The book lay on the desk in the early morning sun, seemingly benign and unassuming with its plain leather binding and yellowed pages. A single note had accompanied it; “Page fighty-eight”, written in Thalassian. Aemorniel Dawnstar quietly smoothed out the crinkled brown paper it had been wrapped in, her polished nails shining in the sunlight. Unmarked books were a mystery only until they were opened; therefore the thrill of the mystery dictated that the book be left closed as long as possible. If she judged the book by its cover alone, then so far it promised to be about as thick and unexciting as the volumes of sacred lore her father owned. But the note in Thalassian implied that the Archmage Zahren had sent it – and that made it interesting. There were not as many elves in Dalaran now as there had once been. They had joined the Kirin Tor centuries ago when the humans had demonstrated their unique inability to control the magics they toyed with; but in recent decades the Council of Silvermoon had chosen to supervise from afar. Zahren was one of the exceptions. He had to be at least three hundred years old, if the rumors within the city were to be believed, and at six foot five with long, black hair that seemed immune to grey, he was an imposing figure within the Magocracy. The only reason Aemorniel knew him at all was because he taught several of the beginning classes himself to ensure fundamentals were being correctly imparted. In the years she’d lived at Dalaran, she had done her best to attend as many of his classes as possible. There was no point being in the City of Magi, if she didn’t take every opportunity to learn from the best.
Had years really passed already? She sat back in the tall wooden chair, folding her hands serenely in her lap, practicing a still and poised self-restraint. It still seemed as though just yesterday her father had called her to his study and asked her privately if she would be interested in going. His question came as a surprise; she had just turned eighty, the same age her mother had been when she married Emerion, and she had assumed the conversation would involve her own three-year betrothal to Ratheldur Sunwing. She answered yes, with little thought as to what motives her father had for sending her there; it was not her place to worry about such things. Her marriage would be planned and arranged by the men of the two Houses, and Dalaran was not a poor place to wait while they negotiated terms – a process she knew might take some time. House Dawnstar and House Sunwing were famous for their inability to see eye to eye; Emerion Dawnstar and Calendil Sunwing were the first of their Houses to even attempt it. Their negotiations might even take so long, she mused, that she could join the Council of Silvermoon herself before it was done.
Enough; her daydreams were wandering too far, and she couldn’t resist the lure of the mysterious book any longer. She reached for it, relishing briefly the soft lamb-skin binding beneath her fingertips, and then, as she opened it, the delicacy of the ancient tissue-thin pages. Her excitement waned then, and gave way to confusion. The title page was not written in a language she understood; nor was the next page, or the third, or the fourth, although as each page passed she came to notice that the alphabet was not so unlike Darnassian that the words could not be read at all; there was just no way to know their meaning.
Her eyes fell again on the note that had accompanied the book; “Page fifty-eight”. The page numbers too were unfamiliar, so she counted each one by hand, taking care to be gentle with the fragile leafs. She had learned to be respectful of books; her father’s library housed journals that were generations old, and she had helped her brother memorize large parts of many of them for his studies in the Paladin Order. That was the second reason she hadn’t asked many questions when her father had broached the topic of studying at Dalaran; she had long envied Malthorion his in-depth schooling. Although her mind was easily as capable as her brother’s, her inability to channel the Light meant that Sunfury Temple would not accept her as a student, the way they had accepted all the women of her House prior. Her tuition therefore had been private, and she had never expected to be permitted to leave Quel’Thalas in order to further it.
Finally – page fifty-eight. Hand-written, also in Thalassian. The title read, “A Preliminary Invocation” and went on to describe a ritual unfamiliar to her. Not that that was unusual – a magister’s career lasted decades, and she knew she still had much to learn. She turned the page. There was no summary of what she could expect from the ritual – no explanation, no notes of previous attempts – just the instructions themselves, followed by an incantation written in the same strange tongue as the rest of the tome.
Aemorniel sat back in her seat again, and placed a finger to her lips as she thought. She had challenged the Archmage inadvertently when he dismissed her question in class; it had irritated her, and being raised with a twin brother meant her temper was not yet as mild as she knew her mother wished it was. He had told her that the question she asked lay outside the scope of his class, and even waiting until the other students had left had not provided her with enough time to cool down. “Beyond the scope of your class?” she had inquired. “Is there someone else within the City that might be able to answer the question?”
The Archmage had barely looked up from the papers he was gathering. He was used to apprentices in their first year measuring themselves by their peers and deciding they were gifted where they were more often lucky; the palms of his hands were dry from decades spent shuffling their successes and failures both. “Perhaps your time would be better spent preparing for the studies you do have,” he said.
Aemorniel knew better than to point out the fact that she had yet to study for any of the exams she had passed; Zahren had a reputation for being vindictive, and she didn’t think it was beyond him to devise an impossible examination just for her if she implied that his class was not challenging enough. “Do you have any books on the subject that I might read in my spare time, then?” she asked instead.
Zahren paused at her request, finally turning his attention to her with a sidelong glance from beneath his long, dark eyebrows. Beneath the weight of his stern blue eyes she stood a little straighter and tried to look as innocent as possible, in case her question accidentally offended. He seemed to look at her just long enough to make her uncomfortable, weighing a decision in his mind. Then his lips flexed in the smallest smile, and he said, “I’m sure I can find something to send your way.”
In hindsight, perhaps she had been foolish if she had expected him to respond with anything other than a reminder of the fact that he knew more about magecraft than she could ever imagine. The book communicated that to her clearly, and roused her annoyance again. Of course he knew more than she did; she didn’t need books in foreign tongues to prove that to her. But then, he had directed her to a certain page. Did the ritual hold the answer to the question he’d dismissed? What did he expect her to do with page fifty-eight?
Aemorniel’s finger tapped absently where it still rested in the cleft of her upper lip. She could admit that she was in over her head, of course; return the book contritely and apologize, and ask him to explain what it meant. She could also embark on a private quest to decode and decipher the text herself and complete the ritual only when she knew it was safe.
“Safe”; the word seemed almost superfluous. Even Archmage Zahren, with his ruthless reputation, was not likely to send her a ritual that would place her in harm’s way; nobody wanted the Thalassian paladins on their doorstep. And Zahren had to know who she was in order to send her the book; therefore, he knew her family name. She glanced down at the golden seal ring of House Dawnstar that she wore on her smallest finger. How much trust did she place in that name?
A lot, she decided, reaching once more for the book and page fifty-eight’s instructions. They described a standard invocation, with geometric circles drawn in salt upon the floor. Mage circles were familiar territory; there were many laid into the stone floors of Dalaran, both within the large circular lecture halls and outside in the gardens. Even Dalaran’s architecture was built around the circles of the magi in a manner similar to the towers and spires of Quel’thalas. She had never thought about the time that went into designing and building such complex geometrical shapes before; she realized quickly however that perfect circles were far easier drawn on parchment than in salt, when the recreation of the design surpassed an hour.
The next instruction gave her pause for thought. It called for a single, fresh drop of the caster’s blood placed in the center of the interlocking rings. Why would the ritual require blood? There were few spells that required a reagent of such power – in fact, she could only think of one performed by battlemages, which permitted the blood of the fallen to sink into the earth and manifest itself again in veins of red hot energy that burned the feet of those that stepped upon them. Were fire and blood intrinsically related? Zahren had been teaching her pyromancy class when the question had arisen, explaining the way in which fire was born.
Where did the spark come from? That had been her question. If fire was only a reaction to fuel, air, and a “spark”, then the spark had to be as fundamentally elemental as the other two things – but it was not. It too was a reaction. And so were her thoughts, born of chemical reactions in her mind; and so was her body, born of a cellular reaction eighty years ago. But she was more than the sum of her parts, and the spark of life was more than just light and heat. Where did the spark come from?
Yes – it made sense that the ritual would require blood. Her hand reached for the tapestry needle on the loom beside her desk. She had never pricked her finger intentionally before, but years of enduring her mother’s desire that she learn to sew had taught her that if there was one sure way to draw blood, it was with a sewing needle. The tip sank into the skin easily, causing her to wince. And one single drop of deep red blood fell, darkening the stone tiles.
Not knowing how “fresh” the blood should be, Aemorniel wasted no more time before picking up the book and beginning to sound out the strange words of the incantation. Barely had the first syllables left her lips, than a faint golden glow began to emanate from the salt-drawn symbols. By the time she had finished the first line the crystals were beginning to lift from the stone floor, one grain at a time, creating a three-dimensional version of the geometrical shape she had drawn. It was exhilarating to behold, and her heart stirred faster at the sight, her voice rising as her confidence with the strange words grew. Then with the final word of the incantation came a blast of yellow light, so blindingly bright that she looked away instinctively, lifting her hand to shield her eyes.
When the light subsided and she looked back, a golden orb was hanging before her at the center of the salt-drawn circles, humming and pulsating with potential energy.
“Veni“. The word came to her unbidden, welling up within her mind the same way the blood had welled up in the needle’s wound, as though it wanted to burst free and be said.
In the next instant, the golden orb turned black. And then it was no longer an orb but a hole – a void where the air should have been, filling immediately with a tearing, roaring sound that could have almost been a voice – but it was deep and lay beyond the range of any mortal voice she’d ever heard, and the words – if they were words – were long and drawn out, so that a terrible hollowness filled the spaces between each syllable. And then the hollowness of the words themselves and the terrible emptiness they inhabited seemed able to slip past the solid reality of her ears, tongue, or mind, and started to coil inside the space her thoughts inhabited…
Eredun; the forbidden language. Somehow she broke free from the reverie that her awe and shock had created, and swept her foot forward to destroy the circle. The black hole filled out into an orb once more, then disintegrated and fell from the air in a shower of salt. The sight of it made Aemorniel shudder. The crystals were all tinged red, as though with blood.
Centuries ago, the humans had all but destroyed the veil of reality that separated the mortal realms from the demonic worlds in their hunger and greed for more knowledge than their short lives could responsibly manage. When the high elves had intervened, they had advised the humans to cease their practice of magic immediately; the humans had refused. When a compromise was finally reached, the study of Eredun was abolished, for it was a dangerous tongue; one that wanted to be learned and spoken, writhing inside the minds of those that came upon it, causing madness and despair. She had thought it an exaggerated tale; but in the days that passed she quickly realized it was not. The words that she had spoken aloud kept her from sleeping at night; their desire to be understood fused with her desire to sleep, and she began to feel desperately that she had to know what they meant, despite her every effort to forget.
Her surrender took no more than a few days. Book in hand, she sought out the Archmage in his office. A single glance at the tired girl told him all he needed to know; nonetheless he asked, “I take it that you performed the ritual, then?”
“You had to have known that I would.” Too weary to be anything but honest, Aemorniel set the book down on his desk.
“I knew it was a possibility,” Zahren conceded as he stood, moving to close the door and permit them both their privacy. “But I did hope that even the daughter of House Dawnstar had more sense than to charge into a ritual she had never seen – and could not even understand.” As he spoke he moved beside her, pulling out a seat and indicating in a single, elegant gesture that she was welcome to sit, if she wished.
Aemorniel accepted, careful to arrange the folds of her woolen dress as she sat so that the deep indigo fabric would not wrinkle unnecessarily. She did not respond to Zahren’s pointed comment about House Dawnstar; she had learned at an early age that men who dedicated their lives to the Light were often despised by those whose own boundaries rendered them unable to, and that to be as successful, honest, and good as her father, was to invite a lot of criticism. The accusation of zealotry was one such criticism; although she had to admit that she had done little to demonstrate any evidence of caution here. “My father is going to disown me,” she said instead, intentionally placing Zahren in agreement with Emerion Dawnstar in order to diffuse any hostility the Archmage may have harbored towards her father. “Why did you send this book to me, knowing who my family is?”
The Archmage returned to his own seat, his hands resting lightly on the arms of his chair. “You wanted to know where the spark comes from,” he answered simply. “I don’t know what you’ve been taught in the past, but not everything beyond the veil is goodness and Light. The law of equivalency states firmly that for every action there is an opposite reaction; for all things created, something is destroyed. If the Light is a true and real entity, there must be a Void to birth it…”
“Is that what I saw?” Aemorniel’s fair eyebrows drew together in a frown that betrayed her anxiety. “Is that what I heard…?”
“It’s not as frightening as it sounds.” The change in her expression reminded Zahren that he was speaking to an apprentice – not to a seasoned mage – and an apprentice who had suffered a scare, at that. He turned in his seat to open a cabinet door, withdrawing from it an astronomical model of Azeroth, her sun, and her two moons. “An example of it exists within our own star system – look.” He set it on the desk between them, and moved the spheres until they were lined up in a row with Azeroth in the center, bracketed by the Sun and the White Lady. “The rays of the large Sun fall on our smaller Azeroth in a conical fashion, of which our circumference is the apex. But for every angle in a triangle there is an opposite angle, and this second cone of darkness – Azeroth’s shadow – is born. In that darkness, nothing can be seen. The moon will disappear. That darkness is called the penumbra, Lady Dawnstar, and it works both ways. Where there is a shadow, there must be a light. The boundaries of the penumbra allow us to geometrically determine where the boundaries of the Light exist too. In this way they draw upon one another. If there is a shadow then there must be Light. If there is a Light then it will cast a shadow. But the Light is a reaction and it consumes; and where it consumes, it leaves a Void. Therefore the Light is born of the Void as surely as the Void is birthed by the Light; and that is where your “spark” comes from.”
Aemorniel stared at the three heavenly bodies aligned on the desk before her, absorbing his words. The geometrical pattern suddenly seemed as though it could have been a two-dimensional representation of the overlying spheres, and she was struck by the urge to open the book again to confirm that suspicion.”…why didn’t you just explain this to me when I asked?” she said instead.
“Because I was teaching pyromancy, not astronomy.” Zahren leaned back in his seat, unapologetic. He had long ago dispensed with trying to cater to the whims of students, finding that they performed better when they were simply told what to expect and how to behave. “And because you are very full of yourself, and no one else here has the good sense to reprimand you.”
The last part was true, and she was more surprised at her relief at being called on it than his insight. In fact, everything he had said felt truthful so far, although she was sure he was not telling her everything. “Is Eredun the language of the Void?” she asked, finally.
“It is.” He watched her as her mind moved to make sense of the model before her and the principles he had explained. His fingertips tapped gently on the side of his chair’s arm as he waited to see if she would say anything more. “Of course, your mind can be restored to its former state,” he said at length.
“But you speak Eredun,” she answered quickly.
The conversation receded into silence one more as Aemorniel considered his words, and he waited to hear her interpretation of them. For generations, House Dawnstar had made the Light its primary focus and study, sending its daughters to become Sisters, and its sons to become Knights; they were both aware of that. And yet Aemorniel had never been able to touch that Light – to summon it or feel it in the same way that her family could. It was lucky that she had been a twin-birth and that her brother’s grasp of the Light was as strong as it was, else rumors would no doubt have abounded that House Dawnstar had not bred true to its bloodline. But even though they had been physically near-identical as babies and small children, she differed from Malthorion in a number of ways, not only in her sex. Was it possible that she had been born of the same geometry that dictated equivalency? That for his ability with the Light, it was her destiny to be his compliment in Darkness?
“I’m very bored here.” The admission came more bluntly than she had intended; like the Eredun word she had uttered in her ritual, it fell from her lips as though it desperately needed to be said.
“Of course you are.” His eyes narrowed slightly as he regarded her; this particular topic was one of his own complaints with the existing Magocracy. “You’re an elf. The fact that you have to endure the same classes as the human student body should be as much of an affront to you as it is to me to have taught you in them.”
His candor surprised her. It was as though it granted her permission to say everything she had been careful not to say for fear of causing offence. “I would like to learn Eredun, then,” she said, leaning forward and speaking quickly before she lost the nerve to say it. “I would like to learn everything that’s in that book.”
Zahren smiled. “You don’t know what’s in that book,” he reminded her, intentionally lacing the words with the hint of a threat. “And aren’t you concerned with what your father might think?”
Aemorniel was quiet once again. It was true that she had never defied her father; she loved and respected him far too deeply. But what if this was the only opportunity she ever had to pursue the one thing she was good at? She had already been at Dalaran five years; how much longer until she was called to do her duty at home?
She glanced across the table at Archmage Zahren once more. He embodied everything he father was not, she realized; dark haired and slender, with pale skin from a life spent indoors. In contrast her father was blond and tan, and built the way you’d expect a man who spent his days in armored combat to be built. If equivalency extended even to people, then surely Archmage Zahren existed just because her father did – and vice versa. That meant that there was nothing safe about the man before her; nothing predictable, honest, or devoted to the Light. Her heart began to beat fast again, the way it had when she performed the ritual.
“I don’t tell my father everything.”
That answer too seemed to speak itself without her permission. The second that she heard it, she knew she’d made her choice.
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