Title: Not Enough Minutes (Abridged)
Fandom: Warcraft/World of Warcraft
Summary: A new day dawns, dim and grey, but for Jaina Proudmoore, there may not be enough minutes in a day.
Genre: Gen, mentioned het.
Warnings: Angst, spoilers for The Shattering, Twilight of the Aspects, Cataclysm, and the previous material.
Disclaimer: Example: This story was written solely for my personal entertainment is not intended to infringe on the rights of Bizzard Ent. No money is being made by the production of this story.
The day dawned dim and grey. Thick clouds hung low in the sky, endlessly and constantly moist with rain. It was not raining right at this moment but it would come, as it always did; sometimes it fell in a light patter, other times it sheeted down, interwoven with lightning and swept with harsh winds. It was worthwhile to take advantage of the relatively good weather now.
The breeze from the ocean brought salt air to invade the mouths and noses of those who were outside, or those who were odd enough to sleep with windows open. It was with this scent that Jaina Proudmoore awoke. She blinked twice, and rubbed at her blue eyes, yawning briefly. It had been six hours since she'd gone to sleep the night before and, turning her head to the side, she could see the book she'd finally laid aside before drifting off to sleep. She smiled at it fondly before rising. It was a good book, even if she knew its contents by heart. She had transcribed it herself from the tauren tale-tellers, listening and translating as she went. It reminded her of an earlier time. A simpler time. Time she did not have any more.
Her smile faded as she rose, stretching in the pale dawn's light. Yesterday's robes were discarded on the floor, and she bent to pick them up, throwing them into a laundry chute before selecting new ones to throw on. She picked up her hairbrush and wandered over to the mirror, studying her appearance critically. Do I look presentable enough for meetings? Her eyes were a little shadowed, but people were used to that. The ink stains on her fingertips were only faded despite a great deal of scrubbing. Those would easily be covered by fresh stains later in the day. I'm always amazed when they manage to clean the stains off my sleeves-- Jaina glanced briefly at a gnomish time piece and her eyes widened. I need to get a move on! There aren't nearly enough minutes in a day.
With no more than a thought's worth of effort, she teleported herself outside.
~ * ~
Theramore's dock was always busy around dawn. Sailors walked rapidly back and forth, carrying cargo from the ships to the dock, just as other sailors were bringing supplies out, the constant ebb and flow of Theramore's trading fleet. Its ships were small and sleek, capable of cutting through Theramore's waters, a proud innovation and adaptation made by Theran shipwrights. There were few true warships, and they might be considered small to some, but again, innovation had brought about swift, fierce cruisers, capable of fighting off any threat that came at them from the sea. They were a reminder of the dangers that the world held, either from enemy fleets or from the Maelstrom, the huge, swirling storm that was occasionally visible from the docks. On the day Deathwing had emerged, the Maelstrom had stained the sky red.
Red sky at morning, Sailor's warning.
That had been months ago, and the emergence had damaged the dock and many of the ships, but they had stood fast then, and stood fast now. That was the Theran way, to stand fast no matter the danger. As Jaina hurried along, she could see the relieved expressions on the faces of those that saw her. Many of them waved, and Jaina waved back, though much of her attention was on what would have, to others, seemed like thin air.
To Jaina, the air was not empty. Instead, there was a complex latticework of protection spells, woven in and around the isle of Theramore, from the edge of the docks to the bridge that connected Theramore to the mainland. When Theramore had been nothing more than a rocky disturbance to the otherwise indifferent ocean, Jaina had a specific plan pertaining to how her city would be built. In Dalaran, they had discussed the possibility of being able to protect an entire city with wards if the city were built to encourage such spells. Dalaran had been built like that, millennia ago, though expansion and war had ruined much of the design. Theramore, however, was still new. A new place meant for fresh ideas and new purpose.
The roads and buildings of Theramore were constructed along pre-plotted ley lines, all linked to the powerful ley node beneath the island. This allowed Jaina to maintain, strengthen, and control wards that protected the island. They might not stand up to a concentrated assault, but there were other defences here, strong walls and collapsible bridges, battle-mages and snipers. No, the great enemy that the wards were constructed to combat was the weather itself.
The wards hadn't been so urgently maintained originally, when it had merely rained about once a week, and the sky had been cloudy instead of leaden with inclement showers. The worst of it had come with the Cataclysm, when the constant downpours threatened to erode the soil, and caused floods and mud slides. Fortunately, with the design of the city, we anticipated this, but it's hard to maintain. Jaina stood at the edge of the wards, probing gently at the interwoven spells, checking for weakness. She had been told that some weakness was tolerable if one was busy, but it was easier to, say, skip breakfast or drink tea during a meeting than think for a moment that Theramore was not as properly protected as it ought to be. A moment's weakness can be exploited unto death, Antonidas had once told her, and as Jaina worked, the words resonated through her.
Jaina sent her personal reserves of magic to reinforce the wards, and they flared brightly to her arcane sight. Tying the wards into the ley node made them wider and more flexible, but there was another condition to warding. As Jaina's fingers moved, her sleeve slipped, revealing a long chain of beads, each delicately inscribed with a rune, representing Jaina's tie to the wards, rooted within her own life force. The strongest wards are tied to the life of the caster. They can never truly fail unless that caster dies… or is killed. Her teacher had taken just such a precaution and paid for it. Then all of Dalaran had fallen to the Burning Legion and its Scourge minions. She tugged her sleeve back over the beads, and continued on. By the time her circuit had ended it was properly morning, and Theramore was waking up. That meant it was time to move on.
There aren't nearly enough minutes in a day. With another thought, she teleported back to her tower.
~ * ~
Jaina held the beaker up to the light, studying the colour carefully. Yes, it's noticeably lighter than yesterday. I think that last batch of reagents are working out. Carefully, she carried it over to the other work bench; even with gloves, lab coat, mask and coif to protect her, and her alchemy lab as well ventilated as it could be, one didn't want an accident with plague samples.
She divided the sample into a dozen smaller containers, each carefully labelled and meant to be incubated in a different way. One of these might be the right one. One day we'll be able to cure the plague... or at least neutralize it.
Both the Argent Crusade and the Ebon Blade had courted Jaina's help in researching the plague. With the Lich King's death, it was finally possible to cleanse the land the Scourge had polluted, but for the plague to be fully controlled it must be understood, and few mages had the resources or power Jaina could bring to that task. And bring it I will. She finished her task, disrobed and cleansed herself, cautious of contaminants, then continued to the next lab.
The second laboratory had the mechanical experiments. Here Jaina was working on a special pump mechanism, made through a combination of gnomish engineering and arcane magic so that the mechanism would not require maintenance, instead cared for by the magic that would protect it from rust and automatically lubricate the moving parts. Such devices were made by hand by skilled mages that were also engineers, and Jaina had learned the art from gnomish techno-mages that resided in Theramore.
This should work fine, now all I need to do is make five or six more just like it, and then the drainage crews can go to work. We should be able to get rid of most of the rainwater this way. Jaina grimaced slightly. I only hope this approach won't offend the spirits of air or water, that could cause more problems than it solves. If there was a shaman I could ask... She'd never been quite comfortable with the way most mages treated elementals, as though they were disposable tools, but once she'd begun to speak with the shamans of the Horde she'd come to think of such methods as almost... blasphemous.
Not that we talk any more. Jaina set the pump down, easing it onto the bench with care. Saving the world is a very, very busy task. Those who cannot help can't possibly understand. She nodded to herself and proceeded to the third laboratory.
This lab held magical materials - right now, mainly cloth, as Jaina's latest such project was transmogrification cloaks. More powerful than mere illusion, they allowed the wearer to pass as a different race... within reason. Some day I'll figure out how to turn taurens into gnomes. For the moment, though, the cloaks were reserved for the use of the human agents of SI:7, and their infiltration work in the Twilight Highlands.
Jaina picked one up and let it settle around her shoulders. She checked her appearance in a mirror and found that coarse, black hair framed harsh, unrelenting orcish features, and the blue eyes, natural on a human's face, were entirely out of place on an orc. She made a soft noise and orcish lips pushed out with the sigh. She turned away.
Carrying over eye colour might be a problem, I'll have to see about improving the design. She took the cape off, and folded it up, repacking it and sealing the box. She placed the box on one of the work benches to carry out later and moved to one of the other benches. Here Jaina worked on magical weaponry. Her Archmage's staff sat on the bench, gleaming and polished. While a mage could cast without it, a focus like a staff helped a mage better channel their power, allowing them to cast more powerful spells.
And you've gotten a workout lately, haven't you? Jaina noted to her staff. She removed polishing cloths and jewelers tongs, and carefully realigned the crystal, making sure each edge was sharp, the better to focus with. We've had to do more and more to defend Theramore, haven't we, with all the naga attacks. Not to mention holding back the tides so we weren't swept away. Carefully, she held it up, examining the crystal for flaws and found none. Perfect. Smiling, she collected up her staff. There was one more place to go.
Teleporting was normally as easy as thought to Jaina, but this felt like threading through a spider's web of wards, wards that most people would have found impenetrable as a stone wall. The wards in question, however, were Jaina's own.
The place she arrived in was less of a laboratory and more of a vault. Jaina cast her eyes around the room and turned on one of the lights. There are so many things in a mage's tower that are dangerous, and they need to be contained. The Safeward was sterile, warded against ghosts and spirits, keeping the undead away from the necromantic tomes bound with human skin and stitched with sinew, but equally keeping away thoughtful, well-meaning shamans who might be spirit-walking and detect something amiss, like the handful of cursed artifacts that sat, winking innocently, on the warded shelves.
Sometimes, though, there are things that are beyond dangerous... I wish we could just throw them into a nearby volcano, but it's far too unsafe.. and sometimes wholly ineffective. Some of the things kept here were merely unstable, but some were outright evil, and Jaina double-and triple-checked the wards every day to make sure that both kinds were locked down as securely as possible. She kept no live creatures here, only artifacts and books, but those were more than enough. Let the Kirin Tor keep creatures caged.
Let's check on the 'prizes' of my vault, shall we? There were two such artifacts: one was a series of fel crystals that had been energized once, but were now dull and lifeless. The box that held them looked like glass, but was so heavily inlaid with enchantments it might as well have been steel. The other container held shards of a blade, steel that remained frosted no matter how much heat was applied to it, shot through with blue runes. The sword was incomplete, though the box held a dozen fragments, kept separate from each other. The skeletal face on the hilt leered at her with eye sockets that were dark and empty, though she knew them to have once flickered with unholy blue light.
Frostmourne. Once, the name of the Lich King's blade had been almost as feared as that of its wielder... but now that wielder had fallen, the sword shattered, and all that remained was to gather up the pieces. The Ebon Blade had brought these shards to Jaina for safe keeping, and were still searching for the remaining ones. Bad enough if some fool takes them as a trophy, worse if they fall into the hands of rogue undead. But at least once we have them all, we can try to destroy it... and then it really will be over.
Jaina looked up at the clock on the wall, and cursed softly. I'm behind schedule. There just aren't enough minutes in a day. She carefully moved through her wards again, like a sailor navigating a dangerous channel, and teleported away.
~ * ~
"…and the flooding in the bridge region is presently under control," Adjutant Tesoran said, placing a report on Jaina's desk. She nodded, and sipped at her tea. "Though the engineers say they'll need more of the drainage machines to be sure."
"I was working on one of the new modules earlier, it should be ready to be installed as soon as possible," Jaina replied and scanned over the report. "How is the bridge? Any more deterioration?"
"None, though there have been some… complaints that the Stormwind mobile tank unit's departure is being delayed until we're more certain."
"Well, foot traffic isn't the same thing at all as a steam powered tank," Jaina murmured. "I won't have them destroying the bridge, and it's really for their own good."
"They want to get to the war," Tesoran said with a heavy sigh. "Even if they can get past the bridge, the roads through the marsh are swampy. We have more reports of carts and caravans getting stuck."
"The marsh isn't absorbing as much rain as it used to," Jaina said, and nursed her tea for a moment. "Which, I suppose, is to be expected considering that the rain isn't natural."
"It's insidious," Tesoran remarked, and not for the first time. "We could send soldiers if the naga were attacking us directly. We could assemble the circle of mages to deal with an elemental attack. I could have a team ready in an hour if the Twilight's Hammer were somewhere nearby, but this…"
"An endless series of weather patterns, drawn from the heart of the Maelstrom itself, dumped onto Theramore," Jaina replied, a hint of anger tinging her voice. "I seem to have made someone mad."
"It was absolutely necessary to protect the Earthen Ring's efforts in the Maelstrom," Tesoran said quietly. "We all knew that interfering with the naga's attacks on them might draw their attention to Theramore instead, but we can handle it. Once the war is over, we'll be safe again."
"Will we?" Jaina asked softly, and Tesoran gave her a sharp look. "It's… just something I've been thinking about."
"Tell me," Tesoran urged, and took one of the chairs. Jaina sat forward, steepling her fingers together.
"The battle with the Twilight's Hammer is devastating, and being fought on a dozen fronts," Jaina began. "But that's not the only thing going on. The… war between the Horde and the Alliance is tearing apart pieces of the world that haven't been destroyed by Deathwing. Assuming that ends sometime soon--" Jaina's emphasis on the word was sharp and angry "--there's still the threat of Azshara and the naga, of the Old Gods, of what remains of the Burning Legion, of what remains of the dragons--"
"My Lady," Tesoran interjected when Jaina paused to take a breath. "While I agree that both the Twilight's Hammer and the… war… are immediate and pressing threats to Theramore, once they're over, the attacks on Theramore won't be as severe. We won't need to take in as many refugees, we can work on expanding outside of the island again, we can--"
"How many more reports are there?" Jaina interrupted. Tesoran sighed softly.
"About a dozen labeled for your attention. We've filtered out the others. Ariana's taken about twenty, Tervosh has another dozen."
Jaina held out a hand for the next one and Tesoran placed a defense report in her hand. She read it briefly. "Ariana is taking reports?" she asked, raising an eyebrow at the mention of her chamberlain. "I thought she was on maternity leave?"
"She claims as long as she doesn't move about too much, she's fine. Garrak and Kerra are helping. She misses her husband, though."
"Because any simple task made more complicated and time consuming by the assistance of a five year old and a three year old," Jaina murmured, and offered Tesoran a smile, and her adjutant smiled in return. "Logrosh should be back soon, at any rate."
"His progress report is somewhere further down the stack," Tesoran replied. "He's bringing more, ah, injured from the battlefront between Desolation Hold and Fort Triumph. If the roads hold, he'll be back in a few days. Rylai is going to pick them up from the meeting site."
"Good, they shouldn't have to trek through the marsh if they've got injured," Jaina said. "Make sure Rylai takes them directly to the barracks and not anywhere near the tank team's camp."
"Of course, but…" Tesoran frowned, and Jaina gave him a sharp look. "Look at this report."
Jaina took it and scanned it, her eyebrows raising. "If this is at all accurate--"
"It is, Zen'kira overheard them while collecting supplies."
"--then we're in for a major desertion."
"Not having proper support will do that, and combined with the weather, the conditions… and the fact they aren't welcome here, I can't imagine the tank crews want much to do with this any more."
"Not to mention after all their weatherproofing to get through the marsh and the rain, they're going into an area with a starkly different climate to fight over ground that is literally crumbling beneath their feet…" Jaina commented. "Does Varian still have agents within the city?"
"The ones you said to leave," Tesoran said, nodding. "You want them to hear of this?"
"Absolutely," Jaina said. "It might not reach Varian's ears, but it will reach Anduin. He's going to need all the ammunition he can get."
"You speak of Anduin as if he were going to do something about this. He's still young."
"Young doesn't mean he doesn't care, or that he doesn't see things clearly," Jaina pointed out. "Maybe… maybe Varian will listen to him."
"Maybe," Tesoran agreed, though he frowned. "I'll make sure the news is passed on."
"Good," Jaina said, setting the report aside and looking at another one. Absently, she picked up her tea cup and sipped, then made a face.
"Cold?" Tesoran asked and when Jaina nodded, he added, "You need to eat breakfast before reading reports."
"I can't," Jaina replied. "There just isn't enough time." Tesoran nodded, though his gaze was still troubled. Jaina ignored him, going through the rest of the reports quickly before standing. "I have meetings to attend. I'll see you later."
Tesoran opened his mouth, but Jaina was already gone. He sighed, and collected up her teacup. "Have a good day, Lady Proudmoore."
~ * ~
The latter half of the morning was filled with meetings. Varian's ambassadors wanted reports on everything that went on in Kalimdor, but it was clear that their real concern was only for the soldiers. Jaina listened as the endless parade of them insisted on the importance of getting troops to Fort Triumph, reinforcements they felt were only more urgently needed since Bael Modan had recently been destroyed. Jaina felt a great deal of sympathy for the soldiers who had died in the attack, and for the ones who had been wounded and maimed; many of them were still in Theramore's hospital. She found it harder to sympathize with the commanders who had put them there, especially knowing that the attack had been a reprisal for the burning and looting of Camp Taurajo.
This war is dirty… filthy, Jaina thought angrily, clenching her fists tightly, even as they felt cold. So wholly unnecessary as to be laughable if it weren't so terrible. There are those that compare it to the Second War… as if that were somehow appropriate in any way.
"We feel certain that once Theramore has been secured against all threats, we can establish a firmer hold in Kalimdor. Northwatch Hold has, unfortunately, been crippled by Horde attacks, but--"
Jaina felt cold. "Theramore is as safe from the Horde as it can be, but there are still threats. Rumors of dragons and cultists in the swamp. The naga, who serve the Old Gods, and the makrura and murlocs they've stirred up against us. Both far more dangerous than the Horde."
"Lady Proudmoore, with all due respect--"
Jaina frowned at him, and the piercing, narrow-eyed look she gave him caused him to carefully rearrange his wording.
"--His Majesty feels that you do not have a clear grasp on our priorities here. We are not here to fight the Twilight's Hammer or those snake creatures. We are here to fight the Horde. You city is housing Horde citizens. We have seen them, and your soldiers insist that we may not remove them."
"They are quite correct," Jaina said. "I will not allow you to remove Theramore's citizens from their homes, regardless of their race or previous allegiance." At the ambassador's look of disbelief, Jaina permitted herself to smile, and pushed aside an old memory of someone telling her that she looked like a springpaw scenting something delicious when she did that. "The people you have seen are all refugees. They have been sworn in as citizens of Theramore and they are no threat to anyone here... and that gives them more right to be here than you have."
"Ambassador Gaines," Jaina interrupted sharply. "Until Stormwind's flag flies over Theramore, we are an independent nation within the Alliance. Our immigration policies are neither Varian's affair nor yours."
"How long?" Gaines asked, smiling coldly.
"How long before Stormwind's flag flies over Theramore? How long before you realize that the orcs need to be wiped out? That a soft heart and childish ideals will not prevent this city from burning to its foundations. That the people you claim to protect will be taken by the orcs to be enslaved. Your only hope is His Majesty's army, and you would do well not to reject his advances any further. If you are fortunate, you might be able to symbolically lead the human citizens of Theramore."
"I would sooner lie dead on the ocean floor than surrender Theramore to Varian," Jaina said, the words hissed between clenched teeth. Gaines' words, the way he emphasized humanity's importance over all else made her feel cold again. "You would do well to remember that."
"You would do well to remember that His Majesty's patience will only hold out for so long, and if you will not be his Queen, then you will leave Theramore in irons when he invades. It won't be difficult, with all your soldiers looking after cows and--"
"Theramore protects its own, regardless of their race, Ambassador."
"Oh yes, I've heard how well you 'protect' your people when they raise concerns that perhaps you've finally, mm, changed loyalties, and feel that you will serve them up to the Horde like so much fresh meat."
"Get out of my office," Jaina said, forcing herself to sound calm. Her fingers were numb from the tension and from familiar cold. She quelled her magic with a thought, though it was a near thing.
"You will see soon enough," Gaines said. "It's not as if you've any other suitors knocking down your door, not after certain… incidents. Terrible luck, that. Princes, kings and warlords, who rose so high and then fell so far--"
Gaines offered her a mock bow and left, the door closing behind him with a sharp click.
The arrogance… the… the... gall of both of them! Jaina thought, standing up and pacing angrily. From the moment Varian had introduced Anduin to her, she'd known he was up to something. Varian had changed tactics from barely concealed contempt to cloying attentiveness at her words. It had bothered her, but for the sake of Lo'Gosh, the confused man who had come to her in need of some kind of grounding influence, she'd been polite. That had only brought about the proposal.
Varian had not attempted romance, or even feigned desire. He'd been practical, offering to tighten Theramore's ties to the Alliance with marriage, saying he'd deploy a full garrison to protect Theramore, that Jaina's personal coat of arms would fly over the city alongside his own. Her first reaction had been disbelief, thinking Varian was joking. When it was firmly established that he was serious, and that 'not if you were the last person on Azeroth' was not an option, she had asked for time to think the matter over seriously.
If I believed for a second that Varian actually wanted what was best for my people, I might consider it, Jaina thought, and rubbed her face in her hands, the cold shocking her past her anger at Gaines and Varian. He does not. He wants to make war on the Horde, unimpeded by me or anyone else. Theramore holds the only Alliance port in Kalimdor of any value to this war, with Darkshore being too far away from the conflict, and he has little desire to defend his allies in Ashenvale, and just wants to destroy Orgrimmar. If he'd looked at a map lately, he'd realized that we're too far south to do any good, that any troops shipped through Dustwallow will be stopped at the giant gap made by Deathwing because the ground is too unstable to create bridges, much less bridges capable of holding tanks!
Jaina had little fear of the Horde, not here. The same marsh that kept the Alliance tanks in kept the Horde catapults out, and an invasion by sea… Jaina smiled coldly. They tried.
Early on during the war, Theramore had been targeted by an insultingly small fleet. Garrosh must have hoped to repeat Thrall's success years ago, not realizing that Thrall had succeeded because he'd had Jaina's permission... and because he'd used goblin ships and crews, far more capable than the orcish ones. Jaina had thought it a suitable gesture to send the orcs back in the broken shells of their ships, as Garrosh had once done to an Alliance crew, though the Great Sea was far warmer than Northrend. It had been her first and final warning to him, and for a wonder, he seemed to have heeded it. His next fleet had gone for easier pickings at Northwatch and the Horde had steered clear of Theramore since. Jaina watched the seas for another attack, but as she'd told Gaines, the naga and the Twilight's Hammer were a greater threat. They had to be.
It took Jaina some time to calm down, but she composed herself and prepared for her next meeting. I can't waste time, there's too much to do today. Every moment is precious.
~ * ~
Jaina nibbled delicately at her sandwich and adjusted the scrying mirror. She vastly preferred meeting people in person, but too many of her allies were just as busy as she was, and the mirrors were an acceptable alternative. It really is a shame I don't have time to visit Tirion, though. It's like a vacation. The Argent Crusade's open recruitment policy had drawn together idealists - and people who were dissatisfied with Garrosh or Varian - from all races, and turned Hearthglen into something of a model society as far as Jaina was concerned. Tirion also avoids politics whenever he can... yet another reason why he has succeeded where I have failed.
"Good evening, Jaina," Tirion said, smiling. "How are you faring?"
"Good afternoon, Tirion," Jaina replied, smiling back. "I'm… the same as usual. How about you?"
"We've just had a touch of excitement with a necromancer and some gnolls, but it's nothing like Northrend," Tirion replied. "Have there been more attacks?"
"No, not yet," Jaina replied. "Thankfully. I'm hoping things stay quiet, we need to focus on taking care of the new refugees."
"If any of them wish to come to Hearthglen, they will of course be welcome, though Lordaeron has its share of new citizens." Tirion frowned deeply, and when Jaina made an encouraging noise, he elaborated: "Varian has sent another batch of farmers to the reclaimed farms."
"The ones in Andorhal province? The ones the Argent Dawn managed to clear out?"
"The same," Tirion said. "It's not as though I am upset that people are working the fields once more. It will do us well to not have to depend on imports from Kul Tiras, but I don't feel that this is being done to support our reclamation efforts. Some of the news that I've had brought back to me is disturbing to say the least."
"Varian isn't doing it to help the people of Lordaeron, is he?" Jaina asked, her voice taut with anger.
"It's difficult to say," Tirion said slowly. "While some of the people from Lordaeron are returning, many of these people were displaced by the crown. Westfall has been suffering due to a combined elemental and some kind of spiritual attack and…"
"And the person most capable of helping Westfall will be arrested if he sets one foot inside it?" Jaina said. "If Varian just understood Thrall. They just aren't so different."
"I'm afraid that not even you can pull off such a miracle right now," Tirion said. "You've heard of what Garrosh's commanders have done?"
"I've seen it, Tirion." The image wavered briefly. "I'm doing all I can, but Garrosh has little interest or care to hear what I have to say. While Baine and Vol'jin are supportive, neither of them are particularly popular in Orgrimmar right now. Lor'themar has chosen to recall most of the elves back to Quel'thalas and he's concerned about Sylvanas."
"I'm concerned about Sylvanas' behaviour as well," Tirion said gently. "This isn't your responsibility, Jaina."
"I can't do nothing, Tirion. I'll just work harder." She looked towards a gnomish time piece, just as Tirion's brow wrinkled in concern. "I'm sorry, I have to go. I have another meeting."
"Take care." Tirion's image wavered and vanished. Jaina frowned at the frost over the mirror's surface and reached forward to wipe it off.
Jaina took a few moments to calm down before her next call. It wasn't as though Rhonin deserved to have his head bitten off; she'd always appreciated him, and more so now that he'd become Archmage of the Kirin Tor.
The mirror flickered, and Rhonin was frowning at her. "Good afternoon. You look like hell."
"Thank you," Jaina replied dryly. "You have cereal in your hair."
"I… damn," Rhonin said, and swiped a hand through his thick, bright red locks. "It was my turn to feed the twins."
"How are they doing, by the way?" Jaina asked, smiling a little.
"Getting bigger every day," Rhonin said with a sigh that was both fond and weary. "They aren't old enough to be manifesting magic yet, but when they are…"
"At least they'll have someone who will understand it right away," Jaina replied softly. "Speaking of which, the Academy is doing well."
"It should be, it'll be more popular than Dalaran in a few years," Rhonin said, mock-chidingly. "You'll steal all of my students away."
"And then you'll be left with argumentative old men and women who like to verbally chase their own tails," Jaina said, her voice equally joking before she sobered. "If we all survive."
"We will," Rhonin said. "Thrall is out there, fighting the good fight, and you--"
"Aren't," Jaina said, and she felt her fingertips grow cold. "I've not left Theramore since…"
"There's nothing wrong with that, either," Rhonin said. "Someone has to guard the fort and make sure there's a home to come back to. That is what you're doing, Jaina."
"I know, I know…" Jaina said, sighing. "It's just been harder lately, to sit back and… guard the fort. Please tell me you have some good news."
"I can do more than just tell you, I actually have some," Rhonin replied, trying to keep his voice light, even as he became more excited. "We've just finished getting a report from our Ulduar exploration teams. Once Yogg-Saron was… sedated, we could send teams out in force to work with Freya, Mimiron, Thorim and Hodir to explore the technology that the Titans have left behind. We might be able to find a way to neutralize Deathwing this way, perhaps even fix Azeroth itself. We have teams decoding the original blueprints for Azeroth's origination, but it will take some time--"
"Send me a copy, I'll see what I can do," Jaina said, sitting forward. "I want to help."
"Jaina… you always have so much work to do," Rhonin said. "I don't think--"
"I can run the translations through some of the arcane devices I have here. Please."
The older mage studied her for a moment and sighed. "I won't be held responsible for your lack of sleep, just so you know. Very well, I'll have a copy sent to you. Speaking of your lack of sleep… please, Jaina, do try and sleep more. Your contributions to the Kirin Tor, even as a semi-independent agent, are invaluable. I'd hate to have anything happen to you."
"Well, really the solution to that is for me not to need to eat or sleep at all," Jaina said, her tone falsely light. Rhonin frowned, and even through the encroaching mist, Jaina could see the look of concern in his eyes. "Send me what you have as soon as possible, I need to attend another meeting."
"Alright, Jaina. Please… take care."
Jaina let the image fade, and closed her eyes. Like the mist, fatigue was closing in, and she shook it away. There was little enough time as it was, she would waste none with mid-afternoon napping. She focused and brought a third image to bear.
Like Rhonin, her last afternoon contact had red hair, which looked even brighter contrasted by deathly pale skin and glowing blue eyes. The Highlord of the Ebon Blade looked fearsome... if you didn't see the hints of humanity left in his face, of a young man who'd still been close to boyhood when he became a death knight.
"Darion," Jaina said by way of greeting. "What do you have for me?"
"Not as much as I'd like," the Ebon Watcher said, his expression pulled into a particularly sour frown. "While the cleansing of Icecrown Citadel is going well, hunting for the shards of Frostmourne has become more challenging."
"We're missing at least five or six more fragments, or one or two if they're large," Jaina said. "So there must be more."
"Oh, there are, we just can't find them," Darion muttered. "I wanted to start shaking people that seemed suspicious, but Bolvar suggests otherwise."
"Well, it probably wouldn't help," Jaina pointed out, sighing a little. "It's as if people fail to realize it's for their own good."
"Some people are exceptionally stupid," Darion grumbled. "We were doing better before Thassarian and Koltira went to Andorhal."
"Andorhal is still such a mess, too," Jaina said. "Well, when they're back, surely they'll work twice as hard."
"I hope they've enjoyed their little vacation playing 'Who's Got The Scourgestone'," Darion said. "They won't get another one for the next fifty years."
"The advantage of undeath," Jaina said, shifting forward a little. "Speaking of which..."
"It's prepared, Jaina, but are you sure..?"
"It's a provision, Darion. A… a fallback plan."
"People don't usually make this kind of 'fallback plan', Jaina," Darion said, and here Jaina could see that hidden compassion, the way his expression became more urgent. "Look, I owe you. I owe you a lot. So does Tirion, so does Rhonin… so do a lot of other people. Don't do this. Ask us for help. Demand it. You have that right. Don't keep taking on these burdens, they're crushing you."
"If I don't do it, no one else will," Jaina replied. "Too many things have been pushed to the side. The legacy of the Lich King is still a significant danger to the world. You are taking on that burden right now. The least I can do is try and unravel Frostmourne's enchantments."
"You know it's not--"
"Rhonin is ruling the Kirin Tor. He's overseeing the exploration of Ulduar and countless other operations. He's also the father of five year old twins who need him while their mother is trying to organize the rest of the High Elves. Even with the end of the operation in Northrend, he needs to decide what Dalaran will be and what role the Kirin Tor fulfill. Varian is clamouring at them as much as he's clamouring at me."
"And Tirion is… Tirion is aging. He deserves a peaceful retirement after everything that's happened. He deserves to spend time with… family. No matter what form it comes in." Jaina sighed, and weariness overcame her. "I'm tired, frustrated, and running out of solutions… but the one I've found can and will work if all you've told me is true. Is it, Darion?"
"Yes, it is," Darion said, sighing again. "I still want to go on record that this is a mistake. You're not quite thirty yet--"
"And how old were you?"
"…nineteen," Darion admitted. "That's not the point, what I did--"
"Was reckless, ill-advised, and very, very brave," Jaina said gently. "If it makes you feel better, it will not happen right away. We'll see how bad it all gets, I'll make my appointment then, and you'll keep your promise."
"Yes, Jaina. I said I would and I will. I just hoped it wouldn't come to this."
"No one envisions things coming to this," Jaina replied. "Take care, Darion."
Unlike the previous two conversations, where the mirror had been covered in rime, now the mirror was clear. Jaina was calm, and she permitted herself a small smile, and a moment of rest before putting the mirror away. There was more to do and no time to waste.
~ * ~
Jaina waved goodbye to the few refugees who'd ventured out in the rain, as she headed back into Theramore proper. Visiting the camps always brought mixed feelings; she was proud of the way most of her people had responded to fellow beings in need, and glad to see that tauren, trolls, night elves and goblins - and deserters from both armies - could live together, but... But they should do so because they want to, not because they've lost so much that this is the only refuge they can find.
Jaina would've liked to stay among the living, not least because many of them seemed comforted to know she was personally invested in their well-being, but there was one more visit to be taken care of before night fell. At least I'll have company. She whistled softly, and Snowsong reluctantly pulled away from the orc children who were petting her and followed Jaina down the path to Theramore's graveyard.
Jaina reached down to pet the frostwolf's ruff, and got a quick lick in return. Snowsong had arrived recently by night elven courier, the harassed druid passing on the message that Snowsong did not wish to be treated like a parcel. Jaina had been happy to have her stay; she was fond of Thrall's companion.
Fonder of her than Thrall himself, it seems. The thought burned in her mind, adding to a thousand others like it. Jaina shivered, not just because the rain was turning to hail, and hurried on.
Theramore's dead were numerous. Far too many. There was a memorial for those who hadn't survived the journey to Kalimdor, and one for those who'd fallen at Hyjal, but she recognized many of the other graves as well.
In the center of the graveyard was a tomb, its heavy gate closed and forbidding, though it opened at the touch of Jaina's hand. She picked up a torch for light and started downward, Snowsong on her heels, though the frostwolf whined reluctance at going under the earth.
The torchlight fell on names carved into the stone walls - Paval Reethe, Jonathan Thomas - but Jaina continued past them, down to the chamber where three particular names were cut into raised marble slabs.
Kael'thas Sunstrider. Alienated from his people, broken in death, but bright and shining in Jaina's memories. Arthas Menethil. Once her fiancé, beloved of a kingdom, now a warning example at best. Daelin Proudmoore. Her father, who had wanted to protect her, and had come close to ruining all she'd built. It should have ended with your death, Da, but it didn't. Each of you nearly destroyed everything I've ever loved and I didn't do enough to stop you.
Snowsong brushed up against her, nuzzling her free hand, and Jaina tried to smile. "It's all right. I'm just... I need to go back to the tower, there's more work to be done in the lab. Come on, girl."
The frostwolf seemed to stare into empty space for a moment, then bounded after her, back up the stairs. The wind followed them out, sighing an anguished apology.
~ * ~
Jaina rubbed her eyes, exhausted. The lab work had been productive, but there was simply so much of it, and every moment felt stolen from other tasks.
She put her staff away carefully on its stand, and shrugged off her robes less carefully, dumping them on the floor. I'll deal with those in the morning. Yawning, she settled on the bed, and caught sight of the book she'd left on the pillow. She picked it up, intending to put it away, but instead turning it in her hands, caught by memory. She could hear the voice of the tauren woman who'd told the story, patiently repeating herself while Jaina scribbled... and Cairne's indulgent chuckle at the sight of her and Thrall huddled around the fire like eager children, forgetting the threat of the Burning Legion as they were caught up in the tale.
Cairne will never laugh like that again. Jaina's fingers, suddenly cold, tightened around the book, and she set it aside, not wanting to damage it. He was my brother too. He was betrayed by someone he should have been able to trust... and so was I.
The memory was enough to break past barriers she'd constructed as carefully as Theramore's wards, and she shivered with anger and cold as the thoughts rushed over her like water. Thrall, how could you? I thought you believed in peace, I thought the promises we made to each other meant something... but you chose Garrosh as your heir. You should have known better.
Thrall had seen Garrosh's behavior in Northrend, had heard the same reports she had, of the Alliance crew set adrift in icy waters, of the caravan slaughtered in Ashenvale. What happened to investigating that, Thrall? I know you thought Garrosh was behind it, I know you realized how little he cares for any lives except orcish ones... and you let him lead the Horde. You cared more that he's Grom's son than that he's going to ruin all we've built together!
Jaina stretched out on the bed, pulling the covers tight about herself. I shouldn't lose control like this... I'm just so tired. So... mortal. But not for much longer. She forced herself to take deep, slow breaths. Darion has promised to help me overcome that... soon, I won't get tired. I won't have to sleep, or eat, or waste time in any other way. When I'm a lich, I won't even have to worry about Varian or Garrosh... or Thrall. Just about my work, and helping the world.
For now, though, she reached for her book and began to read. She had a little more in her, enough to remember a time when things had seemed good and hopeful... though even then, there hadn't been enough minutes in a day to do everything that needed doing before time ran out.