Rann released a shuddering breath that she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. Her mind was divided, split, spread out over what felt like everywhere and everything — her impending final test to become a fully fledged Archmage, the recent death of Shadowsage’s youngest daughter, Zahsheena, her own inability to console her friend in the face of her grief, the betrayal wrought by Ceera and apparent possession of Robin…and Rann’s own inability to stop one solitary shred of it.

 

The allegedly “protective” talisman she had given Robin had disintegrated, as if overwhelmed by a countering magic the moment it had touched the gnome’s hand. This alone had been enough to drive Rann into a frustrated fury at her ineffectiveness to even provide some basic protection to her friend and counter Ceera’s possession.  

 

Robin’s words had struck a chord with the mage when she said it seemed she had never escaped Ceera's prison at all. Rann’s fury at Ceera — who had the audacity to then offer them muffins — boiled to dangerous proportions. The mage had never worried about her blood pressure before, but felt sure she would burst a blood vessel if she faced the traitorous gnome any longer. They had been outplayed…to the point that Rann seriously suggested to Koryander that they burn Ceera’s house to the ground.   

 

Not that Rann thought it would slow Ceera down in the least. She was quite certain that her own house in Stormwind would be swiftly destroyed as a result. But at the moment she suggested it, she didn’t care. Robin’s insistence that killing Ceera would also kill Starheart was the only thing that had stopped Rann from a brazen, suicidal attack against Ceera. She had never been so angry before.  

 

Until she found out that Shadowsage's youngest daughter, Zahsheena, had been murdered in cold blood. Only a few hours before now, her body had been found, a single bone missing…not just murdered…mutilated…and not by the Iron Horde.   

 

Rann was utterly enraged.   

 

She had kept it carefully in check. That, at least, she could manage. The news had sent her into shock, and she regrettably retreated from Shadowsage’s company before her anger took over. How could someone have done this? First Ceera’s abuse of Robin, and now this. Her anger wouldn’t have helped Sage in dealing with her grief. Rann hated running away when she was needed, but she knew she would have done more harm than good.   

 

“Interesting choice of clothing, Dawnbringer.”  

 

The sudden voice pulled Rann from her reverie. She laid eyes on one of those who would soon test her, but made no other response. The voice belonged to a shrouded figure, cloaked in shadows much like the Council of Six in their Chamber of Air. It might well be a member of the Council addressing her now; Rann didn’t know. She had been led to believe she would not be facing any of the Council of Six, but she was now surrounded by a full twelve such cloaked figures. Whoever they were, they were Archmages to the last. Some were possibly her friends. Sirithil among them, maybe. A few had an aura that flickered with mana, appearing “wavy” to Rann. Mirror images. So the trial was about to begin.  

 

What was it the voice had commented on? Her clothes? She glanced down at her sleeve and remembered what she had chosen to wear. In remembrance and honor of Zahsheena, though it looked like a political statement, she had come clothed in Sin’dorei colors of red and gold, to honor the fallen blood elf. She had fallen asleep the night before humming the Lament of the Highborne to herself through tears. Though the ballad was specific to her race, the high/blood elves, Rann felt that it nearly applied to Robin as well…the gnome who had yet to escape the waking death that Ceera had visited on her.   

 

“For my friends,” Rann murmured in reply to the earlier comment.   

 

“Are you ready?” the voice asked simply.  

 

Was she ever. She took one more look around, making sure no more opponents had materialized. Twelve…could she handle twelve? She hadn’t even been able to touch Ceera… No, she couldn’t doubt herself now. Besides, the objective wasn’t to vanquish her opponents… The objective was to survive.   

 

They surrounded her in a magical chamber the walls of which were unknown. A glamour had been cast about the room, making it appear as though they fought in the Twisting Nether. That was another advantage for Rann; another reminder of someone who unwittingly fueled her intense need to defend her friends: Claret. The warlock wasn’t dead; Rann was sure of it.   

 

Rann’s anger had reached a boiling point in recent weeks. But she had kept it carefully controlled, carefully held in, ready for this moment. And the administrators of her final trial would feel it in full force. She had the feeling she would need it all.   

 

“Yes,” she said. She gripped the staff on her back and swung it overhead into position at her side. A cold energy raced up and down the length of the staff in anticipation. Winter was ready too.  

 

She fixed her eyes on the opponent before her.   

 

“Do your worst,” she growled.

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