In the Shadow of the Sun
The surface of Lor'themar's desk had ceased to be visible underneath all the paper piled on top of it. Reports, missives, orders, and inventories teetered precariously in stacks he had long since stopped trying to organize. All of them were related to the short yet brutal war over Quel'Danas and the Sunwell. None of them was currently on his mind.
In his hand he held a single unopened envelope. Stamped into its violet sealing wax was a great eye, the symbol of Dalaran. It seemed to glare at him accusingly, reminding him of all the other similar letters he had received and discarded. He cracked the seal and removed the neatly folded parchment inside. By now Lor'themar recognized the even, meticulous handwriting adorning the page.
Archmage Aethas Sunreaver had requested an audience with the regent lord numerous times recently, but Lor'themar had deliberately ignored him. Since the events on Quel'Danas he had desperately tried to forget the rest of the world, but he realized the world would force itself upon him eventually.
Lor'themar sighed and leaned back in his chair. This letter was much briefer than its predecessors. This time Aethas had not asked, but had simply stated a date and time of arrival. Lor'themar ran his thumb along the paper's rough edge. He had a good idea what Aethas was going to propose, and he was not yet certain how he wanted to answer.
Lor'themar was not any surer of his thoughts by the day Aethas was scheduled to arrive. As he made his way through Sunfury Spire to the front hall where the archmage would appear, Halduron stopped him, holding out a small bundle of soft crimson wool. Lor'themar took it and held it up as it unfolded, beholding a regal golden phoenix upon its field: the Silvermoon City tabard.
Download high-resolution "No," he said curtly, shoving the garment back at his friend.
"You should wear it," Halduron pressed.
"What does it matter?" he answered, striding forward. "Anyone in the service of Silvermoon may bear it."
"It is the symbol of state," Halduron called after him. "You are the head of state. You should look the part."
"I am the regent lord," Lor'themar said, continuing to walk away. "Not the king."
"That is not the point, Lor'themar. You look like a Farstrider."
Lor'themar froze mid-step.
"I am a Farstrider," he replied, more sharply than he intended.
"You were a Farstrider." Halduron sighed. "You cannot ever be a Farstrider again, Lor'themar. We know that for certain, now."
Lor'themar bowed his head and took a deep breath.
"We are going to be late, Halduron."
He walked on, and after a moment's pause he heard Halduron's footsteps on the floor behind him, following.
Rommath was already awaiting them in the hall, leaning heavily against his staff and staring vacantly toward the far wall. He glanced at Lor'themar and Halduron as they entered, a flicker of disapproval crossing his face, but he turned back again without speaking. There was a time when he would have disputed Lor'themar's choice to present himself as a ranger far more aggressively than Halduron had, but not anymore. For all the thorn in his side that Rommath had often been, Lor'themar could now find only pity within his heart for the mage. Kael'thas's final betrayal had taken its greatest toll on his most loyal advocate.
The air in front of them shimmered, gleaming violet—the unmistakable mark of arcane magic. A moment later a burst of bluish-white light illuminated the hall, and Aethas materialized in front of them. He straightened, brushing off his robes, and Lor'themar could not help but notice how silly he looked. The elegant rich-purple mageweave of the Kirin Tor clashed horribly with his coppery hair and refused to fall properly across his slender frame. From his letters—and third-party rumors—Lor'themar understood Aethas to be idealistic yet shrewd, and far too young for the position he had carved for himself in Dalaran. Then again, most of the elder sin'dorei magi were dead. In the end, Lor'themar supposed that Aethas's ambition was a good thing. At least someone among them still had hope.
"Welcome home, Archmage Sunreaver," he announced.
Aethas flashed a smile. "Thank you, Lord Theron," he answered, bowing graciously. "Would that I were returning to stay."
"Of course," Lor'themar replied diplomatically. "Your correspondence has familiarized me with the intent of your visit. Come this way; my advisors and I will hear your appeal."
Ordinarily Lor'themar would have led them all to the stately meeting hall at the north end of the palace. It was an impressive chamber designed specifically for this purpose. The day was clear, however, and the horizon as sharp as a shard of glass. The isle would be visible across the channel. Lor'themar almost wished never to see Quel'Danas again, so instead he took them to an alcove east of the main court, overlooking the domed, shadowed rooftops of Silvermoon City. They sat, and Aethas began.
"I am here on matters of utmost importance—ones that concern us all. I am quite sure you are aware of the reason the Kirin Tor have relocated to Northrend."
"Malygos, yes," Lor'themar answered. "What is it you want?"
Aethas shook his head. "The blue flight's power and menace are far greater than even we first thought. I want to formalize our involvement with the Kirin Tor. It is imperative that the magi of Quel'Thalas and Dalaran again work side by side, as we had for many years in the past."
Aethas started in irritation, a scowl deepening at the corners of his mouth and between his brows. The voice of dissent had not been Lor'themar's. Turning to the speaker, he said, "I asked the regent lord. Not the grand magister."
Rommath laughed so bitterly, it sounded more like a cough. "Well, then, let the regent lord deign that I am fit to speak."
"I daresay we shall hear your opinion eventually in any case," Lor'themar said, schooling his wry tones as best he could. "Go on and say your piece."
Rommath's eyes glinted even in the well-lit room, which should have dimmed their glow. "How generous of you, Lor'themar," he replied, never shifting his gaze from Aethas's face. His voice sounded like a coiled snake: low and fierce and dangerous.
"Did Modera send you with a statement before you left, Aethas? You do not exactly sound like yourself. Your words drip of her false diplomacy. At least she dares not set foot here herself. She has that much of sense. I suppose I should be grateful for small mercies."
"Modera agrees with me on these matters," Aethas answered stiffly, not rising to Rommath's bait.
"She agrees with you," Rommath mused, "or, rather, you agree with her, for I doubt they would send you here to speak on their behalf had you half a mind of your own."
"Damn it, Rommath." Aethas's patience snapped. "Do you have anything useful to say, besides personal insults?"
"You are blind," Rommath replied evenly, assuredly. "They bit off more than they can chew, and now they find themselves facing both Malygos and Arthas. They are afraid, as they should be. They need aid beyond their own capacity—and to whom have they always turned regarding matters of the arcane? Oh, yes, to us. The members of the Kirin Tor will swear up and down that you are indispensable to them, that your skills are invaluable. The moment you become inconvenient, you will be discarded." He cocked his head to the side, one long ear twitching almost imperceptibly as his eyes slid first to Halduron, then to Lor'themar. "Ask them. They know. But not as well as I."