Rann shook, still staring blankly at the ceiling, still unaware of how she had gotten to bed. The last thing she remembered was stepping through Kageseji's portal from Claret's school in the Twisting Nether, and setting down the unconscious Idella inside the Templars' mage tower in Draenor. She remembered feeling nauseous, and collapsing from exhaustion before apparently passing out. Had Kage brought her here? She was alone in this room now, as all attention was probably (understandably) focused on Idella.
The high elf swallowed hard. It shouldn't have been possible… No mortal, especially a human, should have been that powerful. She had compared Claret to Gul'dan on occasion, but she honestly now wondered who would have won in a battle between the two. She shook her head, realizing she didn't want to know.
But how had it all happened? How had Claret extended her lifespan so dramatically? What was the purpose of the massive spell Claret had been working on and using the students for? She mentioned that she had "sent them all home" months ago… Had she found a workaround? Rann supposed it didn't matter now. Claret was dead. Gone for good…
The question made her stomach churn, and she sat up to try not to upset it further. It didn't much help. With someone as tricky as Claret, she couldn't know for certain… Not until she saw Claret's head. Looking around, she saw the goggles from Zen on the nightstand next to her bed. She picked them up and slowly slipped them on, looking around the room as if to see if it really was her room. These had doubtless saved them all… She decided she would keep them.
Rann swung her bare feet over the side of the bed and set them on the cold wooden floor, and made her way for the wardrobe. With each step, she realized her legs were still shaking. The trauma of that encounter… She knew she would carry the memory of the battle with Claret the rest of her life, for better or worse. But had they really finished her? Rann's hand paused, resting on the wardrobe's handle as she frowned to herself. She had to know for sure. She pulled the cabinet open, her eyes landing on her usual white and gold regalia. That she had chosen to wear red the day before had been an ironic fluke. If she was going to risk her life, she was much more comfortable in the white and gold. It had become something of her signature lately.
Having flung the other robe off and dressed herself in the robe that matched the Templar colors, Rann made her way downstairs and out of the inn, heading for the mage tower where the unconscious Idella would still be resting. As expected, inside the tower she found her two students. Kageseji sat on a chair reading a book, Research hovering over her shoulder. Idella, still sleeping, lay peacefully on Kage's floating magical carpet.
Kage looked up from her book as Rann entered, brushing some hair from her cheek. "Hey, Aunt Rann," she said quietly. "Ida's fine… She's just exhausted. Are you okay?"
Rann bit her lip, but nodded. "I'm pretty tired too," she confessed.
"You looked like you were having a panic attack."
"I… probably did," Rann answered, casually opening Idella's satchel that lay at her side. She didn't have to look hard… The invitation from Claret was right on top. She pulled it out and held it up.
Kageseji's eyes immediately focused on the letter, and she sat up a little straighter. "Aunt Rann…what are you doing?"
Rann looked at the letter. "I'm sorry, Kage… I… I have to know for certain."
"No!" Kageseji had jumped to her feet, but too late.
"Rann Dawnbringer!" Rann shouted, and shut her eyes as if bracing for a shot of pain, but none came. The two stood there for a long, awkward moment as Rann examined the letter.
"We're not in that universe," Kageseji pointed out.
"True, but it's not just that," Rann said, studying the marks embedded in the paper. "The runes, they're…dead. There's no power flowing to them anymore." She closed her eyes, and breathed a deep sigh — a good deal deeper than the breath she had taken in. "It's over then… It's… It's really over."
She let the letter fall to the floor and, as weary as if she had gone to the school anyway, began to turn to leave. "I'm going back to bed," she told Kage. "I think I need the rest."
"You really do," Kage said, settling back into her chair. "It's not good for you to be so obsessed."
"I know, Kage… Thank you."
When she had returned to the inn, she closed her door with a quiet click and began to disrobe, hanging her regalia back in the wardrobe. When she closed it, the reflection of herself smiled in the mirror. She realized Kageseji had been right, even though she had just confessed as much… Rann had been obsessed with Claret. The high elf in the mirror now looked a good deal more worn, though that could have been just exhaustion. Still, it was exhaustion brought on by her obsession.
As she examined her reflection, she asked herself, What let me get so obsessed anyway? I wanted to protect my students… I thought that was my obsession. But then it became about ego… About my intelligence. About showing off to my new student. "Oh, of course I'm better than your old teacher." Maybe it's not Claret I was obsessed with, but myself. Who knows… At least now I have time to reflect, time to think and process. Time to finish the Archmage trials for their own sake, not for the pressure of matching someone's power.
And now, she realized with another smile, the high elf in the reflection wasn't shaking anymore. She was at peace…ready to move on.
She sighed and turned from the mirror, kicking off her shoes and making her way barefoot to the bed. She would rest well indeed, tonight. She climbed into the bed and pulled the sheets up, laying her head on the pillow.
A strange crackling sound against her ear as her head hit the pillow. She lifted her head back up and looked.
Atop the beige pillow lay a single envelope, scarlet as sin.