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Curious Craft

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Qabian pulled the hood of his plain, dark robes down over his face as he leaned against the cleanest wall he could find in the lower section of the Apothecarium. He didn't want to be recognized, and his distaste for the locale made him even more tense than necessary. Three days past, the banshee had directed him to wait here for a shadow hunter. Waiting for some unknown troll likely to ruin everything he was planning only added to his irritation, but Qabian was determined to at least see this part through.

The expected shadow hunter strolled in, carrying herself with a sort of tall formality, but her skin was drawn and wrinkled and her hair thin, showing age in a way Qabian rarely encountered in trolls. Skulls of varying sizes clicked where they hung around her robes at her hips and shoulders. She saw him immediately and nodded toward him, grinning around her tusks while somehow seeming serious. "Elf."

Qabian bowed his hooded head slightly lower and stood forward from the wall by way of acknowledgment.

"I heard you have a request for me."

Qabian took a deep breath, managing not to sigh overtly, and held out a scroll from his heavy sleeve. 

The troll took the scroll from him, then unrolled the parchment and narrowed her eyes at the script. "Who wrote this?"

"I did," Qabian said without looking up.

"You know this tongue?" She sounded incredulous.

"I do."


"It's a long story," Qabian interrupted.

"I have time."

"I don't."

The troll cocked a hip, then shrugged and tucked the scroll under one of the skulls at her waist. "What do you want?"

"To forge a weapon," Qabian explained.

"What weapon?" The troll's tone shifted to suspicion.

"A weapon of collective will."

"That needs more than this." She tapped the scroll.

"I was told it does not, at least--" He stopped mid-explanation, waving one hand in a dismissive gesture. The mage finally looked up and pulled back his hood, revealing his missing ear. "The collective cannot be gathered in the usual capacity. I will do what it takes with what I have."

The troll paused, then nodded, her fingers still on the scroll. "You want to make these words a weapon."

"Yes," Qabian confirmed. "But this is, as I'm sure you understand, experimental. This will be the first of many."

She shook her head. "No. Not from me, but a favor is owed. You will get your first... experiment."

Qabian tensed his jaw, not willing to push the argument. With one result, perhaps he could reverse engineer the spellwork, unravel it until he understood it enough to continue on his own. "Fine."

"I will need blood."

Qabian flinched. Toying with his blood had a history of ending badly. "Whose?"

The troll grinned, less serious, more devious. "Not yours. Yet. Dragon blood is best."

Slowly, Qabian's lips stretched in a grin that mirrored the shadow hunter's before him. "That I can happily provide."

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Qabian paced back and forth, threatening to wear a path in the stonework, waiting for Kaelystia to arrive. He had stopped by the Mage Quarter every day in anticipation of the results of his test. He tried not to let his imagination run away with him, but that was difficult at the best of times. He knew some of what had come from the true version of the ritual, but that had involved true sacrifice interwoven with words, more than mere blood and magic. People died in the real version. In trying to recreate a minimal variation on the theme of an ancient, mostly forgotten ritual, Qabian was utterly uncertain what would result.

Perhaps there would be a simple size reduction. Maybe he would end up with an enchanted hatpin or needle, useless as weaponry, certainly, but an excellent starting point for research. Floating silently as she did, Qabian was lost in his own mind when Kaelystia arrived and jumped as he nearly walked into her. "Lady..."

She bowed slightly. "Your package has finally arrived, Magister."

"Excellent." Qabian straightened his robes, avoiding acknowledging the brief moment of shock. "Where is it?"

"Did you bring any meat with you?"

Qabian stared at the banshee, blinking. "Meat?"

"Yes. Meat."

Qabian's mind turned somersaults trying to consider what she meant. Did the conjured weapon need to be encased in flesh at all times. That would be exceedingly awkward. "No."

"I recommend you go acquire some first."

"A-all right."

He returned from the auctioneers a few minutes later. Kaelystia said nothing, but beckoned him down one of the many passages found in the Undercity.

Tucked into an alcove of one hallway was a small crate full of holes. Kaelystia made a motion with one hand in the air and a small latch on the top of the crate flipped open.

Immediately, a black blur jumped from the crate towards Qabian, causing him to stagger backward, dropping the paper-wrapped package of meat he held in his hands. "By the sun!" the mage exclaimed. A second surprise in so many minutes was less than welcome. He took a deep breath as he mentally admonished himself for being so distracted. He needed to focus more on his surroundings, even when they were relatively safe.

A small, black panther cub tore at the paper package and hungrily attacked the meat inside. 

Qabian narrowed his eyes at the panther cub, then turned his glare on Kaelystia. "This... is the package?"

She shrugged translucently.

"This must be some kind of joke."

"Perhaps, but if so, it is not mine. The shadow hunter?"

"Maybe." Qabian scowled. "But I doubt it." He crouched down, peering at the cub that steadfastly ignored him in favor of the food. "Too many words from rogues?"

His research was going to be considerably more messy than he had initially assumed.

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Qabian sat backwards in his desk chair, arms folded on top of the chair back, chin resting on his wrists, and glared at the black panther cub curled up asleep on his bed.

It was a curious thing. He'd had a "pet" once before, and it wasn't in childhood. He had a blue dragon whelp that needed regular feeding or it had fainting spells and crapped everywhere, but this thing was tidy and while it bothered him whenever he was around the apartment, acted as though it owned the place, and ate anything edible that ever passed into its vicinity, it didn't seem stressed when the mage left it alone most of the time, and it hadn't changed the smell of the place. He wondered if it had found a way out of the apartment and stalked the sewers for rats while he was gone, but if that's what it was doing, it always returned before Qabian did. It almost seemed more likely that it just wasn't quite real.

Qabian narrowed his eyes. "I'm going to dissect you," he muttered in the animal's general direction. It kept sleeping.

He considered whether he should tell any Grim about this at all. It was their words that created this thing, technically, their words and his interference. But he was no longer playing the silly game of pretending he was new to the organization. He no longer reported to anyone, and short of someone with a title demanding to know what had come of his little project, there was no reason to keep anyone informed. It seemed everyone had forgotten or had never cared in the first place, and that was for the best.

"I'm going to inject mana into your veins, then slice you up into little pieces."

The cub rolled over in its sleep with a mrr.

Qabian raised an eyebrow. "Then I'm going to set you on fire."

A high pitched nose whistle started up from the indistinguishable black lump of fur.

"As long as we're both agreed."

Edited by Qabian
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Excerpts from a notebook


The Broken Isles are where the magic is.

I've known this for quite some time. Even the briefest analysis of history would make that clear. I believe it is why I spent so many hours staring at the horizon. I knew it was there.

When you search for magic, you hunt the Blue. And the Highborne. That means Azshara, Winterspring, Quel'thalas, Coldarra, and the Isles.

I have wondered if that is why the Bronze hold on me broke when it did. Perhaps the Legion's latest ventures prompted the Messenger to act as the hand of Malygos. The Isles have become unchained. Movement is not restricted to the shores. And what remains of Azshara's city is open to be explored.

The Nightborne mean a great deal more to me than I would let on in public.

Logically, the best place to take this thing would be the Isles, run it alongside the Kirin Tor's manasabers, toss it in the Blue's pools in Azsuna, or use it to trace the ley maps in Suramar. However, given the Alliance seem to find earned but inordinate joy in trying to crack my skull lately, spending any length of time on the Isles will require extensive planning to be certain of any results whatsoever. So all other tests will be made first.

Edited by Qabian

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Excerpts from a notebook


There are memories in this place. I'm not certain which of them are real. Some of them I know are not, cannot be. They're distracting. I used to speak of memories as ghosts, but then they actually involved the dead. These ghosts are not dead. Or they never lived. Somehow, that's worse.

The creature is reacting. Something changes, flickers of arcane, violet sparks when it walks through the fractured ley lines. Parting the coat shows there are patterns in motion, but they are impossible to distinguish.  The fur will need to be removed to get a better look.

I left it with a tracker to see what would happen over an extended period of time. The hunter expected I would kill him when he told me he lost his target. Perhaps I should have. But I had foreseen such an outcome, and merely docked his pay.

I found the creature back in the apartment, sleeping as though it had never left, able to vanish while under observation, cross portals, and return through a locked door in a floating city. I am at least reassured that the troll didn't simply toss an ordinary animal into a crate to get me to leave her alone.

Edited by Qabian

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Qabian was far from a surgeon, but he was an academic, so he was willing to give a laparotomy the old college try. Given everything he'd subjected the creature to so far, he was confident that it would survive anything he did to it.

After the application of a carefully dosed piece of meat, by the time the mage had made his way to the laboratory facilities someone had set up in the basement of the Grim Halls in Tirisfal, the panther cub was sleeping soundly.

The wide, low-ceilinged room's lighting was a disturbing cold white, despite the dark stone of the walls. The available equipment was a strangely random assortment, but Qabian brought his own kit, a set of scalpels, forceps, syringes full of liquid mana, pins, needles, and some thread, cleaned and disinfected, then rolled up in a leather case.

With the sleeping cat laid out on its side on a table, Qabian tugged on a pair of specially coated white cotton gloves. Leaning carefully over his victim, the mage pressed his fingers below the creature's jaw, then slid one of the syringes into its neck. The slightest draw on the plunger and a flash of red pulsed through the blue liquid in the syringe. Qabian tilted his head, surprised at the ordinariness of the creature's blood. He pushed some of the mana into the creature, and violet flickers shimmered beneath the black pelt.

He gently turned the creature onto its back, leaving the syringe dangling from its neck. When the mage touched the scalpel blade to the creature's torso, a jolt of violet lightning knocked the knife out of his hand and across the room. Qabian sighed and retrieved the blade from the floor. He moved to the sink to rinse it, only to find no taps. 

A sink with no taps? Just a basin? Who builds a lab without running water? No one. That couldn't be right. "I hate this place," he muttered. There must have been some water somewhere, but he didn't have the time to figure it out. He flicked the dirty blade into the basin and grabbed a new one from his kit.

With a firmer grip on the instrument, Qabian sliced into the creature's flesh.

Excerpts from a notebook


The symbols on the creature's insides are expected and familiar, part of the ritual I had hoped the troll would perform.

In the future, I must make a better inspection of the facilities before engaging in surgical exploration. In the future, I don't intend to ever explore surgically again, but this is my project and I remain uncertain of its value. It would not suit me to have hired someone else for this particular task. I do what I must.

I could not force my way past its bones. I expect they have been enhanced with arcane power, but I don't believe I would learn much more if I could, though it's possible that what hides there has value if the rest of the project ultimately fails.

Its healing capacity provides further evidence of its unnatural origins. Stitches were not required. And yet, its blood appears normal in color and consistency.

Edited by Qabian
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Excerpts from a notebook


"...expected to learn self-sufficiency shortly after I had..."

"...despite their determination to defeat Kael'thas because of..."

"...stands between us and our peace, we will stop at nothing to see..."

"...have the opportunity to correct my assumption..."

" of necessity. Theirs was simple spite and malice..."

"...Garithos' actions did not teach me fear. Those events..."

"...intrinsic property in all of our important decisons, individually and..."

No, no, no.

This isn't right.

These are not the words I gave to the troll. These are not Grim words.

I know all these words. They are mine. All at one time were committed to paper, but most were burnt or destroyed in water years ago.

Divested of its fur, these are the marks that move across its flesh. Why? I did not give her my blood. Did she take it somehow?

This makes no sense.

I've never been incompetent enough to leave anything incriminating to paper, but this development is highly unsettling.


Qabian flipped the notebook closed with a little more energy than he intended when he finished recording his notes, pinning the quill between the pages.

With the crater that was once the city of Theramore at his back, Qabian placed the notebook in a satchel and removed what appeared to be a fist-sized ball of glass set into a stand decorated with a curling bronze dragon. He snapped his fingers before the ball and for a long time, stood motionless, watching tiny shadowy figures moving inside it.

Eventually, he slowly took a knee, and held the glass ball out to the greyish, hairless panther cub with the curious purple scrawl trailing over its skin. The creature sniffed at the relic, then stared up at the mage, its curious pale eyes blinking.

"This," Qabian explained to the animal as if it could understand, "is who I used to be." He stood meaningfully, then threw the glass ball as far as he could out to sea.

The cub leapt out into the water with a splash and paddled after it.

"You idiot!" the mage called out, then sighed. "I thought cats didn't like water."

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Qabian sat turned around in his chair, chin resting on his arms folded across the back, and stared at the panther cub sprawled out across the dark pillows of the once neatly made bed. In other lighting, it would have been nearly invisible in the rumpled mess, but the sunbeam from the half-drawn drapes lay right across the creature.

It wasn't irritating enough to do anything about, but it was more of a problem than the solution he had initially hoped for. When he had first come across the spellwork to create a weapon, he had envisioned something far more literal. Ruuki was no longer High Inquisitor, so Qabian hardly felt indebted to her for his theoretical failure regarding this project, but he had still wanted something more than this lump of an inconvenient cat.

Lately, he had considered offering it to Syreena. She seemed to always have some task or other that needed doing, someone who had legitimately offended her in some way. Maybe she could find a use for a cat that you could set on fire and send into a building only to have it return a few hours later.

But then there was the issue of the words. Qabian didn't believe he had ever put words to paper that he would regret, that might come back to haunt him, but that didn't mean he wanted just anyone having the capacity to read and connect anything he had written back to him. Given the nature of the magic that had created the thing, the possibility existed that a change of ownership would result in a change of words, but what if it didn't? That wasn't something he particularly wanted to risk.

Qabian sighed. Nothing was going quite right lately, but nothing was going wrong enough to make trouble about either.

He had missed the opportunity to simultaneously confess to murder and grind the new supplicant into the dirt. On the one hand, it always felt better when they came to understand themselves before the trouble started. On the other, it would have been good, clarifying, to have been the one responsible. Perhaps it had been a mistake to want to show him that there were those who truly believed in the Mandate before laying out how it was all bullshit but worth every ounce of chaos.

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There was once a time when if you wanted to harass humans, you didn't have to venture quite so far from Silvermoon's gates. These days, everything between the Ghostlands and the Hinterlands was under the flag of either the dead or trolls.

With one exception.

Qabian stepped out from behind one of Hearthglen's many towers. The flag of the Argent Crusade was far from enough to stymie racially motivated mischief. Even when Lordaeron had been close enough to toy with, technically they had been allies. What was a little silver between frenemies?

Qabian carried a small wooden crate under one arm that occasionally made scratching noises. The panther cub followed at the mage's heels, nearly invisible in the night's shadows. Occasionally the creature bounced on its hindlegs, trying to reach Qabian's crate.

Qabian waited as a pair of patrolling guards holding a single lamp between them passed by, then walked calmly up the ramp to the tower. He took a handful of something from a pouch at his belt, tossed it in the open doorway, then knelt, placing one hand on the cub's shoulders, forcing it down as he set the crate on the ground to his other side. 

"Shh," Qabian hissed quietly as he flicked a latch on the crate. A half dozen rats scurried into the darkness of the tower. The cub fought against the hand holding him down, its haunches tensed as it focused intensely on the fleeing rats. "One... Two..." Qabian whispered, then flames flickered between his fingers, setting the cub's fur alight.

Apparently unconcerned with being on fire, the flaming cat wriggled free of the mage's loosening grip and dashed into the tower. 

Qabian couldn't help but chuckle as he slipped back into the shadows, sliding completely out of view where he stood to watch flames spread through the greyscale tower and listen to the shouts and emerging chaos. 

Something icy slipped down the side of his neck as he watched, and the mage instinctively raised an arm, scanning the scene for the source. Further ice bounced harmlessly off a translucent, fiery shield, but he was no longer hidden from view. He narrowed his eyes. A night elf stood at the top of the tower, her arms held over her head as she cast her spell. "Kal'dorei?" Qabian said under his breath. There were some among the Tirisgarde, but it still struck him as odd every time he saw them using magic. No different than orcs allowing each other to be warlocks, perhaps, but it had been frowned upon among them for so long. Had there always been Highborne among the Argent? Or were they just teaching each other once forbidden spells?

He flicked a gesture and the night elf's spell cut short. She put a hand to her throat, glaring down at Qabian.

He bowed dramatically, then gave her a lazy salute and a smirk. Flames shot up from somewhere behind her, followed by an indistinct yowl. She was not distracted. The effect of the silencing wore off and she shouted, pointing in Qabian's direction. He laughed, vanishing in a flash of arcane mist as dazed Argent guardsmen stumbled toward where he had been standing, but he was long gone.

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