((Following Something to Hide
A year had passed. Dhein stepped over an offshoot of the plant, one of many the size of a weed that were growing out of the floor at various points the small room. He knew where each one of the little plantlings were, had either memorized them or could sense their strange magic as he moved idly about the room. He paced, reading a book with a black cover and yellow pages that smelled of immemorial ages. The ink practically glowed with demonic energy, freshly retrieved from shattered Draenor by Aztal's hands.
He paused and set the end of the Fel staff on the floor. It clicked dully against the wood, splintered by the roots that had broken through the pot and pried up the floorboards. The plant's spread wasn't relegated to just the room. Since the Fel staff had been used to channel the magic originally, small stalks very similar to the plant had sprouted around the black gem focus on its top, budding delicately. The staff had begun to cast the plant's energies far more efficiently over time, providing a wealth of experimental potential.
Fortunately, it seemed the wards that bordered the room still enclosed the plants energy. Dhein occasionally renewed those wards. Something about the Fel staff, altered as it was, made casting Fel magics of that kind easier. He hardly felt any corruptive influence at all anymore.
Dhein began pacing back the other way, stepping around two more weed-sized offshoots as he went. He turned a page, and frowned as the passage he was reading ended. "Impossible. That's all? It's useless."
A worn pen continued to scratch across a length of parchment stretched over a space not broken up by exploring roots. Antimony didn't look up from her work, drafting long, precisely straight lines across the parchment in an intricate, precise map. The light in her eyes flickered as she worked, almost mirroring the faint flash of shadows that drifted from the focus she held in the opposite hand. Her gaze moved to those shadows on occasion, watching them spread between it and the plant in a net as thin as spiderweb, almost invisible. Then her attention would return to the parchment and the careful markings she continued to map out upon it.
"Did he bring the wrong text again?" her voice drifted up from the blue-tinged hair that fell across her face as she bent over her work. The sleeve of her dress shuffed softly with the deliberate motions of her arm.
"No. This is the correct book. It just doesn't have the correct information." The book slammed shut in his fingers. It hissed with a faint green-brown haze, and Dhein's eyes grow momentarily brighter. Tossing the book among a pile of like-covered tomes in a corner where the air was slightly oiler from the Fel presence. "Supposedly written by an expert in temporal scrying. But this supposed 'expert' didn't record a single spell. He just prattled on like an aspiring magister trying to satisfy a grudging mentor."
Antimony frowned deeply, though the expression was lost with her face turned down to the parchment. "Not particularly 'expert' of him at all," she muttered in agreement. Her hand moving the pen slowed but didn't stop completely. "I suppose then we are no less further from retrieving that data?" Some frustration wove into the echo in her voice.
"At this point, it would be a research project itself to find another way to fail at retrieving the data." Dhein swung the staff around as he paced back into the room, churning a small and familiar path through the small plants. The slightly chilly air huffs against the dark tail of his sanguine robe. "Temporal scrying was the most far-fetched, preposterous possibility I had to pursue. I can think of no further spells, known, rumored or theorized, that can help us retrieve data from more than a year in the past."
Bone thin fingers tightened around the pen, the lines becoming a bit stiffer for several seconds. "We cannot move beyond this point without the data from the Overgrowth. At least not with any reasonable expectation of reaching accurate conclusions." She looked up finally, but it was to look along one of the roots splitting the floorboard to her right, up to the broken pieces of the pot and the soil that remained in a loose circle there. She watched the shadows that clung to the base of the plant and shifted the focus in her hand. The clouded crystal atop it, partially obscured by small twists of growth in the same material as the plant, flickered. "And you say you have found nothing at all?"
"There's nothing to find, Antimony." Dhein finally crossed his arms, the Fel staff and the small plants riding upon it leaning against his shoulder. He watched her idly. "Gathering information from an event in the past is a prerogative of Dragons, not mortals. It was likely arrogant to even attempt. The best we could hope to do is harvest one of these sprouts and place it in nature, but that wouldn’t be safe. It would be out of our control."
Her attention returned to the map she drew upon the parchment, but the pen simply tapped in place. "Perhaps," she murmured. A few seconds passed, and then she began to draw again, pausing to note a series of numbers alongside particular angles formed by the lines. "Curse that woman... I suppose the best we can do is continue monitoring the present, then." She sounded more than a little annoyed at this. "I believe I have at least come close to a proper model for a fraction of it..."
"A fraction." Dhein scoffed, meaning the gesture to be impersonal. Then he supposed it might come off as rude, and brushed it his face. "Apologies. It's a frustration, is all. It almost leaves me eager to pursue that woman to all ends Azeroth. She stole the data. The least she could do is have it on her if I were to find her."
Dimly lit eyes lifted again, but this time they finally settle on Dhein. Her lips pursed. "I would gladly contribute to such an effort, but you have said there is nothing to do. Unless you have forgotten something?"
"I have not forgotten anything. My earlier investigations yielded vague results that I deemed both insignificant and too problematic to act on." Crossing his arms once more, he looked out from beneath elegant bangs. "The western coast of the Eastern Kingdoms. Well south of Dun Morogh. More towards Ellwyn."
Antimony's mouth turned down further. "That... is not unsurprising, considering." Her fingers tapped against the side of her staff. "But out of reach, I suppose... We would never make it through those borders, even if we could find her."
"We could find her. That's not the concern. I may not be able to perform temporal scrying, but the woman herself is as easy to scry from a distance as a lighthouse is to see. The latter issue is that which convinced me to hang up all hopes of finding the woman. The data is likely in a lockbox in Stormwind, with our luck."
"And neither of us would be convincing enough to pass through undetected," Antimony muttered. "Unless I garb myself very conservatively." The hand holding her staff tightened and jerked in a minute gesture of annoyance, and she felt an empty pull travel along it and between her bones.
"Such thinking doesn't really play to our skillsets" Dhein observed passively. He blinked, and let slip another sigh. "So, you said we continue monitoring the present? All indications are that things will continue as they have been. I dislike studying in a mire. We must progress somehow."
"What do you think I have been working towards?" The words snapped more than she intended, and she let out a dry, rattling sigh after. "Observation is important. Mapping the kinetic patterns of this magic even moreso. And I have
made progress." The pile of parchment nearby, containing previous pieces of the puzzle she had set her mind to, were indication of that. The lines beneath her hand now were just a small part of a much larger whole. "Though we may see advancement faster if we become a bit more bold in experimentation. More direct manipulation would both corroborate and expand the analysis."
Dhein watched Antimony in silence, letting her words fall into the static chill around him and hang alongside it. He leaned against a table on the wall; a new, sturdier table. He bounced one leg, and the table didn't even creak. "Past experiences have indicated that more aggressive manipulation of the plants energies may not be safe."
"That is why we take whatever precautions we can, just as we maintain the wards." Shifting her knees on the floor, Antimony adjusted herself in relation to the sheet of parchment, moving to expand her diagram across a yet bare corner.
Dhein leaned forward and looked at Antimony's work, trying to make out her diagram. He was not terrible at technicalities, but the fact was he simply could not do what she did, and much of the time, her research methods left him confused. "While I shudder to think of what spells we might progress to, I'm also curious what kind of spells this plant's energy is most conducive to casting. Sometimes it feels as though we've stumbled across a new school of magic."
The pen dropped from her hand suddenly, and in just as swift a movement Antimony had pushed herself up to her feet with the staff. Not speaking immediately, she moved to the stack of parchment she'd built up over the past twelve months - some dozen, oversized pages, each of which having taken many weeks to develop. These in hand, she turned again to the floor and began to lay them out end-to-end, in rows of three. "I am beginning to think that as well." The pages began to take on a cohesive shape as she arranged them, parts of a massive diagram of lines and curves, all annotated with a series of numbers. Textual references and the proofs of a great many equations stuffed any other available empty space on the pages.
Dhein blinked, eyes canting from side to side at the sudden change in Antimony's demeanor. Or what seemed a sudden change to him. He watched her pen clatter, then the woman move to gather the great stack of papers and spread them out. He generated a new theory as to what she was laying out to him with every page before giving up about halfway through when he realized how many pages still remained.
Pacing away from the table, Dhein kept his arms crossed, but his gaze was curious. "You've enough work there to begin work on a research tome of your own."
Straightening, Antimony gestured with one foot towards a number of nested arcs in the upper left corner. "There are parallels here," she moved, taking a step, and then gestured towards another smooth curve surrounded by its associated equation and proof a row down, "and here to patterns in nature magic. And the sine wave there," two pages to the right, "I have observed in the arcane. But the rest is... well, I feel a bit of a pioneer." Her lips twitched at the corners.
"I recognize the Arcane." He pointed somewhere between the nature and the arcane references Antimony made. "This is somewhat reminiscent of the Fel. An unnatural inversion of the Arcane, one might say. Fel can't really be proofed the same way. Or if you did, many Warlocks would find it an insult."
"Then we won't speak of it to any warlocks." She paused, looked over the array of pages sitting unevenly across the broken, root-ridden floor. "If my projections are correct, this is roughly one third of the full picture. It is very much like attempting to translate a foreign language."
"And how do we work our way to the other two thirds?"
The bottom of Antimony's staff clicked against the floor, and she furrowed her thin brow in thought. "A great deal of time, I imagine." Dim light shifted in empty sockets to glance at an angle towards the elf. "Made shorter if we could model the energies physically, manifest it in a more accessible way."
Dhein gave her a look of vexation. "In what way do you mean?"
She gestured in vague circles with her free hand. "Spells, Dhein! We need to try and shape more spells. We cannot continue to simply observe it from a distance," though that distance had closed dramatically over the past several months.
"And what kind of spells would you have us cast?" Dhein gestured broadly with one arm, then lifted a finger. "On the condition that it is safe to do so."
She turned towards him then, a perhaps lately uncommon moment of giving him her undivided attention. "That is the question. Innocuous ones would be the safest. We don't know precisely what this energy is capable of, though, so we would have to approach it rather broadly."
"Such an approach was taken once before."
"Then an additional safety measure - we do not cast the spells on each other. There are plenty of enchantments we can try, though." She tapped her chin, gaze lifting in thought. "And we've plenty of parchment to attempt any variety of glyphs."
Dhein sighed once more, making it enough times that he became self-conscious of the expression. He bundled his arms a bit more tightly around himself. "I suppose. Fel isn't short on enchantments. Or curses. Might try casting one on that priest that stole our equipment."
An unexpected chuckle pushed through Antimony's dry throat, though she brought her hand to her mouth to stifle it quickly. "... Indeed," she muttered after a moment. "It would be the least she deserves. Ah, so. You are in agreement then?"
"Yes. I was not being serious about cursing the woman, but yes, I suppose we're in agreement." He smirked and leaned towards Antimony.
She arched one brow towards him. "... Yes." A pause. "We should of course compose a list of enchantments to attempt first, so that we can keep our observations properly organized."
Dhein let himself hang awkwardly half-leaned towards Antimony. "That would just take a brainstorming session."
She smiled at that, and the dim light in her sockets warmed and brightened just a bit. "Excellent. Let's set up on the table. I'll get the parchment and... ah, we've no shortage of texts to pull from!"
Finally, Dhein leaned away, appearing as though something had been missed. "I'm sure I can come up with quite a list off the top of my head."
"Yes, yes, but we want to be precise." She turned then, to cross the room to a low hung hammock. Next to it sat a leather bag filled in part with rolls of parchment. One she took out, along with a fresh pen.
Dhein followed after her somewhat distantly, looking down on her rummaging. "I think I can be quite precise off the top of my head."
"Oh you can, can you?" She almost sounded amused, but it was blunted by distraction. Straightening from the bag, she turned to make back towards the table but paused short before walking into Dhein. "... Hm?"
Dhein smiled at Antimony. "Your energy for this project is as inspiring as ever." And leaned down to kiss her.
Her grip loosened momentarily on the parchment. Twelve months ago, this gesture would have frozen her completely. Now it came as a surprise but it felt more natural. The weight of her undeath lingered, but it was not so much of an insurmountable wall. She let him kiss her a moment and then smiled before kissing back. "Inspiring of ideas and productivity, I should hope."
Standing back and stepping away, Dhein chuckled. "Those are among the things you inspire, yes."
"Excellent. So." Lifting both brows at him expectantly, she made to step around him towards the table. "Enchantments. Let's begin."
"Very well." He turned to follow after, watching how Antimony moved. "Off the top of my head? Scrying, summoning, and soulstone crafting are all innocuous spells."
Antimony nodded, stepping carefully over the roots and small sprouts spread out across the floor, though she never looked down at them. Her red dress shifted quietly as she settled in front of the table and spread out the parchment upon it. "All strong potentials. Mm, I know a number of enhancement enchants, usually used on clothing but they can be transferred to paper as well. Various properties - resistances and bolsters would be the least threatening, though there are some that, when active, can damage a target."
"I want to try using the energies to scry after the priest thief." Dhein positioned himself next to Antimony with his back to the table, leaning against it and watching the woman. "If I get any results, I can compare their accuracy to what I know to be true based on Fel scrying."
Biting the inside of her lip, Antimony noted each of these carefully on the parchment, setting up the framework for a data table. She lifted her head when Dhein spoke, eyes widening in appreciation. "Wonderful idea! It is, of course, always important to have controls when testing. We will begin with that, then."
Dhein's nod was impassive and idle. His posture as he leaned against the table was only slightly lazy, shoulders sloping as though he couldn't be bothered with holding an upright posture at the moment. "Well, put that at the top of the list. The reagents for such a spell aren't so difficult. Did you also intend to contribute to the casting of innocuous spells?"
"Of course. The enchantments I mentioned prior should serve as good bases for experimentation, and I can attempt to invoke a few words of power with the energies as well." She continued to write as she spoke, organizing said "innocuous" spells.
Leaning over her work and frowning somewhat, Dhein blinked. "I'm not even sure what half of those subheadings are for."
Antimony smiled at that. "It is not overly complicated. These spells can all be groups according to more than just original magic type, and it is important to notate those similarities and differences across spells. Intent, practice, duration..."
"What if we find spells that we can cast with the plant-magic that are unique to itself?"
Her eyes brightened and she lifted her head to look towards him. "Well that would be fascinating
! I hope we do. We'll have to take careful note and then we'll be able to see where it fits in relation to the others."
Dhein shrugged as though the implications did not sway him, though he smiled an enticing smile down at Antimony. "I might take the liberty of doing some experimentation. It wouldn't be the first time I invented a new spell."
The smile shifted to a look of intense curiosity. "Oh? Ah, the details! What spell? I must know."
"Uuuuhm." Shoot. She wasn't supposed to ask that. He wasn't supposed to gloat. He looked at the wall, then at the ceiling, then pulled on his soul patch and pretended to cough.
"Come now, you can't possibly keep such a thing a secret. How did you go about experimenting with new spells? What methods? That's not something I've thought to try in the past!"
Dhein chuckled a bit at that, trying to sound more amused than nervous. "Oh, it's something lots of Blood Elves do. I remember we had this contest between students back when I was just starting out for making the least useless new spell. The winning spell turned a single hair on the caster's head red. Just one. And you couldn't pick which hair."
Tilting her head slightly, Antimony watched him appraisingly for a moment. "Truly? I've never heard of such a thing. But I suppose... Mm, how did you do it?"
"Uhm. Oh, that wasn't me. I lost. My spell made a rock vibrate, but not enough that it could be observed. I had to experimentally prove that the rock had proved at all before anyone even believed me." He chuckled at the memory, and then sighed, cheerful. "That's not even the spell I meant, though. I made an incredible spell. Really changed my way of thinking about magic completely!"
Turning more towards Dhein, Antimony looked up towards him intently, her hands clasped down by her waist. "In what way? Stop beating around the bush, Dhein. If it's something so momentous... and even if it weren't... you must tell me!"
"Uhm. Oh, oh! Right." He needed to pay more attention to what he was saying. "But, you know, I'm distracting us from work. All those subheadings want our attention, remember?"
Her arms shifted to settle on her bony hips. "Oh no. You've got my interest with that story and then expect me to be satisfied with a vague notion and back to work? What if it affected how my approached our analyses! Or... well, anything."
"Then I would've told you, obviously." He shakes his head and his long ears swing behind him, over his long hair which swings behind him. His long eyebrows swing as well. "It was irresponsible for me to bring it up now. It's not relevant to what we're doing."
"Not relevant in ways you can currently see perhaps." Antimony lifted one brow.
Dhein lifted one brow. "The same could be said of expertise in baking."
"No, it could not, as one involves chemistry and food, while the other involves principals that are direct parallels to what we were just discussing." Antimony was not convinced at all.
Dhein shrugged and looked away. "I think I'd know if it was relevant. Do we want to go over ALL information about ALL magic just in case it might be useful?"
"We were discussing manipulating spells with new energies, and potentially discovering new spells. You mentioned you had experience creating new spells. The connection is quite clear, Dhein Til'za." Her thin brow furrowed, fingers tapping against her hips. A moment later she just huffed and turned back to the parchment.
Smiling, Dhein shrugged, accepting her surrender wordlessly. "Besides." Or with words, maybe, actually. "I don't have the research notes on hand."
"There is a simple fix for that," Antimony spoke coolly as she finished drafting up their data table. "Aztal! Where did you run off to?"
Well, he'd gone and drawn her attention again. At least, for once, he could be thankful for Aztal's unexplained and prolonged absences. No imp meant no one to let slip that he actually did have the research on-hand.
"What?" Aztal stepped out from under the table, walking around them. "What what?"
"Watch your tone, Aztal!" Dhein kicked him across the room. Maybe he'd break.
Antimony didn't visibly react to the violence against the imp - it wasn't exactly an unusual thing. She did set her pen down once she was done writing and turn in the direction the Fel creature had gone tumbling off to. "Aztal! If you could, please retrieve whatever research notes Dhein would require to explain how he developed this new spell of his, hm?" She glanced towards the elf in question. "We can begin our work while he takes care of that."
The imp pulled himself off the ground dizzily, and clawed at his eyebrows in confusion. Then Aztal glared at Dhein, blinked at Antimony, and then looked back at Dhein.
The Sin'dorei sighed. "Very well. While Aztal performs this task which will take a long time
you and I should work busily. We'll barely notice the extensive amount of time
Aztal waved off Dhein's blathering. "Yeah, yeah, I'll get it."
"Thank you, Aztal." Dhein turned back to Antimony. "Now, then, where were we? A great abundance of subheadings?"
"All taken care of," Antimony smiled with some small amount of satisfaction. She gestures towards the parchment. "We have only to fill in the blanks now."
"Ah, good. The active part." Dhein smiled. "The progress. I do prefer it."
Aztal reached behind a bookcase and retrieved a book with dark green-black pages, seeming to have been woven from moss. Atop it was a leather folder stuffed with notes. The entire bundle was tied together with twine. He walked it over to Antimony. "He ya go!"
"Aztal! I strongly hinted that you were to take a long time!" He tried to kick the imp, but Aztal dropped the bundle and jumped out of the way. This only further frustrated Dhein. "And what have I told you about dodging?"
Yellow light flickered as Antimony blinked towards the elf, and a huff escaped thinly from her dead, dry lungs. "Really now, Dhein. What are you afraid of?" Brow furrowing she stepped away from the table to make to pick up the book.
Dhein jabbed at the book with the butt of his staff to try and push it way from Antimony's hands. "I really should just burn that."
Her frown deepened, and she cast a quick, sideways glance up towards Dhein before taking another step to snag the book in her bony fingers. "Why would you dispose of valuable research? You are being ridiculous, Dhein."
"For one, it's not particularly valuable. Want to know how to create new spells? Fine. I can teach you that. You don't want to know what that research contains." He held out a hand. "I think you should demonstrate trust and let me have the book."
Straightening, Antimony glanced down towards the book, and then up towards Dhein, taking in his expression. "You know I am not one for secrets, Dhein," she spoke slowly, though she made no move to actually look through the text yet.
"There's a difference between secrets and things better left forgotten. You may not be much for hte former, but I know you are a dedicated adherent of the latter."
Antimony blinked slowly at that, shifting her gaze down to the book in her hand. It felt heavier than it should between her fingers, with a weight that pulled on something deep in her bones and into her chest. One hand brushed across the cover lightly. Something told her she knew in part what was in there, and the temptation to know more was unexpectedly strong.
Setting her jaw, she extended her arms towards him, book in hand.
Dhein tried to take the book from her without looking overeager to be doing so.
Almost as soon as it was out of her reach, Antimony felt an itch to take it back, not unlike the itch that dogged her to pursue that plant, though with perhaps a different source. She didn't, though, instead letting her hands drop to her waist. She stood quietly for a moment before speaking, "We should return to our work. Shall we attempt a scrying?"
"Very well." He held the book to one side. "Aztal, put this somewhere out of our sight, will you?"
The imp chittered in Eredun and took the tome.
"Song dogs barking at the break of dawn, lightning pushes the edges of a thunder storm. And these streets, quiet as a sleeping army, send their battered dreams to heaven."