HERE BEGINS BOOK ONE: THE JOURNEY OF LAZARUS SPINDLECOG
In Which I Discover My Horrible Master
I have always been handy with a pen, though my short stature little belies my talents. I was born in Gnomeregan, before its fall during the Third War, and I suffered much hardship as a child; or so I am told. I cannot remember one thing before Ironforge, where I spent my childhood. My parents moved out to the outlying districts of Dun Morogh quite <early, eager to get away from the bustling of Tinkertown.
My father, Adrian Spindlecog, was an engineer of much renown, and an inventor nonpareil, and when I chose to follow his path in life he was greatly pleased. For many years I stayed close to home, working on my devices.
At last, a profound wanderlust came over me to see the world. My grandfather had fought in the Second War, and he often spoke of it with glee. Sometimes, I felt that piloting a Flying Machine was the Goal of all life - the end-all and be-all. His words did not make it hard to believe. I knew, though, that there were other places to see, and I had never been more than twelve miles from Gnomeregan in my entire life.
I packed up my bags around the age of fifty and decided that the time had come to see the world. I sold off my business to a cousin, the wealthy merchant Aquin Tweedletock, who in all likelihood has caused the little shop to more than triple its profits. I took my meager savings, packed them amongst my clothing, and set out.
My first goal was Ironforge, and then, by Gnomish Tram to Stormwind. Without incident I made the journey. When I arrived in Stormwind, though I was impressed, it was not nearly as glorious as the great Ironforge had been, and my heart faltered. Perhaps the best of the world was behind me, and I was setting out to disappointment. How right I was! If I had listened to my spirit rather than my feet, I would be safe at home; perhaps even with children by now.
Ah well. Life comes and goes, doors open and shut. My door home had shut behind me, and a new one had opened - a door in Elwynn Forest. I took a job designing farming equipment, which was rather lucrative before the Goblin Devices in Westfall revolted in bloodlust and madness. I made it my place to provide the farms of the whole area with machinery; and I must admit, I did my fair bit of adventuring as well.
The day when my life changed forever was a chilly October morning, while I was bustling about my business in Stormwind. A letter from Aquin and my parents had just arrived, and so I made it my plan to buy a large cask of wine and have it transported home - and I would soon follow to share in a reunion with my long-missed family.
I was on my way to the Tram, to return to the first time in four years to Ironforge. News of the War had reached me - the fighting had grown fierce in the north, and the word of the Fall of Lordaeron's last defenders was spreading throughout Azeroth.
I had a large turkey (or, large enough, for the larger birds dwarf me; no pun intended) and I was set to see everyone again. The thought of tender moments filled my eyes with tears - in fact, there was a certain little gnome I was quite eager to see, for I was certain she had grown quite a bit in the last few years.
While entering the Tram station, a human woman nearly tripped over me. When I mumbled my apologies, she said nothing, and strode onward, as if she had business that her life depended on. I was left gathering my spilt gifts from the grimy ground. Brushing it off, I hurried into the station just as it began to snow. I looked around for the woman, perhaps thinking to reprimand her, but she was gone.
I grumbled to myself, thinking of the many times I had been snubbed in the past in Stormwind City - Human bankers refusing to treat me with the respect I have been due - "Would you like a stool, father?" I had heard too much to let slide again.
I quickly boarded a waiting tram car, and sped off into the monument of science that is Deeprun Tram.
Not mere moments later, the car jerked to a complete halt. Sparks began to rain down on my head, and, looking up, I saw that a small fissure had opened in the roof of the tunnel, jamming the tram where it was and bending the track. Loose wires, casings split, sprayed their contents all over the car. I put my hands over my head and jumped down to the rails below, hoping that a cleaning crew might find me before the rats did.
Clutching my pocket watch tightly in my hand - as I often did when I had a pocket watch - I sat down on the cold floor of the tram-run and waited. It seemed to me, as I sat there, that I could hear the murmuring of distant voices. It was difficult to make them out, but there were at least two men, and perhaps a woman as well. I could not tell if there were others, but a most strident and over-riding voice was the easiest to hear. It was, of course, the voice of my Most Arrogant Master, as any who have heard him speak will attest. Once this voice reached my ears, I knew it could not be my imagination. I got to my feet and, glancing into the shadows, began to walk slowly towards the sounds.
Soon I saw lights playing upon the ceiling. They were dim, and frightening. Vague shapes loomed up to block them and cast even vaguer shadows. I sucked in a deep breath and promptly turned around, having come to the decision not to interfere with whatever meeting was going on in that removed place.
I watched from a distance, the sparks from the tram sizzling quietly behind me and the arguments I could not quite hear continuing before me. Oh, most foolish of moments, my awful feet betrayed me again! I felt an itching in my soles and I stood again. Perhaps they would not be so bad, I thought to myself, not considering that anyone who would go out of their way to be hidden amongst the deepest and most removed caverns in Azeroth must necessarily be plotting something unwholesome.
I crept slowly forward on my hands and knees, frightened of being spotted, but more frightened of being left alone in the tunnels to be gnawed to death or slowly starve. It might be weeks before anyone found me in that place, and I could not walk all the way back to the station in my current condition.
Soon I saw that the meeting, or cabal, or whatever it was, was atop one of the small service platforms on the side of the tram. A tall and imposing figure stood with his back to me, facing into the wavering lantern-light that flooded the platform. The next thing I heard was a calm cool voice, a chilly voice which I later learned belonged to a man named "Veras", announcing that there was an intruder.
I did not make the connection in time. The intruder was, of course, myself. Before I could run or turn or even gasp, the tall figure whirled, revealing a face half hidden by shadow. His flinty eyes searched the passage, and at last they alighted on me. He motioned with one hand, and a shadowy figure dropped to the ground beside me, pinioning my arms behind my back without warning. My turkey fell onto the ground for a second time, this time smashed beyond recognition and free of its wax paper. I cried out in protest, as much as for my family's gift meal as for my own treatment.
The figure dragged me up onto the platform, and I discovered it was the same young human who had so rudely bumped into me on my way into the station. She whirled me around until I faced the lantern, and my eyes fell upon the origins of the two voices I had heard.
Two men, each of highly imposing stature, were before me. The man on my right wore a tall hat pulled down over his forehead, his grey dangerous eyes flickering from me to the woman that held me. He had a sprig of grey hair sprouting from his chin, and long flowing locks that spilled out from under his hat like a waterfall of silver. The other man had braided hair, white as well. He was slightly shorter than the first, and seemed to be much less tense.
The tall man stood to my right, who I found later was the infamous Kelith Vedan; or perhaps not so infamous, as I had never heard of him before he informed me of his own exploits. The other man, Veras, was quiet. The taller of the two approached me, his flinty eyes striking sparks.
"Who is this creature?" he bellowed, his voice like gravel. "Who is this spy?"
I tried to squeak to him that I was not a spy, but no words would come out - my throat was closed with fear. Then the terrifying cold man moved; he put his hand on the chest of my future master and said in a still voice: "Never you mind. I will deal with him." Then he laid his hand over the hilt of his sword.
I jumped, or tried to. The shadowy woman still had a powerful grip on my shoulders, so I don't suppose I moved very far. The dangerously cold man began to advance on me, a terrible look of icy lust in his eyes. My future master intervened.
He looked pensively at me, raised his right hand. "Wait," he said. The chilly man known only as Veras glanced over his shoulder at the man I would soon learn to grovel before. Kelith paused and ran his hand across his face.
"Can you write?" he asked me.
"Write?" I squeaked, my voice like the whining of unoiled hinges.
He seemed to be upset by my question. He growled a little and let out his breath in one of those telltale hisses that he had picked up somewhere along the journey of his life. Flustered, I cracked my knuckles nervously, forgetting that I still held my watch in my hand. I heard the casing dent. "Yes!" I yelled without intending to. "Yes, I can write!"
My Master nodded. "Good," he said. "Hit him Veras, but not too hard."
The last surprise in a night of surprises, I only managed to eek out a whuffing noise as, like a bruise, darkness spread before my eyes.
In Which My Harsh Master Tells Me of His Designs
I awoke some undetermined time later. I was lying on my back, and a cracked ceiling was all that I could see. Water stains had damaged it over the course of many years, but more than this I could not tell. The room was pervaded by a dark brownish light, as though the very air had turned to a thick amber murk outside. There was a smell; a smell like that of ages old fungus left to molder without treatment.
"I trust you enjoyed your journey?" It was the voice of a man who had seen too much to remain sane. I jerked my body upright, and the rest of the room came into view. Kelith Vedan sat in a chair near the bedside that appeared to be worm eaten. There was a small desk over which he had thrown his robe and placed his hat. He was sitting forward, his hands clenched together, his knuckles white.
The room around him looked as though it had been left for decades, unused. What I had thought was imagination - the amber light - was not. There were two windows, one in each wall by the door. They looked out into the night, revealing the dark quality of the air. I nearly choked when I saw it.
The door itself was a heavy oaken construct, and I could see the outlines of steel bars abutting the wall; bars on the outside. As my eyes adjusted and I turned my attention back to Kelith, it seemed he had been watching me with some kind of patronly pleasure - examining my reactions to my new room. It occurred to me that it was a garret, as I looked at him. The room I had awoken in was a tower room in some strange ale colored place.
"You are quite unhurt, hmmm?" He asked me. I nodded, though my head still stung from the blow I had been dealt earlier. Earlier? How many days earlier? I thought.
"How... how long have I been here?" I asked. I had quite forgotten my fear of this strange sharp-eyed man. I was beginning to grow angry in fact. Who did this man think he was? I was a respected gnome in my field!
The man, Kelith, stopped to consider my question. "I do not know," he said finally. "It has been some time." I grimaced. Some time indeed. He continued, "I hope you were not too injured."
I placed my hand on the back of my head where I could still feel my wound. I would not tell him that, not give him the satisfaction of knowing. I tried to put on a strong outer face to repel Vedan's grating voice, but I do not believe I succeeded. "But!" he shouted, of a sudden, "You must know why you are here! I am Kelith Vedan, the former Archdean of the School of the Eye, and you are mine."
He would tell me that many many times throughout the course of my stay in his domain. He would drill it into me - I am, of course, beholden to him. He holds my family, he holds my businesses, he holds my very life under his thumb.
"Now then," he continued. "You must learn this very quickly, or your stay will be very short. I am your _master_, understand?" I shook my head. What did this madman want with me? Why this talk of masters and servitude? He seemed like a corrupt mage - so perhaps he intended to sacrifice me for one of his demonic ceremonies. Or perhaps he was simply going to ransom me back to my family - in which case, cousin Aquin had plenty of coin to spare. Either way, it did not explain his use of the term "Master". Why was he to be my Master? So I asked, which as it turned out was yet another of my many infamous mistakes.
"Master? Why all this talk of masters? Aren't you just going to kill me anyway?"
The one and only time when Kelith Vedan, my most horrifying Master, ever struck me was in that tower on that day. He leapt across the room and his arm fell upon my head with such force that it drove me across the sheets and onto the floor. Blood began to well up from the wound, and I fancy there was a brief flash of light, as though he had amplified his strike with Dark Magic. Then, Kelith sat back and continued as though nothing had happened. "You are my scribe. You said you can write, did you not? I pray tell that it was not a lie."
I nodded feebly, my head wobbling on my injured neck.
"Good. You are to work for me in all aspects - this castle is now your home. Ah!" he said, "Do not protest!" For he had seen me begin to open my mouth to beg for mercy. "If you bemoan your situation, I will have to kill you." He nodded when I closed my mouth with a frightful clack and sank back into complacency. "I am in need of a biographer."
"A biographer?" I asked, surprised. What could this monster need of a biographer? Surely he did not intend for me to chronicle the events of his twisted life? Ahh, but we can both see that he did, can we not? Otherwise, this book would never have been written, and you would never have been reading it. My most blasphemous Master intends for it to be a rallying cry to all the foul, embittered, miscreant, or otherwise arrogant forces of evil that lurk abroad in the land. But, I should continue.
My Master raised his eyebrows and smiled, although I do not believe I have ever seen a less friendly smile in my life. "You are to write my History - a book in which the tale of my journey from birth to..." he then looked up into the air, as though he could see things in it "...to madness, as Veras likes to call it."
When he mentioned the name Veras, it drew to mind the two others I had seen under Stormwind in the Tram line. I touched my now blood-encrusted suit at the collar and fiddled with my tie. I was now afraid to ask him of the other two, for my one and only question had earned me a blow to the head so strong that I was surprised I had survived it - when I think back to that day, I am still surprised it did not shatter my skull like a rotten melon. He must have seen me struggling with a question, because he chewed on the inside of his mouth, and postulated, "You wish to know about Veras?"
I nodded again, trying to prop myself up into the corner of the room, to get away from the small pool of blood that had oozed from the welt on my temple. My Master seemed content to answer my question - his question that was also mine. "Veras is my companion," he said. "Most think him far saner than I, but you and I know the truth, eh?" he leaned close to me, tapping the side of his nose, then burst out laughing. "Yes, we know the truth." he said again, more to himself than to me.
If Veras was the other man in the tramway, then I was forced to agree with my new Master. The look I had seen in his eyes could not belong to any sane being. My Master continued, waving his hand in the air in a vague gesture. "The other was Meris. She is beholden to us by ties of blood. We have done great things for her in the past, and she for us."
I found it hard to believe that my Master had done great things for anyone. Far more likely, when he said that phrase, was that he had done horrible things, and then made this Meris pay for it with servitude.
Then my Master said suddenly, with a hideous twisted smile, "I am leaving. I will be back tomorrow, when you are perhaps more accustomed to your surroundings. Then I shall show you the extent of what shall be your domain in my castle - Welcome to Caer Darrow." Then he took his cloak from the desk and placed his hat on his head. He ducked through the doorway, and closed the door behind him. To my horror, I heard the bolts slide into place with a long rusty grating.
In Which I Am Allowed to Explore My Surroundings, and Grow Used to the Prison of Caer Darrow
The following morning I woke in my stained suit, itching from the crusted blood that had dried there overnight. My room was little changed, save for the bundle of rags tied up by the door - clothes, I later discovered. I dressed hastily, lest my captor appear to torment me even when I was only half-dressed. Exploring the room further, I found that I had been left a cooling plate of some kind of awful blood pudding. It rested on the desk, and sent a toothsome smell throughout the room, though the taste was deplorable.
I ate it greedily. I was unsure of the last time I had eaten, and I did not know if my captor would be so kind as to feed me again soon. As I was finishing I heard the grinding of the bolts in the door. I turned, my head still throbbing with pain, and lo and behold, who should enter the room but my Master and captor, the greatly Un-esteemed Kelith Vedan.
I held my tongue as he entered, fearful that another outburst from me would merit another slap on the temple, as I had not fared well from the last one. My Master grinned when he saw me eating my pudding dressed in the rags he had left me. I almost got up and hit him myself; but I knew I wouldn't stand a chance against a magician of his might. I bowed my head to hide my anger at him, but he must have known it anyway. He asked me, mocking, "Are you enjoying your stay, scribe?" There was nothing for me to do but nod feebly. "That is good!" he crowed, "Very good. Today you shall see where it is you are going to be working. And you will be working," he chuckled.
"Up on your feet, scribe!" he bellowed without warning. It seemed as though his mood had swung from amused irony to impatient anger in mere seconds. "We don't have all day! Come thee, get up!" he howled again, his voice rebounding off the walls. I staggered to my feet, but his orders were not yet over. "You will bow before me when I approach you, scribe. You are my servant!" he said, apparently intent on instructing me in the lessons of servitude. I cursed under my breath at this tall man; this arrogant man who thought he was my better because he had lost himself in dark studies. Then I fell to one knee, because my head had started throbbing again, and I recalled what had caused it.
My Master nodded. "Good. Now rise. You will get a grand tour of what is now to be your home." I obeyed, and rose to my feet. He turned, his robes skirting the ancient wooden floor, plumes of dust rising in his wake. My home, it seemed, was in very ill repair.
He lead me down a passageway that terminated in a staircase, and down that into a library the likes of which I have never seen. The entire room was circular, though it was larger than I could at first encompass with my eye. High stone shelves held many volumes, most of which seemed fresh and new - they could not have waited undisturbed in this moldering castle without falling to ruin with the rest of the surroundings. Unlike my garret, this room also appeared to be in full repair. Its most stunning feature, however, was its center. In the exact middle of this towering glorious library there was a large opening, a clearing. This clearing was fashioned into steps that led into a deep depression from which a person might gaze up upon the walls of unalloyed knowledge that surrounded him. A single path, like a deep channel carved into the library floor, led away from this central opening and to a set of iron doors that sported large locks as part of their design. I sighed to myself as another method of escape vanished from my reach.
"Do you like it?" asked my captor in an almost hysterical voice. "Do you? I could get it cleaned for you; if that would help you write better." I did not know what he meant - the room was spotless - until he pointed up. Then I saw what he meant. The ceiling of the library, like a cap atop a dome, was a stained glass window depicting scenes of scholars at their work. I was unsure as to the time period of the peace, but it seemed of human design, Lordaeronian, before the First War had rocked the world. It was covered in grime, and the amber light of the outside filtered in only in small amounts. I shook my head.
"Everything is fine as it is," I said, now realizing that there were shafts of fine light radiating down from it. It had a sort of sinister beauty, as though it was once something great that had long ago been irretrievably corrupted. Much like my Master, I would speculate later.
He led me down the steep stone stairs that surrounded the central depression and I began to perceive that there was a desk lost in that gloom. It was a large thing, polished to a shine. There were two chairs, one before it and one behind. It was stocked with a supply of paper and a jar of ink. A quill rested hesitantly on the desk, as though it had been waiting for me to grasp it. It had been a long time since I had written anything other than accounting records.
"Sit," commanded my Master. "Sit and get a feel for it. You will not write today - today is a chance to see Caer Darrow."
I obeyed him and sat in the chair. It was as though it had been carved just for me. How long had I been asleep? Long enough for this madman to take my measurements and make me a chair of exquisite comfort - unless his Black Art applied to carpentry as well as souls. Once I had made myself comfortable, he yanked me up by my shirt. "Come, come," he said while bustling me down the channel cut in the library floor. "We must go outside."
Most of the castle of Caer Darrow was revealed to me that day. It overlooked a large courtyard in which burned many candles. The ruins of a town lurked at its feet, and a broken gate guarded an ancient stone bridge. We were far removed from any land I knew, and the sky remained the thick gold of beer day and night, though at night it dimmed closer to mead. Beyond the walls of the castle the land continued for less than half a mile, sinking deep into a terrible muddy lake. I was shown the larders, which were stocked, the kitchen, and more.
The only place my captor did not deign to show me was the Dungeon - for reasons I would come to see later. If he had taken me down there that early I would never have had the nerve to complete my work. Thus did he spare me the sights of his experiments. When all was done, he served me a heated gruel of sorts that either he or some unseen servants lurking about the castle had made, for I saw no sign of any others inhabiting this dismal structure.
Then, my most cruel master led me back into my room, bid me good evening, and barred the door.
In Which I Am Taken to Strahnbrad
It was still night when my captor shook me awake. I had forgotten my captivity - for a moment I thought I was back in my own bed, in my own house. I must have been dreaming, for I expected to see Dapperlilly waking me - she was the one Gnome I longed to see most in the world. We had nearly been betrothed, before I left Dun Morogh. Imagine, then, my surprise when I opened my eyes to see the face of Kelith Vedan, resplendent in his peaked hat and robes, peering down at me.
"Time to get up, little scribe," he hissed. "We have a long day ahead of us."
The past few days came rushing back to me - I was a captive in the house, nay the Keep, of the insane magician Kelith Vedan. I was his servant, his bookkeeper. It was my duty to write down the torturous circuit of his life, lest he end mine. There are many ways to awakened in this world. I think I have found the worst.
I struggled out of bed and pulled on the frayed gloves Vedan had left me the night previous. He seemed eager to be off - to where I had no clue. I nearly asked him, but again I recalled the question I had dared pose to him earlier. And again, it was almost as though he anticipated my query, or perhaps read my mind. "We are going to Strahnbrad today," he murmured. "It is not far, but we must move before the thieves are up. We will go there many times in the future, if you desire. You must see the places you will write about," and here his face took on a certain fury, his eyes a certain fire. "It must be *true*."
I nodded sleepily at his intonations and as he fitted my feet with heavy soled boots. Then he stood, whirling about, and swept through the doorway. Assuming I was meant to follow I trod after him at as brisk a pace as my stature would allow. We went down through the library, and out through the doors. We swept through courtyards and out through the main gate of the keep. This was the first time since awakening to find myself trapped that I had left the confining walls of that structure, and I found that the inner bailey of Caer Darrow was not a pleasant place to be.
It was lit by hundreds of candles, all perched on the collapsing structures that littered the interior of the curtain wall. Strange feelings curled up my spine. It was almost as though the place was haunted by the souls ill-at-rest that had died here during the Cult's dominance of the castle (for this was the infamous Lich Kel'Thuzad's home, and it was here that the Cult of the Damned began).
I shuddered in fear as my captor - my Master as I had begun to think of him - prepared one of the many hearses that stood empty and horseless about the bailey. We were at the top of a tall hill on which the keep was situated, and I could look down into the ruined courtyard that was shielded by the crumbling curtain wall. I did, and saw it was filled with refuse, bones, and similar black wagons to the one my Master was mounting. When I turned back I saw that the wagon was now hooked up to a fiery black charger - and fiery is no metaphor, either, for it had flames licking its hooves and eyes. Where it had come from in the intervening time I do not know. Perhaps it was another of my Master's Black Arts. He motioned for me to climb up and sit on the back of the coach with him. On my way up, I peered at one of the tinted windows.
He hissed gleefully, "I wouldn't look in that if I were you." I swallowed and I am certain a thin whimper must have escaped my throat. When I was seated at the top of the hearse, my Master nodded at the black burning steed, and it began to canter down the hillside. The hearse rocked back and forth, and I fancied I could hear the distant sound of long-dead children playing as it passed beneath the castle’s gate and trotted across the bridge.
On the other side of the bridge the way grew more difficult. It became hard to pick the path out of the overgrown weeds. I was still uncertain exactly where in Azeroth we were, though I knew Caer Darrow to be close to the collapsed and infested city of Andorhal. Soon we were forced to stop by a river, on the other side of which a huge graveyard stood. My Master giggled under his breath, and a plume of white steam erupted from his mouth in the morning chill. Pointing, he said, "That is Sorrow Hill, the last resting place of Uther the Lightbringer; Uther the Betrayed. Isn't it funny? First Lord Lothar, and then Uther - both killed by treachery. You'd think they'd learn." Then he turned the hearse to follow the stream away from Darrowmere Lake, and south, into the mountains.
Soon the air began to clear, and we were free of the choking feeling of the Plaguelands. We found ourselves in a small nearly uninhabited valley which my horrid Master casually remarked was "Chillwind Point". Up ahead I saw there was a grim looking skiff waiting for us, tied up on this side of the river. My Master stopped the jangling stage there and jumped down, myself following in suit. He then clambered into the waiting boat and again I followed. He easily poled us across the river, ferrying me to the far shore, before climbing out again, and ascending the steep slope on the far side.
I had lost my bearings some time before, and now simply wondered how much farther away Strahnbrad was from us. I had never been good at geography, especially not Lordaeronian. I knew the basic layout of Khaz Modan - the extent of my topographical knowledge.
At last we reached the top of the hill, crossing paths with a small flagstone path. My Master nodded as we did. He turned to me and, as if imparting a kernel of wisdom upon me, said "You see? These paths ran the length and breadth of the Kingdom. When I was a boy, Alterac flourished."
I nodded at him, unsure of what to say, and then we struck off down the road. The sun was rising as we passed through the shrugging shoulders of two huge mountains reared up on either side and into the ruined village of Strahnbrad. It was not what I had expected, and my Master told me to be quiet, as it had become a den of the most populous of thieves. We walked the empty road for nearly an hour before they awoke, Kelith whispering his story to me, my entire body tense with anticipation. I feared at any minute a rogue would stumble out of one of the broken houses and go straight for my gut.
We met but one of the Strahnbrad Band, and that was as we were leaving. I should not have been worried about them. With a single word, my Master had the man's intestines spilling onto the ground, the shocked look on his face belying his surprise. It was not the thieves I should have feared at all; it was my Master.
The Early Life of Kelith Vedan
By reading the words I have set to ink or just listening to my Master speak for a moment, one would think he would have filled my head with the omens that preceded his birth. Two-headed cows, ravens perched on the roof of his home, mad beggars, and other tales of demons and drought. He said no such thing to me.
There were no winds from the Nether, like the day the Last Guardian assaulted Stormwind Keep. What my Master Kelith Vedan said to me was this, and there was a smile on his face as he said it: "The sun was shining the day I was born," that and nothing more. Therefore, let me begin with his own phrase, one of childlike innocence. Had I not heard it from his very mouth, I would have believed him incapable of uttering such a thing. And yet...
The sun was shining the day Kelith Vedan was born. It was an easy birth; his mother, Aemelice Vedan, did not struggle. By all accounts she was hardly in any pain. The child came as a blessing to the lives of Guilder and Aemelice. They were poor farmers who could barely scrape up enough to pay their own rent. Their house was owned by Mayor Fortinbrau of Strahnbrad, for in the days before the Third War most of the land thereabouts was owned by nobility. Now it is all unclaimed, unless, by chance, thieves or squatters inhabit it.
Kelith was their first son, and their only son. They were overjoyed, because a boy meant another hand in the field - and another to carry along the name of Vedan. I wondered if they had known what infamy he would carry it into. There, on that sunny day in Strahnbrad, Kelith was delivered by a young midwife; no strange and ancient crones present at this child's birth - no missing Fae parents, or devouring witches.
Kelith grew up working in the fields, before the advent of the automated farm machines that I so lovingly crafted (though that was in a former life - one where I could roam free, and was not yanked about on a leash, tied to my Most Awful Master). He lived outside the town, growing up among the old farmers and the young parson - living the life of a peasant.
By the time young Kelith reached the age of ten he had grown into quite a spry boy. In the evenings, he used to wander through the town, daring other children to come out and play long after the sun had set. Of course, as children are children, they often disobeyed their parents and cavorted in the fields with him. They had no notion of the growing threat in the South, or of the explosive war for the kingdom of Azeroth that was soon to shake Lordaeron to its core.
The game went like this: Kelith would take all of the brave children out to his father’s wheat field. There he would stand upon a large stump, right at the field’s edge, and through the sheaves of growing green (for the game was a summer-game) he would instruct the others who had been too young to play last year. His hands on his hips and his face set in an authoritarian scowl he would begin.
"You fella's what have played the game before, don't give anything away. You new ones: listen close. On my count, we'll all run into the wheat. Stop fidgeting and listen, Bridget! We go into the field, and we'll each be elves; well, ceptin' for me," and here he'd smile "I'll be Father Elf-eater! And then, I say 'go!' and everyone runs about. The Sunwell is the stump over here, and you have to reach it before I get ye! If I do, you become one of my slaves, and ye follow me around, catchin' other elfies!"
Then the game would commence, and the fastest of the children would run to the stump, the rest being subjected to a long and fearful run around the field as their nemesis, Father Elf-eater, chased them to and fro. As Kelith got older, the game grew more complex. There were different rules - if you reached the stump, you could put a red flag on your belt and claim yourself a Warrior Elf, and go about rescuing the slaves of Father Elf-eater.
When he turned twelve the Mage came to town. The Mage must have had a name, but Kelith didn't know it, or care. The Mage came looking for a criminal, and he had a piece of paper that held in his hand. He gave the piece of paper to the Mayor upon his arrival, and Fortinbrau made no attempt to stop him. Now, this mage was an imperious sort of figure. He couldn't have been more than forty, as his hair was still black. He sported a close-cropped beard and a pair of eyes like slivers of ice. His robes were the green of hoarfrost, and his fingernails pale blue. It was the spring of that year, but when the Mage was around people felt a shiver touch them, and they breathed out plumes of smoke. He had bushy eyebrows that knotted together to form a permanent scowl that never left his face. There was a huge book chained to his belt, with a lock on its front and glowing runes on its spine. His hair was short and brushed back, away from his temples. He was the Mage because my Master cannot remember his name.
The Mage gathered everyone up into the town square at the Mayor's behest. Then, he climbed up the steps of the town hall and thumped his chest once, as if to prepare himself. In a voice that dripped with arrogance and mystical might, he announced "There is a criminal among you." The folk of Strahnbrad looked about. It was a small town, one where each knew his neighbor. Imagine, perhaps, a man approaching you today and telling you your brother is a murderer - it was the same for them.
"There is a criminal among you," he repeated "And I shall find him. I must tell you, it will go easier on you all if you simply co-operate."
Farmer Staunton, an older man with a bad left eye, stepped forward to address the Mage. His heavily booted feet clomped awkwardly on the cobbles. "There ain't no criminal here, yer dafty young creature! Why, we all knows each other! Yer don't think one of us'd know if t'other were an offender 'gainst the Crown?"
The Mage, it seems, had no patience for this man. He glanced down cursorily at him and replied: "Nevertheless. He is in your midst. Perhaps he has been here for some time; years, it may be. He is a criminal, all the same."
A murmur went through the crowd now. Someone amongst them was a criminal. Someone who had lived there for a long time, or so the Mage said. The Mage, as if to jerk them into sudden action, sucked his teeth and said "I *am* from Alterac City. I have the King's Stamp; and the seal of the Kirin Tor."
At once the town became a babble of excitement. People began trying to deduce who among them was the last to arrive. One by one the conversations hit upon the same subject, then fell silent. The Parson was not at the meeting. Slowly eyes began to pivot towards the church. As if on cue, the church bells began to ring out their weeping peals. Once, twice, and again. Once, twice, and again. "The priest!" someone hissed.
The Mage snapped to attention. "Eh?" he demanded "What's that? Priest?" his voice carried the threat of violence - and more.
The Mayor, a man of aquiline features and a hawklike nose, leapt upon the bait. "Yes!" he crowed. "The cleric! He only just arrived here ten years gone by, while everyone else has been here for a generation or more!" He then nodded vigorously, adding to the grotesque charade of compliance; for the Mayor himself was a criminal, though his face denied it. For all his regal features, he himself had defrauded the Crown of Alterac over and over again in the dark of the night. The numbers he shuffled about in his books might as well have been the lives of innocents.
That was all the Mage needed. He nodded, and it was almost as though icicles broke off from his head and smashed the ground, the crowd’s reaction was so strong. They gasped, and surged back. The Mage paid them no attention. His iron-shod heels struck sparks as he slammed them into the ground. He marched towards the church.
The crowd followed at a pace that was far enough to be safe, but close enough to witness the events that were about to transpire. The Mage did not bother with mundane details like opening the doors, preferring instead to rip them off the hinges with a wave, sending shredded slivers of tinder through the air. The interior of the church was laid bare, and the crowd followed him through the gaping maw of its entrance, onto Holy Ground.
Beyond the rank and file of the pews, at the far end of the house of worship, kneeling before an Altar to the Light that rest upon a dais, was the parson. He was a young man, not yet out of his twenties. He had blond hair, and long flowing white robes. The knees of his clothes were worn through from humility, and telltale strands of horsehide could be seen around his collar that revealed his devotion. Only the most pious or masochistic of clerics wore a horsehide shirt to remind them of the presence of the Light in their tiny lives. The parson, whose name was Tamerin, had eyes that were the green of the sea. His face was never without a kind look; if you were injured he was concerned, if you were happy he too was filled with your joy. So it was with horror that the town watched as the Mage violated the sanctuary and called out:
"Are you Nirem, the murderer?"
It was with even greater horror that the crowd watched Tamerin the parson stand and turn to face his accuser. His cheeks were stained with dirty tears, and his green eyes were turbulent. "I have not answered to that name in a long time," he said in a hushed tone.
The Mage nodded, as if he was given the confirmation he needed. "Then you are he," he said. "Good. I would not have wished to come all this way with nothing to show for it."
"Wait!" cried Tamerin, Nirem, the killer. "You must understand!" he said. "I am not that man anymore! I have not been that man for years!"
The Mage snorted, and a puff of chill smoke erupted from his nostrils. An astute observer might have noticed the ice forming by his feet. "That is all you can say in your defense?" he waited for the cleric to respond. He got no further words, only tears. "What a waste of a human life," the Mage sneered. "Come with me."
The Mage took a step forward, the thin sheet of ice beneath his feet creaking and spreading. Tamerin-Nirem took a step back, his hand vanishing into his robes. "Don't!" he suddenly shouted, his face twisted in hideous agony, a knife appearing in his hand. "Come closer and I'll kill you! By the Light, I will!" The cords of his neck strained and spittle began to form at the corner of his mouth.
The Mage let out a deep sigh, as though this man were only inconveniencing him. With three short sharp arcane phrases, the air around the Mage’s hand coalesced into ice. The razors of freezing magic shot forward and wrapped themselves around Tamerin's wrists. The impetus of the flying element sent him backwards and knocked him off his feet. With another gesture, ice spread up from his boots and froze his legs together.
The Mage casually walked over to him. He grabbed one hand that was manacled in ice and began to pull. Tamerin thrashed, trying to get away. "No!" he shouted, "NO!" he screamed, his eyes bulging, and his face turning a hideous shade of lavender. "NO! NO! NO! I won't go back! I can't! I'm a different person! PLEASE!" he shrieked, his voice reaching a frenzied pitch. As the Mage dragged him out of the church and onto the waiting horse, he continued to plead. His eyes turned towards the crowd, his friends, his companions, his flock. They watched in shock as their minister was taken away, off down the road. When he was out of earshot, he broke down and began to weep.
That night, Kelith dreamed of Dalaran.
In Which I Compile My Notes, and Thieves Come to Scholomance
In the days following my journey to Strahnbrad under the watchful eye of my captor, I began to prepare my notes to set about writing this book. I was alone in the library shuffling through papers, with only the ghosts of my former life to entertain me. Some detached part of my mind began to bid them good day. "Hello, Mister Jarvis. What can I get for you today? Oil for your machines, why certainly." Was this, then, how my captor and Master had lost his mind? Did it begin with idle chatter in the back of the brain to people who weren’t there?
My skin began to crawl. His madness was infectious, it spread like the Plague. Before my eyes the room was transformed - it was no clean calm place of studious learning, but a foul corrupted tomb. It was a catacomb filled with choking vileness; a black creeping disease of insanity clung to the books and the floor. In this carpet of virulence I half-imagined faces, the faces of my friends long since gone. Hello Mister Jarvis! I thought, manically. Then, with a start, I realized I had done more than thought it. It had actually erupted unbidden from my mouth. I was going insane.
I closed my eyes and pressed my hands against my temples. Several long deep breaths brought me back to myself. When I opened my eyes again the library was just a library. There was no illness; I was free of contamination with whatever disease infested Vedan's mind. I sighed and sat back down (for I had unwittingly stood at the height of my hysteria) - my captor was beginning to get to me.
I resolved to stay stronger, to refuse those thrashing fits if they came upon me again, to reject those mad impulses and remain myself. I would be untouched by the frightening apparition of a man that flitted about the castle at odd hours of the night. I would remain stalwart and ignore the hissing rasping voice of Kelith Vedan even as it whispered to me "Arise, awaken, we have work to do today." I would stay beyond his madness. I resolved not to give in. If only I had known then what I know now! To give in indeed!
I aligned my papers again, tapping them firmly against the desk, then I put them to one side. I drew up another blank sheet to begin writing on and I had dipped my quill when a loud banging startled me. Already afraid of Caer Darrow's various spooks and haunts, which Kelith assured me existed on the grounds that he had spoken to them, I nearly leapt into the air. The inkwell did, and it smashed into the stone floor hard enough to shatter it and send a stream of thick black ink between the flagstones.
Wondering what could have made such a loud and awful noise, I rose to my feet and padded over to the locked iron doors that barred the library. I placed one hand against their cold metal and called out "Master? Are you there?" No answer greeted me.
I leapt backward as the doors thumped in their hinges. Already my day had been filled with more horror and shocks than I had experienced at any one time in my life. If nothing else, being a slave of a madman was interesting. The bolts slid back and the doors ground open. Iron filings sprayed in protest as they were forced by great strength. On the other side, panting, stood my Master. His peaked hat was soaked with sweat around the brim. Tiny droplets of water formed before his fierce face and dripped onto his nose. He grinned, rivulets of the stuff flowing like rivers down his face.
"The shipment has arrived, little scribe. You're in for a treat today." A treat, I thought. What ever this insane human thought was a treat I was sure to think of as some kind of torture. I was more right than I knew.
"Come," he said. "You must meet my suppliers." And then he turned and limped away down the corridor. I followed him as fast as my legs could carry me. He did not stop at the main gate, which was thrown open as though he expected guests. When I looked out I saw, in fact, we had several. There was a night elf with skin of midnight blue sitting atop a wagon much like the hearse my Master had driven me to Strahnbrad in. His horses chomped at the bit as he adjust the long mask that covered the majority of his face.
My Master walked up to him nonchalantly and they spoke quietly together for a while. Several times my Master pointed at me throughout the conversation. Once I think I heard the elf laugh in a deep melodic voice. After they had discussed whatever it was they were talking about (prices, as I later discovered) my Master said in a louder tone, "Excellent, sharp-ears. Keep the change and bring me a healthier crop next month."
The elf, rather than taking offense at my Master’s cruel racial slur, simply nodded. He gracefully slid down from the roof of the hearse and slipped onto his horse. A quick bit of rope-work had him untied from the wagon, and with a second nod he rode off. At first I thought my deranged Master intended to pull the wagon into the castle with his bare hands - a feat which I would not put by him, for he is exceptionally strong. However, he called up his demon-steed in a brief ritual, and placed the bridle upon it.
As the cart trundled by me and behind the walls of the keep, I saw that its sides were emblazoned with a pair of white eyes. I would learn that this was a Sigil my most criminal Master uses to communicate to his allies (as I would never assume my Master to have anything as close as a friend).
I followed him until he reached a large set of double doors which I had never seen before. He turned around and, over the top of the hearse, sniggered at me. "You were wondering what is in the basement, hmmm?" he asked. I nodded slowly.
"I was interested, I must admit," I ventured. He nodded, satisfied. Then he hissed, a singularly discomforting sound that made my skin crawl. He motioned to the doors.
"Open them," he said. I nodded and hurried to obey. The ancient oaken doors swung open on well-oiled hinges and I followed the cart as it descended along a ramp of freshly cut stone into the dim musty darkness beneath Caer Darrow.
"Who was he?" I asked at length.
"The elf?" my Master replied. "He is no one. A fool who thinks he can make his living by providing me with subjects. Though he does receive ample pay for his services, and he quite enjoys the wine I provide him. Though," and my darkling and depraved Master hissed again here in the semblance of a laugh, "if he knew from whence that wine came, I think he would be less eager to sample my vintage."
As the light receded and the darkness grew, I noticed it was becoming palpable. A heavy dust hung in the air, and every movement stirred it. I saw my master gesture vaguely from atop the hearse and lancing rays of fire shot from his fingers, igniting a pair of torches that hung on the walls. The guttering light sent shadows careening around the wide corridor, and the ceiling I thought was so close retreated to the very edge of visibility.
"Grab a torch -" my Master began. Then he sort of chuckled in his throat. He must have realized that I could never reach the high sconces in the walls, as he leaned over and took one himself. Then the demon horse continued down the ramp, his torch soon becoming the only source of light. He held it above his head, causing the shadow of his hat’s brim to completely obscure his face. He became a phantom in my Master’s clothing, occasionally whispering dark nothings to himself.
As we approached the terminus of the ramp, my Master reached up to the nearby wall and I saw him dip the torch into a channel of fluid that ran about shoulder height to a man along both walls. I didn't realize what he was doing until, with a *whumf*, a line of fire shot down into the darkness and then came back up along the other wall. There must be hundreds of these channels of oil beneath Caer Darrow, all designed to be refilled from some central reservoir so my Master may have light when he is working.
We reached the place where the ramp met with the native stone of the earth and my Master dismounted. I could now see the room we had stopped in. It was perhaps fifty paces to a side, and a short iron stairwell curled up to a door set high in the wall. There were several long tables, each one covered in alembics and vials and less wholesome instruments. There were rusted iron appliances covered in spines, and a large knife with a sheen of crusted red. There were also several large cages lined up against the rear wall.
Or no, for cages would be merciful. Rather, they were magical torture devices fashioned in the shape of cylindrical cages with bizarre contraptions as head and foot-pieces. Long coiled wires and pulsing lights, dials, tubes, and more radiated out from each of these head and foot-pieces, forming a maze of twisted machinery. It was then that I guessed what was in the wagon.
"By the Light!" I exclaimed. "You can't mean there are -"
My Master suddenly spun from untying the demon-horse. He howled wordlessly at me, his shadowed face a blur of frightening images. His bellowing voice seemed to carry several other sounds buried within it like stones embedded in a riverbank. As he shouted at me, I heard numerous whispers in his throat. They hissed all manner of things at me, none of which I could understand. My vision began to darken with black splotches that spread and ran, as though reality itself was breaking in front of me.
"Never!" he bellowed from the pit of his stomach, "Never use that exclamation again in my presence! Not here, not now!" he ejaculated, his face contorting in what almost seemed as if it was nausea. Then he turned and I think he *did* vomit, overcome with loathing.
Panting, he waved his right hand and muttered black syllables beneath his breath. The demon courser vanished, the reigns and hitch of the cart dropping heavily to the stone. "Now help me get them in the cages."
I did so, opening the rear doors of the hearse to reveal three frightened figures, huddled next to one another. They were all bound hand and foot and their mouths were tied with rags. There was a human woman, her blouse torn and ripped, obviously shamed that she could be seen by her captors and her fellow prisoners. Tears dripped from her eyes, though her mouth was too chafed and filled with gag to voice her protest. There was an old farmer with a bent back and a resigned posture, and there was a young Orc.
I bit my tongue in surprise as the Orc glared furiously at me, his green skin like an offense to my sight. Orcs and feeble old men and women, he had captured. What a monster, I thought.
When my captor peered into the interior of the wagon, he slammed his hand against the door, cursing. "A woman? And a man who must be sixty? Blast that sharp-ear! I told him they must be healthy! Hardy! Rigorous! Bah," he said, and he spit on the ground near my feet.
After that I helped move them into the cages. The things that followed I was too ill to recall. To this day there is simply a blank spot in my memory when I think back on it. Later, my Master said things about "portal experiments" and "soul extraction." I was just glad he had found a better use for me.
Sometimes, in my dreams, I see flashes of purple light and hear lurid screams. Sometimes I remember the twitching pile of limbs that was returned from one of my Master's "successful" portal experiments. I don't sleep very well on those nights.
The morning was wet with rain, and the streets of Alterac City were slick with it. In the distant reaches of the mountains thunder stalked the sky like a primordial giant, booming with its great loud voice and grumbling away into the distance. The Vedan wagon rolled down the wide boulevards. Its wheels bounced against the cobbled streets and found themselves stuck in the ruts a thousand thousand wheeled wagons had made over the years. Kelith sat eagerly next to his father who was driving the rickety old wagon (which had been used for transporting hay and grain until this day) and sat forward watching every one of the tall stone buildings glide past him. He was wearing a long red shift that his mother had made with an entire harvest’s worth of income. For Kelith, it had been worth the price. He felt dignified and strong, powerful and worthy, all at once. That would change once he reached his destination and understood just how threadbare his outfit was, but for now he had never seen fine clothing, and so assumed that what he was wearing was it.
Kelith’s father turned a sharp left, passing through the Grand Bazaar of Alterac City where merchants of all sorts gathered to trade their wares. Whispers of a strange sickening madness that had overtaken the wizard Medivh, dweller of the kingdom of Azeroth and one of the fabled Guardians of Tirisfal, spread throughout the bazaar as the cart rolled onwards. At last they reached the southern gate of the city and passed through it, back into the harsh and unforgiving wilderness that lay on the far side of Alterac City.
Kelith shivered happily in his seat as the rain continued to pound down. Puddles of mud exploded as though artillery was being fired into them. Thick sheets of water emptied from the sky, and Kelith’s father murmured obscenities at the conditions under his breath. Soon, a huge outline of looming towers was visible on the horizon. Kelith gasped when he saw the distant silhouette. "Dalaran..." he said to himself. His father nodded.
"That be were yer goin’, lad. Ye deserve it with all the study ye've put in." And it was true. Kelith had studied for many nights over the old moldering book he had purchased once during a festival in Alterac City. He was unskilled in many of the magical arts, but to say he had deduced its basic principles by reading an old wizard’s notes was something of a miracle. He could create small glowing orbs of light and dance them around the town, or minor illusions. He could summon up small gusts of wind to do his sweeping, and he could enchant dirt to look like silver. His methods were primitive and wrong-headed - hedge-magery it was called at the College - but that he knew them at all without a teacher of some kind was a testament to his mind.
When at last the cart arrived at the gates of the canalled city, Kelith leapt from his seat. The gate was a huge fortified arch, carved of the marble rock that was the earth’s living spine. Beneath that arch three huge portcullises stood raised and open, and a set of huge steel doors carved with depictions of mages in various scenes of battle. At either side of these two massive steel gates stood men resplendent in full armor. Sharp spines and overlapping plates of metal made up their forms, while each held a huge halberd of frightening proportions. As if to drive the point home, either of the two pole arms was glowing with a bright blue light - enchantments from Dalaran.
"Hold," one of the guards said, his voice booming out from beneath his helm. Its hollow tone and suddenness shocked Kelith’s father, and he jerked the reigns. "Are you here for the orientation?"
His father nodded. The guard paused, as if to give this consideration. "Very well. I should warn you that the recent events in Azeroth have given the Kirin Tor pause; none who are not enrolling in the College are to pass beyond this point."
Kelith was thrilled. He leapt from his seat and nearly ran all the way into the city before he realized that his father could not come with him. When he turned around to say something, his father was hiding his head in his woolen cloak and preparing to turn the cart around.
"Goodbye! Fair journey, father!" Kelith shouted. His father nodded, numb with the shock of seeing his son leaving, and wept silently into his arm. His voice emerged, muffled and sad: "Fair journey me lad."
Kelith trembled with anticipation and rushed off into the city.
He passed through the huge stone towers and along the Dalaranian canals. He marveled at the structures that only pure magical prowess could build. It wasn't until he arrived in the grand courtyard before the Kirin Tor's fortress that he realized what a threadbare robe he wore. Before him, in the courtyard, just a few hundred feet below, there was at least two hundred other prospective students. The massive majority of them were the sons of noble parents, and as such they mostly wore velvety mageweave, tailored at the most expensive looms in Stratholme.
Kelith, though filled with shame, was also a proud young man. His face turned red when he saw the people below him, but his chest puffed up. No one would tell him that he wasn't fit for Dalaran - not without starting a fight.
His face burning and his veins filled with adrenaline shame, Kelith entered the gathering. He was so engaged in presenting a tough show that he missed the dirty looks behind his back, the whispers at his lowly stature. The orientation proceeded without incident, but Kelith was the talk of the new class.
As the older Kirin Tor speaker wound down and the new students went off with more advanced students to be shown their dormitories, Kelith fumed to himself. He had caught just one of the side conversations, whispered of course, concerning his robes. He had not been able to relax since, vigilant for all the prospective sources of shame and anger.
He followed the small crowd of students walking towards the dorms. The next few years in Dalaran would shape him, would make him into who he is today - a lunatic.
The College of Magery
Kelith got used to his surroundings quickly. His ratty clothing was replaced by the standard issue fire-resistant students robes. Though most of the other students had the funds to wear more than one outfit, and thus changed out of their flame retardant class-room robes, Kelith did not, and he wore them everywhere.
He shunned company for the first few weeks, concentrating on his studies. He was hailed as a prodigy in the halls of the Kirin Tor, where the professors of the applied studies spoke of his quick wit and his affinity and almost intrinsic understanding of spell casting. The professors seemed to see in him the same sort of brilliant talent that resided in their Archmage, Khadgar. The old wizard gauged him from a distance and watched his training. A glimmer in his eye told him that the boy held potential much akin to his own.
Perhaps he recalled the dark days in Medivh's tower, struggling under his permanently deranged master. Either way, Khadgar watched the young Kelith with interest.
Kelith himself was unaware of the attention he was beginning to garner. He did not have many friends in the College, but those he found were close. Lucius Curview, a second year Fire Mastery student, was his closest companion. Lucius was descended from a long line of noble Stratholme barons, and he often joked with Kelith about the difference between their two families. Rather than finding it offensive, Kelith warmed quickly to the jokes. It was with Lucius that he first began his study in Trollish history.
They explored the deep places of the Library at Dalaran, and they began to uncover a strange and interesting story. It seems, scholars had recorded that in a time before time, the world was split between two races - the vile Spider-people of Nerub and the ancestors of the Trolls. Kelith and Lucius read many ancient texts that had been transcribed from Trollish tablets.
The one thing that they discovered was this: The laws of the Trolls, descended from the creature called Hakkar (and some from other similar dark gods) differed greatly from the laws of men. It seemed that it was during these study sessions that the concept of relativism was planted in the back of Kelith's mind.
The following semester began simply enough. Kelith awoke on the first day of the semester, his head reeling with the excesses of the previous night. He and Lucius had spent a great deal of time and money ensuring that their final night of the summer was used to its full potential. Now, the following morning, Kelith felt that perhaps he had been a bit too quick to drink that bottle of Quel'dorei wine.
He groaned in his bed, rolling back and forth. The room was small, and he had managed to get himself roomed with Lucius for the second semester. His old roommate, Addoll Tellarin, did not get along with him in any capacity. When Kelith wanted to experiment with new illusions, Addoll wanted to study. When Kelith wanted to go outside and roast squirrels, Addoll wanted to sleep. They were not kindred spirits - Kelith read books in hours, and frequently missed paragraphs. Addoll did not read. He poured over books. He analyzed them. He did not read them. Addoll and Kelith had developed quite a heated dislike for one another.
It didn't help that Addoll was a mendicant of the Light in addition to a Kirin Tor in training. He faithfully believed in the power of the Light to protect and to right wrongs. Kelith would often start discussions that he knew would end in pain with Addoll; He would bring up his theories of the Troll kingdoms and the ancient Troll gods. Addoll would balk at his blasphemy. Kelith would often mention terrible tragedies and wonder out loud "Why did the Light permit it?" Addoll would fume and sputter and smoke, like a volcano about to erupt.
No, Addoll and Kelith did not get along at all.
Kelith and Lucius were a much closer fit. They both had hangovers on the first day of the second semester. Kelith turned over in his bed, thrashing the sheets about. Lucius had purchased those sheets with his considerable bank account. His family stored their money with Goblin bankers; a wise choice in the troubled times that had beset Azeroth as the Lordaeronian coin plummeted.
Kelith, trapped in his sheets, thrashed until he rolled onto the floor. Lucius murmured in his sleep. They both interacted in the groaning grotesque way as the first class crawled by. They remained in their room as the second class ended. As the third class began to come around, they managed to pull themselves up from their stupors.
At the end of the day, they managed to leave the room and the sunlight was not so painful as the sun sank bloated beneath the horizon. That night, they talked over another bottle of wine and some bread. Lucius wanted to get a small group of students together - a sort of philosophy club. Kelith nodded happily, and happily agreed.
The small circle was quickly formed, and they argued every afternoon on the finer points of morality. As the year progressed, Kelith began to feel himself dissatisfied with the speed at which the Kirin Tor tutors were teaching them. He chafed to learn more. But, for the time, he remained bound by their strictures, and he took out his unhappiness with the progress of spellcraft in the philosophy sessions.
They began to explore evil and good as fake - illusory. The studies Lucius and Kelith had done on their own concerning the troll kingdoms lent credence to their thoughts. As my Master told me: "There is no such thing as what is right and what is wrong - judgment is not intrinsic. Does the universe cry out when a child dies? Does the planet shriek in pain when a man is murdered? No, it does not. Why? Because good and evil are not ingrained in the structure of being. They are an afterthought - they are applied by sentient beings. Sentient beings are filled with bias, and therefore will always define good and evil subjectively. What does this mean? That good and evil are a fallacy - an illusion. There is no such thing as What should be. Only What is."
It was this small group of students that would steal Khadgar’s notes, copy them, and use them. But more on that later.
A Brief Treatise on the Mind of My Master
To envision my Master’s mind, one must first have a concept of what a healthy mind appears to be. We know that each of us is composed of many fluid elements, which shift and change depending on both our experiences and our own unfathomable internal winds. My Master’s mind is not like that.
Picture a mirror suspended over a chasm. This was the mind of the sane Kelith Vedan. It reflected a more or less accurate portrait of himself.
Now, grasp a rock in your hand. Make certain it is solid and firm. Then, with all your might, throw it at the mirror. The glass will shatter, sending a thousand shards skittering away into the night. Each of these shards will have a distorted view of my Master - some more, some less. That is why he often appears to vacillate between some strange internal tides. He follows nothing more than a strange meandering pattern between the shattered slivers of mirror, visiting some more often than others.
And yet, I asked you to picture the mirror suspended above a void - and the void will now be fairly visible, yawning and gaping behind the exploded frame. The Void bears no resemblance to the man Kelith Vedan. It is an endless expanse of mind-numbing infinity. Within its blasphemous existence there are such curves and shapes that defy the brain. To look behind the shards of Kelith's ruined personality is to gaze into this deeper void which underlies it. This madness that lies to astounding fathoms beneath, and which apparently has no mercy and no end. Regardless of the shard of mirror Kelith believes he is portraying today or tomorrow, this terrible chasm has been exposed within him - as it would within any of us, were our psyches to be subjected to the same rigors and strains.
Ware, then, that Kelith Vedan's madness is an echo of the emptiness within each of us, and touches the Nether in a subconscious way; as does the hollow within the breast of every man, woman, and child.
This hollow man, this walking nightmare that is My Master, woke me from my dreamless sleep that often graces me in the Tower of Caer Darrow. By this time, I had decided that running was foolish and probably lethal - far better, then, to stay with the lunatic and learn from him what I could. I had not thought to the end of my work, to the death which I am certain awaits me when I finish. So, I was content.
That morning (or afternoon, for all time looks the same in the plague-choked lands of Kelith’s Keep), I was awoken by a horrific shrieking. I assumed that my Master had discovered an intruder, and that he was dealing with him in the way that was his own wont. However, the shrieking lasted for many long minutes, and rarely varied in pitch or tone.
Eventually, I rose and dressed myself in the suit my Master had provided. I descended to the library and, hearing the shrieks come echoing through that drafty place from the kitchen, decided to go and investigate. My Master had given me a little dagger, for it either amused him that I might try to escape, or he was afraid that there might be an attempt on his life, and any blade might help. Either way, I had it in my belt and cautiously drew it out to discover what the source of the screaming could be.
As I approached the door to the kitchen, which was no door at all, but an open frame that led into the corridor-like room where, in times past, the servants of Kel'Thuzad had prepared his meals, the shrieking stopped. I stayed to one side, insensate of what was inside, and greatly afraid. The throat-ripping scream had died down, but I now heard something else. It was like the muttering of a thousand guttural voices, burbling for release from a punctured lung. They clattered up into the air, a poison more deadly than any Plague Cauldron.
Then, I heard a voice that was demanding and deep - my Master’s voice. Though it was the strident tones of Kelith, it was also different; as though my Master had changed somehow.
"Stop your whimpering, you insolent child!" it erupted. My fear subsided, but my anxiety doubled. Could my horrific Master be practicing his black sorcery on children? My answer was far more ghastly than I could have imagined, for another voice, also like unto my Master’s, answered. This one was thinner, weaker, more distant.
"I do what must be done, but it hurts me! Please, let me be!" it whined.
"Child, I am growing tired of your tears. You knew this would happen - you did it to yourself. Now silence your idiocy and obey me. Before the Other comes."
At the mention of this mysterious Other, a new round of crying and burbling erupted.
"Please, keep me safe! Don't let Him come!"
There was then a soft chuckling, which somehow caused the crying to cease. "I have no control over His actions. Merely subsume yourself and be quiet. YOU are the one that will bring Him if you continue your disobedience."
Confused and upset, I leapt into the kitchen, my knife drawn. There was no one within but Kelith Vedan, leaning over a water pump, doubled in two. His voice came across the kitchen like a dream, floating through the air.
"Prepare your things, Spindlecog. We are going to Dalaran."
I shivered, and obeyed.
Of the Shield of Dalaran, and My Master’s Spite
After what my most beneficent Master calls his "fits", he warned me to prepare to go to Dalaran. Now, I knew as much as the next layman about the City of Mages. It was destroyed in the Third War by Archimonde, and besieged in the Second by the forces of the Horde. My Master was present for both attacks, though, to hear him tell it, he was defending during one and assisting during the second.
With an air of disdain he ascended to my Tower as I was just slipping on the backpack stuffed with papers that I now toted around on our little expeditions, in order to keep better notes. He nodded at me in what almost seemed a kindly way, then pursed his lips and said "We are not taking the hearse today. Rather, you will ride behind me on a pony I have purchased for your use," he said to me.
I nearly thanked him, before I remembered he is a sociopathic monster that cares nothing for the feelings of his underlings or those he steps upon to raise himself up. Then again, looking back upon it, is that really true? Certainly, there are times when he is cruel and heartless, but there have been signs (however slight) that he is not an uncaring monster. My suit, my mount... it bears further investigation, certainly.
I mounted up outside, and he called forth his awful steed to ride. Following him, he took me back along the dismal shores of Darrowmere and this time he said: "Watch your back. Vandals sank my boat two days ago, so we must go through Sorrow Hill. Perhaps you can pay your regards to that noble fool Uther, who was too blind to see his own apprentice - phaugh," he spat "Suffice to say that his tomb located up on the Hill, and you may visit it if it is your desire."
I had no such desire, and told him so. He shrugged, and drove his horse onwards. Soon, we reached the little river that ran out of Darrowmere and down into Southshore. There was a small dam of rock that provided access across it, and we rode across it into the steep hills on the far side.
Within minutes, we emerged from the hills behind a twisted crypt, and my Master raised a hand in warning, pointing out a hideous pile of bones with leathery flesh stretched across them and a gnashing smile. The damned thing was animate, I swear it! My Master merely hissed at it, and it turned and ran, off to pursue some less dangerous prey, I am sure.
We rode through the graveyard on the hill, and arrived at a crossroads. There, my Master dismounted and walked over to me. I was growing uncomfortable, fearful that his unattended wild steed might go mad and bolt, or worse, hit him from behind. He had no such fears. He looked up at me and, turning his face away, shoved a worn little notebook towards me. It had a battered green cover, and seemed to be one of the kind of hastily bound books that students used.
"The ride will be long," he muttered. "It is for your amusement."
I nodded, and the way to Dalaran was mostly lost to me, for I was buried nose deep in a book of poetry that the madman Kelith Vedan had written. Most of it he had composed while still in the School of Magery under the tutelage of the Kirin Tor. While I may not be a judge of good poems, I must say that even I recognize the poor quality of a melancholy student’s poor poetry. It was, by no means, good. To show you an example, I have copied a passage from the latter end of the book:
- "The oceans are cold with nameless dread,
- The dungeons are fathoms deep.
- I seek to cross the endless years
- but all about me stand my endless fears,
- Shadows on the face of sleep,
- Time itself has darkness bled.
- Seek the watcher of the heights,
- He who wakes through endless nights,
- A sea of ash lies barren here,
- I can show no trace of fear,
- The sun is bloated, pestilent, red.
- Fie! Fie! The age is ended,
- Fly! Fly! It will not be mended,
- Cry! Cry! We were undefended.
- Madness lurks without the gate,
- And I cannot raise my eyes to see,
- My prayers fly up from hollow lip,
- To fall unheard upon the sky;
- I cannot raise my hand to try.
- Death seeks his hand to tip,
- But it is not the time for me,
- The blasphemies shall not wait."
Not the epitome of eloquence, though it echoes with what I know of him - his work is the product of a deranged mind.
By the time I was halfway through the book, the shimmering shield of Dalaran was before us, casting lurid light upon the face of my Master, which was transfigured in a grotesque grin.
In the second year of his study at the Academy of Magics in Dalaran, Kelith Vedan co-founded a group of luminaries and philosophers that he and his close friend Lucius would call The Ascendants.
After the first few days of class passed, and the two bright boys worked the liquor out of their bodies, they began to grow complacent with the pace of life at the School. Kelith, the faster of the two at picking up new things, would quickly breeze through his assignments and then describe the basic nature of the spellcraft to Lucius. Lucius, who was much more thorough, would then experiment slowly and study until the craft was perfected. They had developed this technique some time earlier, during their first year, and it served them well. They quickly deconstructed their lessons and added them to their already substantial repertoire. Uneasiness and laziness was beginning to set in.
It was in this state that Lucius casually suggested they found a club to discuss their newfound philosophical concepts. Kelith, eager to test his new anti-moralist stance, agreed. It was a warm spring night, and they had both eaten their fill in a little Dalaranian Cafe, and the courtyard of the Academy was their home as they lounged about, throwing ideas off of one another.
"Through argument, each man-jack among us will be improved," mused Kelith.
Lucius smiled wickedly and replied, "I sincerely doubt it."
Kelith let out a sharp bark of laughter and, staring up at the stars through the warm night air that had begun to settle over the city (which mirrored the sky in its myriad twinkling towers) he let out a puff of breath. His eyes traced its invisible patterns in the air around him. He mused on the quality of such breath, and that somewhere far away, perhaps later that night, perhaps some night in the future, his father and mother would breathe the same air.
Starting, he turned to Lucius, who had addressed him. "Eh?" he asked, "What did you say?" Lucius drew a long pipe from his vest and clenched it between his teeth. He had taken up the vice as many students did because it was tradition. He quickly lit it and leaned back on his hands, digging his fingers into the cool grass.
"I was merely remarking, oh inestimable college mine, that it would do us good to have some practice in debate. And surely it wouldn't be frowned on by the Professors. We may even get a commendation for our initiative, eh?" And saying "eh?", Lucius gestured with his lit and gently fuming pipe at Kelith.
Kelith chewed the idea around for a moment. Apparently coming to a decision in the affirmative, he nodded. "Yes, I think so. A grand plan, if I do say so, and I do."
Upon returning to their room they discussed it further, and before they slept they made a brief list of the intelligent students in their year that they might invite to their first meeting. They had a woefully short list when they drifted off, but they were both hopeful of drawing out some of the more secluded geniuses into their arguments. Kelith had even begun to cook up theories and dictums to argue. "Power," he remarked as he lay down in his low cherrywood bed, "is its own justification - if one can achieve an end with power, then it is justified."
Lucius crowed his delight at the musing and quickly put in, "Ah, but it must be a rational end, eh? Morality not applicable, but rationality?"
Kelith nodded half to himself. "Oh, yes, of course," he said. Then they went to sleep.
The following day neither of them had class (for their schedules coincided with each other, and they had designed them that way) so they went to the Library to begin preparation for their first meeting.
Briefly, I must say a few words regarding the Library of the College of Magery in Dalaran. Never before has there been such a collection of old books, and never before has such a building been in need of such a dust-mop than this revered and ancient edifice. It was more akin to a large Cathedral, though it was not reared to the Light, but to Knowledge. Truth be told, Knowledge was a great deal more worshipped in Dalaran. There were three floors in the Library. The first, and grandest of the floors, was a huge marble-floored place, though towards the older stacks the panels were still wooden. The building had been built upon decade after decade, the second two floors being added in the massive soaring ceilings as balconies and balustrades. Sections of the Library bore an imprint of this or that architect, and some had been designed by former students of the Academy. Massively thick pillars spoke of some relation to Dwarvish, and indeed the original frame of the building had been crafted in times long past by Dwarf-patrons.
It was in this massive and illuminated hall, so done by a cunning system of windows and mirrors that no torches were needed by light or day, but pools of liquid brilliance would form by the desks and tables that some students suggested hidden enchantments kept the whole place alight, that Kelith and Lucius began their quest to found the Ascendants.
They traipsed in close to noon, Lucius wearing a simple tunic of grey and blue leggings, Kelith dressed in a rather longer shift of red which Lucius had been so generous as to purchase for him. Hair swept back (as was the custom in those days), they approached the Chief Librarian, a withered old man with a sour mouth as though he had been perpetually cursed with the presence of some offending citrus. His eyes glimmered like tiny slivers of aquamarine or emerald within the folds of his flesh. The venerable man was known to be a tad on the crank side, though helpful enough if he was proffered some tea or something to eat. Many students had posited that he would only relent if he was given something to take away the taste of the eternal lemons in his mouth.
Lucius bowed to him and offered up a small flask filled with gin. The Librarian, inclined toward the stuff, smiled in response and grasped it.
"Dear Master Tonbrad," Lucius began, "we have a most pressing need." Tonbrad waved him on as he drew liberally from the flask.
Kelith raised a finger and said, "If I may? My friend Lucius and I are seeking a place to use as a base of operations - nothing sinister I assure you, Master Librarian. We are merely founding a new school of students on campus. One dedicated to literature, the arts, and most of all Philosophy."
The Librarian smacked his lips fiercely and shook his old head up and down, sending his thin white hair floating to some point above his head, and it descended in a slow and luxurious manner. "It seems harmless enough, and ye have my permission to continue. Not as if there are students here studying, hum?" He glanced about. "I recall the days when the Library was packed all year round! Children, bleedin' children all who don't understand a good book, or the value of checkin' up on their Art! Why, it'll be busy again come the Exam, for cert! Bleed me dry and blast my bones, ye children with no appreciation for the work of the Masters! Go on, start yer club or whate'er it is ye keep pestering me about! Seems like a harmless endeavor, it does indeed! Just don't go a-settin a'thing on fire, hear? Hum, hum, my, my," he said, and his words fizzled off into nothing as he muttered to himself.
Lucius and Kelith began to set up at one of the tables, spreading out the prepared reading material (they had each copied out several long pages of treatises on the Troll Empires, and Lucius brought a short essay he had written on the Nerubians, though it was covered with splotches of ink from a red inkwell due to its status as a post-graded paper). Kelith took the sheets of parchment he had brought with him rolled up under his arm out and slapped them down onto the table. With a careful hand he began to copy out the words from the original copy he and Lucius had drawn up earlier in the day in their room. It read:
Are you tired of the meaningless drone of speech that continues to issue from the mouths of those around you?
Do you long to return to the days of true Political and Philosophical discourse, like those of Argulyte the Old?
Are you interested in History, Morality, or any other topic of which you find yourself unable to converse on in your daily life?
Come to the Agora, my friends, my fellows. The Ascendants are meeting, and you are invited to join them! This Friday at nine of the clock, when the sun sets, we shall meet at the open field outside of the city, and there discourse upon our various arguments!
Upon completing each of these flyers, Kelith stood back and examined it for several seconds. Then, with swooping movements of his pen, he corrected mistakes, embellished drawings, and prepared them to be stuck to walls. Then, when the entire stack was complete, and the ink had dried, he took them under his arm and bid Lucius farewell.
For the remainder of that day, he went about posting them across campus with a bucket of glue and a paintbrush. Meanwhile, Lucius sat within the Library, answering questions and addressing concerns. The word was beginning to spread; The Ascendants were rising in notoriety all across the campus
The Ascendants Convene
On the Friday after the two boys had posted their words all along the walls of the school, and on the streets of the city, they issued forth from Dalaran to the field that faced the East. The sun cast long shadows from the many minarets across the grass, and they appeared like the points of many lances, opposed against the returning rise of the morning sun. The lances though would fail as the evening light did, vanishing into nothing. Come sunrise, there would be no obstacles - no sharp shadows to pierce the instrument of light to the quick and bleed from it the fiery element that composed its matter.
Beneath these short-lived spears sat Kelith and Lucius, eagerly awaiting the arrival of fellows in discourse. They sat for many long minutes, fearing that none would come. Then, as the bells of the city began to chime in unison, and the sun sank even further behind the skyline, several figures emerged from the gates. In that moment, Dalaran was a peaceful place, safe from the ravages of the war in the south that even then were claiming many lives in the lands of Khaz Modan and Azeroth.
Insensate to the approaching violence that would eventually lay siege not once but twice to their city of magic and dreams, Kelith and Lucius gauged the figures that emerged from the gate of the mystical capitol. They watched silhouettes grow into people as they approached. More came than they expected, but less than they had hoped. Five others, each wearing the robes of the School, had come. One of them was in his last year, as told by the red robes and black cord he wore as a belt. When he graduated, he would earn the right to wear any color in all of Dalaran.
Another, a thin elf-girl from Quel'thalas, had come with the boys. It was rare for women to attend the College, let alone elf women. The elf sorcerers usually kept to themselves, and it was said that in Quel'thalas they still practiced the archaic mode of apprenticeship. However, here she came with the five boys, and there was no turning away any who wished to participate in the Agora.
They introduced themselves, though their names of are little import. The oldest student was called Garrem, and the elf-girl Thisilia. The others were just students looking for a good time, and they would soon lose interest in the Ascendancy and leave them behind for other more mundane goals. However, on this night, they were all present.
Kelith and Lucius first introduced themselves, and they staged a brief mock debate. Quickly taken by the structure of the Agora, Garrem rose to his feet, brushed off his robes, and began his own debate with another of the boys. Garrem was tall and thin, lanky, but dexterous. It seemed as though his hands were always in motion, drawing pictures in the air to accentuate his conversation, drumming on his legs, tapping on his impressive array of wands that he kept at his waist, many things occupied them. In fact, everything that a hand may do in good company and not be at rest, his hands undertook to do.
The other boy was solid and stocky - perhaps a farmer's son, or maybe just of Hillsbrad blood. Garrem began his debate with the words "Bloodletting is a good thing," when the other boy rose to his feet, his face flushing.
"What?!" He demanded. Kelith raised a hand from his position seated on a small stone in the grass.
"Hush, you'll get your turn. You have just volunteered to speak. Let your elder speak first, then rebut in turn."
The boy was taken aback by Kelith’s forwardness and commanding nature. However, in those days, it seemed that Kelith exerted some aura of command that he now has lost or tainted to such a point where only the black of heart or sensitive of soul can feel it any longer. In Dalaran it had not yet turned foul, and so he often made himself heard, and was often obeyed. The boy bowed his head as Garrem smiled and continued.
"War is a necessity. Though Philip here may have an aunt or two in Azeroth, the actions of Medivh were vital to our nation and our people - to all peoples. Without it, we would have no outside foe. I have studied diligently in my histories, and I know this for a fact - without a foe from without, one will often present itself within. Serfs grow disconsolate with their lot, peasants revolt. War is a necessity, you see, for cohesion of country. Dalaran would not be were it not for common bonds, but what if those bonds were gnawed upon over the course of decades? Would they not fall to pieces, as a rope rots?
"Imagine this rope as the only thread by which the anchor of the State is held - if it begins to rot, the state is in danger of flying adrift from its roots. When this occurs, we enter a period of danger. With the ship of the state floundering on open waters, it is often dashed against the very rocks which anchored it. However, with an outside force, like a weaver repairing the rope, we retain our ties to the common man.
"War is this outside force, which works upon our rope. Without the cohesion of war, we would make it on our own, but against one another. The states of Lordaeron would war, Alterac with its neighbors, Azeroth with Khaz Modan. Luckily for us, a visionary or a madman, whatever Medivh may be, has unleashed an exterior force for us to combat. As long as this threat of the Orc remains strong, so too will our nations. When it fades, we will enter our age of decadence... and we will fall."
Garrem grinned, and ceded the ground to the boy. The other student groaned in protest and spat "You are all idiots! War is necessary? By the Light, I have never heard such moronic prattle in all my life! May the Nether take you for fools!" he exclaimed. Then, with his words said, he turned his back on the Ascendants, and walked towards the city.
So too would be attitude of many that heard of their conversations, their discussions, and later, their deeds. The Ascendants were an unwholesome swallow for most. Those that set their stock by the morality which governed their lives found Lucius and Kelith’s little club a bit too much for them to bear.
As time marched on, their ranks grew.
A Concert and a Trumpet
The next three weeks were hasty ones for Kelith and Lucius. The popularity of the Ascendants soon spiraled out of all control or reckoning. Very quickly their nightly meetings were filled with the clamor of students that wished to participate, and they began to post more and more stringent requirements to join the group. The professors gave them access to a large lecture hall to use as their headquarters anytime after sundown.
Their debates became well-known across campus. While Kelith and Lucius still tread lightly, testing their Trollish theories here and there, Garrem continually expelled his bombastic war-mongering. There were several harsh reactions like the first, but for the most part he was met with lukewarm admiration for his arguing style and what perhaps amounts to a twinge of hate for his morals. However, Garrem stopped preaching war when the first Azerothian refugees reached the coast.
The boys stopped going out at nights, and instead they debated strategy with the Ascendants. Danger was creeping up on them from behind, and while they had been complacent, Khaz Modan had fallen. Word had it that Strahnbrad was taken, and Southshore. Southshore was just a day’s sojourn from Dalaran, and the murderous Zul'jin and his band of killers was rumored to have joined with the advancing Orcish armies.
Azerothian merchants told tales of ogres that stood two men tall and smashed houses with clubs, of the Orc's catapults filled with burning pitch, and of the nightmare-glow that the Dark Portal cast over all the land about it. Word of Medivh's death reached Dalaran, and many were visibly shaken, not least of all his former pupil and the Archmage, Khadgar. Times were black in Lordaeron.
Politically, the kingdoms were beginning to gel together, and Lordaeron was falling into alliance with its neighbors and the fleeing Azerothians. All things were coming to a head. Even the reclusive elves of Quel'thalas threw in their hand. The unseated dwarves and gnomes too agreed to lend whatever aid they could.
The truth of the matter didn't hit home until the Ascendants decided to go out to take in a concert one night. They were in attendance at one of Dalaran's famed music halls, listening to a most rousing opera that had been written only several months earlier. However, throughout the performance, a trumpet began to sound that seemed out of place. Garrem alone in the audience understood what it meant, and even for him it took several seconds. By that time bells began to ring.
He stood, wild eyed, his hands drawing out one of his many wands. His hair had flown out from the clasp that tied it behind his head, and his free hand snapped irritably as he shouted above the music: "The city is under attack!"
In Which My Master Describes What the First Siege of Dalaran Was Like, and also Goes Out into the Wilderness
I had been busy compiling my notes on what my Master had told me about his early days in Dalaran when he came into the Library.
"Lazarus, old boy," he said, obviously in a peak and not a trough today, "I've decided that, since I've so little work to do, I will tell you what it was like to be in the city at the time of the Siege."
I bit my lip and stopped scratching with my pen. If my cruel Master wanted to talk, I was not going to stop him. Again, the memory of the first and last time I had ever questioned him caused my temple to throb with phantom pain. "Please, master, go on," I said.
He smiled and took off his tall peaked hat. Beneath it, I noticed, he had taken to wearing a large circlet. He did not remove that, but he did absently circle the gem inset into the forehead with his finger.
"It was a marvelous sight...
We rushed to the battlements to better see what was happening. The trumpets and bells were going all over the city, and everyone was running. Shivers of fear had begun to enter the College as the Professors were seen arming themselves for war. There has never been a more impressive sight - amongst mortals - than Archmage Khadgar lighting up the tip of his battlestaff and preparing his fire spells.
The Ascendants and I had just made the walls when a cry began to go up in the city. 'Lordamere Lake! They are coming across the lake!' the voice cried. We turned to look as one to the north, where the lake lay.
Sure enough, the Orc boats composed of giant turtle shells and other animal parts had begun to sail towards the shore. In the distance, we saw that they had somehow either constructed huge juggernaughts in the waters of the lake, or (far more likely) they had dismantled them at the shore and carried them inland to build them again.
Either way, bristling with cannon they approached. Black smoke and cinders erupted from their decks as whatever furnaces drove them propelled them onwards. Garrem had a spyglass ready, and we all took turns peering through it.
It was the first time I had seen either Orc or Ogre, and I was repulsed by the horribleness of both. As we gauged their forces, we suddenly knew that the city could never stand. Garrem muttered ‘Magical devastation is the key... I must get my spellbook!’ and off he dashed.
It seemed strange that the sun should be shining so brightly on the day that appeared to be destined to write the epitaph for both myself and..."
Here he choked, and turned his head away. He soon regained composure, but he did not complete his sentence. It was not until later that I would understand why.
"We were watching the Orcs advance, when the sound of armor and horns came down from the mountain roads. Turning again, we saw the armies of Alterac, resplendent in their orange livery, descending from the hills to defend us. At their forefront were several mounted warriors. I learned later that they were Lord Lothar and Lord Turalyon. The so-called heroes of the Alliance were together in one great conflict.
"The Orcs poured forth onto the field. They were still too far from the city for our mages to respond, and then the armies of Alterac engaged. Fools!" he spat. "If they had waited, drawn them into the shadow of the city, many lives would have been saved that day!" Here he pounded his fist on the desk I had been working at, and the implements leapt up into the air for a brief second.
"Well, anyhow - the Orcs were stronger and more numerous. The infamous Horde bloodlust drove them to a near slaughter of the Alterac armies, which broke and fled to the gates. Of course the mages let them in and fastened the gates behind. It wasn't long before the Horde stood before the city, raising wet shields to block gouts of mage-fire. They were well armored, and the ice storms that swept across their lines killed only a few.
"Then, they drew up their catapults and their battering ram. Soon, flaming pitch was cast into the city, and the smaller thatch-roofed buildings were ablaze. The hammering of their ram was like being hit in the head over and over. When the gates finally splintered, we all gasped, and we fled from the battlements down to the streets.
"We had arrived just in time to see Garrem, toting a keg of Dwarven blasting powder he must have purchased just for the occasion. He had crept into the gatehouse, and we watched in awe as he lit the keg and dropped it into the first of the Orcs. Fire and wood filled the shattered gate, and at least twenty were felled by his bravery. Then, he drew two wands from his belt, and he began to chant.
"I recognized it almost immediately, and I rushed to stop him. Lu - the others - stopped me. We had all recognized what he was about to do. There are rules, you know, for summoning elementals. Rules that Garrem was about to disobey. He brought the tips of the two wands together, and he exploded into fire.
"His body charred beyond recognition, he sacrificed himself to call an Elemental Prince into the world, raging and destructive. It must have ruined at least half of Dalaran, but it gave the mages the time they needed to prepare a counterattack.
"After Garrem's sacrifice, the Ascendants hid in the lecture hall the college had lent us. When the battle was over, I emerged to mourn my dead friend. But the day was won."
Kelith winked at me and stood. "And now, Spindlecog, I have work to attend to. I am leaving Caer Darrow for a time. Do not be lonely."
I started to protest his absence, but he just smiled and shook his head. "I must go," he said. And then, he turned and strode out of the Library.
My Master Returns from the Wilderness, Veras Arrives, I am Shown the Heights
Four days after leaving the castle, my Master returned. He was broken, and babbling. His hands bore lacerations, as though a knife had been run along his skin and the wounds allowed to pus and bleed. The front of his chin was covered in sticky black bile which had become stuck in the sprig of hair that graced his chin. I rushed down at once to allow him entrance into the Keep. He seemed insensible and nearly unconscious. When I grabbed his hand to lead him to his bed, his flesh felt alternately as though waves of heat or frigid ice were passing through his veins. The VOICES he had spoken of were audible if I stood close, and it caused me no little distress.
On several occasions when the voices grew louder or more demanding he seemed nearly hot enough to burst into flames, and his clothing began to smolder. I splashed a bucket of cool water from the kitchen’s pump on him, and he seemed to become more manageable. Then he lay down and drifted off into an uneasy sleep.
Alone again, I began to feel a sense of dread creeping up on me. It was as though around every corner, or just at the edges of my vision, dark clouds were gathering - clouds that hid vast shapes of horrifying appearance. I can almost swear that the light in my Master’s hall obtained a ghastly white hue, as though the very luminance itself had become poisoned. Never before had I felt this sense of lurking evil in the castle, and I could not place it.
Two weeks passed as my weakened Master began to recover. I did not realize then, but looking back it would have been a perfect time to escape his clutches once and for all - a rock to his skull would have ended him easily in that state. But, knowing so much of him, it did not occur to me. I saw him as Kelith the Student, not the arrogant evil creature that was so apparent before me daily. Besides, I was still anxious to discover what had happened in Dalaran - where was this Lucius now, and from whence had Veras come?
As I dwelled upon these things, Veras himself was drawing closer and closer to Caer Darrow. Perhaps he had learned of my Master’s injuries through his soothsaying. Perhaps it was merely a routine visit that Veras paid to my Master from time to time. I had no way of knowing. I do know that I nearly died of a heart attack when there was a great knocking on the doors of Caer Darrow, and a voice that called "Kelith, open your gates! I am here to see you!"
When I hurriedly pulled open the door for Veras, he sucked on his teeth; he must have been surprised, but he didn't let on. He just kept sucking on his teeth and running his tongue across them. Eventually, he said, "Where is he?" I felt no allegiance to Veras - none at all. He had threatened to kill me once before, when I first met my Master, and it was only through my Master’s goodwill that I had been saved.
"He's ill!" I announced. "He won't be able to see you. He's in his bed." I sneered at him, and he seemed amused. Just then, however, my Master proved me wrong. He had raised himself up and stumbled to the doorway, wrapped in a sheet like a Troll king of long ago. His head was reeling and his voice sounded as though the inside of his throat had been through a conflagration.
"Veras, my friend," he said. "Please, come in, Veras. I need you... I need your help," he muttered. Veras moved quickly, but still seemed unconcerned. As My Master teetered and nearly collapsed, Veras ducked under his arm to support him. Together, they walked towards the Library, my Master muttering things the entire way.
I tried to amuse myself while they spoke at great length in the Library, but I could not. Eventually I made my way to one of the balconies overlooking the room and stood just within its door. I heard the voices that had heralded my capture however long before echoing within.
"Please, please," my Master pleaded.
"Everything will be fine. I have control."
"No, HE is coming. HE was here."
"I know. He isn't coming now - He isn't needed yet. They won't summon Him until it is necessary."
I heard my Master gulping in air, and gasping as he spoke. "It doesn't matter what they want, Veras - He commands it. He is their CHOSEN. There is no fighting," he sounded like a fish gulping air.
Veras sighed, or so it seemed. "No, Kelith. You are in command. We must return soon, or the Council will wonder what happened to you."
I took a chance to peer over the balcony to see what they where doing, and I saw Veras with his back to me, his arm on my Master’s shoulder. Veras was standing, and my Master was sitting at my desk, his head down upon it. Would that I had been more prudent, for at that same moment, Veras' head swiveled to look behind him, and his eyes alighted on *me*.
I hurried away, and back to my room. It was several hours more before Veras arrived. When he opened my door he was smiling - a real smile. "Sit," he said. "And let me tell your fortune."
When Rak'mos the Hammerer made the earth, the troll legends say, he was given a great blueprint by the Old Gods to follow. He faithfully forged each and every thing to the exact specifications of the Gods. Each terrible and terrifying device, each plague, each sickness, each beast of prey he made. Then, he reached the end of the list and the end of the blueprint. And the last thing he saw horrified him. The Old Gods, in their merciless minds, had conceived of one last horror for Rak'mos to place on the earth. But he refused. Instead, he took his mighty hammer and shattered it against his skull, that the skill never again exist to make the final thing on the list of the Old Gods. What they had required was this: Foresight.
Blasted be Veras and the knowledge he gave me! You will excuse me if this is the smallest chapter in the book, but the revelations I have known from him are mine and mine alone.
The days passed. The Ascendants continued to hold their meetings, but they were saddened. After Garrem's death, the heart had gone out of them. It had vanished, sunk, disappeared. Kelith and Lucius still drank at night, but it was no longer the strolling taking-in of culture that it had once been. It was from a place that was hollow inside.
Garrem, who was such a fervent advocate of the war as a necessity for political cohesion was the only one in their circle that had died during the attack. What justice was there in that?
Death had claimed Garrem, much as it claimed the exuberance in the interactions of the boys. Everything was winding down, it seemed. Natural Laws were collapsing. Time was unraveling. Even the very structure of the multiverse was slowing to a halt and vanishing.
It was in that terrifying time that Archmage Khadgar left the school. The vanished professor, Kel’Thuzad, returned from retirement to claim his post. Khadgar had vowed to travel with General Turalyon into the broken realms of Draenor. He would never return. The word slowly spread that though he had left, his books had been donated to the School. All of the notes that he had taken from the insane Guardian Medivh remained in the libraries.
Woe that they did! Kelith, disillusioned with the speed of his learning, and already beset by the creeping malaise that affected the Ascendants, decided that he needed to learn faster. He needed the power to affect his surroundings. No more friends would die because he was powerless.
It was with that in mind that Lucius and Kelith decided to take a sneak peak at the Archmage's book. The night they did it, Kelith bolstered their spirits with a brief lecture on the nature of taking, which he would later repeat slightly altered, when he attained professorship.
For now, it served to give the students what they needed. The halls of the Kirin Tor were quiet that night. Most students were studying or asleep. All the sixth-years were studying for the Exam. Kelith and Lucius crept silently along the passageways, moonlight filtering through the windows. The broken arches of the window frames and doorways passed quietly by them. Their booted feet touched the marble floors lightly. The shadows of the night made grim specters of themselves as they reached the library.
"Hsst!" called Kelith. "Hsst! This way."
Lucius followed him as he ducked down into the forbidden stairwell - the one that led to the subterranean archives. Together they crept below. When they had gone down into total darkness, Kelith took a torch from the bracket in the wall (stumbling for it in the dark) and lit it from his own flint. It flared to life, not illuminating, but rather casting shadows. The glow of the torch provided nearly no light, but it was still enough to send grotesqueries looming up along the walls.
Through the gloom they traveled, and they reached the Archmage’s' book unopposed by any force. They snuck up on it, as though the book itself was alive, and it indeed it might almost have been.
It was a large grimoire of amazing size. It veritably breathed with age and magic. Its cover was chained to the pedestal on which it rested. Huge loops for the chains were fastened to the leather of the tome. It was weathered and seemed as though it had one time been dyed bright red, but over time the dye had faded to a rusty stain. Various whorls and swirls adorned it.
Lucius eyed the lock about the chains uncertainly. Kelith smiled. "I've done some studying," he said. He lifted a finger and said three strong words in the Lingua Arcana. A ray of fire shot from his fingertip. When Lucius realized what he was doing, his eyes widened.
"No, wait!" he shouted, but it was too late. The book was, of course, protected by a net of many spells. They were woven with exacting precision by the Archmage himself. Lucius managed to pull Kelith down just as his own spell rebounded, a thousand times amplified, and a curtain of low-pressure flame whumpfed out over their heads.
"By the Light, man!" Lucius breathed. "Are you trying to get us killed? I thought you were going to do something clever!" Lucius withdrew a small piece of ivory. "Watch and learn, man," he muttered.
The piece of ivory was like unto a key, though it had no teeth. Lucius held it by its blank head and inserted the bare rod into the lock. He murmured something at it, and it sprang into action. Within moments, the key had sprouted several teeth and was turning easily in the lock. "I learned *that* from an unpleasant little man in the back of a shop. Cost me seven crowns."
Kelith grinned. Lucius grinned. The book lay like an unknown continent before them. They each took out a little notebook, and they opened. Passages were hastily scribbled out as the notes of Medivh, as dictated to Khadgar, were stolen from their place.
To the House of Master Torbin
Running at full speed down the hallways of Dalaran and hooting and hollering they went, Kelith and Lucius announced their triumph. They did not say exactly *what* they had done, they merely said that it *had* been done. And this they said very loudly. The sleeping city was stirred into wakefulness by their exuberance. Dogs ran barking through the streets, and it was almost as though the early days of their schooling had come back - almost as if they had gone back to a time when the world was not collapsing in on itself, when malaise and delirium did not encroach on every action.
They locked themselves in their room when they arrived, still laughing. "Did you hear them?" Kelith asked. Lucius, head bobbing, fished in his drawer for a chunk of blackbread, responding "Oh, I heard, my friend. I heard. We are kings this night!" And with that he withdrew the bread and split it in half, handing it to Kelith.
Kelith took it absently and then, ruminating over a bite, said, "The Archmage certainly had a lot of summoning rituals written in his notes."
Lucius grinned through a mouthful of bread, breaking open a small bottle of Dalaranian wine. "Oh, he did, and we know why, hm? The Archmage studied under Medivh! The equations and formulae for the Dark Portal!" Lucius exclaimed, shaking his notebook. "DO you REALIZE what we have here? Classes! Damn classes to the HELLS, Kelith, we don't need them! We don't need professors, we don't need anything. All we need is time," Lucius said, his face filled with bliss.
Kelith nodded as Lucius passed the bottle to him. "Better than that, Lucius, better! There were ways in those notes... I've *got* to try them. Not here though, the staff will know we've got our hands on something big if we do them here."
Lucius tapped the side of his nose and said, "My friend, we have all the world at our fingertips. Tomorrow, we must bring this up before the Ascendants. Those who have the courage to come with us... well, they will, and that's that."
Kelith sucked his teeth. "And of those that don't?"
"Then they leave on good terms - we're so much more than just a philosophy club now, man! We have the power to realize our goals, to get things done! We aren't just little college kids scheming to make things change, Kelith! Well, we're still little college kids, but we can actually change things! It will be.... It's... Amazing!" Lucius could barely contain his joy at the concept of having Khadgar's notes. Kelith seemed happy, though not as unequivocally. He had read into the notes far more than Lucius had, and his conscience still gave him a twinge. What they were doing was not simple magic, what they would be attempting would be more. It was closer to the witchcraft that strange terrible men practiced in the hills, handing down generation to generation. It seemed closer to the barely-magic of the degenerate hill-folk.
Of course, this magic was *different* in important ways, but... The magic of the hill-folk was primitive and without the grand analysis of the magic of Medivh. He had read several books that were veritable ethnographies of those degenerate tribes. Chulthis Mathusa of the Dwarven Explorers Society had spent his time studying the backwards places where the eyes of men had turned from the sky and down into the mud, where the spirits of men had turned from the endless expanses and down into the filthy places of the earth. Chulthis Mathus eventually went insane. He was found with his notes for his work scattered about his room, his wrists slit, and his own blood smeared over the walls, scrawling out compact Dwarven runes. "The more you know..." they said, and trailed off where his body lay.
Lucius obviously did not think of these stories. Perhaps the outer appearance of legitimacy - equations and notes, and diagrams. But Kelith had seen those self-same things before in sketches of witches' bedrooms.
They slept that night. Lucius' sleep was untroubled. Kelith's, however, was not. His dreams were troubled with grotesqueries. Thin men in white robes eternally proclaimed their innocence as they drowned in pools of dark black slime. "I'm a different person!" they shouted all night. "Please! PLEASE!" And just before they sank into the murk, they turned their heads to the onlookers, and they begged. Kelith tried to move, in his dream, but he was rooted to the spot. Then, as it seemed the man’s head would be consumed by the murk, hands emerged, large hands, with many rings. An aura of coldness and icy certainty surrounded them. They clasped the man’s neck and yanked him down.
The next morning, Kelith awoke with a distinct lack of good sleep. Black rings surrounded his eyes, and he was pale from tossing and turning all night. Lucius was fresh, and he determined that they would skip all of their classes that day perusing the new notes. They did so, and that night they brought up the matter with their Ascendants. The group quickly dwindled. Over half of them wanted nothing to do with these new experiments. Lucius just laughed and said "Thinning the herd, only the strong survive!"
The next order of business was where the first experiments should be performed. Lucius had the answer ready. "Why, in the house of my father!"