hefty fines for the instigators deterred much fighting in the streets, but not all.

There was a balancing factor though.

The Horde population had been rising in the city, but so too had the population of Pandaren.

While portals to Darnassus were redirected to Darkshore, new portals to the Vale had been created. Dalaran found itself once more a trade hub and though the volume wasn't what it once was, the early numbers indicated it was rising. Karlain was brooding over the data like a pleased mother hen. The returning Horde and the existing Alliance businesses now found they had to contend with Pandaren shops.

All things considered, Jaina was glad to have that as a 'problem'. The moderating influence of the Pandaren helped keep the contention to a dull roar. Or at least that was how she perceived the issue.

And it was good because soon she would be sending off another detachment of defenders. Spellsong's plans would have had to have been delayed if the city had shown more unrest.

Which was why they were all assembled in the Chamber of Air once more, the mundane tables and chairs again taking away from the grandiose statement of the room.

"Now that things are settled," Spellsong said, "We've been looking into further ideas of how to support the garrisons and I believe this is the best one." She pushed a map across the table. It depicted the alternate draenor. The garrisons were marked red and blue. She tapped a finger on a northern area and the glowing Eye of the Kirin Tor appeared.

"Another outpost?" Ansirem asked. "Why there?"

"The leylines are decent and Zaliya's shamen say that the spirit of Life is absurdly strong in this valley. Tactically it's also close to where our scouts tell us their chief forge is located," Spellsong said, adding a glowing mark to indicate the Iron Horde a bit further north. "The location we've chosen is close but not so close we're within canon distance or an easy march," Spellsong said. "Additionally it's roughly equidistant from both the Horde and Alliance garrisons."

Jaina traced a finger over the map. "Who'd you want to bring with you? Any idea how many?"

"I have a few names in mind. Sol and Baihu are towards the top. Any volunteers who want to come, of course. We have Lunarfall resources as well as Khadgar's to draw on for certain but I believe this is an opportunity to bring in the Horde mages."

"And the ultimate end?" Karlain asked.

"Secure a supply line terminus close to where we know we'll be fighting the Iron Horde," Spellsong said. "Ideally we would have a large portal anchored there and then one here on Azeroth."

"Where would you going to suggest the Azeroth terminus be?" Jaina asked.

Spellsong pursed her lips. "If this was just going to be us? Stormwind. The bulk of the armed forces are coming in through there. Now that we're talking about bringing in the Horde? I'm uncertain. We could have both sides flow through Dalaran but with the situation as fragile as it is, I don't know we want to push that too soon. We've only just begun letting them back in. Pushing through armies might... make this more difficult."

Jaina tapped her nails against the table as she considered the problem. "If we have the Horde mages and shamen assisting we could potentially open a standing portal near both Stormwind and Orgrimmar. Having an equal presence might deter thoughts of invasion. Or it might just make things worse."

"It would be nice to have direct access, " Modera said. "As much as we'd like for Dalaran to be a true crossroads, we're not equipped with the space to host an army. That's why we had so much infrastructure built at the Argent tournament grounds. In the future? Might be worth thinking about hauling up a few more islands. Right now though we should focus on this." She tapped the map.

Khadgar cleared his throat. Given the importance of this endeavor, he'd come from Draenor to weigh in. "I have a suggestion?"

Jaina and the others looked up.

"Please," Spellsong said, gesturing to the map.

"Theramore. Now it is a bit far from Stormwind, but there is a garrison to the north and it is relatively close to Orgrimmar. The Tree also means there is a sympathetic connection to be made with this verdant area Spellsong's scouts have found. With both Horde and Alliance working together, we'd have spare mage-power to be able to open portals to both Orgrimmar and Stormwind. The warcamps camps could be off the island proper, but the portal could be there."

"There is some poetic justice in the idea too," Modera mused, looking over at Jaina. "Worth investigating or would you rather have Theramore be entirely out of this? No one would blame you for wishing that. It is a sanctuary space with a new World tree, after all."

Jaina pursed her lips a she considered the idea. The initial response had been to scream 'no' but she'd bitten back the response, trying to listen. Khadgar's idea did have merit, but was it best? Possibly for Dalaran and the Kirin Tor, but... maybe not for the world tree growing there.

"While I do appreciate the poetic justice of using it as an anchor to assist in undoing Garrosh's work, I don't know that using the tree as that sort of anchor would be healthy for it," Jaina said. "We're also only just starting to reestablish housing and basic amenities there. I would rather those avoid a military bent and if we used it as a staging point it would be inevitable. And... Let's not invite additional trouble by using Theramore. I think I would rather not have an army come marching through even if they are headed elsewhere."

"A fair point," Kadgar said.

"Understood," Modera said. "Plenty of solutions."

"Perhaps the Horde mages we are already friendly with might have a sense of where Vol'jin's preference would be should be wish to take advantage of assistance?" Jaina sasked

"It's going to be our place. It'd be considered sovereign Dalaran territory, not Alliance," Spellsong said. She nodded at Khadgar. "I was going to ask you to float the idea with the Frostwall mages. I know at least one is going to have owlkittens but the goblin and the troll might be game. Their commander seems the pragmatic sort."

" I shall ask upon my return," Khadgar said.

The meeting was interrupted by a small chime indicating someone wanted to be admitted. Karlain lifted his staff and cast the spell to admit his and Modera's apprentices. The draenei and the human looked serious.

"What is it Luci?"

"Just got this from the acting captain of the Silver Covenant," Lucithy said, handing Modera a parchment.

"She gave us a summary," the Draenei mage said. He shifted his weight from hoof to hoof, looking far younger and more nervous than the much smaller human standing beside him. "Several Horde-owned businesses had their windows smashed and the walls defaced."

"In broad daylight?" Khadgar asked, aghast.

"Looks like it," Modera said, eyes scanning over the page. She made copies with a spell and passed the report around. "I can help look into this," Modera said.

"I can assist," Ansirem said.

"We're just about done here I think," Spellsong said. "We'll work out some potential terminus points and Khadgar can leverage his contacts in Frostwall to see which way the wind might blow."

"Hopefully you two will find the culprits before they get too far," Jaina said.

"If I'm not needed I'll contact the business owners and handle the money side," Karlain said.

Jaina nodded at him. "Thank you."


Modera scowled at the broken glass. It littered the shop floor and chunks were stuck in some of the plants. A rock had been used to break the glass and Ansirem was casting spells around the area to see if it had been thrown by hand or manipulated by magic. He'd already looked for traces of a veil but hadn't found anything.

The shop owner was a tauren druid who'd been glad to return to her plants and, if rumor was to be believed, her human lover. While the Cenarion circle hadn't been explicitly expelled, the Horde members of their order had quietly left until things were more calm.

A few panels of the glass windows of her greenhouse storefront were cracked and broken. The druid herself was calm. Disappointed but calm. But in what was a hopeful turn of events, she was being comforted by two older humans.

"It will be okay, Kuhuine," Dorothy Egan said as she patted the tauren's arm in a motherly way. She had a long-faded gilnean accent and clucked over the druid. Her husband stood on the other side, his arms crossed, beard bristled in a grim frown.

The Egan family were long-time residents of Dalaran and had run the herbalist's shop before they "retired". These days they mostly puttered around in the back of the greenhouse and tended to the plants while Kuhuine ran the front. It was very clear by their behavior that the Egans considered Kuhuine part of the family, not just their successor in running the shop, even if she was a tauren druid from Mulgore.

"Please go over what happened," Modera asked.

Kuhuine sighed and pulled off her wide-brimmed hat, running finger through her mane. "I was re-potting some of the fjarnskaggl when the glass shattered. Dot and I ducked down. I didn't see anything outside. Did you?" she asked Dorothy.

"No, I was busy going over the bookkeeping I'd done while Ku was out of town. My back was to the front windows. First thing I noticed was the glass flying at me," Dorothy said.

"I was in the back," Edward Egan said when Modera's eyes fell to him. "Ku brought back some seedlings from Mulgore and I was watering those for her."

Modera nodded. "I am glad that no one was physically harmed. The Council extends its apologies to you, Mistress Tenderhide," she said to the druid. "We will be seeking out the ones who vandalized your shop. Until then, Archmage Karlain will be in touch with you shortly to see what we can do to help you repair the glass."

"Thank you Archmage," she said, bowing her head.

Modera nodded to her, to the older couple, then turned to leave. She was nearly bowled over by the human couple's daughter.

"I came as soon as I could!" Patricia Egan said, her feet crunching through glass as she ran to embrace the tauren. "Who would do such a thing? You've never done anything? You're in the Cenarion Circle!"

"It will be fine," Kuhuine said. "The Council is looking into it."

"The council-"

"Could have stopped some bigoted asshole from throwing stones in the first place?" her father said, interrupting his daughter.

"Edward!"

The scandalized tone from Dorothy made her accent all the more pronounced. Modera smirked a little as she joined Ansirem outside. Small constructs waited nearby to come into the shop and clean up the glass. A couple defenders were casting divining spells or holding the small crowd back. Modera cast a small privacy ward.

"Find anything?"

"Wasn't thrown by magic. The rock is just that - a heavy rock. One of the witnesses saw a rock suddenly hover out of nowhere and hit the glass," Ansirem told her.

"Portal or veil?"

"Veil or a high-powered invisibility potion," Ansirem said. "All just conjecture, though. The new proprietor is a local favorite and everyone loves the Egans, so I don't think it was a neighbor," Ansirem concluded. "I'll tell Karlain and he can see who might have been buying materials for a potion. If it was a veil that limits who could have cast the spell."

Modera nodded.

"I'm going to ask Defender Ameera and her partner to continue the investigation," he said, nodding his chin.

Modera followed his gaze. There was a tall draenei in the garb of a defender. Beside her was a much smaller human. There weren't too many draenei in the defenders, but Ameera had embraced the Kirin Tor wholeheartedly since she'd left the Exodar. There was also some political currency to be had by asking a non-human to continue the investigation and even more for asking a draenei. Political considerations aside, she was a decent person.

"She's a good mage. Sharp eye. Her partner?"

"Magus Elena just completed her apprenticeship but she's doing well by all accounts. Will be good learning experience for her, too."

Modera grunted assent. "I'm going to get our defenders to patrol a bit more frequently. Maybe discourage some of this. Let me know if you need anything else. "

"Will do."

Modera took down the privacy screen and made her way back towards the Violet Citadel. It had taken longer than she'd expected for there to be this level of vandalism, but something in her gut told her it was just the beginning of a stormy time. Modera watched a pair of gnomes hoist a wreath as large as they were onto the side of a building as she walked. Maybe the holiday would encourage everyone to relax.


Jaina pinched the bridge of her nose. Another round of graffiti had been found and cleaned that morning. The culprits had not yet been found. At least no shops had lost their windows in the night. There were uncomfortable meetings later today but her first appointment wouldn't be horrible. She hoped. Jaina adjusted her seating area so it might be more comfortable for the two gnomes coming to see her. At nine o'clock precisely, there was a polite rap at her open door.

"Archmage," Windle Sparkshine said, his wife Jaxi beside him. Her late apprentice Kinndy's parents had always been kind to her even after their only child's death at Theramore.

"Come in," Jaina said, rising from her desk and ushering the two gnomes inside. She closed the door behind them.

"Jaina," Jaxi said as Jaina bent down to exchange a quick hug. Windle was more formal and exchanged a handclasp with Jaina.

Pondering this Jaina took a low but human-scaled chair as the two settled onto gnome-sized seating across from her.

"It's always a pleasure to see you," Jaina said.

"As it is for us to see you!" Jaxi enthused. "And Aimee and I have come to adore your mate as well. Kalec has become quite a regular," the baker said with a wink.

Jaina chuckled. "He does have a sweet tooth, but he thinks your baking is the best in the city."

"And he's right!" Windle agreed cheerfully as he took his wife's hand.

Windle was well into grey hairs and was considered older for his people. His wife was somewhat younger but strands of matronly steel grey were liberally threaded through Jaxi's hair. Kinndy had been their only child and one granted late. But the two still loved one another. Windle looked at his wife with open adoration that in the past had made Jaina feel like an outsider, a voyeur. This morning she could appreciate the deep and abiding mutual love. Perhaps it was her deepening relationship with Kalec that had changed her perspective,

"Archmage," Windle began, drawing her from her music, "Lady Jaina, we wanted to discuss something with you." His cheerful smile became a solemn expression.

"Of course," Jaina said, fighting to keep the frown she felt forming off her features.

"Given the recent announcements and changes in the city, Jaxi and I have been talking," Windle said.

Jaina's heart plummeted. She stopped breathing.

"We're both getting older now and we've been considering what to do with ourselves. Windle has even been talking about retiring," Jaxi said, smiling at her husband and patting his hand.

A small voice was screaming in the back of Jaina's head. The Sparkshines were leaving because she'd allowed the Horde back into Dalaran. The Horde had killed Kinndy. They couldn't remain...

"-And that's why we wanted to ask your permission."

Jaina's spiraling thoughts came to a screeching halt. "My permission?" Jaina did frown now. Permission? Since when did they need her permission for anything? She'd missed something.

"We'd like to immigrate to Theramore, Lady," Jaxi said, her voice very calming and kind, with just a hint of the wicked smile she'd given to her daughter.

"You what?"

"We'd like to move there," Windle clarified, grinning under his bushy beard, clearing enjoying having flustered Jaina. Kinndy had come by her mischievous quirks honestly.

His wife took up their explanation. "Kinndy found she loved living by the sea when she was your student. And the tree! Oh Lady Jaina it is magnificent. It was so calm and peaceful there. I've actually been in touch with the new Innkeeper, Mistress Steele. Turns out she could use someone to help her in the kitchen and I happen to know a thing or two about baking," Jaxi said with a wink.

"And while I know this will come as an utter shock, I'm getting to be an old man, Jaina. I'd like to spend more time reading and doing research someplace a little bit away from it all. Theramore could probably use a mage or two to do odd jobs or help with portals." He smiled kindly, "Maybe look after a small library and eat scones by the sea."

"You want to move from Dalaran, to live on Theramore."

"If that is permitted," Jaxi said.

Jaina slumped back in her seat, relieved but confused. "Why?"

"Kinndy loved it there, Lady," Windle explained. "We've been talking about it for a few weeks now, ever since the memorial in fact. The announcement of the Horde returning was the push we need."

"The Horde are allowed on Theramore."

"We know," Jaxi said, reaching over to pat Jaina's knee. "We're going to be renting our home here to a goblin mage and her family."

"You are? That was... fast."

"We are!" Windle said. "When the announcement was made I sent mail to some of my old contacts from before they left. Magus Frazzlespark was very excited by the prospect of returning."

"We got to know Brecca and her daughters when they came to Dalaran after the Cataclysm," Jaxi said. "Aimee and I have used some of her product as flavoring and coloring."

Windle nodded. "She's one of the finest alchemists I know and her younger daughter is married to an elf. Our place is perfect for them since it was built at human scale but we've adapted so much for us beings of proper height." He winked at Jaina and laughed as his wife lightly whapped his shoulder.

"You're not leaving because of the reintegration," Jaina said. "And you want to move to Theramore?" Her voice cracked on the name of her home.

"Yes if you would allow it, Lady," Jaxi said, putting her hand over Jaina's again.

"And we'll not only be helping things get back to normal around here, we'll be helping out a family of talented mages who suffered under Garrosh, too," Windle said with a firm nod. "That orc had no respect for anyone." Jaw set, the gnome's eyes blazed with anger and determination. Beside him, his wife nodded in agreement.

"So we'd like to retire to your lovely island, watch that tree grow and remember our daughter," Jaxi said, her voice cracking and her eyes shimmering with unshed tears.

"Oh," Jaina said, her voice wet and breathy as her eyes burned, tearing up. "Yes you may move there if that is what you want. You may live there as long as you like. I have no idea when proper housing will be done, I've been so involved here." She wiped at her eyes. "I-" she broke off, unable to put thoughts into coherent words. "Thank you."

"Don't cry, you'll make me cry," Jaxi said, laughing through her tears.

Jaina could only laugh and cry with her.


"Move your feet!" Modera called out from her vantage point above the course. Jaina hopped to, firing off a blast of misty ice as cover as she moved from one location to the next. Her team followed, Lucithy taking a page from Jaina and adding more freezing mist to the screen. Good! they were both learning! The other team in this exercise couldn't see her as they relocated. Good.

Finch's short but powerful fireball turned the wall of icy mist into steam which rapidly evaporated. The other side was already gone. Modera nodded in approval then nodded to her small army of apprentice spellcasters.

With a bit too much enthusiasm, the class of novices rained destruction down on the more senior mages.

They'd not been expecting that and she noted who among them got shields up before the others. Jaina was one of the fastest, unsurprisingly. Modera was watching her closely to see how she was reacting to being under such fire again. It was something Master Snowpaw had encouraged in their talks; watching. Not just Jaina but all of Modera's charges. Modera was giving special consideration to Jaina to due to the recent battle in Shadowmoon and, well, everything else that had been going on. Perhaps that was playing favorites, but Modera needed Jaina to be in top shape.

The mages in the maze-like course below returned fire if they could, polymorphing or ice-blocking the children they could reach. It was amusing and taught her novice class they needed to shield as well.

Still, she had big guns to bring to bear. Modera lifted her staff and sent a flare skyrocketing up into the sky. It burst overhead, silent but bright. Some were distracted by the light show. Some were more wary. She watched with a bit of glee as a dark shape separated from the surrounding mountainside and took to the air.

Kalecgos rose up then flew down at surprising speed for a being so large. He strafed the course with freezing breath. It wasn't intended to do much damage if someone was caught, but it was as powerful as a blizzard in full gale. Several of her older students went down in heaps, losing their footing while others managed to withstand the blast. Most of the novices were knocked on their rears by the wind of the dragon's wings, but that didn't stop them from laughing and cheering.

Two arcane bolts rose from the chaos of the training field, followed a hearbeat later by two more in frost and another arcane before a fire joined. The return fire mostly missed the dragon - her mages were horribly out of practice when it came to fighting dragons it seemed - but one of the arcane and one of the fire bolts hit Kalec's shields as he retreated.

Modera smirked. The Arcane bolt had been from Jaina's. A very pleasant surprise. The Archmage was smirking, her eyes glowing in anticipation of tagging the dragon on his next pass. Good reaction but she needed to get her head in the game. Modera sent an ice shard sailing for Jaina's position. Proudmoore whirled and brought up a wall of ice at the last moment then beat a hasty retreat out of Modera's self imposed "range".

Modera chuckled as she sent a rain of low-power fire down on the unfortunate class of skirmishing mage. Good. Jaina really was learning how to keep her head. She was also reacting a bit better than she had been.

"That's enough for today," Modera said after Kalec had made a few passes over the course. She sent another signal flare into the air and Kalecgos swooped down to land on the cleared field. He stretched and shook out his wings to the amazement of the novices. Then he was suddenly back in his usual humanoid form. Grinning.

A snowball hit him in the face. He took it without flinching, continuing to grin. Modera put a shield up again just in case. Jaina stalked over, grinning like a madwoman, three snowballs hovering at the ready by her shoulder. Kalec made an elaborate bow and said something, his words lost in the distance. Jaina rolled her eyes but dropped the snowballs. He snaked an arm around her waist and opened a portal to Dalaran with a wave of his hand.

Modera shook her head and laughed as they left, herding the class of novices before them. Heavy footsteps trudged up to her level. Lucithy flopped down onto her back on the bench, one arm and leg dangling off.

"Not bad, Luci."

Luci lifted an arm to give her a thumbs up then let it drop.

Modera reset the equipment on the course and settled things into their storage shack and looked around. The argent tournament grounds were a shadow of their former selves, largely abandoned once their need was done. The large flat spaces and storage were useful to her however and some of the paladins still trained chargers in the cold, thin atmosphere. The chill wind howled lowly between the high peaks.

"Come on," Modera said, nudging Luci with her staff. "We have work to do."

There was always work to do when the storms were drawing closer.

Chapter Text

Jaina sighed and flopped onto the bed, feet hanging off the side. Her clothes were a bit damp from the melted snow and ice and singed but she was exhausted and it felt so good to just flop to the bed.

"Jaina?"

"Jaina's not here right now. Please come back later," she mumbled into the plush bedding.

Kalec laughed quietly. He leaned on the edge of the bed near her head, resting his chin on her crossed arms. "In all honestly are you well?"

Jaina groaned. "Tired. That was a workout." She opened one gimlet eye to glare at Kalec. "And you came down and tried to freeze us all!"

"Only a little," he said. "Modera said it was for your own good." He lightly 'booped' the end of her nose with a finger and stood up.

"She's probably right. She seems to be right
about these things." Jaina sighed. "I should take off these clothes and go get a shower but I don't want to move. Thank you," she said when Kalec began to take off her boots.

"What do you have the rest of the day?" he asked as he unlaced the second boot.

"A short meeting updating me on the status of the investigation into the vandalism," she said groaning. "And then I've set aside some time to work on my spell- Ah! Kalec!" Jaina jerked upright. He'd banished her clothing, leaving her bare skin subject to the cool air. She jumped as his hands touched her shoulders. Jaina glared at him over her shoulder.

"You said you wanted to take off those clothes," he replied, eyes travelling over her without a hint of shame. He dug his thumbs into her back.

Part of her wanted to be at least a little annoyed but he mood didn't hold. Especially not when he'd already found knots of tension and were easing them. She bit back a little moan when he found a particularly tight area.

Kalec kissed her shoulder. "Should I run a bath."

"That would be wonderful," she said, her head hanging forward. She shivered when he kissed the back of her neck and again when he bit her shoulder lightly. "Let me clean up a bit. Modera had us running in armor and I'm disgusting."

"You look fine to me," he said, nipping the other shoulder. He rose and went to the bathroom to start the water.

Jaina followed him into the bathroom. She draped herself over his broad back and wrapped her arms around his chest. "What do you have the rest of the day?"

"Free and clear since my class attended yours," he said. Jaina could hear the smile in his voice.

Jaina snorted a laugh. "How'd they like raining destruction down on us?"

"Oh, they thought it was grand fun. Half of them forgot to shield so they got extra homework." He looked over his shoulder at her. "Think the water's ready."

She kissed his nose. "Thank you."

The water was heavenly. Jaina hated running and that morning Modera had given everyone weights to lift and carry. Her arms had begun to ache when she'd washed her hair. That task done she'd cycled the water so she was soaking in clean, warm water that did much to ease the aches and pains.

While Modera was right that stamina did lead to more endurance, Jaina hated it. At least she'd managed to do it decently well after so many weeks. And she supposed it would help her be able to cast this challenging spell she was planning.

Jaina lifted a foot out of the cooling water and turned the faucet on again.

"Feeling better?" Kalec asked from the doorway.

She lifted a hand out of the water, holding it out in invitation. "Much but I know what'd make me feel even better."


A much more relaxed Jaina met with Ansirem, Defender Ameera and Magus Elena about the latter two's progress. Jaina wasn't terribly familiar with either defender and took a moment to study them as everyone settled down.

Defender Ameera was a tall, muscular draenei woman with elegant backswept horns. Her short hair had an unusual greenish cast. She was a mage but was built like a warrior. Jaina thought she might have been quite at home in Modera's deathmarch bootcamp. Her partner was a study in contrasts. Elena was a petite human woman perhaps a year or two older than Lucithy. She had wide, hazel eyes, a short mop of curly dark hair over pale, freckled skin. Elena looked quite upset with what was going on in the city and kept casting worried looks at her partner and the two Council members.

"Were you able to find much?" Ansirem asked.

Ameera sighed as she sat across the table. "We've determined they were using potions based on some purchasing orders," she said, pushing across some copied parchment. "However the recipients turned out to be a mixture of both legitimate orders for shops and false names."

"The, uhm, false names we're trying to track," Elena said. "I haven't had much luck with the first few, but we'll keep trying Archmages."

"As for the legitimate orders, the shop keepers didn't really remember who'd bought from them. Their records list the transactions happened but not individual purchasers. I was only able to discern it was a potion at all because I ran a search spell on the documentation of the alchemists and suppliers going back in the last three weeks," Ameera said.

"A search on the text?" Jaina asked. Such spells were very complex magic. The Draenei had brought far more efficient structures with them when they'd fled from Argus. The Elves tended to use their own, but Jaina hadn't been too proud to use new things if they were better for the task at hand. She'd never- stay on task, Jaina. Ask about the research spell later she told herself.

Amera nodded. "Haven't used it in years but it's a solid spell. Had to do it in batches but I trust the results. The purchases all happened over three days immediately following the Council's announcement. We think they were using an improved version of an invisibility potion."

"Then the question becomes who in the city can make such a potion," Ansirem said, scratching his beard. "Karlain can, but I'd like to think we could rule him out."

"I have, actually," Ameera said with a small smile. "Fortunately the Archmage wasn't offended and appreciated how thorough I was being. We were also able to rule out his apprentice. With his help we were able to make a list of Mages who have the requisite talents to pull off a potion like that."

"How many are we talking about?" Jaina asked.

"About thirty," Ameera said, "Less those we have spoken of already and Magus Elena here," she said, nodding at the younger mage. Elena winced and wiggled her fingers in an shy wave. "We'll begin our interviews tomorrow."

"Good. Keep us informed," Ansirem said.

"We will," Ameera said.


Meetings done, Jaina ignored the city outside. She couldn't do anything more than she had already done, so she dove into her personal work. Part of her wanted to brood over the problem, but a greater part of her wanted to dig into the magical problem again. She was learning so much!

The main component of her spell's focus would be something wearable. She'd decided on a necklace so she could be hands-free. She'd need something to act as a supplemental power source and the rest would act as a structure to both guide and hold the power. The initial spellwork diagrams she'd tried out were coming along well, but Jaina had reached the point where she needed to know what the enchanted Item would be before she made further progress.

It was a remarkably tricky problem. Did she decide on the structure and let it inform the spell or decide on the spell and have it determine the structure? There were arguments for either action and Jaina was currently considering her options. She rose from her desk in the library and stretched her hands over her head. Her back cracked as she released the tension in her shoulders. Jaina set her stylus and papers aside and went to the tall balcony doors.

Snow was falling beyond the semi-permeable weather shield around Dalaran. The flakes were fat and the snowfall thick. The city lights illuminated the falling flakes, gently within the shield and far more intensely beyond. The effect was somewhat dizzying, the normal depth cues obfuscated by the thick, swirling snow.

Winter technically hadn't arrived by the standards of the calendar but no one had apparently told the snow. It was an equal chance that the snow would continue or it might stop all together and the weather would warm for a few weeks before arriving in earnest.

Multicolored lights were up around the city, as were early boughs of evergreen. The early snow had spurred the holiday decor to appear early as well. In the Horde quarter of the city there were more lights in windows and more smoke from chimneys. There were even some boughs strung up. Jaina hoped that Winter Veil celebrations would give the city the breathing room it needed to readjust and recuperate. Gifts had to be acquired and hidden from inquisitive children, holiday feasts had to be planned and purchased, travel had to be arranged. There were a great many important things to do that didn't include throwing bricks through windows or scrawling slurs on walls with paint.

Jaina had debated cancelling their plans to spend Winter Veil with Anduin and Varian in Stormwind, but she'd decided against it. She was a teleport away if something happened and most of the rest of the Council would be in Dalaran. And besides, she'd been a poor guest the year before. They were not just close political allies, the Wrynn men were good friends; family. Jaina was looking forward to facing off against Anduin using his new Hearthstone board and perhaps riding in the snow. This year would be far better than the last.

Jaina smiled at the memory. She'd been closed off from the young Prince who'd been eager, desperate, to get her to smile. Their ride had been relaxing but it hadn't gotten through Jaina's depression and anger. The guards who'd insisted the Prince wear his armored coat had been looking at her askance a bit too much. Anduin had protested but she'd taken the guard's side, which had helped some of the looks. Besides the layered jacket would have been warmer for him anyway, even if it was far heavier and didn't allow him the agility to throw snowballs the way he wished. Smirking to herself, Jaina returned to her table and the documents strewn across the surface.

She tilted her head as the image of Anduin reluctantly shrugging into the armored coat stayed with her. What she needed was her necklace to serve multiple functions like the coat had for Anduin.

Enchantments could be placed onto objects by imbuing them with power. Adding runes, circles and other bits of inscription could make such things far more effective. The structure of an object could also direct things. What Jaina needed was something that did it all.

What if the necklace itself were comprised of some of the proper structural elements. Inscription and imbuing as was usual but the shape too. It would require some very delicate forging. Jaina knew she could lay down the requisite etching with magic but forging metal wasn't a skill she possessed. She knew the shape though.

Sitting down with a grin, Jaina summoned several pages of blank paper to her. Layers. She would array the shapes into layers and have them connect at specific points. There would almost certainly have to be a gemstone. If she could transfer more of the structure into the shape of the metal itself she would get a far more efficient cast than if she just inscribed on sheets and layering would reduce the size of the necklace. She couldn't forge it but perhaps a Draenei jewel crafter or Dwarf smith could be engaged.

Grinning she set to work.


Five goblins were mugged. It was determined that in three cases it was because another goblin wanted their money. The Silver Covenant and Defenders handled those cases as typical crimes, but that still left two cases of anti-Horde sentiment. The restitution had been expensive - enough that another mugging the next day was staged. Fortunately, it was an obvious case, but it had to be investigated as if it were real until it could be determined it was false.

It was a mess.

More graffiti appeared and was removed as quickly as it could be. The graffiti seemed to annoy the business owners more than it generated any anti-horde or anti-Council sentiment.

Uda, the Horde Innkeeper, was well liked among the Horde because she was a no-nonsense orc who ran a tight ship and treated her patrons well. She was less liked by the Silver Covenant because during the Purge, she'd put up a fight. Uda appeared to think the Silver Covenant were a bunch of weaklings but the fight had been 'entertaining', but she'd wanted to return to Dalaran. Speculation ran from the mundane to the bizarre as to why she would enthusiastically return. Then a cart belonging to Uda the innkeeper was set on fire with all the goods she'd purchased for the week. Worse, one of her wolves had sustained some minor injures. Nargut and Rhukah were both beloved and feared by the Horde patrons. They could take graffiti and trash talk in the streets, they could withstand cold attitudes and thinly veiled hate-

"But apparently the dogs were the breaking point," Ansirem lamented. He set his forehead in his hands. He was giving his report to the rest of the Council currently in the city.

"It would have just been something else," Karlain said. "Did we ensure proper recompense?"

"We did," Ansirem said. "And this time we even caught one of the culprits. Young kid. Son of one of the Silver Covenant we lost in the fighting. His father died."

"Damn," Karlain said. "And the surviving parent?"

"She's upset. She's in the process of moving her household to Westfall, by the way." Ansirem said.

"Probably helped her son to decide to act out," Modera said. "His father died. His mother is angry and is moving the family away." She pursed her lips. "Think our archivists will kill me if I exchange a few more crates of Mogus relics in exchange for about a dozen more Shado-Pan counselors?" She looked over at Jaina.

Jaina winced. "If you feel it would help, I'll back you on it. I don't want to see more trouble like this." She shook her head, eyes falling to the report because she didn't want to look at the reactions of the others around the table. "He sounds like he's got a lot of anger. His mother too."

"Talking it out can help," Modera said, "but you have to want to engage with the system or it doesn't do a lick of good."

Jaina rubbed her temples. "Any good news on this front? Anything from Defender Ameera?"

"They're making their way through the list," Ansirem said. "The good news is that Ameera is getting less pushback than the others on similar cases."

"Any good news?" Modera asked what Jaina was thinking.

"Trade is up," Karlain said. "Having the Pandaren markets added has done a lot to reverse the downward trends. We're climbing in population in a steady rate between the Pandaren and the Horde races. Ms. Woodland and her son are in the minority. Most people haven't found the reintroduction to be sufficient reason to leave."

"Is it settling down though?" Jaina asked.

"It seems like we're seeing larger actions which are fewer in number," Modera commented.

"That's what's being reported," Ansirem sitting back with a sigh.

"Like last time?" Jaina asked.

He scratched his beard. "Bit more destructive actually, but there's a lot of bad blood. The Horde are behaving themselves mostly. A few fights in the streets and the Goblins trying to scam us out of our money, but they're not the ones who are starting the property damage."

"And the blood elves?" Jaina asked.

"Not a peep from anyone I know," Ansirem said.

"Not from my areas either," Karlain added. "Anything via Khadgar?"

"No."

"Well I guess they are still deciding," Karlain said.

"Rommath's probably pouting up in Silvermoon," Modera said. She snorted and rolled her eyes.

"Whatever it is, it hasn't stopped the goblins, trolls and undead."

"They seem to be behaving," Jaina said.

"Aye and that bothers me a bit," Modera said.

"Oh?"

The older mage shrugged a shoulder as all eyes turned to her. "Sylvanas Windrunner's a cunning one and she's vicious. All things equal I'll be keeping my paranoia healthy where she is concerned."

"Heh. Well they're playing nice right now," Ansirem said. "And that's all I have. Wish it were more."

"Thank you, Ansirem. Keep us posted to any developments," Jaina said.


Jaina scowled at the problem before her. She lay on her stomach on the bed, the pages covered in spellwork propped upright or suspended in the air with her magic. The door opened and closed behind her, sending in a gust of air and rustling her pages.

"Have fun without Modera?" Jaina asked. Modera had been asked by Spellsong and Khadgar to help make a final evaluation of the proposed Everbloom outpost, leaving Kalec to continue her class of novices. She and Spellsong would return soon as they'd had favorable results.

"They thought they could take advantage but I straightened that notion out. They wanted to know more about the re-addition of the Horde in their classes." Kalec said. "Modera said she's open to accepting students but no one has contacted her. I told the kids it was too early to tell who might want to join, but yes they would have the same homework." He kissed Jaina's shoulder.

She jumped at his touch. "Cold!"

"Sorry!"

"Your nose is like ice!" Jaina said, laughing. She waved her pages into a pile with magic then rose to her knees to kiss him.

"I thought I was cold?"

"Warming you up," she replied smartly. "So you're done?"

"For tonight and the rest of the weekend." He kissed her. "How is this project going?"

Jaina made a dramatic aggravated noise and flopped back to the bed. It felt good to voice her frustration. "I think I resolved the power storage issue."

"Oh! I want to hear about it, but I hear a 'but' coming."

"But I don't know how I'm going to be able to get all that power out as fast as I need it to come out." Over flow and stabilization would be an issue and unless she wanted to live with magic burns, she'd have to sort something out. Among the many things she needed to sort out. That wasn't even going into the invasiveness of the spell. She was beginning to accept it might happen and following a known pattern at least would give it some predictability. Not wanting to lose herself entirely she was adding more safeguards - which meant more power was needed.

"What's the solution for the power issue?"

Jaina lifted a hand and pointed at her vanity. "Green ledger. Theoretically I should be able to acquire a crystal that meets my specifications. It might be the price of a small kingdom though. The rest of the necklace will need to be done in a layers." She let her hand fall back to her forehead, eyes closed.

"You're using metal filigree as layers of spell-glyphs and circles?" Kalec asked. "That's ingenious!"

"Winterveil's been on my mind," she said. She was looking forward to having some quiet time. "I got the idea from something Anduin said when we went riding last year. His guards insisted he wear a specific coat. It has plates and mail sewn in between the leather and cotton inside. A necklace where I used the structure as a method of control and layered together sounded like ti would work."

"This should work well. Do you know where you'll acquire the crystal?"

"No," she sighed. "The Draenei are some of the finest arcane jewel crafters on Azeroth. One might be able to make what I need."

"Any idea what material?"

"Again, no," she sighed. "Something with very high arcane affinity. Possibly a high quality alexandrite or opal. Leystone with a core of some sort might work if I need the stability."

"Leycrystal?"

Jaina snorted. "Leycrystal? That would be perfect, but I don't know offhand if anyone would be selling stones of high enough quality and large enough size. Do you know how hard it is to get?"

"No? It's all over the spires in Dalaran."

"It's very hard to find. Leycrystal is only found near the surface in a few places on Azeroth and it's even harder to find the quality I'd need. Most of it has been mined already. It took centuries for the spires of Dalaran to collect what we have for their cores and half of those are actually composite or multi-cored because finding large pieces without inclusions is rare. Unless I want to start chipping blocks off some foci, I'm probably out of luck. Might be worth looking into for a few shards."

"Huh."

"Huh?"

"Well it's just, I trip over it when I go to Aszuna."

Jaina moved her wrist and opened an eye. "You know where to get high quality leycrystal?"

He nodded. "There's a whole seam under the leyline conflux near our whelplands in Aszuna. We've been using it for centuries. There's more under the Nexus."

Jaina sat up. "You have multiples seams of high quality leycrystal. That your flight has been using."

"Yes. The heart of my father's Life-Recording is a solid, cut leycrystal about this big," he said, holding out his hands just smaller than the device had been. The device had been the size of a dragon's egg.

"Kalec, that's almost the size of some of the leycrystal cores in the foci of Dalaran's spires. It's taken the Kirin Tor a thousand years to collect the ones they have."

"Huh," Kalec mused, head tilted. "I'd noticed that the tower foci were leycrystal within leystone, amethyst or diamond structures. I thought it was a deliberate choice. We've certainly done similar things before."

"It was but because we had to maximize what we had."

"I'd never considered it was because the resource was considered to be scarce. We have bigger crystals inside the Nexus. The largest is probably the size of some of the entire foci apparatus on the towers in Dalaran. I take it that due to its scarcity, it's valuable?"

Jaina stared. "It's extremely valuable."

"Well you are certainly welcome to use some." His expression brightened. "Would leywater be considered useful or valuable? These days some of our elders use it to alleviate aches and pains, but in the past our expectant mothers with large clutches would bathe in it and severely mana-drained dragons still drink from the pools. We also use it with crushed leycrystals to create empowered tattoos."

"Yes it would be very- you bathe in it? You leycrystal into leywater. And use it for tattoo ink."

"Well I understand there are often more things that go into the ink but yes," Kalec said. "It's a rather involved process," he said, wincing. "To be effective your scales have to be removed with the skin underneath left intact and then it is applied there. Sometimes your own scales go into the ink ingredients. And then it has to be carefully healed or the replacement scales don't come in well or at all." Kalec gritted his teeth, "It's very painful and the ink begins to break up in a few centuries. Depending on the intent and the materials, it can be an even longer, repeated process and your scales end up visibly glowing when you channel energy. Sorry, I wandered off on a tangent."

Jaina continued to stare. "I'm sorry, I can't get over the idea of having something so expensive be crushed and used as ink." She frowned. "I'd wondered how those glyphs I'd seen on some dragons were put there and why they glowed."

"Just some," Kalec said. "The ones I have were enough to change the color of the scales above but they're not the fully structured empowered runes so many took on during the war."

"You don't appear to have any tattoos now," she said, reaching for one of his hands and sliding the sleeve of his shirt up his arm. "And I've never seen them on your paws."

"Well, humans have a hard time seeing them anyway. The colors aren't ones you can see easily. It's utility, not vanity so I've never bothered including them in this shape."

"What utility?"

"General flow stabilization for larger workings. I needed them more when I was younger but now they are useful when I have to manage the wards on the Nexus myself," he said. He willed power and a ring of draconic glyphs appeared in a band around his wrist, glowing white-blue.

"Flow- Modera has something similar on her wrists. The designs matched the gemstones on her bracers," she mused, trailing off. "Huh." It was interesting, and also somewhat heartening, that the human mages and blue flight had devised similar things for the same purpose. The idea of empowered tattooing wasn't new, but it wasn't done lightly. Jaina hadn't ever had a reason to have something done before. Typically it was done by Mages who needed to... "Huh."

"Hmm?"

"What if my second component was an empowered tattoo," Jaina thought aloud. "Perhaps something on the back of my neck that touched where the necklace rests and forms the magical circuit?" It would expand her ability to move magical energy around. Creating a runic structure would also help the necklace's structure work. Like a fulcrum the components would make the immense task more manageable. Adding the second component would be like adjusting the fulcrum to a more optimal location.

"That could work," Kalec said cheerfully. "If your gemstone is leycrystal you might as well go all in and ask one of our artisans to create an ink for you and apply it. The same materials would be sympathetic and allow an easier flow of energies."

"I don't want to walk around with a giant glowing sigil on my back," Jaina said, smirking.

"You would be very pretty with a glowing sigil on your back," Kalec said, leaning over to kiss the end of her nose. "But likely it would only glow when it was empowered, which mean your dragon form would have some glowing scales. You'd hardly be alone in that."

"I'd probably want to make a structure with power circles and runes. It might be larger than just a single rune." She looked up at Kalec. "Would I get any sympathetic energy from using draconic sigils? The runic system your flight uses is... It wants to use magic."

Kalec's eyebrows shot up. "You might! It's worth exploring at least."

Jaina smiled. "Help me figure which I'd want to use? I think probably this would be the base since I know it's the glyph for 'blue dragon'," Jaina said, pulling out some paper and drawing the symbol Kalec had shown her.

"You're forms are improving and that's a good place to start."


"I'm not sure about this," the Tall Elf said. He regarded the Hostess across a small table in her kitchen. "Public discourse is progressing. Others have taken up our call. Why do we need outside support?"

"Don't think of it as strictly support. Think of it as a collaboration. There are those who agree with what we are doing. They see there is a plague in the Alliance. We all want the same thing."

"I'm not sure you should go alone. At least take someone."

"I plan on it. While I'm gone, we won't have a few of our people in key positions. Try to keep things rolling but not so much it unravels."

"Of course. Are you certain also we shouldn't do something over the holiday? Give people time for this to normalize and we lost momentum."

"Fair but if we do anything overt over the holiday we'll lose more than we gain. Proceed with the informational meetings. Build the networks." The Hostess reached over and placed a hand on her companion's shoulder. "Remember all the loved ones we've lost and how they've been taken from us by the Horde. Remind people of that. When the time is right, they'll stand with us." She rose. "And find whoever burned that cart."

"Punishment?"

"Hmm. Guidance, I think. If they cannot be taught we can reevaluate the situation and use them to deflect some attention away from the true work." She sighed mournfully. "Their hearts are in the right place even if their methods are lacking."

The Tall Elf chuckled. "I'll see to it. When do you leave?"

"The meeting date and time will be conveyed to me soon. So. Until then, shall we get some coffee? My treat."

"Lovely."


Jaina had brushed her hair three times. She'd changed outfits twice. She set the brush down for the last time and looked in the mirror. Though she didn't wish to admit it aloud, she was nervous about going to Aszuna and meeting the blue dragons there. What would they make of her? Would the dragons be curious? Kind? Aloof? Disdainful? Tarecgosa appeared to approve of them but Tare was in a unique situation. She was very curious about Kalec's people, but she also didn't wish to be something that came between him and the remains of his flight. Jaina rose from her vanity to find Kalec. She found him in the parlor, her travelling cloak draped over the back of one of the chairs.

Kalec was fidgeting. He'd been swinging from being excited to worried about their reception. It was sweet but did nothing to lessen Jaina's concerns.

"Are you certain this is a good idea?" Jaina asked. "You can go by yourself."

"Yes! I mean no- No you should come with me. This is a good idea and I would like for you to come." He took her hand. "This is difficult for me. Not because of you! It's..." He trailed off, thinking. His thumbs rubbed over the back of her hands.. "They're one of the largest groups of blue dragons left in the world," he said, his voice growing softer. "Many of our youngest remaining children are there. It is difficult because they are the last."

"Maybe I shouldn't intrude."

"You are not," he insisted. "You are my mate. They have to get used to non-dragon mages," he said, but somehow Jaina felt as if he were trying to reassure himself as much as her. "The blues of Aszuna were very opposed to Malygos's war and many of my supporters for the position of Aspect make their home there. I-" he cut himself off and shook his head. "If there are a group of dragons most likely to be friendly, it is there."

"If they want me to leave I will," Jaina told him.

Kalec nodded. "They might not be comfortable, but they have to get used to it." He drew himself up. "You are my mate and I go there to teach sometimes. I would like it if you came with me in the future. So why not start now?"

Jaina leaned up and kissed him. "Do you think they will be offended by my spell and my reason for visiting?"

"That is hard to say. I think there will be as many different opinions as there are dragons. Senegos could go either way," Kalec said, fidgeting again, his hands worrying the fabric of her sleeves.

Jaina wasn't certain who Senegos was, but Kalec clearly held the other dragon in high regard. She stroked his cheek and straightened his shirt, trying to settle him with gentle touches. Kalec relaxed a little which helped her relax.

"They might find it to be fascinating magic or they might think you are reaching above your station." His expression hardened. "But the younger races will remain when we are gone and you are quite talented." Kalec's expression eased. "You might even find one of our artisans there would be willing to help with the ink."

"You think so?"

He shrugged. "I have no idea. It wouldn't hurt to talk. It think this is a good opportunity to have my people interact with non-dragon mages."

The clock on the mantle chimed. "We should get going," Jaina said. She only had a day off as she couldn't abandon her duties in Dalaran. She leaned up and kissed him. "Should I stop by Aimee's cart and bring cupcakes as a peace offering?"

"Actually... That might not be a bad idea."

Jaina narrowed her eyes playfully. "You just want some." She poked his side.

He placed a hand on his chest and pretended to be horribly offended. "Was I the one who made the suggestion? Hardly!"

Jaina took his hand. "Come on."

Chapter Text

Aszuna was a strangely broken land with odd inlets and sharp mountains. She supposed the topography had given the region the appropriate name of the 'Broken Isles'. Much of Azeroth had suffered during the upheavals of the Cataclysm but these lands had first been shaped by The Sundering ten thousand years ago. Despite time, the land was still sharp and rugged with sudden canyons and sharp, lifted mountains. Perhaps the Cataclysm had shaped the land more.

Kalec flew over the shattered remains of a night elf city. It had been grand in the past, but now the buildings were faint echoes of their once proud edifices. Much of the city had fallen into a lake, or perhaps it had sunk and the waters had filled in from sea and river. The area around the exposed ruins were suspiciously circular. The air buzzed faintly with arcane energy.

She knew that further down the coast lay the city of Suramar. She could just barely see the edge of the shimmering dome which surrounded the city's remains. Once one of the great Night Elf cities, the populace had locked themselves away in the aftermath of The Sundering. They'd remained isolated for ten thousand years. It was unknown if they were alive or dead behind the massive shielding spell. Popular opinion among mages was divided. If someone was still alive behind the shield, Jaina wondered how they'd fared in the Cataclysm.

North of them was a tall mountain which rose above the dense, coastal forest. Beyond the mountain lay Val'sharah. Jaina could just barely make out the verdant trees far in the distance. With a start she realized she was actually looking at the crown of Shaladrassil, one of the World Trees. She wondered what her tree would look like in ten thousand years - if it would be a beacon for travellers over long distances as it sheltered those below. Jaina hoped it would be so.

Beyond Val'shara, even taller mountains rose- Highmountain. So named because the land held one of the tallest peaks on Azeroth but she knew little of the area beyond that fact. Jaina turned her attention back to the land below Kalec's wings. Their flight had been swift and high after they'd cleared the portal over the ocean. Kalec probably could have opened a portal directly but he'd seemed to need the space to clear his head.

Kalec's shadow sent the horse-like herd animals scattering as he left the ruins and began flying over fields. After some time the fields became forests. The charged feeling of the air rose as Kalec flew, reminding Jaina of the Nexus.

An armored drake rose up to the sky to meet him. Then a second and a third fell into position. Jaina watched their suspicious eyes and sat very quietly on Kalec's back. He landed neatly in a clearing. Jaina slid off his back and he assumed his humanoid form.

The lead drake did the same, becoming a willowy high elf with pale blue hair. She wore a dress - a simple garment and easy to conjure, but she had the weary bearing of a warrior. The drake's eyes were focused on Jaina, though she spoke to Kalec. "Well-met Kalecgos."

"Stellagosa, this is my consort, Jaina. Jaina, this is Stellagosa. She's one of the defenders of the whelplands here."

Jaina inclined her head. "Hello."

Stellagosa eyed her, considering, then turned her attention to Kalec. "Are you here to see grandfather?"

"I would love to speak with Senegos if he has a moment," Kalec said. "But we are also here for leycrystals and leywater and to speak with Coragosa if she is present."

She nodded. "This way."

Hand in hand with Kalec, Jaina walked into one of the last bastions of the blue flight.

She felt eyes on her but couldn't make out the source immediately. She did not see any other dragons besides Stellagosa and a second, silent drake who walked on Kalec's other side. There was rustling in the trees so she imagined their arrival was being monitored even now. Jaina tried to put their judgement out of her mind and instead focused on the area around her.

It was beautiful. The trees were old and massive enough for even an adult dragon of Kalec's size could walk along the paths. Mostly. Some branches dipped down and would likely be caught on horns.

More dragons were visible as they drew closer to their destination. Jaina could feel a further shift in power as they walked, the magic of the area rising sharply as it did in the Nexus. Here now were a handful of adult dragons speaking with one another while lying in the dappled sun. At first she thought one dragon had a massive injury resulting in a lumpy, scarred back. The lumps turned out to be sleeping whelps. The flock awoke as she and Kalecgos passed by. They launched themselves into the air and and made directly for them. The trees around and above her were suddenly filled with the glittering scales and shining eyes of small blue dragons. Above, little claws fidgeted on branches and wings rustled. Jaina froze as the small flock of blues evaded the minders chasing after them and flew towards them. Or rather not at her, but her companion.

"Kalec! Kalec!" half a dozen voices called out as they flew. The flock drew up short, apparently just now noticing Jaina. Two squeaked and flew away, going into the high branches of the trees where other whelps were.

"Who's that?" one of the hovering whelps asked.

"Are you a troll?" one of the whelps in the trees asked.

"He's obviously a human," said another.

"That's a girl, stupid."

"You're stupid."

"Why's she here?"

"Are there more?"

"What's her name?"

"Are you staying this time Kalec?"

"Can you teach me that portal spell now?"

"Children," said a deep voice behind Jaina. Behind and above. Well above. Jaina could feel the deep presence suddenly, the aura rolling in like an ocean wave. The whelps grew quiet, but didn't scatter.

Jaina clutched at Kalec's hand and was silent, lest she offend someone. Kalec tucked her arm into his and gave her a reassuring smile. He drew her around with him and Jaina saw the oldest looking living dragon she'd ever seen.

The image of Oricalgos was the only thing she could make a comparison to. He was massive - nearly Kalec's size. His scales had once been a uniform dark blue. Many glowing sigils marked his body. His wings were scarred and slashed and had been healed many times. Ragged pale scales marked where old scars had healed. He'd grown a thick beard and had bushy tufts over his eye ridges, both indicators among the blues of great age. The scales on his muzzle had gone silvered with age as well. But his horns.... His horns were almost entirely crystallized, a process which took tens of thousands of years. A small whelp sat between them, looking down at her from their lofty perch with curiosity. The dragon had a Presence the way Antonidas had possessed one. Jaina found herself dipping into a little bob.

The old dragon tilted his head slightly then turned his eyes to Kalec.

"Kalecgos! It is good to see you again," he said jovially.

"And you old friend. Senegos I would like you to meet my consort, Jaina Proudmoore. Jaina, I would like you to meet Senegos, Elder of my flight. He was a colleage of my father's, and he is the warden of our enclave here in Azuna."

Jaina bobbed another polite bow. "Elder, it is an honor."

Senegos regarded her for a moment then looked at the cloud of whelps in the trees. "Don't you all have lessons?" he said, shooing them away with a great paw.

The whelps whined but flew away, even the one perched between his horns. When they were gone the great dragon settled onto his stomach with creaking bones and a deep sigh. He waved his paw again and a privacy screen went up around their group.

"So, what brings you back to Azsuna?" Senegos asked.

"Jaina is working on an interesting spell," Kalec said. He squeezed her hand and beamed at her.

Jaina smiled a little in response. She cleared her throat and faced the elder dragon. "Kalec can make himself fit easily into my world," she said, her eyes finding her beloved again. "But I should try to fit into his. He is my consort and I love him very much." His smile grew brighter and she felt lighter for seeing his joy. "I want to fly with him. I am attempting to create a transformation spell so I might do that. If all goes as I wish then I'll even be able to keep up with him."

Senegos made a thoughtful noise. "You would take on the guise of one of us then," immediately cutting to the heart of the matter.

"If I am able," Jaina said.

"Hmm. A most difficult spell for one so young."

"I'm not so young among my own people," Jaina replied politely. "And I have done extensive research into other items which have similar effects. It is possible and I intend to do it."

"Other items?" Senegos questioned.

Jaina described the Vial of the Sands as well as Atiesh's raven spell. Senegos asked some strange questions and Jaina realized she was being tested on her magical knowledge. Tests she could handle. She took a seat on a rock so the Elder didn't have to crane his neck so much, folded her hands and answered his questions. Senegos wasn't all that different from Antonidas and she'd had years of experience answering his pop quizzes and avoiding pitfalls. All the while the whelps were hovering overhead or perched in high places, talking among themselves.

Eventually the elder dragon's questions concluded. His great, shaggy brows drew into a frown as he regarded her, but he did not dismiss her. His expression was harder to read than Kalec's, but Jaina was uncertain if it was because she did not yet have a full grasp of draconic body language.

Senegos let her be so he could attend to some other matters. Kalec scooted closer then nudged her with a shoulder. A small class was being conducted on the far side of the glade by the pool. Or the dragon in charge was attempting to hold class and keep business as usual despite the visitors. The adult teaching had to stop frequently to get hovering whelps to land or stop tackling one another or stop setting flowers on fire so they could encase them in ice. Whenever the teacher's attention was elsewhere the others would begin chatting. There were many furtive and no-so-furtive looks over at Jaina.

Most of the other whelps played tag among the branches, sending little gouts of arcane colored fire or small spells at one another's tails, and occasionally hitting unwary adults. Here too they stayed close to either possibly beg the attention of Kalec, who appeared to be a favorite visitor, or to see what she might do.

Jaina leaned closer to Kalec and lowered her voice. "I am beginning to wonder if I should have brought treats with me. If they get rowdy I don't know their minders will like me much more," she said, nodding towards the little class.

"We'll ask them first. Then it is on them and not us. If they don't want to get the little ones wound up then I'll bring the boxes to class with me."

Jaina smirked. "And you think you can handle that?"

He held up a finger, "One, they're teenagers and a couple sweet treats per student won't have that much effect." He held up a second finger. "And two, Modera will be around to help wrangle them."

Jaina laughed quietly. "Living dangerously. She seems the type to take revenge."

"Then maybe I'll have to eat them all."

Jaina poked his side. "That cannot be healthy even for you."

"Probably not," he agreed amicably. "I'll go ask." He rose and made his way over to where Senegos was speaking with a pair of armored drakes and a winged member of the quadrupedal dragonkin.

Jaina looked around the little glade, hands folded on one knee. There were other dragonkin in the area. Most seemed to be watching the whelps carefully. She wondered what it was that would prey on a small dragon in these lands. She watched a frenzied aerial game of tag erupted among a group of larger whelps on the far side of the pool. They flew into the cavern, their chirps, squeaks and growls echoing off the rocks. Heavy wings taking off drew her attention back to Kalec. The drakes launched into the air, going in separate directions. Senegos tilted his great head down to regard Kalec. The two spoke quietly for a moment before the whelp who was still riding on Senegos's head launched into the air. The small dragon made a beeline directly for Jaina.

Jaina leaned back not wishing to be hit. The little dragon drew in her wings and came to a hopping landing just before her.

"Hello!" the whelp said, gathering her paws under her and sitting like a little cat.

"Hello," Jaina said.

"I'm Emmigosa." She thrust out her forepaw. "I'm supposed to do this to greet humans, right?"

Jaina smiled and gently shook the dragon's paw. "It's very nice to meet you, Emmigosa. I'm Jaina."

"I know. Kalec talks about you."

"Does he? Only good things I hope."

"He says you're really good at magic and you've helped him a lot. Is it true the humans mages have a floating city?"

"It is true now but it wasn't always that way."

"Why?"

"There was a war," Jaina said. "Dalaran was lifted away so the ground-based armies wouldn't be able to attack as easily. They wanted our people and our libraries." More little dragons had decided to flutter down and sit on the rocks and ground around her.

"Oh. So are you using an anchoring spell to tie to the natural leylines of the area to keep the enchantment going or are you using stored energy and releasing it over time so the city doesn't fall out of the sky?" she asked.

Jaina blinked. She'd not expected such a sophisticated question but then these were dragons. "Stored energy. We have a rotation among the senior mages to maintain the various wards without anyone having to devote all their time and energy to it."

"Did you have to do a lot of structural reinforcement to get it to move?" another whelp asked.

"Yes there was a lot that had to happen and support is ongoing," Jaina said.

Emmigosa crept forward another hopping step. "Uhm."

"Yes?" Jaina asked, smiling at her.

Emmigosa looked over her shoulder then back at Jaina. "Kalec said you brought cupcakes to share?"

Jaina barely stifled a laugh. There was a great deal of excited chatter among the other whelps as they overheard them. "I did. But only if your minders think it is okay." She smirked. "Has Kalec brought you cupcakes before?"

"Yeah," Emmigosa said, nodding. The other whelps around her were nodding too.

"I see." She looked over Emmigosa's head to where Kalec had joined them along with a very senior looking high elf with long, drooping eyebrows, a long beard and crystal horns - Senegos unless she was much mistaken. "Are they allowed? I thought since Kalec enjoys them so much the other dragons here might."

Senegos arched a bushy eyebrow. "Hmm. Emmi, I do believe you have started the front of the line."

Caught, Emmigosa ducked her head a little but didn't move from her spot. "Maybe?" a couple other whelps bounded forward to sit in a neat queue behind her.

Senegos snorted a laugh "You should be nice to our guest even if she didn't bring treats," he reminded the children who ducked their heads further chastised. "But they may have one each."

The number of whelps had easily tripled when Jaina wasn't paying attention. They all cheered loudly. Somewhat dazed, Jaina blinked as her ears rang. Kalec was grinning broadly. Smiling a bit, Jaina pulled the cupcakes out of the pocket dimension space she'd stored them in.

One by one (or two and three at a time as they grew impatient) the smallest dragons raced up, picked a treat, thanked her, then raced off again. A few raced off then came back and thanked her, their maws stuffed with cake. When they were through some of the older dragons who couldn't resist picked up a cupcake for themselves. These elders came in a variety of shapes and races as some chose their humanoid shapes over those of drakes or elder wyrms. Jaina returned her attention to the younger ones.

It was a massacre. Frosting was everywhere on the whelps. Crumbs and sticky sugar stuck on paws and muzzles. A few of the messiest were scooped up by keepers and hauled away presumably to be clean. It was utterly adorable.

The less messy whelps were busy licking their paws clean. They eyed the boxes still beside Jaina and Kalec.

Emmigosa returned. She had a bit of frosting on her snout.

"Thank you. Are there any extras?"

"I'm afraid there aren't but you have some frosting left on your nose," Jaina pointed out. The whelp hastily cleaned that off and returned to the rest of the flock to report there were no more treats to be had.

"How often do you bring them treats?" Jaina asked Kalec.

"Not that often. But once I discovered Jaxi's baking how could I in good conscience deny them?"

Jaina snickered. A shadow fell over them once more, this time a dainty adult dragon in barding. The dragon bowed her head to Kalecgos.

"Coragosa is in Stormheim, Lord Kalecgos. Grandfather asked me to tell you she is on her way but it will be some time before she returns. He suggests you may wish to show your consort the area or perhaps tour the hunting grounds in the north."

"Thank you Astra," Kalec said.

Astragosa nodded then took off again.

"Am I being politely shoved out of sight?" Jaina asked, pitching her voice low.

"If he were doing that he'd suggest the ruins to the south I think," Kalec replied in a matching tone. "I think he's still uncertain what to make of you. But he suggested the whelplands instead. I think that is promising."

"Should we go?"

"It might be a nice walk," Kalec said. He rose and offered a hand. Jaina took his hand and followed.


"There are ruins here," Jaina said as they passed the third or fourth overgrown building or outcrop. He'd been leading her on overgrown paths and game trails between them. The trees were huge and held many places for young dragons to hide and learn how to stalk and catch food. Or act as target practice as one poor, burned out stump could attest. But during their entire walk there were overgrown walls, ruins and even entire buildings.

"The elves who lived in the ruins to the south had a small estate nearby. Their spirits still haunt the ruins there and the ones to the south. Up here there are no spirits. We leave one another alone," Kalec said as he led her along the path which climbed upwards and deeper into the mountains.

"Did your flight interact with the elves here much before?"

"A bit. Warnings. Observations. There was a magical academy in the ruins to the south. I know that was closely watched."

"What happened? An accident at the academy or was it the Sundering?"

"It happened just before the Sundering," Kalec said as he helped her over a particularly large root a dragon would not mind but which would trip a human. "Their prince opposed queen Azshara and she destroyed his court and cursed his people. They've wandered Azeroth as spirits since then."

"That's terrible!"

"It is."

"And your flight hasn't been able to help?"

"No," Kalec said, "though I'm uncertain how hard we have tried. It happened just before the Sundering and the War of the Ancients. When the Legion came and Deathwing betrayed us. Most of the Blue Flight was killed over a matter of hours." He jumped down a block of stone then easily lifted Jaina down. He left his hands on her hips, holding her close.

"That was when we started bringing the whelps here. There were very, very few blues left at all. My flight decided we needed to split what children remained to prevent the black flight from killing us all in one blow. So some came here, some went to the Mazthoril caves in Winterspring with Haleh, and the rest stayed in the Nexus."

"Are there whelps in Winterspring now?" Jaina asked.

"No more whelps," Kalec said. "A few groups of drakes and our kin have a nesting site there still. We moved nearly all the whelps here because there are so few left. We didn't have all that many to begin with and whelps grow up." He frowned. "I am not sure if that was the right call."

"What did their parents want to do?" Jaina asked.

"A few took their children and went into the wilds. The rest wanted to band together. Azsuna has the best hunting and least chance of serious danger."

"Then they made the best choice they could in a difficult situation." She reached up and touched his cheek. He leaned into the touch.

"I want to do more."

"Aren't you in Dalaran prepping us mortal mages for the wisdom of the blue flight?" she asked.

Kalec rubbed his face against her hand. "A bit. I don't know if my people are ready to begin teaching though."

"You are. You're holding that door open for others on both sides to see the benefit." She placed her hands on his chest. "But I need you to tell me if I am harming your relationship with the rest of your flight. I don't want your plans to unravel because I am being selfish."

Kalec leaned his forehead against hers. "And what if I want to be selfish for once and tell them to go hang by their tails?"

Jaina laughed a little but then sobered. "I don't want to make any delicate situations worse."

"Just be yourself," he said, kissing her forehead. "You're brilliant and insightful. If they gave you and the others in Dalaran a chance they'd see how vibrant the community of mages in Dalaran is!" He sighed. "I just need to give it time."

Jaina rubbed her nose against his. She was about to ask him more of what he thought of her spell when the sound of a muted roar echoed off the trees and broken slabs of stone. Looking up sharply, Jaina tried to find the direction of the sound.

The roar happened again, sounding more furious and more desperate.

"An animal?" Jaina questioned.

"No. Someone's in trouble," Kalec said. "This way." He took off at a sprint through the woods. Jaina followed, mentally thanking Modera for making her run too much and over difficult terrain. Her heart pounded in her ears, but the roaring was still louder. A flash of blue darted through the trees ahead.

"There!" Jaina said, pointing. Kalec had already seen and changed direction.

The whelp was one of the smallest Jaina ever had seen. It was flying as fast as it's little wings could carry it. Alerted by Jaina's shout, the tiny dragon changed course and flew right for Kalec, colliding with his chest. Kalec took a step back as he caught the whelp. What chased the child was on them a second later.

A spindly monster erupted from the underbrush. It smelled of rotting flesh and filth. Its fingers were curved into claws as it reached for the whelp. Kalec snarled a word. There was a flash of arcane power and suddenly a great sword was in one hand and already swinging. The whelp was easily cradled against Kalec’s chest with his free hand as he beheaded the monster in one blow. The creature collapsed to the ground, dark blood spraying an arc across the trees, underbrush, Kalec's pants and Jaina's skirt. The head rolled away.

The whelp cried and clung to Kalec, burying his face into Kalec's vest. Kalec looked around for more enemies, eyes blazing with held power. Jaina looked too, but did not see another attacker. The monster was dead but the sound of fighting continued. Handing the crying whelp to Jaina, Kalec took off after the sounds. Jaina followed.

Three monsters were fighting one of the burly quadrupedal dragonkin. Azure scales and hide were ripped and torn to bloody shreds. The defender's actions were sluggish, but he still fought. One of the monsters had gotten onto his lower back and was biting his shoulder. Another was grappling with his arms. There was an odd aura around these beings even from this far away.

Kalec roared and entered the fight. He blasted one monster away with a burst of magic that broke the creature's spine against a tree. It fell to the ground and howled. The second turned to face Kalec and lost it's head. The one riding the dragonkin lept off. It scooped a limp whelp from the ground and ran off. Kalec took a step after it then looked back.

"Go!" the guardian urged. He'd fallen to his knees. "They took two others. Go, Kalecgos!"

"I'll stay with them!" Jaina called. "Go!"

Kalec dashed into the forest.

The broken monster howled where it had fallen. Jaina handed the whelp to the guardian and approached the creature. Dark, leathery skin was stretched over angular bones. There was nothing intelligent in the emaciated creature's eyes. It had been marked by lines too clean to be anything other than tattoos of some sort. It saw her and howled more loudly.

"Be wary!" the guardian called in a rough voice.

Jaina nodded and sent a very thin line of annihilating arcane energy down on the creature's neck, decapitating it. It twitched and sprayed blood as it died, and the sound ceased instantly. Jaina returned to the guardian. She conjured bandages and tried to stop the worst of the bleeding. The broad scale plates had been ripped off, taking chunks of flesh with them. Thin, ragged furrows made by clawed fingers, crossed the lighter scales of his arms and flanks. His armor was askew and bloodied. One arm hung limply at his side, but the other held the sobbing whelp securely.

Jaina kept one eye on the woods around them as she helped the guardian. If she and Kalec had been alerted by the sounds of a fight, other things could have been as well. There was a lot of blood in the air. Even if no more of those ravenous things found them, a hungry featherman or bear might decide they were an easy meal.

"How badly are you hurt?" she asked as she worked to tie off some of the worst of the bleeding. There was a lot of blood. More than would have been survivable by a human, but then the dragon kin was larger and more massive than a horse.

"I won't die on you," he said, grunting as she tightened a bandage around his upper arm. "Probably. One of those damn beasts took a chunk from my leg and I felt something pop in my right rear knee when I tried to stop one of the others."

"You've lost a lot of blood." She conjured a flask of juice and helped him to drink it. Better to keep him alert if she could until help arrived.

"Getting a bit dizzy," he admitted, between guzzling from the flask. "But I'm not out yet," he assured her. "We're built tough."

"I might- Another!" Jaina warned. A shadow lunged at her from the underbrush, spindly arms outstretched.

Jaina knocked it back with a blast of arcane force. It landed on it's feet and one hand, skidding backwards. Thin lips peeled back as it made a warbling yowl. The creature lurched forward again. Jaina hit it with a blast of arcane energy. Instead of falling, the creature seized in a brief moment of practically orgasmic rigidity. Then it came after her with renewed vigor.

Jaina called on ice. She lifted a hand. A spike, made partially of the dragonkin's blood and the juice from her flask, erupted from the ground. It impaled the rushing creature mere feet from them. The monster twitched for a moment then was still, limbs dangling above the ground.

A second creature burst from the underbrush and lunged for Jaina. It hit her and they both went down hard. Jaina's head cracked against the a stone, and she saw stars for a second. Ragged teeth and feted breath filled her vision as the creature pinned her. She struggled as the sharp, jagged nails of the monster dug furrows into her arms.

Jaina blasted her attacker away with an explosion of arcane energy. The creature was knocked back by the concussive force. She followed up with a devastating beam of fire wrought small and focused. The beam made a perfect smoking circle on the beast's chest as the force of the flames pushed it back. Getting to her knees, Jaina conjured three long, sharp spikes of ice. She sent them forward, two into the creature's chest and one through it's mouth.The body was flung back and pinned against a tree, the still sharp ice biting deep into the wood.

"There might be more," Jaina said, her voice ragged. Her head ached, radiating pain in time with her heartbeat. She panted as she looked around, vision still a little blurred as she carefully got back to her feet. Jaina felt steady enough once she was up and her vision was clearing. "We should try to move away from here. Find a more defensible spot."

"A good idea," the dragon kin said between panting breaths. He'd turned away from the rushing creature, tucking the silently shaking whelp away from the monster's bullrush.

The dragonkin handed her the whelp and slowly got back to his feet. The bandages Jaina had placed grew red as his wounds bled.

"There is a cave we use for shelter when the spring rains come suddenly. It is not too far." He began limping. Jaina followed, ducking a shoulder under his still working arm. The dragonkin grunted in pain but let her help. He was immensely heavy and their progress was too slow. Each of his steps was slower and harder than the last. His wounds were bad, all Jaina could smell was a copper tang. Her head ached from the blow and the wounds on her arms burned. This was not working.

"Stop, stop," she said. She handed the shaking whelp back to him, then focused. Using magic to lift something larger than a horse wouldn't be difficult ordinarily, how however she had to contend with a pounding headache. Circumstances had left Jaina with little choice but to levitate the dragonkin. Creating the working was slower with each heartbeat sounding like a drum in her ears but she pulled herself together and gently lifted the enormous being into the air.

"Direct me," she ordered absently as she maintained her main focus on the cast. Her head throbbed sharply, forcing her to narrow her focus down to just the casting. "Tell me if something is coming for us. Focusing is hard. I won't have the best awareness while I'm doing this."

 

"I can walk-"

"You’ll bleed to death before we get anywhere,” Jaina cut him off, “I need you conscious to guide me.” She bit back a painful groan and added, more gently this time, “Let's get you both someplace safe."

"As you wish, Lady. Forward in this direction perhaps a thousand paces first," he said.

Jaina carefully walked the levitated dragonkin to the cavern. It wasn't far but the walk was mostly uphill through forest. He was incredibly heavy but Modera had been having her lift rocks his size or worse and then run in circles like an idiot. Or perhaps it wasn't so idiotic, Jaina thought.

"Lady Jaina, focus!"

Jaina paused and recentered herself. The dragonkin had begun to sag in her grasp. She lifted him higher. "Thank you," she said. Head hurting. Problems focusing. She probably had a concussion.

Finally she maneuvered the massive guardian into the tight entrance of the cave. Fortunately the area opened up once they were inside.

The guardian groaned as he was made to bear his own weight again. He found a boulder, settled himself on his lower belly beside it and then leaned his upper torso against the rock.

"My thanks." He turned his attention to the whelp who'd begun to sob loudly again.

Jaina set up a quick sound shield around them to prevent the little one's distress from calling more of the monsters. The sound reverberated oddly inside the cave as a result. She winced in pain as the sharp noise aggravated her head injury and tore at her heart.

"You got away, Astergos, and found Lord Kalecgos. That was very brave little one," the guardian said, his massive clawed hands stroked over the shivering wings gently.

Jaina looked around and found, instead of a firepit, there was a small crystal in a sturdy stone frame. The enchantments on the crystal were familiar in shape and intent though they had not been laid by a human mage. A small bit of power and the gem lit up, giving both heat and light.

"I just flew and then I saw people and I was so afraid!" the whelp wailed. "I couldn't- I couldn't do magic-" the rest of what was said devolved into sobbing tearful words that didn't make much sense.

The guardian cooed and continued to try to settle the young dragon. Jaina kept a wary eye on the cave's entrance as she reexamined the bandages. She found her focus wavering as the rush to flee ebbed away. Eventually the whelp cried himself to sleep, exhausted by the ordeal. Jaina took down the sound shield and conjured another flask of juice as well as some manabread, this time enough for all three of them.

"What were those things?" Jaina asked. She traded the food for the sleeping whelp. The guardian tried to eat and drink to offset the blood loss, but he was looking rather grey around the edges. She didn't feel wonderful either, but she judged herself to be in better shape than his, relatively speaking.

"Withered wretches," the guardian said. "An unusually large pack of them. I killed at least three but there were more." He hung his head.

"You put up a good fight. This little one got away."

The guardian grunted. "But three of my charges did not escape. I did not expect to see them so close to the hunting grounds we use or I'd not have allowed the children to go there."

"This was a surprise attack? They don't normally hunt here?"

"No they do not. Normally they die quickly or keep to the ruins further east of here if they manage to eke out a living. Very rarely do we get packs that large. They compete with one another more often than they work together. This is the first time I have seen one this close to our charges in..." He trailed off, grunting. "Centuries," he said after a contemplative moment. He lifted his eyes back to her. "I thank you for your help, Lady."

"Call me Jaina, please. And your name?"

"I am Mazarin, Lady Jaina," the dragonkin said. "You were hurt. I can smell the blood."

"You should see the other guy," Jaina said dryly.

The dragon laughed, but it turned into a wet-sounding cough. He groaned and leaned against the rock, waving her help off. "You will want to have those injures seen to. They will almost certainly become infected otherwise."

"You're in a worse state," she pointed out.

"True. True. This is not the worst I have seen. Makers willing it will not be the last." He drew in a breath and sighed it out. "I just wish I had been a better minder."

"Kalec will find the missing whelps," Jaina said. "I'm sure-" She paused as she heard a scraping sound. Closer than she'd have liked. She'd lost her focus in talking with Mazarin. Quickly handing the whelp back to Mazarin, Jaina faced the entrance of the cavern, ready for what might attack. She hoped it was someone sent by Kalec to find them.

A withered monster rounded the corner. On seeing them it made a rasping, rattling, hungry noise and shambled forward. Prepared for the attack, Jaina wasted no time in enacting what she felt was an appropriate response. Light chased away shadows in the cavern as she punched a neat hole the size of her fist through the creature's chest. The blast of arcane energy might have been overkill, but help would come soon. And if it didn't then she'd teleport the three of them to Dalaran. To make sure the creature was dead, she sent a smaller blast through the creature's head. The body twitched a bit then lay still.

A shambling shadow fell across the cave entrance. When this withered entered, it found the same fate as the other. Jaina waited but a third did not come. For now at least.

Mazarin sighed and leaned against his rock once more. "I think I should get some rest. I am very tired."

"Actual rest or should I be trying shoving you through a portal and into the hands of the nearest healers I can reach?" Jaina asked, eyes never leaving the entrance.

"Rest, I think," he said after a too-long moment. "Just a bit of rest. Be good and mind the Spell-weaver's consort, Astergos."

"Mazarin?" the whelp questioned, calling his name again.

Jaina looked back. The massive dragonkin had fallen limp. Hurrying over she searched for a pulse and was relieved to find one. "He's just gone to sleep," Jaina told the worried whelp. "Why don't we let him sleep while we wait for Kalec to come back with the others?" she offered.

"He's okay?"

"He said he would be," Jaina said. She picked up a rock from the side of the cavern and levitated it up and over so she had a seat facing the door. "Would you like to sit with me?"

Astergos looked at her warily for a moment then crawled from Mazarin's loose grasp and took a few bounding hops to land in Jaina's lap. He was a very small whelp. "Do you know when Kalecgos will come back?"

"Soon, I hope. He has to find the others. Were they your clutch mates?" Jaina's head continued to throb, but she needed to remain alert. Conversing with the whelp would keep her focused and keep him calm until help arrived. The cave was known and close to their previous location. Surely someone would come.

"No, I don't have any," the whelp said. He settled onto her lap, tucking his legs under like a kitten. "They're all older than I am, they're four and five. But we're a hunting flock."

"How old are you?"

"I'm three," he said. He looked back at the cave entrance then up at her again. "Are my friends okay? Suzugos tried to use magic but it didn't work too well."

"I know Kalec will try his hardest to find the others before they're hurt," Jaina said. She didn't know what the creatures might want the whelps for, she didn't want the sudden, horrible images, but she didn't want to worry this one. At least not more than he already was. The whelp made an unhappy noise. Jaina pulled him into a hug. She didn't want to make promises about the others, but she'd make sure he lived.

Another shadow fell across the entrance. Jaina glared. How many of these damn things were there? She readied a spell and let it fly the moment the first body crossed into her line of sight. The body jerked back out of the blast.

"It's Stellegosa!"

"Oh," Jaina said, letting her follow up spell fizzle away.

The drake had shifted into her humanoid shape. Unlike in the glade, her High Elf form wore light armor instead of a dress this time. She looked around the cave then ducked back, calling out to reinforcements. Stellagosa looked at the dead withered as she stepped over their corpses.

"Aunt Stella!" Astergos wriggled in Jaina's grasp. She let go and he flapped over to Stellagosa, latching onto the front of her leather jerkin. "Mazarin is really hurt and Lady Jaina blasted the withered and they tried to claw her up like they clawed up Mazarin and I tried to get away and I found Kalecgos and did he find the others and are the withered all gone and can we go back home?"

"I'm here to take you and Mazarin home," Stellagosa said. She stepped out of the way as another dragonkin, this one one of the slender quadrupedal females, hurried in to check on the fallen guardian.

"Kalec?" Jaina asked.

"Found the missing whelps. He and a few others went to go hunt any remaining withered," Stella explained.

Another human-shaped dragon entered the cave and began to consult with the dragonkin healer.

"Will he be okay?" Jaina asked, nodding to Mazarin. The healers were rousing him but his responses were groggy.

"Now we have him, yes," Stellagosa said. "Come on, let's get out of their way."

They went outside. A couple more drakes were present standing guard as well as more of the dragonkin. Many more dragons were flying search patterns overhead. Jaina hoped this would not mean the dragons would need to move again. It seemed this activity was unusual. What had caused it? Her head ached. She should probably have it looked at. She wasn't feeling entirely well. Would Modera be angry with her this time? Probably not. Probably.

"Your handiwork?" Stella asked.

"Hm? I'm sorry, would you repeat the question?" Jaina asked, blinking at the drake.

"The impaled withered?"

"Oh, yes I did that. These beings seem very intent on taking whelps. I wasn't about to let that happen. There's a few more not too far from the impaled one."

"Lady Jaina got four!" Astergos helpfully supplied.

"How many attacked you?" Stella asked him.

The whelp ducked his head. "I don't know. Mazarin told me to fly away, so I did. I'm sorry."

"No, you did exactly right," Stella said, lightly bopping the end of his nose with a finger.

"Three were attacking Mazarin when Kalec and I found them. More got away before we got there. I don't know if any of those are the same creatures as the four I killed," Jaina said. "Two ran and Kalec broke the back of another. I dispatched it while he went after the ones who fled."

"There's your mother," Stella said as one of the smaller adults landed; the dainty dragon in barding from earlier. Stellagosa tossed the whelp in her direction and the little dragon flew off with a squeal. His mother shifted into a smaller shape and hugged him tightly, both crying.

"The others are okay?" Jaina asked, her voice low. Stella had not specified earlier when Astergos had been present.

"They will be. They're shaken and utterly drained of magic. Senegos has them soaking in the leywater pools to recover."

"Drained?"

Stellagosa nodded. She did a doubletake, looking Jaina over. "Are you well?"

"I’m fine. What are these things?"

"You're pale as the moon. You're hurt," Stellagosa said. "There's blood on the back of your head. Dara!"

Jaina winced as Stellagosa bellowed. The female dragonkin looked up then hurried over.

"It's fine," Jaina protested. "I'm not as badly off as Mazarin. Probably a concussion but I didn't lose consciousness."

"My lady?" Dara asked, directing the question to Stellagosa when she arrived.

"Head injury. Might be concussed. Can you heal humans?"

"Yes I can. Please sit and I will take a look."

Jaina was firmly maneuvered over to a rock and made to sit. She felt the warm tingle of healing magic on the back of her head.

"A concussion and a cut," the healer pronounced. "I've closed the wound on your head. Give me a moment and I will take the swelling down."

Jaina sighed as a blissfully cool sensation spread from the injury. Her headache faded.

"I'll get those lacerations on your arms and shoulders."

"Thank you Dara. How is Mazarin?"

"He'll live. It will take some time but I think his scales will grow back. He's lost a lot of blood but we have him stable. You helped?"

"I tried," Jaina said. "He said he would be fine."

"Not if the withered had found him in the open," the healer said. "You saved his life."

"I couldn't leave him there," Jaina said. "Maybe I should have opened a portal."

The healer snorted. "Anyone in your floating city knowledgeable about his physiology? Would you have dropped him into a healer's lap immediately or would he have had to walk. No, my Lady, it is best he stayed put. There. Your wounds are closed and I cleaned away any potential infection I could find. I would suggest keeping an eye on it."

"Thank you Dara," Stellagosa said. The dragonkin bowed then hurried back to her other duties.

Jaina watched her go then returned her attention to Stellagosa. "Back to those... things. What were they?"

“We call them the withered," Stellagosa said. They watched as Mazarin was floated out of the cave by the dragon healer. "They're from Suramar."

"That's what happened to the people of Suramar?" Jaina touched the back of her aching head and winced as she found clotted blood in her hair.

"No, only some." Stellagosa shifted into her natural form and ducked a shoulder. "I'll explain on the way back."

Jaina climbed up and held on as the drake took off.

"How much do you know about Suramar?" Stellagosa asked.

"They sealed themselves off ten thousand years ago. No one knows if they're alive or not under the shield. I take it they are alive?"

"Yes, though they are much changed." Stellagosa said. "They knew they would run out of food so they turned to magic. The entire city's population is dependent on a source we learned is called the Nightwell. What you saw is what happens if they do not feed the dependency. When they reach that state it is irreversible. Eventually they die."

"Why were they on this side? Why haven't they taken the shield down?"

"What we have been able to gather is those inside Suramar believe the rest of the world is a destroyed wasteland. They haven't taken their shield down because they believe it would lead to their doom."

"The ones on this side were sent as punishment, then."

"Yes. These are exiles. Because they didn't agree with the leadership or they insulted someone. Or because there were too many for their Nightwell to sustain."

Removal of dissidents. Jaina wondered if the sudden influx was the result of political machinations on the other side of the shield - someone cleaning house and sending their fellow citizens to waste away and die in agony.

Or it could be population control.

"They drain the whelps and anything else they can find," Stellagosa continued. "The males among the dragonkin have fewer casters. Mazarin would have made a poor meal. The whelps on the other paw...." She shook her head. "They're little more than animals when they get to this point. We kill them quickly when they come into our territory."

The short ride ended with Stellagosa touching down in a large clearing near the pools. All of the whelps had been gathered and all were being closely watched by older dragons. The playfulness and games of tag from earlier were notably absent. They all sat quietly in huddled flocks or under the great paws of the adults. Jaina slipped to the ground and Stella trotted forward to make her report to Senegos.

Jaina looked around and could not find Kalec. Not knowing what else to do, she followed Stellagosa. A shadow crossed the glade. Looking up, she saw Kalec flying overhead, massive wings outstretched as he appeared at his full size. Kalec hovered for a moment while the others in his party landed. The former Aspect touched down with a ground-shaking thump and shook out his wings, dwarfing the other dragons in the area. Kalec saw the gathered whelps and snorted in satisfaction.

"We routed those we could find," he said, directing his words to Senegos. "I set up some basic traps with lures. The spells will dissipate in time but they should serve to draw the withered away from the whelps until we can find a better solution." He inclined his head to the Elder.

"Thank you, Spellweaver." Senegos inclined his head back to Kalec, more deeply. "This is an unusual change in their hunting patterns. I am thankful the results were not worse."

"Agreed." Kalec shifted into his smaller shape. Those around him still gave him a differential path as he hurried over to Jaina. His crushing hug lifted her off the ground.

"I'm told you were attacked," he said as he set he down.

"I kept them safe," she corrected. "The withered didn't lay a finger on Astergos. Mazarin was able to direct us to a cave. I held them off."

"She killed four herself," Stellagosa supplied. "And I am told Mazarin was in a much more stable condition than he would have been otherwise." She looked up at the Elder. "Lady Jaina suffered some lacerations and a concussion in one of the attacks. Healer Dara has fixed those for her."

Kalec's grip on her tightened. He pressed his face against her neck. Jaina relaxed, only now aware of the tension she'd been carrying once it was leaving. She shivered a little in relief and fear of what might have been if she'd been slower.

Kalec rested his forehead against hers. "You're okay?"

"Yes."

"Good. Thank you for protecting them," Kalec said.

"How could I not?"

"You could have run," Senegos said. "You were injured yourself. You could have been overrun as Mazarin was, and killed."

Jaina eyed him. "No," she said firmly. "I couldn't run with lives at stake. Especially not with one so young when there are so few. It was in my power to do something, so I did."

Senegos bowed his head slightly, eyes closing. "He told you of our great sorrow then."

"She is my consort, Senegos," Kalec replied, the words having the hint of challenge to them. "It would not be right to keep such a thing from her when it weighs so heavily."

"No it wouldn't," the older dragon agreed. He sighed, long and tired. "I thank you for taking such good care of the whelp and my guardian, Lady."

"As I said, there was never any doubt as to what I should do. Kalec is my consort and you are his people. His family. Which means you are mine as well." It was a rather bold declaration and Jaina felt some surprise by her own words. It didn't make it any less true. She very much wanted to make space for him in her life and that meant embracing his people as well. A growing part of her was curious about the other dragons. Who were they? What did they think? What might she learn? Who might become a friend and ally as Tarecgosa had?

"Hmm," the Elder dragon mused. He shifted shape, becoming the elderly elf once more. "Come along then. Let us get you sorted with what you came for. I'd hate for your research to be slowed on account of those vermin." He conjured a cane then marched off towards the cave with a surprising amount of vigor for one so old. "Come on, don't dawdle. I'm not getting any younger," he called over his shoulder when they did not immediately follow. Jaina and Kalec hurried to catch up.

"You'll have to bring her back sometime when we're not infested," Senegos said to Kalec. "I assure you, Lady Jaina, Azsuna is quite lovely when you're not being attacked."

"I shall do that Elder," Kalec assured, a grin quite evident in his voice.

"And because I am old and don't have the time to dance around such things, I will be quite clear; You are most welcome here among my brood, Jaina. Anytime you wish."

"Thank you," she said, a warm feeling spreading through her chest, chasing away some of the lingering fears. Kalec's hand around hers tightened as the worry he'd held in his shoulders eased.

"Here we are," Senegos said. He lifted an arm and conjured a ball of light. It split into several, illuminating the space. He gestured expansively to the cavern interior which sparkled and glittered. The leystone floor was littered with millions of tiny leycrystal gems. Leycrystal formations as large as a drake was long jutted out from every angle. Smaller crystals grew from clusters around their bases. "Take your pick."

Eyes wide, Jaina walked into the center of the area and then realized the cavern continued around a bend. In this second, larger room, Jaina felt as if she'd walked into the center of a geode. She could feel the intense rush of the Leylines nearby as their energy vibrated and filled the crystals growing inside the cave. She walked up to a crystal taller than she was and saw her own started reflection. This single crystal alone was worth... Jaina wasn't certain she could accurately estimate the price. She placed a hand on the surface and felt the hum of energy in her bones. Turning away, she looked for something that would fit her needs better. It was easy. She nearly tripped over a small cluster of ten such crystals.

Crouching down she examined the crystal in the center, testing it by pulsing magic through the lattice to check if it was structurally sound.

"If it isn't too much trouble, I would like to take this one, please?" She looked over her shoulder back to where Kalec and Senegos had been trailing behind, giving her space.

Senegos arched an eyebrow. "Just the one?"

"Oh, I only need the one for my spell focus," Jaina told him. "I don't wish to be greedy."

"My dear, be greedy." He sighed as he found a seat on one of the boulders, the cane set before him. "Our vassals have not been affected as we have, but we still have fewer of them than other flights and they are still our responsibility to care for. You have saved Mazarin and protected him as one of my brood would have. More than that you have saved one of our last children, offering yourself to great danger to protect him as well. You defeated four creatures so far gone into their madness they might not have stopped at simply draining anyone of their magic."

He leaned on the cane as he regarded her steadily. "Kalecgos has named you his consort. He has spoken well of you; your responsibility and reverence for our gifts as mages, the kindness you have shown, and what you have done to allow him to teach in Dalaran and work among the mages of the younger races. Your aim in all of this is to be able to assume a form which matches his own as he matches yours. I say your heart does already. So," he pointed at the cluster with his cane, "take what you need."

"I-" Jaina looked at the crystals then at the dragons. Kalec smiled faintly, the worry he'd been carrying evaporated like morning mist. He opened his eyes and beamed at her. Too many thoughts and feelings vied for her attention. "Thank you," she said when she found words again. "It seems inadequate."

Senegos snorted and waved a hand. "You are a very kind person, small one. These are poor recompense for the priceless lives saved."

Jaina dipped her head and looked away. "These will do well. I'll take the whole cluster then in case some crack in the process. And if it might be permitted, I'd like to take those as well," she said, nodding to a pair of thin crystals perhaps a meter tall. "We're supporting warfront operations on an alternate version of Draenor."

"A most curious thing, that alternate time and place. Kalecgos has mentioned it, yes. They would help?"

"We're looking to set up additional bases. These would help us to offload the magepower needed to keep those portals open."

"They're yours then. Now, I am most curious about this spell you are working on. Care to share your research?" He grinned.

Jaina's grin matched the Elder's.

Chapter Text

By afternoon Jaina had gone from being at best a curiosity to being tentatively welcomed by the blues of Aszuna.

Jaina's chosen crystals were carefully removed by the dragonkin keepers. Senegos had poured over her spellwork designs and had requested to see the spells from Ateish. He'd become quite spry as he discussed the subject, speaking animatedly and using his cane more as a prop for gesturing and pointing than any sort of support device. He looked over her plans and gave several suggestions. Jaina was going to ruminate over before committing to them.

There were still dragons who looked at her askance, but they didn't look on her with hatred. That would suffice. Kalec had had to deal with worse in Dalaran before their grudging acceptance had begun to blossom into true friendships. Jaina hoped she would be able to do the same here.

Coragosa returned a couple hours after lunch. She, in addition to being a master enchanter and alchemist, was one of the last blues who still practiced their methods of adorning empowered tattoo work. Most others had sided with Malygos and had died in the Nexus war, and the few others who remained had dispersed on the winds. A few of the 'Kin maintained the practice as nearly every member of the 'vassal' race as the Elder dragon referred to them, had a set.

"Ah," Senegos said, his eyes tightening as she appeared on the horizon. "Took her long enough. Stormheim isn't that far."

"Was she doing research?" Jaina asked.

"Is that what you younglings call it these days?" Senegos asked, barking a laugh at his own joke. "No, she was there for more personal reasons."

"I thought that experiment failed," Kalec mused.

"Oh, it did," Senegos said, sobering. "It did."

"I believe I am missing something," Jaina spoke up.

"There are..." Kalec trained off. "There are beings who are related to us, in Stormheim."

"The appropriately named 'Storm drakes'," Senegos added. "The Thorignir. They are not our 'Kin nor are they true dragons, blessed by the Titans."

"You recall the story I shared with you when I was under the influence of Tyr's artifact?" Kalec asked.

Jaina nodded. Tyr's artifact had caused Kalec to relive Malygos's life as a protodrake and to see first hand the events which had led to the creation of the Aspects. The Keepers had channelled the power of the Titans into the Aspects and had created the dragon flights out of the existing protodrakes.

"Highkeeper Odyn was opposed to us," Kalec said, his voice pitched low. "But the other Keepers were adamant in their agreement with Tyr. The Titans created the Aspects. Afterwards, Odyn decided to make his own dragons."

"His own?"

"Oh, they're decent enough. Bit boisterous. They get it from their creator, you know." Senegos said. "But the salient point here is that they can still bear nests."

"They can? Isn't that good?"

 

Senegos grunted. "For them. Hasn't done a bit of good for us."

Jaina looked back at Kalec. "This dragon has tried to breed with them I'm guessing."

Kalec nodded. "They have a gender imbalance we do not, with females making up perhaps a tenth of their population. It is something which concerns their matriarchs. Cora came to me and one of their matriarchs with a proposal. She and one of their proven males would attempt to have a nest. Hopefully they would be compatible and eggs would result. A success might mean we would be able to get around the infertility problem. Their matriarch hoped that our bloodlines would resolve their gender imbalance issue."

"If it was successful, eventually there still wouldn't be true dragons anymore," Jaina pointed out softly.

"What else did we have to lose?" Kalec said.

"This wasn't tried before?" she asked.

Both dragons looked somewhat uncomfortable.

"I take it the answer is 'no' then."

"They're... different than we are. Shorter lifespans, less powerful, smaller. They cannot shapeshift. On the whole they are more primal and given to their baser natures. There are significant cultural differences." Senegos said. "When we thought ourselves the masters of the world, it all seemed quite reasonable. And look at where our hubris has gotten us." He shook his head.

"There has been a very strong taboo against the different flights mingling bloodlines," Kalec told her. "Alexstrasza asking for volunteers to try to breed across flight lines was exceptionally controversial."

"And unsuccessful."

"And unsuccessful. I was surprised by Cora's suggestion. Mating with a Thorignir was going even further than mixing with the other Flights. Some have judged her harshly for it."

"Do they judge you?" Jaina asked, pitching her voice for Kalec only. "I'm not even as impressive as one of these drakes."

"Probably but that isn't my problem. It's theirs," he said, eyes flashing hard. "But given the way some dragons reacted, you'd have thought she'd volunteered to be mounted by some beast." Kalec shook his head. Louder he said "I met with the Matriarch she'd been dealing with. I found Thrymjaris to be quite respectable. Again, I believe our pride was in our way," he said, directing the last at Senegos.

"And while I agree that perhaps in some ways we judged them harshly, I do question their allegiances. But that is another discussion." To Jaina he said, "Coragosa has taken her chosen Thorignir as a consort. She still tries for a nest with him. Our healers are quite cross with her, actually. It isn't healthy to force a season off the natural cycle as often as she has been doing, but she won't listen."

"Your opinion of him?" Kalec asked. "Is he treating her properly?"

"I believe so. Aside from letting her cast those ineffective fertility spells every third moon." The old dragon huffed. "Cora has always been one of the most obstinate of my brood, so perhaps I judge him harshly for failing to halt an unstoppable force. I've only met him a few times but he seems to be as besotted with her as she with him. He's a bit loud. Likes to fight and hunt. Strong storm magics. Cares less for intellectual pursuits than I personally would have chosen." Senegos pursed his lips. "Good taste in beer. Could out drink most of the dragons here."

Kalec snorted, smirking.

Senegos waved his cane at Kalec. "Oh, you snort now my young Lord, but you have not met this storm drake of hers."

"Perhaps I shall have to make a point of it if she's named him as consort. Seems like he might be a drake worth getting to know and having more allies here would surely be of benefit."

"Hmm, possible," Senegos said. "Well I shall leave you to it. These old bones are going to soak for a bit."

They bid the elder farewell. Shortly thereafter Coragosa arrived in the glade. She was a large dragon in stature, and was all muscle. She had a more trim figure than the curvy profile of most female dragons. Her horns curled like Tarecgosa's. The most eye catching feature however was the extensive tattoo work on her forelimbs. From wrist to shoulder was covered in intricate scrolling runes and knotwork that reminded Jaina of the Vrykul of Northrend.

Coragosa landed with a thump on the earth. She looked around, spied Kalecgos, and then shifted shape. Jaina had never seen a dragon become a vrykul shieldmaiden before.

"Kalecgos!" She threw her arms wide open in greeting then gave the other dragon a bear hug.

"Hello, Cora. Sorry to pull you away from your mate but Jaina wanted to consult with you about a spell she is doing," he said, wheezing slightly as she managed to lift him off the ground.

"You brought her!" Cora released Kalec only to crush Jaina in a bear hug, nearly smothering her in her surprisingly ample bosom.

Jaina staggered a step as she was released and set back on her feet again, only to have the dragon twirl her around.

"Oh, she's lovely! Strong aura! And- Healing magic?" She paused her manhandling and looked over Jaina's head at Kalecgos.

"An incident with the withered. Jaina protected Mazarin and Astergos while I hunted down the others. Some injuries but none of ours were lost."

Cora looked at her for a long moment, her expression one of surprise before she grinned and hugged Jaina again.

Jaina managed a squeak as her air was cut off.

"Ah, Cora," Kalec gently pried them apart. "I'd rather not have to call the healers over again."

"Oh! Right! My apologies, Lady Spellweaver," Cora said, still cheerfully grinning. "So! How may I help?" She clapped her hands together and looked from one to the other.

Kalec took Jaina's elbow and gestured for Cora to follow. He found a shaded spot and took a seat, gently pulling Jaina down with him. Still dazed from the enthusiastic greeting, she let him lead. She ended up in his lap, her back against his broad chest while Coragosa plopped down across from them. Jaina took another moment to put her thoughts in order and then explained about the spell she wished to attempt and why.

Coragosa's eyes lit up as Jaina explained. Her hands tapped on her thighs as she leaned forward. When Jaina was finished she grinned then looked at Kalec.

"Could this sort of thing work on my consort?"

"I- I don't know. Possibly?"

Cora clapped her hands together. "I'll help you regardless but this would be wonderful! Korthir has often remarked how terribly convenient it would be to walk among the younger races as we do. Something like this would be marvelous! But why me? Because of Kor?"

"Actually, Kalec told me you were skilled in crafting inks and applying empowered tattoo work," Jaina told her. "I was considering the feasibility of one in conjunction with an artifact. Specifically a necklace, and having the two magical circuits meet and interact."

"Brilliant!" Cora said, fingers wiggling in excitement. The wavering fingers became a gesture and a small kit popped into the air, pulled from some storage dimension. Setting the case down, she opened it and began sketching with a graphite stylus. "You came for leywater and leycrystal. Have you given thought to using them as ink components?"

"Actually," Jaina said, smiling back at Kalec who was now grinning as well, "That's why I wanted to speak with you."

"Do you have notes?" Coragosa asked.

"I do," Jaina said, pulling them from her own storage space-time.

"Let's take a look shall we?"


Coragosa was a bit excitable but she had a deep knowledge of alchemy that Jaina was certain Karlain would find fascinating. Surprisingly, Cora had done tattoo work on many races, including humans, and was learning further from masters among the Thorignir.

She gave Jaina a design framework she believed would be powerful enough and instructions to work out some of the fine details of the spellwork. Cora also approved of the idea of using a back-piece with connecting components near the base of Jaina's neck. The exchange was in some ways even more wonderful than discussing the spell with Senegos. Coragosa was passionate about her areas of craftsmanship and that excitement was contagious. Their discussion lasted until Cora's stomach rumbled audibly and Kalec shooed her off to find something to eat. She only left when Jaina backed him up.

Jaina leaned back against Kalec's chest. He was quite pleased with this part of the day given the soft rumble. Under the shade of the trees in the circle of his arms, having had not one but two incredibly productive conversations, Jaina felt like purring herself. The incident with the withered Suramar exiles had shaken her, but she'd won. The lessons she'd learned from Modera had served her well and in the end, everyone she cared for had lived.

But surviving was not the same as being okay. Today had been frightening.

"Astergos will be okay, won't he? The other whelps?"

"They will be," Kalec said. His kissed the side of her head. "They're frightened but they are with their families and will recover. Mazarin will be a bit longer in recovery but he will. I've increased the security around the area and the others here will continue to be on alert.

"Good," Jaina said. "Kalec?"

"Hmm?" He nuzzled the side of her head.

"Astergos is very small for a whelp. He also seemed very young."

Kalec's rumble turned pensive. "He is both." He subtly pointed. "Do you see his mother?" Kalec asked.

Jaina glanced over, trying not to be obvious. "The petit dragon with the curling horns like Tarecgosa?"

"Yes. His father is that dragon in the barding across the way," Kalec said, nudging her in the correct direction with his chin.

Jaina glanced over and saw a small male with dark scales. He was easily half the size of the dragon he was speaking with. "They're smaller than the other adults."

"They're barely adults," Kalec said. "We become able to bear- " he broke off, lips thinning . He recovered and began again. "My people were physically mature enough to bear nests around their first century, give or take a decade. But we didn't start having nests then. As I understand it, it is similar with humans? You are able to have children before it is considered acceptable to do so?"

"Yes. A woman's cycle can start as early as eleven or twelve but it's a crime most places for someone so young to be put in a situation where she's having children," Jaina said.

"Farigos and Astragosa haven't seen their second century yet. It's like if two of the fifteen or sixteen year old humans I teach got married and started a family. Most dragons wait until they're closer to their first millennia."

"I take it their parents didn't approve?" Jaina asked. The young male in barding dismissed his armor in a flash of magic and trotted across to his mate and child. He hadn't yet grown into his paws Jaina noted, but he didn't stumble like a puppy at least. Without his armor he was lanky and lacked the muscle mass that the other adults had. His mate was the same way, her snout still finishing filling out into an adult width out of the narrowness of a drake's head. They greeted one another gently, then Farigos curled up with his mate and began to nuzzle his whelp.

"Their parents didn't know. No one knew. They used the spell to bring her into season and mated because Farigos was going to join the defenses around Wrymrest temple in the final fight with Deathwing. Astra was assigned to guard the whelplands here." Kalec sighed sadly.

"They wanted her to have his children in case he died."

"Yes. They're First to one another. Technically they are adults and technically it was their choice to do so, but there were consequences. The very good reason we don't have children that early is it can hurt the mother to be gravid that young. It is exceptionally demanding and even if she was physically able to carry eggs, they drew on reserves she didn't have yet."

"That's why it's bad for humans as well," Jaina mused, watching the young couple with their offspring out of the corner of her eye.

"Very young fathers don't make the best eggs either. Astergos was the only survivor of a clutch of six. Six is enormous for a dragon as young Astragosa. She was very long in recovery and Farigos thought he might have killed her. She may never grow to be as large as she might have been otherwise. The other five eggs died. Their child is the only one that survived to hatch."

"But they have their son," Jaina said. "Surely that is good?"

"Aster is the youngest dragon in the world," Kalec said with mournful certainty.

Jaina's brows lifted as she turned to watch the little one with his parents. Both were small enough they could easily fit under the lowest branches in their natural forms still. The little family appeared to be happy together but... alone.

"What else is going on?" Jaina asked. "They're sort of... aside from everyone else."

"Many things," Kalec said, sighing. He leaned into Jaina. "Their youth is part of it. It was dangerous and defiant of them to have a nest at all. Older dragons who never had one won't have one now."

"Jealousy. They didn't wait like they were supposed to and they have one of the last children."

Kalec nodded. "And he's not like the others whelps. He doesn't know as much as they do. He's had to be taught things the others know already, right out of the egg. His was kept with all the others but he doesn't have the same knowledge."

"Because his parents were so young?"

"I wondered about that at first but no. It's actually my fault."

"Your fault?" Jaina asked, looking at him.

"Yes." Kalec was watching the young family openly now. "When we discovered we couldn't have nests we went over every part of our lives with critical eyes. The whelps who were born before the Hour of Twilight are typical. Whelps that hatched afterwards are not. The further away from the Hour of Twilight, the younger they are, the less they know, and the more they need to mature and be taught. We think it is related to the loss of our Mantles. Without them, our children aren't born as advanced. It's the same in all the flights."

"Aster seemed like a bright young child to me. Should he be like Wrathion?"

Kalec growled pensively before he answered. "Wrathion has the opposite problem. He knows far too much for his age, even beyond what a dragon whelp should know." Kalec shook his head again. "Eventually Aster will be fine, children can be taught and he is bright, but the other adults don't know how to deal with a whelp who has less inherent knowledge and understanding than they expect. All the whelps hatched after the Hour have that issue to some extent or another. They can learn and they do but it's... their teachers don't know how to teach. Some don't see the point either," Kalec said, voice falling into angry growling.

Jaina turned in his lap and cuddled in closer to him. It was clear the young family was a bit isolated from the other dragons, now. They didn't engage with peers; just one another and their whelp. The two seemed like good parents at least and it was very clear they cared for one another and their child. The adults cuddled together with his wing over her back while the whelp tumbled about their paws chasing leaves and stomping around. Jaina was glad he wasn't cowering in fear given the terrifying events of the day. The little family unit was subtly apart from the other dragons lounging around, the parents on the defensive.

"Seems unfair they're ostracised," Jaina said. "And that the youngest whelps are seen as lesser."

"It is unfair. I come to help teach when I can. Senegos is a big support as our Warden here. He loves teaching as much as my father did. These are our very youngest, Jaina. The last of the last. It's important they know how to be blue dragons."

Because they would very likely be the last blue dragons.


Jaina poked her head out of her office when she heard Modera and Spellsong in the hall.

"Don't look so glum, Modera," Spellsong said, smirking at the other mage. "We'll set things up just in time for you to come in for the first operation."

Modera rolled her eyes and made a shooing motion with one hand. "Go on. Break the news to Turanil that you'll be spending Winter Veil in the past in an alternate reality."

"Ha! He'll be annoyed he can't bring half his lab but it gets us both out of visiting his parents so I think he'll be fine. See you at the meeting later," Spellsong retorted. She nodded at Jaina, hefted the scroll cases with the various build orders, and took her leave.

Modera snorted quiet laugh as she stopped in the hall and watched her go. "Thinking I might send the apprentice across when she's done with class and the building is done. She's shaping up well." Modera turned a speculative eye at Jaina.

Jaina returned her look levelly. "I think I have had quite enough practical training in Draenor. Other considerations aside."

"Fair, I suppose," Modera allowed. "Welcome back. Did you need something?"

"Two things. The first was to thank you."

"Well I certainly won't say no thanks and high praise, but what caused this?" Modera asked, crossing her arms. Her eyes narrowed. "What were you up to yesterday?"

Jaina gestured to her office. "Perhaps out of the hall?"

"Oh, well this is interesting," Modera said leading the way. She took a seat in the little sitting area and slouched back, legs crossed. "What trouble did you two get into?"

Jaina laughed as she closed the door behind them and took the seat across from Modera. "My personal project."

"Do tell."

"Kalec and I decided to consult with some of his people."

"Met the family, then?"

Jaina paused to laugh. "Yes, I suppose I did. He was showing me the area and we heard someone being attacked nearby." Jaina watched as Modera's amused expression sobered and she sat forward in her chair. "One of the keepers was out with some of the whelps. They were attacked. He was badly injured. A few of the children were taken."

Modera cursed. "Children? I take it everything was resolved since you are here."

"We fought off the creature attacking them. Kalec went after the whelp who were taken and I got one of the whelps and a very injured keeper to a safe location." She smirked. "The keeper was about the size of that boulder you've been having me lift. And I did have to fight off more of them." She folded her hands together. "I killed the creatures very efficiently."

"Wanna talk about it?"

Jaina huffed a small laugh. "That wasn't my intent but maybe it's not a bad idea." She shivered. "Modera they were eating the whelp's magic."

"What manner of creature eats magic? Where were you?"

Jaina licked her lips, glanced at the two large crates on the far side of her office then back at Modera. "I actually don't know how many details Kalec wants me to share. But I, uh, would appreciate your discretion."

"You have it."

"I know what happened to the elves of Suramar. Or at least I know what happens to their exiles," Jaina said, looking up at Modera and meeting her eyes. "They're addicted to magic in a way that far exceeds anything I've seen before. When they can no longer access their source, they wither and become... feral creatures."

"And they hunt the dragons for their magic."

"Sometimes, yes. There was a very large pack. It overwhelmed the guardian. I had to kill a few of them, some came at us from ambush."

"Well done."

"Thank you. The practice at being quick helped. Even carrying heavy things helped." She smirked a little.

Modera grinned back. "Good. You realize that getting into trouble every time you leave the city isn't going to get you out of class."

Jaina laughed quietly.

"There's more to learn after I'm done with the basics."

"You're not going to force me into that too?" She'd intended it to be light but a little bit of bitterness and disappointment crept into her voice. Jaina only partially regretted saying anything.

Modera's eyebrow shot up. "No. And I am sorry for any resentment this current set of classes might have caused but I will not apologize for doing my duty. I will, however, apologize for not doing it sooner."

Jaina held up a hand. "I'm not looking for a fight." She frowned and tried to find the words. She looked back at Modera and took a page from her book; bluntness. "I don't like being ordered to do things right now, as childish as that is." She paused, tapping her fingers on the arm of her chair. "Or as good as it might be for me."

Modera leaned forward, her arms on her knees. "Do you need me to back off? For your own head-space? I've pushed because I felt I needed to and because I thought you could take it. But I've been speaking with the Shado-pan trainers and watching them and I don't want to cross a line because of my own enthusiasm." She smiled a little. "I've been taking some lessons too."

"No you don't need to back off. I appreciate all you've done for me. I really do. The training has been good. I like knowing I have the option to tell you to back off, though."

Modera accepted that with a nod.

"And I am grateful I was better equipped for what happened at Karabor and yesterday. And how to deal with it afterwards." She took a breath and let it out, trying to put the images behind her. It had all worked out. She could move past it.

"Bad fight?"

"No," Jaina said. "Well, the concussion wasn't great- and before you say anything it was healed. It wasn't like Karabor. It was... almost easy. Killing those things. They were animals. They just kept coming."

"You did what you needed to do. And you aren't bad at this. But you could be spectacular."

Jaina winced. "I don't- I don't know I like the idea of being spectacular at violence, Modera. I do not like the person I became when I used it as a tool. I don't want it to be easy."

"Good."

Jaina looked up.

"I mean it. It's good you're aware of it and it's good you're not an old warhawk like me. But you can do it if you need to. You saved those dragons. You saved lives at Karabor. You even saved Varian at the temple. Light I'd even wager you saved lives setting us against the Horde on Thunder Isle. Imagine what horrors Garrosh could have acquired had he not been opposed."

Jaina let out a breath and nodded. She wasn't as comfortable as she might have been months ago, but part of her acknowledged the wisdom of Modera's words. She rolled her shoulders, trying to release the tension. "Changing the topic, there was something else I wanted to bring up with you before we have the meeting about Everbloom later."

"Does it have to do with the man-sized crates that have appeared on your office floor?" Modera asked.

"It does, indeed. Take a look," Jaina said, rising.

Arching a brow, Modera joined her. With a quick levitation spell, Jaina flipped the lid off one of the boxes.

"Norgannon's balls!" Modera took a step back. Reaching out with her own magic she flipped the lid on the second crate. "Two? Jaina, how in the world? These are leycrystals, aren't they?"

"They are," Jaina confirmed. "After everyone was safe, the blues told me I could take whatever I needed. I took a smaller one for the spell focus I'm building, and I thought these might be useful for the Everbloom outpost project. One for an Eastern Kingdoms terminus and one for Kalimdor," she said, nodding to each in turn.

Modera crouched down between the two crates to examine the crystals more closely. "Light. Jaina. Where did you get these? What did you have to do for them?" She looked back and up at her.

Jaina smiled, but there was a melancholy grip on her heart. "I saved a three year old and his minder from being eaten by some monsters. Got a bump for my troubles. The blue dragons were very thankful."

Modera whistled low as she stood up again. "And you're just giving them to the draenor expedition?"

"That was the intent unless you think it wouldn't help."

"They'll help immeasurably. But Jaina these are worth.... I can't even imagine what they're worth. I'm not trying to dissuade you but, Light, girl."

"As I said, I took what I needed for my projects. A smaller stone for my working and then these. I might even be able to acquire another pair if we get that Ashran site working."

"Another pair?" Modera laughed.

"I know," Jaina said, ducking her head. "It's an embarrassment of riches, but I'm not going to abuse my relationship with the dragons for little things. Getting our base on Draenor up and running is important to the other goals I want to achieve. I felt It was worth it and Senegos seemed to approve of the reasons for my request."

"Light. Illsudira and Khadgar are going to have a pair of heart attacks. I might have had one already." She looked from the crystals to Jaina. "The dragons are just sitting on these?"

Jaina held up a placating hand. "They're resources owned by a foreign nation. I don't want anyone going in hunting for more. We can trade and negotiate but I don't want to set off a land-rush. That area is where they have their last small children, Modera. I will not take that from them."

"Fair, fair," Modera said. "Damn." She shook her head grinning. "Don't do anything by halves, do you." Her smile grew wider. " Ilsudira and Khadgar are going to have kittens when they see these."

"Her trip to the Everbloom site went well I take it?" Jaina asked. "I overheard you mention she'd be there over the Winter Veil holiday."

Modera glanced at the time. "Meeting is in another hour. I'd hate to steal her thunder." She levitated the crate lids back into place. "And this way I get to see their reaction to this little Winter Veil gift, too."

Jaina rolled her eyes and snorted a laugh. "Fine then. How about an update on the Shado Pan?"


Khadgar wasn't able to attend the meeting but Illsudira Spellsong nearly did have kittens when she saw the leycrystals Jaina had acquired. Karlain and Anirem weren't too far behind her, but they wouldn't be the ones setting up camp.

Spellsong and a group of architects and volunteers would be venturing across the portal in a matter of days. They expected to have the basic structure up quickly and Archmage Spellsong was looking forward to a 'holiday abroad' on account of unreasonable relatives. once they had the basics up, much of her party would return home for the holiday or migrate to the Lunarfall garrison before returning.

Half the council would remain in Dalaran with Khadgar, Spellsong and Jaina being away. Of the three, Jaina would be the easiest to reach. There were concerns that someone might try something over the holidays but the level of vandalism and disruption hadn't escalated.

Jaina hoped that trend would continue. Maybe once the holiday lull was done, those who were disgruntled will find their annoyance not worth acting on. That'd be an excellent Winter Veil gift.


Kalec was fidgeting. It had taken her a moment to notice because she'd been engrossed with refining her solution to the question of mass differential in her spell. He'd possibly been fidgeting for a while. His workbench, usually sparse and orderly, was a haphazard mess of books he'd apparently picked up then set down again. The stylus he'd been twirling fell from his fingers and bounced on the table once before he caught it.

"What?" she asked.

"Hmm?"

Jaina set her work down and stretched her arms over her head, her back cracking. "You're fidgeting."

"I'm sorry-"

"Nothing to be sorry about," she said, rising. She brought her stool over and sat across from him, holding out her hands. "What're you thinking?"

Kalec frowned then set his hands in hers. He was silent for a moment before he asked, "You'll stop me from ruining Winterveil, won't you?"

"Ruin-? Why? What do you mean?"

"There appears to be a great deal of importance placed on this holiday by many Humans. There are also a great many stories about someone ruining the holiday somehow. I've never really celebrated it before."

"Oh," she said, hopping off her chair and coming around to hold him.

"Who has been giving you dramas to read? Was it Modera? Khadgar?" she asked. She'd slap them. "You'll be fine. There are no expectations. It's just quiet time without work, time to relax and spend leisure time together."

"I won't ruin it by not knowing the customs?"

"No," she said. "It's not some highly ritual holiday-"

"But there are common things in all the stories I have read and in the research material-"

Jaina silenced him with a kiss. "Kalec," she said, holding his face in her hands, "There are no formal expectations. Well, Varian and Anduin might have some because the Crown hosts a lavish party before everyone goes home to their families. Informally Varian might want an excuse to get out of having to deal with the Nobles, but for you and I? We're on holiday. You could possibly ruin it by, I don't know, summoning an Old God in the middle of opening presents."

He chuckled. "Noted. No invoking old gods during presents, but Varian might like one at the party if it meant he got to fight it rather than hold court."

Jaina grinned. "Precisely! He'd think it was a marvelous gift! But let's hold off."

"Okay," he said. "I just don't want to do something which would cause you hurt or sadness. This is an important Human holiday and I don't want to mess it up."

Jaina laughed gently and wrapped her arms around him. "It's important because of who you spend it with. At least for me that is where the importance lies. How long have you been worrying about this?"

"Not terribly long. It just... Today the students were all talking about it. I realized that for all I know, I'd not done it before personally and academic knowledge doesn't always work out well. I didn't want to see you sad and you've been so happy and looking forward to this."

Jaina tugged his hands. "Let's sit by the heat in the library and sip hot cider and I will answer all your questions."

Kalec settled onto the couch and Jaina slipped off her shoes then curled up beside him, tucking her legs under her.

"For all everyone gets excited to celebrate Winterveil it is a fairly casual holiday. .When you're younger it means presents under the tree, delivered by Greatfather Winter. When you're older it's about putting those gifts there for loved ones to open."

"He stops putting gifts under the tree for you when you reach the age of maturity?"

Jaina blinked. "No. He never put the gifts there."

"But you just said he did when you were a child? And how does he cover every tree and every child on Azeroth? Is he an Ancient? Does he work with the Bronze flight?"

Jaina giggled. "No! No, okay," she set her mug down. "Greatfather winter isn't real, or if he was, he isn't anymore. He's more... the personification of the season. When you're young part of the magic is asking for presents and having them appear under the tree. It's actually your parents getting them for you."

Kalec frowned. "Why does getting presents from a mythical being make it a more magical experience than receiving them from your parents?"

"I-" Jaina paused then laughed. "I've never really considered it before. I grew up with the tradition so it was just... there." She pursed her lips and gave critical thought to it. "When I was younger it- Most children believe in him. If you're good, you'll get good presents."

"So it is a tactic to ensure proper behavior of young ones during the holiday?"

"Eh," Jaina tilted her hand side to side in a so-so gesture. "Perhaps a bit. I believed when I was young. I felt for certain I had even witnessed him one night. I don't know if it was a dream or if I just spotted my father," Jaina said, thinking back to her childhood. "I was convinced. Why would my parents lie to me?"

"It seems awfully disingenuous," Kalec said. "I assumed there was an actual being involved. Why would there be a collective parental conspiracy otherwise?"

Jaina laughed. "It does seem like that looking at it from the outside, I suppose." She settled in against his side. "I cried when I learned the truth."

"See? That seems wrong. Unless it is perhaps a lesson in how reality is not always kind? Or what it seems? That people lie?"

"No, nothing like that, Kalec." She sighed, a sad smile tugging her lips. "I laid a trap you see. I set thread where I expected him to come in, by the windows and the doors. I didn't tell anyone and thought myself so clever. I hung little bells and positioned some books so they would fall and make noise. Not one noticed."

"It didn't go off?"

"The trap went off, just when my father was walking out of the greatroom, not into it. I came running and found my father clearing up the mess I'd made, bells still jingling around his boots. The thread on the windows was still there, unbroken. And there were presents under the tree. And in that moment I knew it had all been a lie, that my parents had purposefully lied to me and it wasn't real. That magic wasn't real."

Kalec growled. "That seems cruel."

"It was to me," Jaina said. "I cried and woke mother. Father put the pieces together and they sat down with me before the fire until I stopped sobbing and might listen. And mother told me what my grandmother and grandfather had told her. That the spirit of Greatfather Winter was in all of us, that it was about giving gifts without expectation of anything in return and doing good for the sake of doing good. As good as it was to get those presents, it was even better to give them out generously and watch them being opened. Now that I knew the true meaning of Greatfather Winter, it was time for me to take part, too." She smiled at the memory.

"I still got gifts but I knew they were from my parents and it became a sort of shared secret. It was nice being on the other side for my younger cousins and the younger children in the Keep. Derek and I got to pick out things for the local orphanage and be greatfather winter to dozens of kids our age or younger and it was just as lovely as my mother told me. I remembered how magical it felt to be on the receiving end, it was fun helping my parents keep what was a clearly a very important secret tradition, and because it was genuinely nice to make people happy."

"It seems more complicated than it needs to be."

Jaina laughed again. "It is."

"Does Anduin know?"

"Oh, Light, I would hope so! Most kids figure it out between seven and nine. I would say that if any young child comes up and talks about it, don't tell them otherwise."

"I should lie?"

"Play pretend. Don't dragons play pretend when they are young?"

"We do," Kalec said after a long moment. "We did." His melancholy turned into a chuckle then into a full belly laugh.

"Good memory?"

"Mm," he said, kissing her temple. "When I was very young, perhaps I was Anduin's age, so still very small and still very young, my agemates and I would romp around in the snow. Malygos was not very present. He was mostly a semi-comatose presence, but we all knew the stories of before the War when the black flight turned." Kalec cleared his throat. "One of the popular games was Aspect. Someone would claim to be the Aspect and order everyone around with very important sounding jobs and we would fight imaginary black dragons and demons and all manner of monsters. Often our older siblings or minders would play with us and allow themselves to be ordered around."

Jaina laughed with him, picturing a very tiny Kalecgos ordering much bigger dragons around.

"Kyri was very kind and took my orders very seriously," Kalec said with mock gravity. "So when Tarecgosa decided she was Aspect and everyone had to listen to her, I bowed and scraped like the rest." He sighed, long. "And then I became Aspect in truth. I haven't thought about those days in quite some time."

"That's part of the holiday. Remembering the good times you had together with friends and family." She ran her finger around the rim of her mug. "That's why last year was so awful. Anduin and Varian tried valiantly but I was not in a mindset to be helped."

"This year you are."

"This year I am," she agreed. She smiled up at him. "And I think it'll be fun to show you all the strange human traditions."

"I don't know I'll understand all of them but I promise to at least try. And I solemnly swear to leave no baked good unsampled."

Jaina laughed.


It was huge.

Jaina sat back on her heels and looked at the oversized parchment on the floor. She'd stripped down and then used magic to draw an outline on the paper to get a sense of how much space she had to work with. She'd put a tunic back on and then had gone to work drawing out how the circles and runes and glyphs would fit together in their final configuration based on her notes.

When she'd been resolving the parts of the spell she'd realized it was becoming... large. Working small on a tattoo was hard she'd been told, so Jaina had had to change her idea of having the linework done on a micro scale. Drawing it out on paper was something she needed to do anyway, but seeing it, finally complete, was something else. Even written on paper with graphite she could feel the buzz of potential power.

The powerhouse of the spellwork was a circle at the base of her neck and extending down her spine between her shoulder blades. The runes were draconic mixed with the ones the younger races used - fitting for the purpose of the spell. Powerlines would be drawn down her back, along her spine, with additional circles and runes placed at regular intervals, their lines and sigils radiating out to her sides. The final rune would rest at the base of her spine. She had to admit she was pleased with how the structure on her shoulders looked. With the flowing powerlines and where the circles and their associated runes needed to be placed there was the suggestion of wings. It was intentional, the design drafted by her draconic collaborators, Kalec and Cora. They were the winged creatures here and it somehow felt right to give this part over to them. The lines themselves had voids which would make their own patterns and within the runes were smaller details done in patterns which would direct the flows of energy further. The details inside the runes was another reason the size had to be larger that she'd originally anticipated.

The metal of the necklace would rest on the glyphs and circles as well as on the bands of ink that would wind around her neck. From the front she would look like she had a line of blue ink the width of her little finger curl around her neck on either side then run straight down for two inches rather than meeting in the front. When she wore the intended jewelry the metal would interface and cover the design. Without it, the lines would show up boldly against her skin. And whenever anyone saw her bare back, the ink would stand out in lines of varying weight and shape, each component part of the spell in its very structure and presentation.

From far away, it would look as if she'd had a abstract depiction of a dragon painted there. She kinda liked the idea.

It was... done. Barring unforeseen edits, the design was done. Cora had compiled the formula for the associated ink and Jaina had sent one of the Leycrystals to be cut to her precise specifications. The artisan commissioned to create the metal of her necklace had work underway. She would be checking the forging just before Winter Veil and the crystal would be finished then as well. Which just left completing this part.

Jaina was still committed to this course of action but the reality of coming to the end felt weighty. She'd honestly expected the process to take longer but it hadn't. Certainly parts had been tricky and gathering the materials could have delayed her for months if not a year or more. She'd been so focused on achieving this goal, suddenly finding herself at the abrupt end had her heart racing.

Once the tattoo was laid down, it would be there forever in stark, bold contrast to her pale skin. Once it was used she'd be changed on the inside as well. And she'd learn more, but it wasn't something she'd have contemplated a year ago, or even six months ago when life was far more lonely and bleak.

Her relationships would probably change again. It wasn't necessarily a bad thing but with so much change Jaina was a bit leery of more as she stood at the edge of another big one. She looked forward to understanding Kalec better and hopefully finding more friends among his people. But would others change their views of her because she had changed? Kalec was worth it and she had to believe they were worth it together. But as much as he'd been a safe, steady place for her when so much else was changing, this was a large disruption. Jaina was looking forward to discovering more but it was a bit daunting.

And physically it was going to hurt. Coragosa had told her it would probably take a several hours to apply. Due to the nature of the ink, she had to make it all and apply it in one session. After that Jaina couldn't touch it with magic for at least a week - and that included any form of healing. Herbal poultices and salves she could use, but no magic.

She heard Kalec's soft steps at the doorway. "It's bigger than I expected it would be," she said.

"Too big?" He took a seat on the ground beside her. He smelled of the dinner he was cooking. Jaina's stomach rumbled and she realized she'd not eaten in some time, instead becoming engrossed in her work.

"No," she answered. "Not for this. Not for us. I was just thinking it is going to hurt and be a bit of an annoyance while it heals. No magic."

"What are you thinking?"

"I am thinking that maybe I should do the final check and get this part done over Winter Veil. Or at least the bulk of it. Varian and Anduin won't mind if I laze about and read books."

"If you do it just before the holiday you'll have that week to heal up and then the rest of the holiday to maybe do the spell?" Kalec offered.

He sounded excited. She was too but there was that little undercurrent of fear.

"I could, couldn't I?" she asked, mostly to herself. Trying the spell out over the end of her holiday would mean she'd have free time to devote to it. She nudged him with her shoulder. "Mind asking Cora if she has some time free?"


"I've been doing research!" Coragosa enthused after giving Jaina a bone-crushing hug. Kalec was her next target.

Jaina decided to take a seat before she fell down. "On?" Jaina asked and she looked around.

The cave Cora had taken would have been slightly snug for Kalec, but for the relatively smaller Coragosa it was roomy enough. Part of the ceiling had broken at some point and a cascade of vines hung into the space. A shielding spell would easily take care of rain or inclement weather and it provided some natural light. Charged crystals illuminated the area in appropriate locations where daylight was weak. There was an alcove in the back. It contained Coragosa's workshop and was filled with human-sized storage units, alchemical stills and burners. There was a workbench sized for high elf, which had been put on risers to accommodate her, apparently new, preference to run around as a vrykul. Something was boiling in a pot.

"Humans! I wanted to make sure what I was planning wouldn't accidentally poison you, Jaina."

Kalec made a strangled noise.

Cora elbowed him in the gut. "Not too worry, I asked a red I'm friends with just to check for certain. He agreed the plan was sound and non-toxic."

"You had doubts?" Kalec asked.

"No, but it never hurts to double check with an independant source," Cora said as she went to check on the bubbling substances in her little lab. "This is just about ready. Fortunately I don't have to take your scales off to do this; we can get right to the pigment. There is the matter of the final ingredients." Coragosa stepped to the side and transformed into her natural shape.

"You don't mind giving up your scales?" Jaina asked.

"Not at all," Cora said as she sat on her haunches. The tips of her claws glowed softly as she manipulated a scale on her flank. "They'll grow back soon enough and Kalec isn't suitable as a volunteer due to his unfortunate condition."

"Huh?" Kalec frowned.

"You're male, dear," Jaina said, patting his shoulder.

Kalec rolled his eyes at them both then leaned in close to Jaina's ear. "You like my maleness. You were rather vocally enjoying it just last night in fact." He wagged his eyebrows at her.

Jaina swatted him, but she was laughing. "Behave."

"You like it when I don't." He continued to grin.

"How much hair do you need?" Jaina asked Coragosa, though she was still looking at Kalec. Her cheeks were unfortunately heating. Her lover grinned more broadly when he saw her blush which only made her blush harder - and maybe kiss away the smirk.

"Oh, I'll need only a little bit but you'll need to pull it from the root, remember."

Jaina winced. "Yes." She sighed and began pulling out hair as instructed, a few at a time, from the back of her neck. A more sober Kalecgos followed Jaina as she walked to Cora's lab area. Coragosa resumed her vrykul shape and brought her scales over. There were three in the stone dish and like Jaina's hair, freshly plucked. One was the size of Jaina's palm but the other two were smaller.

Cora eyed her bubbling brew critically then took the hair from Jaina and added it to the mixture. The cloying scent turned to that of burnt hair for an unfortunate minute before the smell passed. The mixture was no longer a bubbling pink but had gone pale pink. Cora then added in some additional pre-measured ingredients and the mixture became a matte black color.

"There's a table over there," Cora said pointing. "Strip down and make yourself comfy. Conjure any padding you want, doesn't matter to me. You'll be here for a few hours, though. I need to break and crush my scales and that will take a moment."

As she spoke she lifted the first scale with magic. It was suspended in a bubble. There were a series of muted bangs and some flashes inside the bubble. When Cora's spell was done, the scale had been reduced to fragments. She repeated the spell and the scale was reduced even more finely.

Jaina watched in fascination. She started when Kalec gently touched her waist. "I can teach you that spell later."

"I'm surprised dragons have such a thing."

"Actually that's a standard spell used for grinding things. I use it for spices."

Jaina chuckled as she found the table Cora had indicated. It was in a well lit part of the cave. It was sturdy wood construction naturally sized for a vrykul. It also looked hard and unyielding. She conjured a few blankets and some pillows then set them on top.

Jaina put up her hair into a high tail then stripped off her top, holding the bundle in front of her to preserve some sense of modesty for herself if no one else, and to keep a bit of the chill in the cave warded off. The table was tall which proved to be an unexpected obstacle until Kalec gently turned her then lifted her up.

Jaina leaned forward and kissed him. "Thank you."

"Need anything from me?" he asked, voice low.

"Stay and watch it's going well? Keep me from being bored?"

He laughed as she passed the bundle of clothing to him and settled on her front.

"It's a bit cold in here."

Kalec found one of the little heating crystals the blues used and activated it. He conjured a tall chair and took a seat near her head. He leaned down. "You know, this table is a rather intriguing height."

Jaina barked out a loud laugh at the comment then stifled her giggles with a hand. "Kalec!" she protested, scandalised.

"What? I'm distracting you," he said. He leaned closer again. "But I'm not wrong. We do need a dining room table, don't we?"

Jaina giggled. She grabbed his hand and tucked it under her cheek. "This would not be a good dining room table. Besides, the bed is more comfy."

"Right!" Cora said as she came over. "I've given my attack plan a great deal of thought. I'll set the pattern guidelines, do your back and then have you sit up so I can do the work around your neck. We'll probably take a break for some food at some point of if you feel sick or lightheaded. Or if my back starts hurting or something. You brought the healer-approved non-magical salve?"

"Kalec has it."

"We had to make a quick trip to Stormwind to find enough that was entirely herbal and which didn't have latent magic," Kalec added.

Coragosa slathered Jaina's back in a magically inert salve then used a specially prepared transfer paper to apply a copy of the lines to Jaina's body. Jaina had to sit up for that part and the air of the cave hit the moist salve on her back, making her shiver. Kalec took the opportunity to shamelessly look at her bare chest. He wagged his eyebrows at her and she rolled her eyes and tried not to laugh too hard and mess up Cora's work.

Once the lines were down, Kalec and Cora checked them for errors. They didn't find any but Jaina was grateful they looked. She was back on her stomach again.

Cora brought out her needles and Jaina felt the familiar sensation of a cleansing spell pass over them. Instead of a machine, Cora slipped a bracelet with dangling chains over her right hand. The chains were connected to a set of rings with gems on them. Cora slipped the rings over her fingers. At the end of the chains were caps which fit over the ends of her fingers but which left the pads exposed. Smaller gems were inset into these caps as well. The gemstones blazed to life and she picked up one of the needles with magic alone, holding it near her hand.

"Time to test this out quickly. Ankle still okay?"

"Ankle?" Kalec asked.

"Yes it is. Just keep it small whatever you do," Jaina told Cora. She turned her head to look at Kalec on the other side of the table. "She needs a test spot for her machine as well as the ink."

"You're getting a circle. Maybe you can use it for something," Cora said. "And you also get to see if you can stand the feeling."

The needle in her magic began to vibrate in the field. She dipped it into the ink pot then moved it to Jaina's skin. Jaina gritted her teeth and tried not to jump, expecting the pain. It hurt when it came but she could endure it as Cora made a small circle on Jaina's ankle. The buzzing needle stopped vibrating as she wiped away the excess blood and ink and inspected her work.

"Not too bad?"

"No."

"No reaction so I think we can proceed."

Jaina nodded. "Okay."

Cora gently tilted Jaina's head so she was more or less facedown and her neck was straight, and then dove into the work.

It was at once better than she expected it to be and also worse. Cora started on her upper back, right on her neck over the spine. The needle, and it was a bit of a misnomer as the metal had multiple prongs, hit areas with little in the way of padding under. Her father had told her it felt like a bee sting when she'd asked as a child. It didn't feel like that to Jaina. It felt like a very rough, sharp instrument was being dragged across her skin; which was exactly what was going on. When Core went over the lines again it actually felt better than when she was going over new skin.

"Try not to think about the pain," Cora suggested. "Focus on something else."

Jaina grunted in reply and tried to focus on the cave, or the sounds that weren't the buzzing needle moving so quickly it made a sound. The spell Coragosa was using was fascinating. Jaina focused in on that. The 'glove' was a focusing apparatus. The dragon used it to help her manipulate the terribly small needle and regulate the flow of power so that it was very consistent without her needing to pay much attention to it. Jaina supposed that allowed her to focus on other things, like where she was actually drawing the marks rather than the up and down motion.

Focusing on the magic helped.

"The spell is interesting," Jaina said. "Humans use little machines."

"I've seen 'em. Used a few actually. They're a fairly recent development."

"Recent?"

"Mm, well, relatively speaking. They learned it from the quel'dorei, who continued to use arcane magics back from when they were the kaldorei. Modern kaldorei use manual tapping. Takes a while but when you're an immortal, I suppose you have the time." Coragosa chuckled to herself.

"I see," Jaina said, unsure what else to say.

"The Vrykul use the tapping methods, though they have enough arcane mages they could run a motor if they wanted. Their inks are effective if primitive. Surprisingly few empowered runes on them. Mostly they wear them to commemorate battles won."

"That was why father got his," Jaina said.

"Oh?"

Jaina sighed, heart aching for lost family. "I'm Kul Tiran. Have you been there? Heard of it?"

"Beyond being aware it was one of the human kingdoms, not really."

"We're a nation of sailors. I think I learned to swim before I learned to walk. Once I could walk I could sail. My father-" she trailed off, swallowing back the ache. "My father was Lord Admiral, but he was a sailor and it's traditional for them to mark themselves like that. Mother's name was over his heart on his chest. Derek and my names were on his shoulder. He'd won several naval battles. They were on his skin as well." She sighed. "He thought they'd bring him luck."

"So he might approve of this then?" Cora asked, cheerfully.

Jaina laughed ruefully and squeezed Kalec's fingers. He squeezed back. "That is debateable. He would not approve of Kalec at all."

"Didn't like dragons?"

"My older brother died fighting dragonmaw orcs, so no."

"Well the reds were slaves!"

"That wasn't well understood and I don't know my father would have cared for that detail." Jaina winced as the needles went over her spine again. "I don't mean to be rude but could we change the topic? I'm curious about how you met your current consort?"

Coragosa happily chatted about her thorignir consort until they decided to take a break for lunch. By then Jaina was hardly feeling the initial pain of the needles. It still hurt but there was also an odd rush offsetting the pain. Cora had to continue reminding her to relax and the tension Jaina was putting herself under was exhausting.

The process was done by early evening. Cora and Kalec checked over the work and pronounced it complete. Jaina felt ragged and wretched but also oddly euphoric now that the process was done. She could feel the latent buzz of power in the design on her back, stronger than it had been just on paper. It wanted to hold energy but she couldn't do that until it was a bit more healed.

Cora wrapped her back and gave her instructions not to touch it for at least six hours or at most a day. Then she showed Kalec how he was to apply the salve without rubbing and disturbing the healing wounds. Jaina put a loose top over the bandages, wincing as her back flexed and skin pulled.

"Sleep on your front. It will need air to heal. No magic into it for a week."

"I remember," Jaina said, sagging against Kalec's side. The rush and euphoria was quickly fading away.

"Contact me if you start to have any sort of reaction. Not, wait, go see a healer and then send Kalec for me and we;ll sort it out. But we've been doing this for hours now and that little circle looks fine. I've been keeping an eye on it. No swimming. No baths; showers only. Don't pick it apart or you could lift the ink out."

Jaina nodded.

Cora chuckled and poked Kalec's shoulder. "Take her home, get her fed. She'll probably want to sleep."

"I think she's half asleep now," Kalec said.

"Here's the rest of the ink I used." Cora handed him a stoppered jar. "It will keep for a long time. If I need to do any touch ups bring it with you."

"Thank you," Jaina said.

"Thank you! This is fascinating experiment and if it works on you then my mate might get to do the reverse."

"We'll let you know how it goes," Kalec said, helping Jaina down from her perch on the table.

Jaina didn't quite remember the trip back to Dalaran. One moment she was in the cave and the next she was in their library. Kalec helped her to lie down on the wide, backless divan they'd bought. Kalec left her with a kiss and a book and went to make dinner. She found a relatively comfy spot and dozed by the healing element rather than read.

The smell of food woke Jaina up a bit some time later. She sat up and the pain was better than it had been before, but her body ached from being tense.

"Feeling okay? Itching yet?"

"Itching?"

Kalec kissed her forehead. "Itching."

Jaina groaned. "That smells good. What is it?"

"Something that always makes me feel better when I'm feeling out of it.Try it?" he held out a bit of meat on a fork. Jaina recognized the bacon and suspected the other meat might be chicken.

Jaina eyed him but ate the bite. It was good but tasted almost fishy. "What is that."

"Mushroom stuffed, bacon wrapped penguin."

Jaina blinked at him. "Penguin. Huh. Kinda fishy."

"You don't have to eat it if you don't like it."

"It's different," she said indicating he should give her more. She ate another bite. "Think I like it, though."

Kalec smiled. "I also got dessert."

"Cupcakes?" Jaian asked, arching an eyebrow.

Kalec snorted a laugh and kissed her nose. "Close. I convinced Aimee to make a small spiced chocolate cake."

"Gonna feed that to me too?"

"There's an idea," Kalec mused, picking up on the suggestive undertones. "I didn't think you'd be feeling up for anything athletic tonight."

"Mmm truthfully no, nothing athletic. But it would be nice to be close."

"Therapeutic cuddling?"

"Yes, please," she said sighing as she relaxed further into her pillows.

Kalec laughed quietly. He put a light blanket over her shoulders then went to get dessert. Jaina was asleep before he returned.

Chapter Text

Jaina woke up and stretched.

She regretted that immediately. Her back ached as if she'd been burned. Whining she turned her face back into the pillows. "Ow."

"Good morning," Kalec said. He was sitting on his side of the bed, reading. He set the book aside and leaned down to kiss her temple.

"Time is it?"

"Later than you usually get up. But you're on vacation."

"Mmm. Sorry I fell asleep."

"Don't be."

"How'd I- You moved me here?"

"I did. And I even saved you some dessert."

"Thank you." Jaina breathed in then sighed out deeply. She sank into the bedding and stretched out a hand to Kalec, winding her fingers through his.

"When are we expected in Stormwind?" he asked.

"Sometime before dinner." She squeezed his fingers. "Don't worry about the holiday traditions. Just enjoy yourself."

Kalec kissed her temple. "I get to spend time with you. How could I not? Do you want to take the wrap off?"

"I should," Jaina said, sitting up. "And I want a shower. Help me with the bandages?"

Kalec carefully helped her remove the bandages. There was a little blood, fluid and ink from the healing wound but the bandages didn't stick. Jaina put her hair up. She conjured a hand mirror so she could look at her back in the reflection of the big standing mirror by her wardrobe.

The ink had ended up being a black color and it stood out starkly against her skin. Either because of the healing or the materials it was somewhat shiny. The skin around it was red and irritated. It was still sore but that was hardly surprising less than a day after it had been applied. Jaina hoped the shower would be soothing rather than painful.

It was huge, but it was also quite pretty. At least she thought so. She smirked to herself, heart aching just a bit. Her father had worn many tattoos, but he'd likely have minded her reasons for this one.

She sighed, setting the mirror down. He was dead and she was not. And Jaina had to move forward.

"Regrets?" Kalec asked, brow furrowed.

"No! No, not at all. I was just thinking about my father. He would not approve of the reasons, or the purpose of this. Or you." She went to him and wrapped her arms around his waist. "But he's not here and I can't wait to go flying with you."

Kalec reached around to hold her but stopped, mindful of her healing back. His hands hovered uncertainly around her sides and hips. Eventually he put them on her rear with a small smirk.

Jaina laughed and hugged him tighter. "I need a shower. Help me when I'm out?"

He kissed her upturned face. "Yep."

The hot water stung when it was directly on her back but the steam when she turned her back away was very nice. The heat helped relax the last of the tension out of her body. Clean and refreshed she went into the bedroom, her long hair wrapped in a towel. Another towel was loosely wrapped around her body.

Kalec helped by taking her hair down and running a drying spell through it. She twisted it up into a bun and lay on her stomach on the freshly made bed. His gentle fingers put a thin layer of salve over the lines. Jaina shivered as his fingers stroked over the back. He kissed behind her ear.

"Hurts?"

"No. My back feels like I have a bad sunburn. The salve helps."

"Must be me then," he said, chuckling as she shivered again. "I want to follow the lines," he admitted. He kissed her ear again. "Maybe in a week when it's a bit more healed."

"This feels very nice," Jaina said, letting her head drop. His hands were warm and the salve tingled when it went on then settled into a soothing, cooling sensation. He was being very careful with her and it felt nice to be cared for. She smiled to herself and relaxed into the bedding further. She had a break now; time to herself. There were many things to do, but with so many people absent for the holidays there was very little need to worry over them. Jaina sighed and relaxed further under Kalec's gentle hands, beginning to doze off. Kalec climbing off the bed roused her.

He brought over a plate with an exceptionally large piece of cake.

"Breakfast?" she asked, arching an eyebrow at him.

He grinned gleefully as he sat on the bed. He cut a bite sized piece off with the fork then held it out for her to eat. Jaina laughed, she most certainly did not giggle like a girl with her first crush. The cake was wonderfully rich and had just a hint of spice and heat.

"Do you have class?" she asked between bites. She conjured something to drink.

"Modera cancelled it since so many said they would be gone, but we're going to hold office hours. Well, hour. What do you have to do?" He ate some of the cake.

"A very brief meeting this afternoon. We're sending out the Everbloom plan summary to Stormwind and Orgrimmar so Varian and Vol'jin can consider the proposed portal termini over the holiday." She was a bit nervous about that. If they didn't approve they had devised a few backup locations on either continent. "Later I need to pick up the new dress." He fed her the last bite of the cake.

"I'm looking forward to seeing it. You're certain I don't need something fancier?"

"You're fine," she said, patting his knee. She glanced at the time. "Hmm. I should make myself presentable before I go out."


There were flurries in Stormwind when they arrived in the mage quarter, and snow already on the ground. The coastal city didn't get as much snow as other places in the kingdom but during winter there was always some accumulation. Perhaps the early snows they were experiencing in Dalaran were a harbinger of an especially cold and snowy winter.

Winter in Boralus had always been harsh. There was more ice than snow and the winter storms could crop a sail as easily as a kodo eating grass. Theramore had experienced a milder version of the winter tempests due to it's more southern climate. Jaina pursed her lips, thinking of the new residents of the island. She'd assured they were well provisioned and warm. The remains of the stone walls were study enough they could keep away some of the wind chill off the sea and the druids and green dragons would certainly make sure the tree was well cared for. The foundation for the new inn had been laid according to her last report but, everyone was still living in cozy yurts until it was completed.

Jaina shook herself. She'd made arrangements and given support; everyone there would have a fine dinner and the children would find plenty of gifts come Winter Veil morning. She would check in later in the week and if something went awry earlier she was easy to find. Jaina returned her attention to the present and her companion.

Snow had been cleared from the streets of Stormwind and children played in the large piles, throwing snowballs at once another. Nearly every door had a wreath and most windows had candles or other lights burning on the sills. The air was rich with the smell of snow melting on wool, cinnamon and nutmeg, pine and burning fires. They passed the newly planted park. The bushes had been bundled up with burlap for the duration of the winter season and a few inches of snow rested on top making them look like very strange plants.

Kalec turned to look at everything; paying very close attention to even the smallest details. Jaina laughed and tugged on his sleeve.

"Relax," she advised.

He dipped his head. "I've seen it all but I haven't participated."

She patted his arm as they walked up the steps to the Keep. "I told you, it's mostly surprising people with thoughtful gifts and sitting by the fire playing games or eating sweets or reading. I'll probably go riding with Anduin. He mentioned that and seemed keen on it. Would you mind?"

"I'm sure I'll find something to occupy myself with for a few hours." He tugged on their joined hands. "Jaina, don't worry so much about me you don't have a fun time. You spend enough time and energy worrying about Dalaran, I refuse to add to it."

"You refuse!"

"I do!" he said, tossing his hair and lifting his chin in a magnificent pose.

Jaina snorted a laugh. "Come on," she said, tugging his hand.

Varian's staff showed them to their room with quick efficiency but they were intercepted by both Anduin and Varian halfway there.

"Jaina! Kalec! Welcome!" Anduin said, coming over to give Jaina a welcoming hug. Jaina deftly avoided the potentially painful greeting by giving him one instead and pinning his arms to his sides. She smiled and held him at arm's length by his shoulders.

"You're as tall as I am. Keep that up and you'll be taller than Varian by this time next year," she told him.

Anduin ducked his head and rolled his eyes, cheeks pinking just a bit.

She didn't account for Varian being in a friendly mood.

"Good to see you both," Varian said, clapping a hand on Kalec and Jaina's backs.

The sudden pain was searing. Jaina went ridged and stifled a small scream.

"What?" Varian backed off.

Anduin looked alarmed. "Jaina?"

Jaina felt the blousy top she wore sticking to her back. She held still so the fabric wouldn't pull away and damage anything. Every breath made the cloth shift over the sensitive, healing skin, hurting it further. Her skin was on fire.

"What happened?" Anduin asked.

"It was just a friendly greeting," Varian said, sounding bewildered as well.

"If you're hurt let me help," Anduin said, lifting a hand, gently glowing with the Light.

"No," Jaina said, lifting a warding hand and stepping away. That made the pain worse. Jaina winced.

"She'll be fine," Kalec said, trying to interpose himself between the Wrynns and Jaina.

"I can help," Anduin said, trying to duck around. "It would hardly take a second."
"I'll be fine," Jaina said.
"It's really no trouble," Anduin insisted.
"Jaina are you okay?" Varian asked.
"She'll be fine just let her have some space," Kalec said.
"It was just a friendly pat on the back. Is something wrong?" Varian asked.
"What did you do, Father?"
"I didn't do anything!"
"You had to have done something, she went white as a sheet."

Anduin reached out for her again, dodging Kalec.

Jaina put up a barrier spell. "Just a moment, please. Please."

The Wrynns fell into a pensive silence.

"Let me see," Kalec asked. Jaina dropped her barrier and Kalec's gentle hands removed her heavy overcoat.

"I got a tattoo yesterday," Jaina explained. "On my back. It's intended to be an empowered working. I can't use magic to heal it for at least a week." She winced as Kalec gently loosened the fabric of her blouse.

"Why not?" Anduin asked, scandalized or perhaps affronted there was not something he could do.

"Ah," Varian said. He put a hand on Anduin's shoulder. "Magic, even healing magic, in the first week of something like that will mess it up." He arched an inquisitive brow at Jaina.

She merely smiled back politely, but said nothing more. It was private.

Varian bowed slightly. "I'm sorry."

"You didn't know," Jaina said. The searing sensation was fading, finally.

"Are you certain I can't do anything?" Anduin asked, frowning.

Jaina smiled. "In a week I might take you up on it."

"Your rooms are this way." Varian took the lead and opened the door for them. "We'll let you get settled," he said. "I'm told dinner is in an hour if you're up to joining us."

"Of course," Jaina answered for them both.

Varian herded Anduin away. Though Varian also looked curious, he did not push the issue.

Kalec closed the door behind them. "Are you okay?"

"I think the surprise was part of the pain. I avoided Anduin but didn't expect Varian." She grimaced as she pulled off her blouse. "Varian was being friendly for once, and I hate to complain, but the man doesn't know his own strength." The soft top had taken up both ink and blood in the shape of the lines on her back. She twisted her lips and ran a cleaning spell over the fabric.

Kalec summoned their luggage then found the jar of salve she'd been using. Jaina sighed as he put more of it on her back, soothing away the last of the pain.

"Better?"

"Much. Thank you." Jaina sighed, looking around.

I think if I can just put aside some of these worries I shall be very happy while I am enjoying the winter holiday."

"Good."

She stepped back and put her top back on. Kalec made a mournful sound. She smirked back at him then turned him around and pushed him at the luggage. "Go unpack."
Dinner was held in Varian's private quarters and was a casual affair. He quietly apologized again when they arrived and she reassured him it wasn't an issue.

"We're hosting a ball tomorrow," Anduin said. "I don't know if Father has mentioned it but you're both welcome to attend."

"Varian did mention it," Jaina said. "We're planning on attending."

"Good!" Varian said, much cheered. He pointed his fork at Jaina. "When I want to throttle the Nobles I can find you and talk about Dalaran instead."

"Father you and aunt Jaina are not hiding away and leaving me to deal with the nobles," Anduin said, giving his father an impressive annoyed look.

Varian just grinned. "Would I do that?" He didn't even attempt to look innocent.

Jaina hid a snicker behind one hand at the exchange.

"Last year you did. And when Jaina left you had a 'very important meeting' with Genn Greymane." Anduin said, making quotes with his fingers. "The year before you snuck off to go drink with Genn. And the year before."

"It was a very important meeting," Varian argued as he cut his roast. "Genn had a bottle of very nice whiskey he needed to finish. It was serving the greater good of maintaining proper alliances," Varian replied loftily. He daintily stabbed a piece of meat and ate it, offering his son a placid look.

Anduin rolled his eyes. "Aunt Jaina please don't let him abandon me."

Jaina laughed. "I can't make any promises."

Anduin's sigh was very put-upon. He shook his head. "Speaking of Genn, are the Greymane's coming? Wyll and some of the staff appeared to be uncertain."

Varian's expression darkened. "He's pouting because I didn't agree with him on an issue. I don't know what he might be thinking."

"This is about me, isn't it," Jaina said.

"No, it's not about you. He expected me to be angry with Dalaran and wanted to raise a fuss about it. I didn't agree." Varain waved a hand. "Your presence here over the holiday wouldn't change his attitude either way." Looking over at Anduin he said, "Last I heard Mia wished to know what the schedule was, so they might show up or they might not."

Anduin frowned but nodded.

"Changing the topic," Varian said, "A very interesting proposal landed on my desk this afternoon for me to consider over the holiday. I know it's talking shop, but what can you tell me about the Everbloom project?

"Everbloom? What's that?" Anduin asked.

"I'd wondered if you'd get around to reading that quickly or not," Jaina said. Smiling at Anduin she said, "It's an outpost we've been planning and have just begun building on the alternate Draenor. The Kirin Tor intends for it to be a staging area close to where the Iron Horde has a massive manufacturing and production presence."

"It would supplement the outposts we've been considering building on the island of Ashran," Varian said. "Ashran gives us something close to the Portal and has the benefit of being an island off the coast."

"We are proposing that Everbloom have two greater portal installations. Several termini have been suggested," Jaina said, nodding at Varian before she looked at Anduin again. "But we intend for it to be another neutral hub."

"Why not just use Dalaran?" Anduin asked.

"Because Dalaran isn't as convenient to where anyone's army is currently," Jaina answered.

"Most of the proposed termini are close to Stormwind and Orgrimmar," Varian said. "Which is why it is something I am going to consider very, very carefully before I even begin to bring anyone else into the discussion," Varian said, fixing his son with a stern look.

"I understand," Anduin said, equally serious.

Varian smiled briefly at Anduin then turned a thoughtful gaze back to Jaina. "Creating greater portals such as the ones proposed are a significant undertaking for a single pathway. You're talking about at least two. My people planning Ahsran are already wringing their hands over that project. I'll admit I am curious about the resources you're deploying and where you might be getting them from."

Jaina smiled over her goblet of wine and sipped. "Nothing you have to worry over, Varian. We're considering it an investment in a better future."

Varian's eyes narrowed and he lifted his drink in salute with a small smirk. "Keep your secrets for now."

The talk turned to less business and more about the gossip among the lords and Nobles of Stormwind. Father and son had a lot of things to say and took the opportunity among friends and in private, to vent.

Jaina listened to Varian's belly laugh as Anduin did an apparently hilarious impression of one particularly pompous lord and sighed a little. It was nice they were doing well and that she was alive and in a mindset where she could enjoy herself.

Kalec's hand found hers under the table and she squeezed his fingers. He'd been somewhat awkward and very polite with the Wrynns, unsure of his place still. The tension he'd been carrying was gone now. She laced her fingers through his and sighed again, content with a quiet evening with those she considered to be family.


Jaina woke up slowly. Muted light outside promised a chilly overcast day. Jaina stretched out an arm. The room had become chilly in the night and Jaina pulled her arm back under the warm, heavy blankets. Stormwind Keep was quiet, the only sound was the muffled wind beyond the drapes and thick windows. Jaina judged it to be after sunrise but still early.

Kalec had rolled onto his stomach in the night, sprawling over his side of the bed. Thankfully they'd been put in a suite with a large bed so Kalec's feet didn't hang off the end as they had when he'd first moved in with her.

She didn't need to be up now. It was an odd feeling and one rarely experienced over the last year and some months. Jaina sighed and burrowed further into the bed, curling around Kalec's back and side. He was wonderfully warm.

He stirred as she kissed his shoulder. He mumbled something half in common and half in draconic. She was getting better at understanding the language but she had little hope of teasing apart what he'd said. Chuckling she settled back under the covers. The Wrynns were not as early risers as she was. Breakfast would happen when it happened and until then, she had no where she would rather be.

Breakfast became brunch. It was a simple affair later in the morning. Anduin was missing but Varian joined them for something quick before he had to attend to the last few meetings before the council of Nobles departed for their own homes for the rest of the holiday.

Jaina sipped her tea as Kalec polished off his scrambled eggs and looked mournfully at the empty plate.

"You have time to go fishing if you wanted," she suggested. "The seas here have good stock."

"I'm considering it," Kalec said, eyeing the window critically. "Weather's not too bad for flying but is it bad enough the schools have gone elsewhere, I won-" He blinked in surprise and rose just as there was a rapping on the window.

There was someone outside the window! Jaina gaped in surprise as Kalec opened the latch. A gust of chilly wind came inside along with the figure in the dark hooded overcoat. Kalec helped the person down then shut the window.

Anduin pushed back the coat's hood, his cheeks scarlet with the cold, a few flakes melting in his hair. "Thank you."

"What were you doing?" Jaina asked.

"I went for a walk. Didn't want to make a fuss."

"On the roof?" Jaina questioned.

"No! No," Anduin said, unclasping the coat and swinging over the back of an unoccupied chair to dry. "I was in the military quarter actually." He helped himself to a breakfast pastry and began to eat it as he poured some coffee.

"What were you doing coming in through the window," Jaina demanded to know.

"I saw you and Kalec were in here. Figured you'd let me in. Saved me having to get back to my rooms."

"Anduin," Jaina scolded.

"Don't tell me you never left without making a fuss before, Aunt Jaina," Anduin said, grinning impishly.

Jaina closed her eyes and let out a breath. "You could have been hurt."

"Not the way I went," he assured her. His clothes were nondescript. Well made but not so well made he would stand out.

"What were you doing?" Kalec questioned.

"Looking in on some important allies," Anduin said picking up a second pastry.

"You were with Tess Greymane."

Anduin's cheeks pinked further. "And Lorna Crowley," he protested. His blush deepened and his eyes widened as he realized how that statement could be taken. "I mean, they're allies. Lorna's at the officer academy here. She's got an apartment. I wanted to know how angry Genn really was!" He sighed and slouched in his seat. "I am not very good at this sneaky business."

"Good enough you got out and back in," Kalec pointed out.

"It's not necessarily bad that perhaps subterfuge isn't your strong point, Anduin," Jaina said.

His lips twisted in a brief grimace. "Anyway. Genn's gone back to Darnassus, so I don't think we'll be seeing him tonight. Tess thought it would be just as well if he has the holiday to cool off. Lorna's father is joining her here for the holiday so she might show up. She hates balls almost as much as father does though, so I don't know if she'll make an appearance." He shrugged. "Aunt Jaina, I was wondering if we might go riding sometime while you're here?"

Jaina took a moment to reorient her thoughts after the abrupt change of topic. "I'd like that," She said. She gave him a serious look. "We are going to talk about some of these new habits."

He grinned cheekily and rose, collecting his coat and another pastry. "Hopefully the snow won't get worse. I've got some things to do. I'll see you later." He made a somewhat hasty exit.

Jaina narrowed her eyes as she watched him go. "He's up to something."

Kalec kissed her cheek. "Yep. Mind if I go fishing?"

"I have some papers I've wanted to read for ages," Jaina said. She returned his kiss. "Be safe. Don't eat so much you miss out on dessert tonight. Varian's kitchen staff can put out an impressive holiday spread."

He chuckled. "I'll keep that in mind."


Kalec had a very nice rear. Currently that rear was naked, skin slightly pink from the heat of the shower he'd taken. The muscles of his thighs and bottom flexed as he walked towards the wardrobe, toweling his hair dry.

"Need help with the dress?" he asked.

Jaina watched him from her indolent recline on the bed. She licked her lips. "No," she said eventually.

Kalec half turned and arched a brow at her. He dropped the towel on the nearest chair and sauntered back to her, drying his hair with a quick spell. The view from the front was pretty good too. She smiled broadly as he leaned over her. The soft towel and beddi