The Dead Scar still churned with the unnerving groans and lurching footsteps of the undead. They were weaker these days, but the scar itself was still almost as fresh and hideous as the day Arthas had marched through. Although Rann wondered: were they truly weaker, or had she just become that much stronger since the last time she had been here? Most of the ghouls hadn’t even turned to notice her before a spear of ice pierced their throats, sending them clattering to the ground.
To be fair, though, Rann washooded in a black cloak, and as she plodded along the dreary landscape of the Ghostlands in the dead of night, there wasn’t much of her to see except her glowing eyes. She had cast a simple illusion spell over her eyes, changing them from gentle blue to the fel green of the blood elves. It wasn’t much, and any mage worth their salt could see through it, but it should be enough to get her by if she met any guards along the road in the night.
She slowed as she reached Tranquillien. The last time she had been here was shortly after the Cataclysm, though she had dreamed of it the day of her Archmage trial. It hadn’t changed much, but it still brought back memories of her childhood. She remembered the cobblestones of the pavement before they had been overgrown and had fallen into disuse. The soft green grass under the radiant trees when the Eversong Woods were whole, when Tranquillienwas still an appropriate name for the small settlement.
Blood elf guards nodded politely in greeting, and she returned the gesture, pressing on. As much as she might wish to take time and reminisce right now, she couldn’t risk being examined too closely. It wasn’t far now.
She came to the stream and the simple bridge leading across — well, simple by Thalassian standards. From here, she could see her parents’ home. She felt a smile cross her face and her feet quickened. She blinked ahead to the entrance and beat a few quiet raps on the front door. They wouldn’t care what time it was… They would just be glad to see their daughter again.
She heard confused voices within. The lock clicked and the door slowly slid open, and her bleary-eyed father stood half-asleep in the doorway.
Archmage Nylian Dawnbringer blinked, then blinked again, rubbing his eyes and lowering his staff. It glittered in the dim light, almost in greeting. The same staff as in the painting over Rann's fireplace, though its bearer had aged much. Wrinkles creased his face and his once-blond mane had become a short cut of light gray. He ambled over to a nearby shelf and placed the staff carefully on its display. He turned toward her once more and waved her in with a smile. “Well come in, come in! It’s not getting any warmer outside!”
Rann chuckled, stepping in and closing the door. “Sorry, it’s just good to be home. I needed a moment to take it in. Is Mother…?”
“Rann, dear!” her mother cried out, stepping out of the bedroom. Celia had grown shorter in her old age, and now reached frail arms around Rann’s neck to hug her daughter. Rann hugged back gently, a tug of pain gripping her heart at the realization of her mother’s age. Time had gotten away from her.
“Hello, Mom,” Rann said, holding her mother a little tighter. “It’s good to see you.”
“Takes a world-ending event for you to come see your family, does it?” Nylian drawled, limping over to them with a stern glare in his eyes. It didn’t hold for long before he cracked into laughter, and Rann embraced him too.
“So I hear you’ve become an Archmage,” Celia said, rubbing her eyes.
“About time too,” Nylian interjected before Rann could reply. “Bit slow on the uptake, this one.”
“Not everyone can be like you, Dad,” Rann mumbled, looking down.
“And the world’s been more dangerous lately,” Celia said, siding with her daughter. “It can’t be easy to become an Archmage when you have to stop and save the world every five minutes!”
“Pah!” Nylian retorted grumpily. “The Troll Wars were no walk in the woods either!” A smile tugged at the corner of his lips though, and his eyes twinkled at Rann. He was just giving her a rough time.
“You’ve come a long way, honey,” Celia said, ignoring the prodding from Nylian. “We’re proud of you.”
Nylian nodded in agreement, silent for a moment as he eyed his staff on its display. “You have come a long way. Remember when you tried to conjure food for Hira’s dragonhawk and you ended up shrinking him instead?”
“How could I forget with you reminding me every time I see you?” Rann groaned at the reminder of her most infamous mistake as a child. Hira Snowdawn had thought it was hilarious… after her dragonhawk was returned to normal. The dragonhawk, however, was terrified of Rann from then on. Rann had never admitted to anyone that she was a little relieved when the poor thing was retired and Hira began riding a new one.
“Back then, I didn't think you'd excel as a mage,” her father kept on. Then, he grew quiet. “I'm sorry for underestimating you. I never thought… you’d one day be capable of handling this.”
Rann’s heart leaped in her chest. Her father was reaching for his staff. A chill swept over her as he lifted it from its display and held it, almost cradled it, in both arms. He was saying goodbye to it.
“You know its story,” he said, hardly more than a whisper, taking a few steps toward her. Celia watched in silence, misty-eyed. “I think it’s time. You’ll be fighting some of the most important battles the world has known. Failure is not an option… And it’ll do much more good in your hands than mine.”
“But… but what about…?” Rann sputtered.
“It’s too powerful to be denigrated to guarding our door, especially when it belongs on the front lines like right now. And it’s not like it’s the only magical armament we’ve got here.”
He held it out to her, his palms up, offering it. Rann took in the sight for a moment. In all her years, he had never let her so much as touch it. It was a piece of history, after all.
It was called the Frozen Flame. The jewel at its crown contained a single drop of the original Sunwell’s water. A dozen magisters had concentrated intense frost magic into that droplet, finally managing to freeze it so it could be safely placed in the gem and sealed in. Once the ice had melted, the Sunwell water swirled constantly in the gem, glinting with light like fire. A few of these staves had been produced during the Troll Wars, but not many because it was so taxing to freeze a drop of Sunwell water. The front lines were far from the well, and to keep soldiers empowered, these staves were given to a few promising lieutenants, including Rann’s father. Other soldiers drew magic from the ambient power of the Frozen Flame and its siblings.
As the Troll Wars dragged on and Quel’thalas sought alliance with the humans to the south, the humans had agreed to help if the high elves would teach them magic in return. Nylian had been among the contingent dispatched to the south, the Frozen Flame being used to teach those humans how to use magic and draw mana from a source. The training grounds where that happened would later be built into a city… the city of Dalaran. When Rann studied in Dalaran herself, and when she later taught magic, she was carrying on what her father had had a part in starting. The Frozen Flame’s siblings had been lost either in the Troll Wars or the march of the Scourge, but this one… This staff that, in a way, helped found Dalaran, endured.
Rann’s hand closed around the staff. A wave of warmth washed over her. She felt… hyper, energetic. Perhaps a touch unsteady, full of power.
Her father smiled. “It’s quick to respond when you cast,” he said with a nod, pointing to the staff’s head. “Almost too quick. The power can sneak up on you if you’re not careful, so sharp, quick casts are the key. It’s a little unbalanced, favors arcane over anything else, so it feels a little… lopsided if you use too much frost without mixing in some arcane.”
Rann nodded. “That’s okay. It’s a magnificent weapon. I’ll put it to good use.” And she intended to. Besides, she thought she already had in mind a way to balance the staff’s preference for arcane, though she wasn’t about to tell him that. No way would he approve of her meddling with it.
They visited for a while longer, and she gave him her old staff in return, but drew Winter out of it. The little embodiment of frost magic, in the form of a small doe, pranced cheerfully around Nylian. When they were ready to say goodbye — and Rann prayed to the Light they would see each other again — she opened a portal to head back home to Dalaran, Winter bounding into the portal after her.
Once the portal closed, Winter eyed the Frozen Flame curiously. “What do you think, girl?” Rann asked, kneeling and showing her the staff. The deer sniffed the staff’s head, then tilted her head at Rann. “You think you can balance it out?”
Winter chittered in reply, cheerfully danced a celebratory circle in place, then burst into snowflakes. Rann held the Frozen Flame up in the air as the snow swirled around her in a wide sphere, then concentrated in beams toward the staff’s head, focusing into it. Inside the staff’s head, next to the droplet, an ice crystal formed. Winter was in.
Rann closed her eyes, getting a feel for the staff’s energy. The wave of warmth and power was now accompanied by a feeling of cool calm. She felt braced, sturdy, strengthened.
The building shook again. The Legion’s assault on Dalaran continued. Perhaps it was time to get into the fray.
With a soft tap of the air in the direction of the door to her balcony, she swung it open from a distance. She smiled. Was she really going to do this?
Yes… Yes, she was.
She sprinted for the door, out onto the balcony, and fired a small arcane blast to the floor, just enough to launch herself over the railing.
Her heart raced. She’d never pulled a stunt like this before, and the Legion was all over the place. Five… no, six ships surrounded the city. Demons fought in the streets with the people. Battle lines had been formed, and Rann was screaming toward the ground at an alarming speed… heading straight for a pack of demons.
She readied the Frozen Flame and fired a volley of frostbolts into them.
More, a voiceless urging came in her head. Maybe it was Winter, or the Frozen Flame itself. I can do more.
A quick charm to slow her descent as she neared street level. Her initial volley of frostbolts connected, sending some of the demons reeling. Descending gracefully now, Rann spread her arms wide and unleashed a torrent of bitter wind and icy blades, shredding several more demons.
She touched down in the street, striking the ground with the butt of the staff and coating the area in front of her with a thick sheet of ice. She swung the Frozen Flame at the demons and sent a violent arcane shockwave at them, bringing them crashing to the ground. She raised the staff skyward and brought down a storm of icy comets. As they fell from the sky, she fired arcane shots into them and shattered them, resulting in a hail of blades on the struggling demons. They quickly fell still. None of them had even gotten a chance to attack her.
Rann chuckled. She was going to like this staff. “Still want more?” she asked aloud.
A deep voice from behind her. She whirled around and muttered a curse.
A nathrezim towered over her. Before he had a chance to do anything, she swung the Frozen Flame at it, using the force of the blow to rocket herself back and land gracefully on the ice among the now-deceased demons.
“This is what awaits you too!” she threatened, but she knew she couldn’t beat this thing alone, even with the Frozen Flame. At least, not under normal circumstances.
Fortunately, they were in the middle of a magical city floating above the most mana-saturated ley line nexus on the face of Azeroth.
A gout of felfire came rushing at her. She put up a thick ice wall as fast as she could, slamming as much power as she could muster into it. It barely held, but she could still smell the sulfur. She fired a burst of frostbolts at the nathrezim, mainly to buy herself a few seconds to think as they dodged each other’s attacks.
Karazhan boasted the most intricate, maze-like wards she had ever seen. This was no surprise, of course, and it would take an Archmage of Khadgar’s caliber to break through them. No doubt they had traps as well. Tapping Karazhan directly, in the middle of a fight, was out of the question. But the ley lines around it… Though she was far above, ordinarily too high up to draw from the ley lines, she could still use Karazhan as a conductor. It should work, even with its wards in place… She wasn’t breaking through them into the reality-altering properties of Karazhan itself… She merely needed it for the most basic function that such a structure served: a mage tower as a mana conduit.
She reached for the mana far below, in the ground, in the village near the tower, and began to pull. She felt it gravitating upward, and as she hoped, it was drawn toward Karazhan, escalating its ascent until it was more easily in her reach.
Another shot of felfire ripped toward her. She blinked past it, conjuring mirror images of herself to confuse the dreadlord. Onlookers watched the display in anxious anticipation. Several guards stood at the ready, but few were willing to risk drawing the nathrezim’s ire.
Rann — all four of her — held the Frozen Flame up as the mana from below began seeping through Dalaran’s ground. The staff drank it in like a starving plant. A felfire artillery shell crashed nearby, spilling out imps. The staff, unbidden, discharged excess mana at several of them, giving them a jolt.
Apparently seeing what was coming, the nathrezim fired successive felfire bolts and waves of shadow from each hand. Rann allowed her mirror images to lapse, instead chain-blinking around to lure its attacks away from bystanders as much as she could.
The Frozen Flame was burning bright now, filled to capacity and overflowing. With one final blink, Rann put herself right in front of the dreadlord. She jammed the staff into his abdomen, and put all of her strength into a single blast. A massive spear of frost impaled the demon, carrying his battered form up into the sky. High in the air, both ends of the ice spear burst into flame and split away, circling back to smash into the nathrezim as two great fireballs.
Rann later remembered it looking like fireworks. She vaguely recalled hearing some cheers, and feeling nauseated, drained from the attack. She heard Khadgar’s voice shouting something about the Pillars of Creation, but then, her world became a spinning mess.
When she came to, the skies were clear. The Legion was gone, and Mallory knelt over her, channeling soothing Light magic.
“Welcome to the Broken Isles,” she said. Then with a smirk she added, “Nice staff.”