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[Added to Timeline] Hidden Advantage [Vel Snapshot]

#1
“Mmph.”

Velameestra grunted quietly in the back of her throat as she started to stir. She opened her eyes, her field of vision filled with the ceiling of the study and the warm illumination of the continual flame burning cooly in the hearth.

“...I suppose I dozed off.”

The elf rubbed her face as she sat up, her eyes drawn to the blanket that had somehow found its way on top of her in the night.

“Hmph.”

She made another sound in the back of her throat, the corners of her mouth upturning slightly, before she pushed the blanket off. There was an annoyed click from beneath, a glowing blue eye rolling open to look indignantly up at his Mistress as Arkha’din was dislodged from his warm, fuzzy lair.

“You can stay here if you want,” the mage said.

She swung her feet off the couch and stood up, wincing at the faint discomfort of the freshly healed wound in her side stretching. The mana wyrm clicked again, but promptly burrowed himself back into the balled blanket, only his frilled tail revealed as he coiled himself within.

Vel blew a stray strand of hair from her face, but left her familiar to his domain, leaving her study on silent, bare feet and heading down the corridor.

Everything was still dark.

The elf stopped at the foot of the staircase that led to the upper levels of the manor, the faint glow in her eyes shifting up to the landing where the rest of the household was likely sleeping, and she bit her lower lip.

Wonder how the boys slept, she thought.

The elf shook her head, finishing the final few steps to the kitchen entry behind the stairs and quickly busying herself about her morning ritual. A pot was placed on the wood stove, the fire lit beneath it with a snap of her fingers, and water left to stew.

Now what went wrong.

Despite herself, Vel promptly found her mind wheeling to the previous night. She outstretched a hand, illusory blue runes and phrases materializing in the air before her and shedding some light in the otherwise dark room.

I panicked when the succubus left.

That was unacceptable.

A line was shifted to the other side.

Tch. But how could I have even guessed that Rhonin was charmed?

...I knew they had that ability. Vincent was charmed. I should have accounted for the risk.

Another line shifted.

It worked out, but it could have gone so wrong. If that demon had been more calculated…

No. No sense in fretting over what-ifs. We just take steps to avoid it happening again.

Vel swiped a hand through the air, and several lines of runes vanished, others rising to fill in the empty places.

Okay. So what are the signs to look for.

She paused for a long moment, scouring the interactions with her uncle the previous night for anything that, in hindsight, seemed abnormal, but her face slowly sank into one of her hands.

“Tch. There are none. Not until until they’re commanded to do something off. Dammit.”

She swiped again, another line dispersing in a flash of magic.

“And it’s not like I can just run on the assumption that everyone is always controlled without making it look like I’m insane.”

The mage sighed heavily, hiding her face in her hand again before the faint sound of boiling water caught her attention. She got up and removed the pot, extinguished the fire with another snap of her fingers, and dumped several scoops of coffee grounds into the hot water.

“Some people likely already think I’m insane. Or paranoid. Though that paranoia is more than justified currently.”

And I’m going to be leaving again soon.

A momentary surge of panic rose in the back of Velameestra’s mind, but she stilled it with a shake of her head.

At least the boys will be careful. That… was a lesson, even if it was an unfortunate one.

She continued to rearrange the illusion hovering before her, quickly eliminating several other what-if scenarios that would have just caused her mind to whirl uncontrollably if she allowed herself to give them any true consideration.

“Though anyone who thinks chess is an adequate tool for strategic processing is a fool. Of course it’s easy to plan moves if you can see the entire board. And we’ve… never… seen the entire board.”

The elf chewed on her lower lip, her weight shifting to lean against the counter next to the stove. Her eyes focused on the runes emblazoned in the air before her.

“But… they haven’t either, I suppose. That succubus… she either overestimated herself or underestimated us. And the Syndicate… there’s no way they could anticipate everything we’re doing. And who is helping us.”

She turned to the brewed coffee and ladled some into a waiting mug.

We just need to keep that advantage.

She took a sip from the mug and promptly recoiled, nearly spitting it back into the mug before she was able to force it down. She wrinkled her nose, letting her hands drop slightly as she shook the bitter taste off.

That...” she said. “Stewed for far too long.”

However, as she looked down at the mug again, she sighed, opting to take another sip instead of going through the trouble of brewing a second pot.
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#2
As she lowered the cup from her mouth, Velameestra saw the spectral form of Kel'thuzad on the other side of the kettle.

Care for company, Velameestra? the old archmage asked.  I daresay this pot is too bitter for my tastes... so I suppose it is good in this case, then, that option is denied to me.

Ke'thuzad chuckled before leaning against the old cabinet - or at least pretended to, in any sense.
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#3
"If anyone else was partaking I probably wouldn't subject them to it," the elf replied, her eyes shifting to the ghostly image before glancing towards the kitchen doorway--expecting Bigglesworth to slither in before too long. "I'm not cruel, Kel.

A smirk crossed her lips, a flicker of her own dry humor materializing as she took another sip from the mug.

"But your company is welcome. I imagine it'll be quiet until dawn at least.
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#4
I imagine so.

Kel'thuzad's image smiled, letting the silence hang for a moment.  Their conversation was, of course, silent to all but them, as it took place solely within her mind.

You handled the various situations that occurred yesterday well, Velameestra.  But there was a... great deal.  Krasus and the black dragonling.  Ravenholdt.  The mystery surrounding the ever-bright Elissa and her father's missing memories.  The Syndicate, the warlocks... and the mysterious blade that Remnii mentioned at the summit, to name a few that come to mind. I would hear your thoughts on recent events and revelations, if you wish to share them.
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#5
There was a sigh, and Vel's hair fluttered as her breath caught it.

"A... lot indeed..."

Another moment of silence hung, though the mage's eyes flickered up and down, their focus tracking the movements of unseen runes and phrases as she mentally organized her thoughts into something more conducive to conversation.

"The Syndicate remains priority. As much as I want to stay in Dalaran, it is likely unwise given the most solid angle I could pursue is any suspicions about Katrana and those are just... just that. Baseless suspicions founded on coincidences that may have no true correlation. I... don't particularly want to risk Victor's further ire based on coincidence alone."

She took another sip from her mug, and she subconsciously tapped her finger on the side, using magic to combat the chill that had already started to make the drink lukewarm.

"Ravenholdt is a neutral entity. Dangerous, but not something we need to presently concern ourselves with given we are operating towards mutual goals. Wrathion is... curious. Krasus mentioned the black flight as a whole were unstable. If he doesn't want to return to the protection of the red flight, it would be wise not to push him into the defensive. Ravenholdt seems to be protecting him, and becoming a perceived threat to him, means becoming a perceived threat to them. Right now, they are a strong ally. Losing that is only going to be a detriment to Arthas, and I do hope my brother considers that before he inevitably reaches out.

"Elissa... I can do nothing further about until we return to Last Crossing. I told her I would do an examination of her father with the new hypotheses in mind once we do."

The woman sighed again, running a hand through her hair. The makeup she had been using to hide the bags under her eyes had not been reapplied since cleaning herself up from the previous night, and the dim, unlit kitchen combined with the faint glow in her eyes only seemed to deepen the shadows.

"The warlocks here... seem to be getting desperate. The fact that he actually was pursuing money indicates they likely have not been able to build an infrastructure like they did in Silvermoon. The elves found other allies here, but we already suspected they would. At least the Sunreavers have done well to keep them on the defensive. I'm..." she paused, chewing on her lower lip. "...presently more concerned for personal vendettas. That succubus made miscalculations, but that's not going to always be the case, and... luck was a prominent factor. A factor I don't like relying on.

"...as for the blade..."

There was another bead of silence.

"...I'm intending on speaking to her more in the future. The timeline and direction aligns with the force Jandice felt. If Remnii knows more of what this sword can do, it may be imperative that we know it. I've been... concerned about the nature of Scholomance... and the appearance of this artifact has done little to assuage my concerns of future problems."
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#6
Kel'thuzad listened closely at her diagnoses, nodding along at the appropriate junctures.

"I wish I could provide further insight onto Lady Prestor, but I know very little of her.  As a hedge mage, she never studied at Dalaran, yet I have heard her control of magic is powerful enough that she was named Court Conjurer at a relatively young age, even over her elders at the Academy of Arcane Arts and Sciences," Kel'thuzad began.  "But I concur.  Looking in to her directly would require a certain level of discretion.  That said, if you believe such research would benefit your investigations, the Prince of Alterac need not know the content of the research you are performing."

The ghostly archmage chuckled.

"I am also not surprised that the cabal of demonoligists ushered in this era of uncertainty found allies amidst the darker places of Dalaran either.  The Kirin Tor's hard-line stance against magics considered to be... unnatural is one of the many factors that draws some individuals into the very same studies.  No matter how hard they try to stamp out studies of necromancy, fel magic, or necromancy, there will always be those who seek to master them.  It is as it has been and always will be, and naught but the end of magic itself would put a stop to it."

Kel'thuzad ran an transparent hand through is ephemeral beard.  "The Kirin Tor is an organization that has historically been obsessed with control.  As such, there are certainly sources you could tap in to to learn more about those outside their bounds, such as Lady Prestor, and possibly the magi responsible for aiding in King Menethil's abduction.

"But you are right.  This business with the dragons is a nuisance at best.  I... mislike the implications of Krasus's true nature.  That Commander Borel was a dragon in disguise is one thing... but that a member of the Council of Six is as well irks me.  I understand only that I could perchance never understand their true motives, but dislike their apparent inclinations towards meddling into the affairs of mortals.  It is why I am inclined to agree with you.  This Wrathion seems disinterested in the politics his kin have been playing for the past millenia, but he, too, is a dragon.  Were I to advise you, Velameestra, I would trust only that the dragons will tell you only what they wish you to know."

Kel'thuzad sighed, shaking his head in annoyance.  

"As far as your half-elven friend is concerned, I merely find the puzzle of her parentage curious.  Magics to modify memory are not simple incantations, and it simply intrigues me as to what motives such an individual could have had to abandon her family so abruptly and completely.

"But do not trouble yourself overmuch as to the vengeful entities that the demons represent.  At present, you are virtually invisible to all but the eyes and ears of the flesh.  Petty demons like the temptress you slew pose no more long-term threat to you than a particularly irritating rival at a Hearthstone tournament circuit, or the second-best arcanist in the field you master.  An annoyance that one must watch for, but a boon in which they provide an easy insight into the machinations of your enemy.  If she returns after she forms back in the Nether from whence she came, she will simply show you more of her hand, that you may better prepare for her ilk in the future.

"But this... Frostmourne has drawn my attention.  It is without a doubt the presence sensed by Miss Barov.  I suppose what has me intrigued is what that means... and why I have been unable to sense it myself, in spite of my efforts to do so.  Should you discover more from Remnii, it would be most beneficial I believe."

He cocked his head to the side.  "What of Scholomance, however?"
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#7
"...I'm invisible, but everyone else isn't, and the Windrunner name is one that is well-known. I can't monitor all moves being made, and we as a whole have... a growing number of enemies, most of which we don't know much about. Kilnar's demonic contact fashioned herself a queen, for instance, and I don't know to what extent beings like succubi are willing to work with their own kind. Or if there are more powerful ilk they may be able to draw on."

The mage tapped her finger on the side of her mug in a mild sign of irritation.

"It's left me unnerved. With the extent the Kirin Tor have successfully barricaded even well-meaning research into forbidden arts, we as a whole have a glaring blind spot in our knowledge, one which we can only fill through our own experiences and what Remnii deigns appropriate to tell. It will take time, and as Uther has so kindly been reminding everyone, time is something we no longer have."

She sighed, and there was a subtle movement in her jaw as she flicked her tongue against the back of her teeth. However, her eyes flickered back to Kel'Thuzad at his question, and her grip on the mug tightened faintly.

"The concept of Scholomance is... effective during peacetime. It's a safe space, one that the people in it are not inclined to betray," Velameestra started, a hand twitching as if it start making the familiar motions that would conjure her illusory runes, though her fingers curled back as she thought better of it.

"But many of those same people, justifiably, have no loyalty to those that spurned them. What is going to happen when an invasion force suddenly opens more opportunities and presents them to people like Gandling? More artifacts on the scale of Frostmourne become apparent? You yourself told me to be careful who I trust there..."

She shook her head, rolling her shoulders as she straightened from her position leaning against the counter.

"...And thus far, the only ones I can say I do are Ross, Jandice and... Nem'aen, to an extent. At least as far as I can trust people I've known for mere weeks, and two of them it's largely due to their loyalty to you. I've been trying to get a sense of the others, but the nature of Scholomance can very easily swing toward something very dangerous and very... counter to what I'm trying to accomplish. Even Chillheart's aid in exploring my corruption, I am very much aware is largely for her own curiosity and there is likely very little care for my own well-being. Someone's ambition may very well force Scholomance from neutrality."
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#8
"On the subject of the Kirin Tor's obstinance, you and I agree.  The Council of Tirisfal's oversight lead to such restrictions, and even in a world bereft of their machinations, their influence is and has been felt in Dalaran for generations.  Perhaps these times will be good for the introduction of more progressive stances, doubly so as my former colleagues are replaced by the next generation, one that has keenly experience the boons and banes of such study.

"But you raise a valid point about Scholomance, Velameestra.  You are right to trust Ross and Miss Barov.  As for the others, well, my relationship with them is... practical, built upon layers of practicality and mutual benefit, even after my 'death'.  Should they succumb to temptations from the orcish necromancers or their legion masters, they will need to be dealt with.  I have no desire to see my creation, our sanctuary, warped into a tool for forces that believe themselves superior to us.  Scholomance is a place where the curious few may study in peace, in freedom from persecution and oversight from entities like the Kirin Tor and from the torches and pitchforks of the Church, and it shall remain so if I have any say in it.

"But Velameestra, I will need your assistance in as much.  Should such a series of events come to pass, I have... allies you could call upon.  Ones who are not associated with Scholomance directly, but whom I trust as much as Ross or Jandice.  Or you."
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#9
What were minor indicators of nerves abated quickly as Kel'Thuzad spoke, and Vel allowed her eyes to drift back to the spectral archmage.

"...Hmph. That much you already have. I'm... curious who these allies are, but I was hoping I wouldn't need to debate you on the necessity of selective purging should it come to pass. Family needs to stick together, after all."

The shadow of a smile crossed her lips as she drained the rest of the mug, though she promptly wrinkled her nose as a few of the bitter coffee grounds that had found their way into her cup slipped into her mouth.

"As far as relevancy to immediate dealings, I'm planning on asking Nem'aen to see what they can find regarding information on hedge mages at Scholomance. At least in regards to ones that may have potentially found haven in other organizations. I may ask Galadin to go about a similar task here, if he's receptive to the idea. It... allows him to help in a manner that should be a great deal safer than interfacing with the warlocks and... lets me get a feel for how their parsing ability is. On both accounts. It's more likely we will find some sort of lead on the Syndicate in Alterac. I don't want to get caught up in a pursuit myself if we desire to leave quickly, but it's unwise to leave that particular stone completely untouched."
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#10
"Indeed.  Wise plans on both accounts.  Many of the magi at Scholomance are either hedge magi or former or failed members of the Kirin Tor or the Magistrate... though, according to Council of Six, all it takes to be considered a 'hedge mage' is to be unaffiliated with either organization.  Even the most powerful magi of the Academy are hedge mages by their definition, even though they would disagree with you vehemently at such a notion."  Kel'thuzad paused for a brief second, considering.  "Should young Galadin require a starting point, one cannot hope to speak of hedge magi without discussing Theocritus.  Perhaps that would be a wise place to start."

Kel'thuzad's spectral form stepped away from the counter, pacing slowly around the room.

"As for my other allies, they are a collection of friends from my long life.  Peers, students... family.  There are some I would introduce you to sooner rather than later.  Should our travels take us to Stormwind, Bronjahm and Clarence would likely be able to assist.  Noth resides within Dalaran... and his knowledge of curses and transmutation magic may prove useful when it comes time to act upon the troll hex that afflicts you.  I also must assure you that I would take no small amount of pleasure in the irony of my former roommate liberating me from my current one."

Kel'thuzad chuckled at the thought for a moment, before a pregnant pause and a hint of trepidation crept into his voice.

"There are... others, as well.  Some that will provide their own... unique... challenges in contacting.  I've not spoken to Heigan in many years, and Obrahiim rarely stays in one place overlong.  Helcular was slain nearly two decades ago, though that does not necessarily close our avenues of communing with who was, until recently, my most gifted student."  Kel'thuzad stopped, now facing away from Velameestra.  "And... Should... your journeys take you to the Arathi Highlands, there is... a woman I would introduce you to."
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