At first, Tiadrin wasn’t sure what to think. One second, she’d been screaming— Lain had been screaming, devoured by Dark Magic, some kind of device, something shiny, and then the Dark Mage had turned it on her, and they’d saved the Egg, just barely, but this was death, wasn’t it, and Rayla—gods, they’d left Rayla and Runaan and Ethari—
The coin was an in between place, like the stories she’d heard as a child, and it felt like an eternity—years—and just one second—minutes—before it passed, and then—
She was stumbling out . Time was something that passed again, as she took a second to take her first real breath in who knew how long, her knees and hands hitting stone but solid and real, before she looked around frantically for Lain, and the egg. Her eyes found only gold.
Where was she?
“It’s alright,” came a soothing, but unfamiliar voice. “I know it’s confusing, but you’re okay. Dad’s okay.”
Dad? She looked in the direction of the voice, her vision still adjusting to how solid the world was, shadows taking form. The coin had been so bright , painfully so. Like the Light she’d heard the Sunfire Dragon guard speak of once, of his home.
It was a young woman. Moonshadow, slender, with bright violet eyes and intricate braids in her long, silver hair. She was garbed in Dragonguard armour, silvery, with beads around her gauntlets. Tiadrin’s brow furrowed when she followed the curve of the woman’s markings, and—
“... Rayla? ”
She smiled a little. “Hi, Mum.”
Taidrin gaped, and then gasped, as a bright light flashed and caught her attention, then Lain was spilling out onto the floor, seemingly out of nowhere, struggling to breathe. She crawled across the foot between them and grasped at his shoulders, found the pulse in his neck and then his terrified gaze. He looked older than she remembered him, weary, but still the treasure of her heart as he looked at her, her name dying on his lips. She grasped him, her arm slung over his back, her hand clutching at his shoulder and their foreheads touched. Alive. They were alive, and together again.
She counted her breaths—one, two, three—savoured the moment and let her eyes close, and then forced herself to catch her breath and pull herself together. “Where are we?” she asked, her head still not quite catching up to the sight of the woman who was apparently her daughter. “How—”
“You’re safe,” Rayla repeated. Gods, she looked close to twenty. How long had it been? “You’re in Lux Aurea. The Queen, Janai, and her top blacksmith Galan has been helping us figure out how to free you. The old High Mage of Katolis trapped you in Infinity Coins.” Her nose wrinkled. “Dark Magic.” Rayla bent down, eyes gentle, if similarly overwhelmed. “How are you feeling?”
“But—” Tiadrin started.
“Thirsty,” Lain admitted.
Rayla looked beyond their shoulders. “Callum, could you—?”
“On it,” came another voice, this one male, but neither of them had the strength to look up. Rayla rose and took two goblets full of water when they were held out to her, and then held them out to her parents.
Tiadrin managed to hold it, her fingers shaking terribly. Lain took a large sip, a little sloppy, and then seemed to ground himself. Sat up and then helped her do the same.
“You okay?” came Rayla’s voice again, but it wasn’t directed at either of them this time; Tiadrin tried to crane her neck to look behind, but couldn’t manage it.
“I’m fine,” the male voice said, but he sounded tired. “Just glad I was able to do two this time. Would’ve been kind of awkward otherwise.” A pause. “D’you want me to go get Ethari and—?”
“Not yet. It’s been longer since they’ve been out, it must be...confusing.”
Another pause. “Do you want me to go tell them?” Do you need to be alone? Tiadrin somehow understood.
“No. Best to get it all over with.” Rayla pursed her lips. She returned her gaze to her parents, and now Tiadrin couldn’t stop staring. Her baby girl, all grown up. She hadn’t seen her daughter since Rayla’s tenth birthday. Yet here she was, strong and having followed in their footsteps, and she’d saved them. And beside her, once the man walked around…
A human. Rayla’s age, dark haired, green eyed, dressed in what looked like Katolis colours—she’d never forget the garb of the man who’d killed their king—with runes tattooed on his arms. Runes?
Still, Tiadrin was reaching for her side, for her sword, before remembering she’d lost them in the fight with the mage. The human didn’t look surprised or as though he was going to respond in kind.
“Mum, it’s alright,” Rayla said quickly. “The war between humans and Xadia is over.”
Lain dropped his goblet, hers already discarded. “What?” he said.
“You saved it,” Rayla murmured. “You saved the Egg. It was brought back to Katolis, but it was discovered, by King Harrow’s sons. They brought it home to its mother. We brought it home.”
Tiadrin’s throat tightened. “But…”
The young man rubbed the back of his neck, his scarf a little low. “I know it’s a lot to take in,” he said, a tad sheepish.
Rayla placed a hand on his back, the gesture familiar. Intimate, even before they shared a look. “This is Callum, Prince of Katolis. He helped me end the war between Xadia and the Pentarchy four years ago, and is the one who got you out of the coins just now.”
“But how?” Tiadrin pressed. “Humans can’t…” Unless this was a Dark Mage?
Callum smiled slightly. “It was kind of complicated—I had to study a lot of Sunforgery to put the pieces together, but—it was a combination of Moon and Earth—metal, I guess?—magic. It’s hard to wield two arcanums at once. I’m just glad it worked out.”
“Mum?” Rayla said, and Tiadrin realized she’d been staring quite blankly. “Dad? I—if you have questions, just ask them. We have the explanations now?”
“I still don’t understand,” she said, still blank despite herself. “How did the war…?”
Rayla and Callum exchanged a look, before he spoke, his tone heavy. “Lord Viren was an evil man,” he said. “He stole the egg and coaxed my father into killing King Avizandum to absolve his own guilt. My brother and I found the Egg on the night Moonshadow elves came to the castle to kill him and my father in retribution. Rayla found it with us, and she tried to convince Runaan to call the assassination off. He wouldn’t, and was then later captured by Viren. The three of us, meanwhile… started on the long journey to Xadia to bring the Dragon Prince home.”
“It didn’t fix everything,” Rayla admitted. “But once the Dragon Prince was reunited with his Mum, it at least changed something for the better. Humans and elves worked to defend the Dragon Prince and the hope for peace. We live together now and are working on improving the conditions of magic, of the world.” She glanced down at her armour. “I joined the new Dragon Guard.”
“Made Captain and everything,” Callum added proudly. Rayla shushed him gently, a soft smile on her lips.
“Now his brother—King Ezran—and Queen Zubeia and Prince Azymondias are working towards peace, each and every day.”
Tiadrin got the sense that things still weren’t fully settled—perhaps a new conflict, somehow, on the rise? Not every elf or human would want peace after all. And the Dragon King and Queen had never told them what the mirror was for, but she supposed the high mage had taken that too.
As though reading her thoughts, Lain’s voice trembled as he asked, “The High Mage?”
Callum’s face soured. “He’s dead. Finally.”
Tiadrin got the sense he’d seen to it himself. She watched Rayla take his hand, and the young man’s face softened as he glanced back at her.
Rayla squeezed his hand and then looked back at her parents. “Callum is my betrothed.”
Tiadrin’s brows raised—she’d figured something was going on, but not to this extent—but the look on her daughter’s face indicated a sort of peaceful happiness, a solid ground in the midst of everything. She’d get to the bottom of how it had come about later, once her mind had stopped racing from everything.
Lain went to stand up, and Callum rushed to steady him when he stumbled. “Careful,” the human advised. “Walking is hard at first.”
Lain looked at him, wide eyed. “You’ve freed… others from the coin?”
“Runaan,” Rayla said. “He was trapped not long after you.”
“There are a few more others,” Callum said. “I’m working on getting them all out and returned to their families as soon as possible. I just think two a day might be my limit.”
Finally, the world felt somewhat acquainted with her again. “How long were we in the coins?” Tiadrin croaked.
“Four years,” Rayla said softly. “We didn’t know where you were at first, until Viren left loose a taunt. Then we had to find the coins, which was easier said than done and—his daughter put up quite a fight to keep us from taking them.”
It was then that Tiadrin noticed the thin scar running down Callum’s left arm, nearly hidden by the way it went right down the middle of his runes.
“We got Runaan out yesterday,” Callum explained. “Ethari’s been with him ever since. They’re just a few rooms down, if you’d like to see them.”
“Not yet,” Tiadrin said. Not only would her oldest friends likely want some time alone, to reunite and process, she wasn’t sure she could handle anymore people. This, just Lain and Rayla and her daughter’s human was already so much. Her brow furrowed. “Ethari was alone for four years?”
“We thought Runaan had died, at first,” Rayla said. “He was afraid to believe there was hope when we told him about the coins. I don’t think he fully believed it till Callum got him out.”
“We all know how much false hope can hurt,” Callum said, and she wondered if he was speaking from experience.
For the first time, Tiadrin spoke directly to him. “And your father? He was—?”
He stiffened. “Killed that night, yes.” A sea of emotions swirled in his eyes. “I’m sorry for what we did to your king,” he said at last, but she knew he meant it.
Perhaps the world and humans could change.
“Is there somewhere we can… be alone for a bit?” Lain asked, almost sheepish. Callum smiled.
“We have a room prepared for you. We’ll also have some food sent up to you soon. We weren’t sure if you’d… be hungry or not? There weren’t a lot of records of people who got out of Infinity Coins to draw upon.”
“Food is fine,” Lain said as they began out of the antechamber and into the main hallway, and Tiadrin bit back a laugh.
“You’ll have to have a human delicacy at one point then,” Callum replied. “My aunt insisted the cook here learn how to make them, once she married the queen.”
“Your aunt?” Tiadrin asked. She couldn’t imagine Queen Khessa marrying anyone, let alone a human.
“Oh, yeah, you missed that too. Um, my aunt Amaya married Queen Janai—”
“Janai? What happened to Queen Khessa?”
Rayla and Callum exchanged another look. “Viren ruined a lot of lives,” he said softly. “But my aunt and the queen were able to make each other happy in spite of it. There are more elf-human couples than you’d think, now. Although, uh,” he lit up as he looked at her daughter, “we were still the first.”
“As he kept reminding everyone at the queen’s wedding,” Rayla mock-scolded, unable to keep from smiling. “Absolutely shameless.”
“In my defense,” he reminded her, “I only started doing so because one senator made a snide comment about you trying to kill me.”
“As if you wouldn’t have anyway,” she smiled. They stopped in front of a pair of large doors. “We figured you would want more than one exit, but the rooms are big enough to share, and still connected through the closet. And if you need anything, the castle has a bell system set up.”
“Thank you,” Tiadrin said, still a bit uneasy but genuinely grateful.
“We’ll come back to check on you in a few hours,” Rayla said. “Don’t hesitate to call us if you need anything,” she reiterated.
“Thank you,” Lain said this time, and then the couple let them go. Tiadrin watched them walk down the hall together; Rayla swatted Callum in the arm after he said something, and he laughed as they joined hands again. “The world really has changed without us,” Lain murmured.
“It has,” Tiadrin agreed. For the better, it seemed. She took his hand. It was warm and familiar and comforting. “I’m glad you’re here.”
Lain smiled, squeezing her hand gently. “I said until the end, didn’t I?”
She raised his hand to her lips and kissed his knuckles. “I didn’t know we’d have more time.”
“I guess the moon shone upon us one last time,” he considered, his brow furrowing. “Tia,” he breathed, the only one allowed to do so. “Stars, our daughter. ”
“I know,” she said, and she smiled, opening the door. “We’ll have time to ask questions later.”
Lain’s smile grew as he followed her inside. After everything, time truly was a gift.
It was relief beyond description to shower and change into new clothes, even if Tiadrin’s hands shook when she shucked off her armour. Whatever the coin space had done to them, it had left her weak and almost malnourished. She’d nearly startled when she had looked in the mirror; she didn’t have many wrinkles yet, only lines near her mouth and eyes, but she looked so tired . So worn. She’d let Lain guide her into the shower without protest, his hands only steady for her sake.
“It was lonely,” was the first thing he’d said about it, when they’d curled up in bed after their shower, dressed in the soft linen clothes laid out for them. “I wondered if I was dead at first. And then terror, because I’d left you…”
“I thought you were dead,” she whispered. “When I knew I was alive, I wished I was dead too.”
He squeezed her hand. “I was so confused when I came out. I still am. But I was so happy to see you again.”
Tiadrin managed a weak smile. “Our daughter is beautiful,” she whispered. “And wise, and… happy.”
Lain gave her a sad, proud smile. “She grew up just fine without us, didn’t she?”
“I suppose she did.” Tiadrin looked at their interlocked fingers. “What do you think of the human?”
“I don’t know,” Lain admitted. “But she’s happy. And he’s been good to us. If we have to be wrong about anything, I don’t mind being wrong about humans.”
“It’s hard to believe a Sunfire Queen would ever marry a human,” Tiadrin considered, “but I suppose…” A lump formed in her throat. “We lost four years of our lives, Lain.” Even now, trying to what her time in the coin was like beyond bright light and pain was difficult, vague and fuzzy recollections at best, yet she knew it would also stick with her for the rest of her life.
“I know.” He pressed her forehead to hers. “But I would rather pay with four years than our lives.”
“I don’t know what to do now,” she said.
“We live . We have a lot to see of the world, now that it’s changing. And a daughter getting married soon.”
Tiadrin smiled faintly. “That’s the strangest thing of all. She was so small when we joined the Dragonguard. I thought we would see her at least by the time she was fifteen. A lot would have been different, but at least…”
“I suppose Ethari can help us catch up on things. And Runaan is in the same sorry spot as us.”
“Poor Ethari,” Tiadrin murmured. “Spending four years thinking Runaan was gone forever…”
“We’ll check on him soon. He’s probably still in shock, his husband and now his friends coming back from the dead.”
“I wonder how they knew we were in the coins in the first place,” Tiadrin mused. Perhaps the mage Viren had mentioned it in his taunt? She couldn’t wonder why he would be so specific, unless he had discovered Rayla’s lineage.
“Shall I add it to the mental list questions we’re compiling for later?”
“If you’d like,” she smiled. “What else is on the list?”
“The full story of how the Dragon Prince was brought home, I think. How Ethari and Runaan are doing from a source other than themselves, because you know how they would downplay it. Who else is in the other coins. What Rayla plans for her future and where she plans to live. Our… punishment, from the Dragon Queen, from the Silvergrove… I expect we’ve been Ghosted at the very least.”
Tiadrin frowned. “I wonder what Ethari and Runaan must’ve thought of us,” she said, “when they’d heard the Dragonguard deserted.”
“What Rayla must’ve thought,” Lain added. “I hope we didn’t bring too much shame down upon her.”
“We’ll simply have to wait and see and hope.”
“That’s surprisingly optimistic of you.”
“There have been many surprises before. What’s one more?”
Lain reached over and kissed the dual markings bent under her eyes. “We should get some rest,” he said softly. It felt perhaps redundant, after being in a coin for so long, but Tiadrin supposed that hadn’t been restful , either.
Tiadrin didn’t let go of his hand. She didn’t think she ever would.
Runaan and Ethari wept when they spotted them the following morning. Tiadrin had never seen Runaan cry like that about anything, but she supposed emotions were running high for all of them, as her own eyes stung and she embraced him, Ethari wrapping his arms tight around her and Lain as they melted into a kind of group hug.
Rayla and her human stood watching off to the side, and Tiadrin caught a glimpse of Callum nudging her daughter forward, inclining his head. Go on. Join them.
She caught Rayla’s sleeve in her fingers when her daughter stepped forward, and then tugged her down, and the four adults opened their arms to let her settle somewhere in the middle, wrapped up in their arms. It was a long time, Tiadrin was sure, before they separated, and Runaan held her face in his hands, smiling, while Rayla wiped at her eyes.
“It is good to see you,” he said softly, moving to hug Lain next just as tightly. “Both of you. I thought I would never see your faces again.”
It was too soon to bring up the painful truth that Runaan and Ethari had Ghosted them, so Tiadrin didn’t. They all had made mistakes after all. So many mistakes. And Rayla had borne the brunt of them; they would discuss it later, without her, until she needed to be there to hear and know how much they all loved her.
Rayla let out a giddy, tearful laugh. “I never thought I’d…”
Tiadrin rested her forehead against his, one hand on the side of Rayla’s neck. “I know.” All four of her parents together again, three back from the grave after she’d mourned them. They pulled her into another tight embrace, almost afraid to let go again, Runaan and Ethari’s arms wrapped around all of them.
It was only when Tiadrin surfaced again that she noticed Callum was still standing off to the side on his own, a loving, tender, and slightly broken look on his face as he watched his betrothed be embraced by her family. His parents, Tiadrin remembered, had no way back.
But it was evident that Rayla had already noticed, when she rose a split second after Tiadrin had looked up, and took Callum’s hands and squeezed them, tugging him to her. “Thank you,” she murmured, their brows brushing.
Callum reached up to cup one of her cheeks, his fingers lightly threading through her silver hair. One wore a glittering ring. A human engagement custom, like the slim silver cuffs at the base of Rayla’s horns? He lowered his voice, but elf hearing was too sharp for it to be inaudible.
“Of course.” He gave her a wide, brimming smile. “It’s what you deserve.”
“I know. It’s okay.” He tilted his head up and kissed the crease forming in her brow before stepping away a bit. “I should go—Galan and I are looking at the last few coins today.”
“Okay.” She smiled when he kissed her briefly on the lips. “Don’t push yourself too hard.”
“I won’t, I promise. I’ll see you later?”
“See you later.” She squeezed his hands before they let go.
Ethari came up and placed a hand on her shoulder once he was gone, and Rayla smiled, then turned back to her family.
“Has everyone had breakfast yet?” she asked. “Queen Consort Amaya says it’s the most important meal of the day.”
“—Galan is very impressed, you know,” the Sunfire Queen said, moving her hands as she spoke, another well dressed woman on Callum’s other side as he walked in between. The Queen was smiling widely. “I think he may want to take you on as an apprentice after this—practical application of more than one arcanum at a time will be useful.”
“Thanks,” Callum beamed, “but are you sure you’d want me around that often, Aunt Janai?”
The other woman, another human, signed something and Callum laughed, even if he looked more tired now at mid afternoon than he had in the morning. There was a striking resemblance between them too, in the eyes and face shape, the dark brown of their hair. His Aunt Amaya, Tiadrin assumed. Hadn’t she married the Queen?
She saw Runaan’s eyes widen out of the corner of her vision and realized why the name had sounded so familiar. Aunt Amaya. General Amaya.
Rayla grabbed Runaan’s arm. “Relax,” she said sternly, and then threw her hands up in greeting at the sight of the General. “It’s good to see you,” she translated, for their benefit, Tiadrin realized.
“Oh, right,” Callum smiled. “Aunt Amaya, Janai, these are Rayla’s parents—you’ve met Ethari, of course, and this is Runaan—Tiadrin, and Lain.” He stumbled a little with the names, eventually moving to spell it out with his fingers, it seemed.
Amaya nodded her head, golden earrings beset with blue sapphires and Katolian rubies. “It is nice to meet you,” she said, Callum translating. “Welcome to Lux Aurea. We hope it has been comfortable for you so far.”
“We know you have been through quite an ordeal,” said Janai.
Tiadrin wasn’t sure whether to bow or not. Moonshadow elves most closely served the Dragon monarchy, but the Sunfire Queen was still owed some respect.
“What’s this about you trying to recruit my fiancé to your Sunfire forges?” Rayla said, smiling and sliding her arm loosely through his.
“Only for a little while,” Janai countered. “Just to see how the Sun arcanum would respond to the others being in use simultaneously. We have never been able to attempt it before. But I know it would be futile to convince him to leave your side for more than a few minutes, anyway.”
“She’s not wrong,” Callum grinned.
“Morning was torture then?” Rayla smiled.
His happy eyes flickered away from her face to her family. “I hope we’re not interrupting something, though? My aunts just wanted to come check up on you. Galan is helping the latest elf, an unlucky Sunfire, at the moment.”
“No, it’s fine,” Ethari assured him. “And you’re always welcome with us.”
Callum inclined his head. “Thank you,” he said.
“Don’t feed him lies, Ethari,” Runaan muttered, arms crossed over his chest.
“Excuse you ,” Janai snapped, serving him a sharp look. “That is my nephew .”
Callum raised a hand to her. “It’s okay.” Still, his eyes were like steel when he looked at Runaan. “I understand why he wouldn’t want me around, after what my father’s high mage did. I only hope he can understand my reservations about him, too, after what he did to my father.”
“That’s not the same—”
“Runaan,” Rayla said sharply. She looked at Callum, her hand sliding down to hold his. “Let’s just have a quiet afternoon, yeah?”
He squeezed her hand. “Are you sure?”
She glanced back at Runaan, her expression almost stern. “He nearly died bringing you back to Ethari. That should be enough for you.”
“It wasn’t that bad,” Callum murmured to her. “Look, I’ll—I’ll just go. I wasn’t planning on staying anyway. We were on our way to the library.”
“I’m coming with you, then.”
“You just got your family back. You can see me later.”
Rayla pursed her lips. “Okay.” She kissed his cheek. “Thank you.” She nodded at the two queens, particularly to Janai. The queen could still be rather cold and hot headed, but she loved Ezran and Callum like they were her own nephews, and that was all Amaya could have wanted.
Janai nodded, and then shot another glare at Runaan. “While you are here,” she said, voice cool, “I expect you to behave, and to respect my family. Good day.”
Rayla threw a look at Runaan once they were gone. “You couldn’t have even pretended to be civil?”
“You cannot just expect me to be...fine, with all of...this.”
“All of what , exactly? He’s the only reason you’re standing here right now, with your family, with your husband.”
“He’s a human—”
“ So what ?” Rayla demanded, growing red in the face. “You think he’s a lesser being or a liar? He’s good and kind and brave, he’s saved my life countless times—he’s been there for me more than you ever were!”
“Rayla,” Ethari said gently. “Even I needed some time to adjust to the place Callum had in your life, once I realized the extent of it—the world was very different four years ago, and while you’re right that Callum is a good man, Runaan—”
“Don’t you dare defend him,” she said, rounding on him. Ethari blinked and Runaan scowled. “Not when you Ghosted me too.”
Tiadrin’s stomach dropped. “You were Ghosted? How? For what?”
“They assumed I ran away. I was trying to stall Runaan from killing King Harrow, to give the boys time to get away safely with the Egg, too.” She frowned at Runaan. “But then you went and killed his father anyway, even knowing the Egg was alive, and he spent the past four years just trying to get you free, for my sake—the least you can do is be civil! He’s the love of my life, so you’ll just have to get used to him being around!”
“Four years of peace does not mean you throw your life away to be with some human boy,” Runaan hissed, “and endure decades of—”
“Of what?” she demanded. “Of the sort of prejudice you’re showing right now?”
Runaan turned despairingly to Lain and Tiadrin. “You cannot tell me that you are okay with this either?”
“It’s not really our place to be ‘okay’ with her choices,” Lain said carefully. “I know we still have to get used to her being an adult now, but we can at least try to remember.”
“Even if that choice is a human prince?”
“He makes her happy,” Tiadrin said, looking at Rayla. “Doesn’t he?”
Rayla smiled. “So happy,” she confirmed.
“Then she knows what she’s doing,” Tiadrin said.
“I’ve known Callum for nearly five years now, Runaan,” Ethari said crisply. “Would you doubt my judgement, too?”
Runaan grumbled under his breath, deflating, and Rayla scoffed. “Unbelievable,” she said, eyes narrowed. “Even after everything, I’m still not good enough for you.”
“Rayla, that’s not—”
“You don’t have to say it. I’ve always known. At least now I know it doesn’t mean that I’m not good enough at all.” She stood up. “I’m going to get some air.” She left the table before any of them could say anything else, and Tiadrin wasn’t sure there was much any of them could say.
“‘The love of her life,’” Runaan muttered, and Ethari shot him a look. Pained because he likely didn’t want to be fighting with his husband a day after he got him back, but angry because it was necessary, too.
"Yes, and he’s the best you ever could have hoped for,” Ethari said, an edge to his voice.
“Surely you must have had reservations?”
“Of course I did. But he’s proven himself a good and worthy partner. He brought you back to me. They’ve been through hell and back together. I’ve seen him stand by her through everything, and she’s been through much worse these past few years than just the loss of three of her parents. A loss he could understand, until now.” Ethari’s eyes hardened. “He killed Viren.”
Runaan hard gaze cracked by the tiniest fraction. “You told me how the mage was felled yesterday,” he said, nettled.
Ethari’s frown deepened. “Well I did not tell you this, as none of us until now had seen it for ourselves, but…” He turned to Tiadrin and Lain. “You know the Pinnacle of the Storm Spire?”
“Yes?” Tiadrin said, unsure as to how it connected. “It is one of the tallest peaks in all of Xadia. Even some of the Skywing elves who served on the Dragonguard would be too meek to fly from it.” Then again, most of them had deserted, so perhaps they had never been that brave in the first place.
“In the battle that ended the war,” Ethari said, “Rayla had been given the job of guarding the Dragon Prince, while Callum’s family and Queen Janai and her forces fought down below. Viren managed to capture the dragonling at the top of the pinnacle, impervious to Rayla’s blades due to the dark force he was channelling. She tackled him over the edge.”
Tiadrin and Lain gasped, and even Runaan looked rather horrified. Tiadrin placed a hand over her heart, while Lain murmured, “Then how in Garlaf’s name did she survive?”
“Callum saw her go over the edge. The runes tattooed on his arms were once painted, for the first time that day. He had never flown before, nor successfully done the spell.” Ethari fixed his husband with a stern look. “He jumped after her anyway.”
Runaan’s jaw went slack. “What?” he said, blinking.
Ethari smiled a little. “They had known one another for around a month, by that point.”
“That boy…” Tiadrin said slowly, still processing. Her voice broke. “Went off the Pinnacle?” She’d stood at the top once and looked down. She had never been scared of heights—at least, whatever fear was there she would never admit—but the sight had made her stomach churn.
“Without hesitation,” Ethari said. “He caught her just in time. The only way that boy would leave her is through dying to protect her. He’s not going anywhere, Runaan. You will have to get used to him.”
Runaan let out a huff. “Very well,” he said stiffly.
“It’s not so bad,” Lain said. “There are far worse things that our girl finding a love worthy of her. Even if he is human.”
Ethari looked at her last. “Tiadrin?”
“I still don’t know,” she admitted, “but I trust our daughter. She’s grown up so much without us. Maybe we should trust that she’s capable of good decisions. I can’t imagine our little Ray of moonlight giving her heart to someone who didn’t deserve it.” She pursed her lips and looked back at Ethari. “Have they chosen a date for their wedding yet?”
“Early summer,” he answered. “I believe they wanted it to be close to the day that they met.”
She smiled a little; it would be a beautiful ceremony in the Silvergrove, but it faded when she remembered that it might not happen there. “Where do they plan to hold it?”
“The Silvergrove,” Ethari confirmed. “The human prince has been working very hard to learn the dance.”
Tiadrin smiled a little. “And his own kingdom?”
“They’ll have a quiet ceremony in Katolis the day after. She’s been avoiding the reality that she will be princess of his kingdom. His people have… mixed feelings about it, but mostly positive, I think. There was a greater uproar when his aunt married Queen Janai. And his brother is extremely agreeable, with a strong spine.”
Runaan’s brows rose. “You’ve met him?”
“I’ve spent the holidays with them.”
“You’ve spent holidays in a human castle —”
“At their winter lodge, actually.” Ethari gave him a small smile. “They didn’t want me to spend the holidays alone, and the boys are largely the only family one another has left, too.”
For the first time since their reunion, Tiadrin saw Runaan soften, just a little. “And?” he offered up.
“Human children build snowmen instead of snow elves, but the principle is largely the same.”
“The young king tried to make one that was both snowelf and snowman, during my first stay at the Lodge a few years ago,” Ethari recalled, his smile fond. “It was a brave attempt. Then Rayla started a snowball fight and decked her prince in the face with one. She and Ezran were very excited about it. I hadn’t seen her act like a child like that in years.” He shook his head slightly. “Sometimes, I’m not sure what has changed more: her or the world, each of them for the better.”
“She does seem… happier,” Runaan said haltingly. “More centred.”
“That’s because her solid ground is love, now,” Ethari said sagely. “Love for herself, instead of shame.”
Tiadrin smiled a little sadly. “None of us really taught her that, did we?”
“Well there’s much elves could learn from humans,” Ethari replied, shooting Runaan a look before he could scoff. “And I would know better than you, considering I’ve lived with some of them while you were in a coin.”
“And I’m sure there’s much they could learn from us?”
“They already are.” Ethari smiled thinly. “Callum forged his own connection to all six primal arcanums.”
Lain squinted. “What do you mean ‘forged’? You have to be born with with a connection.”
“We all thought so. But he found a way, first with the Sky, and then moved on to master the others. He’s helped some other humans forge connections as well, although nobody else has been able to do more than one. Some elves have even gone to him, looking for tips on how to connect outside their primal.”
Runaan’s gaze darkened. “The last one who was connected like that was Aaravos.”
Ethari winced. “Speaking of Aaravos… there are some things about the state of the world you should know. Xadia and the Pentarchy are no longer fighting, but…” Ethari took a glass from the table and took a sip. “Let’s sit back down. It is a long story.”
Rayla came back maybe fifteen minutes after their discussion ended, and helped fill in the blanks. Her daughter’s stories and explanations didn’t ease Tiadrin’s heart much, but it was a strange comfort to know the world was still slightly wartorn. Gave her something she could focus on, and this time, she’d be fighting alongside her daughter rather than afar.
Things were still a little tense, as she spoke about her life because so much of it involved Callum and his brother and family, but Runaan didn’t say anything, so it passed with relative ease in comparison to earlier that afternoon.
It felt like almost no time at all before it was time for dinner, and Rayla said firmly, “Callum and his aunts will be joining us.”
Runaan seemed stiff, but didn’t put up a fight otherwise. “Very well,” he said, and Rayla rolled her eyes.
“You can’t even try to sound supportive? Callum has been—”
“Missing you terribly?” Footsteps sounded behind her, and then warm arms wrapped around her. “Sounds about right.”
She couldn’t help but smile and lean into him. “I finally teach you something about being stealthy and you use it to sneak up on me,” she said, proud and impressed and a little teasing.
“I have to find some ways to surprise you,” he grinned, pressing a kiss to her cheek. “My aunts are on their way.” He grew more somber and unwound his arms from around her, clearing his throat. “But I actually wanted to talk to Runaan first. Privately.”
“Oh. Um…” She looked at Runaan, who seemed rather affronted at being put on the spot like this and not having his opinion weighed on it either. “We’ll see you both at dinner, then?”
“Yeah. We’ll catch up.”
Callum sounded confident, but Tiadrin could tell her daughter was still a little nervous and understandably so. She herself wasn’t entirely certain that Runaan wouldn’t just take the opportunity to kill the kid, even with his weapons being gone. She caught Lain’s worried eye, and then nodded at him.
You and Ethari keep her busy, and I’ll hang back. Just in case.
And maybe there was some curiosity in how her future son-in-law planned to handle the situation he’d purposefully landed himself in, too. She slipped into the shadows instead of out the hall with the others, pressing herself into an unused breakfast nook of some kind, out of sight but within earshot, the silence loud and tense once the two men were alone (or at least thought they were).
She could perfectly picture the haughty look on Runaan’s face as he said, in a rather bored voice, as though whatever conversation that was about to be had was pointless. Runaan wasn’t necessarily a proud individual, but he had little patience for what he deemed illusions of youth or other perceived wastes of time. “Listen, boy—”
“No, you listen,” Callum said, fair more sternly. Sterner than Tiadrin would have thought possible, given the softness he generally carried. “We’re never going to like each other, for obvious reasons. I think I have a far better one, as yours is based in prejudice, and mine is based on the fact you literally murdered my father, but that’s not the point. The point is that while I don’t care what you say about me, as I’ve heard far worse from other elves like you, Rayla does and you are still her father and she deserves to have you in her life and to have a good relationship with you. So when she’s not around, you can say whatever you want, even to my face. I don’t care and I don’t plan on rising to it anyway. But when she is around, you keep that shit to yourself, because it’s only going to upset her, and she’s been through more than enough.”
Runaan’s face was stiff and barely readable, when Tiadrin stole a look. It was only because she knew him so well that she could tell he was at least a little gobsmacked, and so, quite frankly, was she.
The prince’s tone left no room for debate, as she carefully watched Runaan try and scrounge up anything to say at all.
“I…” Runaan coughed slightly. “I may be able to… agree to those terms.”
“Good.” It seemed like Callum was going to leave, but he hovered. Torn. “My father. Rayla says you’re the best assassin of your generation. Was it quick?”
Runaan inclined his head after a moment. “Yes. We... do not draw those things out.”
Callum let out a quiet breath. “I may have been a little more cruel to Viren than I needed to be.”
Tiadrin’s brows raised.
“You did kill him, then.”
Callum threw Runaan an incredibly sharp look. “Why wouldn’t I have?”
“I thought perhaps Rayla—”
“He ripped my family apart. He nearly took Rayla from me. I killed him, trust me. I suffocated him with Sky magic.” Something shifted behind Callum’s eyes. Snapped into place. “Anyway, that was all I wanted to speak with you about. Rayla, I mean. So we’re done here.”
“Ethari said you jumped off the Pinnacle,” Runaan said, when Callum turned.
“I did,” he acknowledged, glancing back. “And?”
“Did you know it would work?”
“And if it didn’t?”
He managed a small, sad smile. “Then at least we would’ve still been together. I love your daughter. You never have to like me, but I hope in time you can at least accept that.”
Callum left without another word, passing by the alcove she was shadowed in, and Tiadrin let loose a breath once she was gone. It only took a few seconds before Runaan materialized beside her.
“How long were you there?”
“The whole time,” she admitted.
“I never thought…”
The corner of Tiadrin’s mouth lifted. “Never thought I’d see the day a human had you shaking in your boots.”
“I wasn’t—” Runaan huffed. “He merely caught me off guard, that is all.”
“I will say, that was a side of him I did not expect. He seems so… gentle.” Tiadrin tilted her head. “But I have heard the anger of a gentle man is the worst anger of all. It seems to be true.”
“He stood against me,” Runaan remembered quietly, “the night they found the egg. For her sake. They’d most likely known each other less than an hour, and he’d been a scrawny thing. Didn’t flinch when I drew my bow, though.”
“Then it was only a matter of time before Rayla fell for him.”
“I suppose so.” Runaan’s eyes narrowed. “And Ethari is fond of him too. Granted, Ethari gets along with most people, but…”
“I told you. It’s time we trust our daughter. I know it’s hard not to keep seeing her as that little girl, but…”
“She was never meant to be an assassin,” Runaan said, quiet. “She was always meant to follow in your footsteps.”
“Not follow. She’s done so much more than that.” Tiadrin looked up at him. “It’s strange, isn’t it? The night you would have met him likely feels like only a few days ago, yet it’s been four years for them. I wonder if we will ever stop feeling out of time.”
“Perhaps,” said Runaan with a twitch of his lips, “in enough time.”
Something in Tiadrin settled. “It’s a good thing we have it then.”