Note: Over at Tweck's downtime forums (that'd be at http://www.thoriumbrotherhood.net) Aquenda made an offhand comment about stories with "some speculation on Azeroth 60 years from now", and then a couple of us actually threw together little stories. I rather liked the one I came up with, so now I shall share it with all of you.
"I want to see the future."
Tabetha stared at the young undead woman for a moment, then laughed. "You want to see the future, Meridith?" she asked in servicable though accented Orcish.
The slight edge of madness in her fellow mage's laugh made Meridith squirm. Of course she would have to be mad to live in such a place, little more than a run-down shack in the middle of the Swamp of Sorrows, surrounded by crocolisks and swamp elementals. And Meridith was indeed accustomed to madness, common as it was among her own people. But from this human, who seemed to be quite normal until you spoke with her, it was disturbing. She reminded Meridith of everything her parents had said about mad mages when they had forbid her to study the craft. She glanced around the room at the artifacts and grimores covering every available surface, steeling her resolve. "Yes. There are things that have concerned me lately, and I wish to know what I can of what is to come. I want to be prepared."
The human nodded, smirking at her. "But the future is not a simple thing." She eyed Meridith up and down, as though taking her measure. "You're a strong enough mage to realize that." She moved to a wardrobe in the corner of the shack and opened it, then surveyed the contents thoughtfully. Meridith followed her, biting her lip nervously. "Time is a strange magic. The past is solid, yes, solid as ice. But the future is like that fire magic of yours, chaotic and wild. There is no set future, just possibilities. That is its true power."
The undead woman nodded underneath her black hood. She always wore the black hood for these secretive outings. Not that there was any need to keep this visit to Tabetha secret, but it was a strange errand she had given herself and she felt better keeping herself hidden rather than letting her distinctively bright teal hair serve as a beacon to nosy friends she might encounter on the way. "But you can show me possibilities, correct?"
"Wrong!" Tabetha declared cheerily as she lunged at a mageweave-covered bundle in the bottom of the wardrobe. Meridith cringed. "YOU can show you possibilities, at least a few of them. Ones where you're not dead. More dead. You just need the right tools." She hefted the bundle, about the size of her head and clearly quite heavy, and carried it to one of the rare clear bits of tabletop. Meridith watched raptly as the human mage carefully removed the wrapping, revealing a flawless crystal globe swirling with cloudy, purple-blue energy. She reached out to brush the orb with her hand and was awestruck as she recognized the power within.
"This is from the Caverns of Time?" Her glowing eyes widened with facination.
Tabetha nodded, stepping back from the table. "The energy is. Not the orb. The orb is...well, I'm not entirely sure, actually... It was a trick and a half to get it like that, but an accomplished mage can use the power within it to follow the traces of time to see what the futue may hold. You're probably accomplished enough by now."
Meridith looked back at the human uncertainly and found little reassurance in her madly confident grin. She turned her attention back to the smooth globe and placed a hand to each side of it, focusing herself on the cloud within. Her eyes narrowed, dimming as she concentrated. What is to come... she thought to herself, letting the concept overtake her. Let's say...sixty years hence...
The room around her slowly receeded as her consciousness merged with the temporal energies. She focused more and images formed from it, showing her a collage of possible futures...
...She was a hermit, living in a shack in Feralas and giving advice and errands to mages much like Tabetha did...
...The world had been decimated by demons...
...The world had been decimated by plague...
...Then a scene came along that stood out in clarity, as though somehow more possible than the others. She saw herself sitting in an elaborate armchair in a small library, a massive and ancient book open on her lap. Her robes were blue and purple, and bits of her armor glowed a magnificent cyan that nearly matched her hair. Beside her stood a familiar form, startlingly handsome in his black armor, his purple hair tied back at the nape of his neck. They both seemed as young as the day they died, but wiser somehow from the years, his face a little more scarred, her hair a little more tamed. "We're close to finding the secret," she heard herself say as she looked up at him. "With all of us working together..."
Then footsteps rushing up the hall, and another warrior, his armor similar to that worn by the first, stepped into the room. He bowed to the pair. "Lady Meridith, if you would pardon me, Lord Vaien is needed downstairs."
She smiled at him. "I apologize for taking him away, Victor. Give us just a moment." The warrior - their friend Victor Steiner, she realized - returned her smile and, with a nod, left the library. This older Meridith stood, her eyes locking with Vaien's. "The mages of New Dalaran will find a way to defeat the Burning Legion for good this time. The whole of Azeroth has come together for this. And once it's over..."
"Then the next threat will come along," Vaien said with a grin.
He wrapped his arms around her and she buried her face against his shoulder. "Take care," she said. He released her, holding her at arm's length and looking her over in a way that never failed to make her blush. "Go on, the generals are waiting." He kissed her forehead and turned to the door, and as her other self watched him go Meridith found the vision fading...
...And another, just as sharp, just as possible, took its place. The setting here was a shadowy room with a rounded wall, built from rough stone. This other self stood by the window, shrouded in elaborate red robes, her brightly glowing eyes the only thing that could be seen from the darkness of her cowl. Flames licked along the fabric of her armor, highlighting but not burning the charmed material. At her side here was a dreadlord, his wings unfurled to an impressive size in the near-empty room. In the shadows of the room she could make out piles of ashes and bits of plate armor strewn about like empty lobster shells. Her astral self caught a glimpse out the window and gasped as she recognized the terrain of Deadwind Pass engulfed in flames hundreds of feet below. They were in the tower of Karazhan, and the scene was just like the visions the power here had given her when she and Vaien had snuck into the lower levels. The world was hers, and in flames.
"Our army continues to tear through Stormwind's defenses, Lady Meridith," the dreadlord said, his deep voice reverberating through the cold stone chamber. "At this rate the Burning Legion will have taken the city by sunrise. And once the humans fall, none of the other armies of this pitiful world will stand a chance." At this thought the demon cackled, his laughter like madness itself.
This other Meridith removed her cowl, revealing a face devoid of emotion. "And then you shall have the world," she said softly. "And I will have what I brought you from the Nether for."
"Yes, little mage," the dreadlord said, his mouth twisted into a cunning smile. "You shall have your peace." And she began to laugh, a laugh that fulfilled the promise of insanity that the dreadlord's mirth had only hinted at. And just as before, the vision faded...
...And Meridith was staring at the glowing orb again. She took her hands off it as though it burned her, shaking her head to clear it of the sound of her own crazed laughter. The human mage stepped over to her, still wearing that confident smile. "So did you learn anything?" she asked cheerfully.
Meridith blinked at her. "Oh, yes, I'm sorry..." She closed her eyes for a moment to regain her composure, then curtsied to Tabetha. "Thank you for the use of your orb. I have learned something of definite importance."
"And what was that?"
"I have learned," said Meridith, gathering her bags to leave, "that I have important decisions to make."