Breaking the primal sphere shouldn’t have been that easy. He had protected it throughout their journey, had grown attached to the clean glass and electric energy trapped inside, had celebrated finally discovering a skill that could actually be useful to his fellow travelers - and in a heartbeat, acting almost on instinct, he’d taken it in his hand and smashed it against packed earth as forcefully as he could.
He’d thought he’d be sad seeing the only special thing about him dissolve into air and cloud. Instead, as he watched lightning stretch towards the sky and tempest winds rip at his hair, he was filled with an unperturbed sense of calm.
The gale winds had thrown him to the ground and ripped Rayla off her feet, and Ezran’s little hands had clutched at his shirt, and Callum’s heart had beat painfully, cruelly hard, to the point where it felt like his own pulse was choking him - and buried somewhere in the back of his mind was a thread of relief that he didn’t have the wherewithal to acknowledge. The skies were inverting themselves in pure storm, and buried under a thick layer of terror and worry was a seed of belonging that went wholly unnoticed.
The cracking of the glass mirrored the cracking of the egg, and Ezran, Rayla, and Callum gathered to welcome Azymondias into the world. Rayla’s hands shook, and Ezran’s voice swelled with joy, and Callum took a breath deeper and clearer than any breath he’d taken before, so utterly relieved that - despite everything - they were still alive. There should have been a ribbon of mourning for the primal sphere weaving itself through his thoughts. Instead, there was a bewildering sense of release.
In the happy chaos of the next few hours, he thought nothing of it.
Somewhere between the arrival of Zym and Lujanne’s arrest-worthy breakfast, an ache appears. It grows and manifests in the spaces between his fingers and the gaps in his ribs, tightening every time he takes a breath, so he pesters Lujanne about magic and humans and arcanum and the moon and steadfastly inhales against the vice around his chest, in and out, following the memory of his mother’s voice. Lujanne humors him, Claudia devastates him, and Rayla follows him like a shadow as he breathes and thinks of King Harrow and Ezran and about how they’re not ready for this. The ache is lost in the wound left by the news of King Harrow’s death.
He cries. Between eating and drawing and failing to impart the news to Ezran, he cries a lot and sometimes wheezes into his knees while his mother chants breathe, just breathe and she’s dead, just like Harrow, and how the hell is he supposed to breathe when they’re dead and gone and Ezran is ten ? But somehow he does, stumbling to his feet after an hour of sobbing to wash his face and put a cold towel over his eyes to ease the swelling, and if Rayla distracts Ezran before he can get too curious about Callum’s sudden penchant for naps, well, it’s neither here nor there.
The ache is folded into the whole-body bruise of grief, and lost in the bitter bite of betrayal when Claudia and Soren prove to be what Rayla had said they were all this time. She’s kind enough not to rub it in his face, perhaps because she finds it more fun to mock his admittedly dismal attempts at meditation. He makes sure to hum extra loud, and pretends he isn’t pathetically grateful for her exaggerated groan of disgust.
Phoe-Phoe falling out of the sky kind of sucks, but then they’re on a boat with a blind guy who cycles through levels of consciousness like Bait cycles through colors, so Callum faces the wind and tries to forget Harrow’s words burning a hole through his satchel. Villads talks about the wind and the sea and of storms and of paths, and Rayla plasters herself to various surfaces of the deck in a misery, and Callum eventually heads below deck to nurse his indecisiveness.
Harrow calls him son and Callum is bowed by grief and love and the clamp around his lungs. Harrow says he’s proud of him, that he sees himself in Callum, that he’ll watch over Callum and Ezran alongside Sarai. Callum wipes his face, gives Bait an overdue belly rub, and goes up to hug his baby brother.
Rayla lies flat on the dirt when they finally ground, her front entirely covered in dust, earth, and dried grass, and Ezran thinks she’s onto a grand idea and rolls down himself, with Bait and Zym mirroring him, and for a moment it’s just Callum staring down at his prone friends while they act like the children they are. Rayla is burdened with a truly unfortunate amount of common sense though, and soon thereafter they’re on their way to the Xadian border.
The whole fiasco with the dragon is a mess , and yeah, on the one hand, Rayla is absolutely right, they shouldn’t leave a powerfully magical creature at the hands a group of scared, armed, stab-happy humans, but on the other hand, what the hell are they supposed to do? Rayla is one elf. Granted, she’s fast, but she’s one person against an entire team, and holy cow Soren and Claudia are there, when did that happen - and everybody else is too young or too, dammit, too-
(the book is very, very heavy, like it’s actively resisting the act of being picked up)
The grubs are easy to find, they so love to cluster up in the damp underneath rocks, and he chooses the biggest one he can see, just in case its size translates to more power. Maybe size doesn’t correlate at all and he’s just wasting precious seconds, but Rayla is in there, and Claudia has too many years of skill and experience, and he can’t afford to mess this one up.
(the book drags his arm down, pulling him towards the earth, but he holds his breath and hefts it up, sliding as quiet as he can towards the clearing where he can hear Rayla’s twin blades clashing against chains)
Claudia yells for him to stop (opening the book is so easy) because he’s never been trained, never been taught (the script reads itself, each word jumping off the page and burying itself behind his eyes, burning and unforgettable) and he could get hurt as a result, could get seriously messed up if he does it wrong without someone to guide him.
(the words slide down the backs of his eyes to fill his mouth, thick and twisted and bubbling with the taste of rot). “You already did,” he says, before the words crowd his mouth and force their way out, his left hand clenching down to kill the grub. Its tiny life ends, squeezed out by his fingers, the words on his lips reaching out to shape and mold its ghost into something that can enervate chains. It leaves his hands in a blinding green rush, taking with it the grub’s life and any breath he had left in his lungs, before slamming into the dragon’s chains and animating them to attack the guards. Callum inhales - the taste of rot in his mouth - tries to exhale, can’t - (the book slips through his fingers, thuds into the grass next to his stumbling feet) his knees bend of their own accord-
The ache is fierce, angry to have been forgotten, stabbing into the spaces of his spine and circling around his rib cage to press down and squeeze squeeze squeeze , like how he squeezed the grub, like how he stole its life the way this ache steals his air.
His mirror tells him to choose breathlessness and Harrow (dad) tells him to choose his own future, irrespective of what others say, what history says, and he loves his dad so so much, he loves him so goddamn much -
- and then he’s
- drowning -
- ice water and salt, rot and slime in his lungs, he can’t breathe, there’s water in his lungs, an ocean, he’s drowning -
- his mother telling him, talk to me, breathe. breathe, callum.
(it’s all so much, mom)
He opens his eyes.
Ezran knows, and then Ezran leaves, so Zym, Rayla, and Callum have to cross the burning molten lava path without him and Callum can’t decide if he’s happy or grieved about it. Of course, it’s easier to run across now, with the ache gone (and wow, but he hadn’t noticed how constant the ache had been until it was finally gone and he could inhale without having to fight for every breath, it’s amazing, liberating, freeing-) so he trips his way after Rayla as she charts a path across a literal sea of fire, cherishing every burning mouthful of air.
Then the sun hides the path, because of course it couldn’t be easy, of course they couldn’t just have one measly night where things went right - but Zym spreads his wings (and makes a sound altogether identical to the sound Ezran used to make when he’d jump on Callum’s bed at 6am to play, all those years ago) and Callum breathes in with his lungs, digs down to his heart, reaches out to the sky, and gives Zym all the air in his body with a soft, “ Aspiro” .
Zym looks so funny with his little wings all raised up to blot out the sun, all imperious and proud, as if anything that small could be so important. Callum thinks of Ezran and hugs Rayla and laughs and does NOT cry. Like, at all.
They walk, and the sun shines, and Callum sweats while Rayla beams, and then she throws her arms up to the sky and spins around on one foot and says, “This is it, Callum!” and her grin is so wide, her eyes are so bright. “Xadia!”
Callum stares up at the sky. He stares some more. He might have gasped, because Rayla whirls around and follows his gaze, and manages a small, “Oh no.”
Nobody has a panic attack. Small victories.