Rann idly slid her fingers through the water of the fountain in the middle of the town square at the fortress. Many things plagued her mind: Kageseji and her abductor — as well as who was ultimately responsible for sending that night elf — Idella and her safety — just who and what was Claret, anyway? — and the rumors of murders. The recent happenings had everyone looking over their shoulders, sometimes literally, and everyone seemed downright paranoid. Rumor was that Mallory had even brought in a slew of bodyguards. Such a move might typically seem eccentric, but Rann couldn't fault her for it. 

 

Even now, Doradrassil's voice carried to her ears from within the barracks. Every now and then she could hear the Warden snap at somebody. Seemed to be the same person. Out of sheer curiosity, Rann stood from the fountain's edge she had been seated on and wandered into the barracks.

 

"Hey," Doradrassil said the moment Rann had stepped into the doorway. "Will you get this imbecile out of my sight before I — " she stopped, sighing in frustration.

 

As the Warden paced, a few notes in her hands that she looked back and forth between, a goblin sat on a bed nearby, his back to the mage. One of Mallory's bodyguards, from the look of it. Rann hardly felt obligated to comply, so lost was she in her thoughts… Which races had she ruled out that Claret could be? Had she truly ruled them out? Was she sure? Still, she made her way slowly for the goblin.

 

"All right," she said, putting her hand on his shoulder. "Time to let the Warden solve the mys–" she stopped short, blinking her eyes when he looked up at her.

 

"Razboom?"

 

"Heya, toots," Razboom said with surprising calm and a smile. "Long time no see."

 

"You know him?" Doradrassil asked, stopping her pacing and looking up for the first time since Rann had entered the room. "…My condolences."

 

"You know her?" Razboom asked of Doradrassil, hopping down from the bed as he indicated Rann. "Well don't you have friends in high places!"

 

Doradrassil shot Razboom a look, but said nothing. The goblin turned to Rann and looked up at her, his brown hair combed back with a few strands stubbornly hanging forward on his face. He wore a black business suit and bowtie with a white buttoned-down shirt, pressed to perfection. He'd have been right at home in Silvermoon's ritziest neighborhoods, Rann thought. That was where she had first met him.

 

"It's good to see you again, Rann," he said simply, inclining his head. "It's been…awhile."

 

"Yeah," Rann agreed. "I'm sorry I haven't kept in touch. Things have just been insane."

 

"Tell me 'bout it. Yer Warden here was just telling me about the kidnapping."

 

"You were climbing over my shoulder to look at my notes," Doradrassil corrected, "and for now, at least, I am obligated not to kill you for it. Now please take your ingenious hare-brained schemes someplace else. It seems you've got some catching up to do."

 

"Look, lady!" Razboom said, prompting an exasperated sigh from Rann — who had really hoped he would let it go. Perhaps she'd been away from him long enough to forget that he never would. At this rate, she'd never get back to working on the mystery of Claret. "All I'm saying is — "

 

"It's not Queen Azshara, you green twit!" Doradrassil cut in. 

 

She talked about the Troll Wars like she was there… She could be a high elf but most wouldn't live that long… Maybe she was a night elf? A draenei? No, the spells Idella had cast didn't have any draenei influence in their stylings…

 

"Queen Azshara did not come to kidnap the girl."

 

"She's got the gold eyes."

 

"It's not her," Doradrassil repeated. "End of story. Now Rann –"

 

But something had clicked in Rann's mind. Maybe it was a hare-brained scheme of her own, and maybe she was wrong. But if she wasn't.

 

"Azshara," she mouthed.

 

Doradrassil frowned. "Not you too."

 

"A lot of things line up," Rann thought, hardly realizing she was saying them out loud. Her speech sped up as she looked back and forth between Doradrassil and Razboom. "I mean, not the 'red' thing. What naga likes red? Could be a night elf though. Could be a Highborne. Could be the same kind of magic… Razboom, you're a genius!"

 

With that, Rann bent down, grabbed Razboom, yanked him close, and planted an obnoxious kiss on him before dashing away.

 

Razboom and Doradrassil exchanged bewildered looks. The goblin straightened his suit. "Well…that went well."

 

* * *

 

Books came flying off the bookshelf into Rann's hand, then discarded haphazardly one by one. There was something, something she had read before on this subject. Razboom had inadvertently jogged her memory. 

 

There. A very old book indeed, held together and kept intact by magic. An examination of even older records. She opened it gently and thumbed through the pages. She was just as certain that Claret was not Azshara as Doradrassil had been that Kageseji's kidnapper had not been the ancient queen. But there may yet be a connection… Her beauty was legendary, and yet when archaeologists had unearthed clothing determined to have belonged to the fabled queen, they seemed to not match the descriptions of her beauty, to say the least.

 

"'Queen Azshara likely wasn't the only ruler the night elves had back in the days of old, but she was the one most remembered and revered,'" she read aloud. She turned to the next page and searched some more. "'Azshara ordered a new palace built on the shores of the Well, and her subjects…happily complied… hoping to gain her favor.' So they were enchanted by her, perhaps literally. Enthralled. Hmm… That does match accounts from those who went back to her time to retrieve the Dragon Soul."

 

Continuing to read aloud, she noted, "'Azshara's favor was won only by the noble elite, the Highborne — coincidentally also some of the most powerful spellcasters among the kaldorei.' Hmm. Could they have learned some of her magic? Perhaps not directly, but by observing, and later practicing? Could Claret have been one of them, now employing those same magics on a smaller scale, to enthrall a few people instead of a nation?" 

 

She turned a few more pages. "Here it is again, the enthralling power. 'Even as the kaldorei fought against the Burning Legion, many did so because they thought that Azshara was being held captive — they couldn't even fathom that the beloved Light of Lights, the ruler whose love they so desperately craved could possibly turn and try to kill them all. They couldn’t wrap their brains around the concept that their beloved Queen might just possibly betray them. There was simply no way she would do so, she was too gracious, too kind, too lovely, too pure to do such a thing.' And then… Mannoroth tried to kill her, and couldn't force himself to. Her will was too strong for him.

 

"'In this early text, we see confirmation that Queen Azshara was a powerful mage, yes, but her powers were so great that she had almost the entirety of kaldorei civilization bowing down and worshiping her…'" Rann felt a chill come over her. "'simply because she wished it.' That's… That sounds exactly like her." She carefully closed the book. "So how does that fit with what we already know about her? Does it work? And does that mean she's a naga? Not necessarily… Many Highborne who served Azshara directly happened to be in Eldre'thalas when it happened… I should ask Nazrajar, maybe he might know something. And Idella might be able to give some insight on this as well…"

 

She heard a quiet static, like the hum of magical energy. Thinking nothing of it, she reached for her guildstone to contact Idella or Nazrajar, whoever might answer. As she pulled it from her pack, she realized the sound was coming from the stone.

 

The hum grew louder, higher, reaching a fever pitch. Magical interference. And suddenly, screams. A bizarre, unworldly shriek and…was that a person screaming too?

 

It couldn't be.

 

It had to be.

 

If Rann's current thoughts about Claret were right, if her magic had been learned from watching Azshara…she was in far over her head. She gripped her staff tightly, steeling herself, and teleported directly to the Old Town district of Stormwind.

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