The Lonely Tower
The larger of the two moons had risen first this evening, and now hung pregnant and silver-white against a clear, star-dappled sky. Beneath the lambent moon the peaks of the Redridge Mountains strained for the sky. In the daylight the sun picked out hues of magenta and rust among the great granite peaks, but in the moonlight they were reduced to tall, proud ghosts. To the west lay the Forest of Elwynn, its heavy canopy of greatoaks and satinwoods running from the foothills to the sea. To the east, the bleak swamp of the Black Morass spread out, a land of marshes and low hills, bayous and backwaters, failed settlements and lurking danger. A shadow passed briefly across the moon, a raven-sized shadow, bearing for a hole in the heart of the mountain.
Here a chunk had been pulled from the fastness of the Redridge Range, leaving behind a circular vale. Once it might have been the site of some primeval celestial impact or the memory of an earth-shaking explosion, but the aeons had worn the bowl-shaped crater into a series of steep-edged, rounded hillocks which were now cradled by the steeped mountains surrounding them. None of the ancient trees of Elwynn could reach its altitude, and the interior of the ringed hills was barren save for weeds and tangled vines.
At the center of the ringed hills lay a bare tor, as bald as the pate of a Kul Tiras merchant lord. Indeed the very way the hillock rose steeply, than gentled to a near-level slope at its apex, was similar in shape to a human skull. Many had noted it over the years, though only a few had been sufficiently brave, or powerful, or tactless to mention it to the property’s owner.
At the flattened peak of the tor rose an ancient tower, a thick, massive protrusion of white stone and dark mortar, a man-made eruption that shot effortlessly into the sky, scaling higher than the surrounding hills, lit like a beacon by the moonlight. There was a low wall at the base of the tower surrounding a bailey, and within those walls the tumbledown remains of a stable and a smithy, but the tower itself dominated all within the ringed hills.
Once this place was called Karazhan. Once it was home of the last of the mysterious and secretive Guardians of Tirisfal. Once it was a living place. Now it was simply abandoned and timelost.
There was silence upon the tower but not a stillness. In the night’s embrace quiet shapes flitted from window to window, and phantoms danced along the balconies and parapets. Less than ghosts, but more than memories, these were nothing less than pieces of the past that had become unstuck from the flow of time. These shadows of the past had been pried loose by the madness of the tower’s owner, and were now condemned to play out their histories again and again, in the silence of the abandoned tower. Condemned to play but denied of any audience to appreciate them.
Then in the silence, there was the soft scrape of a booted foot against stone, then another. A flash of movement beneath the lambent moon, a shadow against the white stone, a flutter of a tattered, red-hued cloak in the cool night air. A figure walked along the topmost parapet, on the crenellated uppermost spire that years before had served as an observatory.
The parapet door into the observatory screeched open on ancient hinges, then stopped, frozen by rust and the passage of time. The cloaked figure paused a moment, then placed a finger on the hinge, and muttered a few choice words. The door swung open silently, the hinges made as if new. The trespasser allowed himself a smile.
The observatory was empty now, what tools that remained smashed and abandoned. The trespassing figure, almost as silent as a ghost himself, picked up a crushed astrolabe, its scale twisted in some now-forgotten rage. Now it is merely a heavy piece of gold, inert and useless in his hands.
There was other movement in the observatory, and the trespasser looked up. Now a ghostly figure stood nearby, near one of the many windows. The ghost/nonghost was an broad-shouldered man, hair and beard once dark but now going to a premature gray at the edges. The figure was one of the shards of the past, unglued and now repeating its task, regardless of whether it had observers or not. For the moment, the dark-haired man held the astrolabe, the unbroken twin to the one in the trespasser’s hands, and fiddled with a small knob along one side. A moment, a check, and a twitch of the knob. His dark brows furrowed over ghostly green eyes. A second moment, another check, and another twitch. Finally, the tall, imposing figure sighed deeply and placed the astrolabe on a table that was no longer there, and vanished.
The trespasser nodded. Such hauntings were common even in the days when Karazhan was inhabited, though now, stripped of the control (and the madness) of their master, they had become more brazen. Yet these shards of the past belonged here, while he did not. He was the interloper, not they.
The trespasser crossed the room to its staircase leading down, while behind him the older man flickered back into the view and repeated his action, sighting his astrolabe on a planet that had long since moved to other parts of the sky.
The trespasser moved down through the tower, crossing levels to reach other stairs and other hallways. No door was shut to him, even those locked and bolted, or sealed by rust and age. A few words, a touch, a gesture and the fetters flew loose, the rust dissolved into ruddy piles, the hinges restored. In one or two places ancient wards still glowed, potent despite their age. He paused before them for a moment, considering, reflecting, searching his memory for the correct counter-sign. He spoke the correct word, made the correct motion with his hands, shattered the weak magic that remained, and passed on.
As he moved through the tower, the phantoms of the past grew more agitated and more active. Now with a potential audience, it seemed that these pieces of the past wished to play themselves out, if only to be made free of this place. Any sound they once possessed had long-since eroded away, leaving only their images moving through the halls.
The interloper passed an ancient butler in dark livery, the frail old man shuffling slowly down the empty hallway, carrying a silver tray and wearing a set of horse-blinders. The interloper passed through the library, where a green-fleshed young woman stood with her back to him, pouring over an ancient tome. He passed through a banquet hall, at one end a group of musicians playing soundlessly, dancers twirling in a gavotte. At the other end a great city burned, its flames beating ineffectively against the stone walls and rotting tapestries. The trespasser moved through the silent flames, but his face grew drawn and tense as he witnessed once more the mighty city of Stormwind burn around him.
In one room three young men sat around a table and told now-unknown lies. Metal mugs were scattered on the table’s surface as well as beneath it. The trespasser stood watching this image for a long time, until a phantom taverness brought another round. Then he shook his head and pressed on.
He reached nearly the ground level, and stepped out on a low balcony that hung precariously to the wall, like a wasps’ nest over the main entrance. There, in the wide space before the tower, between the main entrance and a now-collapsed stables across the bailey, stood a single ghostly image, lonely and separated. It did not move like the others, but rather stood there, waiting, tentative. A piece of the past that had not been released. A piece that was waiting for him.
The immobile image was of a young man with a skunk stripe of white running through his dark, untidy head of hair. The straggling fragments of a beard, newly grown, clung to his face. A battered rucksack lay at the youth’s feet, and he held a red-sealed letter with a deathlike grip.
This was well and truly no ghost, the trespasser knew, though the owner of this image may yet be dead, fallen in combat beneath a foreign sun. This was a memory, a shard of the past, trapped like an insect in amber, waiting for its release. Waiting for his arrival.
The trespasser sat on the stonework ledge of the balcony and looked out, beyond the bailey, beyond the hillock, and beyond the ringed hills. There was silence in the moonlight, as the mountains themselves seemed to be holding their breath, waiting for him.
The trespasser lifted a hand and intoned a series of chanted words. Softly came the rhymes and rhythms the first time, then louder, and finally louder still, shattering the calm. In the distance wolves picked up his chant and cast it back in howling counterpoint.
And the image of the ghostly youth, its feet seemingly trapped in mud, took a deep breath, hoisted his rucksack of secrets to his shoulder, and slogged his way toward the main entrance of Medivh’s Tower.
Khadgar clutched the crimson-sealed letter of introduction and desperately tried to remember his own name. He had ridden for days, accompanying various caravans, and finally making the journey alone to Karazhan through the vast, overgrown, woods of Elwynn. Then the long climb into the heights of the mountains, to this serene, empty, lonely place. Even the air felt cold and apart. Now, sore and tired, the scruffy-bearded young man stood in the gathering dusk of the courtyard, petrified of what he now must do.
Introduce himself to the most powerful mage of Azeroth.
An honor, the scholars of the Kirin Tor had said. An opportunity, they insisted, that was not to be missed. Khadgar’s sage mentors, a conclave of influential scholars and sorcerers, told him they had been trying to insinuate a sympathetic ear in the tower of Karazhan for years. The Kirin Tor wanted to learn what knowledge the most powerful wizard in the land had hidden away in his library. They wanted to know what research he favored. And most of all they wanted this maverick mage to start planning for his legacy, wanted to know when the great and powerful Medivh planned to train an heir.
The Great Medivh and the Kirin Tor had been at loggerheads on these and other matters for years, apparently, and only now did he relent to some of their entreaties. Only now would he take on an apprentice. Whether it was from a softening of the wizard’s reportedly hard heart, or mere diplomatic concession, or a feeling of the mage’s own creeping mortality, it did not matter to Khadgar’s masters. The simple truth was that this powerful independent (and to Khadgar, mysterious) wizard had asked for an assistant, and the Kirin Tor, which ruled over the magical kingdom of Dalaran, were more than happy to comply.
So the youth Khadgar was selected and shuttled off with a list of directions, orders, counter-orders, requests, suggestions, advice, and other demands from his sorcerous masters. Ask Medivh about his mother’s battles with demons, asked Guzbah, his first instructor. Find out all you can about elven history from his library, requested Lady Delth. Check his volumes for any bestiaries, commanded Alonda, who was convinced that there was a fifth species of troll as yet unrecorded in her own volumes. Be direct, forthright, and honest, advised Norlan the Chief Artificer—the Great Magus Medivh seemed to value those traits. Be diligent and do what you’re told. Don’t slouch. Always seem interested. Stand up straight. And above all, keep your ears and eyes open.
The ambitions of the Kirin Tor did not bother Khadgar horribly—his upbringing in Dalaran and his early apprenticeship to the conclave made it clear to him that his mentors were insatiably curious about magic in all its forms. Their continual accumulation, cataloging, and definition of magic were imprinted on young students at an early age, and Khadgar was no different than most.
Indeed, he realized, his own curiosity may have accounted for his current plight. His own nocturnal wanderings through the halls of the Violet Citadel of Dalaran had uncovered more than a few secrets that the conclave would rather not have noised about. The Chief Artificer’s fondness for flamewine, for example, or Lady Delth’s preference for young cavaliers a slender fraction of her age, or Korrigan the Librarian’s secret collection of pamphlets describing (in lurid fashion) the practices of historical demon-worshipers.
And there was something about one of the great sages of Dalaran, venerable Arrexis, one of the gray eminences that even the others respected. He had disappeared, or died, or something horrible had happened, and the others chose to make no mention of it, even to the point of excising Arrexis’s name from the volumes and not speaking of him again. But Khadgar had found out, nonetheless. Khadgar had a way of finding the necessary reference, making the needed connection, or talking to the right person at the right time. It was a gift and may yet prove to be a curse.
Any one of these discoveries could have resulted in his drawing this prestigious (and for all the planning and warnings, potentially fatal) assignment. Perhaps they thought young Khadgar was a little too good at ferreting out secrets—easier for the conclave to send him somewhere where his curiosity would do some good for the Kirin Tor. Or at least put him far enough away so he wasn’t finding things out about the other natives of the Violet Citadel.
And Khadgar, through his relentless eavesdropping, had heard that theory as well.
So Khadgar set out with a rucksack filled with notes, a heart filled with secrets, and a head filled with strong demands and useless advice. In the final week before leaving Dalaran, he had heard from nearly every member of the conclave, each of whom was interested in something about Medivh. For a wizard living on the butt-end of nowhere, surrounded by trees and ominous peaks, the members of the Kirin Tor were extremely curious about him. Urgent, even.
Taking a deep breath (and in doing so reminding himself that he still was too close to the stables), Khadgar strode forward toward the tower itself, his feet feeling like he was pulling his pack-pony along by his ankles.
The main entrance yawned like a cavern’s mouth, without gate or portcullis. That made sense, for what army would fight its way through the Forest of Elwynn to top the rounded walls of the crater, all to fight the Magus Medivh himself? There was no record of anyone or anything even attempting to besiege Karazhan.
The shadowed entrance was tall enough to let an elephant in full livery pass beneath. Overhanging it slightly was a wide balcony with a balustrade of white stone. From that perch one would be level with the surrounding hills and gain a view of the mountains beyond. There was a flicker of motion along the balustrade, a bit of movement that Khadgar felt more than actually witnessed. A robed figure, perhaps, moving back along the balcony into the tower itself. Was he being watched even now? Was there no one to greet him, or was he expected to brave the tower on his own?
You are the New Young Man? said a soft, almost sepulchral voice, and Khadgar, his head still craned upward, nearly jumped out of his skin. He wheeled to see a stooped, thin figure emerge out of the shadows of the entranceway.
The stooped thing looked marginally human, and for a moment Khadgar wondered if Medivh was mutating forest animals to work as his servants. This one looked like a hairless weasel, its long face was framed by what looked like a pair of black rectangles.
Khadgar didn’t remember making any response, but the weasel person stepped farther from the shadows, and repeated itself.
You are the New Young Man? it said. Each word was enunciated with its own breath, encapsulated in its own little box, capitalized and separate from the others. It stepped from the shadows fully and revealed itself as nothing more or less threatening than a whip-slender elderly man in dark worsted livery. A servant—human, but a servant. It, or rather he, was still wearing black rectangles on the sides of his head, like a set of earmuffs, that extended forward to his most prominent nose.
The youth realized that he was staring at the old man, Khadgar, he said, then after a moment presented the tightly held letter of introduction. Of Dalaran. Khadgar of Dalaran, in the kingdom of Lordaeron. I was sent by the Kirin Tor. From the Violet Citadel. I am Khadgar of the Kirin Tor. From the Violet Citadel. Of Dalaran. In Lordaeron. He felt like he was casting conversational stones into a great, empty well, hoping that the old man would respond to any of them.
Of course you are, Khadgar, said the old man. Of the Kirin Tor. Of the Violet Citadel. Of Dalaran. Of Lordaeron. The servant took the proffered letter as if the document were a live reptile and, after smoothing out its crumpled edges, tucked it inside his livery vest without opening it. After carrying and protecting it for so many miles, Khadgar felt a pain of loss. The letter of introduction represented his future, and he was loath to see it disappear, even for a moment.
The Kirin Tor sent me to assist Medivh. Lord Medivh. The Wizard Medivh. Medivh of Karazhan, Khadgar realized he was but a half-step from collapsing into a full-fledged babble, and with a definitive effort tightly clamped his mouth shut.
I’m sure they did, said the servant. Send you, that is. He appraised the seal on the letter, and a thin hand dipped into his waistcoat, pulling out a set of black rectangles bound by a thin band of metal. Blinders?
Khadgar blinked. No. I mean, no thank you.
Moroes, said the servant.
Khadgar shook his head.
I am Moroes, the servant said. Steward of the Tower. Castellan to Medivh. Blinders? Again he raised the black rectangles, twins to those that framed his narrow face.
No thank you … Moroes, said Khadgar, his face twisted in curiosity.
The servant turned and motioned that Khadgar follow with a weak wave of the arm.
Khadgar picked up his rucksack and had to lope forward to catch up with the servant. For all his supposed fragility the steward moved at a good clip.
Are you alone in the tower? Khadgar ventured as they started climbing a curved set of wide, low stairs. The stone dipped in the center, worn by myriad feet of passing servants and guests.
Eh? responded the servant.
Are you alone? repeated Khadgar, wondering if he would be reduced to speaking as Moroes spoke in order to be understood. Do you live here by yourself?
The Magus is here, responded Moroes in a wheezing voice that sounded as faint and as fatal as grave dust.
Yes, of course, said Khadgar.
Wouldn’t be much point for you to be here if he wasn’t, continued the steward. Here, that is. Khadgar wondered if the old man’s voice sounded that way because it was not used that often.
Of course, agreed Khadgar. Anyone else?
You, now, continued Moroes. More work to take care of two than one. Not that I was consulted.
So just you and the Wizard, then, normally? said Khadgar, wondering if the steward had been hired (or created) for his taciturn nature.
And Cook, said Moroes, Though Cook doesn’t talk much. Thank you for asking, though.
Khadgar tried to restrain himself from rolling his eyes, but failed. He hoped that the blinders on either side of the steward’s face kept the servant from seeing his response.
They reached a level spot, a cross-hallway lit by torches. Moroes crossed immediately to another set of saddle-worn, curving stairs opposite them. Khadgar paused for a moment to examine the torches. He raised a hand mere inches from the flickering flame, but felt no heat. Khadgar wondered if the cold flame was common throughout the tower. In Dalaran they used phosphorescent crystals, which beamed with a steady, constant glow, though his research spoke of reflective mirrors, elemental spirits bound within lanterns, and in one case, huge captive fireflies. Yet these flames seemed to be frozen in place.
Moroes, half-mounted up the next staircase, slowly turned and let out a gasping cough. Khadgar hurried to catch up. Apparently the blinders did not limit the old steward that much.
Why the blinders? Khadgar asked.
Eh? replied Moroes.
Khadgar touched the side of his head. The blinders. Why?
Moroes twisted his face in what Khadgar could only assume was a smile. Magic’s strong here. Strong, and wrong, sometimes. You see … things … around here. Unless you’re careful. I’m careful. Other visitors, the ones before you, they were less careful. They’re gone now.
Khadgar thought of the phantom he may or may not have seen on the overhanging balcony, and nodded.
Cook has a set of rose-quartz lenses, added Moroes. Swears by them. He paused for a moment,