Jaina wanted to create a proper library in Icecrown Citadel someday. She moved her collection from Theramore with some reluctance; there, her books were available to any who wished to borrow or study them. At Icecrown, the only safe place with enough space to house them (barely) was the basement laboratory, so now they lived on cramped shelves, sometimes three deep, beyond reach for most of Icecrown's population.
In light of Theramore's destruction, Jaina was relieved that she had saved so much information from oblivion. That relief came with guilt that she had saved books, and not people.
What is done is done, she told herself, but the guilt persisted.
New titles began showing up among her collection soon after she made space for it. Kel'Thuzad never told anyone where he spirited most of his possessions off to when the Kirin Tor banished him from Dalaran, but wherever it was, he still had access to it. And he had a lot of books.
"I don't recognize this." Jaina tapped the brittle leather tome in front of her, pages packed with coloured paper flags bearing the lich's looping scrawl. "Where did you get it?"
Across the desk, Kel'Thuzad steepled his fingers. "A goblin merchant. It's the memoirs of some pompous human priest." He eyed her. "Probably stolen."
Jaina considered whether or not the book's dubious origin was a moral argument she needed to have, and decided it wasn't.
"Why did it interest you?"
"He recorded some unusual forms of magic in exceptional detail. Look at this."
Kel'Thuzad selected one of the flags and carefully opened the book.
Jaina leaned forward to study the page. On it was a partial arcane spellmap, a complex mandala of lines, arrows, and sigils. The map was incomplete, asymmetrical, and missing layers of inscription. It was readable with some effort.
And it was familiar.
"This looks like a fragment of the spellwork we transcribed from the Helm last month."
"I thought so too."
She flipped forward several pages but the next sections concerned orcish rituals and disparaging remarks about their hygiene.
"These logograms…" Jaina bit her lip. "These are outdated forms. Most of them haven't been in use for a hundred years. I think I recognize some of them from my history books though..."
Jaina turned to one of the sagging shelves. Despite their haphazard appearance, the books were neatly ordered by subject, then alphabetically by author.
"Wait, no," she paused. "It was one of yours, one that completed a trio."
"The green one?"
"The green one."
Jaina found the volume in question.
"'Mechanics and Creatives, Vol. 3.' Somewhere near the middle, I think." She flipped through the pages. The table of logograms and their meanings was not integral to the chapter where it appeared, merely an offhand demonstration of magickal language.
"If you marked interesting pages when you find them…" Kel'Thuzad began and ran his finger down the bristle of paper flags in the memoir.
"I prefer my books less defaced and unkempt." She turned the book to show him the table of symbols. "Here it is. Not all of the logograms are present but maybe enough to infer the meanings of the rest."
For a while they worked in silence, each translating the modern sigils and what archaic symbols they could recognize from the fragmented spellmap. When each had finished, they compared their conclusions.
"It looks like a feedback loop," Jaina mused.
Kel'Thuzad followed a section of linework with a pencil. "It's more complete than what we found in the Helm."
"If we match this map against the Helm's map, perhaps we could fill in some of the gaps in both spells." Jaina felt a little thrill of excitement. "Assuming this was properly transcribed by the priest, of course."
The priest was a priest after all; a mage's arcane notation systems were as foreign to him as priest's incantations were to Jaina.
"I'm inclined to believe it is. The fact that we can read this at all is evidence of that. If there are faults, I would blame our translations."
Jaina followed another line with her fingertip. It described an energy channel and it made sense until she came to a break in the line, followed by a curlicue. The channel continued normally after the curlicue.
"What is this? Is it meaningful or just a doodle? It's not in the table."
Kel'Thuzad found his glasses in a pocket and scrutinized the linework. "That's interesting. It's a quel'dorei symbol for a bond point."
Jaina studied the overall diagram. "What sort of bond point?"
"A passive reagent. An unusual place for one, though, in the middle of the map. Better to place it near the end."
"Maybe not. It's a feedback loop. If you cast the first part, including building the bond point, then the spell starts to passively collect energy from the environment while you finish casting. Once the spell is complete, the energy will follow the feedback loop on it's own, collecting more and more at the passive bond point on each circulation." Jaina paused. "Technically, you could place it at the end and get the same result. The way the spell is written is… impatient."
"I rather like it. The spell's strength will amplify with each circulation, starting when the mage casts the bond point. The loop independently sustains itself and grows in power. Oh, this is a very clever thing."
"A very powerful thing."
Kel'Thuzad straightened and a glint of crimson lit in the depths of his pupils. "A thing that deserves to be studied more closely."
If there was a mage more willing than Kel'Thuzad to experiment with un-studied magic, Jaina hadn't met them.
"With sensible restrictions," she cautioned. "But first, why is this part of the Helm? Or something like it, at least."
Jaina raised an eyebrow. "You have a theory?"
"I- well. I've just now noticed this. Look here. This part- incomplete, yes, but it shares characteristics with certain spells used in the resurrection of Death Knights."
"This doesn't look like necromancy," said Jaina.
Necromancy was difficult to represent with existing arcane symbols because it described processes and produced results unlike other schools of magic. The spellmaps and alphabets associated with it were a polyglot of orcish characters, pictographs, adapted arcane language, warlock script, pieces of demonic, and even high elven runes.
"Though that would explain why we're seeing it in the Helm too."
Kel'Thuzad tilted his head to one side. "It does and it doesn't. I would guess the primary function of this spell is the passive feedback loop but this area and this one here could support over-mapping."
Jaina felt ill.
Over-mapping was the part of Death Knight resurrection that suppressed the connection to a person's innate magic and wove a new, rigid set of spells into their undead existence. It was akin to forcing someone to hold an unfamiliar physical weapon. Or perhaps more accurately, tying someone's hand to the hilt of said weapon, then cutting off the other hand. The Death Knight would learn to use the magic, some better than others. The process was intrusive and brutal, crushing an intimate part of the person's self, and thus it was the first obstacle to successful resurrection. A certain percentage of people- "acceptable attrition" Kel'Thuzad called it- didn't survive the process, or went mad afterwards.
In theory, the scope and effect of over-mapping was extraordinary.
In practice, the result was a level of cruelty Jaina struggled to comprehend.
"The architecture is similar to the grafting plane where a Death Knight's new spell suite is attached," Kel'Thuzad continued. "Perhaps the Helm contains a similar plane to attach its particular array of spells to the Lich King."
Jaina considered. Rather than supplanting her arcane magic, the Lich King gave her a new suite of powers that slowly became integrated into her own.
"That's a decent theory. Before we test it, let's see-"
Jaina broke off mid-thought.
Her connection to the Scourge was akin to an additional sense. Just as she might find a sight or smell alarming without immediately understanding why, she also felt ripples and fluctuations of attention throughout the Scourge.
"What is it?" asked Kel'Thuzad.
"There's a man at the eyrie."
Jaina watched the stranger through the eyeless sockets of a rambling skeleton. The man's face looked younger than his close-cropped silver hair suggested and his robes were of unfamiliar cut and design. Over them, like an afterthought, he wore the gold and purple tabard of the Kirin Tor. Jaina didn't recognize him.
His gryphon, clad in Dalaran livery, rustled her feathers and pulled at the reins. The man absently scratched under her chin and stood beside his mount, taking in his first close-up look at Icecrown Citadel. Jaina knew that from the air or ground the walls and spires seemed uniform and unbroken, but closer to it one began to pick out disguised ledges, walkways, balconies, windows and other openings in the buildings imposing mass.
A wasted, near-skeletal corpse approached man and gryphon.
"Stable her for you?" rasped the creature. The man hesitated. The Citadel's eyrie was flat and open, with undead gryphons and wyverns ranged around the rim. Recessed into the wall, overhung with solemn indigo banners, was a row of stalls built to accommodate all manner of animals.
He slowly handed the reins over to the waiting corpse.
"Er," he said, clearly unaccustomed to speaking with the undead in a cordial way. "Good afternoon. Could you tell me where I might find your Queen?"
The corpse pointed over his shoulder. The man turned and Jaina faced him from her skeletal host. For a moment, she simply watched him. He was unfamiliar, but he felt like a mage and a powerful one.
Then she lit the eye sockets of her host with pale blue flame and a breath of cold fog spilled out between its teeth.
"I am here," she said. "Whom do I address?"
He hesitated again.
"Hello," he said, and made a gesture of obeisance that fell somewhere between a curtsy and a bow. "I'm Khadgar."
Khadgar? Apprentice to Medivh, the Last Guardian? What is this man doing at my door?
"Well met, Khadgar." Her voice rasped like the shifting of glacial ice. "Come. Let us have audience in a more traditional way."
"Thank you," he replied. "That would be pleasant."
The glow dimmed from the skeleton's eye sockets and Jaina turned it to lead him into the Citadel.
The undead ignored Khadgar for the most part. He, on the other hand, watched them first with distrust, then guarded curiosity, then open intrigue. He greeted the living people that crossed his path and by the time his skeletal guide led him to the long room where Jaina waited, he seemed in good spirits.
His eyes focused on her face and showed brief surprise. Nothing more could be done about her scars; they were hers forever and the first thing people saw when they looked at her.
"Welcome," she said. The glacial rasp faded from her voice.
"Lady Jaina Proudmoore, Lich King of Icecrown." Khadgar's warm hands enveloped hers in a friendly greeting. "Thank you for your ready hospitality."
"It's an honour to host you, Khadgar. What brings you to Icecrown?"
They sat and Khadgar leaned back with a sigh.
"Politics, of course. I've been too long away from Azeroth." He tried to keep his gaze from roving over the room. "So much has transpired in my absence. The Council of Six sent word to me of Rhonin's passing and I came to pay my respects. Now I find Dalaran in turmoil, the Council divided by grief and anger, and-" he paused for effect, "-further agitated by a mageling with an unusual question."
Jaina smiled a little. "Kinndy Sparkshine?"
"Yes," said Khadgar. "The very person. The Council has asked me to speak with you about her."
"They asked you?"
"I professed some curiosity about this place and they were happy to turn over discussion of Miss Sparkshine's apprenticeship to me."
"I imagine they were. The Kirin Tor have made it abundantly clear they want no contact with Icecrown. You're the first to visit."
"To their detriment, I think." He straightened his posture. "I've been away from Azeroth but I'm not ignorant of current affairs. The Kirin Tor should see what you've made here, Lady Proudmoore: order from chaos, progress from destruction, sanctuary from tyranny."
That was not a description Jaina would give Icecrown, with its history, its pitiless winters, and ominous architecture. Yet it fit, in Khadgar's comparison, and Jaina set the idea aside for later examination.
"Miss Sparkshine asked the Council if it would be safe for her to study here with you."
"Yes. She feels the judgement of the Kirin Tor and I understand why. Walking through your Citadel, I saw the numbers of your subjects. I felt their willingness to harm and the strength of your control. This entire place is a show of force, however benevolent your intentions. I appreciate the nuance of it from the vantage of experience, but the appearance is terribly frightening to a young novice who's known nothing but community, security, and familiar surroundings for most of her life. She's scared."
"She should be," said Jaina.
Khadgar nodded. "If she wasn't, she would be foolish and I would advise her against coming here."
"Kinndy isn't foolish," said Jaina. "She's only inexperienced and bursting with optimism."
"Quite true! I see much promise in her. I told the Council such and that then became part of the problem. If she studies with you, I believe she will excel just as you did in Dalaran. However-" He fidgeted. "-you are not alone here."
Jaina raised an eyebrow. "I see. The Council is worried that Kinndy will learn a particular sort of magic I didn't study in Dalaran." Sudden anger heated her cheeks and she fought the urge to dig her nails into the wooden arm of her chair. "They have so little faith in me. Have they so little faith in Kinndy too?"
Khadgar crossed one leg over the other, uncomfortable. "Rumour has reached the Kirin Tor that you might allow Kel'Thuzad to teach his dark magic here. Is that true?"
Jaina held his gaze. "I am already his student, Khadgar."
"Out of necessity, I know. The Council isn't pleased but you're far different from a rank novice and I respect your reasoning. However, this rumour persists-"
"What else have you heard from the Dalaran rumour mill?"
Khadgar hesitated, then cleared his throat. "A lot of things. You know how it is."
"I do. What I may be willing to allow is the study of necromancy for the purpose of defending against it. I would personally- and closely- oversee any such lessons. That is the truth."
"What you propose is too risky, Lady Proudmoore. Theory leads to practice."
"All magic is dangerous in the wrong hands. The art of necromancy isn't going to vanish if the Kirin Tor leaves it unstudied. Most of the Horde species practice their own versions and some humans too. Refusing to understand it is short-sighted. What better arena than here, one with benevolent intentions and experience?"
Khadgar bit his lip. "I appreciate your intentions. But such thinking makes enemies, and friends of the wrong sort."
Anu'Shukhet's words from the previous week came to mind. When your old allies had forsaken you, you found new allies.
"I assume you mean Kel'Thuzad."
"And who else?"
Khadgar's brows drew together.
"The Kirin Tor seem to have little interest in my alliance with the kingdom of Azjol'Nerub. They have little interest in my friendly affiliation with Thrall, or Highlord Saurfang, or the Knights of the Ebon Blade. They flat out don't care about the truces and treaties Icecrown has with various native Northrend peoples, and they ignore my friendship with King Anduin." Jaina made a fist and gave the arm of her chair a gentle thump. "Frankly, the Council is hung up on Kel'Thuzad because he is an embarrassment to them."
And so am I by association.
Khadgar ran a hand over his hair. "They would rather forget the connection between themselves and the Lich King, of course. Surely you understand that?"
"I do." It galled her that the people she grew up admiring had turned their backs on her. "They- you- will banish Kinndy if she joins me here, won't you."
Several seconds of silence passed. "What were Kinndy's specific safety concerns? What is she afraid of?"
"She had a list." Khadgar began counting Kinndy's concerns off on his fingers. "The winter, the undead, an alphabetical list of predatory animals, the lack of windows in the Citadel, unpredictable mail schedule, food… and she is desperately concerned that people will hate her for training with you. She's afraid it will leave her isolated."
"She's not afraid I'll coerce her into learning necromancy?"
"Miss Sparkshine trusts you, Lady Proudmoore. She spoke at length and volume of her esteem for you."
After all I did to discourage her. Jaina felt a pang of guilt. "I can promise solutions for all but the last of her fears."
Khadgar's expression softened. "Then that is what I'll tell her, and the Council."
"I appreciate you coming here," said Jaina. "To speak with me face-to-face about this matter. I have no enmity towards the Kirin Tor, nor any desire to break off contact with the Council. I do respect their position, even if I don't agree with them."
"There is one more thing," said Khadgar. "The Council would rather you not know but I think you deserve to." He rubbed his jaw, teeth bared slightly. "The Council moved to make me Archmage of the Kirin Tor."
"Will you accept?" Jaina sat forward. Someone on the Council who was willing to visit Icecrown and consult with her sounded like progress.
"I already have," he replied. "As I said, I have been too long away and I think it's time that I rejoin Azeroth society. I mean no disrespect."
"I see no disrespect," said Jaina, confused. "You're a fine choice. Do you have issue with their decision?"
"It was meant to be you," he said. "You were Rhonin's choice to lead the Council should harm befall him. His choice was made, of course, before..." He gestured at their surroundings.
Jaina took a moment to let his words sink in. "Some things make sense now." Modera and Runeweaver's uneasy glances and haste to usher her out of Dalaran, for one. "I never knew. Tell the Council not to worry. I have no designs on your post, Khadgar. The daily demands of one small kingdom are enough for me."
He smiled a little. "The Council will be relieved to hear that."
Jaina fiddled with a slight groove in the arm of her chair. "I've never taught anyone. I've never had an apprentice." Jaina had studied with her peers but on equal terms, with similar struggles. An apprentice was a wholly different thing.
"Neither have I. I can arrange materials for you, if you have need."
"I have my notes and texts from my time as an apprentice."
"All right. If that isn't enough, please send word. But for now," Khadgar rose, "I should return to Dalaran and see to the fallout from Theramore."
"Allow me to walk you out, Archmage."
She saw him to the eyrie where his gryphon waited, eying its skeletal fellows with some curiosity.
"This has been an unexpected pleasure," said Jaina. "I hope to see you again."
"I hope so as well! Thank you for your hospitality, Lady Proudmoore."
They shook hands again and Jaina watched as he mounted up, took off, then wheeled about to the south, towards Dalaran.
"I can hear you out there."
Soffriel slunk into the lab. Kel'Thuzad didn't look up from his book.
"You summoned me, sir?"
He put the book aside and caught Soffriel's gaze. This time, the Death Knight looked him in the eye, though Kel'Thuzad would hardly call his attention unwavering, and he quickly lowered it when Kel'Thuzad stood and moved toward him. He motioned Soffriel to a low stool.
"Yes, my lord."
"Use my name. I no longer have a formal title."
"Er," said Soffriel.
Kel'Thuzad put his fingers against the Death Knight's backplate and gave him a slight push. "Remove your armour."
"Working through armour is like stitching a wound in the dark. The end result may be adequate temporarily if the surgeon is skilled, but far from ideal. Remove your armour."
Soffriel unbuckled backplate from cuirass and settled the pieces on the floor at his feet. After a moment's hesitation, he pulled off his thick black shirt.
Kel'Thuzad probed his spine, ribs, and shoulder blades with careful fingers. "Didn't show you a pinch of mercy, did she."
"Your lovely dance partner last week. Anu'Shukhet. She knows I'll put you Ebon Blade lot back together when she's finished with you so she plays more roughly than she will with the living. I find it to be a fine working relationship, but your opinion may differ."
"My opinion certainly differs."
"Now then. Tell me how you died."
Soffriel tensed. "I don't remember. Not the whole thing."
"It makes a difference," said Kel'Thuzad. "Wounds you took before you were raised and wounds you take afterwards inform the spellwork necessary to reanimate you. A killing blow says much."
"I know I was running away."
Kel'Thuzad could see that, both from the physical damage across his ribs and spine, and the thick, haphazard knots of spellwork that compensated for it. What sorry excuse for a necromancer did this?
"I was not fast enough."
Kel'Thuzad plaited new spellwork into what already existed, streamlining the weaves and strengthening them.
"How did you die?" Soffriel ventured.
"Which death? I've had several."
"The mortal one."
Kel'Thuzad chuckled. "My first King killed me, before he was my King. When he was still vital and righteous, and I was already condemned. With a hammer."
"And she was there, too."
"Jaina. Even after all she'd seen of my work, she wore such a look of horror in the moment when he struck me. I still remember that."
Soffriel gripped his own arms as though chilled. "I want to like her."
"She frightens me, even though she is not my master. Nor ever was."
"Sit up straight. Ah. That's difficult, is it? Dammit. This is sloppy work. I'd like to have words with whoever resurrected you..."
"He was a high elf, I think."
"Point him out if you ever see him, and I'll take him apart for spell components."
Soffriel made a sound that might have been surprise or amusement or horror.
"The more I see of your reanimation, the more I think you survived your training and deployment by force of will."
"I don't remember-"
"You do remember," hissed Kel'Thuzad, "but you would rather not."
"You're ill-suited to be a Death Knight," Kel'Thuzad continued. "Whoever chose you chose poorly. You were too young. You were a healer. And you fled. Someone who flees should not be resurrected as anything better than cannon fodder. Those who deserve to be Death Knights are the ones who stand in defiance until they can't stand anymore and then they fight on their knees. Sylvanas Windrunner. Anub'Arak. Darion Mograine. But here you are."
Soffriel opened his hands and roughly dragged one across his face.
"Understand this, Soffriel. You are too much concerned with what you were and deny what you are. A necromancer made you. Have some pride in that if you wish to be one."
Jaina stood just inside the doorway to the northeast courtyard and watched the same paladin and Death Knight from the previous week spar. They were both clad in ornate armour that advertised them as immensely capable adventurers. Each would find hire anywhere they looked but they tarried on for weeks at the Citadel.
She wondered if the tauren approved of Garrosh Hellscream and his actions. Did he know? How many of the Horde were ignorant of their Warchief's aggression? How many would support him? And if so, how could she welcome them in Icecrown?
As much as the destruction of Theramore was a strike against the Alliance, it was personal for Jaina. If Hellscream had destroyed a night elven village, or a dwarven one, or a different human settlement, it would hurt less.
Of course I would be horrified but I wouldn't feel as though I failed them.
What she told Khadgar was true- her small kingdom kept her busy. However, that had less to do with the Scourge now than it did the living transients and interlopers, and all of them knew that Icecrown was Jaina's domain. Jaina was not only the Lich King; she was also human, and a mage. All species associated humans with the Alliance and all had differing opinions on arcane magic.
The tauren threw his draenei opponent to the ground so hard she bounced on impact. Before his hammer could follow, she flipped out of the way and swatted him across the face with the flat of her runeblade. Pure light flared in the paladin's hands, wreathed his head in healing radiance, and they kept on.
How do these two not take an injury personally? If Jaina chose to spar with another mage, there was an element of trust between them. Protections and shields could be ripped through and dismantled but a partner would stop short of physical damage.
Did the two trust each other that much? Why?
Jaina heard footsteps behind her and felt the cold brush of Kel'Thuzad's presence.
"I found a potential student."
"Aah. I thought you seemed cheerful. Who is it?"
"Soffriel Shadowborn. The Death Knight Anu'Shukhet trampled last week."
"What do you think of him?"
Kel'Thuzad curled his lip. "He's a mess. But he has an extraordinary will."
"What kind of mess?"
"He seems to think he's still a druid."
A druid murdered in his youth. Jaina thought of the over-mapping and what it would take away from someone still adjusting to their own power.
Kel'Thuzad clasped his hands behind his back and turned to watch the sparring partners.
"You should meet him."
"You like him."
"You should meet him," the lich persisted.
"All right. Bring him to me this evening."
The Death Knight stopped a blow aimed for her chest. Her hooves dug furrows in the subsoil with the force of the collision and she dodged around the paladin's next attack, laughing.
"There's a... weird amount of trust between these two." Jaina made a subtle gesture toward the pair.
Kel'Thuzad watched them for a moment and snorted. "Kittens at play. Practising for the real thing."
She continued to watch the pair. They were like kittens; sometimes they drew blood and grew angry, but in the end it wasn't a real battle. The real battle would be somewhere in Pandaria, where Horde and Alliance vied for new allies, or in Ashenvale where they vied for resources, or so many other places in the world for so many reasons.
"Ah." Jaina straightened her posture. "Sanctuary."
"Icecrown," she replied. "A war ended here. No one's brought a new one."
I didn't fly to Orgrimmar for Hellscream's head because it would be an open declaration of war. Revoking Icecrown's neutrality would also be choosing a side, but with less violence. There is too much recent history here. People fear the Scourge and with good reason- we are an army. More fearful still, an army that will gain soldiers as the enemy loses them.
She turned away from the courtyard and leaned on her cane as a sharp pain ran up her shin. "If I revoked Icecrown's neutrality, it would only bring more violence and tragedy. The world already has enough of that." She glanced sideways at Kel'Thuzad. "But if I have the opportunity, I will wreak such vengeance in the name of Theramore."
Kel'Thuzad bared his teeth in an eager smile.
"I await your command, my King."
Jaina hadn't specified a time or place to meet Soffriel, but Kel'Thuzad found her in a near empty room on the fourth floor of the Citadel. It was her first choice for her future library.
She turned away from imagining shelves and desks to greet the Death Knight and froze.
Soffriel Shadowborn was not alone. There was a woman by his side and Jaina stared, first taken by a thrill of wonder, chased by an echo of fear.
"Lady King Proudmoore," said the woman and dipped in a shallow bow. "We are pleased to meet you."
She was a night elf, all soft curves and grace, dressed in white and ivory that glowed against her indigo skin, crowned with sweeping white antlers and a beaded headdress. From the front of the headdress fell a leather fringe that hid all but the softest glow of her eyes. Jaina felt her throat tighten with dread.
"Well met," Jaina breathed. "I know you, don't I?"
The fear flooded in.
Suddenly Jaina was back facing Deathwing, the flash of memory real and visceral. She remembered rough soggy wood beneath her as she collapsed, shivering, burning, drowning in her own blood as stranger's hands steadied her, and this woman leaned over her and murmured gentle things. Her eyes lacked the bright light of other night elves, clouded like an overcast day. Distantly, she realized the woman was probably blind, yet somehow her gaze gripped Jaina as fiercely as Jaina held onto her own life.
She took a deep breath and wrestled her mind back to the present.
"Your memory honours me," the woman continued. "It is a great pleasure to find you safe. I am Ysadéan." She had a thick Darnassian accent and pronounced each Common word with delicate care.
The woman held out both of her hands to Jaina and she took them with a gentle squeeze.
"Thank you, Ysadéan. I grieved that I had no opportunity to thank you for your aid after Deathwing. I am in your debt."
"There is no debt. You stood before the Aspect of Death, between his wrath and our oblivion. I gave what small help I could."
Jaina bowed her head in thanks nonetheless. "It is most appreciated. What is it now that brings you to Icecrown?"
Ysadéan smiled. "Selfish curiosity, Lady King. I wished to thank you for your courage, and to see this place. But happily our journey has found a greater meaning for Soffriel."
The Death Knight cleared his throat and squared his posture. "My King, with your blessing, I wish to study the art of necromancy with the lichlord. As he is your servant, I must have your permission foremost."
Jaina saw Kel'Thuzad's eyes narrow at the word 'servant'.
"I know the gravity of what I ask," Soffriel continued. "But I also know what it is to be lost in darkness and held in thrall. I do not wish that on any living soul. My purpose is- is- I will never harm the living. I only wish to mend those like myself. Those who are already undead." He paused, then crossed his arms over his chest in a night elf salute and continued in a whisper. "I swear this, as one who was once a Druid of the Grove and a healer of the living. I swear it to Elune."
Jaina watched him without answering immediately.
"I know nothing of your character, Soffriel. An oath- even one sworn to your goddess- is not testament enough to convince me."
"I understand," he whispered.
"A druid's relationship with magic is far different from that of a necromancer. And," she said more gently, "I know that the dark magic you now wield as a Death Knight is a forced association, not a natural one."
"I am willing to try."
He was just a youth. He might be a foot and a half taller than Jaina and half again her age in years, but he was a night elf and by their measure, he was barely more than a teenager. Jaina saw Ysadéan settle one hand against the small of his back.
"I'll consider your request. This isn't a simple thing. Give me time to think on it, and to learn who you are."
He bowed his head. "Yes, of course, Lady King. Thank you."
"If I may," said Kel'Thuzad, and Jaina didn't miss the flash of Ysadéan's eyes behind her veil. "I'd like to give him a practical examination, to see the extent of his grasp on Death Knight magic."
Soffriel's attention went from Jaina, to Kel'Thuzad, and back to Jaina.
Kel'Thuzad beckoned the Death Knight out of the room and Jaina expected Ysadéan to follow but she remained.
"Come, sit with me." Jaina moved to a bench along the wall and Ysadéan joined her. "I never thought I'd have the chance to thank anyone who came to my rescue that day. I remember very little."
That was a lie. Jaina remembered too much.
"Thank you, Lady King. I am ashamed to admit that I did not expect you to survive your injuries. Humans are more resilient than I knew. But against such a foe..." Ysadéan shook her head gently, the leather fringe swaying across the bridge of her nose. "Your dark magic will not give you so easily to death."
"A blessing and a curse."
Ysadéan cocked her head. "Is that how you think of it?"
"More of a curse than a blessing. It's a selfish power and if it works to keep me alive, then it does so only to claim me for itself."
Ysadéan was silent for a moment, delicate brows drawn together in thought.
"I was not at the Battle of Wyrmrest Temple by accident, Lady King. I am- was- determined to meet you. As I made my way toward this place, Deathwing came. That part is coincidence. Coming here now was not."
"Why did you seek me?"
Ysadéan put her palms together like a human priest in prayer. "I am a Druid of the Antler. I do not expect that you know us. We live deep in the wild places and we do not often leave. But we are as you are- life and death in one."
She touched the antlers on her headdress and, upon closer inspection, Jaina saw they were not ornamental but growing from pedicles mostly hidden in her hair.
"We grow, carry, and shed a crown of bone. Part of me grows and dies each year. Life and death in one, like you, not in conflict but in wholeness. You call what you are a curse but it is, to me, beauty."
Jaina absorbed her words. What she said made a kind of sense but it was the sort of esoteric night elf sense that didn't seem readily applicable to humans.
"Your antlers are a natural part of you. What I carry is not and it might kill me one day if I'm not careful."
Ysadéan went still. "Oh, Lady King. It will kill you. It is not a matter of if but of when. You have more death in you now than when I found you in Deathwing's wake. The balance has tipped. You will never shed your crown."
A jolt of fear grabbed at Jaina's throat. "What do you mean?"
Ysadéan seemed to struggle with her words for a moment. "What years you have yet lived- there is less than that left for you."
It took Jaina a moment to parse her meaning and another to do the math. "The Lich King's power has almost certainly shortened my life, yes, but another fifteen or twenty years still leaves me a human lifespan."
Ysadéan shook her head. "It is much less than that."
Jaina opened her mouth to argue, and stopped herself. "How much less?"
Ysadéan reached out with one hand and brushed her shoulder, then moved upward to stroke Jaina's hair.
"You have months, Lady King. Perhaps a year. When you are at peace with this-"
"Months?" said Jaina. "Months?"
"Perhaps a year." Ysadéan tucked a bit of loose hair behind Jaina's ear. "You have such a strong will."
"No," said Jaina. "I'm injured and recovering, not dying."
Ysadéan sat back from her. "Lady King, my kind are prey. We know life and death like close friends. We walk between them. You are on the path of death. There is no crossroads ahead for you."
Jaina sat in silence, watching Ysadéan's face. There was something in her expression like eagerness, like excitement, and Jaina bristled inwardly.
"I don't believe you."
"I do not expect you to." Ysadéan lowered her hand from Jaina's hair. "Doubt is hope. Hope is your mortal right."
Kel'Thuzad entered the lab to find Jaina had arrived ahead of him. Only the lanterns near the desk were lit and she sat in the soft lamplight, an open book beneath one hand and a quill in the other. She was neither reading nor writing, simply sitting and gazing through a corner of the room, completely still.
Her gaze found him and focused. "Ysadéan says I'm dying."
Kel'Thuzad hesitated, then he crossed the room and pulled a chair around the desk to sit beside her.
Her eyes widened. "Do you believe her?"
"I'm no healer."
She took a sharp breath and let it out slowly. "You know death though. You know death very well. Is she right?"
Everything about her was suddenly fragile and Kel'Thuzad hesitated.
"There's decay in all living things. I thought what I saw in you was natural, amplified by the power you bear."
She turned her face away. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I meant no deception."
"Withholding information is deception."
"Would you rather-"
Jaina turned on him. "Yes! Yes, I would rather. I would rather you than a stranger I knew for all of ten minutes."
Kel'Thuzad looked down at her fingers splayed in anger across the pages of the book. "I wasn't sure."
"Nevertheless-" she snapped.
They were both silent for a long time. One of the lanterns guttered and Kel'Thuzad got up to add more oil. He felt her watching him.
"How long have you suspected?"
He turned and she wore an expression he couldn't read.
"Tell me what you know."
"The Lich King's magic is using the living energy produced by your vital functions to perpetuate and grow. You're slowly devouring yourself."
She made a little gasp or gulp. "Telling me sooner would give me more time to prepare."
"You still have time."
"Ysadéan said months." Jaina sat back in her chair, twirling the quill this way and that around her fingers. She gave a sharp, hollow bark of laughter. "Months."
"I beg to differ. I would guess more than a year, less than a decade."
"Does it matter when it's less than a proper lifetime? And what if I need to use my magic for more than simple tasks? Will it continue to eat away at me?"
"You'll most likely speed up the process. What you did against Deathwing was probably the tipping point. There is only so much a living body can endure." You found the limit. He felt her stagger as she faced Deathwing, felt undeath grab her before he looped his chains around her body and pulled it away, into himself.
Jaina contemplated him for a moment. "But it can endure an astonishing amount of punishment, can't it?"
"Don't tempt fate."
"Fate's already made thorough sport of me."
"Fate never tires. When you've been chased up a tree, fate will throw rocks at you."
"Some night elf wisdom?"
"Was it literal?" She cocked her head, probably hoping for a 'yes' and a story.
"Fine. Let's pretend I'm dying." She drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I want to be able to choose a successor."
Kel'Thuzad resumed his seat, leaned back, and folded his arms. "Choose?"
"We know the power needs to go somewhere upon the death of the previous Lich King. I'm beginning to think the transfer isn't completely random. I don't think just anyone can wear the Helm. Arthas wanted it and I wanted something too. We were each willing, in our own way. There must be something that governs the transaction..."
"So we continue to study the Helm."
She bit her lip. "It's a starting point. What else do we have?"
"Very little. At least we'd be looking for something specific within the Helm's spells. All I've achieved through poking around blindly is a new form that no one respects." He held up one hand and studied his decidedly unimpressive fingernails. I miss the claws.
A thought came to him and he sat up a little. "I have encountered another artifact as bespelled as the Helm: the Book of Medivh. Perhaps we could use-"
Jaina's eyes widened. "The Book of Medivh? The Book was thought to be lost after somebody sacked Dalaran."
"Last I knew, it was in the Scholomance."
"'Last you knew'?"
"Five years ago."
"I've been preoccupied."
Jaina whispered, "Did you lose the Book of Medivh?"
"No! I certainly hope not."
"Before we do anything else with the Helm, we're going to find the Book. And I'll return it to Dalaran."
"Oh, what are the Kirin Tor going to do with it? Lock it up and forbid everyone from reading it? Boring."
"You've had it this long. Haven't you memorized it by now?"
"Only the good parts."
"At least the Kirin Tor will keep track of it. Five years!"
"You should keep it instead. Use it in our research."
"That seems profoundly unsafe."
"Giving it to the Kirin Tor seems profoundly foolish when you have such a lofty goal in mind."
"No," Jaina said, "the Book belongs in Dalaran."
"The Kirin Tor will never let you see it again."
"The Lich King was crafted to be a tool of the Burning Legion and the Book of Medivh is full of their demonic magic. What's to say it won't have some corrupting effect on me? Or speed the process of- of degeneration?"
"Your fears are-"
"My fears are well-justified! I may have had the strength to resist before but now…"
She fell silent.
Kel'Thuzad stood and arched his back in a stretch he didn't need. "What about this succession business, then?"
"Well. We don't know how, and… oh light, who do I pass it to?" She rubbed her eyes and rested her face in her hands.
"You would make a splendid lich. That's always an option."
"No it isn't." She raised her head, rubbed her eyes again, and took up the quill, though she only spun it around her fingers aimlessly. He watched her stare through the book in front of her.
"Jaina, you're not going to solve this in one night."
"You have time."
"What if I don't?" She sat motionless. "I don't want Azeroth to face someone else like Arthas. Even if we can't figure out how to transfer the power, let's at least learn as much as we can about how it works and save my successor the strife and pain I've endured. I'll work until the very end if I can."
"Remember what I said about fate?"
She only sighed.
Kel'Thuzad took a sheaf of discarded note paper from the corner of the desk and moved to light a fire in the small stove that heated the lab. It was well away from flammable substances and bespelled to filter smoke. Jaina had perfected the spells while she was still bedridden. She will work right til the end, he thought. Jaina will fight on her knees.
Kel'Thuzad pushed the thought away and concentrated on lighting the stove.
"...what's it like? Undeath?"
Kel'Thuzad crouched and watched the paper blacken and curl. "I like it very much."
"Conditional immortality aside, I'm comfortable. Never too cold, never too hot, never sick, rarely in pain, vastly improved physical stamina. I don't age. I don't scar."
"Can't taste, can't smell."
"A small price." Considering what else it cost.
Jaina tapped her quill against the page in thought. "I like eating though."
"So do I."
"If you can't taste, then why?"
"I like the sensation of biting into things."
She snorted in amusement.
"You- your mind and memory- are still human. What will a life beyond the human span do to you, I wonder?"
"I'm willing to find out, if circumstances allow."
She fell silent again and it stretched past a pause in conversation, became a deeper, personal silence. Kel'Thuzad did not intrude. He roamed the room, putting things to rights, waiting for his King to have need of him.
That night, Jaina dreamed of the Citadel. First in ruins, destroyed by time and the inexorable strength of the slowly flowing ice, then blasted to glass like Theramore, then taken apart piece by piece for resources elsewhere. Then intact but empty of life, a mausoleum untended and unloved.
And then she dreamed of herself in armour, not cold, nor hot, without pain or taste, and the scars on her cheeks were the only ones she would wear into eternity.