Rann had come to realize she was woefully unskilled at hiding her feelings. As she completed the motions of a portal spell — cast right in front of the Justicar while Westguard was on lockdown — she realized she had sent a challenging look at the paladin, as if daring her to try and stop the mage from leaving.
It was the only time she had looked at Arialynn since the verdict had been handed down. Arialynn, decidedly better at hiding her own thoughts and feelings after seemingly doing so on such a regular basis, hardly even seemed to notice. Rann was sure she felt it get colder. As the portal stretched open, the mage felt a soft wind blow through it, and realized she had forgotten the atmospheric filter component of the spell. It was just as well, though. Robin may not be able to feel the difference, but the little gnome would appreciate less magic in the portal.
Rann waited for Robin to step through, then followed, sealing the portal behind them. Even though it was colder here, she felt the tension begin to melt away already. Kharanos welcomed them with the sleepy calm of a small town, a stark contrast against the rigid militarism of Westguard.
Robin was halfway to her old bar already. As the pair entered, the sounds of dwarven merriment reached their ears. Laughter echoed around the stone tavern, and as the gnome stepped into the main room, the innkeeper’s voice rang out louder than all the others with something between a laugh and a cheer.
“Robin, me girl! Good ta see ye! Anythin’ ye want, it’s free,” he declared as he swept the monk into a bear hug. Rann was sure she heard Robin squeak in reply as her feet left the ground.
Rann’s own sourness at the proceedings began to take a back seat, so amused was she at seeing this place where her friend had worked before. Before she knew it, she and Robin were seated at a table with mugs of ale in front of them both.
Ale? Hmm. Rann carefully picked up the mug with both hands. A few patrons quieted, watching her with amusement and occasional chuckles as she examined it from several angles, sniffed it, and finally took a tiny sip.
“BLECH!” She couldn’t help herself. She wasn’t trying to be rude — quite the opposite, in fact. She deeply appreciated the innkeeper’s generosity, and Robin’s willingness to help her unwind. But she felt her face twisting at the overwhelming bitterness of the ale.
“High elves,” said one nearby dwarf with a laugh and a roll of his eyes.
Rann shot him a look. Yes, she definitely needed this drink after hearing one too many comments like that. As if he had thrown down a gauntlet by muttering his comment, she took a large, brave gulp.
Ugh, she thought. They call this a drink? I know dwarven tastes are different, but this is swill!
“You want something a little lighter?” Robin piped up.
“I…” Rann meant to argue that this was just what she needed, but what was the point if she wasn’t going to enjoy it? “Okay. Please. Something less bitter? Less…hoppy?”
Robin smiled and jumped down from her chair, heading behind the counter. Neither the innkeeper nor any other workers batted an eye. The little gnome clearly had the run of the place. Robin moved quickly behind the bar. She reached for things without looking, still familiar with where everything was after all this time.
Scarcely a minute later, she came triumphantly back to the table, a tall, narrow glass in hand with a frozen red concoction inside. “Here you go,” she said, placing the drink before Rann and returning to her seat. “Less hoppy, more fruity.”
Rann brought the glass to her lips and drank, and felt her shoulders sag as some of the tension fell away. She sighed happily and nodded to her loyal friend. “Exquisite,” she said, as a nearby dwarven patron shamelessly pilfered the forgotten mug of ale.
* * *
Rann was ordinarily not a drinker. The thought of returning to that place in Kharanos and getting more drinks had certainly crossed her mind in the days that followed, but she knew it wouldn’t help her escape her problems and woes. For now, she brooded within her apartment in Dalaran, guarded by numerous magical wards that recognized those who approached, and would deactivate only for those the archmage wanted to see.
At present, that list included Robin, Mallory, Zasheena, Kageseji, Shadowsage, and absolutely no one else.
The bitterness had returned quickly, and Rann couldn’t shake it from her mind. Her home in Dalaran was the only place where the Templars and their unjust verdict could even have a chance at being forgotten — at least, outside of a bar. Rann sat at a small table on a little balcony that overlooked the Silver Enclave, idly twirling her fingers to make small waves of magic in the air, much like swirling one’s hand in a pool of water. She thought back on what she told Robin the night of the verdict.
“I joined the Templars because they helped rescue Kageseji,” she had explained to the gnome. “Because they didn’t care what race she was, or that her mother spent more time with the Horde. An innocent life was at risk, and they put everything on the line to help her. I loved those ideals, and I didn’t see any trace of the racism that quel’dorei have endured before…or that I endured myself. But now, I just don’t know…was I wrong?”
Perhaps it had been the alcohol, but she could not remember the monk’s answer. She knew it was a good one, an answer that bespoke the wisdom of a well-trained monk who, herself, had endured many senseless comments about her own race. But she did remember Robin’s answer in how she dealt with the comments about her race: “They say we’re weak, but the only one who can make me weak…is me.”
As Rann reflected on this upon her balcony, the word “rat” echoed in her head from some careless bystander making a comment about Zasheena’s race, and it stung Rann too. While thinking on all of this, Rann’s hand had drawn an intricate design of arcane energy in the air, but now, she reached out and crushed it in her anger, strangling it between her fingers.
And then there was the verdict itself: giving Kanta his freedom, and pretending to punish him by discharging him from the organization. Not for the killing, but for failing to come forward with evidence. It was a slap on the wrist to him, and a slap in the face to Zasheena and those who knew her, showing they had no problem with the killing. And of course, he was belligerent to the last, showing not an ounce of remorse to Zasheena even when she tried to converse with him.
“A multi-millenia-old soldier versus a girl, inexperienced by anyone’s measure,” Rann growled to herself. “He spat out a pile of lies, to claim he saw her as a threat.” She took on a mocking tone. “‘Oh, but she was a blood elf, she was a blood elf!’ …If that’s a justifiable excuse for murdering a girl that young in cold blood…then I have nothing more to do with them. Nothing!” She kicked at the table, sending it crashing loudly to the balcony floor.
A glint of light caught her eye, reflecting off the white and gold outfit she often wore, which was currently back indoors, draped over her sofa. White and gold, fashioned after the Templars’ colors. With a scream she lashed out with a pair of frostbolts, sending the outfit and some cotton pieces of the sofa flying.
A metallic click from behind her, in the direction of her apartment door. She whirled to look, and found herself facing the edge of an umbra crescent.
Rann froze instantly. Doradrassil held the crescent’s heavy bulk at arm’s length with ease, its edge trained at Rann’s nose. Questions began to whirl through her mind. But how? How did she get in? The wards were too powerful, and she was most certainly not on the list of those granted admittance. Unless…
“Mallory wants to see you,” Doradrassil said, not moving.
Of course. But that would mean she was already…
The archmage winced. Mallory’s usual chipper tone was much more somber today, and that could not be good. As Rann looked, the priestess and business mogul floated into the room with her usual grace. She often wore her battlesuit lately, but today had opted for her priestly robes. Rann had no doubt, however, that her battlesuit was hidden beneath them. Meanwhile, Doradrassil’s umbra crescent still hovered dangerously close to Rann’s face.
“Weapons down,” Mallory said, as if reading Rann’s mind, and the crescent swiftly returned to resting hooked on Doradrassil’s hip. Mallory strode through the room observing the mess, including the Templar outfit that had, coincidentally, been impaled on the wall by Rann’s attacks. Rann winced again in embarrassment.
“What…are you doing here?” Rann asked meekly.
Mallory turned to her, and to Rann’s surprise, was wearing a sympathetic smile. “Well, when my scouts report that Robin and a high elf matching your description were sighted at a bar in Kharanos, with said elf getting extremely drunk by the night’s end, I know there’s cause for concern. Now, I could just ask what’s eating you…” She nodded toward the white and gold outfit on the wall. “Or I could just take a wild guess… But, I thought I’d save you the trouble of having to explain. I know about the tribunal. I know what happened. I’m sorry that it happened like it did.”
“So why are you here, Mallory?” Rann asked, beginning to feel tired as the adrenaline of her outburst wore off.
“Because when I realized why you were getting drunk, I realized how devastated you must be. And everyone needs time after something like this, but I’m worried, Rann. This isn’t like you.”
Rann scoffed sardonically. “Isn’t it?” She gestured to the balcony. “Look out there. Beautiful city, isn’t it? A place to feel safe. So imagine how unsure everything must feel when you watch the city literally crumble all around you. You think I wasn’t like this then?”
Mallory tilted her head, but responded swiftly. “From what I’ve read, you were one of the first, the most active, helping to clear and rescue, and rebuild. That doesn’t sound at all like this.”
Rann shook her head. “I was…zoned out. It was a practical, survival thing. It’s all you can do. But inside… I was just like this. This great, stabilizing force in my life had been torn down all around me. And now…”
Mallory nodded. “More abstract now, but a stabilizing force falling apart around you again…right?”
Mallory clasped her hands behind her back. “Well, I can understand that… I suppose I’m just here, then, to convey my hopes that you don’t end up on the wrong path.”
“Easy for you to say,” Rann muttered.
Mallory’s gaze turned hard, and though she was taller and far older than the priestess, Rann suddenly felt like a small child who had just mouthed off at her mother.
“Need I remind you that my own parents were murdered right in front of me?” Mallory said very quietly.
Rann winced. In the moment, she had forgotten that. “Sorry.”
“The world is full of these experiences, Rann. The world is full of darkness. It needs people courageous enough to be the Light. Because make no mistake, it takes far more courage to move on than it does to succumb to darkness and vengeance. Believe me… I know.”
“You don’t seem the type to be consumed with vengeance.”
Mallory looked down. “There was a time…when it was all I thought about. I had a vendetta against Stormwind. When I started working in the city, originally I thought I’d learn all its secret hideaways and organize a rebellion.” She began pacing the room. “Of course, the Light had a different plan for me. And I know you had a grudge against Stormwind once, too.”
Rann sighed and headed for the balcony, her eyes gazing idly toward the Violet Hold, where her former captor still languished. “I did…but… When I met you, I realized I couldn’t judge the many for the actions of a few.”
Mallory came and stood beside her, placing a reassuring hand on Rann’s shoulder. “And isn’t that relevant today?” she asked.
A knot twisted up in Rann’s stomach. Right now, she couldn’t bear the thought of wearing those colors…of donning the white and gold again. “There’s a difference,” she muttered. “The man responsible for that is rotting in the Violet Hold today. The one responsible for this? He was given his freedom. And had Zasheena been a human, dwarf, gnome, night elf, draenei… You can bet they’d have already thrown away the key to Kanta’s cell.”
Mallory frowned in dismay. “I see…” She turned away and began pacing again, deep in thought. “You want him dead, don’t you?”
“I…” Rann felt sick at this turn in the discussion. “Are you offering?”
“No.” Mallory’s answer was flat and instant. “You know that’s not what I do.”
“I don’t… I don’t know what I want.”
Mallory began to head for the door. Doradrassil had already vanished into thin air; Rann wasn’t sure when. “Just be sure that when you do know,” the priestess urged, “that you have a support system around you when you do. Don’t do something rash, Rann.”
“I won’t,” Rann answered.
She wasn’t sure if she was lying.