Rann groaned, a stab of pain shooting through her body. Everything hurt… Her eyes fluttered sleepily open. Where was she?

 

A slender high elf leaned over her, her robes marking her as a priestess, the Kirin Tor crest emblazoned on a short stole hanging from her shoulder. "Ah, you're awake," she observed.

 

Rann realized she was in only her smallclothes and covered with a sheet. She tried to respond but found herself numb, even her mouth unmoving. Perhaps sensing the question in her eyes, the priestess explained, "Immobilization charm, plus some numbing. It's been keeping you still so your wounds can heal more easily."

 

My wounds?

 

It all flooded back to her.

 

A leap to the side to avoid a fireball, jumping into the path of a barrage of arcane energy. Dropping to the ground, blinking behind the opponent to get out of the circle. Winter racing underfoot, tripping an enemy and leaving a path of frost in her wake, rocketing into Rann's staff in time to enhance the power of a comet storm. The jolt of an arcane blast striking Rann in the side.

 

She groaned, her side threatening to overcome the numbing agent as she recalled the pain.

 

"Fortunately," the priestess practically sang, "you've been asleep for most of it. The numbness may be starting to wear off… But you should be on your feet soon. It wouldn't do to have a limp arm when you go in for your results."

 

Rann groaned again, but not from the pain. The results must have been dismal.

 

Gripping her shoulder at the pain. Too long. A blast of cold striking her full in the front. Mitigated by Winter, and Rann had long since learned to defend against the cold, but the gale force wind was enough to force her down to knees. A burst of fire this time. Falling to her back to avoid grievous burns.

 

Recalling the incident reawakened the pain. She hissed in as it shot up and down her spine, arching her back. The priestess put both hands on her calmly, and the pain began to grow more dull.

 

The pain stabbing through her back, the shock of arcane; a trap rune laid beneath her, waiting for her to fall. A roll to one side. Anger boiling. An explosion of flame, from Rann this time. Another, on a different target. An inferno twice her height. A split-second jab at their minds, shifting equilibrium. Thinking the floor is shifting, they lose their balance, arms flailing as they try to regain. An advanced blizzard now. Ice, fire, ice, wind. The shards, split into droplets by the fire, refreeze as elongated pellets. Cold arcane wind drives them into their enemies, a bitter, frigid pelting of tiny blades, all carrying the terrible sting of arcane energy.

 

That part wasn't so bad, Rann mused to herself as the priestess continued drawing her hands down the mage's arms and legs, soothing her burns and wounds. So what put me in this state?

 

One mage falls to the floor. As soon as they do, the blizzard backfires as if now the remaining opponents have decided to get serious. A dodge, a duck, a frantic defensive shield against an onslaught of attacks, and suddenly she's flying — backwards, she thinks. She hits the ground…or the wall… pain, so much pain. The world spins. She sees movement, fires a desperate blast of fire to buy time. Suddenly Winter is between her and them as they close in. A chilled blast from the little deer slows their advance. Rann shakes off her daze and blinks away…and forces herself to blink a second, then a third time. Plenty of distance now; more time to build a defense.

 

A wave of nausea came over the mage. As she racked her brain to remember what happened next, she began to realize she had no idea.

 

She forced her lips to move, slowly and deliberately forming the words, "What…hap…pened?"

 

"You passed out," the priestess replied, and Rann’s heart sank at the words. "Over-exerted yourself by chaining a spell repeatedly, after taking some pretty bad hits to the head. And…well…everywhere else."

 

The priestess' hands glowed with light as she worked, growing brighter now, enveloping much of Rann's sight. She felt a warm breeze on her face, and a stirring of her spirit. A familiar scent met her nose, the smell of flowers and sandalwood. She felt grass tickling her feet, her bare toes digging into warm dirt as a memory of her younger self skipped through the meadows outside of Tranquillien, near the creekbed, the refreshing sun of Eversong Woods glittering through the branches above. 

 

As the light in the priestess' hands at last waned, Rann was drawn back to the present, the warmth of the Light washing over her. She felt younger, stronger, rejuvenated…and she could move again. "Thank you," she said, offering a smile as she sat up. "You're a very talented healer." 

 

"My pleasure," the priestess answered, helping Rann carefully out of bed and onto her feet. "Just a moment, and I will help you dress."

 

Rann was not yet strong enough to argue. The priestess had swept out of the room and returned with a set of ceremonial robes the mage didn't recognize, along with the sin'dorei robes Rann had worn to her trial. The scarlet clothes were draped in wrappings and tagged, appearing as if they had been mended and laundered…with no expense spared.

 

The new robes, which the priestess unfurled with a flourish, were a deep, rich purple. Darker than the usual colors of the Kirin Tor, trimmed with gold thread and white and gray patterns along the front and down the sleeves. The matching violet shoes, gloves, and lightly armored shoulder pieces appeared equally ornate, and the blue and gold belt glittered in the light as the priestess hung it over the back of a nearby chair. She swooped behind Rann, the robe in her hands, helping the mage's arms into the sleeves and closing it swiftly around her. A satisfying click! announced it had been secured, and the belt came next. The shoes had been laid directly before Rann, and she carefully stepped into them as the priestess worked.

 

Each piece bore a magical ward or two, woven into the fabric itself. The shoes had a number of magical enhancements to their comfort, and charms that would keep her feet nimble in prolonged combat. Some of the other pieces, in addition to their wards, bore simple cosmetic enchantments that made her appear a little taller and more regal.

 

"What's all this about?" Rann asked. Why would they be giving her these robes if she had failed? Maybe it was a consolation prize, in a sense.

 

"I was just told to give them to you, ma'am," the priestess answered with a shrug. "Now, if you're ready, right this way please."

 

Stepping into the new robes, Rann felt far better than she had a mere minute ago. After only a couple of uneasy steps, she followed steadily after the young woman, who led her through one of the circular hallways of the Violet Citadel and back into the room where she had faced her opponents, though without its glamour this time.

 

Rann entered with her head low, ready to face the music and hear how she still had such a long way to go to complete her trial. Her ten opponents were already lined up, still shrouded in shadow. Only two, apparently, had been mirror images.

 

“Rann Dawnbringer, step forward,” one of them commanded…the same one who had spoken to her before the battle. She stepped obediently toward her opponents, now also her judges, and forced herself not to look at the floor, but to look at the one in the middle, whose voice rang out. “We have been selected to administer your final trial for certification as an Archmage of the Kirin Tor, representing the will of the Kirin Tor and the Council of Six in so doing.”

 

She paused, then continued. “It is the decision of the Kirin Tor that you be formally recognized as an Archmage.”

 

Rann’s heart slammed against her chest, and she perked up in surprise.

 

“And that you be granted all of the privileges associated with that title,” the shrouded judge proclaimed. “Your trial was fierce and unforgiving, yet you were equal to the task.”

 

Rann stammered in the face of the judge’s words. “But…how? I… I passed out!”

 

She thought she could see a nod of the head from the judge. “You did. You over-extended. But these trials virtually never end with the candidate on their feet. It isn’t about defeating every foe – and if you had, I would worry that you had become too power-hungry. It isn’t about outlasting us all – you would have to hide, and we want you fighting, not hiding. Everyone ends up either injured beyond fighting ability, brought low by the attacks, or they rise and meet the challenge until their bodies give out. Against so many Archmages, most trials don’t last longer than five minutes. And only a few in the history of the city have reached ten minutes.”

 

“So I… I passed?” Rann asked.

 

“Of course you did. We hardly had a doubt. Were your new robes not enough of a hint?”

 

Rann smiled a bit. “Actually I…thought they were a consolation prize.”

 

A ripple of chuckles echoed through the room. “No…no, they are not. Let them serve as a reminder of your successes. Be proud of your accomplishment, but be also humble, for you were humbled during the battle.”

 

Rann inclined her head. “I will, and I am honored. Thank you all.”

 

"The honor has been ours. Congratulations, Archmage Dawnbringer."

Author Rann
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