Where Darkness Dwells
She kicked out at the hungering hands, but their grip was far stronger than her frail body could hope to match against. Her cloth robe tore at the shoulder seam, revealing a sliver of her ghostly white flesh, while the insistent hands, sticky with the pallor of death, found a tight hold around her waist and under her arm, completely immobilizing the vulnerable girl. She sighed and went limp in the grip, consenting to be dragged down the gloomy corridor.
Two weeks earlier
"So, I think this time we will try… which do you prefer, the green or the muted purple?" He asked, holding up the two dresses. "I'm more partial to the green, myself, but it's your choice, Miss Ashcroft."
"The purple's fine," she said irritably, watching the dressmaker go off into the back room to re-hang the green, and her hearing picked up his whispered disapproval as to her current clothing. All dark shades, making her ghostly white skin look even unhealthier, dark bags under her steely gray eyes, reeking of magic. Her mother sat beside her, aristocratic nose perpetually sticking up into the air, looking down upon her eldest daughter with disappointment.
"How are your studies going?" She asked stiffly, long fingers clasped around her purse. "You look tired, Ebony, dear."
"I have much to do," she replied vaguely, leaning back on the soft chair of the musty shop, frowning. Whenever she got home, her mother would insist they did things together. Shopping, taking tea, sewing. Things that she detested, but the silent threat of an end to the freedom she was given in Dalaran hovered. "Study eats up my time."
"I do wish you'd come home more often. The Manor is very empty without you or your younger siblings," she fanned her face with one carefully manicured hand. "It doesn't help that all you father does now is sit in his study and plot."
"Ma'am," the dressmaker returned with the purple dress, holding it like it was made from spun gold. "Would you like it delivered to Manor Ashcroft or will you take it now?"
"Deliver it, please. We have more to do today." Her mother pulled a small pouch of coins from her purse, counting out the gold like it were bark or stone, nothing of value. She pressed the neat stack into the tailor's soft hands and they exited the shop, the dusty bell ringing out with a muffled chime. "Really, the green was nicer."
Ebony sighed and touched her coal-black hair, making sure that it was still in the clip she had received as a gift from a suitor last year. It was beautiful, ornately jeweled in the semblance of an owl (she was, after all, a student in Dalaran, where knowledge classified as an attractive quality), but she had chased him off as soon as he'd tried to get serious. She didn't want to settle down and become a stiff like her mother, all alone in a big, expensive house with too much money and not enough to do.
"Why do you enjoy dark colours so? They wash you out completely." The older woman said irritably, her eyes roaming Southshore in search of another shop to buy something useless in. Ebony stayed silent, which was the best way to kill conversation with her mother. If you let her, she'd go on and on, making up for all the conversations that she'd been denied over the past year or two, depending on when the mages told Ebony she had to go home and get some rest.
Though Dalaran was hanging over Northrend now, the few mages that stayed behind kept a constant portal going for students to ferry to and from through, one of which was not far at all from Manor Ashcroft, set as it was surrounded by protective hills in the countryside of Alterac, near the crater that had once held the city of the Kirin Tor. Having had nothing to do with Perenolde and his treachery during the Second War, the small fiefdom remained unscathed by the razing of Alterac and continued to act as a goading symbol of the old days to the broken noble houses force to form the Syndicate, as they were fully under Alliance protection.
Ebony herself was partway through her training as a mage and highly dissatisfied with her life. Dalaran was as stiff as her mother, the teachers utterly boring and unwilling to stray a page off the textbooks, the students stuck-up and self-important. To make up for it, she buried herself in other books, older books, which spoke of marvelous things that magic could really be used for. Tales wilder than the flora of Stranglethorn Vale, that filled her with a deep lust, an abnormal yearning for something more than she had.
"Shall we?" he mother gestured at a small shop, situated as far away from the inn as possible, from which Ebony could hear raucous laughter and the clink of mugs even down the street. It was nearing sunset, so all the fighters would have come back and be getting royally drunk before nightfall, forgetting that their lives were constantly on the line. A part of her wanted to go in, but she would find vagrants and ne'er-do-wells, she knew, and the upper-class part of her was disgusted. Sighing again, she followed her mother into the little teashop, the smell of old people and different brews thick on the air. This was the only place selling food that her mother would enter in Southshore, stating that the other ones were horribly unclean.
They sat down on the cushioned chair and her mother ordered the house tea, no sugar, no milk. Just like her, bitter and hard. In a move to be deliberately mischievous, Ebony ordered a hot cocoa, extra cream, sugar and chocolate.
"That's a little much, dear," he mother warned, but she just smiled vacantly. "Though with your figure, you should be eating more." That much was true, she supposed. Study made no time for big meals.
They sipped their drinks in silence, Ebony enjoying the thick, scalding cocoa as it slid down her throat, bringing rare colour to her cheeks. All she wanted was to be back in her small study, poring over a guilty book she had stashed under her bed: A Return to Basic Shadowcasting by Keiryn Darkbound. She wasn't a warlock and didn't want to be- demons interested her minimally. It was the huge question of Death that took up much of her free time, filling her hugely expansive mind with infinite and dizzying possibilities, whispers of greatness that barely tickled what she was learning now. She daren't voice her curiosity to anyone else; necromancy was a heavily forbidden art, especially with the onslaught of the scourge, but she could hardly bare to stay bored any longer.
Curiosity was going to kill her, one day.
They exited the shop and it was then, when the sun began to dip under the Hillsbrad Foothills, that her mother decided to call it a day. They walked swiftly back to the waiting carriage, seeing the stable-hand snoring on the roof, his cap covering his soft face. Rapping on the side of the carriage, the older woman woke him abruptly, and he scrambled down, apologizing profusely.
"Take us home, Connor," she said. "I am weary." He nodded quickly and roused the horse, the powerful creature snorting softly before she was calmed by Connor's gentle touch. If the boy hadn't such a connection with animals, his laziness and impertinence would have had him fired long ago. Quickly harnessing the horse, he closed the carriage door before hopping up on the front and jerking the coach into motion.
"Have you received word from Rebecca and Cefflan?" Ebony asked, thinking about her two younger siblings, down in Stormwind. They had come for a visit a month before, but she had missed it, unaware. Unlike her mother, Rebecca was outgoing and moved with a purposeful mien, and was also undoubtedly the prettiest of the family, with her father's curly auburn hair and mother's blue eyes. Cefflan had the same black as Ebony, but his was bouncy and wavy, not slick-straight.
"They sent me a letter upon reaching Stormwind safely," the older woman said. "They will be visiting again perhaps mid-next year."
"I'll have to time my visit appropriately," Ebony agreed, her thoughts flitting back to her book, and the fact that she wouldn't see it for another three days. "Perhaps when we get home, could I peruse the library?"
"Ask your father," was her response. She'd have nothing to do with the place, stating it gave her the chills. In reality, Lady Ashcroft hated reading with a passion, because people in books always got the good end of the deal, they got to go away on adventures and campaigns, and she was stuck in her loveless marriage and dusty manor. Ebony had been practicing scrying spells one day and was struck with the idea to find out what her mother was thinking, and this was what she had found out. Guiltily, she had done this several more times to other members of her family, even though scrying someone unaware or unwilling was illegal. Their thoughts and desires disturbed her more than her own.
Rebecca was madly in love with Connor, the stable-hand. Cefflan was having trouble sleeping, terrified of malicious nightmares that plagued him with visions of his family and friends, dead but not, grinning from behind lifeless eyes as they ransacked his body. Ebony had watched with sordid fascination one evening as this played out, staring in her own eyes. She had not been a mindless ghoul, which was worse- her brother had dreamed of her as a madly cackling necromancer, directing her once-family with the fervor of madness. The frightening thing about his vision was that it was something that she had thought about, herself- necromancy, but she'd never dream of harming her own family with it. She had looked past herself, guilty that her avatar was tormenting Cefflan so, to her father, hollow, sitting at his desk and crying to himself in an alcohol-induced depression. He was deeper embroiled in the silent war that raged through the north than she had cared to imagine.
Her mother, for all her effort, was failing to keep the façade of a normal family up.
When they returned to Manor Ashcroft, Ebony made a beeline for the study, thinking to quickly ask her father or permission and then ransack the library for any interesting books. She knocked thrice on the hard, lacquered paneling and a weary "Come in," came from the other side. She pushed the heavy door open as it squeaked on rusty hinges, and came into the study, lit in a dying orange that set the square contours of her father's haggard face in a soft, golden light. "Ebony," he said, smiling through his grey beard.
"Can I go in the library?" she asked hastily, eyeing the empty canteen of whiskey on his desk and his heavily lidded eyes. She didn't particularly want to talk to him that much, seeing him inebriated. He used to be a smart, quick-witted man with a firm grasp on his life, but he'd let things around him slip too much. The Syndicate got ever closer, and Southshore and the Alliance were becoming more alienated from the last nobles of Alterac by the year. Soon, they would be left to themselves, at the mercy of those they once dominated, and all her father could do was drink and reminisce about when everything was going fine.
"Of course, my darling, why not? Don't you want to sit with your father? We can talk about your schooling… how is Dalarama?"
"Dalaran." She crisply corrected him, hand gripping the door handle. "Going fine, father. I have much to read, I must take my leave."
"Ebony, dear, don't leave…" he pushed himself out of the study chair and promptly remembered that he had no balance and toppled back onto the desk. Ebony looked at him with a mixture of pity and disgust before quietly leaving, the door clicking shut. The rich, dark red carpet sucked her feet in as she padded down the endless corridors, hung with expensive paintings, legendary weapons, and the like. She cared not for old things that were useless; knowledge was what she thought of as most important.
The library of Manor Ashcroft has once been the envy of all Alterac, though now it laid gathering dust, having no active collector or reader of books in the residence. In her younger days, Ebony had curled up on one of the chaise longues with a book for hours on end; the only sound in the cavernous room her breathing. It brought a warm torrent of familiarity to her and she ran her long, pale fingers over the rows and rows of tomes, lightly perusing for one to read. Or, that was what she hoped it looked like. In reality, she was looking to see if they had a copy of A Return to Basic Shadowcasting.
Being an avid reader, she found herself unable to resist the heavy tomes in the silent room, and many hours quickly passed as she lost her purpose and ended up engrossed in a first edition copy of Medivh's memoirs. Indeed, he was her idol, standing out amongst all other mages in history as not only one of the most powerful but also the most interesting. His inner battle with Sargeras sent tingles through her fingers as she grasped the page, almost seeing the very scene herself, from behind his eyes, feeling as he had felt. Eventually, she set the memoir down and returned to the shelves.
Though she had completely forgotten that she was actively looking for it, her stomach did an excited flip when she recognized the jet-black spine of A Return to Basic Shadowcasting, emblazoned with the deep amethyst symbol of the author. This book was illegal, but then again, the availability of it was deeply unsettling. It was almost as if it was being distributed. And to be so openly in the library of a noble of Alterac- if anyone other than her ever came in here she was willing to bet that they'd find a hundred other such books, looking harmless amongst old stories and cookbooks.
She leafed through the parchment pages and found that this copy had been annotated, notes neatly filled the margins and bottoms of pages, the handwriting slow and impeccably tidy. When she got to the page she had ended at the previous week, she found that in this copy, a small diagram had been sketched and annotated. It was a summoning circle, intricately inked and labeled as to its properties. She flipped back a page and found one nearly exactly the same, except that the hand-drawn one carried a title that set her blood humming.
In convergence betwixt the stable state and death, a circle runéd for such.
Her mouth went dry as she read the small handwriting again. Was she reading it wrong? No, the writing was too neat. She flipped back- the book's circle was for summoning lesser demons. Breathless she squinted to read the small noted attached to parts of the circle. Runes she recognized, that she had been taught. Invocations only slightly modified. This was it. What she had been searching for all her short life, the sense of control she craved. Her family was falling apart, Dalaran mages couldn't tell one side of a ley line from the other, but this was what she needed.
She closed the book, a giddy feeling of excitement washing over her. It was dark, and she knew her mother slept early. Her father was probably passed out in his study where he had fallen. The servants wouldn't dare go into even her wing of the manor. She bustled out of the library, the soft cloth of her boots moving soundlessly, taking her automatically to the east wing, where she and her two younger siblings had once all lived together. She walked into her room, bolting the door behind her and pulling the windows and curtains shut.
The runes were simple to sketch, the magic flowing from the tip of her fingers easily as she placed them atop the wooden floorboards. Ebony may have been bored out of her mind in Dalaran, but boredom did not necessarily make for indolence. She had practiced and studied until her eyes would not open and her hands would not move to etch runes, until completely exhausted. This, in comparison to the heavy use of magic she was used to, was child's play. Once her circle was set, she decided it didn't feel right to do this kind of thing in these clothes, so she went and put on the new dress that had been laid out on her bed while she was in the library. It felt new and slightly stiff, but it looked the part. She already knew whom she was going to talk to. The man she reverently idolized, who was at the pinnacle of power. She knew he was dead, or at least that he had died, so logically one could call him from the grave. Medivh, the Guardian.
She sat in her circle with the book, making finishing touches to her circle, from which she could feel an eerie power beginning to grow. It was unnatural, to pervert nature in such a way to reverse the final judgment of death, but the magic itself was incredibly powerful. The mana needed to actually raise people from beyond… monumentous.
Fear and anticipation saturating her limbs, Ebony began the process that would call the spirit of Medivh to her. O, the questions she wished to ask, the devouring lust for knowledge beyond that of anyone else that plagued her, waking or sleeping… to satisfy it would either kill her or keep her alive. She traced runes in the air as she whispered the incantation, letting the unearthly words of power rise from her breath and swirl around her, trapped within her circle, clustering together and moving with languid grace Ebony almost stopped her casting just to stare at them, but shook herself at the last moment and continued, feeling the power build up to a tingling pressure behind her eyes.
"May I inquire as to who would dare summon me?"
Ebony was knocked from her circle and into the dresser behind her, a nasty crack telling her that something was bleeding. She looked around wildly, looking for the voice, so loud it was that it had burst her eardrums, reverberating around her skull agonizingly. Slowly, the words of power converged in the centre of her circle and began to solidify, folding into robes and an old, wise face. This man was definitely not dead, that was for sure. Ebony panicked. What had she done? She knew next to nothing about Necromancy, and she'd attempted to summon one of the most powerful mages of all time? What was she thinking?
Medivh looked around the room until his eyes rested on her. They were human, but ringed with a light coating, the iridescent green of fel energy. She knew that Sargeras had once shared his body, but she had thought-
"Stop thinking," he said threateningly, Atiesh forming in his gnarled hand. "Your thoughts do not interest me."
The mage stepped out of the circle that was supposed to bind him. Chuckling to himself, he gave the room another view, eyes focusing on the books stacked everywhere, brought back with her on her visit, then the elaborate four-poster bed and the ornate furniture.
"Rich little girl," he cooed, bending over to the annotated book and rifling through it. "Shadowcasting? Naughty rich little girl." He looked at the circle she had used to summon him. "This is a necromancy circle. I see no dead body. What were you going to put my spirit in?" he tutted, then crossed over to where she was sitting, scared more than she'd thought. How stupid could she be?
"A Dalaran mage? Doing necromancy?" his eyes were wide, seemingly quite content to explore her room. "Perhaps not a Dalaran mage much longer,"
She frowned despite herself. He saw this and smiled. "Why have you tried to summon me, just out of interest? I am an eternal, not dead. I merely came when you shouted my name out of curiosity."
"I-I just wanted, uh, to… ask some questions," she said timidly, realizing now how meek that sounded. What questions would she have asked anyway? She had just rushed in there, hardly considering even her true motivations. Medivh looked at her with one eyebrow quirked, and his face suddenly shifted, becoming older, wiser, weary.
"Knowledge has a price, little girl," he said nastily, his eyes narrowing. "One I doubt you will be willing, or indeed able to pay." He smiled to show a row of yellowing teeth. Ebony began to panic. The whole wing of the house was abandoned, and the manor was large, the carpets thick and the walls solid. If Medivh wanted to…
"You give me some interesting ideas," he almost purred, and she realized he could see her thoughts. "But it has been a long time since I was summoned into Azeroth, and longer since then I have wanted to see what has befallen my old world. I'm not angry. In fact, I'll give you some advice, free of charge." He flashed his teeth again, offering her the hand not holding Atiesh. "Take it."
She did, and he pulled her up with immeasurable ease. Afterwards, he held on to her hand and peered into her eyes, causing an electric chill to ricochet down her spine, almost paralyzing her. It was a dreadful, vulnerable feeling that he reveled in. He pulled her close and whispered a single, resonating word into her ear.
A/N: I am aware that I should be writing The Brotherhood, and rest assured I am :) When ideas come, they don't like staying down. Also, I wanted to try writing something a bit stiffer, you know? The Brotherhood's language, at least the narrative and the dialogue, is relaxed compared to this. I'm also feeling very sly that I know the connection between these 2 stories, which I'm sure Brotherhood readers will spot when I finish the next chapter of that. From this story, you can expect sporadic updates, every week or long or chapters about 5-7k long. I want to take this one to a while new level of perversion. (Though not the perversion you're thinking of, as in Marisa/Cony perversion. That is contained to Brotherhood.)
Please review and tell me what you think of this modified style and, if you're really good, the connection between the two stories.
Also apologies for Medivh… I'm not 100% familiar with his lore, and I may have stretched it a bit to fit my own ends.