Lonely, yet never alone. Silent, but the air around you curls away from the whispers in your head, leaving you breathless and torn. The shadows that bind are paradoxically warm and cold. A tendril passes by, the tender touch of someone familiar. The warmth lasting seconds after it goes, leaving cold solitude behind. The stars blink in and out of existence in the background. The pillow beneath your head grounds you. The murmurs do not die down but you lose the curse of being able to understand them, if only briefly. You feel the darkness wrap around your arms again and you do not fight it.
He'd never wanted this. His parents never wanted this. He was born in Quel'Thalas, under the bright summer sun around silks and brocade in the most breathtaking shades of red and orange and purple. A proud son of the highborne. He was to study magic, for there was no greater calling for an elf whose ancestors were weaned on arcane since time immemorial. All they wanted was for him to be happy, no matter what he was doing.
"It's okay if you don't want to learn magic, you know."
"We won't think any less of you for choosing another path. In fact, I encourage you to try out as much as you can!"
"No matter what you want to do, we'll be right here being the proudest parents on Azeroth."
Words that caused him endless pain. Mavian was no longer a proud son.
His cousin had approached him one day. She was also a student of magic, one with a dangerously rebellious streak, and had apprenticed under a magister already. A cousin Mavian had been raised with at first, though already centuries older than himself and had soon grown bored with babysitting. One who made no small amount of noise about seeing Arthas' attack firsthand and surviving. She'd been no more than a child herself at the time, but it wasn't taking the wind out of her overbeaten sails.
"We're working on something really cool now, you know."
Mavian does not respond beyond the low noise he makes, thumbing the edges of the book he's reading quietly. He knows he should be reading textbooks and manuals, but he can't tear himself away from the epic story of a human hero and his dragon friend. Procured from a travelling merchant who possessed preternatural courage themselves for traversing the Ghostlands in search of elven business.
"The boss man says we have to keep quiet about this one in case some of the higher-ups hear before he's ready to show. Isn't it exciting? It's basically forbidden right now."
He hums again and turns the page. The blue dragon in the story speaks of magic as well and Mavian cannot tear his eyes from the page. Great feats gorgeously illustrated with words alone, the weaving of ancient powers he could never hope to understand. With power comes responsibility, the dragon says. He takes it to heart. He likes the dragon very much for his wisdom and wit.
"Are you listening?"
"Yes, sorry." He meekly lowers the book. Regretful that he cannot give the dragon the attention he deserves.
"Good. You can't tell anyone about this, okay?"
His mind flickers to the times past he'd been told this. Times when he'd been left alone on the edge of the forest, waiting for his cousin's entourage of older friends to come back from whatever rule-breaking they'd decided to engage in this time. He never minded, he tells himself. But the cold sting of being left behind could not be covered up with warm sunlight. He'd much rather be inside anyway. Far away from the nerves of being caught and associated with his cousin. Anxiety now so deeply entrenched in his personality that it made him feel nauseous.
His fingers itch at the sides of his book. A lifeline.
"Yes. I promise."
His cousin edges closer. "Void magic!"
The colour leaves Mavian's face.
It starts out slow, small. Just a little errand here or there.
"Cousin, go to the Enchanter's and pick some things up for us, would you?" A list pressed into his hand, inked in hasty strokes.
"Hey kiddo come look at this!"
"Go get the magister for us, quick!"
He's drawn into their little world, their experiment. He does not want to be there. His parents give him space, they know he's naturally withdrawn and quiet. Intelligent and thoughtful, they say. His parents do not live together, but he stays with each of them weekly. His bookshelves in both houses swell with tomes; fiction and spellbooks, philosophy and poetry. His cousin worries him deeply. Anxiety turns to cold sweat. He keeps himself away in his room, far from the worries of the world, but still he is summoned.
"He's basically one of us now, right?"
"Well we certainly can't have him running to tell anyone else what we're doing."
In a way, his life does not change when they are exiled. He never goes home to see his books again, never sees the look on his parent's faces. He follows the path laid before his cousin. One foot in front of the other. He can't go back now.
Reality is cold. Harsh. The outside is cold too. He'd always taken solace in darkness; the cool black of night like a blanket on a fire. Hushing, calming. There's nothing for him to worry about when everyone is asleep. The white light filtering through the window gives him clarity. A safe space for his thoughts.
There is none of that now. Just the darkness unending he sees in the eyes of that magister they all idolised. Obsession. It terrifies him.
His cousin says nothing to him but he can see the sentiment in her eyes. 'You're fucked now.' He knows she wants to say. 'Little lost boy with nowhere to go? Grow a backbone already.'
When the real darkness comes he is not prepared. None of them are.