Authors: Ambika & Wueten
There was a breeze, but then there always was a breeze in Dalaran. This high up, one could not help but suffer the convection and drafts of the icy continent below. Thankfully, mages (being the sort of folk to prefer robes and gowns, not parkas) had devised a buffer that turned even the sharpest blade of glacier breath into a pleasant sigh with a hint of summer. Wueten contemplated this as he looked at the tea before him. The crockery was thick and egg-white, a perfectly round bowl with a single notch in the side.
Green tail, the tea was called. He forgot precisely what the term meant in Mag'har. Something about valley rabbits, he remembered that much; it took its name from the fat little red-orange bulb root that had catapulted in popularity after the Outland campaigns and was most commonly served whole in curious cups, wedged into a built-in notch. Soaked in water and left to steep like a tea bag, the root produced a strong, yet pleasant fragrance and was prized for its calming effects. The smell reminded him of lettuce and hickory, and, in his opinion, was sufficiently 'bracing' for him to put up with the sheer number of elves that usually habited this particular Dalaran cafe.
A cluster of outdoor tables graced the patio, always popular in the magically temperate weather inside the mage capitol. It was a quiet afternoon hour, and he and his blue-skinned guest had a modicum of privacy from other diners, if not from the heavy traffic of passers-by on the path beyond. Ambika didn't seem to notice one way or another. She ignored her own cup, whittling her thumbnail to the quick as she stared across the tiny but well-kept courtyard. Her clothes, while still of the usual fine fabrics and impeccable starch, fit poorly, her recent weight loss gone unnoticed to her normally critical tailor's eye.
Long minutes passed with only the clink of silver on dishes and the tiny clicks of the priestess's teeth as she worried her ragged nail. She paused, and her shadow darkened.
"You know, I'm told, and with good authority, that this is rather good for worriers like yourself," he said, the leafy, long-stranded tail of his drink dragging up the side of his coat. He'd chosen a rather heavy one, the color of old steel. "Let it steep too long and it will be strong enough to combat those little demons running around your head."
She stiffened, tilting her nose up ever so slightly. "I'm fine, thank you." The chill in her voice more or less negated the politeness of her words, and she wondered--very briefly, and only on a level of consciousness just below the surface--if being rude might be unwise. "I prefer to stay sharp. Difficult problems require a clear head, you know that better than most."
The lean Forsaken nodded in agreement, brows rising. He took another sip to mask the cold silence. Licking his lips to catch a spare drop he knew wasn't there, he continued. "Sadly though, I doubt those difficult problems will be solved with tea, but perhaps the answer is not to be found yet. Have a sip, someone of your steel-edged wit I think shan't be outdone by a little root."
Ambika snorted. "A surprising lot is undone by a little root." Her acid tone was not without some humor, and her hand moved to the cup. She raised it to her lips with a sigh, took just a sip of the warm, oddly tangy brew, then held it on her lap, cupping the pale ceramic in both hands to keep them occupied. It seemed all of her fingers were raw at the tips now.
One sharply raised eyebrow followed her motion. "Hmmm. Well, that was your first sip and you hardly seem 'undone', as it were. If anything it's helped a bit already. You've stopped biting your poor nails," he said mildly, one finger curling off his cup to gesture toward her abused hands. "Perhaps now you could give voice to what is vexing you so?"
Leveling a glare at him from across the table (a fine polished quartz with a subtle spark in sunlight, it reflected the pair up at each other), she made no move to hide her hands. Nor did she take another drink. "I'm close to something. I can feel an unusual source of energy just beyond my grasp, but I've been unable to access it. I've tried everything I can think of."
"A source of power? Well now, that is something. Magical in nature, I take it. Internal?" he asked.
She considered the question thoroughly before answering. "Well, technically yes, the practical magics that most study and use require some sort of personal conduit, as far as I can tell. There are some exceptions--I'm sure you've used magical spells that are bound to scrolls--in that case, the paper itself provides the connection. But even then, someone had to bind the spell to paper. Channeling magic of any real power requires a malleable mind and the ability to look at a problem from unique angles. Much like you might learn the trick of a lock or the set of a trap by examining it from several angles or using a different tool, a magic user must learn to adapt her mind to the type of energy she is trying to control." The cup was warm against her mouth. "I may have discovered something big on the other side."
"You know, the irony is, by all accounts, I should not exist according to the laws of nature, and yet I do. Despite that supernatural background, when you say, 'the other side' I still draw a blank," he replied.
Raising an eyebrow, the dainty troll took a leisurely sip of tea and returned her cup to the folds of silk at her lap. "I channel much of my power from the Nether. It exists alongside this particular plane, but most never see it because there are barriers in place in both worlds, and in the mind, that prevent it. Much like a muscle, the mind strengthens and is able to perform required functions more efficiently, and at greater levels of power, when properly exercised and stimulated." She managed a smirk. "One isn't required to understand the shadow to benefit from it. But I deviate from the point. When I am phased, I can feel something that gives to pressure but will not be breached, and it's driving me mad."
"So in essence, you can feel the wall, and you can strike the wall, but for the life of you it won't break..?" he ventured, after a pause.
After half a cup the tea did indeed begin to have a minor calming effect, she noted with clinical interest.
"I would say more of a lock, if we're going to continue using metaphors. I've tried a number of keys to get it to turn and open for me. None quite tip the balance."
He took one drink, then another, watching the bulb float like a fisherman's bobber in the remaining water. "Some locks require keys, other locks aren't meant to be opened, save perhaps by a hammer," came his response, in a slow, contemplative manner. "But a hammer is not a 'clear headed' tool."
Ambika shook her head. "Using force in this particular... discipline... rarely leads to success. Slow, steady and deliberate wins the race far, far more often than not. But I've been patient, and it's still over my head." She frowned, replacing her cup on the table and leaning back in her chair. A flicker of exhaustion crossed her face, and she ran her hand over her forehead, an uncharacteristic gesture of weariness and frustration mingled into one. "I can't relax. I want it too much."
"So your patience is at an end." He seemed to be fishing for the right turn of phrase as he finished his drink, the bulb now swinging free along the inside of the cup. "If you could make a little progress, would it help?"
"I think you know I've tried things that were... ill-advised." Her golden eyes pinned him, reading him and his intent as best she could without prying. "I am not willing to try just anything, after my last foray into the drastic," she lied. "I'm sure you understand."
"I do. But there is perhaps a more alchemical means to an end. Now when I say that, I must add that such things must be carefully administered and used with the upmost discretion."
"Alchemical? Explain, please." Her fingers tapped against marble, belying her calm voice and casual posture. In fact, the petite priestess was channeling enough focus to crackle the hair of the server passing behind him.
He could feel it, a light buzz in his mind--like a bee in the next room, perhaps--and had a momentary flash of doubt about bringing it up in the first place. "Mana dust has proven to be habit-forming, but with the siege of Ulduar there have been other forays into some of the substances there. A few colleagues of mine have been testing its effects on the magically inclined. Amazing results, but nothing for the books... yet," he said.
"And what is it?" The force of Ambika's will hovered around his defenses, but the detritus of old cooking recipes, engine compression ratios and the like held firm against her scraping mental claws, obstructing her mind as it attempted to rifle through the outer layers of his consciousness like a thief. She caught herself intruding and cleared her throat, breaking it off in an instant. Unable to make eye contact, Bika folded her arms over her chest and stared down at her lap.
Wueten searched her downcast face, weighing the gravity of the situation. At long last he spoke. "I think you would attempt to find it elsewhere, now that I've mentioned it. Let us meet someplace more private and we'll discuss this in depth."