Notes: So, uhm, the usual mish-mash of movie!verse and book!verse, specifically "Tide of Darkness". Obviously canon-divergent because, well, Taria's still alive and Khadgar hasn't aged. Also, if you haven't read the book, Dalaran isn't in the sky yet, it's still sitting across the lake from the Undercity. Basically a heap more wish fulfillment and family feels and hugs. There, you happy?
The Further I Fly (The Closer I Get To Home)
Lightning flashed soundlessly on the horizon, lighting up the low clouds from within. The storm was far enough away that Khadgar could hear no thunder but a breeze had risen, tangling in his hair, bringing him the smell of electricity and fresh seas. A book lay open in his lap, momentarily forgotten, as he leaned forward from his seat in the crow's nest to watch the storm dancing on the horizon. They had perhaps an hour, if Khadgar's sense of time was right, and he thought it probably was. They had been at sea for two weeks and he had come to learn how to read the time without sunlight and to read the weather in the crests of the waves.
That was after, of course, he'd spent the first three days losing his lunch over the railing, much to their Lord Commander's high amusement. Lothar had started calling him "Upchucker" instead of "Spellchucker" until Khadgar finally got his sea legs and stopped turning green at the mere sight of food.
Closing his book to protect the pages from errant raindrops Khadgar peeked over the rail of the crow's nest to see who was on deck. The captain of their ship was at the helm - a comforting sight with the storm looming in front of them. Sailors worked about deck, tightening lines, coiling ropes and stowing gear as the wind picked up again. Varian and Lothar were also on deck, both of them at the rail, the Lion speaking quietly with his nephew.
Varian's small face was withdrawn and he seemed to barely hear anything his uncle was saying. The prince had grown more reserved and melancholy the farther they sailed from Stormwind. Khadgar had reinforced the mage light he'd let Varian borrow and he'd performed tricks and told stories and conjured all sorts of treats but little could make the prince smile anymore. Khadgar could understand. The boy had lost his father and his kingdom, his surviving people sailing for what they hoped would be safety. Khadgar had some reservations about that. They were sailing towards his home, after all. A home he hadn't seen in years and to which he might no longer be welcome. He'd kept his worries from the royal family, however. They had enough to be going on with.
"Storm's comin' up." Henry, a sailor of an age with Khadgar, was climbing up the rigging. He grinned, a flash of white in the semi-darkness of sunset. The two had become "chums" as Henry put it after Khadgar had lost to him repeatedly at dice. The best way to make sailor friends, apparently. "Commander says you're to come down before you break your neck. Says he doesn't want to have to clean up your innards when you hit the deck."
Khadgar scoffed but obligingly got to his feet, book under his arm as he dusted off his trousers. He nodded out towards the storm. "What do you think? Will it be a bad one?" The weather had been mostly calm throughout their voyage. This would be their first real encounter with bad weather at sea.
Henry eyed the approaching cloud. "Aye, we're gonna get wet, but nothing this ol' girl can't handle."
As the crew took in sail, Khadgar climbed down from the crow's nest, book between his teeth. He did not, however, go down into the hold with Varian, despite the exasperated look Lothar threw his way - though he did give his book to the prince for safe keeping. Instead, he stayed out on desk and followed orders like the other sailors. He had gotten good at tying knots and helping in the rigging, for basic things, at any rate, and it felt good to do something physical. He couldn't think too much if he was busy. And both the sailors and Lothar's men seemed to like him, something he couldn't quite fathom until he'd asked Lothar about it.
"You fought Gul'dan for them," Lothar had said, looking incredulous that Khadgar even had to ask. "They respect that."
He had tried to argue that he hadn't really fought Gul'dan as much as had almost been killed by him but that seemed to be a minor detail not worth anyone's time. Sometimes, in his nightmares, Khadgar could still feel that green rope of death connecting him to the warlock, draining his life away. It's what had prompted him to start studying the books he'd taken from Karazhan again. He had the strength, it was true, but he needed more knowledge if he was to face Gul'dan on the field again.
When the storm finally broke, the winds picked up and Khadgar was immediately soaked. Lightning arced in the clouds and this time he could hear the thunder as it rumbled around them. At some point, in between closing down the hatches and stowing loose gear, Khadgar looked over to find Lothar almost grinning into the storm. He looked exhilarated and alive as he hadn't been their entire trip, blue eyes lit up with lightning. The Lion faces the storm, Khadgar thought, and then shook it away just as a wave over the side thoroughly drenched him from head to toe.
It was a wild night. The sea showed them her terrible power. The ship dipped and rose into waves the height of which Khadgar had never seen before. In one such blow, a man went overboard, wiped off the desk by a wave that washed Khadgar off his feet as well. The captain's whistle cut through the storm along with the cry of "Man overboard!". The crew rushed to the railing, throwing over anything that could float to the man struggling to stay above water. Khadgar practically crashed into the railing in his haste to help, noticing after a moment that the man in the water was Henry.
"Henry! Swim for your life!" a sailor shouted, throwing over an empty barrel. Khadgar had only a few precious seconds to decide what to do. He threw out a hand towards Henry, rune circles flaring into being around his wrist and forearm. From the black clouds overhead, an arcane bird dove down from the heavens, wings knifing through the wind. It's body swirled with arcane colors and light as it dropped into the water near Henry and then came up underneath him, bearing him up and out of the water with the sailor on it's back. Khadgar moved his hand, directing the bird towards the deck, gritting his teeth against the focus it was taking to keep the bird corporeal enough for it to be solid to Henry. The bird flapped its great wings and alighted on the deck, Henry sliding from it's back on shaky legs before it disappeared in a shower of sparks.
For one long moment, no one moved or spoke. Khadgar stood there, breathing heavily from the effort, and found everyone watching him wide-eyed even as the rain pelted them from all sides. He was just starting to wonder if he had made some sort of mistake, if his show of power had frightened everyone, when Henry staggered over to him, put both hands on the side of Khadgar's head and laid a big, wet kiss on his cheek.
"My hero!" he crowed, giddy from his near death experience. He slapped Khadgar on the back so hard the mage stumbled as the rest of the crew broke out into cheers, pummeling Khadgar with hugs and handshakes and more slaps on the back until the mage felt a bit bruised.
Henry went below to get warm and soon enough the crew went back to their duties, leaving only Lothar, whose mouth tipped up at the corner and who leaned forward to ruffle his wet hair.
"You did good, spellchucker," he said and, even though he was wet to the bone, Khadgar felt warmth infuse his bones. "Now go inside before you catch cold or my sister will never let me hear the end of it."
Khadgar ducked his head to hide his grin and did as he was told, holding on to that warm feeling long after he was dry and safe in the cabins below.
They could glimpse it there, hidden in the early morning mist. Patches of green in the swirling gray. I'm home, Khadgar thought, but he felt strange thinking it. Next to him, leaning with his forearms on the railing, Lothar was watching the fog-shrouded land with a sort of grave curiosity as the ship brought them ever closer.
"Do you know this place?" Lothar murmured. He seemed tired this morning, opposite of the way he had come alive in the tempest the night before. No doubt he was thinking of the road that lay before them, long and hard and unsure of its ending.
"It's hard to see clearly." He paused, watching a windmill rise out of the mist. "I think… I think it's Southshore."
They anchored the ship and went ashore in boats, waking the villagers who watched their coming in shocked surprise. Soon enough there were people everywhere, Stormwind citizens finding a hesitant but kind welcome from the Southshore folks who handed out blankets and food once they realized the people streaming onto their beach were refugees.
"Orcs." Marcus Redpath said the word as if he had a bad taste in his mouth. As well he might. He was the headman of Southshore and had invited Lothar and Taria to meet with him at the inn. Khadgar stood in the back of the room keeping half an eye on Varian and half an ear on Marcus.
"Our kingdom is in ruins," Lothar said, a undercurrent of bitterness in his voice. "We seek aid from your king."
Marcus nodded. "King Terenas. Of course. I will send my fastest rider to bring this news to the King at Lordaeron so he will know of your coming." He motioned at his cleric who left the room quickly. "In the meantime, we will do what we can to house your people. I suspect it will be a bit cramped but all will have warm food and water and shelter."
"That's all that we could ask for," Taria said softly. Marcus bowed his head.
"I have some horses I can lend you to take you to Lordaeron, a small party at least. I assume you'll want one of my men to go with you as a guide?"
"There's no need. We have one." Lothar tipped his head back to indicate Khadgar. Redpath's eyebrows rose.
"Indeed? You've been to our shores before, lad?"
Khadgar shifted warily on his feet. "I have."
When nothing more was forthcoming, Redpath cleared his throat. "Right then. I'll have my men gather supplies for the journey. You're welcome to take your ease here and catch your breath until you're ready to depart."
"Thank you, sir," Lothar said, inclining his head. Marcus echoed the motion and then departed, leaving the four of them alone for the moment, though Taria's guards were right outside the entrance. The queen moved closer to the big fireplace, rubbing her arms against the morning's chill. She wore a troubled look on her face as she held her hands near the flames.
"It feels strange, doesn't it?" she asked quietly. "To be on land again?"
Lothar was watching his sister carefully, as if she were speaking another language. After a moment, he caught Khadgar's gaze and flicked his eyes towards Varian.
Khadgar coughed and stood, making a big show of stretching. "I think I'll take a bit of a walk and look around. Would you come with me, Varian?"
The boy perked up a little and nodded silently, pulled from his grief by a child's natural curiosity about a new place. Khadgar bowed his head to Taria and the two boys exited the inn, the mage wobbling a little as his sea legs got the better of him.
Southshore was still a flurry of activity as the ships were offloaded. Khadgar led the prince up the center of the village and then up the nearby hill where they could look down at Southshore but also northwards towards Lordaeron and Dalaran. It was too misty to see the towers and they were probably too far to see them anyway but Khadgar pointed in their direction.
"Dalaran lies that way," he told the prince. Varian followed his line of sight, peering into the trees.
"The magic city?"
Khadgar nodded. "Where mages live and study." Varian blinked and frowned until Khadgar nudged him gently with an elbow. "What is it?
"You're a mage," the prince said pointedly. Khadgar nodded, tilting his head. Varian looked away and down, rubbing the toe of his boot in the dirt. "Does that mean you're going to leave us? To live in the magic city?"
Khadgar swallowed against the sudden tightness in his throat. "Never," he choked out, causing the prince to look up quickly. "I mean, I don't want to go back, but I might have to, for a little bit." He exhaled. "But I hope not."
"I hope not, too," Varian said, a note of fierceness in his voice that surprised Khadgar. "You're our mage."
The ride to Lordaeron was peaceful. The countryside was green and beautiful and the weather was cool but it did not rain. Redpath had managed to scrounge up a carriage for the queen and the prince, driven by a pair of royal guards, while Lothar, Khadgar and a pair of Lothar's men rode alongside. Lothar plied him with questions as they rode, about the kingdom and royal family. Khadgar spoke of what he knew but the truth was he didn't know altogether much. Most of his life had been spent studying to become the next Guardian, he'd had little time for field trips. He had, of course, been schooled on the history and politics of the region but it was personal anecdotes that Lothar wanted and Khadgar just didn't have them. Book smarts, Lothar called it.
They arrived at the Capital City to find that Redpath's courier had arrived before them and the King was prepared to receive them. Guards were waiting for them at the gates to take their horses and help Taria from the carriage. The castle by the lake was as imposing as ever, but also beautiful in it's way, it's archways and halls steeped in history. They were ushered into the main hall where the King rose from his throne as they entered.
King Terenas had always seemed a good, just ruler to Khadgar. He was strong but he did not act rashly, preferring to think things through. His hair was starting to gray a bit but he had all the vigor of a younger man. He crossed the hall to bow his head over Taria's hand and welcomed Lothar with a firm handshake.
"My lord, my lady, I welcome you to Lordaeron though I rue you have come in such circumstances." He turned then to face Varian and his face was both kind and sad. "And I welcome you too, Prince Varian. I'm saddened to hear about your father. I hope to see him avenged and your kingdom restored."
Varian's face was drawn but he seemed to take the king's words to heart. "Thank you, King Terenas."
And then the king's gaze was on Khadgar and it was no longer kind or welcoming, but discerning. "And this, I imagine, is the mage Khadgar," the king said cooly. Khadgar hid a wince by bowing. "Antonidas says much of you." The king's eyes look to someone behind Khadgar and the mage feels a chill go down his spine as he slowly turns to meet the serene gaze of the Archmage.
"Archmage Antonidas." Khadgar bowed again and wondered when his mouth had gotten so dry. "I can explain," he blurted. He could, he could explain why he had to kill Medivh - his master - why he had not returned to Dalaran, why he had closed Karazhan to the Kirin Tor. Well, he could try, certainly, though he was sure the Archmage would not like the answers.
"I'm sure you can, Khadgar," Antonidas replied calmly. He made a motion with his right hand and a teleportation circle came to life under Khadgar's feet, casting blue light around the room. Khadgar felt the blood drain from his face. "I would like to hear it," the Archmage continued, "in Dalaran."
"Wait!" He flung up a hand but it was too late. He managed to cast a panicked glance at Lothar before he was teleported from the Capital City to appear instantaneously in a holding room at the Violet Citadel. Khadgar sighed.
Home sweet home.
Outwardly, Taria looked like the queen she was. Seated on the edge of a gilt chair, hands laced together in her lap as she watched her brother pace aggressively back and forth across the room Terenas had given her. Inside, however, she was as upset as he was but they were not in Stormwind and this was not their kingdom. There were rules here that they did not fully understand.
"What do you mean to do, Lothar? Lay siege to Dalaran?" she asked, watching her brother spin on his heel angrily, blue eyes flashing at her. "Terenas has offered us his support. We're guests here. We don't have the means to—"
"We can't leave him there!"
The cry came from Varian who Taria had realized was listening to them. Her son stood in the corner of the room holding the tiny mage light Khadgar had given him. It was dim and pathetic looking as if it knew the mage was no longer there. Lothar actually stopped his pacing, watching the prince carefully.
"We can't," Varian said again, more firmly this time. "He doesn't like it there. He told me."
"When was this?" Lothar asked, his voice quiet in that way of his that spoke of emotional restraint.
"When we got to Southshore. He said he didn't want to leave us but that he might have to." Varian's young voice wobbled just a little and Taria's heart ached for all her son had endured. "He wants to stay with us, Uncle. We can't leave him there."
Lothar turned away and Taria could see him struggle to keep himself together. He'd been incensed when the Archmage had teleported Khadgar right out from under them and then refused to deliver him back, saying it was a Dalaran matter and that Khadgar needed to make an accounting of his actions while he'd been gone. Taria understood from his tone that Khadgar might be in trouble and it angered her that anyone in Dalaran would dare pass judgement on him when the boy had only done everything he could to help them. The thought of him there alone broke her heart. Khadgar's parents had given him up and it was clear these other mages thought of him only as a tool. As far as Taria was concerned, Khadgar was part of their family now and she knew Lothar felt the same way. Having the boy ripped from them so abruptly had left her brother angry and hurt and not at all inclined to listen to Terenas' calm pleas for a council.
"Of course we're not going to leave him," Taria said, giving her brother a moment to compose himself. "Khadgar belongs with us now and if any of those mages think they can harm a hair on his head they'll have my wrath to deal with." Her eyes flickered to Lothar. "And your Uncle's too, I imagine."
Lothar turned to face them again. "I'll go to Dalaran myself," he said lowly. "It will take days for Terenas to get this council together and from what I understand the city isn't far."
Taria nodded regally, the picture of queenliness while inside she cheered. "Of course. I can handle the king while you're away and Varian has made friends with the prince - Arthas, was his name?" Varian nodded in confirmation. "We'll keep everyone busy until you return."
Lothar nodded sharply and headed for the door. Taria called out to him as he left.
"Bring back our boy, Lothar."
The Lion of Azeroth paused in the doorway. He didn't look at her but his voice was a promise.
Khadgar was exhausted, body and soul. He couldn't say how long he spent before the Council of Six rehashing every minute of the last handful of months but when they were finally done with him he felt raw inside and out. Having to relive everything - all the pain and terror and grief - made everything fresh again and his emotions were in freefall. He'd been allowed to go back to his old chambers and that was where he was, collapsed on his bed, staring at the ceiling with tears in his eyes.
He was just so tired.
Along with wringing every morsel of information from him the Council had also used a few spells on him. Most to see and hear something from his memory that he had witnessed. Others to enhance something he'd only briefly been aware of. They had painstakingly gone over every detail of his encounter with Gul'dan - including commentary on what he should have done - until he could literally feel the life draining from him again.
They'd finally stopped their interrogation a few hours ago but Khadgar felt as wrecked as he had on the docks after Gul'dan had almost killed him. He wanted to sleep for ages but memories kept playing out in front of eyes and he didn't have the strength to tune them out. He watched as Callan was killed, as his Master died in his arms, as Llane was laid in his tomb, as Gul'dan set Stormwind on fire as they fled.
It was too much.
For the first time since things had gone sideways, Khadgar let himself cry. He did it quietly and he didn't bother wiping the tears away, he didn't have the strength. The council was unclear on whether or not they were going to let Khadgar leave the city again right away. He'd channeled fel, Antonidas had said, such an event could not just be waved away.
A knock at his door startled him. The door swung open before he could even contemplate getting up and he tilted his head to the side to see Hestia, one of the younger mages, silhouetted in the doorway.
"Khadgar." For some reason, Hestia was whispering. Khadgar struggled to sit up. "There's someone here for you."
And then Lothar was pushing his way into the room.
"Wha….?" Khadgar was suddenly unsure how to use words. Lothar grabbed his arm and hauled him to his feet and then had to catch him as the mage's knees buckled.
"Light, kid, what did they do to you?" Lothar growled, putting his arm under Khadgar's shoulders.
"Nothing," he answered faintly. "They just...wanted to know...what happened."
Lothar took one long look at his tear-stained face and his own expression turned dark. "Right. Nothing." He mumbled something that might have been a curse. "Can you teleport us out of here?"
Khadgar's head lolled as he struggled to stay upright. "... Maybe."
They hit the rug in Taria's private room at the castle. The queen was in a dressing gown, her hair free as she read by firelight. She jumped to her feet at their appearance just as Khadgar crumbled, far too exhausted and drained for anything else. Lothar caught his arm before he face-planted and Taria knelt and quickly got her arms around him, hugging him tightly. Khadgar wished he had the energy to hug her back.
"Khadgar, we were so worried," Taria said in his ear. She sounded a little teary. "It's been days…" She pulled back a little to look at his face and whatever she saw there made her eyebrows draw together in sympathy. She rubbed a thumb over the dried tear tracks on his cheek. "My poor boy." She pulled him into a hug again and this time he closed his eyes and fell into her, so weary and heartsick, seeking comfort. She pressed her cheek against his. "It's alright now. You're with us."
And there, in Taria's arms with Lothar's hand resting on his dark hair, he was safe.
He was home.
Needless to say, Antonidas was not very happy with Khadgar once he'd learned of his disappearing trick. Luckily, Lothar made a very persuasive argument to keeping the younger mage right where he was and - surprisingly - so did King Terenas who, as it turned out, rather disliked the interference of Dalaran in his political affairs. He had called together the leaders of the surrounding kingdoms to hear Lothar's tale and to decide what was to be done about the orcs who had, to everyone's dismay, started to turn their sights on Lordaeron as well. Once Lothar made it clear that Khadgar's presence at the council meeting was required, King Terenas put his foot down and Antonidas had no choice but to allow Khadgar to do as he liked, with some stern warnings to keep out of trouble, of course.
And so it came to be that Khadgar was present at the birth of the Alliance.
As the others filed out of the meeting chamber, Khadgar gave Lothar a showy bow. "Supreme Commander." Lothar's look was unimpressed and Khadgar sobered. "Do you think the reports from Kul Tiras are true? The orcs are sailing for the mainland?"
"If it is then they will land at Southshore, the same as we did," Lothar answered grimly. "And so we must be waiting for them when they do." He glanced sideways at Khadgar. "I'll need you with me."
The mage blinked, and then grinned. "Of course."
Lothar's mouth tipped up at the corner and then he knocked Khadgar's shoulder with a mailed arm hard enough to leave a bruise. "Good lad."
They walked together out of the meeting room to the courtyard, taking in the late afternoon sun. Men at arms went to and fro with supplies and orders and the in the far corner the Bishop was speaking with his band of new holy knights. They, too, would be going with the army to Southshore.
"We've come a long way," Khadgar murmured, taking in their surroundings. Lothar raised his eyebrows.
"I thought you had come home?"
Khadgar shook his head. "No," he answered, giving Lothar a shy smile there in the sunlight.
"I brought it with me."