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Qabian

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Qabian    76

Qabian sat on the bed in his new Silvermoon apartment, leaning back on a high stack of pillows and reading, surrounded by scrolls, loose papers, and books, a black panther cub slept heavily over one leg, cutting off circulation to that foot. When he wasn't indulging in Suramar's "culture" or out with the Grim doing Grim work, Qabian spent time learning what he had missed. There was a lot of it between Pandaria, Garrosh, Khadgar's lunacy, as well as the interguild politics and drama that was not well documented.
 
Since he found himself back in Quel'thalas after the debacle in Stormwind, Qabian decided to direct his focus on the minutiae in Silvermoon politics. It seemed that short of the Sunreaver debacle and Garrosh's general chaos, there had not been too much upheaval. Lor'themar and Rommath were still who they had always been. With Sylvanas as Warchief, Silvermoon seemed almost comfortable with their relationship to the Horde, so Qabian found himself delving into the smaller details of politics and scandals.
 
He read one report of a child attending council meetings and shifted his position, causing the panther cub to mrr in its sleep. Stranger things happened in Silvermoon politics everyday, but with elven lifespans, it hardly seemed necessary. That's what interregnum was for, after all.
 
He read further.
 
The child, with his strange red eyes...
 
Qabian frowned. "Oh no," he murmured.
 
...acted as the heir to the Bloodstone estate, sitting with the Council in preparation for his future role in the management of...
 
"This must be some kind of joke," he said to himself. He pressed his fingers to the bridge of his nose. Qabian finished reading and tossed the offensive page to one side where it floated to the floor. The panther cub lifted its head, blinking up at him sleepily. "People are idiots. You know that, cat? Complete and utter morons. All of them," Qabian informed the creature.
 
The mage tilted his head thoughtfully, staring at the cub, or more accurately, through the cub. "I think it's time to look up an old acquaintance." Qabian grinned wickedly as he gathered his papers and books together, ungently kicking the cub to one side.
 
Qabian stumbled as he stood, his foot having fallen asleep. Loud Thalassian curses caused the cub to scramble under the bed.

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Qabian    76

The child was not difficult to track or find, given that he didn’t wear opaque glasses or a blindfold in a city where eye color was nearly homogeneous. Qabian trailed him from a reasonable distance, learning where he went and with whom.
 
The day after his informative stalking session, Qabian sat down across from a slightly stocky blood elf at a small Falconwing Square café, apparently uninvited. The stranger closed his book and peered at the mage across from him then suddenly laughed boisterously. “Amberlight! I haven't seen you since, what? Before the Scourge?”
 
“Brightway,” Qabian said. “I don't go by that name anymore.” He kept his expression neutral, almost cold.
 
Brightway guffawed. “Nonsense. Don't go by your own name? That's ridiculous.” He leaned forward and grabbed Qabian’s hand, shaking it too energetically. “To what do I owe the pleasure of a visit from such an old friend.”
 
Qabian breathed out through his nose and pressed his lips together a moment, trying not to let how annoyed he was show too overtly. “I need to know about one of your students. His name is--”
 
“By the sun, what happened to your ear?” Brightway interrupted as if suddenly noticing the immediately obvious.
 
Qabian scowled, yanking his hand back. “I actually work in the field, Brightway. Things happen.”
 
“Of course. Of course. You were saying something about one of my students?”
 
“Yes. He goes by the name of Damian Bloodstone.”
 
“Oh, that one's trouble, for sure.”
 
Qabian raised an eyebrow. “How's that?”
 
“Thinks he's better than everyone. Maybe he actually is, but it extends to the staff. Makes him difficult to deal with, you know.” Brightway explained. “Actually, reminds me a lot of you and that other kid in Dalaran. What was his name again?”
 
“I have no idea what you're talking about,” Qabian lied.
 
“What's your interest in the Bloodstone boy then?” Brightway asked.
 
“Is he intelligent? Worth investing in?”
 
“I'd say so, yes, for someone willing to deal with his attitude. You thinking of taking him under your wing?”
 
Qabian neglected to hide a brief expression of disgust. “No. I've simply been directed to look into particular students for potential Kirin Tor work. If you think he’s suitable, I'll forward the materials to him through you.”
 
“Dalaran still meddling in our business, eh?” Brightway chuckled loudly. “There are better students if you're looking for the top of the class.”
 
“No, Brightway. This is above your pay grade. I simply need you to let me know if he’s an idiot, and if not, send him the paperwork.”
 
“No. Not an idiot. Smart kid. Just an asshole. Like you.”
 
Qabian rolled his eyes. “Your judgment has always been impeccable, Brightway. That's why you're surrounded by snot nosed brats every day rather than letting your featherweight fireballs gently warm the Legion.”
 
Brightway laughed far too loudly. “Never change, Amberlight!” He reached over and punched Qabian's shoulder, causing the mage to flinch.
 
Qabian pinched the bridge of his nose. “I told you that's not my name.”
 
“Sure you did, buddy.”
 
“We're done here.” Qabian stood up abruptly.
 
“Sure thing. See you around, Amberlight.”
 
“I certainly hope not,” Qabian muttered under his breath as he hastily retreated.
 
Qabian prepared a package of books with titles like Making the Case for Teaching Forbidden Magic: A Practical Guide and Do It Yourself Arcane Bombs and took pains to make sure the Kirin Tor symbol was prominently displayed but his own name was nowhere to be found. He made sure to send the package by mail and avoided heading back into the city itself for a while.

Edited by Qabian
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Ninorra    19

 

Despite the rumors, Damian wasn’t quite as much of an asshole as people insinuated. At least he didn’t think so, not when they said as much to his face.

The Sin’dorei child was average as far as looks went; silvery blonde curls, a tan complexion, fit for a elven boy of seven years. What set him apart physically, making him the target of taunts and rumors, were his red eyes. Though not unheard of for fire mages or warlocks to have eyes of that color, especially when casting spells, it was certainly unusual for them to appear that way since birth. Having possessed them for all seven years of his life thus far, Damian Bloodstone had never known what it was like to disappear among the other children his age.

 

Especially not after his parents disappeared.

 

Two years of nothing. One moment they were perfectly happy, if not a little strange. His father an aging landlord with an estate worth more than he could comprehend, his mother a warlock with a hobby of singing bawdy songs to reprobates in taverns. At least, that’s what the other children told him. All Damian knew was that they loved him, and one day they were gone. That was the day his world changed, and rather than being a normal boy who went to school and studied with all the other surviving Sin’dorei children, he became the surviving Lord Bloodstone. Heir to his family’s estate, with a seat on a council.

 

He had help, of course. Steinburg, their family’s Forsaken friend, educated Damian on what was being said when it was important. For two years he listened to adults bicker about land rights, encroaching trolls, constant war. It made school seem small. It made the other children look less like his peers, and more like children. He was not like them. It was more than his eyes. He was their superior, even if they didn’t understand why.

 

But his parents did return, and with them, a semblance of normalcy. No longer required to attend council meetings, Damian went to school and went home to “play”. Except who was there to play with, now? Steinburg? He prefered to study. With both of his parents constantly summoned to the field, and the Legion attacking harder than ever, he knew there always was a threat of them not coming back. He knew he had to prepare, just in case.

 

Which was why the package of books delivered to his desk by Steinburg came as no surprise. His mother understood his “hobbies” and would often purchase books for him, despite encouraging him to play outside once in a while. He waited until the evening to unwrap his package, forgetting about it until after dinner when he usually went upstairs to read.

 

The Kirin Tor symbol was unexpected. As were the books’ topics. His mother wasn’t typically the sort to encourage destructive magic. In fact, most of the books she provided were historical in nature. These were different. Instructional. Something his teachers might have discouraged should he ask about them in class.

 

Was it any surprise he spent the night reading them?

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Ninorra    19

The next day was an interesting one for Damian’s schoolmates. It began as usual; lectures as young Sin’dorei boys and girls forced themselves to sit and listen to Professor Brightway. Their instructor was loud enough for his voice to carry throughout the small room, but he seemed intent on being as loud as possible anyway. With so few children to teach, the volume was wholly unnecessary. Damian’s lip twitched, irate.

“Hey Bloodsnatch,” came a whisper nearby, a boy Damian’s age who sat beside him. He had the ruddy face of a Farstrider, the kind of child who preferred to leap from trees than listen to the history of the troll wars. “Fix your mouth.”

 

Damian’s red eyes turned to glance at the boy, but for the most part he tried to ignore him. Brightway’s back turned to his students as he wrote the names of famous military leaders on the board using his wand.

 

“Hey Blood-fuck-face,” the boy continued, cupping both hands around his mouth, though it seemed Brightway wasn’t capable of hearing anyone’s voice outside of his own. “I like your mom’s tits.”

 

Brightway wasn’t altogether sure how it happened, but the high pitched scream of a child was certainly not what he intended on hearing that morning. Turning to face the room of quickly scattering students, he watched in horror as young F'enahriel Sunwhisper’s clothes burst into flame and ran around the room in a circle. The other children screamed in a panic until Brightway had the good sense to cast a small torrent of water toward Sunwhisper, extinguishing the flames. Temporarily. In an instant, they were alight again, and the screaming continued.

 

The professor sent another torrent of water through his wand, this time far more intense, creating a wave that covered nearly half the students and thoroughly soaking the flaming child. Sunwhisper stood with his arms outstretched, breathing heavily for a moment until a torrent of his own tears covered his face.

 

“Someone get me a priest!!” Brightway shouted, rushing toward Sunwhisper, careful not to actually touch him. The other children backed away.

 

Well, the other children with one exception.

 

“Bloodstone!!” Brightway shouted, glaring at the only child in the room with a smile on his face. “Out! Now!!”

The platinum blonde didn’t need any further instruction. He calmly left the school yard and walked into Silvermoon to spend the rest of his afternoon.

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Ninorra    19

Qabian had just stepped through the portal into the Sunfury Spire when one of the mages there waved him down. "Qabian? Brightway's looking for you."

"Hm?" Qabian cringed inwardly, not looking forward to meeting the overly jovial fellow again. "Why?"

"I'm not sure, but he sounded... agitated," the stranger explained.

Qabian smirked. "I see. I'll handle it." He nodded and made his way towards the school.

Before he got quite that far, Qabian spotted a certain red-eyed child tossing lazy spells at an innocent planter that probably recently had a shrub in it, but for the moment sprouted only twigs.

Qabian leaned over the hedge towards the kid. "Been working on your technique?"

"What do you care?"

"If you do this when you cast," Qabian held out his hand, showing the ring finger tucked in, "You can do twice the damage."

"Oh?" Damian tried it. "Oh!" He turned to Qabian. "Do I know you?"

"No. And that's probably for the best," Qabian said grinning.

Damian squinted toward the older elf skeptically. He may have acted older than he was, but adults still had a lot of knowledge to impart. Especially the destructive kind he was starting to feel drawn to. “Are you a Magister?

Before Qabian had a chance to answer, the planter exploded. It sent small shards of ceramic into every direction, one or two scratching Damian’s face as he was nearest to it. He seemed unusually calm as he wiped a trickle of blood from his cheek.

“Sorry. That was supposed to go off later,” he muttered, turning once again to Qabian in spite of the sudden damage. “Are you a Magister?”

Qabian laughed as he ducked flying planter pieces then picked one out of his hair. "Yes, I am. You're not in class right now?"

"No," Damian answered, frowning distastefully. "One of the boys in my class was saying stupid things so I set him on fire."

Qabian laughed again. "I can't imagine your teacher liked that." The mage grinned horribly. "Is the other kid badly hurt?"

Damian shrugged, as if he wasn't entirely sure. "He was crying a lot. So maybe. Professor Brightway had to douse him with water twice so I must'v got him good."

"And did he deserve it?"

"I wouldn't have set him on fire if he didn't," Damian said matter-of-factly, as if this were a very stupid question for an adult to ask. "He was saying things about my mother. I don't think he'll say those things again."

Qabian raised an eyebrow, then shrugged. "There's only one real way to be sure of that, but you're probably right. Do you think everyone else who saw it happen is afraid of you now, too, hm?"

"I hope so," he muttered irritably, kicking one of the pieces of ceramic. "He's not the only one who says things about me. I haven't done anything like that before, though. Usually I just ignore them, but... I don't know. Maybe now they'll stop. Even if my parents are upset with me, at least I won't have to hear those idiots in class talk to me like that anymore."

"Does it really matter what your parents think?"

Damian looked up at Qabian and squinted, as if trying to pick apart his question. "I have to live with them, so yes."

Qabian narrowed his eyes in turn, mirroring Damian's squint. "Well, seems like one of two things happens now. Either when you get back to class, you'll be in charge and can get anything you want from the other kids, because who's going to mess with someone that might kill them? Or you'll get kicked out of school entirely, and I'm sure your parents will be ecstatic." He smirked.

Damian folded his arms, relaxing his expression. "I know what's going to happen. My mother will forgive me when I tell her what happened. My father will make me muck the stalls, but that's all he'll do. Then I'll go back to school, because there aren't enough children in Silvermoon to fill a classroom and they're not going to kick one out for one stupid spell. They need us. Especially me."

"Well, then. Sounds like you're in charge, provided there's no one else who's actually better than you." Qabian's grin and tone implied there might be.

There was a pause as Damian considered the idea. He appeared skeptical, but cautiously so. "Like who?"

Qabian shrugged. "How would I know?" He leaned in closer as though sharing a secret. "But no matter where you are, it can be dangerous being the most powerful. There's always someone who wants to take you down. Unless of course you can make sure they stay afraid of you. After all, you don't have to stop at making sure they don't insult your mother. You can make them do things for you, give you things, anything you can think up, as long as they're afraid."

Damian stared at Qabian's face, as if trying to pick apart his meaning. After a few seconds, he said just as quietly. "...I'm not dumb enough not to know that. I don't want them to give me anything. I just want to be left alone. They'll leave me alone, now. And if they don't.." glancing down at one of his hands, the boy drew his ring finger to the palm of his hand. "I'll figure it out."

Qabian stood up, straightening his robes. "Just want to be left alone, hm? You could do anything, anything at all, and that's really all you want?"

The boy furrowed his eyebrows thoughtfully. Nobody ever really asked him what he wanted. "..no. I want them to respect me. When they see my eyes, I don't want them to look at me like I'm weird." Damian frowned as he looked for the words to illustrate what he actually wanted. "I guess I want them to be afraid of me."

Qabian looked even more smug, if that was possible. "Excellent. Sounds like you're well on your way."

Damian raised a long silvery eyebrow. "You know it's kind of weird when a stranger stops to talk an adolescent into acts of violence. Who are you? And what's your deal?"

Qabian blinked, surprised at the kid's perceptiveness. "It's not like there's anyone else doing anything interesting around here," he said, gesturing at the ordinary goings on. "And violence is just a side-effect of power, hm? But I'm also a recruiter for the Kirin Tor. I'm sure you'll forgive my interest being piqued by a seemingly promising young mage."

Damian's face relaxed a little at the idea. "..that's what my mother said I should do," he said quietly, then frowned to himself, as if reminded by some kind of grim reality. "But demons talk to me. I try not to talk back, but they won't shut up. I want to become a Magister, but the fel won't leave me alone. So what do I do, there? If I make them afraid of me, I might as well be a warlock."

"Demons talk to you? I suppose you mean when you wouldn't otherwise expect them to. Curious." Qabian ran his fingers over his thin beard, thoughtfully. "Well, I have no idea why your eyes are the color they are, but the rest of us, our eyes are this color because we're all a little fel. You can't avoid it, not in Silvermoon. If you try to avoid it, you've failed the sin'dorei. It's not that fel itself is the problem, but warlocks, they treat the fel lovingly, acting like demons are friends and companions, using it constantly, indulgently, rather than sparingly and only as an effective tool. Fel power should supplement the arcane, not supplant and surpass it." Qabian gestured with one hand as he   crafted his speech. "And fear is absolutely a tool of mages, but we use it subtly, through shows of immense power, rather than as a hammer rammed directly through the heads of our opponents. The Kirin Tor could probably help you with your demon problem, but as a Magister, yes, we probably would encourage you to indulge in it rather than let your affinity go to waste."

Damian blinked a few times, absorbing the information like a sponge. It seemed as if his situation had never been presented in such a way, though the idea of warlocks coddling their demons wasn't something he disagreed with. "..so.. it isn't bad, then. My mother said that sometimes, mages who work with fire a lot have eyes like us. She said that might be why I'm good at it, but I need to be careful or else.. I guess what happened today might happen.." He frowned to himself. "What's your specialty, mister?"

Qabian grinned, holding out a hand, palm up, and letting a bright flame dance into life at its center. "Fire, of course. None of us would be alive today without a little fel influence. What happened today should probably happen every day, hm? The only reason to be careful is so you can get better at using this to get everything you want." He let the fire flicker over his fingers and across the back of his hand before closing his fist around it and snuffing it out.

Damian's red eyes widened at the sight of the flame in Qabian's hand. As if to prove himself, the boy held up his own hand and produced a much smaller flame. It wasn't quite as a elegant as Qabian's, and it sputtered a little as he tried to keep focused, but it was big enough to start trouble if he willed it. "I can be careful."

Qabian smirked. "Sometimes. Sometimes it's better not to be. Sometimes you just really need things to explode."

"I'm not gonna kill my classmates," Damian muttered, letting the fire sputter out into a little plume of smoke. "They'd never let me back to class."

Qabian nodded. "That's probably a good time to have practiced being careful, yes, so you can do exactly as much damage as you want, no more and no less. That's only if you really want to stay in that class, of course. But when I was a student, there were people who deserved no holding back. I wouldn't forget the importance of knowing how not to be careful, as well. Pure destruction can be its own reward."

He raised an eyebrow at the Magister, clearly intrigued but a little concerned by his words of wisdom. "They were okay with your blowing things up in school?"

"To a point," Qabian admitted. "I was encouraged in the right contexts, but I learned the basics in Dalaran. When there are human kids in your class, it's hard not to catch them behind the building after classes are over. No one who thought they were in charge would have let that happen, but smart students who are actually in charge can find ways around the people who only think they are."

"Humans.." Damian repeated, shaking his head. "My mother won't let me anywhere near Dalaran. She says it's too dangerous, with how close the Legion is. I haven't left Quel'thalas in forever.. but I want to see Dalaran. I want to see Khadgar. Is he really as powerful as they say he is?"

"Khadgar... has more help than he deserves, but for the moment, yes, he is extremely powerful," Qabian conceded. "It would be dangerous, but I would argue that you would learn faster there, closer to the action, able to observe the most powerful mages Azeroth has to offer. Although, it has changed a great deal. There are few sin'dorei where they should be, so you'd be more outnumbered by humans than I was, and it's more difficult to set your classmates on fire in Dalaran than it was in my day. Silvermoon has always been the best place to learn the most advanced techniques and finer points that escape humans' capacity to understand, but Dalaran certainly has its advantages today."

Damian cockdd an eyebrow. "If Silvermoon is the best place to learn advanced techniques, why are they so slow to teach them? I've had to study most of the spells I know on my own, and most of the other kids in my class sant to be rangers. Or soldiers.."

Qabian tapped a finger against his jaw, looking idly concerned. "Good question. That doesn't sound quite right. There has always been a tendency in Silvermoon to learn more slowly but more deeply because, well, we have more time to learn than the humans do. Humans have to learn things faster because they get old and die before they can learn the intricacies of how and why magic works. But avoiding teaching techniques to students who already have the skills to learn them? That doesn't serve anyone."

"So what am I supposed to di?" Damian asked, impatience obvious in his voice. "Wait? What happens if my parents die in the field? I'd be alone again, and all those idiots in the council will go after our estate. I have to learn now, and protect my home. I'm not just some stupid kid whp wants to blow things up. I need to protect my home."

"Why? What's in your home that you're protecting?"

Damian opened his mouth to answer, but actually held back. "...just.. things. Important things."

Qabian raised an eyebrow, curious. "There are reasons to protect this city, protect our people, protect our world from the Legion, but in that scope, an individual estate doesn't seem particularly important. Money is only money, and mobile, can be invested and reinvested anywhere. Your home is wherever you are, when you have the power to protect yourself, but I suspect you have other motives to want to keep people off your parents' property. That... is another matter. I could attempt to convince your professors that you need better instruction for your own well-being. Or you could attempt to convince your mother that your training should be happening in Dalaran, danger be damned."

Damian furrowed his eyebrows thoughtfully. The choices laid out to him were both difficult, yet each had their merits. "After what I did... do you think they would listen to you? I can be patient, here. My mother has enough things to worry about," he added, remorse finally making an appearance. "I don't want to distract her."

"Setting a fellow student on fire is probably already going to distract her. My mother was never a concern for me, so I have little advice for you there," Qabian said with a half-smile. "I can, of course, talk to your teachers. I'm sure I already know some of them, but being who I am and your... aptitude, they'll likely counter that you should be sent to the Kirin Tor, and then we're right back to your mother again."

Damian twisted his mouth in consideration, though how much he cared for his mother's opinion was debatable. "...she'll have to understand, then. If that's the only way for me to be as strong as possible, then there's no reasonable argument to hold me back."

"That's a good way to think of it." Qabian shrugged. He was a little disappointed that he hadn't simply convinced the boy to set his classmates on fire, as that had been the real goal. "After all, she can't live your life for you. Only you can do that."

Damian folded his arms and shifted his feet. "So who are you, mister?"

"My name is Grimfire. You know it?"

"No," he answered honestly. "But you know me, and that's a little weird. I didn't know the Kirin Tor recruited kids my age."

"I know you now, because I saw you out in the street casting spells instead of being a good student and I was amused." Qabian smirked. "And they don't usually, but they make a few exceptions, here and there. Given the far-too-many-humans state of Dalaran these days, I'd be remiss not to look in this city to attempt to fix that problem."

"You don't like humans, do you?" Damian asked skeptically. "I've never seen one. Well, Steinburg, but he's Forsaken.. are they really as stupid as I heard? They can't all be, if Khadgar is so strong. Plus, Jaina Proudmoore. Right?"

"Jaina tried to remove the sin'dorei from Dalaran entirely. She succeeded temporarily. Her people should be removed from the face of this planet entirely. And Khadgar, like I said, has help. Humans do nothing but degrade the quality of magic all across Azeroth. They do whatever they can to steal the power we've earned and keep us from attaining power that is rightfully ours. The day we agreed to share magic with them was a mistake we've been paying for ever since. They should have been left to wallow in the filth that birthed them." Qabian's expression turned dark as he ranted.

Damian smiled a little. It was clear he touched a nerve in this adult, and the idea was strangely satisfying. "Yeah. So. You don't like humans," he said with a smug little smirk. "I guess the best thing to do is fix the mistakes we made and be stronger than they are. My mother said Proudmoore did what she did because she was afraid of us. Maybe the problem is they aren't scared enough."

Distracted dwelling on his own anger, Qabian simply nodded. "Precisely, provided they were scared enough to go back underground where they belong and never emerge. Although, I would prefer they be less afraid and more dead, there is only so much that can be done about that at present."

Damian's red eyes twinkled at the sight of the enraged Magister before him. "You really like killing people," he noted, looking him over again. "My mother kills people, too. Lots of people. She says it doesn't bother her because she does it so much. Is that what happened to you? Or do you just like it?"

Qabian narrowed his eyes at the boy. The mage had his own thoughts about the boy's mother, but couldn't exactly express them to her own son. He hesitated a moment, then grinned. "I believe I confessed that I started early, hm? I always liked it."

"Early?" Long pale eyebrows lifted, genuinely curious now. These were things his family would not discuss; actual carnage, and the possibility in taking joy in it. "How early? My age?"

"Mmhm, or close at least."

Damian swallowed. "..who'd you kill? Another student? How did you do it?"

"Like I said, convinced him to meet us behind the school building. He had a terrible accident trying to cast magic he didn't know how to use." Qabian's grin was awful. "Of course, I wasn't alone, as I suspect you might be, if all your fellow students really are being funneled into careers without magic."

Damian frowned at the idea. "Everyone wants to be a Paladin. Or a ranger. With the Burning Legion so close, they're afraid of the fel, and I don't think anyone has the patience to learn the arcane. I think our professor frightened them off when he said how long it took to really master the arts. But they're either lazy or stupid.. besides. My father is a soldier, and it never brought him any happiness. Just...a lot of trouble. I don't see the point."

Qabian nodded, his hideous grin giving way to an odd, distant look. "Mm. My father was a soldier. I never met him. That's what being a soldier gets you, the losing side of the fights that matter. I suppose in a sense you'll get your kills that way if you stand aside so they can walk onto the front lines. It certainly doesn't feel as good as doing the job with your own hands."

"Or with fire," he countered, frowning a little. "My father does everything with his hands. He even works outside. Makes me work outside so I'll know what it's like. I've seen what war does to soldiers, and I've seen what war does to Magisters.." Damian smirked again. "I think I'd rather not be the one with my head bashed in."

Qabian makes an intricate gesture in the air, twisting his wrist, a series of tiny flames flickering around his upper arm and between his fingers. "Precisely. I use my hands, hm? But I don't have to touch a thing. They fall to their knees, then collapse, and they never stand again. A body can burn for hours, like a hundred candles at once. Or you add a little more heat, and there's nothing left at all. Whoever it was who stood in your way is nothing more than ash on the breeze. There's satisfaction to it you'll never find anywhere else."

Damian watched the flames as if he were watching a dance, something beautiful to be admired. As he watched, the young Sin'dorei began to mimic the movements, raising one of his hands to imitate Qabian's gesture. Flames covered his hand like a glove, less beautiful than the Magister's, but bright as his eyes that seemed to glow with more intensity. It looked less like a dance and more like a small bonfire at the end of his wrist. "The fire didn't go out right away," he said quietly, staring at his hand. "The Professor had to douse him twice. It was stronger than normal fire."

Qabian smiled, seeing memories he thought he'd lost in the boy's crude but earnest magic. Then his smile turned cruel, as it tended to do. "And you're sure you didn't want him to die?"

Blinking slowly, Damian turned his gaze from his hand to the magister. "Just because you want something doesn't mean you should do it. There aren't a lot of us left. If I killed other children, there'd be even less. Even if he's stupid, he's still useful. I guess."

Qabian frowned. His memories of the time the kid had been born were fragmented at best, and there was no real point in arguing the state of reality with a child. "The numbers are irrelevant. Ensuring a people continues by allowing the morons and mistakes," he paused on the word, "to continue simply because they're genetically correct is a sure path to disaster. His lack of importance might be a better reason. If he was merely annoying rather than offensive and simply needed to be taught a lesson rather than eliminated, fair enough. The best reason to avoid killing him, though, would be self-preservation. If you had murdered him in full view of everyone, you'd be facing far greater consequences than a temporary removal from the classroom and a stern talking-to from your parents, hm? Still, how badly you want something can have a measurable effect on the magnitude of your spells."

"I guess I didn't really want to kill him," Damian admitted, shrugging. "Just hurt him enough to scare him. I don't know anyone I want to actually kill, yet."

Qabian looked skeptical. "That seems difficult to believe. My implication was that you did, and that's why your magic was more powerful than expected, but that mitigating circumstances and lack of experience held you back."

Damian rolled his eyes. "If I wanted to kill him, I would have set more than his clothes on fire. I'm not a complete idiot. But that wouldn't get me anywhere. I might be susprended for a few days, but when I get back, they'll think twice about talking about my mother that way."

"And why do they talk about your mother that way?"

"Because people are afraid of what they don't understand, and saying stupid things about things they're afraid of makes them feel better." He scratched his nose.

"So simple childish malice directed at the easiest target, and not because she actually did something to earn the distaste of your peers?"

Damian shrugged. "She's common, I guess. And my father is a lot older than her. I guess it looks strange, but only idiots without anything better to do worry about things like that."

"So you never agree with anyone who says disparaging things about your mother?"

"I guess it depends on what they say."

Qabian smirked. "That's good. Wouldn't want to deny a truth just because you didn't like the way it sounded, hm?"

Damian's red eyes drifted over Qabian's face. "What kind of truth?"

Qabian shrugged. "Being common and marrying someone half in the grave might not be worth insulting, but having no integrity, or being a murderer out of repetitive laziness, or whatever incentive it is she has to prevent you from becoming more powerful might be worth criticizing, hm?"

"I'm pretty sure she's just overprotective," Damian countered, tilting his head critically. "But she and my father have been fighting hard on the Broken Shore, so anyone who criticizes her integrity is just wrong. At least she's out there, fighting. She's got some really powerful things out there, too. I think they're just jealous of how powerful she's gotten."

"That's possible. Are you?"

"No. She's my mother," Damian said dismissively. "I like her scythe, though. She uses it to steal souls."

"Hm. If my mother dropped me in a school where they failed to teach me proper spellwork then went around collecting powerful items without the slightest concern about my power, and helping me to be the best I can, I would have been rather frustrated."

Damian smirked a little. "I'm seven years old, sir. I don't have any reason to be that frustrated with my mother. Especially not if she lets me go to Dalaran."

"I suppose I can agree with that." Qabian folded his arms. "Do you know why they left you alone before?"

Damian furrowed his brow. "..I know my father was missing in battle. My mother went after him. I guess it took them a while to find each other."

"Were you angry?"

The boy lowered his eyes. "..a little. Yes."

Qabian grinned, slight this time, but just as smug. "Why?"

"Because.. I think they care more about each other than they do about me," he admitted. "That's why she keeps me so close, now. To try and show me that's not true."

Qabian's grin grew wider. "I think you're right, but she has to do her best to convince you it's not true, doesn't she? She can't just let you be angry, even if it's for a true and real reason."

Damian ran a hand through his hair. "I guess. I guess she has to try. Or at least she feels like she does. I don't know.. how did you know they left me alone?"

Qabian hesitated. "Didn't you say? When you mentioned why you needed power quickly? They might die and leave you alone again, hm?"

Damian tilted his head to one side. "..yeah. I guess so. But I guess that could happen to anyone in wartime. Better to be prepared, just in case, right?"

Qabian relaxed, then nodded with a smirk. "Next time they're forced to choose between you and each other, you need to be ready to be left alone. You convince your mother, hm?"

"I will," he said with a nod. "Will you be in the field?"

"I..." Qabian paused, only now recognizing he might have gotten into something more complicated than he intended. "Yes."

"Oh," Damian seemed a little disappointed. "So you wouldn't be around to do any training yourself."

Qabian grimaced, a bad attempt at hiding his complete distaste for the idea behind some kind of neutrality. "I... I'm sure I'll help with some of it. After all, there aren't many who can match my skill with fire and what's the point of any of it if you aren't learning from the best?" Why not pile lies upon more lies. It wouldn't be too long before it all blew up in his face.

Damian smiled genuinely. "Well, then I guess I'll see you again soon. Sir. Thank you."

Qabian bowed low. "I suppose I should ask your name, hm? Though I'm sure it'll be easy to tell which one is you." He made an offhand gesture at his eyes.

"Damian Bloodstone," the boy answered easily, bowing respectfully. "Sir."

"Right then." Qabian gave a lazy salute. "See you around." He turned on his heel to leave.

Damian watched him leave, his smile once again growing into a skeptical frown.

Qabian made his way back toward the school, figuring he should at least talk to Brightway. He couldn't help but laugh to himself. If nothing else, he'd made a mess. He doubted the kid would actually make it as far as murder any time soon, but it seemed some sort of disruption of the Bloodstone family's status quo was inevitable, which was all he'd really been after.

Edited by Ninorra
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Qabian    76

Qabian entered the classroom as Brightway was attempting to mop up the mess left behind after his earlier heroics dousing a flaming student. Qabian leaned back against the door jamb, his arms folded across his chest, smirking. “I see teaching hasn’t changed much over the last century.”
 
Brightway looked up with a scowl on his round face. “You bastard. What did you teach him?”
 
Qabian shrugged with a mock-innocent glance upward. “Me? Nothing. He taught himself. Didn’t you look through what I sent him?”
 
Brightway opened and closed his mouth like a fish as he realized how he was complicit in what happened. “Sure, you haven’t changed either.” He laughed a single too-loud laugh, then went back to mopping. “But if this keeps up, I’m going to make him your problem.”
 
Qabian sighed. “I’m beginning to realize that I’ve made him my own problem.”
 
“Eh?” Brightway paused and leaned on his mop. “What about the Kirin Tor?”
 
Qabian looked off to the side. “Yes, that’s... complicated.”
 
Brightway laughed his too-loud laugh again, letting the mop continue on its own just as Silvermoon’s brooms did. “Business as usual then.”
 
Qabian muttered under his breath, intentionally inaudible. This entire escapade was supposed to have been a simple but entertaining lesson in why raising children was a bad idea. The kid was supposed to have killed himself or someone else and been done with it. The story Qabian had concocted to make that happen shouldn’t have mattered, but despite his intentions, the lies continued on their merry way, twisting back on him. He should have known better, but some chaos was just too tempting to avoid, and now there were certain interweaving lines within the unfolding drama that led him to consider drawing out the play, better ways to misdirect blame, incite violence, and cause rifts between people he believed deserved misery.
 
Managing the Kirin Tor connection was going to be at best awkward, at worst actually harmful to Qabian’s cause. He still had enough confidence in his network of bribed and blackmailed mages to keep the story going without him ending up back in Stormwind, but he would have to play the part he had concocted while somehow avoiding Covenant sympathizers until he could extricate himself. Perhaps Esara could help keep the connections to the Magisters and the Tirisgarde, not so directly under the Kirin Tor’s watchful eye, maybe even get the kid mixed up with the Empyreans somehow.
 
“Brightway, make sure you use my name if you contact the Kirin Tor about him,” Qabian said as his thoughts came back around to the present.
 
“Of course. Why wouldn’t I?” Brightway asked.
 
“My new name. Grimfire.”
 
Brightway raised an eyebrow. “Sure, that’s a bit common sounding for you, isn’t it?”
 
Qabian’s smirk shifted into a glare. “It gets the point across.”
 
“Sure,” Brightway said with a shrug.
 
Qabian stepped forward, smirk sliding back into place. “In the future, you should be more careful what you give to your students.”
 
“In the future, I should be more careful about listening to you,” Brightway said with a curiously merry guffaw. “But if he’s going to be your problem, then I’ll just clean up this mess and be done with it.”
 
“Mmhm. Hopefully, this is the last I see of you.” Qabian rolled his eyes hard as he turned on his heel and left the room.

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Ninorra    19

Damian returned home at the usual time. The sun was at its hottest point, and a short shadow was cast as he made his way to the stables to perform his afternoon chores.

Vicailde was sat at a short stool seeing to Frank's shoes. The new hooves shimmered with a shimmering gold. Vicailde wore simply his linen pants and boots. His shirt hanging over the door to Frank's stable.

"If it isn't the little Lord." Frank mused his tall ears twitched as he turned to see Damian approach.

Vicailde turned in his seat, glancing over his shoulder. His hand resting in a loose fist on his leg. "Your school contacted me..." He trailed off as he turned fully in his chair to face his son. His face was stern, but seemed to be a bit conflicted. "...would you mind telling me your side of what happened?"

Damian seemed hesitant to walk into the stable. He frowned at Frank, but didn't feel confident enough to cast the same expression to his father. Pursing his lips, he approached the older Bloodstone and lifted his chin to face him. "He wouldn't leave me alone. He never does," he argued. "I warned him before, and he didn't listen. He kept saying things, so I finally did something about it."

Vicailde studied his son for a moment.  "Tell me. What will you do if he returns looking to make you pay for what you've done? Returns with friends?" He waved Damian in closer to him. "There are other ways of making people shut up. I spent years perfecting that art. Fear is an easy weapon to weild.. but it's fleeting and it turns on you. Respect is a far better path."

"I've tried that," Damian insisted, approaching his father cautiously. "I tried to ignore him. I tried asking nicely. He wouldn't listen, so I had to make him listen."

Vicailde sighed and studied his son for a moment. "I never said you had to take the high road or that you should take it laying down. However, first why do his words mean anything to you? Are you worried others may agree with whatever he said? Tell me. If a Lord on the council had said something similar would you attempt to set him on fire?"

Damian's eyes shot up toward Vicailde's, red and angry as the felsteed standing beside Frank. "They did say those things. About me, and mother. I didn't set them on fire because I had to be responsible for our home, but I don't need to take it from someone my own age. I had to make him see I'm not going to let him just get away with it."

Vicailde's face remained unchanged and he stared back into his son's eyes. He stood up slowly, towering over his son. "Then let us go. Tell me which Lord said these things and you can burn them too."

"...Vic..." Frank murmured quietly. Vicailde's hand opened quickly, causing the horse to fall silent.

Damian shook his head, confused. "That won't do anything but hurt our family. I can't just set everyone on fire," he argued, his lip trembling. "I just wanted to teach him a lesson. That's all."

Vicailde raised a brow looking down at his son. "So burning a defenseless child is fine but attacking someone who could fight back is out of the question?" Vicailde sighed and placed a hand on Damian's head comfortingly. "You are right. You can't set everyone on fire but, you can't teach idiots lessons; the world is full of them. They'll try to drag you down to the dirt because that's what they are. So you got a few options. Let them drag you down, ignore them and hide from their words, or you can reveal them for the idiots that they are. Knowing how to defend yourself if they attack you is helpful for any of them, but doing so in a way that embarrasses them is worth any physical pain you could inflict."

Damian's left eyebrow twitched at the explanation. "..you don't think setting him on fire was embarrassing enough? After all the teasing? You don't know what it's like. You were gone. I had to take everyone's insults while you were away, and they think I can just go to school and be like all the other kids? While you and mother fight the Legion, I'm fighting off other kids who remind me how common my mother is, how you paid for her, and how all I am is a.. an agreement you had."

Vicailde licked his lips slowly and sat back down. He placed a hand on Damian's shoulder. "No. There was nothing embarrassing about it. Everyone here remembers when the undead attacked and now the Legion is on their doorstep and they're too weak to fight them so they try to take their fear out on others. I didn't chose to leave you or your mother; I was taken." He took a slow breath and and shook his head. "As I said, they are dirt and their words are dirt. Do you doubt my love for your mother or you? They have these stupid rules about who should love who. I ignored those idiots. I rubbed their noses in it. I thought that I could protect you from it... that was my failing."

"You can't protect me from everything," Damian said quietly, shame written across his young face. "I have to be able to protect myself. I know you and mother love me. I know you love eachother, but nobody cares about any of that. All they care about is that I look different, and she looks different, and you're important so they have to tolerate me but nobody really wants to. Nobody here."

"I can't but I will try and I will try to teach you how to defend yourself." He took a slow breath and raised a hand to his own blue eyes. "They make fun of your eyes because they remind them what they lost. How the high elves look down on our people's green eyes. They want to drag those beneath them because they can't handle feeling 'tainted' but your eyes, your skin, your hair. These are all simply pieces. You can let them control you or you can own them and use them to your advantage." Vicailde ran a finger from the corner of his lip to his ear. "I used to have a scar that ran from my lip to my ear. At first people reeled at it. Imperfection was not tolerated back then as it isn't now. I would be lying if I didn't say it controlled me for awhile but, I learned to use it for apathy or fear as the situation called for it."

Damian squinted at his father, as if attempting to imagine what he must have looked like with a scar that big. "Well.. if you could do that with your scar, couldn't I do that with my eyes? I'm not planning on setting anyone else on fire," he said quickly, as if to defend himself. "I figured once would be enough."

Vicailde nodded slowly. "I would have traded my scar for eyes like thoses. However, no more burning. If you want to teach people a lesson you will have to do it with your tongue or your fists and if you want to learn to do that I can teach you."

Damian looked down at his hands, frowning deeply at the prospect. "..someone from the Kirin Tor came to see me. He said I had potential. That I should be in Dalaran, training." There was a pause as he gathered his courage. "..may I go?"

Vicailde paused and raised a brow. "We can go to Dalaran if you wish it. However, you will have to amend for what you did to this child first. If after that and a short visit you still wish to train there then you will have to prove it is something you wish to do. You will have to behave at school, do your chores, and... train with me."

"..train? You mean learn to fight?" He asked, squinting. Damian seemed to consider the possibilities he was being offered, weighing them. "Corvallis taught me swordfighting. He practices with me, sometimes. Fighting like that?"

Vicailde nodded and smiled softly. "Fighting, Survival, Politics, and other things. Forgive me. When I was taken you were just a baby and I couldn't handle how much you had grown on my return. I wanted you to be a child because I missed so much.  I recognize now that I shouldn't treat you like a child. However, this means that it won't be easy. You could continue relaxing at school and home if you wish."

"Relaxing? You think what I do is relaxing?" The boy said incredulously, more stressful in his motions than any child his age had the right to be. "There's nothing relaxing about being me," he said while looking toward Xanatos. "Not at school, not anywhere. "

Vicailde frowned and took hold of Damian's shoulders. "Yes. In comparison this is relaxing. It will be hard work. However, if you would prefer we can find ways to help you relax." Vicailde glanced towards Ninorra's steed. "There are several wards we can look into that will help keep them from speaking to you... and if you wish to learn from home instead of school that can be arranged for a time." Vicailde cleared his throat. "However, if you wish to learn how to harness innate abilities you must also learn how to do things that do not com naturally to you as well."

"..like fighting," Damian suggested quietly, looking down at his hands. "I'm not good at it like you are. I'm good at.. other things. Like studying, and casting spells, but.. that's why I do it. Because I know I'm not going to be a fighter like you were." There was a certin amount of shame in the boy's voice, as if he regretting this truth.

"I was a terrible fighter. I kept my nose in a book and I absolutely loved watching plays. It is what I always wanted to do. My father made me learn. I hated it. However, I grew to enjoy it in my own way. As I said, it's important to learn to do things that don't come naturally... unless you want to end up like those spoiled people who try to take the easy way their entire lives and fear change and difficulty."

"I don't want to be like them," Damian said defensively. He looked carefully at his father, as if confused. "..you hated fighting? Really? I thought you were always good at it.." he said thoughtfully, then shook his head. "But if you hated it, then why did grandfather make you do it?"

Vicailde cleared his throat and avoided his son's eyes for a moment. "He... had an idea for what I should be. Much was expected of me." He turned towards his son and smiled softly. "I don't expect you to be good at it, but I did learn much from it and I think you can to."

"I don't mind learning.." Damian relented. "I liked sword fighting with Corvallis. He's a really good fighter."

Vicailde sighed and nodded. "Again, you may still continue learning from him." Vicailde scratched his cheek lightly. "I didn't think you would be so reluctant to spend more time together.."

"..with you?" Damian asked, blinking. "I'm not.." he said carefully, looking for a way to explain his feelings. "..I didn't think you'd want to. With me."

"Of course. I'll admit I have been preoccupied since my return with the Legion and explaining our return to the council... If you go off to Dalaran I'll see even less of you. I'm sure your mother will want to steal some of your time for herself. We simply have been focused on ending this war so that we can return home. I suppose we just hoped we would have a few more years." He scoffed lightly. "Maybe you'll find a way of forgiving me later but those are my terms."

Damian lookes to his father thoughtfully, as if looking for something beyond his words. "I would have done it anyway," he said with a shrug, his own attempt at pride. "But if that's what I have to do for you to let me go to Dalaran, then I'll do whatever you say."(edited)

Vicailde smirked thoughtfully. "One last thing before you go work on your school work, what do you wish to do in Dalaran? You have been asking to go for a while now. What do you intend to see or learn?"

"I want to become a Magister," the smaller blonde explained, his eyes confident. "I want to learn from the best spellcasters in the world. I want to see Khadgar, and learn from the Kirin Tor. Archmage Grimfire was recruiting for them, he met me in Silvermoon."

Vicailde raised a brow curiously. "Oh? Curious I hope your incident at school doesn't change his mind. They can be fairly rigid about discipline. It requires a steel resolve to be a Magister least you end up falling to tainted power like our Prince did." Vicailde cleared his throat. "What do you wish to do with your powers once you learn them?"

"Defend our home," Damian answered easily, standing up a little straighter. "Take care of everyone."

Vicailde leaned back in his seat. "Why do you want to do that and who do you want to take care of?" He smirked lightly. "Doesn't have anything to do with that girl you kissed does it?"

"No!" Damian practically shouted, his face turning a shade of red. "No, it's just.. I don't know if something will happen to you and mother again. So if it does, I need to be ready. Just in case."

Vicailde ticked his tongue lightly. "You can't prevent or predict what will happen, but I've learned you should pursue interests outside of self preservation. We have enough money to hire more guards for the homestead if you wished for protection. Either the armies will win or we won't but you pushing yourself for that goal probably won't resolve it." Vicailde shrugged lightly. "I'm not saying don't train for war but focus on something that makes you happy. Magisters do far more than fight. They studied our world to understand it for the sake of knowledge."

"..I like studying," the boy admitted, shrugging. "I think.. maybe if I'm in a place where everyone else is studying, maybe I won't be so different."

Vicailde nodded and gave his hair another ruffle. "Good. Now go see to your chores and don't forget to clean up for dinner." I'm sure your mother will have some words for you when she returns.

Damian winced and turned to the door. "She's going to overreact.."

Vicailde cleared his throat. "Go easy on your mother. She struggled with her powers when she was your age... and she had no one to help her. She simply does not want to lose you. To the fel or to Dalaran."

The boy looked somewhat guilty with himself. "I'll be fine. She should be more worried about getting hurt on the Shore. I read about the demons there. They're huge, and they have ships firing beams from the sky at people below."

"Well they're not just firing at the shore. They're firing at Dalaran and I have seen more than a few Demons on the pavilion from time to time. If you're worried about her then know the more she worries about you the less she'll be able to concentrate on her surroundings.... Besides there is nothing that will make her worry any less about you only more."

Damian sighed heavily, as if the weight of the world were on his shoulders. "Even if she knows I can defend myself? If I were more powerful, I could fight back better than I can now."

Vicailde chuckled. "You could become better than Khadgar and she would worry no less. I am not saying you shouldn't train. I am simply reminding you that your mother worries not because she doesn't trust you but because she loves you."

Frowning in an all-too-familiar expression, Damian lowered his eyes back to the ground. "I love her too. I'll be good. I promise. Thank you, father."

Vicailde nodded turning back to the task at hand. His steed looked down at him and Frank's lips parted in a toothy grin. "So sweet."

"Shut it." Vicailde muttered in his breath as he lifted the hood back into his view.

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Qabian    76

After some co-ordination with Brightway, Qabian sent a note in the mail for the child to meet him by the Antonidas Memorial in Dalaran at a specified time. Qabian set two Kirin Tor agents at the entrance to the small park, one human, one high elf, both wearing tabards. They looked like they were there to be professional, but they were actually being paid to keep an eye out for certain other members of the Kirin Tor and the Alliance who might want to start shit. For his own tabard, Qabian wore Silvermoon City's.

The mage rolled up his sleeves as he waited next to the statue, looking upward, amused by how the city managed to hide the roiling green sky behind an illusion of normalcy.

It had taken Damian several hours worth of coaxing to get Ninorra to allow him a visit to Dalaran. In the end, his agreement with Vicailde proved to be the linchpin. She couldn't baby him forever, and he was willing to do whatever it took for her to allow him a trip to Dalaran, which in this case, meant her accompanying him. He'd only been to the city once, but was fascinated by everything that he saw. Dressed in his school iniform, he looked somewhat less foreboding than his mother, who dressed in the black and red robes of a warlock that only accentuated their red eyes. Spikes decorated with the skulls of demons protruded from her shoulders, gaudy and at least a little ridiculous.

As they approached the agreed-upon spot where Damian suggested they meet Grimfire, Ninorra was going over her worries with the boy.

"..and then there are the Alliance.. most are fine, but there are more than a few who would start trouble with a boy like you if only to get under our--

"There he is, mother," Damian said, relieved to interrupt her tirade as he pointed toward Qabian. "That's Mister Grimfire."

A horrible grin spread across Qabian's face. The jig was finally up. 

Qabian gave Ninorra a lazy two-fingered salute when she noticed him. Their last conversation had been cordial enough, but he had more distance then. In truth, he was surprised the kid had managed to convince her at all. Despite the name change, Qabian had at no point intentionally hidden his identity since he mentioned it to Damian. That and Dalaran itself was clearly a step towards steering the child into danger, whoever's idea it may have been. He certainly hadn't expected her to show up herself. He'd assumed something else would have to happen for Damian to even make it to the city.

"That's Magister," he directed at Damian. "Ninorra," Qabian said by way of greeting, bowing shallow toward her.

"...oh, you're joking," Ninorra said in a low voice. If she was angry, the warlock was very good at hiding it. Then again, it may have been difficult to tell by the way she looked at Qabian, first curious and then, very interested.  Holding on to Damian's hand, she kept her tone even. Her voice was still melodic, even when she spoke, but there was a definite protective quality to it that one would expect from a mother. "You recruited the only boy with red eyes in Silvermoon. What a coincidence," she said dramatically.

The warlock returned his bow, a few strands of straightened black hair falling into her eyes. 

Damian followed suit, his white hair curlier than it was straight, resembling something close to lamb's wool. "Magister."

Qabian nodded at the Kirin Tor stooges who were looking at him for confirmation. They turned their backs to the three of them, returning their attention to the street.

"He's also the only boy at all that I saw out in the street destroying the decor." Qabian crouched, bringing himself down to the boy's level. "Weren't you, Master Bloodstone?" A tiny flame dancing in his palm, Qabian held his hand out to the boy as if he would know what to do with it.

Damian's expression was fairly blank as he stared at the fire, plucking it from Qabian's hand with his fingertips.

"Oh, and you just so happened to be on the lookout for young boys that day?" Ninorra asked innocently, as if the question had no moral connotations.

Qabian grinned, slightly less horribly, at Damian's response to the magic. "See, he should be here." Qabian looked up at Ninorra without standing. "Gender is irrelevant. Potential is what matters. But if you must phrase it that way, then yes," he lied. "Is that a problem?"

"Oh no, no problem," she replied casually, also lying. "I spend a lot of time in Dalaran myself. This may even be more convenient, since I will have both him and Sanctuary so close by to each other. He even mentioned that you would be personally teaching him a few things?" 

There was a pause as she smiled.

"If that is the case, we will be seeing quite a bit of each other."

The hesitation behind Qabian's grin was not well hidden. There was an instinct to groan and stalk away that took him some effort to suppress, but beyond a shadow over his face and a shift in his expression, he didn't react much. 

"I will, so it seems, both be teaching him and seeing you." He dropped his hand, watching to see what the boy would do with the small flame.

Qabian turned that horrible grin back on Ninorra. "Unless you have a problem with that, of course."

"Oh no," the warlock purred, a hand shifting to Damian's shoulder. It wasn't quite firm enough to be overprotective, but it was a reminder of her presence. "On the contrary. I think he can learn a lot from you."

Qabian finally stood up, straightening his tabard. "Of course he can. But it's dangerous here, hm? That's why you kept him in Silvermoon in the first place, yes? He may even get himself killed, but that doesn't bother you, does it?" The glint in Qabian's eyes was absolutely cruel.

"I suppose it is a little scary to see one's first born leave home for the first time," Ninorra admitted, acquiescing. Just enough. "But then again, the closer he is to our guild hall, the more eyes I can have on him. They say 'it takes a village to raise a child'. Well, luckily for me, I have an entire guild worth of passionate, principled, virtuous friends who will not hesitate to step in should they see him in any sort of trouble."

It was then that Damian glanced up at his mother with a raised eyebrow. He knew better than to interrupt adults when they were talking, but he had an inkling about the subject matter. Slowly, the fire spread to cover his palm.

Qabian's grin vanished thoroughly. He frowned, almost scowling at Ninorra's words. This conversation was not proceeding at all had how he expected it might. To be honest, he'd expected to be slapped. If what she said was true, and that Sanctuary was going to be up in his business all the time because he'd had a stupid idea that had long since gone off the rails and was now careening directionless into the twisting nether, he was going to be extremely unimpressed.

The fire over the boy's hand did bring a touch of a smile back to Qabian's face, though. 

Qabian shrugged. "Fine. Then I won't even try to be careful. Spies everywhere. Let the kid learn as he will. He's perfectly safe without my help. Just point him at the demons and let him go. Understood."

Ninorra raised a sculpted eyebrow. That he was trying to goad her was clear, but she had memories of him being a lot better at it than he was being now. "I think you will try to be careful," she said gently, attempting to make things less confrontational. Time would tell how much her efforts would pay off. "I think you will try to be careful, because while it's obvious that you're trying to gain something from this, I don't think you are the type to crave chaos so much that it leads you down the path of self destruction."

A pause. Damian rolled his hand in the air, watching the flames lick his hand without harming him.

"..unless things really have changed."

"Perhaps they have. I have zero intention of being careful," he said, the small smile growing back into a terrible grin as he watched the boy play with the fire. "Being careful was the mistake Silvermoon made. Being careful is what sent him here. Being careful may as well have kept him locked in his crib. Insinuating that your oh-so-virtuous friends would be watching me was simply you giving me parental permission to do what I already intended." 

Qabian turned his eyes on Ninorra then. "I have no plans on self-destruction. I'm not afraid of Sanctuary, and I'm certainly not afraid of you. In theory, this is about your son, and no doubt he will benefit from being allowed to learn from his own mistakes. Give a child a sharp blade, and they'll either very quickly become skilled at avoiding the edge or very quickly die finding out how it works, hm?"

"Luckily for Damian, his father has taught him how to use blades," Ninorra said with a cooling expression. 

The boy looked up as his name was mentioned, the fire going out almost immediately in his hand. Glancing from his mother to the Magister, his expression was difficult to read. 

"You are not the type of person to care for anyone outside of yourself," his mother continued, waving a hand dismissively. "That much I already know, so it is no insult when you insinuate that I care too much. Of course I do. I am his mother, and that will not change no matter how much older or more capable he becomes. The fact of the matter is, I trust my son to learn from mistakes. His own," she squeezed his shoulder once, smiling down at the boy before returning her gaze to Qabian's. "..and those around him."

Qabian's unpleasant grin softened when Ninorra declared the type of person he was, setting him in opposition to herself. What she was saying had not always been true, but for the present, she was absolutely correct, and to Qabian, that in itself was the greatest quality about his return. For just a moment, he paused to revel in that knowledge, even if the recognition of it was coming from someone whose opinion he considered without value.

"Good," Qabian said. "I'm sure Damian will agree." He looked down at the boy. "You will learn much faster than you ever did in Silvermoon, but it will also be much more difficult and much more painful. You're not afraid of getting hurt, are you?"

Damian almost rolled his eyes. Almost. He suddenly saw the value of his father's lessons, those long days spent outside learning how to throw a real punch and use what little strength he had to wrestle an opponent three times his size. He wasn't a gifted fighter, which meant a lot of lessons in pain. "No."

"Good. You'll have plenty of chances to prove it." There was a surprising lack of condescension in Qabian's tone, almost as if he was earnestly interested in seeing how the child would cope. He turned back to Ninorra. "Will he be staying with you or Sanctuary here? Or does he need a place?"

"He will be staying in our guild hall," she answered easily, glancing in the hall's direction. "Will you be providing him with a schedule? Or should we look for word from the Kirin Tor?"

"I will... set a schedule." Part of Qabian was rebelling against the entire idea of this. What the fel was he doing? But the part of him that was in charge was telling him to keep his mouth shut, because doing things against his very nature was going to get him what he needed. "I assume he has no other commitments and can work around mine? Unfortunately, there are places in the city he won't be able to access without me, but I'll make sure the libraries outside the tower are open to him at all times, day and night."

Qabian crouched down in front of Damian again. "I expect you'll want to be exploring the books while I'm not around, and you should absolutely do that as often as you can. None of them should be forbidden to you, but before you go looking, there are two important things to know." Qabian held up one finger. "Only read one at a time. Some of the tomes the Kirin Tor keep around have strange interactions with each other that can't be seen on the surface. If you open several at a time, especially in certain places, you risk opening demon portals into the city." He held up a second finger. "It's best to treat them with respect. Silvermoon's books are better trained. Dalaran's books have a tendency to get annoyed by the smallest things and may react unpredictably. Understand?"

"Yes," Damian said calmly, nodding once. 

Ninorra bowed her head gently in agreement. "He will be available when you are. The rest of his time will be spent studying. My one condition is that he not leave Dalaran unless it is with myself or his father. If you absolutely must go somewhere for any reason, I will accompany you."

Qabian kept his attention on Damian. "Do you agree to that? Do you want mommy or daddy tagging along every time you want to go anywhere interesting? Do you want to be stuck in the city whenever your parents and I can't arrange our schedules?"

Damian opened his mouth to argue, but paused. The boy studied Qabian's face, as if studying something. "...sir. i made a deal with my father. I'll keep my word and not leave the city without them."

Qabian looked up at Ninorra. "Assuming I agreed to this ludicrous restriction that misses the entire point of coming this far at all, how exactly would you stop me from breaking it?"

Ninorra cocked her head at the red haired elf. "You're asking how I would stop you from kidnapping my son?" She asked with an amused smirk. "Surely you are smart enough to know why I would keep that under my hat. Besides the fact that I trust my son not to simply disobey us."

"In this city, there are times he would be alone with me and this city has an abnormally large amount of exits to absolutely anywhere. Kidnapping would be the simplest thing if I were to take it into mind to be something I wanted. As it is, you may have to decide whether you want him to be my apprentice or your baby. It seems both states are incompatible," Qabian elucidated.

"That is where you and I must disagree, Qabian. You can not and will not take Damian from this city without me." 

Ninorra's red eyes flashed a little brighter, then almost immediately dimmed once more.

"And, pleasantries and your lack of fear aside, I would not envy you if you tried."

Qabian stood and straightened his tabard. "So be it. I'm sure the Kirin Tor will find some junior mage willing to mind your child while you're busy, but I have better things to do than babysit and take family picnics. I'll find an apprentice whose parents aren't so determined to crush his curiosity and willingness to learn."

Ninorra folded her arms, smirking. "Perhaps. I am sure Silvermoon is full of talented young students who would be honored to be your apprentice. None of them a child of Sanctuary, of course. Or with Damian's particular background." She shrugged. "You are free to choose, of course. I know Damian will be disappointed, and that is a shame.."

Damian scowled at the ground.

"..but you can not always have what you want. That is an important lesson."

Qabian mirrored the child's scowl, but he did so deliberately, intending to show a feeling that seemed appropriate yet didn't betray his actual thoughts. Ninorra had neatly called Qabian's bluff, but the part of him that didn't want any of this mess was rejoicing, trying convince him to simply take the ever so convenient exit provided, to throw his hands up and abandon this idiotic mission.

In the end, Qabian let the scowl fade and spoke directly to Damian. "I could lie. It would be very easy to lie, to tell your parents what they want to hear, to say that I will do what they wish, and in the meanwhile put my efforts behind their backs into convincing you not to listen to them. But while I don't put much stock by your parents' opinions, given how they've tried so hard to stifle your learning at every turn, simply lying would be doing a disservice to you, young master. 

"I won't be taking any other apprentices. I will let you know when you can find me, and I will teach you what I can, limited though it will be without real situations and real targets. However, I will not be going anywhere with your parents present, outside the city or within it. You've managed to convince them to let you come this far. You can do that again. Convince them to let you go as far as you actually need to, then we'll see what we can do."

Damian looked earnestly toward the magister. He had been through a lot in his few short years, and he had experience with adults attempting to manipulate him. There was a certain aura oozing from Qabian. Something sinister and uneasy. So much so that he wondered, briefly, why his typically overprotective mother would let him get so close. Surely he was dangerous? But her hand on his shoulder was symbolic. She was there, watching. Listening.

"Yes, sir. I will," he said calmly. It was not a lie.

Qabian took a deep breath in through his nose and faced Ninorra, folding his arms across his Silvermoon tabard. "Well, then. You have your demands. I have mine. I suppose that settles that for now?"

"For now," the warlock agreed, bobbing her head once. "Until he hears from you, then. Safe travels, Qabian."

"Mm. Something like that." Qabian frowned as he waved off the Kirin Tor guards who had been standing nearby, then cast a teleport spell, vanishing off to who knows where.

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Qabian    76

Qabian arranged for the child to meet him by the statue of Antonidas again. The mage was wearing blue this time, no longer opting for the extremely plain robes and no longer wearing a mask about town, but still refraining from the level of ostentatious that was his usual preference. He also continued to keep his hired Kirin Tor watching the street.

Punctual as usual, Damian arrived in what looked like well-crafted black pants and a white tunic cinched by a leather belt. He was dressed modestly, for someone from such a well off family, but it seemed as if there was an effort being made to ignore that. His curly white hair seened recently trimmed, but still wouldn't lie flat against his head. Slung over one shoulder was a leather satchel, where he stored his notebook, quill, several reference books and, at his mother's insistence, a first aid kit. 

"Sir," he said politely to the magister, bowing his head respectfully.

Qabian smirked at the child's approach. Something about the white tunic and curls was bringing the innocence to slaughter metaphor into sharp relief. "Young master." Qabian offered a curt nod. "How have you been finding the city? Had the opportunity to visit any libraries yet?"

"Yes sir," Damian answered with a nod. "I've been studying fire elementals and the War of the Three Hammers."

Qabian tilted his head slightly. "What drew you to those subjects?"

"My mother has a staff from the Firelands. It's very old and powerful," the boy explained. "She said that if you find things like that, it's important to know their origin so you can use it. If you don't, you might wind up using it incorrectly. I'd like to go to the Firelands, someday." There was a hint of a smile on his face as he said this.

"She's not entirely wrong. We could go there right now, but... not today, I suppose." Qabian shrugged, smirking unpleasantly. "Do you know who this is?" The mage gestured to the statue beside him.

Damian shook his head slowly. "No, sir."

Qabian raised an eyebrow. "His name was Antonidas. He led the Kirin Tor for most of its recent history. Human. Of course." Qabian's tone was bitter. "A child prodigy. I suppose he's meant to be a testament to what such a child can become." He looked pointedly at Damian as he spoke. "Jaina was one of his apprentices. He was, amusingly, ultimately killed by Jaina's own pet Arthas when the Scourge ransacked this very city. There is one reason and one reason only why this man's spirit does not still haunt this place. Can you imagine what that might be?"

"Was.. his spirit freed by Prince Kael'thas? I remember reading about that," Damian said quickly. "There were a few spirits left, and his was one of them. The Prince freed him."

"Precisely. Kael'thas," Qabian hissed. "If it weren't for Kael'thas, if it weren't for us, if it weren't for me, Jaina's precious old man would still be fighting nightmares long since dead. And she had the audacity to try and erase us from this city?" Qabian spat on the small plaque in front of the statue. "They would have been devoured by the Legion before even learning how to light candles if it weren't for us. We should have let it happen." Qabian took a deep breath, stifling the more obvious edge to his anger. "But here we are. Again. Do you want to see what they're hiding in that tower?" He gestured towards the Violet Citadel.

Damian looked toward the tower, his brow furrowed in thought. Throughout the rant, he took mental notes; both on Qabian's words, and his candor. "..is that allowed?"

Qabian nodded. "If you're my apprentice. However, there are no stairs or doors. There's only one way in." He smiled, an oddly incongruous expression, and opened a portal.

There was an obvious amount of thought that went into Damian's decision making. Staring at the portal, he seemed to be going over his options. Go through the portal and risk his emotionally unstable mentor throwing him off a cliff? Trust him not to murder him at the first opportunity. The boy put a hand against his bag and held it close to himself, then walked through the portal.

Qabian's smirk stretched into a grin at the child's reticence. Smart kid, considering all that had been said in his presence. The question of why the portal didn't simply open over old Dalaran's crevasse went unanswered, though, as both mage and apprentice stepped from the portal into a open foyer. 

In front of them was a large fountain where two statues that looked not unlike the one they had just left stood holding glittering staves over an eternally overflowing vessel. The unblinking eye of the Kirin Tor featured prominently in the decor around the high-ceilinged hall, and the walls were covered with so many extravagantly framed paintings -- many of them portraits that seemed to move -- and stone busts of mages past that the stonework behind them was difficult to see. Books and scrolls lay about haphazardly on almost every surface. 

Mages of all races went about their business, some walking by casually while chatting in pairs, others alone but rushing quickly from one place to another, thoughtlessly interspersing their quick jogging pace with shimmering blinks across the space ahead of them. Conspicuously absent was any sign of children whatsoever.

"This is the Hall of the Guardian. The books are up those stairs behind the fountain, but I doubt we'll get to those today. Follow me," Qabian explained, turning to his left towards a set of stairs curving slightly downward.

Damian followed Qabian closely, careful not to let himself be distracted by all of the sights and sounds. He was curious, but understood the price of curiosity.

Qabian led the boy through a hall where several mages were casting spells at large constructs of floating shields and weapons surrounding shimmering blue crystals. "These are for training. Again, we may get to them later." He moved to the back of the room where against every wall were desks and benches cluttered with books and scrolls. The space was surprisingly quiet, despite the chaos of the practical spellcasting training that flashed behind them. He smiled strangely as he gestured to the room and the mages working there. "Almost everyone here is an apprentice like you." 

Qabian approached an empty space at a bench and disdainfully moved a steaming mug of something someone had left behind to one side. "Now tell me," he said quietly to the boy. "How are your demons treating you since you arrived?"

"They've been quiet. Mostly," he answered awkwardly, shifting from one foot to the other. It was clear that this was a subject Damian was not comfortable with. "Usually the demons that talked to me were my mother's, but sometimes I heard voices. Since I came here I haven't heard them unless I walked too close to that sewer that leads to the Dreadscar Rift. They don't really say much, unless I'm in trouble or they're trying to help me with something."

Qabian tilted his head slightly as he listened to the boy's explanation. "Curious. I had thought perhaps because this place is far closer to a great deal more Legion activity than Quel'thalas that there would have been a significant increase in their demands on your mind, but it seems they only bother with you when they have reason?" Qabian shrugged. "Do you want to fix that, to stop them, or at least look into and experiment with stopping them? Or are you fine with the way things are?"

"How would I stop them completely?" The boy asked cautiously, tilting his head. "Is that possible?"

"It's difficult to know without looking further into the details and causes of why and how you hear them in the first place, but I'm sure you can imagine given magic's tendency to provoke the Legion that we have people who specialize in defending against just that sort of thing. It's not my specialty, but there are people I could ask. You might not like how such research turns out, though, as it would be... experimental at best," Qabian explained. The tone of his voice sounded sincere, but there was something not quite right about the offer.

"Experimental?" Damian repeated. Qabian's tone wasn't lost on him. He knew better than to believe the magister had his best interest at heart, but if he was going to make good on his promise, he couldn't allow himself to be afraid of the outcome. "I don't mind. I'm not afraid. My mother is a warlock, but that's not what I want to do."

Qabian smirked slyly. "Good. You know the line between mages and warlocks may not be as clear as some assume. Have you heard of the Empyrean Society?" Qabian glanced sideways as he dropped the name.

Damian shook his head. "No. Never. Are they.. a hybrid class sort?"

"They are mages, for now, but they believe that the study of magic should not be limited. They work with shadow and fel magic as well as elemental and arcane." Qabian looked upward thoughtfully. "I wonder if they bother with light. I doubt it. Too philosophical, not enough power in it for them," he mused. "The Kirin Tor disagrees entirely with that philosphy, however, and they are not on good terms. Mages opening themselves up to working with fel magic generally aren't approved of in the current climate." He kept his voice low.

The boy eyed Qabian, then looked around them. They were surrounded by others, but those others seemed too distracted by their own work to pay much attention to the red haired magister and his apprentice. "..I didn't think we'd be breaking the rules on the very first day," he admitted, then smiled a little. "But if you can do it all, why wouldn't you?"

Qabian finally bothered to sit down in one of the wooden chairs before the bench and leaned back, steepling his fingers. "Perhaps if I had ever felt that I reached my limit, I would consider expanding those particular horizons, but I don't need to do it all. I resist reaching into frost as it is. Moving beyond that... certainly isn't worth the risks. I have so much farther to go with the arcane. I'm a good, pure mage." He smirked horribly. "But if you ever start to feel limited? They're out there. You'll just have to, yes, break the rules, if that's something you want."

"For now, I want to learn," Damian said with a determined frown. "I can ignore the demons. They're noisy, but I know what it is they're trying to do. They did the same thing to my mother and I know that eventually, she'll be corrupted by it. My uncle became an Illidari. He has to cover himself in tattoos just to control it. That's not what I want."

Qabian nodded, a hand on his chin. "Hmm. Can you speak Common?"

"Not fluently," Damian admitted a little shamefully. "But Steinburg taught me basic stuff. I can understand most of it."

"That's good enough. Filthy language, but it will widen the options for who I can go to for help." He sat forward and straightened his robes. "Now what do you know about the Guardian this place is named after?"

"I didn't know it was named after a particular guardian.. I know about the guardians Aegwynn, and Medivh."

"You are correct. Although it could have been named after the first," Qabian said with a glance toward the stairwell, "I believe this Hall is simply named after the role rather than any individual, and seeing as there can only be one at any given time... The Guardian. But what do you know of the role, or of those two you mentioned?"

"I know the Kirin Tor appointed a guardian," Damian began slowly, looking up as he recited. " He or she is supposed to protect the realm. They can't refuse the King if summoned. The King of Stormwind, that is.. Medivh was a guardian, but he was corrupted by the fel. He's responsible for the orcs coming here. His mother, Aegwynn, served for almost five hundred years before him."

Qabian raised an eyebrow. "You've had some curious instruction. Have you heard of the Council of Tirisfal? Do you know why a Guardian was ever needed?"

Damian smiled a little. "Steinburg told me. Since he's human, he knows stuff from both sides. The Council of Tirisfal is supposed to elect the Guardian. They selected a guardian to protect Azeroth against demons."

Qabian steepled his fingers again. "I suspect he was wrong on many things. We made the Guardian, you and I, our people. It is only of the Kirin Tor in as much as it was Dalaran that caused a need for such a thing. A bunch of barbarians from Arathor thought they could toy with magic, and when the streets of their city inevitably filled with demons, they begged us for help. Silvermoon needed to step in and prevent them from setting their own hair on fire, prevent them from repeating the Highborne's mistakes that we already knew about and they blundered into like thoughtless morons. The Guardian was our attempt at helping them keep themselves from falling down the stairs like the infants they are."

Qabian looked around the hall with an expression of disdain. "All these people, all these races, they've all forgotten that, of course. This would all have fallen apart at its inception, the world would have been eaten the moment humans touched magic, had it not been for us. They benefit from what is ours while never acknowledging who it actually belongs to."

Damian cocked his head to one side at the explanation. "..but.. we're still a part of it all. They can't deny that, right? And why would they want to? We'll always be better at this than they are. It's what we're made of."

Qabian grinned. "Exactly." His grin faded instantly. "But go down to the bottom of this tower and see who is watching the streets, see who owns this city. It would not exist without us, but they are trying to erase us. We are still a part of it, yes, for now, but we have been pushed to the side and all but forgotten by the arrogance of those who owe us everything. And every high elf who keeps their eyes blue, who refuses to touch the fel, who refuses to rename themselves after the blood of those we lost, is nothing but the worst kind of traitor." That sentence turned low and angry as the mage glared at the floor, but he suddenly straightened up in his chair and turned his focus back to the boy. "You're very young to inquire about this, but we've touched on the subject before. Have you killed?"

The boy shook his head slowly. He turned to look back at Qabian, pushing the fear of what he might have had in mind deep into the pit of his stomach. There was no time for fear or apprehension, now. "No."

Qabian tilted his head with a sly smirk. "Really now? I know, or at least have made the deduction that you haven't killed a person. That's perfectly reasonable at your age. I'd be somewhat suspicious if you had, to be honest. But have you ever killed anything? Small creatures? Insects? A plant?"

"..a plant?" He repeated, blinking a few times. "I.. guess maybe a plant? No animals that I can think of, though.. we don't kill our own meat, and my mother only gardens flowers. I've never really had any pets."

Qabian laughed. "While I might advocate having pets for the purpose of killing them, it does sound counterintuitive. But it does strike me as odd that you might have never swatted an insect. If I recall my youth correctly, which it's quite possible I do not, boys your age frequently pulled the wings off flies and set fire to anthills." He stood from his chair and moved toward the balcony behind the training constructs. "Perhaps creatures are where we should start then. I've seen you take on stationary objects with fire. How's your accuracy with moving targets?"

"It's been getting better," Damian answered quickly, following the magister closely behind. "Steinburg taught me how to shoot projectiles at clay disks. He has this machine that shoots them. He said usually, humans and dwarves use them for shooting guns but taught me to shoot fire at them instead."

Qabian pushed one of the tables around the balcony to one side and stood at the railing, looking out over the city of Dalaran far below. The Hall was a curious place. From the city, it couldn't be seen, but from inside, the city was clearly visible. "There aren't many birds up here, but a few find their way and think it's ideal for nesting." He glanced upwards. "Provided the fel bats aren't around. If you see one, kill it. In the meantime, do you have any questions?"

Damian chewed on the inside of his cheek. "..I'm killing birds? For how long?"

Qabian smirked. "Start with one."

The boy turned toward the balcony, furrowing his brow as he considered his assignment. He wasn't happy with the idea of killing innocent birds, but if they were making nests where they didn't belong, there wasn't much else anyone could do besides waste time removing them. Focusing on a bird that flew in front of them both, Damian waited until it was close enough that he could see its eyes. Only then did he point a finger in its direction and send a small ball of fire zooming toward the creature, engulfing it with flames for a moment before it fell blackened to the ground.

Qabian watched the charred bird fall. It was a long way down. "Good. How do you feel?"

Damian shrugged, but took a moment to reply. "..I don't know. Bored?"

Qabian chuckled. "That bird's eggs will grow cold and never hatch. Or perhaps they've already hatched and the babies will starve now. Or perhaps its mate will wait for a return that will never happen. Did you consider any of that?"

There was a moment where it seemed as if Damian considered his actions a little deeper. Perhaps even felt remorse. That moment passed quickly. "..they're just birds, though. Someone would have killed them, anyway."

Qabian smirked. "Doubtful. No one cares about them much. Except us. Today. They would have lived out their lives, enjoying each other's company and the breeze, until they grew old and died, just as we do. But your capacity to move past empathy is something that will help you a great deal. Best to practice it when you can."

"Yes sir," Damian said quietly, looking toward the sky again. A few more birds flew past them, carefree.

"That and hitting a small moving target is no easy feat for a mage who spends more time with books than on the field. Well done. Do it again." Qabian clasped his hands behind his back as he waited for another bird to pass. "You mentioned the Dreadscar Rift. I know... nothing of it, other than that it exists, but have you been into the city's Underbelly?"

"Once, with my mother," he admitted, eyeing another bird. As it flew close enough for him to see the its eyes clearly, the boy fired another blast of fire and let its blackened corpse fall to the ground. "It smells bad. There's a black market, there, and people fight. Mother didn't take me down there for very long. She just wanted to show me where the portal was."

"Good shot. You may stop now if you wish." Qabian smiled unpleasantly. "Why did she want to show you the portal?"

"The Black Harvest," he explained nonchalantly. "She told me that if.. something ever happened to her, and then I decide later that I want to learn from them, I should go there."

Qabian grimaced. "I wouldn't recommend it, but I suppose if something happens to her before you deal with your own demon issues, it's only practical. The Kirin Tor and Tirisfalen have plenty of experience separating magic users from demons that would suggest going instead towards further demonic interaction is thoroughly unnecessary, but perhaps there's more going on with you and your mother than the ordinary seduction of power." Qabian shrugged. "She left instructions that you're not to leave the city, but she doesn't mind you going into the sewers?" he inquired.

"Only with her," Damian corrected. "But if something happens to her and father, then yes, I guess I'd have to go by myself."

Qabian scowled as he looked out over the city. "They're certainly doing their best to make it so that teaching you would both far simpler and far more interesting for you if both of them were dead." He turned back towards the Hall. "Is there anything particular you wish to learn?"

Damian nodded quickly. "I want to learn how to really feel the magic that we use. I know I don't feel it yet, it doesn't feel like anything. Just what I'm made of, and it comes to the surface, but when I read about the best mages they all talk about this sort of.. I guess knowledge. Of the universe. That they feel from the inside, and it gives them this sort of power and understanding that others don't have."

Qabian grinned. "Just what you're made of." He looked down at the boy. "That is the universe. Everyone else in here," he motioned to the hall and the other mages in it, "is made of dirt. You are made of magic. They all have to work and work and work, study and study and study, toiling their whole lives just to be able to do what you can do without a second thought. It's possible you will never feel it because you are it. You can't know it's a gift if you had it the day you were born. How can you know how good it is to breathe when you have never known what it's like to drown? But... I think I understand. You want more than you've known thus far. You want to at least know where everything else is. You want to see where the door opens to everything you haven't seen yet. You want the books that rip away the veil between you and phenomenal cosmic powers. Am I right?"

Damian shrugged, a little embarrassed. He understood that what he was asking for might have seemed ridiculous, or at least that's why he kept it to himself."...yes."

"It would be so much easier to show you that, or at least an easily tasted facet of it, if we could leave this bubble of a city. Karazhan, Ulduar, the elemental planes, the Tomb under this very city..." Qabian sighed. "But you can find smaller steps, echoes, hiding here in the books. The tomes that would do it for you instantly are not so easy to get even my hands on. But you were on the right track with your study of the elementals and the dwarf wars. Keep going further. Find what you can on the Firelands themselves. I recommend adding anything you can find on the Council of Tirisfal to your search. Khadgar is who he is because of Medivh. All of them are who they are because of Silvermoon."

The towheaded boy nodded obediently. That he was being assigned to read more books didn't seem to put him off. Rather, the subject itself seemed to invigorate him. "Yes sir. I'll do that."

"Good. I have other places to be," Qabian said. "I'd just leave you up here to do what you like, but given that there's no exit, I think your mother would worry about you and we should head back down, hm?"

Damian looked around them for a moment, then down from the balcony. "Yes sir. I'll study for the rest of the day."

Qabian nodded and opened a portal back to the city below.

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Ninorra    19

The past month had been strange for Qabian. He had been distracted with projects other than Damian's education, and that had probably been noticeable to the child at their occasional meeting for lessons, but the effect had been almost calming for the Magister. Qabian took refuge and respite in sharing his knowledge, falling into a comfortable routine of helping Damian practice and improve for a few brief hours before returning to the far less simple work waiting for the Magister elsewhere.

However, with said projects nearly completed to his satisfaction, Qabian remembered why he had agreed to do any of this apprenticeship business in the first place. He was disappointed in letting himself slip, but hoped he could at least count on the uneventful time that had passed to have made certain people let their guard down around him in a way he could abuse.

Qabian himself had also become more complacent. He waited on the balcony of the Legerdemain Lounge, wearing his Grim tabard rather than a less conspicuous one, and without the company of any Kirin Tor guards, ready to meet Damian at the pre-arranged time.

Damian arrived promptly. The little elf carried, as usual, a brown satchel bag slung over one shoulder, and wore the simple brown and white linen clothes of a student. There was a troubled expression on his typically stoic face as he approached Qabian, but the boy seemed intent on continuing with his lessons and stopped a few feet from Qabian to bow respectfully in greeting. "Sir."

A shadow of a smile may have crossed Qabian's face, but he otherwise maintained a cold distance in his expression. He acknowledged the boy's arrival with a brief nod, then turned away from him to look out over the city. "How are you feeling?" the mage asked.

Damian raised an eyebrow as the magister turned away. This may have been the first time he inquired about the boy's feelings, and it seemed suspect. "Fine, sir," he answered casually. Or as casually as an eight year old boy could answer. "Thank you."

"How are your studies going? Are you getting enough from them? Do you feel like you're learning?" Qabian continued speaking toward the city, not the child. If it weren't for the focus of his words, his demeanor would seem either distracted or dismissive. "Was it worth leaving Silvermoon?"

"I've been getting more instruction, yes," Damian explained, glad with the change in subject. "They're less inclined to treat me like a child. I've been learning about portals, and teleporting."

"Good. Time-space is fickle. Losing control and making mistakes can have far more terrible consquences than simple elemental magic." Qabian's blank expression darkens into a frown, but again the emotion is a shadow that passes quickly. "Was there something you were hoping I could distract you from today?"

Damian's hand clutched the bag at his side. He didn't carry much, just a book, a notebook, and a few quills. Peering curiously at Qabian's back, he stayed rooted to the spot. "..no. I came here to learn, like always."

"Maybe we'll get there today. Maybe." Qabian shrugs idly. "How are your parents?"

"They're fine," Damian said quickly. It wasn't a lie, but the boy wasn't sure how deeply the magister intended on digging.

"Do you spend a lot of time with them here? Or are they often busy?" Qabian asked.

"I'm busy," he corrected, perhaps a little cheeky. "I see both of my parents in the guildhall. My mother more than my father, but he's an officer with the military so he has more responsibility than she does."

Qabian smirked at the response, though he continued to face away. "That was my next question. Who are you spending your time with when you're not studying? Or perhaps you're always studying?"

Damian blinked uncomfortably and looked at the floor. "..mostly. I like to read."

"How often are you in the guildhall? Do you see what goes on there? Perhaps while you're reading?" Qabian continued.

"I eat, sleep and study there, sir," Damian explained dutifully. "So I don't see much of what goes on. I'm either in the library or my bedroom."

Qabian remained silent for a time, watching the city, considering his options. Finally, he said, "If you were any ordinary child, I would say politics were simply beyond your purview. What eight-year-old cares one iota about politics? And perhaps you do not care, and that would be perfectly reasonable. But given what your parents' previous absence accomplished for you, perhaps you know more about politics than any child should, hm?"

Damian considered the magister's words carefully. "..yes sir," he concurred with a slow nod. "I wasn't really interested in politics, before. Not until I sat on the council. They didn't let me do anything, but it was interesting to hear how decisions were made."

Qabian grinned into the distance. "How much do you know about your parents' guild?" he asked.

"I know about.. how it started. How they joined. What they do and what they're trying to do," Damian answered, dreading where this was going.

"And have you heard that the guild has done some absolutely horrible things?" Qabian continued.

One of Damian's long white eyebrows twitched. "What sort of horrible things?"

"Take people apart, torture them, mutilate them, burn them until they scream." Qabian shrugged. "You tell me. You're closer to them than I am." He sighed, but the sound didn't affect his distant grin. "But I suspect neither of us are ever told the truth. Maybe it is all lies, but I do know one of the best, bravest people I know is absolutely terrified of the people your parents work with."

"Well.." Damian blinked and looked back up toward the magister. Fear was something he mentioned often, but it was never as something to be avoided. "Good."

Qabian laughed quite loud, and with that twisted grin, finally turned to face the child. "And what do you know of my guild, hm?"

A loaded question. Damian heard plenty about the Grim, and for the most part, none of it was particularly good. "..I know your guild believes that peace will come through annihilation of your enemies."

"Mmm. That precious Mandate of ours, hm? Wonderful propaganda, isn't it? You only need to hear it once and it echoes through your mind for years to come," Qabian mused. "Did you know we have people who do all the same horrible things I just accused your parents' guild of doing? Of course, we never pretend we don't do those things. Perhaps we should work together. Do you think that would be a good idea?"

Damian furrowed his brow for a moment. "I know you already have. Because in war, ideals are compromised  in favor of a winning strategy." He cocked his head to one side, studying Qabian from behind. "My mother told me that the Warboss and your leader helped each other on a mission, because they were both hired to accomplish something. They helped each other and the mission was successful. So sometimes, you have to work with people you don't agree with because that's how you get things done."

Qabian raised a disbelieving eyebrow, then nodded appreciatively, his grin shifting to a bemused smirk. "Is that so? I knew I was right to bring this subject to you. I'll get straight answers from you that I could never get from my own people. Do you know the rest of that story? The names of the leaders? The nature of the mission?"

"Something to do with the tauren in Highmountain," he answered with a shrug. "They were asked to do something for the chieftain. They did it, and then they left. That's all I know."

Qabian blinked. "That doesn't sound right at all. I assumed you were referring to something that happened during my absence, but that can't be the case if it involved Highmountain." He looked off to one side thoughtfully. Apparently speaking to himself, he half-mumbled, "Simple mercenary work, then. That's not cooperation. That's forced. More reasonable than any possibility of actual mutual understanding, and yet, refusal seems more acceptable." He shrugged and turned back to the boy. "I've done as much myself, back in Outland, in the time before you were born, but I'm talking about something else. Do you think your parents' friends seek peace through the annihilation of their enemies as much as we do?"

Damian raised an eyebrow. "Maybe. I don't know. I don't really speak to them very much. Though I'm pretty sure everyone kills, since we're at war. Nobody worries about annihilating the Legion."

"No. Nobody does, do they?" Qabian's smirk returned. "If we could just convince them that Alliance fishing villages were actually full of demons, I'm sure they'd march alongside us in destroying entire families. To be honest, that's an absolutely excellent idea." The mage paused a moment, then changed tack. "Do you remember one of the earlier lessons I taught you? With the birds outside the tower?"

"Yes sir," he answered easily, glancing past Qabian's back and into the sky. Beyond them both lie Argus, in all its imposing glowing green.

Qabian followed the glance. "Your mother hasn't let you leave the city at all, has she?"

"Not without her supervision," he said with a disappointed sigh. "Not with all the demons out there. She only likes the ones she can control."

"It's understandable. You are very young, but..." Qabian eyed the child up and down. "When I was your age, I would have given my left arm for a chance to fight in a war like this, such imposing targets, such violence to defend against, survival as the greatest incentive for honing power and reaction times beyond my wildest dreams. I can only imagine what incredible opportunities are available to someone at the very precipice of life-altering discoveries." He grinned. "And of course, when I was your age, my mother made no decisions for me. My teachers made them all, such as they were capable of, at any rate. Are you any more eager to break the rules today?"

Damian thought carefully about the question. Breaking the rules could have dire consequences, moreso for him than anyone else, but he genuinely wondered what lengths his parents would go to rescue him if things turned sour. His mother warned him to be smart. Was agreeing to break rules the smart thing to do?

"It depends, sir. What rules are we breaking?"

Qabian folded his arms across his chest, idly tapping his fingers as he spoke. "Your mother is correct. You should not go down to the Isles with me alone. I'm as likely to intentionally get you killed as accidentally, but perhaps eventually we can arrange something alongside her that will at least get you in the fray, if not unsupervised.

"Today, however, I was thinking the Underbelly. There's a troll down there who sells portal keys, and we have... an arrangement. I have two keys, one for you and one for myself. We use a portal immediately behind the sentries and are never in an area that is not under Kirin Tor guard, and I give you today's lesson. I can guarantee that no harm will come to you, but you would still technically be breaking your mother's rules."

Damian considered the proposition with a thoughtful expression. He seemed older than his short years when he thought like this, lips pursed and eyebrows tightly knit. Eventually, he stood straight and nodded. "Okay, sir."

Qabian grinned horribly. "Excellent. That certainly opens up some possibilities. Follow me." He stepped past the child, walking briskly down the stairs and out into the city.

Following Qabian, Damian kept his head down. He wasn't sure if his mother kept watch over him somehow, but if she did, they would almost certainly find out about this. He fell in step behind the magister and went over his options, just in case things took a turn for the worst.

As promised, Qabian led the child through the streets of Dalaran, then down the ramp leading into the Underbelly. His pace was quick and he didn't pause to make certain Damian followed. The mage paused before the guard at the bottom of the ramp and handed something to the man who nodded once and stepped aside as a portal opened behind where he had been standing. Only then did Qabian confirm Damian was still with him before stepping into the portal.

Damian followed Qabian closely behind. By the time he actually saw the portal, a wave of panic went through the boy as he considered his options. Stay and risk his life with a maniac, or run and be curious for the rest of his life. Taking a deep breath, he decided to chance it and stepped through the portal.

Inside the small room the portal led to, Qabian stood to one side waiting, his arms folded across his chest, blinking as his eyes adjusted to the dim light. He half-expected Damian would not materialize, but the child dutifully appeared, as did the horrible grin on Qabian's face.

The room was bare and open, wooden planks over water, not unlike the Underbelly's black market. In the very center of the room, a human man crouched on his knees, bedraggled and pale, his hands tied behind his back and a dirty brown cloth across his mouth, gagging him. He looked up when the elves entered, his eyes showing nothing but exhaustion.

"As you can see," Qabian stated once the boy was fully in the room, "I lied, but not about everything." He looked pointedly at the portal behind the boy. "Shall we wait for your mother? I assume she'll be arriving shortly."

Damian stared at the man in front of him. He'd seen humans before, in the city. He spoke with mages of the Kirin Tor, and saw men and women in armor and leather, all of them adventurers of great skill and power. Never before had he seen a human appear so powerless. This one seemed helpless. A victim, maybe? Some sort of captive? Eventually, Qabian's words registered. He looked up at the mage with a blank expression, not surprised to see him grinning like a madman. "Is that why you brought me here?" He asked curiously, his tone less accusing than it probably should have been. "To lure my mother?"

Qabian chuckled, low and dark. "Of course not. I'm sure your mother would show herself at a simple request without any need for trickery. I simply assumed that if she's watching you as closely as she threatened she was that she would be behind us momentarily. This, however..." He motioned to the bound, disheveled man. "This is entirely for you."

Taking a step forward, Damian studied the human a little more closely. He was tired, that much was certain, maybe starving. It was very possible that Qabian brought him here to kill this human, or at least torture him. What did that say about the magister? "What am I supposed to do with him?"

Qabian raised an eyebrow at the question. "Kill him, of course. Teaching humans magic was our greatest error. We correct it at every given opportunity. This is the next step in denying empathy. The birds were the first. If you do not kill him, I will, and I will not make it quick." Qabian snapped his fingers, and the human shivered, but nothing else seemed to happen. It was difficult to tell if the man was afraid or simply shaking from the effort of not collapsing completely.

Damian went over his options. Killing the birds was an exercise in pest control, and birds were plentiful. He wouldn't have argued that killing them was cruel, but they weren't people. During his time in Dalaran, his exposure to humans had grown from the few glances stolen with his mother. They trained him, and for the most part, they were kind. Approaching the man, he continued to study his tired face. "Who is he?"

Qabian's expression shifted to one of calm as he accepted the child's reaction as both mildly disappointing and entirely natural given his circumstances. "He is no one," the mage explained. "His life has as much meaning as the lives of the birds, less even. I could give you a tale of how he sold his soul to the Legion and murdered his friends and family in exchange for promises of power or perhaps he's from one of the Twilight cults and drinks the blood of innocents, but none of that matters. His life has no value and it is already over. You can help him end it quickly, or you can draw out his pain, as you choose."

Damian's brow furrowed, his "thinking face" familiar by now. He was being presented with two choices, both of which resulted in the same fate for the human in front of him. At the stage in which he was training, there were even fewer options available. He wasn't particularly strong yet, regardless of how hard he studied, which he was certain Qabian exploited with this "choice". Truthfully, it wasn't a choice at all. Both answers were the same, so what difference did the road travelled make?

"Whichever of your options I take, he's going to die," he said finally, approaching the human. "I'm not strong enough to incinerate him so quick it would be painless, so either way he'll suffer. So it's not really a choice at all, to him. Just to me," he said, thinking out loud. Glancing back at Qabian, the boy took a moment to study his mentor and considered his methods. Damian wasn't there to be obedient, he realized, or Qabian wouldn't have brought him here. Just like magic, the paths before him weren't simply left or right. They could be whatever he willed them to be.

Putting a hand on the man's wrist, Damian closed his eyes and spoke a word under his breath. Almost immediately, a portal appeared beneath them both.

"I chose neither," he said, before both he and the human disappeared.(edited)

Qabian frowned. That was an option he should have considered, but had not.

The human was still dead either way. Short of keeping him under constant protection, Qabian knew where the man lived, his family, his business. The moment he was set free he would be snuffed out.

But the child had made a decision that had closed several doors. Qabian suspected the boy knew that and had made the choice anyway. Qabian considered his own error. Perhaps he should have simply done the damage directly through his carefully crafted opportunity, but direct damage had never been the goal. Perhaps that would have to change.

Qabian shrugged, leaving the room the same way he had entered. There was more than one way to leave an arrangement and the boy had made his choice.

 

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Qabian    76

In the hours that followed, the nondescript human man's pregnant wife and infant daughter received a letter from their missing husband and father urging them to go stay with the wife's parents in Westfall for their own safety. All of them were found murdered shortly after their arrival and the house ransacked, apparently by bandits.

The man's ailing mother was found floating face down in the Stormwind canals. She was getting on in years. Perhaps she simply lost her way in the dark.

The man's small bakery in Dalaran that he'd painstakingly built over a decade suffered a fire that gutted the interior. An investigation pointed to the fire originating with the oven, but several failsafes, including two magical ones, had failed to activate.

The man's twin brother and young nephew, knight and squire respectively, were ambushed in the field while they made camp with their regiment. No other soldiers were harmed and no one heard or saw anything untoward over the night, despite regular patrols, but their bodies were found charred in the ashes of their tent the next morning.

~~

Qabian stood outside the burnt husk of the bakery, his arms folded across his chest as he observed the scene. A disappointed patron came by and stood next to the mage. "So sad, isn't it? We're still not sure what happened to him," the stranger said, trying to find common ground in a time of tragedy.

"Indeed," Qabian answered, as though he actually cared. "What a shame. Continuing to live when everything one once lived for is lost can be enough to make a man crave death, hm?"

The stranger stared at the mage, eyes wide, clearly concerned by the blood elf's words. Qabian simply turned and walked away, laughing.

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Qabian    76

A message arrived for Damian by the usual means by which Qabian arranged their lessons.

Young Master Bloodstone,

No doubt you have considered that your response to my last lesson has severely disappointed me, as it has indeed. However, I have also considered that perhaps my lack of experience as an instructor had me approach the lesson with a less than optimal methodology. Perhaps there are other ways I can impart the message with more success.

We should meet, if not for further instruction, at least to discuss how or if we shall move forward.

Your parents may accompany you if you wish, but I urge you to make that decision on your own, and not merely because one or the other may insist upon it, given the circumstances.

~Magister Qabian (there is a scratched out A here) Grimfire

A day after the letter was sent, Damian arrived at the Ledgermain. He was once again wearing his apprentice clothes and the same satchel slung over one shoulder. He had a calm expression and stood opposite of Qabian to bow his head obediently. "Sir."

Qabian smiled, and it was almost genuine. Almost. He motioned for the boy to sit in the nearest chair. "I wasn't certain you would be allowed," Qabian said, the smile twisting immediately into his usual unpleasant grin.

"My mother said that I learned a lesson. The Commander didn't like that I was training with you, but since I have my parents' permission, it didn't really matter." He sat down opposite of the magister and folded both hands on the table.

Qabian sat across from the boy and mirrored his folded hands. "The Commander? What Commander?"

"Commander Julilee of Sanctuary," Damian answered easily.

Qabian raised an eyebrow for a moment, then nodded. "Ah. You took the human to them and needed to give an explanation? How is the man, by the way?"

"He's fine. He was really confused. I think he thought you chose him for some specific reason, but, I didn't know if that was true." He shrugged. "I just didn't think it would be very interesting or creative to pick the two choices you gave me, especially when you brought me down there to break rules in the first place."

Qabian lifted one of his folded hands to his chin. "Is that what you thought I was doing? Have you considered other possibilities?"

"Yes," Damian said quickly. "You may have just wanted me to kill someone. Or to see me fail. I think you're entertained by the idea of making me into a murderer."

"Ah, it was the first of those," Qabian confirmed. "I never for a moment thought you would fail, but there are good reasons for a mage to be comfortable with murder. How many innocents do you think Khadgar has had to kill to get where he is, hm?"

"I don't mind killing, sir," Damian said with a shrug. "I know I'll have to. My mother and father do, because it's an important need for the Horde. But it would have been too easy to just take one of your choices. If I'm going to kill someone, I want it to be for a better reason."

Qabian nodded, seeming to calmly accept the boy's explanation. "You are correct that simply following my instruction would not have showed any creativity, and while I was not attempting to impart that, neither is the goal of any of... this," Qabian waved a hand, "to create a mindlessly obedient thrall. So be it. You made your decision, and you made it thoughtfully. You did what you believed was best and learned from it what you could. That certainly has its merits.

"My original thought," the mage continued, "had been to start the process of becoming accustomed to murder with the easiest of targets, one that cannot move, cannot fight back, but is large enough and mindful enough to require at least a little effort on your part, and one that would mean you need to consider what you have done after the lesson is over. However, I did not consider how the source of the target might influence your actions. I did have a reason for selecting that man, but I doubt it is one he would have understood even if he knew it. You may want to avoid meeting him again in the future."

Damian cocked his head to one side. He seemed rather curious, now. "Why?"

Qabian smiled again, but there wasn't anything genuine about it this time. "I'm sure you will be fine. After all, you are his savior. But I'm quite certain his first priority will be to convince you to lead him to me."

"What, for revenge?" The boy asked with a raised eyebrow. "Did you do something else to him?"

"I have done nothing to him. Directly." Qabian grinned horribly. "Just as he has done nothing to me. Directly. An eye for an eye is always entertaining. But if you do bring him to me, I don't think he'll come out of it well, and better he lives for a long, long time, don't you think?"

Again, Damian shrugged. "I guess. I don't really care either way. I was just trying to make things interesting."

"You've certainly succeeded in doing that for the human, at least." Qabian mirrored the boy's shrug. "Back to the truly relevant, I believe I've already asked this, but it seems the time has come to ask you again before I charge ahead with more possibly misguided plans, is there anything particular you want me to teach you or teach you about?"

"Yes," Damian answered quickly, sitting up straighter. "I want to know how to create larger and more powerful explosions. My fire making skills are limited. I wouldn't have been able to incinerate that human if I wanted to, and I'd like to fix that."

Qabian looked the boy up and down, considering thoughtfully. "There are endless texts of ever increasing complexity that will help with this goal, and I will send you a few more, but of course, that will not be quick and understanding theory only goes so far without the reflexes honed beneath it. The most effective process will be practice, hundreds of hours of practice, under guidance to correct errors, of course. That can be done to a degree with target dummies, and you and I will spend some time doing that as well, but it is tedious at best. I am thinking we should start to travel. Your mother may accompany us, as she deems it necessary. What do you think?"

Damian frowned a little. "..she would agree to that, but.. are you two going to have a problem getting along? I don't want there being any kind of.. issues," he said with a twist in his mouth. "I know you two don't see each other as friends."

Qabian smirked. "Is that so? I was under the impression she did think I was a friend, or at least... an amiable acquaintance, enough not to interfere with her son's interaction with me." He shrugged. "For my own part, I have no friends, none whatsoever, and that is the best and perhaps only way to approach the world effectively, so in that sense, your mother is no different than anyone else. It's true that most of the people I work with regularly have not assaulted me the way your mother has, but some of them have." He lifted a hand to his cropped ear. "And we work together nonetheless, even quite well at times. I certainly have no intention of putting your mother in harm's way, and I expect she will not interfere with us unless she suspects you are in direct danger, which we will of course do our best to avoid. That being said, your mother and I have little in common, and a great deal in conflict, which is why I have been reticent to accept her rules. Do you believe overcoming that for the sake of your education will be too difficult?"

"I don't," he answered calmly, then paused. "..my mother assaulted you?"

Qabian nodded, resting his elbows on the table and steepling his fingers. "Mm. It was many years ago. Before you were born. Perhaps she was even pregnant with you at the time. I have no idea. I'm not sure that she ever had the intent to harm me. She was not a member of Sanctuary then, though your father was. She was... affected by something, and even if she hadn't been, it's unlikely she understood just how much damage her actions caused. In the end, what she did was severe enough that her intent was irrelevant. I cut off all contact with her at that time. Until quite recently, actually."

Damian pursed his lips in thought, processing the information and carefully storing it away. "My mother can do things with the fel that are a lot more powerful than I've read about other warlocks doing, but it comes with a price. I didn't want to do what she did. My father doesn't like the limitations of the Light either, but he can fight better than anyone. I want to be able to use both disciplines. I want to be a battle mage."

"Yes. Your mother was not the only warlock with horrifyingly unpleasant powers that decided to take them out on me for unfathomable reasons. But it was also ultimately warlocks that repaired the damage they did. That's how warlocks work, always fighting fire only with fire and never with ice, always so indirect in their tactics." Qabian shifted his position in his chair, leaning forward. "If you truly wish to be a battlemage, then you will need to kill and kill often. I'm sure you understand that, but you must also understand that many innocents will die at your hands, whether or not that is your intent. You can attempt to let some sort of morality guide your overall actions, but you will eventually need to overcome your status as a murderer before it breaks you. In this line of work, collateral damage is unavoidable. However, perhaps it can be avoided for today. If there's one thing you have available to you, it is time, hm?"

"For now," Damian agreed, studying Qabian's face. "I have time to figure it out. Killing doesn't bother me. Both if my parents do it. Sanctuary does it. I just want to do it for a reason, because I know that every action has a reaction, and if I'm going to take action I want to reduce the amount of harmful reactions."

"That's life. Life is nothing but harmful reactions. If you play it right, yours are stronger." Qabian grinned briefly, then put a hand to his chin, thoughtful again. "Do you have a reason now? Why do you want to fight? Why do you want to be a battlemage?"

"I want to have the strength to defend myself in more ways than one," Damian explained carefully. "I want to use a sword like my father, but I want to be as skilled and knowledgeable of the arcane as possible, too. I want power, in both my mind and in my hands."

"Self-improvement is the only goal worth having," Qabian said with a tone of agreement. "Minimizing backlash while seeking that goal is sensible, but sometimes the backlash is itself the greatest training you could ask for." The mage smirked. "Perhaps you will find, as I did, that once you have enough control over magic, the sword is useless to you. However, that doesn't stop me from practicing with the foil for simple relaxation and entertainment," he mused idly, looking off into the middle distance with a bemused smile for a moment before returning his attention to the boy before him. "Is there somewhere you would particularly like to go first?"

Damian's red eyes drifted toward the ceiling as he considered the question. He seemed to have a strong grasp of how dangerous the situation could become if he chose poorly and took his time before selecting. "..yes," he said finally, turning his gaze back to Qabian. "I want to go to Suramar. I've heard of the Shal'dorei who let their city fall into the hands of the Legion, and terrorize those who don't agree. They should be punished."

Qabian smoothly sat up straighter when the boy said the city's name. The mage's expression brightened with real interest, and he seemed significantly, if briefly, impressed by the boy's choice. But as Damian explained why he wanted to go there, Qabian couldn't help but slide back into his chair, chuckling and shaking his head. "The Shal'dorei. Oh, young master. It seems you have no idea what they are to us, to our people. I'm happy to take you there, and even to help you punish them if you so desire, but they are so much more than you apparently understand. Has someone told you stories of the present without the past?"

"I read about them. I understand their significance, and their history. But," Damian frowned a little deeper. "To think that the Legion would actually make a deal with them that wouldn't backfire.. that's stupid. It not only backfired, but it cost them thousands of lives."

"You are not wrong, especially in the knowledge that deals with the Legion never end well," Qabian responded, leaning back as he comfortably expanded on his own thoughts, giving the closest thing to a sermon someone like him is capable of doing. "But the Shal'dorei knew that very well. They have been unable to forget that for ten thousand years. In the case of the Shal'dorei, their deal was not one of lust for power, but one of meager survival, of anything being better than utter extinction. They lost thousands of lives, yes, but that was the price they were willing to pay for the continued existence, in any form at all, of thousands more.

"We made a very similar deal once, our people. It's why most of our eyes are fel-touched, rather than arcane pure. And truly, they are us. They are those of us who never had to separate from idiots who refused to use magic. They would have lived alongside us under the sun, drawing on the Sunwell, had they not been trapped by the flow of tides and the splitting earth, had they not lost the skies entirely. They are those of us who were abandoned to the best protections they could devise, as we were once. Ten thousand years, doing the same things we did, studying the same magic we studied, drawing from the same ley lines we drew from, but while we could walk all of this world any time we wished to leave our protections, they were trapped forever in a single skyless city.

"And it is important to note, neither the Legion nor the leadership of the Shal'dorei that were willing to make the deal to survive have succeeded, just as the Legion never succeeded in taking us, despite Kael'thas' errors. The Shal'dorei's eyes are not green, not yet. Thanks to the help of their brothers who have spent the last ten thousand years under the sun, their brothers who were decimated by the error of sharing magic with humans, thanks to our help, the Shal'dorei remain arcane pure. They are the version of us that did not make our mistakes. They are the version of us that we have rescued from following in our broken footsteps."

Qabian gave the boy a very strange look. There was something serene in his usually arrogant expression. He followed the strange look with a strange question. "Have you ever prayed?"

Damian blinked at the question. It seemed to come from nowhere, and he appeared to have trouble considering it fully. "I.. no," he answered honestly, shaking his head. "My father.. he isn't religious. He's not that sort of paladin, and I don't think he ever wanted to be. My mother.. well, no. No, I've never prayed. Why?"

Qabian smiled and it was honest and real. That in itself was strange bordering on disturbing. Something about this subject matter shifted the mage's mental space entirely. "That's surprisingly refreshing about your parents. I'm sure you can gather that I'm rather similar. Piety has never mattered and never will matter to me. But there was a time, when Kael'thas was still alive but everything had gone wrong for our people, when almost everyone I knew was dead, a time when I was losing my grip on my self, that I became certain there were more answers out there. I would go to the horizon, and for lack of a better word for what I was doing, I would pray. I would pray to the horizon itself for answers about what had happened to us, what had really happened and where we were going. I was completely convinced the horizon was hiding something from me about who we really were, about who I really was. I did that almost every day for... years. In retrospect, it's only when I stopped looking to the horizon for answers that I truly lost myself. But when the Legion returned this time, something brought me back. I'm rather convinced it was the horizon, because the Shal'dorei? They are the answer to all those lost hours, to all the questions I once asked no one at all."

Again, Damian's brow furrowed. He never heard Qabian speak so calmly about himself, least of all about something so personal. He considered the possibility that it could be a trick of some kind, a way to lure him into a false sense of security. Qabian knew, after all, that Damian did not want to be spoken to like a child. Displaying a willingness to speak to him so frankly would be a simple way to earn his faith.

But Damian felt no urge to trust the magister just yet.

"I've read about the Light, and people's faith. The Scarlet Crusade wielded the Light as easily as any paladin, and it wasn't because it was a force of good. It's because the Light is a force of will, and someone with a will powerful enough to wield it can. That's why my father does. He understands that faith in yourself is the most important kind of faith you have, and anything else is just a mask you wear. Why are the Shal'dorei the answer to your questions?"

The boy's respectful listening and thoughtful responses left Qabian disinclined to put an end to the true confessions of a grown ass adult to a school-age boy. "That's the thing. I was mainly asking 'what happened to us?' We, our people, were going through hell, had passed through hell and come out the other side. While I was trying to convince myself that we were coming out of it stronger, the evidence repeatedly being thrust in my face was that we were degenerating. We were becoming worthless decadents, desperately dependent on others not just for repairing the damage but for surviving at all.

Qabian traced symbols on the table top with one fingertip as he leaned back in the chair, continuing, "But any student of history knew this had all happened before. Our people had gone through hell before, ten thousand years ago. So I started asking what happened to us then? Maybe the answers to how to come out of all of this stronger lay in who had come out of adversity stronger ten thousand years ago. Yes, the true elves crossed the ocean and left the dirt grovellers to their dirt, but I knew the story, perhaps just a legend, that Azshara had sunk her city. That meant the truest of elves, the ones strongest in magic, the wisest and most intelligent, ended up beneath the waves. So what happened to us?"

"You mean the Naga?" Damian asked with a flick of a long white eyebrow. "Even if they were the wisest and most intelligent once, the Naga are weak now. They're a shadow of what they used to be. We could be a shadow of ourselves too if we let ourselves get caught up in bad deals. Grand Magistrix Elisande saw a future for her people only if she worked with the Legion. Well, that probably would work for a time, but not forever. Bad deals come back at you in the end. Queen Azshara doomed those true elves. We were almost doomed too, but I think we have enough examples to know what a bad deal looks like, now." His red eyes turned to the table for a moment. "I think so, anyway."

Qabian smiled genuinely, again. "You are correct. Azshara made her deal out of a combination of ignorance and lust. Elisande made her deal out of desperation. But neither deal could ever turn out well. The answer to my questions, back then, however, seemed to be the Naga. You are right. They are weak. They have degenerated. But nevertheless, they had survived. I became..." The mage stared off into the middle distance. "I became almost obsessed with the Naga and Azshara, with learning exactly how they had survived, not necessarily because I thought we needed to repeat the process. That would be ludicrous. But I thought, hoped, prayed perhaps, that there would at least be answers there that we could use, suggestions of where their path turned away that we could avoid, but also hidden secrets to survival in strength." He took a deep breath before continuing. 

"I knew there were... implications that Azshara and the Naga have the shape they have because they have been influenced by the Old Gods. At the time, that seemed like a mere theory, but something... something..." Qabian's expression darkened. "Something happened that proved it for me. Many if not most of my memories are broken, fragmented. The proof I found, I've since lost it, but I remember the feeling, the sensation of despair upon being presented with incontrovertible evidence that Azshara was the way she is, and the Naga are the way they are, because of Old God influence. I can't force that knowledge on anyone else, not remembering how I found it, but the strength of my conviction on it remains. And that was not the answer I wanted. The Old Gods, like the Legion, would never give us strength, hm? They would only bring us to ruin."

"So then what is it you want to know from the Shal'dorei?" Damian asked, scooting forward in his chair a little. The boy seemed curious about Qabian's story, but still maintained his skepticism. "The Old Gods won't help us. Like you said, they would never give us strength. Whatever strength we need, we have to take. Like with the Light. It's in us, isn't it? We have the power, we just have to have the will?"

The boy's reflective curiosity seemed to give Qabian a soft sort of joy, something he certainly hadn't experienced within recent memory, if ever in his life. "Mm, in a sense. Having the will and what's within are not always enough to keep a people from being destroyed. What's within could not help us against the Scourge, and we had a great deal of power then, a great deal more power than we have now. But I don't have any questions for the Shal'dorei. The Shal'dorei are themselves the answers.

"You see," Qabian sat forward as he continued, "I turned away from the horizon then. Other things took my attention, other things far less deserving, but I held onto a hope, a small, unlikely, desperate hope that the Naga were not the only ones who survived the Sundering, and that somewhere out there, we could still find the answers to how to survive with power and grace, and without ever sacrificing ourselves or becoming subservient to someone or something else. I even travelled here, years ago, but it was far more dangerous then, and I did not get nearly as far as we've gotten with the full force of the Horde.

"And then... we found them. And I was right all along. Some small community of us did survive. Ten thousand years ago, the most powerful and wisest and most intelligent of us found a way to protect themselves against everything, against the Legion, against Azshara, against the Sundering itself. The details lie, of course, in the Nightwell, but the details are unimportant. The proof is in the people themselves. We can survive anything, anything at all. We are impossible to kill. And we can survive with our magic fully intact.

"The Shal'dorei are the ultimate evidence of elven self-sufficiency. Our world shattered. It shattered!" Qabian's voice took on an enthusiasm that he didn't let his posture otherwise betray. "And they lived, without any help from demons or any other bullshit. So can we. Ultimately, we don't need the Horde. We don't need anyone. We choose to work with who we choose to work with, but that is our choice, not our need, because we are survivors. No matter how desperate things get, we will always survive, and those of us who can will survive with our strength and our identities intact. The Shal'dorei did it. So can we. They are the proof."

Again, Damian was careful not to allow himself to be caught up into Qabian's enthusiasm. This could easily have been a test, a way for him to gauge how gullible he was. It would have been a good trick, after all. Pretend to confide in him, tell him a story, create a false sense of security and then draw him into a situation he could not get out of. Qabian was not a good person, he knew this. He killed children. He killed innocent people, just to make a point. He would kill Damian if he thought it entertaining, that much the boy knew. However, here and now, he felt a certain kinship with the mage. Maybe it was his curious nature, or his need to find answers, but he felt that, at least now, Qabian was being truthful. That amount of trust was not something Damian wouldn't appreciate.

"So they're proof that we can be self sufficient. But they're also different from us," he added. "We're not exactly the same, are we? The Sin'dorei have to do things our own way, but maybe we can learn from them."

Qabian nodded. He was so caught up in having the opportunity to express himself and having a willing audience to hear the things he had dwelled on for so long that he was wilfully ignoring what he knew the future ultimately held for the individual listening. For the moment, it was enough for Qabian just to talk through the hope and the faith he had found, the things that formed and shaped the very core of himself and the world around him, things he had lost for a time but then found such intensity in their rediscovery. "They are different from us. Our two peoples, separated for so long, have lived through very different things, but we have lived. And at the core of us, within the magic that powers us, we are the same, so we can take lessons from each other. Our version of the Nightwell was destroyed, and we made do with whatever we could find, including the fel, and some of us gave in to the Legion. Our leadership gave in to the Legion, just as Elisande was about to do. Now our Sunwell is twisted, it is Arcane, but infused with the Light. The Shal'dorei, to survive, had to do the same to their Nightwell, twisted its Arcane purity, infused it with Nature. But who controls the Shal'dorei now? Not the Legion. Not the Dragons. Just themselves. We may have stolen the Legion's power for a time, but who controls us now? Not the Legion. Not the Naaru. Not the Light. Not even the Horde. Just ourselves. We are who we are, and that is valuable. That is important."

"I guess we are similar, in that way," Damian said quietly, thoughtfully. "I've never met other elves, really. Other kinds. The Kaldorei or the Shal'dorei. I've seen Naga, but they were weak. Do you think.. I know half-elves exist. I know there are hybirds, people with a Kaldorei mother and Sin'dorei father.. do you think that sort of thing.. does it make those hybrids more powerful? Or weaker? Can they even breed?"

Qabian frowned, his taste for the subject clearly and dramatically changing. "They can fuck. That much is certain." He certainly had no qualms about using that kind of language in front of a child in public. "Whether or not they can have viable offspring from such a union I would consider highly questionable. The child may be gifted a quirk that makes them more physically powerful, or perhaps even more magically powerful, but without fail they will be mentally degenerate or deranged, on account of their parents being complete idiots." He also had no qualms about letting his biases show. "There are other ways to combine the attributes of two creatures in attempts to make them stronger, methods like cultists and the RAS use. That would likely give you more success: no random chance, the opportunity to cut out the worst of both parents, the ability to incinerate failed results. I understand the human concept of staying too close to family lines producing rotten children, but there is no evidence that applies to elves. The Shal'dorei have been closed in for how long? Their magic is if anything greater than ours, their mental acuity is impeccable, and those of them who choose to engage physically are perfectly formidable. Our... half-breeds outside our race inevitably improve on the partner and corrupt us. Kaldorei unions are similar, given how long they have been without the arcane. Shal'dorei unions... I suppose we will see whether or not those are even possible. I expect they will be, but will not work out well. Neither of our people are particularly welcoming of such things, which, as I said, requires the parents to be idiots, but it will be interesting to see. Unless, of course, the Legion finally succeeds in destroying us all." Qabian grinned.

Damian's face didn't react to the cursing. Despite his mother's efforts to curb his habits, Damian's father cursed like any other man tempered by the military. He heard every curseword available to the Sin'dorei by the time he was three. He heard new ones when he started school, adopted from other races of the Horde. "Do you have any children, sir?" He asked, despite assuming the answer was no. "There's a lot of pressure for our people to breed."

Qabian scowled, definitely back to his usual self, and his ranting turned ugly. "Who told you that? Your mother? It's garbage. There is no pressure on us to breed. People have been putting sex as a priority out of desperate need for physical comfort after what happened, but it is no priority. We have no need of numbers. We have need of quality, and the survival of the fittest will provide that all on its own. Numbers will just dilute us. If blood elves could stop sticking their dick in crazy for half a second, maybe they could concentrate on issues of actual importance, like correcting the egregious error we made with the humans. The Shal'dorei are proof of that, too. We do not. Need. Numbers." Qabian clenched his fists on the tabletop. "No. I do not have children. And I never will."

Qabian let his fists relax and laid his palms flat as he forced himself to breathe calmly. "At any rate, the Legion have no more abandoned their hold on Suramar than they have on the Tomb itself. And there was and always will be a contingent of any people who are happy to trade their freedom for power, so there are plenty down there to punish for their continued demonic support, if you're still so inclined," Qabian changed the subject.

For the first time since Damian started working with Qabian, the boy smiled. At first it was just a smirk as he watched the magister's body language shift, from discomfort to anger, all within a few moments at the mere mention of children. By the time he got back to Suramar, he was holding back laughter. Certainly, he learned a lesson there.

"I am," he said eagerly, dimples in his perfect round cheeks. Were it not for his red eyes, the wooly haired child would have appeared perfectly angelic. "I'm inclined to learn how to kill. I know my mother won't have any objection, either. I can let her know once I get back. We can all go together," he said before adding with an even more amused grin.

While Qabian raged, he didn't notice the boy's change in expression, but as the mage calmed down, he raised an eyebrow curiously. The boy had absolutely hit a nerve, but Qabian was comfortable enough with others being aware of that particular sensitivity. He kept the real reasons for it close. For most of those Qabian interacted with, it meant they avoided bringing up the subject of children. He suspected for Damian, the boy would only be encouraged to needle, but Qabian considered it was unlikely he would be taken nearly as off-guard in the future. The time for openness and emotion was clearly over.

Qabian returned the boy's amusement with calm, smirking sarcasm. "Wonderful. If you like, before we indulge in murder, we can use illusions to explore the city proper. Prepare a picnic. Visit the zoo. Pretend we're just an ordinary family enjoying a day. I'm sure your father will love that idea."

Damian finally started laughing. Though well kept, a few of his baby teeth had recently gone missing, and it made his otherwise sweet smile into a somewhat disturbing collection of jagged white pebbles. "You think so?" He asked with that same terrible grin. "My father is very jealous. If you actually wanted to anger him, it wouldn't take much. He hates it when men pay my mother any kind of attention, but what he really hates is when she gives them attention back. I don't think that will happen, sir."

The mirth was still in Damian's face, even as the grin faded. "I don't think it would amuse you to put that much effort into just making my father angry. I think it would be too much work, and besides. My mother doesn't like men like you," he stifled his laughter again. "And you certainly aren't interested in her. You two could wind up naked in a pond and it wouldn't make a difference to anyone involved. It's kind of funny, really. Like you said, you're not interested in 'sticking your dick in crazy'."

Qabian grinned his unpleasant, completely normal-for-him grin. "You are absolutely correct yet again, of course. Far too much work for no reward whatsoever. To be honest, I assumed your father wouldn't care. He was never interesting enough, and he's spent just enough time around me to know I'm not that kind of threat." Qabian shrugged. "Better for us in the end, especially if you actually wanted a picnic." He chuckled, shaking his head at the absurdity of the idea.

"While I'm being so very honest," Qabian continued. "I had initially thought we would start with simple tourism, or as far as combat was concerned, with something... smaller, more predictable, murlocs, maybe kobolds. Misguided Nightborne and city-controlling demons are far from easy targets. But if you're intent on destruction, I'm sure your mother and I can handle the greater dangers while you judge how to best get in your practicing, hm?"

"I'd like to see the rest of the Broken Isles," Damian said honestly, lowering his eyes to the table. He considered his next question for a moment. "What is your favorite part of the broken isles? Is it Suramar? Or something else? I heard about the city of elves doomed to walk as ghosts because  Prince Farondis wouldn't obey the Queen Azshara. I'd like to see them, I think. And the Naga who keep attacking them. I heard he was very brave, but very foolish.  But I also heard he fought Azshara herself. To be dead and be able to do that, he must be very powerful or she must have been holding back. Maybe it was an illusion.. either way, to actually see Queen Azshara herself must have been incredible. I'd like to meet the Prince, and see Nar'thalas Academy."

Qabian watched the boy carefully as he spoke. Qabian found himself suddenly conscious of his own vulnerability, shared interest leading to confessed secrets, a weakness that had been exploited before, but what power did a child have to actually take advantage of that? Even if he shared it with his mother, there was no risk. Still, Qabian decided to be more careful. He kept his tone and expression calm and measured. "There is nothing like Suramar anywhere. It is one of the few places on this world worth the stone it was carved from. At least it will be, once the demons are gone. Azsuna is... a history lesson, but it is not alive the way Suramar is. Given Suramar's continued existence, it's difficult to believe that Farondis' choice was correct. It seems there was a third option, hm? I'm also inclined to believe what he fought was an illusion, but the Prince's spirit did have ten thousand years to perfect the few spells he remembers." Qabian smirked. "If you really want to see Queen Azshara, you could ask the Bronze really nicely. They tend to leave convenient timeways in their wake. Worthless for accomplishing anything, but excellent for learning from the most immersive of textbooks."

"Or dying," Damian suggested. That Qabian either wanted him dead or wouldn't mind if he died wasn't lost on him. The way he grinned always seemed to remind him of a predator. "Which I'm pretty sure you'd be entertained by. I'd rather live a long time, sir. There are a lot of things I want to see, and you can't do that when you're dead. Unless you're Forsaken or a Death Knight or something.. but those aren't exactly options. I think I'll be happy meeting Prince Farondis. I've never met someone ten thousand years old."

"If I wanted you dead, young master, you'd be dead," Qabian said, quiet and serious. "You've stepped through portals I've made and come out perfectly safe. Down in the Underbelly, nothing was stopping me from killing that man, and nothing was stopping me from killing you. The Bronze, however... Mm, perhaps not. They've bested me before. But if you wish to meet Farondis, that can be arranged. Discuss it with your mother. As she'll have to accompany us no matter what, you're certainly free to choose wherever you wish to go without fear."

"Sir, I have no illusions to the idea that you could kill me whenever you wanted," Damian said carefully. "And I appreciate you showing me as much as you have. I know you don't think much of me, or anyone else for that matter, but I'll be honest," he tried to look hopeful. "I hope I can surprise you. My mother thinks you're very dangerous. I do, too. So I think that if I can survive being the student of someone as dangerous as you are, who has no qualms about killing someone like me, maybe it will mean something. It would definitely mean something to me."

Qabian placed his hands together, pressing his fingers to his lips as he stared at the child. The mage was fighting an urge for honesty. Honesty weaponized could be delicious, but it didn't seem right at that moment. It couldn't do enough damage. "Perhaps. I have my own reasons for continuing this," he said, when he finally spoke again, "and guaranteeing your survival is not among them, so that is up to you, and to your mother's interference, I suppose. What good you can take from succeeding in that is entirely yours. But my reasons to do this are continually countered by quite compelling reasons not to, so that can be a difficult balance to maintain. For now, I'm rather pleased that your so-called Commander dislikes this, and yet it continues. For now, we'll see how it goes, hm? If you want to go to Suramar and help your mother and I wreak havoc, we'll do that. If you want to start with something safer, we can do that instead."

"I'm interested in havoc, sir," Damian said honestly, then gave an excited grin. "But the rest of it, too. My mother hasn't shown me the new things she's learned to do, recently. I'm curious to see that, too, and how it compares to the magic I'm learning. I can go to her now and tell her about the plan if that's alright with you, sir?"

Qabian sat back, smirking slightly. "Mm, perhaps we should put in an hour or two at the target dummies before I send you back to her?"

"Yes sir," Damian said enthusiastically, his ears perking. "I'd appreciate that."

Qabian pushed his chair back and dusted off his pristine robes. "All right then."

Edited by Qabian

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Qabian    76

Qabian stepped into the large, hot bath, its waters imbued with arcane energy and herbal infusions. He rested his arms on the sides of the bath as he sank down into the water up to his chest. He closed his eyes and relaxed for what felt like the first time in weeks.

After a few minutes, the small sounds of someone else approaching came distant through the steam, echoes off the tiled walls and floor, quiet splashing as they entered the water across from him. He didn't open his eyes, even when they spoke. A woman's voice asked, "How did you spend your day?"

"An excursion on the other side of the tracks," he said, keeping his eyes closed.

"Taunting the Duskwatch again?" she asked.

"Yes. They need to realize they chose the losing side."

"They know," she said.

"So you say. And yet."

"They keep dying at your hands."

"Mmhm. I also told an eight-year-old I'd rather suck cock than eat sausage."

She burst out laughing, long, raucous laughter. "You're joking," she said when she could finally breathe again.

"No." He remained entirely neutral, calm.

"How did that happen?" She giggled.

"It's complicated."

"No shit. An eight-year-old? Oh, that apprentice?"

"Yes."

"You took him to fight Duskwatch?"

"Yes."

"And he held his own?"

"He did, but his mother was also there. Speaking of which, Reinna's probably gone."

Her tone changed, darkened. "Gone? What did you do to her?"

"Nothing. I told her I was going to kill her."

"You do that all the time."

"I know."

"So why is she gone?"

"The mother tortured her."

There was a long pause before she said, "I see. Did she deserve it?"

"Reinna? No. But she attacked the boy, so what did she expect?"

"She attacked another child, but you don't think she deserved to be harmed?" the woman's voice asked, her tone critical.

"Of course not. She did not hurt him. She never intended to hurt him. She knew she couldn't do any real damage. She was innocent. The mother jumped immediately to murder."

"You have a curious amount of faith in Reinna, especially considering how often you threaten to kill her yourself."

"She's not stupid," Qabian said.

"I beg to differ," the woman countered.

"I know you do."

"It worked then?" she asked.

"Hm?"

"Reinna's game."

"No. If I see her again, I'll have to kill her," Qabian said.

"Don't do that," the woman insisted.

"Then don't let me see her again."

"Fine," she said.

There was a long silence before Qabian finally asked, "Do you know any Nightborne who speak to outsiders with an affectation?"

"An affectation?" was her response.

"Yes, like archaic sentence structure, deliberately obtuse language," he explained.

"No. Anyone who actually bothers to speak to outsiders quickly learns how to do it understandably. Anyone who might bother with an affectation simply doesn't bother to speak to outsiders."

"That's what I thought," Qabian said, frowning, his eyes still closed.

"You met one such Nightborne."

"Mm."

"Curious."

"Indeed. Either she's too stupid to speak properly, or..."

"So rude as to be malicious?" the woman asked.

Qabian grinned. "Exactly. I do a similar thing when I have to speak Common. I hate the human language. I mangle it intentionally. Hearing a Nightborne do that after everything, all the times I lost all hope of ever finding you, made me want to burn her to ash."

"What stopped you?"

"Politics," he said.

"What? Oh, the boy and his mother?" she asked.

"Mm."

"That doesn't sound like you."

Qabian sunk lower into the water, up to his neck. He finally opened his eyes to look at the woman across from him. "It isn't."

"And you hated every second of it," she said, her white grin shining against her dark slate-colored skin.

"I actually enjoyed some of the conversation with his mother, but..." Qabian hesitated.

"But what?" she asked.

"Trying to be friendly was agony. I don't think I can keep doing this," Qabian said, sinking lower still, the water up to his chin.

"You've been saying that since you started. What are you going to do about it?" she asked, still grinning.

"I'm going to have to kill the boy," Qabian said, then let himself slip beneath the water entirely.

"Sure you are," she said, though he could no longer hear her.

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Ninorra    19

It was a breezy day in the Eversong Woods. Ninorra’s carefully tamed black hair drifted into her face as she sat on the stone bench beside the decorative pond on Bloodstone Manor’s grounds. Roaming the grass beside her, Damian’s mana saber kitten pounced butterflies. He seemed to get used to the grounds fairly quickly, especially after allowing him to hunt rabbits plaguing Ninorra’s garden. A few yards away, Damian knelt on the grass with one of his father’s toolboxes nearby. The boy was tinkering with one of the robots they encountered in Suramar, though what he was doing exactly, Ninorra could not say.

“Damian, what do you think of your instructor?” His mother asked casually, watching him work as she lounged on the bench.

“I think he’s very patient with me,” Damian answered easily.

“Mm hmmm... and why do you think that is?”

Damian didn’t answer right away. He used a screwdriver to tighten a nut before sitting up straight. “There are a few possible answers. The two most likely are that he either has grown to enjoy teaching me and actually wants me to learn, or that he wants us to trust him enough that he can eventually kill me.”

Ninorra blinked slowly. Neither idea seemed to surprise her. “And why do you think he might want to kill you?”

“Because I’m a liability,” he answered, lowering himself again to inspect the interior of the robot’s chest cavity. “Because if he actually is growing attached to me, it proves that he’s not what he says he is and he wouldn’t want anyone to think that. Especially not himself.”

“Oh dear,” the warlock sighed. “You are very young to have allowed yourself to get mixed up with this sort of thing. You know I worry.”

“I can’t ask you not to worry,” the boy said remorselessly. “You trust me, don’t you mother?”

Ninorra’s face settled into a relaxed smile. If there was anyone in the world she trusted, it was her son. Though she feared for their relationship upon returning home a year ago, amount of time they spent separated had thankfully not broken the bond between them. “Of course, but you are still a child. You cannot expect me not to worry about your safety if Qabian decides that he wants to murder you.”

“I’m not so arrogant to think it will be easy, mother. I know I’m a child, and I know I’m not even the smartest child to ever walk Azeroth, but,” he actually took the time to sit up and look at her. Bright red eyes that mimicked her own seemed far older than the eight years he lived. “I know more than just what I learned in books, or the council. I have the lessons from Corvallis, and from father too. That’s why I wasn’t upset about Corvallis when you told me he was banished. I know he’s still alive.”

Turning her head to one side, Ninorra studied her son’s expression. He seemed less drawn to emotion these days, especially since Corvallis disappeared. The strangely handsome young man who tutored Damian in swordplay always seemed to take special care in Damian’s wellbeing. What had he taught the boy, exactly? “And how do you know that?”

Damian smiled, and the same dimples his mother had showed in his cheeks. He immediately went back to working on the robot. “I just do.”

Ninorra smiled to herself and seemed to relax. While she often found it difficult to cope with how much risk her son was willing to take, the strange connection he and Corvallis shared seemed to put her at ease. At least for now.

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