Qabian

Stronger than magician ever spoke

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The chime of a tiny ringing bell interrupted the quiet within the mostly bare, sunlit room in which Qabian practiced, piercing through the soft sounds of his own breathing and his white uniform shifting around his body as he moved through the exercises. Magic was not always only a mental activity. The blade he used was not one that would ever strike another or draw blood, but it was an excellent focus.

When the ringing finally caught his attention, he stood and pushed back the mask from his face, then shook out his hair out from its tie. In doing so, he winced. Losing the focus he gained from the exercises, he was quickly reminded why he had taken an extra hour for them today as the muscles along his shoulders and back tensed through a wide pattern of bruises and scratches. He laughed once at himself, rolling one shoulder and working at it with the fingers of the opposite hand as he replaced the blade and the mask on their stand.

The sound of the bell became louder as though with approach and then stopped completely as a small corpse of a girl peeked around the corner of the door he had left ajar for that reason.

"They're here with the tree, sir."

Qabian nodded once in acknowledgment, but said nothing else. The bell began to sound again as the girl disappeared into the shadows of the hall, but could be heard being quickly stifled by dead fingers.

Qabian moved to the window and pushed it open, wincing again as he did. He leaned forward against the sill and listened. At first he couldn't see anything but the gravel path through wild grass growing between the building and the overgrown hedge against the forest a few hundred feet away that served as visual fencing, while the effective border around his home was not quite so clear to the eye. At one time the entire path had been lined with topiaries, flower beds, and occasional statues, but they were all bare now, most of the patches of dirt grown over with grasses and weeds, the stone pots empty, and the statues collecting ragged ivy. He could hear the voices of a pair of men at a distance talking to each other about what their wives had packed them for lunch, and then Maryellen's quiet words directing them around the side of the house.

As they turned the corner of the house, dragging a large, robust tree -- not quite as tall as those of the surrounding woods, but close to it and very similar in appearance -- with its roots neatly netted up on a rolling platform accompanied by several crates, and passed underneath the window where he stood, he listened to them, a Tauren tugging on two massive ropes in front and a Sin'dorei pushing the platform's handle from behind, as they wondered out loud to each other why someone who clearly didn't care much about the external state of affairs regarding his home would order a tree in the first place.

The mage chuckled to himself, snapped his fingers, and fell into step behind them. "It's simple really. I don't want hedges, but I happen to have them. However, what I want is a tree. So that's what I ordered."

The Sin'dorei clutched at his chest and nearly tripped, while the Tauren simply grunted in acknowledgment, continuing to drag the platform. "Apologies, Magister," the elven worker stammered, pausing to turn around and bow low before Qabian. "We didn't mean to pry, of course."

"Work to do, Alein," the Tauren grunted again as he suddenly found himself struggling to drag the platform's entire weight under his own power.

"Right. Yes. Right." Alein looked from Qabian and back to the glaring Tauren several times before Qabian gave the elf a dismissive wave of his hand. The pair then went back to the work, with the Sin'dorei putting an extra show of effort into pushing the platform.

Qabian rolled his eyes and fell into step alongside them as they moved down the path behind the house. He took a seat on the stump of an old oak he'd had cut down earlier in the week and gestured towards the extensive pattern of intricately runed, slightly depressed circular stonework situated centrally at the back of the house.

The Tauren blinked at him. "You want this tree in there?" He looked down into the smooth stone-walled deep pit that measured about a dozen feet across and at least that deep at the center of the pattern.

Qabian nodded. "Is something wrong? I was assured by those who took my money that you knew what you were doing."

Alein turned to face the mage, wringing his hands nervously as he spoke. "Sir, if we plant it as is, as the roots take hold and spread out, they'll destroy the stonework... sir?"

Qabian stared at the other elf for a few moments, then slowly lowered his chin as he spoke steady words, keeping his blazing green eyes on Alein's face. "Do you think I'm an idiot?"

"No, no. Of course not, but--" the elven worker stuttered.

"Did you ever stop to think why I ordered it this size? Can you make it stable as it is currently? Will it be at risk of falling?"

"No, absolutely not. We'll make sure it's stable, but we can't stop or direct the roots once it's --"

"I can."

"What?"

"Do your job." Qabian demanded, his anger becoming clearer in his tone and expression. His upper lip twitched once, and he idly snapped the fingers of his left hand over his knee in warning.

"Y-yes, sir, but--"

"Shut up, Alein," the Tauren said, dragging one of the crates off of the platform and onto the stonework, levering the top of it off to reveal a certain quantity of rich soil that seemed to be mixed with something that occasionally flashed blue. The Tauren muttered something about if the man wanted to pay good money to ruin his own property, who was really going to complain. Qabian smirked at that, but was perfectly content to watch them begin the work in oppressive silence.

After a few minutes of observation, Qabian stood up with the intent to go back to the house.

Alein stopped working at the complicated system of levers and pulleys the pair were setting up to move the tree. "Sir --"

Qabian's head turned slowly to face the worker. "What?" he growled, letting fire flicker between his fingers.

Alein's mouth opened and closed like a fish as he glanced between the mage's hands and his annoyed expression.

The Tauren grunted and called up from where he was working at the bottom of the stone pit. "I think he wants to know what you want done with the flowers, sir?"

Qabian continued to stare at Alein a few moments, wondering how few words he could use to make the elf burst into tears. Then he burst out laughing. "Leave the crates against the wall when you're finished. I'll see to them myself. Let the girl know when you're leaving."

==

That night, by the light of a full, bright moon, Qabian stepped back from the circle of stones and looked over the new garden. He hadn't bothered to take even a passing interest in horticulture since his previous gardener had been butchered the day of his mother's death last Winter Veil, but he felt it was time to make an exception.

The relatively shallow depression in the stonework was now filled with clear, rippling water. He knelt down and rolled up the sleeves of his dark shirt. He leaned forward and washed the dirt from his hands in the shallow pool. The liquid had an odd counterclockwise movement to it, as though some impossible perpetual decline of the stones kept it from ever becoming still and stagnant.

The central pit of the stonework held the tree which now appeared to be situated on a small hill covered with fresh, green sod. In the indentations around the tree's visible roots were clusters of narcissus, asphodel, and tiger lilies, the toxic, the mourned, and the edible, in a curious pattern that seemed to somehow combine symmetry with the unexpected. Plants one wouldn't ordinarily find together in an external circumstance without the aid of a greenhouse or a particularly attentive gardener, perhaps, but Qabian would need neither, and not only because of the changeless season of Eversong.

The mage splayed his fingers onto the stones beneath the water and the runes along the entirety of the circle within began to glow a bright violet-white. Starting from his finger tips, crystals of frost raced through the water until the entire pool became a disc of clear but solid ice, edged in white frost only at its edges. Caught by the ice at his wrists, Qabian grimaced at the sensation of entrapment, but murmured a few more words. As his whispers trailed off in a sibilant, there was a sound of cracking and thin white lightning strikes etched through the transparent ice from his hands towards the vibrant living island at the center of the pool.

When the lines in the ice hit the central island, their motion stopped, but the sounds continued. A slow grin twisted across Qabian's face as the crackling noises dulled slightly as though under a great weight, then began to sound upward with ever increasing volume and intensity. The electric white lines began to appear on the surface of the tree trunk before him, splitting and separating in organic patterns up towards the branches. Finally, with a strangely alien resonating snap, the leaves above and the blossoms of the flowers at the tree's base shivered, and the moonlight reflected just a moment off the plants, all of them gilded for a moment with glittering rime.

The illusion of frost faded in the following moment, the white lines melting away from the tree's trunk, but the cold stillness remained behind. The faint breeze through the woods that night seemed incapable of touching the plants at the center of the pool.

The water remained a frozen disc etched with lightning, until Qabian's next quiet phrase. The runes that had shined all through the event, suddenly flashed blindingly and the ice shattered with a jingling like broken glass, filling the stone depression with millions of tiny crystalline shards, unmelted, with the collected appearance of snow. As Qabian lifted his hands out of the ice, the shards left hundreds of tiny white scratches along his numbed, frozen skin.

The mage rubbed at his wrists absently as words of magic continued to cross his lips. A bright violet-white translucent shield rose up from the pattern of runes at the edges of the stonework as he stepped away from the edge of the now snow filled basin. The shield covered the pool and the tree beneath a dome the size of a small house, able to contain the entire construction within itself. Then at a change in Qabian's intonation the dome began to shrink, passing through the tree itself as though immaterial. The arcane light settled downwards, perfectly covering the small hill like a blanket of magic over the newly placed earth, then shimmered away beneath the grass as Qabian's words stopped.

He returned to the edge of the pool, still filled with the white crystals, and knelt down again, but this time instead of touching the stone, he held one palm up flat before his mouth, and blew lightly down the length of his hand. The condensation from his breath turned to fire as it hit the edge of the runes at his feet. One by one in a circle around the basin, a jet of bright white flame shot up from each rune, then settled into a slow burning yellow-red ring of fire. At the effect of the heat, the snow-like crystals within the pool liquified from the ring of flame inwards, and the clear water began its slow, delicate counterclockwise motion again.

Qabian walked around the fountain, as he considered the thing he had built, surveying the completed work, stepping just outside the fiery runes. The flames dulled alongside him, then reignited as he passed. The plants had a semblance of life but with an unnatural stillness, and a cold ice-white edge to an otherwise vividly colored leaf or a petal occasionally reflected the moonlight. There would be no concern about roots. There was, in fact, nothing living any longer in what he had created, as dead a monument as any stone statue, a dead monument to...

To what?

To recollection, to memory, to contemplation in quiet hours, difficult enough to find in this world, to the base elements of magic itself, to solace, to somewhere and something he could truly call his own, to the folly of the act of creation in a world of war.

And now he had to protect this thing? Could he even do it? He doubted he would feel more than mild annoyance at the point the delicate sculpture of ice and death with its arcane dais eventually came to ruin. But for now... it was incentive.

With a gesture of one hand, the fires edging the pool dimmed and then went out. Qabian took a small, silver coin out from under his belt and with a grin, flipped it idly over his shoulder into the running waters of the basin as he walked away back towards the manor. "Now I really need to find that whelp," he said out loud, laughing at himself again as he rubbed absently at the small of his back.

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The Manor, as usual, was dark and quiet, except for the occasional faint ringing of a bell from some room deep within it and now the sound of her boots against marble and the metallic swish of chain echoing softly through the empty halls as Nymare searched for Qabian. She had not seen him for most of the day. She had not seen him for most of the past couple of days. She grinned to herself as she roamed the desolate corridors, entertaining herself with thoughts of age and time for recovery as reasons for his need to be "home" while she continued to throw herself at alliance, dragons, undead, and vrykul in the frozen north. But, now it was her turn to be tired and broken and still with so much to discuss before she considered anything else, let alone resting, for the night. A good amount of papers in one hand, she finished letting the rest of her disheveled mass of hair down with the other and slipped through the partially open door to the study, the dim warm light of a dying fire casting most of the room in shadow except for the organized clutter across the desk.

But, he was not at the desk, nor hidden in a chair in the shadows. The room, like the manor, was empty. Infact, she could no longer hear Maryellen jingling around in some dusty and forgotten wing. She was prepared to turn and resume her search when what looked like designs drawn onto some of the papers on the desk across the room caught her eye, and curiosity drove her forward. Nymare squinted down at one of the papers at the top of the clutter, not entirely sure of what she was looking at. Idly, she ran her fingers over the lines for whatever it was, angles and measurements by the look of some of them, and then shifted the paper out of the way. Beneath were drawings similar to this one, each somewhat different than the other, the design altered slightly from one to the next, with notes scribbled in a shorthand that she could not decipher. Other papers held what looked to be runes on them and even more insidious shorthand. Just out of the light, in a darker area of the desk, she found a stone tile with one of the runes carved into it, half-buried by parchments. As her fingers brushed over it, the rune glowed softly and then faded just as quickly.

"What the..."

There was always a sense of the perverse when it came to uncovering anything in this place, for her. A sense of wrongness, of disturbing things not meant to be found. There was always that twinge of danger, the anxiety of being caught; like a fly exploring a web, even if the spider who invited her claimed he did not spin the silken threads himself. She expected him to appear behind her at any moment with an accusing smirk, ready to make a threat, as if looking through his things would be enough to conjure him to her. It would not be the first time. And then a shiver raced down her spine.

"He is out back."

Nymare jerked in surprise, a flood of Thalassian curses spilling in a frenzied mutter past her lips as she spun around, a few papers stirred up in the commotion and blown to the floor with a dry skittering swoosh. Maryellen's small, fragile form stood before her, backlit by the low fire.

"He put a bell on you for a reason!" Nymare snapped angrily, still in her native tongue, as her heart finally stopped racing. The Forsaken took little notice, only moving out of the way in response. Nymare kept a smoldering fel glare on the woman as she knelt to pick up the papers from the floor and spat her next words quietly, stepping past her and toward the door. "Filthy puppet."

---

The gentle light of the moon welcomed her as Nymare stepped out of the dark and into the night, a sudden breeze catching her hair and the edges of the papers she was studying, tossing them around. A sense of familiarity washed through her, the subtlest hint of myrrh and woodfire in air, and she smiled to herself as she looked up from the designs.

"Mary said you were out--" Her hands dropped to her sides, paper spilling from her fingertips and swirling on the breeze to the ground as she stood there, for a moment, in complete awe of what was infront of her.

The fountain!

It was similar in so many ways to the one she had found in Illidan's temple, and still so different. And so much larger. The tree's unnaturally still bough spread out over the expanse of shallow water swirling around the central island where it resided, its pale roots embraced in the brilliant orange, yellow, and white blossoms of flowers, like flames frozen in place. She had suggested they have one, said she wanted one, and they had discussed bits and pieces from time to time in the quiet rooms of this home he had stolen, but those discussions only lasted so long before the inevitable turn of conversation to things of distraction and indulgence and Silence. This place was not his, not something he would call his own with any comfort, and it was certainly not hers, but what she saw before her was...

Suddenly, all of the drawings scattered through the grass at her feet made sense.

"You did it?!" Nymare exclaimed, laughing in sheer surprise, and bounded toward him with the sort of excitement that could betray her age. She threw her arms around his neck, ignoring stiff and wounded muscles, and peppered his cheek and lips in kisses, with an affection that was... atypical... at best. She paused and grinned at him as she composed herself, and then the air around them exploded with a brief burst of the arcane. "You did it," she repeated in a satisfied whisper against his ear and slowly let go of him to edge toward the fountain, to see it up close.

He grinned in return, quietly submitting to and observing her reactions with a smug expression of self-satisfaction on his face.

Aside from the water, all else was still, like the strange frozen quiet of the Nexus. As she stepped out onto the water, a frozen path appeared before her. She smirked back at Qabian over her shoulder and moved carefully to the central island. The icy grass crunched under her boot and she paused, afraid she had just broken something, and then the realization of what he had done hit her.

"Brilliant," she whispered as she knelt, examining the flowers. Narcissus. Tiger Lily. And something she was not familiar with.

"What is this?" she asked in a more audible tone, pointing to the white flower.

"Asphodel. Stole them from my mother's grave," he explained still grinning.

She blinked at him. "Why?"

He laughed, shaking his head. "I didn't. I bought them."

"It's..." Searching for words, she felt something light and cold touch her cheek. And then another, and another. She snapped a frozen tiger lily from the arrangement and looked around to find snow falling softly from the frozen canopy. Turning around, she smiled to Qabian and melted the ice encasing the flower in her hand, holding the tiger lily out to him with an impish grin.

He stepped across the ice to the island and took the flower from her, then leaned forward and tucked the blossom behind her ear. "You keep doing that, there'll be none left," he mused, looking around at the cold garden. "But I could still make it look good."

"It's ours?"

"Ours?" he said with a smirk, wiping a snowflake from his cheek. "It's mine." But the twist to his lips softened as he continued. "Mn, but there is something of you in it. And unlike everything else about this place, this is... not stolen."

At that, she nodded, his words having a much needed sobering effect. "Ah. Yes. Of course."

"There is a certain barbaric lack of comfortable seating considering the purpose I intended it for, but I suppose I could invest. And I plan..." he gestured with one hand, lighting the fires of the runes along the outside of the pool. "To keep at least some of it warm. The cold makes it too hard to think." The ice path behind them melted away, and he grinned at her again, words drifting off to other places as the night came alive with fire and Silence.

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